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I don't know anything about being religious — it's utterly foreign to me. But I do know a thing or two about being articulate, and about being brave. This sincerely religious young woman is articulate (remarkably so, given her age and the circumstances), and brave (by any measure), as she stands before her congregation and speaks truth.

Unfortunately one of her church's pastors cut off her microphone before she finished. but if you watch the video through, you'll here the last few paragraphs as well.


(Commentary elsewhere on the net asserts that the pastor shut her down because he disapproved of the content of her remarks. I do not find the evidence in the video entirely conclusive on that point: For all I know each speaker gets an allotted time, and the pastor's usual way of informing people they've gone over time is to cut off the microphone. So I'm not making that claim. But it's out there, and I didn't think I should ignore it either. But I also think it's a distraction: Mormon pastor cuts off 12-year-old's mike when she comes out to her congregation is doubtless better clickbait than the original title. But it shifts the focus from a noble act to a cowardly one — and shifts our our response from ennobling to ignoble.)

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I just discovered that I haven't been receiving email notification of replies to my posts on Dreamwidth anything like consistently. Like, only about 30%. I'll be replying to the just-found soon.
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I need to hire a couple of people to do some fetching and carrying. Where by some I mean probably three to five full days over tne next two or three weeks1.

Obviously if any of you know someone who's in shape to do hard physical work all day and would be interested in doing so for a fair hourly rate — cash — please put me in touch with them. But that's not my only question for the hive-mind.

I know that people looking for work as casual laborers gather early in the morning in places that people in the habit of hiring casual labor know to look for them1. What I don't know is where around Boston those places are, and how early people gather. Do any of you?


1  I thought I'd found someone. I was wrong. In the mean time, while trying to find the contact info for the two people I hired for this last time, I remembered why, four years ago, I hadn't bothered making sure not lose their contact info.

2  I did this myself the summer I was 18. If you've ever heard me talk about walking in cork boots on bundles of logs floating in the bay while a crane operator lowered cable loops for me to guide under my end of the bundle and then keep guiding while the crane slowly took up slack til we were sure of a good grip — and then jump to a different bundle and make sure I was well clear of the logs before they cleared the water — that sort of casual-labor mart is how I got that gig. So the thought of hiring a crew that way has a certain sentimental appeal.

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First off, if you don't know about Hay-on-Wye or the Hay Festival (which I expect is the case for most of my American readers), you can learn what you need to give this post context in fifteen seconds from this photo essay. If you don't linger over the pictures.

So I'll see you in ten minutes of so. Don't worry; I'll wait.


At this year's Hay Festival, two of Britain's finest finest writers, Neil Gaiman & Stephen Fry, spent an hour enjoying one-another's company. On stage in a packed hall. With a national television audience. While the UK Children's Laureate, the amazing illustrator Chris Riddell, set up stage right, illustrating both the speakers and the stories they were telling, with a camera on his easel to show us — and the house — what he's drawing.

In spite of starting with over five minutes of a card saying this live stream will start shortly and an introduction that was fine for the live audience but that you've more than covered by reading this far, the first hour was some remarkable television. Neil and Stephen engage one-another in the the kind of conversation that only two such brilliant artists — artists who genuinely admire one-another's work — can have; each reads us a story from his current book; they even take a few questions from the audience. All punctuated with occasional laughter and applause for what Chris is drawing real-time.

Then Amanda Palmer joins them. For only about their last eight minutes on stage. Most of it, Amanda reading one of Neil's poems. A poem about science. A poem — and a performance — that brought tears to my eyes.

If you watch none of the rest, do yourself a favor and watch the last 8m30. In those few minutes, Amanda Palmer gives one of the most compelling spoken-word performances ever. Seriously. I speak as a connoisseur of the form.

Or do yourself a bigger favor, and watch the whole thing, starting at 5m15.

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Correction (23:59): I'd only read about the first half of the New Yorker article when I posted this, and misparsed the paragraph mentioning the Samaritans as indicating the txt crisis line was a project of the Samaritans. It's not, but it might as well be: It's clear that the people doing it are the real deal.

