Random goofy links
Here are some links to randomly amusing things to help you waste time on the Internet.
A one-minute TV advertisement for Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome, which is one of the best albums ever (I have it on vinyl). This commerical is... wow.
Cookie Monster as Shaft ("Cookie!!") This is an actual Sesame Street clip. See, cookie monster was awesome back before he sold out. "Cookies are a sometimes food" ?!? What kinda BS is that?
Dinosaur Comics is very funny and you should read it every day. You might think that a comic which uses exactly the same artwork for every single strip would be boring, but the way this guy writes dialog is so brilliant that it more than makes up for it!
I was laughing at this comic for hours. That is one of the funniest things I've ever seen. Do I have a sick sense of humor?
Order of the Stick is another great comic, but probably only funny if you're a role-player. The people are all stick figures, but they're really well-drawn stick figures... I can't explain it, just go look at it and you'll see what I mean. The characters are all part of a D&D game; and the game is its own self-contained universe -- you never see outside it -- but at the same time the characters are fully aware of the rules of the game. It's a strange blending of reality and fantasy but it works great, especially as the strip progresses and becomes more about the personalities and the story than just about the gaming jokes.
Some joker took Kurt Cobain's (the guy from Nirvana) suicide letter and ran it through Google AdSense to see what ads would be matched up with it. Ouch.
Finally, just to show that I'm equally willing to ridicule those on my own "side" politically: the Gorequiz is a series of quotes from Al Gore's Earth in the Balance and from the Unabomber's Manifesto. Can you tell which ones are which?
(Not that I think this proves anything -- since there's obviously a lot of cherry-picking going on -- but it's funny.)
Programming Contest completed!
Just got done doing the ICFP 9th Annual international programming contest with Stephen and Kimberly. (That's why this site was down all weekend; I needed my single internet connection (my router stopped working) for the contest.)
The contest involved a massive chunk of encrypted data called the "codex". The goal was to extract "publications" from the codex and submit them for points.
Along with the codex, we got a ridiculous shaggy dog story about an archeological discovery of the Cult of the Bound Variable and a cryptic specification of the workings of their ancient sand-based Universal Machine. Of course, this means the first task was to build a software emulator for this nonexistent hardware. Our first attempt was in Python, but it ran much, much too slow, so we redid it in C.
Then we were able to run the Codex on the UM, for lo, the codex was a program in UM machine-code. And when it was done running it had produced an even larger output file, about 15 megs of data. This output file was actually another program in UM machine-code, and when we ran it we got a login prompt.
It's about this time we realized what the Codex really was: it was a self-extracting archive of an entire operating system for our virtual machine.
And when we logged in as "guest", we found an e-mail waiting for us, which said basically "please stop trying to crack other people's account passwords with dictionary attacks". Which is another way of telling us that that's exactly what we're supposed to do. Also, the email hinted that this particular UM operating system (called UMIX of course) wasn't just a puzzle, it was a puzzle with backstory and characters. The whole thing started to feel like an adventure game.
And the only tool we had to do the password-cracking was a partially-corrupted source code file... for a speciall modified version of QuickBasic that only understood Roman numerals. The people who set up this contest were insane. In a good way!
It gets better. Once we had fixed up the roman-numeral dictionary-attack program (I haven't used BASIC in like 15 years. I forgot how horrible line numbers and GOTO were.) and got into some of the interesting accounts, we found the real meat of the contest; each person's account contained a different set of programming challenges, along with tantalizing clues about the backstory of a vanished civilization, and clues about how to crack more accounts. It was a little like a text-only, programming-intensive Systems' Twilight.
I picked one particular account to focus on which contained a specification for a programming language called "2d". This was a language where a program consists of two-dimensional ASCII-art of wires connecting logic boxes in a kind of circuit, like this:
:mult v :
: *==================* :
: !send [(N,S),(N,E)]!------+ :
: *==================* | :
: | | :
: v v :
: *=============* *========* *========* :
->!case W of E,S!->!use mult!->!use plus!--
: *=============* *========* *========* :
: | :
: v :
: *==================* :
: !send [(Inr (), E)]!---------------------
: *==================* :
:plus | :
: *==================* | :
-->!send [(W,S),(W,E)]!----#--------------+ :
: *==================* | | :
: | v v :
: | *==============* *============* :
: | !case N of S, E!->!send [(N,E)]!----
: | *==============* *============* :
: | | :
: | v :
: | *========* *================* :
: +------>!use plus!---->!send [(Inl W,E)]!--
: *========* *================* :
That's the program I wrote to multiple two numbers. Yeah, the only built-in operations are list composition, list splitting, and if-then, so something as seemingly as simple as multiplication is decidedly non-trivial.
The ultimate challenge in this directory was to use 2d to implement -- guess what -- a ray-tracing engine. Yes. This is madness. I did it. Mostly. I have two big whiteboards in my room now completely covered with box and arrow diagrams from when I stayed up most of Sunday night trying to figure out how it could be possible to write a ray-tracer in such a silly language. I think I solved it, too, on paper, but it ran so slowly (the interpreter for this crazy language was probably slow already, and then it was running on emulated hardware!) that it wasn't able to produce a solution in time to submit to the contest for points. It didn't help that UMIX has no text-editor, so the only way to create programs there is to write them on my real computer and then upload them to the UM through its virtual one-character-at-a-time serial modem.
I had work on Saturday so I couldn't devote my full attention to the contest until Saturday night and Sunday, by which point Stephen and Kimberly were already really far into it and I had to struggle to catch up with what they were doing. I think we could have done a lot better if we were all in the same room and if we all had the whole weekend free.
In conclusion, the contest was insane and fun, and when I went back to work the next day I was extremely happy to be using real languages that didn't require roman numerals, GOTO, or ascii-art wire connections.
Three dreams I had last night
The guy had a specially modified rifle that shot three poisoned arrows instead of bullets. I knew exactly how it works because i had invented it, and he stole it somehow. I knew that only the fastest deer could possibly dodge it. As he fired I flung myself forward and down onto the grey office-carpeted floor at his feet. I felt one of the arrows just graze my back. I was able to grab his foot and knock him over; the rifle fell to the ground; I grabbed it before he could. I stood up with the rifle pointed back at him, panting. He stared at me for a long second. "Do it, then!" he spat. I did not. "Everybody else is dead", I said. "The war's over. There's no reason for any more killing. No reason at all." I kept the gun trained on him as I edged over towards the door. He said nothing. Once I was out of there I exhaled the tension. I could feel the poison starting to do its work. I didn't have long. I limped back towards my computer terminal, thinking by god, if I'm gonna die, I'm at least going to update my website one last time before I go.
