Archive for February, 2009

Intentional Poverty

Posted on February 24, 2009. Filed under: Culture, HowTo, Philosophy, Travel |

bgfun03 I had a friend in California who decided to take six months and live off the land. He had some small savings—he was a typical poor California hippie—and he got a cheap overnight flight to Hawaii. (I don’t know if they still have those.) He found himself a remote cove on a remote beach that didn’t seem to belong to anyone. He had a good, solid tent, a few clothes, a little money, and not much else. For three days, he ate mangoes and papayas and pineapples right off the trees. They were ripe, and there, and free!

The third day, he walked into town. I think he said it took two hours to do so. He bought some twine, and bread, and some more water purification tablets. He didn’t tell the people in the store where he was living. He treated his waste matter and trash organically, and earth-respectfully. He used the twine, tied to a long branch, to catch the occasional fish. They were that easy to catch there. He could broil his fish over a small open fire, and nothing ever had tasted better, he said.

He got quite used to living alone. He spent his time reading (he’d joined the local library in town, and would walk there once a week to return three books, and check out three new ones), gathering twigs for his few small fires, washing his clothes, thinking, singing, swimming, and watching sunsets and other miracles of nature.

He came back to “civilization” after four and a half months, feeling he’d absorbed what he wished from this practice. Even then, he moved into an “intentional community”, on acres of land in a dense redwood forest, north of San Francisco. There, he met a woman who had a baby. They decided to set up house together. They built their small house themselves. They had plumbing, but were not on the local water supply. The water came from a creek, was heated in a large copper kettle, and pumped into their plumbing system for showers and washing dishes. They had a composting outhouse rather than a flush toilet. I know all this because I visited them there. I’ve spent the night in the little loft above their main living space several times. I don’t always sleep well at home, but there, I slept like a log, in the the forest air.

The property had a “main house” which had been there some years before the community acquired it. This had all the mod-cons, as it were: kitchen, washers and dryers, large dining room, and, electricity! Most meals were taken there, communal style, because it was easier to prepare meals and do washing up in a fully equipped kitchen. The little hand-built houses scattered around didn’t have such luxuries.

There were a couple other notable features. One was the large redwood hot tub, heated by a bonfire. Through a series of ingenious pipes and valves, (I never learned who designed it) the temperature could be kept constant. It was open to the stars, and on warm summer nights, as well as cool winter ones, it was soothing and relaxing after a long day growing crops.

The crops were the other notable thing, here. They grew all their own vegetables, of course. After having their lettuce and tomatoes, store-bought were never quite the same. They brewed beer, and attempted wine. They had one other very secluded field I was never permitted to visit. They grew another crop, there—I’ll bet you can guess what kind! Although I’m not a user of that particular crop, I will say that I know this was all fresh, and organic, and not subject to the dastardly chemicals that “imported product” often has. These folks went miles off the property to their jobs (using gas-guzzling vehicles; sigh!) and didn’t believe in doing so “under the influence”. As far as I could tell, this was an article of faith with them. Recreational times were one thing; work another.

Some had jobs because the property didn’t pay for itself. Others contributed by working on their small farm, or doing maintenance, cooking, and other chores. I’ve often wondered what became of them all. I have not been in contact for a number of years, and I honestly couldn’t locate this place, now, if I tried.

So, why have I told you this story? During my evening inspirational reading last night, I read the following: “While money is not absolutely essential to your experience, to most people money and freedom are synonymous.”1.

I was thinking about this in relation to the “economic issues” that are so much in the news these days. I’ll often think that if I had “X” amount of money I could do or have __________(fill in blank), but since I have “Y” amount, I can’t. I remembered my friend, who had lived two distinct lifestyles (actually several other kinds, too; but those descriptions would make this long post longer) one using almost no money, and another with very little. I described him as a “poor-hippie-type”, earlier, but not once, in any reference to himself and his life, did he refer to himself as poor, or lacking in any way.

I got to thinking that many of our possessions; our jobs; our friends even (not to mention our families) can sometimes be anchors; other times be solace. Less can be more. I’m looking for balance in this; how about you?

