The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Sunday, February 27, 2011
Religion ... Spirituality ...

I had a nice enough morning doing “zazen” with my local Zen group (i.e., our weekly 2-hour meditation and chanting service). During the usual coffee hour that follows, one member was lamenting the loss of his family dog, a 9-year old Boxer. Another member was talking about his new family member, a 2 month old German Shepard. Sunrise, sunset . . . the cycle of life in the canine world, just as in the human.

We also heard about the recent “disrobement” of a prominent Zen priest out in Salt Lake City, Genpo Roshi, because of a sex scandal. Yes, another Zen teacher taking advantage of the sweet and vulnerable young things that look up to a wise man in uniform (the black robes affected by some American Zen teachers, following Japanese tradition). Turns out that “Genpo” (really, Dennis Merzel, born in Brooklyn) was a big-wig in the “White Plum Lineage”; hey, that’s my sangha’s lineage! That’s why our local “sensei” was a bit upset about it.

As far as I’m concerned, this is not terribly surprising. America has suffered a flood of Zen teachers over the past 50 years,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:47 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, February 20, 2011
Current Affairs ... Society ...

OK, so IBM has pulled off another “machine-trounces-human brain” stunt. Yes, I’m talking about Watson’s resounding triumph against two human trivia experts on Jeopardy this past week. This follows the “Deep Blue” chess matches back in 1996 and ’97, when an IBM chess-playing computer twice bet Gary Kasparov, arguably the best human chess player on the planet. (In 2003, Kasparov fought Deep Junior, a Deep Blue-inspired program able to run on a personal computer, to a tie).

Those IBM programmers and hardware designers are darn good, obviously. However, I admire IBM’s marketing division even more. Watson was a huge advertisement for IBM’s ability to provide customized artificial intelligence to the business community (they could not compete with Dell and Apple on the household computing market, though).

What Watson is: Watson is a prime example of customized artificial intelligence. Watson was built  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 8:51 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Photo ... Science ...

What’s this? An iceberg? Or the inside of a limestone cave?

No, actually it’s a piece of soap. I tried to cut a big bar of facial soap into three pieces for convenience, but the bar fractured under pressure of the knife.

I find it interesting how certain shapes in nature repeat themselves (sort-of) in different contexts. When viewed from a space capsule, the Mississippi River system looks a bit like the veins of a leaf, or the capillaries in a tiny section of your skin. I believe this is due to the “fractal” concept of shapes and patterns. And hey, even the suds created by soap are a bigger version of the foam on your beer. And they are also perhaps a tiny version of the “multi-verse”, the new concept of the cosmos whereby our known universe is just a tiny bubble in a great foam of different realms.

So, a huge iceberg, the water-shaped walls of a cave, and a broken bar of soap also exhibit fractal similarities. What an interesting world it can be, when you know what to look for.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 3:12 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Monday, February 14, 2011
Current Affairs ... Foreign Relations/World Affairs ... History ...

I ran across this article today in “The Australian”, entitled “Why the West is on the Wane” by Michael Wesley. I highly recommend it! Back when I was a kid, the world was a battleground between two systems: our western mix of democracy, liberty, capitalism and open markets (with a twist of government regulation), versus the Communist world with its powerful doctrinal apparatus and a state institution that planned out and commanded as much as possible about economic, political and personal life. We all had faith that the west would win, but figured that the final victory would happen sometime well after the turn of the 21st Century.

So it was quite a surprise that the battle suddenly ended around 1990, with Communism the clear loser. Our system had clearly been vindicated, and it was just a question of mopping up until the whole world was a capitalist democracy. Well, who would have guessed that 20 years later it would become apparent that the sun is also setting on the West.

This is one of the most insightful articles on that topic that I’ve read. And who would be better poised to reflect on it than a commentator from Australia,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:23 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, February 11, 2011
Photo ...

It’s almost mid-February here in the midst of an especially cold and snowy winter (at least for New Jersey; not sure if what we’ve gone thru would get much attention in Chicago, certainly not Moscow). But there are signs of hope; the days are noticeably longer, and there doesn’t seem to be any snow in the immediate forecast (I hope). I read that the jet stream finally straightened itself out, meaning that we might get an easier ride thru to mid-March. Can Spring be far behind?

A winter like this creates plenty of odd and imposing landscapes from the snow and ice, ugly landscapes that get in your way and tell the soul that times are not favorable. Here are two such landscapes right near my house.

But then again, if one looks hard enough, there can be found occasional vistas of simple beauty, like a shadow in the sun or a streetlight reflecting at night on a shiny, undisturbed field of snow. If you can find one that is not all crunched up. Well, once I started looking, I did find a few virgin fields, so here are two scenes; one by day and one by night.

In a few weeks this will all be replaced by mud, and then by the warmth and greenery of plant growth. And the monster-ish winter of 2011 will be just another bad memory.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:34 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, February 6, 2011
Current Affairs ... Science ...

I went over to the Radiolab web site not long ago as to listen to a few recent editions (since Radiolab is on the radio at odd times). About a year ago, I posted a review here about the Radiolab experience – a combination of brilliance and annoying presentation (too much time spent chuckling to jokes and puns that aren’t shared with the listener). The recent stuff is about the same; except that some of it lacks the quality science reporting that made Radiolab worth putting up with.

One short Radiolab piece focused on startling coincidences in people’s lives. And that was about it, other than a quasi-philosophical rumination based on an old Warner Bros cartoon (coyote versus roadrunner) as to whether you would prefer the universe to be against you or to totally ignore you. Maybe this was a hint that our minds have a propensity to make too much of our coincidences, and that coincidences don’t prove that the universe has a “meta-awareness” of us, that determines our luck and lot in life. But it this was left hanging, and no experts were brought out to talk about probabilities of life events or genetic propensities in our brains to seek patterns and trends, even when there are none. So,we get all of the Radiolab smarminess, but none of the hard scientific content. Radiolab-lite; oh, just what we need.

I regularly watch PBS’s Nova scienceNOW, a Radiolab-style version of the classic NOVA show hosted by astronomer Neil DeGrasse Tyson. And to be honest, Nova scienceNOW is getting more and more annoying too, in the Radiolab tradition.  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:36 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, February 5, 2011
Current Affairs ... History ...

The big national media machines (CBS, NY Times, Washington Post, NPR, etc.) and their staff seem quite excited about the recent uprisings in Egypt, giving them much air time and article space. This is quite similar to what happened a year ago when the masses took to the streets (unsuccessfully) in Iran. And there were more well-covered uprisings before that, including the various color-revolutions and velvet revolutions in eastern Europe in the 1990s and early 00s. Oh, and don’t forget Tienanmen Square in China back in 1989; again, much news coverage, but ultimately not a major change in how daily life was to be carried out.

I believe this fascination has something to do with the fact that these news companies are now managed by Baby Boomers who took their university educations in the late 1960’s, when uprising and revolution seemed in the air. Upset about Vietnam War conscription, they imagined the start of a new order, including the overthrow of the governmental and corporate powers in Washington and New York.

However, the unwashed masses outside the major campuses failed to join them, and the end of the draft in the early 70s soon quieted the scene. But we still have the music and culture of those youthful times;  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:10 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
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