Everybody in the villiage loved the kindly middle-aged man with the grey beard, so they gave him the highest honor they had in their culture, which was to make him into a cake and eat him. Over a period of several days the chefs replaced his body, starting with his feet and working upwards, with cake, which was frosted to look like him. After his legs were gone, he was confined to the table on the kitchen, obviously. I interviewed his head while they were working on cakifying his rib cage. I admitted I did not understand their custom, nor did I understand how they kept him alive during this process or why he was so happy to submit to it voluntarily. He just gave a jolly laugh and said I would understand in time. Finally, everything was cake except for his head, kept alive and speaking through some kind of arcane necromantic baking powers. He was brought on a table to the feast hall and everyone applauded. Everyone in the villiage got a piece. I comitted a terrible faux paus by declining. Also another terrible faux paus by pointing out that he was short. It was true though. They forgave me because I was a foreigner. I left before the end. The next day, I saw the man again, back to normal, good as new, walking around on legs of flesh. I asked him how he got his body back. "They made me a new one, of course", he laughed, "out of kitchen scraps. See? My fingers are made of chicken bones and clamshells. Take a closer look..."
The parents thought they were giving their children a secret message, wihspering it to them behind closed doors at night, by lantern light. But a little draft that came in under their door picked up their words, and carried them out into the night wind, where they were amplified just so and blown into the inn in the middle of the villiage, so by this trick of the wind, everyone was able to hear them loud and clear. They were telling their children that they loved them, but the children must flee in secret to escape from the secret police, and then they must build a fortress out of tin for shelter from the coming whirlwind. Their words were very cleverly chosen, for I realized that if you take the first letter of each word in the message, this spells out a second message, a secret within the secret. However, the second message said basically the same thing as the first, so I don't know why they bothered.
What the hell is that robe thing Jon Anderson is wearing
I just discovered that YouTube is full of Prog Rock Music Videos!!! This is pretty exciting, if you're me.
The sound and video quality is pretty bad on some of these, but OMG!!! I know all the songs by heart, but I never knew how ridiculous any of the bands looked in real life. The bell-bottoms! The hairdos! The capes! The double-necked guitars! Keith Emerson knocking his synthesizer over and stabbing it with a knife! I've got goosebumps, man.
How could I forget Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention???
Aikido Love-Fest Weekend!
So this past Sunday was a big event at Hyde Park Peace Dojo, the one I described putting up flyers for in that previous post ( the one which turned into an argument about homeopathy). It was really called the Peace Dojo Summer Festival, but privately I started referring to it as Aikido Love-In Weekend.
I had my doubts, and doing all the prep-work was annoying, but it turned out to be a big success. For my friends who worked on UchiCon, imagine that but for Aikido and you have the basic idea.
I'll just hit some of the highlights in this post.
First of all, there is a wicked cool Aikido sensei with a bald head and with a dojo on the north side, who was named Keith Moore until he became an actual factual Buddhist monk and changed his name to Meido. He came down and taught a weapons class.
The class was, as always, WAY COOL. This guy is HARDCORE. He talked about the idea that Aikido bare-hand techniques are derived from sword techniques; this is true, but unless we actually get good at the basics of swordsmanship, we're just fooling ourselves if we claim a connection, says Meido-sensei. He talked about the deadly speed of an actual samurai swordfight and stressed that if your body gives away any clue of how you are about to move, then you are dead if your opponent has any skill at all. He showed how your body normally telegraphs, to anyone paying attention, how you are about to move, and taught us exercises we can do to try to erase this telegraphing, which is as much mental as physical. So we spent the whole class practicing how to change hanmi, the most basic movement, at high speed and without telegraphing.
At one point sensei picked me out of the group to attack me with a bokken. We had already had many demonstrations proving that it's nearly impossible to dodge Meido-sensei's sword, because he can see where you're going to move before you can see the sword coming. "Don't try to dodge", he said. "Change hanmi forward like I showed you". Changing hanmi forward means stepping forward into the blade and pivoting your body at the last split-second to avoid it. I did it, and the sword whiffed like half a centimeter away from me. It was hell of intimidating, also really cool.
He told us the story of a guy who demonstrated this technique for the first Tokugawa shogun, avoiding the sword of one of the shogun's men and disarming him. Afterwards somebody asked him how often he can succeed with that technique; he said that he, at the highest level of mastery, at the top of his game, could make it work four times out of ten at the most. It's a desperation technique.
One more story about Meido sensei: once before, when he came to U of C aikido club, he happened into the locker room when Michael and I were having an argument about Rush ( Michael is even a bigger fan than I am; I had called them, on this very website, "the whitest, unfunkiest band ever" -- I was contrasting them with Parliament/Funkadelic -- and Michael took issue with that description.) Anyway Meido came in and heard us and said "If you want to have a really mystical experience, try listening to the live version of Xanadu while you train. That's what I do.". So, there you have it: Rush is Buddhist-monk approved.
The second really cool thing was I got invited to go to Awassa, Ethiopia to teach for a couple weeks at the Awassa Peace Dojo, which is sub-saharan Africa's first Aikido dojo; it's part of an organization there that supports orphans and does AIDS education. Mark and Krishna have both taught there before, and I heard a lot about it from them, and it sounds like an incredibly awesome adventure. Once Enso is released we're all of us at Humanized going to take some time off, and I have decided that going to Ethiopia is exactly what I want to do with my time off. I will report further developments on this site as my plans become more concrete.
During the last session of the day, I got to meet the Israeli national women's Judo champion. She's really cool. We hung out talking for about an hour after that about the situation in Jerusalem (she's an Israeli Arab, and has lived in both East and West Jerusalem) and the situation with Lebanon. She said it's so terrifying that she doesn't even want to look at the news, but her family is outside the range of missiles so they're more or less safe. She's planning to move to San Diego and become an elementary school teacher. Also, she wants to quit professional Judo because she's fed up with the overly-competitive spirit of it. She said she wants to start studying Aikido instead -- which is funny since I have been saying that I want to study some Judo in addition to Aikido. She was one of those people who has a fascinating backstory and is just really interesting to talk to; too bad I'll probably never get a chance to see her again.
We will call you Cygnus, the God of Balance you shall be
It's too hot to sleep so I'm staying up way too late writing stuff.
This is another music post. This post is about Rush. Remember a few posts ago when the record store guy told me his girlfriend forbid him to listen to them? Well, the album I got that day was Hemispheres from 1978, and I have been listening to it non-stop since then, and it's on the fast track to being one of my favorite albums ever. I think it has converted me from a casual Rush fan to a rabid hard-core Rush fan. Uh-oh.
Rush is pretty mainstream and well-known (unlike most of my music collection, they get played regularly on classic rock radio), but I know that the readership of this site contains many people who are not knowledgable about rock music, so I will give a brief introduction for those who have not heard of them:
Rush is three Canadian dudes. They are one of the nerdiest rock bands ever. I mean that both in the sense that they appeal to nerds -- they were hugely popular with nerdy teenage boys in the 70s and 80s -- and that they are themselves nerds, or at least their music makes them sound like nerds. This is because they have lyrics like this:
In my ship, the Rocinante, wheeling through the galaxies
Straight into the heart of Cygnus, headlong into mysteries
The x-rays are her siren song
my ship cannot resist her long
closer to my deadly goal
until the black hole... takes control!
