Author Archive

Big day at the Globe

August 29th, 2011 No comments

A number of articles caught my eye in The Globe and Mail today:

Here’s a good piece by Sarah Hampson on the way people handle the last days of life. It’s neither schmaltzy nor grim.

This article on kids and boxing remind me of a friend of mine who practices Shotokan karate. Like many who practice (or dabble in, as is my case) martial arts, we wonder about the realism of it all: contact, no contact, headgear, no headgear …? In the case of my friend, head shots are winners in competitions, and although he won the competition, I have to wonder about the poor fellow he stunned with a solid head shot — with no padding, no headgear. In the end, the more I read about concussions, the more I realize how fragile we are.

Here’s a review of some post-workout drinks. We should keep in mind two things if we consider partaking: (1) the goal of business is to make money, and the world of the consume is filled with unnecessary products designed to make money, and (2) though a product may have a unique name and appear “indie”, it’s probably owned by a giant conglomerate such as Coke or Pepsico.

I’ve often found that a concept can be sharpened in the mind by studying its opposite as well. Here’s a little piece on The Six Habits of Highly Ineffective People. Better get off the computer ….

(No, the Globe doesn’t pay me to write this. I just get the paper. It’s not perfect, and it isn’t immune to the current tendency of the mainstream media to accept the way politicians and pundits frame the issues … but it’ll do for now.)

(Mental note: look up “article” in the Thesaurus.)

A small tribute to Jack Layton

August 25th, 2011 No comments

As any Canadian knows, we’ve recently lost Jack Layton, leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, and by all accounts, a highly dedicated and capable public servant. I mean that in the highest sense of the word — a distinction that shows Mr. Layton in stark contrast to the self-serving politicians who squat on our airwaves producing nothing of value to those they purport to serve.

I’m not eloquent enough to give a fitting tribute to Mr. Layton, but his passing reminds me of the writings of Robert Gould Shaw:

I am placed in a position where, if I were a man of real strength and ability, I might do a great deal, but where, under present circumstances, I am afraid I shall show that I am not of much account.

I believe that Mr. Layton, unlike many of his contemporaries, has showed that he was of much account.

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Change is the only constant

August 22nd, 2011 No comments

The blog, it is a-changin’.

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been busy, but also because the mission of the blog has shifted slightly. I expect to broaden the focus to other disciplines, but still through the lens of Refine & Repeat, if that makes sense.

More is coming. Thanks for reading.

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Weather. Ain’t it grand?

August 15th, 2011 1 comment

I like weather. Wind, clouds, rain, that sort of thing. There’s nothing quite like appreciating it when you can. Most of the time, we choose to exist in weather-free indoor environments, only choosing to really experience the elements when they’re benign, or pleasant, such as on a sunny day.

Having spent most of today indoors, a bout an hour ago I chose to head outside and get some fresh air. I was about to open the front door, when I heard the sound of a sudden cloudburst … that sound of steady, heavy rain, that isn’t a rumble, isn’t a hum, but something else — white noise, I suppose. I could see the water rushing down the gutters, pouring out of the downspout, rolling in waves down the street. So I opened the door anyway.

Not being keen on getting a soaker (eh) as we used to say, I stayed at the front door, under a small shelter. But in that space, I remembered a little bit of childhood. Remember when you had nothing better to do but watch and listen rain? And smell it? Those sensations had a wonderful, calming effect on me standing at the door, idly listening to the rumble in the distance and the volume of the white noise, telling me that the rain was abating as the sound grew more gentle.

Most of the time we listen to that sound hoping that the rain will stop so we can get somewhere, do something. Come on, come on. Not this time. As the rain calmed down, said its piece, I watched the clouds part and felt pretty good.

