Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Read the Ingredients

Vaseline Lip Therapy - Advanced Formula

Active ingredients: White Petrolatum
Other ingredients: Flavor

So I'm basically buying petroleum jelly in a squeezable form factor? Wow, that sucks.

Traffic Info in Google Maps

Oh that's just too cool. Google added slowdown information to their maps.

Now I just need to go somewhere to use it...

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Bust and Boom at the Atomic Ballroom

Following my swing class last Thursday, I ventured forth to the Atomic Ballroom's Friday night dance. Fellow classmate Phil had mentioned something about lessons there, but I hadn't payed any attention to the idea. Turns out they run three separate non-repeating intro classes on Friday nights in the run-up to the dance. Should have done that.

The night started with a quick into to the basics of the Balboa. Not too bad. Somehow, I got frozen out of the ending circle of practice dances and meeting people. Then, I was so intimidated by the skill level of everyone there that I stayed a wallflower. I didn't actually stay that long as I had a 7am ride, but it was pretty much a bust. [EDIT 20071204: This was a lie. I could have stayed later and still made my ride. I was just too intimidated to dance.]

Returned tonight and took two classes before the dance. The first covered the Charleston and East Coast Swing basics and a brief routine combining the two. The second covered the Lindy Hop basic and swing-out, which was like this:

I really liked the availability of two or three lessons in a row, as it makes the drive down to Irvine seem a bit more productive. I'm very tempted to get the month-long-pass for March. I could, in theory, take three lessons on Tuesday, three lessons on Friday, and two on Sunday for the month of March. Swing boot-camp, so to speak. Tempting.

At any rate, I danced several times with Cindy, Julie, and Nikki, all of whom I met at the last beginner class before the dance. Lots of fun to practice the Lindy swing-out and the sugar-push.

Very Subtle Advertising

Brazil vs. Argentina in advertisement form.

See the Ads

I'm speechless. Can you run ads like this in the US? Junior high John is snickering. Grown-up John is eye-rolling. Who's winning the battle for the soul of John? Well, I always love a good erectile dysfunction joke...

The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids

I want to emphasize that this post isn't a boast. I hope that I don't have the ego and ego-dependence that I did as a child or even as a young-adult. That being said, I was always one of the smartest kids in the room, regardless of what room that was.

And it was a mixed bag. I don't think I was exposed to failure early enough. I don't think I was exposed to concepts that were too advanced for me. I grew very dependent on my ability to teach myself topics by reading and solo research (which isn't always a bad thing, but can be when I get tunnel-visioned on solving a problem or gaining a skill on my own instead of through instruction). In reading this article, I'm trying to remember whether I suffered (or suffer) from this particular weakness of not wanting to even try something I'm not naturally good at.

The Power (and Peril) of Praising Your Kids -- New York Magazine

I don't remember this ever really being a problem as a kid. I was pretty good at most things, though I worked the hardest at things that I found the most interesting. Most other things I tended to skate by on. Of course, that all came crashing down in college. Caltech was an extended academic beat-down. I wasn't good enough to get by on pure talent (very few are) and was too used to doing so. I didn't have the time management skills or the work ethic to turn it around.

I'm not sure if it's still a problem. I can't say that I'm that good at writing poetry and I don't really try it, but mostly because I'm not much interested in poetry. I can't say that swing-dance is a good counter-example, as I seem to be picking it up quicker than some others in the class I'm taking. I'm back at the math pipe, though I wasn't much good at it the first time around. Well, relative to my Caltech contemporaries, I wasn't much good at it.

I wonder if this might be the same problem I see in some pretty girls I've met over the years. Sometimes I get the feeling that pretty girls get told they're pretty too often. And that results in them thinking that it's the most important thing about them, instead of just something they were lucky enough to be born with. Being a smart kid is similar.

Interesting idea. But is the solution to not praise kids for what they are? Only praise them for achievements? For effort?

It's interesting that the study managed to link being praised for being smart with behavior which makes kids value looking smart, while being praised for effort is linked with challenge-seeking behavior. Interesting that kids praised for effort dealt with failure situations with relish while kids praised for smarts were miserable.

A very telling quote:

In follow-up interviews, Dweck discovered that those who think that innate intelligence is the key to success begin to discount the importance of effort. I am smart, the kids’ reasoning goes; I don’t need to put out effort. Expending effort becomes stigmatized—it’s public proof that you can’t cut it on your natural gifts.
That really cuts deep. I wonder if I ever felt like that. I don't remember feeling like that. But I do remember not putting out the effort.

An interesting bit on how just teaching the concept to students helped:

The only difference between the control group and the test group were two lessons, a total of 50 minutes spent teaching not math but a single idea: that the brain is a muscle. Giving it a harder workout makes you smarter. That alone improved their math scores.
Also interesting that the article author realizes with his own kids that he's the one who's a junkie about giving general praise instead of effort or process-based praise.

So do you tend to shy away from things you're not naturally good at? Can you remember being praised for specific, effort-based achievement instead of general "smartness?" If you have kids, can you see the application? Can you tell me your reaction to the article?

Monday, February 26, 2007

It's Showtime for Ira Glass

It's Showtime for Ira Glass, 'This American Life'

NPR is really pimping the new Showtime version of "This American Life." Ira Glass on "Fresh Air" with Terry Gross.

The collision of my two favorite shows on NPR. I kind of expected the universe to end.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Back on the Bike

I went to a spin class last Saturday, but canceled personal training this week for a Quaker meeting on Tuesday (on the Bill Moyers series Faith and Reason) and swing dance lessons on Thursday. Saturday was a chance to get back into the cardio groove with E&L.

We rode 20 miles Saturday morning, keeping around 15mph on the way out (slight tailwind), but slowing way down on the return for a total ride time of about one hour, forty minutes. I think LB was hurting a bit. I'm very concerned with LB's cadence, as he seems to be falling into the habit of cranking at a cadence in the high 60's, then feeling burned out at the end of a ride. Shocker! We need to get him up to at least 75 revolutions/minute and work from there. Of course, that means a bike computer, which he doesn't have. I wonder how much it costs to just get the mounts put on a bike?

I did a mini-sprint on my own between the 91 under-pass and Lakeview Blvd, just to get my heart above the 110-125 I was holding for most of the ride. Waited for them at Lakeview and rode as a group the rest of the way back to the cars. EB had a martial arts class to teach, but LB and I ate breakfast at the Original Pancake House. Not bad.

I am going to get so many women with this bike! :-)

We don't quite have what EB calls a "herd" of riders yet, but we're working on it!

Blogging Church

I was inspired to start this blog by reading about the spiritual and emotional journeys of friends. A couple weeks ago, I came across this post on the 43 Folders site, about blogging in general, but specifically about blogging in a Church setting. Very interesting idea for a book. I'll have to check it out.

Blogs: Watching passionate thoughts evolve (in public) | 43 Folders


RyanH and I have had long conversations about the importance of re-contextualization of culture. It's probably most prevalent in people's minds as a part of hip-hop culture because of musical sampling. However, reference, borrowing, and influence has been an important part of culture for longer than most people acknowledge. Don't think so? What year was West Side Story made? Care to think about it's influences?

