Squeal!

Multitasking

We have all heard that the secret to life’s success is to do a lot of multitasking. Meaning, I suppose, that whatever you are doing, learn to do two or three things simultaneously, in order to get ahead and be successful. It doesn’t matter that there are studies that show that humans can’t multitask, and never have.

Certainly we can see and hear at the same time, and we can walk and breathe at the same time. But it doesn’t mean that we can process two different sets of data in order to create action. What we are very good at is “fast switching”.

I didn’t say that we can walk and chew gum at the same time, but we can, because both walking and chewing have certain aspects of “automatic mode” in terms of thinking. A drummer can beat out a rhythm with her left hand while steadily beating another rhythm with the right, but they are in automatic mode with thought controlling only the beginning and the end.

The classic teenage response is that “I can listen to music and study at the same thine.” This is only true if one action becomes automatic with no thought behind it. If the music becomes “background noise”, then perhaps study can occur. But if a lyric catches your ear, then suddenly you are pulled out of your text or essay, and you are listening and not studying.

I don’t know if any study of schizophrenia shows the ability to multitask, but at least the theory that it takes two minds to have two thoughts simultaneously is correct.

So, how fast is our “switching” ability? How many eggs can we juggle before the entire cartoon is destroyed?

Well, it depends. Most nerve signals travel at roughly .3 seconds from brain to extreme limb. However, most can blink an eye in .1 of a second. That’s three times faster, (however, brain and eye are considerably closer together). We are now only talking about the signal to move, not the assessment and calculations that are necessary to consider the action. All that takes additional time.

My wife and I enjoy playing cards together, generally with another couple. I should say that the enjoyment is not equally and consistently shared. It has evolved from playing games of clever strategy, with bidding, or calculating odds- to games of action and stress, as the situation is fast paced and in constant flux.

One particular game requires that you play a solitaire situation in front of you, turning three cards from the deck in order to see what can be played. That can be stressful if there is a time element in order to beat the other players. They have their own decks and their own game of solitaire. Add to that stress by playing the aces on piles in front of you along with all the other players, collectively.

I have my solitaire game in front of me but the aces piles are constantly changing. If I concentrate on my hand, looking to play cards, I am aware of the cards I need, except on the ace pike everyone else is playing and what is needed is in flux.

My neurons are firing, but often they are firing on old information. I’m looking for a two of clubs and the pile is now at the seven of clubs.

The hand must be faster, but the data behind the movement has to be even faster, and keep track of the changes.

What is curious to me is that often my wife is holding a card in her playing hand, waiting for me to recognize that I have a play, then tenths of a second after I play she puts hers down. Spooky! How does she know what I am going to play before I even turn my cards?

I can understand how someone is faster. Both are ready, the shot is fired and one person crosses the line first. But she crosses the finish line before I can tie my track shoes.

I used to play racquetball. When I played younger faster players I would win only if I played smarter. But what I f they are faster, smarter, and have psychic powers?

Multitasking? Apparently I can chew gum and walk. But I cannot rotate through a deck of cards three at a time, play solitaire, and watch as everyone keeps playing in the ace piles.

We call the game “Squeal”, maybe because of the joy of winning, maybe because of the sound of my losing.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Some Unusual Art

I attended a jazz recital last night. Our music department generally has a performance to celebrate their student’s accomplishments. Our jazz quintet, “Jazzology”, was the featured performer. We also had a guest performer, Kallil Wilson, a great voice, with amazing runs.

Each of the performers had an opportunity to engage in some “scat” singing. Classic sound riffs, where the voice becomes an instrument that is played, as opposed to singing.

Ella Fitzgerald was famous for her scat performances, and helped to popularize the technique. As I listened last night I couldn’t help thinking about the connection between scat and sound poetry.

Both movements appeared in the early 1900s. Jazz came out of New Orleans and the southeast of the US. Sound poetry came from the cafes and cabarets in Europe frequented by the Dadaists. Dada had turned the art world upside down. The Salon controlled art world, was in turmoil, with art being defined by artists, and not professional critics.