This just came across my facebook feed, and I wanted to share it here as well:

Just a little FYI:


Did you know that if you text "home" to 741741 when you are depressed, suicidal, or just needing someone to talk to, a real Crisis Counselor will text you until you are good? Everyone doesn't like talking on the phone. Spread the word.


It's a free service.


Please share the heck outta this.


Because I know it's not uncommon for a depressed person to be suspicious of kindness from unknown quarters, and the above doesn't say anything about who would be on the other end of the txt, I thought I'd see if I could find out. My first thought at that point being "I wonder if it's the Samaritans?" @google{samaritans 741741} yielded a New Yorker article that both confirms it's the Samaritans, and is so compelling in its own right I had to share it as well:

R U THERE?

A new counselling service harnesses the power of the text message.

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Today was my birthday — and I felt pretty good about it, which hasn't often been the case in the past several years. My internal life has been getting better in a slow but steady and I think sustainable way for the past several months. Last week I got to see my dear friend Matthew — who's far more a brother to me than the biological one ever was — for the first time in five years or more. Which meant I also finally got to meet his wife and their nearly-three-year-old child — who I learned are both delightful in their own right. I've been on a bit of an endorphin high the entire week.

So I woke up today primed for good things, and by mid-afternoon three of my favorite people on Earth had phoned to wish me a happy birthday. I was on the phone with each for at least half an hour of pure delight. (Well, mostly delight: in each conversation the topic of how our public discourse has come to be dominated by trumpery reared its ugly head — and in each we agreed it was too depressing to talk about. Which has probably also contributed to making my day better, as it left me resolved to steer clear of news all day as well.)

It's the ordinary human things that make life worth living, and this year my birthday has been marked by noticing how rich I am in those. Thank you, every one.

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I read a story earlier today of someone taking an unpopular stand in favor of doing the right thing. (I don't mean to tease — I may post about this separately later. But I'm resisting the temptation to go into the details right now because I've decided to clamp down on my discursiveness in hope of occasionally actually finishing a post.) Their values, and how they expressed them, reminded me of some old-school political rhetoric — so old I learned it from my parents, who learned it when they were young, and had me when they were old. So I found myself thinking about my parents early this morning, hours before I realized today is Mothers' Day. And when I did, the circumstances of my thinking about my mother earlier immediately told me how to best honor her memory this Mothers' Day.

The founder of Mothers' Day — as must surely be the case with the founders of every American holiday not invented by Hallmark — would have little but disdain for what it has become. And my mother would totally have her back.


I'm sure some of you must be fans of Nate DeMeo. Or perhaps you remember my transcribing and posting to my LJ his mediation on the Orlando killings, A White Horse, last year. DeMeo may well be America's best non-fiction storyteller — certainly a contender. And as it happens, one of the first episodes of his The Memory Palace was about the founder of Mothers' Day.

(I will once again transcribe it for those of you who who can't abide spoken-word art. For the rest of you, skip my transcript and just listen to the original by clicking the title below. Or read along while listening. Nate DeMeo is a masterful writer, certainly. But his mastery of the storytellers' art can only be fully appreciated aurally. And this story is barely four minutes long.)

International Brotherhood of Mothers

Anna Jarvis loved her mother. And because she loved her so much, mothers around the world get flowers and cards and candy and hugs from their kids every May. Which must have Anna Jarvis spinning in her grave.

She was born in 1864 in West Virginia to a woman whose name was also Anna Jarvis. And her mother, Anna Maria to her daughters' Anne Marie, was a remarkable woman. The elder Anna was a feminist and a progressive and a bit of a socialist before any of those words meant anything. In Virginia, in the middle of the nineteenth century — back before the phrase West Virginia meant anything — she traveled throughout Appalachia, organizing women's groups:  teaching them about basic health, and how to demand workers' rights — after teaching them what those rights were in the first place. During the Civil War she brought women together to tend the sick and wounded soldiers, regardless of whether they wore blue or gray. After the war, with her baby Anna in her arms, she held meetings of mothers on both sides. In these proto-group-therapy sessions — a finding-closure-through-shared-grieving kind of thing — she promoted something called Mothers' Work Day. This wasn't mother-apostrophe-s — so not your mother — but mothers' — s-apostrophe. Mothers plural. A collective of mothers.

