WN33 Screwdriver is a Story

Excellent chapter for the RAW book club this week.

A Zen koan of long standing goes as follows: The roshi (Zen teacher) holds up a staff and says, “If you call this a staff, you affirm. If you say it is not a staff, you deny. Beyond affirmation or denial, what is it?”

The chapter describes three situations in which a choice of language puts a risk to someone’s life; one religious, one political, and one seemingly trivial. A customer shooting a waiter for calling their dog a “Fussy Mutt” is put side by side with the implications of to whom we may call Londonderry “Derry”. The implication is that the former is an overreaction, and by association so is giving a city two names.

It stands that the map is not the territory. The meal is not the menu. But, after some healthy debate we weren’t sure we could hold to that conclusion that the map is a triviality and only a distraction.

We are asked to consider the difference between “Choice Cut of Top Sirloin Steak” to “A hunk of meat chopped of a dead castrated bull”. Both may be accurate enough descriptions of your dinner, but you wouldn’t expect the latter on a menu. Yes, they could be used to describe the same object, but they describe entirely different subjects. The fallacy is describing language as purely factual. As RAW posits, we may hallucinate meaning into the words where there is only suggestion. However, different choices of words, and their reality tunnels, do have differences of inclusion, omission and second order effects.

One comment on the nature of a staff reminded me of a description of a a screwdriver being used to open a can of paint. The word “screwdriver” is literal, and declarative; it describes an object and it’s intended use. It’s a story all by itself. And we attach that story to any object of a certain shape and size. Something like that with a bezel and some length can also be used as a lever to open a can of paint.

In that moment it is both a screwdriver and not a screw-driver. It has moved beyond the definition of form and the constraints implicit in the label. Similarly, what is the staff? What is left out with that story?

The tree that this staff came from grew out of the Earth, using the energy of starlight. The wood was cleaved from the tree, fashioned into shape, and brought by the roshi in the moment. It could have many labels given to it over this time. From here, it will eventually be consumed by fire or rot. In time it will return to Earth, and the cycle will begin again. Sure, it’s a “staff”, but what is it?

Solitude

I also read an Ursula K. Le Guin short story this week that played with related themes. In the culture the story is set, the word magic translates as anything unnatural. In practice, this is applied to the structure of society and the act of persuasion. The story follows an ethnographer and her daughter researching this culture. They see the place with very different world views.

“My dear,” she said in Hainish; there is no way to say “my dear” in my language. She was speaking Hainish with me in the house so that I wouldn’t forget it entirely. “My dear, the explanation of an uncomprehended technology as magic is primitivism. It’s not a criticism, merely a description.”

“But technology isn’t magic,” I said.

“Yes, it is, in their minds; look at the story you just recorded. Before-Time sorcerers who could fly in the air and undersea and underground in magic boxes!”

“In metal boxes,” I corrected.

“In other words, airplanes, tunnels, submarines; a lost technology explained as supernatural.”

“The boxes weren’t magic,” I said. “The people were. They were sorcerers. They used their power to get power over other persons. To live rightly a person has to keep away from magic.”

I love the difference between persons and people described in this story. The narrator states “there are no people here.” Only persons. No crowds, no statistics, nowhere for the abstraction to hide.

Yes!

Yep, kept playing The Witness. We got the second achievement, which less than 5% of players have.

WN32 Quantum Psychology Pt1

I’ve been reading Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson as part of a book club. We’ve moved on to part two, Speaking About the Unspeakable. I found myself still wrapping an argument around a point of certainty which, in retrospect, seemed contrived. Sometimes, I feel like I’m going around in circles. So, this is a review of part one; How Do We Know What We Know, If We Know Anything?

Robert Anton Wilson starts with the observation that all presumed knowledge and experience starts with observation. There may be a “Deep Reality” that exists beyond observation, but it is unknowable. And so any claim of objectivity is suspect. After all, an electron can be observed to have the properties of a wave, and separately observed to behave as a particle. Similarly, a therapist will get different perspectives of the same events when working with a couple. Both versions may be true. Or, they may be false.

