31 October 2010

Blink

Before I get into Blink, I really have to write about where I am.  I am at Glen Eyrie in Colorado Springs, next to the Garden of the Gods.  It is a Christian retreat with lodges, chalets, and a freaking castle!  Anyway it is cold, dark, and utterly deserted out here, and I can't help but mentally relive The Shining as I roam the empty halls of the lodge where I am staying.

---

So.  Blink.  First off, it's by Malcolm Gladwell, and I rather enjoyed it.  It was about the various factors that influence our ability to assess things in the blink of an eye - hence the title - though really, it's the first two seconds that he studies.

The thesis of the book is that our unconscious minds use "thin-slicing" to take in only the essential data for reaching decisions, far quicker than our conscious mind does.  What he has discovered is that our unconscious minds can read situations extremely quickly and with the bare minimum of data - one example he uses is a psychologist studying marriages who has developed a way to tell if a marriage will last or not, based on observing a 2-minute snippet of conversation.  Not the conversation, though - just the body language.  (Forgive me if I've gotten the details wrong, the book is back in Kansas City.)  And he could predict it with something like 80% accuracy.  (Again, I may be fudging a bit.  I will try to revise once I get back home!)

While this is a powerful ability of our brain, it can at times be befuddled - for example, if we are given too much information, we lose the ability to focus on what is important.  Our unconscious biases can affect our judgments as well.  However, with training and experience, we can hone our ability to thin-slice, and reduce the impact of our biases.

The more I reflect on it, the more I realize how profound Blink was.  It definitely made me stop and take a long look at what things I might be biased about, whether for or against.  And I will definitely try to pay more attention to the way I analyze situations.  I'd recommend it for anyone.

---

Books: Finished Blink.  Starting Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Bottles:  None.  Hope to go to a Wine Spectator Award-Winning restaurant (don't know which one yet) while here in Colorado Springs.  Will definitely share my experience!

Writing: I drove 11 hours today and am only writing this.  I don't feel like that's a lame excuse.  There's just not that many hours in the day.  Sigh...I need to learn to sleep less.  Or something.

Guitar:  Well, since the guitar is in Kansas City...

Roger Waters: The Wall Live

So, I return from seeing Roger Waters: The Wall Live at Sprint Center.  It is kind of amusing to me to see this in the same week as the aforementioned Spring Awakening.  The Wall totally washed the taste of that out of my mouth - IT WAS INCREDIBLE.  I'm pretty tired right now so I hope to revisit this at a future time, but I wanted to write about some of the highlights while they were fresh.

Unless I misunderstood what Roger Waters said during the concert, the kids singing during "Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2)" were local kids, and he applauded them after the song before moving on with the concert, which I thought was great.

I'm pretty sure one of the guitarists (probably Snowy White) was playing a DG Signature Black Strat during some parts, which is kind of hilarious since from a distance he almost looked like David Gilmour.  Didn't sound like him though, but then, who does?

Apparently, amongst the footage they had from The Wall concerts in 1980-81, there was Roger singing "Mother," so he double-tracked that with his own archival footage.  It was quite neat.

There were two spot ops that were hanging from wire rigs.  Way to go guys!  Spending a whole show in a chair suspended on wires and running a spotlight!

The inflatable pig had fans on it like a hovercraft and must have been remote controlled.  I want that guy's job!

The wall itself - the bricks, and the projections - were absolutely incredible.  At one point, after the wall was completely built and then they began projecting images of the bricks flying away into the background, the guy next to me gasped.  "How are they doing that?!" he asked over and over.  I had to chuckle, especially when my sister, who was sitting next to me, started to ask the same thing, then said "Oh, it's graphics."

All in all, it was a wonderful experience.  Only a few little things were lacking, but that's just me.  I was, naturally, disappointed that KC wasn't the venue in which David Gilmour made his surprise guest appearance - but then, I wasn't really expecting him to, unless he has a thing for barbeque.  I was a little disappointed with the guitar effects during "Run Like Hell."  I love the delay that they use on the album and it sounded strange without.  Lastly, I was a little sad that they didn't do any sort of encore.  I was hoping to see "Wish You Were Here" live.

Greatest.  Concert.  I've.  Ever.  Seen!

---

Books: Almost done with Blink.

Bottles: Still none.  Hopefully will have something in Colorado Springs.

Writing: None today.  Concert!

Guitar: None today.  Concert!

