Saturday, December 24, 2011

An imagined conversation

Dewey: “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our students of tomorrow.” (This is an actual quote)
Chesterton: Equally, if we teach for tomorrow, we rob our students of yesterday.
Certain unnamed “educators”: At least one thing is certain, our students will be robbed… 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

New places for me to fail to post

So I'm trying out twitter (@yeomanscholar) as an social network alternative to Facebook. For one thing, it's easier to follow interesting writers, etc there - the interface is simpler, and you don't have to be "friends" (whatever that means these days) with someone in order to follow them, or have them follow you. There will still be the occasional post here (when I find time away from the job) but my short aphoristic thoughts and updates on the quick updates on brain training projects will go there.

I'm also thinking I'll take a shot at some tumblring. - again, fresher, simpler, more share-focused stuff. I'll try to crosspost everything I can though.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Worth Playing

I hope to post something soon about the new position and living situation that's taken me so much away from you good people - but for now one of the things that's a delight about it is the joy of supporting people like this.

Sure, it's not super-professional, but the design ideas are solid, and there are important things here about how they make side-quests. That, and it's the most fun I've ever had with division.

Worth Watching

Here's something you can watch for free. July 24th, 2010, thousands of people around the world uploaded videos of their lives to YouTube. An Oscar-winning director whittled it all down. Ridley and Tony Scott produced it. It's on YouTube for free, and it's well worth a watch.

So often, caught up in the strength and joy of combat, adventure, and danger, storytellers forget the joys, dangers, fears, loves and hopes of everyday life. This film doesn't.

Be warned - several shots are not for the squeamish.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Action: Setting up a baseline

It’s never too early or too late to set a baseline. Even if you don’t plan on starting brain training any time soon, take five minutes a day and set a baseline. If that’s too much, take fifteen minutes every Saturday to set a baseline. This is perhaps the most important step you can take, because it gives you something concrete to measure against, despite all the dangers of concrete measure.

Here are a few ways you can start setting a baseline:

Measures working memory.

Flash cards:

To really measure your baseline, you will need to set up a number of sets. I'll talk more about how to do this as I do it.

A surprisingly challenging game, probably the most fun of these options:

I look forward to the day that I actually get organized enough to do in-depth reviews and comparisons of these, especially as I attempt to see how something like mind-tree influences my Dual-N-Back task. And yes, I'm probably overthinking this, I really just need to choose one.

Book Review: Improve Your Memory by Ron Fry

Fry, Ronald W, and Ronald W Fry. Improve Your Memory. 5th ed. Clifton Park, NY: Thomson Delmar Learning, 2005. Print. Ron Fry’s how to study program.

TL;DR: Skip it. There are better.

Longer version: Fry covers the basics of memory training, and scatters a fair number of very, very basic (in my opinion, often ineffectual) study tools in as well. You're better off reading other books, which will be reviewed here hereafter. Very little by way of scientific method as well. An anemic introduction at best.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lessons Learned: Have a baseline... but how?

Over the past few weeks, I've been doing a number of experiments. I've practiced through a memory book (book review to come) and I've been trying different sleeping schedules. There's only one thing I neglected - I didn't set a solid baseline, against which to measure any progress I've made.

My guess is most of us don't have a set baseline for mental performance, and being able to establish one would help move us all forward. Yet, especially when it comes to the brain, how does one set a baseline? Sure, there are some basic tests like word and number-spans, mental object rotation, etc, and I do want to improve on those tests - but what about complicated mental creativity? If I improve my dual-n-back, will my writing skill and accuracy really improve? Entirely plausible - but difficult to say. Dual-N-Back is just one among many competing baselines.

And of course, once you have chosen a baseline for mental activity, how do you create isolated experiments? You may sleep less or more at night, but how do you know that's having the effect, and not the time you woke up, or the timing of your breakfast?

A possible answer: Results must be big.

Sorry about the vague, philosophical post, but I'm feeling vague and philosophical at the moment. And unsolved.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Continued interruption

I forgot to mention - about Inception. It wouldn't have to change much to incorporate a different theory of mind. I think I've mentioned before that one of my favorite ideas for a different ending to Inception would be making Mal a pure creation of Cobb - Ariadne is actually his wife, trying to bring him out of the dream-world. In this case, Mal might have been so convinced of his ability to incept that he created a reality in which it made sense and worked - and to bring him out of it, Ariadne creates a labyrinth (which could have worked in all that cool labyrinth stuff I wish had been included toward the end...) and the entirety of the labyrinth - the context - could have been her way of inception - to create a context, rather than a single item. Which is really what a movie does, come to think of it.