For the full effect you must imagine these lyrics being shouted in a high, intense, screchy falsetto, and backed up with bitchin' 70s-style electric guitar solos.
("Rocinante" was the name of Don Quixote's horse. Cygnus is the location of the strongest x-ray source in the sky, which is believed to be a black hole. So we have not only astrophysics and science fiction, but also obscure literary references going on here.")
The lyrics are all written by the drummer, Neal Pert, who has also written songs based directly on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, Ayn Rand, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Greek mythology, and all kinds of philosophical and scientific ideas.
So you can see why this is a band that polarizes people. If it weren't for the singing, Rush would pretty much be just a normal hard-rock group; more musically ambitious and talented than most, but there's nothing all that weird about them musically. But oh, the combination of Geddy Lee's distinctive shrieky voice and Neil Pert's lyrics, striving so earnestly to be intellectual that they often become completely ridiculous, creates a style which could not possibly be mistaken for any other band, and most people who hear it either love it or hate it. Some become rabid Rush fanboys; others hate them so much that Rush shows up fairly often in "what is the worst band ever" internet arguments. I'm sure some would even say that if I like Rush, I have no right to be hating on Radiohead all the time. Ahh, there's no accounting for taste.
The first song on Hemispheres is actually a continuation of Cygnus X-1, the last song from the previous album, Farewell to Kings. Put them together and they form, basically, a rock opera spread out across two different records released in different years. It's a story of an explorer who goes down a black hole and ends up in a mental mythologocal allegory-land, where the struggle between the gods Apollo and Dionysus represents the struggle between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, thus the album title, and the Cygnus guy has to unite them into a "single perfect sphere".
How's THAT for pretentious?
Rush didn't grab me the first few times I heard them, and oddly enough I think it's because they aren't weird enough. At the time I was going through my first phase of heavy Prog-Rock Obsession and devouring all the classics by Yes and Genesis and King Crimson and ELP and Gentle Giant, and compared to them, Rush sounds... like relatively normal rock music. Which I found disappointing. Looking back on it now, with a little more musical understanding, I think that perception was mainly because of their lack of Britishness and their lack of keyboards (this was the pre-synthesizer, just guitar/bass/drums version of Rush). So the music isn't as proggy prog as the other big groups, but so what? They're doing their own thing, and if you listen closely they do a lot of interesting stuff with just guitar, bass, and drums. The more I listen the more I like it.
You look at the lyrics of almost any pop or rock song, and it's either about love found, or love lost, or dancing and partying, or teenage rebellion, or mopey teenage angst, or else it's a pschedelic trip-out that doesn't make any sense. There are way too many songs like that. We need more songs about, like, futuristic theocratic dystopias where music is banned until the hero discovers an ancient guitar in a cave and learns to play it. And that's the kind of songs that Rush is here to provide!
Neal Pert's lyrics are overblown and cheesy and cerebral and full of abstractions and mythology and science and idealism, and rather devoid of romance or poetry or any of that. They sound kind of like what a very smart but socially malajusted teenager would come up with if he attempted to write poetry after reading lots of SF and fantasy novels and maybe some philosophy books. In fact that's probably exactly how they were created. Except the teenagers are now middle-aged men and they're still doing it.
But you know what? I think that's great! Rush is like, here's the stuff we care about, here's our philosophy, here's what we think is important, and we're going to sing about it directly and not try to hide it in metaphors, and we don't care if you think we're cool or not, because this is who we are. I respect that.
They're very idealistic, but it's not a let's-all-love-each-other-and-smoke-pot-and-peace-on-earth kind of idealism that you get from a lot of older rock music. It's more of a let's-all-embrace-logic-and-individualism-and-take-responsibility-for-our-actions-and-use-science-and-technology-to-improve-the-human-condition kind of idealism. It's a philosophy that you don't hear expressed very often in music, and one I largely agree with. The song "The Trees" even seems to me to make a libertarian-ish argument that equality is not neccessarily a virtue:
Now there's no more Oak oppression
For they passed a noble law
And the trees are all kept equal
By hatchet, axe, and saw
Which is not a sentiment I've ever heard in rock music before, to my memory. Sounds like it might be the Ayn Rand influence talking.
So, this coming weekend the Hyde Park Peace Dojo is having this crazy festival. We're inviting Aikido students and teachers from all over, of course, but that's just the first step; there's also going to be food and African music and some other crazy stuff. You can see the flyer for it here. ( That guy with the sun for a head on the flyer gives me the creeps. I would not have put it there if I was designing this. But if I complain too much about graphic design, I know I WILL be the one desiging it next time -- so I'll keep my mouth shut. )
Anyway, I asked what I could do to help organize, now that I'm on the North Side a good 13 miles away from the HPPD and I don't have a lot of free time or a car. Don-sensei suggested a list of places on the North Side where I could put up the flyer to attract more people. The list included the Whole Foods on North and Clybourn, and the Transitions Bookstore next door to it.
Oh my GAWD what is WRONG with people???
First of all, Whole Foods. It fulfills all the worst hippie stereotypes with its in-your-face hippie self-righteousness. They're all like "we don't sell processed foods!" (what do you call bread and cheese if not processed? Is there a bush somewhere that grows wheels of smoked Gouda?) and "we don't sell food with chemicals in it" (I'm not sure what you guys think the word chemical means, but anything edible is organic and therefore contains quite a variety of chemicals.)
Whole Foods had a book for sale on one of the displays at the end of the aisles, so it looks like they were promoting it prety heavily, which was just one of those rants, in book form, about the eeeevils of genetically-modified crops. Also they have an aisle of homeopathic medicine.
I don't think I've ranted lately about genetically-modified crops, have I? Well, here's the short version: Humans have been genetically modifying crops since the dawn of civilization. You think corn evolved naturally into its current form? No, the wild ancestor of corn had tiny inch-long cobs and very little flavor or nutritional value. Humans improved it with cross-breeding and artificial selection. The only difference between that and modern day genetic modification is that the modern version works much faster and can make bigger changes. Bigger changes like adding more vitamins to staple crops in order to give poor third-world people a more nutritious diet and end the many diseases caused by vitamin deficiency. Like making crops pest-resistant so we can cut down on pesticides, reducing agricultural pollution. Like making crops higher-yield so that we can produce the same amount of food on less land, making it easier to set aside land for wilderness preserves. These are all things which the hippies, who claim to care so much about poverty and conservation, ought to be in favor of!
