September 29, 2003

Guide to techno music

w w w . i s h k u r . c o m

This is a great introduction to the various forms of electronic music out there. (from j-walk)

Posted at 10:46 AM

September 28, 2003

The Namesake

'The Namesake': Out of the Overcoat

Published: September 28, 2003

n almost every page of his writing,'' the critic Edward Thomas once complained about Walter Pater, ''words are to be seen sticking out, like the raisins that will get burned on an ill-made cake.'' Such is the state of literary prose these days: it is often so fine, so self-conscious, so unappeasably literary that it is awful, a cake baked almost exclusively from burned raisins. But an antidote for all these shticky, overprized Big Fiction doorstops quietly appeared in 1999, the short-story collection ''Interpreter of Maladies,'' by a young writer named Jhumpa Lahiri. Written in an elegant hush -- even upon rereading, there isn't a single burned raisin in the mix -- Lahiri's stories traced out the lives of various Bengali-Americans suffering through various stages of lovelorn distress.

Lahiri herself was born in London, raised in America and is of Indian descent. With a background similar in outline to that of Zadie Smith, she nonetheless arrived at an entirely different imaginative enterprise. She renounced the writerly flourish, never once played the exotic and -- perhaps most astonishing -- scaled her characters to actual human existence. (In a typical Lahiri story, we find ourselves milling in and around Harvard Square. Her eye is keenest for that pleasant, humdrum drift of academic life when one is not an eminence.) Self-effacing as it was, ''Interpreter of Maladies'' became a word-of-mouth phenomenon and eventually won a Pulitzer Prize. It was that rare success: remarkable for being so thoroughly deserved.

Just where did that melancholy poise come from? ''Read all the Russians,'' Ashoke Ganguli's grandfather tells him in Lahiri's new novel, ''The Namesake,'' ''and then reread them. They will never fail you.'' On his way to visit his grandfather in Jamshedpur, Ashoke is dutifully rereading his favorite story, Nikolai Gogol's ''Overcoat,'' when his train derails. Lying amid the wreckage, almost passed over for dead and clutching the surviving pages of his book, Ashoke manages to wave meekly. As a result, he is rescued. And as a result, he lives, he marries, he moves to America and has a son. Faced with hospital red tape -- the infant cannot be released without a proper birth certificate -- Ashoke is forced to name his child before he has received instructions from his grandmother, who must be consulted on this vital decision. At a loss for words, Ashoke mutters ''Gogol.''

How like Lahiri to have a name passed down along such a peculiar and delicate chain of accident. Significant as it is for the reader, ''Gogol'' only fills the young American Ganguli with feelings of dissonance and shame. Like Stephen Dedalus, who stared at his signature on the flyleaf of his geography book, most of us slip through childhood's first existential porthole and find our own names profoundly alien. But the feeling infiltrates young Gogol's entire life.

When a high school English teacher assigns ''The Overcoat'' as homework, our Gogol approaches the class with a ''growing dread and a feeling of slight nausea.'' Upon discovering that his namesake was a severe depressive -- a ''queer and sickly creature,'' as Turgenev once described him -- who slowly starved himself to death, Gogol feels freshly betrayed by his parents. If you suspect that all this involves more than its share of juvenile caprice, so does his father. As Lahiri tells us, Gogol's father ''had a point; the only person who didn't take Gogol seriously, the only person who tormented him, the only person chronically aware of and afflicted by the embarrassment of his name, the only person who constantly questioned it and wished it were otherwise, was Gogol.''

Like its hero, ''The Namesake'' is perhaps a little overawed by the power of names. As he enters adolescence, Gogol, along with his friends -- Colin and Jason and Marc -- like to ''listen to records together, to Dylan and Clapton and the Who, and read Nietzsche in their spare time.'' Dylan, Clapton, the Who -- yep, right, check, dead on. But these, the staple names of American male puberty, color the episodes of Gogol's high school years more than Colin and Jason and Marc. (Oh, for one half-mumbled snotty aside or flurry of acid repartee that might bring them alive as actual teenagers.)

