11 Years

Looking at the side bar, the first post to this blog is from November 2003.  I don’t know how much ‘blogging’ was a thing back then.  Mainly I loved to write, and I wrote a lot.  I put them all on a personal website I created, which was a continuation of a website I had started in the 90’s.  I recently found a copy of my website that was running in 2001.  It’s really great to have this digital archive, and it’s fun for me to go back and see how the site is changed.  Programming my personal site is not really a hobby of mine any more.  I focus on working on other personal projects.  I write a lot, but it’s mainly in letters to other people.

But this November, I’m going to go for a change.  I’m going to try writing something public to put up here everyday.  I don’t know how well it will go.  I may miss a few days.  But let’s get this going again!

 

Relationships

A little over a month ago, I was sitting in a diner, eating some breakfast, and a few older ladies sat down in the table behind me. I was thinking about other things, but for some reason, their voices drifted into my mind, and I listened to what they were saying. They were thanking god for the friendship that they shared.

That’s fine for them, but it doesn’t make much sense for me. I can’t pray.  I have friends that I really appeciate though, and so I started wondering, ‘who would I thank?’ The answer came pretty quickly: each other. It’s pretty obvious, so this little journey lasted just a few moments, but it reminded me of this excellent “secular sermon” that really moved me:

I’m not ready to talk about everything that’s happened in the last month and a half, but relationships have been so important. My father had a massive heart attack and pulmonary hemorrhage. He was in the ICU for 12 days. During that time, I experienced the incredible power of relationships. My parents, my sisters, my family, my friends, and even people who I didn’t know that well were all there, supporting, helping, and showing love.

I’ve been struggling to put into words exactly what that means.  I’ve been staring at this screen for days now, trying to find the words that will describe what all this support and love means, and failing.  But then I realized what the problem was.  I was trying to put all of this in some larger context, and I don’t think that actually exists.  Relationships aren’t there in some larger narrative.  A relationship is between two people, and that’s where it’s power resides.  Two lives sharing, building, exploring the world together, a synergy that states emphatically: you are not alone.

My dad is recovering well.  Now that the crisis has passed, I find myself appreciating my relationships more than over.  I find myself saying thank-you a lot.  I write many letters, I have hugged more people in the last month than I have in the previous years.  Most importantly, I’m reminded to show love and understanding to everyone.  Empathy is a skill that takes practice, but that practice is so rewarding.  In the end it comes down to a simple fact: together we are better.

Two Bands to Share

There are two artists that I’ve recently been enjoying so much that I simply have to share with you.

The first is Hozier.  Hozier appeared in my life when their music video for “Take me to Church” was submitted to Reddit.  The video was intense, but the music is what captivated me.  This was a proper love song to me.  I immediately bought the album, and recently discovered a second EP has been released.  The music is wonderful, but Hozier’s greatest gift seems to be as a lyricist.  They’re utterly brilliant in every sense of the word.  I can’t do them justice.  Just find his music and listen.

The second band is The Revere.  They are based out of the East Coast, but appeared on my Radar when I was trolling Amazon for free music.  Their first album (“The Great City”) was released for free for a while, but is now available for just a few dollars.  They since released an EP and just a few weeks ago, their second full album.  Each record has been telling a story of a group of friends on a Grand Adventure, and everything that entails.  The experience is a combination of the music (rock to it’s core), the lyrics, and the story.  The lyrics are full of fantastic turns of phrases like “I, the wind, was wondering…”.  The recently released album seems to have wrapped up the story, but they’re not done yet.  I look forward to hearing much more from them.

Summer Road Trip

Yesterday I learned the importance of having paper maps instead of only electron maps that depend on cellular networks to download data.

Two days ago, my sister and I attended an event that some of my musical colleagues consider heretical (in a kind sense, I think).  What was this event?  The Drums of Summer, in Broken Arrow, OK. It’s part of the Drum Corps International (or DCI) summer tour.  It’s a competition for drum and bugle corps comprised mostly of college students.  Put another way, it’s hardcore marching band.

It was amazing.

This was the first time I’ve ever seen a DCI World Class-level corp, and I was not disappointed. The music, sound, technique, and showmanship made this one of the most entertaining musical events I’ve ever attended.  Imagine a human kaleidoscope that creates it’s own music and is executed with pin point precision both visually and musically, and you will begin to approach the drum corp experience.  I’m already looking forward to the next time I can attend one of these events.

The trip down to Broken Arrow was pretty much without incident.  The roads were clear, and we made excellent time, Oklahoma’s insane way of showing road construction signs aside.  The trip back, however, proved much more trying.

It started with a trip to Goodyear in Broken Arrow, and three new tires on my car.  A few hours (and a few hundred dollars later), and we were finally ready to leave.  I wasn’t very familiar with the area, and followed the signs, only to discover I had entered a turnpike with no immediate exits, going south, when I was supposed to go north.  Getting off at the first available exit, I was over 50 miles away from where I was supposed to be.  This set the theme for the trip back.

