Wednesday, January 31, 2007

A Question I Was Hoping Not To Ponder

Would you consider a serious relationship with someone knowing she believed in premarital chastity?
I've been agonizing over this question for the past week or so. Not so much about the question itself, but whether answering it in a public venue was a good idea. And of course once I realized the nature of my discomfort, I had to face it straight-on. Sometimes I don't like the way my brain works.

Until someone actually asked me the question (thanks bunches for putting me on the spot, by the way), I thought the answer would be a clear no. I think I've written before about what I think about casual sex vs. premarital sex in general, but it bears repeating that I'm on board with the idea of sex being best in a committed, caring relationship. I'll also repeat that I think it very strange to completely cut off such a integral part of our humanity over what seems like outdated, puritanical impulses. I think I've mellowed a little in my attitudes during my recent exposure to other traditions and cultures, but by that I mean I have more respect, when before I thought they were just silly. Are they for me? Probably not.

But in the final analysis, I think the choice is a false one. That is, who ever gets to make a decision like that without having a certain amount of investment in the relationship already? There's really no way of knowing how serious a relationship is going to be at the outset, is there? And not even starting one over an issue like sex feels extremely petty to me, almost like not making a friend just because she isn't going to sleep with you. Not quite that, but close. Do I think it would be a potential source of friction? Well, honestly, yes (No, not that way. Ok, that way too).

Friends are definitely not a help here. I don't think I've ever asked about any of my closest friends' sex lives. And asking my married friends outside of traditions like LDS about whether they even faced that decision? Can't imagine it, except in the most passive, hinted at, blog-related, anonymous-comment ways. And now that I think about it, some of my older friendships are with people who probably don't read my blog (I feel as awkward telling someone I'm a blogger now as I do telling them I'm a Quaker!). Wait, I did have a friend describe a committed relationship as starting out with "and then she seduced me," but I certainly didn't ask. I had some very valuable insight from my last post on sexual morality, but certainly not from facing this specific issue.

Wait, maybe I'm making a false assumption on that front. I assumed that the original questioner was asking me a hypothetical (though now that I think about it, I should probably confirm that), and there isn't a really good reason not to pose this question to my friends, married or single. Hey, what a good reason to tell my friends I have a blog! Ok, remember to delete that before telling anyone. Ok, resolved that I will advertise this post to my friends who don't know I have a blog.

This certainly doesn't cover all traditions that I've come across, but there's something about making the sex act dirty, depraved, and associated with guilt that I've never understood. Maybe that's just an upbringing thing. "Sex is sinful" is another point that I'm able to brush aside. It just doesn't ring true with me, and explaining why is probably redundant.

Someone commented to me that premarital sex is linked with promiscuity, but in my mind, the two issues are separate. Possibly related, but separate and a different conversation. So it's not like the choices are "no sex, or pro-orgy [thanks for the phrasing]."

Another interesting idea is that it's a red flag for a general values mismatch. That's a bit more troubling, and probably requires more thought. In general, I think that good communication can overcome that, but thinking that communication and intellectualizing are the solutions for all problems is probably my Achilles Heel.

I have to admit that part of my ego tells me it wouldn't actually be an issue. Maybe I have too much faith in my devilish tongue (No, not that way. Ok, that way too). What a horrible thing to think, but it's in my head and I'm writing it. On the other hand, there's a lot that can go wrong with convincing someone to reject what can be an important cultural/religious tradition. Success in that case can't be just having sex, it has to be about the other person actually being ok with the decision long-term. Or else, it's just being a jerk. The 20-year-old me who lives inside my head is arguing very strongly with me, but that's the way I feel.

Yeah, I'd better delete that entire last paragraph too. Way too embarrassing.

So I'm throwing this out there to all my ... legions of readers to get their feedback. I'm sure there's some thoughts that haven't passed through my mind. Some considerations I haven't made. Some cultural justifications to premarital chastity I don't know about. Etc. Bring it on, and remember you can always do so anonymously.

And for my old friends reading my blog for the first time, yes, this is really what goes on in my head. And I apologize for that. :-)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Misquoting Jesus - Introduction

Though I've volunteered to blog about chapter 7 of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (Plus), I thought I'd try to put down my reactions for each chapter. And I've been delaying my reading of Journeygal and pilgrimgirl's blog entries on the book in order to keep my reactions "pure." And I -really- want to read their entries, so ...

The introduction is a first-person narrative of Ehrman's religious journey and evolving relationship with the Bible. He foreshadows the twist which his path takes by explaining his desire to learn the Bible and memorize passages from it, but the true inflection point of his story comes when he's at Moody Bible Institute, learning the basics of textual criticism (attempting to reconstruct the original texts):

One of the most pressing of all tasks, therefore, was to ascertain what the originals of the Bible said, given the circumstances that (1) they were inspired and (2) we don't have them. - Misquoting Jesus p. 5
What seems to differentiate Ehrman from his peers at Moody is his intellectual curiosity about the original, inspired words of God.

Later at his next stop, Wheaton College, Ehrman continues this intellectual path, realizing that reading the earliest texts surviving today means learning the languages they are in. But that bring other complications into his faith:

... the experience of learning Greek became a bit troubling for me and my view of scripture. I came to see early on that the full meaning and nuance of the Greek text of the New Testament could be grasped only when it is read and studied in the original language...[T]his started maing me question my understanding of scripture as the verbally inspired word of God. If the full meaning of the words fo scripture can be grasped only by studying them in Greek...doesn't this mean that most Christians, who don't read ancient languages, will never have complete access ot what God wants them to know? And doesn't this make the doctrine of inspiration a doctrine only for the scholarly elite... What good deos it do to say that the words are inspired by God if most people have absolutely no access to these words, but only to more or less clumsy renderings of these words into a language, such as English, that has nothing to do with the original words? - Misquoting Jesus p. 6-7
Though I didn't know the technical details of translation, that's always been a source of friction to me. Anyone who knows two languages is aware of the situations where one language will have a word for a concept that takes a while to explain in the other language through context and example. But instead of doing that a lot of time, we'll give a rough approximation which misses subtleties, nuance, and context. Heck, it even happens in the same language across cultures. Try getting someone from the South to explain the word "bubba" and oftentimes they'll just give the one-word synonym "redneck." But I've heard explanations which took almost 5 minutes to give! I always wondered how, for example, the Psalms could possibly be translated yet rhyme. And all of this presupposes having inspired text as the basis, which we know we don't have. But Ehrman keeps searching for the truth as he understands it, no matter where that search might take him.

There's a bit of dissonance when he describes a major change in his thought a bit later on when he lists a series of inconsistencies or just plain mistakes in the text of the New Testament. Despite the previous sections on not having autographs (original writings) he still seemed to cling to the idea that the words were inerrant until studying at Princeton Theological Seminary.

So back to the issue of not having the autographs, he mentions a startling statistic about the differences in various texts we do have:

[T]here are more differences among our manuscripts than there are words in the New Testament. - Misquoting Jesus p. 10
Shocking, even for someone like me who hasn't every really held the Bible as a text of mystical importance.

Ehrman concludes on page 11 that a divinity which would have inspired the autographs could have preserved them and provided versions in later languages as well. I have a problem with this kind of analysis since if someone is going to believe in magic, why not also believe in inspired translation or inspired textual criticism?

This type of narrative is something I have to be careful of since it plays into my prejudices: passionate and intellectually rigorous examination of holy books leads us away from a literalist interpretation of them.

I'm very much looking forward to reading the posts others have done and the comments others have made.

