Sunday, December 27, 2009


I came across a reference to Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach, and later read that he arrived at an interesting conclusion, which appears near the beginning of his book The Essence of Christianity, in Chapter 4, pages 52 and 53:
Who then is our Saviour and Redeemer? God or Love? Love; for God as God has not saved us, but Love, which transcends the difference between the divine and human personality. As God has renounced himself out of love, so we, out of love, should renounce God; for if we do not sacrifice God to love, we sacrifice love to God, and in spite of the predicate of love, we have the God—the evil being—of religious fanaticism.
Years ago I renounced religion when my attempts to defend Christianity against a growing sense of personal integrity had been strained to the breaking point. I found that all that mattered in religious faith was love. So here I agree with Feuerbach - all actions must reflect the value of love, no harmful actions should be committed in the name of unsupportable belief. Though to many this sounds like heresy, to me it is the fulfillment of the ethical impulse guided by faith, and virtually axiomatic.

In other news, I have replaced my "To do" list with a "Will I do?" list, which better acknowledges the uncertain outcome of my intentions. The future is full of irresistible questions.

Some people explain their religious faith as founded upon a personal relationship with God which, of course, one must have in order to properly understand and debate upon its merits. I could say that my reasons for not believing in God are also based on a personal relationship, not a relationship with God, but a personal relationship with real people like you and me. But rhetoric does little to sway opinion, while personal experience is given the greatest weight.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

An existential view of society

At the risk of committing the sin of psychological projection, I have entertained the idea that corruption exists at all levels in business and politics.  This isn't a new idea (for examples in popular culture see Moore's latest documentary "Capitalism"), and is largely accepted anyway.  It forms a large portion of media coverage.  But it is also easy to overlook since it is less transparent in some situations than others.  Just the other day I was talking with a co-worker about the TV series "Weeds" and the character of the corupt mayor came up.  It was a perfect example in fiction.

In support of this I might allude to a Hobbesian discourse on how life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short," which is true some of the time, but not in all cases.  Or I could quote Orson Welles who is reputed to have said “We`re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendship can we create the illusion for the moment that we`re not alone.”  I think it would be a mistake to take that literally, I believe he means more of psychological isolation and aloneness experienced as a consequence of the generally, and often unintentionally, egocentric behavior of most people.  I have found it very true that only you can make your values manifest through your actions, nobody else can or will do it for you. 

Would a habit of having a cynical opinion of the motives and behavior of other people really just conceal my own desire to improve, by comparison, the regard in which I hold myself?  In other words, lift myself up by putting you down?  Would that thereby also improve my ability to justify, again by comparison, my own behavior or misbehavior?  To these questions I answer: I don't think so, as cynicism pervades all thought and the cynical person's opinion of themselves is not immune to the same skepticism directed at others.  But one benefit from recognizing the actual pervasiveness of corrupt and/or egocentric behavior is realizing that the professed standards of conduct and actual standards of conduct people (and businesses and governments) live by are two different things.  This could eliminate some of the social anxiety that can accompany a fear of not meeting the professed standards of conduct.  In reality few, if any people, ever do. 

Having written all that, I must state for the record that I think people are generally good.  Or at least we try to be.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Planted aquariums

On two occasions this past summer I biked down to the local lake with my clients and dip netted for pond animals to pique their curiosity.  Though I got a lot of damselfly larvae, leeches, worms, ostracods and daphnia, the gammarus amphipods were my main target (I have tried and gave up on keeping them before).  I brought them back to my aquaria where they have proven to be more resilient than I thought.  Due their low numbers, I doubt that they have been able to reproduce yet, and they are still vulnerable to the blender-like blade of my aquarium pump (I should sew a sponge cover over the intake).  But they have survived for over three months so far in very healthy condition. 

In an effort to fortify their diet with more natural and abundant fare, I decided to buy fast-growing aquarium plants.  Which of course required that I then provide the plants with proper growing conditions.  I took the incandescent and a flourescent lighting fixtures from two standard 10 gallon aquarium hoods (which I already had) and placed them on one ten gallon tank over a plate glass lid.  I plugged them into a digital outlet timer that is set to come on at 7:00am and turn off at 8:30pm with a "siesta" from 12:00pm to 12:45pm (I read this inhibits algae growth somehow).  The natural daylight schedule is also supposedly good for the plants, which I guess need to sleep too.  The timer also makes maintenance a snap.  I use one on my other tank at home, and I think the fish really do benefit from a dependable schedule. 

As I learned more about growing aquarium plants, this endeavor began to take on a life of its own aside from the original purpose of supplying food for my amphipods.  It is a lot of fun.  On the Internet, The Planted Tank is very useful for gaining more information.  But back to my planted aquarium, I bought several different plants that are either fast growing or interesting: 
  • Egeria densa (anacharis)
  • Cabomba caroliniana (cabomba or fanwort)
  • Anubias (anubias)
  • Limnobium laevigatum (Amazon frogbit)
  • Lemna minor (duckweed)
  • Salvinia minima (water spangles, a floating fern)
  • Taxiphyllum barbieri (Java moss)
  • Aegagropila linnaei (marimo or algae ball)
The anacharis and cabomba are my super fast growing submerged plants.  I hope they perform well so I can prune them and distribute to my other tanks.  The anubias is a typical plant looking plant.  It looks very nice, but grows slow.  The frogbit, duckweed, and water spangles are all floating plants.  They are supposed to grow well, but I mostly just like they way they look.  I have had the Java moss for over three years, it grows in a tangled mat and is impossible to kill.  I bought the marimo ball the other day because it was huge and I like marimo a lot.  It grows slow and looks uber cool suspended in the water current in a crude sling fashioned from plastic water plants. 

The only animals that I am aware of in the aquarium are several common small snail species, no more than a few small gammarus amphipods, and about five three ghost shrimp (Palaemonetes spp.) that I bought to keep the plants clean.  Suffice to say, the only animals I can keep in a plant tank cannot be big voracious vegetarians.  No crayfish.  Time will tell how successful this setup is, but so far I am well pleased.

Regarding a planted aquarium, there is much talk of the difficulty of particular plant species, and of getting specific growing conditions/ water parameters right. But this misses the point that in general, plants are very adaptable and forgiving. One of the main reasons I decided to grow aquarium plants is because they can grow fast and create a lush appearance. This is what wetlands are good at. If one plant type fails under the growing conditions you provide, use another one that will grow for you. Any body of water outdoors will have growing plants nearby. Why? Because nature found the right match between plant species and environmental conditions. All you have to do is the same thing. Light and heat, water and air, nutrients.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Parent-Offspring Conflict

This morning I read Robert Triver's article "Parent-Offspring Conflict" that appeared in the journal American Zoologist way back in 1974. It is a very important article on the subject of evolution, and identified the process from which the article takes its title.

The article is divided into several main subsections:
  1. Parent-offspring conflict over the continuation of parental investment
  2. Conflict throughout the period of parental investment over the amount of parental investment
  3. The time course of parent-offspring conflict
  4. Disagreement over the sex of the offspring
  5. The offspring as psychological manipulator
  6. Parent-offspring conflict over the behavioral tendencies of the offspring
  7. Conflict over the adult reproductive role of the offspring
  8. The role of parental experience in parent-offspring conflict
According to evolutionary theory, each organism attempts to maximize its reproductive success and perpetuate copies of its own genes. Since the genes of the parents and offspring are different, though at the same time related, this creates and undercurrent of competition in an otherwise nurturing relationship. Conflict between parent and offspring occurs in any sexually reproducing organisms, and the parental investment in the offspring either positively or negatively affects the fitness of both in different ways. Offspring are not "passive vessels into which parents pour the appropriate care. Once one imagines offspring as actors in this interaction, then conflict must be assumed to lie at the heart of sexual reproduction itself."
I found several sections in the paper particularly interesting. This one underscores the situation of children in relation to their parents:
Throughout the period of parental investment the offspring competes at a disadvantage. The offspring is smaller and less experienced than its parent, and its parent controls the resources at issue. Given this competitive disadvantage the offspring is expected to employ psychological rather than physical tactics.
And this describes why parents want their children to be nice to each other, though the children are more likely to fight among themselves:
An individual is only expected to perform an altruistic act toward its full-sibling whenever the benefit to the sibling is greater than twice the cost to the altruist [because they are only half related to their siblings]... But parents, who are equally related to all of their offspring, are expected to encourage all altruistic acts among their offspring in which the benefit is greater than the cost, and to discourage all selfish acts in which the cost is greater than the benefit.

