Chain reaction

Yesterday I was looking for a silver chain as part of a present for a friend. Not a piece of jewelry per se — I already had the thing I wanted to hang on the end of the chain. I just needed the chain itself.

So I walked into a jewelry store in the neighborhood, one that Google Maps had told me was a likely candidate. The nice woman there said that they don’t sell silver chains. They only sell complete pieces of jewelry.

Normally, she said, she would send me up to the jewelry district on 47th St. But yesterday being a Saturday, none of the places up there were going to be open. So she suggested I go to the KMart on Astor Place.

That seemed unsatisfying to me. Big box retail outlets are so generic. Somehow, the energy seemed wrong for what was supposed to be a personal gift.

Besides, I was on my way to check out a multimedia yoga class in mid-town, for which some friends of mine had created procedural interactive music and computer graphics. I thought surely there would be someplace along the way that would do the trick.

Now here is the interesting part: Because I was looking for a specific type of store, I found myself looking very carefully at my surroundings, far more than I usually do. I started noticing cafes, music shops, convenience/liquor/hardware/stationery stores, a Salvation Army drop-off center, and lots and lots of other things besides.

It wasn’t that these places hadn’t been there before, just I had never really noticed them. For some reason, having a “mission” was making me hyper-aware of my surroundings. Even when it came to places that were completely off of that mission.

I wonder whether there is a general principle here. Perhaps when we are focused on finding something, we switch into a general mode of gathering information from our surroundings. Maybe there is a specific mental mode of “looking for things”, a legacy of evolution, that activates some salient part of our brain and causes it to kick into high gear.

It turned out that the woman was right. I found no shop yesterday between Greenwich Village and midtown that carried silver chains. Although I did discover lots and lots of other cool places, some of which I plan to go back and visit.

That evening I went to the KMart on Astor Place, shortly before closing time. Sure enough, they had exactly what I was looking for.

Which I guess shouldn’t really come as a surprise. After all, if you want to buy a chain, what better place to look than a chain store?

Headline address

This week, during my wanderings around Greenwich Village, I happened to walk past 114 E 13th St. And I noticed that it has a name.

The building is officially called the “American Felt Building”. I have since looked it up on-line, and it turns out that this building was originally the home of the American Felt Company.

Now long gond, back in the day that esteemed company supplied the felt for the hammers of Steinway pianos. The building currently seems to be the home of condo apartments.

But my first impression when I saw the words “American Felt Building” was that it sounded like a sentence in a newspaper headline. I can still see that headline in my head: “Extra, extra, read all about it! American felt building!”

It remains clear why that particular American was feeling this particular building, or why the event is newsworthy. But that’s only the more reason to pay your nickel and read the daily paper. Good stories always begin with a mystery.

I wonder how many other buildings around New York City have names that sound like newspaper headlines. Are there lots of them? I’ve never thought about it before, but now I’m going to keep an eye out.

In case you are wondering, yes I did indeed walk up to the side of the building, reach out my hand, and feel it. The building felt nice.

Speaking of bubbles

Last night, as I was walking home, I encountered a bubble man in Washington Square Park. But what is a bubble man?

A bubble man, in this context, is a guy who creates giant bubbles. These are beautiful ephemeral sculptures. They exist for a few seconds, and then they are gone.

I stoode there, in rapt attention, as he created one beautiful bubble after another. Then I asked, somewhat shyly, whether I could try my hand at it.

The man graciously handed me the bubble making apparatus, and then I was off and running. I created one beautiful bubble after the other, throwing each new creation out into the unsuspecting air.

Each bubble lasted for only a few seconds, but that was sufficient — that was enough. So herein below, for your edification, is a photographics record, for all time, of yours truly, Ken the bubble man.

The greatest enemy our nation is facing

Every time I think that Donald Trump couldn’t possibly do something more dispicable and ugly, more hateful and counter to what this country stands for, he surprises me. I am starting to think that this administration is the greatest enemy our nation is facing.

