Archive for July, 2009

Comment Spam and Pick-Up Lines

Friday, July 31st, 2009

I think Comment Spam are like pick-up lines.

Comment spam are comments posted on blogs that contain links to other blogs or are obnoxious or both. A good article by Lorelle on some types of comment spam can be found here.

Spammers send comment spam out, hoping someone will bite. The more times they (or their robots) send out spam comments, the more likely someone is to fall for it. Pick-up lines work the same way.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve fallen for pick-up lines over the years. The most common one being, “Don’t I know you from somewhere?” I have wasted twenty minutes, on numerous occasions, talking to some guy, trying to figure out how we might know each other. Hours later (or days later, one time), I finally realized: I had fallen for a pick-up line, again.

If I can fall for a pick-up line, it should be no surprise that I have fallen for comment spam a few times, too. Especially the ones that say something flattering, like “I really like your posts. Keep writing”. That one was music to my ears!

However, since I’m pretty sure I personally know every person who reads this site, and since this comment was not by someone I knew, I started to wonder… I have a couple of tech-savvy people close to me, and I asked them their opinion. The ink was barely dry on the screen before they emailed me back.

Prognosis: spam.


Okay, lesson learned. If the comment is not specific to the post, then it’s probably spam. Generally, people will comment because something about the post catches their attention and they want to share their input. (Yay!)

If a comment is generic, it’s spam. I got it. Or so I thought.

But today I fell for it again!

This time the spam didn’t appeal to my vanity, but rather to the old tried-and-true: don’t I know you from somewhere? Actually, the comment spam specifically said, “Are you in XYZ City?”

I first wondered, Why on earth would someone think I was in XYZ City? Then I wondered, Is this comment spam? No, I told myself, it can’t be, because it’s specific (i.e., XYZ City).

Finally, I realized: it’s spam. Yes, it’s specific, but it’s not specific to the post (which was the one on Forgiveness Practice).

Sigh, again.

I’m sure I’m building character.

Musical People

Thursday, July 30th, 2009

I have a number of friends who are musical. They sing, they play instruments.

I played the recorder in third grade, took a year of piano lessons in high school, and sang in a choir for a year. I like music, but I don’t quite get it. For me, music is elusive, as if the key to its meaning is just around the corner, or hovering just out of reach, and I can’t quite reach it.

I like listening to people play music, of course. What a gift it is they have, and how lucky I am to listen to it.

I also like listening to musical people talk about music. Even though I understand all the words they use, it also seems as if there is a deeper, musical meaning imbued in their words, that, if I just had the key, I would understand, too.

One of musicians’ endearing traits is identifying other musicians by the instruments they play.

“You know Claudia, right?” one musician asks another.
“The piccolo player?” answers the second.
“No, you’re thinking of Laura. You know, Claudia. Who played the tuba,” answers the first.
“Ohhh, that Claudia. The one who lost her sheet music that one time,” says the second.
“That’s right, Claudia,” says the first.
And the story continues.

I went out to dinner the other day with two flute players, a bassoon player, and an oboist. They had met and become friends through music. I wonder if music creates a stronger bond among musician friends. Friendship is strengthened by commonalities, and music creates a tremendous experiential common ground.

I’m glad I get to listen to so much live music around where I live, listen to friends play, and hang out with musical people. I might or might not understand all that they say and do, but I can always nod sagely.

As for listening (or dancing) to the music, thank goodness I don’t need to understand it fully to thoroughly enjoy the parts I do get! I can have a profound (or light-hearted or fun) musical experience of my own even while people around me hold the key to an even deeper experience.

Forgiveness Practice

Monday, July 27th, 2009

I have a spiritual practice that I do regularly.

Maybe “practice” is too big a word. I recite two sentences every morning. But spiritual practice conveys more meaning than “spiritual two sentences”.

It’s not an easy practice, because it has to do with forgiveness. Lots of folks and creeds stress the importance of forgiveness. There is a current of thought out there, though, that maybe people are too quick to forgive, because in forgiving quickly, we sometimes cut ourselves off from the opportunity to feel and learn from our righteous anger.

I’m not sure what I think about forgiveness, whether we do it too soon or too late. What I do know is that I’m not that keen on asking for forgiveness. I’d be okay with asking for forgiveness if it didn’t imply that I’d done something wrong. This, of course, interferes with my self-delusion that I’m always a nice person.

I learned my spiritual two sentences at a meditation retreat fourteen years ago. Ideally, after completing the meditation retreat, one meditates every day for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening. I’ve abbreviated the two hours to two sentences. I’m very economical, spiritually.