Source:  Trivers, Robert L.  "Parent-Offspring Conflict" American Zoologist 1974 14(1):249-264

Thursday, November 26, 2009

comparative awareness

Today I was thinking about evolutionary psychology, which seems not too far removed from the philosophy and theory of mind. It all began late last night, when I read that pulmonate snails and vetigastropod snails are less closely related to each other than I am to a goldfish. Talk about a shift in perspective!

It is common knowledge that experiments with lab mice are useful to understanding basic physiological processes that humans and mice share in common, and thankfully there are quite a few of those (or the experiments would be far less useful).  It is an unavoidable conclusion that if I am so closely related to goldfish, I am surely much more closely related to mice. Yet obviously mice and humans are very different. But what constitutes that difference? I think it is the more developed neural circuitry and complex behavior that most distinguishes me from a goldfish or mouse, more so than any anatomically evolved traits. In other words, whether or not I can formulate the thoughts for making this blog entry is more significant than whether I have hands or I am covered in gold scales and live in a fishbowl. To the point: If complex behavior distinguishes me from a goldfish better than physical form, perhaps it is a more useful tool for distinguishing animals.

Is it possible to quantifiably compare the mental experiences of two different organisms? Is thought a scalable function, and does each conscious being fall somewhere on a "continuum of thinking"? Is there an "evolution of thought" describable with a "taxonomy of mind"? Does it make sense to talk about a classification of awareness or neural functioning within the context of evolutionary psychology? I don't have an answer to any of these potentially illuminating questions.  In the final assessment, this chain of speculation may be a dead end, as speaking of conscious thought may have little utility outside of a handful of organisms, and even among those it may only have marginal utility.  Evolutionary psychology is a field of study originally concerned with humans and our immediate ancestry, not much else.  Consider this entry by PZ Myers on the relative insignificance of intelligence from a biological perspective. 

A few days ago I was pondering "What does it mean to be a father? How does that position shape my understanding of myself and my relationship to everything else?" From an evolutionary psychology perspective, this is a developmental question. I became a father after first being a child, and this question would have made little sense to me 20 years ago, but today it is very relevant and influences my conscious understanding of the world. As I grow older this understanding will continue to be informed and shaped by new and changing conditions, forcing me to grow and adapt. Conscious thought is so maleable and fragile, any approach at placing it within a taxonomic system would have to be very different from classification techniques based on physiological and genetic markers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

the hamster pump

I made a hamster powered aquarium pump. The hamster runs on a wheel, turning the axle and a second wheel also fixed to the axle but hanging outside the cage and partially immersed in an aquarium. The spinning wire mesh of the wheel creates a current in the aquarium thereby oxygenating the water and preventing stagnation. No glue was used during assembly, the only tool I used was a file (to make the holes in the exercise wheels slightly larger). If it rusts, I can paint it with latex or any "food safe" paint. Materials used: two 10 gallon aquariums, a "tank topper" cage, two 7 inch exercise wheels, a threaded rod, nuts, washers (two sizes), small diameter plastic pipe, and dental floss.

The 3 inch wide by 7 inch diameter wheel intersects the water over a length of about 3.5 inches, and is submerged to a depth of about .25 inches. With minimal effort I was able to spin the exercise wheel inside the aquarium "tank topper" and produce a significant current inside the pot of water. In addition, the wire mesh of the exercise wheel produced small bubbles in the water. If this wheel was similarly placed in a ten gallon aquarium at the same depth, I believe a running hamster could produce an above average rate of flow when compared to that of most aquarium pumps. Problems with inconsistent operation could be solvable by setting up several cages in tandem, but let's not get ridiculous! (As opposed to what I am describing here, which is of course entirely sane.)

To imagine this set up in its final state, you have to picture the tank topper on a ten gallon aquarium, complete with hamster and accessories. Sitting parallel to and beside the hamster enclosure is another ten gallon tank, elevated slightly to allow the wheel to intersect the surface of the water as described above. Approximately centered in the water, the spinning wheel would produce a current regardless of which direction it is turning. The aquarium could house several small and hardy fish, invertebrates, or other organisms.

In this diagram the front view shows the aquarium tank topper above the aquarium beside another 10 gallon aquarium.  Though not included in the illustration, a wire ladder allows a hamster to climb to the wire floor of the tank topper, a "second level" inside the enclosure.  The hamster wheel is at the height of this second level. 

See additional photos and drawings of previous designs: photo, photo, drawing, and drawing.  (Note that in the photos the wheel is oriented perpendicular to the longest dimension of the aquarium - current plans call for parallel orientation of the wheel to improve water flow.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Buddhism Without Beliefs

I finished reading "Buddhism Without Beliefs" a few days ago.  In the first chapter Stephen Batchelor explained how the four truths Gautama taught (understanding anguish, letting go of its origins, realizing its cessation, and cultivating the path) is the process of awakening "unfolding in your own mind at this moment".  Awakening is a process, not a thing to be attained. It is "an authentic way of being in the world", not a lofty goal.  Equally important is understanding that:
"This trajectory is no linear sequence of "stages" through which we "progress."  We do not leave behind an earlier stage in order to advance to the next rung of some hierarchy.  All four activities are part of a single continuum of action."
I think I understand how this may be.  To give an example, I can confront the anguish of one situation and deal with it, but that does not mean I have defeated all possible sources of anguish in my life once and for all.  It will reappear again and again in different forms, and every time I will employ each of these four phases Gautama taught.  And though it may be possible to engage in one of them without the others, it would be a very unbalanced and ineffective approach.  This irreducible quality of the four noble truths is good at combating obsession, so it is nice to see it here.  Not merely an article of faith, they are something to be acted upon (and tested first).

Monday, October 26, 2009

A carnival of Eastern things

I have begun to read Stephen Batchelor's book "Buddhism Without Beleifs".  So far I have been impressed by his erudition.  It is telling that he has attracted his share of criticism as well.  In an article by John Horgan for Slate, he asks Batchelor why he should even bother calling himself Buddhist at all, since he doesn't go in for all the supernatural stuff anyway.  Good question.  But I think it is the pride of tradition combined with the relative difficulty of transplanting the Buddhist value system into another ethical framework.  No sense in doing that without good reason. 

I really like the look of shou-sugi-ban (焼杉板) or "burnt wood siding" ever since I saw it in an issue of Dwell magazine describing the work of Terunobu Fujimori.  It would look nice on a garage (buildings which have become by default the modern equivalent of a shed or barn).  With a shed roof to match my house it would look very nice.  Maybe a small water heater, insulation, vapor barrier, and attached three season greenhouse?   

Any independent scholars out there that would care to write a paper for the ISCSC?  I know the receiving editor and they have a list of suggestions to get your creative juices flowing.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Takashi Amano

This is an image of Mr. Amano's big room aquarium during its installation.  It is a perfect example of how a love for aquariums can be incorporated into one's house.  At this point in its construction, no electrical appliances have yet been installed.  It is just a bare tank with the walls and roof surrounding it.  You can see skylight behind the tank - apparently there is some sort of window or clear skylight roof that allows natural light (southern exposure?) over the top of the tank.  This tank is enormous, but of course the larger the tank the better it is to observe the natural ecology of its inhabitants.  I chose this image because I am most interested in the way in which the tank was setup.  But to really appreciate it you have to see it full of emergent plants and schools of tropical fish (as most pictures of the tank do, just visit the links below).  It is essentially in its own alcove off the side of a large room.  In some images you will see that the wall to the right is completely open to a traditional Japanese garden. 