It was a radical idea:  Let's take a day — and it would be a day of demonstrations and political consciousness-raising — not of flowers or spa gift-certificates.  Let's take a day and recognize that what mothers do is work. And let's organize those workers the same way that people were starting to do with mines and mills and factories.

This was the work of her life. And when she died, in 1905, her life became the work of her daughter's life. Anna Marie — the younger Jarvis — was 29 years old and single, with no child of her own1. She was devastated by her mother's death, and at her funeral she handed out hundreds of carnations: one to each of the mothers in the congregation. She picked up the torch of her own mother's cause. And wouldn't put it down for the rest of her life. She delivered speeches. She published pamphlets. She wrote to governors and newspaper editors; senators, mayors — anyone in power. All in a campaign to get the government to recognize Mothers' Day.

And she succeeded. And failed at the same time. People loved the idea of a Mothers' Day — because people loved their mothers. And importantly, people loved the story of Anna Jarvis loving her own mother. It was a national holiday by 1914. And Jarvis kept going, talking about her mother and Mothers' Day all over the world. And for people all over the world — maybe wondering why they'd grown apart from their own mothers; maybe wishing their own children would thank them once in a while — for people all over the world, Anna Jarvis became the Platonic ideal of the devoted daughter. And they wrote to her. So many wrote to her to thank her — to unload to her about their mother-child relationships — that she had to buy a second house next door in which to store her correspondence. Mothers' Day would roll around every year, and Anna Jarvis — a woman with no child of her own — would get flowers by the score. Heart-shaped boxes of candy by the carload. Which made Anna Jarvis furious.

The holiday — designed to continue her mother's lifetime of effort working toward social justice and collective action — had gone commercial. Anna had thanked her mother by devoting her life to building a kind of living memorial. And it felt like all she'd accomplished was making it easy for people to go and thank theirs with a pre-packaged sentiment in a penny greeting card.

And so she railed against it for the rest of her life. Spending all of her modest savings on campaigns against the commercialization of Mothers' Day. Filing lawsuits to stop Mothers' Day celebrations. Condemning confectioners. Fighting florists. But the candy kept coming. And the flowers didn't stop. And when she died, penniless and blind, at the state sanatorium in Pennsylvania in 1948, her room was filled with Mothers' Day cards.

My mother taught me the value of collective action --- that only by pulling together do we all make way. And she taught me that when we fail to remember we're all in the same boat is when we are swept onto the rocks.


1  Yes, I noticed the disappearing dozen years. I've confirmed the facts: Anna Marie Jarvis was born in 1864; her mother died in 1905. Beyond that, I figure my job here is to transcribe, not edit.
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I need a new-to-me steel wheel for my car. They're $55 new online, with free slow-boat shipping; I'd rather get a used one cheaper & sooner. When I first moved here there were junkyards in Cambridgeport and on the Cambridge/Somerville line, but I'm pretty sure those are all long gone. Does anyone know of one out in the burbs?
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I got a flat yesterday, right outside my house. A finger-sized hole in the sidewall kind of flat. (And yes, thereby hangs a tale. One best summarized as "I'm an idiot." Which I will perhaps relate in more detail another time.)

Anyway, after initially thinking I'd need to call a tow truck, I decided I'm sufficiently mobile to do it the old fashioned way. So I spent a chunk of today on the long-deferred task of cleaning out my car, so I could take the cargo tray out of the back and expose the spare and jack for the first time since I made sure they were there the day I bought the car.

At which point I remembered that it's been at least 25 years since I changed a tire, and should at least glance at the owner's manual, if only for the sake of finding out where the jack point is. And lo, the manual reminded me of something I hadn't thought about — though I'd like to think I would have before I actually started jacking the car up: wheel chocks.

I don't have anything around the house suitable to use as wheel chocks. But having been reminded of basic safety precautions and how slowly I move these days --- plus remembering how the amazing friend of my mother after whom I named my color printer came home one day to find her son crushed to death under his car --- I realized that in addition to needing wheel chocks, this is a job for the buddy system.

