mind | thinking about death

Earlier this month, researchers in psychology published the results of a study called “When Death is Good for Life: Considering the Positive Trajectories of Terror Management”. This study asserts that:

“The awareness of mortality can motivate people to enhance their physical health and prioritize growth-oriented goals; live up to positive standards and beliefs; build supportive relationships and encourage the development of peaceful, charitable communities; and foster open-minded and growth-oriented behaviors.”

Kahlo - Thinking about Death

Frida Kahlo - Thinking about Death

For those familiar with Eastern philosophy, this may not come as very big news…

Hagakure, the practical and spiritual guide for a samurai from the early 1700s, states:

“Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one’s body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one’s master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.”

Kelsang Gyatso, a Tibetan Buddhist Monk, says that its not enough just to accept that death will come to us eventually. We need to undermine our deluded view of life by thinking “I may die today.” And concentrate on the special feeling which arises in our mind as a result.

As a child (around age 7 or so), I began to contemplate death while lying in bed waiting to fall asleep. I don’t know why I did this, and it certainly wasn’t something that I consciously initiated — the thoughts would often rise to my awareness as I closed my eyes. The concept of an afterlife seemed absurd to me from very early age, and as a result my mind would spin for a long time on many nights trying to wrap itself around the concept of death. The experience definitely was not pleasant and most of the time I found myself wishing that I could STOP thinking about it, or even wishing that I believed in God or an afterlife, to alleviate myself from the mental turmoil. As I have gotten older and my life has filled up with activities, plans, and people, my mind has had fewer opportunities to wander to such places, which in some ways has been a relief. However after reading this article I wonder if it’s time to throw myself back into that meditation.

music | Liszt – Un Sospiro (played by me!)

I dug up this recording the other day of a performance I did of Liszt’s “Un Sospiro”, a concert etude. I hope you enjoy it :)


world news | documentary: north korean labor camps

I found this documentary of North Korean labor camps by Shane Smith (founder) at Vice both fascinating and hilarious (not so much the parts about the labor camps, but that’s really only about half of the documentary). Shane is either brave or stupid (or both) to put himself in this situation, and his narration is playful and honest:(to watch the videos and skip Shane’s intro, just scroll down)

Shortly after I arrived in Siberia, our British editor, Andy Capper, texted me: “You’ll love Siberia. Everything is so close and the people are so nice.” He was of course being facetious (or British: same thing) because everything is 18 hours by train and the people are very mean indeed. Some might start out nice, but after the vodka starts flowing—which is always—so does the malevolence. There are exceptions to the cranky-Russian rule, but they’re very few and very far between. One such exception was a lovely, lovely man named Billy the Fish—not his real name, of course. His nickname was the Fish, and I added the “Billy” in because I was drunk.

Billy was a local mafia type from a remote Siberian town that had no police and little regulation, save him and his boys. This would prove to be literally lifesaving, because we were after a very dangerous quarry in the middle of nowhere—North Korean slaves—who don’t want anyone to know they are actually there. Billy, clearly game for some hijinks, agreed to take us into the forest to find them.

At the first camp we found, the North Korean guards threatened us and tried to throw us out. Billy the Fish laughed—a great gold-toothed guffaw—and then smiled. “This is Russia,” he growled, eyes glinting. Motioning to the vast expanses around him, he declared, “This is mine.” Then to our camera crew, “Keep shooting. They can do nothing.” So we did.

Later, when we were deep in the forest, we came upon cadres of North Korean workers. A group of them approached and quickly surrounded our truck. One of them was swinging an iron bar, looking like he was going to bash our imperialist brains in. Billy took it from him, looked at it, and remarked calmly, “This your lights-out switch?” Sniff. “You’re going to need more than that.” He smiled and chucked it into the forest.

Later, we had lunch by an old woodpile—spam, hard bread, paprika chips, vodka, beer, and, for dessert, vodka with juice. Billy pulled out some old shotguns, and we released some built-up tension by shooting at our empty beer bottles. It was like being 15 again; naughty boys in the forest. When we came around the corner there were the North Koreans, waiting for us, but cowed and much less aggressive. “Did you know they were there?” I asked Billy. “Of course.” Sniff. “Where else would they be?” Classic Billy.

After an afternoon of playing cat and mouse with North Korean slaves, Billy took us to a freezing cold Siberian river for a swim to “clean it up,” then more vodka to “warm it up,” and then home to his family for the only good meal we ate in Russia. After eating, the Fish family took us to the bar (read: room with lights) for a night of boozing and drunken hugging with hard men whose nicknames included Stalin, Bear Killer, and, my favorite, plain old Killer. Tears, more vodka, giving of cheap presents, and finally the two-day train ride back to “civilization.”