Categories: modern life, secrets of youth Tags:

In praise of standing (again)

June 13th, 2011 1 comment

I’ve been off Zhan Zhuang (jam jong), or standing practice for a little while, being busy with school and work, but it’s time to get back into it. Returning to a practice after having been away usually gives me a new insight into it, though usually a small one. Sometimes I come back with some skill, effectively resetting the “beginner’s mind”, but usually I just return somewhat refreshed.

In the case of standing, I’ve had some time to think about what it has done for me in between standing sessions — you know, when I’m moving around like a normal person. At those times, I pay close attention to where my weight is, how I’m balanced, and I also notice little anomalies in my body sooner, leading me to avoid the habits that caused them. In general, standing has helped me get to know my body better, and not by learning anatomical vocabulary (useful though that may be for communicating about the body). No, standing has helped me find my balance, use my weight to act on things yet stay physically centered and find an optimal way of interacting with the forces of the real world.

Yes, stand in one spot for a while and see the world. An inner worlds, I guess. Stand long enough — properly — and you’ll begin to adjust your position and alignment until your weight is distributed by a greater and greater number of your muscles, tendons and bones. The more body parts that help out, the less work each one has to do. Now of course, there’s an optimization here: some parts are not involved. However … given that most standing postures involve the arms being held up, this allows you to engage body parts that would be limp if you didn’t have to hold your arms up.

So what? Well, I’ve found that not only is there a structural reason to involve a number of systems in standing, there’s an energetic reason too. Now I’m not going to get all “chi” on you, but I’ll just say that when I place a relaxed attention on part of my body, I get a pleasant tingle. When I can enlarge the area to which I’m attending, the tingle gets stronger. When the whole body is being attended to, the tingle is really something, and I feel like jumping up and running around the block. It’s quite something.

It’s hard, as I’ve written before, but I’m now remembering how good it felt when I did it regularly.

(Holy cow, was I ever off-center back then.)

Categories: chi (qi), Yiquan Tags:

Breathe heavy like Dave Bowman from 2001!

June 7th, 2011 No comments

Yesterday I needed to get an essay done for my English course. This required ferocious concentration, so I grabbed my extra-keen Shure SCL-3 Bowman Breather earphones. These are great. They’re designed for pro audio guys, and because they go right into the ear canal, they do a terrific job of shutting out the outside world so you can groove to your tunes distraction-free. But if “grooving” to you means cranking it up to 11, you might want to avoid these — they’ll make you deaf if you crank up the volume. (This is why most earbuds fit loosely — to save the ears of the crankers, but it means they now share their grooving with you on the transit. Whippersnappers.)

The price point of these babies should discourage the casual iPod jockey, but for me they’re just right — with the music off.  All is (mostly) silent, except for my own breathing, which dominates the soundscape. That might justifiably creep out a lot of you, but for me it’s not only a soothing balm, but also an aid to meditation, giving me something to listen to as I zone in (not out, by the way). It also helps me learn to breathe more slowly and deeply, because it gives me feedback I can’t ignore. And the tunes sound great, in case you were wondering.

However … flight attendants don’t recommend wearing them on landing — it’s an air pressure thing. Consider yourself warned. And don’t crank your music, eh?

(If you’re shopping, the SCL-3 is discontinued, but other “sound isolating” earphones should do.)
(Oh yeah, one more thing: the jack is too thick to fit into the tiny holes in gear like this.)

11 dislikes? How can you not like Yo-Yo Ma playing a tango?

May 30th, 2011 No comments

Apparently, this video of Yo-Yo Ma playing Libertango has received 11 dislikes on YouTube.

I really like this piece, truth to say. But is it, or tango for that matter, for everyone? Of course not, but that brings up a point: there’s a difference between not liking something, and giving it a “dislike” on YouTube, isn’t there? Is there a difference between feeling a dislike and expressing it?

I hear a piece like this, and certainly can’t fault it for content, intention or execution, since it expresses heart, love of life as well as mastery of craft to me. Now if tango weren’t my cup of tea, would I publicly express a dislike for this video? Nope. I can’t help but feel that those who would express a dislike for this are expressing a dislike of care, precision and mastery instead. As for those who have different tastes in music, they would just avoid expressing an opinion … if the choices were “like” or “dislike”, of course.

