Blur Circle

Steve Yost's weblog

January 23, 2004
Dean scream: wtf?

What's the fuss?

OK, I was in a media vacuum yesterday and didn't catch one of the thousand replays of the famous Dean scream, just all the media talk about it. By the end of the day I imagined a mangled wail, a long choked howl, a gurgling savage roar. I likened it in my mind to the Steve Ballmer Simian Stomp clip. I imagined how it could call into doubt his stability as a presidential candidate.

Today, someone showed me the Diane Sawyer interview containing the clip, and I was flabbergasted. Floored. Stunned. At the incredible hype over someone effectively yelling "whoohoo" at a rally. What the f--k? The only plausible explanation for the flap that I can think of is that the media is skeletally starved for a story.

January 22, 2004
Maximum entanglement theory

If you've ever moved your computer, you've probably noticed how the wires have become tangled in ways you wouldn't think possible. Or maybe you've been puzzled by knots in power tool cords that appear when you uncoil a seemingly neatly coiled length. I call this the priciple of maximum entanglement. I posted about this awhile ago but it still bothers me, and I actually do wonder if there is some topological entropy theory behind it. The maximum entanglement principle would apply on all scales, and could actually be a mechanism for interesting things that happen at the cellular level.

Anyway, whenever I try to extract a coathanger from a closet or get an elastic drawstring from my jacket surprisingly caught on a doorknob, I mutter "maximum entanglement" (making sure nobody is within earshot, of course).

January 20, 2004

I love this aphoristic post on Eeksy Peeksy.

January 16, 2004

Two things happened within a day of each other: our year-old DVD player stopped working, and I noticed that the head ("skin") of one of my bongos was torn. The bongos probably cost $60-70 new, the DVD player cost $80. I did due diligence repairing both. I tried cleaning the lens on the DVD player; had to take it apart to do that. For the bongos, I spent at least an hour on web looking for replacement heads, finally finding, where Chet was super-helpful and patient with my insanely persistent daily calls until he finally reached his supplier by phone to find the right replacement.

I'm trashing the DVD player, and have few regrets, and no attachment. On the other hand, I'm getting new heads for the bongos, costing about the original price of the bongos themselves, and I know my heart will leap when the package arrives.

There's some irony that the DVD player represents hundreds of stunning technical acheivements and manufacturing wizardry, while the bongos are accomplished with little more than iron age technology, and I have much more attachment to them. To be fair, the bongos were a gift 10 years ago from my best buddy, but if he'd given me a VCR, I'd chuck it with nearly the same ambivalence. The bongos carry memories of great times and active participation, and represent in their simplicity somehow a much more human craft.

January 13, 2004
Google and blogs

I'm more convinced about my prediction about Google's plans for Blogger, i.e. blog-specific searches, especially recommendations. Following yesterday's post, check out a search for its title. Or "Concept2 good". Blog recommendations have power.

[late-breaking news: Google for "Google and Blogs" (in quotes) and this entry comes up third]

January 10, 2004
Subaru Outback head gasket

The Subaru Outback has a problem: its head gasket tends to blow out at around 90,000 miles. Someone told me this, and I checked with my mechanic and he confirmed it, mentioning he'd replaced an Outback head gasket just the previous week. Subaru may have fixed the problem by now. Ours is a 1999. The problem may be so common that you might exepect Subaru to have issued a recall about it, but one can imagine that that would be extremely expensive for them, and it's probably not normally a safety-related issue.

My mechanic says the best way to prevent the head gasket blowout is to make sure the engine never overheats. Always make sure there's enough coolant, and replace the coolant every couple of years.

This post is way out of character for this weblog. My main purpose in posting it here is to have it show up in search engine results so people can find it, and maybe pester Subaru about it.

Limiting computer time

To improve my quality of life, I'm going to limit my time in front of a computer to a certain number of hours per week. That's why this post is short.