So if anyone is up for hanging out with me while I crawl around on the ground, I'd appreciate it. Any time between now and Sunday will be fine. And yes, I'm up for doing it by flashlight* if you happen to be available this evening: the advantage of that for me being that I could get to a tire place Friday and then do the grocery shopping I'd originally planned on.

Comment here if you're up for this, or call. If you comment and you're not sure I have your phone number and don't want to leave yours in a public comment or come up with your own lame puzzle to obscure it, please call as well. I'm @@lame_puzzle(

prod(2, 3, 11, 107) + prod(2, 2, 3, 11, 23, 23, 107, 827)
)

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I've had a dreamwidth account since the early days. I know the people who run DW and know that they're the real deal. But not until the new user agreement did LJ's new Russian overlords annoy me enough to overcome the necessary activation energy to fully migrate. Which, it turns out, is dead simple once you actually do it. Though you have to agree to the new LJ user agreement whose English translation isn't binding for DW to import your journal. Anyway, I'm here now. And I think I'm even likely to be posting fairly regularly.
xela: (Mourning in America)

I've been dreading something like this since November.


But this isn't the time to try to organize my thoughts about what's happened to my country. I just wanted to get this out, because I suspect I'm not alone in cutting down on my news intake so much that I might miss such a story. And it's important that we know.


Indian engineer killed, another injured in U.S. hate crime

The Hindu, for those not familiar with it, is one of India's foremost national newspapers. I mention this because when I first heard of it, my immediate assumption, based solely on the name, was that it was a Hindu Nationalist mouth organ. Not at all.

Kansas shooting: Widow of Indian man calls for action on hate crimes

As I write this, the top stories on CNN.com are about
  • the White House barring CNN, the New York Times, and the L.A. Times from a press briefing
  • the White House asking the FBI to "knock down recent Trump-Russia stories"
  • "States' rights for bathrooms but not for marijuana"
  • "Pew Poll: Support for Obamacare at all-time high"
The hateful murder of a talented young engineer for having brown skin is the bottom item of twelve under "Top Stories". Hell of a day.

I mourn for Srinivas Kuchibhotla. I mourn for the America I still, somehow, love. And I am so ashamed.

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It was one year ago today that I went to the hospital for "routine hip replacement surgery." Thus began the worst year of my life. (And yes, that includes the year I was diagnosed with cancer and even — though this is a harder call — any particular twelve months of my surreal character assassination.)

I'm not ready by any means to sit down and assess this past year. But I want to mark it and try to make the anniversary into a mental milestone. I'm surprised and mystified by the fact, but the tides that rule my mood seem to have begun to turn in these past few weeks, even as the world seems ever more determined to burn itself down. My working thesis at the moment being — well, honestly, my working thesis is that no-one has a good grasp of how neurology, neurochemistry, and pharmacology on the one hand — and politics, economics, and the madding crowd on the other — interact to affect the world inside one's head. But that doesn't mean I can't have another working thesis, which right now is that when my brain is pulling my mood down, seeing the world around me rushing headlong towards doom seems to amplify the awful. And when my brain decides it's time to crawl away from the pit of despair, external events, however depressing in the everyday sense of the word, seem orthogonal to my mood.

And I'm going to stop reflecting aloud now, because I want to post this while it's still December 3.

Linkedin

Nov. 29th, 2016 12:12 am
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I just logged in to LinkedIn for the first time in like a year and accepted several invitations that have mostly been lingering far too long. If you're one of the people whose invitation I just accepted, sorry for the delay.

I have mixed feelings about LinkedIn. On the one hand, I very much like the concept of having an online facility for keeping track of people I've worked with and would almost certainly otherwise lose all contact with. On the other hand, it's basically run as a spam farm. (Yes, I'm sure they stay clear of doing anything actually illegal. In fact, I'm sure they have a whole passel of lawyers whose job is to keep them from straying over the line. Too far over. That's the problem.) I've spent hours trying to imagine how it might be possible to run such a network as a non-profit. (As a viable non-profit, that is; running it as a non-profit on the road to bankruptcy would be trivial.) And concluded that it's going to take something entirely out of left field — a black swan, to use a locution from this century — to dislodge LinkedIn. And so, with feelings very much reminiscent of those times when I've had to choose between don't do the thing and use Microsoft Windows to do the thing, I continue to use LinkedIn.

