Monday, September 26, 2016

The 13-Year-Old Perfect Master

Prem Rawat (then age 8) in traditional mourning clothes, speaking after the death of his father in July 1966. Licensed by CC BY-SA 3.0.

In the 1970s there was a young guru called The 13-Year-Old Perfect Master. He was also known, as if it were the name behind the title, as Maharaj Ji, but that too was a title. His real name is Prem Rawat. He had inherited the following of the Divine Light Mission (DLM) from his father in India when he was six years old. He proved to be quite capable of making spiritually inspiring talks, and when he was 13, he dropped out of school and announced he was taking the show to America. I visited the Denver branch of the DLM in 1977, after the Master had moved his elaborate estate to Malibu.

I don't remember what they called the big room where everybody gathered. Its walls and ceiling gave it a church-like feeling—might originally have been a church—but there were no pews, no furniture of any kind. Everyone sat on the plush wall-to-wall carpet. A big screen that rolled down from the ceiling, and there an excited collective gasp ran through the room, rather like what I hear when, during Dorothy's last minutes in Oz, the Good Witch Glenda shows up to help her with her having missed the balloon. The Master's image appeared on the screen and spoke to us. When he finished speaking, his followers, sitting cross-legged on the plush carpet, did a long deep bow. It feels good to put myself aside for a moment and yield to something else. But I never believed, as his followers did, that the Master was God on Earth, that he had been seen in two places at the same time, and that followers should give all their wealth to the Master. That's how he came to have the house with its spacious garage filled with cars in Malibu. A long-time cynic about materialism, I've long believed that acquisitiveness destroys the credibility of spiritual professions.

Richard Alpert was Professor at Harvard University, and he worked with Timothy Leary and others on research projects concerning effects of LSD. Alpert's psychedelic experiences led him into a spiritual quest that took him to India, where he met Guru Neem Karoli Baba. Alpert's experience was one of those meetings with remarkable men, and Karoli became Alpert's teacher. He called his guru Maharaj Ji, not to be confused with the 13-year-old Perfect Master. The guru gave him the name Ram Dass, was also called Maharaj Ji. There's a wonderful YouTube video of Richard Alpert's account of his meeting with Maharaj Ji, and here I have no doubt of the authenticity.

One thing that the Master's enterprise left behind in Denver was a natural grocery store long before such stores became popular. These religious organizations from India could be corrupt to the core—many of them were—but if nothing else, they taught their followers a better way to eat. The experience left me with a sense of, Ah, now I know what a cult of personality is, and I have recognized them at a glimpse ever since. I see cults around politicians like Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, whose business is to spin their cults into power bases. I see cults of personality around televangelists like Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen. I see cults of personality around industry leaders like Steve Jobs, which Apple exploits by making all their accessories proprietary so that cultists pay two or three times as much for the equivalent part in the Android world.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Donovan in Austin, 24 September 2016.

Donovan, Washington, 2007. Photo by Urbankayaker. Released to the public domain.
Donovan Leitch, the folk-rock singer and a leader in the British psychedelic rock of the 1960s and '70s, usually known only by his first name, played at the Paramount Theater in Austin on Saturday (24 September 2016) to a warm and receptive crowd.  (The actor Donovan Leitch is the singer's son.)

Donovan at the Alamo.
Donovan at the Alamo, 23 September 2016.
Donovan started with several songs that he recorded before he caught my attention. These included "Remember the Alamo," first recorded in 1964 and certainly appropriate for the Texas leg of the tour; "Little Tin soldier," based, Donovan said, on a Hans Christian Andersen Story; and "Guinevere" (not to be confused with the Crosby, Stills & Nash song with the same title).

I recognized "Catch the Wind," which I had actually thought was a Dylan song. Though the melody was influenced by Dylan's "Chimes of Freedom," it's a Donovan song. To further confuse the casual listener, the song was recorded by dozens of other popular recording artists.

The stage was bathed in solid colors, mostly red, during the music, but went to a warm natural glow during the banter between songs. Donovan sat on his elevated platform on the stage and told his stories about songs and how they came to be written and about other Rock personalities who had influenced him or that he had influenced. These stories steadily spun a feeling of intimacy with the audience.

