So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
Ethnicity. that of my father and his father before him
Location Altadena, CA
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The Link To Zanzibar's Past
This is my page in the beloved art community that my sister got me into:
Extra points for people who know what Samarinda is.
The Phases of the Moon Module
The Tree and the Telephone Pole
I Do Not Know Their Names
Today I am Young
A Night Poem
Siren of the Sea
If I Were a Dragon
To the Dreamers Leave the Sky
The Honor of the Oyster
Return From San Diego
A Late Summer's Night
Of Dragons and Men
The Edge of the World
The Snake's Terror
Metaphysics and the Middaymoon
Of Adventures in Foreign Lands
The Rogue Wave: The Unedited Version
Adventures in the PRC
Voyage of Discovery
Drinking the Blood of Goats
Ticket for a Phantom Bus
Os peixes nadam o mar
Three Villages Far Away
The River Weser
Children I Should Have Kidnapped, Part I
Let's Get You Out of Those Clothes
If Underwear Could Speak
Croc Hunter/Combat Wombat
Only My Favorite Baseball Player EVER
Aw, Larry Walker, how I loved thee.
M: Science and Exploration
T: Cook a nice dinner
Th: Parties, movies, dinners
F: Picnics, the Louvre
S: Read books, go for walks, PARKOUR
Su: Philosophy, Religion
The Reading List
This list starts Summer 2006
A Crocodile on the Sandbank
Tales of the Alhambra (in progress)
Dark Lord of Derkholm
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
The Lost Years of Merlin
Harry Potter a l'ecole des sorciers (in progress)
Atlas Shrugged (in progress)
A Long Way Gone (story of a boy soldier in Sierra Leone- met the author! w00t!)
The Eye of the World: Book One of the Wheel of Time
From Magma to Tephra (in progress)
Lady Chatterley's Lover
Harry Potter 7
The No. 1 Lady's Detective Agency
Introduction to Planetary Volcanism
A Child Called "It"
Is Multi-Culturalism Bad for Women?
Americans in Southeast Asia: Roots of Commitment (in progress)
What's So Great About Christianity?
Aeolian Dust and Dust Deposits
The City of Ember
The People of Sparks
When I was in Cuba, I was a German Shepard
The Golden Compass
Clan of the Cave Bear
The 9/11 Commission Report (2nd time through, graphic novel format this time, ip)
The Incredible Shrinking Man
The Elves of Cintra
The Gypsy Morph
Animorphs #23: The Pretender
Animorphs #25: The Extreme
Animorphs #26: The Attack
A Journey to the Center of the Earth
A Great and Terrible Beauty
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
To Sir, With Love
Alice in Wonderland
Through the Looking Glass
20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
The Hunger Games
Shadows and Strongholds
The Jungle Book
Beatrice and Virgil
The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
No One Ever Told Us We Were Defeated
The Name of the Wind
Tao Te Ching
What Paul Meant
Lao Tzu and Taoism
Sand and Sandstones
Lost Christianites: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew
The Science of God
Great Contemporaries, by Winston Churchill
City of Bones
Around the World in 80 Days, by Jules Verne
Stranger in a Strange Land
The Old Man and the Sea
Flowers for Algernon
Au Bonheur des Ogres
The Road to Serfdom
De La Terre ÔŅĹ la Lune (ip)
In the Light of What We Know
Devil in the White City
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August
How to Be a Good Wife
A Mote in God's Eye
A Gentleman in Russia
The Fatal Conceit: The Errors of Socialism
Seneca: Letters from a Stoic
Conversations with Foreign Boys
Saturday. 9.25.10 6:24 pm
Greek Boy: Where are you from?
Me: I'm from Colorado.... it is very mountainous.
Greek Boy: Ah, yes, I've been to Colorado... the mountains were not very impressive.
Greek Boy: The Alps are much more impressive.
Me: Where did you go in the Rockies?
Greek Boy: Vail and Beaver Creek. They were fine, but they just don't compare to the Alps. They just aren't quite as... pointy.
Me: Clearly you went to the wrong parts of the Rockies!