The Comfort of Friendship

After Meeting on Sunday, I had lunch with EVH and a new attender, AA. Great food and great conversation, though we veered a bit more spiritual than I was used to in those situations. I guess that's a side-effect of having someone who's experiencing Quakerism for the first time. EVH is on the verge of some serious grilling by her exam board, so here's to you EVH. Knock-em-dead! But not literally. Always interesting to hear people I know discuss their spirituality, and EVH being a smarty is especially interesting to listen to (Pretty and smart? Deadly combination). She mentioned the comfort of ritual, which definitely resonated with me. We also chatted a bit about Quaker Clearness Committees. It's such a unique process that I really can't hear enough about it. Jana mentioned it once as well, and I still ask her to tell the story every once-in-a-while, usually trying to pretend (badly) that it's for someone else's benefit. Oops, I might have done that to EVH as well.

Maybe I was mumbling, but EVH always seemed to mis-hear me in the funniest way possible. Though that was a two-way street: At one point I thought she was saying she was very into scarification (instead of her actual "I am respectful of it" stance). It's odd where I draw my lines. I'm respectful of piercing and tatoo'ing in most of their forms, but scarification is something I have a difficult time with.

Actually, I noticed AA had a semi-elaborate tribal tattoo around one ankle, that I meant to ask the story behind. She has an interesting narrative, coming from a Unitarian Universalist background. Finally hearing about that tradition made me all the more interested in checking it out some time (beliefnet tells me I'm a 100% match). Also interesting was the "tour of faiths" she's put herself through. I found it difficult enough to go to my first Meeting, and that was a tradition I was familiar with! The prospect of visiting others without knowing whether it's a waste of time or not sounds really intimidating to me. And she didn't just visit, it sounds like she checked out various Bible studies as well. Wow. Maybe I can shortcut all that by picking her brain. :-) Also of note was her dance with various grad-school programs. As someone gearing up to go back to school, I'm always interested in hearing about other experiences in those situations.

[EDIT: added 11:04am]
I mentioned my experience at LDS Institute, and how the singing made me nostalgic, especially since there we sang a song at the rise of meeting (tougher in the absence of hymn books, but still fun). We all agreed that music can be a powerful, positive experience.

I missed Kathy, David, Bonnie, Shana, Ryan, and the Remys, but it was a lovely afternoon with fascinating company.

Did I already mention dinner with the Remys in a previous post? Well, I won't go back and re-visit that too much except to say that I find it amazing to see their kids growing like weeds. It's perhaps easier to see in CatGirl, with her jumping and prancing (and not doing homework). I swear she grew a couple centimeters while I was eating dinner. But GameBoy is clearly growing too, though perhaps less obviously. He doesn't prance per se, but after marching with him for over an hour on Saturday and seeing him at dinner Sunday, it's a little shocking to compare him to my memories from just a few months back. I guess it's just that age. Is he at that age when boys are actually behind girls in growth? I seem to remember it being somewhere around that 12-14 year range when, in swimming, girls would dominate boys in the same age group. That ends, but not soon enough, it seemed.

I Didn't Even Get The T-Shirt

Saturday morning, I had a really cool 20-mile ride with EB. Relaxed the whole way, but had fun. Damn my new bike is awesome! On the return leg, got a call from John Remy. Promised to call him back, and did on the way back home. He was proposing a morning activity. I had plans in the early evening, but was up for something. What followed was a slowly unrolling story about meeting up with the American Friends Service Committee to march. Well, I was game but needed to leave around 4:30 to meet a friend for dinner. It eventually came out that John wanted to march then head over to say hello to the same friend. Nice.

Missed the AFSC rally point, but managed to meet up with them at the greater rally point. On the way we passed by a very surreal scene of an ambulance with red-lights flashing in front of a building with a display of what looked like emergency-vehicle lights, which started to flash. Wish I had taken a picture, but there were some people standing in front of the display and we made the on-site decision to respect their privacy.

At the rally point, it looked like a few hundred people showed up, which made me wonder about the street-shutdowns and police presence. Lots of cops on bikes, so I asked one about the frame he was riding. He was on a Raleigh, but they had bikes built on Giant as well. Interesting. The march got going and I suddenly realized that there were several thousand people around us. John, GameBoy, and I made plans to meet at various locations if we got separated, which were totally inadequate in retrospect. At various times, John, GameBoy, and I all got to carry the eight-foot tall AFSC sign proclaiming that "There Is No Way To Peace. Peace Is The Way." AFSC seemed to be in the "slow" lane of the march, so we got to see various groups pass us by. Snapped the following shot of one of the louder drumming and shouting groups.

We ended up passing on the rally, and getting lunch in Little Tokyo. At that point, my knee was really acting up. I ended up limping the rest of the day. GameBoy gamely ordered half a chicken with gohan and soba. Wow. It was a late lunch for me, so I just had udon. Yummy!

We spent a tiny amount of time in the Little Tokyo branch of the public library. I wish I spent more time in the area (in general, not just on the day).

On Sunday morning, my mother excitedly text-messaged me that I had made the paper. As I told the attenders of Meeting that morning, there are two young, handsome guys to the right of the "I [Heart] Our Troops" sign. And next to them are JohnR and I! Sunday 1/28/2007 LA Times, page A14.


Stopped to visit with SL before heading back home. John and I both prattled on about what we thought about the surge. I think I'm pretty married to the idea that what we're doing now is a mistake, and that there are more informed people than I who should be spending all their time and energy on a graceful exit plan. Blah blah blah. It was a full day.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Liar

Nice chat with the Remy's yesterday. I ended up staying for dinner, which John made (Mapo Tofu with TVP instead of pork. Yummy to the point that I need to make it myself).

I'll refer to them as a single unit, since that's how I think of them. No, not really, but I'll do it because it's easier for me to write.

JJ: So, we don't mean to pry, but how did the date go?

me: Great! Did I tell you I got a straight-razor shave that morning? It was awesome!

JJ: Ha, ha! Does that mean you don't want to talk about it?

me: No, no. You're fine. I really enjoyed myself and the time really flew by. But there was a really uncomfortable moment I want to ask you about. We were talking when one of her roommates burst into the room. Well, that might be the wrong word to use, since the door was open. But she barged in and started ... lecturing might be the right word. Anyway, she started lecturing us about dating morality!

JJ: What?!

me: Yeah, and this went on and on! I don't remember the roommates exact words, but she accused my date of ... Umm, the phrase was "flirt to convert." And what did she say to me... "Leading the flock astray" or something like that. Have you heard either of those phrases?

Jana: [horrified] Yes! Oh my goodness!

John: [skeptical] Is this a true story?

me: No, but it's damn funny.


They didn't even let me get to my punchline:

me: I was so offended that I put my pants on and left!


Stop endgaming me, John!


Sunday, January 28, 2007

Short Sweet Zinger

SL: Don't they say 'knowing that you know nothing is the first step to wisdom?'

me: Yeah, but don't they also say that the last part of wisdom is "dumb?"

Friday, January 26, 2007

How NOT to Deflect Attention

It's not unexpected. Whenever one goes on a date, there's a gentle fencing process with friends who know about it. They politely probe for details, and one politely deflects the probes with banalities and generalities.

"It was nice." (True)
"We had a good time." (Also true, I hope)
"She's really cool." (True)

However, I'm out of practice, I'm off my rhythm, I'm off-balance. How else can you explain the following exchange?


RH: Didn't you have a date or something?

Me: Yeah, and get this, I totally got a straight-razor shave that morning. It was awesome![1]

RH: Nice! So how did it go?