Every morning when I wake up, I repeat part of the metta (loving-kindness) meditation I learned those years ago:

I pardon, I pardon, I pardon
all those who may have hurt or harmed me,
knowingly or unknowingly,
intentionally or unintentionally,
through deed of body, speech, or action.
I seek pardon, I seek pardon, I seek pardon
from all those whom I may have hurt or harmed,
knowingly or unknowingly,
intentionally or unintentionally,
through deed of body, speech, or action.

My sense of what it means to forgive has evolved over the years. I used to approach asking for forgiveness from a position of “less than”, as if having to ask for forgiveness meant I had failed as a human being. If you think about it, that’s pretty silly. It’s not like I can expect never to hurt another person, just because I would rather not. And, as the sentences acknowledge, it’s possible to hurt or harm someone not only without meaning to, but also without knowing it. There could be legions of people I’ve insulted or hurt and to this day don’t know that I have.

I have gotten to know myself better with this practice. This hasn’t always been a comfortable experience.  I still sometimes catch myself “pardoning” other people for me doing them harm. (Freud would love that, I’m sure!)

As I continued the practice, I was struck by the balance of the two sentences. In the first sentence, I forgive. In the second sentence, I ask for forgiveness. Eventually, it dawned on me that there is a balance to those to actions in waking life, too.

I am harmed, and I also harm. I forgive, and I ask forgiveness. It’s not a give and take, precisely, since we may or may not be harmed by the same people we harm, but there is an ebb and flow in one’s life, I think. Sometimes I have something to forgive, sometimes I need to be forgiven.

To be honest, I’m still uncomfortable with the topic of forgiveness. I’d rather not have anything happen to me that requires forgiveness, and I’d rather not even imagine myself doing something that requires someone else to forgive me.

But I have found that saying these two sentences every morning has given me the opportunity to face this part of myself more consciously, which has been a good thing. As a result, I have grown in my ability to forgive and also in my ability to ask forgiveness. Maybe, this makes me a better person.

(If not, well… I beg your pardon. ;)

Things I Like: TED Talks

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

Have you ever been to TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is a conference held in Long Beach, California. While attending the talks in person requires a concerted effort (including applying a year in advance), watching the recorded talks online is easy. I appreciate that the folks who run TED make their videos available to the general public.

You can watch everything from what happens during brain stroke (as described by Jill Bolte Taylor, a brain scientist who experienced a stroke herself) to amazing underwater animals. Watching these talks stretches my brain. It’s inspiring to listen to brilliant people share what impassions them.

Check it out.

Gardening as a Metaphor

Friday, July 24th, 2009

I have come late and somewhat begrudgingly to gardening. Suffice it to say, the first time I weeded, I removed all the plants and kept all the weeds. The weeds were green and strong, and the plants were spindly and unimpressive. (Now I know that is the nature of weeds–they are hearty organisms.) In any event, my mom didn’t ask me to weed again.

My grandfather had a garden. What I remember most from his Texas hill country garden were the fresh corn we ate from the vine, the tomatoes that my grandmother always peeled (she never ate tomato skin–I don’t know why), and the chrysanthemums he grew for making wine. I also remember him reminding us to close the heavy gate to the garden all the way, or else the deer would feast. Somehow, we were never strong enough to latch the garden gate securely, and the deer inevitably came and ate.

Gardening seems like a lot of work. I watch my neighbors work on their gardens as I drive by, or I hear friends and colleagues talk about working in the garden all weekend, and I don’t feel a strong urge to jump into the verdant fray. I greatly appreciate my neighbors’ flower gardens, though. I love flowers, and I am grateful to anyone who maintains a flower garden, especially in the front yard where I can see it as I walk, bike, or drive by.

There is one particular garden in my hometown that I love. The gardener has dark green-leafed, overgrown bushes that fill the yard and cover most of his house. In May, they bloom with the loveliest symphony of pink and deep pink flowers. It’s beautiful.

For the time being, I live in a row of houses with well-maintained gardens. I feel some pressure to try a little harder than I have in years past–if not to keep up with the Joneses, at least to weed somewhat regularly. After all, I don’t want to be the eyesore that detracts from my neighbors’ efforts.

The thing is, I like weeds. I like that they are hardy. I like that they grow fast. And I like that they are generally indigenous. While I appreciate gardens and lawns and manicured greenery, I also like the tangled side of nature. However, I can see that it would be better to allow nature to tangle itself outside the city limits.

So, I have begun to weed. It’s an interesting task, weeding. It’s like soulwork, or goal-setting. Once one has a goal in mind, one needs to do three things: act in ways that support the goal, refrain from actions that detract from the goal, and focus, focus, focus. (This is borrowed from the Buddha who, when asked to give simple rules for living, answered, “Choose loving actions; refrain from unloving actions; purify the mind.”)

