Nine-tenths of our brain

It is a popular fact that nine-tenths of the brain is not used and, like most popular facts, it is wrong. Not even the most stupid Creator would go to the trouble of making the human head carry around several pounds of unnecessary gray goo if its only real purpose was, for example, to serve as a delicacy for certain remote tribesmen in unexplored valleys. Is is used. And one of its function is to make the miraculous seem ordinary and turn the unusual into the usual.

Because if this was not the case, then human beings, faced with the daily wondrousness of everything, would go around wearing big stupid grins, similar to those worn by certain remote tribesmen who occasionally get raided by the authorities and have the contents of their plast greenhouses very seriously inspected. They’d say “Wow!” a lot. And no one would do much work.

– Terry Pratchett in “Small Gods”

November Retrospective

November Sunset

I set out in November to write a blog post everyday. I hit that goal, and then I stopped posting anything for two weeks. To be fair, it’s been an incredibly busy couple of weeks, getting ready for the holidays, playing with the Oregon Tuba Ensemble (and participating in Tuba Christmas for the first time), getting my Christmas cards out, and going through a major software deploy at work. I’m hopeful that things will start to calm down a bit now.

The last day of November was a very clear day across the entire state, so I decided to head out to the ocean to catch the sunset. I love catching the sunset in Winter out here, because it’s so early – 4:45-ish. I spent a few hours on the coast, putting my new tripod through it’s paces. Having a tripod really makes a difference when taking photos.

When conducting a retrospective, it’s helpful to ask four questions: What went well, what could be better, what’s puzzling, and what ideas do you have. So let’s do it.

What went well?

I successfully posted every day. Because I posted a few at the end of October, my streak was a little longer than thirty days. This is the first time I’ve ever done that. I had a variety of posts, and some posts I put a lot of effort into, and others not so much.

What could be better?

Post quality was almost universally terrible. I’m almost scared to go back and read some of them, because I know they were horrible. I knew they were horrible at the time I wrote them. But I didn’t really care. I just wanted to get them out there. I wanted to skip my perfectionism by purposely avoiding thinking about it so much.  That was goal number one. Some days I threw up simple photos without any context. The video I posted making a card was extremely poor quality especially.

Sometimes I waited too long into the day before starting.

What’s puzzling?

I don’t know that there is anything really puzzling at the moment.  Perhaps related to technology – why does wordpress sometimes run out of memory on this machine.  But I’m keeping an eye on that.

What ideas do you have?

I think my next goal will be to maybe post less frequently, but ensure that post quality is much higher.  I should pick a topic and work on that post for several days, and then only post it when I feel like it’s ready.  But maybe I should also have a deadline, so my perfectionism doesn’t go too crazy.  I think it’s something I can experiment with a bit.

If You’re White and you have an opinion on Ferguson, Read This

I’ve been really disappointed by many of the reactions I’ve seen to the protests in Ferguson from friends and family members, especially those in Missouri. It’s especially disappointing when I see a claim that racism isn’t a problem, and the complete lack of self-awareness that comes with that statement. Racism is a huge problem all of the place, and Missouri is no different.

If you’re white, before you express some opinion on Ferguson, please read this: “An Open Letter to My Fellow White People About Your Reactions to the Ferguson Protests.”

At the very least, please read the first two lines:

Dear Fellow White People,

Please shut up.

Video: Making a Photo Card

Yesterday, I wanted to to a add some photos to help explain the individual steps, but then I got the idea to create a video of the process instead. Here is is:

I’m sorry about the poor quality of the video. This turned out not to be a good idea. I haven’t done much video editing since I had macs available to me, and there is just nothing comparable to iMovie on the windows side. I tried using movie maker, but it was super slow and completely failed on my. I downloaded a program called Power Director, which is a lot better, but costs $100, and I really can’t justify that purchase for a single video.

On top of that, my camera focus kept going in and out, and the table kept popping, and all in all, the lighting was too dark, and everything considered, the video is really poor quality. But I spent a couple of hours on it, so I decided to push it out there anyway.

The Sorkin Pattern

My favorite TV show of all time is probably The West Wing. Every couple of years, I seem to get on a kick where I take a month or two and watch the entire series again. I think I like to view it as aspirational television, an idealized version of society that is not so far fetched as to be complete fantasy. Watching the show always inspires me to make some change in my life, and it usually ends up sticking.

The West Wing was created by Aaron Sorkin. Sorkin is a great writer, but once you see enough of him, he tends to become very predictable. That’s not a bad thing. When I saw the first episode of Sports Night, it was after seeing all of his episodes of The West Wing. It was a different setting, and the same things were happening, but you know what? I didn’t care. It was good. The writing was very tight, it didn’t talk down to you, and I inevitably learned something from it.

This type of predictability lends itself to parody pretty easy, and there’s been some great ones.

SNL “The Sorkin Sketch”

Inside Amy Schumer “The Foodroom”

And of course, featuring Sorkin himself, from 30 Rock

One day, I really hope to experience a walk and talk of my own.

Making Photo Cards

Several months ago, I got it in my brain to use some of the photo’s I’ve taken and turn them into photo cards that I can mail people. I’ve learned quite a few things since I started making these cards, and I’ve now created well over two hundred of them. Here’s some of what I’ve learned.

The most important part are the photos themselves. I’ve used three different services for getting photo prints: Walmart, Target, and Snapfish (online only). Walmart was the worse. Their photos have a weird texture, and it really drove me crazy. Target was good, but their machines are finicky. I really prefer Snapfish.

When you’re uploading files to snapfish, I made the mistake the first time of not editing them ahead of time. So when they were printed, they were cropped poorly in order to fit the 6×4 size. For the next batch, I took each photo into and cropped them exactly to 6×4, and that worked so much better. The photos arrive after about a week, and they’re very high quality prints. THey are perfect for this use.

