“Always tell the truth. Then you don't have to remember anything.”
Mark Twain

Roughin' it

No Battery

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A couple days ago we went to shop for some herbs and spices and on the way to the store we stopped for a walk in a nature reserve where many birds visit as they migrate between Europe & Africa as the seasons change. I took the camera (with a hefty long lens) with me only to find that the battery in it was almost dead and that the spare battery was completely dead (I am not doing much photography these days). So I was left with barely enough juice for a few manual focus shots.

And then, this flock of birds flies in from the north and I begin tracking them, praying that the battery holds out long enough and suddenly I see the rising moon appear in the frame and …

agmon01

Posted in Images, Photography, Uncategorized | You are welcome to add your comment

WordPress – Design

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Before delving into the details of how design is actually done in WordPress, it can be useful to have an overview of what issues are involved in “design” – there is more to it then meets the eye. I will touch on three aspects involved in the design of your blog: looks, function and technical.

Looks

The look of your blog is probably the first thing that comes to mind because it is what our senses experience directly – the visual experience. This aspect of design determines the visual elements of your blog – this includes a general layout of your web-pages within which colors, fonts & images are used to create an overall look.

A great thing about visual design on web-pages is that it is separated from the actual content. The same content can be given different visual designs causing it to look and feel different. You can think of it as an outfit you choose to wear – you can put on loose fitting beach clothes or tailored office suites that feel and look very different, but it’s still you inside.

This is done using a technology which designers love to use called CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and if you want to get some idea of what this enables you can visit a website called CSS Zen Garden which is a gallery of “outfits”. You can see how the same content takes on completely different looks and shapes using this technology. Click here to visit CSSZenGarden

Function

How your blog works is at least (if not more) as important as how it looks and yet this is often a neglected issue. There are two key challenges when it comes to function – and facing them correctly can completely change your experience:

  1. Knowing what your options are. It is safe to assume that we can all relate to visual looks – we have preferences when it comes to colors, shapes & images. But most of us who are starting off with blogs don’t know much about the possibilities open to us when it comes to function. If you have no idea what I’m talking about then I’ve made my point! Know this – everything you see on a WordPress blog (for example: a list of categories, a list of recent posts, a list of tags, a list of recent comments, a calendar, etc.) is a matter of choice – someone chose to place it there. There are so many options available to you and you should get acquainted with them. You can do this by:
    • Visiting blogs you like and paying attention to how they work, how you use them (how do you find posts that are interesting for you to read?) and ask yourself what you like and what you would like to try on your blog.
    • Consult with a professional – if someone is helping you create your blog, ask them to tell you a little about what options there are.
    • Stay tuned to this series of articles, I hope to provide you with more useful information.
    • Ask around. There are many people in the WordPress community who offer tips and insight on what you can do with WordPress. If you’ve read this far and are familiar with the basic concepts of WordPress and have started your own blog – then you can definitely start moving around independently in the WordPress community. You can also read and consult with people in the WordPress Forums.
  2. Knowing what options you need. This can be a very tricky issue, fortunately there is way to get around it. The reason it can be tricky is that usually when you are just getting started neither you nor anyone else knows what you will need. One popular approach to this is speculating about what your future needs will be – 99% of the time this does not work. Your needs will change as your writing and outreach evolve – so what can you do:
    • Create Content. It you haven’t already done so – then start writing now! This is the best way for you to discover what you need.
    • Start simple . Start with what you have and what you need right now – this won’t be very much – which means it will be very simple. Don’t fumble around with your future monthly newsletter (what it will look like or how it will work) when you haven’t yet written your first post which no one has read!
    • Evolve. If you start simple you will experience for yourself how great WordPress is at changing and evolving. Focus on content and your needs will make themselves known to you. If you keep moving forward – evolution will occur on it’s own; if you just think about moving – evolution will evade you.
    • Copy – do what others do. You are not the first person to start blogging, millions of others are doing it with WordPress. Look around at what others are doing and pick up some ideas that you can use.

You should feel at home with your blog, you should enjoy visiting it and you should be passionate about inviting other people to it. Therefore when thinking of the functionality of your blog, keep at least two people in mind – yourself and your best friend.  Think not only what you want for yourself but also what you’d like to give people who will be visiting with you – what kind of experience would you like them to have?