It is said that Dada was named by randomly pointing a finger in the dictionary. Either that, or the first words of an infant.

In either case, Dada, broke the rules. Piet Mondrian graded the canvas, Marcel Duchamp “found art”, and declared it so!

In poetry, a German named Hugo Ball, wrote a poem in 1916, and declared it as part of a new genre of “sound poetry”. It was called “Karawane”. He performed it while wearing his “lobster suit”, certainly one of the first performance artists of the century.

If this is the first time you have heard of sound poetry, try thinking about the first time you experienced jazz with scat riffs.

What really helped me was Marie Osmond.

I can’t believe just wrote that, but there is a reason. She was a guest on some sort of variety television show that liked to prank famous people. A writer had thought that it would be funny to provide Marie with a poem to memorize with very little forewarning. A classic fear from any English lit class in high school. The additional fun was that straight-laced Marie, would be memorizing the classic Dada poem “Karawane”, words with no meaning.

The surprise was that Marie memorized in a few minutes, then delivered an amazing performance. The sound clip made it to the internet and has been one of most popular versions of Karawane. Later, she was asked to make another video to explain sound poetry and Hugo Ball. Click below

https://youtu.be/G69O7fvM3BI

Jazz, Dada, Hugo Ball, and don’t even get me started on Duchamp. It’s been a full weekend already.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

More Murmurations

I have now spent several hours watching YouTube murmurations. I am enthralled! I desperately want to experience this first hand. I can remember once, while my family fished from the levee on the Sacramento River, early in the morning, a dense black river of starlings going east, flying just yards above the water.

It was continuous and it must have taken an hour with very few gaps in the cloud of feathers. They didn’t break and create spirals in the sky, they were directed and linear. They had some place to go!

The funny thing was that later in the afternoon they came back, just as dense, and just as directed. Black feathers blotting out the sky!

I remember reading stories about herds of bison that took days crossing a particular river. Then, a few short years, and mountains of bones later, they were mostly gone. Murdered almost as successfully as the dodo. Hmm, man can change the environment, and he has!

Back to murmurations, I just can’t imagine how signals are communicated so quickly, and accurately. “Wait, you want me to follow you? Where are we going? What do you mean it’s partly up to me?” It’s beyond human understanding.

An instantaneous collective thought, maybe the patterns are three dimensional thoughts, written above the fields, murmurations disappearing as thoughts fade. Someday perhaps our recordings of these patterns may be deciphered, and we will understand the language of the flocks. Will they say something profound? Or will it be “I’m cold and hungry!”

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Thought Murmurations

I just used the WordPress feature of tracking the access of my blog posts. It isn’t that time consuming, haha, hardly a dozen eyeballs a week find my posts. Notice I didn’t say read and comment!

Anyway, over the last few years I’ve noticed that one post usually gets several hits per month. I wrote about Abraham traveling West from Ur. I wondered about the possible story telling around the fire. He was part of the foreign ruling culture of Ur, and he was probably literate in Sumerian, so I researched what I could about Sumerian Proverbs, thinking that they might be entertaining, and appropriate campfire content.

And apparently a lot of others are interested as well. It is still the most popular post on my blog.

I started this blog about four years ago, partly in respond to my retirement. I say partly because it is unclear which motive kick started my action. While I did teach about blogging and general web activity, I didn’t really have the time to do much personal work. I was on Facebook but mostly lurking and connecting with my students.

After retiring, many people asked about the free time that I had acquired. I admit I went through several “hobby” activities. They were fun, but I approached them with “project mode”, an intensity that looked to completion. I was “done” in a few weeks with each of them.

I was tired of listing the various activities that I had burned through, so I made up a story, “Well, I spend a certain amount of time pondering, and then writing posts to my blog.” Except that I wasn’t. So obviously I was convicted to make that a truth. I do ponder, especially when I have the time, and I did profess when I had a classroom. So why not actually write down some thoughts and keep them in a publicly accessible archive. I didn’t really think that one through. Part of me really wants to make some serious edits. Not everything pondered should see the light of day. Especially years later.