Me: Spectacular! There were really hot towels, two lotion applications... It took a pretty long time.[2] And I almost got a manicure[3].
[1] Overly zealous deflection. Clearly ducking the question.

[2]Now it's unclear whether the hot towels and lotion were for the shave or the date.

[3]You're not deflecting attention when you say "handjob" in a desperate, associative attempt to think of the word "manicure," as happened in this particular case.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

How Not To Enjoy Your Shave

During my previously mentioned straight-razor shave, I had an unfortunate incident.

I settled into the chair and had that billowing thing they drape over you draped over me. Then my phone vibrated. I had set an alarm to remind me of the scheduled shave, and didn't want it to go off every 5 minutes for the next hour so I got it out of my pocket to turn off.

Now try to visualize: I'm lying flat on my back in a chair, covered neck to ankle with a drape, trying to turn my phone off. One needs to bring the phone around outside the drape with one hand and bring the other hand out from under the drape to interact with the phone. One assumes what can be described as a crucifix position, with both hands outstreched. Unfortunately, Ana, my barber, was bending over next to me and I managed to slap her quite squarely on the backside.

I apologized quite strongly, of course, and she graciously told me not to worry.

But I spent the next hour with her stroking a razor around my neck.

... Two Bits

Saturday morning started with a 5:30am bang. Or beep, as my alarm woke me up for my 7am ride with EB. 16 miles round trip from Yorba Linda Regional park to the Pond Honda Center. No flat tires, warmer weather, and a beginning rider meant that I wasn't wearing on my knee. Very nice ride. EB's husband is still a no-show for the ride, despite the second bike I saw in their garage.

But the highlight of the morning was my haircut and shave. Well, I actually got the haircut the day before, but that doesn't let me use the catchy title. Plus, I'm scruffy in this self-portrait, and no one wants to see a picture of a shave.


Of course there's a difference from before!

I've already gotten tons of compliments on the can't-quite-put-my-finger-on-it-sexiness that I'm now sporting, but if you really feel the need to comment with more, I suppose that would be ok. Ladies... [Demitri Martin's sure-fire technique for sounding creepy]

The haircut was nice, but the straight-razor shave was beyond description. Not that I won't try.

I am ushered into the chair, which leans back until I am staring directly at the ceiling. "Wow, your skin is dry," Ana (my barber for the day) remarks. I explain about my morning ride in the cold, dry air, and my lack of moisturizing after showering. "That's ok, we'll just moisturize twice before the shave." I have no objection.

First comes the hot towel. Ana holds it just barely against my chin. "Are you ok with the heat?" I am. I think. She expertly wraps the towel around my face, covering all my whiskers while allowing me to breathe through my nose. Then the heat hits me. My face flushes (I assume), and I begin to feel my skin pulsing with my suddenly racing heartbeat. But the towel quickly cools, and I begin to miss the heat. After removing the towel with an almost massage-like technique, Ana rubs a cooling lotion over my face. Cooling? Is that menthol? Must be a hint of it there. Lotion. On my face. Followed by another scorching towel. Ahh, bliss.

But she said she'd moisturize twice, right? Well, she delivers. After the towel cools, she gently removes the lotion with it, then applies more lotion. Ahhh... It puts the lotion in the basket... Wait, that reference doesn't match. Never mind. Then another hot towel over the lotion. Bliss again.

Off comes the cooled towel with the lotion, and on goes shaving cream. It isn't lathered in a cup and applied with a brush, but life isn't perfect. I am so relaxed at this point that the prospect of someone hovering over me with a straight-razor doesn't bother me in the least.

She is gentle, oh so gentle, with the razor. I don't care how wicked it looks or how dangerous it might be in the hands of someone less skilled. It feels like someone is gently stroking my face with a finger. Every once in a while, she stops to redistribute the cream across my face, which feels like a brief, gentle massage.

Soon, too soon, it's over and I get the final hot towel. Pulse. Pulse. Pulse. Gently wiping off the face, and a final application of ... wait, more shaving cream? Yes, more cream and another pass with the razor, more gentle than the first. This time, she tugs a little at my skin to stretch it out, or asks me extend my upper lip down, lower lip up, ok relax now.

So this time the real final hot towel. Ah heat, my dear, dear friend. The final, gentle massage/towel-removal and I ... Pow! A skin-bracing aftershave goes on (yes, I'm feeling a little detached at this point). Is she massaging it into my face?

As she raises the chair back to a sitting position, I wonder what I need to do to make this happen more often. It's been almost more pampering than I can bear. As I think that, I make sure to flex in the mirror to reassure myself of my manliness. It's been almost exactly 55 minutes, start to finish. I'm relaxed, and ready for a great day out.

Odd that this manliest of old-school traditions feels to metrosexual to me. I pay the bill, include a tip, then saunter out the door, about the fastest pace I feel like maintaining for the rest of the day.

It's a shame my face feels great but my hands are so messed up from the dryness. Next door to the barbershop is a nail salon. I briefly consider getting a manicure, but discard the idea. Not quite feeling that metro today.

Ana
Telegraph Barbers
1049 Imperial hwy.
Placentia, CA 92870
714-579-6687

She takes walk-ins but I suggest making an appointment, especially on the weekend. Or at least call ahead to check availability.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Divine Comedy

Grinding away at the first Linear Algebra problem set with iTunes on shuffle (highest rated playlist; John Remy is right: it's too distracting to have to interrupt to rank a song). Starting to get a little frantic (over 12 hours left, but still) when the David Bowie/Queen song "Under Pressure" comes on. I didn't realize it right away, but when I did, I thought to myself, "That God's go a sick sense of humor."

Next song, Depeche Mode's "Blasphemous Rumors," which has that line as a lyric.

Spooky.

Next song, "Spooky" by Dusty Springfield.

Just kidding, I don't own any Dusty Springfield.

I Don't Know What I Beleive Pt. 2

I've been considering the question of sexual morality recently since it's been brought up by more than one LDS-backgrounded friend.

What is the Quaker position on premarital sex?
Deep breath. I take this question as neither an invitation to have sex nor an invitation to get married. Of course, the important thing here is what is my position? Maybe I just say that because I don't know the official Quaker position off the top of my head.

There is a late-teen memory which flashes into my head. I spent the summer before my senior year making some really intense friendships at a summer camp run by the Junior Statesmen Foundation (Stanford 1990 represent!). I maintained contact with one of the gals for a brief time and had an intense overnight conversation about relationships, sex, and friendship. She was the first female peer that felt comfortable talking to me about her history with sex, and shared that she'd probably stayed in her last relationship (which was shading vaguely abusive) way too long solely because of the bond and closeness she felt because of sex. I think that revelation was my first hint that I didn't know everything about sex. Well, certainly I knew the consequences, but this might have been the first time that I was introduced to the idea of sex causing bonding where before there might have only been weak attraction or none at all.

Now I'm not 16 any more, but this discussion bubbles to the top of my mind when I'm asked about promiscuity, premarital sex, or casual sex. My personal experiences haven't ever really conflicted with that late-night conversation. I can understand the desire for casual sex, but can't say much about sex has ever been casual to me. A new friend of mine told me that wasn't her experience at all, which was surprising. Though now I wonder whether she meant that wasn't her experience with the attitudes of men she knew, as opposed to her personal experience.

