Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dress Morphing. There Really Is No Spoon!

I'm sure by now you've all seen the photograph of "the dress." What color is it?

Just in case you've been living in a cave somewhere, some girl snapped a photo of a dress, and the interwebs are all a twitter because some folks see the dress as white with gold lace while others see it as blue with black lace.

When I first saw it, I was firmly in the white and gold camp. Seriously, I couldn't wrap my brain around how anyone could possibly see blue and black. So, just to convince myself that it wasn't some sort of weird trick, I tried importing it into a graphics program and playing with the color balance as one site suggested. It didn't take much tweaking for the blue & black colors to appear.

Here's an example that I found on the web...

The original is in the middle, the left has been color adjusted more to the gold end of the spectrum, and the image on the right has been tweaked in the blue direction.

But here's the weird part. Once I saw the blue & black - even when the color balance was restored to neutral, I couldn't go back to seeing it as white and gold!

Actually that's not entirely true. Now when I look at the photo, I initially see white & gold, but almost immediately it morphs right before my eyes and turns into blue & black. Even the left-most image above now looks light blue and faded black to me.

So what's going on here? I've read about a zillion explanations of this phenomenon... rods & cones, visual differences between people, RGB percentages, yadda, yadda, yadda. But as far as I'm concerned, the real explanation is simply this: There is no spoon!

OK, let me back up. Have any of you seen the film, The Matrix? It's a somewhat disappointing science fiction film based on the premise that everything we think is real is actually a computer generated reality, and that in truth, the world was long ago taken over by aliens who are now "farming" humans in giant warehouses, and we're all really living in little pods with our brains plugged into an enormous computer game to keep us entertained.

I thought it was a fascinating premise, but the filmmakers just glossed over all of the interesting parts so they could focus all of their energies on men with sun glasses flying through the air shooting at each other. Because, really, who wants to be bothered with trivialities like character development and plot when you've got more important things like guns and special effects to focus on?

But while the film was an overall disappointment, there was one small scene that really stuck with me. Rather than trying to explain it, I'll just show it to you... don't worry, it's only about a minute long because, you know, the filmmakers didn't want to waste time actually giving us something to think about, we have to get back to killing each other.... (she says with only the slightest amount of sarcasm.)

Anyhow, I think that all of this points to a fundamental truth about the human experience. I don't mean that I think we're all actually living in pods with aliens sucking off of our vital bodily fluids or whatever they were doing. 

What I mean is that in a very fundamental way, we are incapable of perceiving objective reality, and in truth, everything we humans experience is an abstraction of one sort or another. The reality is that we cannot interact with the universe directly, so everything we experience is filtered through our bodies and "made sense of" through our brains.

Some folks might argue that objective reality does not even exist, and that everything we think is real is simply human-generated illusion. I guess I'll leave that question to the religious leaders and quantum physicists, because the main point I'm trying to make here is that perception is most decidedly not reality.

We can't agree on what color the dress is, because colors don't actually exist - they are simply a human abstraction that we use to help us understand the world around us and how different objects reflect light.

So why does any of this matter? Well, I'm not entirely sure that it does... but I do find it helpful to remember that just because I happen to see the world in one particular way, it does not therefore follow that this is the way the world actually is

Perhaps this is just a stupid mental trick, but when I'm confronted with a really stressful situation, it helps me to remember that in some fundamental way, it actually is not real. 

Seriously, back when I was running the music school, the politics of it all could get really out of control (musicians can be irrationally passionate, you know.) Anyhow, often, as I was laying in bed at night drifting off to sleep I would repeat to myself "There is no music school, there is no music school, there is no music school..."

I also think that when I'm confronted with people who hold a radically different worldview from my own, it might be helpful to remember that they're not just ignorant, pig-headed or stupid - they actually do see the world (and perhaps the dress) differently than I do. 

Somehow, I think the world might be a better place if we could all wrap our brains around that idea.

Anyhow... I think I've blathered on this topic long enough. What do you all think? Am I just running in mental circles, or does any of this make any sense at all? What color is that damned dress anyhow?

In the meantime, I think I'll go back to working on my taxes.... Repeat after me: "There is no IRS, there is no IRS, there is no IRS..."

Friday, February 20, 2015

Today's Soundtrack

Spring is on the way!!!

I know, I know, it doesn't really feel like it yet, but really truly it is.

