Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Biphle iPhone Game

Sean J. Vaughan headshot by Sean J. Vaughan

Big Biphle is a Big Boggle clone I wrote a couple of weeks ago. It is customized for the Apple iPhone but it should play fine in your web browser.

The objective of Big Biphle is to list, within 3 minutes, as many 4 or more letter words of the highest point value as you can find among the random assortment of letters in the grid.

Have fun!


Monday, October 29, 2007


Carle P. Graffunder headshot by Carle Phillip Graffunder

A single white-capped wave that crests an ocean’s swell
Itself is not the sea.
In fjords and firths the tides rise higher
Until they almost touch the wings of sea-birds flying there,
But tides are not the sea.
Above them all with fine-tuned sight
Clear-eyed wing-ed gladiators of the open sky
Can see antipodes and back.
Yet the world, though hugely grand, does not reveal the soul.

The zeal of confidence that makes me know what I do not know
May urge me ever on to wider scenes of deed and thought;
But I know glint of light on surface sea does not reveal the deep
Where genies of power guard the graveyard of the sun.


Thursday, October 25, 2007

The prelinguistic turn

by Justin Jijlstra

Justin Jijlstra

Has there ever been a step in the Occident that contravenes the change of discourse? Hmm.

Has there ever been a step in the Occident that? Hmm.

The problem of fashion - for me - is that it is nameable by savant idiots and idiot savants alike. However, to make a distinctive eloquent sequence of verbal gestures about anything does not move the "si" and the "is". Yes, to me the savant idiot "si's" to much and the idiot savant is the modern solipsist qua philosophy prelinguistically, too much of an "is" from the outside, but worst of all its internal mirrors shine without the gods complaining about its Hubris, or in short: "What is it about behaviour that makes people automagically go.. "yes"? "Narcissus!"

When you hear someone utter, "These advanced techniques...", I hope for this occasion that you want to hear something that fosters your imagination. But I am a protean thinker of thoughts and like to fashion myself as thinkerer of unsecular particularities while ad libbing my way through gnosis by way of serendipity haha.

So I ask, ""si"-like", the following thing to you my dear reader by way of exclamation:

"How can our savant idiocy be idiomatic while our idiots are savant?"

I Exclaim completely and doubly here: "Why do didy- or poly- mous nods (brrr, the air I imagine from this! I could have gotten Goosified!) at principles that we understand?”

It satisfies the occasion and burns down the house only... Right? It makes me resound Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power which I haven’t finished yet: “It is only in a crowd that man can become free of this fear of being touched. That is the only situation in which the fear changes into its opposite. “ Oh hack, I'm going too quickly here! Yes..

Some.., fat.., twat..! This century is. Imaginary Hell! For as far as I know only the subspaces of genius are the places I do not dislike. So that essentially makes me some kind of self-imagining Hubris and, to the outside, a pedestrian alternating currents with predictability and proteanism.


Yes, the prelinguistic turn...

So I could crypto-summarise the above as follows:

"Hybris is having no feet".

And indeed, this radical approach should be "fashioned" as follows: "Having no feet whilst being able to move, is not god like, it is a technicality".

May I remind you of:

"Give me a place to stand and I will move the earth." - Archimedes

The frivolity of this each time strikes me as the most frivolous of genius I know. And indeed, frivolity is that which distinguishes the pedestrian from the god. I actually feel my eyes get soft at this point, I fashion my imagination to be of Greek ascent and experience a moment of height, not in the spatial sense though, but in the being movement without feet.

Essentially, this turn (prelinguistic) for me signifies the movement of bodies without feet. How can one imagine a turn being made without innate position? Well actually it is easy, simply utter it. How elusively evident is that? Right, however what you understand should not conform in my eyes to formalism. The question is, will it socially be information to rely on? (That without the turn.)

Actually it is a suggestion which encourages you to continue your road to fashion which is signification in other words. Yes, a friend of mine uses the words: "Ad Autoratum" jokingly in this case, but it has seriously been fashioned in my mind so I try to construct sentences that are commensurable with the imagination. Yes, I intuit Hubris as being the epitome of the homo significans but without being significant. The homo significans is the savant idiot whereof one can speak. However the ones without feet move outside the “spheres of significans” in this regard and may I remind you of Archimedes? I really do not want to sound like a psycho-fetishist but I really, really also feel the urge to speak with authenticity for a moment. But not more then a moment. I just want to taste it and enjoy the reproduction of worlds in a frivolous way and indeed without the feet.

So at last. I've had my first intuition after, well its proper here, I think:

I would thank a Jonathan Hayward for the inspiration and you for reading.

I will leave you with a final thought to consider:

What is left of culture when you haven't got the feet?




Monday, October 22, 2007

Charlie's Eden

by Michael D. Wolok

On a lark, I decided to investigate the shoreline due east from the University of Miami. In my wandering, I stumbled upon a park some Miamians know, some Miamians never heard of, and some Miamians only think they know.

After strolling a short distance into the park, I came across three spacious ponds linked by two inlets. Overhung with trees, the inlets appeared like portals to other worlds. Surrounded by different terrain and possessing its own unique set of inhabitants, each pond was another world. The terrain varied from wide-open fields of lush green grass speckled with palm trees, gumbo-limbo and banyan, to a forest of gnarled oaks, to hardwood hammocks, to tall saw grass.

Traipsing around these ponds, I spotted on a distant embankment a nine-and-a-half foot green monster—popularly known as an alligator. With closed eyelids, it lay motionless steeping in the sun's rays. Plopped in the middle of this pristine park, it paradoxically seemed at once both out of place and right at home.

