Thursday, September 01, 2011

Moved to

I have moved my blog to This site should redirect you automatically.

Friday, February 04, 2011

Kronos Quartet at the Walker 04 February 2011

Kronos quartet was top notch in their performance tonight at the Walker. They opened with some strong pieces by composers from Iraq, Azerbaijan, Iran and Palestine. All of them were thoroughly engaging, though some left me wanting more of a resolution at the end. The crowning piece of the night was Aleksandra Vrebalov's evocative and masterfully crafted "...hold me, neighbor, in this storm...". I'm adding it to my list of favorite contemporary compositions. Also noteworthy was the encore piece, "Tusen Tankar", by the Swedish Folk Ensemble Triakel. The pensive clarity of it reminded me of Shaker music in all the best ways.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Fruity Oaty Bar Commercial from Serenity

Found it!

Whenever I watch Serenity, I resolve to find a copy of the commercial that makes River go crazy in a bar and beat up a bunch of people. Clearly somebody made a complete commercial for use in the movie, so it must be floating around somewhere on the web. Right? Right.

The search proved more challenging than I expected. Wasn't until I noticed one of the characters refer to "the oaty bar" that I managed to find it.

[reviewing security footage of the bar]
Mal: Go back further.
Mr Universe: No... [typing]
Mal: Uh...please?
Mr. Universe: Oh Mal. You're very smart. Someone is talking to her. [focuses in on the commercial]
Wash: The Oaty Bar?
Mal: Subliminal... It's a subliminal message broadwaved to trigger her.

A quick search for "oaty bar serentity" turned it up. I love it even more than I expected. Gotta get this in my iTunes.

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Thursday, April 22, 2010

Cymothoa exigua on my mind

Today I've been particularly fascinated with Cymothoa exigua, the tongue-eating parasite. I first heard about it in an episode of This American Life a couple weeks back where scientist Carl Zimmer mentions an isopod that eats and then takes the place of a fish's tongue. A fleeting moment of googling turned up many images of giant deep sea isopods, which gave me the heebie jeebies. I didn't think of them again until this morning when I my uncle, who works for the Texas Marine Fisheries as a marine biologist, sent this photo of a giant isopod that had hopped a ride on an oil rig's deep sea ROV.

When I passed the image on to a friend who I was chatting with on skype, I mentioned the tongue eating isopods. He ran a quick search for "tongue eating isopod" and all intelligible conversation ended for a good five minutes. He just couldn't get over the idea. Some of the lolcats photos are pretty funny too [1][2].

Eventually I succumbed to reading the wikipedia page and found a link to a video of a live Cymothoa exigua. Watch through to the final minute. It gets creepier, with a complete dearth of explanation.

The humor and curiosity hit a brick wall, however, when in my louse-inspired meanderings I stumbled across this crushing image labeled simply "fighting dog". Fun's over, stop in your tracks. It's amazing how perspective can come crashing down in unexpected ways. Given where I found it, this photo has probably circled the web a few thousand times. It should keep circling until people start doing more to prevent such cruelty.

Apologies for the odd tangent at the end here.

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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Debunking the Myth of Social Media Fundraising (SXSW Panel)

This is my first rocky attempt at liveblogging. From a panel at SXSW interactive on Debunking the Myth of Social Media Fundraising

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Daybreak of the Mind - Netflix on hold, thinking about Mud and Happiness

I cancelled my Netflix subscription yesterday. It was possibly one of the best favors I've done for myself all year. Don't get me wrong; I love Netflix and I definitely love films, but I'm an addict and I needed to learn to say no. We live in a spectacularly diverse and engaging information-rich world. I couldn't justify spending any more time or energy on passive consumption.

In recent months I've been pondering a definite pattern in my life -- that I just don't pay attention to the news. This is not to say that I am ignorant of current events; rather, I simply seek my information elsewhere and I relate to it in a peculiar way. If I want to know more about the debate on health care reform, I seek out something like the recent episode of EconTalk: Brady on Health Care Reform, Public Opinion, and Party Politics. I don't read the latest articles about the current state of the machinations around it. If anything, I consistently ignore them.

I feel particular familiarity with this quote from Pico Iyer:
... and when I return to the United States every three months or so and pick up a newspaper, I find I haven’t missed much at all.
This quote, which comes from a wonderful, refreshing post about The Joy of Less on the NY Times Happy Days blog, was tacked onto the tail end of an unrelated post by Garrick Van Buren. To my delight, Garrick has been boldly predicting that the Dow will hit 10k by Labor Day, but my favorite one of his current projects is Kernest, a repository of free and commercial web-embeddable font faces. He writes about that development effort on the Kernest blog.

