Monthly Archives: June 2007

Fast Cities?

OHSU building

While I’m often dubious about the whole premise of the magazine Fast Company, I see that they’ve put together a listing of the ‘fast cities’ of the world in a number of categories, and Portland makes the ‘green leaders’ list. I think that’s a fair assessment – there’s a lot of interest here in green building, and that interest is backed up by actual projects. As people do a better job of accounting for the full life-time cost of buildings, I think it’s inevitable that the techniques being pioneered here will become ‘no-brainers’ before long.

Above: a drawing of the new LEED-certified platinum OHSU building.

Double Nickels – Michael Fournier (2007)

Double Nickels book

Couldn’t resist another of the 33 and 1/3 series of books on classic albums, this time the Minutemen’s Double Nickels on the Dime by Michael T. Fournier. This one is basically a set of notes for each of the (many) songs on the 1984 double album. Fournier spoke with Mike Watt and quotes him quite a bit; see additional interview material here on Mike’s hoot page.

As Fournier says, there’s a lot to digest; some 45 songs, so many of them little gems. An album that is as strong a piece of work now as ever, 23 years later.

July in Portland!

I’m looking forward to being home for one of the nicest months of the year here in Portland, OR. Bunch of concerts coming up:

Battles

3rd – Battles @ Doug Fir Lounge
18th – Samba Mapangala & Orchestra Virunga @ Oregon Zoo
22nd – Decemberists & Menomena @ Edgefield
25th – Los Lobos @ Oregon Zoo

Also the Oregon Country Fair and the Waterfront Blues Festival (July 4th weekend). Lots going on!

Oregon Country Fair

Conversations on Consciousness – Susan Blackmore (2006)

Conversations on Consciousness

“Conversations on Consciousness” is a book of interviews with scientists conducted by Susan Blackmore, consisting of a very similar set of questions each time. Folks included are Daniel Dennett, Roger Penrose, John Searle, Francis Crick and many others. Blackmore is the author of “The Meme Machine” and she is a pretty extreme thinker herself (she writes in her intro, “I long ago concluded that free will must be an illusion, and so over the years I have practised not believing in it”).

I found these interviews quite interesting, as the viewpoints range from a basically functionalist/behaviorist approach to those thinking about some sort of quantum mechanical process in the brain. The reductionist tendency is very strong; there’s a real desire for many of these scientists to map everything down to neurons and neurochemistry, and to call most higher level feelings and experiences as simply ‘illusions’. I found many of these folks to be pretty arrogant and blinkered in their thinking. There are also just a few oddballs – Kevin O’Regan says “Ever since I’ve been a child I’ve wanted to become a robot.”

The interview that I found most interesting was with Francisco Varela, who’s roots are in biology. He puts the objective/subjective distinction onto a spectrum, indicating that if we develop better language and descriptions of internal states, then we can begin to do better science on consciousness. “You see, if you think about so-called objective data in physics or biology, nothing is ever going to be observed unless you have somebody who reports on it. So you inevitably have a first person component to it.”

Varela goes on, “we need to introduce new first person methodologies way beyond those we have at the moment, and that means a sociological revolution in science. Among other things you have to train young scientists to become proficient in the techniques, you need a complete change in the curriculum design and so on. You know, I think we’re extremely naive. It’s like people before Galileo looking at the sky and thinking that they were doing astronomy.”

I think he’s on the right track, but I’m doubtful that many academics are listening…

Also – here’s Blackmore on Hofstadter’s I am a strange loop.

Shambhala Mountain Center, Colorado

Great Stupa

Yesterday I made it up to the Shambhala Mountain Center, near Red Feather Lakes, Colorado (to the west of Ft. Collins), where a good friend of mine has been working since January. It’s a beautiful spot at about 8,000 ft. elevation, in a valley ringed by rocky ridges. It’s also home of the largest stupa in North America, pictured above; inside is a large Buddha statue and meditation area. We took a hike around the ridge, and surprised a couple deer along the way.

Denver in a day

DAM - Hamilton Building

Saturday I made it up to Denver for the day. First paid a visit to the Denver Art Museum, with its new Hamilton building designed by Daniel Libeskind (above). I think I actually liked the stuff in the older building best, particularly the Native American floor and the Central/South American floor, with tons of artifacts and good background info.

Then I headed over to Broadway, near where North turns into South, and found a few good used bookstores down there, like Fahrenheit’s Books and the Denver Book Mall and Mutiny Now!

While driving around, I recommend KUVO 89.3 on the FM dial for jazz, salsa, Brazilian, Afro-Cuban, etc. (also streaming)

Internet radio!

WFMU

A couple suggestions for the adventurous listener:

WFMU – a free-form station based in Jersey City, NJ. I’ve been an on-and-off listener since the late nineteen seventies.

RRR

RRR – or ‘Three Triple R’ out of Melbourne, Australia. Also a long-time source of good independent music.

Put your favorite suggestions into the comments!

More on 'The Black Swan'

A black swan

I’ve been taking my time reading Nassim Nicholas Taleb‘s book ‘The Black Swan’ because I find it pretty rich with ideas. The thrust of the book is a look at uncertainty and risk, and it makes the claim that we really don’t do a very good job of understanding the risks that we may face. His claim is that many so-called experts are basing their judgments on the idea that most phenomena follow a bell-shaped curve, with outliers being extremely rare and even then having only nominal effects on the average. Taleb makes the case for the ‘black swan’ – that you can’t know the true risk profile of events in many cases, and that the appearance of the black swan (when all you’d ever seen were white swans, and you assumed that was all that existed) could overthrow all you thought you knew.

So far I’ve just read part one, on ‘how we seek validation’. Some of the ideas he covers are on the confirmation bias (we tend to look for confirmatory evidence to our theories, rather than looking for the evidence that will show us we’re wrong), the narrative fallacy (we respond to stories rather than data, and we make up stories based on partial evidence and then believe that the story is the whole truth), disregarding the silent evidence (we see the few survivors of a long process and assume they must have known what they were doing, forgetting that many tried the same strategies and lost along the way), and other such concepts.

Another intriguing point, as restated by Niall Ferguson in his review:

In any case, as President Bush has learned, you don’t get rewarded for trying to stop bad things from happening, precisely because if you’re successful they don’t happen. On his watch, after all, there hasn’t been another 9/11 (a classic Black Swan event). And Saddam Hussein will never invade Kuwait again. But is anybody out there grateful? Not even Bush himself can be certain that his strategy of pre-emption deserves the credit for non-events.

Taleb has little respect for most stuffed-shirt academics (he himself is a financial trader turned skeptical empirical philospher). Judging from the comments over on Marginal Revolution, many find him arrogant. I’d say he’s a smart man with an attitude, and I like it.

See also my earlier entry, Why Blog?

John Doe w/Dead Rock West @ Dante's – 15-Jun-2007

John Doe

Yeah, that’s a real old picture – but I first saw John Doe and X back around those times, 1982 to be exact – now 25 years later I still get to see him play.  The show last night was real solid.  His band, Dead Rock West, did a set to start off the evening, and that was quite good, very rootsy, just polished enough.  Then John came out in suit and buttoned up shirt, and proceeded to heat up the place.  I haven’t heard his new CD yet, but he played a few things from it.

Welcome to Corsin!

Corsin

Friends of mine over in Europe had a baby this week, his name is Corsin.

Corsin is living the extremely un-mediated life right now. Here’s to great adventures!