29 October 2010

Artifacts from Beyond the Rim

Finished Babylon 5: Artifacts from Beyond the Rim yesterday.  It's a special edition book from the B5Scripts series, collecting a bunch of recently unearthed documents by J Michael Straczynski and others.  Among the many things in it were dossiers by Larry DiTillio for the major characters, notes for unproduced episodes and other stories, interviews, even a collection of Starfury squadron patches!  As with all the other books in the series, I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the hidden life of Babylon 5.  My favorite part: during an interview, J. Michael Straczynski relates a story about discussing with Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik the possibility of a storyline where G'Kar gets whipped (which ended up happening in Season 4).  Of course, this devolved into a discussion of whether G'Kar likes getting whipped, which ended up with Peter Jurasik demanding that G'Kar nudity never happen on the show.  "A great spotted moon rising...no, not an image I wish to consider," he says as Londo.  I nearly fell off the chair chuckling.

Babylon 5 was great.  Just great.  Reading the book makes me want to rewatch some classic episodes, like "Severed Dreams."  Actually, it makes me want to rewatch the whole series...I may have to start that up again soon!

---

Books: Reading Blink.  Picked up several books at the library, including Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I will be taking to Colorado Springs with me probably.  On 2 November, Towers of Midnight comes out, but I had best avoid reading it while on the job since I will get absorbed and read it all in one sitting no doubt.  I will acquire it when I return to Kansas City, if my willpower holds out.


Bottles: Nothing.

Writing: 1300 words on short story; story total, 5300.  Still on chapter two, which is becoming immense.  May have to split it into 2.  Enjoying it a lot.  Edna Mode from The Incredibles has been on my brain a lot lately.  What a great character.

Guitar: Didn't practice today, was too busy with stuff for work.  Keynote is the devil.

28 October 2010

Spring Awakening

Wednesday night I saw the musical Spring Awakening at its tour stop at the Lied Center in Lawrence, KS.  I got home at 12:30AM and didn't feel like blogging about it, so it is now 4:00PM Thursday as I write this.

First of all, the tour was the non-equity national tour...so yeah.  A certain drop in quality from Broadway level is natural and to be expected.  I can only assume that either (a) the show kind of sucks, or (b) there as an abnormally large drop in quality of this production.  Some examples...

At one point, one character's mother slaps her in the face.  Okay, I get stage combat.  But it's an intimate space, and they're "professionals," and it's a single slap.  I say just go for it and slap her!  But no...there was the ridiculous wind-up, the long pause as they make eye contact, and then the slap, which missed by an obvious margin.  I couldn't help it and let out a bit of a laugh.  I was the only one, though apparently others wanted to but were able to contain themselves.  I wasn't.  It was sad.

A friend of mine is the A2 (audio assistant) on the show, and she's a great sound mixer.  Unfortunately, the A1 mixes the show, not her, and he is...rather less talented than she.  Mic levels were erratic throughout the show.

Performances were kind of silly, at about what I would consider a high school level.  These people get paid?

Lighting had the potential to be nice, and there were some beautiful moments, but there were lots of sloppy moments as well.  They used naked bulbs suspended on the back wall and hanging from linesets at times, and they were so bright that they contracted my pupils and made it hard for me to see the action on the stage.

The songs also seemed like they should have been good but weren't quite there, at times falling into cliche or just bad performances.  There was no dancing to speak of.

I guess my biggest gripe with the show is that I go to musical expecting to see and feel things that are larger than life, whether great joy or great sadness.  But this show somehow felt smaller than life, as if it had curled itself up into a ball and hoped no one would look at it.  Which may in fact have been the whole point.

---

Book: Nearly done with Artifacts from Beyond the Rim.  A little bit into Blink.  Picking up 3 books from the library tomorrow.

Bottle: Nothing new to report.  Still have a cold.

Writing: None.  I've been working on stuff for work.  Hope to get the other half of my most recent chapter written tonight.

Guitar: Pentatonics, "Hey You".  Had to restring 2nd and 3rd strings.  I didn't wrap them very well on the previous stringing and they came out of the tuners.  Live and learn.

26 October 2010

Walter Kirn's Lost in the Meritocracy

Lost in the Meritocracy follows Kirn's journey through the American education system and examines how, in so many ways, the system is set up to advance people who are either (a) good at multiple-choice tests, (b)rich, or (c) well-connected.  He writes about learning to pepper test answers with vocabulary words which did not truly add anything to the answer but impressed the teacher into thinking he did, about how to mirror teacher's questions in the answers he gave.

Walter Kirn attended public school in rural Minnesota but did well enough on his SAT to get into Princeton, where he studied writing.  He was a poor kid at Princeton surrounded by affluent kids, and much of the book is devoted to dissecting the socio-economics of Princeton life, and the status that is conferred for someone that has gone to Princeton.

What I was more interested in, however, was his reflection on his education: how he advanced through classes more by guile and adaptabilty, by learning to give the teacher what they wanted, than by actually learning anything.  It was only after a slight mental breakdown that he began, slowly to enjoy acquiring knowledge for its own sake; only in the book's last pages, after he has finished with Princeton and won a prestigious scholarship to Oxford, does he sit down and read the classics for the first time.

