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Enter pun:
Wednesday, March 2, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

So, "podcasting".

I'd heard all about how wonderful it was and all, but hadn't really figured out what it was. Finally spent ten minutes looking into it, and it turns out that it means making mp3 files and putting them up on the Web and then announcing that they're there via RSS or whatever so that people can use clients that automatically notice and download them.


Nothing specifically to do with either iPods or broadcasting, but there you are.

(Also stuck a one-sentence definition into the beginning of the Wikipedia entry, before the hyperbole and discussion of aggregators and so on; although by now who knows what it says.)

Reading somewhere about a particular outstanding podcast, I downloaded it and started it playing (no RSS readers or iPods involved, sadly). After five minutes of random chitchat, weak jokes about coffee and the local weather, discussions of what other podcasts the two guys had been on, lots of chuckling and one guy saying "really" (or "really?" or "really!") every five or six seconds, I pushed STOP. I, like, have other things I could be doing with my time.

The trouble with audio in general is that you can't skim, you can't scroll, and you can't scan. You can't (conveniently) skip the fluff. You have to go at the speed of the speaker (I listen way slower than I read). And it's generally a pain to back up, and sometimes even to pause. And you're cut off (more than when you're reading) from the people around you.

So far, then, I've found audio useful only when for some reason I can't read (but can listen). For me, those times are pretty much:

  1. Driving to and from work (60 to 90 minutes a day, five days a week),
  2. Exercising (45 or so minutes a day, three days a week),
  3. Grocery shopping (maybe 45 to 60 minutes, once a week).

During (1) I listen to NPR on the radio. Since that's the main way that I get my news (the main other ways being Google, and looking at Bill's copy of the Times during lunch), I'm not likely to give that up. Also it's designed by experienced professionals to be just the right size and at a reasonable speed, and I don't generally get bored or annoyed.

During (2) and (3) I do listen to stuff on my iPod, so that's a place where I could listen to "podcasts". But those only amount to like three or four hours a week. Already in there I listen to Susie Bright's "In Bed", various audiobooks from Audible, and the occasional series of lectures on the Diamond Sutra downloaded from the web somewhere. So I'm pretty booked. *8)

Which is to say that I don't expect to listen to nearly as many weblog-like things as I currently read weblog-like things, anytime in the foreseeable future.

But maybe that's just me.

(I realize it's entirely possible that a year from now, when I'm subscribed to a dozen podcasts to which I listen regularly and am producing my own daily 20 minutes of mp3 file, this posting will seem kind of embarassing. But that's okay!)

And now I'm going to write about a completely different subject. To avoid confusion, I've put in these cunning horizontal rules to emphasize the fact.

In various systems of belief or religions or whatever, perhaps including Zen and/or (other aspects of) Buddhism, there is the idea that something happens when (roughly) one realizes that the dividing up of the outside world into things, and/or the labelling of those things with various labels, and/or having certain reactions to those labelled things, is (roughly) optional. Or "illusion" or "delusion" or "unreal" or something along those lines. And that (therefore, or at least relatedly) language cannot express truth (or other words to that effect).

As logged awhile back, I think that to some extent the content of this realization turns out to be true of this (pointing) particular universe. That is, the dividing up of the universe into things really is optional, not inherent in the universe itself, language really can't express truth (well, roughly), and so on.

(The details and consequences of this realization vary with belief system and sect, but for tonight's purposes we can just call it "enlightenment" or something.)

Okay, so that's the background. Given that there's this significant thing that seems to be true of this universe, we can ask:

  • Could there be universes of which it isn't true?
  • If so, could such universes have conscious beings in them?
  • If so, is there something different but related that those beings could still realize that would be significantly like enlightenment is in this universe?

I'm mostly offering only the questions tonight, not any answers. *8) But as an approach to the first two questions, consider say an extremely beefed-up version of The Sims; beefed up enough, in particular, to support conscious beings. In that universe, the dividing up of the world into things with properties would be baked into the physics (and perhaps therefore not optional). Furthermore, experiencing those objects in certain ways might also not be optional (when the presence of rotting food reaches directly into one's own properties and reduces one's "room" score via the underlying laws of the universe, it's tough to argue that it's optional, or an illusion).

So (assuming that sketch of an argument could be expanded into a real argument), in such a universe, is there still some equivalent of enlightenment?

A nice question, I think...

Tuesday, March 1, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

Snow here, overnight; schools closed; kids happy. I used the snowblower on the driveway (and the neighbor's driveway, because they're away; last time we were away and it snowed, they did our driveway). But the pile of snow around the mailbox was too heavy and slushy for the snowblower, so I did it by hand, the old way, with a blue plastic shovel. That was nice.

"This is a directory of 2160 online papers on consciousness and related topics."

"The concept of Weasel Trek is simple. Each weasel is mailed to someone somewhere in the world. When the host receives it, they take the weasel sightseeing and photograph it with local landmarks and vistas. Then, it's on to the next stop the weasel gets put back in its mailing tube and sent on to the next deserving host. We post the story and photos from each leg of the journey here at weaseltrek.com so everyone can track their favorite weasel's adventures. You can subscribe to our RSS feed and never be out of touch."

A reader writes:

Apparently Buddha, Natalie Portman and Arcane Symbol are all big black rectangles now.

This perhaps depends on the constrast setting on your display. They're actually big black rectangles with subtle dark images embedded inside.

I took a look at your site a couple of hours ago...
and I want to tell you that I'd really love to trade links with you. I think your site has some really good stuff related to my site's topic of cheese and would be a great resource for my visitors as it deals with some great aspects of cheese that I'd like to give my visitors more information about.