But the North Koreans were waiting for us on the train… And so began the worst 48 hours of my life, which ended with the FSB (the modern version of the KGB), the local militia, plainclothes police, and assorted thugs removing us from the train and placing us into custody. Finding myself wishing for Billy and his ability to effortlessly sort things out, I texted him that the FSB had detained us. He replied, “Of course they have. Just leave.” So we took off, racing across Siberia to the Chinese border (Billy told us about the smugglers’ route) and finally… to freedom.
Check out the documentary below, in 6 parts. Vice also did a travel guide to North Korea (ha) here:



art | the house of small cubes, a beautiful short cartoon

I’ll let the film speak for itself:


random | 2 x Universe = Tube



science | 10 things everyone should know about time

(From Discover Magazine online)

“Time” is the most used noun in the English language, yet it remains a mystery. We’ve just completed an amazingly intense and rewarding multidisciplinary conference on the nature of time, and my brain is swimming with ideas and new questions. Rather than trying a summary (the talks will be online soon), here’s my stab at a top ten list partly inspired by our discussions: the things everyone should know about time. [Update: all of these are things I think are true, after quite a bit of deliberation. Not everyone agrees, although of course they should.]

1. Time exists. Might as well get this common question out of the way. Of course time exists — otherwise how would we set our alarm clocks? Time organizes the universe into an ordered series of moments, and thank goodness; what a mess it would be if reality were complete different from moment to moment. The real question is whether or not time is fundamental, or perhaps emergent. We used to think that “temperature” was a basic category of nature, but now we know it emerges from the motion of atoms. When it comes to whether time is fundamental, the answer is: nobody knows. My bet is “yes,” but we’ll need to understand quantum gravity much better before we can say for sure.

2. The past and future are equally real. This isn’t completely accepted, but it should be. Intuitively we think that the “now” is real, while the past is fixed and in the books, and the future hasn’t yet occurred. But physics teaches us something remarkable: every event in the past and future is implicit in the current moment. This is hard to see in our everyday lives, since we’re nowhere close to knowing everything about the universe at any moment, nor will we ever be — but the equations don’t lie. As Einstein put it, “It appears therefore more natural to think of physical reality as a four dimensional existence, instead of, as hitherto, the evolution of a three dimensional existence.”

3. Everyone experiences time differently. This is true at the level of both physics and biology. Within physics, we used to have Sir Isaac Newton’s view of time, which was universal and shared by everyone. But then Einstein came along and explained that how much time elapses for a person depends on how they travel through space (especially near the speed of light) as well as the gravitational field (especially if its near a black hole). From a biological or psychological perspective, the time measured by atomic clocks isn’t as important as the time measured by our internal rhythms and the accumulation of memories. That happens differently depending on who we are and what we are experiencing; there’s a real sense in whichtime moves more quickly when we’re older.

4. You live in the past. About 80 milliseconds in the past, to be precise. Use one hand to touch your nose, and the other to touch one of your feet, at exactly the same time. You will experience them as simultaneous acts. But that’s mysterious — clearly it takes more time for the signal to travel up your nerves from your feet to your brain than from your nose. The reconciliation is simple: our conscious experience takes time to assemble, and your brain waits for all the relevant input before it experiences the “now.” Experiments have shown that the lag between things happening and us experiencing them is about 80 milliseconds. (Via conference participant David Eagleman.)

5. Your memory isn’t as good as you think. When you remember an event in the past, your brain uses a very similar technique to imagining the future. The process is less like “replaying a video” than “putting on a play from a script.” If the script is wrong for whatever reason, you can have a false memory that is just as vivid as a true one. Eyewitness testimony, it turns out, is one of the least reliable forms of evidence allowed into courtrooms. (Via conference participants Kathleen McDermott and Henry Roediger.)

6. Consciousness depends on manipulating time. Many cognitive abilities are important for consciousness, and we don’t yet have a complete picture. But it’s clear that the ability to manipulate time and possibility is a crucial feature. In contrast to aquatic life, land-based animals, whose vision-based sensory field extends for hundreds of meters, have time to contemplate a variety of actions and pick the best one. The origin of grammar allowed us to talk about such hypothetical futures with each other. Consciousness wouldn’t be possible without the ability to imagine other times. (Via conference participantMalcolm MacIver.)

