Monday, April 30

Neat little tripod. I got a little tiny tripod made by Targus that will definitely only cut muster with lightweight point and shoot cameras. It's got the requisite screw on top to screw it into your camera (my big Nikon flopped over due to its heavy lens, but my little Canon P&S worked just great). It's got a tiny ball and socket joint with a knob to loosen it completely, position the camera, and then tighten it down. Its three legs don't telescope or articulate exactly, but they do move a certain amount in or out independently, giving you a couple inches of height compensation but more importantly allowing you to (in conjunction with the ball joint) make the camera perfectly level horizontally and tilted up or down as desired on even fairly uneven surfaces, like the craggy top of a boulder.

I tried to take a picture of the Canon with tripod attached because the colors match and it looks so cute, like a puppy, but alas the batteries on my Nikon were predictably dead. Soon though I will have mini-legged super-cam pics! Until then, the above shots will have to do. You can also see I wear the same hat a lot.

It does take some playing around with to get used to, and because it's so small, you'll still need to find a place of decent height to set the camera on, unless for some reason you want a ground-level perspective. And if you're stuck taking self-portraits because your a loner and/or loser, it will take that much longer to set the timer, run to spot you *thought* was in the viewfinder, wait for the click, then run back only to see you were totally out of focus or not even in the frame.

Here's, um, an example of that I did completely on purpose just to illustrate the potential pitfalls a less capable auteur might run into.

Needless to say I got TONS of magnificent shots after that one but I don't have time to post them right now. Or I forgot to get them off the camera in my rush to write this article. I don't remember exactly but they're amazing, trust me. I'll show you them soon.

Anyway, I'd highly recommend a $7 investment in one of these little guys, or alternately a little beanbag made for the same purpose (leveling and steadying the camera for longer exposures, not so much for positioning it). The timer function or a remote would complete the experience so you don't have to move the camera at all once you've framed. These "toys" will make your little P&S that much friendlier and useful, and won't defeat the purpose of have a lightweight, compact camera by being a big and bulky accessory you won't want to lug around with it. Plus a tiny camera on a huge tripod would look gay.

If you want to see all those magnificent shots I was talking about, I just remembered I erased them all on accident. I know, I'm upset too - sorry about that. Next time, I promise.
What the hell is Grimace anyway? A dinosaur? A sort of proto-Barney? A purple alien with an unexplained affinity for milkshakes? And why the name "Grimace" when he's always sporting a goofy grin? The weird thing is, he was always my favorite character in the psychedelic McDonald's mascot bullpen. But now that I'm older, I'm trying to figure out the truth behind this guy. Does anyone know? Is he real? Is he just a guy in a purple turd-shaped costume that runs around like a girl with his arms out begging for shakes? Is Grimace actually the secret CEO and mastermind behind McDonald's enormous success, because it's obviously not their food. This one needs to be researched, folks. Big time. Weigh in with your Grimace stories and theories.

I assumed everyone knew this, but you know what assumptions do. Anyway, in answer to a question, YES, most all the pictures and other graphics used in this blog are clickable, generally for a larger version. In many cases the original isn't much larger or is no larger, so you'll be disappointed in those cases and it might ruin your whole day. But others really have to be seen at a larger size to be appreciated, whether it's something made by me or something I stole... er, borrowed.

Again, I've tried to give credit where it's due, or at least acknowledged unknown authorship so I wouldn't seem to be claiming it as my own. Probably a few have slipped (I don't really paint so those are obviously borrowed), or it's so obvious they're not mine I didn't bother (like a picture of the President, if there were such a beast on this site, would not really warrant a "not by me" warning; it's obvious I'm not the photographer). I just shoot flowers and rocks and buildings and myself and my cat and some abstract things, not famous people or war criminals. I'd shoot pretty girls if I could make them believe I was a serious photographer. I'll have to work on that one. Let's see... just need some business cards... a tripod would help. Wait, I've got one.

The short answer is that anything that is a link to something else ought to visibly change the pointer, usually to a hand, unless you've got some "cute" custom cursors, in which case it might turn into a squid. But it should do something if there's a link there.

sitting still
spilled cat litter makes patterns
the way clouds make patterns
there's an obvious rabbit
and a not so obvious chesspiece knight
amongst bubbles and strands
chains and voids
nearest to me is a sailboat turning
and a few fallen hairs on the floor
have curled into a pumpkin
complete with stem
the rug at my feet shows the head of a swan
and a mallorn tree all in white
is etched into the textured wall
only inches to my right
and many another animal or forest besides
the far curtain is full of squares
full of smaller squares
but I resist the urge to count them
some hanging chad would undo me I'm sure
but everywhere I turn
there is another hidden face
and I could stay here all day exploring the world
without ever going outside.
Mon chéri perdu.

Je t'aime, Nicola... Veuillez répondre à moi autrefois! Si j'étais Beren et vous étiez Luthien Tuniviel, quelle paire nous ferions. Rien en ce monde n'a pu résister à notre puissance.

Please write to me sometime. I am dying without you.
Lúthien Tinúviel

Saturday, April 28

The Top 15 Albums of All Time

We all know this is impossible, yet it's fun. Here's my top-of-the-head stab at the top 15 albums I've heard. Keep in mind, these are complete studio albums, and exclude 'Greatest Hits' or other compilations. Sometimes albums may even be stellar without any particularly standout songs, just because of the overall quality and continuity of purpose they maintain from start to finish.

The Smiths, Strangeways, Here We Come
The Beatles, Abbey Road
Joy Division, Closer
Pink Floyd, Dark Side of the Moon
The Clash, London Calling
Fleetwood Mac, Rumours
The Stone Roses, The Stone Roses
Black Uhuru, Guess Who's Coming To Dinner?
Morrissey, Viva Hate
Nirvana, Nevermind
Terence Trent D'Arby, The World According to Terence Trent D'Arby
The Doors, The Doors
Michael Jackson, Thriller
Radiohead, OK Computer
2Pac, Me Against The World

Feel free to enlighten me on my shoddy taste, list your own 15 albums, point out obvious ones I missed, or whatever. Mainly I would like to hear your own lists. The ones I've listed above are not strictly in order, though generally I tried to make them so. But there are sooooo many albums I left out which at any given moment I could justify including in the list: The Sundays' first album, The Cranberries' second album, about four other Beatles albums, about three other Pink Floyd albums, a couple Cure albums, The Chameleons' Script of the Bridge and on and on. But this is a launching-off point, not a final destination. Let's see where it takes us.

