Posts from 2005

Science Probes Happiness, Discovers Spiritual Truths

I love it when this happens. A team of psychologists at U.C. Riverside took a look at happiness and the things that go along with it. As the Guardian puts it:
The findings suggest that happiness is not a “feelgood” luxury, but is essential to people’s wellbeing. What is more, happiness can also extend across an entire nation, with people in “happy” nations being more likely to have pro-democratic attitudes and a keenness to help others.
You don’t say. But wait, there’s more:
“Almost always it has been assumed that things that correlate with happiness are the causes of happiness, but it could be just the opposite—that those things tend to be caused by happiness,” said Professor Ed Diener from the University of Illinois, another author on the paper.
Now this is interesting. I read a Zen book a while back that stressed the point that, in any causal … read full post »

Bears in the News

I love it when there’s a bear in the news! This time we’ve got a 600 pound black bear up in Pennsylvania who decided he’d hibernate under some poor family’s porch this winter. There’s only one way this can go:
On Sunday, Sainvil sent his two children, ages 8 and 9, outside to play in the snow. “After 15 or 20 minutes, they came back screaming, ‘Dad, Dad! There’s a bear under the house!’” Sainvil said.
Earlier today, the bear was relocated without incident.

They Ruined NyQuil!

Many of my friends, I have discovered over the past few years, are fellow members of the Church of NyQuil—true believers in the product’s ability to mitigate the inherent nastiness of a winter cold that’s set in. I imagine they’ll be as horrified as I am to learn that one of NyQuil’s key ingredients, pseudoephedrine (a.k.a. Sudafed, the lowest-common-denominator knock-you-out-but-clear-your-sinuses decongestant) has been removed from the NyQuil mix, apparently because too many FUCKING TWEAK JUNKIES* were stealing NyQuil to make crystal meth. So, this Public Service Announcement: When your winter cold sets in, look for the generic NyQuil equivalent that hasn’t yet removed the precious de-snotting ingredient.

* Sorry for the caps. But tweakers suck.
[spotted at digg.comfinally, a better Slashdot than Slashdot!]

Drop Frustrations. Take Flight.

There’s a nice little piece over at the WSJ Online (the free part of their online presence) about interactive fiction (or IF—sometimes referred to as text adventures). The 11th Annual Interactive Fiction Competition has just come to a close, and there are a clutch of new games to be played. Color me excited. Sure, modern games are great, but to a wordsmith like me, there is something special about interactive fiction. Beautiful prose that responds to the “reader’s” impulses may seem quaint by today’s gaming standards, but I find something restful and unique about a largely blank screen, a few magical words, and a blinking cursor. (As I have said before.)

Flying out to (and back from) Boston last June, I played For a Change and Galatea, two award-winning, free works of IF. Neither will drive you nuts with insane puzzles, and both contain some … read full post »

I Should Buy a Lotto Ticket

On the ballot I filled out yesterday for our Special Election, there were only eight items: the eight statewide propositions. (There were no local issues in Oakland.) I gleefully went to my polling place and electronically checked “NO” eight times. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at the ballot box. It felt shockingly good. And I wasn’t doing this just because I think the initiative system is terribly out of control—none of the props were worth supporting. Every single last damn one of them had fatal flaws, even the ones that good folks managed to sneak onto Arnold’s Ballot of Evil.

I awoke this morning to hear on the radio that all eight measures went down in flames. So for the first time in my life, the complete results of an election matched my own votes exactly. How much you wanna bet that never happens again?

On Moving the Walls and Seeing the Sky

Today Chronicle columnist and fellow Oaklander Jon Carroll wrote:
About 10 years ago I realized that my idea of reality was changing. It was as though I were in a room, an ordinary square room with a sofa and a table and floor lamp, and slowly all the edges began separating. Slowly the walls pulled away from the floor and the ceiling, and the walls pulled away from each other. I could see something between the cracks.

For want of a better word, I called the space outside the walls “sky.”
The rest of the piece is definitely worth reading. I think I know what Carroll is talking about: A couple of years ago now, I was sitting in a room of my own when there was suddenly a fantastic explosion that blew the walls out about three feet, and the sky just poured in. Everything has been different since … read full post »

Kevin Padian: One of My Heroes (Or: Why Intelligent Design Isn’t)

Kevin PadianWhen I was at Cal, I had to take a damn physical sciences course, so as a freshman, I took Integrative Biology 33, a famed Dinosaurs 101* sort of class usually taught by one Kevin Padian, who turned out to be one of the top five professors I ever had. Padian is Mr. Paleontology at Berkeley, and his classes are absolutely electric. The dude has the kind of passion for his work that is contagious. When you hear him talk about how birds developed from raptorish dinos, you get excited, not just because he pumps the story full of wonder and energy, but because the man knows his stuff like no one else, and he manages to work every last shred of evidence for his case into the folksy talk he’s giving you.