Two inclinations struggled for supremacy: one, advance closer to better observe this oddity; two, get the "H" out of there to protect my hide. The gator's hypnotic stillness and shut eyelids coaxed my feet a few steps forward—still leaving an expanse of some twenty-odd feet between us.

I stood in a trance, gazing at the freakish creature. Then I swung around it, as if I were affixed to the moving leg of a drafting compass, the stationary leg resting on the gator. An equilibrium between fear and curiosity set the distance between us. When I finally decided to leave and took a step away, the alligator comically popped-open his eyelids, as if he had been aware of my presence all along. I departed with a smile.

Alligator Charlie

This park piqued my senses, and I would return to it again and again. Each new visit bequeathed novel gifts. Once after a hard rain, a flock of snow-white ibises blanketed a patch of land. With their long, curved, bright-red bills, they probed the soil. A family of gallinules—duck-like birds with beaks resembling orange and yellow Halloween candy—swam the ponds. And in the palm trees, blue jays skirmished with red-bellied woodpeckers for berries.

The props of the mangrove trees were shot with an assortment of birds who fished the ponds' rich waters. A yellow-crowned night heron (whose heads are striped with a distinctive black-and-white band) inhabited the middle pond. And an ever-present Little Green Heron exploited a tree limb over the edge of the south pond to snatch fish. Though seemingly neckless, Little Green Herons humorously can, at any time, pop-out a long neck. Bird-watching seemed to be the most boring activity on earth until this park introduced me to large, strikingly patterned birds with intriguing behavior patterns.

A mom, a pop, and three trailing, waddling, baby raccoons made the rounds of the park's trash cans every night, exactly one-half hour before closing. Occasionally, a sinewy fox with dainty legs would trot into the picnic area. The raccoons, foxes and squirrels would often approach within a few feet to eat a morsel of food tossed to them.

Hordes of giant land crabs invaded the park, yearly. The crabs pocked the park with burrows—where they quickly retreated upon sensing any earth vibration. These crabs resembled alien creatures from another planet, lifted from a low-grade B movie: eyes at the ends of their antennae, brown fuzzy beards, legs that only worked sideways, and a strange, vertical mouth only a mother could love.

But the main attraction was the gator I had stumbled upon on my first visit. I'd circle the ponds searching for him. If I spied him my day was made, if not, I'd leave feeling empty. This alligator's presence was a sign of mankind's maturity and tolerance, a sign of mankind's ability to live in harmony with nature. He provided a magic "antidote to civilization." This gator and his serene Eden seemed remote from a speedy and greedy world inhabited by laser scanners, fax machines, and arbitrage. Peering at this prehistoric beast allowed me to drift to another epoch. Any moment, I expected a brontosaurus head to rise above the distant treetops. With this anachronism out-stretched on the bank of one of his primeval-looking ponds, such a sight would have seemed perfectly natural.

This gator, though, proffered an even greater incongruity than an ancient presence in a modern world. Had I met this gator in the Everglades or at a zoo, our meeting would not have been so peculiar. What made this gator exceptional, almost surreal, was that he meandered freely about in a very public park, in the middle of Miami—a park where children played, and people picnicked. Here was a free-roaming gator on human turf (or free-roaming humans on gator turf?), peacefully coexisting.

The "regulars"—those who visited the park often—informed me that the gator's name was Charlie, that he had resided at the park ever since people could remember. With fascination, I watched the regulars toss Charlie bread and chicken.

Charlie hung-out at two favorite haunts. In the first pond, he "tanned" at a specific site on the far bank. And when he had the munchies, he loitered at the southern edge of the third pond. Curiously, both these places were marked with a sign that read: "I'll bite the hand that feeds me!" followed by a supposed drawing of an alligator that looked more like a manatee; followed by the word, "Danger!" As if literate, Charlie rarely strayed far from either of these signs. Though, he did have a secluded place in the mangroves of the middle pond where he hid when he wished not to be disturbed.

Once, two young girls frolicking around the third pond sighted Charlie at the pond's edge. With scared giggles, they bounded onto a picnic table even though other children had formed a semicircle around him. Eventually, they descended, joining the crowd. Then they teased each other, playfully trying to push one another toward him.

There was a foolish child who dashed up to Charlie, threw stones in his face, and scampered away shouting, "He is coming after me, he is going to eat me!" Charlie, though, literally turned the other cheek, taking all abuse stoically. So far as I know, he never made an aggressive move toward any human1. When the taunting grew too great, he would, with a certain insouciance and savoir-faire, gracefully propel himself toward the center of the pond with a few slow swishes of his tail.

Charlie's south-end haunt was, also, a favorite spot for other park wildlife. When picnickers tossed bread into the pond, the crystal clear waters erupted in a vigorous boil as frenzied zebra fish rapaciously attacked the food in acts of plunder that would shame piranha. A whole loaf of bread disintegrated amid violent thrashing and sucking sounds in seconds. Foot-long snook and tarpon lunged at these fish creating explosive, startling splashes that sent everyone scurrying away from the shore, because they'd mistakenly be attributed to the arrival of a gator.

The slurping noises of the zebra fish attracted numerous painted turtles and a few shy, snapping turtles, which vied with the fish for the scraps. Enough commotion summoned Charlie, the king, who always made a slow, dignified, quiet approach.