So again I looked at the history of my posts as I wondered about where I was and where I am now. One of the first posts was about Ivan Illich, a thinker, author and educator. On reading this I marveled on my undisciplined approach, wandering all over in big sweeping circles, barely keeping the focus, almost like some bird or fish murmurations. Where was I going?

Yep, that’s how I think, “thought murmurations” and who has the time to read through that?

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

FOMO

The fear of missing out. I love the internet based short hands, but this one is a little different.

The general category of human fears has been well documented with little change over the years. The fear of snakes, spiders, heights, dark, broccoli, ….wait, the studies on broccoli are recent, and inconclusive. Basically it’s only been some recent media generated fears that have added to the list, like shark week or snakes on the plane.

So where did “the fear of missing out” come from? Clearly the net citizens resonant with this term, they type the acronym out fairly regularly. Sociologists have correctly labeled this as the Age of Information. That’s not only true because of the importance, but also because of the volume.

The amount of important information at your fingertips is multiplied a hundred times by the amount of useless data. Perhaps realizing that we don’t have adequate filters to select the important stuff from the unimportant, we have generated a new term, FOMO.

As with any fear, we see individuals respond in various ways to fear. We carefully look under seats and in loverheads for snakes, we keep a wary eye for shark fins. But how do we respond to FOMO?

I credit my wife with a new possibility. She thought that perhaps there is a “hoarding of experiences”, an over abundance of events in order to stave off the potential fear.

Hoarders of possessions are often addressing the fear of poverty. They don’t make a rational decision to invest in real estate or bonds, instead they collect multiple sugar bowls, or a half dozen ski parkas.

People with FOMO collect meetings, join book clubs, sign up with PTA, volunteer at church, attend political discussion groups, etc. None of these things are bad, and being active in several at a time should not cause alarm bells to ring. The question might arise when someone’s calendar is always full.

Are there days that are open? Is there down time when hobbies can allow relaxation? Or has even hobbies become somewhat manic?

So the question one should ask is “Have you become a HOE? A hoarder of experiences? Hmm, perhaps some further work is needed on the acronym.

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment

Smartphone Photography

One of the biggest improvements to photography is the development of smartphone cameras. This also has created tremendous challenges.

The first challenge may seem odd, but it is a hard problem to solve. There are well over 2 billion smartphones in the world. The goal of placing a camera within the immediate reach of individuals is almost achieved. The difficulty is that we generally forget that we have it.

Clearly, many folks are very aware of the camera function, but it is not the same as slinging a DSLR around your neck in order to take a photo. The phone connection is the primary tool, and the camera is a nice secondary option.

The first thing to learn in taking better photos is that you have a camera with you! It may seem like a silly exercise, but practice taking photos with your phone in the same way that you do when you break out your larger DSLR. Developing that sense of image making at your fingertips will lead your desire to improve the images.

What are the next few issues that smartphone photos have that need improving? Basically there are three general problems that I commonly see.

1. Fuzzy. Images are blurry.

2. Light. A better understanding of light is needed.

3. Framing. Too much sky, ceilings/wall, background.

The cameras are generally producing images that are remarkably good. Wait, change that, they are amazing! The automatic focusing and exposure issues are a thing of the past. So why are photos blurry?

The most common reason is answered by asking the question, “Where do you commonly keep your smartphone?” It is probably not in a lint-free container, carefully sealed from the greasy world. It may actually be in the same jacket pocket with yesterday’s half eaten snack!

We have gotten used to the idea of cleaning our camera’s lens, but recognizing that our smartphones have a lens is the issue. Swiping a greasy thumb across the surface is not the solution.

This is also one of the most difficult issues to resolve. In many cases the actual case is the culprit. In the attempt to weatherizing the smartphone the case manufacturers have placed a clear lens over the hole where the camera is located. This lens often is not optic quality. It also traps particles on the actual lens. Cleaning the lens by removing the case doesn’t clean the case.

I don’t recommend enclosed cases, and I also don’t recommend cases with a deep recess for the camera to look through. The best case has a very tight fit around the edge of the camera, and a beveled opening that would allow a cleaning tissue to access the lens.

