Category Archives: Deep Thoughts

A Life, Remembered

Today’s Music: Pete Seeger – Turn Turn Turn
Days Til Spring: 73

This is a remembrance of my father in law, who passed away a few days ago.

An ordinary man. There will be no epic novels written of him. His name won’t be remembered in the history books. But a man, nonetheless, who lived a full and happy life, and who enjoyed himself all along the way.

Dinosaurs caught the imagination of the man. The fossils, the movements, the history. He studied them and grew intimately familiar with them. As a result, for many years, he served once a week as a Docent (someone visitors could ask questions about dinosaurs of) at the Museum of Natural History.

Music caught the ear of the man. He was already familiar with music, especially all the great folkies of the 50s and 60s. He already knew how to play piano, but this time he picked up a guitar. He forced his hand into the shapes of chords, again and again. Then, pushing on, he learned the positions on the neck and began doing more intricate finger picking.
He discovered middle-age and medieval music. On any given night, you could find him puzzling over obscure music notations, trying to figure out how that translated into English, and to the guitar and lute, which he taught himself to play. He delighted in picking out a tune for the first time, then realizing how similar it was to something he already knew, by a completely different name.
The lyrics too were a doorway to a world long gone. The ballads of the bards told a stylized history of life back then – serfdom, the actions of nobles, the difficulties of daily life. All these discoveries enriched his own life.

The birds caught the eye of the man. They entranced him. He already knew what a camera was, but now he went out and got serious equipment – cameras, lenses, filters. A high end printer so the physical copies would do justice to his digital images. He studied composition, light, color, all to bring his pictures closer to what his eye and his imagination saw.
On the wall behind me are five ultra-close-up images of flowers, a riot of color and swirls, that he took.
The last car he bought, a beat up standard transmission Jeep, was so he could get out to the marshes and preserves and photograph the wildflowers and birds he loved.

The sun caught the eye of the man. In a room of his apartment, with floor to ceiling windows to let the best light in, is a drawing table festooned with pens and brushes and inks. There are dozens of drawings and paintings of birds, of the sun, of dinosaurs.

The man had once studied at seminary to enter the priesthood. It didn’t take, but it had a heavy influence on his spirituality. In the end, he came to Buddhism…perhaps because of the meditative aspects, perhaps because of the inward focus. In time, he led groups in the practices of Buddhism.

The man was concerned about the well-being of others. For many years, he worked as a social worker. In later years, after he retired, he worked in an outreach program for helping people learn English as a second language.
He was going to work in another program to encourage and help foster children to go to college.

Despite having a severe bad reaction to sugar, the man LOVED cookie, with CookieFest being a highlight of his year for several years. There was no one he wouldn’t approach and strike up a conversation with, and no one who wouldn’t engage with him.

He was married for several years. And he raised the most wonderful girl in the universe.

They say that when someone dies, they’re gone, and all we’re left with are the memories of who they were. But sometimes we’re left with an example, of how someone can live their lives, working every day, and still find time to enjoy every day – whether discussing arpeggios with his son in law, or sailing a styrofoam sailboat in the bay (and getting a wicked sunburn), or simply sitting quietly with a pad, trying to draw the reptile skull on the shelf

And we realize that someone who was just a man hasn’t only left us memories.
He’s left us an example we can follow of a life well lived – a life lived with the companionship of close friends, the security of high ideals, and the unabashed love of family.

And puns. Good lord, did that guy love puns.

And he will be missed.

An Adventure Philosophy Post: Being and Doing

Today’s Music: Cab Calloway – (Hep hep) The Jumpin Jive

I’m a skier. Put me in a pair of boots that fit, drop me on skis (rentals are fine), and I’m all set.

El Guapo surveying his domain...

El Guapo surveying his domain…

I’m a rock climber. despite being in terrible shape, I can belay with the best of them, and keep your tail from hitting the ground if you come off the cliff. At the same time, I can find some way up the face and warn you if I’m not going to make it.
I’m a scuba diver. despite a depressingly low overall amount of time spent underwater, I’m conscientious with checking and donning my gear. I know how to not panic (trust me, it’s a hard won skill), and I pay close attention to where I am underwater.