In one of my first visits to this area, I witnessed something curious scooting about underwater. When it surfaced, it appeared to be a baby Loch Ness monster; closer examination, though, proved it, an anhinga. An anhinga (also, called a "darter" or "snake bird") is a bird with an average wingspan of two-feet, a long, snake-like neck, and the ability to dart around underwater. When an anhinga swims above the water, only its head and long neck are visible, its body strangely remains submerged—giving it that "Loch Ness Monster" appearance.

It became a familiar sight to see the anhinga spear fish beneath the water with its pointy beak, surface, climb onto its perch, flick its catch into the air, gulp it down, then hang its wings out to dry. Charlie, the anhinga, and the Little Green Heron formed a close-knit club that shared this corner of the pond: Charlie would surprisingly pay the anhinga no heed even when it would occasionally swim in front of his snout.

A man who passed by this site observed the turtles, the fish, the heron, the anhinga, and Charlie. He, also, witnessed a water snake wondrously slithering across the surface of the water, catching fish, taking the catch ashore in its mouth, and in plain view devouring it. He noticed that the animals acted nearly oblivious to man, as if enchanted. He then exclaimed, "Disney, eat your heart out!"

On a sweltering summer day, a formal wedding took place by the pond; tuxedos were de rigueur. An accordionist began playing, "Here comes the bride." Now, I can't exactly say that Charlie was a discriminating music critic, but he did like music. Music meant people and people meant food. So, you can guess who reverently pulled-up in the pond just behind the line of wedding guests.

The music continued to play, as Charlie was noticed, first by one guest—whose gaze was now transfixed over his shoulder at Charlie, instead of at the wedding couple—and then by another. Soon, all the guests were warily throwing furtive glances at Charlie.

Finally, the bride and groom noticed something amiss; they realized they were no longer the center of attention. One snickering guest silently pointed to Charlie. After a little discussion and a little nervous laughter, the procession shifted a tad away from Charlie and the pond, and the ceremony continued without further ado.

Then there was the time, I saw two elderly women strolling around the pond. Camouflaged in the tall saw grass, Charlie was resting peacefully at one of his favorite haunts. The two women were absorbed in conversation, not paying much attention where they were going, and they were on a direct collision course for Charlie. Standing on the opposite embankment, there was little I could do. I could almost hear the theme from Jaws playing in the background. At a separation of not more than five-feet, Charlie was—shall we say—noticed. With Olympic agility, the seniors quickly managed to distance themselves from Charlie; then gaped at him while alternately eyeing each other in amazement. They then laughed while gingerly negotiating their way around him.

In his time, Charlie endured quite a few fools and crazies. There was once a father who playfully dangled his two-year old daughter several feet above Charlie's nose while his petrified wife looked on in stunned horror. And there were reckless teenagers who threw coke bottles at Charlie as he floated in the center of a pond.

Perhaps, too, some might have considered me one of the crazies: for after a time, I fed Charlie out of my hand2, and pet his nose and back. His back felt surprisingly pliant and squished like the back of a frog, and his nose felt hard and hollow like papier-mâché.

In fact, I would occasionally put on "shows" for the picnickers. First, I'd toss a trail of marshmallows, a favorite alligator delight3into the pond. Charlie was keyed into the sound of splashing marshmallows. He'd follow the trail to shore, munching each marshmallow on his way. Gators like to wallow in the marsh, so it only stands to reason that they would like "marsh wallows" . . . olkay, so I'm no humorist. I guess Dave Barry at the Miami Herald can now rest easy, knowing I'm not about to take his day job anytime soon. Anyway, after Charlie arrived at the pond's edge, I'd set afloat a slightly used hamburger on a bun, I had scrounged from picnic leftovers. If Charlie was hungry, he devoured the hamburger, bun and all. If not, he'd nudge the bun away with his snout, and dive for the sinking hamburger.

Charlie prized barbecued spareribs and chicken above all: Jutting his head high out of the water, he crushed the bones with startlingly loud, chilling, bone-crunching sounds—which invariably evoked "oohs" and "aahs" from the picnickers. Then I'd call him to shore and feed him a package of hot dogs, one-at-a-time, right out of my hand.

My actions were predicated on hundreds of hours observing Charlie. During the first year, I kept my distance. But every time I spotted him, I'd summon my courage and charily approach a tad closer. Then one day while he was sunning himself, I approached too close. Like a lightning bolt, he exploded into the water generating a thundering splash, and in fractions of a second was gazing at me from the center of the pond. I, then, realized Charlie was more afraid of me, than I, of him. Charlie appeared to act wary and apprehensive just like feral cats I have been known to rescue and tame4.

Whenever Charlie was in the vicinity of humans, he moved with extreme caution and hesitancy. When I first fed him hot dogs on plate by the pond's edge, he wouldn't approach the plate if I was nearby. Only after I moved far away, would he approach the plate. Then he would select a single hot dog from the pile, swim to the middle of the pond with it hanging-off the side of his mouth like a Groucho Marx cigar. Only then would he eat it. He repeated this ritual with each hot dog. However, each time I returned to the park, he allowed me to stand a little closer to the plate. Eventually, he felt comfortable enough to eat the hot dogs while I stood nearby.

Then I fed him one hot dog skewered on a very, very long branch. With great care, he removed the hot dog from the branch, and ate it. After many such feedings, I gradually reduced the length of the branch, till finally I felt comfortable feeding him out of my hand. Still, I gave Charlie a lot of respect, and was always on full guard. But after a time, I came to believe Charlie viewed me no differently than the feral cats I've rescued and tamed.