The next most important part is the card stock. I bought this from my local Office Max: Neenah Creative Collection 11×17. This is enough card stock to make 100 cards @ 2 per sheet. Cut the card stock so that you have two 6 1/4 in by 8 1/4 in pieces. You’ll have some scraps. I recommend using a paper cutter for this. I don’t have the kindergarten skill required to use scissors very well.

The best glue I’ve found for this is Scotch Wrinkle-free Glue.n In the beginning I was making sure to cover every part of the back side of the photo before gluing it onto the card stock. I’ve discovered this isn’t really necessary, and creates too much of a mess. Just get some glue on the back of the photo and it will be great.

Here’s the whole process:

  1. Cut your card stock. I tend to cut a large pile of them, so you can get an assembly line going.
  2. Fold each piece. Some people use a bone thingy for this, but I like using a very smooth rock I found on a beach here in Oregon
  3. Glue the photo on. Align against the fold. The card stock is larger than the paper, and you’ll be cutting the excess off later.
  4. Apply pressure and let it set. I usually put a stack of cards underneath some books or other heavy object and leave them overnight
  5. Trim the edges. Once again, I prefer a paper cutter for this, but you might be better with scissors than me

And that’s all!

Martin Luther King Jr. on Riots

Now I wanted to say something about the fact that we have lived over these last two or three summers with agony and we have seen our cities going up in flames. And I would be the first to say that I am still committed to militant, powerful, massive, non-violence as the most potent weapon in grappling with the problem from a direct action point of view. I’m absolutely convinced that a riot merely intensifies the fears of the white community while relieving the guilt. And I feel that we must always work with an effective, powerful weapon and method that brings about tangible results. But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.

– Martin Luther King Jr.

Full Speech

The Power of Plain Text

One of my most important tools I use daily is a text editor. If you don’t know what a text editor is, it is a piece of software that is for editing text alone. In other words, it’s doesn’t handle formatting, printing, images, tables, or any of the other things you might be used to in a program like Microsoft Word. There are many reasons you might want to use a text editor instead of a full word processor.

  • Fewer Distractions – you don’t need to get the formatting right before you start writing. There’s no stylesheets. Just write.
  • Simpler – since it doesn’t need all that other stuff, it’s not there. Start times are faster, for example.
  • Text Emphasized – the text is really the most important part of anything you write. So when text is the only thing you’re working on, you can really focus on making it the best possible.

There are several different text editors out there. If you’re in windows, then it comes with Notepad, which isn’t all that great of a text editor, but definitely is good enough. Some good free text editors are programmers notepad and notepad++. A newer free text editor is Atom. I’ve been keeping a close eye on this editor, because I think it has a lot of potential. There are also editors that you can purchase. The most popular is probably Sublime Text Editor.

I use text editor for nearly everything I write. Even if a document ends up in Word eventually, it starts out in a text editor. It’s a good place to throw thoughts into words and worry about organization later. If I’m working on something, and I just need to keep notes, it’s a good thing to have open. As I read through code or a paper, I’ll keep my thoughts organized there, tracking todo items, things to bring up with others, and anything else that I really need to remember. It really helps me to always know exactly where I’m at in my work.

The other great thing about a text editor is that it saves files in txt formats, which can be opened by pretty much every piece of technology ever invented and available today. If you’re working in Word, and you want to share that work with other people, then they need to have Word as well. But text files aren’t like that. They can be opened on any platform, on the web, on phones, on tablets, all without extra software.

In the same sense, you don’t have to worry about bit rot as much. Bit rot is where files sit for a long time, and lose their usefulness, because the software used to read and interact with those files doesn’t exist anymore, or work the same way. Text files are so fundamentally important to how computers work that they’re unlikely to go away any time soon.

The biggest benefit is that I find it super helpful to remove as many distractions as possible. Today I bought a bluetooth keyboard and I’m actually writing this post on my iPad. I can set the iPad in Do Not Disturb mode, open up my text editor, and not be distracted by a thousand other things happening. So far, it’s really going well.

BTW, if you have a good text editor for iPad that interfaces with dropbox, please let me know.

If you haven’t really used a text editor before, I really recommend it, especially if you need to spend long stretches of time really focussing on writing. I’ll keep you posted on how my iPad setup turns out.

Beethoven’s Ninth: The Peril of a Bad Recording

I had a most wonderful experience last night. I heard a brief sound clip from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and decided it was a good time to listen to it. I pulled out my usual recording, which will not be labeled here. This is a recording I’ve since before even going to college. It was, erm, a bargain bin purchase, because I wanted to listen to Beethoven and didn’t know any better. Nearly every time I have ever listened to Beethoven’s Ninth, it’s been from this recording. I did see a live performance back in my freshman year, and it was pretty amazing.

Tonight, though, I started listening to my usual recording, and I made a fortuitous decision. I thought to look for other recordings, and I stumbled upon this one. It’s the recording from a performance following the fall of the Berlin wall, using both east and west performers, and being conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Almost immediately I noticed changes. There were whole parts of the music I had never heard before. To be honest, I’m not sure if this was just because it was a different recording, or if my usual recording is really that bad, but my mind was blown. Especially when you consider the context of this event, it is an incredibly moving performance, and I spent the majority of the evening doing nothing but listening to this.

I think there is pretty broad agreement that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is one of the greatest pieces of music of all time. Written after Beethoven had gone completely deaf, I cannot even imagine what it took to get it down on paper. In my ear, it is pure bliss. Every movement is perfect, every chord, every melody sublime.

If you have never taken the time to really listen to Beethoven’s Ninth, I really encourage you to do it. It’s a little more than an hour long, but you won’t notice the time. Get some good headphones, lay back in bed, and just listen. You won’t regret it.