Beginner's Mind

"In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few." - Shunryu Suzuki-Roshi

Friday, March 25, 2005

Name that voice!

Zenchick has a great post about her father's new love.

Last year I obtained someone similar. It never occurred to give her a name (or a gender, for that matter). But she does have a very nice voice, plays music, keeps my appointments (but doesn't make coffee, or (thankfully) do Windows).

So, I throw it open to my readers, should I give her a name? And if so, what should it be and why?

(I already have a Karen or two in my life, so that wouldn't be a good choice; too confusing. I also already have a Mom, so forget that.)

Music in my head: I Want To Be With You Always, Lefty Frizzell

Thursday, March 24, 2005

City mouse, country mouse

Maybe I've lived too much of my life in the country (but I don't think so), but I find I'm rather fond of quiet. Of course it is nearly impossible to find anyplace that is truly, completely quiet. The closest I've come to that has been found during the snowfalls with big, heavy flakes. Even then, you can hear the flakes when they hit the ground. Once while cross-country skiing in Yellowstone National Park, during one such snowfall, I kept hearing an ominous pounding sound. It took me a few moments to realize it was the sound of my own heartbeat.

Sadly, I have a permanent ringing in my ears, so I may never hear true silence every again. (A piece of advice - wear hearing protection when shooting handguns.)

At our home here in Vermont we live in the country surrounded by trees. However, we are on a busy road, so there is frequent auto traffic and hence frequent car noise. Even during the slow driving times, we can still hear the interstate which is a mile and a half away. Still, people who visit us from the city comment on how quiet our place is.

I can understand that. When I'm in a city, even one as small as Burlington, I'm inundated by the noise. There's a constant roar of traffic. Add to that sirens, whistles, trains, people, boom boxes (I really don't care for those), pets, furnaces and air conditioners, and so on, and there's just so little quiet to be found.

I've heard city folk say that places like national parks are too quiet, and it drives them nuts. I guess it is to what you get accustomed. So it isn't unusual to be out camping or some such and come across a radio blasting.

Meditation and mindfullness have made me less likely to listen to music while doing something (exception, driving). I've found I can't pay attention to the music, nor to my task, to the level to which either deserves.

We as a nation are just now becoming aware of light pollution (though not around me; people living around us have bright street lights that glare all night - if they want city lights, why don't they move into the city?). I wonder if noise pollution will become an issue in my lifetime.

Music in my head: Night Life, Willie Nelson

(This, by the way, is a welcome change to what has been up there the last few days, mostly when I've been in the shower. It's been a little ditty written by Father Mulcahy in an episode of M*A*S*H, when he wondered why there wasn't a song for the Korean war.

Oh my dear, I'd sure love to see ya',
But I'm stuck here, in South Korea.
The picture that you sent me is an eye full.
I taped it to my trusty rifle!

That's all of it. It's the little songs that stick around.)

(While on the subject of very short songs, here's the words of one written by my friend Bernice Lewis:

Whatever it was I saw in you
I hope I never see it again.

Most of her songs are a bit longer.)

Sunday, March 20, 2005

Play me backwards

Heard today:

Play country and western music backwards, and the girl would come back, the truck would start to run, and the dog would still be alive.

Music in my head: A Case of You, Joni Mitchell (thanks for the earworm, Keri)

Saturday, March 19, 2005

So upsetting

Way to go Catamounts!

Wednesday, March 16, 2005


Michele's The Daily Things for today asks what toys you'd play with if it were normal for adults to play with toys. As you can imagine, a lot of commenters seemed surprised that it isn't normal for adults to play with toys.

I became fascinated when the Legos Mindstorms robots were introduced. I believe this product was an offshoot of a project at MIT where Legos were used to build robots. I've had great fun with these. Not only does it involve building machines, but there are also programs to write as well. I must admit I'm much better at writing programs than I am at building. Don't even get me started on mechanical design. There are several expansion sets, the latest of which is one which has pneumatics. I haven't played with that one yet.

As is common with computer-based things, people have come up with new software for these toys. Lego's programming environment is a graphical environment where blocks of code are clicked together. There are some of the normal programming constructs, such as loops, conditionals and branching, and even threading. However, it leaves much to be desired. For example, it doesn't have variables. But there are now other computer languages available for free on the web, including a form of C and FORTH.

There is also (not surprisingly) a version of Java for Lego Mindstorms. Since Java was designed to be used in small, microcontroller environments, this makes sense. I have a few books on this Java environment, but I haven't played with it yet. I'm afraid my Java skills are a bit rusty.