Because of Charlie, I made a study of alligators and learned: Alligators have different personalities; they can be house pets to at least four-and-a-half feet; they can be housebroken and taught tricks; and they can recognize a human who hasn't been seen for two years5. This is not the stereotypical image promoted by the media. Nor is this the stereotypical image most people have of gators. As it turns out, gators are not aggressive, purely instinctual creatures with pea-sized brains, as they are often characterized or portrayed. In fact, alligators and crocodiles do not share the same temperament: Crocodiles are often aggressive, alligators generally are not6. One, notable exception to this rule is a mother alligator defending her young.

The late Rube Allyn (no relation to Rube Goldberg), former head of The Great Outdoor Publishing Company, and an alligator expert once said: "An alligator really compares to the cow of our domestic animals. A human could jump in the same pond with a dozen alligators and never get a scratch. Alligators are retiring . . . [but there are] all kinds of animal personalities . . ."7

As a matter of fact, at Everglades National Park, the US National Parks Service conducts public, nature treks through thigh-deep, wild-gator infested marsh. The marsh near Shark River Valley loop Road is literally teaming with hundreds of wild gators. Gators are visible all along the road. Yet, children are allowed to go on these marsh tours and hike alone on this road. The US Parks Service would not do this, if alligators posed the threat to humans that most people suppose.

In Florida, it is a misdemeanor to molest an alligator. Now, I know that there are those of you (particularly, Dave Barry) out there who are wondering: "Who in the world would be dumb enough or perverted enough to try to molest a gator?" "All kidding aside," feeding an alligator is construed under Florida statute as gator molestation. And as laws go, it's a pretty good law. When alligators are fed, they can lose their fear of man, and like the bears at Yellowstone National Park can become a nuisance, and even a hazard, if they begin to beg for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches—or worse yet, don't beg, just take.

In this particular case, I was not aware of the state law when I fed Charlie. Also, I knew he had been fed for years and was still being fed by countless others, and had never become a nuisance. Moreover, Charlie always had a cornucopia of food in the pond. It still wasn't right, and I don't excuse myself, but I merely offer mitigating circumstances. We all have our vices, mine was feeding Charlie.

After five years of visiting the park on a regular basis, I became occupied with personal matters and returned infrequently. When I did return, I noticed the absence of the Little Green Heron, the anhinga, and Charlie. I asked the regulars, but no one knew a thing.

Adjoining Charlie's park lay the largest botanical garden in the world. Charlie often visited this garden, and its eight ponds—admittedly without paying its five-dollar admission.

The caretaker—a simple, good-natured, cheerful fellow—lives in a coral house on the premises. During the day, he patrols the garden by bicycle. At closing time, he drives a cart along the garden path to ensure the park is empty.

One day, I visited the garden, late. As closing time drew near, the caretaker offered to take me in his cart to the front gate. While riding with him, I apprehensively queried about the local gator.

The caretaker replied that he had always felt uncomfortable with gators in the garden's ponds, that he believed gators were a constant threat and danger. He said sometime last September8 in the early morning, he saw a gator laying on a concrete path by one of the garden's ponds, and knew that visitors often fed this gator. He told me, he called the Florida Freshwater and Game Commission to dispose of the "nuisance" alligator, and they did. In my alligator studies, I learned it is quite normal for alligators—which are cold-blooded—to warm themselves on sun-drenched slabs of rock (indistinguishable to an alligator from a concrete path) during the hours following sunrise9.

I called the Freshwater and Game Commission, and spoke to Lieutenant Dick Lawrence, a wildlife officer. He told me that he remembered the incident. He said that when a ranger went out to the garden, the gator was found in one of the ponds, not on the path. But with alligators no longer considered an endangered species, the Freshwater and Game Commission will destroy just about any gator against whom there is a complaint—without determining whether or not it's really a nuisance gator. Officer Lawrence said he had to act on dubious complaints, because if he didn't, and perchance, one of those alligators attacked someone, it would be his hide.

In his day, Charlie brought happiness, education, and unexpected pleasure to thousands. A steady stream of first-timers, "bumped" into Charlie. Some considered him ugly and repulsive, others considered him majestic and beautiful.

Many were incredulous that he could be a fixture at a park as public as this. There were many who stood not more than ten-feet from Charlie, and nonchalantly commented what a good meal he would make or what a nice pair of shoes Charlie would make, even as I would be feeding him out of my hand. If Charlie had wanted, he could easily have had these cold-blooded louts for lunch. It made me wonder which creature was less civilized, the alligator who didn't eat humans or humans who would eat a wondrous, semi-tame alligator. The irony of the situation was never lost on me.

Most visitors found Charlie fascinating. Most derived uncommon satisfaction from being able to walk-up to Charlie, and scrutinize at close range his unusual features, like the flaps of his ears and his valve-like nostrils. For most, he transformed what otherwise would have been a routine day at the park into an exceptionally rewarding experience.

And most discovered, what Seminole alligator wrestlers know, but keep secret: Alligators are generally not feisty or ferocious, and rarely have it in for humans. Alligators would rather relax in the hot sun, than bite the rump of some buxom blond — as depicted on so many Florida postcards. With millions of gators out there, there are bound to be some that are dangerous, but the same can, also, be said in no small measure for homo-sapiens. Personally, I've found humans to be much less trustworthy, and a lot more aggressive and dangerous than alligators.

These days, I very seldom visit my idyllic paradise, Matheson Hammock Park. It now seems lifeless and sterile. It's just not the same—not without the little Green Heron, the anhinga, and especially not without my prehistoric friend, Charlie, who warmed and tickled the cockles of my heart10.