Friday, April 27

***Warning: Children of Húrin SPOILERS in this post!***
(Fairly minor actually, but don't say I didn't warn you...)

Don't look at this picture.

Here's a serviceable map of Western Beleriand (below) for those of you reading The Children of Húrin at the moment. Click to make larger. I know an almost identical map is included in the book, but it seems to me the "top" is cut off. The Anfauglith, as explained, is the charred battlefield where the Battle of Unnumbered Tears occurred. Thus to the North of that region would be the Iron Mountains and fortress of Thangorodrim where Húrin was imprisoned, as well as the fortress/underworld of Angband beneath/behind it where Morgoth kept his counsels, his ill-begotten treasures, and the better part of his hoard of thralls. The great worm Glaurung and Morgoth's Maiar lieutenants Sauron and the balrog Gothmog also dwelt there and devised much malice. I thought it was odd that Chris chose to leave this off the map since it has such a vital bearing on the story, not that *Túrin* ever really goes that direction, but still, Morgoth does harass him and his family throughout the story. Kinda important to know where the big guy lives and where all those Orcs are spilling forth from.

To be able to visualize this important piece of Beleriand I suggest you glance over the map in your copy of The Silmarillion, or one of many good online maps such as this one.

If nothing else, now you can see why Melian had to put up her protective girdle around Doriath and why the Elves living there were so antsy all the time. And you'd think Gondolin would have been spotted by Morgoth's roving eyes a lot sooner than it was. Turgon and Morgoth probably went to the same Starbucks every morning, they were so close.

As to the lands East of the Blue Mountains such as Belegost and the mansions of the Dwarf lords all the way to mysterious Cuiviénen, where the Elves first awoke, they really don't play into this story at all, so I won't provide any maps here. But if you're burning with curiosity I'd recommend Chris' History of Middle Earth series (natch), as well as some editions of The Silmarillion and Karen Wynn Fonstad's The Atlas of Middle Earth.

Since JRR Tolkien seems to have kept the geography of Beleriand, Eriador, N
úmenor, Valinor, and the rest of Arda locked away in his noggin and rarely committed more than some scribbly drawings to paper, it is hard if not impossible after his death to devise an "official" map of these lands. Christopher has done an admirable job just getting what you see here down in adequate form, as a complement to his familiar and oft-used map of Middle Earth (Eriador) in Lord of the Rings. Maybe to have too detailed and precise a map would spoil some of the mystery of that shrouded past, much the way Biblical scholars have worked with archaeologists to try to determine the historical locations of places like Nazareth, Sodom and Gomorrah, Jericho, and so on, a pursuit which has spawned countless interesting documentaries if nothing else. And after all, Tolkien was a linguist first, a storyteller second, and a geographer ass-last. Sometimes I'm not sure even he knew where places in his stories existed in relation to one another, but after all it was his land so he could always get out of a jam by having Eru or the Valar cause a catastrophe and move things around if need be (which actually does happen twice).

Well... I hope that answers some of your questions about where that pesky Morgoth lived, and possibly will lead you into a deeper study of the surrounding lands. To answer that other frequently asked question, "Middle Earth," or Eriador, the land in which the events of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings take place, all lies just east of this map, beyond the Blue Mountains. In fact, the Blue Mountains form the Western extent of Middle Earth, with the Grey Havens lying right in the midst of them, in an eroded pass where an arm of the sea reaches inward. Belegost and Lindon can actually be seen on both maps. So what happened to the rest of Beleriand? It was in fact destroyed and sunk beneath the sea at the close of the First Age, when Morgoth was expelled through the door of night into the Void, beyond the Circles of the World, and the land substantially changed.

It's a trip to think that as Gandalf, Elrond, Frodo and the gang sailed from the Grey Havens and into the West, they were (in a sense) sailing over the ruins of all that happened in the First Age... The great Elven kingdoms of Norgothrond, Doriath, and Gondolin, the lava-field where the Nirnaeth Arnoediad took place, the ruins of Morgoth's ancient haunts, T
úrin's home of Dor-Lindon, etc., not to mention that Second Age Tolkien-version of Atlantis, the star-shaped island of Númenor, whence Aragorn was descended. Pretty crazy stuff.

This painting blows my mind up.

Any other questions? Ask away!
A different question.
You are in the mood for a documentary. On average, you reach for:

a) Something to do with space - astronomy or cosmology.
b) Something to do with world politics - current or recent.
c) Something to do with ancient history or the Bible.
d) Something to do with dinosaurs or other ancient life.
e) Something to do with chemistry or particle physics.
f) Something to do with a famous artist or artistic movements.
g) Something to do with alien visitations or psychic phenomena.
h) Something to do with geology - volcanoes, types of rock, etc.
i) Something to do with WAR - more likely the modern variety.
j) Something to do with the marvels of human engineering.
k) Something to do with modding cars and motorcycles.
l) Something to do with food - eating it or preparing it.
m) Something to do with travel - practical or dream vacations.
n) Something to do with psychology or psychiatry.
o) Something to do with other aspects of human health.
p) The good old fashioned African Savannah type (animals).
q) Something sports-related, a game, athlete profile, etc.
r) A biography, either a docudrama or the voice-over type.
s) Something to do with music, a band, a composer, whatever.
t) Something to do with ecology and climate change.
u) Something completely outlandish and like Crumb or Pi.
v) A making-of, behind-the-scenes dealie for movie.
w) Something about spirituality, religion, or philosophy.
x) Something to do with forensics - medical, aviation, etc.
y) Something to do with extreme weather/natural disasters.
z) Documentaries? Zzzzzzz.

You can just name one, or a handful, or put a few in order, or put the whole damn list in order. Or insert your own categories if I forgot obvious ones. It's your ball to run with. I'll add my answers when a few others have already done so.

