Thursday, November 29, 2007

National Novel Writing Month Comes to an End

In April I spoke about the National Novel Writing Month and its manual, No Plot, No Problem. At that time I did not mention that I would be taking the Nanowrimo challenge and writing a novel in November 2007. The month is over and while my novel is not complete, I have passed the fifty thousand word minimum word limit. I am mostly through part 2 of a three part novel entitled Artemis Alexander.

The process has been liberating for me. I am a fan of Kenneth Atchity's approach to writing non-fiction as developed in A Writer's Time, in which the mantra is "Don't write the first word of the first draft until you know the last word of the last draft." This approach has saved me from many false starts and, despite all of the front loading in the writing process, has made my essay writing more efficient.

But I have wanted to try my hand at fiction, and when i have tried the same approach I haven't been able to get anything going.

So starting on November 1st I took the recommendation of Chris Baty in No Plot No Problem. I conjured up some characters, put them in some scenes, and watched them interact, writing as I watched. Things came together surprisingly smoothly.

I have no ambitions for my novel. But the experience was priceless, and I learned a lot about writing I never could have learned by writing philosophical essays -- or reading anything about writing.

Proof of Purchase

From Norman Oklahoma comes Proof of Purchase, a fascinating meditation on life in these commercial times. Zen like obervations in the here and now, written on daily receipts. As one reviewer on stumbledupon noted, the ordinariness of the reflections and the receipts from familiar places such as Starbucks and Panera create a sense of immediate recognition. Like a story by Raymond Carver, or a poem by William Carlos Williams or Basho.

Getting it On and Getting Down -- Automatically

From South Africa comes the latest in contraception, the pronto condom As the link explains, by the time the young gentleman gets the condom out of the foil and figures out which end is up, there may be little interest left in getting down. Hence the need for a condom that rolls itself on automatically, right out of the foil. There is a powerful demonstration for those with sufficient courage to watch it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Zen and Action: Take Two

I am a weakling for all of those little tricks of self-management that are supposed to help me live more intelligently. Some are supposed to make me more intuitive. Others are supposed to do just the oppostie -- make me more explicit and rational about what I'm doing. Some of these work, some don't. Some work too well in that they increase efficiency while distracting me from the larger picture. Although this area is full of snares and delusions it is probably unavoidable. We live, we fail, we take thought and seek guidance, we self-correct.

A new book, Zen To Done, by Leo Babauta (founder of the Zen Habits blog) offers to help us become more productive by simplfying our lives. Productivity and Zen hardly sound like happy bedfellows to me, but Zen is certainly about simplicity. Maybe the light at the end of the tunnel is the product appearing in itself without productivity. But until we are all there . . .

Todd at WE THE CHANGE prepared a review of Zen to Done and marveled at the simplicity of Leo's suggestions.

One so-called Zen habit is mastering “ubiquitous capture,” that is collecting what is valuable in the constant flow of information. Leo Babauta suggests using a small note pad and pen, not your laptop of PDA. Another is immersing yourself completely in the task at hand, rather than e.g. attending away to background music or checking email every ten minutes. A third is having frequent meetings with yourself to go over taks and rehearse solutions. I like this one because it enables me to do some thinking and anticipating prior to action, which facilitates being centered, relaxed and flexible in action. I always try to claim at least an hour of solitude every day, more if I can get it, to 'do nothing' except imagine. The rest of the day tends to disappear but on most days little remains undone.

Vegetables are the Next Thing

The blog You Grow Girl reports on the next big thing: vegetables. More specifically, growing your own vegetables?

Quoting an article from the Toronto Star

Quite simply, the Next Big Thing is going to be veggies. Lots and lots of veggies. Heirloom tomatoes, offbeat salad greens and stuff like that. All organically grown, of course. By us.

The article adds:

I’ve never been interested in announcing trends because my fear is that once you announce something as a fad its shelf-life decreases — I am much more interested in real, long-term change. However veggie gardening and urban agriculture aren’t just passing flavors-of-the-week but lifestyle choices many gardeners have been quietly going about their business with for a long time and I think I speak for many of us when I say that we are more than happy to see its popularity rise exponentially.

I wonder whether it is just a coincidence, but Dr. Veronica and her Mom, Zoya ('The Hammer') spent many hours this summer gardening in our community garden plot. Roughly 80% of our food from mid June through October 15 came out of that plot.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Free Hugs

Touching bottom and coming back up.
The Free Hugs Campaign started when the founder (identified as "Juan Mann", a pseudonym and a homonym of "one man"),like so many people in our ever-more-fragmented social world, found himself without friends or family even in his own home town.