1 Charlie did chase and catch dogs, which for good reason were not allowed in the park. Fortunately, I just heard about such apocryphal incidents, and never witnessed such an occurrence. Though, generally lethargic, alligators can sprint on land, up to thirty-miles per hour to catch prey. Though, Charlie may have caught dogs, he never attacked a child—which is all the more remarkable since so many small children played at the pond's edge where Charlie used to hang-out and was fed by countless picnickers. Clearly, Charlie distinguished dogs and small children, and he did not have children on his menu. That in ten or more years, Charlie never made an aggressive move toward any human, suggests he was really never a threat to humans.

2 This was before I knew that such conduct was illegal and caused the destruction of alligators. I presume the statute of limitations for this crime was up over a decade ago.

3 Margerie Stoneman Douglas, the great matriarch of the Everglades, was known to toss marshmallows to gators.

4 Please support Miami's Cat Network, The Cat Network, Inc., P.O. Box 593026, Miami, FL 33159-3026, , http://www.thecatnetwork.org; and Sad Sack in Palm Beach, which has helped me find good homes for dozens of dogs rescued from Miami streets.

5 Dick Bothwell, The Great Outdoors Book Of Alligators And Other Crocodilia, (St. Petersburg, Florida: Great Outdoors Publishing Co., 1962), pp. 31, 57-59.

6 There are more people killed in Florida each year by lightning, than in the last hundred years by alligators.

7 Ibid., p. 31.

8 I wrote this more than a decade ago. Today, all alligators found to like marshmallows are destroyed. New York Times; National Desk; June 9, 2002, Sunday; In Florida, a Bold Alligator Is a Dead One by Rick Bragg (NYT) Late Edition — Final, Section 1, Page 1, Column 2. The title of this article is really a misnomer. Based on the article's contents, the article should be titled In Florida, a Friendly Alligator Is a Dead One. I don't believe that liking marshmallows is a sign that an alligator is dangerous. And I don't believe most fed alligators are dangerous. I think people confuse tame behavior with aggressive behavior. Bears become angry and aggressive, if you refuse them food. I believe this is the case with alligators. Moreover, I believe that alligators that have plenty of natural food sources can be taught not to come out of the water and beg for food.

9 Ibid., p. 7.

10 I am writing this footnote more than fifteen years after I first wrote Charlie's Eden. After my encounter with Matheson Hammock, I fortuitously discovered another jewel in the Miami-Dade County Park system, Greynold's Park. Nature photographers, bird watchers, and nature lovers from all over the world came to this park to visit its rookery. Hundreds of egrets, thousands of ibises, and many other different species of birds came to this park to breed, nest, and raise their young. Nowhere else in the world were humans able to get so close to nesting water birds.

In breeding season, water birds develop fanciful, colorful plumage. Ironically, few people from Dade County even knew this rookery existed. Whenever, I saw someone with a camera, binoculars, or just seeming to take pleasure in the rookery, I would introduce myself, and ask them where they were from. They came from all over the United States, from Germany, from Belgium and from the Netherlands. There were photographers from National Geographic. Queer as this may be, not a one ever identified himself as a local.

Hurricane Andrew blew debris into the narrow passages that connected the ponds to canals that feed into the ocean. The park manager couldn't get permission to clear the passages. Fertilizer runoff from an adjacent golf course feed the algae in the stagnant pond waters. The ponds "algaefied": algae bloomed in the ponds, and spread across their surface. The "algaefication" of the ponds completely concealed the fish beneath the water's surface, preventing water birds from catching them—water birds need to see fish in order to catch them.

Finally, water birds need to have an immediate source of food when they have young to protect and feed. They can't afford to leave the vicinity of their nests to search for food as they might do otherwise. And they need a nearby food source to be able to constantly feed their young. Today, the rookery is dead, and the ponds are filled with decaying, putrefying organic matter. Though, Miami-Dade County parks did do some work clearing the inlets a few years ago.

The Miami-Dade County park system does not know why the rookery died, but does not consider it a great loss. After all, it never brought in the kind of revenue the adjacent golf course or county beach parks brought and bring in. The head of the Miami-Dade County park system spoke the truth when he told me that as far as Miami-Dade County parks went, Greynold's rookery was greatly under-utilized by local residents. He insisted that he had to allocate the most funds to the parks that are most utilized and produce the most revenue.

Not a single egret has nested in Greynold's park in over eight years. Greynold's rookery probably existed for hundreds of years. I thought it would be around for a long time to come. I had just begun taking amazing photographs at the rookery when suddenly there were no birds to photograph, and the waters began to stink.

Miami's Audubon Society claimed Greynold's rookery was "off their radar screen," since it is located in North Dade, and most of their members are located in South Dade. They, further, said the Greynold's birds are probably better off in the Everglades, anyway. I thought the birds at Greynold's park had an ideal location that would be hard to match anywhere else. The islands of Greynold's park offered nesting young protection not found in the Everglades. And the clear, brackish waters that flowed in Greynold's park were teaming with fish. There are no feeding grounds like this in the Everglades. Anyway, I don't know the fate of Greynold's birds. But I do know that their loss at Greynold's park is a great loss for nature-lovers and bird-watchers the world over, if not a loss for Miami locals.