We got about 10 inches of snow on Monday, and I had to shovel the driveway because I had jury duty on Tuesday. I thought about taking the bus, but the idea of standing outside in sub-freezing weather for who knows how long waiting for a bus that may or may not be on schedule sounded um... less than appealing. So I drove, which meant that I shoveled.

BTW, in case you're curious, I did survive my brush with civic duty, and ended up spending the entire morning on Tuesday just waiting in the jury room - they never called my number. What a way to spend Mardi Gras though - cooped up with several hundred other grumpy people hoping against hope that our numbers wouldn't be called. Laissez les bon temps rouler, y'all... (she says with a thick southern twang and a hefty dose of irony.)

But I digress... My point was, that as I was shoveling, I noticed something distinctly different from my previous encounters with the white stuff this year. This was no light fluffy winter snow. This was the thick, wet, heavy, stick-to-the-shovel variety - and it's a sure harbinger that spring is on the way!!!

There will be plenty more snow to come... like, for example, the foot that's supposed to fall this weekend, but it's starting to feel like spring snow, and the spring part just makes it sooo much easier to take!

As if to prove my point, the sun came out and melted off enough of it that CatMan and I were able to get out for a nice (if a bit soggy) bike ride today!

The whole time we were riding I was just captivated by the river. Now, all of our rides take us along the South Platte for at least 5 miles or so, but today the river just felt different. It was full and flowing, and it was the first time in months that I didn't see any ice on the water. And all around was the trickling sound of melting snow as the little drops of water made their way back to join their companions.

Perhaps this is overly sentimental of me, but I just love rivers. I love the whole metaphor. Somehow, seeing all those little drops of water joining together and starting their long journey back to the ocean reminds me of the oneness of life.

As I rode along my head was filled with all sorts of river songs, so I figured maybe I'd give you a little taste of my internal soundtrack.

This first one is a Bill Staines song, and was a staple at just about every folkie sing-along that I attended in my many years running the music school. Somehow the "real" version doesn't quite fill me up the way that a room full of people harmonizing to it does. But the chorus is quite catchy.

That led me to another favorite by Tish Hinojosa. Tish is a wonderful "Tex Mex" singer songwriter from Austin. The first time I heard her was in the early 1990's when we booked her as an opening act for... Bill Staines (above). She completely stole the show, and this song embedded itself firmly into my psyche:

That, of course, led me to one of my all time favorite songs ever by Chuck Pyle (because... the way I first heard of Chuck was that Tish recorded one of his songs.) Anyhow, the tag line of this song goes "You can't push the river, the mighty river's just gonna flow." Don't know if any of you are familiar with the work of Fritz Perls and Gestalt therapy, but "Don't push the river, it will flow by itself" is sort of a catch phrase used in those schools.

The basic gist is that when it comes to personal awareness, you can't make things happen, you just have to let them happen. Anyhow, it's a meaningful concept for me, and combine that with the incomparable musical stylings of Chuck Pyle (who calls himself the "Zen Cowboy") and you have a recipe for a wonderful song:

And finally... for those of you in the upper midwest and northeast (and probably Canada too) who aren't quite feelin' it in terms of spring yet. I thought you might enjoy this little ditty by Pat Donohue. Pat is an amazing fingerstyle guitarist who used to live in Denver before he moved back to his hometown in Minnesota. You may have heard him on the Prairie Home Companion radio show. I totally love his ironic sense of humor and this is a fun twist on the traditional Mississippi Delta blues tune.

Anyhow, that was the soundtrack of my day. I doubt anyone will listen to all of them, but it sure made me happy humming these songs as I rode by the beautiful river.

So tell me, what are your favorite river songs?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

What's Wrong With This Picture?

So... I turned on my computer today and went to the Googles, where I saw this picture:

I couldn't figure out what they were celebrating so I moused over it and it said "Laura Ingalls Wilder's 148th Birthday."

Now, I was a HUGE fan of the Little House books as a kid. Must have read them all at least a dozen times, and as any Little House aficionado can tell you, there is something VERY wrong with this picture!

Here are the real Ingalls sisters, Carrie on the left, Mary seated and Laura on the right:

Have you figured it out yet?

Well... the Google depiction shows brown haired pig-tailed Laura as the older sister. And as we all know from reading the books, Laura was the middle child who was terribly jealous of Mary, her blonde haired, blue-eyed older sister!

C'mon Googles! How could you get something so important, SOOOO wrong?!? I mean, it's one of the central themes of the books!


So, did anybody else notice this, or am I just being nit-picky with my Little House obsession?