There was an unbelievable amount of problems I encountered as I neared Warrensburg, MO, where I was going to drop off my sister.  The first route I chose took me out of cell phone range where I discovered the highway was completely closed.  I had no choice buck to back track several miles and head north.  This route nearly had the same thing happen, as the state highway ended abruptly.  Luckily, the road continued, however, and I was able to find a connection to another state highway.

Once we got into Warrensburg, I had visions of a quick trip through town.  It’s not very big, and I thought there would be no issues.  But it was not to be.  A fatal vehicle accident earlier in the day blocked off the road, forcing me to return to the high way and find another route.  Once I finally got back on track, a funeral procession pulled out in front of me, holding us up again.  After the funeral procession, we came to an intersection that had a traffic light that had been plowed over, stopping traffic again.  Finally, I routed us around all that, and made it to our destination.  Total added time: nearly three hours.  When I finally arrived back home to my apartment, I felt very relieved.

Some might say that this series of unfortunate events was retribution by Apollo for my musical heresy.  Since I like to play up the Odyssey-esque journey back home, this explanation is not without appeal.  Over-all though, it was a great trip, and I’m very happy I went.

My Underpowered Superpower

I’m always conducting little experiments with people just to see what happens if I do certain things.  A few months ago, I tried something called my Underpowered Superpower.  The premise for these superpowers is that they’re super, but just barely.  One example is the man who can fly, but only walking speed, one centimeter above the ground.  Or the man whose touch changes things exactly one degree – a “lukewarm man” if you will.

My Underpowered Superpower was simple: I could tell the future, but in a very limited sense.  I could tell if someone would choose a circle, a square or a triangle ahead of time.  For three or four weeks, I told people about this super power and demonstrated it for them.  I’ve had a variety of responses.

First the data.  Out of 13 demonstrations, all were accepted as something silly.  Over all, they didn’t understand what was happening, and spent most of their time confused.  8 people demanded that I immediately do the trick again, which unfortunately was impossible.  I explained that my power is also limited in that it only works once in a given situation.  There were two people who weren’t fooled by it at all, and gave possibilities for how it was done (I admit nothing!).

Okay, I should modify that to say that only two people pointed out exactly how I did it immediately following my performance.  Upon reflection, it’s likely many others knew, but didn’t say anything for whatever reason.  For the rest: yes, my secret is out.  I don’t really possess any super powers.  It’s nothing more than a trick I developed while reading a biography of Harry Houdini.*  Reading the biography got me interested in magic again, and I started thinking about some possibilities for performing Mentalism tricks, and I came up with a really simple forcing mechanism that I wanted to try.  The underpowered superpowers thing seemed to be a perfect opportunity.

The problem is that I really need to work on my delivery.  I stumbled around a lot in the dialogue I had prepared ahead of time.  I thought I would try playing it by ear a little bit, but this did not turn out well.  It’s one thing that really added to the confusion, beyond normal levels.  So it’s back to the drawing board, and to help me out, I ordered a few books, and a separate trick that I’m looking forward to learning.

Overall, I think this particular experiment was a success.  I found out a little about myself, had fun, and confused people in the process.  I will have to do it again sometime.

*The Secret Life of Houdini: The Making of America’s First Superhero (Amazon) – I highly recommend this book!

June Update

Beware Mexican Jumping Beans!  More on that at the end.

I’ve been woefully delinquent in blogging over the last few months, mainly because I haven’t had much to say. But now I’m starting to get into the swing of things again, and I’m preparing a post of education research that should be up in the next few days.  The summer has been very mixed so far, but here are some highlights:

  • Visited my friend Tara in San Antonio.  I stayed on the River Walk, and it was amazing.  I hope I get to go back sometime, probably in Winter!
  • Rented a cabin on a small fishing lake in Eastern Kansas.  It was a nice way to get away for a while.  I spent the time rereading the Dresden Files, and finally read the latest book in the series.
  • Had a tire blowout on the interstate.  Not fun, but I got through it, obviously.
  • Getting back into the habit of going to the gym.  I hadn’t been in a few months, but now that I’m going again, I’m starting to feel much better.
  • My twitter use has exploded from where it was.  I’m starting to see the use, not only as a publishing platform, but also as a resource for information.  search.twitter.com has been extremely helpful in the last few months.
  • Bought a new Sony 40 inch LCD television.  It’s incredibly awesome.  Got rid of my old TV.  Thinking about building a PC to connect to the TV to serve as a media center, and do things like stream Netflix and Hulu without using my laptop.
  • In case I decide to stay in KC, I’ve started considering building a house instead of buying.  It’s been the fun thing to think about for the last week or so.
  • 7 weeks left until I graduate with my Masters degree.  So I’ve started looking at possible Ph.D. programs, grants, and fellowships.
  • I’m teaching two sections in the fall, one of them an evening course.
  • Will probably upgrade to a new MBP sometime in the fall.
  • I’ve gotten into poetry, both reading and writing.  Reading “Leaves of Grass” has been interesting.
  • Still thinking about getting a dog. If I do, I’m going to either name it “Darwin” or “Schroedinger” (or “Ding” for short).  If it’s a beagle, then I will definitely name it Darwin.