January 09, 2004

I subscribe to a mailing list called 'sunlight'. They send a poem from Rumi or another Sufi poet each day. Today's was one that I'll save.

Ghazal (Ode) 563

^ ^ ^ ^ ^

My heart, sit only with those
who know and understand you.
Sit only under a tree
that is full of blossoms.
In the bazaar of herbs and potions
don't wander aimlessly
find the shop with a potion that is sweet
If you don't have a measure
people will rob you in no time.
You will take counterfeit coins
thinking they are real.
Don't fill your bowl with food from
every boiling pot you see.
Not every joke is humorous, so don't search
for meaning where there isn't one.
Not every eye can see,
not every sea is full of pearls.
My heart, sing the song of longing
like the nightingale.
The sound of your voice casts a spell
on every stone, on every thorn.
First, lay down your head
then one by one
let go of all distractions.
Embrace the light and let it guide you
beyond the winds of desire.
There you will find a spring and nourished by its see waters
like a tree you will bear fruit forever.

--Translated by Azima Melita Kolin
and Maryam Mafi
"Rumi: Hidden Music"
HarperCollins Publishers Ltd, 2001

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

My heart, be seated near that person who has experience of
the heart, go under that tree which bears fresh blossoms.
Go not in every direction as do idlers in this druggists¹
market; sit in the shop of someone who has sugar in his shop.
If you have no balance, then every one waylays you; one
man adorns a counterfeit coin, and you imagine that he has
Cheatingly he sets you by the door, saying, "I am coming"
- do not sit expectant at the door, for that house has two doors.
Do not bring your cup to every pot that seethes, and do not
sit there, for every seething pot has within in something else.
Not every reed holds sugar; not every under has an over;
not every eye has sight; not every sea holds pearls.
Lament, singing nightingale, because the drunkard's lament
has some effect, some effect even on rocks and stones.
Put aside your head if you have no room, for if the thread is
not contained in the eye of the needle that is because it has a head.
This wakeful heart is a lantern; hold it under your skirt; pass
away from this wind and air, for the air puts it into commotion.
When you have passed away from the wind you have become a
dweller in a fountain, you have become companion to a confederate
who pours cooling water on the heart.
When you have water on your heart, you are like a green
tree which constantly yields new fruit, and journeys within the Heart.

-- Translation by A.J. Arberry
"Mystical Poems of Rumi 1"
The University of Chicago Press 1968/1991

January 07, 2004
no pain, no gain => no workout?

I've been doing this wacky exercise program, where as long as I'm working out by 6am, it doesn't matter what I do; it can be as easy as sitting on my rowing machine and shuffling at a walking pace for a set distance. I've never been good at consistency, so that's the weak point I'm working on. And despite that, things are improving.

This makes me wonder whether the "no pain, no gain" maxim unnecessarily polarizes us into type-A crazed workout people and jobba-the-huts on wheels. Maybe what we need is more opportunities for very low-stress social exercise, like regular walks at lunchtime. Being mostly driven by other things, we need to form social habits. The Exerblog is my social habit for what it's worth. I just pretend people are reading it, and the imagined obligation to post keeps me going. We could do a lot better than that.

January 05, 2004
Subverted nerd greed

There's a cyclic process of acqusitiveness that usually happens. For me, it's every two or three years that I want a techy purchase just to "keep up with technology". But this year, I honestly can't think of anything I want.

I toyed with buying a Mac, but my general gathering is, though they evoke a sense of careful design and care for the user's experience that you don't get with PCs, there's still the modicum of sys admin to do. Overall, I'm not currently feeling any pain about my PCs (don't ask about the past) -- not enough to warrant the inevitable pain, time, and expense of "nesting".

I can't think of a good use for a PDA -- nothing I do daily that I can't do with an index card and maybe my ancient voice recorder.

I'm even deferring getting a wireless router, though the router *and* PC card are in the $100 range (see, I'm watching).

I can't justify the expense of a $350 17" flat panel monitor for the small amount of extra real estate over my 15" laptop monitor.