Before intermission Donovan had time for two more songs, "Josie," which I didn't know, and "Jennifer Juniper," which I've always loved for its lilting wordplay, which I suspect might be a Scottish trait because I see something similar in the lighter passages of J.K. Rowling's work; and "There is a Mountain," which is also a great deal of fun:
The lock upon my garden gate's a snail, that's what it is
The lock upon my garden gate's a snail, that's what it is
First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is
First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is
Who can't feel the child-like wonder and charm in these lyrics? If I couldn't, I would at least know something important had been lost in my life.

Then it was time for intermission.

The Paramount, which serves as both a concert venue and movie theater, just celebrated its centenary anniversary last year. Woody Guthrie, an early influence on Donovan, also played the Paramount Stage many years ago. The theater's seats seem to be from Guthrie's time. The theater celebrates many fiftieth anniversaries this year. Donovan's tour celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the release of Sunshine Superman. Monkees, comprising Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork, are also coming on a fiftieth anniversary Tour. Priscilla Presley is coming to talk about "Elvis & Me."

Fellow Monty Python members John Cleese and Eric Idle are also coming, and while they're not proclaiming an anniversary—the BBC didn't start airing Monty Python's Flying Circus until 5 October 1969, so they're youngsters by current standards of half-century nostalgia—they'll still appeal to those of us who have silver hair if we're lucky enough to have hair at all.

Fifty years ago, on 24 September 1966, the Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" was the number six song in the United States, and Donovan's title song "Sunshine Superman" was number five. (Number one was Cherish by the Association. The Supremes had the number two spot with "You Can't Hurry Love." The Four Tops had number three with "Reach Out I'll Be There." And Question Mark and the Mysterians held number four with their Wurlitzer rocking "96 Tears.")

"In the '60s and '70s we sat on cushions on floors writing songs," Donovan said. And this is why he sat on some elevated flooring to give his show. Donovan told the story about Paul McCartney showing up at his house with the half-finished "Yellow Submarine." Paul asked for some suggestions on the lyrics. Donovan thought about it and suggested
Sky of blue (Sky of blue) and sea of green (Sea of green)
In our yellow (In our yellow) submarine (Submarine, ha, ha)
The PA played Beatles' music like Rubber Soul before the concert and during intermission. A lot of Donovan's stories between songs focused on his part among The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan, and it seems that he is asserting his rightful place in the history of 1960s, mostly British, Rock.

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Pierre-Auguste Renoir.
"The songs we wrote," Donovan said upon returning to the stage, "like 'Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,' were paintings." Donovan sang then his "Wear Your Love Like Heaven," and hearing the lyrics is like taking in Renoir's Luncheon of the Boating Party for the first time:
Color sky, havana lake
Color sky, rose carmethene
Alizarin crimson
Wear your love like heaven (Wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (Wear your love like)
Wear your love like heaven (Wear your love)
After the song, Donovan added, "In 1966 and 1967 everything burst into color. I wonder why." There was a general muffled laughter. During that period every band released its most psychedelic albums—with the Beatles it was spread across both Sgt Pepper's and Magical Mystery Tour. For the Rolling Stones it was Satanic Majesty's Request. And for The Who, it was Magic Bus.

Donovan's "Hurdy Gurdy Man" draws me into the psychedelic feeling, like a contact high shared with a thousand people, and he followed this with "Sunrise Superman" and "Season of the Witch."

Then Donovan told us a story about how, after a certain song became a hit, people keep coming up to Donovan and saying "It doesn't work." They were referring to smoking banana peels. People were desperate to try anything that was legal because oppressive governments were handing out sentences like twenty years for possessing a single marijuana cigarette. It was a funny story and the perfect lead-in for "Mellow Yellow," which ended the second set. Donovan's encore song was his masterpiece, "Atlantis," which roused the audience in one last fevered pitch before the magical evening was over.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

World of Warcraft and its Noobs

I've been playing some World of Warcraft (abbreviated WoW) because I want to see how the new expansion, titled Legion, plays—I like it much better than the previous Warlords of Draenor.

It's a little tricky for me to play Warcraft because my laptop and my desktop both run Linux. A couple of years ago I became so exasperated with the slowness Windows 8.1 that I finally exorcised Microsoft from my life. I even called up Microsoft support and told them that ever since they installed 8.1 on my system, it's been slow as my grandmother on the Interstate, and they said, "If you pay us $60, we'll check it out." I told them I wasn't going to pay them to fix a system they broke, which was the end of that conversation.

