Red or Blue


After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill—the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill—you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth.

Silence

My mobile hasn’t rung in over a year.

A few years ago I posted about the need to rethink mobile phone rings – link.

Last year, at the beginning of Spring, I was in California to play a private gig. I wondered how I would keep track of time during the performance. I had stopped wearing a watch, because mechanical watches feel too heavy for my wrist, and I am too shortsighted to be able to see the time on a phone at my feet. When I perform with the band we all wear IEMs and I would sometimes ask our engineer to speak to me between songs to let me know what time it was, especially in venues that have a second show or a curfew. I have been to concerts where a musician on stage obviously checked their watch – I have heard that jokingly referred to as the musician salut – and felt that the act of looking at their watch ruined the idea that the experience of music should take us to a timeless place, a little journey outside of time.

Until the end of 2017 Jawbone made a bracelet that counted steps and tracked sleep. There was no display of any kind on the bracelet, but with the Jawbone phone app one could set up alarms. It worked well, the bracelet secretly vibrating at a set time to let me know that my performance should come to an end, but the Jawbone bracelets never lasted very long. I think I went through six of them in three years, and my last Jawbone UP had broken a few weeks earlier.

In the morning, while I drove around to find something to eat, I noticed an Apple store in the vicinity. I decided to drop in and to check out the Apple watch.

The watch is light, much lighter than a mechanical watch, and I never notice it while I am playing guitar. The vibrating alarm fucntion didn’t work for me because the alarm is persistent, meaning that one has to physically turn it off – the Jawbone UP alarm only vibrated for a few seconds and then shut itself off. I discovered that the calendar reminder function of the watch worked better than the alarm… just one little vibration.

In addition to minding time on stage the Apple watch also changed my relationship to the phone. My phone has been silent for the past year. When I get a call or a message my watch vibrates. Nobody else notices it. If I want I can see who is calling me, without pulling the phone out of my pocket. How civilized! It’s also so much easier to ignore a call now. The world could me a much quieter place…

Today’s Bread


Two of the loaves have some matcha powder and cooked black rice in them. I’m already looking forward to cutting one of them open tomorrow morning to see what it looks like inside.

Update: There it is. The loaf on top has matcha and black rice, the other one has pink rice.

Swearing : Mantra

About five years ago I posted some thoughts about swearing and mantras… Today I remembered the post and looked it up. Here it is again:

In the book “Holy Sh*t – A Brief History of Swearing” I read that most speech originates from the cerebral cortex, which also controls voluntary actions and rational thought, while swearwords are stored in the limbic system, which is responsible for emotion, the fight-or-flight response, and the autonomic nervous system, which regulates heart rate and blood pressure. People who have lost the ability to speak, e.g. due to a stroke, often still have the ability to swear.

The book also states that test subjects were able to withstand pain, in the form of very cold water, longer, if they spoke swearwords rather than other words.

That got me thinking. Swearing is culture-specific and the words themselves frequently change according to society. Training starts very young in families with parents making clear which words are “bad” or forbidden. This training appears to write swearwords to a different section of brain.

Like swearwords mantras are culture-specific and can be learned at a young age. Many cultures use mantras, but India, Tibet and Japan come to mind. The Ninjas of Japan have a variety of mantras that are to help against cold, against pain, or to promote healing etc.

What I am wondering about is whether these mantras are also, like swearwords, “written” to a different part of the brain? It would follow that the embedding of the mantra into a section of brain is akin to writing software and invoking the mantra is akin to running the program.

In other words, for a person outside the mantra culture, e.g. a non-Ninja, it would be impossible to “run the program” because the software was not written into the brain – just as a foreign speaker who hears an American swearword will not grasp its meaning, nor would yelling the word be able to relieve any pain for him/her.

Have mantras been researched with this in mind? Can they be written to a different part of the brain? How long does it take to embed a mantra? Does a mantra in fact evoke a whole program?

Soldering

I wanted to listen to the new music on this old pair of headphones, but the sound appeared to be mono. I opened the plug and discovered that one of the wires had come lose. I didn’t want to work on the plug in the garage, where decades ago my dad had installed a vise, because it was too cold there – freezing nights and more snow. When I bought a new roll of solder I also saw a clamp in the store, which I figured would be perfect for holding the plug in place.

