Monday, December 31, 2007

Bouncing Here and Back Again

I have the whole office to myself this morning, and I mean the whole office; not a single person is at work. I must have missed the memo, which is not surprising since I have have not been in the office for probably over two weeks. Oh well. It will give me a chance to check the messages I haven't checked in...well, about two weeks.

It has been nice having time off from school. I have been catching up on things around the house, working on bikes, and actually reading for pleasure...a rare opportunity. Michael has also been staying with me since last week, as well as his friend Grant from Boston for a few nights. Just prior to his coming I had been feeling extremely tired, a feeling that has been lingering for a long time now, in my body and mind, like I'm operating at 3/4 speed.

But Michael is a good guy for bringing things to life, and that's just what we did Friday night when we met up with everyone downtown. We smoke and drank, played pool, the next morning nursing the sure to come and all too familiar head-in-a-vice condition with aspirin and coffee and eggs at Bob's Diner. Michael and Grant go for a bike ride while I spend the day sweeping, napping, reading, and soldering. After Michael and Grant get back from another big night on Saturday (I deferred in favor of a movie at home), we went out on the wet porch, Grant and I waxing metaphysics and literature, Michael and I discussing what he was going to do now that he has been kicked out of his house in Southborough only a week after he had moved in. Grant crashes and Michael and I sit at the kitchen table talking and drinking whisky and rum, trying to find a single Modest Mouse song lost in the chasm of my harddrive (but lodged in my memory to affirm its existence) until 3am. I felt roused from my emotional slumber and was grateful to Michael for being the grease for my rusty wheels.

M. Scott Peck wrote about the "Four Stages of Spiritual Growth" in Further Along the Road Less Traveled. I won't write about them in detail (you can see them here). But there was an excerpt that has always stuck with me describing the "bouncing" between stage III and IV, because I have seen it (and felt it) often:

"Similarly, we see people bouncing back and forth between Stage III and Stage IV. A neighbor of mine was one such person. By day Michael expressed his highly analytic mind with brilliant accuracy and precision, and he was just about the dullest human being I have ever had to listen to. Occasionally in the evening, however, after he had drunk a bit of whisky or smoked a little marijuana, Michael would begin to talk of life and death and meaning and glory and become "spirit filled," and I would sit listening at his feet enthralled. But the next day he would exclaim apologetically, "God, I don't know what got into me last night; I was saying the stupidest things. I've got to stop smoking grass and drinking." I do not mean to bless the use of drugs for such purposes but simply to state the reality that in his case they loosened him up enough to flow in the direction he was being called, from which in the cold light of day he retreated back in terror to the "rational" safety of Stage III."

I love that term "'rational safety' of Stage III." Reminds me of kids in the 50's crawling under their desks in the event of a nuclear attack. Seems rational enough, but when you take a few steps back and look at what's going on, sometimes our most rational solutions are exposed as the ridiculous illusions of safety they really are.

Movie Recommendation: "Le Scaphandre et le papillon" (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly)

Music for the Day:
Sun Kil Moon, "Tiny Cities"

Sight of the Day:
Old black man with cane and white sneakers walking casually past bustling people and metal New Year's Eve barriers on Broad St., wearing a huge placard that reads: "Matthew 18:6"

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Alexyss Tylor: "The Dick Will Make You Slap Somebody."

Please watch this clip from the public access program 'Vagina Power' and let me know what you think. I don't think I have ever been more impressed in hearing anyone speak (about sex or otherwise) as Ms. Tylor--I feel like I should be sitting at her feet or something. It's hilarious too--at first I almost thought she was Leon Phelps, aka 'The Ladies Man' in disguise. You'll pick up some choice tags too. Regardless of the subject matter, being real always gets huge props from me and if you watch this clip, you'll know what I'm talking about! (btw, the heavyset woman to her left is her mother!)

The Cure's Etranger

Albert Camus' The Stranger is one of my favorite books. One reason is because it is a pleasant read; it is like eating a modest meal and swallowing with every bite. The simple sentence structure and nonchalent narration "Maman died today. Or maybe yesterday. I can't remember." are much more portioned than, say, the wild ramblings of Kerouac or the Victorian prose of Lord Byron.

The second reason why I like it so much is because it is like a lead weight--it's elementary literary shell houses a dense philosophical core that is very slow to digest.

