Note From Jon


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

And the Lord said "Peter... I can see your house from here"

Pardon me while I get a little sappy. In my friend’s Journal of Discovery he mentions recalling three good times you had this week. Thankfully I have far more than three moments to be grateful for, but I had an experience yesterday along those lines that I wanted to make a note of.

I was returning from a rainy business trip to Orlando. For the flight I had picked a book written by Matt Palka, one of Darren’s good friends from college. In Moment in the Sun, Matt relates his experience of moving from Ohio to California in the summer after graduation… by bicycle (with shades of my friends’ documentary about their cross country segway trip, and Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild – without the tragedy). As we began our descent, I closed the book and peered out the window.

I was immediately struck by the juxtaposition of scale between Matt’s travels on his bike and the enormous spread of countryside below me. In one glance I was taking in more than he could hope to cover in a day. Many people hate flying, but I always pick a window seat and feel like a kid again when watching the world from above. Never was that more true than yesterday when I rolled my fleece into a pillow for my chin and rested my forehead against the plastic window.

As an aside, I noticed a line on the airplane wing with text that read “Do not walk outside this area”… on both sides of the line! (I think “Get the hell back over here” might be more appropriate for one side). I tried to photograph this incongruity but my water damaged cell phone camera (the one with the LED flash that stays on at all times... even with the phone turned off... and constantly has people pointing out that my pocket is glowing) wasn't up for the task, as seen at the top of this post, so I recreated the blurred out sign here.

But once I’d had my fun with incomprehensible signage I began to scan the scene below. First I played how-high-are-we which I guessed at about 2000 ft (based on my recollection of similar sized scenery from my skydive) and then I played the where-are-we game. I was debating between the Eastern Shore and the Jamestown area when we passed over a bridge that I quickly concluded was the Woodrow Wilson Bridge. That’s when the real treat began.

The sun was setting, the sky was cloudless, and we were flying lower and slower than I ever remember. As I began picking out obvious landmarks, like the Masonic Temple in Alexandria, the plane began tracing a backwards question mark path to approach National Airport from the north side. My excitement built as we turned out over Arlington and I followed the line of high rises west from Rosslyn, through Courthouse, Clarendon and past their end in Ballston. The girl sitting behind me must have assumed I’d never flown before as I practically hopped in my seat scanning the intersections below. I remember the feeling playing with Google Earth when I first located my house, and I always got a rush flying into Logan Airport on a Friday night after spending the afternoon testing our ship simulator in the exact same spot of our virtual Boston harbor, but it was even more thrilling to finally see my house from an airplane.

I’ve played this game on most D.C. flights but never come closer than perhaps seeing the subdivision where I lived in high school. This time I found the intersection and began counting down each house until I found mine. We were impossibly low and making a wide turn that seemed to pivot around that specific spot. I could see the empty driveways, the dead tree in the front yard (that will soon come down), and the backyard filled with memories of watching movies projected on the back of the house and playing croquet until midnight… with the author of the book I had just been reading!

Matt includes a CD of his music to accompany the novel and I had my own soundtrack of a favorite Roger Waters song playing in my head, with the lyrics “And the Lord said, Peter, I can see your house from here” on repeat as my eye drew a straight line from the house to the Washington Monument and on to the Capital. They were all glowing a fiery orange thanks to another of my favorite aspects of D.C., the autumn sunsets. The plane completed its question mark path, but not without triggering a whole series of memories. I could see the Blue Ridge mountains marking the horizon, where my grandparents ashes are scattered. The plane passed over Great Falls, where I’ve begun doing some outdoor rock climbing. I saw the Women in the Armed Forces Memorial where another grandmother, who was a member of the WAVES, is scattered. Finally the plane swooped over Gravelly Point, where I stop on nearly every bike ride to picnic, read, or just catch one plane landing before finishing my favorite bike loop. Matt Palka rode across the country to find where he wanted to be; In one ten minute final approach I was reminded that at least for now I’ve answered that question (and of course I finally saw my house from an airplane!).