Thursday, October 18, 2007

Beer and Metaphysics

Brian Schwartz headshot by Brian Schwartz

The shopgirls in Saks have been making fun of me because my hair had got as long and bushy as the coyote who prowls the yard outside our door. Brush it, they screamed, so last night I cut it all off. And then, slick and elegant, I burst into the Crawpappy’s scene. Less crowded than usual, but a lot of my friends were there, and beer burnished the floating barroom world, and after a while it seemed as if the divine effulgence which, if one could only see it, covers the world like plastic laminate, shone on all present.

“You look like a genius,” one girl I’d never seen before called out, “tell me something about metaphysics!”

“Just make other people happy,” I said. “That way, no matter what the metaphysics, at least you’ve done something good in the world.”

Brian at Crawpappy's


Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Harmony of the Spheres

Richard May headshot by Richard May

The universal constants of Nature need to be adjusted. There obviously has been a major error. There should have been at most one sentient being per planet if not per universe, possibly excepting cats. The effects of overcrowding are obvious, if you step outside your door. On a good day it's like listening to all the music which has ever been played in the history of the entire planet being loudly played simultaneously in the same space without end. However, the medium is not merely auditory, but includes all sensory modalities. One cannot always expect a good day.



Monday, October 15, 2007

Orthographiae Ratio

Brian Schwartz headshot by Brian Schwartz

That’s the title of a book my dad gave me when I was ten years old. It was printed in Venice in 1561, and was probably considered inscrutable even then. The patina of the centuries have only added to the mystery. It’s a 600 page list of Latin words, each followed, not with a definition, but with strange Latin phrases, transcriptions of Roman inscriptions that were ancient even when collected, and weird square tables of letters that look like a cryptographic puzzle, a whole collection of Rosetta stones artfully arranged for the edification of the viewer.

I hadn't seen the book in years and assumed it was safely locked away, but yesterday I found it stuffed in the back of a closet behind some old hats. The binding has been damaged, but that scarcely matters since the binding was done later. The pages are quite fresh, in better condition than some of the yellowing paperbacks I bought in college.

On a whim, I looked up the title on the Internet. To my surprise, I got quite a few hits, including an article in the fabled 11th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica. The author, it seems, was what the Britannica called an “infant prodigy”. He wrote that book when he was fourteen. It is an attempt to find rules for Latin spelling (which, of course, more or less has no rules). Those strange tables, done 450 years ago, were what geniuses through the ages have always done, or tried to do... to impose order on the random and unknowable, to deduce the rules of the universe from a grain of sand. An impossible, Quixotic quest perhaps, but a noble journey nonetheless.


Thursday, October 11, 2007

Prolegomena To Any Future Obfuscation

Richard May headshot by Richard May

What is the relationship between the reality of existence and the existence of reality? This question is answered quite clearly in May-Tzu's Prolegomena To Any Future Obfuscation. There is no single relationship between the reality of existence and the existence of reality, but multiple relationships. This is a simple matter of ontological-existential combinatorics in N-valued logic. For Aristotelian logic in which N = 2: Existence is either real or unreal. Likewise,† non-existence is either real or unreal. Furthermore, reality also either exists or does not exist. Likewise, non-reality either exists or does not exist.

However, in N-valued logic there may be gradations or degrees of existence and/or non-existence, a quantized set of values approaching a continuum as its limit. Ideally in this case the continuum may be mapped upon various topological structures in N-dimensional hyperspace, in order to maximize the degree of lucidity of the obfuscation.

William of Ockham's Razor, the principle proposed in the fourteenth century, said "Pluralitas non est ponenda sine neccesitate", which translates as ”entities should not be multiplied unnecessarily." By contrast May-Tzu's Canon is more useful in metaphysics: "Words should not be simplified unnecessarily," thereby reducing the danger of being understood.



Monday, October 08, 2007

Animal Freedom

Jolanda Dubbeldam by Jolanda Dubbeldam

I don’t remember what the dream was about, but the alarm honking turned it into a trip on a steamboat. Wide river, big boat – do steamboats actually honk like that? Switching off the noise, I face the familiar urge to roll over and ease back into warm sleep just this once ... what am I trying to prove, anyways. Getting up all alone at six on a Sunday morning, which also means, by the way, going to bed early alone without enjoying that glass of Chardonnay last night. You’d think I was an actual athlete training for the Olympics, instead of the middle-aged slow jogger that I am. Still. I open my eyes (sleep has escaped me, too much thinking already) and notice the gear I put out last night. Smart idea. Now I can just grab the stuff and sneak out of the bedroom without waking my husband, but more importantly, just seeing the well-worn actual running brand shoes with excellent mid-sole cushioning and support, not just any old sneakers, and the sweat-wicking top which chafes just a little under the armpits but only near the end of the run, well, yes, there’s nothing I’d rather be doing.

Light breakfast, just enough to fuel the run but not to nauseate. I find a bottle of my Gatorade of choice, pink, which does happen to be my favorite color though that is beside the point. The lighter the color, the lighter the taste. Some of those flavors are so strong they stick to your throat and teeth and tongue after just one sip, and there I’d go huffing and puffing and choking on Xtreme Orange for miles. No, pink is my flavor, mixed 50/50 with water for good measure. I fill up a bigger quart-size bottle with ice water to wait in a shady spot in the car until I get back from my run; by then the ice will have melted but hopefully the water still cool enough to enjoy. Nothing compares to it! Making it back to the parking lot, hot and sweaty and thirsty as hell, and then cracking open that bottle of water and drinking, drinking, drinking like there’s no tomorrow – tastes better than the classiest five-star champagne, I swear.