Thursday, April 26

Tuesday, April 24

Twelve Questions
One for each lost tribe of Israel...

1. What did you want to be when you grew up?
2. Do you prefer going to the movie theater or watching at home?
3. Did you play any sports in school besides in P.E.?
4. What are your four favorite colors?
5. Coffee, espresso, latte, mocha, or frapp?
6. What are some of your favorite bands/singers?
7. Have you traveled much outside your home country?
8. If you ever played/play board games, which were/are your favorites?
9. Would you consider yourself more of a thinker or a doer?
10. How many pets do you have and what are they?
11. What do you fear most - sharks, snakes, or spiders?
12. If you drink (or did), what are your favorite drinks?

Feel free to elaborate as much or as little as you'd like!
Click for a bigger Jackson

Sunday, April 22

The Cobby Tom.
If I ever own a pub in England I'm going to name it "The Cobby Tom" in tribute to their national cat, the British Shorthair. In cat breeder parlance, "cobby" means "stout, large headed, robust bodied." According to the "Free Dictionary," cobby means

a.1.Headstrong; obstinate.

2.Stout; hearty; lively.

That sounds just about perfect, especially "headstrong." The Tom part obviously refers to a large, bullyish intact male. This would be a place where you could get your Guinness or Harp, some fried pub grub, and have a lively conversation beside a roaring fire, or a round of darts, and feel right at home. There would always be the chance of some sort of row breaking out; after all, pubs are filled with drunken men - but that is to be expected and even cherished. A place for the metrosexual this would not be. You should have your heart in the right place yes, but also, don't be a puss for God's sake. You were born a man for a reason, remember that.

I'll be taking investment money for "The Cobby Tom" just as soon as I get my business plan together and learn what it takes to open a business overseas...
I'm sure most of you have a favorite shirt, or maybe two or three. No matter how many new clothes you buy, if you have an evening alone where only comfort matters, you shower and then get into that shirt like Flynn.

In my case I have a red Levi's chamois cloth longsleeve shirt that is both fashionable to wear out, say, under a black or denim jacket, and soft enough to the touch to serve as a pajama top for colder nights when a t-shirt just won't do. I love that shirt like Abraham loved his son Isaac. Together with my Spongebob pajama bottoms and Wigwam medium hiking socks, while I may look odd I am in comfort heaven.

Share your stories of your favorite clothes!
By the way, I've noticed there are virtually NO comments on song lyrics and pictures I've posted by people other than myself. The exception is Heath, and occasionally Jon. But I pick these pieces out from the vast array of nonsense out there to convey something that has a bearing on my life or seems apropos in some fashion to what is going on at the moment. Plus, some of them are just great art - I wouldn't just put in third party material as filler. Why then the lack of comments? It makes me wonder. Are people not moved by great art the way I am, or at least ballsy enough to tell me my taste is terrible? Why do people have so little to say in general?

Me, I have diarrhea of the brain. I'm willing to accept that it might be ME who expects unusual things here. But still... what happened to people trying to be great? What happened to you, Nicky? What happened, people I once knew or have met who seemed enthusiastic and worldly at the start? Do people actually lose interest or just the heart or energy to return serve with a sentence or two? C'mon, people, try. You may shirk my blog but I'm not letting you off the hook in the life you continue to lead. "[I] will haunt you when you laugh..." Say something that makes me think for God's sake. The world doesn't have to foster endless little Dubyas. It can be Paradise, or at least something in between.

Anti-intellectualism is at its highest peak since the days of Hitler. Watch or read anything by Anne Coulter or Sean Hannity and you'll see what I mean, right before you throw up. Wake up!!! You're all dreaming. Joe Strummer gave his life in search of authenticity. So will I. SO WILL I.
If looks could kill they probably will...

I have to admit, for some reason I've always hated Peter Gabriel. More than Sting, who I at least have some respect for, and more than Bob Geldof, who is a pretentious twit but harmless enough because he is dumb. Peter Gabriel though always seemed to me to be, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, witty without being charming. His whole save-the-world, I'm a white guy in touch with my African roots thing made me want to go repaint the porcelain in my bathroom. HOWEVER, I once thought the same thing of Tears for Fears and many another band and only when I grew older did I really understand them, so I'm willing to give old Peter another chance.

As it turns out, I still think he's an ass with an overblown opinion of himself, but that doesn't mean he hasn't written a few good songs. Notably, "Games Without Frontiers."


jeux sans frontieres.

hans plays with lotte, lotte plays with jane.
jane plays with willi, willi is happy again.
suki plays with leo, sacha plays with britt.
adolf builds a bonfire, enrico plays with it.

whistling tunes we hid in the dunes by the seaside.
whistling tunes we're kissing baboons in the jungle.
it's a knockout...

if looks could kill, they probably will
in games without frontiers, war without tears.
games without frontiers, war without tears.

jeux sans frontieres.

andre has a red flag, chian ching's is blue.
they all have hills to fly them on except for lintai yu.
dressing up in costumes, playing silly games.
hiding out in tree-tops shouting out rude names.

whistling tunes we hide in the dunes by the seaside.
whistling tunes we piss on the goons in the jungle.
it's a knockout...

if looks could kill they probably will
in games without frontiers, wars without tears.
if looks could kill they probably will
in games without frontiers, war without tears.
games without frontiers, war without tears.

jeux sans frontieres
jeux sans frontieres
jeux sans frontieres.

Now that's a Roger Waters-esque lyric if there was one, albeit without the effortless accessibility nor polish. He's artsy and globally concerned. But this time it works lyrically and especially musically. Only a few will understand this. But if you were a teenager in the nuclear-war colored early 80s, this was somewhat of an anthem. So props to Peter on that one. Doesn't mean I have to like "Shock the Monkey."

Saturday, April 21

(by Mark Kostich)

Thursday, April 19

A girl I see sometimes
She makes me cry inside
Just to know
What is missing from my life
I have all the courage in the world
To ask her to be part of my world
But she deserves more
Than that
She doesn't need my tears
Or my hardships
No, no, no
What she needs is something
I could never give her
And because I feel love like
A beach fire in my heart for her
I will let her go
Be happy and free.
"blue soldier brigade"
Ocean child, where is your home
Sun and moon and
Two bright stars
Morning and night they pierce the skin of heaven
And on your wave with a strange smile you listen
Far, far away

Landbound but longing for the sea
We who would have followed
Now day and dusk
We ride like the four horsemen trying to
Catch you
Painted ponies pierced by golden poles

Tuesday, April 17


Sade's taboo.

