Being in the moment: in search of wu wei

For this last day of my ‘three day quote challenge’ I offer you not one but two quotations:

If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.
— Lao Tzu

I think this is rather profound. I know that when I’m feeling down it’s when I’m dwelling on things that have happened in my life. And that’s foolish: nothing can change what’s been and gone… “what can’t be cured must be endured”, as the saying goes. As for anxiety: the same goes there too: when I’m anxious it’s because I’m thinking of something ahead (and all too often worrying about it). Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, my fears aren’t realised.

‘Being in the present’ is clearly the best way to be. Perhaps there’s something to this ‘mindfulness’ stuff. It seems to me that writing is ‘mindful’; even if what you’re writing about is events in the past, or ponderings about the future, in the act of putting words in a row you have to be in the moment to do so.

Though it’s only recently I’d encountered this quote, I wrote a poem a few years ago that resonates with this theme. It’s called ‘Thought for the day‘. You may notice something odd about the comments in that post, in that I didn’t appear to reply to any of them. In fact, I probably did reply to them all, but in those days I visited the commenter’s site and continued the conversation there. Which perhaps leaves the impression that I didn’t engage with my audience. (These days, I try to both reply here and visit the commenter’s site; but there are only so many hours in a day.) It’s not always what one does, it’s sometimes what one is seen to do that’s important. And then again, it’s sometimes not; all is perspective, everything’s relative 🙂

If you feel so inclined, please do follow that link above to my poem; I’d love to hear what you think.

I promised you two quotations: here’s the second one…

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
— Lao Tzu

This reminds me to try to tackle those tougher tasks in the knowledge that nothing can be completed without having been first begun; and, again, the point at which one begins any thing is in the now.

Both of these quotations are attributed to the ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu (or ‘Laozi’), who encouraged a return to nature, rather than action. As technology may bring about a false sense of progress, Lao Tzu suggested seeking the calm state of wu wei, which may be translated as ‘effortless doing’. Paradoxically, ironically, though naturally enough, one cannot actively pursue wu wei; it manifests as a result of cultivation. I think this is what my friend Hariod Brawn has been trying to teach me all these years over at contentedness.net

A swan gliding effortlessly along

Effortlessly doing…

Although almost certainly what Lao Tzu didn’t have in mind, the concept of wu wei brings to my mind the picture of a swan, gliding along on the top of the water — while, below, the feet are paddling furiously!

Now, on to the nominations:

The rules of this challenge are: post a quote on three days, each time nominating three other blogs to pick up the challenge. Or — in the spirit of wu wei — not, as you see fit 🙂

A hat tip to rayoflight144 for nominating ‘Wibble’ for the ‘three day quote challenge’.
(This was my first day, and this was my second.) It’s been something a bit different from my normal forays into blogland!

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Swimmers is now open!

A new community for bloggers, now that the daily post is shutting its doors!

Hmmm… something’s gone awry here, the Novus Lectio post I reblogged has gone walkies…

No matter, you don’t want to be here anyway; you want to drop in and visit:

http://swimmersweek.wordpress.com

Posted in Communication, crowdsourcing, Culture, News and politics, Reblogs | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Wibble (an explanation)

The thought process that ended with the decision to call my blog ‘Wibble’ is lost in the mists of time. But recreating that sequence of events isn’t all that hard…. I first encountered the word ‘wibble’ (some may maintain it’s ‘wubble’)  in Blackadder Goes Forth, which, like all of Blackadder, is phlyarologically superb. As the Goons would probably put it: ‘perfectly enunciated rubbish’; a description that I like to think suits the assortment of words I’ve written here over the years.

But, more than this, the scene depicted above (which is from the final episode of ‘Goes Forth’ — Goodbyeee) features the following quote:

This is a crisis. A large crisis. In fact, if you’ve got a moment, it’s a twelve-storey crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour porterage, and an enormous sign on the roof saying: ‘This Is a Large Crisis’.

… and that resonates with me due to the existential threats now facing our species and our planet, threats against which I have been known on occasion to rant, rail, and wail. For an example of such, you need only pick a random post from this blog; you’re quite likely to hit on one.

Google tells me that ‘wibble’ means:

  1. wobble; quiver.
  2. speak or write, especially at great length.

Wiktionary, meanwhile, offers: “Meaningless or content-free chatter in a discussion; drivel, babble.

I think that pretty much sums it up.

