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Category Archives: Art and Craft

Nuggets from the World of Ideas

Once upon a time

There was a place where you could walk into a flowing stream, and if you knew what to look for, you could reach right down and pick up a piece of gold. I can imagine that copper, tin and iron once laid around in lumps.

In ancient Babylon and Sumer (and elsewhere) crude oil and tar flowed like springs up out of the ground.

Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, opals, turquoise, were all just pretty rocks…

…once upon a time.

Those days are pretty much all gone now, unless you count finding buried or sunken treasure.

…or are they?

The World of Ideas

Often in conversation, new friends will get around to asking me what I do. Or, knowing what I do, they will ask me how I do it. I have learned to pause for a second –or two– and look as if through an invisible door. In my imagination a metaphorical doorway from ‘our’ world to the world of ideas opens before me. Stepping through the doorway in my mind, I describe to them what I see.

Imagine a world where ideas lay around on the surface of the ground like rocks in a stream. You don’t even have to dig for them; you just have to meander around and notice.

“And I am not the only human being in that world,” I tell them, “Other people are there too, picking up ideas.

“Sometimes, I see people fighting over ‘big ideas’. I try to avoid those places. When somebody comes over and gets interested in taking over what I’m doing, I just give it to them and move on. I don’t want to get involved in a fight over one idea when so many of them are out there.”

Source: DC Animated Universe Wiki

Why Aren’t You Rich?

This is a natural question, I suppose, but one I didn’t think about before someone asked it the first time. It comes up a lot, though, apparently…

(Nygma discovers his office is locked and his nameplate is missing)
Edward Nygma: What’s going on here? Where’s my office? My door was right here.
Janitor: “Was” is right.
(Holds Nygma’s nameplate up and dumps it in the bin)
Edward Nygma: What’s the meaning of this?
Daniel Mockridge: What does it look like, Eddie? You’re out of here. You’re history. You’re fired. Comprende?
Edward Nygma: Have you lost what passes for your mind!? You can’t afford to do without me, Mockridge!
Daniel Mockridge: I can if you’re going to sue me for royalties.
Edward Nygma: I created the “Riddle of the Minotaur” game! This company’s making millions for my genius!
Daniel Mockridge: Competitron Software’s success didn’t come from the product, Nygma. Competitron has a corporate attitude. It’s strength is in the boardroom. The deal. The contract. Specifically the “Work for Hire” contract you signed.
(Shows Nygma a contract he tricked him into signing long ago)
Edward Nygma: You are a fool, Mockridge, if you think you can get away with this. Your amoral greed is no match for an intellect like mine!
Daniel Mockridge: Oh, yeah? Then tell me something, Eddie: if you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?

DC Animated Universe Wiki

… so people ‘get’ the idea that cash follows creativity, but not necessarily in the same person. I feel like this– If I had to choose between pursuing ‘success’ or being able to go to that place, which would I choose? I guess the answer is obvious by now.

I’ve found myself feeling Edward Nygma’s pain a time or two, I won’t lie. But I learned there is more joy in going into that world than in fighting over who gets to bring an idea back from there.

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Stewed Pork Roast


1          3 – 4 lb center cut pork roast 3          qts chicken stock
½         cup Cajun seasoning (more or less) 2          cups dark roux
3          cups diced onions ½         cup garlic powder
1 ½      cups diced celery 1          tsp black pepper
1 ½      cups bell pepper 1          tsp cayenne pepper
1          cup dried oregano 1          cup dried sweet basil
½         tsp thyme 1          tsp cumin
1          tsp chili powder ½         tsp cardamom
1          bunch carrots 2          lbs potatoes
  • Rub the roast with Cajun seasoning (Tony Chacheres or equivalent) and refrigerate for at least an hour prior to cooking.
  • Using a large skillet or a griddle, sear the roast on all sides. Remove roast from heat and set aside.
  • Saute the ‘holy trinity‘ (onions, celery, peppers) with the basil and oregano until the onions begin to brown.
  • Transfer the ‘holy trinity’ into a large pot. De-glaze the saute pan with some of the chicken stock and pour the ‘dirty’ liquid, plus the rest of the stock into the large pot.
  • Add the carrots and potatoes to the pot and bring to a boil. Add the rest of the spices and stir well.
  • Use tongs to transfer the roast into the simmering pot, cover and boil for at least an hour until the center temperature of the meat is at least 160 degrees (F).
  • (You can also add other vegetables, such as squash, corn, mushrooms, …whatever you have. Add the tender vegetables late in the process, or else they will get mushy. Ten minutes is long enough to boil squash or mushrooms.)
  • When the roast is done cooking, remove it from the pot and place it on a platter. Skim off some of the spices from the pot and coat the top of the roast with them. Cover the roast with aluminum foil and let it set for a half hour.
  • Add the roux to the pot to make gravy.