Eliminating Microsoft sounds easier said than done because Microsoft products are everywhere, looking over your shoulder, and peering deep into your life—rather like Facebook, the friendly face of NSA, Big Brother, the privacy violators.

Riz Ahmed as Aaron Kalloor in Jason Bourne.
The latest chapter of the Jason Bourne franchise features a be-hoodied precocious under-thirty billionaire who has sold his soul along with the private lives of his billions of users to the US intelligence community. This Mark Zuckerberg figure, named Aaron Kalloor, is played by Riz Ahmed, aka Riz MC in his rapper persona, who played the wrongfully arrested Nasir Khan in HBO's The Night Of. Actors consider being typecast a dead end to their careers, but they seem to enjoy playing roles that advance their favorite causes, and here's an actor who just came off a role that rose questions racial injustice in the so-called justice system now raising the question of whether we can trust Zuckerberg (or Kalloor) with our private lives. Just how many of those profile questions have you answered on Facebook? Where did you work between the McDonald's gig and the position at Martin-Marietta? Ahmed is doing a great job as a Jack of all Iconoclasts, which perfectly fits his upcoming role as Bodhi Rook in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

A character on HBO's Silicon Valley makes an interesting observation about programmers:
They always travel in groups of five, these programmers. There's always:
  • a tall skinny white guy,
  • short skinny Asian guy,
  • fat guy with the pony tail,
  • some guy with crazy facial hair,
  • then an East Indian guy.
Aaron Kalloor is that East Indian guy gone rogue straight to super-star status. (Groups of five, by the way, has long been the optimal group size in IT ever since IBM did a sociological study about the efficiency of work groups and came up with the number of five.)

Now of course it's not Bourne but Snowden, courtesy of Oliver Stone, whom we should be watching: the only thing the US loves more than its dirty secrets is hunting down and forever locking up the soul that spills those secrets.

I've never been too worried about surveillance in cyberspace because watching me comes with its own punishment—go ahead, bore yourself to death. And I never was a Bill Gates hater—hate, like blood, is a big expense—nor did I engage in that silly debate—which now more than ever seems to have originated out of a Steve Jobs cult of personality—over whether PC's or Apples were better. I got paid a lot of money for working on PC's, so as far as I was concerned, the debate began and ended with my salary. But what finally threw the needle in my eye as far as Microsoft goes was Windows 8.1. Its retarded performance was well documented across the Web, as were a thousand home-brewed solutions for fixing it—none of them any more effective than drinking vinegar to cure cancer. Yet Microsoft never acknowledged the problem existed, so they were fucking with the two most precious things in my life: my machine and the truth.

Even now, with Windows 10, which putatively ends Microsoft's embarrassment of 8.1, people struggle to trick Windows into reverting back to Windows 7.

Because I threw off the Microsoft yoke, I have Linux on my desktop and laptop machines. Blizzard, who makes World of Warcraft, supports only PC and Apple versions of its game. There are, however, ways to run software for the PC on a Linux machine. One of them is called WINE (WINdows Emulator), which creates the illusion of a PC inside my Linux machine, and for a while I was able to run WoW that way. Increasingly sophisticated and complex releases of both Wow and Linux made the homebrewed approach with WINE increasingly difficult, and though solutions were scattered all over the Web, the techies sharing their solutions could not write clearly or completely enough to make their solutions useful to me. I worked twenty-five years as a computer programmer, so my technical background might help me find an answer eventually, but it's also important not to get diverted in an eddy of technical problems but to stay focused on writing. So finally I found a commercial product called CrossOver from Codeweavers that uses Wine as its platform, but every conceivable contingency has supposedly been accounted for, so it works when no other solution will, and I don't have to go out to the Web searching for Linux and WINE arcana. I've been using CrossOver on a free-trial basis, but today I have to decide:

  1. Pay for CrossOver.
  2. Buy a new Windows machine for playing WoW.
  3. Or give WoW up.

Eventually I will need a good Windows machine whether I play WoW or not. I want a solid gaming machine, but I'm also going to get a special camera so I can photograph my notebooks, and this too requires a Windows machine. I figure this is an opportunity to buy and assemble a fast gaming machine component by component—there's a Web site called that will guide me on putting compatible parts together. But for now, I'm most likely going to go with the commercial Wine solution because it's only $60.