It always makes me smile when songs make it on the radio, especially the light-rock, business-friendly format stations, which have lyrics or implied meanings that would surely get them banned from such stations were people actually listening rather than grooving out to the catchy tune as they typed up dictated memos. No doubt there are much more egregious examples, but one such song which comes to mind is "Sweetest Taboo" by Sade Adu. This was one of those mega-hits in the 80s, and was played over and over on MTV and lots of soft (easy-listening) music stations, be they rock, jazz, or R&B. And it's a great song. But check out the lyrics:

If I tell you
If I tell you now...
Will you keep on
Will you keep on loving me?
If I tell you
If I tell you how I feel...
Will you keep bringing out the best in me?

You give me, you give me the sweetest taboo
You give me, you're giving me the sweetest taboo
Too good for me...

There's a quiet storm
And it never felt like this before
There's a quiet storm
That is you
There's a quiet storm
And it never felt this hot before
Giving me something... that's taboo

You give me the sweetest taboo
That's why I'm in love in with you
You give me the sweetest taboo
Too good for me...

I'd do anything for you - I'd stand out in the rain
Anything you want me to do - don't let it slip away

You've got the biggest heart
Sometimes I think you're just too good for me
Every day is Christmas, and every night is New Year's Eve
Will you keep on loving me?
Will you keep on, will you keep on
Bringing out the best in me?

Now on the surface, nothing too risqué here. In fact it's a very sweet song, telling her beau how much he means to her. But wait... a few key phrases give the game away. What exactly is the taboo? It's never felt this good before? Or hot before? And then there's that quiet storm, building to a crescendo presumably, and she specifically says it's because of him.

Now, you could go PG-13 on me and explain this all away as metaphor, but it seems to me she's talking about a very specific act. After all, in this day and age of porn all over the 'Net, nevermind the more-conservative (in ways) 1980s, what is one sex act that is still somewhat "taboo" - uncomfortable to talk about? And it just so happens to build like a quiet storm (then into a not-so-quiet one, if you're following me here). According to the song, she's had it before but never like that or as hot. And she views it as him being "good to her." Because, as it happens, not many guys enjoy what she's talking about all that much, despite what they'll say beforehand.

And then there's don't let it slip away. That could be innocent too, but in the context...

So... am I way out on a limb here or is the "taboo" Sade's receiving from this unknown Lothario a subject that is probably inappropriate for easy listening stations to be broadcasting to Dilbertville? It doesn't bother me one bit of course, I love it (the subterfuge, you pervs). And I could listen to her sexy voice 25 hours a day (please, please, Sade, put out another album soon!). I just also love situations where artists get one over on the suits that run big conservative businesses. In fact, you could say I eat it up.
Keeping cats' hours...

Literally, in a sense, as my cat requires to be let out and in at certain (always inconvenient) times. But also on my own, I tend to nap and then have bursts of activity in anything but a traditional workaday fashion.

Just took a quiz to see which philosopher I was. Here are the results.

The new, lighthearted Meta-plane

Not for good though! I've just been in a pretty good mood lately, so I'm going to try to blog in those circumstances too just to give balance to the site. No promises for the future. Then again... are there ever?

Ok, a question: If I had two animals and I named them Macon and Francis, what kind of animals would they be?

Leave your answer in the comments section.

Sunday, April 15

And now for something completely different...

Vodka brands - Where are they from?

Yes, I wrote the questions, answers, and all the snarky comments myself. Report in the comments section how you did!
(photo by Tim Kantar)

Truth hasn't words.

You know I can't stop here
Some kind of fire rages in my belly
You've tried to pierce my underside
Tried to find my weakness
So many times, I don't even care.
But there is something I must do
I'm not really clear on all the details
I'm driven snow, by earth and by ice
And in the sky I see my shadow,
Reaching longingly away
Stormclouds gather in the distance
At the first sign of day.
My cat's going wild, and even I
Can feel the reason, vibrations all
Through my body
So I could never stop here
I hope that's clear.

A golden cosmos hangs above
Unsettled seas below
The rocks I stand on now aren't solid
I've forgotten what it's like to love
Forgotten how it ended
Don't remember much these days at all.
Just then a child appeared
Somehow he got the jump on me
He said, "Hush... hush. Truth has no words
To speak its name." And was gone.
I sat upon those rocks,
The fire gone out of my insides
And instead the glow of its embers spread
Like God all through my bones:
I was alive, but no more
Was I alone.

Saturday, April 14

Yavanna Kementári and her works
(various artists)

(A hymn to Yavanna, creator of living things.
In English and Sinadrin, transliterated from the Tengwar script pictured below.
Partially translated by JRR Tolkien from ancient Elvish sources.)

Snow-white! Snow-white! O lady clear!

O Queen beyond the Western Sea!
O Light to us that wander here
Amid the world of woven trees!

Gilthoniel! O Elbereth!
Clear are thy eyes and bright thy breath.
Snow-white! Snow-white! We sing to thee
In a far land beyond the Sea.

O stars that in the Sunless Year
With shining hand by her were sown,
In windy fields now bright and clear
We see your silver blossom blown.

O Elbereth! Gilthoniel!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees,
The starlight on the Western Seas.

A Elbereth Gilthoniel,
Silivren penna miriel
O menal aglar elenath!
Na-chaered palan-diriel
O galadhremmin ennorath,
Fanuilos, le linnathon
nef aear, si nef aearon!

Ai! laurie lantar lassi surinen!
Yeni unotime ve ramar aldaron,
Yeni ve linte yuldar vanier
Mi oromardi lisse-miruvoreva
Andune pella Vardo tellumar
Nu luini yassen tintilar i eleni
Omaryo airetari-lirinen.

Si man i yulma nin enquantuva?