Later, as a New York architect, Gogol will fall in with a circle of friends headed up by a couple named Donald and Astrid. These people haven't been named, we think, so much as branded -- he's supposed to sound like the son of a do-right corporate preppy, she the daughter of a wannabe Beatle girlfriend. Guggenheim-leeching artistes, they form -- together with their baby, Esme -- a little bobo ensemble we are plainly meant to detest, down to their Florentine sheets and their stainless steel stockpots. Lahiri, however, is not a wit, and her tonal commitment to that trademark hush never wavers. Absent proper kinship ties, she seems to be saying, this is how Americans feel most at home: among their things. Refined as it may be, consumerism has touched these characters to the core; they merit nothing better than such status descriptors.

As Gogol moves into young adulthood, he becomes that classic case: the charmingly spazzy, high-achieving mild depressive who doesn't yet comprehend how alluring he is to women. It is women -- of varying caliber, but pistols one and all -- who take him by the lapels, shake him awake to life's charms and inject the chronology of his life with some zest. We get Moushumi, who announces, at 13, ''I detest American television,'' before returning to her ''well-thumbed paperback copy of 'Pride and Prejudice' ''; Kim, who, reeking of nicotine and college, first inspires Gogol to re-dub himself Nikhil; and the elegant and sly Maxine Ratliff, whose parents -- old-money culture snobs who have mastered the art of inconspicuous conspicuous consumption -- slowly take over Gogol's life. Here Lahiri's narrative, as it portrays the Ratliffs' stupefying commitment to the good life, takes on a dash of Edith Wharton. How they love their Antonioni double features at the Film Forum and, in New Hampshire, their Adirondack chairs and farmstand corn. They induce in the reader, and in Gogol himself, a pleasant trance, through which aversion heroically fights its way to the surface.

Tantalizing as life in the Ratliffs' townhouse is, Gogol is committed to wafting -- out of Maxine's life and into a marriage (with Moushumi, his Jane Austen-reading childhood friend), ending up finally as an oblivious cuckold. It is not a good sign that when Gogol exits his life story for the entire duration of his wife's love affair we hardly miss him. The reader has begun to suspect that, graceful and spare as Lahiri's prose is, the simply put does not always equal the deeply felt. How much steely equipoise, after all, can one novel stand? Lahiri is a supremely gifted writer, but at moments in ''The Namesake'' it feels as though we've descended from the great Russians to Nick Adams to the PowerPoint voice-over. ''She orders a salad and a bouillabaisse and a bottle of Sancerre,'' goes the description of one of Gogol's dates. ''He orders the cassoulet. She doesn't speak French to the waiter, who is French himself, but the way she pronounces the items on the menu makes it clear that she is fluent. It impresses him.''

Its incorrigible mildness and its ungilded lilies aside, Lahiri's novel is unfailingly lovely in its treatment of Gogol's relationship with his father. This is the classic American parent-child bond -- snakebit, oblique, half-mumbled -- and in Lahiri's rendering, it touches on quiet perfection. As a young boy at the beach, Gogol wanders off with Ashoke one day in search of a lighthouse. (The echo back to Virginia Woolf is surely intentional.) They walk and walk, ''past rusted boat frames, fish spines as thick as pipes attached to yellow skulls, a dead gull whose feathery white breast was freshly stained with blood.'' Finally they reach the lighthouse, only to discover that they have forgotten their camera. ''Will you remember this day, Gogol?'' his father asks. ''How long do I have to remember it?'' Gogol asks in return. ''Try to remember it always,'' his father replies, leading him back across the breakwater. ''Remember that you and I made this journey, that we went together to a place where there was nowhere left to go.''

It's as if Lahiri were saying: in America, where so little is suitably customary or ceremonious, there might at least be this. Memory, unaided by even a photograph, lays a claim on us that is so much more exacting for being so perishable. This is my novel, such as it is, Lahiri is also saying: in a world of eroding kinship, the story of one modest, haphazard stay against oblivion, summed up best, of course, by the name Gogol.