7. Disorder increases as time passes. At the heart of every difference between the past and future — memory, aging, causality, free will — is the fact that the universe is evolving from order to disorder. Entropy is increasing, as we physicists say. There are more ways to be disorderly (high entropy) than orderly (low entropy), so the increase of entropy seems natural. But to explain the lower entropy of past times we need to go all the way back to the Big Bang. We still haven’t answered the hard questions: why was entropy low near the Big Bang, and how does increasing entropy account for memory and causality and all the rest? (We heard great talks by David Albert and David Wallace, among others.)

8. Complexity comes and goes. Other than creationists, most people have no trouble appreciating the difference between “orderly” (low entropy) and “complex.” Entropy increases, but complexity is ephemeral; it increases and decreases in complex ways, unsurprisingly enough. Part of the “job” of complex structures is to increase entropy, e.g. in the origin of life. But we’re far from having a complete understanding of this crucial phenomenon. (Talks by Mike RussellRichard LenskiRaissa D’Souza.)

9. Aging can be reversed. We all grow old, part of the general trend toward growing disorder. But it’s only the universe as a whole that must increase in entropy, not every individual piece of it. (Otherwise it would be impossible to build a refrigerator.) Reversing the arrow of time for living organisms is a technological challenge, not a physical impossibility. And we’re making progress on a few fronts: stem cellsyeast, and even (with caveats) mice and human muscle tissue. As one biologist told me: “You and I won’t live forever. But as for our grandkids, I’m not placing any bets.”

10. A lifespan is a billion heartbeats. Complex organisms die. Sad though it is in individual cases, it’s a necessary part of the bigger picture; life pushes out the old to make way for the new. Remarkably, there exist simple scaling laws relating animal metabolism to body mass. Larger animals live longer; but they also metabolize slower, as manifested in slower heart rates. These effects cancel out, so that animals from shrews to blue whales have lifespans with just about equal number of heartbeats — about one and a half billion, if you simply must be precise. In that very real sense, all animal species experience “the same amount of time.” At least, until we master #9 and become immortal. (Amazing talk by Geoffrey West.)


politics | dark days in America

(from reddit)

The right to assembly is being crushed; the Internet is on the verge of censorship; the legislative body of the most powerful nation in human history is about to declare pizza a vegetable. We are no longer citizens, we’re the sane inmates in an asylum run by psycopaths and sociopaths.

“For all his perspicacity, George Orwell would have been stymied by this situation; there is nothing “Orwellian” about it. The President does not have the press under his thumb. The New York Times and The Washington Post are not Pravda; the Associated Press is not Tass. And there is no Newspeak here. Lies have not been defined as truth nor truth as lies. All that has happened is that the public has adjusted to incoherence and been amused into indifference.
Which is why Aldous Huxley would not in the least be surprised by the story. Indeed, he prophesied its coming. He believed that it is far more likely that the Western democracies will dance and dream themselves into oblivion than march into it’ single file and manacled. Huxley grasped, as Orwell did not, that it is not necessary to conceal anything from a public insensible to contradiction and narcoticized by technological diversions.” (Postman, N. 1985)

…and on that note:


technology | take action and protect our freedom [American Censorship Day]

Today, the US House Judiciary Committee has a hearing on the Stop Online Piracy Act [wikipedia.org] or SOPA. The text of the bill is here [house.gov]. This bill would strengthen copyright holders’ means to go after allegedly infringing sites at detrimental cost to the freedom and integrity of the Internet. As a result, we are joining forces with organizations such as the EFF, Mozilla, Wikimedia, and the FSF for American Censorship Day [americancensorship.org].

Part of this act would undermine the safe harbor [wikipedia.org] provisions of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act [wikipedia.org] which would make sites like reddit, youtube and slickdeals liable for hosting user content that may be infringing. This act would also force search engines, DNS providers, and payment processors to cease all activities with allegedly infringing sites, in effect, walling off users from them.