He needed a hug. Badly.

He made a "free hugs" sign and stood on a busy street. First one, then several, and finally many people came to hug him, then one another.

How it all started:

I'd been living in London when my world turned upside down and I'd had to come home. By the time my plane landed back in Sydney, all I had left was a carry on bag full of clothes and a world of troubles. No one to welcome me back, no place to call home. I was a tourist in my hometown.

Standing there in the arrivals terminal, watching other passengers meeting their waiting friends and family, with open arms and smiling faces, hugging and laughing together, I wanted someone out there to be waiting for me. To be happy to see me. To smile at me. To hug me.

So I got some cardboard and a marker and made a sign. I found the busiest pedestrian intersection in the city and held that sign aloft, with the words "Free Hugs" on both sides.

And for 15 minutes, people just stared right through me. The first person who stopped, tapped me on the shoulder and told me how her dog had just died that morning. How that morning had been the one year anniversary of her only daughter dying in a car accident. How what she needed now, when she felt most alone in the world, was a hug. I got down on one knee, we put our arms around each other and when we parted, she was smiling.

Everyone has problems and for sure mine haven't compared. But to see someone who was once frowning, smile even for a moment, is worth it every time.

The police intervened. No free hugs around here, you weirdos.

The campaign to legalize free hugs acquired 10,000 signatures and the right to hug has been restored.

Inspiring Video.

See more about Free Hugs at Wikipedia

Social Foundations of Conflict

The Pentagon, according to Danger Room, an on-line feature of Wired Magazine, is providing seed money for a new interdisciplinary academic field, the Social Foundations of Conflict. Scholars in the Social Foundations of Education should have much to contribute.

Lockheed recently won a $1.3 million, 15-month contract from the Defense Department to help develop the "Integrated Crises Early Warning System, or ICEWS. The program is intended to "let military commanders anticipate and respond to worldwide political crises and predict events of interest and stability of countries of interest with greater than 80 percent accuracy," the company claims. "Rebellions, insurgencies, ethnic/religious violence, civil war, and major economic crises" will all be predictable. So will "combinations of strategies, tactics, and resources to mitigate [against those] instabilities."

David Honey, who heads DARPA's Strategic Technology Office, says that "increasingly it’s social, cultural, political and economic information, foreign language capabilities and other clues – that are proving essential."

The design for the project proposes a three step process:

Step one: dump everything we know about a country like Iraq, and “create [software] agents that mirror the actual communities.”

Step two: make these agents even more realistic, by “leverag[ing] the hundreds of social, cultural, and behavioral theories” about why people act the way they do.

Step three: let commanders run mock battle plans against these modeled Iraqis, to see how they might react.

The project aims at high levels of predictability, and has certainly drawn its share of skeptics.

“Wait a minute, you can’t tell me who’s going to a win a football game. And now you’re going to replicate free will?” Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, who helped write the Army's manual on defusing insurgencies, tells Danger Room.

“They are smoking something they shouldn't be," retired Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper recently quipped to Science Magazine.

Readers of Malcolm Gladwell's Blink may wonder whether commanders armed with ICEWS running mock battles against counterparts armed with nothing but years of relevant experience might not get their you-know-whats whipped very badly

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Zen of Attraction

From Graham English comes the Ten Zen Laws of Attraction

Ten Principles To The Zen Of Attraction

1.Promise Nothing
Just do what you most enjoy doing.
Hidden benefit: You will always over-deliver.

2. Offer Nothing
Just share what you have with those who express an interest in it.
Hidden benefit: Takes the pressure off of wanting other people to see you as valuable or important.

3. Expect Nothing
Just enjoy what you already have. It’s plenty.
Hidden benefit: You will realize how complete your life is already.

4. Need Nothing

Just build up your reserves and your needs will disappear.
Hidden benefit: You boundaries will be extended and filled with space.

5. Create Nothing
Just respond well to what comes to you.
Hidden benefit: Openness.

6. Hype Nothing

Just let quality sell by itself.
Hidden benefit: Trustability.

7. Plan Nothing
Just take the path of least resistance.
Hidden benefit: Achievement will become effortless.

8. Learn Nothing

Just let your body absorb it all on your behalf.
Hidden benefit: You will become more receptive to what you need to know in the moment.

9. Become No One

Just be more of yourself.
Hidden benefit: Authenticity.

10. Change Nothing
Just tell the truth and things will change by themselves.
Hidden benefit: Acceptance.

Warning: Road Music Ahead

Yesterday the blog Deputydog featured a musical highway. Thousands of very precise grooves cut into the road make the car vibrate at different pitches.

