Archive for May, 2014


Saturday, May 31st, 2014

I’m currently reading one of those edge-of-the-seat science fiction books in which some rapidly mutating bacterial life form unexpectedly achieves sentience, and then goes on to form vast microscopic colonies which band together into a hyper-intelligent swarm that decimates our population and threatens to wipe out the entire human race.

I don’t know about you, but I hate when that happens.

With this alarming scenario still rattling around in my head, I went for a walk to Whole Foods this evening to pick up some upscale groceries (because that’s the only kind they have). Since it happens to be a beautiful Saturday evening in Greenwich Village, along the way I passed crowds of happy people wandering about.

And I found myself greatly relieved that everyone is ok. I know it sounds silly to say it, but we are all so fortunate to be here, just hanging out and enjoying our lives, in our obliviously unapocalyptic way.

Sometimes there’s nothing quite like a good literary biodystopia, to make you appreciate the simple things.

Writer friend

Friday, May 30th, 2014

This evening I had a wonderful time catching up with my writer friend. Andy is a screenwriter, which means he is mainly to be found in the vicinity of Hollywood, California.

But every once in a while he wanders east, and then we have hours-long talks about stories, movies, character arcs, plot ideas and all the minutiae that go into telling a great tale.

We analyze actors, directors, compare different screenplays by the same writer, argue over which P.T. Anderson film is the best one, and marvel at the one great role/performance that some otherwise mediocre actors always seem to find.

People are different, and we all wear different hats, depending upon who we are with. With my political friends, computer programming friends, classical music friends, new media theory friends or SciFi/Dr. Who/Buffy/Fringe/XMen friends I have very different sorts of things to chat about.

But with Andy I get to have my “writer friends” conversations, and they are always glorious.

Shiny new toy

Thursday, May 29th, 2014

Today my fancy new Macbook Air arrived, and I spent much of the day happily loading files onto it, configuring the editor and the shell just the way I like them, and then jumping in and writing software.

I am remembering to savor this moment, when my new brand computer is completely awesome, and speedy, and capacious, and just about perfect in every way.

For soon it will just be my computer, and then one day it will be my old computer, and then all too soon the sad day will arrive when it will be that old computer I used to have.

Alas, computer years are to dog years as dog years are to people years.

But for now it is my shiny new toy.

Dance, red balloon

Wednesday, May 28th, 2014

And the two word challenge continues! This time my friend specified not two words, but rather a word and a two-word phrase (hence the title of this post).

But the challenge remains the same — to spin these words into a tale. Below is the story I came up with this time.



“My love is like a red balloon.” he smiled sweetly at her as he said it, although he needed to lean closer in his chair for her to hear him over the party music.

She shook her head. “Thanks for the compliment, but that’s not right. What Robert Burns actually wrote in 1794 was ‘My love is like a red red rose’. Wait, how can you be getting that wrong?”

He looked puzzled. “I could swear those were the words.”

“Look,” she said, “your typical modern latex balloon is made by refining natural rubber through a process that wasn’t even perfected until 1931…”

“Yes, I know,” he said, rolling his eyes. “the Tilly Cat balloons, made by Neil Tillotson in his attic. Everybody knows that. What’s your point?”

“The point, dear, is that you said ‘red balloon’ instead of ‘red red rose’, and 1931 happened a lot later than 1794. I mean really, you might want to get your Google Chip checked.”

He snorted. “My Google Chip is just fine thank you. Don’t you like it when I say sweet things to you?”

“Oh yes, most definitely. It’s just that sometimes you say the weirdest stuff since your last upgrade. But feel free to woo me any time.”

“OK, then,” he said, “Shall I compare thee to a red balloon? Thou art more lovely and more temperate…”

“Now wait a minute,” she said, “that is not what Mr. Shakespeare said. Even Faraday’s original balloon in 1824 was a distinctly post-Elizabethan development.”

“So you’re saying I’ve got my facts wrong? But that’s impossible — nobody ever gets their facts wrong. That’s the whole point of … Oh, wait!”

“What?” she was eyeing him curiously now.

“They’re playing that song I really like, you know, the English version. It was a big hit for that 1980′s German singer Nena. What’s it called again — 99 something.”

“Oh, whatever,” she smiled at him. “You are totally useless, and that’s why I love you.” She kissed him on the lips and pulled him to his feet. “Let’s shut up and dance.”

Trash talk

Tuesday, May 27th, 2014

I attended a little workshop recently that mainly consisted of a series of talks by the participants. Most of these talks were simply wonderful — cogent and to the point, possessing a well defined and useful message, and extremely useful to the other attendees.

But one talk was a complete train wreck. Long, rambling, without sensible visuals, much of it seemed to be without purpose. By half way through, the rest of us realized we were trapped. The speaker apparently had no awareness of the listeners, no sense of a narrative arc, and — most importantly — seemingly no idea whatsoever that an audience’s time is valuable.

Before getting up to the front of the room, this speaker had given a little disclaimer about having needed to prepare at the last minute. But that’s really no excuse. If you are not sure what to say, it is *not* acceptable to making your speech three times longer on the theory that somewhere within the dross will be something useful.

I am reminded of the famous quote by Blaise Pascal in a 1657 letter: “I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” The difference is that when a letter writer goes on and on about very little, you can skip to the end. When the same thing happens in a speech, the entire audience becomes painfully trapped.

Spring cleaning

Monday, May 26th, 2014

Settling back home after several months away, I have been getting back into my morning exercise routine — half an hour of exercise followed by a really healthy breakfast. This has certainly put me in a much better mood, and full of energy to face the day.

And completely turned off to junk food. As my body gets rid of the accumulated poisons from months on end of far too much travel and far too little exercise, I am sleeping better, eating better, and feeling full of energy all day.