I don't know whether this was a coordinated thing, but my LDS friends have all casually (or not so casually) mentioned the idea of LDS chastity to me, all in the space of a very few days (what's up with the chastity message, people?). Chastity as in premarital chastity. I know I'm old now because I can certainly understand the motivations behind that attitude. Maybe I look back and and see that some of the experiences I had as a young person could have been delayed. Chastity, in my mind, has it's problems. Sexuality is just so complex, over time (and even over not so much time), that I wonder how people could make a marriage commitment without knowing their long-term sexual compatibility. One friend floated the idea that talking about expectations ahead of time would be a good step, as would faith and a commitment to work on things that might come up. Those are definitely great ideas, but nothing is quite like the actual thing, over time, in real-life, less-than-ideal conditions. And by implication, doesn't that mean that people are getting married without first living together? Another thing that amazes me.

Whoops, what's right for me? I guess I think there's a middle ground between chastity and promiscuity.

I think the official position is that sex is something that should be limited to people in a committed and caring relationship, which pretty much describes my attitude.

[EDIT: Added Question]
Let me throw out the question of premarital chastity to my legions of readers who experienced that kind of culture. Was it difficult to negotiate different expectations before and after marriage? How about my married readers who didn't grow up in that kind of culture? Any insights?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Panning for Music

I've written before on digging through my music collection. I recently broke an informal rule I have (don't add new music until I've ranked what I have) after ranking the music on some soundtracks in my library. There were a couple songs that demanded I listen to more of the artist. Yes, demanded.

I have a few artists that are jumbled up in my head over this issue. First is The Beta Band. Their song "Dry the Rain" was pretty prominently featured in the movie High Fidelity, and is one of the many excellent tracks on that movie's soundtrack. I've plowed through The Three EPs, but haven't really found anything that approaches the level of "Dry the Rain." I didn't exactly add this stuff, but it hadn't yet appeared on my "100 songs to rank" smart playlist.

I discovered Eva Cassidy through the song "Songbird" on the "Love Actually" soundtrack. I now have the "Songbird" and "Time After Time" albums and have listened to some amazingly soulful vocals. Terrific covers, with Sting's "Fields of Gold," coming to mind as an innovative example. I just love her. I wonder how come she don't put out no more new records. I'm going to hell for that one.

Joss Stone was a weird discovery. I came across her when looking through an Eva Cassidy listmana (Amazon). Or a two-deep link. Or three deep. At any rate, wow. Joss Stone might still be under 20 today, and is under 18 on at least one if not both of "Mind, Body, and Soul" and "The Soul Sessions," but what an amazing voice. Smoky, silky, sexy. Wow. Bonus: Still alive.

The Shins had an amazing song, "New Slang" on the "Garden State" soundtrack. "Those to Come," "So Says I," and "Young Pilgrims" were my favorite tracks on "Chutes Too Narrow," while "Caring is Creepy" and "Weird Divide" stood out for me on "Oh, Inverted World."

Again from "Love Actually," is the the Joni Mitchell track "Both Sides Now." I've so far resisted adding the collected works of Ms. Mitchell to my library for browsing. But that might be the first thing I do after ranking 1200 more songs.

Anyone feel like tormenting me with their recent musical discoveries?

iTunes Zeitgeist Update 1

Previously, I discussed my iTunes song ranking project. Here's the update that everyone's been clamoring for. 71% finished! I'll have to discuss some of the music I've discovered/rediscovered as a result. Later.


Total Songs: 3946
Unrated112629%
Rated282071%
5-star1264%
4-star42515%
3-star90232%
2-star133847%
1-star291%


Key:
1-star: Track is broken, incomplete, contains pops, or should otherwise be seriously considered for removal due to a flaw
2-star: I don't want to hear this song during random rotations
3-star: I don't mind hearing this song
4-star: Very good song
5-star: One of my favorite songs

Interesting that of my 3+ star categories, the 3-star is the only one growing as a percentage of the total library. Still in the dark as to what benchmark percentages would be.

My "most played" list hasn't changed, since I've been listening almost exclusively to music I've never listened to.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Do You Speak American?

A while back, I watched Robert MacNeil's "Do You Speak American?" I've always been fascinated by regional accents, and have a serious problem with accent-drift (if I think you sound interesting, I'll start speaking like you).

With that in mind, I recently took the following accent quiz. Very funny result. I've lived since 1985 in Southern California, but spent 4 years each in Cleveland and upstate New York. My Cali accent is probably an overlay of my base speaking pattern. To much thought about the result of an on-line quiz?

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Inland North

You may think you speak "Standard English straight out of the dictionary" but when you step away from the Great Lakes you get asked annoying questions like "Are you from Wisconsin?" or "Are you from Chicago?" Chances are you call carbonated drinks "pop."

The Northeast

Philadelphia

The South

The Midland

North Central

The West

Boston

What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Best. Reviewer. Ever.

I remember seeing this movement before, but a recent Metafilter article pointed out that you can now get a feedburner RSS feed for Mister Quickly's Amazon Reviews. Just take a second and read the first few. Safe for work, but people are looking at me because of my snickering. And giggling (Manly giggling. After which I do pushups).

I hate HATE the idea that there are people in the world who are so much more clever than I.

Sex Zeitgeist

Darn that pilgrimgirl, always pushing the boundries. Always upping the ante.

I got my Macbook in June 2006, read Getting Things Done some time before that, and realized I needed to get some of this organizational stuff out of my head, and into a storage system I can trust.

My iCal sex categories:
  • bar-pickup
  • gym-pickup
  • co-worker
  • friend-of-co-worker
  • classmate
  • professor
  • friend
  • friend-of-a-friend
  • friends
  • Friend
  • friend-of-a-Friend
  • Friend-of-a-Friend
  • Friends
  • and as always, "other"

So that's 14 categories/calendars.

Let me count up the number of appointments, here...
Hmm. Zero appointments. Can that be right?

The good news is that I'm ranking lots of music. :-P

Sunday, January 21, 2007

I Don't Know What I Believe Pt. 1

I've been having a fascinating conversations with new LDS friends about topics which have really made me examine what I believe.

First off, sexual morality. No, I'll leave that for later.

First off, marriage. I heard a very interesting description of marriage being a decision point or as I rephrased it, a "line in the sand" for a relationship. Marriage means a couple is stepping up and making a commitment to each other, friends, family, and God. I really don't see the marriage ceremony that way at all. To me, a relationship involves an escalating series of commitments and discussions about what partners expect and need from each other. I hope that at the point that I marry someone, the serious commitment to her will have been in the past. I hope that the conversations that I have with the divine spirit will have been in the past. I see the ceremony as more of a celebration and sharing of the joy with community. Then again, I've never been close to married, so what do I know.

Next, do I believe in sin, redemption, forgiveness, and an afterlife. Nice list, eh?

Last first; Do I believe in an afterlife?

I think the quick answer is no. I have no way of knowing about what might go on after death. What I do know is that I need to live my life as if this were the only chance I have to love my family, love my friends, and do good in the world. I just can't put any of that stuff, thinking that I'll just make up for it in the afterlife.

Is it depressing not to have have faith in an afterlife?

In the past, it has been. CH recently reminded me of a statement I made to him back in high-school about envying the faith and comfort a friend of ours derived from her religion. But I think I'm over that now. I have faith and comfort but faith that what I do in this life matters. I'd love to meet both my grandmothers again and converse with them as adults. I'd love to ask my Tokyo granny about her writings on worship, chat with my Grandfather about life in Shanghai. Maybe I'll get the chance to do those things, but I feel a little dirty trying to use those things to motivate myself to live a good life. A good life is worth living, afterlife or not. And especially if there's no afterlife.

Do I believe in sin, redemption, and forgiveness?

To me, the concept of sin presupposes fairly rigid rules, which I haven't experienced in my spirituality. I experience morality in a pretty complex way. So sin, no. Being on the wrong side of a moral decision certainly happens to me.