1. quote from Money,and the Law of Attraction; Hicks

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To the Internet Muses of Speed: “It was just a joke!”

Posted on February 18, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Health, HowTo, Musings, Philosophy, Spirituality, Travel |

This is a four-part post.

Part one: Rant

Is this retribution? I hope not, because that concept does not fit my belief system. I would have to COMPLETELY re-evaluate how I THINK ABOUT THE MEANING OF LIFE! Ah, sorry for the shouting, folks. “We live in interesting times.” (I have heard there is a curse like this: “May you live in interesting times.” I must have been cursed by several people—in fact, I can think of a few, who supposedly were my FRIENDS!) hehe.
For the last week, or so, I have not been able to get a stable connection to the Internet. At first, I couldn’t get online at ALL. At first, I thought it was “Malware”. At first, I thought I’d fixed that.
Now, I can get on sometimes. It can work fine sometimes. It can be excruciatingly slow sometimes. It can be non-existent sometimes. I do a lot of work on the computer, including maintaining a couple of websites, and sending out bulk emails to large lists, so this is inconvenient. I’ve tried new: Virus Scanners, Firewalls, Registry Cleaners, Disk Defragmenters, lalala.
Being me, of course, I KNOW that nothing is what it seems, and that outside incidents are not isolated from my inner being. So I must be mentally cluttered and morally slow at the mo’. YOU are all carrying on without me; I know you are—it is so strange not to be able to CONNECT with you, on the Internet or in my mind! In my last post, I included a graph showing “what I do when the Internet is being slow.” I think the Internet didn’t like being accused of being slow. Because, before I posted the graph it hardly was ever slow. And now…I hope I can post this…looks like it’s going to work!

Part two: Why I didn’t care

My previous post was titled “I don’t care!” Which was true, at the time. I realize that when overwhelmed I tend to go a little brain-dead, thus not caring. Now, my brain has woken up, a bit, from its cosmic sleep, and here I am caring again. The thing was, one of the non-profit organizations I work for ran out of money, totally and completely. There was a couple hundred dollars in the bank, and we have several thousands in expenses. People reacted to this in various ways. Mine was to run around trying to fix things, explaining “Why This Is Not My Fault”, and then taking brain vacations. Others became depressed, and virtually hid—they did not respond to phone calls and emails. Still others got mad. This is a familiar story in many places. For me it has been a lesson in keeping my equilibrium. I’m privileged to experience many of these kinds of lessons. In the end (of this particular “crisis”, anyway) people came through with donations, corporate sponsorship, and ideas for fund raisers. It looks like things will be alright for the rest of the season, and into next fall where we have a large sponsorship opportunity awaiting us. Whew!

During it all, I reminded myself that “all is well”. I truly believe that this is always so. It is helpful to be grounded in some sort of belief system in “good” times and in “bad”. (I must put those words in quotes, because, ultimately I cannot define any situation with either of those terms.)

Part three: Walk

Last time, I also mentioned the walk I was going to take, in order to clear my mind. I went in the afternoon, and the little snow that was on the ground had cleared. The surrounding mountains, however, were beautiful. They always are, with or without snow, but snow is so rare here, that when it does occur, it’s like a magic fairy land. (Well, that may be a bit romantic, but not much!) Here are the Catalina mountains without snow:


Here they are with snow:


Every time I go for a long walk near home, these are the mountains I see. They fill my mind and heart with beauty and peace; they are a respite.

Part four: Tubac

It was suggested to me that I accompany a person I’m fond of on a day trip Out of Town. What a good idea! There is a small Artist Colony/Tourist/Mission/Military Fort town just over an hour’s drive from here. I hadn’t been there in over five years, and had been told it had changed and grown. The last time I was there, there were a few nice shops, and the Fort and the old Mission were worth seeing. Now, Tubac is a thriving arts and crafts center, almost like a mini Santa Fe, with beautiful shops, gorgeous and unique art, and several really nice eateries. It was like taking a mini-vacation, without having to travel very far. The weather was perfect; just warm and sunny enough to walk around comfortably. It was a lovely day, and a welcome change.