One of the most riveting scenes was when Meursalt and his neighbor get in a fight with a pack of Arabs, and Meursalt returns to the beach with a gun and shoots one of them dead, but then for no good reason shoots the dead Arab four more times in the chest. The sound of the thudding bullets and the dread of instantaneously realizing one's resulting fate is captured brilliantly by Camus:

"Then I fired four more times at the motionless body where the bullets lodged without leaving a trace. And it was like knocking four quick times on the door of unhappiness"

aThe Cure wrote a song ("Killing an Arab")bout this scene in the book:

I can turn
And walk away
Or I can fire the gun
Staring at the sky
Staring at the sun
Whichever I choose
It amounts to the same
Absolutely nothing

I'm alive
I'm dead
I'm a stranger
Killing an arab

A lyrical summation of "Damned if you do, damed if you don't" Absurdism there, and a nice video from YouTube from their early days playing basement shows, like this one circa 1980 Boston (the year i was born!) at The Underground in Allston (where my brother lives!). Enjoy the memories!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Three Friends Find Spring

This year we had two Christmases: Adult Christmas and Kid's Christmas. Adult Christmas was kind of boring...lounging around drinking beer, opening up cookbooks and giftcards and bathrobes. So when Dad brought up our old Christmas presents from when we were kids, things got perked up a little. Dinosaurs, toy soldiers, , stuffed animals, Legos. They were fun to play with.

The treasure chest in the basement also held a lot of the books we used to read (or were read to us): The Berenstein Bears, Babar. Dad pulled one out that he said I used to love called Three Friends Find Spring. The three friends are Rabbit, Duck, and Squirrel. Duck hates winter (actually, he hates everything), and Rabbit and Squirrel try to cheer him up. All their efforts fail but in the end a crocus pokes through the snow and gives them hope that spring is almost there. That's the extent of the book.

I have gotten into reading children's books from time to time, especially when I'm feeling a little overwhelmed by life. The simple plots and innocent characters are redeeming and leave me asking questions like, 'where does Duck go grocery shopping when he lives in a tree in the woods?' and 'why do none of these animals wear pants?' Sometimes, though, their philosophical insight is impressive. The Velveteen Rabbit asking the question "What is 'Real?' " Deep.

These friends also have a way of simplifying things. Instead of expounding on complicated emotional states, they will say simply, 'I am sad' if they are not feeling well. I do feel sad, unloved and unfulfilled, with no reason to feel that way. I don't want to blame it on the season but it always seems to have something to do with everything. I couldn't even go to church Christmas Eve because I felt overwhelmed by fatigue and the desire to lie down and disappear into the couch. I looked forward to the semester being over and Christmas coming. Now the semester is over, and so is Christmas, and I feel sad. Maybe I will try to find a copy of Winnie the Pooh somewhere.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Prayer for the Morning

In the words of Jeremiah, I am a whore--
I have done all the evil that I could.

I say to the tree, 'you are my father';
to the stone I say 'you gave me birth.'

I laugh when your children point out my gadding
changing my ways from this place to that.

But when nightfall comes I am without a home
homeless, I cry out to you:

Truly the hills are a delusion,
the orgies on the mountaintops are in plain sight.

You look upon the shadows of bodies
and your tears fall to the earth like rain.

Quote for the day:

"Love doesn't make life easier. It just makes it worth living."


Friday, December 21, 2007

Prayer for the Evening

I wanted to sit with you in the dark stillness this evening
but I decided to get Chinese food.

I spend more time checking my email
than I do talking to you.

The season is beginning to wear on me--
instead of drinking I take naps. Every day.

My shadows--my sheets--have been chased away like grouse
by compact fluorescents claiming to be the sun.

There is nowhere to cry. But even in the darkness
my tears are like kidney stones--

craving the pain of birth
like an infected placenta.

I was going to joke that my face got a vasectomy,
but there's no climax (not even a dry one) to indulge in.

December is tying up its loose ends;
January is looking like an listless civil servant.

We've been married for almost ten years now--
isn't this how things go to shit?

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Prayer for the Morning

Lord, you are all that I have.
I build my house on sand,
but what is it that holds up the shores?

The coasts crumble into the ocean;
they are swallowed up by the sea.

The sun dries up the sea;
the creatures of the deep are no more.

The sun fades like a dying bulb;
the land and the sky cease to be.

Land and sky envelope me;
like a fog, shadows consume me.

I look for you in the darkness.
I know you are the Last Thing left.
I stop looking for you--
you have wrapped yourself around me.

20 Dec. 2007

PostSecret for the day:

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Living Words, Rotting Books

Doing research on the internet this evening at the coffee shop, an advertisement for the Nano Bible (the Bible You Can Wear!) showed up. I clicked on it--it is a crystal cross inscripted with the entire Bible (thanks to nanotechnology). I thought there might be some kind of magnifying glass to go with it but no, it seems the comfort comes from simply "having the Bible with you" at all times.