Saturday, October 10, 2009

Japan in '09

I took a short trip to Japan with the whole family recently; it was the first time for my children. They had their ups and downs, but overall I think it was a positive experience for them. The day we left one of them got sick and it seemed for a few hours that the whole trip was in jeopardy of being canceled. But a quick trip to the ER and some medicine in hand and we were back on schedule.

The plane flight was long, but the Airbus A300 we took across the Pacific had small monitors for each passenger to choose from among a large selection of movies and other media. After arriving in Tokyo we stayed at a nice hotel before taking the Shinkansen north to my wife's hometown. (I can't say enough good things about taking the bullet train. I'm hopeful that America develops its own high speed rail network.) The majority of the 18 days we were in Japan were spent with my wife's parents. They were awesome hosts and the food was great. I must have consumed every lifeform that naturally occurs in the ocean, usually raw, and often within hours after it was harvested. For the kids the number one food was natto. It's very good and may be worth trying to make ourselves as it is practically impossible to buy locally.

The previous two times I had visited was during the middle of winter, but this time it was harvest season in Japan and the rice fields were golden! Many of them had a harvesting machine sitting out near them, some were harvested while others were not. It was also typhoon season. But while we were there the weather was either sunny or overcast, but generally warm and pleasant. I can count at least three barbecues I ate at. The meat on the BBQ is always seafood - squid, scallops, oysters, tunicates ("hoya"), fish - with the exception of pork for yakitori, and beef tongue. Also on the barbie is a variety of veggies, like corn, kabocha squash, eggplant, and peppers. I have to mention the fresh fruit I ate. The grapes are incomparable to any I have ever eaten in America. Very soft and silky texture and a perfumey taste. Some are almost the size of small oranges! I had some of the best peaches (momo) and pears I'd ever eaten as well when we drove through Fukushima, which is known for its delicious fruit. The ever present vending machines provided new experiences too. I discovered I love grape juice with chunks of aloe vera in it, conveniently sold in a small aluminum can by minute maid.

We played at the beach, and visited two public aquariums and a zoo. I saw a pineapple sea cucumber, but no giant isopod. I had the very pleasant experience of having my hand nibbled on by dozens of "Doctor Fish" (Garra rufa). I took notice of the local wildlife. Spiders were everywhere, some were very large and their webs could span meters. The sheer numbers of them were amazing. I also saw a dead snake and praying mantis, several frog species, tadpoles, and other invertebrates. Pomegranate trees bearing fruit were a common sight. Though unremarkable to most people, I took notice (and photos) of these smaller wonders. At one Shinto shrine we visited (Shiogama Jinja) there was a flock of pigeons. We bought some food to feed them and as I held it the birds landed on my hand, arms, and shoulders and ate directly from my hand. As beautiful as the shrine I had just walked through was, this experience of complete trust and docility shown to me by the birds made it all pale in comparison. Occasionally, at the sight or sound of something the birds would startle and the whole flock flew off, circle round in the air, then return to seek more food. I could feel a gust of wind from the combined flapping of so many wings. The kids loved chasing the pigeons. But this is not to say that Shiogama Jinja and other shrines (like Takekoma Jinja) and Buddhist temples were not breathtaking in their own right. Walking on the grounds one is constantly aware of the great age of the place evident in the sculptures, buildings, stairs, and especially the giant and weathered trees.

While walking to the post office once we stopped at a daycare that allowed other children to visit and play. The kids there approached me, and asked "nanijin?", or "what nationality are you?" and they wanted to know the English translation to simple Japanese words. These little kids aged two to four swarmed around me and the high pitch and volume of their combined voices made their individual requests nearly impossible for me to understand. Rarely ever have I been honored with so much eager attention.

We took the ferry to Hokkaido and stayed there two nights to visit extended family. The first day the kids went butterfly (chocho) catching. The family in Hokkaido is warm, funny, and knows how to have a good time. There were nine little kids there all under the age of five (including mine among them), so one night we set off fireworks and sparklers. Another day we went to a hot springs, and another we made soba noodles from scratch. (In years past we made mochi from scratch.) There was even a karate demonstration with participation by the kids encouraged. What a beautiful setting they live at too - the equivalent of an American farm or homestead. We drove to the top of a high grassy hill where wild grapes grew and a warm breeze blew, and took in the view of the surrounding area. It was a happy reunion. There are countless horse farms in the area. We often walked to a nearby farm and called "Po po po po!" and the horses came to greet us for a soft pet and some offered grass. They are healthy and fast. A friend there showed me some beetles (kabutomushi) he caught that are almost the size my palm. My avid interest in wildlife is well known.

My wife celebrated her birthday with a shopping spree, great dinner, and fruit covered cake. We bought a fancy rice cooker that senses the moisture content and cooks under pressure. (I think it is nearly an equal to my laptop in computing power and may even be self-aware.) I must mention the automobiles in Japan, and the most noticeable among them are the "Kei" cars and trucks. These are the smallest vehicles; I think they are so cool looking. At one of numerous stops we made at the convenience stores that dot the landscape I saw a Suzuki "Twin". This is the smallest Kei car I saw. Of course, I snapped a picture. On the way to another hot springs we stayed overnight at, we stopped at Shiroishi castle. Massive timber construction, huge boulder foundation, very cool. On the way back we visited a park filled with traditional old style Japanese buildings. Many of them had thatched roofs supported by lashed poles used as rafters. My desire has been to emulate these methods and so I took careful notice of the details. The location among the trees and bamboo stands was very beautiful.

My wife saw old and new friends, and the kids played with their cousins whom they met for the first time. During breaks between activities, I studied Japanese. I am trying unorthodox methods to improve my language skill, approaching from as many angles as possible. I think reading some manga like Yotsuba-to! by Kiyohiko Azuma, or maybe Doraemon, Chibi Mariko-chan, Sazae-san, Otoko Oidon, or Omusubi Kororin might be useful. At least so I've heard. When I came back home I learned how to hack the DVD player to see Hayao Miyazaki anime since it doesn't support DVDs from Japan. Tonight the choice between watching Nausicaa or Mononoke Hime was difficult.

On the flight back across the Pacific I watched "My Sister's Keeper" and reflected that I sometimes don't see reality, maybe because it isn't always pretty, but it is the only reality we have. I guess what I'm saying is that I often catch myself trying to operate "up here" on some detached cerebral level, when I need to operate "down here" where dissatisfaction is a common part of life. Is that what the phrase "keeping it real" means? Self reflection was another pleasure I enjoyed while on vacation. I fondly recall a conversation with my father in law that began when he asked me the ultimately unanswerable question "What is most important to you?" Whatever that answer may be, he sought to convey it through art, to stimulate the experience of this in the people who behold his art. The last 18 days provided me with many good experiences I will reflect on for a long time.

Friday, September 11, 2009

One crayfish, one bowl, seven months.

