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Montecristo Captain Quixote


The World Line of the Horizon Star

Some would say I was a lost man in a lost world

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Montecristo Captain Quixote

It's a complicated web that you weave inside my head

It's been wet all week. We've had actual thunderstorms, if you can call them that (torrential rain but very little lightning and thunder), for the past two days. The roof is leaking here but only when the rain gets heavy. There are people wandering around the building with ladders so I assume that the problem is being addressed. It's gotten chillier this week. The weather page says that it is 47° F in Alameda today. Last week I was outside sky-watching again after sunset. It was at 6:30 PM when I got home that I got out of my car and noticed how warm it felt outside. It was about 60° F, even after the sun set. I decided to go out into the back yard. It had been really overcast all day but the clouds were clearing in patches and I was watching them float across the sky. It's fun to watch the planes appear and disappear through the gaps in the cloud cover. Hmm, I think I'm getting a bit tired of winter, even the mild, middle-California winter. Spring would be nice to see. Be that as it may, I don't think I've said lately how much I enjoy living in this place. I was standing out on the back patio in my shirtsleeves, in the middle of January, after sun set, getting sprinkled on without being particularly chilly just last Wednesday. I was standing there watching the clouds and smelling the air. There was wood smoke, leaf mold, wet grass, and someone's clothes dryer exhaust scenting the air with a trace of fabric softener.

Generally I am a person of fairly even temperament but quite often various stresses and problems get under my skin and the news of the world leaves me filled with disgust. It's good to go outside at such times and put things into perspective. It's refreshing to stand in the quiet, amid the smells and sights and stop to consider that I am part of an unbroken chain of life that stretches back all the way to the point where the first proto-DNA molecule duplicated itself. Regardless of whether our consciousness is immortal or not, in all of the billions of years that the universe has existed, or will exist, everyone of us alive has an unambiguous existence in their own corner of space-time. Regardless of how short or long the span of that existence, nothing can or will ever change the fact that we exist now, in this particular chunk of space-time, forever, whatever that may be. That's actually an inspiring and empowering thing to contemplate, although I suspect that this fact would be harder to apprehend for people coming from a different philosophical perspective than I do. I couldn't say for sure. It is good to have a back yard for making such reflections.

I've had a lot on my mind lately. Work has been pretty busy since about the last week of December. I've been trying to build two-language versions of a piece of software that was never designed to support any language other than English. It's also a rush, in high demand by an important customer in Quebec who needs our software to speak French. The customer is king. We've accommodated these guys though to the point where we have modified our own procedures and rules for how software gets produced. Fortunately, I have enough eyes on this thing so that I can be fairly sure that our quality hasn't been endangered but nevertheless, it's pushing my comfort limit. It's been a roller-coaster ride. Things weren't working, and for the longest time I couldn't get at the problem no matter what I tried. Finally, after talking to the guy in charge of our in-house tools, I discovered what was causing the problem and fortunately it was simple to fix it. I told the application engineer who was dealing with the customer that we'd have it by yesterday noon, but yesterday we found out that there was a problem in the build for the install package — this after the guy who handles the build of the install package told me that everything was ready to go with that. Ah well, we got to the bottom of that as well and shipped the stuff to the people needing it this morning, so I'm feeling a quite a bit proud of myself and celebratory, anyway. For the past two evenings I haven't left this place before seven thirty in the evening. It will be good to pull out closer to five today. Later on I've got to start attacking all of the release procedures and paperwork, but I tend to be pretty good about that, given that I've had a large hand in creating the process and documentation adjustments over the years here.

On other fronts, an on line/meatspace friend of mine is beset by some thorny and worrisome problems. I'm hoping that she's okay, but she's been kind of incommunicado lately. Is it really any of my business? Sometimes I wonder about that, but then I reflect that I wouldn't have even known about the problems at all if she hadn't told me about them herself. That puts an itch in the back of my brain and it can't be scratched. Patience is always the last recourse but frequently we are driven to it of necessity.

Last week my favorite skyline vista was teasing me again. On the commute to work there is a place on 880 N. just before the Fruitvale exit where I like to catch a fleeting glimpse of the San Francisco skyline. Last Wednesday morning the sky over the East Bay was completely overcast with purple clouds. When I got to the point where I like to look across the bay I saw that the sky over San Francisco was completely clear and the sun was streaming down on the city, illuminating it beautifully. The last time I caught this phenomenon I was tempted to play hooky from work and go shoot some pictures. I didn't succumb to the temptation this time, either, but the view sure was nice. One of these days I'm going to snag a picture when that condition obtains no matter what I have to do to get it.

Back in November, while noodling around on the Psychology Today website while reading an interesting article on the reason children do not like school, I serendipitously ran across a link to the website of Dr. Marsha Lucas, a neuropsychologist who thinks that meditation promotes beneficial neurological changes in the brain and as a bonus, thinks that it does not require a crash course in the contemplation of irrational mysticism to accomplish. I've always had a curiosity about things like meditation and bio-feedback.