ISIS can kill our bodies, but they do not have the power to destroy us from within. In contrast, Donald Trump’s relentlessly hateful policy decisions pose a far more fundamental danger to America.

This so-called administration is a cancer. This cancer has infiltrated the body of our society and is now eating away at our very core principles.

I have gone beyond feeling disgust for this narcissistic self-aggrandizing con-man. Disgust for such a crass operator is so obvious that it is no longer even important.

What is important, and what I now feel, is fear for our beautiful nation. When we pick up the pieces in another two years, after the mid-term elections finally erect a road block to the cynically corrosive policies that are oozing daily from our own White House, just how great will the damage have been?

I feel terrible for all of us, but mostly for the well-meaning people who voted for this bozo. How will they ever explain to their grandchildren that they were conned into supporting such an anti-American swindle?

Shoes in the ocean

Yesterday a friend asked me to follow an old tradition I’d never heard of before. “When you find yourself by the ocean,” she said, “you must dip your shoes in the blue water.”

So yesterday, before leaving Sea Island, I walked down to the shore and dipped my shoes in the ocean. I felt great after following this little ritual, as though I was now somehow more connected to our planet.

Later in the day, over drinks, I was telling a colleague about this interesting tradition. Being in a punful mood, he replied, “Sure, you can dip shoes. But at a beach, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to dipthongs?”

“Maybe,” I told him, being in a punful mood myself. “But that wouldn’t have been consonant with my friend’s request.”

Future contingent privacy

Yesterday, during one of the fancy breakfasts at The Cloister on Sea Island, a waiter looked at my plate and asked whether I wanted the scrambled eggs. He was so nice about it, clearly wanting to make sure I hadn’t missed seeing the eggs when I had gone to the buffet table.

I politely declined, thanking him. I realized he had no way of knowing that I don’t eat eggs.

It occurs to me that when people start wearing those future reality glasses, waiters will be able to know such things. In fact, that sort of knowledge might save lives. If somebody has an extreme peanut or seafood allergy, you don’t want to put a plate in front of them that contains peanuts or seafood.

There are all sorts of situations like this, where the right knowledge at the right time can be anything from convenient to life saving. But of course we also need to think about privacy.

We already have a complex set of systems in place to get information to the right place without compromising privacy or security. You can withdraw money from your bank at a convenient ATM, but the person in line behind you cannot then proceed to withdraw money from your account.

Similarly, we have ways for doctors to send each other health information about you without anybody else getting access to that data. In fact, such security is necessary for a computer-based health care system to be able to function.

I suspect that in future reality we will develop similar systems for even more casual interactions. The waiter will know whether you have food preferences or food allergies because you have granted restaurants access to that information. But that doesn’t mean they have access to other personal information about you.

It will be interesting to see how all of this develops. Most people will not be interested in the implementation details of such wearable-enabled systems for ensuring privacy and security. But they will be very interested in — and invested in — the outcome.

Future nature walk

Today I went on a nature walk along the coast here on Sea Island. There were so many wonderful things to see, from ospreys to rare trees to islands and dolphins off the coast.

Everyone on the walk had a pair of binoculars. Very often, in order to better see something especially cool, such as a far-away tree or a bird circling in the middle distance, I would look through the binoculars, and everything would look eight times larger.

Looking through the binoculars meant lifting them from where they hung from a strap around my neck and positioning them in front of my eyes. It was a simple enough act, but sometimes even that simple act took too long. By the time I was looking through the binoculars, the bird might have flown away, or the dolphin vanished beneath the waves.

It occurred to me that someday soon we may no longer need binoculars. The pair of glasses that we use for virtual and augmented reality will also allow us to zoom into things of interest all around us.

Magnifying our view, seeing in infrared, or other acts of augmentation, such as learning the identity of a tree or a bird, may become as simple as looking. We will start to take this superpower for granted.

Like any successful technology, such a capability will come to seem perfectly natural, an extension of our own body, like clothing or shoes. In time, we will wonder how anybody had ever managed to get along without it.