Sadly, I’m not a surfer. Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely love surfing. I’m planning on putting on my wetsuit, strapping my board to the roof and diving in on 1 Jan, unless the weather is just horrible.
But when I get on a board, I’m just awful. I have no idea what to look for when catching a wave, and no feel for when to stand up on the board. The majority of my rides end with the nose of the board plowing into the water, and me shooting over it like Wile E Coyote in too many cartoons.
That’s fine. It’s still fun.

The pros got nothin on me.

The pros got nothin on me.

But that line – the difference between just doing something, and being something – is an important one for me. It’s about going beyond being a random participant, and breathing in everything you can about whatever it is.

When I learned to scuba dive, I read everything I could get my hands on. I would go into shops and handle equipment, studying different mounting options, handling features, options and tools. I would play with my depth tables (because some things are too important to leave to a computer), and occasionally wander around the house in flippers (Oh, like I’m the only one who does that).
Under water, I’ve gotten into some odd situations, and remembered that as long as I could breathe, I was still ok. Then, calmly, I figured out how to get out of them.
Scuba diving is also one of the few sports I’ve done where the training actually is helpful.
And thank god for that.

But a new year is right around the corner. And I plan to be in the water on the first, on my board. Maybe I’ll even graduate from a guy who has a surfboard to a full fledged surfer!

Things I Didn’t Say

Today’s Music: Serena Ryder Stompa

It’s not quite 9 am as I write this.
Here is a list of things I managed not to say to people today. I admire my restraint.
But it’s early, so I’m pretty sure that will fade as the day goes on.

Do you know how much restraint I'm using to not open it and let it all out?!?

Do you know how much restraint I’m using to not open it and let it all out?!?

“Then you’ll look like a piece of pink Swiss cheese.”

“What’s that smel-… Oh, it’s you, isn’t it.”

“Do your parents know you ate lead paint as a child??”

“Hey, you’d get a great price for me on Ebay!”

“Explain to me again why getting out of bed this morning was a good idea.”

“You didn’t pay for that haircut, did you???”

“How is that my problem, and why should I care?”

“You’ve been listening to Reason and Logic? Is that a band? Because I know you’re not talking about the company.”

“You don’t expect me to actually do that, do you?”

I expect my inner voice will get loud enough break through as the day goes on. Fortunately, my boss is laid back, and as long as I keep actually doing work, I should be fine.
And to restrain myself, I just keep reminding me that come Saturday I’ll be away and offline totally for a week.

Ok, off to write Friday’s poll!

The Double Edge of Technology

Today’s Music: John Fogerty – Deja Vu All Over Again

I went to the Maker Faire in NYC this past weekend. It’s a gathering of high tech do-it-yourself-ers. There were some impressive displays, including the makers of a space camera, about 5 kg, and small enough to sit in the palm of your hand.
It has a 3 mega-pixel camera, and is maneuvered with low power ion engines. It has multiple redundant computer chips to verify and error check every piece of data the device generates. By using the images from multiple low resolution (thus cheaper) devices, it can generate a composite 3D image.
It was actually brilliant in its simplicity.

Seriously, this was cool!

Seriously, this was cool!

On the other end, there was a series of power tools. All of these were computer controlled, and the interface was a WYSWIG What You See Is What You Get.
There is a computer loaded with CAD type software. Either 2 or 3 dimensional images can be created or imported. The software takes the image and sends it to the router.
In the example I saw, a maze was carved into a dowel, about the thickness of a broom handle.
And yet…

Here’s the thing that bothered me: it was too easy.
The image was drawn on a sheet, like MS paint. The software converted it, wrapping it around to match the topology of the dowel. The user entered a depth measurement for how deep the router bit would would carve, and hit enter.
The software guided the bit to make the grooves. It went back and forth and side to side, making the channel as wide, long and deep as the user had entered.

Look what I made! No, I have no idea how.

Look what I made!
No, I have no idea how.

There were also makerbots. These machines are 3D printers. Enter a 3D image into the software (it can be one you’ve made, or one that was downloaded) and the printer will squirt out bits of plastic to build, layer by layer, whatever the image is.