Now, I'm thinking about the downstream influences, especially the different sendups of the Jets - Sharks rumble, from ESPN commercials to the Simpsons, to every time I want to break tension between two groups by snapping my fingers.

This Harpers article is amazingly thorough coverage of the subject, and not just in the 20th and 21st centuries. Definitely worth some time to read through (and definitely a time investment; just read the opening bit on Nabakov and see how far in you get).

The Ecstasy of Influence (

Friday, February 23, 2007

This American Life Teaser Trailer

Sure, This American Life might be the best thing on radio right now. But how good could a television version be?

This good:

3/22/2007 on Showtime? I think my friend Tivo might be recording it.

OCSwing in Irvine

I canceled my training session with AL to take part in the class that OCSwing does for the city of Irvine. Took about 45 minutes even in the rain with the primary slowdown on the I5 South from the Orange Crush to the 55. After that, the I5 opened up. The class is at the Heritage Park Community Center, and was $40 for four sessions (you can come and start on week two if you'd like, by the way. There was an additional $5 for non-Irvine residents).

Each part of the dance was broken down into tiny, understandable chunks. We started with a rock-step, then did a triple step in each direction, and put it all together for the "6-Count Basic:" rock-step, triple-step, triple-step. Here's a video of the 6-count basic:

However, in our class, we learned it with the aformentioned triple-step:

No idea why we were taught that way.

Next we walked through the building blocks of the Tuck-Turn, which looks almost exactly like the first video's "Sendout with an outside turn." Whatever.

From that ending position (end of the sendout with turn, only connected by a single hand), we did another turn (inside?) where we ended up in open position, 180-degrees rotated from the end of the sendout, still only connected by the one hand. Don't know what it's called, but the teachers referred to it as "switching places." It was the only thing I didn't like. If you're going to teach me the dances, teach me the jargon for them too, even if it's only the local name.

The last pattern had us returning to closed position and circling around on the triples. "The Circle" doesn't sound like an actual swing name, but that's what they called it.

Thinking about going to the Atomic tonight to take more classes and get some practice in during the dance.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Robot Chicken Calvin and Hobbes

So disturbing. So funny. I should watch this show. But I'm scared. So scared.

Damn Right It Was A Good Day

Saturday didn't start out well, as I flaked on a 7am ride with EB.

EB: I just got here.
Me: I'm lying flat on my back in bed. I suck.

I dragged myself over to the 8:30am spin class at 24 Hour Fitness. I don't think I'd taken a class from the instructor, Cindea, before, but she was very good. Well, I might have low standards when it comes to spin instructors. If they're on-time, have an organized music playlist, and can pedal to the cadence the music is setting for the times when I'm not feeling it, I'm happy. Cindea managed to do all those things, and I walked out with my butt happily kicked.

My knee was a bit cranky afterwards, but seemed to be pain free 48 hour later. Still fighting that January 1 injury. Damn.

Made it up to LA for lunch with SL. Breathtakingly beautiful day which we were able to enjoy outside. Though we chatted the entire time, my dominant memory is basking in the warm sun with a friend. Well, that and the chicken salad with a hint of curry. And the salad dressing. Yummy!

Evening with SS and pals for her birthday bash. Always fun to meet cool new people. SS told me there'd be some poker played ahead of time. It ended up being NL Texas Hold'em with one of the players being a dealer at the Bike. And he schooled us, gracefully. I have no no-limit skills to speak of, and Wikipedia wasn't actually a help in this case. Nor was listening to Kenny Rogers "The Gambler" on repeat on the way over.

We should have played limit poker, since you can't bust out as quickly. I was bad at counting the pot, bad at counting my outs, bad at essentially every skill except hand selection, at which I merely middling. Bleh. Table was fairly loose, with very little pre-flop aggression. I should probably go visit the Bike with The Falcon, as he's suggested a couple times. In fact, I should see The Falcon again. Does that guy even check his email?

Rolled out pretty late, but felt like I connected well with the group. Glad for the invite. And would I be able to make 9am "Intro to Quakerism" on Sunday?

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

On Tour With CH and JJ

Glommed on to CH's evening, last Friday; He's in town, so I make every effort, you know? He and JJ had dinner earlier on, and I met them for drinks at the Embassy Suites bar. We were looking for slightly more sedate, and we got comatose. That was fine, as we were all about the chatting. After a round we found out they closed at 10pm. On a Friday?!

We rolled to Mulberry Street in downtown Fullerton. Again, sedate. And with rude service. Nothing on tap. Whatever, good company makes up for a lot.

First time meeting JJ, and she's a riot. She uses body language to tell stories in a way that I associate with theater people. Turns out she's trying to break into show business. Nice. Maybe CH told me that before. Anyway, fun person to hang out with.

Ended the evening with requisite grainy, low-light pictures.

CH and JJ:

Getting the band back together:

Other Brained

Just finished reading the latest installment of Hacking My Child's Brain by Mark Woodman. The series covers the treatments for Woodman's son, Caleb, who has Sensory Processing Disorder. Fascinating stuff.

Reminded me of Elizabeth Moon's The Speed of Dark, which was written from the point of view of an autistic savant.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

LARP Birthday Card

Attended a small birthday gathering for a friend who recently told me she was into LARP'ing (Live-Action Role-Playing). I had previously had a friend tell me that not everyone does these live-action things in-costume. Sometimes, they'll just wear a sign with a description of the costume, and everyone is supposed to interact with them as if they were in costume. For example, instead of wearing a tuxedo, a person could just wear a sign saying "tuxedo." Hoping this was a universal theme among LARP'ers, I wrote the following birthday card:

[Touching Personal Note]

Cue genre hilarity.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Annoyin Wriin

I know that others don't really understand some of my language pet peeves, and I'm all for writin in one's own voice, but there has to be a limit somewhere. I mean, come on people, writin in a non-annoyin way is just not that hard. I know I have my own writin tics, but I'm hopin there's nothin I'm doin that's inspirin people to make fun of my writin (the way this blog entry did). And it's about somethin I like! Well, the Joel Salatin part is something I want to hear more about. Somethin. Damn!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Berlitz Language Schools

From the Twenty Four blog which highlights cool ads and ad campaigns:

Berlitz - The Language School

Make sure you look at the expanded picture to see the sign. Too freakin' funny!

Richard Cizik

Fresh Air interview of Green Evangelist Richard Cizik.
Richard Cizik is the vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, a lobbying organization that represents 45,000 churches. He is a conservative Christian who preaches the message of environmentalism from a pro-life perspective. He talks about creation care in relation to the threat of global warming.

This is the group that Ted Haggard used to be the head of. Haggard had to step down after he was accused of hiring a gay prostitute for sex and using him as a source for methamphetamine.

Why has it taken so long for the evangelical movement to pay attention to stewardship and poverty?

Dispensational Theology

Interesting stuff, but not mainstream in the Evangelical movement. Reason to be optimistic?


