27 March 2010

fairytale of turkey creek

Once upon a time a man, nearly my identical twin, had an office and a job at a great office park by Turkey Creek. Working late past sunset on the summer solstice he took a short break to walk among the trees. There appeared before him in the moonlight a ghost of a centuries dead Karankawa hunter, tall and broad and near naked. The ghost spoke to him of secrets, of a treasure, and of a curse. My near-twin respects curses, likes treasures, and can keep secrets, so he attended well to that Karnkawa's tales. They parted in peace and my near-twin returned to his office and to his computer. It might have freaked out a few people to see this ghost, or maybe more what the ghost said, but he it did not faze. He has seen stranger things even than that I have been told.

Time passed with no more sign of Karankawas, ghosts, curses, or treasures. And my near-twin kept the Karankawa's secrets. Early one Saturday morning near the end of the summer he was walking through the Addicks Reservoir across the fence from the Turkey Creek offices. A large hawk with a red tail called to him from the branch of a birch tree. And then it spoke in perfect English, "when you see or hear something you do not understand, then and there is where you dig for gold. That is how it has always been done. Never forget the predominance of poverty amongst gold prospectors."

That is a lot of English syllables for a hawk and so my near-twin decided it was not a hawk. Gold is a treasure and poverty a curse and pursuing what you do not understand sounded oddly parallel to the Karankawa ghost's secrets from months before. As he turned away to walk back to the car the hawk called to his back: "shepherd who goes, up by the sheepcotes, if you should happen to see, the one I most desire, tell him I sicken suffer and die".

That night he dreamt. He was a boy in a Shaolin monastary with a shaved head and an old blind monk said to him "when you can walk silent across the raised floor in your office at Turkey Creek, it will be time for you to leave". This was what Jung's Elgeyo medicine man described as a Big Dream, such as they no longer had since the white man had come to Africa. It also sounded quite a bit like the secret of the Karankawa ghost, except no it was not that exactly either.

There was one last natural wonder in my near-twin's mysterious year. There are two great poplar trees outside his office window, and in December the air became cold and all the leaves on the poplars turned bright red overnight. One day they were green and losing their hue. The next morning there were tens thousands bright crimson red poplar leaves. And three days later they all fell onto the ground. Need I add that this also was eerily reminiscent of one of the secrets of the Karankawa ghost, except of course it was not exactly that either.

21 March 2010


I went through a pile of Social Network Theory stuff this week. It was an accident. Some dude on the internet wrote a spoof paper "How many zombies do you know?" which had a spoof reference list. Except one of the references was a gold mine.

Zheng, Salganik, & Gelman "How many people do you know in prison? Using overdispersion in count data to estimate social structure in networks".

The paper is not easy to read closely. From Zheng et al's reference list I found solutions to a couple of problems which have been bothering me. How to deal with being stigmatized being the biggie. I am going on sabbatical. The timing of this is chosen by my employer, which is axing ten percent world wide, axing twenty percent in my pay grade, axing my project, and axing my position. Within my field which has funded my fortune are folks who are going to view me as possessing the stigma of being laid off. Thirty-eight percent of them will, to be precise.

It turns out this problem has been exhaustively researched by sociologists and psychologists. The earliest cite I found was Osgood and Richard, "From yang and yin to and or but" from 1973. Osgood apparently coined the description "golden section" after the golden ratio in ancient Greek geometry. 1 : .616 which are the proportions of the edifice of the Parthenon, for example. There is a trove of material on google scholar with many examples and themes. The most interesting of which is that we may even have an essential brain circuit for sorting whatever we encounter in our environment, such that we find 62 percent of it appealing at a subconscious lever and 38 percent of it unappealing.

Stigma is specifically analyzed within this paradigm in Raskin, Harasym, Mercuri, and Widrick, "Construing stigmatized identities: a golden section study". The most stigmatized are the homeless and the mentally ill. They are looked down upon even more harshly than criminals. Criminals are of only slightly lower status than politicians. It was not clear whether we should laugh or cry about this last finding. I did neither but merely noted it.

The quantities appear vulnerable to book cooking and perhaps it is all a complete cockup of bias and circular reasoning. To me it makes intuitive sense about much which I find interpersonally puzzling. It is useful to me to consider that those 38 percent looking down on me are biologically determined and irrelevant to my self, person, employability, &c. Even if it is fictitious, it is be a useful fiction. And I have reams of research to back me up. Science.