But they have this weird technophobic, or maybe just anti-corporate, paranoia, which makes them freak out over "frankenfoods". There are lots of nasty rumors going around the Net about companies like Monsanto, and how evil they are for expecting to make money off of the hard work their scientists have been doing. And many of these rumors are provably untrue. For instance, the supposed "terminator" gene, which makes crops sterile after one generation, so that the farmers have to keep going back and buying more seeds. Sounds pretty evil, doesn't it? (Never mind that most hybrid seed varieties in common use for years and years are sterile after one generation) The truth is that the terminator gene has never been included in any seeds that any company has ever offered for sale. But I bet that little details like that are probably left out of the anti-GM rant book that I saw for sale at Whole Foods.
And homeopathics? For a long time, I thought that word just meant some kind of natural herbal-supplement type medicine, but as I learned recently it in fact means something very specific and very stupid. Like, Astrology-level stupid. Homeopathic "medicine" is based on the idea that if a disease causes symptom X, then you can cure the disease by using a very small dosage of a chemical which causes symptom X. This is the theory of "like cures like" which explains the origin of the word "homeopathic". Of course, there is absolutely no evidence, or even medical theory, claimed or provided in support this supposed principle. Some guy named Samuel Hahnemann just made it up one day in the 1800s. But wait, it gets better! The chemical which produces disease-like symptom X (chosen off a list of chemicals compiled by dubious methods back in the 1800s) is most likely something poisonous and bad for you (duh, if it causes those symptoms). Homeopaths get around this problem by extreme dilution. They will dilute one part of the original chemical with 9 or a 99 parts of water ( or lactose for the pill types ) and repeat the dilution process anywhere between 6 and 30 times. Do the math: at the very minimum dilution you would still have one part in a million, but most homeopathic substances sold are actually diluted beyond Avagadro's Number, which means that there is not a single molecule of the original substance left in the bottle that you are buying, which is good because the original substance was bad for you anyway! If you take homeopathic drugs you are taking elaborately processed and overpriced water or lactose pills.
"But wait, no, you're missing something!" say the supporters of homeopathy. "After each dilution, we vigorously shake the mixture, which cases the base ingredient to impart its spiritual essence into the dilution medium, so that it remains in the water's memory even after all the molecules are gone!" I am not making this up. That is what they claim. Are you convinced yet that we are in la-la land? Homeopathic drugs have failed every scientific test that has ever been performed on them; they are statistically no better than the placebos. This is not surprising, since they are placebos. But the wishful thinking of hippies is so powerful that this stuff still sells.
Any place that sells homeopathic drugs is, as far as I'm concerned, engaged in an unfortunately-legal form of medical fraud.
Maybe you think I shouldn't complain about Whole Foods, since I am known to shop at Trader Joe's. But having been to both recently I think there are significant differences between the two.
First of all, Trader Joe's is a lot cheaper. It's cheaper than a mainstream corporate grocery store for a lot of things. Like Trader Joe's cereal is between $2 and $3 a box, whereas Jewel-Osco cereal is between $4 and $5 for boxes unless it's on sale. (I am a cereal junkie. I care about this.) And when Trader Joe's promotes something, on their in-store ads and their food packaging, they use cornball humor and they emphasize price and flavor and health benefits and what kind of meal you could make out of something. You know, like they're in the business of selling food. Whereas it seems to me that what Whole Foods is really selling is like absolution or penance or something. Penance for the liberal eco-guilt that their customers feel as a result of having been born in a resource-hungry first-world country, and the food is just a by-product. Whole Foods projects this holier-than-thou "OMG if you don't buy this $12-a-pound organic Quinoa imported from Peru then you are DESTROYING THE EARTH" kind of attitude. Which seems to me kind of like a cynical ploy to take advantage of people's good intentions.
But as bad as Whole Foods was, I was unprepared for the horror that was waiting for me inside "Transitions" bookstore.
Oh, you think I'm kidding? This bookstore had a section -- and not a small section, mind you -- a section labeled "quantum spirituality". Yes. And another section labeled "conscious living" (as opposed to what, comatose living?) How do you even decide whether a particular given book of pseudoscientific mystical nonsense goes in one section or the other? Every single book in this place would go in the "New Age" section of Borders. Oh wait, there was a "fiction" section -- at least that section was labeled honestly, know what I mean?
The store was also full of horrible twinkly new-age music, and quietly bubbling fountains, and statues of various Hindu gods.
What the heck is "quantum spirituality" supposed to mean? Do people take this seriously or is the whole store some kind of practical joke? I didn't realize that spirituality was a quantized number. There must be some particle which carries the smallest indivisible quantum of spirituality. We can call it the "spiriton". Unfortunately, I think I know what they're talking about, and they are taking it seriously. There's a whole genre which is based on the following chain of deduction:
- Quantum mechanics says lots of weird stuff I don't understand about uncertainty and observers
- Therefore reality is subjective!
- Therefore any ridiculous idea I choose to put forward must be taken seriously!
This dubious genre is exemplified by the recent movie What the Bleep Do We Know, which was of course featured prominently in the quantum spirituality section. I have not seen What the Bleep, but I have read reviews, and apparently the movie is a pseudodocumentary which goes something like this:
- Quantum mechanics!
- Therefore we create reality with our thoughts!
- Therefore I am channeling the spirit of a 35,000-year-old warrior from Atlantis named Ramtha!
- If you think that's silly it's because you're not open-minded enough! Now give Ramtha lots of money and he will teach you how to become a god!
Oh, another really funny thing was when I asked about putting up the aikido flyer (which, if you remember way back to the beginning of this rant, was the reason I started out on this quest). I asked the guy working there whether they had a billboard for flyers about community events. "What kind of event?" the guy asked me. I got the feeling he had to make sure that whatever I was going to promote was sufficiently hippiefied for their store. I guess "my martial arts dojo is having a benefit for african kids and stuff" was hippie enough to satisfy him. "Oh, that sounds cool, sure, it's back there" he said.
And the other flyers that were there... ohhhhhhh man. Lots of stuff about yoga and meditation and all that, but some of them were hilariously out there. Like there was an advertisement for some (low-budget indie) film about how America is an evil fascist empire, with a review quote that said "Makes Fahrenheit 9/11 look like Bambi!". Oh great. That's not even the hilarious part, though. The hilarious part is that the ad had a great big picture of a baby on it with the caption "WOULD YOU PUT A CHIP INTO THIS?". As if that were something that anybody, anywhere, had ever actually proposed. Come to think of it, I suppose my answer to the question would depend on:
- Is it my baby?
- What does this chip do, exactly?
- How much does the chip cost?
I found only one book in that horrible den of hippiedom which I would consider buying, which is In Search of the Warrior Spirit, written by a guy who taught Aikido to the U.S. Marines. I've been wanting to read that for a while, but I decided I would rather buy it from Amazon.com, because I want my money to go to support a giant high-tech global corporation and not to the chowderheads behind the hippie bookstore.