Most likely Procambarus clarkii. For reference, the bowl has a diameter of 16cm (about 6.25 inches). And just in case you're wondering, the crayfish spent those seven months in a 29 gallon aquarium, not the bowl.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Ainu and Sioux

(Here is a simple 3D drawing of the way the shed was put together.) Impatient with my progress on the shed (in light of the decreasing time available in which to complete it), I returned to the drawing board looking for a simpler means to building a structure for outdoor storage, while trying not to compromise my core aesthetic ideals. The first thing that could be simplified is the complex joinery in a Norwegian trestle frame building. For while the way the joints lock together is beautiful, the cuts take considerable time and energy to get right. On original longhouses, whether constructed by Vikings or Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, the construction was much simpler than trestle frame buildings- it was possible to build them such that no more than two logs met at any joint. So I tried this, but after erecting the first post and beam unit, I soon found that without careful measurements the posts would not stand plumb and square. Though not too critical, the combined error of all the posts together seemed to present a problem. I needed a faster solution. I returned to another alternative construction method I learned about from the Ainu four months ago. Instead of posts supporting the beams, I could use tripods. This is how the Ainu built their houses, and as I learned later, it is also the foundation of most tipis, such as those used by the Sioux. If I lash three posts together, I create a tripod. If I set out four tripods and lay beams across them, I create a shed roof. A tripod requires only rough cuts, and can be put almost anywhere. Shelving, and hooks for tools, could easily be mounted on walls that do not bear the full weight of the roof. I could also make a reciprocal frame roof for the shed, or add two more tripods and make the shed a hexagon shape... there are lots of possibilities. Overall, this seems the most expedient solution. Still, the question remains, can three angled posts bear the same weight as a single vertical post? I will find out.

100 words in Japanese

After reading that five hundred words is the minimum needed for basic communication, I wanted to learn which 500 words are the most important, or frequently used, so that I can focus on learning those first, then move on from there. At the local bookstore, I found a book by Boye De Mente that claimed to contain "100 key words" in Japanese. Here they are:

Words 1-10:
Good Morning おはよう ございます
Good Afternoon こんにち は
Good Evening こんばん は
Thank you very much どうも ありがとう
Pardon me, excuse me, I am sorry, thank you すみません
Please (after you) どうぞ
Please ( - give me) ください
Water みず
I わたし
I (formal) わたくし

Words 11-20
to me わたしに
my, mine わたしの
we/our, ours わたしたち
am, is, are です
am not, is not, are not で は ありません
was, were でした
was not, were not で は ありません でした
name なまえ
what なん / なに
you/ your, yours あなた
(two additional words, a typo in the book):
an American person or American people 
a Japanese person or people

Words 21-30
who/ whose どなた
this これ
that それ
he, she, him, her/ his, hers あの ひと
message メッセージ
when いつ
where どこ
yes はい
Yes, that's so, that's right そう です
no いいえ

Words 31-40
to go (plain) いく
hotel ホテル
to eat たべる
food, meal しょくじ
Japanese food わしょく
Western food ようしょく
to drink のむ
like (be fond of, love) すき
to receive, accept いただきます
(it is) delicious おいしい

Words 41-50
to meet あう
what time? なんじ
To be, have (for objects) ある
how much いくら
high, expensive たかい
cheap, inexpensive やすい
to do する
good (fine, acceptable) いい
which (of two) どちら
which (of many) どれ

Words 51-60
small, little ちいさい
large, big おおきい
number one, most いちばん
to send, mail だす
here ここ
to stop (come to rest). To stay (overnight). とまる
To wait まつ
to come くる
to buy かう
shopping かいもの

Words 61-70
money おかね
to have もつ
to call (out to someone, call a taxi, etc.) よぶ
telephone でんわ
to write かく
to be able to do, can do できる
today きょう
tomorrow あした
English えいご
Japanese にほんご

Words 71-80
how many いくつ
to need, want いる
to understand, to know, to be clear わかる
number/ numbers ばん / ばんごう
one person ひとり
two persons ふたり
three persons さんにん
four persons よにん
time, hour じかん
minute, minutes ふん / ぷん

Words 81-90
morning (AM) ごぜん
afternoon (PM) ごご
taxi タクシー
subway, metro, underground ちかてつ
train でんしゃ
station えき
near ちかい
Bullet train しんかんせん
hot (weather and to the touch) あつい
cold (weather), to feel cold さむい

Words 91-100
cold (to the touch) つめたい
coffee コーヒー
milk ミルク
rain あめ
snow ゆき
to fall, come down ふります
sick びょうき
doctor いしゃ
to walk あるく
far, distant とおい

Special Set Phrases:
Welcome! いらっしゃいませ。
I'm home! ただいま。
Welcome back (home)! おかえり なさい。
I am intruding. Excuse me. おじゃま します。
I have intruded. I have bothered you. Goodbye. おじゃま しました。
Excuse me. I'm sorry. しつれい します。
Sorry for disturbing (bothering) you. しつれい しました。
I receive, accept (the food, drink). いただきます。 (duplicate of word 39 above)
It was nothing. おそまつさま。 
Thanks to you. Thank you for asking. おかげさま で。
Thanks for all your hard work. Well done. ごくろうさま でした。
Please (do something for the speaker). I beg of you. おねがい します。 / おねがい いたします。
Please (do something for the speaker) (very polite). よろしく おねがい します。 

Common Everyday Expressions:
How are you? Are you well? おげんき です か。
I'm fine. And you? げんき です。 ...さん は。
The weather is fine, isn't it! おてんき は いい です ね。
Just a moment, please. (polite) しょうしょう おまち ください。
Just a second! Hang on! (informal) ちょっと まって。
Don't mention it. You're welcome. どう いたしまして。
Pleased to meet you. はじめまして。

Friday, August 21, 2009

first joint

I got serious about building my shed on the 18th of August. I got the logs together, got the chainsaw going, and made some cuts. The weather had other plans for me though, and the rain drove me inside for the rest of the evening. On the 20th I got back outside and made a few more cuts. Finally I have an actual joint to show for it (click the image for a larger view)! Three more of those, and eight other shallow cuts and the basic joinery is all done. You can see most of the tools I've used laying about in the photo. The hard part will be raising the beast when the time comes. A lot of rope and pulleys will be needed.

I started making newer, more accurate diagrams of the joinery than those I posted earlier, but decided it would be easier to just build it and take photos of the actual joints instead. Better than any illustration I could make. But I did create a list of eight steps for how to build a simple trestle building:
  1. Select logs (simplest: 4 posts, 2 beams, 2 rafter-holders; also 8 diagonal braces and 10+ rafters).
  2. Make 5 primary types of cuts for the joinery w/ chainsaw, axe, chisels.
  3. Assemble on ground before fully erecting to adjust and ensure fit.
  4. Select and cut to fit rafters.
  5. Screw diagonal braces to post and beams and erect the two pairs on cinder blocks.
  6. Place rafter-holders on beams and screw diagonal braces between them and posts.
  7. Screw on rafters and roofing.
  8. Dirt or wood floors, and (traditionally) walls are several feet outside of posts, (though may be attached directly to posts).

Monday, August 10, 2009

Jay Shafer

Jay Shafer is a very humble sounding person, but contrasting with this gentle demeanor is a marketing genius. He is at the center of the small home movement and has produced several small home plans as well as authored books, taught workshops, and gets the word out through appearances in big name media outlets. The model home he lives in is called the Epu and it really is amazing how much functionality and efficiency he is able to squeeze into such a small space. Get a tour of his house on youtube. His love of living tiny is echoed by others. This is all very inspirational to me, proving that most anything is possible.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

second thoughts

In a burst of creative thought over the last few days I scoured the pages of my architectural books and magazines (in several languages) as well as the Internet looking for anything that would help me put together a second generation house for my family, as that possibility has been simmering in the back of my mind since returning from our last vacation recently. It started with a trestle-frame addition to stick-frame building, progressed to a long building with a floorplan reminiscent of a mobile home or ATCO structure, and later incorporated a "ryokan" and numerous storage and space saving ideas. At this point it seemed over engineered and I rejected it all, asking myself "Did I lose sight of what's important?" (Double meaning fully implied, as I had been neglecting other responsibilities in pursuit of an ideal house design.) I took the contrary position, feeling that a trestle-frame, like a geodesic dome, should not be a house, as its form is not plastic enough and too rigid. I looked at the other-beauty of rammed earth. Then I reviewed photographs of real trestle-frame buildings, and loved this one of a barn. In America, there was a vogue about a decade ago of restoring old American timber frame barns and converting the interiors into houses. The cathedral ceilings and exposed ancient timbers created a warm (insert adjective evoking fondness of aged things) ambiance that afficionados of the type loved. They didn't substantially change anything about the barn's dimensions. I can learn a lesson from this comparison, as I won't change the dimensions or proportions of this Norwegian barn. I will simply fit the modern American lifestyle within its timbers.

