Still here…

Posted in Random Musings on February 26th, 2011 by Victor Grey – Comments Off

It’s not that often that I can come up with a triple-entendre. So first, it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted to this blog, but I’m still here.

Secondly, I’ve just had an interesting experience. I woke up last Monday morning feeling fine. I worked for an hour or so on MetaConnectors, tracking down the cause of a failing test and writing a few more.

Then Carol and I did our morning meditation, and I showered, did my morning exercises, and went downstairs to eat breakfast. With the first few bites of breakfast I started feeling intense stomach pain. I couldn’t eat any more. So I went back upstairs to lie down, thinking it would pass in a little while.

It didn’t pass. By afternoon it was only getting worse. Finally around 5pm I called our health plan advice nurse, and after asking a bunch of questions she sternly ordered me to report to the hospital emergency room to be evaluated.

Carol drove me to the ER, I walked in and stood in line to be seen, and was brought into an exam room for an EKG and blood tests. I was quite surprised when the doctor came in and informed me that I was having a heart attack. Mind you, I was not weak or dizzy, had no trouble breathing, no “elephant sitting on my chest” or any of the symptoms I’d read about. Just intense pain in my lower chest in the area of my stomach, radiating up my esophagus into my jaw and into my left arm.

But, I was told, there is a very specific enzyme that the heart releases when it is in trouble, that never comes from anything else, and I had a high level of it in my blood. And although my first EKG had looked pretty normal to them, they did another and were now seeing changes.

So it was off to the cardiac catheter laboratory with me. When you’re lying flat on your back on a wheeled bed being pushed through the halls of a hospital, all you can see is the ceiling passing by. I recognized the movie cliché right away — I’ve seen this view of the corridor ceiling lights passing by in more than one movie.

Entering the “cath lab” as they called it was a different movie — the one where you’ve been abducted by aliens or robots and you’re in a room with an array of techno-medieval devices hanging off the ceiling.

There were a lot of people around me being very busy — I don’t know how many since all I could see was the impressive ceiling. At the time all this was happening I didn’t feel the least bit scared, just alert (I thought) and rather detached. But then, who knows what kind of drugs they were pumping into me through the three iv’s they had started. There was an electronically amplified voice (perhaps someone in another room?) commenting on the proceedings. There was a doctor who began describing what he was doing in truly impenetrable jargon, and the voice would repeat what he said and sometimes ask a question. I couldn’t feel what they were doing to me at all. Every now and then someone would ask me how I was doing, and not knowing what else to say (I’m in an alien abduction movie and my stomach hurts like hell) I would say “OK.”

After what seemed like 10 or 15 minutes had passed (it was really more than an hour), someone asked me if my pain was any better. At that very moment it was worse, a lot worse. “It should be better” one of the doctors said rather querulously. Then there ensued a bunch more jargon, and then lo, it was getting better.

With the release of the pain I must have drifted off, because the next thing I remember is seeing Carol’s face looking down at me. And the next thing after that was a sweet-natured young ICU nurse introducing herself to me as my nurse for the rest of the evening. It was 1:30am.

I’m told that one of my coronary arteries had been 100% blocked, and another one 80% blocked. I am now the proud possessor of two PROMUS Everolimus Eluting Coronary Stents, and the paperwork to prove it should you doubt me.

What to say about all this? For the 3 days that I was in the hospital afterwards, I was in good spirits and cheerfully demanding that they let me out now — I’m fine! Once I got home, I started on a roller coaster of emotion. Something like this changes who you think you are. It’s a new phase of life, a new archetype. My previous method for dealing with any physical pain was to first try to push through it, and if that didn’t work go lie down until it went away. For the first time in my life that modus operandi didn’t work for me. I’m no longer invincible.

Ah, well. There’s still an anti-social network generator to launch, several books to write, a wife to be devoted to, a daughter to admire, grandchildren to adore, friends to have intellectual jousts with. A life that I’m very far from done with.