They have bred the fat almost completely out of modern pork so that ‘roasting’ a roast makes it come out too dry. This is a great way to keep the meat juicy. You can use a crock pot, too; I would rather wash a big kettle and I like having everything on the stove to make all the transfers easier.

We don’t eat much ‘red’ meat, mostly because it is so much more work than seafood to prepare. This one’s a keeper, though.

What is ‘Truth’?

Picking up from here

 writes:

[Gödel] believed that mathematical objects, like numbers, were not human constructions but real things, as real as peanut butter sandwiches. …

If numbers are real things, independent of our minds, they don’t care whether or not we can define them; we apprehend them through some intuitive faculty whose nature remains a mystery. From this point of view, it’s not at all strange that the mathematics we do today is very much like the mathematics we’d be doing if Gödel had never knocked out the possibility of axiomatic foundations. For Gödel, axiomatic foundations, however useful, were never truly necessary in the first place.

Gödel didn’t prove numbers are “real things,” but by proving that there are true statements about numbers that cannot be proven, did he not  imply that numbers (and thus, possibly other things) exist apart from the human mind?

This is echoed in Ayn Rand‘s philosophy of Objectivism. Once again, however, something has been left out. This time, it’s Gödel’s incompleteness theorem— Objectivism seems to hold that:

  • Logic will eventually gather all the knowledge there is to gain, and
  • If it cannot be attained through logic, then the so-called ‘knowledge’ is not ‘real’, e.g. ‘knowledge’ gained through ‘faith’.

But if “no system of logical axioms can produce all truths about numbers because no system of logical axioms can pin down exactly what numbers are,” [Ellenberg] how, then, are those truths to be produced and pinned down, except by a rudimentary kind of faith? It is easy to forget that Pythagoreans were mystics who used mathematical ideas for religious purposes.

I found help in an essay by Princeton mathematician, Edward Nelson–

The notion of truth in mathematics is irrelevant to what mathematicians do, it is vague unless abstractly formalized, and it varies according to philosophical opinion. In short, it is formal abstraction masquerading as reality.

[‘Truth’] is a correspondence between a linguistic formulation and reality.

Abstract ideas [about truth] have concrete consequences– this is their power.

[Nelson, Mathematics and faith, in “The Human Search for Truth: Philosophy, Science, Theology – The Outlook for the Third Millennium,” International Conference on Science and Faith, The Vatican, 23-25 May 2000, St. Joseph’s University Press, Philadelphia, 2002.]

Perhaps the truth of mathematics is metaphorical. Perhaps the only way we can perceive truth is through metaphor. Perhaps the only way we can make the connection from metaphor to truth is to employ a kind of faith.

Left Out

Quote from novelist Ayn Rand.

Quote from novelist Ayn Rand. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might be wondering, “What does Ralph Waldo Emerson have to do with either Ayn Rand or prepping?”

I Googled +Ayn +Rand +Ralph +Waldo +Emerson and found this quote:

[Some People] might say: “Consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” They got it from a very little mind, Emerson.

http://www.noblesoul.com/orc/essays/emerson.html

The word, ‘foolish’ is left out, as is the end of the sentence, “… adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” Without that word, foolish, the quote fragment sounds as if it could have come from some spoiled teenage ditz’s reference to her hair-do.

This is similar to another problem I keep having: When I read Atlas Shrugged, I don’t find myself. A character like me is just not there, so I feel left out.

It is far easier to disagree with someone’s ideas if you leave out some of their words.

What might RWE have been thinking when he wrote those words? How about party politics? How about a philosophy that says in essence, “If I can’t take a picture of it then it isn’t real?” Maybe he was speaking against religious fundamentalism?

Maybe RWE was simply saying we should say what we honestly think & feel and if in the future our thoughts & feelings change, we should own that change.