I also read a couple of papers by the sociologist Nan Lin. Professor Lin has done Social Network Theory analysis around the old proverb: "it isn't what you know; it is who you know", quantifying social capital. For my occupation schmoozing is of little relevance. It is better to have some competence in it than a complete lack, but beyond a certain small ante it really does not matter. If I skim The Economist weekly and know some Houston restaurants I am good to go. These guys have no interest in tunas with good taste, but they appreciate it if you can give them a pointer for how to find some tuna that tastes good.

One of my severance benefits is consulting service from a headhunter firm. They are collecting a small fee to help me polish my resume and refine my interviewing skills, then they plan to collect another fee once they succeed in facilitating my passage into the maw of some hypothetical next employer. I do not think I am going to give them the time of day. According to Nan Lin and his colleagues' meticulous research, my list credentials is basically it. My credentials are fine. If I want another job I am not going to have trouble finding one. I am not sure yet that I do want another job.

One troubling comment in one of Lin's papers did not seem essential to his claims, but was more like editorializing on us who work for a living. He wrote we invariably have a value or an ethic that any time spent not working is wasted. I am going to take a minimum six months off. I will use the time quite usefully.

I also read a Social Network Theory analysis of how sex transmitted diseases transmit. If you are curious how all those people we know got the herpes, you can find it in ghoulish detail in Kretzschmar and Morris, "Measures of concurrency in networks and the spread of infectious disease". It is worth reading. One of the papers I did waste time on was a Social Network Theory analysis of how facebook and twitter became internet behemoths. If you see me writing about my brand, please ignore it. Lastly a sad true fact: I do know one person in prison.

17 March 2010

thus spake sartorithustra

Sartoris was Colonel in the Confederate Army from Yoknapatawpha County. After the Civil War the place was devastated--property destroyed, the leadership discredited, young men killed and maimed, the socioeconomic system turned upside down trying to resurrect itself into viability, and a heavy burden of racism. The leading men of the County were cruel and dishonest as they could be with a legal system which was slack regarding their skullduggery.

About a month ago I had coffee with a man whose great great grandfather was an officer in the Confederacy who died at the Battle of Vicksburg. He told us a story about him laying there wounded, knowing he was dying, and writing a last letter to his son. Drops of great great grandpa's blood on the pages. A message about honor and decency and integrity, about what matters most of all. The fellow speaking to us was not from Yoknapatawpha County, but his father might just as well have been. The man's father is a native of northern Mississippi, and what happened to Faulkner's fictional county after the Civil War was widespread through that entire region. The letter is still in the family; an older cousin considers it the family's most precious keepsake and will pass it to his oldest son.

While the man was telling us this story at coffee, he was deeply moved. Others of us were moved. I was not moved. I was thinking about Will Varner in The Hamlet, passing time at the ruin of the old Frenchman's place, telling curious passersby,

"I wonder what would drive a man to think he needs to own all this crap."

The irony is that Will Varner is more acquisitive even than Flem Snopes; and Flem Snopes' barnburning escapades were nothing on the scale of skullduggery to which Will Varner ascended.

My father's hometown is not a topic I ever use with acquaintances. Never. Apparently the storyteller at coffee saw fit to consider us intimate friends. I changed the subject. I talked about this guy we all know who participates in Civil War battle reenactments. Aristotle tells us there are three types of friends.

First there are friends with benefits. Aristotle did not mean the modern usage--those would fall into category two. Friends with benefits are people who help you move, let you borrow their truck, sell you their childrens' fund-raising candy bars. You do me a favor. I'll do you a favor. That is Aristotle's meaning of friend, benefits.

Secondly there are friends with whom you share pleasures. Friends you go to coffee with. Drink beers. Dance. &c. Friends, pleasure. Your modern friend with benefits would be a friend, pleasure.

Aristotle's third and highest form of friendship is based upon virtue. The rare person is such a fine example of a human being and your relationship with them is such that they inspire you to be your best.

That guy at coffee was trying to make a friendship III maneuver. He was trying that by way of his family's story about a horrible war and pointless premature personal death. My mind is still boggled. I am not going for coffee with him again any time soon. In case you are wondering, this was a group of employees. My coworkers. Yes I read that diatribe on slashdot,

"Didn't you guys learn anything from Steve Jobs and Bill Gates? You do not have friends at work."