Stephen Metcalf is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn

Posted at 11:45 AM

September 23, 2003

We didnt start the fire

Billy Joel's: We didn't start the fire: Song text

A hypertext empowered (wiki-like) lyric

Posted at 11:17 AM

Revealed religion

The most detestable wickedness, the most horrid cruelties, and the greatest miseries that have afflicted the human race have had their origin in this thing called revelation, or revealed religion. It has been the most destructive to the peace of man since man began to exist.

Thomas Paine
--The Age of Reason

Posted at 09:54 AM

September 21, 2003

BladeLogic --- Simplify Secure Automate
Aduva, Aurema, Bladelogic, CenterRun, Centrata, CoroSoft, Egenera, Ejasent, Inkra Networks, Moonlight Systems, Nauticus Networks, PlateSpin, PolyServe, Racemi, Relicore and Sychron.

interesting moonlight systems

Posted at 10:08 PM

September 13, 2003

Tivo but free

Freevo | Freevo

Posted at 04:07 PM

Is buddhism good for you

Is Buddhism Good for Your Health?

n the spring of 1992, out of the blue, the fax machine in Richard Davidson's office at the department of psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison spit out a letter from Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama. Davidson, a Harvard-trained neuroscientist, was making a name for himself studying the nature of positive emotion, and word of his accomplishments had made it to northern India. The exiled spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists was writing to offer the minds of his monks -- in particular, their meditative prowess -- for scientific research.


Most self-respecting American neuroscientists would shrink from, if not flee, an invitation to study Buddhist meditation, viewing the topic as impossibly fuzzy and, as Davidson recently conceded, ''very flaky.'' But the Wisconsin professor, a longtime meditator himself -- he took leave from graduate school to travel through India and Sri Lanka to learn Eastern meditation practices -- leapt at the opportunity. In September 1992, he organized and embarked on an ambitious data-gathering expedition to northern India, lugging portable electrical generators, laptop computers and electroencephalographic (EEG) recording equipment into the foothills of the Himalayas. His goal was to measure a remarkable, if seemingly evanescent, entity: the neural characteristics of the Buddhist mind at work. ''These are the Olympic athletes, the gold medalists, of meditation,'' Davidson says.

The work began fitfully -- the monks initially balked at being wired -- but research into meditation has now attained a credibility unimaginable a decade ago. Over the past 10 years, a number of Buddhist monks, led by Matthieu Ricard, a French-born monk with a Ph.D. in molecular biology, have made a series of visits from northern India and other South Asian countries to Davidson's lab in Madison. Ricard and his peers have worn a Medusa-like tangle of 256-electrode EEG nets while sitting on the floor of a little booth and responding to visual stimuli. They have spent two to three hours at a time in a magnetic resonance imaging machine, trying to meditate amid the clatter and thrum of the brain-imaging machinery.

No data from these experiments have been published formally yet, but in ''Visions of Compassion,'' a compilation of papers that came out last year, Davidson noted in passing that in one visiting monk, activation in several regions of his left prefrontal cortex -- an area of the brain just behind the forehead that recent research has associated with positive emotion -- was the most intense seen in about 175 experimental subjects.

In the years since Davidson's fax from the Dalai Lama, the neuroscientific study of Buddhist practices has crossed a threshold of acceptability as a topic worthy of scientific attention. Part of the reason for this lies in new, more powerful brain-scanning technologies that not only can reveal a mind in the midst of meditation but also can detect enduring changes in brain activity months after a prolonged course of meditation. And it hasn't hurt that some well-known mainstream neuroscientists are now intrigued by preliminary reports of exceptional Buddhist mental skills. Paul Ekman of the University of California at San Francisco and Stephen Kosslyn of Harvard have begun their own studies of the mental capabilities of monks. In addition, a few rigorous, controlled studies have suggested that Buddhist-style meditation in Western patients may cause physiological changes in the brain and the immune system.