Monday, September 5, 2011

An interruption: Inception

Still haven't re-watched it (need to do that one of these days...) but a thought struck me the other day:

Inception seems to have a very rationalistic theory of mind - as if the mind is very organized - if you get down through the security and plant an idea deep enough, that idea can change all someone's life.

I'm not an expert by any stretch, but it would seem to me that the best studies of mind today have come to the opposite conclusion - whether or not one is a rationalist, one's mind is very empirical and tends to base ideas strongly on preponderance of evidence.

As Thomas Harris said, our conclusions are a lump, not a sum.
AKA Context, context, context.

Read more efficiently: Audiobooks

Whether you believe in Evolution or an intelligent designer, you should agree that the eyes were not made for long-term reading.

If you're an evolutionist, you are convinced the eyes are there to comprehend a world at multiple layers and depths, watching out for the predator in the bush, or the berries, or the grain.

If you're a creationist, you believe the eyes were formed by God to interact with the world he created - a world full of light and color and depth - different levels of focus, things to see to the side, and to the front.

The ears, however, in both cases, are for hearing - and primarily for hearing human voices. The ears are so good at human voices, they will actually detect them in random samples of sound. (

It is puzzling and saddening, then, that visual reading is far and away the most popular sort of reading, and having a book read to you is much more rare - often relegated to the long car trip.

I, for one, find audiobooks to be a wonderful way to read, while resting my eyes. Vocal performance adds another layer of meaning that can be analyzed and learned from. I especially enjoy listening to Faulkner on tape - in book format, he's a bit difficult to understand, but with the right reading, he's lucid, thunderous, and awe-striking. If you've ever wanted to understand Faulkner but been unable to, I heartily recommend 42 Short stories by William Faulkner. You'll actually get the jokes, and they aren't even the best part.

Game of Thrones, on the other hand, even with a good reading, is too thin on the ground with real creativity.
Why is it that every fantasy book must have:
Named swords.
Estranged royalty.
Scary dreams.
and all the other cliches that are too boring to name here?

Really? You get the chance to create  whole world. You have people trusting enough to read volumes of your work, and you aren't interested in doing more.

It's rather sad, really.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Okay, I'll admit it, I only scanned this

But it echoes one of the problems I've consistently had with the school system:

If you fail in school, you tend to permanently mark up your record. Only certain types of problems can be solved by failure-averse behavior. Failure is valuable.

Worth a scan, for a few decent illustrations.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Text is alive

I'm a big fan of non-text alternatives where it comes to imbibing knowledge. I love things like podcasts, video courses, and even more interactive tools like Memrise and Dual-N-Back tests.

But I still get lost in worlds of text - especially when it comes to gathering disparate information, nothing beats text. It's scannable. I can browse down a page. I can't do that (yet) with audio or video.

In that regard, here's a text-based resource I wish I had found years ago:

The National Academies Press. Lots to read there - and if you want to read it on your computer, it's all free. A few things I'm reading/scanning:

And a favorite quote from one of those (Rising above the Gathering Storm):

"The Gathering Storm committee concluded that a primary driver of the future economy and concomitant creation of jobs in the 21st century will be innovation, largely derived from advances in science and engineering. While only 4 percent of the nation’s work force is composed of scientists and engineers, this group disproportionately creates jobs for the other 96 percent." (page 4)

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Neural Plasticity: What does it mean to you?

To me, it means I get to design my brain. How awesome is that!?

Best Basic Introduction

This is the best basic short introduction to Memory/brain training I've found:

I'm still trying to figure out the best tools for poetry memorizing, as that is one of my main hopes. The more I research, the more I believe that specific mental tools have to be used for rapid memorization of specific types of information - poetry one way, numbers another, etc.

Oh, by the way, Ed Cooke (referenced in article) fascinating fellow. More to come on him, certainly.

Also, a brief thought: Notice that breaking 1 minute, 30 seconds to memorize a pack of cards in the US is a US record, and still 3 times as long as the international record. Have anything to do with our much-commented-upon standard test scores? Methinks perhaps.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Coming up: Stuff!

As always, I apologize for the lack of weekend update. Many of you know this last weekend has been crazy - plus, less than six hours of sleep a night, for the past four or five nights running. That said, coming up soon:

pictured: Brain Food!