This circles back quite nicely to allow me to wax lyrical on my phondness of phlyarology. Phlyarology, a word of my own coinage (unlike ‘phlyarologist’[1] it’s not, as far as I’m aware, recognised in any dictionary) is  the study of nonsense. Rowan Atkinson’s ‘Blackadder’ is the epitome of such, providing hours of fun and amusement for less than the cost of a used bus ticket. One doesn’t have to look far for other splendid examples; there’s a whole lot of nonsense on the Internet. Some of it even has the gall to wrap itself up in the guise of ‘fact’ (the merchants of doubt and purveyors of misinformation in general have a lot to answer for).

Back when I started this blog, I had no idea I would still be writing in it decades later (my first post was on 28Mar2007). Well, okay, ‘decades’ is a bit of an exaggeration: as I write I’ve only been at it for just over eleven years, but I do like to try to assume longevity when writing, so as not to have the passage of time mock the content unnecessarily.

I hope, Dear Reader, that you will find something of interest in these pages. Please do feel free to browse.


[1] The word ‘phlyarologist’ (as opposed to ‘phlyarology’) is in OED online:

Etymology: < ancient Greek ϕλύαρος [phlyaros?] silly talk, nonsense (probably < ϕλύειν to boil over, to babble Obs. nonce-wd. [i.e., it was coined for the instance and never used again, until the ‘net discovered it – 2650 gh]

A person who talks nonsense.
1867 Athenaeum 12 Oct. 459/1, I would not meddle with such a phlyarologist.

Posted in ... wait, what?, art, Just for laughs, People, Phlyarology | Tagged , , , , , | 29 Comments

A Large Crisis is Imminent

Welcome to day two of my ‘three day quote challenge’. ‘Day one’ is here.

I need to thank rayoflight144 for presenting me with this challenge — I’ve just done so, with a pingback.

Today’s nominations for three blogs to take up this challenge are:

The rules of this challenge are: post a quote on three days, each time nominating three other blogs to pick up the challenge…. Or not, as you see fit 🙂

And now for today’s quote (cue drumroll)…

This is a crisis. A large crisis. In fact, if you’ve got a moment, it’s a twelve-storey crisis with a magnificent entrance hall, carpeting throughout, 24-hour porterage, and an enormous sign on the roof saying: ‘This Is a Large Crisis’.

The explanation of this quote is coming up in my very next post: stay tuned! In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to throw the floor open to guesses as to who said this, and where the quote comes from… any thoughts? (No sneaky googly-cheating at the back, there!)

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A marble: floating in the middle of nothing

The Long Slow Goodbye

Our world is dying.

We are killing it.

We pride ourselves on our adaptability,

Yet we are locked in an anachronistic worldview:

One that deludes us into believing

That what once was will ever be.

It’s premature; it infects our thinking.

If we are shown reality:

Glaciers retreating, massively calving at their faces

Because we have not seen how it was before

We think that how it now is, is normal.

Because war has been the norm throughout our short lives,

We cannot conceive a world without it.

We are blind.

We are arrogant.

We deserve the future rolling towards us.

Yet, the planet we inhabit —

The only oasis of life of which we are aware —

Does not deserve our ignorance.

© pendantry 2018

Posted in ... wait, what?, art, Core thought, Education, Environment, Poetry, Science | Tagged , , , , | 24 Comments

Duplicity in the Duplex?

Bhavik Naik over at Bhavik’s Blurs introduced me to ‘Google Duplex‘ the other day, in a post entitled ‘Is Google taking it too far?‘ Here’s a four minute video demonstration of Google Duplex in action:

Pretty impressive, no?

As well as impressive, I also find it rather worrying… at present, this artificial intelligence widget can only — apparently at least — make appointments: but it’s not a huge step from there to being able to impersonate a salesman. Many (if not all) salesmen work to a script, one that is designed to keep the conversation on track. (I speak from experience: in a previous life I used to sell insurance.) Such activity is not so very far removed from the script required to call and make an appointment, as Google Duplex is shown doing here.

ZDNet recently claimed that this technology has beaten the Turing Test, a thought experiment in which a machine strives to prove itself indistinguishable from a human. But I disagree: although we’re pre-warned, I think it comes across pretty clearly to those listening in that the caller isn’t a real one.