Even though the commercial WINE runs pretty well most of the time, there is occasional slowness, and sometimes it crashes. The other day I was in-game aboard a flying airship—like the old wooden ships that sailed the seas, only this floats in the air—and I was given a quest that required that I click on the Captain to start. I clicked several times, but nothing happened. I felt I might be stuck. There was another player bouncing around on the ship.

"Are you stuck?" I asked.

"No. Noob," he said. Noob comes from newbie, a new player. Within the WoW culture, noob is not just a matter of fact statement that I am a new player, but it labels me as an object for derision, shaming, and hatred. It pins me as a butt for tricks calculated to capitalize upon my naïveté in the game. I'm used to this sort of abuse now—I just figure, ah, here's another kid whose trashy parents have done nothing to enlighten him. When people start to play, they are likely kids, but people have grown up playing this game, which was release twelve years ago. Nearly a third of the players are 20 or under.

According to Statista, the "distribution of World of Warcraft players in 2013, by age group was:

  • Ages 16-20 account for 29% of WoW's players.
  • 20-25 37%
  • 25-30 18%
  • 30-40 9%
  • 40-50 1%
  • >50 0.5%

So as you can see, the elder group to which I belong is drastically outnumbered and is subject to a lot of abuse from the youthful groups. It's also interesting to note that the vanilla players—vanilla refers to the original release before any of the expansion packs came along—is now distributed among the age groups between 20 and 30. Vanilla players almost universally look back at the vanilla version, when the game was difficult and challenging, in the same nostalgic way a grownup who, in his youth, had to walk to school barefoot.

So I have a lot of fun playing WoW, but these rude kids make a downside.

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Origin of Suffering

Sad stuff has been happening lately. It reminds me of the undisciplined nature of humans. The Buddha teaches that the undisciplined mind suffers through its own innate selfishness. This selfishness often manifests itself in rudeness and lack of compassion for others. I've been seeing that a lot lately.

This begins a series of blog posts with various examples of the lack of compassion, but with a lot of anecdotes thrown in. Today's blog is very short, but that first paragraph says a lot and should be considered carefully for a long time.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Neistat in Sydney; Green in the Mountains

Casey Neistat in Sydney.
I've just watched YouTube superstar Casey Neistat deliver an eight-minute talk in Australia, for which he received at least a free airplane flight around the world and a good time getting around Sydney on his Boosted Board, which is an electric-powered skateboard that goes pretty damn fast these days. All that reward for eight minutes of work reminds me of the Thomas Edison story, probably apocryphal, about drilling a thousand-dollar hole in the side of a customer's generator. The invoice looked like this:

  1. $1 to drill;
  2. $999 for knowing where to drill.

It's short-sighted to say Casey got all this and presents too for eight minutes onstage: he got it for being Casey who evolved on a path that has taken years. He got it for knowing where to drill.

I presume he was paid for his talk, but Casey is too discreet to talk about his business affairs in his videos.  The trip also involved a stop in Dubai to visit someone for reasons unclear to me other than that the Emirates native demonstrated what kind of toys appeal to an adolescent mind after a twenty-something-year marinade in petroleum—then Casey's seat on the plane out of Dubai somehow gets upgraded to a $21,000 first-class seat on Emirates (the airline).

Then Australia, and Casey's back down to Earth. By all accounts, including Casey's, the Australians are famously friendly—unlike New Yorkers who are infamously surly and highly suspicious of anyone who cracks a smile or says "g'day mate!"—so it was ironic that the Australian equivalent of Homeland Security confiscated Casey's Boosted Board as he was about to board a plane to leave the island continent. It's paradoxical that they didn't take his drone, with which he produced some spectacular footage around Sydney Harbor, including a breathtaking flight over the Harbor Bridge. Much more than the Board, the drone looks like spycraft. For Casey that Boosted Board is a tool of his trade far more than a toy: it is his primary means of transportation on the streets of Manhattan. It is the camera dolly for film production. Half of his video narration happens outdoors on the street at 30 mph as he dodges through traffic and pedestrian crowds. Most of all, like his paint-splattered Ray-Bans, the Boosted Board is part of Casey's public image. Confiscating the Board is like seizing Bob Dylan's harmonica. It's like confiscating Paul McCartney's Hofner bass or Woody Guthrie's guitar, which was labeled, "This machine kills fascists." Maybe the Aussies were afraid Casey's board kills fascists too, but taking that board makes the Australian security workers look bad.