1. You think what you eat: experiments in carb restriction and thought.
    The brain loves glucose. The average brain consumes about 250 m&m's worth of glucose every day. The active brain consumes more. For the past four weeks I have been on a very calorie restrictive diet, especially restrictive of carbs, fructose, and glucose. I haven't been eating all that much protein either - or all that much of anything. I'm planning on making the transition out to a muscle building diet this week, and I was hoping to test my brain a few different ways before ending the diet (Dual-N-Back, 15 minute recall, Mind Tree exercises, Math drills, Word and number space drills). The thing is - I'm so tired any attempted study would be completely worthless. What I will try to test is my mind's change (if any) as I come off the caloric restriction - whether there's any difference one week into normal eating patterns vs two. I'm probably not done dieting before my life is over, so I think I'll have the chance to do this test again - and in that case, I'll already have the mental tests worked out before I start the diet (I'll share the best ones I find with you, so you can join in the experimentation!)
     Obviously, this is one man study isn't really a study at all, just a small piece of broken data. To really do this right, I'd want about two hundred subjects, one hundred tested on their way into caloric restriction, the other half tested on their way out. Testing would be widely spaced and highly controlled to make as certain as possible that learning wasn't messing with the results. But we have to start somewhere. (and I'm a big fan of personal experimentation.)
    All that said, regardless of the results of this test, I lost about 18 difficult-to-loose pounds (175-158) in the space of four weeks on this diet. Anyone interested, let me know, I'll point you to what I did.
    Oh, and calorie restriction seems to work in mice and (aged) people to improve cognitive function:
Or not:

Bonus: Curious male-female contrast:

2. Reviews!
    People review movies and books - but what about educational resources? I'm going to try to start reviewing educational and cognitive training resources over the next week, both to heighten exposure and to help myself decide which ones I personally should use.
    As I start reviewing more and more, expect to see a few "best of" posts - "best dual-n-back test" "best memory training" "best mnemonics" etc.
    Also, I hope to start heavily using a data-oriented review set - instead of doing the usual Roger-Ebert write-up, I'll be judging most resources on a set of standard qualitative and non-qualitative criteria, and entering all the numbers into a public Google Spreadsheet, so anyone can look at the numbers and make pretty graphs and stuff with them, if they want to. I'm already starting the spreadsheet here:

Feel free to include suggestions of measures you'd like to see included. I'd like to keep things brief, but I'll try to evaluate everything I can.

3. More pictures. I'll get some vacation pictures up by the end of this week, I promise.

4. Sometime: Budgeting a trip around the world.
   My wife and I just took a 10-month trip around the world for less than $10,000 total - less than $5000 a person. Not to brag, but I think this could be a textbook example of how to experience other cultures on the cheap. We did the whole thing on our savings. That price includes airfare, trains, a night in the oldest hotel in the world (awesome), and all of this in some of the most expensive and least dollar-friendly markets out there (Japan, Eurozone, UK). We could have easily done the trip under $7000 total ($3,500 a person) if we weren't splurging on the extra nights in Paris, London, the oldest hotel in the world, Tokyo, Kyoto, Rome, Florence, and a train trough Switzerland. If we'd decided to visit less expensive cultures, (say Korea-India-Russia-Eastern Europe) we could easily have completed the trip on even less. One of these days, I'll tell you what I learned. Probably not this week. I have more important things to do. Hopefully, I can also fit in some more culture-specific details with some of my picture postings.

I look forward to writing to you.
A Yeoman and a Scholar

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Read more efficiently: Spreeder

Traditional speed reading is a fake. It's really just skimming by another name, and while it can be effective, the idea that you will be able to read more than 800 words a minute is simply bogus. Even the best speed reading teachers say that you "chunk" information and "get rid of the fluff - meaning skip some words.

Paul Scheele says that meaning is conveyed by 4-11% of the words in any book. He has a point.

Of course, NASA said about his "photoreading" techniques:
"These results clearly indicate that there is no benefit to using the PhotoReading technique. The extremely rapid reading rates claimed by PhotoReaders were not observed; indeed the reading rates were generally comparable to those for normal reading. Moreover, the PhotoReading expert showed an increase in reading time with the PhotoReading technique in comparison to normal reading. This increase in reading time was accompanied by a decrease in text comprehension. These results were found for two standardized tests of text comprehension and for three matched sets of expository texts." (

Ah well. He still has a point. 

You see, the problem is that your eyes have to physically move. Their movements and focus are controlled by muscles. On top of that, you can only focus with the center of your vision (with enough focus to actually read). So, what do you do? You don't focus on words that you guess won't be important.

