The Thing That Happened, Once

From whiskey river:

At Blackwater Pond

At Blackwater Pond the tossed waters have
after a night of rain.
I dip my cupped hands. I drink
a long time. It tastes
like stone, leaves, fire. It falls cold
into my body, waking the bones. I hear them
deep inside me, whispering
oh what is that beautiful thing
that just happened?

(Mary Oliver)


In the tea ceremony, the expression “once in a lifetime, this one encounter” is often used. The usual way this is interpreted is “a one-and-only encounter.” In Zen, though, we interpret this expression in the following way: In the course of our lifetime, there is one person we must meet. No matter through which grasslands we may walk or which mountains we may climb, we must meet this person. This person is in this world. Who is this person? It is the true self. You must meet the true self. As long as you don’t, it will not be possible to be truly satisfied in the depths of your heart. You will never lose the sense that something is lacking. Nor will you be able to clarify the way things are.

This is the objective of life as well as of the teaching of Buddhism — to meet yourself.

(Sekkei Harada)

And the obvious musical bit (lyrics follow), although the video is a bit… unusual:

Once in a Lifetime
(words and music by Talking Heads;
performance is emphatically

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house,
with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself: Well… how did I get here?

Letting the days go by/Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/Water flowing underground
Into the blue again/After the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime/Water flowing underground.

And you may ask yourself
How do I work this?
And you may ask yourself
Where is that large automobile?
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful house!
And you may tell yourself
This is not my beautiful wife!

Letting the days go by/Let the water hold me down
Letting the days go by/Water flowing underground
Into the blue again/After the money’s gone
Once in a lifetime/Water flowing underground.

Same as it ever was… same as it ever was …same as it ever was…
Same as it ever was… same as it ever was… same as it ever was…
Same as it ever was… same as it ever was…

(Followed by Statler and Waldorf: “Same as it ever was! Same as it ever was! Yeah—” “An hour ago!” [laughter])

Original, longer version, from the concert film Stop Making Sense, can be viewed here.

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Well, We Were All Innocent Children Once

Baby KrishnaAs of this moment, this (from Maggie, as it happens) is the one inarguably interesting (albeit inarguably geekoid) item I’ve found among the Twitterings I’ve seen so far: the first page posted on the infant World Wide Web.

The page was last updated Thursday, December 3, 1992, at 3:37:20 a.m. EST.

The Web was originally a project of CERN, the Swiss nuclear research organization more recently in the news for its work on the black-hole-creating, universe-destroying Large Hadron Collider. It grew out of a paper written by one Tim Berners-Lee (a/k/a “TBL,” often referred to in terms such as “the father of the Web”) and Robert Cailliau.

From the introduction to that paper, entitled “WorldWideWeb: Proposal for a HyperText Project”:

The attached document describes in more detail a Hypertext project.

HyperText is a way to link and access information of various kinds as a web of nodes in which the user can browse at will. It provides a single user-interface to large classes of information (reports, notes, data-bases, computer documentation and on-line help). We propose a simple scheme incorporating servers already available at CERN.

The project has two phases: firstly we make use of existing software and hardware as well as implementing simple browsers for the user’s workstations, based on an analysis of the requirements for information access needs by experiments. Secondly, we extend the application area by also allowing the users to add new material.

Phase one should take 3 months with the full manpower complement, phase two a further 3 months, but this phase is more open-ended, and a review of needs and wishes will be incorporated into it.

The manpower required is 4 software engineers and a programmer, (one of which could be a Fellow). Each person works on a specific part (e.g. specific platform support).

Each person will require a state-of-the-art workstation , but there must be one of each of the supported types. These will cost from 10 to 20k each, totalling 50k. In addition, we would like to use commercially available software as much as possible, and foresee an expense of 30k during development for one-user licences, visits to existing installations and consultancy.

We will assume that the project can rely on some computing support at no cost: development file space on existing development systems, installation and system manager support for daemon software*.

Ah, youth.


* Aside to His Dark Materials fans: not that kind of daemon. This kind: programs which run in the background. I told you this was geekoid.

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The Travels of Mickey Tom (2)

[This post continues yesterday’s. I won’t redefine any of the terminology here, so if you find yourself a little confused it probably just means you need to read that one.]

In the fall of 2003, The Missus and I were preparing to host her sisters, brother, and their families for Thanksgiving.