Greek Boy: That's the thing about the Alps though, there are no "wrong parts"... every part of the Alps is impressive.
Me: .... I have to go.... [BEFORE I PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE!]
Greek Boy: Will you let me in? I was locked out.
Me: What is the password?
Greek Boy: Um... "blah"
Me: No, the password was "Colorado is awesome."
Greek Boy: Did you make that the password because nobody would ever think to say it?
Me: ::turns red, explodes::
Me: Where are you from in India?
Indian Boy: I've been living in Bangalore.
Me: Ah! This is random, but we named our wireless internet network "Mangalore-Bangalore".
Indian Boy: WHAT? I'm originally from MANGALORE!!!
Me: (five minute conversation about why I don't drink coffee)
Filipino Boy: So, do you want to get coffee sometime?
I step back in my flip-flops directly onto a large shard of glass. Blood proceeds to pour all over the steps, my friend runs to get bandages
Me: ...I've never seen so much of my own blood...
A Foray into Science Fiction
Thursday. 9.23.10 11:43 pm
It was the Thirty-Third Annual Conference of Particle Physics, but it was the first to be held on Meeting Cloud, the most popular virtual meeting place on the web. Despite the fact that most particle physicists considered themselves on the tip of the cutting edge of modern science, they lagged well behind in some of the more technological aspects, and many scientists had staunchly opposed the Meeting Cloud concept as a matter of principle: why study science at all if you don't get an occasional trip to Geneva?
The "ballroom", therefore, reflected the inverted hierarchy that had been inadvertantly created by attempting to infuse such a high-tech meeting concept into such a technologically backwards group of theoreticians and modellers. The avatars of the young scientists were visually appealing and technically complex, reflecting hours of wasted programming and use of the more social crossover platforms such as the sports platform ThunderCloud and the popular dating site, Cloud9.
Conversely, the senior scientists were represented in the virtual room as coarse, pixelated shapes with very little detail and even less expression-tracking. Their complex, meandering questions and highfalutin utterances seemed to emanate in a disembodied way from the center of their drab, emotionless avatars. Talking to them inevitably resulted in the same mild feeling of discomfort experienced when trying to meet the eyes of a person wearing sunglasses.
Most of the professors and senior researchers had the standard first-level avatar: a featureless three dimensional person with an uploaded head-shot stretched over where the face ought to be. The professors clearly had not grasped the concept that the uploaded image was meant to be cropped to the edges of the face. Many of them had uploaded photos with several people in them, creating the illusion of many-headed monster avatars. Professor Chung-Hee Kim had chosen a photo where he was looking up, causing everyone he met to involuntarily follow his gaze, even when they knew that the picture was static. Bill Corning, the neutrino expert out of Haverford University, had an advanced avatar that resembled him almost exactly (minus about ten years, his colleagues remarked unkindly). It was even outfitted with a dynamic suite of real-time emoticon expressions, but everyone knew that he had forced his graduate student to program it for him, so it seemed less impressive. Sasha Ivanov, who studied hadrons, had programmed a very impressive face, but the whole avatar was only a bust, which made him seem like a floating, decapitated head. He was distressed to discover that he would not be standing behind a podium during his talk. Chang Li and Herb Walker and several others were still walking around as large, three dimensional question marks due to their complete inability to grasp the avatar creation dialog. This irritated the conference organizers, but a semi-transparent text box that floated just above each person's head made them more recognizable than any name tag had ever managed, even despite their failed avatars.
Two Short Lives Inside an Envelope
Tuesday. 9.21.10 8:30 am
We briefly had a problem with maggots in our trash, it is disgusting to admit. Some house-flies got in somehow and the trash didn't have a lid and there were house-fly maggots in the trash.
We got rid of them.
But somehow, an errant envelope from American Airlines offering me 20,000 free miles in exchange for signing up for a credit card fell behind the microwave stand as I was throwing it away unopened.
As I was cleaning the house the other day, I found the envelope and picked it up, ready to immediately throw it away again. Then I saw it: two small, dead house flies.
Inside the envelope.