(from Dee on the OCFM list) Yes, this is what tech support is like. Finally, someone has translated it so that everyone can understand the pain.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Fun With Gmail

I don't think John Remy is paying any attention to RyanH and I, but I'm snickering to myself as I toggle my Gmail status between "Compositing" and "Composting" whenever I think about it. I've caught RyanH in "Compressing" and I think "Fire Roasting."

Oops, I better get back to study hall before Miss Summers gives me another demerit.



And the final indignity:

Photos Just Because

While returning to the car on Sunday after my sister's Second City class performance, I noticed this abandoned-looking building which the ironic signage.

If only it had been the school of beauty and architecture. *sigh*

Next, a shot of the pool deck from my patio. No, I don't have a hot tub, but I have quick access to one.

Detroit Hype

What's up with the hype surrounding Chevrolet's Volt? After killing the EV1, an actual production electric vehicle, why is GM getting "Green cred" for producing a concept car with a blue-sky production date?

Here's a Wired article discussion how Detroit is about to leapfrog Japanese makers with plug-in hybrids.
GM's Chevrolet Volt and Ford's HySeries Drive, unveiled as concept prototypes for the first time last month, leapfrog current hybrid designs and could put pressure on Toyota's popular Prius by offering consumers better value.

Shocking. Buried on the second page are

Honda and Toyota are also considering production plug-in hybrids...
Oh, so the Japanese are considering it too. So why the hype about Detroit leading the way? A PR decision by the companies? Concept cars? Why does it make sense to believe that Japanese automakers wouldn't lead the way on plug-ins just as they led the way on production hybrids over a decade ago and with fuel-efficient vehicles in general three decades ago? In fact, projects to convert the existing production Prius to a plug-in already exist.

Dave Alexander, a senior analyst at ABI Research, believes battery technology will not advance enough in the next two or three years to suit commercially viable plug-in hybrids.

Nick Cappa, a spokesman for DaimlerChrysler, is also skeptical, saying plug-in vehicles would require "a significant leap in battery technology." He said his company has not committed to commercializing the technology because of the concerns about battery weight and reliability.

Why give creedence to a 2010 production date if the battery technology doesn't exist!?

New pet peeve: Green Hype.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Onion On Dungeons and Dragons

Bill Gates Grants Self 18 Dexterity, 20 Charisma | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

I played role-playing games in high-school and wondered why no girls seemed to be turned on by that. The above article is a funny slam on gamers and Bill Gates at the same time. If you never played, you can safely skip this one.

Spinning My Heels

Quaker Meeting on Sunday morning followed by a meal at the Gypsy Den with RH, Anima Umbrae, and B catbonny. [EDIT: Duh, and SS of course]Lovely conversation, lovely friends. Good to see B catbonny tolerating us odd people. Wondering how she's handling all the unprogrammed worship, but it always feels a bit pushy to ask, so I don't.

SL and I saw my sister's Second City LA level 3 class perform. Missed the first few minutes of the show, but got to see the bulk. Very funny stuff, except for the Samuel Beckett bit. Ouch. Some players were clearly better than others, though I might be biased when I proudly say my sister was clearly one of the best up there. RyanH and my mother were there, but returned quickly to Brea after the show. John Remy and EVH had tried to make it from the 3pm Confessions of a Mormon Boy to the 5pm show, but got mixed up regarding the address. So sad, but they met up with us for dinner at the New Indian Grill. Great Samosa's, yummy veggie fare (though chicken and lamb were on the menu), more great company.

SL asked me some issues on Quakerism which were quite thought-provoking. Chatted with her perky roommate, and I volunteered my unneeded advice about her evening's entertainment. Time flew by.

Oh, spinning? Yeah, got up at 4am for the 5:30am spin class. But 'twas not to be [EDIT: That's a little shout-out To Anima Umbrae]. All spots taken by 5:15am. Darn. Considering the 8:30am class. Considering the 7:30pm class. Meanwhile, spinning my heels.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Hightop and ABC

Visited AH and family this afternoon for AH's birthday (old man). EH is a year and a half (?) now, and they're six weeks or so pregnant. Exciting news for them. -Lots- of babies around. Met some of his Occidental faculty co-workers, as well as a charming couple with a two-month old (he got his PhD in astro-physics, got an MBA, and is at RAND now; she ... ?). Managed to chat with RM and The Falcon as well. AH and GF both want to get some bike riding in. I want to go. Badly. But need to rest knee.

This knee thing is ridiculous. I'm going to make a doctor/PA appointment on Monday.

Was invited earlier on to a club for live music and Blues dancing, so I spent the evening at Arcadia Blues Club for the "Speakeasy Blues" event. Teddy Lee Hooker opened for Coco Montoya. Most of the group I was going with flaked, which left me with a willing dance partner who far out-skilled me. I found all kinds of reasons not to dance at all, including the large number of people there who weren't dancing, but staring at the dance floor, the incredibly skilled and enthusiastic older couple who were obviously going to outshine me, the amazing music being played, etc. So all I could do was suck it up and ask my partner to dance as many times as I could, without making her completely unavailable for more skilled dancers. I don't think I handled that balance very well, as we probably should have spent more time on the floor. Unfortunately, my 6-count turns completely left me. Should have just tried them, audience or no, looking silly or no. How else am I going to learn? Clearly need to practice regularly with a partner. Need to look into that.

During the lesson Speakeasy Ken put on before the live music started, there was one woman who very conspicuously would not dance with me. Not just once. Ever. My intuition told me it was that pesky mark of Cain again.

Fortunately, the awesome live stylings of Teddy Lee Hooker, and a soft, pretty gal in my arms had me quickly forgetting about it and concentrating on embarrassing myself on the dance floor.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Misquoting Jesus - Chapter 2

Part of a continuing series of reactions to the Mind on Fire reading group's reaction to Misquoting Jesus by Bart Ehrman. You can also read my entries on the Introduction and Chapter 1.

The Copyists of the Early Christian Writings

The general theme of the chapter is that Christian writings were painstakingly hand-copied and re-copied by non-professionals early in Christian history, then by more professional groups later on. And in all cases, errors occurred, sometimes mistaken ones and sometimes deliberate ones. In fact, the errors were so common that authors themselves referenced the potential, and scholars wrote about the frustration of having their studies thwarted by a text which was clearly rife with errors. Interesting to me to read this discussion and really sit to think about it. I mean, in modern West, we're fairly literate, but we probably haven't had to undertake the task of hand-copying a book. The task is quite daunting to think about. I just hand-copied my math homework earlier this week and kept making mistakes doing that. And it took a lot of time. And was generally not fun. I just can't imagine doing it.

Interesting point made about scriptuo continua, copyingatextwithoutspacingorpunctuationwhatapainintheassthatmustbetoreadandcopydefinitepainintheass. This was probably a result of the previous chapter's discussion of what "literate" really meant at the time. Some of the literate class could recognize letters, but not syllables. Could write symbols, but not spell.

Another interesting point is the type of error made by a person who was making a copy for personal use or for their community's use. These people might not have had the literacy issues previously mentioned, but might have had agendas in the changes they made, much less of an issue when the copying was being done by an impartial professional. Indeed, professional scribes might make a different kind of change to the text, namely fixing an error which they believed had crept into the source copy!