It would, in effect, allow companies to bypass the judicial system and take down or block websites simply by accusing a user of posting just potentially infringing content on a website. That could be as little as posting on a forum and talking about product, posting a picture of you with a logo in it, or posting a video with music in the background, we just don’t know how far they will try to reach… but we do know that they already abuse the power and tools they have been given [arstechnica.com]

This bill sets a chilling precedent that endangers everyone’s right to freely express themselves and the future of the Internet. If you would like to voice your opinion to those in Washington, please consider writing your representative [house.gov] and the sponsors of this bill:

Lamar Smith (R-TX) [house.gov]
John Conyers (D-MI) [house.gov]
Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) [house.gov]
Howard L. Berman (D-CA) [house.gov]
Tim Griffin (R-AR) [house.gov]
Elton Gallegly (R-CA) [house.gov]
Theodore E. Deutch (D-FL) [house.gov]
Steve Chabot (R-OH) [house.gov]
Dennis Ross (R-FL) [house.gov]
Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) [house.gov]
Mary Bono Mack (R-CA) [house.gov]
Lee Terry (R-NE) [house.gov]
Adam B. Schiff (D-CA) [house.gov]
Mel Watt (D-NC) [house.gov]
John Carter (R-TX) [house.gov]
Karen Bass (D-CA) [house.gov]
Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) [house.gov]
Peter King (R-NY) [house.gov]
Mark E. Amodei (R-NV) [house.gov]
Tom Marino (R-PA) [house.gov]
Alan Nunnelee (R-MS) [house.gov]
John Barrow (D-GA) [house.gov]
Steve Scalise (R-LA) [house.gov]
Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) [house.gov]
William L. Owens (D-NY) [house.gov]


paris | found porn: silly shirt

This one comes from the draft archive — something I meant to publish while I was still in Paris…

Only in Paris? Chalk one up to whichever category includes the advertising porn.
Warning: topless women and lots of boobies – not safe for work or prying eyes



world news | occupy wall street movement

The occupy wall street movement has spread across the world – from the marching in the streets of europe to the tents on the lawn of my hometown’s city hall. One measurement I use to determine the newsworthiness and social importance of an issue is based on the lack of visibility said issue has in mainstream media (i won’t flatter the Hearstian, deep-pocketed, idea and mind-controlling media organizations by calling it “the news”). The fact that the wall street movement has so much support from the general public and that the mainstream media Case in point: CNN.com has taken no steps to identify the true issues behind the movement, and currently has nothing on their front page that mentions the movement, but does find this headline worthy of the international community: “Jennifer Lopez breaks down on stage“. Thanks for that.

So what’s going on…what is really motivating this movement? Is it income inequality? (what does that mean, and what is the extent of income inequality?) Is it a result of the global recession not having any apparent solution or turn-around on the horizon? Is it a result of a new generation making its way into the work force — or failing to? (85% of recent college grads move back home with mom an dad). Is it a disillusionment of the general public caused by a waking up that life isn’t as perfect as our entertainment and media industries lead us to believe?  The realization that our political representatives don’t actually represent us at all (median wealth of congressmen is $911,510)? A new feeling of entitlement? The recent policy changing granting corporations similar rights and privileges as individuals?


Yes, it’s probably all of those things, and much more. There are so many reasons that it’s difficult to qualify and quantify this movement. Below is a list of some articles and videos that I’ve found to be particularly illuminating on the subject. I’m not here to preach > All I know is the mainstream media is vilifying and 0outright ignoring the movement, which leads me to believe that they’re feeling very, very threatened. And I like that – the threat, not the response.

Visualizing the data behind the Occupy Wall Street movement

The Shocking, Graphic Data That Shows Exactly What Motivates the Occupy Movement

Twice as many Americans view the Wall Street protests favorably than the Tea Party (54%/23%)

(another survey finds similar data, but not quite as drastic, also shows support of wall street protests higher than support of congress)

Photos of the Occupy movement spreading worldwide

Thirteen Observations made by Lemony Snicket while watching Occupy Wall Street from a Discreet Distance


I’ll leave you with this:

Long Island Republican Congressman Peter King blasted the Occupy Wall Street protesters as anti-American today on a right-wing talk show: ““We have to be careful not to allow this to get any legitimacy,” he said, adding “I’m taking this seriously in that I’m old enough to remember what happened in the 1960s when the left-wing took to the streets and somehow the media glorified them and it ended up shaping policy. We can’t allow that to happen.”

After debunking the right’s hippie characterization of Occupy Wall Street, Maher said, “There’s not going to be a repeat of what happened last time the hippies were in the streets. Those hardhats that you’re depending on to turn against the lousy hippies, here’s what they’re doing now. They’re cheering them on, because now the hardhats are just as broke as everybody else. These people down there, they’re not the counterculture. They’re the culture. They don’t want free love. They want paid employment. They don’t hate capitalism. They hate what’s been done to it, and they resent the Republican mantra that the market perfectly rewards the hard working and punishes the lazy, and the poor are just jealous mooches who want a handout. Yeah, because if there is one group of people who hate handouts, it’s Wall Street.”