I could see them through the clear plastic address window.
I examined the envelope. It was indeed still sealed... except for a tiny opening right at the top of the V in the corner that formed if you bent the envelope *just so*.
Small enough for a maggot to get in, too small for a fly to get out.
The Gamelan 2
Tuesday. 9.14.10 11:38 pm
Playing in the gamelan is much like meditation. You sit cross-legged on the floor, but you can't think about how uncomfortable it is to sit cross-legged on the floor, or how your life is going, or what you will eat for dinner, or what you are going to do tomorrow, you can only think about the melody, you can only count the rhythm in your mind. Every instrument leans on all of the others. The gong follows the melody of the balungan instruments (literally "skeleton"), and the bonang accent the balungan on off notes and play melodies that interlock with each other to form one, warbling, shimmering whole. The kenong often plays every two notes, on opposite notes as the kempul. Everyone follows the tempo of the drum, but relies on the gong to keep time for them.
The moment your mind starts to wander or other thoughts enter your head, you lose count, you get off a note, or a measure, and not only you but the whole gamelan veers off course.
Far more effective than trying to meditate by counting the number of your breaths, you must count the breaths of the whole gamelan, which is more like a feeling of intense focus than an arithmetic operation.
This semester not only do we have a large number of people playing, almost all of them have already been in the gamelan for several semesters. Our professors say that this might be the most experienced group they've ever had in this class. Because of this we might get to learn some new instruments, and we might try to learn most of the songs by ear instead of relying on the notation. Already the gamelan sounds fantastic! We might even perform for Southeast Asia Day in mid-November, if we can figure out how to carry the gamelan to the concert hall across campus!
Precision and the Javanese Gamelan
Tuesday. 9.7.10 9:30 pm
Some of the instruments at the palace in Solo, Indonesia, are known to have spirits living inside of them.
Should you accidentally brush by one of these instruments as you are trying to take your seat, you must always politely excuse yourself to the instrument exactly as you would a person.
You must never step over the instruments, or drop anything on them, for you never know exactly which of the instruments is harboring a spirit inside, and what kind of attitude that spirit has.
There are some songs, soft and slow, that reverberate off the walls of a gamelan concert hall, which are very powerful and dangerous. There is an Indonesian word that these songs are known by which has no equivalent in English. It says something about how the song must be played with utmost care and reverence, otherwise many dangers could befall the members of the gamelan.
So it was with great care that Harjito's ensemble, all students studying the central Indonesia gamelan, burned an offering of incense and flowers and asked politely of the composer's spirit and the spirits of the instruments if they might be allowed to play one of these special songs, one of these dangerous songs.
Unfortunately, something happened during the song. One could never really say whose fault it was, one never really can when it comes to the gamelan, since the gamelan has no true conductor, and each musician follows the other like leaves carried along on a stream. But they made a mistake and did not play the piece correctly.
As they were putting up the instruments for the night, one of the instruments crashed to the ground despite being held up by three people. Later that night one of the dancers let out a blood-curdling scream from the girls' room, followed almost instantly by an equal scream from the boys' room. Harjito and the others rushed to see what had happened, and the girl told them that she had awoken to see a tall dark man over her about to stab her with a large knife. When she screamed the man had leapt away into the darkness. The boy said that he had screamed after seeing a tall dark man leaping over his bed... in the room next door.
Three more times that night were the gamelan players awoken by members of their party. Once they found a boy hitting one of the large kettle gongs with his fists: he claimed that he had been fighting with someone.
"That was long ago, in Indonesia, when I was still a student," Harjito says peering through his glasses, now a master and composer of gamelan music and among the premiere gamelan musicians in the world. "But the place is still haunted."
Last First Day of School
Wednesday. 9.1.10 10:41 am
Today is my last first day of school.
It is the final year of my PhD program.
It is the last semester I will be taking classes.
It's about time... I've been going to school for more than twenty years!
I got new folders and new notebooks at Target.
I wore a bright polo shirt and khakis.
The beginning of school is supposed to be a time for new beginnings, right?
So why does it feel like everything, everything is ending?