But wait, he gets better. Here’s how big a cross-discipline thinker Padian is: He taught a … read full post »

Gas From a Burner

a Burning ManAt long last, I got off my ass and culled through all the pics I took at Burning Man this year, and put the best ones up in a gallery over in the museyroom.

My second Burn was different in many, many ways from my first, but it was nevertheless a fantastic experience. There were highlights I wouldn’t dare talk about here, and low points that only make sense if you’ve been inside my head. There was growth. There were journeys, each and every day. I spent much of the week with a couple of friends whom I rarely see and who are as dear to me as anyone. And I came back to the default world feeling about fifteen degrees out of kilter, like I was looking at everything freshly, from a new angle. And that, in one sense, is what the Burn is all about.

Mr. Mojo Risin’s Girl

According to the St. Petersburg Times, the lyrics Jim Morrison wrote for The Doors’ first three albums were largely about his ex, one Mary Werbelow, who has never spoken to the press. Until now.

Morrison has always struck me as one of the twentieth century’s great poets in pain*. I’ve never listened to the three albums in question — I’ve just got the ubiquitous two-disc “Best of the Doors” compilation — but I’ve been on quite a classic rock kick lately, so perhaps it’s time to finally explore them.

[*A memory: An enchanting and sylphlike girl named Selby introduced me to the phrase “poet in pain” back in college. She described me with those words before adding heaps more pain to the load I already carried at the time. She then danced, awkwardly, out of my life forever. I very likely listened to some of The Doors’ darker stuff … read full post »

Monthly? Not According to Nature

I remember reading this Malcolm Gladwell piece in the New Yorker back in 2000, and am glad to see it up on Gladwell’s site, since the New Yorker doesn’t put their archives up on the Web. I think that every woman on the Pill should give this a read. Synopsis: The Pill’s chief designer didn’t know as much about how women’s bodies “should” work as he thought he did. Result: Uncertain, but there’s a lot of interesting info in here that I’d imagine you’d be interested in if you are putting a chemical into your body every day that affects your reproductive system. There’s also some discussion of the article over at MetaFilter, where I found the link today.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Three cheers for rubbers and diaphragms!

I’m Still Alive

Yes, I came back from the playa in one piece. Changed, but in one piece. Pictures will post soon, and a few of them are really great. I’ve had damn little time for proper “decompression” (the Burner word for re-integrating yourself into the non-playa world without going nuts), having been Best Man in a best friend’s wedding a few short days after I returned, and having been kept on a total freaking treadmill by work and a few other obligations since then. I just want things to calm down and be still for a day or two, but it’s looking like there’s no chance of that for at least another week. Sigh.

In My Mind, I’m Already There

When I was young, I was unfortunately taught to expect a certain bargain out of life. “Work hard,” they told me, “be nice to others, always do your best, and you’ll be rewarded. Good things will come your way.” Of course it isn’t true. There is no bargain to be had with life, no contract you can sign that will remove the uncertainties, the unsatisfactoriness, and the occassional crippling blow.

The playa is different. Last year, the playa made a bargain with me: “Go back out there into that crazy, hardhearted, messed-up world, and survive it for just another year. Get through twelve more months of all that frightful bullshit, and you’ll get to come back here. You’ll get to come back home.”

I have held up my end of the bargain. I have endured another year. I have triumphed over the poisonous air of my daily commute, the … read full post »

Site Woe

My home-grown, bare-bones comments system here on the mahna mahblog has long remained esoteric enough to be untouched by comment-spam bots.

Sadly, it’s no longer true. There’s been a shipload of comment spam around here lately. I’ve cleaned up most of it, and, sadly, destroyed a few legit comments along the way. I’ve also made some changes to the site code so as to perhaps hide myself from these evil bastards once again. We shall see.

The Anonyman Visits

When I arrived home yesterday, the following was taped to my front door:

The Man (rendered on notebook paper)

Hell yeah I’m excited! The Man burns in 28 days!

[So much to do, so much to do!]

Put Down the Evian

We are extremely lucky to live in a part of the world where the water that flows from the tap is potable. (I have a friend in India who’s only known that luxury during the years she lived here.) This fantastic op-ed at the New York Times reminds us that bottled water, the trendy alternative so many of us adore, is just plain evil. My brother, a civil engineer who knows a thing or two about what happens to our tap water in this country, told me years ago how big a crock bottled water is, and gave me this fantastic tip: If you don’t like the way your tap water tastes, let it settle in a refrigerated, glass jar. And as for any concerns you have that your tap water ain’t safe to drink, here’s the scoop: It’s very likely safer than that designer H2O … read full post »