Ehrman muddies the water even more by pointing out that quite often the source material might have been written by a secretary taking dictation. And like modern day dictation, the secretary might have been given a broad outline of material to cover as opposed to a word for word dictation. In fact, in my mind, this is much more likely than the word for word dictation, because of the time-consuming nature of doing so. I wonder if it might even have been easier to rely on an assistant to do that due to the high level of training one would need to have to assist someone at that specific task. The secretary might have been one of the highest educated people around. Ehrman then points out that the secretary might have made multiple copies of the writing to send to multiple cities in a region, possibly making mistakes in doing so.
The meaning of the word autograph (original copy) in this case is very muddied: Which copy was the original? Did it necessarily even reflect the original intent of the person giving dictation?! I can imagine a situation where the person giving dictation says one thing, and the transcriber writes something different, unnoticed by the originator of the thought (or noticed but perhaps the 'author' like the change better than his own words). Actually I think that's a major plot point in Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses.

The last few sections describe the problems which scholars come across when trying to reconstruct original texts, namely sections which clearly don't seem to match the text they're included with. Sometimes that means that the vocabulary doesn't match. Sometimes they have older copies of text without the included passages. I'll mention the most famous passage, The Woman Taken in Adultery in John 7:53-8:12 ("Let the one who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone at her") [by the way, I originally typed "one who is without son among you"]. Ehrman writes:
Despite the brilliance of the story, its captivating quality, and its inherent intrigue, there is on other enormous problem that it poses. As it turns out, it was not originally in the Gospel of John. In fact, it was not originally part of any of the Gospels. It was added by later scribes.
Here I can simply point out a few basic facts that have proved convincing to nearly all scholars of every persuasion: the story is not found in our oldest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of John; its writing style is very different from what we find in the rest of John (including the stories immediately before and after); and it includes a large number of words and phrases that are otherwise alien to the Gospel. the conclusion is unavoidable: this passage was not originally part of the Gospel.
Again, I have to be very careful in my state of mind when reading this information, for I've always assumed that this type of mistake exists in the Bible, but to have a scholar confirm it feels a little like someone telling me something I very much want to hear. I'm very interested in the future sections which promise more description of the evidence. Also worth pointing out that this information is traceable back to the sources which Ehrman is making his judgements on.

It was a nice, tight chapter which got down to business, made it's points, and finished. Would read again.

Review: Hannibal Rising (very mild spoilers)

... and then he killed them all. The End.

My brother and I ate at the Quincy Market Cafe in Anaheim Hills before taking in the movie. I had the roasted mushrooms and pork cheeks. Not really, but that would have been funny. Brother bought the tickets and met me there. Had some kind of sausage that I can't believe they make in-house, but had a nice anise flavor. 8pm movie had already started at 8:04. Weird. We were treated to 60 minutes of Hannibal Lecter of Silence of the Lambs fame, as a young boy and young man. His family is brutally killed, and he takes brutal revenge years later. Yup. 60 minutes. What the heck happened? Apparantly they sold my brother 7pm tickets, so we walked in about 50 minutes into the movie. Oddly, I felt like we saw the whole thing. And didn't need to.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Apples to Apples Introspection

Lots and lots of fun at a friend's birthday party this weekend. Great company, lots of laughs. We played "Apples to Apples," which is the awesome.

Swiping this description from
Apples to Apples consists only of two decks of cards: Things and Descriptions. Each turn, the current referee selects a Description and players try to pick, from the cards in their hands, the Things that best match that Description. The referee then chooses the Thing that appeals most and awards the card to the player who played it. The unusual combinations of Things and Descriptions are humorous to the extreme, and will quickly have the entire room in an uproar.

Simple, but the fun lasts for hours. After the kids went to bed, we played the variant where one adds "... in bed!" to the end of each Description or Thing, as appropriate. Instantly funnier. As RH said to me later, it was an easy audience to please. RJ and EVH were supposedly playing for the first time, but showed phenom characteristics, winning most of the cards between them.

EVH: [finishing non-humorous conversation] ... I don't know. Maybe I'm just really demanding and tough to please.
Me: In bed!!!

Helped to wash dishes (meaning I helped to dry them), chatted a bit, then called it a night. A late night. As EVH and I walked back, I remarked that sometimes I felt as if I was performing in that kind of social situation, and perhaps beat myself up a little about it. Later, she called me on it. Not the performance, but the self-flagellation "Why do I DO that?!"

I've been thinking about it ever since, and thought I'd try to get my thoughts down. It's not about feeling like I have a fractured personality (though there's a very tiny bit of dissociative self-critique going on). When I'm in a group, I feel a little bit like I'm on a stage, performing for people. At the same time, I guess I'm not a very generous performer, but an attention seeker. When I was a lot more bitter, this would lead to biting, nasty sarcasm. I try to control that now, but I think it's just mellowed to snarkiness (snarkishness? snarkosity? snarkadoodledoo?). And general joke-telling. And thread-jacking for my own humor (yes, I'm even and on-line attention seeker). And good, funny, fake-story telling. And tasteless-story telling. And the fact that comedy is my top posting-label.

Ok, bit off-track there. Centering back to the feeling of being on-stage. I exaggerate my expression, deliberately seize up potentially funny misunderstandings, exaggerate my gestures, and generally ham it up. That evening's examples: Within 30 seconds of walking in the door, I was trash-talkig about Apples to Apples. I complained to the judge about every card I didn't win. I was demonstratively non-gracious about every card I did win. And it's not that I actually have any of my ego invested in being successful at Apples to Apples (I don't), but that I have ego invested at being thought of as the funniest guy in the room. So that's part attention-seeking, part competitiveness (about being funny?!), part self-validation?

So is the root of all of this "pain"? That's such pop psychology; I know my pain affects my behavior, but causes it? I've been a smart aleck as long as I can remember (part of deflecting attention from being the smartest kid in the class? Maybe). Is that rooted in pain? I can't think why. But the more emotional pain I'm in at any phase in my life, the more biting and nasty my humor is. I wonder whether this behavior is about times in my life when I'm compensating for something. Being smarter. Being darker-skinned. Being heavier. I think I've gotten over being smart through a combination of going to Caltech (suddenly in the bottom 5%!) and just realizing that it's far from being that important or the central part of my identity. Being non-white? I don't think I've ever had shame about it; I'm proud of my my multi-ethnic heritage, but maybe if I generalize to feelings of "fitting in," I start getting somewhere that feels truthful. Being overweight is definitely an isolating experience, and though it's not all about the external (being healthy is good in it's own right), social acceptance is an undeniable part of it. So fitting in. And if people are following my lead, I must be fitting in, right?

I just flashed on the episode of Beauty and the Geek (the first season, I think) which I saw. Maybe it was a marathon. Anyway, there was an incredibly geeky guy (this guy, I think) who clowned around all the time, behavior I had incredible contempt for. Ouch.

So maybe I'm playing the part of the fat, geeky clown who needs love. Or maybe I'm getting over the feelings (I hope), but I have behavioral inertia.

Fresh Air

Woo Hoo!

Fresh Air is now being podcast!