Recently, despite this discouraging news, I've been having some fun with a "speed" reading program, Spreeder:

Spreeder presents you with any text you like, in any chunk size you like, at any speed you like. Your reading speed increases because your eyes don't have to move across a page. Your eyes also remain focused on only one point. Your attention is improved, as you are presented with moving images instead of static pages.

While I wouldn't do this with some texts, I definitely appreciate it for others, especially those that are dry, but must be confronted, or those that repeat points and examples too often.

I'm currently enjoying spreeding:
Theodore Dreiser's Sister Carrie and Charles Darwin's Origin of Species.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Fascinating Faces

Whether you are in education, film, novels, cars, technology, or politics, remember this:

Faces are important.

No, I don't think you get how important they are.

In Oliver Sacks' The Mind's I, Sacks cites cases of Prosopagnosia (brain damage resulting in inability to recognize faces) where other knowledge is lost as well. These cases are backed up by studies that show that, when people are asked to recognize items of their expertise (car afficianados certain models of car, nerds certain models of phone or camera, etc) the same areas that handle facial recognition in their brains start firing. (yes, there is a specific area for facial recognition in your brain - another interesting and important factoid.)

It seems that if we care about something enough, our brain will encode it as a "face" rather than as another type of knowledge.

This makes me wonder if an educational system could essentially "hack" into the facial recognition system, and get the information there more quickly, leading to faster information encoding and retrieval.

Also, a little bit of me worries about the rest of me being a mad scientist.

image from Charlie Chaplin's City Lights, used as an illustration under fair use.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

My School

If I were to start a school, perhaps these would be the principles:

Read more efficiently.
Memorize more effectively.
Learn more quickly and completely.

Because if you have those - you will enjoy them, because knowledge that comes easily is enjoyable. If you enjoy them, and they come easily, the temptation to other things is greatly diminished.


Friday, August 5, 2011

What Now?

So, what now?

I have plans for this blog. Plans that are more exciting to me than any of my thoughts have been about posting volunteering pictures or describing difficult to communicate experiences. Plans that have more to do with the meaning of the title of this blog.

You see, I found a calling, or something like that.

From now on, my life is dedicated to education - the best possible education, so that's what this blog will be about. Reviews of educational tools (especially free ones) you might want to know about. Descriptions of my own study techniques as they develop. I'm going to do some crazy things over the next year - like try to learn how to learn an entirely unfamiliar language in three months. That sort of sensible, realistic goal setting. I'll try to post some research summaries, in modern and ancient education techniques. I will be my own experiment - in focus training, memory improvement and optimal scheduling.

And yes, for those who want them, there should still be some vacation pictures coming.

But compared to education, those are unimportant. That's why you can now depend on me to post more often. That, and the fact that I'm not on a train to somewhere unseen every other week.

So, if that sounds interesting to you, stick around. This should be really good.

Monday, July 25, 2011


Must say, this is a good expression of what travelling, and coming back, feel like:

Everything is the same. Everything is different.

We are back.

More to come.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Stuff I've been Pondering, and talking about

These are the "notes" (really a description I wrote up afterward for curious people who missed it) of a short talk/discussion I gave here at Braziers park.

Mind Your Metaphors
Metaphor and Neuroscience lecture notes
By Peter Wallis

An Introduction to three important ideas:
  1. Metaphors are Everywhere.
  2. Metaphors can be Dangerous
  3. Metaphors can be wonderful, beautiful things.
  4. Metaphors can be useful and helpful.

Preliminaries: What is a metaphor? A Metaphor is “like a simile.” It speaks of one object in terms of another. Dictionaries tend to define metaphors as non-literal comparisons, or use of a word, sense, or object in a non-literal sense. One problem - as we shall see, the idea of the literal is problematized by metaphor itself.
  1. Metaphors are Everywhere

