Paris in the rain

Dreary day. Bertie’s nipped off to Paris, but the weather’s no better there…

Just in the rain...

Happiness in a Bottle

I feel a cold coming on, and need some vitamin C. Did you know it comes with extra happiness nowadays?

Gotta get me some of that.

I guess it’s the double rainbows that cause the separation.

Picasso at His Best

Another online doodle tool: Picassohead.

Picasso at his best.

See him in the gallery.

Bertie’s getting a little anxious here.


Bertie fuzzy.
Smoked something? Or is it mushrooms?

Bertie’s feeling a bit fuzzy today. Maybe he’s looked at too many pics from the photo challenge. This week’s subject is “distorted”:

Distorted sky
Distorted sky
Under the bean.
A dizzying sight.

If you ever want to shoot in Chicago: try the reflections.

Secret Sky Sculpture?

I was trying to take a photo of rather a nice tree, when I suddenly saw it.

Who's behind it?
A secret sky sculpture!
Up close it’s even more dramatic, with Tinguely elements.
Head for heights.
Bertie wanted to explore.
And then I realised: they’re everywhere!

A conspiracy?

How High the Moon?

Nearly as high as this tree, apparently.

Somewhere there's music, how faint the tune...
Only half-full, but worth a quick howl anyway.

Technically Challenged?

What I learnt in a month of fiddling with wordpress.

Thanks to "Wordpress for Dogs" by Gromit.
Bertie’s been a great help.

If you want to read “forwards” on post, category or tag pages, or let others read your posts chronologically (e.g. stories), add this to the browser address:
?orderby=date&order=ASC  (Thanks Tony Hirst.)
?order=ASC  also seems to work. (Thanks happy accident :-).)

To do a double selection by tags use (Thanks wordpress guy.)

To open a new window with sidebar image link, see my copyright dog on the right, don’t use the image widget, but the text widget. Draft a post with the image and link, switch to html view and copy the code from there to the text widget. (Thanks alrodyssey.) The caption code needs to come after the image source, else it will display on top.

Enjoy the wysiwyg of the visual editor, but use the html editor for real control: to insert line breaks without paragraph space (return or <br />), manipulate tables (colspan etc.).

If you use IE and the images are distorted, try the compatibility view.

If you want an uncluttered look, use a custom menu.

For links to specific places in same or other posts, use page jumps:
Add  anchors in the html editor with: <a name=”label”>Text</a>
Jump from same post is <a href=”#label”>Jump</a>
Jump from another post is <a href=”<post url>/#label”>Jump</a>
When you jump, the actual anchor point is often hidden (e.g. by the wordpress-bar), so set the anchor in the line above what you want to show. The “anchor text”  looks like a link, so I use an empty tag just before the end of a paragraph. …qed<a name=”label”></a>.</p> In the visual view of the post edit screen you still see a little anchor, but a cheat-sheet of labels you’ve used can make things easier. (n.b. If you copy the code, retype the  quotation marks. )

To use full column width for an image, use advanced settings to control width and alignment. On “Dusk to Dawn” that is 588px wide (though the column width is officially 474/222 or 810, header 870), and align -30 on left. Align -50 on top to close up to featured image, which displays below the header if you don’t use a custom header image.

If you think “there’s got to be a flag for this!”, try the Screen Options in the top right corner of your screen. When all else fails: Google knows everything.

The Fundamental Heresy

Why it matters

If we invent (most of) our reality, does it make a difference what we believe? Isn’t it like choosing your favourite colour?

For some questions, maybe. For others, not. Suppose that preferring blue over red could make you happier. Suppose that our cultural bias towards red causes conflict, wars, and misery.  Suppose that by favouring blue we could move towards peace. Wouldn’t you try to get used to blue?

I shall not argue that blue is better. Or that there is a higher truth to red = bad. But I shall show you that all your life you have been brainwashed to prefer red, and encourage you to try, just for a moment, to move towards  blue. Who knows, you may get to like it. And you can always go back to red, if you prefer.

The fundamental belief

Stated below is one of the basic tenets of Christian philosophy, the fundament of occidental culture. You encounter these ideas a hundred times a day. You may never even have thought of this as a question. And still the answer you unwittingly give has the most profound effect on your life.

There is Good. There is Evil. As humans we know the difference, and must choose between them.