Monday, October 22, 2007

Call to the post

Saturday was my fourth trip to the Gold Cup (of either the International or Virginia varieties). For this annual tradition Jeffrey once again obtained a prime spot on the North Rail. By now, Jeffrey nearly has this process as well refined as our trips up to Fenway South… er Camden Yards for the Sox/O’s games. The only change I’d recommend for next year is to not bury the meat and cheese bags at the bottom of an ice filled cooler. My hands are numb right now just thinking of fishing them out. Everything else fell into place as it has in past years: food, parking passes, bow ties, and betting. Looking at the photos one might even get confused as to which year they were taken!


While I wasn’t nearly as successful as Jeffrey (who picked correctly in 6 of the 7 races – oftentimes placing two bets on the winning horse – and walked away with $52), it was easily my winningest year as well. Fly Past, Bon Fleur, and Orpington won three consecutive races for me and helped me to $7 in prize money (all of which, for tax purposes, has “officially” been returned to the original owners of course). I have a feeling I actually won more than that but some of it may have been embezzled by our bookie who would repeatedly declare the winnings and then apologize that she’d miscalculated when later handing me a dollar or two less… but we still love her (and she has priority deck privileges)

A few final notes for next year:

  • Don’t bet on horses whose names start with “Fields of…”. Fields of Autumn failed me, as did my big time sleeper pick Fields of Omagh (winner of the 2005 cup – he was a sleeper because that fact isn’t listed on his entry which only shows 2006 and 2007 results).
  • Don’t bet on a jockey who has just won a race and is then added as a last minute substitution to the next race. Robert Walsh rode Seeyouattheevent to victory in the International Gold Cup (when my money was on Fields of Omagh), and then proceeded to lead his horse off the course after suckering me into putting my money on him in the final race!
  • Bet with Jeffrey who seems enamored of jockey Jeff Murphy and horses bred by Morris Farms.
  • Make sure the bowtie is right side up if it has horses or other objects with obvious right-side-up-edness on it (unless you remember to tell people who point it out that you wear it that way for luck).
  • When it’s time to remember how to tie a bow tie next year… watch this video…

… unless that isn’t necessary anymore now that the bowtie has become part of my official Red Sox playoff watching attire (damn baseball superstitions!)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

When it's time to

The other day I was reminded about the emotional power of music... when the wrong song popped up on my iPod as I drove a friend home. In what seems to be a bit of a theme among my friends, he has been getting over someone and the song definitely brought that to the surface. (Note to Jon: Take Woke Up New by The Mountain Goats out of the shuffle rotation!) This got me thinking though about what songs would be good to listen to when getting over someone (other than generally happy songs and not any songs that have special memories with that person). I'll share my conclusions in a minute but first I recommend that anyone getting over someone (or anyone who likes to laugh) watch this video:

The playlist I came up with, based on my own experiences of songs that have helped me move on over the years looks something like:

  1. Looking for a Song by Big Audio Dynamite
  2. I'm Not Crying by Flight of the Conchords
  3. I'll Be On My Way by Corduroy
  4. Just One More by Jon-Rae and the River
  5. Shake Some Action by The Farm
  6. The Internet is for Porn by Avenue Q
  7. Rain by Bishop Allen
  8. I Believe by Booth and the Bad Angel
  9. Get Rhythm by Johnny Cash
  10. Let Your Troubles Roll By by Carbon Leaf
  11. Float On by Modest Mouse
  12. Tomorrow by James
  13. Beautiful Day by U2
And the annotated version for anyone interested in why I chose those songs in roughly that order:
  1. Looking for a Song by Big Audio Dynamite:
    • For some reason I had in my head that the chorus of this song was "Looking for a song, to help me move along". It's not. But I had already determined that it was kicking off the mix and I will continue to sing the chorus my way.
  2. I'm Not Crying by Flight of the Conchords
    • Denial (that you care). "I'm not crying, it's just been raining... on my face"
  3. I'll Be On My Way by Corduroy
    • Anger. "I'll say fuck you and then I'll be on my way!"
  4. Just One More by Jon-Rae and the River
    • Bonus Night! The title says it all, please "Just One More". Could also lead to Phase 3 of the Breakup video
  5. Shake Some Action by The Farm
    • Random Hook Ups. Everyone figures "some action's what I need"
  6. The Internet is for Porn by Avenue Q
    • Really a 5b for any friends who aren't having much luck with 5a
  7. Rain by Bishop Allen
    • On side B of this LP we start to get to the more healing, uplifting songs starting with: "Cause if its ever gonna get any better, it's gotta get worse for a day"
  8. I Believe by Booth and the Bad Angel
    • "Why be a song if you can be a symphony, don't give your power away"
  9. Get Rhythm by Johnny Cash
    • "When you get the blues, come on get rhythm"
  10. Let Your Troubles Roll By by Carbon Leaf
    • "When all of your tears dry, let your troubles roll by"
  11. Float On by Modest Mouse
    • Just a damn great song... "And we'll all float on okay..."
  12. Tomorrow by James
    • "Can't catch love with a net or a gun, gotta keep faith that your path will change, gotta keep faith that your luck will change... tomorrow"
  13. Beautiful Day by U2
    • The verse starting at 3:20 sums everything up perfectly for me "What you don't have you don't need it now, don't need it now..."
And of course, as Lev says "As soon as you are perfectly happy and content about being alone... get a new girlfriend and repeat from the beginning..."

Maybe I'll make a CD for my friend...

What would be on your list?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Did I choose to write this?

This was the original intent of my blog, to document things I learned at lectures but tended to forget almost immediately. Hence, Note To Jon.

Tonight was the first opportunity I had to attend this years Capital Science Lectures at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. Michael Gazzaniga of UCSB presented a lecture on neuroscience called Brains, Minds, and Social Process. It actually turned out to be about a new Law and Neuroscience project Dr. Gazzaniga is co-Directing (Sandra Day O'Connor is the Honorary Chair - no Darren, not Sarah Connor).

He touched on the idea that the brain makes a decision before we are even conscious of the decision and the implications that this has for free will and by extension the idea of legal responsibility. He addressed how neuroscience would be related to persistent vegetative states like Terry Schiavo's, or to the concept of bias such as the Duke lacrosse case. But my goal isn't really to attempt to recap the lectures just record a few of the memorable highlights.

One quote I liked: "Man may think he is great, but to a mosquito we are just something to eat."

He had done a lot of work with people whose connection between the two hemispheres of their brain had been severed. He described a split-brain experiment that was performed. They show people two images and have them focus in between them. In all brains everything on the left of the focal point is processed by the right hemisphere and vice versa. In split-brain patients the left hemisphere would literally have no knowledge of what the left eye saw. The experiment would show a chicken foot on the right and a snowy driveway on the left. The patient then had to point to one of 4 images which was most closely related to the object in front of them. There was a chicken in front of the chicken foot and a shovel in front of the snowy driveway. When asked to point the split-brain patient could correctly point to the shovel and chicken with the corresponding hand (left eye sees snowy driveway, right hemisphere processes and sends signal to left hand to point to shovel). What gets interesting is when the patient is asked why they picked a chicken and a shovel. Only the left hemisphere processes speech, and the left hemisphere has no knowledge of the snowy driveway, but it still serves as an interpreter and tries to come up with the most plausible excuse that it can. So verbally the split-brain patient would explain "The chicken foot is associated with the chicken and the shovel is needed to clean the shit out of the chicken coop".

You can measure the brain response of a patient experiencing various emotions, "Pride", "Envy", "Pity" will have a unique brain signature in a given person. What is interesting (and disturbing) is that if the patient is shown an image with someone in an extreme outgroup (e.g. a drug addict) these emotions aren't registered at all. The brain shows no response, as if the person in the outgroup isn't even human.