Man. Between Whole Foods and Transitions, I am starting to understand why so many people hate liberals so much. The reputation of dopey, self-righteous hippies contaminates all liberals by association. I must admit, just being in that place made me want to go buy a gun and join the NRA.
People have the right to be as stupid as they want to be, and fill their head with fluffy nonsense if they want, but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
My new Aikido dojo is HARD CORE!
So, I've finally started going to the Chicago Aikikai regularly, like I've been promising to for a while. It's a big step up in the challenge level of training, which is a good thing.
The Hyde Park Peace Dojo, where I've been going for the last few months, is really starting to take off. It's kind of cool to be one of the founding members of a dojo and to watch it grow. But, well, Don-sensei is the only teacher there (unless you count me when I substitute for him); not that his Aikido is bad, but I've gotten very used to his training style, which is rather sedate and philosophical. It's too comfortable, which means it's not pushing me to improve.
But Choate-sensei's class at the Aikikai -- wow, what a difference. He expects you to be already warmed up and stretched out when you get on the mat, to save time, for one thing. And he says not a word for the whole class. He just nods at one of the students to come attack him, he does a series of moves, and then he nods at everybody and we pair up and repeat them. It's rather like being back in Japan with the Iwate-dialect-speaking old men: I can't rely on verbal communication and so I have to learn by watching. Watching very closely, because Choate-sensei's teaching points are very subtle.
What's more, I am used to doing one technique at a time, with maybe some randoori (freestyle training; I remember the first time I heard the word, I thought it was katakana english for "laundry") at the end of class. But yesterday was pretty much freestyle from the get-go (unless there was some pattern I wasn't picking up on); the way the attack was initiated was fixed, but nage's response to the attack was not; I was confused at first but soon gathered that the idea is to run through all the techniques you know for that attack. It's an environment where improvisation is encouraged, which is something I really like. You're in a position that you never learned a technique for? Tough! Make something up! O-sensei famously said that there are no techniques in Aikido; the whole idea of practicing set patterns is to get the principles ingrained in your body until you can improvise an appropriate defense to anything. I'm excited that I'm getting to the point in my training where I can start to jam out instead of playing scales.
And the students at this dojo are very good; suddenly I've gone from being the top of the class to being in the bottom third, it feels like. These guys will come at you fast and hard and they do not "stick to the script" -- that is, if you leave an opening, they are not shy about hitting you, even if it's not their "turn". It's still Aikido, so it's not like they are beating me up or anything; it's just a friendly punch to let me know that I had left an opening. I soon learned that if one technique isn't working, the recommended thing to do is to switch to another technique and keep going without hesitation; of course, this is what you would want to do in real life, but in a lot of places I've trained, when people can't do a technique, their reaction is to stop and analyze it.
Putting all of this together, we have a training environment where I can take nothing for granted and must constantly think on my feet and watch out for attacks coming from anywhere. In a word, it's realistic, in that it feels more like being in a real fight. It's also rather intimidating! But this is exactly what I need in order to improve. They have classes every day of the week, so I'm going to ramp up the frequency of my training and see how many I can do.
Last night I ripped a big chunk of skin off the bottom of my big toe -- not because I hit anything with it, but just from friction with the floor, that's how fast and hard we were training. I duct-taped it back together to get back into the action. Duct tape really does fix everything!
Anyway, one of my goals is to be able to throw Aza. This is because Aza is a Judo expert and therefore very, very hard to throw. When we're play-fighting, which is almost every day at work, I'll try to do some Aikido throw on him, and he'll just freeze in place in his Immovable Stance.. I can't overcome his strength with mine, and he's not making any attack so he's not giving me any momentum I can use to unbalance him, so once he's set it's like trying to throw an iron statue. One that's nailed to the floor. Then he will mock me and say that this proves Judo is better than Aikido.
Of course, one excuse is that throwing somebody who is just standing there resisting the throw, and not making any attack, is outside the realm of what Aikido is supposed to accomplish (if he's standing still and not attacking, why not just walk away?, Don-sensei would probably say). But I don't want to have to make excuses. I've heard that the really top-level Aikido people can throw a dude even if he's specifically set up to resist it. I want to find out whether my inability to throw Aza is really because of a weakness in Aikido or whether it's just because I'm personally not good enough yet. Because if it's the former, maybe I ought to start studying a little Judo (or better yet Jujutsu) on the side!
I hate being absent-minded
I just had to hacksaw through the lock of my bike, because I finally gave up looking for the keys which I lost a few days ago, and my Pick Locks skill isn't high enough. It was not one of my proudest moments.
It turns out that hacksawing through a padlock is depressingly easy. Lesson: Your lock is not going to stop any criminal who's really determined. Maybe the best defense is a good lock combined with a really crummy bike, so nobody will think it's worth the trouble of stealing. That, or take the bike indoors with you all the time.
So, in the last few months, I have lost, and had to replace or retreive: my wallet, my housekeys, my credit card (separately from my wallet), my bike key ( I had two copies but I stupidly kept them together and didn't put either on my housekey chain). And my iPod, but I'm still holding out hope that it was just taken home by one of my co-workers by accident. And my swiss army knife, which Aza had and may still be somewhere in his car. Basically, I have gone through a cycle of losing every single object that I ever carry in my pockets. And let's not even talk about my score with umbrellas.
This sucks. I either have to force myself into better habits somehow, or else invent a technological solution. Like some kind of Batman utility belt with all my stuff permanently chained onto it. Then my stuff would be decoupled from my pants, so I could change my pants without worrying about forgetting stuff in the pockets of the old pants and letting it go through the laundry. That may in fact be what happened to my bike keys.
The chances of becoming a cyborg in my lifetime
...are looking pretty good! One by one, the obstacles to having mentally-controlled metal tentacles attatched to my spine like Dr. Octopus are being overcome.
A chip attatched to the brain which reads signals directly out of the m otor cortex, allowing a paraplegic to control machines.
How to attatch metal to the skeleton and have it protrude through the skin in such a way that the skin can heal around it without risk of infection.
Also read this Wired article about how some people are implanting rare-earth magnets into their fingertips in order to give themselves a "sixth sense" for electric and magnetic fields. It's pretty wild. It's not strong enough to erase a hard drive, but it does give you the ability to sense whether a wire is "live" or not. You just have to stay far away from MRI machines, apparently.
An essay for the Fourth of July
An admission: I burned an American flag once. On the floor of my
bathroom in Kamaishi. For kindling I used newspaper clippings of
G.W.Bush's face. It was disappointing; modern flags are made of
polyester, so they don't burn so much as melt and shrivel and turn
black and release nasty plastic fumes.
