August 2009 archive

There are a handful of walnut trees on my block, dating from before it was a residential neighborhood. They couldn't live from rainfall alone but are all happily tapped into groundwater.

One of them is endearing by virtue of its tenacity. Its lot in life was to grow next to a big rock that kept it from spreading roots in all directions. Wind blew it over. Evidently unfazed by the indignity of lying on its side, it kept growing.

I don't know what species of walnut they are. I milled some lumber from a few limbs, and it looks about like commercial walnut (Juglans nigra) but it's tougher and makes a different, nastier smell when sawn.

Milling your own lumber does several things for you. It allows you to get your choice of cut. It lets you use types of wood that aren't sold commercially. It makes lots of sawdust. Three climbers who developed a lot of the climbing routes in my neighborhood did not die of old age: one committed suicide, one died in a car accident, and one ruined his health with drugs until his heart gave out (he was wearing women's undergarments at the time of his death, but that's neither here nor there).

Even not-so-superstitious people wonder whether this area is cursed. (My best guess: no, it's not.)

I'm not dead, but I only developed a handful of routes here.

I climbed a couple easy routes today, the only climbing I've done for months. I've all but given up climbing because my shoulders can't take it any more. I'm at peace with that. I'm happy the shoulders still work for doing other, less-strenous stuff.

We had beautiful clouds today, a characteristic clearing-storm look. It had done that weird thing yesterday, where water falls out of the sky. Talking with a friend a few months ago, I described what it was like to build a marimba: what I did, what it felt like, how much more time it took than I'd planned on, and so on. I admitted that the journey wasn't its own reward in this case; whether or not I ended up with a usable instrument mattered a lot to me. My friend asked if I didn't aspire to a kind of equanimity that didn't depend on results. Well, yes and no.

Yes, in the sense that if I'd screwed up and my marimba was unusable, moping wouldn't be the next step. Yes, in the sense that we are prone to exaggerating the importance of things and circumstances. Yes, in the sense that neurotic obsession with results is poisonous to doing good work. And yes in several other, related senses.

But not in the sense that I seek to be free of desire or preference. I don't take a certain kind of Buddhist view that says desire for anything impermanent cannot be fully satisfied, so best to quench the desire. As I see it, likes, desires, and aspirations are part of what makes life interesting.

I see this as a subtle issue. Desires come in many flavors, and there are many ways to hold them. It's one thing to be attentive to choices and motivations and another to engage thoughtlessly. It is these subtleties that make any simple rule inadequate, that make me want to answer my friend's question with yes and no. Some questions cry out to be answered paradoxically.

One of Robert Fripp's Guitar Craft aphorisms: Abandon concern for hitting the right note. Then, hit the right note. Excerpts from lists (maintained by the USPS) of what you can't mail to various countries:

countryprohibited items
AlbaniaExtravagant clothes and other articles contrary to Albanians’ taste.
EcuadorAll maps showing the territory of Ecuador with incorrect boundaries.
ItalyToys not made wholly of wood.
NepalBearings of all kinds.
I was just outside and saw a few meteors. The moon wasn't up yet, the sky was still dark. An owl was going hoo-ho-hoo-hoo: a dotted quarter note, an eighth note, two quarter notes.

I like dark nights. I like seeing the Milky Way. I like walking when you can just barely see where you're going. In the absence of visual cues, one's sensitivity to noises is heightened--not just for human values of one, but for canine values as well. It's fun to walk with Lulu in the dark and see her spooked by noises that wouldn't faze her by day.

Darkness gets a bum rap. The word dark has such, well, dark connotations. Zero too; I mean, to call someone a zero is an insult. But zero is a concept of great utility.

The moon's up above the mountains now, and the owl is quiet.

I at first titled this entry with just a space (I tried both 0x20 and  ) but Firefox screwed up its live bookmark upon seeing either of those as the entry's title in the atom feed.
Sceloporus occidentalis (juvenile)
I've liked the number nineteen since I was a teenager. I used to think that it cropped up often in my life, and in interesting ways--e.g., my ZIP code when I lived in New York City was 10011 (binary for nineteen).

I was familiar with arguments against there being any significance to the nineteens I noticed. It's easy to see patterns in chance occurrences, and as I was on the lookout for nineteen I would pay special attention when it appeared. Arguments or no arguments, I enjoyed the nineteens--even if my more sensible friends deemed this silly.

Twelve or so years ago, I decided to make an experiment: I'd look for instances of seventeen as well as nineteen and compare the results. For a bunch of reasons, I wasn't expecting such a test to be conclusive. I just thought it would be nice to try.

A day or two after declaring the experiment, the first instance occurred that got my attention. I needed to refer to the instruction manual for a modem, and in so doing found a mistake: it said the (decimal) ASCII code for XON (DC1) was 19. (The correct value is 17.) The first data point was ambiguous: should this count as an instance of seventeen or nineteen?

since 1917 That set the flavor of what was to follow. I made a couple trips to the Owens Valley, including stops at two settlements established in 1917: Toms Place and Deep Springs College. But the date of Toms Place's origin depends on who you ask. There's what it says on the wall, and there are other sources, like the Wikipedia page linked to above--just guess what date it gives.

I then moved to the Owens Valley. As is my wont, I asked for (and got) a phone number ending in 1919. Two weeks later, a gentleman moved into a house down the block; he let the phone company assign him a number, and he got the number two less than mine, i.e. ...-1917. Like me, he wrote software for a living, and like me, he worked for a company in Sunnyvale (a seven hour drive away).

You get the idea. I wasn't getting much in the way of clear instances of nineteen or seventeen, but instead both tied together. I can't tell you that was significant (nor can I tell you it wasn't). But I figured that if I had somehow caused this to happen by declaring the experiment, I could also make it stop. I declared the experiment over, on the seventeenth of a month (seemed appropriate).

The next day, I was talking on the phone with my father. Out of the blue, he asked, "tomorrow's the seventeenth, isn't it?"
the texture of the wings reminds me of cantaloupe rind

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