At the time, the four families were holding annual “reunions” like this, one purpose of which was to remember their parents, Mabel and Tom, who had died a few years earlier. “Events” (such as they were) thus were frequently on a Mabel-and-Tom theme; for instance, since Mabel loved playing Bingo, there was an annual “Mabel Bingo” night. They also gave out prizes for this sort of thing, such as used books by people named Mabel or Lyndall (which was Tom’s real first name).

Now, The Missus and I love games: cards, PC and console-video games, board games, and yes, Bingo. She tends to be the more aggressively competitive one; I like to win, of course, but also tend more to trying to figure out in advance how best to achieve victory.

So we decided that year that we would come up with a new “game” for the four families to play. We called it Tom’s Snipe Hunt.

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Fairly Creepy Little Quiz

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?Or at least, quiz results. For Yoda, I am:

A venerated sage with vast power and knowledge, you gently guide forces around you while serving as a champion of the light.

Judge me by my size, do you? And well you should not — for my ally is the Force. And a powerful ally it is. Life creates it, makes it grow. Its energy surrounds us, and binds us. Luminescent beings are we, not this crude matter! You must feel the Force around you, everywhere.

For now, I won’t deign to reply to that sideswiping remark about judging me by my size. But I will say the one answer which probably earned me this “Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?” designation was the one to the question about skin and spinal conditions. Should’ve been a tip-off, in retrospect.

On that note, I’ll try to wrap up the sequel to The Travels of Mickey Tom, Part 1.

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The Travels of Mickey Tom (1)

In the second part of this two-part series, I’ll introduce you to a handsome fellow named Mickey Tom. I’ll tell you where he started out, where he is now, how he got to where he is now, and where he’s headed.

But before I can do any of that, I need to provide some background for readers who might not be familiar with a particular, some would say peculiar… hmm… pastime? hobby? obsession? adventuring nerd’s side quest?

Any of those terms might suffice as a descriptor for the mysterious word geocaching.

If you’ve paid attention to car commercials in the last couple of years, you probably already know the phrase “GPS unit.” This is a small boxy electronic gizmo, typically mounted on the dashboard, which displays a real-time map of the route you’re currently driving. Sophisticated GPS units allow you to specify a destination, for which the machine will select an optimal route to follow; some of them even “talk,” instructing you audibly to (for instance) “Turn left here.”

The main technology which allows car GPS units to work is a network of satellites, collectively called the Global Positioning System. The idea is fairly simple; at root, it’s just geometry: If you know the positions of at least three objects, and can determine your distance from each of them, then you can determine your own position. As the GPS satellites circle the globe, they beam down to earth a signal reporting their current positions. Any device which can receive those transmissions thus can figure out — to a more or less accurate degree — the device’s own latitude and longitude.

That’s all you need to understand in order to “understand” how geocaching works. But that still doesn’t say much about geocaching itself, does it?

Read on.

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The Engaged Photographer

I’m working on a two-part series of posts at the moment, with Part 1 due up tomorrow. In the meantime, I thought you’d appreciate this. It’s a promotional video for the New York Public Library Photography Collection:

Among the photographers discussed, you can find more information at these Web sites (besides Wikipedia, of course):

  • Dorothea Lange: her work and life is documented in various places around the Web. You can get a good introduction from the site of the J. Paul Getty Museum’s “About Life” exhibit of 2002-2003. (The Goethe quote which the narrator mentions says, “Each traveler should know what he has to see, and what properly belongs to him, on a journey.”)
  • The NYPL’s own Berenice Abbott site
  • Stephen Dupont

And of course, if you’re interested in documentary photography, you could do much worse than visit the Library’s own online Digital Images Collection.

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Happy Birthday, Lester Dent

Today marks the 104th anniversary of the birth of Lester Dent, a/k/a Kenneth Robeson.

Not exactly a household name these days, eh? But in his time, which occupied a substantial chunk of the first half of the last century (he died young, in 1959), Dent was one of the most prolific and most successful writers on the planet. And it all came from a single character, the protagonist of — according to Wikipedia — 190 novels to date, and scads of stories. (Nearly all the books are credited exclusively to Dent, with the majority of the others, even those published long after his death, giving him at least partial credit. The “Kenneth Robeson” whose name actually appeared on the covers, though, was just a pseudonym.)

That protagonist: Doc Savage.

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Transparent, and Not Quite So

Per usual, the Friday selection from whiskey river:

We suffer not from our vices and our weaknesses, but from our illusions. We are haunted, not by reality, but by those images we have put in place of reality.