Redemption or salvation?

Not really. Well, that's not quite true. But when I don't see the afterlife as a relevant part of my life, and I don't really believe in hard and fast sin, well, redemption doesn't seem very relevant, does it?

Forgiveness?

This is a very weird issue for me. I don't think I believe in forgiveness for sin, partly because I'm not on board with sin. I know that even living by my own brand of morality, I'm far from perfect. And I strive to seek guidance in how I experience Divinity on how to live my life better than I do now. But to forgive my past? Absolution? A magic wand that wipes me clean? That isn't how I experience spirituality.

As always, more self-indulgent rambling later...

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Favorite Movies

Well, inspired by Miko on Mind on Fire, as well as Journeygal, here are my favorite movies (bold movies are my favorites which no one has ever heard of):

American Beauty
American History X
Apocalypse Now
Big Lebowski, The
Blade Runner
Bob Roberts
Buena Vista Social Club
Capote
Casino
Chasing Amy
City of God
Control Room
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon
Croupier
Dazed and Confused
Donnie Darko
Eat Drink, Man Woman
Enron: The Smartest Guys In the Room
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Fight Club
Fog of War
Fresh
Garden State
Gladiator
Good Will Hunting
Hero
Hoop Dreams
Keeping the Faith
Kill Bill
L.A. Confidential
L.A. Story
Lost in Translation
Magnolia
Mallrats
Matrix, The
Memento
Miller's Crossing
Notting Hill
Office Space
Open Your Eyes
Requiem for a Dream
Reservoir Dogs
Royal Tenenbaums, The
Run Lola Run
Rushmore
Seven Samurai
Shaun of the Dead
Sideways
Silence of the Lambs
Tao of Steve, The
Taxi Driver
There's Something About Mary
Trainspotting
Way of the Gun, The



Recent Movies I enjoyed but haven't assessed the staying power of:
An Inconvenient Truth (very thought-provoking)
Borat (can't get that taste out of my mustache)
Children of Men (I suspect it will stay on the faves list)
Casino Royale (one of of the best if not -the- best Bond film I've seen)
The Departed (another probable fave)
Inside Man
Thank You For Smoking (another probable fave)
V for Vendetta (another probable fave)

Recent Movies I Haven't Seen But Urgently Want To:
Letters from Iwo Jima
Little Miss Sunshine
The Queen

First Class 2007

So last night was the first meeting of the Linear Algebra & Differential Equations class I'm taking this term. I was pretty amped to be getting back to school, excited to be executing my back-to-Tech plan.


And here I am after attending class:


Just kidding. The linear algebra was really basic stuff that I remembered. I just love the ugly pictures.

Guilty Pleasures

Violent Acres

Wacky, provocative, fictionalized account of someone's life. I'm sure there's a psychological term which describes how people feel free to be more shocking, provocative, antagonistic, and fantastic with the distancing effect of the internet. I don't know what it is, but it's got to exist. Violent Acres should make someone a fascinating case study. Worth reading the following pieces, but don't fall into the trap of being provoked. Put on your best air of detachment, prepared to be amused, then read-away:



Is this a guilty pleasure for me? Definitely. I thoroughly enjoy the earnest communication, though I think the author would be better served by being honest with the fantasy sequences ("I wish I could go back and say..."). Underlines for me the need to be honest in my own writing.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Martini Blues

Just got back from Martini Blues in Huntington Beach for their Tuesday night comedy. Very cool time. No cover, no apparant drink minimum, and unpolished comedians doing 6 minutes of material. Saw a variety of levels, experience, and success and gained a new appreciation for how difficult it must be to write good material. Very inspiring.

Unfortunately, that means this blog will represent my test-bed for jokes.

Louise Palanker (of Weezy and the Swish) had the most polished material, though there was another woman (who's name was mumbled) earlier in the evening who was also quite good.

Damn mumbled-name woman did a bit on buying bulk at Costco! Why am I surprised that that premise is already used by comics? I guess I'm not. Her bit was buying pregnancy tests three-at-a-time. Very funny.

Some high-school aged guys who seemed to be Weezy's comedy students went up with some success. We saw the first two guys sets. This set (2:45 in). Great line about giving Keanu Reeves as a fake name to a police officer.

"You're still under arrest."
"Why?"
"The Lake House. Two people, separated by three years? A magic mailbox? I just don't buy it."

Ari David and his (now) fiancé (Pheeny? Feeny?) both went on. Ari's set was pretty out there. I had no idea what I was expecting, but not that. Random barking? Random disrobing? Was it all a setup for the fiancé? She was a lot more conventional, and also funnier. With Ari, I was cracking up while asking myself what the heck he though he was doing.

RH is the Weezy and the Swish fanboy, so perhaps he was better prepared for the Ari set.

I'll have to go again. I'll have to write material and go up.

Online Annoyances

Semi-phonetic spelling of words to match colloquial pronunciation.

"That request is a serious pain in my azz!"

"Dayum this soup is spicy!"

Awkward Pt. 2

Reconnected with CH, a good friend from high-school yesterday. Always terrific to realize that one's friends are friends for good reasons, not just proximity. Always good to refresh these friendships and realize they aren't based on "Remember that time when ..." conversations. Always good to know I can touch base with a friend and pick right up despite the passage of time. Perhaps an ironic statement in light of the conversation.

When he asked me to update him on discussions of friendship we'd had in the past, I was surprised that I was able to recount my awkward story without pain or bitterness.

A moment to actually update the story here, as I don't think I bothered at the time. A few days after some brief, cordial email exchanges with one of my friends who goes incommunicado for long periods of time, I thought better of letting go and just drifting away. I wrote a note re-explaining how the disappearing made me feel. How it made me feel to reach out without hearing back for weeks/months. That I couldn't initiate contact any longer out of a feeling of self-preservation, but that I'd like to continue the friendship at some point when she had the time and inclination to initiate contact.

It was a tough note to write, and I had to edit it down to strip out expressions of bitterness and hurt, and as well as making it as little about evoking guilt and making demands as possible. I was torn about sending it at all because I couldn't seem to edit those things out completely. Perhaps they're just present in the very nature of such a communication. In the end, all I could do was specifically disclaim them as motivations and hope it was good enough.

Again, when I recounted this to CH, I couldn't really re-connect with the pain I felt at the time, and realized that something like ten days had gone by without me having thought of the issue at all. There wasn't a cathartic moment, but somehow my communication plus time (oh the eons of time represented by a week-and-a-half!) got me past/over/around whatever emotional hump existed.

Sadly, my communication might have been the end of that friendship. Certainly not my intention, but perhaps the inevitable result. Actually, I'm not even sure that's true, as lack of communication was what I perceived as the problem in the first place.

CH told me I sounded like a spurned lover, which was like being punched in the gut. Then he said, "But I mean that without judgement," which didn't make me feel any better! I'm going to have to translate that in my head to "You sound whiny," which I have to agree with.

At any rate, that's the story, for the sake of completeness. Tune in for the next self-indulgent installment, which I guaranteed will contain the simile, "Like the giant tortoises of the Galapagos," as well as guest analysis from CH and RH both of whom will chime in with, "Are we really going to talk about this again?"

Monday, January 15, 2007

Maths

Yeah, I'm frustrated right now at my scheduling snafu, but I'm also exhilarated at walking the path of my stated goal: finish my undergraduate degree.