It's 45 minute blocks instead of each segment separated, but I can live with that. This, along with This American Life, is my favorite show on NPR. Yes, FAVORITE!

Woo Hoo!

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Dynamic Shared Playlists

Updated my Blogger profile to reflect the music groups from my iTunes Zeitgeist project, when I started wondering about the music my friends put in their profiles. After reading them, I wondered about how cool it would be to make playlists based on who would be in a car, listening to the music. That is, I carpool with my brother somewhere, and I play my "bro" playlist, of stuff music we both enjoy. In actually reading the music lists, I realized how much of a pain that would be, especially since tastes are dynamic, we might have a favorite song without liking much by the band, and especially if more than one person was present.

Then I thought, this is a perfect task for a computer.

Other thoughts, as I effectively published my musical tastes, I wondered about how someone else could use this information about me. Could someone gift me a mix CD based on this information? Probably not, unless they could put Eva Cassidy and Tool on the same mix. In which case, I want that CD. Could a date put together a playlist of stuff she extrapolated I'd like based on what was in my list? Oh wait, I'm totally going to do that!

Of course, my list is pretty much entirely made up of mainstream artists. Now I'm tempted to add a "tripwire" artist. That is, an artist which would signal to me that someone was trying to influence me by creating a list based on my profile. In order for that to work, it would have to be a pretty mainstream artist with obvious hits which I don't actually like, but not so mainstream that it could be just a random playlist. Michael Jackson, might work, as his stuff sticks out, but that might be too weird. Maybe Fergie (but I like the Black Eyed Peas). Justin Timberlake might work, but seems so mainstream that someone might just like the guy. Aaron Neville? Possibly.

Is profile-stalking a real term? It should be. Now I need to think up an tripwire movie too. Yes, this is how my brain works.

iTunes Zeitgeist Update 2

Original post on my quest to rank my music collection, along with the first update. And now, a huge milestone: I finished ranking all the music:

Total Songs: 3866

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

In my cursory searches for this information in other people's libraries, I've yet to find anything. No, that's not quite right, I've found out that my blog is the top response to "iTunes Zeitgeist!"

Ok, so looking through my 5-star songs, what groups show up with more than one track?

Air - 3 tracks
Beastie Boys - 5 tracks
Eva Cassidy - 2 tracks
Eric Clapton - 2
Kelly Clarkson - 2
Coldplay - 2
Creedence Clearwater Revival - 2
Depeche Mode - 4 (sentimental much?)
Marvin Gaye - 3
Jimi Hendrix - 6
Lauryn Hill - 3
Jimmy Eat World - 3
Norah Jones - 2
Linkin Park - 8
Nine Inch Nails - 4
Nirvana - 3
Pearl Jam - 4
Rage Against The Machine - 3
The Shins - 2
Sigur Ros - 2
Simon & Garfunkel - 3 (but really 2)
Smashing Pumpkins - 2
Steve Miller Band - 2
Tool - 2
U2 - 8

There you go. As good a list as any to give people when they ask what kind of music I listen to. Maybe it should be 4 and 5 star tracks, but that's a longer list than I feel like building manually. Shouldn't there be an easier way to answer these kinds of questions?

Well, if one goes by number of 4 and 5 star tracks in my iTunes library, my favorite bands are:
U2 - 40 tracks
Linkin Park 25
Beastie Boys 24
Depeche Mode 22
Weezer 20
Nirvana 17
The Cure 16

To be honest about it, though, I'm not sure I'd choose to listen to that much Depeche Mode today. Well, I take that back. I listened to the songs and ranked them by how I liked them today. We'll see if this lasts past the "listening to a smart playlist" stage. Oh that's right: What does this all mean? Well, there are all kinds of Smart Playlist ideas which require your music to be rated. So now I'm going to be trying them out.

Also, my informal ban on importing new music is over. Looking forward to checking out Sigur Ros's Takk, Stina Nordenstam's The World Is Saved, Z-Ro's I'm Still Livin, Charlotte Gainsburg, K.T. Tunstall, and the Teddybears. Darn, I just saw the Village Voice's survey of best albums of 2006 too. Maybe go back and check the best of 2006 lists from the last 60 days? Any other suggestions out there?

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Thoughts on Simon & Garfunkel

From Cecilia:

Making love in the afternoon with cecilia
Up in my bedroom (making love)
I got up to wash my face
When I come back to bed
Someones taken my place
5-star song dropped to 2-stars by the image of Art Garfunkel engaged in cunnilingus during multi-partner sex.

In fact, that wagging 'fro ... Gah! [claws at eyes] 1-Star!

Don't get mad at me! I don't write the darn song!!!

iTunes Fairy

In the home-stretch of my music ranking project, and am coming over music I have no recollection of having.

Henri Salvador - Chambre Avec Vue (French-language lounge music?!)
The Boswell Sisters - Shout, Sister, Shout!
Various Artists - South Pacific Islands
Various Artists - Euro Lounge
Various Artists - Brazilian Lounge
Various Artists - Puerto Rico
Various Artists - Music From the Coffee Lands

Anyone ever heard of any of these albums? This is the first stuff I added to iTunes, in the first week or so of buying my computer, but it's within the last 9 months. Weird.

Thoughts on the Beach Boys

Yes, my iTunes track-ranking project has brought me to The Beach Boys Platinum Collection. That's somewhere around 60 Beach Boys tracks, which isn't a bad thing. Why haven't I listened to this before?

But a few things I've noticed:

I've heard the song so many times, but never realized the lyric was

Bar-bar-bar, Bar-barbara Ann, Bar-bar-bar, Bar-barbara Ann

Yes, I know that's the title of the song, but I didn't know that either. I have no idea what I thought they were singing. I guess I just thought it was some random Beach Boys scatting.

Secondly, there's the middle verse of Get Around:

We always take my car cause its never been beat
And weve never missed yet with the girls we meet

None of the guys go steady cause it wouldnt be right
To leave their best girl home now on saturday night

Did I hear that correctly? The song's actually about driving around and having sex with random women?

And lastly, look at the first line of that last lyric and this one together:

I get around
Get around round round I get around
From town to town
Get around round round I get around
Im a real cool head
Get around round round I get around
Im makin real good bread
Get around round round I get around
I get around

I know that rap and hip-hop borrow liberally from other musical styles, but the "My car is awesome, and by the way, I'm really rich," pattern dates back to the Beach Boys? Or earlier? Was Jimmy cracking corn liquor, gin, and juice? Did Wagner have spinners on his carriage?

Tell me tell me mama
Will you go with me back to Sumahama
Are you kidding me?!

Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Isolation and Assimilation

In the past year or so, I've found myself reading the online magazine Slate quite a bit. It skews just a touch more conservative than me, which I value greatly (I don't want to read my own opinions written by someone more talented than I). But of course, I also value the coverage of issues which I'm not paying attention to.

Today, I read Justice Girls: The female justices begin to reflect on feminism. I'm speechless. Incredulous. Stunned. Mostly at the Rehnquist maneuvering, but also that I'm not more sensitive to someone being an "only."