(by Daniel J. Boorstin)

…and a bonus:

Our greatest pretenses are built up not to hide the evil and the ugly in us, but our emptiness. The hardest thing to hide is something that is not there.

(by Eric Hoffer)

…and — not from whiskey river — this:

Introduction To Poetry

I ask them to take a poem
and hold it up to the light
like a color slide

or press an ear against its hive.

I say drop a mouse into a poem
and watch him probe his way out,

or walk inside the poem’s room
and feel the walls for a light switch.

I want them to waterski
across the surface of a poem
waving at the author’s name on the shore.

But all they want to do
is tie the poem to a chair with rope
and torture a confession out of it.

They begin beating it with a hose
to find out what it really means.

(by Billy Collins)

Finally, the deep-blue version (lyrics follow):

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

You Don’t Know Me

You give your hand to me
Then you say hello
I can hardly speak
My heart is beating so
And anyone can tell
You think you know me well
But you don’t know me

No, you don’t know the one
Who dreams of you at night
And longs to kiss your lips
And longs to hold you tight
Oh I’m just a friend
That’s all I’ve ever been
’cause you don’t know me

I never knew
The art of making love
Though my heart aches
With love for you
Afraid and shy
I’ve let my chance to go by
The chance that you might
Love me, too

You give your hand to me
And then you say good-bye
I watch you walk away
Beside the lucky guy
You’ll never never know
The one who loves you so
Well, you don’t know me


You give your hand to me, baby
Then you say good-bye
I watch you walk away
Beside the lucky guy
No, no, you’ll never ever know
The one who loves you so
Well, you don’t know me

(by Cindy Walker and Eddy Arnold, performed by B.B. King and Diane Schuur)

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A Silence, Serving It Up

The scene: an elegant restaurant.

A waiter crosses the floor, headed your way. His dress is formal, his manner both imperious and humble. As he approaches, you can’t help admiring the grace with which he avoids other diners, other staff, furniture placed apparently where he’s most likely to collide with it. You wonder — you doubt — whether you could ever move with such assurance.

The waiter arrives at your table. He raises an eyebrow, ever so slightly. He bends at the waist. The beverage is yours for the taking; he will not presume to touch it or place it before you.

A pause.

You raise your hand to the serving tray. Your fingers close around the stem of a glass…

What I don’t know about music theory could fit in a stadium, if I was lucky. (Yes, be patient, I’m not really changing the subject.) And as you know if you’ve been around here for even a few weeks, my hearing presents some obstacles when listening to anything at all.

But with music, the obstacles are minor as long as there aren’t any words involved. I can hear the instruments and the notes and rhythms just fine. And every now and then, I think I hear music do something interesting. And then I hear it again, in some other piece. And then I wonder if there’s a name for this something, or if I’m just imagining things…

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Sponges, Sieves, Duck’s Backs, Horse’s Patooties

A new addition to the blogroll here, one “Cuff” of the Countersignature blog, recently made what I think is a stupendous find: a 1914 book, by one MacGregor Jenkins, entitled The Reading Public, available via Google Books.

Here’s how Cuff introduces the book’s content:

Jenkins divides the “reading public” into book readers and magazine readers. He further subdivides the book readers into three categories from least to greatest numbers: the sponge reader, the sieve reader, and the duck-back reader. The sponge reader reads “fewer and better books than his fellows” — resulting, according to Mr. Jenkins, in his being ignored by authors and publishers. The sieve reader reads quite a bit and is full of surface facts and plots and literary gossip, but doesn’t have the critical acumen of the sponge reader. Meanwhile, the lowly duck-back reader, while great in number, absorbs absolutely nothing and is entirely unchanged by reading because reading is for the duck-back simply a way to kill time (Jenkins believes the swelling of this number to be caused by the increasing phenomenon of commuting).

I wonder what kind of reader I am? Sad to say, it feels more sieve-like (although I’d love to be a sponge). The Missus would say this has something to do with my being a Gemini, and/or being born in a Chinese Year of the Rabbit. Grasshopper, not an ant. All that.

Interestingly, Jenkins’s book — despite the title — also has quite a bit to say to authors. (He was apparently a magazine editor.) Remember again that this is from, well, a century ago, to all intents and purposes. Bear in mind all that Maxwell Perkins, golden-age-of-authors-editors stuff. And, of course, make some allowances for the pre-World War I syntax:

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