(Which is an odd way to lead in to my actual point here. But then, until an hour ago, at no time in the past three weeks did I expect my first post-election LJ post to be anything other than an anguished mediation I'd end up entitling something like Whither America?)

Anyway. After accepting the invitations, I scrolled through people you may know, quickly spotting a dozen people I'd at the very least want to spend five minutes catching up with if I saw them at a trade show. I suspect that what a person who was actually versed in twenty-first century social customs would do is just click the "Connect" button under those people's names. But I wanted to check with you all first. Not least because the years sometimes seem to have done nothing whatsoever to diminish my capacity for getting social cues completely wrong.

So, do normal people, when they find themselves scrolling through LinkedIn's people you may know, just click the "Connect" button when they see someone they'd at least want to say hi to if they saw them in person?

Apalled

Nov. 9th, 2016 01:43 am
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After avoiding the news even more than usual all day, I decided around midnight to check the headlines before going to bed.

I've been trying for an hour and a half now to write something coherent. It's midnight on election night. One of the two candidates is a turd with legs. And the election is too close to call.

I've always believed that the vast majority of people were fundamentally decent. And that given accurate information they would make a real effort to do the right thing. That only a small minority — 1%, maybe at most 5% of people — are truly nasty.

I've been trying my damnedest to avoid the news for better than six months now/ But even hiding under a rock I have been unable to avoid learning information about Donald Trump that I would really rather not know. Information that would lead any decent person to back away slowly.

And roughly half my fellow citizens — not 1%, not 5%, but near to 50% — just don't give a fuck.

My faith in my fellows has withstood some pretty severe blows in the past. But I don't think it's going to make it this time. Faith of course is just another word for credulity, and I've long been aware that my optimism about humanity rested on poor foundations. That said, I almost wish I had Faith in the more conventional sense. Almost.

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I'm sorry this post is so long. I didn't have time to write a shorter one. :^)

That's only half-joking. This is also, I suspect, more than a little disjointed. It's an unedited first draft. Something I may make a habit of in my efforts to actually post things. Please let me know what you think. One of the reasons I post so little in the best of times is that I care so very much that my writing be appealing. That when I publish something, you'll be glad you read it. But of course that sitting on things until I'm satisfied means that I've gotten really very little feedback from people on my writing over the years — a species of letting the best be the enemy of the good. So this thing of letting pieces out unedited — this may be as close as I'm ever going to get to what base jumping feels like..... So anyway, please let me know what you think of my writing. What you think of the substance too, of course. But I want to make it clear that I really welcome stylistic criticism.


I'm pretty sure today was the best day I've had in a year. At least a year. Which says more about the year than the day, but still — a good day!

It started with getting up at 06:00. I actually, even though I didn't get to sleep til past 01:00 and I'm a week into a two-week course of antibiotics for a nasty infection, woke up on my own about ten minutes early. And was clearheaded enough to pre-turn-off my alarm before hitting the shower. Actually checked my todo list over my first cup of coffee — a habit I've been concertedly trying to develop for (you guessed it!) a year or more, and sporadically for twenty. Which meant I pulled out of my driveway at 07:30, as planned, with everything I needed for my breakfast meeting.

The meeting itself — 08:30 at MIT to meet with a dean and some other volunteers about planning the next year or so of an ongoing tech project — went swimmingly. My biggest concerns turned out to be non-issues. And the pending work looks to be achievable with the skills and available spare time of the people involved, without making anyone crazy.

Afterwards, I walked the long block from Amherst Alley to W20 — as long a walk as I've done in.... you know how long. And almost half of it without using my cane! There was nobody in the SIPB office and I need to get a new key, so I spent a couple hours in the Athena cluster. Which, while not as lively by any means as it was in the day, was busier than I've seen in several years.