I do not agree with the slashdot ranter. You can have friends at work. It is identical to any other environment in this respect: some of the people there have boundary problems. You only have to avoid the people with boundary problems, just like you have to avoid those people everywhere else you go.

12 March 2010

job interview

This week I had my first job interview in eleven years. Part of it I aced. Part of it I bombed.

I may not really want the job that much. If my next job interview is for a job I really want it was good practice. I am reminded of an old hacker maxim: make one to throw away. One of my favorite programmers says that this is completely wrong; replace it with: never throw anything away! But I digress.

The part I bombed was the interviewer's question on leadership. I was trying to say my preferred style of leadership is to lead by example; unfortunately that came out as lead by doing and I could not even stumble upon what I was trying to say. If it was useful to the interviewer to find out I lack imagination for leadership, I gave him precisely the information he needed by omission.

Later I was going through the meatball wiki and found a much better recipe. This seems to be from some Taoists or other related eastern philosophy. Leadership is ideally done by heart, by hand, by mind. First by heart; nobody is going to follow you unless they perceive some authentic empathetic listening on your part. Second by hand; this is leading by example and is only secondary to the first requirement. So, even my attempted answer would have been lacking. Third by mind; this is where you create solutions to problems. All three necessary, and in that exact priority order.

The question I had to think about after bombing that part of the interview is how this leadership issue affects my worthiness, my golden resume, and my job aspirations. I did lead on my last project successfully, by example, with hand and with mind. There was very little of what the Taoists would describe as heart in it. There has been little of what the Taoists would describe as heart in any of my professional endeavors. Perhaps that is an impossibility given the economy, my industry and management culture at my employer.

My non-work works in the past year have been successful without qualifications. I wrote 1000 pages; made my glossy brochure; invented two meditation techniques; read a decent library shelf filled with books on finance and investment and economics; made a number of frameable artworks. These activities were all done passionately. My job has been fine but definitely at a lower level of emotional engagement. Perhaps the relationships have been a burden and not energizing. My bosses view me as introverted, aloof. It is possible they think I am apathetic. The question may be moot here and now but maybe deserves attention at my next job.

I don't know.

08 March 2010

can of worms

Why are geologists so conservative about accepting new ideas?

This is a rhetorical question asked on the metafilter weblog by user russilwvong. It got me to thinking about three separate ideas I have encountered over the course of many years of studying earth science, and I believe they are similar, connected, and fascinating. And relevant to his question even if they do not completely answer it.

Idea one: continental drift and plate tectonics.

Continental drift as an idea dates back over a hundred years and the convexity of Brazil fitting perfectly into the concavity of the Gulf of Guinea off west Africa surely stimulated the imagination of the first geologically inclined thinkers who saw the first accurate maps. Alfred Wegener assembled data in the early 20th century correlating South American and African geological data but the smoking gun was the discovery in 1958 of magnetic striping on the sea floor of the Atlantic Ocean showing unambiguously that the ocean plates were spreading outward.

The data was first analyzed by a man named Morley and his papers were rejected as crack pottery and shortly after Vines and Matthews succeeded in getting the result into publication. When Peter Wyllie published The Way the Earth Works in 1971 he had a section titled "how Morley was screwed by the establishment" in his discussion of what was then described as the "Vines-Matthews hypothesis". I was surprised this morning when I loaded the wikipedia that their page as of now is entitled the Morley-Vines-Matthews hypothesis. The jargon changed when I was not looking at some point between 1985 (when I first read Wyllie's book) and 2009.

When I learned earth science my teachers were from the generation that grew up ignorant of plate tectonics and they had firsthand experience of reality shifting underneath them like the plates colliding along the San Andreas fault. Idea two and idea three in my little post here are more recent ideas, which appear to have become consensually accepted; however what interests me (not entirely accepting either) is the viewpoints of three men of that previous generation, which they shared with me in passing when we discussed them, as best as I recall.

Idea two: the Chicxulub anomaly meteor impact cretaceous extinction event.

I first heard about this in the 1980's, and I asked the smartest geologist I personally knew what he thought about it. At this point all the data we had was a circular potential field anomaly in Yucatan and an anomalous iridium rich stratum in one formation in the mountains in Italy. With this paltry amount of data geologists were talking to Scientific American and the New York Times and proclaiming we finally figured out what killed off the dinosaurs. My inside expert's opinion of the claims: maybe. His opinion of the publicity: grandstanding.