Jolanda hiking in the hills near San Diego

I drive the few miles to my trail. There is no one else around at this hour, as usual. A broken down truck the only other vehicle in the parking lot, but I’m pretty sure it was just sitting there empty last week, too. I step out of the car, and take a brief moment to engage with my inner quiet. Closed eyes. Perfect. The promise of another scorching summer day, but for now air still tinged with the coolness of night. A slight breeze like a whisper, stroking my face, raising the hairs on my arms in slight goose bumps. Quiet all around. No cars, no people, no dogs. Perfect.

Well! Let’s get this show on the road! I strap on my pink Gatorade, slip my car key onto my shoe lace and tie it down with a tight double knot. Check the knot again. I worry about losing that key somewhere along the way, because then what? Drag my poor exhausted body home along the I-101? I think a huge bout of weeping would be more likely, and it’s hard to imagine how that would solve anything.

Starting is always the tough part. Brisk walking for a mile to warm up muscles and ease the heart into working harder, lungs into breathing deeper. I feel a little like a horse doing that trotting thing on a race track, you know, they’re going as fast as they can without actually breaking into a run but you can tell it’s driving them crazy and every once in a while one of them just can’t take it any more and off he goes galloping wildly, racing past the others, free at last. I never walk that full mile. Legs want to run. And there I go.

It takes a few minutes to settle into the rhythm that will take me out an hour and back an hour. My feet hit the ground as regularly as a clock ticking thump, thump, thump, thump and my breathing settles into rhythmic ins and outs. Not too fast. Going long today. My body finds its comfort zone and does its own thing, needing no instruction, unfettering the mind. I think of Aria sitting lazily by her bowl this morning, waiting for food as if nothing ever happened. I cuddled her tight before filling her bowl, annoying her by obviously not having my priorities straight (food! Give me food!) but, damn, I missed that silly animal. She was gone four whole days and yesterday we were still running all over the neighborhood hanging up flyers and asking people to check their garages, even though hope was running low. Then this morning, when I open the front door to leave, there she is, quietly sitting on the doorstep. She wanders in, cool as a cucumber and none the worse for wear, I guess just finished with whatever she needed to do and ready to come home. She paused on her way to the food bowl just long enough to rub along my legs. What a sweetheart. I'm glowing just thinking about her.

A loud cough. Danger. My body freezes to a halt before my mind catches up. My heart stops beating. In the tall yellow grass beside the trail I look into two golden eyes. A split second. Then the cougar turns and runs. My heart starts up again. My brain belatedly starts to work. What was it, what was it you were supposed to do when confronted by a cougar? Oh yeah, right, make yourself as tall as possible and make noise and make sure the animal has room to escape. I raise my arms and yell. And yell and yell and yell. Then I stop, though I keep my arms up. I’m not sure when it is OK to stop doing this. I know the cougar is gone, but I can't remember which way he went. Finally, I lower my arms.

I look across the wide field of low shrub and grass in front of me, hills off to the distance. It is kind of odd that I didn’t see the cougar run off much farther than I did, I really only saw him when he was two yards in front of me. It's like he disappeared into thin air. I know I am safe now. But I don’t know what to do next. I think I'd like to go forward and finish my run. Or would that be running towards danger? Or does it make any difference which way I go? I’m still facing the grass. I feel a deep revulsion at the idea of turning my back to it. But finally I accept that I can't just stand there all day. I decide to turn back towards the car, not because it makes any logical difference, but because I’m having a hard time thinking straight and for some reason it just seems like the right thing to do.

Legs start running. Not easing into the comfort of it anymore. I am tense, keep having to glance over my shoulder. I slow down a minute to pick up a branch and carry it with me - fat lot of good that's going to do me - I smirk at my pathetic attempt at fooling myself into feeling safe. I’m really relieved when I leave the fields behind me and the trail snakes into a street with houses, parking lot nearby. I drop the branch. When I reach the car, I lean my full body onto it, eyes closed, finally able to relax. So now, I wonder, will I ever be able to let go of this fear, or will I lose this thing that was all mine, the freedom and solitude and exhilaration and naturalness of this Sunday morning escape? I can’t tell. I guess I'll just have to wait and see what happens next week when the alarm starts its early morning honking.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Quantum Mechanics and Objective Reality

Frank Luger headshot by Frank Luger

The main features of quantum theory, such as the wave function, the uncertainty principle, wave-particle duality, indeterminacy, probabilistic behavior, exchange forces, spin, quarks and their various flavors and charms, etc. are so counterintuitive as to defy human intuition and common sense. It is often argued, that since they are abstractions, one way or another, maybe they are figments of overactive imaginations. Not quite, counters the theoretical physicist, because although there’s a tough road from mathematical modeling to scientific fact, there’s overwhelming experimental and other evidence in favor of quantum mechanics as objective reality.

In order to take a look at some of the considerations which allow one to state that the world at the tiny magnitudes of microphysics is as proposed by quantum theory, it may be instructive to deal with the wave function as one of the main representatives in question. Although a mathematical abstraction, the wave function corresponding to a physical system contains all the information that is obtainable about the system. For example, if a moving particle acted on by a force is represented by a wave function (psi), then measurement of a physical quantity, such as momentum, always yields an eigenvalue of the associated momentum operator. In general, the outcome of the measurement is not precisely predictable and is not the same for identically prepared systems; but each possible outcome, or eigenvalue, has a certain probability of occurring.