Update: I'd like to build alcove beds, as used in roykstova (traditional Faroese houses), into the sides of a trestle frame shed of about these dimensions.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Birthday: an existential occasion

As I recently passed the anniversary of my birth, I reflected on the current “state of my body”. I also thought about Stephen Covey and existentialism, because of that chapter title of his, “begin with the end in mind”. I want to take better care of my body, beginning with eating and sleeping. Eating staples like grains, legumes, tubers, and healthy food combinations. (Recently I had a great meal, baked salmon marinated in soy sauce and rice wine, with an unusual coleslaw side composed of kohlrabi, radishes, carrots, napa cabbage, and cilantro, in a primarily vinegar dressing. I ate more of the slaw than the salmon! Delicioso!) In a period of two months I want to update my professional counseling certification, construct a log trestle frame building, and progress in my correspondence class. In a year I want to have some conversational Japanese skills, a four year degree from the university, and apply to teach English in Japan. Eventually I might like to build a house in Homer (or Hokkaido?), that incorporates Norwegian log trestle frame construction in at least one wing of the house, and live near the ocean teaching one language or the other in either country. Commuting to work and back by electric bike would be a bonus. And if I learn a second language, perhaps learning to play a musical instrument like the guitar wouldn't be too far a stretch. My life right now is great, but how much more could it still be? Right now, this is a partial vision of one end I have in mind, and the elusive elements of which it is composed that have yet to fall into position.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Brave New World

Probably the best way to get inside the head of another person is to expose yourself to the products of their self expression - stuff like literature, art, and music. This is very effective. Transhumanists might make the following prediction however, that what the Internet has been to personal computing, a computer brain interface allowing technologically enabled telepathy (group mind) would be to the human mind and individual perspective. Very interesting implications can be drawn from such a possibility, but I will stick with literature, art, and music for the time being when I want to see the world through another person's eyes.

Monday, June 29, 2009

lawnmowers and dragonflies

This morning I was reading about a truck that uses gasification technology, and it lead me to thinking about lawnmowers. I need to sharpen my non-motorized push lawnmower or buy one with an engine. I remember reading about Harry Schoell, the inventor of the heat regenerative cyclone engine and their prototype lawnmowers developed as a possible application for the technology (supposedly ready by 2010). That would be fun to have! But then again, if had a lawnmower that used gasification technology, perhaps the grass clippings could be used as the fuel, which would make the lawnmower nearly autonomous, much like a solar powered artificially intelligent lawnmower. If AI beings ever take over the world, my money says it starts with lawnmowers (or a swarm of Roomba vacuum cleaners).

This afternoon I was outside standing and talking with my clients when a dragonfly flew up to me and landed on my left temple. I thought that was just too cool, never happened to me before. I continued giving my speech and let the insect rest on my head. I could just barely see it with my peripheral vision, and feel its light weight on my skin. Think of it as a counter-example to H.P. Lovecraft's cosmic indifferentism if you want.

I haven't the time to read it now, but if you do, tell me what you think of this article about the research of George Vaillant titled "What makes us happy?"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

common sense

I found this picture in my chainsaw manual under the heading "Always use common sense".

Thursday, June 18, 2009


Paraphrased from the website: "The 2000 mpg human-electric hybrid vehicle augments the rider's pedal power with an electric motor and battery traveling 50 miles on $.08 worth of electricity at 30+ mph." Okay, now that I got all the hype out of the way, this is really a very cool bike. It's not a moped, so no loud smelly engine stuff. It's not a recumbent, but it is so cool that I forgive that one design flaw (could be fixed). Electric assist bikes just don't get the attention they deserve. I want. See also the Optibike Owner's group. (This or even this is much more within the realm of the possible for me however.)

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Modern direct-drive recumbent bikes

When a friend of mine told me he was thinking about buying a new recumbent bike, I began surveying the choices available on the market to help him find the right one to meet his needs. Human powered transportation is a subject close to my heart. In the process of reviewing the incredible variation of bikes, I came upon the "direct drive" recumbent bike design that appeals to me (my motivation to help was not purely altruistic). A direct drive bike has the crank axle mounted on the front fork, inside the hub of the driven front wheel; no chain is needed. This front hub also houses a transmission system to allow a wide range of gears for slow or fast speeds.

The direct drive approach, though not commonly seen on bikes today, actually preceded the use of the chain drive, but was overshadowed by it as bicycle designs evolved due to the primitive stage of technical developent of hub gears at the time. The design of the transmission is probably the most complicated part of the whole bike, but today it is no longer a limitation. Planetary gear hub, Schlumpf Speed-Drive, Rohloff 14-speed hub, Sachs "Elan" 12-speed hub, and Biria continuously variable transmission hub: these are some reliable hubs that may be adapted to use in a direct-drive bike, with modification. The overall appearance of a direct drive bike is very clean and simple, and the compact drive system dramatically improves cargo carrying capacity. Though not yet available, were such a bike to enter the market, and if it were designed as carefully as Garnet recommended in his paper, I am sure it would be well received, especially by myself!

One disadvantage of this design is the width of the tread, more commonly known as the q-factor. This is the distance between the pedals that the rider's feet must straddle. Since the geared hub must be within this space, the q-factor cannot practially be reduced beyond the limits imposed by current technological ability to create a small geared hub.

Kretschmer, Thomas (2000). "Direct-drive (chainless) recumbent bicycles.", Human Power, no. 49:11-14.
Garnet, Jeremy (2008). "Ergonomics of direct-drive recumbent bicycles.", Human Power eJournal, article 17, issue 05.
Photo of Kretschmer's bike
Another bike built by Stefan Daniel

Sunday, May 31, 2009

DIY lawn irrigation

Tired of lugging around 50 foot sections of garden hose every day to water the lawn, I set out to automate the system. I was told that water sprinklers were preferable to drip irrigation or soaker hoses. I went to Home Depot, Lowe's, Fred Meyer and Walmart to compare products and prices. When I put it all together later that same night, I ended up with an impressive system that makes watering the lawn a snap. And I found out that plumbing my lawn's irrigation is as much fun as aquarium plumbing; it is really satisfying when it all comes together well. My system basically consists of two separate runs of impact sprinklers. The lower run has three impact sprinklers and the upper run also has three impact sprinklers with a soaker hose added at the end. Each sprinkler is separated by 50 feet of garden hose.

The picture here shows what this looks like. The large rectangles are two voluminous water tanks that lead to pumps. One of the pumps has an expansion tank, while the other does not. These lead to a system of valves that may be opened or closed (indicated by "equal" signs) and water emitting devices (small circles). The water tank without an expansion tank is connected to the roof gutter via piping.

One of the more unique parts of the system is how the pump is operated. The pump sits above the underground rainwater storage tank, but in order to draw water up (since it is not submerged in the tank) it must first be primed with the addition of water to the pipe leading to it so that it can maintain a suction. I attached a garden hose to an outdoor water spigot on my house and put the other end on the garden tank pump. (You can see in the diagram that a system of valves links the two pumps together.) Water is forced into the garden tank pump when the nozzle is turned on. Once the garden tank pump and piping is filled, it is turned on and the outdoor water spigot is turned off. At this point the garden tank pump is fully operational. Due to the length of the irrigation lines only one run of sprinklers is operated at a time to maintain sufficient pressure in the system. It all works very smoothly and only the opening and closing of valves in the system is needed to start and stop the whole system from beginning to end. I can buy an automatic timer to run the system when I am on vacation, some of the fancier models of these use a moisture sensor to prevent over watering.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

perspectives on work

Compassion is the wish for someone to be free from suffering, or at the very least that their suffering will diminish. It's a big deal to Mahayana Buddhists. I don't claim to be Buddhist, but I do need to have compassion for my work, to hope that it will be conducted with high standards for quality and be praised for its merits. My work is the foundation for all wholesome things in my life. But that is not enough reason, the best reason is becuase unlike anything else, only I can rescue my work and elevate it to its rightful position. It suffers the most of all, and it desperately needs my attention and compassion more than anything else. Were I to neglect it, it will surely die. Of what else could this be said? I think I should attend first to those things that suffer most for lack of my attention, and only later on those that can survive just as well without me.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In other news...