So what’s the point? Well, I like to think that people can see the value in craft and honest artistic expression even if they don’t share the taste of the artist.

But who doesn’t love tango music?

Categories: interdisciplinary, rants, repetition Tags:

Life by proxy?

May 23rd, 2011 No comments

Did any of us stop to consider that when we watch television, we’re actually watching other people live their lives?

Not only are average folks airing their dirty laundry on reality TV, but athletes are playing their games, actors are playing their parts (and working!), cinematographers are shooting, directors are directing, editors are editing and marketing people are trying to keep their jobs by selling us stuff. Even if we’re not watching someone living their life directly, we are watching the result of their living, as seen in the aforementioned editing, directing and so on.

Sure, some programs can change the way we see the world, but most leave us none the wiser, but a little bit older. I don’t know about you, but that thought keeps me off the couch most of the time.

Wait — here’s an opposing view. If you liked Csikszentmihalyi’s idea of Flow, you might see why I think the opposing view is mostly ridiculous. Here is my take on the respective assertions of the article: 1) The writer is advocating useless downtime that isn’t actually refreshing. 2) Sure. Have the TV on while doing needlepoint. I guess we really don’t like doing either, then? 3) Okay, TV isn’t all trash. 4) I’d rather laugh in good company, not at a TV set. Now if it bonds the family, it has a value, but there are better ways to bond, and if a family can’t laugh away from the tube, something’s not right. 5) Sure, as long as part of that inspiration includes getting off the couch and doing whatever it was we were inspired to do.

Meh. Time to go for a walk.

What do Walter Murch and Winston Churchill have in common?

May 16th, 2011 3 comments

So who’s Walter Murch? Well, he’s an author, award-winning film (and sound) editor and Very Clever Fellow. When you get a chance, check out his books In the Blink of an Eye and The Conversations (with Michael Ondaatje, another Very Clever Fellow). And Winston Churchill was a Very Productive Guy, and of course, Very Clever Fellow. He did some stuff, if you’ll recall.

But to answer the question, they both worked standing up.

According to this article in the Globe and Mail, sitting down all day just isn’t very healthy. We have to move, not just through exercise, but as a normal part of the day’s activities, and these two gents worked standing up. Murch edited from a high table, and Churchill wrote from a podium, to which the Globe attributes his longevity despite his well-known smoking and drinking.

For my small part, I’ve raised my working table to a standing height, and that may have contributed to my maintaining my weight loss in the face of an admittedly-reduced exercise regime. The change wasn’t expensive — based on an article on the web, I bought some 3-inch plastic (ABS) pipes and used them to extend the legs of my Ikea desk. The top and bottom half of the Ikea legs don’t connect directly, but the pipes act as splints, keeping everything together. With an extra leg to support a long span of desk, it seems to work nicely. I don’t work standing up all the time since I find it easier to write sitting down, but I’ve been able to do my motion graphics work standing up at least.

(Here’s another option if you’re not into the pipe thing.)

Not everyone can change their work environment, but if you can do it, I recommend it. Not only does it help while working, but it encourages more movement and standing in general, which is better than sitting around. Oh — when you stand, don’t lock your knees. (Thought I’d get that in.)

Been a while …

May 8th, 2011 No comments

Sorry about the absence. On one hand, I’ve been busy, but on the other, I’ve been considering some new points of view (and reconsidering some old ones), hopefully leading to a deeper understanding of the topics on which I post. In particular, I’ve gone back to University for a Psychology degree which will no doubt inform many of the posts to come, but still in keeping with the RnR point of view.

(Credit goes to squash buddy Paul for getting on my case, blog-wise.)
(… but big credit goes to Elizabeth for giving me the confidence to apply to University. I wish I had done it a long time ago.)

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