This growing, if sometimes grudging, respect for the biology of meditation is achieving a milestone of sorts this weekend, when some of the country's leading neuroscientists and behavioral scientists are meeting with Tibetan Buddhists, including the Dalai Lama himself, at a symposium held at M.I.T. ''You can think of the monks as cases that show what the potential is here,'' Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School who has pioneered work in the health benefits of meditation, says. ''But you don't have to be weird or a Buddhist or sitting on top of a mountain in India to derive benefits from this. This kind of study is in its infancy, but we're on the verge of discovering hugely fascinating things.''

In the 2,500-year history of Buddhism, the religion has directed its energy inward in an attempt to train the mind to understand the mental state of happiness, to identify and defuse sources of negative emotion and to cultivate emotional states like compassion to improve personal and societal well-being. For decades, scientific research in this country has focused on the short-term effects of meditation on the nervous system, finding that meditation reduces markers of stress like heart rate and perspiration. This research became the basis for the ''relaxation response'' popularized by Prof. Herbert Benson of Harvard in the 1970's. Buddhist practice, however, emphasizes enduring changes in mental activity, not just short-term results. And it is the neural and physical impact of the long-term changes, achieved after years of intense practice, that is increasingly intriguing to scientists.

''In Buddhist tradition,'' Davidson explains, '''meditation' is a word that is equivalent to a word like 'sports' in the U.S. It's a family of activity, not a single thing.'' Each of these meditative practices calls on different mental skills, according to Buddhist practitioners. The Wisconsin researchers, for example, are focusing on three common forms of Buddhist meditation. ''One is focused attention, where they specifically train themselves to focus on a single object for long periods of time,'' Davidson says. ''The second area is where they voluntarily cultivate compassion. It's something they do every day, and they have special exercises where they envision negative events, something that causes anger or irritability, and then transform it and infuse it with an antidote, which is compassion. They say they are able to do it just like that,'' he says, snapping his fingers. ''The third is called 'open presence.' It is a state of being acutely aware of whatever thought, emotion or sensation is present, without reacting to it. They describe it as pure awareness.''

The fact that the brain can learn, adapt and molecularly resculpture itself on the basis of experience and training suggests that meditation may leave a biological residue in the brain -- a residue that, with the increasing sophistication of new technology, might be captured and measured. ''This fits into the whole neuroscience literature of expertise,'' says Stephen Kosslyn, a Harvard neuroscientist, ''where taxi drivers are studied for their spatial memory and concert musicians are studied for their sense of pitch. If you do something, anything, even play Ping-Pong, for 20 years, eight hours a day, there's going to be something in your brain that's different from someone who didn't do that. It's just got to be.''

Jonathan D. Cohen, an expert on attention and cognitive control at Princeton, has been intrigued by reports that certain Buddhist adepts can maintain focus for extended periods. ''Our experience -- and the laboratory evidence is abundant -- is that humans have a limited capacity for attention,'' he says. ''When we try to sustain attention for longer periods of time, like air-traffic controllers have to do, we consider it incredibly effortful and stressful. Buddhism is all about the ability to direct attention flexibly, and they talk about this state of sustained and focused attention that is pleasant, no longer stressful.''

If nothing else, the meeting at M.I.T. this weekend shows that Davidson, one of its principal organizers, has managed to persuade a lot of marquee names to join him in making the case that it has become scientifically respectable to investigate these practices. Participants include mainstream scientists like Eric Lander, a leader of the human genome project; Cohen, a prominent researcher into the neural mechanisms of moral and economic decision-making; and Daniel Kahneman, the Nobel-Prize-winning Princeton economist who has pioneered research into the psychology of financial decision-making.

''Neuroscientists want to preserve both the substance and the image of rigor in their approach, so one doesn't want to be seen as whisking out into the la-la land of studying consciousness,'' concedes Cohen, who is chairman of a session at the M.I.T. meeting. ''On the other hand, my personal belief is that the history of science has humbled us about the hubris of thinking we know everything.''