The monthly review of magazines at the local bookstore yeilded a few good articles. First off were a few about Roald Gunderson, who builds houses using trees in their natural state. They are not cut into dimensional lumber. The results are unorthodox to say the least, and once you are past the shock it is really very charming. But what impressed me the most were the structural advantages of this approach, as well as the low cost and sustainability of this construction method.

But if you ask enough people, you will soon discover that very few things are genuinely new. Roald Gundersen's approach, while already tried by a few creative hippies, was presaged hundreds of years ago in the form of Japanese Minka houses, which utilize long unmilled tree trunks as structural beams and rafters. The "taiko beam" is especially graceful. They are truly beautiful buildings.

Also not new is Robert Lanza's idea of scientific biocentrism. This idea already existed within Chinese philosophy hundreds of years ago. One well known example is Wang Yang-Ming. Lanza does reinterpret this idea for a new generation and places it within the context of modern science, giving it new life. So I am glad for that.

I also came across an article in Natural History Magazine about the role of alloparenting in human evolution.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Trestle-frame buildings

In 1998 The Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (Norsk institutt for kulturminneforskning) published the proceedings of a seminar, subsequently titled "Grindbygde hus i Vest-Norge" which translates as "Trestle-frame buildings in Western Norway". When I saw this document a few days ago I became very excited, it was the largest body of information I've found yet about this form of construction that I learned about a year ago and maintained an interest in since. Finally I have an accurate English translation for grindbygg, which means "trestle-frame building". You might be familiar with trestle bridges that use a number of slightly splayed vertical braced frames to support a bridge. Indeed, this closely resembles the basic framework of a grindbygg. Much of the document is in Norwegian, but summaries are provided in English as well as several English articles. The real pleasure are the many illustrations. One summary provides the best written description of trestle framed buildings, which I will paraphrase here:

In traditional trestle-framed buildings two posts and a transverse beam are put together to form a transverse trestle, with longitudinal beams connecting each trestle to its immediate neighbors. The transverse beam is placed directly on top of the post, resting in a notch cut in the post’s crown. The longitudinal beams, which carry the rafters, are placed just inside the tops of the posts. The trestle frame is stabilized by means of diagonal wooden braces between the posts and the beams.

Pure poetry! But if that wasn't clear see one of the pictures accompanying previous entries on this subject.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

grindbyggs again

A few days ago I saw the latest issue of Natural Home Magazine, which mentioned Jay Shafer, who owns a tiny home. A little more research convinced me that I want to build a bunch of small buildings. While a shipping container might be the right size and good in many other respects, it also has toxic components and is not decomposable; once set in place it is very difficult to alter or move. I want something that is organic, that can grow into position, blend into its surroundings, and peacefully decay just as quickly. Solve et coagula. I also want something that reflects my labor of love, that is a work of art first and a functional shelter second. I even would give it a title like all great artwork deserves. I would call it "shelter" or more abstractly "how to survive a drought". All my artwork is created at little or no expense, partly because I am naturally frugal, and partly because I do not want to spend a lot of money on something that I don't really need and may not care for anyway. What form of shelter can I make that is small, decomposable, artful and cheap? I reconsidered the relatively labor intensive grindbygg, which had lately fallen into disfavor due to the greater flexibility of frame construction methods.

One of the challenges I face regardless of what I build is that at any location on my lot the ground is sloping to a greater or lesser degree and in no where is it flat. This increases complexity of the foundation. One of the advantages of the grindbygg is that it relies on a series of vertical posts to support the compressive weight of the roof, each of which can be cut to any length to adjust to the changing elevation of the plot it sits on, a different kind of foundation from the typical frame building. These posts are completely enclosed within the structure, protecting them from the effects of the weather. Posts and beams are very heavy, however if I make the shortest of the posts only three feet tall, then the grindbygg so constructed will still retain many of its advantages while being easier to erect. Such a building could serve as a modest shed, the first so built being a test of my ideas. I will need to buy a chainsaw to build with or I would soon lose hope of completing the project. A grindbygg can be small, decomposable, artful and cheap. The challenge is to complete this potentially time consuming project within one summer. I may need to use Wally Wallington's methods to erect the frames.

I like a grindbygg for all the functions that its form allows. Here is very useful see through picture I found recently.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

mental exercise

Here's a question that might be a good way to "get to the point" when discussing religion. Supposing it's possible that one day you and God disagree on something, what do you do? Do you do what God thinks is right, or do you do what you think is right?

Christians sometimes seem more afraid of not being called Christian than they are of not doing the right thing. Jesus cared more about the spirit of the law than the letter of the law, even though he also said that not even a tilda would be erased from the law of God (interpret this however you want). Nonetheless, if it is the spirit of the law that matters most, then it does not matter whether we are Christians or atheists, it only matters if we live with love and careful regard towards all those whom our actions affect. So I'd ask you: how do you answer?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

long term goals

Here is a simple diagram of my long term goals. I haven't given anything beyond four years that much thought yet. I wonder if these are really just short term goals in that case. But then again, near sighted as I am, seeing any further goals may be contingent upon reaching these earlier ones first.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Seeing this life out

No wonder people find it difficult to set and work towards long term goals, the ability to think on long time scales seems to be a rare skill these days. I have had an interest in time and how the mind perceives it for several years now - is it possible to think on scales of months, years, and decades as if they were as real as the next hour, day, or week? Taken to an extreme, this creates a sense of timelessness, the same feeling that a religious person might experience when contemplating immortality. How far into the future can one rationally plan before lofty aspirations become pure fantasy and the last threads anchoring them to reality are severed?

Long term goals are important for a reason that did not become obvious to me until the last few days. Whatever other thoughts they may have had (or lacked), the recent shootings in Germany and Alabama were carried out by people who had no personal long term goals here on Earth.

One long term goal example from Don't Delay: global sustainability

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


In 1943 Arturo Rosenblueth set the basis of cybernetics, proposing that behavior controlled by negative feedback, whether in animal, human or machine, was a determinative, directive principle in nature. Cybernetics focuses on how anything (digital, mechanical or biological) processes information, reacts to information, and changes to better accomplish the first two tasks. It is "the art of ensuring the efficacy of action" according to Louis Couffignal. A premise one might find implied here is that the stimulus behind behavior is the achievment of a goal.

Sound familiar? This has a lot to do with procrastination. In the field of psychology, the importance of monitoring and regulating one's attention to a task prompted George Miller to coin the acronym T.O.T.E.: test-operate-test-exit. In the same breath we could also talk about optimal foraging theory and control theory (a close sister to cybernetics). Each employs a specific example of the classic feedback model. In general terms, feedback is the process in which part of the output of a system is returned to its input in order to regulate its further output. Dare I say it, this is the most important principle for self-regulation in the battle against procrastination. Of course, it cannot address all the fundamental reasons for irrational delay, but it is a very big piece. (Sources: Don't Delay and as usual Wikipedia.)