Another interesting philosophical experiment that was posed was the trolley problem. The wiki explains it better than I will, but here were my notes:
You are a passenger on a trolley that is out of control and hurtling down a track towards five people tied to the track by a mad philosopher (that was from the wiki, but I loved the phrase so I am borrowing it). There is a flip you can switch to divert the train off to a side track that has one person tied to it. Should you flip the switch? 89% say it is morally right to flip the switch.

The second scenario is that you are on a footbridge above the trolley track and see it coming toward the five people tied to the track. You realize you can stop the train if you drop a very heavy object on the track. Conveniently a very fat man happens to be standing next to you and is the only thing heavy enough to stop the train (you yourself are not fat enough to jump down and stop the train). Should you push him off to save the 5? 11% say it is morally right to push the fat man.

So what's the difference? Do we have a special place in our hearts for fat men? To me, I suppose it is because you are actively killing the fat man and in the first case you are simply flipping a switch (which will likely lead to someone's death, but that was the mad philosophers doing, and who knows maybe the person on that track will somehow get untied in time - hey I'm an optimist).

Our prison population consists of 20-30% psychopaths and 65-85% people with Antisocial Personality Disorders.

Dr. Gazzaniga believe courtrooms will be shifting over from having psychiatrists and psychologists testifying about what they "think" to having neuroscientists testifying about what they "know".

Anybody still reading this :-p

Sunday, October 7, 2007

These shoes were made for skydiving

If I start an official life list I can now cross skydiving off of it. My friend Mary went for a casual tandem skydive three months ago... and now some 50 jumps, several thousand dollars, and a certification later she convinced Darren, Jenn and I to give it a shot. While I don't see myself joining the Real World: Drop Zone (as we decided to call the wacky drama filled hookup hangar) that has consumed Mary's weekends ever since, I could definitely be convinced to jump again (though after seeing the hard landing by one of the AFF students on our load, I'm thinking that original plan of taking the six hour class and jumping solo might not have been the best way to start).

Jenn got her video guy but we ultimately had to split up into two loads. Darren went with jumpmaster Nick, while Mary tried a threeway with a couple of the girls who'd also got hooked this summer. They went up on "otter load 7" which allowed us to photograph their landings before Jenn and I took off on "otter load 9". Jenn also had Nick as her jumpmaster, and Elmo was her videographer (who even got some video and photos of me!). Mario was my jumpmaster and had me go through the process of watching the altimeter, waving off and then pulling our chute. I loved the transition from the wind rushing past my face at 120 MPH to absolute silence when the chute opens.

I also realized that my REI attic sale Keens have lived quite a full life since I got them in June: trekking across West Africa, kicking it in Class V Whitewater, and now free-falling for over a mile. I wonder what adventure they will have next...

Here's the video that Jenn got. Most of it is of her, but you get an idea of what the experience is like and you can see me jump out of the plane around 3:32 left and then around 0:24 left you see me land in the background (rainbow chute)...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

What we did on our summer vacations...

Darren and I decided to get a bit fancier with this year's SOJDGs. Instead of just watching a movie we kicked off the BBQ season with the Inaugural YouTube Film Festival, and decided to close the season with a slideshow of our friends summer trips (summer trips was rather broadly interpreted). Aside from the plummeting temperature, everything turned out as I had hoped: I got to see my friends' vacation photos and discovered some new spots to add to my travel ToDo list.

For those of you who missed the BBQ (why would you do that?) or couldn't handle the cold, here is your chance to see the slideshow (but not hear it - you'll need to improvise your commentary Mystery Science Theatre style).

If you don't have the time or patience to sit through all 251 photos you can view them as a photo album. On the other hand if 251 photos just aren't enough for you then select any of the of the links below to be taken to additional photos from that person (and you might want to consider getting a more interesting job)

The slideshow consists of (in order):