RAW uses the “scatter method of Sufi mystics”, using many examples to illustrate a point. There’s lots of finger pointing, but the message is to observe the moon. However, it feels like we’re covering the same ground again and again with the only conclusion being this applies here too.

I’m currently in a state of “so what?” Life is ambiguous in ways that are cumbersome to explicitly put into casual conversation. However, we often misinterpret the simplified version as absolute truth. The map is not the territory, and we do need reminding of this. Repeatedly. So, I’m sticking around for some more reminders. Perhaps it will cause another shift in perspective.

So, now what? What do I need to engage with to make these ongoing discussion more fruitful? Remember:

  • Certainty is illusory, and there’s always a perspective.
  • Consider if statements are meaningless (or purely subjective), and check for indeterminacy.
  • Couch statement as sumbunall (some but not all), or a probability. (Probability is hard)
  • Try and state the situation operationally:

e.g. “My boss is a male chauvinist drunk, and this is making me sick.” Could be framed as:

I perceive my boss as a male chauvinist drunk, and right now I do not (or will not) perceive or remember anything else about him, and framing my experience this way, ignoring other factors, makes me feel unwell.

I’m looking forward to the chapter on E-Prime. I’ve also been enjoying how Charles Eisenstein talks about stories as abstraction, but I might need to think a bit more to be able to tease out those deconstructions.

WN31 What if the Symptom is the Cause?

I finished reading Breath, and enjoyed it throughout. The first half of the book tells of the recovery of the capacity of the author. Like many, he suffered from sleep apnea. That part of the book contains advice that is broadly applicable.

Then it explores done a little breath work and looked up the Wim Hof Method, I wasn’t shocked. But I am intrigued. And, it looks like we’ve discovered and forgotten these principles so many times.

One of the biggest surprises for me, was the notion that we’re a society of chronic over-breathers. Breathing less may be the path away from the feeling of a shortness of breath. Especially with the plethora of stressors in modern society.

So, breathe less. CO2 is a vasodilator. So, having higher carbon dioxide in your blood lets the oxygen penetrate deeper into your tissues. Lengthening your exhales is relaxing, and achieves this. And you can lengthen your inhales to match.

Blood oxygen will actually stay similar through different patterns of breathing. CO2 fluctuates far more. And the urge to breathe based on CO2, but the sensitivity is conditioned. Faster breathing is considered a symptom of panic attacks, but what if it was the cause? By becoming accustomed to higher CO2 levels, cause and effect may be lessened.

Monks can warm themselves enough to bake icy sheets. Which is pretty cool. But, why aren’t we all nailing the fundamentals?

WN29 Learning Ayurveda through Diet

A passing comment “why don’t we give up chocolate for lent” turned into a deeper look into diet. I’d was reading on Ayurveda at Christmas, and found it interesting. But, the volume terminology and things to consider was overwhelming. It didn’t turn into behavioural change. This time around, I started with the practical, picking up some cookbooks and taking it from there.

Ayurveda is an ancient Indian approach to, with 2000 year old canonical texts. But it’s also a living tradition. The culture includes interpretation, commentaries and validating the written with the experiential. Its origins may be close to that of Tantra. Where Tantra is a narrow path, Ayurveda is open to all.

It contains a detailed understanding of anatomy. And maps relationships between different systems within the body. It’s a full medical practice. It also favours lifestyle choices and dietary considerations as preventative. It considers a healthy body ailment free. A blocked nose or aching joints would receive simple suggestions including dietary changes. Ayurveda considers all chronic conditions to have small starting points. These are addressable before they incubate. Only if untreated, will they spread or move through the body.

What’s good for you might not be for me

The principles of Ayurveda are universal, but the practice is very situational.

Each person has a Prakruti, or nature, that is unique and irreducible. Much of the attributions and descriptions refer to the three doshas; vata, pitta, and kapha. These are described as thought, action, and substance. Or, as catabolic, metabolic and anabolic. As well as many other correspondences.

Almost everyone has the expression of one dosha or two more than the others. These basic types neatly divide people into categories, but this is only a starting point.