There has since been much work done on the Chicxulub structure and it really does look like a huge meteorite smacked into the Yucatan at around the time the dinosaurs died. Oh, and some other guys found some even larger circular anomalies they think have synchronous dating in the Indian Ocean. It is difficult to get clear cut answers when you are examining events that are from millions of years ago. The last time I spoke to a really smart geologist (of my generation) about the subject he stated: Chicxulub meteor impact structure equals Cretaceous extinction event, scientific fact.

Idea three: anthropogenic global warming.

This is the topic I was discussing on the metafilter weblog when russilwvong asked why are geologists so conservative? I first heard about this in the 1990's and read about it where and when I could. In 1999 I was at a summer school in Palo Alto and one of the teachers mapped ocean currents and computed ocean dynamic models. He seemed like he would have an expert opinion on anthropogenic global warming, so on a break and on a whim I asked him about it. He said we are warming up and carbon dioxide was increasing in the atmosphere and the claims about a direct causal relationship were not conclusive and the loudest claimants were not objective and not the best scientists.

At that time the most detailed models I had seen did not even account for cloud albedo so what he told me was in line with what I thought he might say. He has since been publicly embarrassed for criticizing the anthropogenic global warming research community and retracted all public criticisms. He has been corrected, or he has been silenced; I doubt he would tell me if it was the latter.

A couple of years later I had a short conversation with a man at the top of my own specialty on the subject. He had an interesting perspective. He told me when he first became aware of anthropogenic global warming, he went to the library and grabbed everything he could find and stacked it up on a table. He spent eight hours going through as much of the research as he could. After eight hours he decided he was not qualified to have an opinion on the subject.

He did not answer my question about anthropogenic global warming, but he taught me one of the most valuable lessons of all. The Socratic maneuver.

Agnosticism is irrefutable.

07 March 2010

shemhamphorasch dream

I have a recipe for dream work which is simple and works about 66% of the time.

1. get up 1.0 - 2.0 hours early
2. take a double dose caffeine (2 cups coffee if you regularly take 1)
3. read or work or workout for an hour until fully alert
4. meditate maximum (I go for a good hour)
5. sleep and dreams are likely vivid and memorable
6. record

I last did this successfully on Friday. I dreamt about an ex-girlfriend who wanted me to buy a lot in a rural area for 72000 $.
Then I dreamt of a dog which had human intelligence and spoke and did not like the stormy weather outside. It was not storming in the real world while I was dreaming this.
Then I dreamt I was constructing a pentagon pentagram figure and trying to figure out the angles inside the pentagon, attempting to divide 360 by 5. I could not perform this calculation inside the dream. In that state the problem was intractable. I woke to the answer: 72. This was an aha positive emotion strong.

72 is an important number in Kabbalah. There is a 72 word long name for God, the shemhamphorasch which is constructed by taking three verses in Exodus and lining them up forward, reversed, forward and reading the three letters in each column as one of the 72 words. There is a story from Talmud time that this 72 word name of God is a magical word, that it is the word said by Moses when he parted the Red Sea, the word said by Ezekiel when he had his chariot vision, the word said by Elijah when he was lifted up straight into heaven, the word said by Daniel when he tamed the lions, &c.

I did not dream of the shemhamphorasch, exactly. But I did dream about 72.

05 March 2010


Today I deleted my religion from my okcupid profile. Their multiple choice is not sufficient. I did have "Christian" selected. Unfortunately I have a couple strongly held views which are anathema. They do not have a category for Christian with a couple of strongly held views which are anathema. So for now I just left it blank.

There are three respects in which I am not in compliance with the church where I belong, which I attend at least ten times yearly, where I profess the creed in good faith while I am there saying it. I never use the creed in any other context because I do not believe in eternal damnation. I subscribe to the doctrine of apocatastasis; everybody including Satan himself, gets a get out of hell free card after the dust all settles. Origen and Clement and a large number of third and fourth century Christians also believed in the apocatastasis.

The second respect in which I am out of compliance is evangelism. If the topic comes up I am happy to state my views, but I do not market them and I cannot recall ever giving anybody a pitch one time in my life. According to the books, this is a requirement.

Lastly my preferred term for God is The Big Model Railroader in the Sky. I like model railroads and I think it is the most useful metaphor if we need a term. If my pastor heard me use it I do not think he would be offended. He absolutely does not care for my deviance points one and two one little bit however. I never voice any of these views on the church property.


Please see paragraphs 8.4, 8.5 in the Google Terms of Service document!

About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.