If one has the goal to have a garden, then weeding is part of a garden’s maintenance. You have to weed, discerning among the plants growing before you and deciding which support your gardening vision. Once you have identified what supports your gardening goal and what doesn’t support it, you must remove the ones that do not.

It’s the same with goal-setting. Once you’ve decided upon your goal, use your goal as a measurement of what to do. Does a particular course of action support your goal? If so, great. Follow that course of action. But if a course of action does not support your goal, it’s a weed. Remove it.

My gardening goal this summer is modest: weed the garden and mow the lawn with some regularity.

Next summer, though, I may set a larger goal: a vegetable garden. I’ll keep you posted.

“The Wauchula Woods Accord” (Scribner)

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Charles Siebert was featured on The Diane Rhem Show yesterday to discuss his new book, The Wauchula Woods Accord.

I haven’t read the book yet, so I won’t be discussing it here. Instead, I’ll talk about the ideas Siebert raised in his interview with host Steve Roberts.

Siebert mentioned how much more closely related we are to chimpanzees than scientists had thought even ten or fifteen years ago. That fact, in addition to the time he spent with “Roger”, a chimpanzee formerly in the entertainment business, has made him reconsider how “other” chimpanzees are. Siebert suggests that the human approach to chimpanzees especially is ethically challenging, given that we often treat them as objects to be manipulated for our own amusement (entertainment) or use (science), but without giving thought to the chimpanzees themselves.

Siebert also underscored that danger of anthropomorphizing, stating clearly that chimpanzees are different from humans. He told the story of Lucy, who was raised for a number of years as if she were human. When she reached adulthood, she was too much for her human “parents”, so she was shipped off to an animal preserve in Gambia, where she died not long after. (“Humanzee” is the term Siebert uses for chimps who are raised thus.)

When I was in junior high school learning biology and natural history, I remember that one of the differentiations scientists made between humans and other primates is the ability to use tools. Other differentiations have included the ability to lie, to give directions, and to collaborate. Of course, these skills and abilities have been observed in a number of different animal groups. Talk to an anthropologist, and you’ll find there are many, many things that we humans do that other animals do, too.

I wonder if our human search for what differentiates us absolutely from other animals isn’t an attempt to bolster our claim to dominion over the earth, at least in places where science is practiced within a Genesis-influenced context. If you think about it, there isn’t nearly as much time spent researching how much more evolved or more intelligent a human being is compared to… a rock.

We do seem to spend a lot of time trying to prove how much smarter we are than other animals. Generally, I don’t worry whether I’m smarter than other people or they are smarter than I. However, if it does happen, it’s because the other person is close to me in intelligence, too close for me to have an easy grasp of “who’s smarter”.

I can easily tell when someone isn’t nearly as smart as I am. On the other hand, with folks who are much, much smarter than I, I don’t even have the capacity to figure it out. (They’ll just seem smarter, but how much smarter I wouldn’t have an intelligence sufficiently developed to ascertain.) It’s only when people are close to me in intelligence that there is any need to figure out who can boast more gray matter.

Does our human quest to prove our superiority to our fellow animals indicate some level of insecurity? Do we humans think that maybe we aren’t quite as smart as we think we are? Is it possible that we aren’t fully at ease with our idea that we have the lone seat at the top of the evolutionary pyramid?

Public Sleeping

Monday, July 20th, 2009

I just got home from my trip to my mother’s house. It’s good to be home. I look forward to sleeping in my own bed tonight.

I slept a bit on the plane. The fellow to my right also slept, while the woman to my left read a book. After I woke up, I started thinking, where else is it expected and a matter of course that mainstream, functioning adults sleep in public, except on plane, train, and bus rides?

Sleep is such an intimate thing–our defenses are down, we make funny noises, we might drool, our heads loll about. As such, it’s not really within our usual repertoire of allowable public activities once we’re grown up. Babies can and should sleep anywhere. Children often sleep anywhere. Adults, not so much.

Yet, in one of the most crowded places, an airplane, it’s okay to sleep. I figure it’s because travel is tiring (often involving early morning alarm clocks) and because sleeping is a really good way to avoid speaking to the person next to you.

For those of us who have a commute on the subway or bus system during rush hour, being surrounded by lots of people is an everyday affair. For the rest of us, though, we’re not really used to actually being in the press of humanity. In fact, I generally think of the press of humanity as nothing more than a poetic expression.

On airplanes, however, we are in close proximity to our neighbors: we can’t escape them. Even if you can’t stand your seatmate, there is no place to go. You can politely excuse yourself to the restroom, if you like. But you can’t climb out the window and run away. You always, inevitably, have to return to your seat.