I imagine this is the Protestant equivalent of Catholics having crystal rosaries hanging from their car windows. Both are ridiculous in my opinion. The Bible is not something to be trapped in a piece of jewelry--it is the Living Word. I see people sometimes with leather-bound bibles in zippered cases, carried around for quick reference or for reading on the bus. Good on them. Catholics obviously honor the Bible, but are not traditionally sola scriptura "Bible People" in the Protestant sense. As far as I'm concerned, if you can't read a Bible, you may as well use it as a paperweight. There's no sacrilege there (your superstitious grandmother who told you it was a sin to place another book on top of a Bible is more off base). As all writers know, words are dead until they are brought to life.

Sunday, December 9, 2007


I know I said I wasn't going to write, but this is just a cut-and-paste that I posted on the V is for Voltage community forum (yes, I belong to an underground community of DIY Electric Vehicle builders. We talk about electricity and motors online. )My secret is out:

*This is a somewhat lengthy post, but for those who might benefit from it it might be worth the read:

I've always thought one of the problems with electric bicycles (besides their dorky look) on the market today is their lack of some kind of variable transmission. You car doesn't have just one gear--why should your e-bike?

When a bike has only a single gear, the rider must choose his gear with the knowledge that he will not have the most efficient gear at certain speeds. Going fast down hills he will begin to spin out; if he tries to up the gearing to address this, he'll quickly notice how much more effort is required just to spin the crank one revolution.

The thing is, there is no reason for this...not since the advent of the dérailleur at least. Being able to change gear ratios means being able to adjust to varying amounts of torque at a given rpm and allows for higher top speeds by turning the wheel at a higher rpm.

It's simple physics. A motor typically reaches its point of maximum power at 50% of max rpm; At 80% of max rpm, a motor is operating at its most efficient speed. My most recent project is a street cycle built from bicycle parts with a 900w motor with a rated speed of 2600rpms. So for the sake of this argument, let us assume that this is the motor being used and 2600rpms is the top speed rather than the rated speed. Assuming 26" wheels, multiply 201 by gear ratio (chainring/sprocket) to give you top speed. This is how fast your bike (with 26" wheels)" will be traveling when the motor is spinning at its maximum rpms. *note: this is my own modified formula for determining mph of 26" wheels.

So if you have a 10t sprocket on the motor and 60t sprocket on the rear, your top speed at maximum motor rpm (2600rpm) would be:

201*(10/60)= 33.5mph

If your bike was a typical e-bike with one gear, you would top out at 33.5mph. The thing is, the higher you gear the bike for speed, the less torque you have for quick starts and tackling hills. With a multi-speed transmission, you can retain your high gear for those times when you need it while having other gears to use if conditions change (stops, hills, headwinds, etc.)

A bicycle's 'transmission' is relatively simple. It consists of 2-3 rings in the front and 5-10 cogs in the back. Using a shifting mechanism (a derailleur, adjusted with a shift lever), the chain hops up and down these two sets of sprockets to create different gear combinations (ratios). Contrast this with a car or motorcycle which uses a 5 (sometimes 6) speed internal gearbox in the front and a stationary cog afixed to the rear wheel (note that you do not have the ability to 'freewheel' on a motorcycle the way you can on a bicycle, since the sprocket is bolted to the wheel). This method uses planetary gearing to change the gear ratio, but also requires the use of a clutch to engage/disengage the flywheel. A clutch is not required on a bicycle; one advantage of this is that no power loss is experienced as in a car (try shifting from first to second in a car without putting in the clutch and you'll see what I'm talking about). Another is that it makes shifting that much simpler.

Bicycles are not restricted to external gearing, however. The old '3-speed' English bikes are an example of a bike with variable gearing which takes place inside the rear hub using planetary gearing. Recent developments in this area by companies like Shimano, SRAM, and Rohloff have put 5,7, and even 14 speed internal hubs on the market. Although they have not gained a huge following, they do have the advantage of being completely sealed and relatively maintenance free, having a cleaner look, and being able to shift while at a stop. New companies like Fallbrook Technologies are springing up as well with creative solutions to the shifting 'problem,' including a CVT hub called the NuVinci.

Now, since all of us here are DIY folk, we know that we have the advantage of being able to build stuff for ourself that mainstream manufacturers might not be able to get away with. Top end speed and motor size restrictions legally tie the hands of companies that would otherwise like to put out a faster, more powerful e-bike. We don't have that problem. But even for those companies, the use of gearing would allow manufacturers to get more bang out of the relatively small motors they are using.

It is (again) one of the laws of physics that a vehicle will only be able to go as fast as the horsepower propelling it. Wind resistance is the primary force working against propulsion. If you hunch lower on your bike and maybe put some fairings on, you will notice that you either don't have to work as hard to maintain a certain speed or you can go faster at a given level of exersion. But even with these techniques, you can only go so fast before the force of the wind stops you from going any faster.