Technical

Beyond the form and function of your blog there are additional technical aspects to the way it is built. They affect things like:

  • Search Engine Compatibility. Search engines (such as Google, Yahoo, Bing, etc.) will work for you and bring people to your blog… if you let them! Good web-pages are built to welcome search-engines and provide them with information that let’s them know about you and your content. The more they know about you the better they can do their job and let people who are searching the web know about you.
  • Browser Compatibility. There are numerous web-browsers (Firefox, Safari, Opera, Internet Explorer, etc.) that people will be using to view your websites. Some of the web-browsers differ in how they interpret the hidden-contents of web-pages. Good web-pages are built to insure that your web-pages work & look good in the various popular browsers – insuring
  • Design Compatibility. Good web-pages are built to give designers the maximum freedom to create good designs. They have an internal (semantic) structure that makes it possible for designers to work their magic.
  • Social Web Compatibility. As your blog evolves, it will reach more people in many ways. At any given time there are many standards and technologies that make it possible for you to connect with other people and for other people to discover you. Good web-pages are built to make this possible for you.

There are many hidden qualities to web-pages. They are usually technical and difficult to comprehend unless you are technically savvy. WordPress is built by a community of developers who know their way around these issues and make it all available to you. BUT for all to this to shine through and work for you, your WordPress design needs to make use of everything WordPress has to offer.

In the next article in this series we will look at WordPress Themes and see how all of this comes together to make sure you have a great looking and working blog.

Posted in outside, Wordpress | You are welcome to read 3 comments and to add yours

Flushing Economy

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Thanks to Raymond for the link to this article. For those who are not immersed in US economics – FDIC is the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (pronounced “F-Dick”) – a US government agency who is in charge of insuring banks. Banks that are FDIC insured promise customers that their funds (up to a certain limit) are insured by the government should something happen to the bank. That’s supposedly a good thing.

Well things have been happening to banks recently and they keep disappearing. Now it seems that the FDIC, who’s sole designated purpose was to insure people’s money, failed to collect the insurance premiums from most banks for a period of 10 years. So now it doesn’t have enough money to pay the people who banks have “poof” vanished. That’s supposedly a bad thing.

I especially liked this quote in the article:

“But James Chessen, chief economist of the American Bankers Association, said that it made sense at the time to stop collecting most premiums because “the fund became so large that interest income on the fund was covering the premiums for almost a decade.” There were relatively few bank failures and no projection of the current economic collapse, he said.”

In people-talk: “I’ve been paying my home insurance for years without making any claims and I don’t expect any burglars or natural disasters to hit anytime soon … so I’ll just stop paying my insurance premium, but if something happens my insurance company can use all that money I paid over the year (which they really don’t need!) to pay me. I would feel better knowing that (a) the nincompoop that said this is no longer the Chief Economist of the American Bankers Association and (b) the journalist that quoted him would add an indication of his nincompoopness.

But then I read this:

Last October, to help restore confidence during the financial meltdown, Congress and then-President Bush agreed to raise the insured amount from $100,000 to $250,000 per depositor until Dec. 31, 2009.

and … well …  fuck it… how can you refuse a milkshake you didn’t order when an idiot hands it to you with a cherry-on-top?

ToiletBowl

A flushing toilet is the image that came to me when I read this. The flush button has been hit and the water is draining out. All the purposeless people vested in machines of money are staring into the bowl speculating when it will stop – heck, some say it already has stopped … but what is that swirling motion? But everybody knows (them purposeless folk included) that all the water is going to drain out, it will hopefully take the poop out with it and we may get a chance at a fresh start. It’s been over a hundred years since we had a fresh start – it seems about time for a new one.

“Everybody knows that the boat is leaking, Everybody knows that the captain lied”
Leonard Cohen

Posted in AltEco, outside | You are welcome to add your comment

Learning Curves

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Shakuhachi is a challenging instrument to play because it only has 5 holes. The range of notes you can play depends on subtle variations of blowing technique. One of the challenges a beginning player faces is playing higher octaves. I can’t do this yet – but I do play around with it all the time. This morning focused on this – and still nothing! So I did some (re)searching online for tips and advice how to do this.