In my ongoing efforts to improve my mind, I'm taking a couple of edX classes. Just before midnight last night — just as I finished writing the stuff-to-be-sure-to-bring part of my todo list for this morning — it occurred to me that I'd been lame about keeping up with one of them since a problem set deadline two weeks ago. Two weeks ago today, in fact. A deadline that I felt well on top of until ISP decided that was the day do drop everything on the floor. I was able to make the deadline just fine, by way of the bonus of motivating me to finally actually try my phone as a hotspot. But the adrenaline memory served to remind me last night that I had failed to actually put the syllabus into my calendar. And it turns out that when going to lecture is something I can do in fifteen minute chunks in front of my laptop whenever I feel like it, I'm a lot more likely to lame out than I ever was when it was a matter of getting to 10-250 by 10:00 twice a week.

So, midnight last night I go to edx.org and check the syllabus. And what do you know, there's a problem set due. Today. At 23:30 GMT. A pset I haven't even looked at.

Well, crap, thinks I. That's what I get for being lame. And go to bed, thinking it's not like I'm not otherwise acing the class anyway. And I'll have six or eight hours tomorrow. Which is to say, today.

So when I got out of this morning's meeting, I thought about just going home and working on the pset. But I'd sent mail to a friend who works on campus about maybe getting together for lunch, and hadn't heard from them. And really, what better place to a problem set for an online class?


So I log into cluster machine, take cheer from the fact that the year or so since I last logged into a cluster machine have not resulted in the machine and my dotfiles mud-wrestling on the floor while I look on — unlike last time — And start in on my problem set.

And I'm totally in the zone. Totally. Not enough sleep. Not for like 500 nights. Coming off what's been probably the second most stressful and depressing year in my life. A year of, among other things, often not firing on all cylinders intellectually. And I knock down five of seven problems in less than two hours. All with full marks. (That instant feedback, I to say, is one of the things I really, really like about taking online classes in technical subjects.)

I sit back and stretch for a moment. Notice that I've missed a couple of zephyrs from [livejournal.com profile] bryttan. I reply, and we agree to look for each other around 13:00 in the 2nd floor dining room. Then of course, after looking around while I was in line and realizing they don't seem to have lemonade at Tosci's Anna's, I went to LaVerde's and would up behind Bryt at the checkout. I was starting to flag a little physically at that point — I'd already been on my feet more than any day in the past year. So when I saw as we left that the table just outside LaVerde's door was unoccupied, I said "How about here?" Which led to Bryt, in her best insinuating tone, pointing behind me and saying "Or over here where it's much quieter. Which led to my discovering that the chunk of my mental map marked 'nothing to do here' where the video games used to be is now a pleasant little alcove of tables and chairs.


This gusher of words and good feeling wants very much to keep going. And there are at least two more things from today that I want to write about. But I want to get a handle on my sleep schedule even more.

I hope that I have been thought-provoking, amusing, or at least not boring, dear reader. Thank you for bearing with me.

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A couple of minutes ago I was editing a file in Emacs when I hit ^k — and simultaneously with the text to the right of point in the line I was editing disappearing, heard a little bell sound. Quite soft, and seeming to come from out in the world rather than my earbuds. I kept typing, thinking it must have just been a stray sound out in the world somewhere.

Then it happened again.

WTF? I've certainly had stray keystrokes cause mysterious occurrences in Emacs before. But I hadn't had any of those OMFG what did I do? ^_ ^_ ^_ moments recently.

Go to the end of the buffer. ^k. Ding!

^k. Ding!

It lingers a little. Resonates. Like a real bell does, as I was reminded recently when I took my deskset apart recently and accidentally bounced a screwdriver tip off one of its bells.

And boy does it seem to be coming from the world, not my earbuds.

So I take out my earbuds.

^k. Ding!

Double check: Yes, earbuds are plugged into my laptop's headphone jack. Also, with them off, it's both clearer and seems to be coming from somewhere off to the right....

^k. Ding!

Okay — about 30° right. Where my bass guitar is leaned against a corner, too long untouched. Is it trying to get my attention?

But the sound is to high pitched for my bass to make without my hands being involved. And the left well down its neck. Leaving aside the question of how typing ^k over here could cause it to generate a note. To say nothing of the fact that it's an inanimate object.

^k. Ding!

Wait. What if....