Self Reliance

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. …

English: Daguerreotype of Ralph Waldo Emerson,...

Ralph Waldo Emerson. Courtesy of the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day.— ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ —Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ayn Rand contributed Objectivism to society. I see it as a nice counterpoise to Emerson’s philosophy (Transcendentalism). Atlas Shrugged is similarly counterpoised to prepping, perhaps. I am thankful for the space created by the tension of things set in opposition, the fabric, pegs and pole of a big circus tent where we all get to participate.

Having a sort of anti-realist point of view as I do, it is hard has become impossible for me to insist on matters of fact; I certainly have my own, and you probably have your own, but I don’t expect you to share all of mine nor vice versa. Gridlock ensues when we insist on our personal facts of the matter.

Strike!

Stanisław Lentz [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“What if I went on strike? What if all the creative minds of the world went on strike?”

–Ayn Rand

I grew up near Delaware County, New York, learning about the Anti-rent War of 1839 to 1852. The anti-rent war was definitely about makers vs. takers. Here is Howard Zinn‘s description:

When a deputy arrived in the farming area [of the Catskills] with writs demanding the rent, farmers suddenly appeared, assembled by the blowing of tin horns. They seized his writs and burned them. That December, a sheriff and a mounted posse of five hundred rode into the farm country, but found themselves in the midst of shrieking tin horns, eighteen hundred farmers blocking their path, six hundred more blocking their rear, all mounted, armed with pitchforks and clubs. The sheriff and his posse turned back, the rear guard parting to let them through. This was the start of the Anti-Renter movement in the Hudson Valley, described by Henry Christman in Tin Horns and Calico. It was a protest against the patroonship system, which went back to the 1600s when the Dutch ruled New York, a system where (as Christman describes it) “a few families, intricately intermarried, controlled the destinies of three hundred thousand people and ruled in almost kingly splendor near two million acres of land.” … Sheriffs and deputy sheriffs trying to serve writs on farmers were surrounded by calico-clad riders who had been summoned by tin horns sounding in the countryside-then tarred and feathered. The New York Herald, once sympathetic, now deplored “the insurrectionary spirit of the mountaineers.”

English: A poster supporting the Anti-Rent Mov...

English: A poster supporting the Anti-Rent Movement, aimed to end the patroon system in Rensselaer County, New York, United States, set to take place in the town of Nassau (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When a deputy sheriff tried to sell the livestock of a farmer named Moses Earle, who owed $60 rent on 160 stony acres, there was a fight, and the deputy was killed. Similar attempts to sell livestock for rent payments were thwarted, again and again. The governor sent three hundred troops in, declaring a state of rebellion existed, and soon almost a hundred Anti-Renters were in jail. Smith Boughton, a country doctor on horseback,  was brought to trial. He was charged with taking papers from a sheriff but declared by the judge to have in fact committed “high treason, rebellion against your government, and armed insurrection” and sentenced to life imprisonment.

The power of the law thus crushed the Anti-Rent movement. It was intended to make clear that farmers could not win by fighting-that they must confine their efforts to voting, to acceptable methods of reform. In 1845, the Anti-Renters elected fourteen members to the state legislature. Governor Silas Wright now commuted to life imprisonment the two death sentences and asked the legislature to give relief to the tenants, to end the feudal system in the Hudson Valley. Proposals to break up the huge estates on the death of the owners were defeated, but the legislature voted to make illegal the selling of tenant property for nonpayment of rent. A constitutional convention that year outlawed new feudal leases.

The farmers had fought, been crushed by the law, their struggle diverted into voting, and the system stabilized by enlarging the class of small landowners, leaving the basic structure of rich and poor intact. It was a common sequence in American history.

I, as a “creative mind”, have gone “on strike” against corporate wrongdoing. Without going into details, I can assure you that the injustice I fought against ultimately subsided, but at a huge personal and professional cost. When you “go on strike” in the real world, you don’t get to just disappear; you get more visible, become easily targeted, your bills continue and the stresses on your family escalate. So, I somewhat agree with Ms. Rand’s “Sanction of the Victim” argument. But I would instead re-cast the argument to read, “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

Atlas Compelled

Not a happy camper… (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Atlas, according to the story, was compelled to shoulder his celestial burden, because he and his fellow Titans were overthrown by younger gods. Enduring as he might have been, Atlas lost the Olympian fight and was forced to hold up the cosmos by Zeus, the chief god of the younger generation. Ouch, that must have hurt!