My searching led me to a blog post by Bas Nijenhuis (who’s blog  I enjoy visiting from time to time) titled Wavering Motivation. This is something I’ve experienced in Yoga and  in Shakuhachi practice. When I’m fortunate enough to not get overwhelmed by it – I recall some supportive teachings I have received about this in Yoga – and it helps me.

learningcurve_micro

When people first come to Yoga, it is relatively easy to experience change – the very fact that they are there, moving and breathing is an achievement. Sometimes there are achievements such as noticeable improvement of the breath, touching the floor when bending forward, calm and meditative moments, etc. This is the first part of the learning curve – there is a sense of satisfaction that comes from a balance of effort and reward. Each such period of “satisfaction” is followed by a period where there is no evident progress, the learning curve flattens – and motivation drops. Until sometime down the line there is an experience of progress again – in a recurring pattern.

learningcurve_macro

My experience shows that as learning progresses:

  • Periods of satisfaction (green tinted areas on the chart) become shorter.
  • Periods of low-motivation (red tinted areas on the chart) become longer.
  • As a result of which, periods of satisfaction grow further apart.
  • Achievements (which lead to satisfaction) become more subtle and refined.
  • Somewhat surprisingly – less effort is required to experience achievements (most of the effort is focused on the longer period of waiting)

Preparing for the Waiting

Longer periods of waiting are inevitable. As your practice deepens the more likely you are to experience longer and more challenging such periods. A sign of a mature and quality practice is the ability to recognize and sustain these periods gracefully:

  • Discipline is usually the first tool mentioned for these situations. It is useful to cultivate discipline during periods of satisfaction when there is a forward momentum working for you. This can be achieved by introducing regularity into your practice – forming a habit. There will be parts of the practice you love doing (usually those that give you a sense of satisfaction), and there will be others which are less interesting – some almost like chores. A balanced practice includes an effective combination of these qualities – so when the motivation drops – you will have a fall-back – you will be practiced at doing your chores. But discipline shouldn’t be over-rated.
  • Grazing – is a quality I learned in improvised performance. It is a quality of doing without expecting results. It is a mode of suspended judgment and an appreciation of whatever is present. A great way to learn grazing is watching professionals do it – so go and watch cows. They do what they do not because of a promised fruit, they do what they do, because this is what they do. Calling it “grazing” seems to give it a legitimate existence – it’s no longer something temporary we do until something better comes a long, it is a worthy action in it’s own right.
  • Playfulness is a really great ingredient to introduce in your practice. I used to take Yoga sooooo seriously – ridiculously serious. Smiling is a great technique to introduce playfulness – whenever I find myself intensely concentrated I add a smile – which softens my face and then radiates into whatever posture my body is in.
  • Softness is quality that balances effort & discipline and it usually comes bundled with grazing and playfulness. Sometimes when I teach guest classes (which means teaching only once people I don’t know) I build a practice around a theme of softness. One way to introduce this is to approach familiar practices but stopping just before your known limits – doing slightly less then what you are used to doing. It’s always proved to be a great practice. It comes in very handy when you are impatient and achievement is stubbornly pushing you into an intense practice which leads to more impatience. A touch of softness can turn that around.

In Waiting

I find that periods of waiting are delicate times (at least in the context in which I am in waiting). I tend to be protective and private about my Yoga practice when I am in waiting. I don’t talk about it with others, I don’t seek advice, I don’t try to solve it. It’s tempting to look for solutions and salvation, and it usually leads to disappointment – because there are none. Advice seems to always fall short, what works for someone else may not work for you.

If possible, I will turn to my teachers for inspiration, they have been through this too, they know me and they know how to offer a supportive presence without making false promises.

I find that this learning curve is typical of many aspects of life. Relationships come to mind, as I write these words, as another great example where I experience this curve. It’s kind of like driving on a fast downhill road and accumulating momentum for a steep uphill climb that follows. Momentum is not enough to get you up the hill, you need to know how to run the engine effectively, and hopefully remember to enjoy the view going up as much as the thrill of going down.

Posted in Asana, inside, Models & Metaphors, Shakuhachi, Yoga, Yoga & Life | You are welcome to read 1 comment and to add yours

What is the Essence of Buddhism?

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At the High Seat, a monk asked: “What is the essence of Buddhism?”

The master raised his fly-whisk
The monk gave a Katsu.
The master hit him.

Again, a monk asked: “What is the essence of Buddhism?”

The master raised his fly-whisk again.
The monk gave a Katsu.
The master also gave a Katsu.
The monk hesitated.
The master hit him.

The master then said: “Monks, some do not shirk losing body and life for the Dharma. As for me, I spent twenty years with my late master Obaku. Three times I asked him on the essence of Buddhism, and three times he kindly beat me. It was as if he had caressed me with a branch of fragrant sage. Now I feel like tasting a sound beating again; who can give it to me?”

A monk stepped forward and said, “I can.”
The master took up his stick and handed it to him.
The monk hesitated to take hold of it.
Then the master hit him.

taken from (attention: link leads to a large PDF file)  The Teachings of Rinzai

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Posted in Enjoy, inside | You are welcome to add your comment