Tap finger on desk. Ding!

I look around. I just, a few minutes ago, made an ad-hoc glove drying rack out of a couple of wooden spoons and a big stainless steel cup. (The kind you make milkshakes in.)

Pick up cup. Tap finger on desk. Ding!

There's a 400 ml beaker I just used as a milk glass.

Pick up beaker. Tap finger on desk. Muffled thump.

Set beaker down. Tap finger on desk. Muffled thump.


I haven't been able to put the beaker back on my desk in such a way that tapping the desk makes it ring. I can get something very close to the same sound by tapping its rim oh so gently with my fingernail. But it's not the same. And now that it's gone, I miss my little unexpected bell. :-(

But perhaps a few angels got their wings tonight, and are now fluttering over my desk.

xela: Photo of me (me)

I took a walk today in Menotomy Rocks Park. Without my cane (carrying but not using it, that is). Without a therapist hovering at my elbow. On grass!

All for the first time in more than a year.

It was barely five minutes, and probably not 50m. But I was smiling when I got back in the car.


I've been having a pretty crazy year. And it's not over yet. But there's some cause --- just a little --- to hope the faint flickering I occasionally see down the tunnel isn't a hallucination. And I felt real joy today!

I have a lot I want to say. A lot I've wanted to say in the past however many months. And just haven't been able to find the energy or the words or most of all the motivation.

To anyone reading this, I'd like to say thank you. And to say how very sorry I am that I have been failing to hold up my end of my friendships these past few months.

Not that I expect to my former normal any time soon. I need to rethink how I do social media altogether. But if anyone has missed my comments on your life, I want you to know that i miss learning and thinking about your life as well.


I'm aware that this is pretty disjointed. But I'm operating right now --- and I suspect for quite a while into the future --- on the theory that posting at all is more important than posting well-crafted prose. More important right now than posting coherent proce prose. But not more important than posting correctly spelled prose!

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I just, for the first time in many years, failed to restrain myself from correcting a stranger who was wrong on the internet. I tried to be civil — encouraging, even — in my correction, seeking a tone much like that I use when commenting on students' essays, though hobbled by the fact that I'm addressing a stranger. I suspect that I missed the mark rather widely, and actually ended up coming across like someone with a stick up his ass.

And where did I choose to make what may well be my first attempt this millenium to correct someone for being wrong on the Internet? A youtube comment.

I know. I know. Sigh.

I cannot recommend watching the video in question. So I will save the link for after the comment.

But I must first flagellate myself a bit over my own priorities. There are dozens of excellent youtube videos that I've started posts about, or at least bookmarked to post about later. And the smart and satisfying thing to have done with the last 90 minutes would be to have written a post about one of those videos. Or two. Or three.

Next time.

So:   What I spent the evening writing:

From 0:53 to 1:07, you describe the development of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent in a way that seems a bit strained. You then assert, from 1:08 to 1:16, that the recent discoveries in Iran may prove that agriculture was developed independently by different populations around the world  — as if that were something that needed proving, rather than having been the archaeological consensus for decades if not longer. At least your apparent misunderstanding of what archaeologists have long believed about the development of agriculture explains your strained Fertile Crescent summary. But hyping the Iran discovery like that makes you sound like a fool, and leaves me wondering whether there's anything at all genuinely interesting about the discovery.

From 4:02 to 4:15, you claim that the evidence of pre-Clovis humans killing a mastodon contradicts the consensus theory that the extinction of megafauna in North America at the end of the last ice age was caused by humans. It does? How, exactly, does evidence of humans killing a mastodon 14,000 years ago contradict the theory that humans caused the extinction of the mastodons? I note that your actual phrasing — "contradicts the scientific theory that an extinction of megafauna like mammoths and bison occurred due to the arrival of the Clovis people" is, arguably, a factual statement. But the arrival of the Clovis people is hardly the central feature of the theory: the presence in North America of human hunters  — the very fact that you are claiming contradicts the theory  — is.

The things you present in this video are genuinely interesting. Or would be, if you didn't hype them with misinformation anyone remotely familiar with the topic will notice. Getting facts wrong always damages one's credibility. Basing your claims on incorrect facts destroys it. Because of it I'm not willing to believe anything you assert in the video without independent confirmation.