Some background, I attended Caltech in Pasadena, CA for four years on the five year plan, but got so messed up with my sleep schedule, health, and study habits that I never went back for the fifth year. Youth is wasted on the young, I guess (And do they really call that music? In my day...). At one point, I thought I'd never want to go back, but after getting some emotional distance, I decided I'd like to finish what I started. I'd like to go to grad school, and while finishing at Caltech isn't necessary for that, it sure wouldn't hurt.

Perhaps it's pure fantasy to go back, but the steps happen to coincide with transferring to Cal State Fullerton to finish up, so I'm not wasting my time. What are those steps? Well, they'd like to see me taking a full load at another institution with good grades for a semester before transferring in. For me that means spinning myself up at Fullerton College for a term, getting back in the swing of things before trying to attend CSUF. My strategy was to take relax into things, taking the 3rd semester of Calculus they offer, but no dice. Can't repeat that. Can't repeat?! Oops, yes, I took that class at this institution back in 1989, in high school and received a passing grade. That's embarrassing to contemplate. So on to Linear Algebra and Differential Equations. Great, I'm really testing myself now. I haven't thought about either of those subjects for over 10 years. I'll have to pump myself up for this.

Strong like bull!
Smartest guy in the room!
All your base are belong to us!

Maybe I'll listen to Wagner on the way to class every morning?

Frustration

I'm up doing my dry-run of attending class Wednesday morning, but I've run into a slight problem. My class is on Wednesday night. How the ... How did that happen?! I've signed up for a class which directly conflicts with one the Remy's have invited me to attend on Wednesday nights, one I was really excited to attend. The 8am time I thought I was signing up for seems to have evaporated. In fact, this particular class doesn't seem to be offered in the early morning at all! I don't have any explanation beyond self-delusion on Friday night when I registered.

Getting my schooling untracked seems to easily be the priority here, but I hate to sacrifice the fellowship and spiritual stimulation I experienced. Not so easily the priority.

Fuming. Seething. I need to go calm down.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

A Little Bit of Knowledge

One of my favorite radio shows (and now podcast!!!) is "This American Life" from WBEZ Chicago. One of my favorite episodes (though there are many great ones) is #293 (which you can get to and listen to via the 2005 archive), titled "A Little Bit of Knowledge."

Act One. Small Thoughts in Big Brains. This American Life producer Alex Blumberg investigates a little-studied phenomenon: Children who get a mistaken idea in their heads about how something works or what something means, and then don't figure out until well into adulthood that they were wrong. Includes the tale of a girl who received a tissue box for Christmas, alledgedly painted by trained monkeys. (13 minutes)

Hilarious stories about the mistakes we make. I think that there's a unique opportunity with mass adoption of the Internet to explore a variety of mistaken information: misheard phrases.

I used to spend quite a bit of time in an online community which discussed a sports team. Every once and a while, someone would use the word "untracked," without having anyone comment on it. I was completely baffled as to what these people meant, then realized from context that they mean "on-track." But the mis-use was always hilarious. "I know we have a lot of injuries, but the coaching staff has to get us untracked."

Today, I saw a new one: "jump sh*t." What?! The author meant jump "ship." "Before you jump sh*t, you should figure out whether the grass is really greener on the other side."

Yes, the author mixed metaphors while making a mistake on one of the metaphors, but I'm not criticizing that. I just love collecting this kind of clearly long-standing mistake about what the original phrase was.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Moral Superiority

7am ride time with EB means walking out the door at 6:30am which means waking up at 5:30am for water, food, dressing in cold-weather gear etc. And though I've won numerous awards from Metrosexual Male magazine, this is what I look like at 5:30am.



This poofy-haired look is for Pilgrimgirl. Yes, it still grows. But it clearly isn't pretty.



Hmmm, I didn't manage to catch my full un-shaven glory.

I'm somewhere between 5-10 minutes late meeting EB at Yorba Linda Regional Park. We have to change her front tube (good thing she bought a new one!), and we're off. I hardly even noticed the cold.

That would be a lie. The wind, the wind, my old enemy. I remember this same wind sweeping across icy pool decks. and chilling me from cap to speedo. Curse you wind!!!

Outbound ride was wind-assisted. We turned around at about Ball. Next time, equipment permitting, we'll make it to the Pond Honda Center. After that, maybe a 20 mile ride? Then, we'll do a ride from Orange to Huntington, then start working our way back up the trail to do a YLR to Huntington ride. Well, that's my plan for me. If EB is only riding once a week, that might be a stretch for her.

Return ride has the wind hitting us firmly in the face. Oops, did we ride too far out? Maybe turning around at Lincoln would have been smarter. Even better would have been repeating our Kraemer ride from last week. Maybe I'll skip next week, do a spin class. EB can do this crazy riding thing on her own.

Yeah, things weren't that bad, and we made it back intact. Lots of fun (really).

Got home, warmed up, took a long, hot shower, shaved, and looked like this:


There's a certain amount of moral superiority in knowing you've started the day off with exercise! And I suppose that feeling make me dimple up!

Moral superiority makes me sleepy, and I took an unplanned nap.

P.S. The new bike rode like a dream. I told EB it was like the dump-truck driver getting to test-drive the Ferrari. Weird how much friendlier other cyclists were to me, but I'm not sure if that was my hot bike or EB's pretty face. I'm hoping it's the bike, since I own it and EB's married.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Anti-consumerism starting ....

I like to think I'm about living simply. About a year ago, I down-sized my living space, mostly because I was wasting what I had. I'm driving my '97 Civic still because it's paid for, I don't need more car, it works fine, and has less than 70K miles on it. I like wearing nice clothes but hate spending money to acquire them. I resist buying a new computer until my old one doesn't do the things I need to do.

I read with avid interest Pilgrimgirl's post on taking a shopping sabbatical. Some really interesting thoughts also in Journey Gal's response post on the shopping sabbatical.

You feel it coming, don't you?

So here's my car on Monday.

Here's a close-up of the rear-end after installing a bolt-on hitch.


What's that? You're right, I can't tow anything with a bolt-on hitch, but I don't need to tow anything. I'm attaching a rack to the car:



See, and here's the box I'm putting on the rack:


What's that? You don't get what the heck I'm talking about? Oh, it's not about the box, but what was in the box.



Oooh, aaahhh. Yes, my bike came in today.


So I'm strictly anti-consumerism starting .... now!

Riding again with EB tomorrow morning, and now I'll be doing it with some Italian bling!

Reflections on 100 Hours Part 2

Some early-morning thoughts on Queries in response to the Bill Moyers interview with Salman Rushdie:

Rushdie posits that the fundamentalist viewpoint that morality springs from divinity is a blind-spot. Is Rushdie's reliance on intellectualism (reasoned debate, thoughtful discussion) a similar weakness given humanity's consistent abandonment of reason for emotion, comfort, and promises of safety?

Rushdie states that it's easy to pretend to be culturally sensitive while actually bowing to intimidation (Danish cartoon's portrayal of Mohammed). Is resisting intimidation a good enough reason to be culturally insensitive?

Do American attitudes towards flag-burning parallel Muslim attitudes towards insulting portrayals of Mohammed?

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Reflections on 100 Hours Part 1

My mind is still buzzing over a couple of the events I attended in the early/mid part of the week. The class led by Pilgrimgirl was something I found especially provocative. Though I was baffled by some aspects of the discussion on prayer (verbal vs. non-verbal, vocalized vs. non-vocalized), the depth of thought about every-day worship was something I found very appealing. It's too easy in life to skip introspection for the external demands which are placed upon us. For those who don't want to think about this in spiritual terms, imagine setting aside time for a self-assessment at the beginning and end of each day. Imagine taking the time to review the things one wants to do better in life or for the day ahead, and the taking an inventory of the things that went well (or which could have gone better) each evening. In my mind, prayer lies in that direction of introspection, though with a difference in one's state of mind.