I’m a vata type, which means I’m tall and thin. I’ve got comments like “how can you eat that? You’re so thin.” It’s that very quality that means I can handle some sweet and heavy foods without putting on weight.

Living with, and sharing meals, with a pitta type has shown me which foods I’d naturally avoided and why. Pittas are defined by their strong ability to digest almost anything. In fact, the advice is to rein back on ginger and other digestion aids. After reintroducing beans and cheese, my corollary is “how can you eat that without getting gassy?”

Foods and activities are balancing or aggravating for one or more of the doshas. Don’t avoid things that can aggravate your primary dosha, but perhaps have less. The aim is to have a diet and meals that keeps the doshas balanced. Your predominant dosha defines your disposition and will be easier to aggravate.

Aggravated vata can leave you spacey, pitta angry, and kapha lethargic.

You are what you digest

“You are what you eat” is a common enough phrase. It’s better than “calories in, calories out”. Ayurveda takes it one step further; you are what you digest. Which includes not just your doshic balance from your prakruti, but how you are this very moment.

Agni is foundational to this process. Agni means fire in Sanskrit, and your digestive fire is a quality to nurture. Agni is the capacity to digest, and like a fire it can be smothered with too much food, or doused with too much liquid. Certain spices will increase your Agni over time. Dense foods, and foods served cold, are naturally harder to digest.

Your stomach is the seat of Agni. Food needs digesting before being incorporated into your tissues. The build-up of blockages, called Ama, in your body can get in the way of digestion and assimilation. There’s no direct translation for Ama. One source suggested cholesterol as an example. Plaque builds up, and veins lose their elasticity, stopping nutrients getting into your tissues.

The white coating on the tongue is a visible sources of Ama. You can also have a buildup of Ama in your digestive tract. Having a good amount of fibre, as well as not overeating can help reduce this.

Overall, this advice leads to favouring lighter foods. Which means less meat, eggs and cheese (especially hard cheese). And having them at lunch, when Agni is strongest.

Milk, ghee (clarified butter) and fresh yoghurt can be good, depending on the condition of the cows. Ayurveda finds a lot wrong with industrially farmed dairy. Taking calves away sours the mother’s milk. Then homogenisation and pasteurisation makes it tamasic. Raw milk, boiled with ginger on the day of consumption, and making yoghurt fresh, is the recommendation. I haven’t gone this far.

The right amount of the right food

Ayurveda recommends having smaller meals, at fixed times. And, to only eat when hungry. Then, eat to two thirds full; a third solids, a third liquids, leaving one third air in your stomach. Enough to stimulate digestion, without slowing it. One source suggested burping as a signal of being full. There’s something to that, even if it’s having the presence and body awareness while eating.

There are other suggestions for what to do when eating to ensure you actually digest it. Things like eating in silence, at a moderate pace, not eating when angry. Think of a time when you’ve been with friends and family, and when food came the conversation stopped. Good food can do that. Body and mind both giving attention to food and digestion. You’ll digest food better than mindlessly eating in front of the TV.

Foods that leave you peaceful and alert are sattvic. Energising foods are rajastic. Draining foods are tamasic, and recommended for no one. Compare the diet of a saint and a king and you’ll get some idea of which foods are sattvic and which are rajastic.

Advice biases towards a sattvic diet, partly due to who is writing the advice. But, a rajastic life can be a fine way to live. A rajastic meal may be recommended for soldier or a king before battle. But, too much rajastic food can leave your scattered and violent.

Tastes

There are three phases of digestion, the first being taste.

Taste is quite literal. Ayurveda defines six tastes. Things taste sweet, sour, or salty, and they can also be bitter, astringent, and pungent. These tastes affect you when they hit the stomach. A good meal will cover all six.

Taste is an evocative word for the intent. Consider how good the first bite tastes when we are ravenous. And, that when we are full a meal can become tasteless. Our senses are letting us know what we need.

Sweet, sour and salty foods balance vata and can aggravate kapha. The remaining tastes balance kapha and can aggravate vata. Pitta falls somewhere in the middle. Sweet, bitter and astringent balance pitta, and pungent, sour and salty are aggravating.