* * *
Vlogbrothers John and Hank Green.
Then there are the Vlogbrothers, John and Hank Green, who, my early impressions suggest, are mutually supportive over-achievers in education, online community building, and YouTube video production. Just listening to the stream of consciousness issuing from John's brain via his mouth requires swimming up a waterfall of ideas. I presume that Hank displays matching brilliance, though these guys are new to me, so I haven't gotten to Hank yet—I will. Here I'm exuberantly announcing discovery, not mastery of the topic.

The Vlogbrothers channel grew out of an idea that "that the brothers would cease all text-based communication for one year and, instead, converse by video blogs every weekday" (Wikipedia). They called the project, Brotherhood 2.0. The Greens posted their video communication on both their Web site and on YouTube, and even after the year-long ended, they have continued each posting to the Vlogbrothers' channel.

Yet the vlogging is only one aspect out of a tremendous amount of production growth. In all, they now have eleven channels that are primarily concerned with education. I'm mostly interested in the Crash Course channel because here are neatly packaged resources of knowledge that are ripe and awaiting the picking. The about section lists the subjects and their teachers:
Hank Green teaches you Anatomy & Physiology; Phil Plait teaches you Astronomy; Craig Benzine teaches you U.S. Government and Politics; Adriene Hill and Jacob Clifford teach you Economics. Check out the playlists for past courses in World History, Biology, Literature, Ecology, Chemistry, Psychology, and US History. 
I don't see John Green's courses listed here, but i know he teaches at least philosophy because I watched the class, "How Words Can Harm: Crash Course Philosophy #28," which is a frank and philosophically interesting analysis of hate speech. I also find listings of courses Physics (Dr. Shini Somara), Games, Philosophy, Psychology (Hank Green), World History 2 (John Green).

If I were to set out to outline all this wonderful stuff, the first level would contain the channels: Crash Courses, Crash Course Kids, Vlogbrothers, SciShow, SciShow Space, The Art Assignment, Sexplanations, Healthcare Triage, How to Adult, Animal Wonders Montana, and Thought Café.

Under the Crash Courses would come all the courses I've listed. Then under each course would come the individual classes in the videos. This is like quality education for free, and if you doubt the quality consider that there is a working relationship between Crash Courses and the Public Broadcasting System (PBS).

On top of all this, much to my astonishment, I discovered today that John Green happens to be the author of The Fault in Our Stars. He expresses in his latest vlog on the Vlogbrothers channel many of the classic doubts of a writer after publishing the first novel: can I do it again? And my intuition detects an insecurity common to almost any human who succeeds at something, which Woody Allen brings up at the beginning of Annie Hall—both Allen's jokes are funny but I mean the second commonly attributed to Groucho Marx:
I know what the people at my MFA school would have told me if I'd written a best-seller that had been turned into a movie but was now suffering from doubts about my ability to repeat the performance. They'd say, "Focus!" As brilliant and amazing that this huge display of YouTube logorrhea may be, as much as a contribution to public education as it may be, I can hear my thesis adviser, eyes twinkling mischievously, asking in that breathy voice that often defied my hearing, "Do you want to teach? Or do you want to write?"

There's a major novelist, still active, who, before he published, was working in an office in London with, among other people, the father of a friend of mine. At least once a week the office-mates would go to a nearby pub to relax together, and they were always sure to ask this writer-to-be if he wanted to come along.

"Oh, no," he would say, "I have to go home and work on my novel."

When I told this story to my thesis adviser, he said, "Ah, he must have been working on..." and he accurately named this writer's first book. "It wasn't all that good, and he was lucky to publish." He focused on writing after that, and now he produces brilliant stuff and is one of my favorite writers.

Many are those who delude themselves into thinking they can hold down a full-time career in some profession and write a novel on the weekends. Or they can wait until they retire, then write. Good luck. Most writers write their first novels in their twenties. Joseph Conrad, a late starter because he first had his career at sea, began writing at thirty-eight.

I am the last person John Green would ask, but surely the author of The Fault in Our Stars has the resources to buy some mountain land, build a cabin solid enough for a hard winter, then spend a year writing, reading, and watching a few movies.