The plug was repaired and the headphones sound splendid. I listened to all of the new songs.

Music Among Ruins

His pipe was broken too, with a piece of tape holding it together. He lit it, cranked up the gramophone and out came the voice of an Arab singer from the 1940s, the same one that my grandfather used to listen to in Lebanon. For a moment I was no longer a photographer shooting ruined Aleppo. I was a boy in my mountain village, my grandfather sitting on the sofa in the afternoon listening to the “belle epoque” songs of Arab music.

That image is amazing. How powerful music is, emerging from that quiet little gramophone. No, I think it’s exactly because it comes from a quiet little gramophone…
Read the article here: AFP Correspondent

The Cat

The cat stretches itself into a long line, then sits up. It appears to look into space, relaxed and unconcerned. Does it see ghosts? Does it dream with open eyes? I think it is practicing the Hunter Meditation.

I believe that a long time ago, perhaps tens of thousands of years ago, hunters discovered this form of mediation, different from what we today know as Yoga or Zen or Vipassana meditation, but perhaps different only in its goal. While most meditation practiced today aims to calm the person, to quiet or focus the mind, the Hunter Meditation had the simple goal of putting food on the table… and probably had interesting side effects other people eventually observed.

When tracking trophy a hunter might scan the horizon with his eyes, looking for the animal they want to kill. When looking for food a hunter, human or beast, doesn’t want to miss the nearby rabbit just because they are busy scanning the horizon. So, I imagine, the hunter sat quietly and opened their eyes to everything in their view, from one corner of the eye to the other. Most animals don’t see that which doesn’t move, and so the hunter’s stillness is better than the movement of searching. Keeping the head still and the eyes open, but not staring, not scanning, the hunter waits for any prey’s movement. The hunter’s breathing slows naturally, their eyes are soft but alert, and they become one with their surroundings.

Team Human

I have read several books by Douglas Rushkoff. His observations are always smart, deep, inspiring. His latest work is called Team Human. I just started reading it.

“Survival of the fittest is a convenient way to justify the cutthroat ethos of a competitive marketplace, political landscape, and culture. But this perspective misconstrues the theories of Darwin as well as his successors. By viewing evolution though a strictly competitive lens, we miss the bigger story of our own social development and have trouble understanding humanity as one big, interconnected team.”

Excerpt From Team Human by Douglas Rushkoff

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/team-human/id1397987309?mt=11

Bread

The reason I started making bread at home was simple: I could not find decent bread where I live. Having grown up surrounded by bakeries, and with fresh rolls and crusty sourdough bread a staple that could be counted on when I came home from school, this was a problem for me. There were so many neighborhood bakeries that my family became very discerning… we would go to this bakery for the freshest little bread rolls, to that one for the best large sourdough loaves, and preferred a third one for sweet items.

A baker told me that it wasn’t possible to make bread in a home oven, because the dough needed steam to develop a soft crumb, and home ovens expel humidity. Professional ovens were designed to contain humidity and have a mechanism to inject steam to create the perfect crumb. For decades I believed this to be true and unhappily made do with the bread I found in local bakeries.

When I had lived without good bread for many years, I suddenly felt that the difference between a house and a home was… bread. The smell of bread was home. I searched the internet looking for a solution to baking bread in a home oven and five years ago I discovered a book by an American baker. The book was called Tartine and it discribed a method of using a Dutch oven to contain the moisture in the dough in order to create a soft crumb. After twenty minutes of baking one removed the top of the Dutch oven and the bread could then develop the dark crust.

According to the book’s instructions I mixed water and flour with my hand and waited patiently for it to attract that mixture of wild yeast and microbes that becomes the sourdough mother, that magical substance that makes the dough rise and which creates the beautiful airholes in the bread. Making bread is alchemy. By taking the most simple ingredients, water, flour and salt, and turning them into bread, one claims membership in humanity, for only humans use fire to create food. Breaking bread is a sign of making peace in many cultures. Sharing bread is a sign of making a stranger feel welcome.