In the clip above Google obviously has an agenda: it’s effectively making a sales pitch for its technology (the guy giving the presentation is Sundar Pichai, Google’s CEO). So I think that what we’re shown has to be treated with a fair amount of suspicion (unlike the behaviour of the sycophants in that audience!). For one thing, we can’t be sure what the people who were called were thinking; their priority was to close the sale, and in that situation you’re not going to risk being impolite to your caller, even if you suspect there may be something odd about the call. For another thing, both sides are working from a script — any serious deviation from it causes problems (as we saw in the second call in the clip above).

But even so, there are many issues with this. One big problem is how easily this could be scaled up, at little extra cost. At a stroke, telemarketers around the world could be out of work. (Don’t get me wrong: I hate telemarketing, but I can still feel sympathy for the poor folks who do it to earn a paypacket, perhaps even while hating the job themselves.) Worse: these people could be replaced by a system that can potentially make far more calls in a day than even the largest telemarketing team.

Have you ever received a telephone call from someone pretending to be from Microsoft? I have, several times. I know enough to know that it’s a scam (Microsoft would never call little old me), and to terminate the call. But some folks don’t know enough, and it’s those people at whom such calls are aimed. Some months ago, my mother was caught out by exactly this: and when I found out that she had been duped, it was time to retire her old computer and replace it, just in case she’d unwittingly compromised access to anything important.

Scammers like this are running a type of ‘numbers game’, where every ‘no’ gets you closer to a ‘yes’; and when you can replace the humans making the calls with machines, the numbers game just got skewed in favour of the scammers.

Electric flex in the shape of a brainI don’t think that the ethical question here can be overstated. Some may dismiss Duplex as just another tool, and may claim that tools cannot be inherently bad (especially those who lobby in favour of guns). Sadly, technology is all too often hijacked by those with bad intentions. We, as a society, need to realise what may be just around the corner, and discuss how best to move forward if we’re not to be caught unawares.

Maybe the Turing Test hasn’t yet been passed, but I think that the lid may have just been lifted from Pandora’s box.

Posted in ... wait, what?, Business, Communication, Computers and Internet, Core thought, Ludditis, News and politics, People, Phlyarology, Science | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments

Recognizing the Mother of Global Warming

Climate Denial Crock of the Week

footeUniversity of California at Santa Barbara:

By all rights, Eunice Newton Foote should be a household name.

More than a century and a half ago, Foote was part of one of the most important scientific discoveries of our time: revealing the role of carbon dioxide in the earth’s greenhouse effect.

And yet relatively few people have heard of her.

Foote was the first person to demonstrate that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and also the first person to suggest that an atmosphere containing high levels of carbon dioxide would lead to a warmer earth.

supportdarksnow

Her research findings, contained in the paper “Circumstances affecting the heat of the sun’s rays,” were presented at the August 23, 1856, annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Being female, however, Foote was not allowed to read her own paper. Instead, Professor Joseph Henry of the Smithsonian Institution spoke on…

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Posted in balance, Climate, Communication, Education, Environment, GCD: Global climate disruption, History, Reblogs, Science | Tagged | 8 Comments

Why do we have time zones: time for change?

A few years ago I wrote a blog post on the topic of the total muddle that’s caused by the lack of a commonly accepted standard date format. Today, I’m going to waffle on about something similar.

Before standard time was adopted in England, each town — unbelievably — had its own local timezone based on its own town clock. The same situation prevailed in the USA (and no doubt other parts of the world, too). The advent of the railways brought the need to synchronise train timetables, and it was this local shrinking of space that was the impetus for the effort to set up the Prime Meridian, and to implement global time zones. (See Why Do We Have Time Zones?)

Nowadays, we have a similar nonsensical situation: a still-shrinking global village with many timezones, each of which has idiosyncracies such as those caused by the odd path of the International Dateline and the nonsense caused by the fact that daylight savings time changes aren’t synchronised with each other.

Not so long ago, for instance, I had to find out what time ‘2pm EST’ is. This is complicated by the fact that there are not one but three timezones referred to as ‘EST’: the one I need is the last of these, but why is there even the possibility of confusion? And it gets worse: ‘EST’ is sometimes ‘EDT’: classic nonsense!

EST Eastern Standard Time Central America
EST Eastern Standard Time Caribbean
EST Eastern Standard Time North America

“North American time zones: EST – Eastern Standard Time:

Important
Only some locations are currently on EST, because most places there are currently on Daylight Saving Time. Locations that are on EST part of the year are currently on EDT (Eastern Daylight Time).”