You want your top-end gearing to coincide with the maximum hp that your motor is able to produce at max rpm. There is a somewhat involved formula used to determine this, but Walter Zorn has made it easy with his interactive webpage used to determine bicycle power and speed:

If you find that the gearing you have chosen allows you to travel 33.5mph, but you are only using a 250w engine, then you will find that you only have the horsepower to reach a top speed of 22mph. In this case, gearing down your bike allows for a wider range in gearing, which results in more torque at low speeds--something no one would complain about having.

The more gears you have, the wider a range you can have. Take a mountain bike for instance with a 42/32/22 up front and a 11-34 in the back. Low gear (22/34) produces a (gear inch)GI value of 17; High gear (42/11) would be 99. That's a pretty descent spread. Road racers who are more concerned with speed than low-end torque will typically run a 52-53/39-42 up front to increase GI and, thus, top speed.

So what possibilities does this create for DIY e-bike builders? Well, lots. Like I mentioned earlier, I'm working on a streetcycle made from bicycle parts and a 900w motor. I'm making it a simple 3-speed using an old sturmey-archer hub as a variable-jackshaft, but really i could run 2 or 3 of these for a 6 or 9 speed. if i wanted to I could combine that with a 6,7, or 8 speed rear freewheel and derailleur, or a triple chainring in the front. Too much gearing can get unnecessarily complicated, but having enough to maximize torque and top speed can really help you squeeze as much performance out of your little motor as possible so you can smoke those Harley dudes off the line...with a fraction of the horsepower.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

To Write...To Not Write...

I'm taking a brief hiatus from daily blogging. Being at Suan Mokkh and having the opportunity to live life without feeling the need to record it all was like a writer's vacation that involved no writing whatsoever. Hard to get used to and stick to at first, but sort of relieving after you've given yourself over to the idea. i need some rest, and something has to get cut out for a bit, especially during these last weeks of the semester. Daily blogging wouldn't have been my first guess, but it will be replaced with a paper on monastic authority that i will hopefully post as well. Adieu!

Monday, December 3, 2007

Poem for the Day


Everytime i think about doing something
i don't want to do it;

when i'm not doing anything
i want to be doing something.

If prayer is doing
then it is no wonder i don't want to

do it.
If only prayer were non-doing;

then i would want to do it;
then i would be happy.

3 December, 2007

sharing chromosomes

I read an article the other day about the arrest of a man who authorities say slipped his pregnant girlfriend abortion drugs, causing her to miscarry. I did not say 'I read about a man who was arrested for slipping his girlfriend abortion drugs.' Because that was the ambiguous part--was he being arrested for something he did to the girlfriend (assault?), or for something he did to the child/baby/fetus (manslaughter, infanticide...homicide?)...or both?

The question can't be dismissed as irrelevant because it says a lot about ones attitudes towards the law, individual liberty, and abortion--the il/legality of it quite possibly being the most contentious moral and political question of our century.

Although there's not enough information to paint an accurate legal portrait of the situation, this does leave the opportunity to explore their complexities--these obscure dusty stories from places like "Appleton, Wis," and "Bolingbrook,Ill" stuck in the far back corners of news papers--as if they were a kind of rare 100 year old soon-to-be-extinct African beetle kept alive in an insect zoo to be examined under a microscope for scientific study.

But really, there's no microscope here, nor is the subject of this article a scientific study, nor is it even an ethics classroom; it is a courtroom. And when it holds a hearing for a case carrying as much weight as abortion does in the eyes of the general public (the way to tell? almost everyone has an opinion on it, and a side they have chosen), there is no shortage of opportunities for prosecutors and defense attorneys to ask both real and theoretical questions using this real-life "case" as the context.

In this particular case, it is not a question of what this man is being charged with, but why he is being charged at all. If it is legal for a woman to prematurely terminate the birth of her child/fetus/baby/whatever scientific theory you ascribe to--(it doesn't really matter in this context), is it not unreasonable to ask, then, why such a right can not be extended to the father, since he is equally responsible--at the very least for his participation in the conception process--for its health and well being. Like a tenant with a leaking roof and a shitty landlord...what can you do?

But obviously there has to be some difference that puts men and women on unequal footing in this matter: the mother has the unique experience of sharing her actual body with her baby so that the two get so tightly enmeshed with one another that it is impossible to untangle them. A man does not have that experience and so the question becomes can he claim the same rights? Because if he can, then his arrest would be unjust, since his rights to terminate his child (and it is equally his child, again, if nothing else than biologically) were violated. As Dr. Phil says, "it takes two to make a marriage work, but only one to end it." If what he was doing (seeking to terminate the pregnancy, albeit against the mother's will) was seen as something morally and civically wrong, why is a woman's decision to do the same treated differently in the criminal justice system? Thoughts and comments welcome.