I was lucky and the very first loaves turned out well enough. The house suddenly smelled like a home. Every Sunday morning I made dough and worked it from eight o’clock in the morning until about five in the afternoon, when I turned the oven on to bake. I discovered I loved the pace of making bread, which combines waiting with stretching and folding the dough every half hour. It felt right, this combination of doing and waiting, breathing in and exhaling, like growing plants or creating art… action followed by observation and contemplation.


I decided I had to share my bread and on Sundays I began to make four loaves. On Monday mornings I drove around town and delivered bread to my friends. I have done this for over five years now, having started in the Fall of 2013. Since January of 2014 I have documented the ingredients and measurements of every loaf. Loaves that are mostly white flour, loaves that are mostly whole wheat flour, loaves with lots of semolina, loaves with barley porridge, with brown rice porridge, black rice porridge, loaves with oatmeal, loaves with boiled potato slices, loaves with herbs, loaves with small chunks of cheese…

In time making bread has become part of me, like meditation and playing the guitar before, and today I cannot imagine my life without a weekly bread day, the day that starts with choosing ingredients from the cupboard, mixing them together with water and the leaven that was prepared the previous day. Bread day is punctuated by examining and turning the dough every half hour, and always culminates in turning on the oven and getting ready to bake. And by the end of that day my house always smells like a home.

Instagram

In June of 2016, while I was in St. Helena for two private solo performances, I had lunch with an old friend. He kept telling me I should be more active on social media and offered to take me to the offices of Google or Facebook. I told him I wanted nothing to do with either company. At least open an account on Instagram then, he suggested, it’s perfect for your images. I promised to think about it, aware that Facebook owned Instagram.

Later that year I opened an Instagram account and started posting lots of images and a few videos. The number of followers grew and included many people from countries in the Middle East. I enjoyed the interaction with people following me. I also soon began to notice how much time Instagram was taking up. I set myself a time limit of 30 minutes a day, but noticed that I ignored the limit several times a week.

After I announced that I might stop posting on Instagram I read this comment:

Keep in mind that some of your overseas fans may not get access to western sites due to the country’s regulations/restrictions, one would be Iran. The government of Iran sadly doesn’t make it easy for music lovers to follow their inspirational artist online. They haven’t touched social-media yet. So people do have access to follow their favorites. And as far as I see these people literally kiss your musical ground! They love you mad!

That was interesting and also very flattering and prompted me to think about my feelings regarding Instagram.

It was undeniable that the ease with which I could post photos to Instagram from my phone was amazing. By comparison I have to use a browser to post to this Diary because if I use the WordPress app my website gets attacked by about a hundred bots per minute… And it was nice that people all over the world were able to follow my Instagram account.

After mulling this over for several weeks I realized that several points soured me on Instagram. The first was that I realized the reason some (many?) governments allow their people to access Facebook and Instagram, but not individual websites, is that Facebook and Instagram may very well share information about their users with those governments. It’s a great way to keep track of people. It also feels like a carrot… you can’t access most of the internet, but we let you have Facebook and Instagram. So it’s not as if governments simply hadn’t gotten around to closing access to social media yet, as the commentor suggested, social media was purposefully kept available.

The second point was that I do not want to create content or user data for ginormous corporations for free. I believe in the old Internet of the mid Nineties. You want to have something to share – create it. You want to share something… create a website. Like a perfect storm the internet came along at the same time that music and art education was dropped from the curriculum of many schools. Perhaps posting about other people’s work and sharing their files filled the void that the lack of art education created.

The third point was this article by The Verge: Hate speech is finding a home on Instagram. All kinds of people communicate on social media. Even though they may not know anyone like themselves in their immediate physical community, they can find others in the state, the country, even the world. This is a great resource for people who have an illness, or feel isolated or different, …but it also means that pedophiles, conspiracy theorists, and racists can easily find each other. Suddenly everything becomes amplified. While one can ignore a lone racist in one’s midst, a huge group, albeit only connected via the internet, is a problem of a very different magnitude.

The fourth point was that I disliked that the Instagram timeline became “curated” and an algorithm figured out which posts I would see first.

I decided that I would delete most of the 1,100 photos and videos I had posted on Instagram, keeping less than seventy. I did not delete my Instagram account, but deleted the Instagram app from my phone. Out of sight, out of mind…

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