There’s a push-pull interplay between all the ingredients in a meal. Which is why the advice isn’t to avoid foods entirely. Everyone around the table may have the same foods, but the proportions and needs will differ.

Foods then have digestive and post-digestive effects, which are also expressed as tastes. What we ate a meal or two ago affects our current needs. Spices are for their digestive effects, not only their taste. There are also effects that fall outside this model.

There are tables for ingredients’ tastes, doshic effects and recommendations.

What did I change?

We succeeded with no chocolate over lent! We did eat less meat, and more vegetarian meals. As well as having more root vegetables instead of grains.

I stopped intermittent fasting (i.e. Skipping breakfast on purpose). Instead, I had porridge, or banana bread. Something small and light. Food is grounding for vata, so eating earlier helps.

We’ve also (mostly) been having dinner earlier. I’ve been avoiding snacking after dinner, or having a large second portion. With a mid-afternoon snack of yoghurt (warmed to room temperature), or nuts before it. And I’ve been eating more fruit here and there.

We’ve experimented with more recipes. And had no ready meals. This has been good! As well as the baking, we’ve been making soups. Noodle soup has become a regular part of our roster.

Book recommendations

Eat, Taste, Heal is the one book I’d recommend to get started. (Even with that title.) The first half of the book gives a decent introduction to Ayurveda for diet. The concepts build nicely, and there’s reference tables. It’s well edited and the recipes actually look good, without being too complicated.

Any vegetarian cookbook will get you most of the way to a sattvic diet, by avoiding meat. As long as you’re gentle with the cheese and eggs.

For a technical understanding, Vasant Lad‘s books are good. I’m only now venturing into that territory. The first book I read was by Robert Svoboda, and that was a good overview, if dense. Their Youtube channel has short introductions.

What next?

Well, I’m more emotionally balanced and alert than when I started, but I am still feeling a bit scattered. Part of that is the pressure and uncertainty that comes with house hunting at this very moment. The market is moving fast!

But, the path’s life-long, right? There are specific, non-food suggestions to balance the doshas I’d like to explore. I’d like to build out an exercise routine, again. I’ve fallen off the wagon here too. The daily routine advice may guide my approach.

And, taking walks in the sun, now there’s more of it. More time in nature would definitely be nice.

WN28 Banana Bread

Sophia made a pistachio cake a couple of weeks, and it was really good. I’d forgot baking was a thing, so I’ve been trying my hand.

Looking to make something heartier, I picked up some wholemeal spelt flour. So far I’ve made a mixed-grain soda bread, which was ok, and banana bread with it. The banana bread came out great! I wanted something a little less sweet than the pistachio cake, or what the recipes I was seeing. The proportions below are half intentional and half what we had in the pantry.

Next on the list is muffins.

Banana Bread

  • 100g dark muscovado sugar
  • 55g butter
  • 4 medium bananas, mashed (I used organic, they’re a more consistent size)
  • 1 beaten egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
  • 70g broken walnuts
  • 60ml Greek yoghurt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • pinch of salt

Melt the butter, and mix in the sugar until it becomes a paste. Then add the eggs and yoghurt, salt, cinnamon, vanilla extract and bicarb.

Then, mix in the flour with a spoon and stir gently. When the flour looks like the lightest dusting fold in the nuts and give it one last stir. Transfer to a greased loaf tin.

Bake at 180C for and hour and twenty. Enjoy!

📍Point on the timeline

  • The world is waking up. We are planning on moving this year and suddenly there we’re seeing some nice places. Time for viewings.
  • Team buy-in on migrating data via the back door.

WN27

Slowly pushing these later and later. I was blocking out time on Sundays to write the first Weeknotes ahead. I’ve since weaved some other creative projects into my week, and I’ve been spending that time on those projects. So, writing Weeknotes has fallen into the cracks.

I’m slowly growing a roster of things that I could write about. But not giving myself the space to fully explore those ideas. So, expect some shorter updates before longer ones.