So I can't decide about procrastination.

I mean, there are a number of things I ought to be doing, in the sense that I want to get them done by a certain time (a different certain time, in general, for each thing). But I'm not actually doing any of them.

I'm writing in my weblog, or poking around on Usenet, or eating an apple, or whatever.

I do this alot. And sometimes when I do this I think "this is wrong; I should be doing one of those things that I ought to be doing."

But I don't know if that's right.

That is, so far in life (for years and years) I've done pretty well, in terms of getting things done by the time I wanted to get them done, and getting them done well enough that people liked them, and paid me for them, and stuff.

Maybe this "proscrastination" is part of that having done pretty well, rather than an obstacle to it.

Maybe it's because I'm sitting here writing in my weblog rather than doing one of the things that I ought to be doing, that I will eventually get all of those "ought" things done, and get them done well enough to continue with my general pattern of doing pretty well.

Could be.

Maybe I'll go get a cup of coffee.

Sunday, February 27, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

Court Cases We're Watching Dept: Kelo v. New London, which asks the musical question:

What protection does the Fifth Amendment's public use requirement provide for individuals whose property is being condemned, not to eliminate slums or blight, but for the sole purpose of "economic development" that will perhaps increase tax revenues and improve the local economy?

(Note that nice juicy "perhaps", too.)

Reason magazine notes that

Justice Antonin Scalia sought to clarify the principle guiding the city's use of eminent domain: "Are we saying you can take from A and give to B if B pays more taxes?"

"If they are significantly more," Horton said.

Of course "take from A" here means "take from A and give A some low-ball 'market value' amount in recompense"; a great comfort.

Reason's weblog points to an interesting (if somewhat disheartening) online debate on the issue. The disheartening part is that both sides take it for granted that it's fine for the government to force you to sell them your house as long as they have a good enough reason; they're just arguing what reasons are "good enough", and how much they have to pay you in recompense. This is the kind of thing that pushes me toward radical libertarianism.

One wonderful quote:

It troubles me that you would inflate vague property rights to limit severely local self-government.

Where "vague property rights" means "you own your stuff" and "local self-government" means "your neighbors can take your stuff away from you if they feel like it". Wouldn't want to "inflate" that first thing to "limit severely" that second one, would we? Oh no, surely not!

Where's that KYFHO bumper sticker?

Whew. To relax a bit with book trivia, I'll note that on the way up to Concord (back from which we now are) we stopped as traditional at Travellers (Traveller's, Travellers') Food and Books. The allowance that day was three free books per person. Only I took three: the Dover Thrift Edition of Melville's "Bartleby" and "Benito Cereno", Fitzgerald's "Babylon Revisted and other stories", and K. K. Beck "Young Mrs. Cavendish and the Kaiser's Men" (an "engaging foray into the 1920s"). The little daughter took some opera libretto in parallel Italian and English, because it looked neat. I dunno if M or the little boy took anything at all. We're drowning in books as it is, of course...

We live surrounded by hills and trees and lakes and walls and sofas, and our great mistake is in thinking "We live surrounded by hills and trees and lakes and walls and sofas".

Back to politics and fraud and stupidity: here's There is no crisis dot com, a site whose message I think I agree with, but which I find irritatingly smug or strident or whatever it is that always irritates me in this sort of site.

And from Fox of all places, more on the Salt Hoax:

Americans should slash their consumption of salt by half says a new government report. But the recommendation has no basis in science and may even be harmful to your health.

See also this old but interesting piece on the subject.

I was talking to somebody (hopefully a reader of this weblog) the other day about the status and fate of OS/2, and then today I read a passing mention on Groklaw of the ecom station, a box that runs (among other things) OS/2. So there you are.

And here's a note from Larry Lessig about an opportunity to help save (access to) "orphan works" (things whose copyright owners can't be found). A Good Cause.

Maps dot google dot com works in Opera now (I'm pleased to report).

And that's it for the night. It's nice to be home...

Saturday, February 26, 2005  permanent URL for this entry

China Pearl

Yesterday we went to China Pearl again (and note that this time I've spelled (or "spelt") it right (and also this time Concord has broadband)). It was great fun again. At early lunchtime on a Friday (or at least this particular Friday) it's much less crowded than it was that other time (prime lunchtime on a Saturday, I think it was) so we didn't have the very memorable half-hour wait on the crowded staircase, we just went up and in. The interior, though, was satisfactorily bustling and noisy. The women with the little carts immediately came around and offered us stuff, and we ate lots of good food; and at the end the bill was surprisingly tiny (around fifty dollars for eight people; no extra charge for the atmosphere at all, really!).

It would be fun, we said during lunch, if there were American restaurants run on the same principle. Little carts with Buffalo wings, little carts with small slices of pizza, little carts with corn-dogs, little carts with those tiny cut-up sandwiches. Maybe little carts with crocks of French Onion Soup. And you'd have a card on the table that each of the cart-handlers would stamp to indicate what you'd taken.

"You folks want some Corn Dogs? How about a nice Chili Corn Dog?"

"You have any of those little Philly Cheese Steaks?"

"She'll be along in just a minute, ma'am."

From Steve who used to have a weblog, some pretty pictures of pretty artifacts, that Steve describes as "of potential interest to the mathematically inclined".

From out of the past, Giant Exploding:

Giant Exploding: Keep Right


nouveau - and are be fury/ an smog a by consortium/ sock below? acquaintance with lateran/ creon, and faucet dnieper be devolve

data recovery

No more giants

guacamole tacos!

Big Relief!

Note the admirable ability of my readers to go beyond the surface meaning of the text. Keep up the good work, readers!


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