No-one else was harmed in any way by this voluntary destruction of my
I've changed a lot since then, and I no longer have any desire to burn flags, but I would like to share some thoughts about the act.
For some reason, it's very easy for people to forget that the flag is just a rectangle of cloth! It does not have magical powers, people. But people get very emotional about it precisely because it's a nonverbal image with strong associations, and from emotionalism it's very easy to slip into primitive magical thinking, wherein burning a symbol of America causes the real America to burn, just like stabbing a voodoo doll causes pain to the person it represents. This is a flaw in the wiring of the human brain that we really need to work on getting over. Nobody is suggesting that it should be illegal to burn a copy of the Constitution, even though the Constitution actually did have something important to do with the creation of a free country, unlike the purely symbolic flag. But the Constitution isn't a visual symbol, so it doesn't trigger those emotions. Nobody wants to burn one, so nobody wants to stop you from burning one.
Judging by the bills they've been voting on lately, congress apparently thinks
that the gravest threat to America is not Islamic fundamentalist terrorism or
global warming or bird flu or Chinese economic might or a president who thinks the Constitution is "just a goddamned piece of paper" --
no, the biggest threat to America is gays getting married and now
flag burners. Does Congress seriously not have anything better to do? I mean come on, don't you guys have a War on Terror to fight? Isn't it fairly obvious that you only bring up gay marriage and flag burning when your poll numbers suck and you need a convenient scapegoat so you can look patriotic?
Orrin Hatch of Utah says: "The fact is that I was asked this afternoon by a large body of media: Is this the most important thing the Senate could be doing at this time? I can tell you, you're darn right it is.". He fails to explain why.
Never mind that the number of "flag desecration events" occuring within the country per year is small enough to count on your fingers. (This does not count American flags burned overseas, which our laws have
no power to prevent anyway.)
But never mind the facts: to hear the Senate talk, flag burning is a dire menace which requires not just a new law,
but a new constitutional amendment. This comes up every few years, and the latest attempt, just a couple weeks ago, failed in the senate by just one vote.
"Countless men and women have died defending that flag. It is but
a small humble act for us to defend it." says oh-so-ethical Bill Frist.
(Gee, I always thought they were defending the
country, or defending the lives of american citizens, or
perhaps defending freedom in other countries. Silly me, no,
they were defending the flag, a rectangle of colored
cloth, which is obviously more important.)
Sarcasm aside, Bill Frist is guilty of equivocation: changing
from one meaning of a word to another halfway through an argument.
The first time he says "defending that flag" what he really
means is of course defending the lives and the freedom of the
citizens. But in the second sentence where he says "to defend
it", he has switched over to an entirely different meaning, which
is "preventing the physical destruction of the literal
flag". He is hoping you won't notice the switch between
metaphorical and literal meanings. (Any time you listen to a
politician talk, you must be on guard for equivocation and other
logical fallacies. Same goes for lawyers and advertisements.
Practice your skills by reading advertisements and looking for
examples of equivocation; get good at this and you will be much harder
to fool. Now, if only we could train the entire electorate to reject
As a symbol, the flag can stand for many things -- "America" obviously, but does that mean America the chunk of land, or America's human population, or the American government, or perhaps the founding principles of the American system of government? Which founding principles -- federalism? A bicameral legislature? A well-armed militia? This is part of the problem with nonverbal symbols -- they're semantically very fuzzy -- but I think the word that most people would pick next in the word-association game is freedom, specifically freedom of political expression, the idea that the rest of the world thought was a ridiculous idea back in the 18th century, but which has proven to work out pretty well in practice so far!
The ultimate irony of attempting to make flag-desecration punishable is
that it would be protecting the symbol for a thing by way of diminishing the thing itself. Let's restrict freedom of political expression in order to protect a symbol of the freedom of political expression. BAD MOVE.
Of course, it's equally ironic if you look at it the other way -- people protesting by attacking the symbol of their right to protest. That's pretty dumb. (Although, it's a pretty good bet that anyone burning the flag is interpreting it not as a symbol of their rights, but as a symbol of the contemporary federal government. The fuzziness of nonverbal symbols, again.) However, I still come down firmly on the side of should-be-legal, because destroying a rectangle of cloth does nothing to diminish America or to diminish freedom -- but stupid laws very definitely can diminish America and diminish freedom.
"Freedom can't be absolute", you will often hear in response. This is true; you are not free to do things which deprive me of my rights, and vice versa. The question is where to draw the line; and there is disagreement on the details, but I happen to think it's actually pretty easy to draw a first approximation to the line. We all agree that you should not be allowed to harm someone physically, or put someone in danger of physical harm, or steal or damage their property. So yeah, you shouldn't be free to burn a flag in a place where the fire could catch and burn the town down, just like you shouldn't be free to drive drunk. And you shouldn't be free to burn a flag that doesn't belong to you. And you shouldn't be free to have a loud, annoying flag-burning party outside my window at 3 AM. This is because I have a right to have my house not lit on fire, and I have a right not to have my stuff vandalized, and I have a right to sleep through the night in my home. But can I prevent you from saying or doing things which merely offend my sensibilities? Do I have a right not to be offended? (If so, I would start by outlawing gangster rap, new-age bookstores, and "Win a Free iPod" banner ads...)
I would have to say no. There is no such thing as the right not to be offended. If you say or do something that offends me I will certainly complain about it. I'll ask you to stop. If you don't stop I'll get mad and perhaps stop associating with you and perhaps even publically denounce you and your horrible views; but I won't punch you in the face (Mom taught me it's always wrong to escalate from insults to violence). And if you are not hurting or threatening to hurt me or my stuff, and you're not disturbing the peace in the middle of the night, then I must conclude that I have no reason to take legal action.
There are plenty of countries where they do believe in a right not to be offended. Like in the many Islamic countries where it's a crime to denigrate Islam. Many of the actions which are legally punishable in those countries are just as symbolic and harmless as the act of flag-burning. Those countries are not places where I would like to live, thank you very much. Even Europe seems to have decided to draw the line in a slightly different place from where we in America have drawn it; in certain European countries it is illegal to deny the historical fact of the Holocaust (see the recent case of David Irving). I'm not saying Holocost denial is a good thing; it should be denounced and countered with historical evidence wherever possible until it is eliminated from the Earth. But I don't think people should be put in jail just for failing their history lessons. I think one of the reasons that America is better than Europe is that we have decided on the right place to draw that line, i.e. we have the right to speak our minds even if it offends. I'd like to keep it that way.
As a thought experiment, suppose the flag were protected by law. Think of the edge cases.
If I made a flag that resembles the American flag but has 51 stars on
it instead of 50, that's technically not an American flag at all -- am
I allowed to burn that? (How about a historical flag with 13 stars?)