So whether it is or whether it is not a good idea for society’s most productive citizens [to] refuse to be exploited, choosing Atlas as the poster boy may have been a bit of a slip.

Atlas: true mythology

Italiano: Statua romana di Atlante (sec II d.C...

Italiano: Statua romana di Atlante (sec II d.C.). Già nella Collezione Farnese, oggi al Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since the power of myth is metaphor, let us invest a few minutes in the metaphor that the Atlas myth was intended to make. Refer to this Wikipedia article

Classical art shows Atlas holding the celestial spheres, not a globe

Zeus condemned Atlas to stand at the western edge of Gaia (the Earth) and hold up Uranus (the Sky) on his shoulders, to prevent the two from resuming their primordial embrace.

Atlas Shrugged? Really?

Atlas sculpture, New York City, by sculptor Le...

Atlas sculpture, New York City, by sculptor Lee Lawrie. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every Sunday morning I try to write something down about what happened to me during the previous week. This past week what has been most interesting to me (personally) is that my struggling business endeavor has found a measure of success. But two other events occurred that, taken together, have persuaded me to forego discussing my personal happiness and attempt to present my philosophical perspective on current events.

This will take some time, because I don’t want to “shoot from the lip” –probably the rest of August– and I may take the time to post mid-week updates.

Thanks for being patient with me.

Making … Progress

Does society need individuals with equivalent skills in theory and implementation?

I believe so, yes!

Slowly, slowly, making progress. 

In the old days most little towns had a blacksmith, sort of like most little towns today have a “Gas-n-Go.” Where are they all going? Out of town to get the things they need. But personal transportation wasn’t well developed in the old days, so the things one needed had to be brought closer to hand. I am not wistful for the small-town of old, except that I have always been attracted to the old-time blacksmith as an archetype. (“Competencies: Physical strength, conceptualization,” says Wikipedia.)

Have you ever felt energized visiting a museum replica of a blacksmith’s or carpenter’s shop?  I have; I even tried cabinetwork years ago… it didn’t stimulate my mind enough, so it rebelled. Eventually I drifted into electrical engineering and graduate school. At my first (and only) job after graduate school I would grow frustrated waiting for all the “high priority” (= “supporting current production”) jobs to get built on schedule while my “R&D” (= “future of the company”) jobs languished or were piecemealed. Fortunately, the two machinists that worked in the shop, Scooter and Scott, were sympathetic and let me use equipment that would otherwise have sat idle. They treated me as their apprentice, and I tried to give them back as good as they gave, for example helping go between them and some of the less than sympathetic engineers who didn’t understand the reality of tolerance.

This experience really empowered  practical creativity, because I could make a little widget to try out a theoretical idea.  This made improving even the larger systems faster because I could give my boss concrete evidence that my ideas might work. Some did and some didn’t, but many new ideas and improvements to old ones flowed freely from my mind to my hands and on to production.

Then I got promoted.

Actually, it was more complicated than that. The dot-com bubble popped in 2001 and my employer was forced to reduced staff commensurately. The facility where I worked was closed and the property was sold off. I was offered the choice of a transfer and a big raise or to hit the bricks.

I chose the raise.

But the cost was that I had to forego turning cranks in the shop. The new place’s shop was bigger and faster-paced. The superintendent didn’t like the idea of a “guest machinist.” Gradually, I found my professional responsibilities shifting more to conference calls and giving advice, with less time spent tinkering.

That’s over now. I am starting to right myself. Today I have three customers– I am developing a special antenna of one. I am available to discuss resonant lines on a will-call basis for another. The third customer pays me a fixed retainer and asks me to help out however and wherever I am able. I really love working for the third customer, but I actually get to make things for all of them. It is up to me to decide how best to serve their individual needs.

Is it even a good idea to be equally devoted to theoretical understanding and practical know-how? Or is the cautionary phrase, “Jack of all trades, master of none” more sensible? For me, it was never really a choice so much as a compulsion to hang out in the shared space between the two. Slowly, slowly, I am finding people whose projects need equal parts theory and practice.  Designer and builder. Making headway.

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