Another drawback of the Mindstorms robots is that there are only facilities for three sensors and three programmable power sources. This makes it difficult to try classic robot-motion experiments (because you really need four, one for each direction). You can build robots with two controllers, as there is a facility for two controllers (called RCX bricks) to communicate with each other. This would conceptually provide six sensors.

At some point I'd like to try writing teleo-reactive programs for Legos. I did some TR programming for an AI course during my graduate work. The programs were in LISP, but I'm sure it could be done in C or Java. My LISP programs were done in a virtual robot environment called BotWorld (similiar to this Tcl version). (Gosh, it looks like there are several BotWorlds now!) I have the original version written in C and LISP, which worked on a Sun workstation. I've been meaning to get it working in Linux.

Music in my head: Still have Dvorak up there.

Monday, March 14, 2005


The first call came in at 4:00 PM this afternoon.

"Hello, is this Robert?"


"Hi, I'm calling from Spaulding Rehab. I just wanted to let you know that your insurance has approved your admission to our pain management program." It took me a few seconds to realize what she had said, mostly because I was surprised she spoke a hyperlink over the phone.

"Oh yeah? Wow! I was expecting a denial!"

"We need to schedule your admission, is there any time better or worse?"

We talked about good and bad days, and what insurance had agreed upon. She said she would try to contact me before she left for the day. Right then my call waiting beep thingy beeped. I hung up and heard:

"Hello, is this Robert?"


"Hi, I'm with MVP. I just wanted to let you know we've approved your inpatient program at Spaulding." How do they insert hyperlinks in their voice? Just think how many e-mails you could save if you could do that.

For those of you not in the know, I've been hoping to get into Spaulding for treatment of my migraines. I tried two years ago and insurance turned it down. One person (not an MVP employee) told me, "Who goes into the hospital for twenty-one days for a headache? People in serious car crashes spend less time than that!" Because it involved getting into a serious car crash, I decided not to test that statement.

When I brought that up to the insurance person (breaking my own rule that says, "When you've got a good thing going, shut up about it!") she said that since that time I had done a number of things, including a DHE protocol at Dartmouth, and treatment at Spaulding now seems reasonable. She also said that if Spaulding did not prove effective they would work with me to find alternative treatment. Finally, she told me that the program was considered an in-network service, which will save me thousands of dollars in co-pays.

So, there is happiness in our household tonight. We were preparing ourselves for a lengthy appeals process, but now it looks like that won't be necessary.

This may mean I won't finish my French class. C'est la vie!


Last Monday I started a French class. I'm the typical ugly American who can only speak one language (what little Spanish I knew has been lost through non-use).

I struggle with learning languages, I'm not sure why. I want languages to be logical and rule based, but if there is in logic French it so far escapes me.

This course is a beginner's course, which emphasizes speaking French. I feel like an idiot repeating back what I hear. For some reason, the repeat train goes off track somewhere between hearing the sounds and saying them back.

Now that we are going to have a child, I want him or her to be bilingual, so I'd better be. I chose French because Quebec is right next door. We can get French TV and French radio. When you go to Montreal, it is the language with which you will be greeted. I've been to some of the smaller towns where, if they spoke English, they didn't let on that they did.

Someday I would like to know enough French to read Moliere in the original language. Right now, I struggle with the numbers one through twenty.

Music in my head: That diary song Bread did in the 70's. I hope it doesn't last too long (Too late! It already has!).

Sunday, March 13, 2005

A trip of a 1017 kilometers...

...begins with a single step.

(more in-depth info here)

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Babies in Jeeps

Because it isn't the kind of place I would normally find myself, I have begun to wonder what sort of things I've been missing by not spending more time in an OB/GYN's waiting room.

Let me give you an example.

While waiting for a prenatal visit with Karen, I saw a woman struggling to get her baby carriage through the door. Being the gentleman that I am, I hopped up and helped her bring in her contraption from the outside cold.

This was the biggest baby carriage I have ever seen.

It was almost the length of a compact automobile. It was about three feet (one meter) high, with huge wheels. It had a complex metal frame which would give an SUV a run for its money, which was appropriate, as it had the "Jeep" logo in various places. In the front seat was a toddler of about two years, and he was asleep at the wheel, literally; the front seat had a faux steering wheel and instrument panel. In the back seat was a one-year-old, also asleep, and in fact snoring. The carriage was a convertible, and the smiling mother dropped the top once she got the thing parked in the waiting room. (Not surprisingly, she parked in front of two chairs). When we remarked at how remarkable her child vehicle was, she pointed out that the storage area under the truck was big enough to hold her groceries, so she didn't need a cart ("No kidding" I thought). While it didn't have a GPS system, I think it might have had a spare tire, and a sound system.