    They are in our every-day language, in several interestingly pervasive ways. Time is often (and in many cultures) thought of in terms of space – the future is forward. The past is backward. “Down the road” or “Back then.”
    “Love relationships are journeys”. - The long and winding road of the Beatles song is repeated with surprising regularity - “Going through this together.” “How far we've come.” “We went our separate ways.” “Been a bumpy road.” “This relationship isn't going anywhere.”
“More is Up.” - “Prices went through the roof.” “My income rose.” “The number of books printed is going up.”
    Not only this, but metaphors invade our bodies as well as our words. Scientists, asking experimental subjects to lie in front of a classroom, then offering them a choice of moist towelettes/hand wipes or candy, found those asked to lie chose the wipes much more often than those asked to tell the truth. (Metaphor:Truth is clean, lies are dirty.) People speaking of the future lean forward, when speaking of the past lean back. Experimenters at Yale university put a pretty girl in an elevator, with a cup of coffee, which she would ask unknowing experiment subjects to hold. When later asked what they thought of her, those who held a cup of iced coffee thought she was “stand-off-ish,” “rude” and “distant.” Those asked to hold a warm cup of coffee thought of her as “friendly” “outgoing” and “sensitive.”
    And of course, in some sense, most words are metaphors. Silver is called silver because of the slivery way light reflects off of it. Cobalt is called Cobalt for the German word for goblin. Literal literally means “of or belonging to letters or writing” yet letters and writing all speak of things – which are not letters or writing – in terms of ink and phonetics.
    Many of these metaphors, and more, are explored at some length in the book “Metaphors We Live By” by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson.

    2. Metaphors can be Dangerous.
    More briefly, politicians and economists often use metaphors, when they speak of “the invisible hand of the market.” or “a rising tide lifts all boats.” David Cameron speaks of “Rebooting the economy.” (which makes the computer literate of us worry, as to reboot a computer, you need to bring it to a full stop...) and George W Bush spoke of “spearheading the peace process.” Of course, these metaphors are in themselves not bad, but when they are used to excuse or hide sloppy thinking, when they are not analyzed, and when real and specific goals and actions are put aside for turns of phrase that sound well but mean very little, they are dangerous.

    3. Metaphors can be Beautiful.
    You need only look in a good book of poetry to find this. Metaphors are word-pictures, and some of my favorites call a startling amount of attention to themselves, doing odd visual things, be it William Blake/Blade Runner's “Firy the angels fell, Deep thunder rolled about their shores.” which is a visual change of scale if ever I've imagined one, or Milton's “Hail, Holy light!” Written by an author who is blind, and makes sure the reader is aware of the author's blindness. In this way, poetic metaphor often asks to be analyzed and searched more deeply, as opposed to bad political metaphor, which asks only to be repeated.

    4. Metaphors can be useful.
    Not just for poets – in every-day life. World-Champion memorizers use metaphors to perform incredible feats of memory, and these champions teach others to use these same techniques to improve their day to day memories, be it memorizing shopping lists by making metaphors with the things in one's house, or transforming ideas into images and then making those images interact in striking ways. I have been practicing that, memorizing the periodic table, using the images suggested by the elements' etymologies, which is why I knew silver-silver and Cobalt-goblin.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Laid Up

The toenail has resulted in some office work. Currently troubleshooting a PHP mail application (meant to email the admin when a contact form is filled in, isn't working.) Definitely some feelings of deja-vu. Saw a link to a Moodle tutorial when doing the research, that really gave me a bit of a memory. (Moodle was the PHP based Learning Management System I worked with before this trip.)

On that note, why do we say "Laid up"? Why not "Laid Down"?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

On that note...

On this journey, I have worked with sledgehammers, rototillers, several large animals, near chainsaws, taking down rusted iron staircases, and driving posts into the ground.

How do I remove the big toenail of my right foot?

Opening a door. Of course.

Carelessness is more dangerous than any individual piece of equipment could be.

Friday, June 17, 2011

A note on the psychology of certain men

I believe it is worth noting that in certain men, it is a matter of joy to overcome difficult and painful circumstances in the pursuit of joy.

Managing to tear off a whole toenail (on the big toe) and then travel hours to enjoy Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing (With Catherine Tate and David Tennant as Beatrice and Benedict) is one of those times.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The downside of having interesting people around

Somehow, people you like to talk to, interesting events you want to go to, all in a language you understand, takes away from time to spend writing, reading, and blogging. Who knew?

Monday, June 13, 2011

"It's going to shine on the golden child..."

"Don't cry, it's my situation. I got it. Hold tight, it's going to shine on the golden child. Hold tight. I love you. I'm through with my statement."

Last Statement
Derrick Johnson
April 30th, 2009

found via:

Whatever your position on capital punishment, I deny you to find this fascinating.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Today I learned an awesome one:

Pochemuchka - it's a Russian word that means "One who asks a lot of questions." What an awesome word. I, for one, intend to do my part to make it an English word as well.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


And now it just started raining fast drops the size of kidney beans.