Sleeping in an airplane is the one escape that is relatively foolproof. Working or reading are good, too, but you still have to deal with the folks whose boredom compels them to read over your shoulder. No one can peer into your dreams. Well, at least, not usually.

I’m comfortable sleeping in planes, and I am grateful that I can fall asleep so easily. It’s not a very restful sleep, but it is useful.

I find it interesting, though, that while I’m totally comfortable falling asleep next to people I’ve never met before while in an airplane, but I would not feel comfortable, say, sitting on a park bench next to someone I’ve never met before and going to sleep. Context is everything, I suppose. Even in sleep.

You Will Spend Old Age in Comfort and Material Wealth

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

My brothers and I are helping our mother downsize from her three-bedroom, two bath house to a studio apartment. Considering she has many of her mother’s things in the house, there has been a lot to sort through.

My favorite moment, though, came when I was photographing some of my grandmother’s things for the consignment store. Before I took a picture of the mink stole, though, I tried it on.

I’ve never desired a mink anything, although I might change my tune if I lived in a truly cold place. However, there it was, and I wanted to see what it looked like on. (I guess I haven’t outgrown playing dress-up in my mother’s and grandmother’s things after all.)

Trying the mink on was a little silly because I am 5’9″ and my grandmother was all of 4’10”. I’ll say one thing, though, it was warm. Very warm. (It was also much too small.)

I spent a few moments remembering my grandmother, and wondering about the places she had gone dressed in her mink stole. And when did she wear it? My grandmother lived in Texas, which is not known for its harsh winters. On the other hand, in the summer everyone keeps their air conditioning at arctic temperatures, so maybe she wore it in August.

I checked the pocket hidden in the lining. (My boys always check the candy machines at the grocery store, hoping someone left a piece or two of candy or maybe some loose change. They did find a quarter once, so I don’t expect they’ll stop looking before they reach thirty.)

There was something in the pocket: a fortune from a fortune cookie. It said, “You Will Spend Old Age in Comfort and Material Wealth”. I can’t think of a more fitting fortune to be tucked away in a mink stole.

It’s fair to say that my grandmother spent her old age in comfort and material wealth. I don’t know if she was happy, but she was comfortable. So maybe the fortune came true.

I think I’ll put the fortune back in the stole–and maybe its next owner will be as  fortunate as my grandmother.

Google Has Tasks!

Friday, July 17th, 2009

Google has Tasks!

If you’ve been using Google Calendar, you may have been frustrated that there was no place to keep track of your to-do list. Well, be frustrated no more! Google has finally added Tasks (after several years of begging from Google-philes). And, it’s fantastic!

You can access Tasks from Gmail or from Google Calendar. You can set a task to have a due date or not. You can order and organize your tasks. And, you can delete them. It’s easy to use, which is one of Google’s hallmarks.

One of the rules of time management is to keep one calendar, which is what I wanted to do. However, with no place in Google Calendar to keep a running to-do list, I was having to keep two calendars plus little notes. Now, Google has facilitated better time management for all. Frederick Winslow Taylor would be happy.

Google’s been developing Tasks in Google Labs (where they develop and test new applications for Gmail), and it was posted about in May of this year here, but I hadn’t seen the Task option in my own Gmail or Google Calendar until a couple of days ago. So, while this may not be news, it was news to me. Which is why I’m sharing my Google-happiness with you. :)


Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

One of my readers emailed me yesterday and asked where he could add a comment. Of course, he couldn’t find where to add a comment because, so far, comments haven’t been enabled on this blog.

This is a WordPress blog, and I have the ability to allow comments or not. If I allow comments, I have the responsibility to preview them and decide if they’ll go public or not. That’s a fair amount of responsibility. It’s one thing to write your own thoughts, it’s another to decide what to allow others to say publicly.

The internet is a public space, and a blog is a public document. As readers and writers of blogs, we belong to a community who share an online, public space. And, as such, we have certain expectations of the spaces we frequent.

In a park, for example, we expect the groundspeople to maintain the grounds. We also expect the people who go to the park not to litter or do other things that sully the environment. That way, we all get to enjoy the park.

With that thinking in mind, my protocol has two guidelines.

The first guideline is, let’s hear what you have to say! If you have thoughts about the posts on this blog that you’d like to share with me and others, I’d like to hear them. I’m not particular about whether you agree with me, but I am particular about how a comment is written.

This brings me to the second guideline, that comments need to be appropriate for a public dialogue. Any comments that aren’t polite won’t be published. (I am not interested in vituperative language or invective commentary.) That’s it, just two guidelines.

Now, let’s hear what you have to say!