📍Point on the timeline

  • Joined a Robert Anton Wilson book club recently. This week we had a discussion about how different our perspectives of a room is doing it over video chat. And, Oscar Wilde’s quote “All art is quite useless”. Great fun!
  • Making music without an artificial constraint! Yep. Also, updating software and moving things around.
  • I don’t usually watch office romances, but when I do they get weird! Behind Her Eyes is worth a watch. A bit far-fetched by the end, but the portrayal of the single-mother lead is great.
  • That “this changes everything” project in the middle of our replatforming looks likely. We’re looking at the risks and the impact on the project, but I’m actually glad for a hard deadline. We’re going to to be making some strategic trade-offs, instead of picking one story over another. I went back to the drawing board on this one. One carefully placed hack could turn the tension into synergy. We might be trading-off some finesse with the rollout, but we can hold ourselves to cleaning it up on the backend.

WN26 Superskirmish Finish

That’s it February Album Writing Month over! In the end I published eight tracks, and 18 minutes of demos. Not bad considering how patchy my time commitment was, and that I started a week late.

On Sunday, I did a superskirmish for half that track count. In FAWM parlance, a skirmish is a one hour challenge with a prompt. It’s a tight timeline, but it’s possible to get a sketch down in that time. The community sometimes runs them back to back, an hour on an hour off, pick and choose.

I’m feeling much better about my output after that, and I might experiment with the format in the future. Having a prompt and a time-box helped a lot with inertia.

Now to keep going

After the last two years, I burnt myself out in FAWM. My creative output basically stopped. Last year, less so but I didn’t keep any sort of focus or output.

Without the arbitrary constraint of a community project, what now? Specifically, what next?

Writing quick and getting a collection of demos might be the thing to do. Genres to explore, sounds to design. But there a satisfaction to getting something done, maybe showing it to a friend. Like weeknotes, cadence may be the place to start.

I signed up to Beeminder, after reading Andy Matuschak on the granularity of habit tracking. I have a modest songwriting time goal, which I exceeded in February. And, I have a time block in my calendar for it.

Of course, I’ll be tracking the time I spend, rather than the time I plan. I’m also collecting some ideas of things I may like to write about that have more of a personal flavour to them. Ship a thing a week? Could do, but I’m not going to get that specific right now.

Ayurveda and diet

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks sorting out our diet. I mentioned that cooking was one of the things that slipped over January. And, there were bad habits we carried over from last year. Now, I’ve put my secret cookie addiction to the side and we’ve cooked some good meals from scratch.

And I’ve sort of fallen down a rabbit hole with how Ayurveda thinks about diet. There’s much more to the practice than diet alone, but its a foundational part of health in the system. Different constitutional types lead to different favourable foods for different people. And how you’re feeling right now plays a huge part.

So, I spent time that I could have spent songwriting reading. Oh no! And, cooking good meals has rewarded me with higher energy levels. Along with less snacking, and keeping more consistent hours, which is also suggested. Yoga too, and it’s a reminder to get back on the wagon for meditation.

Here are some of the things we’ve cooked:

We’ve had more vegetarian meals as a by-product, which has been nice. We’re not being strict about the principles. Considering whether a dish is better or worse has been interesting.

I feel like we’re at an inflection point of novelty. Going to stick at this experiment a couple weeks longer. Growing a pool of good recipes is always nice.

WN25 Refinding my Fluency

Less to show for FAWM than I hoped this week, but I do have three ideas in progress that I’m going to revisit. Two of them felt like pulling teeth, but the third idea’s first cut came down cleanly. Seems like I need to have a piano keyboard in front of me to write effectively. Riptide was demoed on piano before being arranged. Being reminded where my fluency lies isn’t a bad thing.

I have been listening to some classic albums, old favorites of mine, that I haven’t listened to in years.

Relationship of Command – At the Drive-in

I miss being in a rock band and having access to a rehearsal room. I watched the Rick Beato’s What Makes This Song Great for One Armed Scissor. The key thing is vibe. It’s just the band rocking out in the studio. And it’s great! It doesn’t matter that the guitars are out of tune. The performance is just fantastic.

Their performance on Later… with Jools Holland is immensely chaotic. By the end of the song, Omar’s thrown his guitar away. And then they’re followed by by Robbie Williams. The video seems to have been purged from the web, but you can see a screen grab of Robbie’s face here.