Which brings me to my third entendre. In the very first post to this blog, I quoted the mathematician G. Spencer Brown1:

“Those of us who have gone back and remembered our births, remembered what we knew,and remembered the covenant we then made with those standing around our cradle, the realization that we now have to forget everything and live a life…”

There’s an ellipsis at the end of that quote that carries a lot of meaning. The only way I know of to embrace it is to …be still, …be here.


Surrendering to WordPress

Posted in Tech Notes on July 23rd, 2010 by Victor Grey – Comments Off

The previous incarnation of this blog was, among other things, a software experiment. I wanted to learn about CouchDB, so I wrote a simple blog app in Ruby on Rails, using CouchDB as a back-end.

Well, CouchDB turned out to be a disappointment in several ways. First of all when I did some simple benchmarking against a real application, CouchDB was surprisingly slow. Considerably slower in fact that the default Rails ActiveRecord and MySQL. Secondly, the CouchDB paradigm of saving a javascript function for every desired query gets tiresome after not too long.

I’m still bullish on the NoSQL notion though, so I’ve moved on to MongoDB. I’ve been developing the next small thing in anti-social networks using MongoDB with Rails 3 and the Mongoid object mapper, and so far I’m very happy with it. It’s fast, it’s flexible, and it lends itself to modeling data in a way that feels just so. MongoDB is developed as open source by a small engineering-driven company called 10gen, and there seems to be a vibrant community of developers springing up around it. There’s even a monthly meetup in SF.

Meanwhile, I had this blog backed by CouchDB and no longer any good reason to incur the overhead of running CouchDB. Having approximately no interest in writing yet another blog app, I’ve decided to follow the path of least resistance off the cliff and bring up TATWD in WordPress.

Importing the posts from the previous blog was not all that easy, it being an idiosyncratic home-made application, and most of those posts just traced my own process through the world of software and identity anyway. Not the kind of literature that improves with age. So I just copy-and-pasted the few posts that I though I might conceivably want to refer to some day, and am letting the rest die gracefully. I hope the readers of this blog (yes, both of you) don’t mind too much.

Anti-Social Networks: the next small thing

Posted in Tech Notes on October 29th, 2009 by Victor Grey – Comments Off

Recently a friend sent me a link to the FOAF+SSL site. This page and its linked articles were an entertaining journey into virtuoso hand-waving. A protocol that depends on having all of your users create FOAF files, um, somewhere, and then generate self-signed certificates and install them in their browsers? What user population did you have in mind exactly?

As serendipity would have it, right afterwards I came across an article entitled “Anti-Social Networks” by John Shade. It’s a PDF, so you have to download it and then turn to page 38. Shade is a funny guy, and his article skewers the kind of thinking that went into FOAF+SSL. Here’s my favorite paragraph:

“It used to be enough to make the software work. But when software is all about human-human interaction, the goal becomes to make the human-human interaction work. And its worse than that, because social software is not about individual users. You have to understand groups, which, it turns out, can’t be done by understanding an individual user and iterating.”

This of course got me thinking. Everyone wants to build the next big thing. No one seems to be asking whether we really need another big thing.

One capability of the internet that has been celebrated from its inception is that it makes it possible for anyone in the world to connect to anyone else. The first big thing that exploited this was email. The most recent big things are large social networks like MySpace and Facebook. They have their place, but they also create a big problem — when anyone in the world can connect to you, anyone does.

People often try to filter this problem by creating small ad hoc groups within the open space, and various social software systems facilitate this with varying degrees of transparency and privacy. Smaller networks like LivingDirectoryand Ning formalize group creation within their respective networks.

My little epiphany was that this network within which groups are created is an unnecessary construct. Even if a single web service has created many different groups, each group has its own identity and does not need to partake of an artificially created enclosing identity. A group’s identity is formed by its stated purpose, its history and its participants and their contributions to the group. Since it is possible to move all of these things from one software host to another, the identity of the group does not of necessity have any relationship to its current host, any more than it does to the current hardware it is running on.