Postscript 01 March 2009:
In 1973 William Powers built upon ideas like those of Rosenblueth's. He proposed the Perceptual Control Theory model of behavioral organization, which states that living organisms are closed-loop systems that act to keep perceptual variables in pre-specified states, protected from disturbances caused by variations in environmental circumstances. Which makes sense when considering a quote from Claude Bernard (1813-1878): "The constancy of the internal environment is the condition for a free and independent life."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


The predator's mind is always fixed on its prey. It's senses are tuned to seek it out. It's body is ready to attack it. "I will not be robbed of the joy of victory. Success will be mine."
Nature, red in tooth and claw -Tennyson

What reaction does this photo elicit from the human observer? It is easier to identify with the seal, but if you were in the mind of the shark what would you be thinking or feeling? Aggression, hatred, fear, joy? None of the above? Source

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

predatory animal

If efficient goal pursuit is similar to hunting, and predatory animals symbolize hunting, which predator might represent this best?

Phyllocrania paradoxa
Able to actively hunt or ambush with lightning fast limbs and sharp vision, while remaining camouflaged in appearance and motion, the praying mantis wins my vote for most successful predator. As PZ noted, evolution does not create perfect predators, but only "good enough". Even so, though mantids primarily catch and eat other invertebrates, they are notorious for a taxonomically diverse diet that may include amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, given the opportunity. Considering we are talking about a lowly insect, whose closest relatives are cockroaches, this is no small feat.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

predatory behavior and the goal of an easy meal

I have visited the subjects of apex predators (in 2005), camouflage, and competition in the past. Here I've edited a selection of material from Wikipedia on the subject of hunting, which I believe can be very instructive when considering efficient goal pursuit:

The act of predation can be broken down into a maximum of four stages: Detection of prey, attack, capture and finally consumption. Optimal foraging theory states that all organisms, including predators, will act in such a way as to maximize their energy intake per unit time. In other words, they behave in such a way as to find, capture and consume food containing the most calories while expending the least amount of time and energy possible in doing so.

Predators may hunt actively for prey, or sit and wait for prey to approach within striking distance. Ambush predators or sit-and-wait predators are carnivorous animals that capture prey by stealth or cunning, not by speed or necessarily by strength. These organisms usually hide motionless and wait for prey to come within striking distance. They are often camouflaged, and may be solitary. Camouflage, a form of crypsis, involves concealment and obscurity; it is not limited to the commonly encountered visual camouflage of color, shape, and pattern, but encompasses other senses as well to deceive the observer into making a false judgment about the camouflaged object. Predators may also use mimicry to lure, traps or tools to catch, and complex weaponry to subdue and kill their prey.

In much of the world, humans are the largest, best-organized, most cunning, and most powerful predators. Nonetheless, broadly speaking, optimal foraging theory should still be capable of describing their behavior as well.

Monday, February 9, 2009

stalking the goal, a hunter's guide

Is the goal like a wary animal, conscious of its stalker, that takes flight when it suspects the approach of a hunter? If I do not pursue the target, what then should I aim for? We should not aim, we should disguise our earnest pursuit in the folly of play, a clever camouflage. Play, turned to deadly accuracy only at the last moment, when success has been assured.

Goal pursuit bears more than a passing resemblance to hunting: a target, the execution of a careful plan, exertion, elation upon success.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

rant and rave

What are we working for? To make life easier, not harder. To make life better, healthier, more fun and safe. To free up as much leisure time as possible for serendipitous discovery or to spend however we want. And when our collective efficiency improves, we can better fund science research and other self-actualization/growth needs. There is no reason for people to work two or three jobs and have few to no vacations (unless that's what they like). That is all backwards! I'm not an economist, but something seems wrong here.

I'll admit it... I like the flute hook in ABBA's song "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A man after midnight)". If I had to pick a ring tone for a cell phone, that would be it. Or it would be a Wong Kar-Wai film song like Baroque (from Chungking Express), Perfidia, or Siboney (both from 2046).

As of the 29th of last month, I am once again a fish owner. I forgot just how amazingly relaxing keeping fish is.

07 Feb 2009 postscript to entry:

While utilitarians, and more broadly, consequentialists might agree, Nietzsche would not, as he expressed an opinion that we owe many of our advances to the effects of suffering, which has urged humankind to become better than we otherwise might be (Beyond Good and Evil p225). This is a train of thought within normative ethics that I have returned to many times, and by now it is becoming quite old. Each time I try to approach it differently and elucidate something new that hadn't been considered before. Viktor Frankl stated a common observation once, that when we stop striving for something at that moment it is most easily obtained.
" long as you are pursuing happiness, as the phrase reads, as long as you are aiming at happiness you cannot obtain it. The more you make it a target, the more you miss the aim, and you miss the target." (Interview, South Africa, 1985).
What are we working for? We will understand why we work when we stop working.

08 Feb 2009 post-postscript:

Returning to Nietzsche's apparent objection to the goal of making life easier, it is important to reflect that suffering would not lead to achievement were we not urged by the desire to relieve it and make life easier. Suffering is a relative condition, everything has its own threshold. Within existentialism, even the mere fact of existence and personal freedom leads to angst, a form of suffering. So Nietzsche need not be concerned that life would be free from suffering or too easy some day. That day will probably never come. His point, of course, is that we should not forget its important contribution toward shaping who we are. To make life easier one must not be apathetic about the world nor feel one's own actions are inconsequential.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Blog review: Don't Delay

I read all of the posts on Don’t Delay; they were very good. I’d like to distill here some of the highlights that made an impression on me. First let’s review the costs of procrastination:
“It has been associated with depression, guilt, low exam grades, anxiety, neuroticism, irrational thinking, cheating and low self-esteem. …It can be an extremely disabling psychological condition.”
And some of the speculated reasons for procrastination:
  • Lack of conscientiousness, defined as self-discipline, orderliness and organization, is a key personality trait that is highly correlated with procrastination.
  • Lack of self-discipline is the strongest facet-level predictor of procrastination.
Who is not likely to procrastinate?
Individuals who tend to use an early action pacing style in task execution [as opposed to a deadline action pacing style] are most likely to meet deadlines. At least in western cultures, there is a common planning bias that leads to overly optimistic predictions. Generally, people underestimate how much time tasks will take and overestimate how much they will get done.
A few parts confirmed my suspicions:
  • External control has negative consequences in the long run, possibly including alienation from personal preferences.
  • Different types of procrastinators respond differently to certain levels of evaluation threat.
  • Those who consider themselves procrastinators may actually be quite efficient at getting [tasks] done once they start.
Emphasis was placed on procrastination as an existential issue, and Pychyl explains the reasons behind this very well. I had never thought of it this way before, but it makes a lot of sense. In support of this he has referred to three well known books:
  • Paul Tillich, The Courage to Be
  • Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning (1945)
  • Steven Covey, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
From the existential point of view “procrastination is about choice”, and consequently we need to “bring conscious attention to our choice to needlessly delay a task and examine this honestly in relation to our values, needs, and goals. Empirical research has repeatedly shown that striving toward self-concordant goals strengthens the link between goal progress and well-being... Our actions, goals, and personal projects need to align with our sense of identity and purpose in life or we're more likely to disengage... We need to link the personal meaning of our goals to the tasks at hand.” Paul Tillich argues that courage is needed to live an authentic life, as opposed to living in “bad faith” (an existentialist phrase, which also describes something procrastinators do all the time). Engaging in life courageously requires we do three things:
  • Affect change in our lives by taking control and not waiting on fate.
  • Be committed to whom we are as individuals and the uniqueness this represents.
  • Accept the changes and stresses of life as a challenge to address as opposed to a threat to avoid.
These steps are echoed in several other formulations. Pychyl himself has said:
  • Just get started (behavior or action).
  • Don’t give in to feel good (emotions).
  • Be honest with yourself (cognitions).
Similar general advice to defeat procrastination:
  • Set short-term goals.
  • Learn and use strategies to make the task at hand more interesting.
  • Look past the initial negative feelings you might have about a task.
Frankl used two simple ideas to combat any tendancy he had to procrastinate:
  • "Do everything as soon as possible"
  • "Do the unpleasant tasks first."
Addressing the existential nature of procrastination is important, though it is equally important to remember that “emotion regulation can often undermine self-control efforts.”
"Don't give in to feel good! It's easy to focus on our feelings and work to feel better now at the expense of the long-term goal. Don't. Expect to feel lousy when you begin.. If you can move past this initial discomfort and get started, your attitude will follow your behavior."