I've been the only black guy for most of my life, so maybe I'll give myself a small pass. I've never had a problem hanging out in a sea of white faces (I'm still working on my book, Growing Up White in Orange County; So far, I've got the title). It's a little difficult for me, even today, to get in touch with that feeling of isolation. It really only happens when someone says something which they don't regard as racist, but I do.

I recently told someone that when I meet new white people, it usually takes me speaking (without the blackcent) for others to become comfortable with the idea that I'm a peer. To me, that's not a conscious attempt at assimilation, it's just how I speak. I do often wonder, though, why other people don't make an effort to speak without the accent. Rightly or wrongly, I think it correlates with comfort levels, and thus ability to make more money. That's anyone with an accent, by the way, including me. I think there are situations in which I'm bounded by a California accent.

I've actually seen women do something similar, taking on a "one of the guys" persona. I wonder whether that helps or hurts? No idea.

Wow, I'm blathering, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg could give a rat's ass about how I speak.

More Discussions With LDS Friends

Last Wednesday, I ditched my Linear Algebra class to attend my second class with a group of current and former members of the LDS faith. My first visit to the class was very inspiring, and this time was no different.

John Remy taught the class and based it on the current Sunstone cover story on LDS couples where one spouse has a faith crisis, clearly a very personally relevant topic for more than one person in attendance at the class. The article is based on what John described as "the most attended and downloaded session at Sunstone's 2006 Salt Lake Symposium." Oh, here's the title: For Better, for Worse, for Apostasy? How Faith Issues Affect Couple Relationshps.

The session description states:
How does it affect the stability and foundation of the relationship when one partner in an LDS temple marriage begins to question his or her core religious beliefs? In this session, three couples share their personal experiences with doubt and changes in faith—how they worked through these changes and not only stayed married but also deepened their commitment to each other.
John began by asking what ideas the various people had about marriage based on LDS tradition going into marriage. It was interesting to hear that most of them had been married in their early 20's and had been taught (or just picked up) a vision of successful marriage which focused on actions and activities. "If I have a temple marriage, remain active in the Church, etc., then my spouse and I will be able to handle most issues which come up." Most married couples laughed at the naiveté which this view embodied (their words, not mine!). There was an implied criticism there (lack of focus on communiation?) but I couldn't quite put my finger on it.

The discussion moved on to mistaken assumptions, such as exactly what level of activity was implied by "remaining active," and even what each other's family backgrounds and level of orthodoxy was. I don't remember the exact timing on this, but I did have a subsequent conversation with one of the other attenders who implied that the shared cultural heritage makes LDS couples more prone to assuming agreement on most issues, while a couple without that shared heritage might be more prone to explore those issues. A specific couple and specific book of pre-marriage questions was mentioned, neither of which I knew. I was a little shocked that there wasn't a better pre-marriage counseling program within the LDS church to cover those issues. There seems to be so much organization surrounding other activities, that I just assumed that would be one of them.

I think this assumption was based on an episode of KCRW's Speaking of Faith entitled Marriage, Family, and Divorce [-Real Audio-][-transcript-]. The dominant characteristic I've been told about LDS is "pro-family," and I just assumed that something as helpful as Rabbi Dorff's class would be available. By the way, the discussion with Rabbi Dorff makes for really interesting reading/listening, but the unscientific statistic of 8% divorce rate for those who had gone through the Making Marriage Work classes at the University of Judaism really stands out.

...[S]ometimes during the course of the 10-week program, because of the curriculum, which gets them to talk to each other about a variety of different important things, sometimes they decide, "You know, maybe we shouldn't get married." So some of them — which is much better for them to decide beforehand than afterward.

So some of it is that, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that they get skills through these courses in terms of how to interact with each other. I mean, the first — it's 10 sessions. I think the first five deal with communication skills. They come to talk with each other and then in a group about strategies to deal with parents, strategies to deal with friends of one who are not friends of the other, issues of jobs versus children and how to handle them. Well, one really important one is how do you have a fight and still come out married? And part of it has to do also with expectations.

I love Broadway musicals, so the way that I like to put it is this, right? The Hollywood image of marriage is from South Pacific. "Some enchanted evening you will meet a stranger across the crowded room. You'll know even then that somehow you'll meet her again and again." Right?
And so the image that you get is that marriage is a series of enchanted evenings. And then when you get married and you find out that indeed there are some enchanted evenings, but most of them are sort of ho-hum and some of them are downright unenchanted, you begin to think that — if that was your expectation, you begin to think, "Well, maybe this is not the marriage for me," and you break up. As opposed to Fiddler on the Roof, right? "After 25 years, do you love me?" "Well, for 25 years we've done this, that and that. Now you ask me do I love you? Well, I suppose I do." "And I suppose I love you, too. After 25 years, it doesn't change a thing, but it's nice to know." Right? Now there, I mean, what that piece speaks is I think the traditional Jewish understanding of marriage. That is, you get married primarily because you like each other enough to do the work of family together, that is to grow old together, to have companionship, to have children, to raise those children.
Very interesting espousal of the non-romanticized viewpoint. What I was hearing second-hand from the other attenders of the class shaded more towards idealism (though more about religious idealism than romantic idealism).

Painful to hear that the structure of the LDS Church makes spouses feel in this cases as if their spouse's questioning of their shared faith jeopardizes the salvation of both. I sensed some tension between the attenders over this issue ("But if you read the scripture, you'd see that it's not true!" "But the entire culture and structure makes one feel as if it's true."), but not too heated, as if this was an old, familiar disagreement. The discussion turned very personal at that point, as more than one married couple in attendance had some type of tension they were dealing with, and some shared their processes. I wish I could have heard from them all on this issue, and whether my presence as an outsider kept everyone from being 100% candid. I don't have any personal revelations in this area of my life to share, so perhaps that isn't conducive to candor from some of the more reserved attenders.

The discussions on post-marriage adjustments were also fascinating, though again, were quite personal, and not my stories to share.

The low point of the night for me was when John told me about the "temple recommend" interview. I was shocked to find out that one of the questions was about being up-to-date on tithing. That wasn't the low point. The low point was that I didn't have the emotional control to hide my shock. I think that made everyone uncomfortable and I'm pretty disappointed in myself. My kung-fu is weak.

Not sure when I'll be able to get back, but I find this type of discussion to be incredibly stimulating. I'll have to hunt down a copy of the Sunstone article and get a copy of the symposium session.

Breaking Sacred Promises

Well, I promised myself I'd stay off my knee, but didn't have the heart to turn down a casual ride with EB and hubby LB.

First, let me recount a discussion I had with new Quaker friend SS about why serious cyclists use special pedals. Perhaps this exercise will help: Sit in a chair and put your weight on the ball of one foot. Notice which muscles in your quad get activated? Now put your hands over your knee and push up against it. Notice that you're working different muscles? Alternate between putting your weight on your foot and pushing against your hands, and you might get a better picture. When you have a bike pedal without clips, you only get the downward force. With the clips, you can pull up while the other leg is pushing down, so you're using both legs on any given pedal stroke, and only working a given muscle group a fraction of what it was doing (probably not half, but maybe). That means any given muscle group is going to tire more slowly.