An si Tintalle Varda Oilosseo
Ve fanyar maryat Elentari ortane,
Ar ilye tier undulare lumbule;
Ar sindanoriello caita mornie
I falmalinnar imbe met, ar hisie
Untupa Calaciryo miri oiale.
Si vanwa na, Romello vanwa, Valimar!
Namarie! Nai hiruvalye Valimar.
Nai elye hiruva. Namarie!

Ah! Like gold fall the leaves in the wind,
Long years numberless as the wings of trees!
The long years have passed like swift draughts of the sweet mead
In lofty halls beyond the West
Beneath the blue vaults of Varda
Wherein the stars tremble in the song of her voice,
Holy and queenly.

Who now shall refill the cup for me?

For now the Kindler, Varda,
The Queen of the Stars, from Mount Everwhite
Has uplifted her hands like clouds,
And all paths are drowned deep in shadow;
And out of a grey country darkness lies on the foaming waves between us,
And mist covers the jewels of Calacirya for ever.
Now lost, lost to those from the East is Valimar!

Farewell! Maybe thou shalt find Valimar.
Maybe even thou shalt find it! Farewell!

Gilthoniel A Elbereth!
A Elbereth Gilthoniel
O menel palan-diriel,
Le nallon si dinguruthos!
A tiro nin, Fanuilos!

A! Elbereth Gilthoniel!
Silivren penna miriel
O menal aglar elenath,
Gilthoniel, A! Elbereth!
We still remember, we who dwell
In this far land beneath the trees
Thy starlight on the Western Seas.

Friday, April 13

The movie Pathfinder truly sucks the pelotas. I know what you're thinking, because it's the same thing I was thinking: How can you possibly screw up a movie with Vikings fighting Indians? But screw it up they did. I won't even delve into any kind of a review, I'll just point out some of the lowlights. Let's see. The accents were all over the map - Karl Urban sounded American but not American Indian. He was supposedly raised by them yet has no trace of their lilting way of speaking. Nor does the female lead, who barely looks Indian (I was convinced she was Asian until I saw the credits). She is apparently, but I'm willing to bet she's of a different nation than most of the other members of the cast. She's the typical tough pinup babe in every b-action movie.

No one can act in this movie, which is OK because there are maybe about two lines of dialogue, both of them cheesy. The action-movie cliche rating = high. All the characters are stereotypes. There is no plot whatsoever. The action scenes are confusing, muddied, and derivative. Every scene featuring a sword goes suddenly into slow motion, yet nothing really innovative ever happens choreographically. Worst of all are the "effects," which I will not call special effects because there's nothing special about them, except maybe that they suck especially hard. Everything looks like it was shot in a studio with fake snow and at most 12 people onscreen at any given time milling about in ridiculous nonhistorical armor, while some kind of matte painting/CGI/composite blurry background stretches out behind them. I understand that certain directors are known for a "stylized" look rather than strict realism, but if that was the intention here it went over like lead balloon. The director, production designer, and all the artists ought to get together in a motel room and fall on their swords so they can never make another movie again.

There are some nice aerial shots of the Canadian Rockies (I believe) which are impressive, but really they only serve to make the closeup action look even worse. This movie sucked pretty bad even for a bad movie. I'm gonna have to bust it with only 1 star. I've read people online comparing this to 300 or Conan the Barbarian. That's a complete joke. First of all, Conan was a subtle masterpiece and if you don't agree you're wrong. Secondly, 300 had waaaayyyyyy more blood and beheadings. That's why that one ruled and this one didn't. Directors: If you're not gonna put any effort into constructing a plot, hiring capable actors, building plausible sets, or writing any dialogue, then you
have to have beheadings. Lots. That's one of the most fundamental filmmaking rules there is, and this one shamefully, criminally broke it. Bad movie! I'm gonna go see 300 or even Brokeback Mountain now just so I can walk around feeling like a man again. If you were thinking of watching this movie, save yourself $10+ and stare at a powered-off TV for two hours. It will be a much richer experience, and you can still eat popcorn and drink Coke if you want.

OK, maybe this review was a little too harsh. The Viking armor, while being totally unrealistic, WAS cool. And some of the shots of them approaching the Indian settlements like monsters out of the mist had some artistic merit. But everything else sucked!
(Illustration by Richard Daub)

Brainwaves: a refresher course.

We've all heard the term "brainwaves" bandied about, but does it mean? What, exactly, inside the brain is waving? Well, as you know from basic science class, any form of electromagnetic energy (visible light, sound, microwaves, X-rays, and so on) exists as waves. Waves sometimes act like particles, but to understand why would require a detour into quantum physics and there's a big KEEP OUT sign there and it's not important to our discussion here anyway. For now, think of energy as existing in nice, perfect sine waves, like the kind you seen displayed on an oscilloscope.

As we go through our day, our metabolic rate changes due to an internal clock, to the coffee or alcohol we put into our bodies, the amount of sun we get, and a whole host of other things. Our brains reflect this speeding up or slowing down by emitting electrical energy at higher or lower frequencies. This is in the form of waves, but they are sound waves, which are mechanical, longitudinal waves that require a medium in which to operate. Let me explain that last sentence. A longitudinal wave doesn't go up an down like an electromagnetic wave, it compresses and contracta, like a slinky or an accordion. (Confusingly, it can still be modeled on as an up-and-down signal, but the ups and down now mean frequency rather than amplitude. I'll leave it at that for our purposes) The frequency of a sound wave is the number of times a peak passes by a certain point per unit of time (say, a millisecond). With sound, our subjective experience of a change in frequency is a change in pitch: A high-frequency sound has a higher pitch than a lower-frequency sound.

