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Heard in silence:
Wednesday, December 22, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

As some of you may have guessed, I watched "They Live" the other day. It's an odd movie: a fine and archetypal premise and some moments of very intelligent cinema, but also lots of really silly stuff. What seems like the entire middle of the film (but is probably only five or ten minutes) is a long violent brawl between the two main good guys over whether or not the secondary good guy will put on the sunglasses. It's full of spectacular punches and body-slams and head-butts, and in verisimilitude and general tenor looks just like a professional wrestling bout. Which is partly explained, but hardly justified, by the fact that the main good guy is played by a professional wrestler. It does little to advance the plot or the story.

But a fun movie nonetheless.

Anyway, getting back to the main theme of this weblog, today we examine three related subjects: exterior angles of polygons, customer-operated credit card readers, and local zendos.

A simple question: what is an exterior angle of a polygon? Is it the angle formed externally between two adjacent sides? Or is it rather the angle formed by extending one side of the polygon? Inexplicably, the Web does not seem to have consensus on what seems like it ought to be an elementary definition. (For the little daughter's purposes, involving the New York State Regents Exam, the canonical answer seems to be the "extending one side" one.)

Another question, possibly less simple: why are so many stores arranging their checkout counters so that the customer, not the cashier / service person, is the one who swipes ("swipes") the credit card through the credit card scanner? At the local bookstore I put my credit card down on the counter, and the woman sort of looked at it and said "if you could swipe that yourself, that'd be great", and then I noticed the credit-card scanner sitting there, and after a brief interval of study to estimate the most likely correct orientation I swiped it.

I wondered aloud why things had been changed to work that way (since they didn't used to work that way), and she said that yeah everyone seems to be doing that now, and M agreed.

Are cashiers bad at swiping cards? Do cashiers tend to get sick (and therefore take sick days) when they come into contact with too many germ-laden credit cards? Have customers begun to suspect cashiers of stealing the information off their cards, or of quickly replacing their cards with clever but nonfunctional duplicates? These all seem unlikely.

Or did someone do a time-and-motion study somewhere and determine that 1% of transaction time could be shaved off (on average) by having the (paid) cashier pushing buttons on the cash device, while the (unpaid) customer is simultaneously swiping the credit card? (This despite the percentage of extra transaction time caused by clueless people like me who have to have the new system explained to them, and who take awhile to figure out which way to hold the card while swiping, and who then discuss the process for two or three seconds with the cashier and others in earshot.)

This also seems unlikely, but less unlikely than the earlier ones. Does anyone know? Does anyone read the retail trade journals and/or weblogs in which this issue has undoubtedly been hashed out at great length?

And similarly, I'm interested in doing zazen somewhere in company. I've been reading about it for years, and doing my own version of it on mountains and floors at random, but now I'd like to try it in an actual cultural setting, among people who are also doing it.

I poked around the Web a bit, natch. There's the Fire Lotus Temple down in Brooklyn, which looks rockin'. To get there for the 9:45 Sunday beginner's session it looks like I'd take the 7:27 (or the 7:00) from Croton-Harmon, arriving at Grand Central at 8:21 (or 8:07), then take the 4 line into Brooklyn; it takes about 30 minutes, and runs only every 12 minutes that time of a Sunday. Yoiks!

I'd be perfectly willing to get up at dawn for zazen in some fictional monastery somewhere in the mountains; but getting up at like 6:30 on a real-life Sunday to ride the train to Brooklyn? I dunno. Devoted, aren't I?   *8)

Closer to home, there's Empty Hand Zen and Pine Hill Zendo (which is apparently tiny, but rather famous), and White Plains Interfaith Zendo, and also rumors of a "Wellspring Zendo" in Pound Ridge. I don't suppose any of my readers have ever been to any of these? I suspect them of being tiny, and perhaps not the best place for a random pantheist who's never actually sat in company before to start out. I should appeal to the Goddess for advice, but she'd just drop an apple on my head or something...