The whole notion of user-centric identity has been fraught from the start. The thing is, to be a “user” you have to be a user of something. The something of which you are a user is as much a part of the online identity created as you are. This is imho the misdirection facing efforts such as the Data Portability Project.

Your identity in what we are pleased to call the “real world” is based on your physical body. It came into being when you were born, and it will cease when you die. You can have many identity documents, but they presumably all point to one human individual. You only get one body (at a time). Online identities however are disembodied, and you can have as many as you like, but you probably have to share them with the group they exist within.

Stand-alone groups only need a few rules and a protocol. Some rules needed are: who can join and how; authorizations required for different kinds of access; how content moderation happens. The protocol must define how groups can affiliate with each other to share data if they wish, and a serialization standard for the group data and rules so they can be moved from one host to another.

The ability to affiliate means that a group doesn’t have to choose between being a virgin or a slut, i.e. a walled garden or globally available.

Shade uses the phrase “anti-social network” ironically. I’m going to appropriate it to mean (slightly less ironically) networks that don’t want to connect to the whole world, just to their own and affiliated participants.

The Tyranny of Structurelessness

Posted in Random Musings on September 24th, 2008 by Victor Grey – Comments Off

I stumbled across this article years ago, and then lost track of where I had found it. I just rediscovered the original on the author’s website

It’s written about the Women’s Liberation Movement of the sixties (something about which I am not completely unaware, having been in a former life married to one of the founders of the local Women’s Liberation Organization in New Haven, Connecticut, a role referenced in the article), but it is a generalizable and brilliant analysis.

Try reading it while mentally substituting IIW/Identity Commons/Data Portability/etc for the women’s groups the author discusses.

Psychic birds

Posted in Futurism on January 7th, 2007 by Victor Grey – Comments Off

I saw a presentation a few years ago, at the Institute of Noetic Sciences, which included a video of an investigation that Rupert Sheldrake conducted into a fascinating phenomenon involving an African Gray parrot.

African Grays are very large parrots that are remarkable in a number of ways. They can live to be more than one hundred years old, and are fiercely loyal to their owners. If you own an African Gray, you have a moral responsibility to ensure that it will be inherited by a good owner when you die, since it will very likely outlive you, and to arrange for a long and gradual introductory period between your parrot and its prospective new owner.

African Grays are also noted for their intelligence. They can learn to “speak” with large repertoires, and can learn to associate sounds with properties such as shape, color and composition, so that for instance when asked for a “red triangle” or a “brass circle” they will accurately pick it out of a collection of objects, not confusing it with a blue triangle or a plastic circle.

However all that pales in comparison to what this particular African Gray in the presentation could do. The experiment took place in the owner’s home, which was a two story structure. The bird was upstairs by itself, with a video camera recording what it did. Downstairs, the owner and a researcher sat at a table, with another video camera recording them. The researcher was showing the owner a series of cards with pictures on them. As the owner looked at the pictures, the bird – upstairs in another part of the house mind you – would speak what was on the picture!

Later they interviewed the owner, who said that she first noticed her parrots psychic abilities when she would wake up in the morning remembering a dream, and the parrot would speak some fragment of the dream. So she started leaving a tape recorder running by her bedside, and discovered that the parrot talked off and on all night, narrating her dreams as she had them.

I was walking in the deep woods one day, at a retreat center in Sonoma county, when three ravens started following me. They were not so much flying as hopping from tree to tree, sometimes with a slow powerful flap of the wings for extra thrust. They were “following in front” of me the way a cat will, anticipating where I would go, and they were making the most interesting noises. A soft low caw, like a crow caw played back at very slow speed, and another sound so unlike anything you would expect from a bird that for a while I wasn’t sure it was coming from them – a sound like water flowing over rocks.

Have you ever sat quietly with a close friend, and felt that you have had a deep and meaningful conversation, even though neither of you said a word? That was the experience I had with those ravens that day – hard to pin down, and yet very vivid in my memory even many years later. I learned something from those birds that day, something that I don’t have words for, that can’t be expressed in words. A connection.