In more detail:

  1. Suffering comes from evil.
  2. Innocence is the basic human condition. The roots of evil lie hidden.
  3. The other is different from us, an evil and dissembling creature.
  4. When they see the error of their ways, those who do evil can be saved. Confession and penitence are the road to salvation.
  5. Cure (for society) lies in the eradication of hidden evil.
  6. There is one absolute truth.

Now suppose that were not true.

I think it’s the small stake that worries Bertie most.

The tragic view

  1. Suffering is an essential part of life.
  2. Human motivation is multi-layered. Bad acts often stem from positive qualities or motivations.
  3. The other is similar to us.
  4. When we understand why someone acts the way they do, we can find ways to help them change their behaviour, or ways to protect ourselves from that behaviour.
  5. The ubiquity of suffering requires acceptance, compassion and consolation.
  6. There can be different, equally valid points of view.

Alon/Omer, see below, call this the tragic view, and the fire-and-brimstone one the demonic view.

Unfamiliar ideas

This way of thinking may seem unfamiliar, awkward. It certainly goes against <insert age here> years of brainwashing. You don’t think you’ve been brainwashed? Compare how often you’ve heard:

  • The bastard, he really deserves to be punished.
  • Who does she think she is?
  • Well, I don’t like what she did, but I guess that was the best she could do.
  • I suppose he must really be in a difficult situation, if it makes him act like that.

So the second kind of thinking feels unfamiliar, maybe even just plain wrong, because you’ve rarely or never done it, or heard it. Each time you think a thought it becomes easier, and seems more plausible, but that doesn’t make it true.

Right or wrong?

Neither view is right or wrong: they are different ways of interpreting the world. There are some arguments against the demonic view, like its basic lack of symmetry: I am good, you are bad, I am right, you are wrong, see the irregular verbs. There also reasons why it’s helpful to adopt the tragic view. More another day.

Recommended Reading
Alon, Nahi & Haim Omer. The Psychology of Demonization, Promoting Acceptance and Reducing Conflict. NJ: Erlbaum, 2006.

Happy Birthday

Bertie loves fireworks.

One month of Berties today. In dog reckoning that’s like a year, so we’re celebrating. If you were born today: Bertie and I wish you a very Happy Birthday. And many happy returns.

Making a wish.

Exercice de Style

Exercise de style

I admit to being an art book junkie, and I bought myself yet another one for Christmas, Drawing with Imagination, by Bert Dodson. Plenty of ideas there, and I’m not through yet. This is exercise n°1, and in a small way it reminds my a bit of Queneau (see it in English), and of Madden.

Sleeping in style.

Be Kind to Trees?

Down my street it seems there’s a tree lover.

This winter’s fashion for deciduous trees?

I don’t know whether it’s as cozy as more traditional winter gear; it’s certainly more fun.

Bertie’s not quite sure what to make of it.

Night or Day?

After flying against the sun for 10 hours, what your body tells you is at odds with what your eyes tell you: is it night or day?

Bertie's a bit confused too.

Flying Home

On our way back home.

Bertie's made sure his address is clearly marked on the case.

In Schaumburg

Today Bertie strolled around in Schaumburg, and there it was.

Just as we thought.

Our Tangled Web

I’ve maintained before that our reality is a story we  tell ourselves, and a lot of it isn’t necessarily true in any deeper sense. It is also not particularly consistent.

Imagine a tapestry around yourself as an individual. This is your world, and you’ve decorated each bit as you choose. You may have taken care that things that are close together go well together – let’s call it locally consistent, and that gives you the illusion that it all harmonises. This is only because you never actually see different parts of the tapestry at the same time.

Locally consistent worldview

Some examples

Recently Sam Harris pointed out that we associate wood fires with comfort and well-being, whereas of course smoke from a wood fire causes cancer, asthma etc. We just think of it in the context of warming ourselves by it, of cosiness and relaxation, not in the context of health hazards.

Typically, we expect others to adhere scrupulously to any rule or law, while allowing ourselves just that little bit of leeway. When I am five minutes late it becomes one-or-two, when you are are five minutes late I make it around-ten. Even when we are aware that we are tweaking the truth just a tiny little bit, this does not stop us from doing it.

Our judgement on any situation or action depends strongly on how we feel towards the person concerned. The same story, “I was late…” will provoke a “you just couldn’t help it, don’t worry” (to a friend) and an unspoken “well, I guess you just couldn’t be bothered” or “like you always are” (about someone we don’t like). And the same interaction will be judged differently, depending on which side we are on.