It was very interesting to me to examine the author's recollections of his education and compare them to mine.  In looking back on my own time in school, I see many of the traits he exhibited: a certain level of ambition to be at the top of the class, a talent for reading teachers and knowing how to give them what they want.  At the same time, though, I see the point where I began to rebel against that part of myself.  I think my true turnabout came, much like his, after a crisis, in my case the month I spent more or less in bed due to a depression so severe I couldn't face the thought of leaving the house.

When I took up school again I was more attentive, began to appreciate learning for learning's sake, and even started enjoying homework projects.  This continued in college, where I soaked up most of my classes (though some I definitely resorted to old survival tactics).  I remember with particular fondness a World History class sophomore year and an American History class senior year, both taught by the same teacher, which were absolutely stimulating to me, and I retain fairly crisp memories of lectures and studies from those classes.  Another one I remember a surprising amount of was my Theatre History class, which is perhaps unsurprising since I was one of the few people who could handle the teacher's style of lecturing the whole class, every class, and then giving essay tests every 6 weeks.  His passion for the subject ignited my own passion for learning, and though I don't remember everything, I still find myself remembering random factoids when I least expect it.

All in all, I'd agree with Kirn that our education system places too much emphasis on "aptitude," a vague rubric of what it thinks students need to succeed in the world.  However, it is possible to go beyond that: good teachers make a difference, and so does a personal thirst for knowledge, which is something we all have to find within ourselves.

---

Book: Reading Blink by Malcolm Gladwell and Babylon 5: Artifacts from Beyond the Rim from the B5Scripts collection.

Bottle: Have a cold and have not started a new bottle.

Writing: Wrote on short story, chapter 2, 1200 words.  Story total: 4100.  Wrote a lot of exposition today.  I will have to look at how I can condense it, but a lot of it is kind of essential...I have to set up the stakes for what is to come.  The chapter is about halfway done but I think the infodump is nearly complete.  Then I get to the fun part of the chapter.

Guitar: Though I have been practicing pentatonic scales, "Coming Back to Life", and "Romance" by F. Sors the last week, at today's lesson we revisited several songs from The Wall, in anticipation of the Roger Waters concert this Saturday: "Mother", "Run Like Hell", "Another Brick in the Wall Part 2", "Is There Anybody Out There?"  Next lesson we will take a look at "Hey You" since I found some new tabs for it.  This week I am to review "Mother", work on "Hey You", and keep working on my other projects.  "Coming Back to Life" solos are beginning to sound pretty good.

25 October 2010

A Peculiar Melancholy

Preface: After much toying about with the idea, I've finally decided to start a blog.  Not that anyone really cares what I think, but I would like to catalog my thoughts a bit better.  There are several goals for this blog:

1. Develop the discipline to write frequently (I suppose it's too early to try "every day," though that is the eventual goal), even and perhaps especially when I don't really feel like it.

2. Share my thoughts on various issues of interest to myself and others, in a more refined form.

3. Provide encouragement and advice to any readers (assuming there are any) who are intersted in exploring books, or wine, or what have you, but find the idea daunting.

4. Begin tracking stats on what I am reading, drinking, and my progress on my writing projects or any other projects I take up.


I'm sure I'll come up with more goals later.  For now I think this is a good start.  Please be patient while the blog is under construction.

---

A peculiar melancholy came over me today, and I'm not entirely sure why.  Part of it may have been reflection on Walter Kirn's Lost in the Meritocracy, but I'll get into that when I discuss the book in my next post.  I suspect it's the same kind of melancholy that usually comes to children after Christmas Day and they've finished opening all their presents.  One of my best friends who was gone for quite a while in Korea finally returned, and we celebrated his birthday, which I had been looking forward to; and my mother and I finally moved my grandmother into her new apartment, a much-anticipated (and bemoaned) event; and, a few weeks ago, I left my day job to pursue my dreams of moving out west.  Now I find that many things I had been anticipating have come and gone, leaving a slight gap in my life.

I'm sure this will pass; I have lots of other things that are either coming up or just beginning.  Nonetheless, I thought examining my melancholy was a good place to start for a blog.  After all, what blog is complete without a bit of whining and/or angst?  On the whole, though, I hope the blog will be full of happy, or at least emotionally neutral, thoughts.

---

Book: Just finished Walter Kirn's Lost in the Meritocracy.
Bottle: On Sunday, 24 October, I shared a bottle of Saracco NV Moscato d'Asti with friends to celebrate the birthday mentioned above.  There is not yet a corresponding blog post for it but there will be some day.
Writing: Wrote a blog post.  Was going to write on my current project but got tired and am going to bed.  Had a great idea though.  Need to do some research.