English Weather

Some people hate it, but I love English weather. Ten minutes ago, I was sitting in the library enjoying a cup of tea and watching rain pour down on the gothic arches of our Oxforshire residence. Five minutes ago, I was watching the sunlight glisten off of the wet spires, and guild the gray walls. Now I'm sipping hot chocolate, listening to the rain through the open window, and watching the trees wave in the breeze.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What I did Yesterday

So, yesterday, I had the day off. No, nothing as exciting as that. I spent the whole day in the study:

 Now, I love the internet, but every once in a while, it's great to take a day off. Spent the whole day reading, checked my email once. I read three (smallish) books back to back, and a host of short stories. Finally read Gogol's The Cloak (AKA The Overcoat). Also read (if anyone wants to talk about them) A Certain James Bond compilation which included "Property of a Lady" and "The Living Daylights" and another Bond story I won't mention the title of here.

Hemingway's The Killers, which I kind of enjoyed. (Dang it, I promised myself I wouldn't enjoy Hemingway... but I still need to read the Old Man and the Sea...)

Also Nicholas Monsarrat's The Time Before This, which contained some of the best descriptions of Canadian wilderness I have ever read. There should be more Canadian wilderness in books these days...

Last one I'll name drop - Flaubert's Parrot, which proved to be one of the more fascinating biographies I've read.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Pictures of stuff!

 Welcome to Venice

One of my favorite little islands around Venice.

 Our hotel room - we stayed one night. There's something about Venice that makes this sort of kitschy display okay - not as good as a canal view, but okay....

 Our lunch. That cheese is Parmigiano Reggiano. Wonderful stuff. Better than anything at a restaurant, and less expensive.

I never did figure out what the second toilet is for... could be urinal, but why have hot and cold taps on a urinal? Bewildering toilets the globe over!

 One of the cool things about Venice is that people do seem to be comfortable wearing unique clothing, in a way I've never seen anywhere else. Especially since the unique clothing here tends to be awesome, instead of weird.

Us! See! I didn't just steal these off flickr.... anyway, that's my favorite dome/church in Venice. They actually have a sign inside saying that no church should ever charge admission.

The view from the point of the Grand Canal.

Venice at night. It has long been an intention of mine to stay in Venice at night. Everything calms down after the 20,000 day-trippers leave.

Me, in front of my favorite Dome.

The small island, at night.

Next morning, we discovered this church (adjoining white building is a hospital.) I didn't know about it. Cool red brick gothic structure.

Hope you enjoyed.

Today's triva - Tomatoes come from South America (the word "tomato is incan...) and were brought to Europe only as recently as the 1500's.

Preview of Coming Attractions

I'm currently living in the house Ian Flemming lived in for something like six years of his childhood. I will post pictures one of these days.

This blog is becoming a strange mix of past, present and future. Past adventures, past thoughts, present hints, future hopes.

Or does that make me sound like a tosser? (which is a great English word, by the way.)

Friday, May 27, 2011

Update from the fire escape

I suppose the first thing I should say is that I'm just sitting on the fire escape because I get the wifi here, and because it's a nice perch. I love a nice perch. Sea Bass is better in sushi, admittedly...

Anyway, it's late, and the gothic-style arched windows project a yellow glow into the dark and moonless night. Kind of like this:

From Braziers' park website. (yes, this is where we are staying, by the way)
But that's not important. I want to tell you about someone I've met. I've spent the last few days mostly helping in the kitchen and reading on my own time, but that's not important. I've also been talking to Nonny.

This is Nonny (from the blog of another volunteer

Nonny is one of those people. I don't know how to do her justice in writing. I don't really know how to do anyone justice, but certain people bring that realization to the fore with all the subtlety of German erotica.

Nonny was a teacher of classics and religion.

Nonny lived through World War Two. She remembers having a sweets ration once a month. "It didn't go very far." She thinks, "It must be very odd, for your grandparents, to not have been in a war."

Nonny was married to a Classics professor at University of Bristol.

Nonny's grandfather was a teacher of French history, and went insane, convinced he was Napoleon.

Nonny loves her garden.

Nonny has the right to call African-Europeans black. She doesn't know this, but I have accorded her this right. Why? Because she spent many, many years teaching African-European kids from the poorer parts of London. She loved them. She calls them black.

She was teaching religion - teaching the nativity, and one of the boys raised his hand and said "Miss, why did the angels appear to the shepherds." She said she didn't know. After a couple of suggestions, one cockney in the back of the class tentatively raised his hand, and said "perhaps it was just that they were the only ones awake, it being the middle of the night."

Nonny worked as a decoder and translator during World War Two. She learned Military Japanese, and translated it for the English.