There are other kinds of intelligences beside the one we big-brained apes have evolved. Ravens and African Gray parrots are among the most evolutionary recent birds. These descendants of the dinosaurs are, I’m convinced, evolving an intelligence that we mammals may find quite alien, although we have the seeds of it in us as well. It doesn’t depend on a big central nervous system processing unit, being a more distributed kind of system with trillions of cell membranes for nodes. (Do read The Biology of Belief by Bruce Lipton.)

I’ve identified in myself at least three different frequencies of thought. While some people speak of “higher vibrations” as being better, for me it’s just the opposite. The fastest thoughts are the self-talk thoughts, the worrying or planning ahead thoughts, the judging and having myself being judged thoughts. The same thought comes back around every few minutes, sometimes every few moments if there is a lot of emotion behind it. Like a hamster running in a wheel in its cage.

Then there are the creative thoughts. They have a frequency of days to weeks. I will be working on something, and stumped or blocked, I will let it go. A few days (or weeks) later I’ll stumble across something that is just the answer I was looking for. Or the answer will, unbidden, just spring into clarity for me at some random moment in my day.

The longest waves of all are the thoughts that happen over years to decades. These are the thoughts that shape my life. They have no words or images or emotion. They are raven thoughts, pure connection.

John Mack was a Harvard psychiatry professor who studied and tried to help people who believed that they had been abducted by UFOs. I met him once – he was a fascinating and gentle man. “I don’t know what happened to these people,” he told me, “but I know something happened to them. I’ve worked with psychotics for much of my career. These people are not psychotic, not delusional.”

I have my own conjecture about it. If there are other civilizations out there in the universe, and it seems almost certain that there must be, and equally certain that some of these must be millions of years older than our own, where might evolution have taken them? I think that the evolutionary step after (or before or in parallel with) what we are pleased to call “intelligence” is psychic connection. Perhaps these UFO beings are what we call “psychic” to an extent far beyond anything we have experienced, in the same way that we are intelligent in a way far beyond anything a chimpanzee has experienced.

In the presence of that much psychic power it may be that our minds become disorganized, that we aren’t capable of processing what we are experiencing. That what those who have had this experience therefore remember about it is a kind of dream imagery, a representation of the experience in subconscious symbology.


Posted in Random Musings on January 3rd, 2007 by Victor Grey – Comments Off

“The world rests on the back of a giant turtle.” What does the turtle stand on? “Another turtle.” What does that turtle stand on? “It’s just turtles all the way down!”

If you Google the phrase, you get a lot of references to Stephen Hawking and Bertrand Russell. Great men these may be, but I find the setting up of a straw man by reasoning from a literal interpretation of a mystical concept a bit silly, and strangely akin to the claim some folks make to a belief in a “literal” interpretation of the (old English translation of the Latin translation of the Greek/Hebrew/Aramaic) bible. But then, science as an intolerant religion, and what it means to be truly rational…that’s a whole ‘nother post.

Dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find references to John Grinder and Gregory Bateson. Now you’re getting closer to what I mean. There is something deeply moving in the contemplation of infinite recursion. It is one way to come face to face with a mystery, that everything is a construct of my consciousness except right here, right now. That I don’t know where my consciousness came from, that it seems to stand on the back of the previous moment’s consciousness, which stands on the back…

“This statement is false.” Suppose that the preceeding statement is true, then it can’t be true because it says that it is false. OK then, supposing it is false, then it must be true because it says that it is false. While you’re thinking about that, someone kicks you in the shins.

Here’s a couple of quotes1 from the truly mystical mathematician G. Spencer Brown (image added by me):

“A mystic, if there is such a person, is not a person to whom everything is mysterious. He is a person to whom everything is perfectly plain.”

“Those of us who have gone back and remembered our births, remembered what we knew,and remembered the covenant we then made with those standing around our cradle, the realization that we now have to forget everything and live a life…”