Ok, back to the ride.

LB & EB with their metallic green Scion in the background. Metallic chartreuse? Whatever. Their car is green.

Here I am with LB. Told me he might be moving back to the Brea gym to train again. If that happens, it will be cool to see him consistently. Here we are, talking about getting the band back together:

AL constantly tells me that I have terrific form when we work out (along with how much definition I'm getting in my arms, and how sexy my calves are, and how much chicks will swarm over me because of my new bike... ok, maybe she doesn't say any of that except the form), and I've always credited my brother and LB for that.

It was LB's first ride since high school in 1972 or something like that, so naturally he wanted us to do a 24 mile beach ride. I thought this was a horrible idea, but didn't quash it. Riding to the beach is just too tempting. Staged out of the Dennys parking lot off of Chapman in Orange, and headed out. LB had his bike checked out at Banning's Bikes, where they reportedly told him he'd need some replacement wheels if he wanted to ride more than twice. Those guys are awesome.

A ride needs to be tailored to the weakest rider, LB in this case (not weakest person, me, or weakest personality, me again, or weakest willed, again me). I should have know this and quashed even the possibility of riding to the beach by staging out of Yorb Linda Regional Park, but I was weak hearted. LB immediately mentioned sitting discomfort.

You don't ever want to go on a ride figure out that you're done, then have to ride all the way back to your staging area, but this is what I let LB talk me into. My plan was to turn around at the 5 mile point, but EB's "Awwww..." and LB's "I feel fine!" convinced me that we might actually make the beach. We stopped for a break at just under the 9 mile mark, and I quickly read my mistake. We were clearly turning around, and if luck held out, it would really only be LB's butt hurting on the return.

Luck didn't hold out, and his quads started to burn. I think the underpasses were especially hard on him (climbing up the other side) and his quads really started to tire out. We had to slow way down to make sure not to drop him. Again, not really a reflection on his fitness (he's a fit guy despite his statements about not being a cardio king). More about adjusting to cycling and the differing demands it places on one's body. Neither he nor the wife have pedal clips (or clipless systems like SPD) to help lessen the amount of work done by the quads when pedaling, and I think the amount of work one's legs do is pretty deceptive. Having them tire out can really sneak up on you.

We didn't eat at Denny's (which I'm happy about, in retrospect!), but I was still over an hour late for my next "appointment."

Monday, February 5, 2007

Misquoting Jesus - Chapter 1

This post is part of John Remy's Mind on Fire bookgroup, which is reading Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus. Though I've volunteered to cover chapter 7 for the group, I'm blogging my reactions to every chapter.

I was originally going to hold back my chapter reactions until after the "assigned" book group member's reaction was posted, but we seem to not be doing that in order. Oh well.

My guilty confession is that I bogged down on chapter one for well over a year after I read the introduction. Only the reading group has really motivated me to continue, and I'm glad I did. As someone who has never formally studied the Bible, I've often felt lost about the structure and origin of the various pieces of the New Testament. This chapter helped me understand the back-story which helped me understand why they might be included in Canon at all. Looking back at the chapter, I can see why Ehrman thought to structure it the way he did, but I might have benefited from a better "executive summary" at the top of the chapter.

It starts with a discussion on the Judaic roots of Christianity, and the "bookish" character of Judaism as a unique characteristic in the history of the world to that point. It's important to understanding the roots and writing traditions of early literate Christians and why they would turn to the written word as a tool. Early Christian Letters, the first discussion of Christian writing, was eye-opening for me in seeing that the various founders of Churches (namely Paul) struggled with keeping separated populations of people synchronized in their belief systems. Letters were an attempt to solve that problem. Interestingly, we still do that today. The next few subsections, Early Gospels, Early Acts, Apocalypses, Orders, Apologies, Martyrologies, etc. helped me to a deeper understanding behind the motivation behind writings which eventually became Canon. Another constant theme is the number of lost texts which fall into one of these categories. Martyrologies struck a cord with me after having recently read about the "martyr complex" of early American Quakers in Daniel Boorstin's The Americans: The Colonial Experience.

The next section is on the formation of Canon. It really only whetted my appetite for information on this process, and pointed to another Ehrman book (among others) for the full story.

Next is a discussion of literacy rates in the early Christian populations (low) and what literacy even meant to the population of the time. This dovetails with a discussion of the tradition of public readings of scripture (so the illiterate know what's going on).

Ehrman closes with a series of questions all this raises. What was the infrastructure behind production of books in these pre- printing-press times? What was the infrastructure behind distributing them? Who was doing the copying and how do we know it was accurate?

I found the chapter to be slow going at first, but it got better and better. Part of my experience is reading in a way that I'll be able to discuss the chapters in these posts, which is a different kind of reading for me.

Onward! Ruth Reichel and Barbara Ehrenreich are whispering in my ear, and I don't want to fracture my attention (even more than it is).

Just Gotta Cut Loose!

John Remy issued a Wednesday challenge to do something outside of one's comfort zone, and I've decided to accept an invitation to go dancing as a result. Well, that's not quite fair, as I tend to accept invitations to do things I think might be fun but which are outside my comfort zone without John Remy around to challenge me to do it. Off the top of my head, cycling was one of those, though I think I originally intended to go mountain biking with my Tidrick buddies. I recently agreed to go on a blind date. Attending Quaker meeting was definitely intimidating the first time, as was volunteering to teach First Day School (Quaker jargon for Sunday School). Well, JR was involved in at least one of those, but I stick my tongue out at anyone who points that out.

Recently, I got to do some serious practice in anticipation of the night-of-dancing. For those dance-phobic readers out there, let me assure you that I was incredibly intimidated, but had a blast. We went over frame, basic footwork, some simple turns, and a discussion of how practice will help me develop muscle memory. Managed to locate this video lesson on youtube, which covers almost everything we did in 2 hours in 2 minutes. Plus some stuff we didn't. I noticed that on this video, the instructors are moving their feet a lot more than I was during practice. Meaning, they're picking their feet up higher and are more exaggerated in their stepping. No idea whether that's a stylistic thing or just something that happens as one gets more advanced. This might be the discovery of something really fun.

Chatted briefly with AP about swing dancing last night. He confirmed that the women outnumber men at swing clubs, and that men outnumber women at salsa clubs. -1 Salsa, +1 Swing. I did my time at Caltech, thank you very much.

Now I need to go practice that footwork.

I just wanted to add that there adults in the small town in which "Footloose" occurred were on to something. Dancing involves sharing personal space, touching, stroking, holding, and a semi-embrace. There's definitely an air of romantic tension which surrounds the entire activity. I can see why parents would fear their kids taking part in it!

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Uncomfortable (in Retrospect)

me: [answers phone] Hello?
JR: Hey John!
me: Hey, what's up?
JR: [awkward pause] Well, is there any chance my wife is there?
me: [awkward pause] Er, yeah. [another awkward pause] Did you want to talk to her?
JR: Er, yeah, if that's ok.
Of course, that's only funny out of context, but I'm totally willing to exploit that. We were in a group of youngish Friends having a snack at the Gypsy Den (Santa Ana) after Quaker Meeting.