Nonny loves to talk about her life, and I love to listen, though I will admit it can be exhausting. One has the feeling one has lived another life, and it's tiring enough to live once.

I hope she will forgive me that I have not done her justice.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

TL/DR: Funniest sight in the universe contender: Drunk people (try to) set up a tent.

A view from the roof of the house we stayed in in Italy. That's the nearest village (Santa Brigida) - nearest bus stop, nearest grocery store, etc.

Hiking through the wooded hills of Tuscany, behind the house.

More views from the rooftops. I feel really sorry for those of you who still live in Santa Clarita, and don't get clouds, or trees.

Soon to come: France! (but maybe after Venice... we'll see...)

I will not neglect my blog. I will not neglect my blog. I will not neglect my blog. I will not neglect my blog. I will not neglect my blog...

Sorry about the neglect. Let's see... updates... (pictures will come later today, so long as the rapture holds off a few more hours...)

Security patrol went very smoothly. I did discover one of the most amusing sights in the universe: drunk and/or high people trying to set up a tent at 11:30 PM. When you can't figure out which side of your tent is the floor, you might have a problem.

There was a fair bit of litter (this being the UK's greenest festival, had to comment on that) but less than other comparable festivals, and the litter was picked up pretty quickly.

Hmmmm.... other stuff that's been going. Just finished Guns, Germs, and Steel. Fascinating book, absolutely fascinating - highly recommended reading.

Had an interesting discussion about feminism and the future of feminism, what the bra-burning movement meant, etc.

That's about it. Moved firewood and a caravan yesterday. That was fun. Day off today, which sure feels nice.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Today's Top Tip

How to get out of jury duty:
Respond to as many questions as possible with "That's what she said."
Leave the country.

The second may be a little drastic.

I will, of course, expect a full report on the results, should anyone attempt solution 1.

Anyway, last night I worked in the Thuderfrog - our little RV/Camper based food selling vehicle at the rock festival. I was selling Potato Curry and Nan. Banged my head on the overhang twice. Here are some observations I found interesting. Due to brain damage, they may not be interesting to anyone else:

I did not expect a kind of Berkley eco-rock hipster-hippie rock festival to include so many parents with children. I wonder how many people are aware of the fact that the hipsters seem to be breeding.

They didn't seem like bad parents - just interestingly hypocritical ones. The same parents that, at 5:00PM were trying to make sure their children didn't eat anything as non-vegan as yogurt, or as processed as white flour, were back by 7:30, hunting for any booth selling hot chocolate and/or cake.

That is certainly a representation of the exaggerated minority, though. Most of them were just parents as I always seem to see parents - people with small, controlling appendages attached to one or two arms, with a look in their eyes that says either:

Dear heavenly powers and angels protecting us, if I do not get this child something sweet, I will not hear the end of it, I will go insane, and throw a brick of cocaine on the bonfire.


Dear heavenly powers and angels of whatevertheheckyoube, I need something sweet, but I can't admit it. Luckily I have a kid, and can get myself some chocolate, while it just seems like I'm being a good Dad. That's what good Dads do, right? Give their kids Chocolate? Oh, who cares. Chocolate... chocolate...

I'm not sure which it is yet. I'll let you know if I figure it out.

Tonight, I have security detail, wandering around dealing with parents who have briefly misplaced their cocoa-smeared appendages. I'll report back tomorrow.

Dear heavens and angelicky powers, I hope this doesn't become a Bill-Brysonesque cynical expose.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Pictures! No, actually, my pictures!

In lieu of pictures from Britain (haven't taken the time to pull those off the camera yet) I'll try to get us a little caught up. Here are some pics of where we stayed in Italy (I haven't shown you these yet, have I?)

The view out our bedroom window. That tree seriously reminds me of the tree of Gondor.

The house we lived in. If anyone wants it, I think I have a close up of the Latin over the door frame. Anyone up for a bit of translation? Oh, by the way - that Jeep was a pain to drive. No power steering... Italian roads are the craziest I've seen yet. I'll post pictures of them sometime.

The house that we lived in from the closest town. We are the small yellowish speck in the upper left. 

This one. (taken at 10x zoom)

The nearby forest. What we were working to get in another pine stand.

Sunset from our window


Oh, and we had to chop our own wood... but no axe, so, railroad spikes and a sledgehammer... without a full handle. Yay!

That's our office, that pine stand behind the olive trees. Oh, btw, olive trees are beautiful. We hiked up that hill behind the pine stand one day. I'll post pictures of that hike sometime.