Now, burning my 51-star flag is just as effective a protest (that is,
it pushes just as many emotional buttons) as burning a real flag. If
you do not ban the burning of the 51-star flag, your law has
accomplished nothing; it is a failure. However, if you do want to ban
the burning of the 51-star flag, you have the unenviable task of
trying to define, in precise legal language, exactly what does and
does not count as an American flag. Consider: Would it be illegal to
burn a picture of an American flag? A photograph? A child's
crayon drawing? A realistic, two-sided drawing done on a flag-sized
and flag-shaped piece of paper? How about a T-shirt with an American
flag pictured on the front of it? How about a T-shirt with an
American flag on the tag on the back of the neck? Would it be illegal
to cut into and eat a flag-shaped cake? Can I make a computer
animation of a flag being burned ("no physical flag was
physically destroyed in the making of this animation")? What if
it's photo-realistic and I post it all over the Internet? What if I
simply refuse to salute the flag, like the Jehovah's Witnesses do, an
act considered desecration by some people? What if I accidentally let
it touch the ground, also considered desecration by some people?
Would a flag-patterend bikini be illegal, since you're desecrating the
flag by letting it touch someone's naughty parts? Would it be illegal
to use the flag for advertising some unrelated commercial product?
How about signing
your name on the flag like GW Bush does here?
I don't have answers for any of these questions. I think it's fairly absurd
even to ask them.
I've tried to give fair consideration to the arguments from the other
side, the side that wants Congress to have the legal authority to prevent the physical desecration of the flag. It's hard, though! Mostly their side doesn't have any arguments; they
just have raw appeals to emotion, attacks on the character of
flag-burners, and the logical fallacy of confusing a symbol for the
There are some people I know who say that we ought to respect the wishes of
soldiers with regards to flag desecration; it is highly offensive to military men,
so this line of argument goes, and military men are the ones who give their lives
to defend the flag (there we go again), so we ought to ban desescration according
to their wishes.
I don't think this is a very good argument. Sure guys, let's change
the First Amendment to say "Congress shall pass no law restricting
freedom of speech, except for political expression which offends the
military". Or, we could change it to say "Congress shall pass no law
restricting freedom of speech, except for speech which politically
important minority groups find offensive". We've already seen plenty of examples of where that leads, and it's not a good place.
And, it's not even true that soldiers are all in favor of the flag protection amendment!
Many of them understand that their job is about protecting a real country, not protecting the magical cloth rectangle.
Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a WWII veteran with the Medal of Honor, says:
"While I take offense at disrespect to the flag, I nonetheless
believe it is my continued duty as a veteran, as an American citizen,
and as a United States senator to defend the constitutional right of
protesters to use the flag in nonviolent speech."
If you are still not convinced, consider this startling fact which I
discovered the other day when researching on the web for this rant:
Thousands of flags are burned
every year not in protest, but by Boy Scouts and American Legion
members in a patriotic Flag Day ceremony intended to "retire
worn and tattered United States flags with honor". This is
the only correct way to dispose of an old flag, according to official Flag
It should be obvious at a moment's consideration that the only
difference between the respectful burnings of thousands of
flags each year and the disprespectful burning of eight flags
each year is the intent behind them. In other words, it is
only the thoughts in the minds of the participants that makes one sort
of flag burning "desecration" and the other one "not
desecration". In the same way, it is only the thoughts in the
minds of the participants that makes burning a 51-star flag
"desecration" but eating a flag-shaped cake "not
desecration". Conclusion: the "crime" of flag
desecration that this amendment seeks to punish is a
thoughtcrime. They want to throw you in jail for thinking
bad thoughts about the magic cloth rectangle. Can there be
anything more anti-American than that?
In conclusion: For all these reasons I explained above, I do believe that the proposed Flag
Protection Amendment deserves the honor of being called The single
stupidest idea I have ever heard. I am happy it failed in the
senate, but I am appalled that it failed by only one vote. Whenever I hear an incredibly stupid idea from someone I know, my response
is usually "Wow, that's the second stupidest idea I've ever heard
-- after the Flag Protection Amendment.".
It's Clobberin Time!
At Chicago Comics the other day, I bought a big ol trade-paperback compilation
called Essential Fantastic Four. It is a collection of black-and-white
reprints of the first 20 issues of The Fantastic Four, from way back
in the early sixties. It's pretty awesome. It's the kind of thing where they
refuse to let physics or logic or common sense get in the way of telling a good story.
And oh, what a story it is. All the things that The Tick and Mystery Men
and The Incredibles spoof so effectively are right here, in their pure, larger-than-life,
completely unironic form. Ohhhh man. The magical super-science; the don't-know-any-better sexism;
the flying saucers; the ever-present worry that the Communists might have super-mutants more
powerful than our super-mutants... it really is a window on its times. I was expecting
to enjoy it on the level of camp, but I'm surprising myself with how much I'm enjoying it
straight-up, just cuz I'm eager to find out what happens next.
When I was a teenager, of course, I was much too sophisticated to be interested in superhero
comics. And now that I'm 26 I'm getting into the Fantastic Four? What does this tell us
about my mental development?
My favorite bit so far is in Issue 6 where Dr. Doom teams up
with Namor, the Sub-Mariner. The first time we ever see
Dr. Doom, he's got a book next to him that says "Science and
Sorcery". Cuz, you know, they're practically the same thing in
Marvel-Comics-land. One panel Dr. Doom might be inventing space
rockets and implausible magnetic-levitation devices; the next panel he
might be summoning up demons.
And the explaining, oh the explaining. In manga, or in modern American comics,
actions are conveyed mostly by having a series of images which illustrate the action, maybe
with the help of some sound-effects and motion lines, and speech bubbles are used only
when there's a conversation going on. But in 1960s superhero comics,
apparently the narrative convention is that everybody constantly explains everything they're
doing. Villians are constantly explaining their plots to the audience. Heroes are
constantly explaining exactly how they are using their powers to do what they're doing.
Every panel, if it doesn't have dialogue explaining what's happening, will have a narrator
interjection explaining what we're seeing. There hasn't been a single silent panel yet, in
seven issues. Every single panel is like
"Little do the puny humans realize that I, Kurrgo, Master of Planet X, am watching
their every move through my interplanetary atomic observo-scope!"
"I'll knock down this wall to escape!"
"He just knocked down that wall and escaped, just as I expected he would!"
"By increasing the heat of my flame and flying close to the surface of the water, I can
create a giant cloud of steam to hide our ship's position!"
Did this seem normal, to readers back then? Cuz it seems absolutely nuts to me. I mean
can you imagine if I went around narrating my every action like that?
"Using this liquid dish-soap and the rough surface of this scrub-pad, I will remove the
food particles from these dishes! Just wait until the rest of the gang gets back and sees
how clean they are!"
Unnatural, isn't it?
P.S. Did you know The Thing is Jewish? I didn't either, but it's apparently canon.