A friend of mine in a 12-step program reminded me of their tradition of acknowledgement of a "higher power," which always reminds me of the Quaker non-specific description of divinity. Though the Quaker descriptions tend to focus inward (inner-Light, "that of God in all of us," etc).

Back to the class, I found it so gratifying to join a group of people willing and able to discuss their slightly different attitudes towards prayer, including struggles against their Church's traditions (perhaps too weak a term) of prayer. Briefly touched upon their tradition of passing into divinity after death, which I'm not that familiar with. What an amazing comfort it must be to have faith in that kind of afterlife. Difficult for me to understand the rigidity of practice in a Church, such rigidity that the thought of deviating from stated acceptable practice is a source of fear for some. It wasn't my place to provide comfort for that pain and fear to a someone who I barely know, but I wish that it was. My ministry kung-fu is weak.

The class closed with the song (hymn?) "Secret Prayer" which was ... beautiful. It really served to remind me that I miss the musical tradition of Quakerism which I grew up in. A friend who attended the class asked me whether music was a part of Quaker worship, which is a difficult question to answer. My understanding is that different Meetings have different traditions of music. This is perhaps a problem in the fragmentation in the practice of Quakerism. I get the feeling that one can get a fairly consistent experience in LDS Churches (actually, that's just an assumption), which is kind of true when one travels within various unprogrammed Meetings. However, music doesn't really seem to consistently fall under the umbrella of worship in Quaker meetings. I don't ever remember anything more formal than the type of group sing we did at the close of last night's class (pass around the hymn book, and let's all sing...).

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

100 Hours of Spirituality

This past Sunday, I taught the older kids' First Day School (that's Quaker for Sunday School) session. This second time around was a lot better for me, as I essentially made up my own lesson on Quakerism.

The first time, back in October 2006, I followed a lesson plan on the Old Testament which was ok, but forced me to re-read the Old Testament for the first time in 20-something years. And it's not that I'm complaining about that, it's that reading the bible means reading all the stuff that disillusioned me to it in the first place. The lesson plan was on Exodus, focusing mostly on the Covenant, but oddly skipped over some chapters. Being a curious guy, I'm not just going to skip over ... oh no! Exodus 21 is a chapter outlining God's laws on acceptable behavior towards one's Hebrew slaves! Yeah, I guess I'm not going to teach that, but it felt like I was being dishonest to the kids.

So, "What is Quakerism" is a task that's a bit more palatable to me. For the record, my highlights were:
Lack of Creed
Lack of Sacrament
Inner Light
Personal Revelation

The kids weren't familiar with the ideas as characteristics of Quakerism, so I assume that it just hasn't been presented to them in this manner, or that it has and they forgot. Possibly both. I ran out of time before I could cover the Testimonies.

I stumbled across this article from Slate which makes mention of the "Jefferson Bible" a version of the New Testament from which Thomas Jefferson "excised every verse dealing with virgin birth, miracles, resurrection, and other puerile superstition..." It's worth checking out the Amazon.com page for the book's spotlight reviews and look for one by R. Hardy "Rob Hardy."

The first sentences of Jefferson's Bible have to do with Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem to be taxed. There is no Annunciation, indeed, no implication that Jesus had any sort of miraculous birth; Jefferson distrusted miracles. Having seen the beginning, I turned to the final pages; I knew how the story turned out, you see, so I did not really risk ruining it for myself. The end is just as worldly; "They rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed."
I'm not sure why I should find it stunning that someone would think to collect the essence of the life of Jesus, which to me would be his teachings not the miraculous events, and publish it. Of course, Jefferson apparently didn't publish it, but kept it as a secret guilty pleasure he read from nightly.

I wonder if this is worthy of being taught from in First Day School?

On Tuesday evening, I joined some friends to view the first disk in the Bill Moyers PBS series "Faith and Reason." The hour-long interview was with Salman Rushdie, who was eloquent, witty, and sometimes a little glib. I have all kinds of feeling bouncing around in my head. I have some unformed Queries I'd like to write centering around appeasement, debate and discussion as freedom, and blind-spots.

Attended a class tonight taught by JanaR, centering on the topics of prayer and fasting. To be honest, most of the time was spent on prayer issues. I assume that everyone else in the class was Mormon, which isn't my tradition, of course. There was a fair amount of time spent discussing the issue of vocalization of prayer (again, not my tradition) which I found bizarre. Not the practice of vocalization of prayers, which is probably the predominant way to pray, but that someone would think that prayer or worship would require vocalization, not just a prayerful state of mind. To be honest, worshipful silence is outside of most people's experience.

Whew, that's a busy 100 hours.

Monday, January 8, 2007

iTunes Zeitgeist

JohnR mentioned that he had too many 5-star songs in his iTunes library, which got me thinking about what the "correct" ratio would be. Or even the typical ratio, as ratios can be skewed by how willing one is to import new music and cull unwanted music.

So here's a snapshot of my iTunes library, limited to my "Music Only" playlist:




Total Songs: 3864
Unrated178846%
Rated207654%
5-star1206%
4-star36017%
3-star61830%
2-star95146%
1-star271%


Wow, blogger tables look terrible. I'll push on.

I have no idea how these numbers stack up to anyone else's. Is there potential for a meme here? How do you measure up?


Most Played Songs:
TitleArtistPlay CountStar Rating
Through GlassStone Sour194
Promiscuous (Feat. Timbaland)Nelly Furtado164
Chasing CarsSnow Patrol154
RunSnow Patrol154
Knights of CydoniaMuse143
In a Big CountryBig Country84
Call Me When You're SoberEvanescence84
Shake Your RumpBeastie Boys75
So What'cha WantBeastie Boys75
The Best Deceptions Dashboard Confessional75
HurtJohnny Cash75
Rollin' (Air Raid Vehicle)Limp Bizkit74
NumbLinkin Park75
Battle FlagLo Fidelity Allstars74
I Against IMos Def & Massive Attack73
Mama's RoomUnder the Influence of Giants74
C.R.E.A.M.Wu-Tang Clan75

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Musical Spelunking

A few months ago I read a series of article on "power" use of iTunes. Most power uses of iTunes require one's music collection to be ranked (1-5 stars). Well, it really helps to weed-out tracks you have no interest in hearing, anyway.

A couple of disciplines have helped me in this process. First, I'm not importing new music without immediately ranking all the songs. This forces me to listen to every track on an album, even if it's just an abbreviated listen.



Second, I've created a Smart Playlist to help me go through my music collection and listen to to the things I haven't ranked yet (that's it in the image). Believe it or not, it took me a while to figure out that you can create a "no stars" filter by clicking out in the blank area inside the star box. *sigh* It took too long to figure that out. Oh, yeah, this is pretty dependent on the "Music Only" playlist isn't it. I'd better show that as well. Oh, I name my organizational playlists like this "ZZZ Org ..." to sort it to the bottom of my playlist list window. Any playlists suggesting music to me are prefaced with "IDEA". Just my personal naming convention.


This is a playlist inspired by Merlin Man over
at 43 Folders. The idea here is to create a playlist which doesn't include video, podcasts, or other specialty-listening tracks (Chant is an example of that for me). There's definitely a "cascading tasks" effect here, as you need to make sure all that stuff has the genres (or however you choose to do it) set correctly. It's not actually that big a deal.