But I’ve noticed something else as well. All sort of old disagreements, and fallings out with former friends and others from my past, have been bubbling up to my consciousness in the last few days. I find myself reliving heated arguments with people who are long out of my life. Except that now I am seeing these arguments, in the light of day, for the pointless circular mental traps they always were.

I think my mind is expelling its poisons as well — airing out and dispelling long brooding resentments that have been lurking in the dark corners of my soul. And I guess this makes sense, since body and mind are two parts of a single integrated whole.

As the body begins to heal itself, so does the mind.

Alien perception

Sunday, May 25th, 2014

Being human, we inevitably see the world around us through the prism of human perception. Our minds pick out faces and bodies, hands, smiles. We intuitively map natural phenomena like fire, rolling hills, howling winds to emotions we understand, such as rage, peacefulness and despair.

Yet if an intelligent creature were to arrive on our planet from somewhere else in the galaxy, much of what we perceive would seem alien indeed to this visitor. This hypothetical being might have no equivalent to faces and bodies. And our human version of emotion — a legacy of our evolutionary heritage — might be equally foreign to such a being.

I know there is no easy answer to this question, but I wonder what it would be like to view the world with an intelligence that is not a human intelligence. Would there be a fundamental difference? Would certain objects that fascinate humans — fire, mountains, trees and clouds — become essentially invisible, whereas others would assume an importance that would be beyond our comprehension?

I wonder whether it would be possible to do a rough exobiological mapping of perception: Creatures like this tend to see the world around them like that. Unfortunately such a mapping is likely to remain conjectural, since we don’t have many data points.

Although I suspect that the most intelligent of our fellow species, such as the dolphins and the elephants, may see the world in ways that are interestingly different from the way we see it.

Eighth Street time machine

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

I was walking along 8th Street in Manhattan with my nephew when we came up on a large black and white poster — a blow up of an old photo of 8th Street from long ago.

On the right near corner was a Nedicks, and on the left was a Whelan’s Drugs. Those who know their NYC history will realize that this was the view of 8th Street looking East from 6th Avenue. The Nedick’s was where a Barnes & Nobles stood until recently, and Whelan’s was on the site of the recently closed Gray’s Papaya.

Seeing the old cars and the horse drawn delivery wagon in the foreground, I wondered aloud when the photo was taken. Surely, I said, there must be a clue somewhere in the picture.

Fortunately, half a block to the East was the movie theatre that eventually became the beloved 8th Street Playhouse. On the marquis was advertised Ann Harding in “Nine Girls”. I jotted that down.

Later I looked it up on Google. The name of the film pegged the photo to 1944 (when the movie theater was still known as the Film Guild Cinema). I then ended up spending quite a lot of time on-line, learning about Ann Harding’s fascinating career and times. It was like entering a time machine.

Nobody I’ve spoken to remembers her, except for one woman I’m guessing is around eighty years old, whom I met the other day at the Outer Critics’ Circle Awards. She remembers Ann Harding fondly from her childhood.

Maybe, seventy years from now, somebody will see a forgotten name on a marquee in an old photo from 2014. And perhaps they too will enter a time machine.

Best album ever

Friday, May 23rd, 2014

      “And the things you can’t remember
      Tell the things you can’t forget that
      History puts a saint in every dream.”

Of course there is no such thing as the “Best album ever”. We all have our unique musical tastes. One person might enjoy Schoenberg’s Piano Sonatas, whereas another treasures the collected works of Vanilla Ice.

Yet for me there is one album that towers above all others, on the simple scale of how much I enjoy it. And that is Tom Waits’ 1985 masterpiece “Rain Dogs”.

      “And when she’s on a roll she pulls a razor
      From her boot and a thousand
      Pigeons fall around her feet.”

Oh, this album is definitely not for everyone. I could see how some people might find it downright unlistenable, hearing only a rough beer hall emulation of early Kurt Weill. But for me nearly every one of those nineteen songs is a master class, a piece of pure musical bliss that leads me through the rain soaked streets of a mythic down and out New Orleans re-invented as an epic bar crawl.

The album is, in a way, an inspired musical enactment of Henry Miller at his best, with maybe a dash of William Burroughs thrown in for good measure. Its power is so great that Jim Jarmusch has spent the last thirty or so years of his professional life essentially riffing on it.

      “So put a candle in the window
      And a kiss upon his lips
      Till the dish outside the window fills with rain
      Just like a stranger with the weeds in your heart
      And pay the fiddler off till i come back again.”

Feminists without voices

Thursday, May 22nd, 2014

Today the New York Times ran an article about the backlash after a young actress, in response to a reporter’s question, said she wasn’t a feminist. “No,” was her reply, “Because I love men, and I think the idea of ‘raise women to power, take the men away from the power’ is never going to work out because you need balance.”

The article went on to describe various reactions to this statement, the most common one being that the actress was starting from an incorrect definition of feminism.

For example, Andi Zeisler said “I don’t care if people don’t identify as feminist,” but took issue with misinformation and the perpetuation of the idea that feminism is “this zero-sum game that if it elevates women, then it denigrates men. That’s just wrong and has never been what feminism is about. That’s the Fox News version of feminism.”

But what really struck me about the article was that everyone in it — the reporter and every person she talked to — was female. It apparently never occurred to her to speak with a single man.

Like many other men I know, I am a feminist. Not only do I support equal pay for equal work, but I put effort into helping to remove gender barriers for young people who might want to work in computer science.

Implying that you need to be a woman to be a feminist is just wrong. It’s a lot like saying that you need to be black to support civil rights.

Think about how creepy and bizarre that last statement sounds. Such lazy thinking clearly separates and weakens us, and works against our efforts to work together in common cause.