On the way home, I had the same question I often have when I travel directly south of Tucson. A few miles out of the city the road-distance signs abruptly change from Miles to Kilometers. The signs in Mexico are in kilometers, but at this point, we are still 30 miles (or 48 kilometers) from the Mexican border, well within the United States of America. And, it’s not as if the signs have BOTH miles and kilometers; they don’t!—just kilometers! It makes no sense. I’ve been asking myself “WHY?” for years, so, as I’m writing this, thought I might as well, finally, look it up. The only reason I could come up with on my own was that, as close to the border as this is, perhaps the signs are in kilometers for the convenience of Mexican shoppers. But, that still makes it confusing for all the US residents in the area. 😕 It turns out this is NOT the case. According to Wikipedia, one of my many sources for many things:

Interstate 19 is unique amongst US Interstates, because signed distances are given in meters (hundreds or thousands as distance-to-exit indications) or kilometers (as distance-to-destination indications), and not miles. Speed limit signs give speeds in miles-per-hour, however. According to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT), metric signage was originally placed because of the “metric system push” in the United States at the time of the original construction of the highway.
Recently, the Arizona Department of Transportation announced that they would convert metric signs back to United States customary units in stages, replacing signs in specific areas of the freeway during construction projects in those areas. This is due to the high cost of replacing all the metric signs at once.

Well—what do you know! Not only are the reasons not what I thought, but our little highway is “unique”. I guess when the state gets some money (?) we’ll convert. I do vaguely remember some talk erupting from time to time about the US going on the metric system. This did not go over well. To say the least. I’m still impressed that the Brits managed to convert from sovereigns and farthings, or whatever it was they used to have, and that much of Europe has been able to cope with the Euro.

Another little “factoid” about our area: (This one I did know) The county in which I live is part of a little strip of land in what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico known as the “Gadsden Purchase“, a “purchase” which remains unpopular with Mexico from whom it was “purchased” to this day. For reasons I don’t clearly understand, the Gadsden Purchase was part of the confederacy during the US civil war. (The rest of Arizona were Yanks.) A strange little moment in a strange history. We are all Southwesterners, now.

Part five: The End.

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I don’t care!

Posted on February 10, 2009. Filed under: Health, HowTo, Musings, Philosophy |

I’m in one of those moods. It’s mostly because I’ve been horrendously busy, so haven’t blogged as much as usual. This is to be expected from time to time. But why, I want to know, do I also start to not care about writing so much during these busy times? And…horrifyingly…I don’t care as much about what YOU are saying, either! (Please, please, please, know this is just temporary!!! I cherish you, really!) I think busyness brings stress—most of us would agree—and I ALSO think that stress changes our brain chemistry! Perhaps “non-survival” behaviors (I guess blogging would fall into that category) take a backseat to the necessities at hand. Or at least the perceived necessities. I find this cumbersome, because I know myself, and I know I really do like to write and blog here. But there are times when I catch myself saying “I just…don’t CARE.”

song chart memes
more charts

I just had to include this from our friends at GraphJam. I laughed out loud in the spirit of total identification. These are exactly my reactions, in pretty much the same proportions shown here. In fact, I have a game of Solitaire up now! 🙂 And three other tabs—busted! 😀 The graph found its way into this post, though, because it’s also (at least some of the time) a metaphor for life, dontchathink?

When my “connection” is being slow (read: connection with the Universe, or Source Energy, or the TOTD [“Term of the Day”]), I’ll sometimes “get offline” (“take a breather”); occasionally stop “loading” more activity and concern into an already over-stressed system; perhaps go “solitaire” (hibernate and avoid fellow humans for a while);  but more often might “open a new tab” because it seems, in those times, that I manage to find people and things who demand even more from me!