If he could dedicate himself to communicating with his brother by video and not in writing for a year for Brotherhood 2.0, surely he could dedicate himself to communicating with his novel in writing and not doing video for a year for Novel 2.0.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Arrrrrrr matey! It be talk like a pirate day all day today!

yo-ho-ho! french man-o'-war under attack by barbary gentlemen o' fortune, ca. 1615. Painting by Aert Anthonisz.
This day, if ye did nay already know, be international talk like a gentleman o' fortune day. Gentlemen o' fortune 'ave been around as long as men 'ave gone to down to the sea in ships. The earliest documented instances o' reluctant transfer o' people's property on the high seas was in the 14th century bc, when the sea peoples, a crew o' ocean raiders, attacked the ships o' the aegean an' mediterranean civilizations. A gentleman o' fortune ship be a gang on water. They come with guns to get what they want, an' what they want be guns, women, an' liquor or the sweet petals of the lotus flower. So ye see they be no different than the gangs o' today.

Hanging of Captain Kidd;
illustration from The
Pirates Own Book (1837).
Gentlemen o' fortune 'ave always 'ad two classes o' targets: other ships at sea, an' ports bustlin' with wenches along the coast.

Today gentlemen o' fortune armed with automatic fire sticks an' pineapple-petard-hurlin' sticks  use small put-put boats to attack an' board ships, a tactic that there takes advantage o' the small number o' crew members on modern cargo vessels an' transport ships. Them crews is shippin' men, an' when they see the gleamin' smiles of a hundert grizzly gentlemen, they gentle up right-quick!

In ancient times, the Illyrians an' the Tyrrhenians was known as gentlemen o' fortune. The ancient Greek an' ancient Roman nations faced piracy. Durin' their voyages, the Phoenicians oftentimes resorted to piracy. Some Phoenician gentlemen o' fortune specialized in kidnappin' children an' youth to be sold as slaves.

The most widely known an' far-reachin' gentlemen o' fortune in medieval europe was the vikings, seaborne warriors from Scandinavia who raided an' looted mainly between the 8th an' 12th centuries of the current age, which be known as the Vikin' age in the early middle ages. They raided the coasts, rivers an' inland cities o' all western Europe as farrr as Seville, which been attacked by Norse in 844. Vikings also attacked the coasts o' North Africa an' It-ly an' plundered all the coasts o' the Baltic sea. Some vikings ascendin' the rivers o' eastern europe as farrr as the black sea an' Persia. The lack o' centralized powers all o'er europe durin' the middle ages enabled gentlemen o' fortune to attack ships an' coastal areas all o'er the continent.

Now, just remember, use matey a lot an' say arrrr a lot so's we don't confuse ye with a landlubber an' press ye into service! Do we have a clear understandin'?
Capture of the Pirate Blackbeard, 1718 depicting the battle between Blackbeard and Robert Maynard in Ocracoke Bay; romanticized depiction by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris from 1920.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tofu, PS4-VR, tiny hands, channeling Stones, Japanese groceries, & what Russian fashion bloggers read.

Yesterday was errand day, so I trooped bravely into the late summer sauna with Birkenstocks not yet broken in, but still performing reasonably well. It was me, coming out of my summer hibernation in this viciously summered climate that had a hard time. I had wanted to get up into the area of Burnet Road where my errands are, knock a few out of the way, but by the time I reached Teriyaki Madness, eight tenths of a mile into my hike, I needed to stop for some conditioned air, even though it was only another tenth of a mile to my first planned stop. I'd eaten here before, and it was basically good, but I ate too much, and based on that, I got the bowl and not the plate, and I got tofu instead of chicken. And, for the culinary fun in it, I got long skinny slurpy noodles. I left feeling quite content—it was a good lunch, and I had a sense of conquest because now I knew the way to eat here for me.