Well, that’s basically been my life for the last few months.  I wrapped up teaching, and all my students passed, something I’m very proud of.  Now I’m anxious to see the student evaluations of my teaching.  I have no idea when those will appear.

I’m starting to get back into the home science swing of things too.  Hopefully will have something to post about my experimentations involving mexican jumping beans and the moth-like creatures that hatch from them in the coming days.

Meta

Heisenberg, Goedel, and Chomsky walk into a bar. Heisenberg says, “From the fact that we are all here I can infer that this is a joke, but cannot determine whether or not the joke is funny.” Goedel says, “No, we can’t tell if the joke is funny because we’re inside it–if we could observe ourselves from outside, we would know.” and Chomsky just shakes his head sadly. “No, no,” he says, “The joke is funny. You’re just telling it wrong.”


On a side note, I have several blog entries in the works and hope to post my review of “Proust was a Neuroscientist” sometime soon.  The short of it: I highly recommend this book.  I’m now reading a biography of Houdini which is really good, and has once again ignited my interest in magic.  Reading this book, I discovered a rather funny secret about myself.

Death of a Dear Friend

Yesterday, January 13th, 2009, at approximately 10:07 p.m., my avian companion of 5 years and 11 months, Dimitri Shostakovich, died.  That is her on the right, in a picture taken last summer.

At approximately 7:30 p.m. last night, I checked in on her as part of my daily routine. Well, and partly because I liked to visit her when I was feeling anxious.  I discovered her sitting on the bottom of the cage with her wings spread.  I wondered if she was attempting to lay an egg, and grew concerned because I know that parakeets especially are especially vulnerable to problems when this occurs.  I did not view this as a likely event, however, because she never laid an egg in the previous years.

I pulled her out of her cage and examined her for possible problems.  There was something definitely wrong, but there wasn’t anything I could do.  She grasped by fingers strongly, and I thought that was a good sign.  I made a nice nest for her using old t-shirts and a shoe box, and she settled in, not moving much.  Every once in a while she would move her head and readjust herself.  Then, at around 10:06, she attempted to fly one last time.  She couldn’t get airborne.  And then she was still, never to move on her own again.

I watched her chest carefully for any signs of breath, hoping to see any kind of movement, but it was not to be.  Intellectually I realized she had died, but there was a feeling of detachment from the situation, as though I was watching a movie instead of actually experiencing the death of my dear friend.  The feeling has yet to leave me.

A flurry of thoughts surged through my mind in the following minutes.  The first was the irrational need to cover the body.  Even though it felt like I was rejecting the reality of her death, I still covered the nest with another t-shirt.  The second was more practical in nature: I am going to need to purchase a shovel.  I did not like that thought, but it was stuck in my head and would not let lose.

It was late, and I was extremely tired.  Yet, it felt wrong to just go to sleep.  I didn’t want to do anything really.  I went outside and went for a walk, trying to clear my head.  Ironically, when I got back inside, the first thing I did was head to her cage to see her, like I had done so many times before.  It had always been comforting to have a bird that didn’t care about money, or girls, or social anxieties, or school, or anything.  She would always climb on my finger and say hello.  She liked to chew on my eyebrow, probably because of the salt from perspiration. Many times, if I was in another room working on something, or watching tv, she would fly out and land either beside me or on my shoulder.  Well, there was one period in my life when she really liked landing on my feet, goodness knows why.  I guess the white foot mittens drew her in.

This afternoon I buried her.  Her body now occupies some space beneath the frozen ground in a local park.  She’s beside a tree that I’d like to think she would find enjoyable.  I don’t know why that matters.  I know it doesn’t matter to her.  For all intents and purposes, she ceased to exist the moment her brain ceased functioning.  The only meaning her burial has is the meaning I assign to it.  I suppose in that sense, it’s important.  As I handled her body for the last time, I was amazed at how soft she felt.  She didn’t feel any different, except for the lack of life signs.   The whole experience was surreal, and continues to seem that way.  My sorrow has only begin to set in.

At 10:07 last night, Dimitri Shostakovich turned into an ex-parakeet.  She will be missed.

The End of an Era

There are many things that I’m working on posting, but I’ve been very busy finishing up preparations for the class I’m teaching this semester, as well as the content management system I’ve written for my institution.  This particular post will be about the end of an era – the chapters in my life marked by the geographical presence of my best friend Tara Craven.  This morning at around 7:30 in the morning, Tara left Kansas City headed to greener pastures and hopefully, a happier life in San Antonio, Texas.

I met Tara over 6 years ago, and it’s been a great six years.  We went through a lot together: hospital stays, road trips, kite flying, and so much more.  She’s been a better friend than I could have imagined and certainly better than I deserved.  She influenced my life in so many ways.

Saying goodbye this morning was very difficult.  It hasn’t really settled in my mind that she’s not here any more, but’s that the way big changes always are for me.  The reality sets in slowly, giving time required time to adjust.   I’m also left with a sense of ‘what now?’ that adds to the unease and anxiety I’m feeling about the start of this semester and my social situation in general.

I have other good friends here in Kansas City, but for today, for the moment, it feels like a very lonely place to be.