May 20, 2009

The boldness of asking deep questions

The boldness of asking deep questions may require unforeseen flexibility if we are to accept the answers.

- Brian Greene, The Elegant Universe

April 18, 2009

Ian's Shoelace Site

You probably haven't given too much thought to your shoelaces since you were about five. You probably didn't think there was much to give any thought to. I certainly didn't.

Well, check out Ian's Shoelace Site, a quirky treasure trove of information related to the humble shoelace. Looking for some stylish alternatives to the basic pattern you use on every pair of shoes you own? Wonder what method is best for hiking or biking or hacky sacking? Want to remedy a sore spot? Eager for a shortcut to speed up the lengthy process of tying a standard shoelace knot? Need a solution if you can use only one hand? The answers are all here.

Detailed instructions and illustrations are accompanied by hundreds of user photographs. You may be surprised by how much time you end up perusing this site.

April 16, 2009

Fast Food: Ads vs. Reality

These days, I wouldn't touch this stuff even if the real thing looked like the ads. But this series of side-by-side comparisons is amusing whatever your tastes may be.

April 15, 2009

Must see video clip

You may be one of the 7 million or so who have already seen Susan Boyle's recent appearance on Britain's Got Talent. But in case you aren't, you must check this out...

(If the video above doesn't work, you can watch it directly on YouTube, which does not allow its version of this clip to be embedded here.)

April 14, 2009

Yogi Berra Explains Jazz

Excerpts from an interview published in 2004 at
Interviewer: Can you explain jazz?

Yogi: I can't, but I will. 90% of all jazz is half improvisation. The other half is the part people play while others are playing something they never played with anyone who played that part. So if you play the wrong part, it's right. If you play the right part, it might be right if you play it wrong enough. But if you play it too right, it's wrong.

Interviewer: I don't understand.

Yogi: Anyone who understands jazz knows that you can't understand it. It's too complicated. That's whats so simple about it.

Interviewer: Do you understand it?

Yogi: No. That's why I can explain it. If I understood it, I wouldn't know anything about it.

Interviewer: Are there any great jazz players alive today?

Yogi: No. All the great jazz players alive today are dead. Except for the ones that are still alive. But so many of them are dead, that the ones that are still alive are dying to be like the ones that are dead. Some would kill for it.

Interviewer: What is syncopation?

Yogi: That's when the note that you should hear now happens either before or after you hear it. In jazz, you don't hear notes when they happen because that would be some other type of music. Other types of music can be jazz, but only if they're the same as something different from those other kinds.

Interviewer: Now I really don't understand.

Yogi: I haven't taught you enough for you to not understand jazz that well.

April 13, 2009

April 11, 2009

Ambivalence is a bigger nuisance than schizophrenia

Ambivalence is a bigger nuisance than schizophrenia. When you're schizoid each of your two personalities is blissfully ignorant of the other, but when you're ambivalent each half of you is painfully aware of the conflicting half, and if you aren't careful your whole life can turn into a taffy pull.

- Tom Robbins, Another Roadside Attraction

March 17, 2009


Children see magic because they look for it.

- Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal

January 22, 2009

New View Of The Inauguration

I admire photographers who go to incredible lengths to capture unique images. While many great photographs come simply from being in the right place at the right time, others are the result of much planning, patience and perseverance. The picture above (by Chuck Kennedy from the McClatchy-Tribune Photo Service) is a salient example of the latter, as explained in this article.

January 7, 2009

Upgrade your pantry

I've mentioned Michael Pollan in several posts below. I loved his book, Omnivore's Dilemma. But, like many, I wasn't sure where to go with it in terms of my own diet and eating habits.

I found that his follow-up book, In Defense of Food, provided a great overall philosophy of eating and framework for a healthy diet (summarized by his catch phrase: "Eat Food. Mostly Plants. Not Too Much."). But the question remained: how do I actually parlay this approach into interesting, varied and reasonably convenient meals on the table?

There's a new book out by Mark Bittman (Food Maters: A Guide to Conscious Eating with More Than 75 Recipes) that I hope will help answer this question. My copy arrived just yesterday; so I haven't had a chance to read it. But I did see a related article by Bittman in today's New York Times that seems on point, offering some very specific suggestions on how to stock your pantry to support fresher, tastier and healthier eating. I look forward to putting his ideas into action.

January 4, 2009

Snow trip

I've been determined for a while to take the family on a trip to the snow. It was perhaps a bit foolish, as cold, wet conditions can be absolutely miserable for little ones. But Laurel (who is no great fan of snow herself) rallied big time, and we kicked off the new year with a last-minute road-trip to the mountains.

As expected, the kids' first foray into the white was a mix of excitement and tears: the thrill of saucer and toboggan rides was promptly pierced by the discomfort of snow-stuffed boots and sleeves. An outing on Day 2 to a snow park for kids lasted all of about 15 minutes. By the second sled run, Julia was as miserable as she's ever been.

I was extremely frustrated and disappointed, as I had wanted desperately for this to be a positive experience for everyone. Laurel, to her credit, managed best to maintain good spirits as we piled back into the car for the long drive home.

On the way, having already peeled the outer layers of winter garb from the kids, I decided we should give it one more try. I spotted a good place to pull off the road near an open meadow of soft, fresh snow. We re-bundled the kids and ventured out one more time.

Andrew was a good sport, but it's just plain tough for a two year old to stay comfortable for long in the snow.

Julia on the other hand, who an hour earlier I feared would have an ineradicable dread of snow, was having the time of her life. While Laurel and Andrew waited patiently in the car for about half an hour, Julia and I made a snow man, had a snowball fight, made snow angels, had "swim lessons," went hunting for Christmas trees, and on and on. "No, no, no, not yet!" she pled every time I suggested we start making our way back to the car.