At either end of the table, so to speak, the pulsating waves of energy cease to be audible to us, but their effects can still be felt at times. At the high end, we get into frequencies our ears are happy to pick up, but our eardrums are not sensitive enough to vibrate when hit by them, and our brains are just not constructed so as to translate them into a "sound" at that level anyway. Same thing happens when you drop below a certain frequency, the ultra-low bass sound seems to fade and then disappear and it gets deeper. All animals have difference ranges of frequencies to which their ears and brains have adapted to be sensitive, depending on their evolutionary needs and pressures. Dogs famously can hear higher frequencies than we can, but they can only hear low sounds as well as humans. Cats do even better than dogs on high frequencies, and can also hear into a lower register than we (or dogs) can. Cats, obviously, rely upon sound greatly for hunting at night (as well as having keen nightvision). Elephants can hear amazingly low sounds, while a porpoise can hear sounds at higher than twice the frequency of cats! The important thing to know is that sound waves, which are really pressure waves (the compressing and decompressing slinky model we talked about earlier) that push air or water along at a certain frequency, and whether or not we "hear" it as sound when it bangs against our eardrums or resonates within our body cavities is entirely a feature of our evolutionary sensory makeup, not anything to do with the waves themselves.

It so happens that researchers, through EEGs, have monitored the human's brain electrical activity during many different states of awareness and activity, and the frequency of this activity can tell us a lot about our level of alertness or relaxation, which in turn can affect things like mood, creativity, stress, and concentration. These are subsonic frequencies to us; in other words, they are all below the threshold of being perceived as sound, and a good thing too, or our brain would be making noise all the time. Anyway, the frequencies we normally see in the brain can be roughly categorized into four groups:

Beta waves have frequencies from 30-13 Hz, and are associated with alertness, concentration, and high left-brain activity. During a busy workday, if you are actually working, you are probably operating mostly within this level.

Alpha waves (13-8 Hz) are associated with quiet, reflective mental states. When you relax in the tub, zone out watching TV, or read a comforting book, your brain is generally operating in this frequency range.

Theta waves (8-3.5 Hz), are interesting, because they represent the boundary between consciousness and sleep. At this diminished electrical activity, the brain fails to perceive much of its surroundings, and thus is freed to speculate, dream, and have flashes of inspiration. This is that twilight state that's not really asleep and not really awake, or certain times within sleep characterized by rapid eye movement and increased brain function, usually indicating a whole lotta dreaming's going on.

Delta waves (3.5-0.5 Hz) are well below our level of perception but we create them and react to them nonetheless. This is the brainwave signature of deep, dreamless sleep, the lowest metabolic rate, heart rate, body temperature, and blood pressure. In other words, out cold. Interestingly, it is possible to achieve theta and delta wave activity levels while being wide awake; this is one aim of meditation. An experienced meditator can calm her brain down to produce mostly delta wave activity, which gives the subjective state of complete detachment from the outer world, of being in the void. This is very rejuvenating just as it is when the sleeping version occurs, but since the mind is NOT asleep but in a deeply slowed and altered state, interesting visions or insights can occur while in a waking delta or delta/theta state.

To compound all this, it's not only the electrical frequencies our brain generates by itself that tell the entire picture. We're bombarded (usually) by sounds of various frequencies all day long. Some of these happen to fall into the same subsonic categories described above, and when they do, they resonate with the brain's own natural waves and tend to amplify them. In fact, the brain will "entrain" itself to alter its emissions slightly to purposefully resonate with a closely proximal sound frequency if it can, so that amplification (intensifying) rather interference (canceling out) occurs. Here's where things get wild.

You obviously know that music has an emotional and sometimes intellectual effect on you. It can make you cry, experience joy, or feel artistically inspired just by hitting the right notes or chords. A lot of this is due to the words, the talents of the musicians, and so on, but a lot has to do with just basic brainwave activity. Most phenomena like music emit a whole spectra of sound frequencies, but some music in particular, and certainly artificial sounds generated with a synthesizer, generates all or most of its sound in a narrow band, with resonance nodes or "echoes" occurring above and below our range of hearing. You may have heard all the propaganda about babies who listen to Beethoven grow up smarter, or certain types of classical or ambient music/sound being more beneficial to an alert state needed to study, say, while other are prone to put you in a kind of trance, or make you fall asleep altogether. This isn't an accident and it's not pseudoscience: it's the result of sound of a dominant, focused frequency hitting your brain and "entraining" it to enter one of the four states more strongly than before. Strongly enough to affect your subjective conscious or unconscious experience.

Lots of people now think that places like Skara Brae in Scotland, Teotihuacan in Mexico, and the Great Pyramids at Giza acted as made-man resonance chambers that, in addition to meditation and ritualized song or instrumentation played at just the right frequency (one which matched the acoustics of the chamber), could alter the perceptions of a shaman or priest and allow him to have visions, out of body experiences, and even a deep sense of being one with a god or gods. That's why he was the priest, no doubt. It's called "The Perennial Philosophy" and the author Aldous Huxley was famously interested in it. Whether these people consciously understood what they were doing and had some inkling that science rather than mysticism was going on, we can only wonder. Likely it happened from our earliest days spent in cave hollows that resonated particularly well and made people who played the right music or chanted in that room of the cave "feel" a certain way, and this was reproduced when civilizations arose and we began to build our own artificial structures.

I could go on an on about how brainwave activity can induce feelings of flight, of omniscience, and how these feelings may have inspired the art and mythology of entire cultures, and account for the many instances of flying men or gods in ancient lore throughout the world. Maybe that will be the subject of a future piece. For now, I wanted to share with you how sound waves can profoundly affect our brain, and therefore our mind, and therefore our mood, energy level, and our whole subjective experience. Whether we are "in the zone" or feel "out of sorts." Inspired or bored. Hyper or chilled out. There is much more research to be done in this field, but I encourage you to use this as a starting point if you are interested and go out and do more research on your own. Not too long ago (in my own childhood), this was considered maverick science in the West - though on the other side of the iron curtain much more progress was made by Bulgarian scientist Georgi Lozanov and others that has only since the 80s and 90s really come to be known and accepted worldwide. In fact, it's become practically mainstream; you'll find no shortage of books, documentaries, musical/ambient CDs, guided meditations, and university researchers looking for volunteers concerned with the subject.