When her name was called, she maneuvered it like a Boston cab driver, moving it around spaces that were smaller than the machine itself (I'm not sure, but it might have swiveled in the middle).

Music in my head: Dvorak's "New World" Symphony

(And, I am not making this up: there were eight women in the waiting room, all named Jennifer or Karen.)

I get an insight

The ever helpful and wise DatingGod suggested to me "Maybe it's time to try a different path to freedom . . ." (I've left out a bunch of relevent neat stuff), to which I replied, "I think it is more likely that I should walk the path I've chosen, rather than stand on it and wait for it to take me's a path, not an escalator."

And this morning I had the best sit I've had in months.

Thanks, Kat.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

A new Iraqi blog

One of my favorite blogs by an Iraqi is Aunt Najma's A Star From Mosul. Now her entire family has a group blog, A Family From Mosul.

While Najma's English is very good, the rest of the family is competent with the language. I wish I could speak Arabic as well as they speak English.

Anyway, you might find the blog interesting. While there is some blogging on the situation there, there's also a lot of cultural info, too.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005


In a new book edited by Vermont author Stephanie Kaza entitled Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume, Pema Chodren has a chapter which starts off with the following:

You are trying to make a point with a co-worker or your partner. At one moment her face is open and she is listening, and at the next, her eyes cloud over or her jaw tenses. What is it you're seeing? Someone criticizes you. They criticize your work or your appearance or your child. At moments like that, what is it you feel? It has a familiar taste in your mouth, it has a familiar smell. Once you begin to notice it, you feel as if this experience has been happening forever. The Tibetan word for this is
shenpa. It is usually translated "attachment" but a more descriptive translation might be "hooked." When shenpa hooks us, we are likely to get stuck. We could call shenpa "that sticky feeling." It is an everyday experience. Even a spot on your new sweater can take you there. At the subtlest level, we feel a tightening, a tensing, a sense of closing down. Then we feel a sense of withdrawing, of not wanting to be where we are. That is the hooked quality. That tight feeling has the power to hook us into self-denigration, blame, anger, jealousy, and other emotions that lead to words and actions that end up poisoning us.
Shenpa thrives on the underlying insecurity of living in a world that is always changing. We experience this insecurity as a background of slight unease or restlessness. We all want some kind of relief from that unease, so we turn to what we enjoy - food, alcohol, drugs, sex, work, or shopping. In moderation what we enjoy might be very delightful. We can appreciate its taste and its presence in our life. But when we empower it with the idea that it will bring us comfort, that it will remove our unease, we get hooked.

We aren't so hip in Vermont

Would you believe Karen hadn't seen this?

(If you view any of these at work, you might want to turn down the sound. BTW, the Mario version is the best parody of the bunch.)

So I dug up the website and showed her. She couldn't believe I got her out of bed for it.

Just my little irrelevent contribution to you, dear, on International Women's Day.

(Now I can't get the bloody song out of my head. I apologize for any earworms I have given birth to today.)

Hans Bethe, 1906-2005

One of the greatest physicists of the 20th century passed away recently at the age of 98.

Hans Bethe (pronounced BAY-ta), using pencil, paper, and a slide rule uncovered the way stars produce energy. He also played a key role in the Manhatten Project, and was one of the scientists who worked towards non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.

When we look up at the night sky, and see the light that left its source years ago, we can thank Bathe for telling us how it happens.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Heard today

I heard the following today listening to God and Mankind: Comparative Religions, a course from The Teaching Company, by Professor Robert Oden:

Lusting for a woman may be as bad as having adultry with her, but it's not as good.

Quoting Christopher Morley: America would be a better country if, rather than the Puritans landing on Plymouth Rock, the rock had landed on the Puritans.

Music in my head: Step by Step, Chuck Pyle

Friday, March 04, 2005

The Dao and politics

One of the teachings of Daoist thought is that we run into trouble when we try to adjust the world to our view of things, rather than adjusting our views to the way of the world. In our attempt to change the world, we can often lose sight of what is really around us. We tend to filter our experiences of the world through our expectations; we see what we expect to see, and do not see what we do not expect.

(The late writer Douglas Adams used something like this last phenomena to create a sort of cloaking device for a spaceship in one of his books. The ship would be surrounded by the essence of Somebody Else's Problem, and therefore could not be seen when you looked directly at it.)