The doubts I had about the "success" of the trip were erased. Julia can't wait to go back again. Things will be much easier for Andrew in a year or so. Laurel discovered that snow can in fact be fun. And I got myself a little mountain "fix."

December 23, 2008

The Musician's Way

I think the main thing a musician would like to do is give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things he knows and senses in the universe. That's what music is to me—it's just another way of saying this is a big, beautiful universe we live in, that's been given to us, and here's an example of just how magnificent and encompassing it is. That's what I would like to do. I think that's one of the greatest things you can do in life, and we all try to do it in some way. The musician's is through his music.

- John Coltrane, quoted in Ascension: John Coltrane and his Quest

November 30, 2008

How to listen to music with your whole body

For the first time in a while, I watched a few TED talks last night. I really enjoyed two in particular, both centered around music.

In the first, deaf percussionist Evelyn Glennie powerfully demonstrates how music can (and should) be experienced with much more than just listening with your ears.

In the second, renowned conductor Benjamin Zander leads a passionate and entertaining tour of a Chopin prelude, and then parlays this exercise into some broader lessons on leadership and life.

Here they are...

November 12, 2008

Amazon's new frustration-free packaging

I've long been a huge fan of, although I've also questioned the merits of online shopping in terms of its impact on the environment (not to mention the effect it has on local businesses and city and state sales tax revenues).

In any event, I'm glad to see that Amazon is rolling out a new "Frustration-free-packaging program," highlighted today in this Terrapass blog post. The products currently available are extremely limited, but I expect this will change quickly. As noted, it's a win-win-win (except, of course, for local businesses and public budgets).

November 7, 2008


I just learned (from a fellow member of the Palo Alto Camera Club) about a British photographer, Carl Warner, who, among other things, produces spectacular "landscape" images made entirely from food. For example, the water in the image above is made from salmon fillets, the rocks are bread and potatoes, and the little boat is a pea pod.

To see more foodscapes, go to his website and click on the orange box for "Fotographics."

October 25, 2008

Easing Your Way Into Jazz (Part 2)

It's been a while since my Part 1 post, but here are the rest of my top 10 recommended albums to ease your way into jazz:
  • Chairman of the Board by Count Basie. A swinging taste of the big band era (although it was recorded in 1958, long after that genre's heyday).
  • Blues Walk by Lou Donaldson. Relaxed bebop with an inviting mix of blues and swing (and a hint of latin rhythm at times).
  • Midnight Blue by Kenny Burrell. A moody, bluesy collection led by guitarist Kenny Burrell.
  • Jazz Samba by Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd. Quintessential bossa nova, combining the smooth saxophone of Stan Getz with the delicate guitar work of Charlie Byrd. A beautiful collection.
Check back later for a list of a few incredible albums that didn't make my "easing your way into the genre" list but are absolute must-haves for anyone who enjoys jazz.

October 24, 2008

Farmer in Chief

I've mentioned at least once below Michael Pollan and his most recent book, In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto. This book and its predecessor, The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals have had a tremendous impact on my views about food, on both a personal and societal level.

I discovered today an article by Pollan titled Farmer in Chief that appeared several weeks ago in the New York Times Magazine. It's an open letter to our next President outlining how our national food policies will drastically affect other much-discussed issues such as health, the environment, energy independence, foreign policy and overall national security.

I was encouraged to see that Obama has not only read Pollan's article, but seems able to digest (pardon the pun) and appreciate its significance:
"I was just reading an article in the New York Times by Michael Pollen about food and the fact that our entire agricultural system is built on cheap oil. As a consequence, our agriculture sector actually is contributing more greenhouse gases than our transportation sector. And in the mean time, it's creating monocultures that are vulnerable to national security threats, are now vulnerable to sky-high food prices or crashes in food prices, huge swings in commodity prices, and are partly responsible for the explosion in our healthcare costs because they're contributing to type 2 diabetes, stroke and heart disease, obesity, all the things that are driving our huge explosion in healthcare costs. That's just one sector of the economy. You think about the same thing is true on transportation. The same thing is true on how we construct our buildings. The same is true across the board."

- Barack Obama, from interview with Time's Joe Klein

October 15, 2008

Earthquake preparedness

As his activity with the Tournament of Roses wanes, my dad has gotten involved with the Red Cross. As a director of special projects, he is currently working with various southern California municipalities to help them improve their residents' readiness for major disasters. He pointed me to this very informative guide to living in earthquake country which I wanted to pass along.

A number of other great resources are available on the USGS Earthquake Preparedness & Response web page.

October 14, 2008

Time for a quiz

Here's a probability problem for you to chew on…

A contestant on a game show gets to pick 1 of 3 doors. Behind one door is a car. There is nothing behind the other two doors. The contestant chooses Door 1. The host, who knows where the car is, opens Door 3 to reveal to the contestant that there is nothing behind Door 3. He then asks the contestant if she now wants to pick Door 2 instead of Door 1.

Is it to the contestant's advantage to switch her choice?

October 2, 2008

I'm Surprised We Didn't Find Fossett's Wreckage

The wreckage of Steve Fossett's plane was just found, very close to where I went backpacking several weeks ago.

Below are a news photo of a member of the sheriff's search and rescue team and a snapshot taken during our trip. We stopped for lunch at Lake Cecile, right under the Minarets you see in the background of the news photo.

September 30, 2008

September madness

Gotta love this one...

Click on the image to view larger.