Just how can we use this phenomenon to our advantage? Can we control our level of brain activity not only by meditation or sleeping but by listening to the right tonal ranges of sound as well? I believe the answer is a strong "yes," and there is now a wealth of science to back that opinion up. We can make ourselves more alert and receptive to learning; we can tone it down and relax, tuning out the world. We can increase our chances of finding creative inspiration, and we can deepen our sleep to feel more refreshed. If we are a bit more adventurous, we can combine states in such a way that we are alert while dreaming, say (lucid dreaming), and use that to further explore states of altered consciousness. It's pretty exciting stuff, so get out there and check it out if that's your bag. I can answer questions you may have if you care to share them in the comments section, though I warn you I'm no expert, just an interested student of the emerging science of consciousness.

Wednesday, April 11

9:10 pm

That didn't last long. I'm in a wash of tiny negative emotions now, not enough to shape a true fully-formed human being, but enough to jar me out of my place of sanctuary, or emptiness, which as least was preferable to this. It was airy and detached, a dream of a dream, the faraway observer taking notes dispassionately and feeling contentment if not joy or sorrow. I much preferred that to the grimy touch of frustration or uncertainty, or disappointment. These tiny stinging barbs that color perception and must be acknowledged, it's like a blow to the head to knock me out of my dazed reverie. I like being in my own world, since, physically I am. I don't like caring about the world outside my apartment on an active basis and being unable to do anything about it except deal with the feelings in an inadequate way. No, I'm not angry or sad. It hasn't gotten to that level. I'm just annoyed that I've come back into my fickle and tricky mind, to be at the mercy of its mood chemicals once again, and have lost that noble detachment that I couldn't understand but didn't really mind either. It's always a fine line, and where the line is always changes. I would far rather be Li Mu Bai swaying aimlessly with the bamboo than Jen, reaching for the pinnacle of skill and ambition in a cloud of dust and rage.
(by Kevin Ebi)

Life feels really old and unnecessary. It's repetitive. Everything's asleep except me. Or I'm asleep and this is a dream. That seems to make more sense than when I was supposedly dreaming and felt so alive, so vital, so all-knowing and at the edge, flexing my mental muscles as hard as I could. Now I'm supposed to be awake and yet I feel deceased and calm.

Life is surreal and pointless. The sun coming out of the rain looks serene. Talking to a therapist about my emotions is surreal. My emotions don't feel like a part of me; I feel detached. In fact, I don't even feel like I'm in that body (mine). I watch myself doing what I need to do, hear myself reacting and saying things, but it doesn't seem to be coming from me really at all. Just some auxiliary function that's running. I'm here in another world, listening.

The sky overhead and all the rainclouds and moving around for other cars, driving - that was surreal. Petting my cat and hearing and feeling him purr makes me feel serene. My eyes are unfocused. I don't have any anxiety or any purpose. I feel other than who I am. I don't live in the present, in this apartment, I'm not medicated, sedated, sleeping or awake. I'm not too warm or cold. I'm jaded, surreal.

The people I think about from years ago are just names. Life has changed completely. My wife and daughter seem like concepts that haven't been part of the scenery in front of me for a long time, if ever. I don't feel anything at all. The day seems surreal. It's so quiet after the rain. But people are moving through town in their cars, I guess working or going to appointments or getting lunch. I guess I worked at one time but that was another lifetime. That was before I broke. Now I can only look at people with holes for eyes, and I don't have to worry about anything anymore.

No one can be bigger than me or scare me, it's pointless to try. There's nothing inside me to scare. Or to excite. I guess I exist and am living, technically. I'm fully functional, I just don't feel real. The movies of animals surging through the tall grasses, certain music - music that really goes for broke - some of it breaks through. The animals are in a life and death struggle but watching them makes me feel serene. Watching animals doesn't scare me.

Death doesn't scare me at all. I wish it would just happen, I guess, instead of waiting around for it. I don't want to do anything else in the meantime. I don't want to lose my serenity. I don't want to feel real and be scared and have emotions again. I don't have any feelings about anything now. If I get thirsty I drink something cold. If I'm hungry... well I don't often get hungry these days. I nibble a bit on things.

I don't see people during my normal day, not one. Sometimes I see my mom or I have an appointment with someone, and then I sit to the side and watch myself talk and answer questions. It's surreal. It's not me in any way. I guess it feels fine right now, to be like this. There's nothing to love about it, but I'm not scared anymore. Not for the moment, hopefully not for a good long time. I don't want to go back to being scared.

A horrible, glorious rainy morning

It's out there, and it's in here
Out there, in here...
Columns of cold drops on pained glass
Columns of drops out on the lawn
Of painted grass
At dawn.
And it's in my head that
Three chorded song...

Birth, life, death
It's out there, and it's all over the place
In Here,
The sky is shaking with sounds
And bleeding down rain.
I'm floating, six inches two or three seconds
Even though it's not exactly flying...

Yes, I'm on medication, a depressive, you can call me that.
I prefer 'fugitive'. I like things that make me
Feel like someone else, so I can escape boring pseudoreality

And all the horror and glory it so tidily hides away
And the motions we go through so the game gets played.
Yes, you could call me afraid.

Afraid of thinking too much until my thoughts become frayed
And I run out of options, paint myself into too many
Corners and then all I see are corners...

And I can't move and can't breathe and can't feel anymore
That's what I'm running from, that's what I escape for.
That's what I'm running from, that's what the rain is for.

It's out there, and it's in here
It's out there, and it's in here
It's out there, and it's in here...

Whereupon I'm called arrogant or worse...

The blogging world has been really disappointing so far. People are seldom who they seem. Even face to face this is true, but online it is so much easier to forge a super secret life for yourself and be cooler than you really are. Then someone wants to meet you in person and what happens? Poof - you disappear. So much easier than turning out not to be as cool as your blog indicates.

But I'm not going anywhere. I never thought I was cool anyway. I just don't see much interest in what I have to say. That's fine. I'm not interested in what most of the 6.5 billion hamburgers served in this world have to say either. Most have no thoughts or opinions at all, from the looks of it. I guess these are just the null nodes needed to fill out the system for some logical reason I haven't gotten around to figuring out yet.

Maybe next time I'm in the dream, or rather, next time I really wake up, I'll think on it a bit.

The Existence.