Well, blast! I know this is just a “thingy” I’m going through, because I’ve experienced that 80-94% of the time, I’m very grateful for my blog, for the opportunity to spew forth upon a variety of topics, and for YOU my reader and friend, who is the frosting on the blog-cake (hmmm, somehow the word “blog-cake” doesn’t sound as nice as I was imagining it, but I mean well, really). 😉 The other few percents of the time make me wonder whassamattame? (as my uncle might have said). Evolution, if such it be, has given us some strange coping mechanisms. I do understand the need to focus intently when the body perceives that necessity. I understand the “fight or flight” response. It’s just that in modern society our bodies perceive things as “DANGER” when they may merely be distractions. I’ve read that many of us are under stress most of the time, and that our bodies weren’t designed to accommodate such a constant influx of stress hormones. So, what’s a body to do?

Take a deep breath, of course. Meditate, if that’s your fancy, or stretch, or go for a long walk. Do something both energizing and relaxing (there’s a paradox) that will change the focus from one of extreme engagement to gentle relaxation. I’ve been hugely busy, and only liking some of that. So, I shall go for my walk (it’s SNOWING here! It’s been eight years!). And I’ll return, and tell you all about it, and with good fortune, it will be something you and I will enjoy reading. Here’s wishing you a peaceful and joyful day!!! 🙂

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PC Adventure games—the other reality

Posted on February 5, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Games, Health, Musings, Philosophy |

Haven’t done a game post for a while. This one’s probably more about philosophy than games, per se, though. I’m usually playing a PC game in my off-hours—or minutes. My preferences are for PC adventure games; which are not as prominent as war games or multi-player games, so it can be a challenge to find good ones.

Most recently, I got ’round to playing Dreamfall, the sequel to Ragnar Tørnquist’s The Longest Journey. There are many, many reviews around for these games, so I will briefly describe my gameplay impressions towards the end of the post, but first will describe how this medium affects my philosophy and psychology.

For me, the story in an adventure game is the most important element. Puzzles are OK, sometimes fun, and sometimes even necessary to advance the plot, but I’m there for the tale. All of my favorite games have characters and scenes an average, civilized (?) 21st-century person can relate to, but have fantasy, sci-fi, or mystical elements to them; sometimes all three. So, why don’t I just read a good fantasy novel instead?, you ask. (I hear you.) I do that, too. It’s just that getting a story through a game environment is different, just as seeing a movie is different from reading the same story in a book. In the best games, the player is making choices about where to go when; who to talk to; what to talk about; and the pacing is controlled by them. Of course in reading a novel, one can put the book down and come back when one chooses, unlike in a film where one generally sits through from beginning to end. One can even skip ahead in a novel, although I rarely do this in practice. If the book isn’t compelling enough for me to read straight through as the author intended, I generally stop reading. For the most part, both novels and movies are plotted as in this advice, given to a character in a novel about how to tell a story: “Start at the beginning, go on ’til you reach the end, and then stop!” 😉

Although game stories are generally, really, as linearly laid out as a film, they at least give the illusion that the choices the player makes matter. In some games, they actually really do—the player will arrive at a different destination, or reach a different conclusion based upon her/his choices. However in most of them one proceeds through the story in a particular order. What’s different, though, is the ability to explore. Among my first game playing experiences was the Myst series, and I loved that I could go in and out of buildings as many times as I wanted to, look around as much as I liked, and make the next move or solve the next puzzle only when I was ready. It was immersive. I was there.

Which is both the “blessing and the curse”. I tend to be a bit reclusive, and have always lived somewhat in my own fantasy world. I’m one of those players who can sit in a darkened room for hours with my game, and completely forget the rest of the word exists—if indeed it does. ❗ I could, probably, when the technology evolves enough, substitute “virtual reality” for “real reality” (Is that redundant? IS reality real?). I find this both comforting and alarming. On the one hand, if I someday become old, 😉 and have frightened off all my friends, I can live in the virtual world a lot of the time, and be quite content. On the other hand, psychologists say this sort of thinking is very bad for us, has already shifted morals and expectations, and will cause the collapse of society as we know it.