There is a link to a video where you can experience driving over the road and listening to the tune.

This is a poor man's answer to Sirius and XM.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The Ultimate Crossover: James Brown and Luciano Pavorotti

Here is the ultimate crossover, the marriage of Bel Canto and Soul. And it works.

Grabbed from the spiky blog Troubling Information

But you can also catch it direct at You Tube

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Trendy Solar Homes Designed by University Students

David Pogue at The New York Times has an article on the "Solar Decathelon" where 20 award-winning solar homes designed by university students from around the world are on display. The Decathelon is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, which defrays the costs of transporting the winning entries to the show.

Pogue writes:

The point of the event is to illustrate that “solar” no longer means “hippy hangout,” “ugly box” or “Spartan shack.” The homes are gorgeous on the inside, and, usually, on the outside. (Rules limit the house to 800 square feet, not counting porches, patios, and gardens; that, and the necessity to get them to Washington on trucks, dictated a certain boxiness to some of the floor plans.)
There was nothing Spartan about these homes.

These houses are completely “off the grid”—they’re not connected to the utility companies. Yet the teams have to live like normal Americans. Using only power from the sun, they have to keep the TV on six hours a day, run the computer five hours a day, cook meals, wash dishes, do two loads of laundry a week, take four 15-minute hot showers a week, keep the temperature between 70 and 78 degrees, maintain 40 to 60 percent humidity, and recharge an electric two-seater car (that’s the “getting around” part).

In short, they have to prove that living on solar power does not involve sacrifice. Far from it. Some of these houses had hot tubs, outdoor hot showers, SubZero refrigerators, mood lighting and full-blown home-entertainment systems.

Plastic Eating Worms

Lug worms, a favorite of anglers and fish, are bottom feeders, eating the platics that break down on the ocean floor.

Since lugworms are sediment-feeders and low in the food chain, the contaminants will be concentrated when the worms are eaten by fish and crabs.

Emma Teuten at the University of Plymouth, UK, according to The New Scientist, has demonstrated in the lab that grains of plastic are much better than grains of sand or silt at adsorbing the common pollutant phenanthrene from water. Phenanthrene belongs to a family of hydrocarbons linked with cancers and respiratory problems, and plastic particles soak up 1000 times more of it than natural ones. "They kind of mop it up out of seawater like a sponge," says Teuten.

Larry Lessig on Supercapitalism

Larry Lessig's Blog has a rich review of Robert Reich's new book, Supercapitalism, and a very interesting string of comments.

Here is an excerpt:

Reich says we have entered a period of Supercapitalism -- a time when competition has grown dramatically, and when half of us (meaning half of each of us, or at least half) more effectively demand lower prices in the product and service market place and higher returns in the investment market place. This hyper competition is forcing extraordinary rationalization in both markets. Wal-Marts and an exploding stock market are the consequence. The half of us that lives in the product/service and investment markets have been rewarded by this competition. Supercapitalism is producing super-efficiency, at least here.

The problem, from Reich's (and my) perspective, is that the other half of us - the part that thinks not as an actor in a market, but as a citizen - has atrophied. That is, the half of us (again, of each of us - Reich's point is that each of us has these two parts) that demands that government set sensible and efficient limits on private action has atrophied. Deep skepticism about government has made most of us turn away from it as a tool of sensible policy making. We instead (and this is a truly brilliant part of the book) turn to corporations to make good policy in government's stead. We push for "corporate social responsibility" and praise corporations who agree to do the "good" thing, imagining that this means something other than the "money making" thing. This, Reich says, is "politics diverted" - trusting companies to do good policy rather than getting government to set good policy, imagining "corporate social responsibility" will produce something different from corporations maximizing profits.

Verbal Conversation Clock

From Information Aesthetics comes a fascinating instrument for visualizing the social dynamicas of groups.

The clock is a real-time data visualization displaying a representation of conversation to all people present. The graph shows turn-taking, domination, interruption & activity throughout a conversation.

Look at the image on the left.

The Conversation Clock makes tick marks along concentric rings; like the minute hand on a clock, each cycle contains a single minute of tick marks. The inner rings represent earlier times in the history of the conversation.

Note the changing colors. Each tick mark is colored according to the microphone from which input was received & sized to indicate the amplitude of the associated waveform, so activity & turn-taking become easy to observe, including people not speaking versus dominating the conversation, or aspects such as interruption, silences, and argument also make visual impressions on the table.

This tool would provide useful feedback to participants in group dialogues; people very rarely have accurate awareness about how they are behaving in groups.