The ''Monk experiments'' at Madison are beginning to intersect with a handful of small but suggestive studies showing that Buddhist-style meditation may have not only emotional effects but also distinct physiological effects. That is, the power of meditation might be harnessed by non-Buddhists in a way that along with reducing stress and defusing negative emotion, improves things like immune function as well.

The power of the mind to influence bodily function has long been of interest to scientists, especially connections between the nervous, immune and endocrine systems. Janice Kiecolt-Glaser and Ronald Glaser, researchers at Ohio State University, for example, have done a series of studies showing that stress typically impairs immune function, though the exact woof and weave of these connections remains unclear.

Interestingly enough, the Buddhist subjects themselves are largely open to scientific explanation of their practices. ''Buddhism is, like science, based on experience and investigation, not on dogma,'' Matthieu Ricard explained in an e-mail message to me last month. The religion can be thought of as ''a contemplative science,'' he wrote, adding, ''the Buddha always said that one should not accept his teachings simply out of respect for him, but rediscover their truth through our own experience, as when checking the quality of a piece of gold by rubbing it on a piece on stone, melting it and so on.''

In July, I joined Davidson and several colleagues as they stood in a control room and watched an experiment in progress. On a television monitor in the control room, a young woman sat in a chair in a nearby room, alone with her thoughts. Those thoughts -- and, more specifically, the way she tried to control them when provoked -- were the point of the experiment.

Davidson hypothesizes that a component of a person's emotional makeup reflects the relative strength, or asymmetry, of activity between two sides of the prefrontal cortex -- the left side, which Davidson's work argues is associated with positive emotion, and the right side, where heightened activity has been associated with anxiety, depression and other mood disorders.

His research group has conducted experiments on infants and the elderly, amateur meditators and Eastern adepts, in an attempt to define a complex neural circuit that connects the prefrontal cortex to other brain structures like the amygdala, which is the seat of fear, and the anterior cingulate, which is associated with ''conflict-monitoring.'' Some experiments have also shown that greater left-sided prefrontal activation is associated with enhanced immunological activity by natural killer cells and other immune markers.

When one scientist in the control room said, ''All right, here comes the first picture,'' the young woman visibly tensed, gripping her elbows. Electrodes snaked out of her scalp and from two spots just below her right eye. And then, staring into a monitor, the young woman watched as a succession of mostly disturbing images flashed on a screen in front of her -- a horribly mutilated body, a severed hand, a venomous snake poised to strike. Through earphones, the woman was prompted to modulate her emotional response as each image appeared, either to enhance it or suppress it, while the electrodes below her eye surreptitiously tapped into a neural circuit that would indicate if she had successfully modified either a positive or negative emotional response to the images.

''What's being measured,'' Davidson explained, ''is a person's capacity to voluntarily regulate their emotional reactions.''

Daren Jackson, the lead researcher on the study, added, ''Meditation may facilitate more rapid, spontaneous recovery from negative reactions.''

The visiting monks, as well as a group of meditating office workers at a nearby biotech company, have viewed these same gruesome images for the same purpose: to determine what Davidson calls each individual's ''affective style'' (if they are prone, for example, to hang onto negative emotional reactions) and if that style can be modulated by mental effort, of the sort that meditation seeks to cultivate. It is the hope of Davidson and his sometime collaborator Jon Kabat-Zinn that the power of meditation can be harnessed to promote not only emotional well-being but also physical health.

Since founding the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, Kabat-Zinn and colleagues have treated 16,000 patients and taught more than 2,000 health professionals the techniques of ''mindfulness meditation,'' which instructs a Buddhist-inspired ''nonjudgmental,'' total awareness of the present moment as a way of reducing stress. Along the way, Kabat-Zinn has published small but intriguing studies showing that people undergoing treatment for psoriasis heal four times as fast if they meditate; that cancer patients practicing meditation had significantly better emotional outlooks than a control group; and not only that meditation relieved symptoms in patients with anxiety and chronic pain but also that the benefits persisted up to four years after training. Kabat-Zinn is conducting a study for Cigna HealthCare to see if meditation reduces the costs of treating patients with chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome.