Finally there's the actual listening task. My unranked music playlist is the one I listen to by default. I usually split my attention and listen to most of a song that I haven't heard before while doing something else on the computer, then switch back to iTunes to forward to the next track and rank the one I was just listening to. If I've heard the song and know my ranking, I won't even play it, just rank it. Since the music was imported by album, I'm ranking by album, and I'll cherry-pick the tracks I'm sure of my rankings, then listen to the rest.

A word of caution: It's easy to think you know what you think about the incidental tracks on an album. However, I've found that I tend to like those tracks more than I thought, especially on albums I originally bought and listened to as an entire CD. Dr. Dre's "The Chronic" is an example that I can point to (within the past half-hour, actually). I always pointed to it as a great album, but still thought I'd be 2-star'ing most of the tracks (3 stars is my threshold for wanting to hear something again). Wrong. Fall Out Boy's "Take This To Your Grave" is an example of an album I hadn't heard before that ended up with lots of 3+ star tracks. So it's worth actually listening to the tracks you're ranking even if just to confirm what you think you know.

A surprising side-effect of doing this is finding some tracks, albums, and bands which I had in my collection, but had no idea I liked. Not just Fall Out Boy, which I just mentioned. Maroon 5 is probably the band that had the most 4 and 5 star tracks that I had never listened to. I also re-discovered Digable Planets "Reachin'" which I remember loving, but hadn't listened to in years. There's gold in them hills! Well that doesn't fit my spelunking metaphor at all. There's a gold mine in those musical caves!

The eventual payoff is a Smart Playlist which bubbles mostly 4 and 5 star tracks which you haven't heard in a while, sprinkled with some 3 star tracks to keep things interesting.

Ooh, just hit a block of more that 100 Depeche Mode songs. 14-year-old John is overjoyed! And only 1935 more unrated songs to go through!

Saturday, January 6, 2007

White Rabbit


"I'm late! I'm late! For a very important date! No time to say hello, goodbye! I'm late, I'm late, I'm late!"

Woke up 10 minutes before I was supposed to meet EB for her first ride. And my mother was probably already on her way. Called everyone to explain I'd be late. Why oh why didn't my alarm go off? Er, why oh why didn't I set my alarm last night? That's EB and I in the picture, of course.



Nice relaxing ride from Yorba Linda Regional Park to Kraemer, as previously planned. First off, parking was a madhouse, as there was some kind of youth soccer tournament going on. Ride was nice, though. I hope she liked it. We need to get her set up with a bike computer if she's going to do any kind of consistent riding. I can see now why after my first ride, DH "made" me go buy a computer. You really have no way of knowing your cadence without it.





And of course, it doesn't help if you don't ride with it. Moms (she's the shorter one in this picture) was leading the whole time, and ran out of energy. I found out in the last stretch that she didn't bring her computer along. D'oh! I suspect she was charging out at the beginning, feeling good with a tailwind, not knowing her heartrate was way too high. We all slowed down and survived, of course.


Oops, off to a training session with AL at 24 Hour Fitness.

Review: Children of Men (no spoilers)

Saw a really mind-blowing film last night called "Children of Men," starring Clive Owen. A mix of dystopia, immigration attitudes, Abu Ghraib, totalitarianism, urban warfare, and of course, the value of children to society. The view of the future is incredibly immersive; The cinematography is mindblowing. There are a couple scenes in the movie featuring intense action which appear to be done in a single continuous shot /take, one of which seemed to last for ten minutes. I'm guessing that last shot was stitched together somehow, but I didn't spot it.

Go see it.

Friday, January 5, 2007

Sharing the Fun

Spent yesterday evening with the wife of one of my former personal trainers (who's now just a good friend). She's interested in trying out riding, but had a bike that was given to her. No idea whether it would actually fit her, two flat tires, and clearly not adjusted. So I met her at Banning's Bikes, and Banning took care of her. The bike is a touch too big, but will work for now. The tires were just deflated. He tightened up the shifting and brakes. He took the time to fit her to the bike as best as he could. What an amazing guy. I had to insist that he give us the sales talk about the spectrum of bikes she could buy if she gets into it. Apparantly, there are bikes at the $700, $1100, and $2000 levels, then as much as you want to pay.

The shop has an "open house" every Thursday evening which fosters a real sense of community. Very smart. Reminds me of Third Place philosophy.

So we're riding at 7am on Saturday morning. She's already in good shape from running and martial arts, so my plan is to go from Yorba Linda Regional Park to Kraemer Blvd and back. I really would like to get this embedded map thing working. Dammit.

My left knee is really bothering me, so I bought an electric heat pad. Hope that helps it overnight.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

Publishing Note: Comment Feed

I've added a comment feed for this blog using the "blog of comments" method. There's a page element with it but you can get it at the following URL:

http://h-comments.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default[2007-01-22]
http://john-with-an-h.blogspot.com/feeds/comments/full/[2007-07-20]
http://feeds.feedburner.com/john-with-an-h-comments

First Ride 2007!





Here I am on my first ride of 2007, and first cold weather ride (well, what passes for cold weather in SoCal). That me with my new Canari Eclipse Jacket, Canari Windfront Kneewarmers, and mostly hidden Evilcycling socks (by SockGuy).





Rode with my Garmin Edge 305 for the first time today. Used LoadMyTracks to pull the tracklog data to my Macbook, then gpsvisualizer to create an interactive map. Which I'm having problems embedding. Grrr.

So here's ride data from my Polar CS200 bike computer (don't have my Garmin mounted on the bike yet).

20070104
0901

Exe Time: 01:09:50
Mean HR: 123
Max HR: 146
HR Zone: none set, but 60-70% is 132-146 70-80% is 146-160
Kcal: 552
Distance: 16.2 miles
Mean Speed 13.9 mph
Max Speed: 22.3 mph
Mean Cad: 90
Max Cad: 113
Ride Time: 01:09:59

Nice easy ride today. I guess I spent the entire ride in the 60-70% of max heart-rate zone. Slight tailwind for the first couple miles which turned into a crosswind. Of course, that meant a headwind for the last part of the ride. Felt great on the way out, holding a 100 cadence fairly easily. When we turned around at the 8 mile mark, I briefly thought about pushing for another two miles. Glad I didn't. Though I wasn't ever in any trouble, my legs were fatigued at the end. I think the spin class doesn't train me for the sustained effort that road cycling takes.

I've completely failed to get my gpsvisualizer map embedded into this blog post. I think I'll just throw this up instead of letting it wither on the vine.

Cold Weather Gear

Two days ago, D.H. asked me why I hadn't been riding on the road, to which I replied: "It's frickin' cold!" Of course, to my sensitive Southern California skin, that means 50 degrees F (that's 10C for you ... people everywhere else in the world).

D.H.'s answer: "Let's ride on Thursday, but here's a list of stuff you need to buy first." Great, more $ on cycling! I headed down to Banning's Bikes yesterday with my list: wool socks, leg warmers, jacket, gloves with full fingers, and a second set of arm warmers (to layer on my first set). Banning walked me gently through the purchase, as always. He steered me towards knee-warmers (mid-calf to mid-thigh) instead of a full leg warmer. Instead of a sleeveless jacket, he suggested a windproof model with zip-off arms; Why buy a second set of arm warmers if the jacket sleeves are a layer? Gloves and socks were a snap (socks that say "Evil" were too cool to pass up). Damage was just over $120.

And now I need to meet D.H. in an hour for our ride. My legs are sore from Tue and Wed spin class as well as the not-residual soreness of Mon and Tue jogging. Can't imagine that I could do more than 20 miles, but I have dropped some weight since I last rode on the street, so maybe that will help.

Enough blathering. Time to suit-up!