Sunday, December 19, 2004  permanent URL for this entry


Friday, December 17, 2004  permanent URL for this entry

Ah, the start of a nice long Solstice vacation. Very relaxing, spiritually and elsewise.

I went out to lunch today with a bunch of interesting people, most of whom I'd never met before. It was instigated by Michael Sklaar of World Exchange, who thought (correctly) that it'd be neat to gather together a bunch of the local artist and writer types. (You can tell the kind of people he was thinking of by the fact that he scheduled the lunch for noon on a weekday, heh heh.)

There was Cathy Wald, of Rejection Collection, who I already knew because our daughters are in High School and F&W together. There was Patrick Huyghe of the Anomalist and other projects. There was Joan E. Lloyd of Secrets for Lovers and her partner, with whom I had great fun talking about the old days on alt dot sex dot stories (dot dee), and about the current state of erotic publishing. There was Peter Meskin, son of Mort Meskin the comic (and non-comic) artist. There was Rita King, who writes for the local paper (and other things), and who wrote a story about it the first time (a subset of) this group got together (I wasn't there for that one). There was Victor Chase, a freelance writer who's done work for IBM, including (small world department) a piece about IBM's anti-virus research that involved interviewing me, four or five years ago. And there were a dozen or so other people whose names I don't remember and whose URLs I didn't write down.

It was great fun, talking to a bunch of non-IBM adults face to face. We talked about politics (of course), and about the flow of stories from generation to generation, and about writing and book publishing and small towns in upstate New York, and the light on the Maine coast, and the price of gas. We exchanged names and email addresses and phone numbers. It was (oh, I just said that) great.

A piece on MeFi about generative art (remember pattan?) led to MetaMix which seems very cool (and the artist is very self-aware). I wrote to him to ask if he'd made a verion of MetaMix that can mix together multiple pieces (rather than just different parts of the same piece), and he replied that he'd tried but it hadn't worked out, although some of the ideas ended up in his Gnutella mixer, which also looks interesting. (I'm politically and culturally approving of things like Gnutella, but somehow never actually install any of them myself.)

Generative art reminded me of Web Collage, and following up a picture there led me to this page on this weblog (neither entirely SFW), whose feed is now in my reader (after I modified the reader to strip leading whitespace off of xml feeds).

I'm stunned to find that there are no Google hits on "ipsivore"; a word that I used once as a username somewhere, and which must be more of a neologism than I thought. They'll be at least one hit on it soon. *8)

A monk asked Ummon: "What is Buddha?"
Ummon answered him: "Dried dung."

I'm listening to "One Bird, One Stone" from Audible (I'd link to it if Audible's web site weren't stupid). "108 American Zen stories", it's called. So far it's more a relatively straightforward history of Zen in America than a modern American Sasheki-Shu (translated as "101 Zen Stories" in Paul Rep's "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones"). But it's still good and interesting, and has reminded me of Zen again, which is always good.

Having been reminded of Zen, I went upstairs to the library to look around, and found that I have lots more Alan Watts than I thought I had, and I have Shunryu Suzuki's "Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind", and I also have a lovely little boxed edition of Reps' "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones". I have no idea where that latter came from (if you gave it to me, or to us, as a gift years ago, apologies for having forgotten the face, and thanks again for it; it's Just Right). I remember a well-read paperback copy (yellow, I think it was) of "Zen Flesh, Zen Bones" from my childhood; I loved it.

Pupil: Why did the Bodhidharma come from India to China?
Master: I have no idea. Why do people always ask me that?

And of course thinking of Zen and koans reminds me of our own broken koans. I really should give those their own page. I made a couple of images; does that count as a start?

One final link: from Marginal Revolution, a story about a really expensive piece of virtual real estate. Most noteworthy because, although the virtual real estate was sold in virtual money, that virtual money is apparently easily converted into real money (so it's not so virtual after all). Interesting times.


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