For the time being, meditation science is still stuck in a cultural no-man's land between being an oxymoron and something more substantive. ''We're very early in the research,'' said Davidson, who admitted that ''the vast majority of meditation research is schlock.'' But a well-designed study published in July by Davidson, Kabat-Zinn and their colleagues provides further evidence that the topic is legitimate.

In July 1997, Davidson recruited human subjects at a small biotech company outside Madison called Promega to study the effects of Buddhist-style meditation on the neural and immunological activity of ordinary American office workers. The employees' brains were wired and measured before they began a course in meditation training taught by Kabat-Zinn. It was a controlled, randomized study, and after eight weeks, the researchers would test brain and immune markers to assess the effects of meditation.

There was reluctance among some employees to volunteer, but eventually, about four dozen employees participated in the study. Once a week for eight weeks, Kabat-Zinn would show up at Promega with his boom box, his red and purple meditation tape cassettes and his Tibetan chimes, and the assembled Promega employees -- scientists, marketing people, lab techs and even some managers -- would sit on the floor of a conference room and practice mindfulness for three hours.

In July, the results of the experiment at Promega were published in the journal Psychosomatic Medicine, and they suggest that meditation may indeed leave a discernible and lasting imprint on the minds and bodies of its practitioners. Among the Promega employees who practiced meditation for two months, the Wisconsin researchers detected significant increases in activity in several areas of the left prefrontal cortex -- heightened activity that persisted for at least four months after the experiment, when the subjects were tested again. Moreover, the meditators who showed the greatest increase in prefrontal activity after training showed a correspondingly more robust ability to churn out antibodies in response to receiving a flu vaccine. The findings, Kabat-Zinn suggested, demonstrated qualitative shifts in brain activity after only two months of meditation that mirror preliminary results seen in expert meditators like monks.

These results are still embraced cautiously, at best. Indeed, the Wisconsin study took five years to publish in part because several higher-profile journals to which it was submitted refused even to send it out for peer review, according to Davidson. And yet, by the time the study was over, the subjective experience of participants complemented the objective data: meditation ultimately left people feeling healthier, more positive and less stressed. ''I really am an empiricist in every aspect of my life,'' said Michael Slater, a molecular biologist at Promega. ''I doubt dogma, and I test it. I do it at the laboratory bench, but also in my personal life. So this appealed to me, because I could feel the reduction in stress. I could tell I was less irritable. I had more capacity to take on more stressors. My wife felt I was easier to be around. So there were tangible impacts. For an empiricist, that was enough.''

Granted, that's not enough for many other people, especially the scientific skeptics. But Slater made an offhand comment that struck me as a highly convincing, though thoroughly unofficial, form of peer review. ''My wife,'' Slater said quietly, ''is dying for me to start meditating again.''

Stephen S. Hall is the author, most recently, of ''Merchants of Immortality: Chasing the Dream of Human Life Extension.''

Posted at 02:56 PM

September 11, 2003

September 08, 2003

September 03, 2003

Bad designs

Bad Designs - Table of Contents
(From j-walk)

Posted at 04:45 PM

September 02, 2003

java's jar option

The sun java vm has a -jar option. Be careful when using this since it also negates all the classpath values without warning.

Java –classpath foo;bar; -jar js.jar

The classpath was being reset to only js.jar

The solution:

Java –classpath rtest.jar;js.jar foo.js

This works like a charm!

Posted at 04:12 PM


Fundamentalism means sticking strictly to the script, which in turn means being deeply fearful of the improvised, ambiguous or indeterminate...Since writing is meaning that can be handled by anybody, any time, it is always profane and promiscuous. Meaning that has been written down is bound to be unhygienic...Fundamentalism is the paranoid condition of those who do not see that roughness is not a defect of human existence, but what makes it work.
Terry Eagleton --The Guardian 22 Feb. 2003
Posted at 11:11 AM

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