Use a dry, soft cloth or tissue. Once the lens is clean that will solve most of the blurry images, but not all. Fuzzy or blurry images also occur when movement occurs while the image is being taken. Check the image carefully. If the subject is blurry but the background is crisp, then you have done your best, but the subject moved. If the background is also blurry then you moved.

The smartphone camera has an electronic shutter. It is similar to a standard camera shutter. If the subject is not well lit, then the shutter stays open to let in move light and you can’t move while that is happening. Learn to hold the smartphone steady!

Cleaning the lens, and holding steady, can remove nearly all the blurred images. The next issue is understanding light.

Light is either natural or artificial. In either case it comes from a direction. Try your best by having the light come from behind you, and slightly to one side or the other. It’s also good if it is a few feet above your head.

With natural light this can be an issue because you can’t adjust the light. It is the Sun and we are stuck with where it is. The biggest thing to remember is to avoid shooting into the sun, or have a brightly lit background, when your subject is in the shade. You will have to do your best to move people around. The great thing about digital is that you can immediately see if there is a light problem.

I love taking photos outside with cloud cover. It removes most of the harsh shadows. I also like “long light”, taken in the early morning or later in the afternoon. The worst light for me is noon on a bright sunny day. Time for a siesta!

If you are dealing with artificial light then you might have a chance of adjusting the light, or at least moving to an area that has better light.

Lastly, the camera flash is truly the worst option. The flash on a smartphone is not the same quality as a flash on a regular camera. It does not reach far, and is only good for close portraits, and even then has issues. I have found that turning the flash off is actually my best move in getting the image I want.

Finally, the framing problem comes from the lack of a standard lens. The smartphone is basically a wide angle lens. The zoom feature is not the same as a typical zoom lens with moving optics. Besides, we rarely pinch/spread to create the zoom when we take the shot.

Framing the photo takes an extra second but it is well worth the effort, and we have an extraordinary zoom feature that we don’t generally use. Walk closer!

If the framing with a wide angle gives too much background, then move closer to the subject. If you a taking a landscape, then drop the image to reduce the sky. If the foreground is too messy then you can crop it off later.

Addressing these three issues will vastly improve your images. I would also consider downloading several different camera apps that give you the ability to manually control your camera. You will learn about shutter speeds, aperture and even ISO sensitivity. Manual control can be lot of fun and will give you more control over your potential images.

Posted in Commentary | Leave a comment

Radioactive

I am radioactive, or more accurately, my blood is radioactive. I suppose by now my blood has passed through every organ and bone in my body. For a time, the radioactive blood flowed through my eyes and I had x-ray vision. That’s gone now, I suppose my liver is trying its best to collect the harmful residue. Perhaps my finger nails will take some, that I will clip off in later weeks.

I did not feel like crawling the walls, or shoot webbing out of my spinnerets, probably because it wasn’t from a radioactive spider. I really don’t know the source of the radioactivity. It’s funny how we just accept foreign objects into our bodies based upon our doctors opinions.

It’s all part of a cost benefit analysis. A little bit of radiation (bad), in order to gain knowledge (good) that may extend life.

The problem with this type of mental bargaining is the buy-in that is necessary. What about my plans to rent a bush-plane in order to drop me off in the Alaskan wilderness? Another time, probably a few decades ago.

You have to follow up on the good knowledge, and the future procedures that it will suggest. But you have to be around and available.

I have a smart phone, a smart watch. Would it be too difficult to keep a calendar of the things that are running out of time? The bloody things have access to all my medical records, it would not take much to give me a heads up on the activities that are phasing out.

I am reminded of a recent conversation with a friend who is in Thailand. After I had gotten over the remarkable fact that it was a free call (what happened to long distance?), I asked what it was like there. He replied endless white beaches, no tourists, English speaking natives. When I said that it sounded like a young persons heaven, and that older people want to know about medical care! He replied that there were at least three hospitals nearby and one that even catered to Westerners.

Yep, once you get to the buy-in, you’re trapped. You can’t go to Alaska, but you can go to a deserted isle in Thailand.

Posted in Commentary | 1 Comment