I assume you had only the best of intentions in producing this video: to share interesting information about the world. That is noble and worthy purpose. But one you cannot further if you are careless with facts.
The youtube video in question: 6 Recent Archaeological Discoveries That Could REWRITE History. (Yes, I should have taken one look at the title and moved on then. No, I don't know what I was thinking.)

xela: Photo of me (me)

I'm going to Ikea at some point in the next week or so, and I always like Ikea more with company. It's not by any means as big a deal as BITD, when an Ikea run meant either Montreal or Newark: After doing that solo once in the 90s, I swore-off going to Ikea alone til they finally opened the Stoughton store. But it's not just for the drive that I like company: something that distinguishes Ikea from every other megastore is the extent to which their stuff is actually interesting. And it's always more fun if you have someone to compare notes with.

The reason for this trip is that I need a couple of reading lamps: I've been doing a lot more reading words-on-paper in the evenings lately, and my current reading lamp is making me crazy. But I'll spare you that discursion and get to the actual point of mentioning it, which is to say the stuff I'm getting won't take up much space, so there will be plenty of room for your stuff on the trip back. (I will need to bring my wheelchair, though: I'm not yet up for the several blocks of walking an Ikea trip entails. But that should easily leave at least three-fourths of my car's volume available.)

So anyway, anyone interested should please let me know, either by email to my MIT address, or you can comment here. My schedule is pretty flexible, so if you have time/date constraints, try me.

xela: Photo of me (me)

When I was reading LJ this morning, I saw a reply from a friend to a comment I'd left in their journal. And for reasons having pretty much nothing to do with my friend or anything they said, I found myself staring at the screen with my jaw on the floor, going wha?

Backing up a little: This is a pretty innocuous conversation, but locked, so I'm not going to say anything that could identify the other person. So for the sake of filing off the serial numbers, I want to be able to talk abstractly about the taxonomy of knowledge: Foo and Bar are high level divisions of knowledge — broad scientific fields that you'd expect even a small liberal arts school to offer a major in. My friend works in Foo. (Hmm. A name sure would be handy.... Sound effect of rummaging through a closet....[1]

Darian, like many of you, has a PhD and works in a STEM field. As with most of us, this means they sometimes find themselves using tools borrowed from a neighboring field. Darian recently wrote about an ongoing project that has involved stretching their skills with one such tool — a software tool that I have glancing familiarity with, but of a genre I'm very familiar with. This particular tool was developed mainly by and for specialists in Baz, which is a subfield of Bar. My reply to Darian's post was basically a paragraph of knowing commentary on learning new tools of that sort. Darian's reply to me mentioned in passing that they hadn't studied Bar formally since high school.

And that's when it got weird: Somewhere in my head, marked fact with the same sort of casual certainty as, say, Avenue of the Americas is really 6th Avenue or Laura speaks German, was the belief — until this morning I'd have said the fact — that Darian's undergraduate major was Bar.

Like everyone else, my brain is littered with non-facts that I believe. I try to fix those when they're brought to my attention. And part of the process of fixing them generally involves asking myself How did I come to believe this wrong thing? Generally I'm able to come up with a plausible explanation of how I came to be misinformed. (Not necessarily the explanation, but one that makes sense. Man is the rationalizing animal and all that.)

But in this case that doesn't obtain, and I knew that as soon as I saw Darian's sentence. There's no plausible way for me to have acquired this fact other than for Darian to have said at some point I majored in Bar in college. And no plausible reason for Darian to have lied to me about this fact. Which means that the random firing of my neurons has conspired to plant in my brain a falsehood, dressed as a fact. Not an especially important falsehood. Nor, when I thought it was a fact, would I have thought it an especially important fact. What's flummoxing me — what flummoxed me from the moment I read Darian's reply this morning — is that this is my brain revealing itself to be an unreliable witness in a way I had never encountered before. A way that feels vary unsettling.


1  For some reason I've long since forgotten, I have a text file with the thousand most popular baby names in each the 13 decades from 1880. From there, it was just a matter of import random....

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