Monday. 8.30.10 9:29 pm
The package had contained a small, thin, wooden case, the type one might use to hold business cards. The top was inset with carvings. There were plants and vines and painted flowers, complicated but symmetrical in the Russian fashion. There was no note.
The case opened on two small golden hinges along an unobtrusive seam marked with an indentation large enough for a fingernail. The inside was plain wood, with an oval depression on either side like a soap dish.
He looked behind him reflexively, expecting to see a nurse peering through the door with her hard face, looking for an excuse to take the case away. They must not have realized what it was, that he would know what it was: a Russian puzzle-box, just like the ones his grandfather used to give him as a boy. His fingers had been smaller then; they hadnít trembled like they did now, but the memories were still there, still engraved inside those bony hands of his like the vines on the face of the case. So the nurses didn't know everything after all, he thought gleefully. His heart was hammering as he traced his finger along the intricate carvings, looking for the tiny catches that would release the box.
He felt a click, and the wood gently expanded outwards in his hands. He gingerly eased the case open along the hinges, and pressed a featureless spot along the upper rim, which gave under his touch. With a little shake, the false top of the box came free in his hand. Underneath the wood, inlaid into the top of the box, was a small mirror.
There was nothing else.
His excitement turned to puzzlement. He turned the mirror upwards and caught sight of his face in it.
A mirror. How odd. It was something that he had stopped noticing long ago, but there were no mirrors here at the center. It used to confuse him when he first arrived, washing his hands at the sink in the communal menís room, looking up at a wall made of painted cinderblock. There was a ring around the edges that made it look like there had once been a mirror there that had been removed.
He had supposed that in some sense looking into a mirror was nothing but a sort of vanity. Perhaps the staff had come to the conclusion that the old had nothing to be vain about, that if they gazed into the mirror they would only see marching age and death. Having gone so long without a mirror, he was confused to see that he looked almost exactly as he had remembered, exactly as he had been the morning they had come to surprise him after breakfast, before he had even watered the rhododendrons, to take him away. His hand went automatically to the crown of his head, where wispy tendrils of frail white hair had gone astray. How long had it been since he had seen his own face? Something was different about it, all the same. He stretched open his lips to reveal his long, grey teeth, crowded together in his mouth and stretching upwards into his receding gums like a pipe organ. He looked around, suddenly self-conscious. The nurses could come back at any time.
The Whole World
Thursday. 8.26.10 11:14 pm
I saw a row of pigeons sitting on the roof of the neighborhood Stop and Shop. It was a slanted roof, and it looked like they were having sort of a tough time keeping their footing. I looked around the parking lot, wondering if there was a better place for them to sit. I figured maybe there were three or four pigeon-perching places within the parking lot vicinity. I imagined the parking lot as the setting for a novel, or the set for a play. A whole story, maybe whole lives would take place in that parking lot, with the pigeons vying for the best spots with the seagulls, avoiding cars, watching the plants for sale under the awning change with the seasons. There was only the Light Posts, the Tree, the Hedge, and the Slanted Roof. For all the pigeons knew or cared, this parking lot could be the whole world.
I started thinking about what constitutes a "place", what constitutes the "whole world".
When I returned home, there was the smell of skunk in the yard again. I bet the neighbor's cat had tussled with it, as we often hear him fighting with other neighborhood cats during the night. Instead of a parking lot, the cat's territory was about a block, containing six houses and yards plus a street. On its western boundary was Mark's landlord's large, angry, rolling cat. On its eastern boundary, the dog park. A female cat with a tail like a feather pen used to stroll through the rhododendrons and call to our female cat, three stories above, driving her crazy. Not anymore. The whole dynamic of the block must have changed with the arrival of this large, mean cat. It was only a block, in the end, but a cat is small and the block was filled with squirrels and skunks and night-chirping birds and insects and cars and construction sites and barbeque grills. Plenty to occupy a cat for a lifetime. The whole world.
A whole world could be a town, or a block. A single tree, a window sill. Step the scale one order smaller, and the tiniest bit of real-estate could be the Whole World.
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