So, barring some missed days, every morning since then I've been waking up and sitting in my bed concentrating (ideally) on nothing but my breathing for twenty minutes. I set the alarm in my cell phone and close my eyes. I picked an alarm ring tone that is quiet and sounds vaguely Oriental — an amusing conceit. So, the trick is to concentrate only on your breathing. That sounds pretty easy to do but of course it isn't. One's brain is aways thinking and contemplating and bringing all sorts of stuff to the attention. As a habitual ruminator not afraid of my own interrior landscape though, I am well acquainted with this phenomenon. I know my brain is always busy with something or other.

  • planning — what am I doing today, tomorrow, next week

  • somatosensory and kinesthetic — my nose itches, my shoulder has an ache, I need to scratch the sole of my foot

  • random image — some woman sleeping peacefully in the middle of a crosswalk (What? Where did THAT come from?)

  • music — internal DJ spins a tune — wanna hear Moody Blues: "Timothy Leary Legend of a Mind" this morning?

  • random realizations and observations — so-and-so never uses superlatives when she's lying

  • environmental distraction — the room got brighter, the sun must have come out from behind a cloud

Apparently, the whole purpose of the exercise is the distractions. Being conscious of the interruptions and distractions and wanderings, and then re-focusing your attention back on the breathing thing is supposed to "re-wire your brain" by building some new neural pathways, similar to memorizing a phone number or the Declaration of Independence. Okay. That sounds interesting. Lucas claims that there is a distinct difference in the brain activity of people who have done this sort of thing on a regular basis. Of course, the sixty-four thousand dollar bottom-line question is, does it work?

Well, Lucas claims, while reluctant to give hard numbers for an experience so subjective, that one can conceivably start to notice a difference in about two weeks. Notice what? I've not managed to levitate, and the idea of things like pushing pins through my nostrils still causes me to cringe. Nevertheless, to Lucas's credit, there may be some difference going on upon which I cannot quite put my finger. The thing is that it is really subtle and I can't consciously identify it (yet?). I wonder if it is all in my head *snerk* I mean my imagination. Is it a placebo effect? Is it anything at all? I don't honestly know. The thing I do know is that the exercise itself seems kind of fun, or at least relaxing, so I plan to keep doing it. If I ever shave my head or start affecting a preference for saffron robes though, I do hope someone shoots me. Heh.

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20 minutes of clearing my mind a day is cheaper than therapy. I guess. I suppose you have to have both partners doing it to get a better relationship.

I liked the review about children and school. Makes sense to me. My kids would certainly agree. Except maybe my 5 year old. She got to do a presentation on Thursday to explain about nebulae and star nurseries and now she thinks she should get to teach everyday.

And yes, I just have kids like that.

Almost everyone has kids like that.

Some parents are just slow to understand it, or never do.

I'll have to read that book before making up my mind if it is really helpful. That ebing said the author of the article really beat the horse to death by reiterating too many times that school is prison for children and that for children to learn they need to be free.

What about children like me that actually liked school? (Theoretically, I wich I could have stayed in school longer.) Does that mean they don't learn well either?

Everyone's mileage will vary.

Just because the school system, as an institution, is flawed, at best, does not mean that every child will find learning problematical in every school and to the same extent. It's quite understandable if you liked your own school experience for any number of good reasons. On the other hand, it is also possible to conceive of a learning environment you would have found even more educational and inspiring or more fulfilling. Perhaps it would be interesting to consider what you might have found to be better if you had even more options.

Re: Everyone's mileage will vary.

I actually heavily disagree with giving more kids options when it comes to education. I think that is one of the reasons that the California educational system is failing as we speak. It has no structure because of the many options. Why was a goverment funded educational program established to begin with? One of the reasons was to make sure we all had the same base level of education - i.e. so we could all do the basics- reading, writing and arithmetic. California is so full of options that it has children graduating that can not speak English, can not write English and can not perform basic math. Heck, most of these children have no discipline. They can't stand in a straight line, follow the leader nor follow basic directions. So yeah, I am for some of the structure that a prison provides and teaches children about basic every day life.

Re: Everyone's mileage will vary.

I also might add that one of my many degrees is in Psychology. You don't get the rat to learn it's way through the maze in the box by giving it freedom to run around the box looking for the prize!

Re: Everyone's mileage will vary.

I wouldn't demand that you take my word on what I have asserted here. If you have some familiarity with psychology then by all means check out what some psychologists have said about the education system.

Re: Everyone's mileage will vary.

"Some" and "May" are among the key words in that piece.

Anyway, have you read the book you originally mentioned? If so, why is it worth my time? Is just another viewpoint on how SOME people learn?

There are many psychologists and schools of thought on learning. To the best of my knowledge, none of them can really recommend the best way for every child to learn. They simply have not out it all together yet. There was a very interesting 10 parter on Charlie Rose a few months that dealt with the brain- how much we know v. how much we don't. It was very insightful.

Re: Everyone's mileage will vary.

You should go back to the original sources, back to the original planners and promoters and read the words direct from the horses' mouthes, what it was they were trying to accomplish and how. They've destroyed far more than they have created. Children learn despite the education system, not because of it.

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