Crafting like that used to be the bailiwick of skilled trained craftsmen. The precision and detail, the development to strict tolerances were all done by people who had studied, trained, tried and tried again to do that work, and do it conscientiously and carefully.
As such, their work was expensive, but justifiably valuable.

Now, with the linking of tools and computers anyone can do it. I applaud the availability of cheap accessible methods for manufacturing whatever you need at home. Gone is the need for a full machine shop, for long apprenticeships and years of labor.
Everyone can design and build almost anything to their hearts content, and the technology and versatility will only get better.

But there’s a darker side.

I used to have a 1967 Thunderbird. The thing was a beast. But open the head, and there was an engine, an alternator and a compressor. Lift the hood, climb on in and go to work.
Now I drive a 99 Explorer. I went to change a spark plug and it turned out I needed three specialized tools.
But it runs on computers! It’s better!
As long as I have $500 to drop whenever I need to do some work.

You can tell it's a car because of the four wheels and engine. And nothing else.

You can tell it’s a car because of the four wheels and engine.
And nothing else.

You drive an x-wing fighter? You're so low tech.

X-Wing fighter? You’re so low tech.

So here’s my point – making something easier and more accessible is a good thing. It brings prices down. It makes it easier for people to pursue their individual visions.
Here’s the down side is, no one knows how it works. Give me a semi logical Graphical User Interface and I can sort out CAD. I can reconfigure and optimize a Windows computer without too much trouble, and sort out a basic setup on Linux.
But no one knows how it works. Send a dump file to Microsoft and they’ll say “We have no idea what it means”. There’s too much going on and too few people understand it.
So if you have a Makerbot but the platform driver is off 4 millimeters, it won’t print cleanly because the surface isn’t where it should be. And you’ll need high level technical support to sort it.
You can engrave your dowel and do beautifully complex work, but you don’t have the math to sort out what it’s doing or how it should work.

Yes, technology brings a lot of ease and efficiency to our lives. No, no one gets their TVs repaired anymore.
And it seems fewer people know how things work under the hood, and more people rely on them to just do whatever it is they’re supposed to do.

I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Ok...maybe some technology is a good idea...

Ok…maybe some technology is a good idea…

(And for anyone interested in a great tale of what technology might be able to do, check out Daemon by Daniel Suarez. Its a great thriller.)

Faith and Fear…And Adventure. Part 1

Today’s Music: Blind Faith – Can’t Find My Way Home


What do you see at the edge?

There’s a moment, right at the very beginning, where anything is possible. -high and low, win and lose, yes and no.
On any adventure, that time is fascinating to me.
It’s a metaphysical moment where, for me, time stretches. My whole life doesn’t flash before my eyes. The moment isn’t long, but it is deep, and it’s there that I gain a better understanding of who I am. And it’s where I simultaneously find my fears and my faith in myself. I also see how those things have changed.

Here’s an early example –
– A young Guapo standing at the edge of the high diving board. He looks over, takes a deep breath. Another boy is already starting up the ladder for his turn. He looks back over the edge and steels himself. He ignores his burning red face and climbs back down the ladder.
– An older Guap (late teens?) stands at the edge of a different diving board. It’s high, but the water is deep, he tells himself. Don’t panic and you’ll be fine, he tells himself.
He looks out over that edge, remembers how younger him wished he’d stepped off that board all those years ago. He sees his younger self at that moment, remembers the exhilaration of being up so high, the danger of that narrow plank with so much empty space below it, and the terror of what could go wrong outweighing the thrill of what could go right.
He looks at the present again, every detail burning into his memory. He squeezes his eyes as tight as possible. He feels his face turn red.
And he turns and





He goes off the high diving board another 8 times that day. Most of them with his eyes open. All of them with a big grin on his face.

I know I can.

I know I can.

So what changed?
Plenty of people dive from the high board/jump from the plane/hang from the cliff/(you get the idea).
Some of them have hurt themselves, some have even died. But as with a great many things, the vast majority have been careful, taken precautions and lived to do it again and again.

And the thought of being red faced and angry that I didn’t try something makes me feel worse than any of the damage I’ve accumulated thanks to gravity over the years.

So stop thinking that jumping will lead to crashing. Go on, have a little faith.