The day had begun as usual—people used to begin their day with the newspapers, and I begin with the phone, which I really use more as a tablet than a phone. Ah, the phone, let's dispose of that: I'm extremely adverse to it. Unless you are a child of my parents or have made an appointment beforehand by email, I'm most likely not going to answer. Furthermore, woe to the unknown caller foolish enough not to leave voice mail explaining their cause, for that sort of rudeness consigns that telephonic soul to the blacklist circle of cell phone hell. Even callers who dare to leave a message miserably fail the test of eloquence set before them and soon find themselves consigned to the same flames as their silent brethren. If I seem cruel, it's because a few weeks ago I fell prey to some browser trick promising me a thousand-dollar Walmart gift certificate if only I would give them a few bits of information, but this leads into an infinite looping interrogation designed to drive the would-be claimant away before the pale shadow of a prize is finally revealed. By now my phone is almost silenced to normal again because I expect I've survived the half-life of the frenzy resulting from my naïve foolishness, and if anyone is still bothering to call, I don't know about it because of the blacklist. (The app I use to blacklist callers and tentatively to identify callers as potential spammers is called CallApp, which actually comprises two apps: Call App and Caller ID & Block.)

So at present I'm using the cramped but relatively generous 5.5" diagonal screen of my Note 4 as a pad to access the Internet. For a while I had a small tablet, which was much less cramped, for my morning news, and I'm thinking about getting another. At least I don't have one of those tiny screens that the Apple iPhones have—their unspoken user requirements rise straight from a line of E.E. Cummings:

nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
—E.E. Cummings. "somewhere i have never traveled,gladly beyond"
Here are some of the things I found this morning.

So what does a Russian fashion blogger (if Google's translator is to be believed) read while waiting for a plane? The Russian edition of Story, a venerable publisher of quality short stories featuring on this issue's cover, Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays Sherlock Holmes in the BBC's latest rendering of the super-sleuth, Sherlock. Holmes's creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, produced an ouvre rich in stories, so Cumberbatch's handsome mug merits a view on the fiction magazine's cover despite his Hollywood-quality good looks—his appearance suggests the potential to be the next Bond, though I don't think the series feels the hurry to make a change just yet.

Mick Jagger, or, more likely, someone from the Stones PR staff authorized to Tweet in Jagger's name, asked for a suggestion for a song for "The Desert Tour," which I think means the deserty stretch of the current ongoing North American tour in October at Indio, California, and Las Vegas, Nevada. Asking for requests is a popular social network tactic to engage audience by giving them the illusion of empowerment—imagine, "Wow, the Stones played my request!" But fine, I like the Rolling Stones and still believe they are the world's greatest rock and roll band, so I'm willing to suspend all disbelief and play along. A quick consultation of Google found what seems to be the only Stones song mentioning the desert, so I quoted back the appropriate line along with the title, "Emotional Rescue." That elegant little reply got a handful of likes, including one from the Rolling Stones Twitter account (though I replied to Jagger's account). I was pleased by whoever nodded behind the name. Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ron Wood all have personal accounts—I couldn't find one for Charlie Watts, unfortunately. Wood's account is the most active with tweets that appear to be from the guitarist­—he and his wife recently had twins, the arrival of which he announced by retweeting this congratulatory message from Rod Steward; he likes dogs; he likes to send funny selfies, like one of him jumping off a high gnarly stump (?); standing in a store in front of a spectrum of cups and tea pots; or enjoying a coffee at a coffeehouse in a way that reminds us that even a rock-and-roll star is, on the bottom line, a bloke just like the rest of us—which is a cool thing about Wood: he's just a tad more egalitarian in his tweeting than the rest of them. Of course his account also contains the requisite Stones news, but then we need to know that too.