In case you’re concerned, please know that I work with people; I’m active in organizations with people; I sing with people—all of which I find very satisfying and have no desire to give up. It’s just that…I’m not sure I NEED actual other human beings around me to be content. I even have a bit of a relationship with “Clippy” that cute annoying ubiquitous paper clip who is meant to be my “helper” in Microsoft WORD. I can just imagine that once “Virtual Reality” evolves, with the goggles and the pressure suits, and all, you MIGHT not see me for a week at a time. And I’m not sure how I feel about that.

Given all that, though, I still have to say it was the story in Dreamfall which was the most compelling thing about it. I won’t talk about the plot too much in case you want to play it and haven’t, but I found it deeply moving, and I cared about what would happen next, to characters I’d come to value. (Dreamfall did not have a “Hollywood Ending”; there will be sequels.) While there are a few novels I’ve read more than once, and feel are my old friends, Dreamfall was different in that I could virtually go to some of my favorite locations and “visit” my favorite characters. They became friends. After playing it through twice, I’d start up the game and go directly to my favorite town, and listen to my favorite dialogue. After a few days of this, though, I began to realize this world had become a little TOO real. I went “cold turkey”. I uninstalled the game, and put the disc on the shelf. I know I will come back someday, but, it felt, for a while, like I kept going back to the same little town on a vacation, instead of moving on to a new place. Now, I’m in Egypt, on another adventure, and while the story is not nearly as compelling, I at least remember where I am, in the rest of the world, while I’m playing.

OK, here comes the “Game Review” portion of the post. Feel free to skip it, if, in spite of all my pleading and cajoling you still refuse to play adventure games! 😛

Dreamfall has been out for about three years now, which makes it aged by gaming standards. Its predecessor, The Longest Journey, had been called “the best adventure game of all time” by many reviewers. I’d read a lot about TLJ before playing it, and it turned out to be very different than I thought it would be. This is often the case when I visit a new city or country, too. Only the Yorkshire Moors were pretty much as I’d imagined them, after reading all those English novels set there.

Strictly from a gaming point of view, I thought Longest Journey was better than Dreamfall. By a lot! (A few rather silly and somewhat pointless puzzles notwithstanding.) Adventure gamers, and particularly PC Adventure gamers are generally not playing these games to engage in fight sequences, whether sword, gun, or hand-to-hand. It’s my supposition that Mr. Tørnquist put in a number of those widely talked about and almost universally disliked sequences to attract a larger audience. I’d like to start a petition amongst 12-year-old boys in which they will say the following:  “I, _____(name of 12-year-old boy) will never buy an adventure game no matter what you do to it, so you might as well take out the fight scenes so the real AG’ers will buy it.”   Do you think that would do the trick?

The other thing about gameplay in Dreamfall is that I, and I suspect many AG’ers have a few physical…issues, such as dyslexia, and less than optimal coordination. This is not a problem in most AGs, as most of the “action” involves mouse-pointing and clicking. I can do that! In Dreamfall, there are several timed puzzles, which I don’t generally like (with the “coordination issues” it’s often difficult for me to complete the required action in “time”; very frustrating) and there was one particular puzzle I never could beat. I actually had to search for and load another player’s saved game to get past that part; the first time I’d EVER had to do that in an adventure game. Otherwise, I’d have had to quit about 2/3 of the way through. Hints and walkthroughs are of no assistance in this situation—I knew WHAT to do, I just couldn’t do it quickly enough. And got killed. Again. And again. And… I also think it’s silly to get killed a lot in adventure games—I mean, once or twice is OK, but, really, that’s not what I’m there for. It was sad for me in this case because the player in the other person’s game I loaded had made a different choice early in the game which didn’t allow me to experience one of the very touching story moments I otherwise would have, although I did find the scene in a YouTube video eventually. I felt cheated, though. The scene wasn’t there for ME!

Ah, but the story; the story! It made it all worthwhile. It was philosophically and spiritually challenging, and made me re-think some suppositions in my belief system. The very best novels and films do that as well. The underlying premise is that, underneath everyday reality, there is “the dreaming” which causes the world, and all of us, to be. This is somewhat like some parts of Native Australian belief, but is done a bit differently here. The tag line of the game is: “The Undreaming is Unchained“. What do we make of that? Perhaps the sequels will tell.