Pico Iyer's post led me to the poignant Living with Less project on the NY Times website, which in turn proffered a tweet about a Cob House Built For Less Than $3,000 which was featured on treehugger. Ah, mud.

Once, while on pilgrimage in Bodhgaya, India, I was pulled aside by one of the local kids who wanted to show me his home. It was clear that he was working; his intention was to evoke pity and walk away with a couple Rupies. Instead of pity I felt a twinge of admiration upon seeing his family's simple mud hut, whose air was cool despite a hot day outside. The interior looked extremely similar to the cob house in the treehugger article, even down to the fire pit that also functions as a bench. I was fully aware of the fact that this kid had a really tough life -- intermittent access to clean water, his mother stretching to feed her four children, and I'm sure a mud hut is no fun during a monsoon. Despite this, for a moment the aesthete in me managed to fix its tunnel vision on the minutiae of organic forms, functional design, and perceived simplicity. I was jealous. The self-cherishing mind is a quizzical and depressingly short-sighted thing.

Witnessing the begging industry in India taught me new things about economics. After showing me his house, the boy asked me to buy some schoolbooks for himself and some of his friends. I did so, happily. The boys seemed genuinely glad to have the books. Later that day, a fellow traveller told me that the kids will sell the books back to the bookshops for a tenth of what I paid. It's like Trickle Down Economics somehow applies itself irregardless of the starting point, as if wealth had a magnetic quality that sucks money and resources out of the hands of the poor and into the hands of the affluent. Some might point an accusatory finger at the institution of capitalism; I point the finger at selfish existence in general, which in turn implicates my own self-cherishing materialism.

As I understand it, there are three primary components to news -- the facts, the interpretation, and (possibly most important) the emotional human element. At Thubten Choling, the Buddhist monastery and retreat center where I lived for 3 years, I experienced the human element of news from a perspective that fundamentally altered my outlook.

Every Saturday morning at Thubten Choling is dominated by the weekly tong chö (tibetan: སྟོང་ཆུ), which most of the monastery residents participate in along with a chorus of visitors from the near and far. After filling 1,000 bowls with saffron water, lighting 1,000 butterlamps, and setting up 300 bowls of rice, flowers and incense, everyone gathers in the shrine room to chant a beautiful set of prayers which they call the Monlam Choga (tibetan: སྨོན་ལམ་ཆོ་ག). Before beginning the 2 hours of chanting, which includes a traditional tea service, the chant leader reads aloud all of the prayers of everyone who has sponsored butterlamps. Now you have to understand that a lot of people sponsor the tong chö and the monastery takes this very seriously. It easily takes 15 or 20 minutes, sometimes longer to get through all of the prayers. For much of my time at the monastery, these prayers were my main conduit for news about the world.

People pray for all sorts of things -- Please pray that my house will sell; Please pray that my Father's pain will subside so he can die in peace; Please pray that my patients' ailments and suffering will be decreased; Please pray that my horse will win the Kentucky Derby -- and you get used to taking it all in, meeting each wish with love, compassion, and openness. After a few weeks I found myself waiting for updates while I sat there in the shrine room -- Did her surgery go well?; Is his father still in pain? -- compassion is a contagious thing. It's in this mindset that we would be hit by things like pray for the victims of the SARS virus and their families; pray for everyone affected by Hurricane Katrina; pray for XXX celebrity who died this week; pray for everyone affected by XXX divorce. I can attest to the fact that this information hits the brain in a completely different way when your mind is settled into a mode of compassion and loving kindness. It's irresistible - your heart goes out without qualifications or stipulations.

After growing accustomed to this way of encountering world events, I saw conventional news in a different light. Tabloids in the grocery store became tragic, almost painful, because of the alienation they invoke in all directions, but even the best news sources often fell short. I wandered further and further away from the traditional channels. After returning to the regular world, I found new ways of plugging in and slurping information from the world around me. I never fully went back, and to this day I'm especially perplexed by the sense of urgency that our culture has about news. Even in the technology industry, things actually happen pretty slowly but we choose to be frantic. When there is news, we scamper as if afraid to actually let it sink in, and when there isn't news, we create it.

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Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dwarfed Punk

Thanks to Etienne for tweeting this. We'll see how long it takes for Disney to tear it down.

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