Finally, after all that browsing on my phone, I was up, dressed, and out for my hike. After lunch I printed documents—I had sent them ahead to the UPS Store by email, and since it was only two pages to print, they let me have them without a charge, which I thought was very kind of them. I made a bank deposit. Then I mailed the documents. That was the heart, the mandatory part of my errands. After that I could enjoy myself, so I went to Walmart, mostly to cool off, partly to window shop. I know there is a stereotype out there of Walmart workers who are barely scraping by with minimum wage jobs and perhaps not much to say, but the young woman I spoke to in the electronics department was smart as a whip about technology, and she was able to make some suggestions about taking tablets on the road. She also referred me to the Sony person who was demonstrating the new Playstation Virtual Reality at the front of the store.
The woman from Sony had a short line of people waiting to try out her machine, the new Playstation VR, but it was worth the wait. My only big question was whether this would work with the PS4, but the answer was a firm yes: the PS4 is a necessity. The system also requires a Playstation camera, which is used by software that needs to "see" what the user is doing (like in exercise programs, for example). The VR itself comprises a goggle-like device that wraps around the eyes and head rather like Geordi La Forge's vision device in Star Trek the New Generation, and a pair of headphones, which wrap around I went on a virtual reality dive in a shark cage. I could look up and see the boat on the surface of the water above me. The water swarmed variously with jellyfish, tuna, and other denizens of the deep, but the king of this was a great white shark who vented his rage against my cage by ripping things away from it—first, a gas tank; then a light; and finally the bars itself until I was sitting in my cage with nothing between me and the shark. Fortunately he lost interest in me. I missed the sense of motion that one gets when, in special theaters, the seats (or the whole mini-theater) is gimbal mounted, but it was still a remarkable experience, and I was more than willing to forgive its shortcomings like slightly less resolution than I would like in the graphics. But the technology has created a big new space, and it will take a while for the software to fill it. We live in exciting times!
After that, I went to Tea Haus, which I always enjoy. A young woman working there was interested to learn about the imminent release of the Playstation VR. Unfortunately she had to work until 10 p.m., so she could neither go try out the demo nor go with me to a movie—Oliver Stone's Snowden—to which I asked her. She was smart, pretty, and shared several interests with me, but a lot younger and prettier than me, so it was a very long shot. But it's better to ask. That also gave her a chance to say, "Some other time," which she didn't, so now I'm not haunted by a missed opportunity.

I took a chance on the Capital Metro app, which has been dodgy for me, but worked today, thank goodness. This took me down to the Burnet Road HEB, which makes a lot easier walk home than where I spent most of the day. From HEB, Asahi, the Japanese grocery store, is also directly in my path. Since I don't get by there very often, I went inside and got some cool things, which I'll list below with a few comments, but I'm basically done except for two points:

  1. When I got home, I made biscuits and gravy. This was very easy since everything was basically ready-made: the biscuits just needed to be popped out of their tube and baked for 15 minutes. The turkey breakfast sausage needed to be cooked, but the gravy again was instant. I added the necessary water on top of the sausage and let it come to a boil for a while to make sure that it was well cooked, then I just added the gravy powder and stirred until the lumps went away. After that I split open biscuits, ladled sausage and gravy on top, and ate with comfort-food joy. It was so good.
  2. Usually when I eat, I put something on the television. If I'm I'm not actively watching something like Game of Thrones or Casual, an easy default so that I don't spend my time in endless show shopping is to watch Seinfeld, of which there is a supply of over a hundred episodes on Hulu (join me on Hulu and get two weeks free). And imagine: the four principals of the show were getting a million dollars per episode in the last season. (About that endless show shopping—if I'm not actively working my way through a program's seasons, I can spend whole evenings reading descriptions but never actually committing to a program.) But as I punched the button to watch the next episode of Seinfeld—Hulu keeps track for me—I caught a glimpse that there was a new season of Manhattan, the first season of which I had just finished streaming a couple of weeks ago, and with the usual mourning for a TV show, I resigned myself to waiting a year before I would see what happened next. But lo! Behold! There it is!

This is dried squid, which I love. I first ate it in Korea, and have been eating it ever since. A wonderful, tasty, and very healthy snack.

I suppose, from an American p.o.v., these too are an acquired taste. The tiny dried minnows make a great snack either straight or sprinkled on top fo rice.

People who are on carb diets should take note: the nutrition facts say that these rice cracker cylinders wrapped in small sheets of nori (dry roasted seaweed) have 120 calories in a one-cup serving, but none of the calories comes from fat. They're tasty too. This bag supposedly contains three servings (unless you're blogging) and costs two bucks.

This is a bigger bag of assorted snacks, and costs five bucks.

This is a small cup (about four ounces) of soup ingredients. I found no English on the packaging, so I don't know what it is, which is why I bought it. The cashier told me, but I forget what she said.

I love these instant noodle soups and buy a lot of them. I strive for variety. Lately I've been revisiting curry, and plan to cook some more, but in the meantime here's an instant curry-flavored soup.


For corn lovers everywhere, there are a few dried kernels that reconstitute during the cooking of the soup.

This is my second container of curry powder that I bought this week. I'm usually not so redundant, but I have a lot of respect for the S&B brand. Since curry is somewhat vaguely defined around its edges, I'm sure this powder will be significantly different than the other that I bought.