Has that satisfied some appetites? Or merely whetted them more?

Applied Asynchronous Artistic Articulation

By which I mean, a blog. Sort of.

Let's see. Today I helped set up Wood festival, which just started. Decently cool english indie rock music, so some fun there. Hmmmm.... what else...

Does anyone else hate these wristbands? I have to wear one for the festival for the next three days... at least it's cloth and not rubber or plastic...

Hmmmm... this is a short one. What do you think? Should I post some pictures? Yea, I think I should. Pictures to come.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Today's top trivial tangentia

Let's see... today I helped make dinner and clean up (20+ people, clearly a full time job.)

Last night (after posting) I participated in a group learning about/discussing  the Cathars (13th century south of France group slaughtered wholesale for heresy - helped launch the inquisition.) Discussion also shifted towards Gnosticism and the related theological/philosophical ideas. Absolutely fascinating stuff.

Rather tired though. Also, have two weeks of Dr. Who to catch up on.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

What was it Obama said right before Julian Assange publicized a more free and open journalism?

Oh yea. Be careful what you ask for...

(Mr. Obama said America's future depends on the "honest, objective, meticulous reporting" that "is so vital to our democracy and our society." ) (

So, you have asked for more of the more "mundane" stuff in my life. Like Barney Stinson, I strive to make nothing in my life mundane, but I shall attempt to comply.

Today, I had McDonalds for lunch. Just kidding.

Feeling like we are settling in here nicely, being accepted by the natives. A bit of harsh joking going back and forth, but that's generally a good sign.

Today we helped move some wood around (gathering scraps for a bonfire - big rock-music festival here this weekend). And then helped prepare the "thunderfrog" a kind of sandwich trailer for the festival - painting, building steps for a patio, that sort of thing.

Reading: Guns, Germs, and Steel. Very interesting book. Did you know that wild Almonds are poisonous (cyanide)? And that on the rare occasion a tree mutates and looses the cyanide gene it will almost certainly not reproduce, unless people intentionally plant it, because birds figure out it's not poisonous. Fascinating. Okay, fascinating to me.

More pictures will come. I need to find the time to get things off the camera... we haven't taken a lot of pictures (there is a point at which recording an experience interferes with experiencing the experience.) but we have taken a few, so I'll try to post those.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A quick question, and an observation

Yesterday, we took ferries and trains from the Orkney islands (59 degrees longitude) to London (51 degrees). We left at 1:05 PM and arrived at 7:35 the next morning. Quite a trip. Still love the Caledonian sleeper though.

Also, I had haggis. I actually really liked it.

We managed to get our bus and train figured out to Braziers park, we are there now. Oxfordshire is beautiful. Many, many trees and wildflowers. Braziers is fascinating, if a bit Berkley (if you know what I mean.)

Now the question: Do you want more of these "here's what we did today" updates? They won't all be as fascinating as these ones. (Because I know you just love to hear about Haggis...) but they'd make things more consistent and day-to-day.

And the observation: I always feel like bus drivers are as clueless as I am about where to stop. "I'd like to get off at Brazier's Park, could you let me know when we get close?" is met with an affirmative vocal response, but a look that says "Shoot. Um... Braziers park. Dang. I've just been driving this bus for three days. I'll have to just send him off somewhere, and hope he finds it. Maybe he'll just catch the next bus."

That said, we had no trouble finding the place.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Announcement! (Isn't that what this blog is for?)

Just to let you know, I won't be posting for about another week. Now (way) up north, on Orkney. Technology us (understandably) relatively rare.

TIL (Today I Learned): The Shetland and Orkney islands used to belong to Norway, and were important bases for Viking invasions. This was the case until Christian the I of Norway pledged Orkney as payment on the dowry of his daughter Margaret to James the III of Scotland in 1468. The money was never paid, so Orkney became Scottish.

Also, the word for Orkney in Scottish Gaelic: Archaibh

Thursday, May 5, 2011

The Farmer's Face

Of all the things I have seen on this trip, the faces remain with me most.

But what is the face of a farmer? Is it the food he grows?

Or the food he eats?

The food he eats and the food he grows are not often the same.

In Traditional Japan, is his face his fathers?

In new, metropolitan Japan, is his face his son's? His Daughter's?

After all, the question of the identity of the face is not a new one here.

Or is his face his hands?

The only picture of these that is mine is the first. I worked two days making Mochi with him, he kindly posed with me for a picture. I have edited myself out. All other pictures are creative commons, attribution, non-commercial licenses.