Cosmic Smackdown

Y'all might recall that a week or so ago when Denver was enjoying beautiful warm weather while folks on the east coast were suffering the wrath of winter, a certain CatLady was... um... well, let's say a tad bit less sympathetic than she might have been.

Sooo, when the forecast said temperatures would reach 70 degrees again today (around 21C), I was unabashedly planning to spend the day outside on my bike again soaking in the sunshine. Imagine my shock when I woke up this morning with a fever of 101 (38.3C) and just generally feeling like I'd been hit by a truck!

This was most definitely NOT in the plan!!! Why couldn't my body choose a day when it's cold and miserable outside to be sick in bed?

And to make matters worse, this weather is supposed to last all weekend! So it will be unseasonably beautiful outside, and I'll be stuck in bed feeling like total crapola! I'll probably get better just in time for the next snow which is supposed to hit early next week. Sigh.

Hmmm... perhaps that'll learn me not to gloat in the future!

So, as those of you in other parts of the country are suffering through your horrible weather, and feeling like smacking me when you see of all the 70's on the national weather maps, just know that the universe already took care of it for you.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Convenient Or Just Familiar?

So, I had a thought the other day.

It occurred to me that many of the things we do because we think they are "convenient" really aren't convenient at all, they're simply the ways we're used to doing things.

Take driving a car, for example. There was a time in my life when I was pretty much like the average American in terms of driving. Well, I never had one of those crazy commutes that so many people deal with, but I certainly used my car as my default mode of transportation. I thought, like most people do, that driving was the easiest and most convenient way to get around.

But the further removed I become from "car culture" the more inconvenient my automobile starts to feel.

I mean when you really stop to think about it, there's a HUGE list of prerequisites that are required in order to be able to just jump in the car for a "convenient" little trip.

First of all, you have to have a car - which means you had to either save up a pile of money or make monthly payments on a car loan. Then, you have to have insurance, and (in Denver, at least) a valid emissions test. You have to make sure the thing has gas, and oil, and a charged battery, and tires with decent tread, and is in generally good condition. You have to have a driver's license, and a valid registration. And we haven't even set foot in the car yet!

Once you get in the thing, you have to deal with traffic, and parking, and figuring out where you're going and how to get there. You have to know which lane to be in, you have to deal with distracted drivers and road construction. The list goes on...

I realize this sounds sorta crazy, but I've been sooo happy that the weather and streets have cleared up to the point that I can ride my bike to the store again, because frankly... it's just so much more convenient!! I don't have to worry about gas, or parking, or having my license with me... I just have to hop on my bike and go! Of course, I've already invested the time, energy and money into setting up a nice errand bike, and figuring out appropriate clothing, and maintenance - yadda, yadda, yadda.

I'm reminded of a post over on Done By Forty about "Sunk Costs." The idea is that a "sunk cost" is money, time, and/or energy that you've already spent, so it doesn't figure into your current decision making.

It's like we're all so programmed to think that having a car (and all the time, energy & money that goes along with it) is "a given" so we don't consider it when we think about what's "convenient" and what isn't.

Of course, this whole equation works both ways. For example, CatMan is what I would call an "uber geek."

Seriously, the man built his first computer in the 1970's by wiring together a television, an electric typewriter keyboard, some chips he ordered for about $25, and a circuit board that he burned by hand using a drawing he found in a magazine as a guide. (Not exaggerating.)

So whenever there's some sort of informational task that needs to take place, his first instinct is to write a computer program to automate the job.

Me, on the other hand... even though I've done my fair share of programming, it always feels like "work" to me. So I've been known to spend hour upon hour upon hour doing something "by hand" rather than invest a little bit of time coming up with a system that will deal with it for me.

My inbox situation comes to mind. It always seemed "more convenient" to just leave all my emails in the inbox and perform a search when I needed to find something. But now that I actually took the time to set up a system to deal with most of it for me, everything feels much, MUCH easier. Hmmm... perhaps my old system was not so convenient after all.

I'm not sure what conclusions to draw from all of this. I'm certainly not suggesting that everyone should ditch their cars, since I'm still not ready to get rid of mine. But this whole thing has got me wondering, what other parts of my life do I coast through, thinking I'm doing what's convenient, when all I'm really doing is what's familiar?

Waddya think? Is this all just semantics or am I actually onto something? Do you ever find yourself doing what's familiar when there's really an easier way that just involves getting out of your comfort zone a bit?