I have a cheap digital camera (got a "reconditioned" last-year's model for around $100) that I don't use much. The habit of easily getting paper prints and putting them in albums for easy, natural sharing with relatives and guests is too entrenched.

The only thing I'm obsessing about lately is a digital drum set (only because a real one is impractical in our family life (i.e. my wife would leave me). But I really should do more with my saxophone and piano and guitar and djembe before taking on another musical toy. So I'm gonna learn a few standards on the sax and play at nursing homes or something with my pianist friend.

January 04, 2004
Only Exerblog today

The Exerblog post of the day has sapped my meager creativity.

January 03, 2004
The shape of effort

Reflecting more on the thesis of The Red Queen, this idea of running to stay in place appears in daily life. Our nature is to be in a constant state of struggle of some kind. We set goals (if we're organized), reach them (or not) and soon set more goals. Maybe the most direct example is exercise -- to get anywhere other than my default state, there is no static goal, just a level of weekly maintenance to do -- effort spent on a particular chosen thing.

Backing up for a larger perspective, I can ask, what's the profile of my effort every day or over a year? Where did my energy get spent, and was I aware of it? Did I have a goal, and is it a long-term or short-term goal, or was it daily maintenance? Geez, I'm starting to sound like Steven Covey or something. Wait (he protests), it's deeper than just time management. But maybe that is a manifestation -- it's just not the goal. For me, having an exoskeleton of recordkeeping that I bump against might be a needed reminder not to just sleepwalk along my way.

January 02, 2004
Running to stay in one place

I'm reading Matt Ridley's book The Red Queen. The title comes from the chess piece in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass that runs but stays in the same place, and that's the basis for the most intriguing idea so far (I'm halfway through it): that evolution isn't really progress, but a continual "effort" to stay in one place or survive in relation to parasites, bacteria, viruses, and to a lesser extent other species on our own size scale.

This is one of those world-view-influencing notions that, like Robert Wright's The Moral Animal will stay with me and shed a different (not necessarily exclusive) light on many of my own and other's motivations.

While The Red Queen seems to focus (so far) on competition and selection, a necessary inclusion in these lines of ideas are that fact that all life is interrelated and cooperating, e.g. we wouldn't do well without the zillions of bacteria that inhabit our digestive system (a point that Ridley makes in passing).

The section I'm currently reading deals with the evolution of sex and specifically the reason there are two sexes in humans. This kind of "evolution of evolution" reasoning fascinates me. I'm also interested in whether he'll discuss my idee fixee, the evolution of ever-more complex organisms, or "how did we get here"?

January 01, 2004
Out with the old, making room for the new

We live in a small house. I partly like it that way (except that we can't entertain as comfortably as we'd like) because it makes us keep posessions from accumulating. Anything new needs to be accompanied by pitching something to make room for it. The hardest aspect of this rule is when it comes to books.

A few days ago I was looking at my bookshelf of lesser-valued books, trying to decide what to give away. This is such a melancholy process: remembering that I really enjoyed a book, only vaguely remembering its details, and hardest, admitting that I'll likely never read it again -- a small death.

We recently re-watched the Steven Speilberg movie Empire of the Sun, a movie that was for me overly cinematically contrived, except for one scene that was absolutely arresting and which comes back to me from time to time: the mostly-British survivors of Japanese detainment camps in China, after walking a long way through fields, come to a stadium seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Walking throught the gates they find strewn across the entire field all the items of opulence and luxury that soldiers have taken from their estates: grandfather clocks, grand pianos, and beautiful furniture, all just strewn about as in some heavenly junkyard. The message isn't subtle, and the sense of wasted effort is what strikes me most, both the effort of accumulating that wealth and the effort of dragging it to this luxury graveyard.

It's the essence of that feeling that strikes me when I have to consider getting rid of a book.

[There's one bright note here: getting rid of Stephen Wolfram's A New Kind of Science will make room for three new books, and there's no sense of loss.]