Humanity can’t even agree on a universal world time standard. There is one; it’s called ‘UTC‘; but its adoption would remove some folk from the center of their universe. I think that this failure strongly indicates that it is unlikely in the extreme that we’ll ever be able to agree on solutions to some of our other more pressing global problems.

Here, for the curious, is a list of worldwide timezone abbreviations and their associated deviations from UTC. If you do follow that link I think you may agree with me that the current situation is, at best, totally bonkers. (Take ‘AMT’ for example. There are two of these: Amazon Time, which is UTC-4, and Armenia Time, which is UTC+4.)

There are many timezone converters available on the innerwebz. It’s not necessary to list them; you only need to search for ‘timezone converter’ to find them. I have had many discussions with people who claim that there isn’t a problem at all, because all one needs to do is to refer to one of these converters; but in this day and age isn’t that, too, totally bonkers? Why don’t we have one time standard to which we can all refer, whichever side of the planet we happen to be on, and not be confused?

Not so very long ago, I was active in the raid scene in Everquest II, a game that has players from all over the planet. It always drove me nuts that raid start times were often specified in the organizer’s local timezone, which made it very complicated trying to figure out what that time was where I was (and, of course, the same applied for many of the other players involved, too). I tried, with no success, to get us all to agree to specify these times in UTC. Yes, we’d still all have convert UTC to our local timezones, but at least after a while we’d get used to certain conversions (such as 7am PST — the time that the servers often went down for maintenance on a Tuesday — equating to 3pm GMT, except of course when there was daylight savings time to take into account). The point being, were we to all use UTC, we’d all be ‘speaking the same language’; we’d all have the same base point to start from.

What difference would it make if, instead of working from ‘9 to 5’ we were to do so from, say, ‘0300 to 1100’? After a while, we’d get used to that (it’s possible to get used to much worse). The advantage would be that it would be so much easier to co-ordinate with other folks around the world.

If, like me, you’re driven to dribble at the corners of your mouth by the lunacy of the current system, I have a suggestion: take time out to watch Longitude, which details the efforts of one John Harrison, three centuries ago, to devise a marine chronometer to enhance navigation at sea. It’s through the herculean acts of single-minded individuals like Mr Harrison, despite all barriers thrown in their way, that progress is made.

Posted in ... wait, what?, balance, Communication, Core thought, History, Ludditis, Phlyarology, Science, Strategy | Tagged , , , , , | 29 Comments

Climate Change Elevator Pitch: Eric Rignot

Someone said recently that we don’t need hope: what we need is courage.

You can hear more from Eric Rignot right here.

Climate Denial Crock of the Week

One of my favorite little series, sparked by an idea from John Cook.

Along with John I interviewed scientists at the 2014 American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting in San Francisco. John’s little wrinkle was to ask each scientist for an “Elevator pitch”, –  a quick persuader on climate science, short enough to sum up between floors.

Another example of content that only happens here – with your support.

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Posted in balance, Biodiversity, Climate, Communication, Core thought, Education, Environment, GCD: Global climate disruption, Reblogs, Strategy | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

May the Fourth be with you

I’ve just discovered that I’ve been nominated for the ‘three day quote challenge’ by rayoflight144. Very kind of you, ray, thank you.

I’m not entirely certain of the rules of this ‘challenge’. I think I have to come up with a quote, and then nominate three other blogs to pass the challenge along to. Over three days. But which three days? I’m going to assume that they don’t have to be consecutive days — because a) I want time to think about this a bit; b) I’m not good with deadlines and c) I’m lazy.

OK, first off: today’s quote. Well, it depends upon how you look at it, because from where I sit it’s yesterday’s quote (it now being past midnight)… but I’m going to run with it anyway because it’s still May the fourth in some parts of the world, and will be for a few more hours yet. (Besides, it ties in neatly with a post on the subject of ‘time’ that I have already scheduled for this coming Wednesday.) Everyone’s been wishing me a ‘happy Star Wars day’ today; it seems only right to pass the buzz along.

So my quote for ‘day one’ of this challenge is, quite simply, a wish for well-being to all:

May the force be with you.

Now then, let’s see, what’s next? Ah, nominate three other blogs… let me see, who do I know who might rise to this challenge?

How about:

The rules of this challenge: (I’m not sure about this bit) post a quote on three days, each time nominating three other blogs to pick up the challenge. Or not, as you see fit 🙂

Posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, memetics, Phlyarology | Tagged , , | 16 Comments