The Downward Spiral – Nine Inch Nails

The Needle Drop did a classic album review of it recently. So I went back for a relisten. It is so detailed and textured, there are so many different sounds. I just marvel at the ability to I create that with 1994 gear. As Anthony points out, that Closer got club play is a feat of balancing the weirdness with production slick.

When the Pawn… – Fiona Apple

I can’t remember the last time I listened to this. Nice to reminded recently. A lot more laid back than the other two. The lyrics touch on some dark topics, but with a personable vulnerable tone. The albums also has the longest full title of any I know:

When the Pawn Hits the Conflicts He Thinks Like a King What He Knows Throws the Blows When He Goes to the Fight and He’ll Win the Whole Thing ‘fore He Enters the Ring There’s No Body to Batter When Your Mind Is Your Might So When You Go Solo, You Hold Your Own Hand and Remember That Depth Is the Greatest of Heights and If You Know Where You Stand, Then You Know Where to Land and If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You’ll Know That You’re Right

WN24 Don’t Rollback, Update!

It feels like last chewed me up and spat me out. It’s not been the best past couple of weeks. I’ve spent way more time than expected battling a configuration change that would not die. But, along the way I learned a few things.

February Album Writing Month didn’t get much progress until the weekend either. But, I practice some productive procrastination. I’m trialing a different note taking approach, and I’ve started collecting song ideas. The FAWM forum has been some help there. I did manage to get a couple quick ideas down.

AWS Lambdas using Docker Containers

AWS have recently added support for Docker containers in Lambda. But the web is pretty sparse on information about these things. There’s some official documentation, which seems to be missing a couple of bits. And that’s about it. Searching “docker lambda” gets you how to run the AWS CLI from Docker, which is not what I’m looking for.

One of the sources of confusion is the difference between ROLLBACK_COMPLETE and UPDATE_ROLLBACK_COMPLETE when creating a Cloudformation Stack. With the latter, you can just retry. But if you have an error with the initial setup call the Stack ends up in a bad state and it needs to get cleaned up. These commands can clean it up.

aws cloudformation list-stacks
aws cloudformation delete-stack --stack-name $stack-name

FAWM and Process

JDO posted a couple blog posts on the writing process recently. One saying a book needs 70 ideas. Just collect them. And when you have the core of the book, you can write an investigative draft. Which is non-linear and impressionistic, but something you can edit and rewrite from.

I’ve posted two tracks for FAWM so far, and the first felt like pulling teeth. But a few hours coming up with ideas (and borrowing them from the forum), I’m looking forward to trying out a few things.

WN23 Riptide

So, here it is track number three; Riptide.

Three tracks in one month. What a wild ride. Three tracks brought to you by a time box and peer accountability. I’m amazed at the number of hours that I managed to find. A few too many ready-meals and too much evening screen-time, though.

Now the time sprint is over, there’s flood of ideas that have returned. After final submission last Tuesday I’ve, put the tools down and let the divergent thinking back in. I’ve picked up a book I was putting off.

I pre-committed myself to doing February Album Writing Month again. When I did I hadn’t expected to spent so much focused time in January. It’s very much a how you play is what you win scenario. The first year I had zero expectations, and hit the 14 things target. Some were instrumentals and some were only lyrics. Last year, I tried towards a coherent album and flamed out. I have pages of notes, but mixing ideation and editing really stifled me.

This year, I’m still ruminating on what a personal metric of success is. Ultimately, something that keeps me creating in March. I’ve learnt how much of my process is in an “I hate this” or “I don’t know where this is going” phase. It’s a lot. Yet, I can push through all the way to something shareable, if I put the time in.

And that’s the crux; putting the time in, regularly. And, working towards finishing a specific song. My meta-goal for FAWM is process, and I’ll hang out in the community while I’m at it.

Of course, I spent my downtime reading about working styles. Which if I keep it up is a failure mode all on its own. So, I’ll spare you details this week, but Andy Matuschak’s thoughts on satisfaction and progress, and ratcheting habits are relevant here.