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Notorious local Super Bowl event

Posted on February 2, 2009. Filed under: Culture, Games |

I wasn’t going to write about Football anymore, honest, but apparently a local Tucson embarrassment has become national, and therefore international, news.

But, before I get there, since I am writing about Football, I just want to take a moment to congratulate The Pittsburgh Steelers, the latest Super Bowl champions, and the only 6-time winner so far. They played a great game and deserve the honor.

However, I’m very proud of our home team!  The Arizona Cardinals were ahead with less than two minutes to go, after being riddled with unfortunate penalties, and did a splendid job, particularly in the 2nd half. They made the Steelers work for their victory, and proved again their worthiness to be in their first Super Bowl ever!

Now…if you’ve scanned news websites today, such as CNN, for instance, you will have seen the headline about how some local Tucson residents were treated to surprised by an interruption in the broadcast near the end of the game Sunday evening. It was during the fourth quarter; the game was nearly over. Just after a great play by my state’s team, the scene changed abruptly. Twice. The first time, I saw movie credits rolling by for a film I did not recognize. Then, we were back at the game for a little bit, and then…oh, my!

Let me point out that I don’t actually live within the city limits of Tucson. I’m in a little town nearby. I do, however get my television cable service from Tucson, and I was one of several thousand people who were suddenly watching a scene from another film. An adult film. A way-X-rated film. I’d thought the football game was pretty exciting up to that point, but this was a sort of excitement, frankly, that I wasn’t quite looking for right then. It was only for a few seconds (most reports say 10-20 seconds) and, there wasn’t actually any, um, explicit activity going on in the film right at that moment—although it looked as if this were about to commence. What I saw was a young lady unzipping a young man’s jeans, and there was nothing left to the imagination once his jeans had been removed. That’s all. Back to the game.

I turned to my nearest companion, and noticed everyone had a rather stunned expression. “Did I see what I think I just saw?”   “Uh-huh!”   “Um, wow!”   “Uh, yeah!”   …you can see we were not particularly coherent immediately after this occurred. There were no further disturbances of that nature for the rest of the game, but it was kind of hard to concentrate after that.

At that point, we didn’t know if this, uh, “bonus” scene was local, state-wide, national, or international. I logged on to our local news website, which reported they’d received hundreds of phone calls (I can just imagine) and that the scenes originated from one of our local service providers, not the NBC network, or our local NBC affiliate. Only some subscribers in the local Tucson metropolitan area were provided this brief (haha) viewing opportunity.

Comments on the news website were predictable: “My children were watching that game!”   “Someone’s got to be responsible for this!”   “Oh, yeah, you let your children watch 4 hours of violence a night, but one little glimpse of a %$*&#, which half the population has one of, anyway, and it sends you into fits.” Etc.

I will say I’m glad I didn’t have any children in the house with me. It did make me wonder who on earth was hacking into our local cable provider’s stream—a cute prankster computer sciences major from the University, perhaps? An intern at the cable company left alone to push the buttons while the rest of the staff was home watching the game, and who was watching that “art film” instead, and accidentally pushed the wrong button? 😳

If you didn’t know, the American Football Super Bowl event is the most watched sporting event amongst my countrypeople. Many watch it who are not even particular fans of the sport, because advertisers choose to put their best, most creative ads on display then. There are contests for the “Best Super Bowl Ad” each year. (I thought this years’ ads were just OK.) The other big draw is the Halftime Show, which has been getting bigger and more explosive each year. This year’s show featured Bruce Springsteen, and he really rocked the house! One of the best I’ve seen. So, there were already plenty of exciting happenings, other than the game itself, before the “incident” occurred.

It certainly caused the game to be a notable television viewing event in my neck o’ the woods, even more so than the famous “wardrobe malfunction” during Halftime a couple of Super Bowls ago. For me, it was rather distracting. Otherwise, well, life goes on. It’s just that now, in addition to my state having the 2nd best Football team in the US right now, we’re also now known as the “Football Smut” capital of the world! 😮

Ah well. This too shall pass. 😉

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