Amazingly, many people seem completely unaware of the double standards they use, saying things like: that was completely unacceptable/unfair/inexcusable etc., without even stopping to realise they themselves do exactly the same thing sometimes. Of course, when they do it themselves, they judge it rather more charitably.

Irregular verbs

Remember Bernard Woolley’s irregular verbs? Bertrand Russell called them “emotive conjugation”.

Bertrand Russell
I am firm. You are obstinate.  He is pig-headed.
Bernard Woolley   (Anthony Jay & Jonathan Lynn)
I have an independent mind. You are eccentric. He’s round the twist.
What about:
I am honest. You are outspoken. He’s abrasive.
I am diplomatic. You are evasive. He’s a liar.
And some of my favourites from a competition:
Carol, Belchertown
I peeked in your medicine cabinet. You nosed around in my stuff. He violated my personal space.
Bob, Philadelphia
I’m devout. You’re a heathen. They’re infidels.
Nowhere Man, Nowhere,CA
I am a soldier. You’re an insurgent. He is a mass murderer.

Can you think of more?

A Grand Day Out

Paris in the sunshine.

And another sandwich gone missing!

Shooting in Chicago

Bertie likes the bean.

Chicago, well, the  unique bits of Chicago, are nearly impossible to photograph. The magnificent mile is truly amazing, in a way photos don’t really capture. Chicago’s people have found a way around it: the Cloud Gate, aka “The Bean”. It’s an incredible piece of sculpture that is not only lovely as an object, like all great art it makes you really look, and lets you see the world around you in a new light.

To make it short, I think the best way to photograph Chicago is: in reflections.

P.S. I admit I’m strictly a point and shoot photographer. If you’ve made a great shot of Chicago, post a link.

Van Gogh’s Best Bed

Bertie and I went to the Art Institute Chicago today. A breathtaking collection of art. The AIC must have had incredibly rich patrons to acquire a whole roomful of Monets,  alongside Gauguins, Picassos, Miros,  – and I didn’t even go to see the old masters. My only quibble is that some American artists like Hopper and Pollock are underrepresented.

Bertie loves Van Gogh.

You can see Bertie felt quite at home.

Blown Away

Windy city
They don't call it windy city for nothing.

A Room with a View

Overlooking Lake Michigan.

Bertie at the window.
Bertie loves the view.
Bertie still at the window.
He kept his nose glued to the window all night.
Bertie on the window sill.
Finally asleep in the sun.

Getting a Life

After a while in cyberspace, Bertie realised he didn’t want to become one of those people who spend all their time online. He decided he needed to get out and see people. Here I caught him on a meeting blackboard.

Bertie illustrating a point
Bertie shines a light on the issue.

Homo Narrans


I believe Vaihinger once wrote  “our brain is not developed to know the truth, so it’s not good at it.”

Being able to see connections between events is a survival advantage. Say your sheep get restless before the tiger comes. Not seeing the connection may bring death: if you don’t get to safety before the tiger comes, you’ve had it. The penalty for going into hiding when the tiger doesn’t come is…  a loss of face, perhaps?

How we believe this connection works, usually doesn’t make a difference, as long as we get ourselves to safety in time. Even if we believe the tiger comes to punish the sheep for behaving badly. And if we kill a few sheep for “naughtiness” and throw them to the tiger god, it may even stop us from being eaten.

So we learn to see the connections, and we make up stories about them. Homo narrans, the story-telling ape. And we acquire a need to explain things. To ask “why?”

Our reality is the story we tell ourselves about the world and everything in it. Unless we’re looking very carefully, we don’t see the world. We see the tapestry of stories we’ve woven around ourselves.

When we meet a new idea or theory, what counts is not whether it is true, or even helpful. What matters is “do I like this idea?” and “does it fit in with the ideas I already have?”

How we process new ideas.

The Scribbler

Bertie scribbled
Feeling scribbly today?

I  just found this adorable online scribble tool. You do a quick doodle, and then it scribbles it in. You can adjust colour and randomness. Addictive.

Scribbled rose
Make your very own valentine’s rose.
Scribble abstract
Just a random scribble…

Seeing Things

Seeing things?
Seeing things?

14 hours travel today, I’m dead on my feet. And to think this is the easy direction, with the sun.

Not Stupid

Look who's coming along!

I packed for a trip last night, and see what happened. Dogs know what’s up when you start packing a suitcase.