Cycling Humor

LB's first ride on Saturday inspired some humor:

me: How are you legs feeling?
LB: My leg's are fine, but my butt is killing me!
me: Don't worry, that goes away pretty quickly. Probably by Wednesday.

me: By the way, I've always wanted to say this in a socially acceptable way: Don't worry, a couple of rides and we'll toughen that ass right up!

Of course the entire experience let me use an old standby before the ride:

me: Put the Chamois Butt'r on the chamois on your shorts, then put more on your crotch. Believe me you want to avoid the chafing.
[LB retreats to bathroom to follow instructions, then returns]
LB: Well that was an interesting experience.
me: I once answered the phone when I was in the middle of doing that, but didn't have the courage to answer "So what's up?" with "Nothing much, just lubing up my crotch."

Friday, February 2, 2007


I realized that losing weight would have side-effects, but my loud-on-the-phone, married, cubicle neighbor insists on telling me that I'm "getting hot," and now I have the "total package."


Awkward silence.

Back to work.

How Can I Keep From Singing?

In light of my recent experience with LDS singing, I was pleasantly surprised this past Sunday to experience some singing at the Rise of Meeting. So I posed this question to the OCFM mailing list:

I really enjoyed the singing at the rise of meeting this past week. I know that there's a monthly group that sings before meeting, but I was wondering what the historical discussion has been about including a song at the end of Meeting for Worship.

I've recently been reminded by my friends of other traditions how powerful and comforting song can be, even if it was just singing "As We Leave This Friendly Place" as we head for refreshments, as I remember doing at other Meetings I've attended (no hymn book required).
I thought I was being fairly clear that I was looking for an overview of the past discussion on this issue, but got at least one fairly negative response to my "advocacy."

It feels a little overly dogmatic about not "programming" worship.

Italian Borders

Had lots of fun this weekend with friends. Spectacular multi-course Italian dinner on Saturday. Forgot to get business cards for the restaurant as suggested to my by GF. Sigh. Speaking of GF, I had to flake on him due to the march and dinner moving my plans earlier in the day. Sorry dude.

"My place has lots of people playing XBox. Do you mind if we walk around Borders?"
I'm very suspicious of our mutual friends, now. Is this suggestion from the book on me? Would they even know that bookstores are like my Kryptonite? I've gushed over their library enough that they must suspect. That Jana is definitely devious enough to make such a suggestion, but perhaps I'm just not crediting chance or creativity enough. It is almost the perfect activity for me. I also didn't have to show how weak my XBox kung-fu is. We must have browsed most of the store including a brief stop by the magazine rack. Lindsey Lohan was on the cover of three different magazines. I remember when I couldn't differentiate her from the three or four of her contempories. A sad day now that that's no longer true.

History section: Lewis and Clark for Dummies? Really?! For dummies?!

Relationship section: What's less appropriate than reading dating books when one's with a gal? I've never read "The Rules," but that moment seemed like a great time to browse it and read the rules out loud. Rule #23: Never date a married man. Really? Rule 23? 23?! Were there really 22 other rules more important than that one?! She hands me "How to Pick Up Girls," a clear message that things are going well. I acknowledge the crackling energy between us by pointing out the Doris Kearns Goodwin book, "Team of Rivals." I defy you to find a more sexually charged object than a historian's take on Abe Lincoln's war cabinet. :-)

Recent Releases: I had to pose pretending to read this LL Cool J book for the better part of a minute before she would turn around and see me with it. Long way to go for a joke. Oh, the joke? Here's the cover:

Bookstores are a great place for me to hang out with friends and make snarky comments. I'm not sure if that translates well to a new friend, but I managed to be entertained. Managed to elicit a giggle-fest with this quick joke. That's a good sign, right? I probably wandered off to explore shelves on my own a few times, but I hate hovering, so that worked out.

Hello, my name is John and I love taking long walks in the bookstore.

Managed to get the second giggle-fest with my in-person recounting of this story.

A bit later, while loading music into iTunes, I asked a fairly impertinent question about LDS, but got a serious, experience-based answer. Usually it's bad to rehash impertinence, but I'd be interested in discussing the topic more at some future date.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Words I Love


If you hear me use "efficacy" in a sentence, there's a 57% chance I've been maneuvering the conversation towards a situation where I could use it for at least 3 minutes.


Just because I love the word doesn't mean that I want to obfuscate all the time, though there was a time in my life... One of those cool words which doesn't quite have a simple synonym, but has a beautifully clear antonym: clarify. I like the way it rolls off my tongue...

Like Riding a Bike

Meant to share this thought over a week ago at Meeting, but didn't get a chance with all the ministry going on. The thought's been bouncing around my head all week and with a repeat performance during my ride on Saturday, I felt compelled to discuss this at Meeting this past Sunday. Here's my best attempt at re-creating the thought.

When I first started to cycling for fitness, I had a lot of fun, but there were a lot of distractions like saddle-soreness, endless gear to buy, hands going numb during rides, other riders, worrying that I looked ridiculous, etc. Recently, most of those distractions have dropped away, leaving how I happen to feel on a given day, plus something unexpected. When I'm on the bike, I can feel the texture of the road, the wind in my face, my legs falling into a rhythm, my breathing becoming deeper, more rhythmic, and for brief periods of time, my sense of self fading away. It's as if there is no bike, no actual physical presence, just the act of riding, the feel of the wind, road, and pedaling without me actually being there. I'm doing a bad job of describing the feeling, but that's as close as I can get. Cycling has become a little bit about chasing this feeling of connectedness and transcendence.

I can't help but draw a parallel between my experience on the bicycle and my experience in Quaker "Meeting for Worship." Since I was raised in the Quaker tradition, the prospect of sitting quietly in a room for an hour wasn't that foreign an idea. However, consideration and practice are two different things, and I was living with a 20 year gap in practice. The silent worship was difficult during those first few meetings. I didn't have an adult history of meditative practice, or any basis for knowing what I should be doing during that time. I was uncomfortable sitting in a single place for an extended period of time, distracted by the noise from the street, and fell into the habit of clock-watching.

Over time, I've managed to get to a place where I can still my body, quiet my mind, not have a thought agenda, and sit in "expectant waiting" and "worshipful silence." Most times, I can feel the street noise wash over and through me, as if I'm sand on a beach and the noise is the waves of the ocean. I can sense the passing of time, but am usually surprised by the end of silent meeting. And at times, my sense of self and individuality fades a little bit. I have this incredible feeling of connectedness that I want to continue. And in that state, I can let thoughts swim into focus as a meditative subject. Others might call that prayer, and that's fine with me to. The act is more important to me than the terminology.

Had a chance last night to briefly touch on the difficulties of silent worship with new friends outside the Quaker tradition, and found it difficult to condense this thought down to a 20 second blurb. They were discussing visiting the Meeting the next time there's an "Introduction to Quakerism" class. Hope they might stumble across this at some point. Or be pointed. Hint, hint.

Found this account by pilgrimgirl to be very enlightening on how to adjust one's own tradition to the Quaker one. But it might not fill the hour! :-)