I have a great brain, a wonderful brain, a marvelous brain, a fantastic brain. And so does everyone, no doubt. It just needs to be freed to think uninhibitedly. I just went through a weird cleansing period where I slept for 24 hours. In that time, which was further magnified by the dilating effect of dreaming (either time really slows down for the dreamer or more likely the pace of uninhibited thought is so great that "information density" per second increases, resulting in a seeming vast stretching of time as the mind perceives it) and so felt like weeks or months (or longer), I went back over seemingly everything I knew and what I understood about reality and how it is constructed, and then beyond into ways of modeling reality and understanding things that I had never gotten to before.

In the end I felt strongly that I understood ev
erything, not any sort of "why" but every sort of how. If it really happened or was possible to speculate on, I could model it and understand it either formulaically or geometrically or both. Breaking down the endless complexity of a real situation into idealized models and asking the pertinent questions and answering those while leaving the irrelevant details out, I felt I could teach the essence of any situation presented this way on a white board with markers, making it very easy to understand in terms of behavior of basic geometric shapes over time.

I could see how an economist would model the world from a given vantage point in terms of value, and living behavior in such a way as to maximize the net gain of value over time. This applies to everything, not just money. As a motivated living being you want to maximize the acquisition of value while minimizing the loss of it. Knowledge is not only power but value; it's impossible to make these judgments without a complete and accurate understanding of the situation.

But I saw beyond all this. I speculated about the nature and variability and "shape" of time - whether it was linear or could be folded back around on itself to connect the end to the beginning, to create a great circle. Or put a twist in it and make it into 1-dimensional moebius time. Or if it were the surface of a sphere or shape of another topology, and what that would mean for our subjective experience within its stream. "We" played with all variables, zoomed in and out of the details of every phenomenon, analyzed everything you could imagine to show it was all consistent and nonmagical, required no outside hand to interfere once it was postulated.

We came down off drugs in a rehab center; we flew a spaceship and targeted destructive objects in our path using triangulation, the sum of vectors, and understood it intuitively. We modeled real life situations - a medieval town, a frat party, the digging of ancestral bones, decision making at gunpoint, altering the past, and each time came to understand how everything unfolded and how to put value on each possible decision. I had the kind of insights Einstein described, where at every point during the analysis of some simple-seeming situation strange phenomena would present themselves that others might dismiss or accept as part of the "arena," part of the fixed background, and the easiest method of explanation that remained consistent with what had come before and which required no new laws or behaviors sometimes would cast old ways of thinking aside or twist existing phenomena into an unexpected shape or direction. Thus his general relativity, which I understood in those hours intuitively. And thus many, many other similar examples, which I understood and could turn around and teach to someone with a reasonable mind in a reasonable way, just by performing thought experiments and modeling.

And it was so simple, I was shocked to see it all laid out like that. Unfettered, my powers of clarity were so much greater than they are awake. I knew upon awakening that the egregiously slow nature of human communication via talking or writing was completely insufficient for transferring this simple but vast amount of data from one brain to another, or from the brain into an understandable archival form like language; like I'm doing here. So I'm not even going to attempt an explanation of anything. It would be impossible solely with words anyway, you have to see it. I'm not even going to zoom way out and describe the scenarios that I analyzed and solved (explained) in those "weeks". Really, there is not enough bandwidth in communicating this way to do other than the rudest job of conveying some of the wonder I felt in being able to use my fully unlocked brainpower for a time and to form a complete synthesis of virtually everything I knew from experience and everything I could turn around and postulate thereupon, which in its turn was also enormous.

Any turning of dials I could accomodate, no matter how it transformed things. The models can be stretched, compressed, skewed, torsionally transformed, sheared, or a hundred other operations and still hold true relationally within their new context. I showed schoolchildren how real-world situations "really" worked by modeling them and making it so simple that they could understand their own behavior, the behavior of others, the motion of inanimate objects, the nature of time and space that these objects (and they themselves) operated in and interacted with... everything. And the only things left out were details unneeded to describe the situation at the level desired. They could be included or excluded as you moved the slider up or down. The amount of time to model all the players and fully exlpain an event of course increases exponentially as you incorporate more and more of the chaos - the details - into the model, but it doesn't make the final model any more or any less valid. Usually a very simplified accounting of primary objects and forces is all that is needed to explain 99% of what is going on. To explain that final 1% would take exponentially greater and greater amounts of time. It's parabola shaped. You can never explain 100% in realtime no matter the computing power or bandwidth, because those things and the explanation itself are a part of it and must be accounted for. But it's all there to be approached asymptotically. Attainable, graspable. Envelopable - by the unfettered mind.

As soon as I woke it was gone, and what I've put down here is like scratching a couple lines on a branch or a rock in what now seems a jungle of complexity. I can still feel the fading ghost of what it was like to have it all figured out fading away from me. But I don't have the power of mind anymore to do more than smell this trace scent vanishing on a tailwind. It was awesome and fantastic, like the mind opened up on LSD, but naturally, and unafraid of the scale and scope. Indeed I knew I'd have to wake up at some point and that this would pop the balloon. I could even choose when to do it and though I never wanted to, I couldn't sleep forever. Too bad wakeful life makes us live in some kind of severely restricted sub-space rather than experience the true radiance and flow of the real thing. The music of the universe is indeed awesome, if all-consuming and eventually exhausting.

I suppose this is why filters over the mind are in place. It's just that for a naturally curious mind like mine, after I've forgotten what it's really like, I start on a frantic quest to make sense of what I CAN perceive - and end up needing antidepressants to keep from going mad. Filtering doesn't work for me. To other people who don't worry about it as much, or don't even know what they aren't seeing, I guess it works well. Again, the "why" question, if there is such a thing, is never touched on any level of perception. That's a whole different concept. But the essential singularity of The Existence, that is something that just has to be seen. We're all the same thing and all part of it, and a pull in one direction is a push in another, as it were. But awake I cannot perceive it as such and must go on the faith of my descriptions, the faith of a dreamlike memory. It's hard enough fitting myself back into this body and looking out through these hazy windows we call eyes. Why is this whole dress-up doll, separation game necessary? It only pits arms against legs against pincers of the same creature, as it were. The same dream spins in every mind and generates the relevant identities and viewpoints and memories to create a new person, a person who is no net addition to the Only person, as it were.

Archived Posts

Search The Meta-Plane