"Acting on our intentions, even on our self-concordant goals can be problematic at times because we can fall prey to some all too human shortcomings such as the way we think (e.g., temporal discounting, intransitive preference structures or irrational beliefs like worry), or our tendency to want to do "mood repair" first to feel good... Work with what you have. Move in the direction of the desired behavior. Don't give up. Keep a positive attitude [but it isn't a necessity]."
In the end:
"Progress on our goals makes us feel happier and more satisfied with life. Interestingly, positive emotions have the potential to motivate goal-directed behaviors and volitional processes (e.g., self-regulation to stay on task) that are necessary for further goal progress or attainment. Very clearly you can see how if you "prime the pump" by making some progress on your goals, the resulting increase in your subjective well-being enhances further action and progress… we experience the strongest positive emotional response when we make progress on our most difficult goals."

"We often need to transcend the current situation to see our current task within the context of our overarching goals and values. Doing this allows us to find the meaning in what may seem a meaningless task. Linking the task to our values and finding meaning in the task also reduces its aversiveness... Hope springs eternal for those who transcend the immediate situation, particularly their feelings, and find meaning in their goals... Helping people become more hopeful might reduce their procrastination. Be kind with yourself, yet also be relentlessly mindful, firmly bringing your attention back to your goal and your focus to the schedulable act at hand."
A quote favored by Pychyl that seems particularly suited to the subject:
"Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference." Robert Frost (1874-1963)

My reflections:

The identification of procrastination with existentialism is very important. And so, to me, the most important entry Pychyl wrote was when he identified procrastination as a existential problem, describing existentialism in this way:
"I'll stick with Sartre and his terse, I think rather clear, way of defining the existential problem, "man's existence precedes his essence." We're in the world and exist before we know our purpose, before we understand that essence that provides meaning, that defines us. Our essence is what we make of ourselves. It's our choice, and this is the crux of it. Existentialism is a philosophy of choice."
For many years I have often thought to myself "I don't know why I am doing anything." At these times when I need a motivating reason, I find one that will suit the purpose though it is dropped quickly. Perhaps this was because it was too superficial. My latest effort took a different approach. Usually I have looked for recurring themes in what I have taken an interest to over the years in my life, as well as what is important in my relationships with other people. This time I created an all encompassing task list of several hundred items and from this identified four things to focus on. The task list is periodically updated as new things are added when they arise and other things are removed as they are completed. The abridged list of four items remains relatively constant and serves as a reminder of the purpose and meaning I have chosen for my life. This has lent greater stability to my life and brought much more focus to my efforts, though I have yet to fully realize its benefits.

Procrastination is very much an existential issue for me. People used to ask me why I procrastinate. At first I said I don't know why. Later I said I don't know why I should do anything. Now I can say it is an existential problem. But hopefully I won't be asked that question as often. Incidentally, the four items are: provide quality youth education, family activities, learn Japanese, and make a few useful things out of wood. They define my life and aspirations fairly well.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

An appeal to behavioral change over technological advance.

Dynamic carpooling- I've brought this up before, whether here or elsewhere. Now I see a description of it on Wikipedia. This is the social side of a combined social/technical solution to optimizing transportation efficiency. If you have a long commute it would really pay off. Just the other day I heard Daniel Sperling bring it up during his interview on NPR.

I think there is a misconception about the right path to a more efficient or globally responsible way of life. People tend to conceive this as a problem that requires a single solution. Of course, it requires many different solutions and approaches to the problem. I think the reason for this is that few people are willing to change their behaviors and accustomed way of living, and accordingly, if they wish to reduce human caused pollution, they hope to achieve this almost exclusively through technological innovations that make their consumerables less polluting. When it comes to vehicles, these are the people who see solar-electric and fuel cell technology as the answer to a healthier planet. I think this is very narrow thinking. Before I am accused of being a Luddite, let me state for the record that I would be the last person to say we do not need to develop better technological solutions and find ways to affordably mass produce them to get them into the hands of consumers. However, if we remove resistance to social change and our engrained behavior patterns, we do not need any technical advances to acheive the goal of sustainability. I know, it is easy to say, but it is also easy to forget. Sustainability is more a behavioral problem than a technological one. Answers that address our way of living can provide solutions right now. Technology will provide us with new possibilities, but let's not sacrifice our past in the race for the future. Let's do what we are already able to do right now.

A few more misconceptions I see:

Few people seem to know what waste really is. Waste is not waste if it can be used as a resource or fuel at the next step down the chain. Just because it isn't used right now doesn't mean it won't be put to use later or by someone or something else. Waste is better defined by it's social and environmental costs, which need to be understood first. Before we can understand efficiency or recycling we need to know more about waste.

More is not always better. This assumption often goes unnoticed. There is a futurist periodical called "Infinite Energy"- maybe I should coin the term energy lust to describe this, because I have no idea what someone would do with infinite energy were they to actually get it.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

consciousness and time

Slime mold has just been added to the list of animals for whom scientific speculation exists about their status as conscious (or at least intelligent) beings. I am always fascinated as this list grows and which lifeforms get added to it- in fact I should make a referenced list someday. A much more exclusive list is that of self aware creatures, to which the magpie has been added, the second non-mammalian addition after pigeons.

As I was waiting for a friend to visit, I began to think about how my perception of the passage of time changes depending on what I am doing. After considering several different situations from faster to slower perceptions of the passage time, it seemed to lead to the conclusion that time doesn't exist for dead people, and consciousness, therefore, must include a sense of the passage of time. If this is true, then in answer to the question: "Where do you go/ what happens when you die?" would be "You don't go anywhere and nothing happens; everything stops". But stopping stops too; it is utterly impossible to imagine, let alone describe, nothing. As we can only imagine something, the only state that has any reality to us is conscious awareness, and that is all that would appear to ever have any meaningful existence to us. Though we die, if ever we are, we are alive.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


I came across a link to Timothy Pychyl's blog Don't Delay, which is devoted to the subject of procrastination, while reading Procrastinating Again? How to Kick the Habit, an article that appeared in Scientific American Mind recently. Sometimes it seems to me that I need to work as hard or harder in my personal life as I do in my professional life, if I am to succeed at all. It is easy to believe that working hard eight hours a day in my personal life will improve my professional life as well. The only things that could slow one down is severe fatigue or illness. The blog sounds interesting. Without reading it yet I'll bet perception is the key to fending off this common foe.

Friday, January 2, 2009

New Year's resolution - asceticism required?

I believe that I am most emotionally honest in dreams, even with myself, as it is easy to fool oneself too. Last night (or rather the early morning of the first of January) I had a dream in which I saw through images the tension between fear and greed. Step aside Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Hsun Tzu, and make way for the powerful psycho-analytical cynicism I am about to unleash on the world! Accordingly, my New Year's resolution for 2009 is to resolve the tension between fear and greed in my life, though it will not be easy. In my dream I saw how I inured myself to fear in order to satisfy my greed. There was a dark terror approaching, and I saw it on the faces of loved ones, though I willfully ignored it in order to get some much desired things that had sentimental or amusement value. I wanted to leave, but I wanted to stay as well. I could not bring myself to choose which to sacrifice. Of course, the decision should be easy, and yet there was a palpable tension. As I reflected on this, I think that if I heed the rational fear to prepare for the terrors that can anticipated, then I will have much less stress in my life. It is a perennial problem, but the dream brought it to rarefied form, and on what an auspicious day! In Japan, the first dream of the new year has a particularly important meaning.

I've already started the ball rolling to become a self described "wabi sabi woodwright". I'll post photos of my first completed project soon!