This happens to me especially when I read political web sites and political blogs. I pretty much avoid them as a general practice. Because so many of them espouse a particular political viewpoint, I get suspicious that what is presented is not the entire picture (either intentionally or not). About the only thing political I read on a regular basis is my friend Mike's blog Rhetoric and Rhythm.

Mike and I have a long history which started as being debate partners in high school. He has many more opinions on current events than I do, and is much more up-to-date on political activities (as should be expected, he is a professional journalist). We will agree on things sometimes, and disagree at others. But, because there is still some of the debater in me, I will sometimes disagree only for the sake of having an argument. These are fun activities, and I usually end up learning something in the process.

What is a trigger for me is when I read the comments of "political conservatives" on his blog. (I use the quotation marks because I've found that people who are politically conservative are not really conservative at all.) So often I will see valuable bytes of opinion written which show very little original thought; they seem more to echo political agenda, and appear to be formed in the myopia of what passes for conservatism in this country.

This shouldn't come as a surprise, I suppose. America seems to be in the grip of some sort of unprincipled reactionary lack of deep thought that passes itself off as conservatism and "values." It's my personal opinion that this is the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. I think this because we act as a country that is at war, though we haven't formally declared war on anyone (not that that has stopped us from overthrowing the governments of two sovereign nations).

But I'm getting off on a tangent.

What bothers me most of all is my own knee-jerk reactions to the conservative comments. I'm very likely to dismiss words of someone I associate with this political agenda. I should point out that I often have this reaction with some liberal thought as well. I tend to think of myself as someone who sits in the middle and can see both sides and often find both of them faulty. It's this attachment to the middle (which has as its nature a detachment from the left and right ends) that can sometimes blind me.

I'm reminded of a saying from my youth; "Even a blind hog can find an acorn once in awhile." What this means in this context is that, even at the extremes of political agenda, there can be a kernel of truth to be found.

In my own defense, I think there's a whole lot of "truth" to be found in a lot of places, and I shouldn't be faulted for wanting to spend my truth search time on sources that are not loaded down with agenda. (I know, I know, there's a patina of agenda on most things that are transmitted by human language.)

It isn't, however, the chance of missing some deep truth that bothers me so much; it's the triggering that gets me. Flying off the handle at some conservative mouthpiece is not good for anyone. I'm certainly not going to convince the mouthpiece he is wrong; if he can't come this realization using his own thinking, he certainly isn't going to get it from my thinking. Then, too, it is quite possible that he truly does know more about the issue or situation than I do; my own myopia and ego tend to keep me from seeing that. But it doesn't do me any good to get worked up about his opinion. I've got enough headaches (literally) as it is without taking on political ones.

I can see how much angst and suffering strong opinions bring people. I want to develop the kind of compassion that crops up when I read extreme opinions. Right now I just get triggered, which more often leads to disgust and dismay than it does to humor, never mind wisdom.

Music in my head: Too much migraine, and not enough lyricism, is up there this evening.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


OK, it's time to let you in on a bit of a secret.

Yesterday was the last day of Karen's first trimester. In other words, my wife is pregnant again.

Around roughly the same time into the pregnancy as last summer, we thought she was about to miscarry again. Our OB doctor came into her office on a Saturday to do an ultrasound, and everything was fine. There was a little heartbeat and everything. This was in the middle of January, and the little nipper still had a tail you could cleary see in the image. At that point it was less than a centimeter in length.

A month later we had another ultrasound as part of an ultrascreen, and now the tail was gone, but there were arms and legs and four fingers and a thumb on each hand. At that point it was about 4.6 centimeters in length.

We discovered Karen was pregnant on New Year's Eve, while we were visiting some friends in New Hampshire. It was a bit of a surprise, as she had taken one of those early indicator tests and it had come up negative.

So, why didn't I say something earlier? After our experience last summer we decided we would wait until the end of the first trimester, "just in case" something went wrong. It has been really hard, after telling everyone with the ability to hear, that a miscarriage had occurred. We felt it would just be easier.

But yesterday morning the OB doctor used some sort of super stethoscope and we heard the baby's heartbeat. (Side note: this was the third time we had heard the heartbeat, and if what we heard is accurate, the father may be Fozzy Bear of the Muppets fame, because the heart sounded like "wacka wacka wacka.") "Shout it from the rooftops!" the OB said, so I'm shouting (but not from the roof, which is covered with at least a foot of snow).

So, it shouldn't be surprising that the...

Music in my head: We Are Family, Sister Sledge

(And for those of you that think Dr. James Dobson has anything intelligent to say, I quote Jon Stewart: "SpongeBob SquarePants -- he's here, he lives in a pineapple under the sea, get used to it.")