I don't believe in Peter Pan, Frankenstein or Superman
I bought a bicycle, a cheapo bicycle, at Target. It is pink. It is a girls' bike,
because those were the only ones they had that were the right size for my tiny short legs.
Oh yeah, and to get my head to fit under the helmet I have to reconfigure my topknot into
a ponytail. Good thing I don't mind looking girly.
It's been several years since I last rode a bike, but as they say, you never forget.
Previously, though, I lived in places that either had very low traffic, or places where I
could get away with riding on the sidewalk. Now I am having my first taste of full-blown
city-street traffic riding. It was harrowing at first, squeezing between cars-that-are-parked-too-far-out-into-the-street on my right and huge trucks passing me from behind on my left. But I'm getting the hang of it now, and it's
really good practice for when I eventually try for a drivers' license; I'm learning the flow of traffic and
getting in the habit of watching people's blinkers before attempting to make a left turn.
Picking an apartment within biking distance of work was a good
decision. Biking has also opened up large chunks of the city for
exploration -- places that are not on train or bus lines and are too
far away to walk to. Among the many excellent north-side locations I
can now bike to are Chicago Comics
, the Chicago Aikikai
, and Trader
. This makes me very happy. I think biking is the best way
to see the city -- at eye level, under my own power, It gives me
exercise like walking but is an order-of-magnitude faster. Unlike
buses and trains, I can go exactly where I want, when I want,
unrestricted by other people's schedules or the fixed locations of
stops. It has many of the advantages of driving a car, but with no
need to worry about parking, gas, insurance, or pollution.
Speaking of pollution, since I go everywhere with bike or public transit, and since
my heat and stove are electric and my electric company is ComEd
which generates (last time I checked) 80% of its energy with nuclear plants or renewables, I am extremely close to being carbon neutral.
Oh my goodness, look at me, calculating my carbon emissions and
wearing a ponytail and riding my bike to Trader Joe's to buy
organic produce and health food cereal that donates profits to
protect endangered animals and carrying it home in a backpack so I
don't need to use a bag. Great googly-moogly, I look like the very
stereotype of a filthy self-righteous hippie! Nooooooooooooooooo!
I just hope I don't turn into Pat from Achewood. (Pat even likes
King Crimson. This is hitting a little too close to home.) Seriously,
people, if I ever get as self-righteous as Pat, please shoot me.
Seriously, though, this is the life. Bicycling is great. Trader
Joe's is great. There really isn't a downside I can see. Trader Joe's
is so great that I worry there must be some hidden cost somewhere, like
they're a front for some kind of cult.
My front tire had a slow leak in it ever since I bought the bike.
I assumed that there must be a pinprick hole in the inner tube, so
I took the tube out and held it underwater in the bathtub to look for the
bubble stream. Nothing. Strange. Later I thought to try holding the
valve underwater and, aha, that's where bubbles were coming out.
The valve stem itself was leaky. The Bike Bag Book, a tiny little
red book from the 1960s with corny hand-drawn illustrations, which Al
generously provided me with, had the answer: with a pair of tiny flathead
screwdrivers stuck into the nozzle I was able to tighten the valve inside
the stem. I was having much trouble putting the tire back on, and I didn't
have any tire irons, so I foolishly tried to pry it on with a screwdriver,
and ended up putting a puncture in the inner tube for real. Let that be
a lesson for all of us on the virtue of patience.
So I patched that sucker up, and put that tire on the right way, which is
to get one lip of the tire inside the rim all the way around the wheel before
even starting to try with the opposite lip. After that I followed the
Bike Bag Book's instructions closely in tightening and loosening the
spokes to get the front wheel back into alignment. The ones on my bike
defy convention and tighten counterclockwise, loosen clockwise. Finally
I was ready for the road once again.
This is another thing I love about the bicycle. Like a Linux computer or an
old car, and unlike a Windows computer or a modern car, the bicycle is a
machine one can have a close personal relationship with. It is a symbiosis of
man and machine. I put in the work to keep the bike tuned up properly, and in
return it performs faithfully to multiply my muscle power and get me places.
I must listen to the sounds it makes and feel its vibrations to diagnose its
needs. I take it apart and get to know each piece inside and out. I love
technology so much. The next thing I have to study up on is the rear
gear-changing mechanism or "derailleur", which has been acting kinda
flaky and sometimes slipping gears suddenly on me.
I want to try one of those recumbent bicycles, which
are supposed to be even more efficient because you can get more force on the
pedal by pushing your back against the seat. Also I have seen ads for a
new chainless bicycle which works with an enclosed gearbox and a horizontal
drive shaft. It's supposed to be lower-maintenance and harder to foul up
than a gear drive.
This last Sunday, I took my longest bike ride yet. I left home at 10 AM and
rode all the way down to Hyde Park for a 12:30 Aikido class. That's 4500
north to 5500 south, or 100 blocks, or 12.5 miles by my calculation. More like
13 when you add in the east-west distance. I took the bike trail along
Lake Shore Drive, and it was beautiful. The rain held off, and it was just
water and beach on my left and trees and buildings on my right, passing joggers
and getting passed by faster bikers. Good times. The only tricky part was around
Navy Pier, where I lost the bike trail and crossed the river on the lower
level of the car bridge -- that was scary, especially since the bridge surface
is a grate and I could see right through to the green water below me. I ended up
in Millenium Park amid Taste-of-Chicago-related crowds. I saw the big
metal jellybean for the first time, and saw a group of people riding Segways
with helmets and orange jackets -- possibly Segway invited people to take part in
a demo? There were also some dudes who worked for Nintendo hanging around with
the newest Game Boy Advance SP DS mini white backlit-screen super-duper upgraded
whatever they call it now, offering to let people try it and giving out coupons.
It's a very nice system, but I'm just not really into video games anymore.
Well, I found the bike path again and made it down to hyde park. I didn't have a
watch, and I thought I would probably be very late, but when I passed the clock
on the bank on 55th street it was 12:00 exactly. Cool!
After Aikido I rang Cat's buzzer, and Satomi's, but nobody was home. Oh well.
I stopped by Hyde Park Records and got some Rush albums on the cheap. The guy
behind the counter said, "My girlfriend told me that if I ever got into
Rush, she would dump me.". I would never date anybody who would try
to censor my listening choices.
On the ride back north, the sun came out, and it was pretty but hot. The water fountains
placed periodically along the bike trail are a lifesaver. It got me thinking about
how nice it is that the whole Chicago lakeshore is a strip of parks and beaches and trails
and fountains, rather than a strip of industrial loading docks and the back-ends of buildings
like the waterfront of New York City or Tokyo. I wish I knew who to thank for this!
So, finally got home after riding over 26 miles and doing aikido for a couple hours for a
little break in the middle! I was so tired I went to sleep at like 9 PM, unfazed by the fireworks
going off on the next block, and woke up about 5:30 the next morning.