This probability is given by the squared modulus of the scalar product of the normalized wave function (psi), or state vector, and the eigenvector of the operator corresponding to that particular eigenvalue. Furthermore, not all operators representing physical quantities commute- that is, sometimes AB ≠ BA, where multiplication of the operators A and B corresponds to making two measurements in the order indicated. These unusual but unambiguous postulates, which associate probabilities with geometric properties of vectors in an abstract space, have great predictive and explanatory value and, at the same time, many implications that confound our intuition.

Because of the usefulness of the wave function in generating experimentally testable predictions, it appears that a mathematical abstraction here takes on a reality equivalent to that of concrete events, as envisioned by Pythagorean and Platonic philosophies. However, there is a direct connection between the abstraction and observable events, and there has not been much tendency in physics to place the wave function in some realm of ideal forms, platonic or otherwise.

A similar state of affairs already existed in classical electrodynamics, and some physicists remarked that Maxwell’s laws were nothing more than Maxwell’s equations. Perhaps because radiation always had been regarded as immaterial with wave properties, this point of view was not quite as disturbing as it became when matter waves had to be considered. In both cases, however, there does appear to be a problem in explaining how mathematical symbolism can do so much.

Platonic implications can be avoided if we look more closely at the actual, concrete role of the wave function in the theory. If viewed as a conceptual tool, rather than something given, the idea of a wave function containing information about observable events is not so strange. The meaning of the wave function is defined by its role in the theory, which after all is a matter of theorists interacting with events. A clue to this purely conceptual, computational role is the fact that a wave function can be multiplied by an arbitrary phase factor without changing its physical significance in any way. Also, the fact that it is a complex-valued function discourages one from interpreting it as something with spatial and temporal wave properties.

As the search for causes has diminished in modern physics, the success of microphysics in explaining the properties of complex structures such as atoms, molecules, crystals, and metals has increased markedly at the same time. If causality is conceived, as it once was, in terms of collisions among particles with well-defined trajectories, then it has no meaning at the quantum level. However, a remarkable consistency in the evolution of identical structures with characteristic properties is apparent in nature. Quantum mechanics goes far toward explaining how these composite systems are built up from more elementary components. Although the once predominant mechanistic view of colliding particles is no longer tenable, its decline has been accompanied by success in the actual achievement of its original aims.

Terms such as causality and determinism still are used occasionally by physicists, but their connotations are quite different from what they were in earlier times. The formalism of quantum theory implies that determinism characterizes states, but not observables. The state of the system described by a wave function (psi) evolves in time in a strictly deterministic manner, according to the Schrödinger equation, provided that a measurement is not made during that period of time. This usage of determinism actually is equivalent to the statement that the Schrödinger equation is a first-order differential equation with respect to time.

In contrast, if at some instant a measurement of a physical quantity is made, the possible values that might be obtained are represented by a probability distribution. Furthermore, a measuring instrument introduces an uncontrollable disturbance into the system, and, afterwards, that system is in a different state that is not precisely predictable. This situation led Max Born (1882-1970) to make a famous statement that the motion of particles conforms to the laws of probability, but the probability itself is propagated in accordance with the law of causality. The initial astonishment produced by this unforeseen turn of events was shortly followed by an even greater astonishment when these unconventional ideas proved to be extremely workable in practice.

Consider more closely the role of causality and of probability in the theory. The relationship (psi)1 → (psi)2, where (psi)1 and (psi)2 are states at successive instants in time, is completely determined in the theory, provided no measurement takes place during the interval. Moreover, if a measurement is made at some instant, the relationships (psi)1 → f(x) and (psi)2 → g(x), where f(x) and g(x) are probability distributions of an observable, also are completely determined. The new and strange features of the theory are embodied in the facts that (a) these probability distributions, in general, have nonzero variance, and (b) if the relation (psi)1 → f(x) is in fact exhibited by making a measurement, then the relation (psi)1 → (psi)2 no longer holds.

It is difficult to grasp intuitively that the probabilities referred to are those of measures that might be obtained on an individual system using a perfectly reliable instrument and seemingly come from nowhere. Expressed mathematically, the only appropriate probability space corresponding to the probability distribution of a quantum mechanical observable is provided by the real line, its measurable subsets, and the probability measure determined by the wave function; and that structure is not, as is usually the case, induced by an underlying probability space having physical significance. Despite intensive search over many decades, no such underlying probability space has ever been found, and it is now generally agreed that one does not exist. This search in fact resembled somewhat the frustrating attempts in the XIXth century to find an ether, a hypothetical universal space-filling medium propagating radiation.

Nevertheless, when matters are expressed as above, it appears that quite a lot about the theory is deterministic. Furthermore, this viewpoint discourages the tendency to confuse indeterminacy with lack of ability of scientists effectively to make contact with events. Probability distributions of measurements are objective, concrete things. Determinism fails when applied to the concept of an elementary corpuscle simultaneously having a definite position and a definite momentum, conditions never observed experimentally.

Quantum theory, as emphasized previously, was applied with excellent results to a broad range of phenomena; for example, the periodic table of the elements at last became understandable, and the foundations of all inorganic chemistry, and much organic chemistry and solid state physics were firmly established. Contrary to the expectations of some critics, the theory definitely has not encouraged a view of the world ruled by a capricious indeterminacy, but, on the contrary, has greatly enchanced the coherence and explanatory power of science.

Still, the above turn of events in the age-old problem of causality had not been anticipated. The fact that the implications of the theory conflicted in such a radical way with previous philosophical views was a departure from tradition that probably to this date has not been fully assimilated.

Eventually, one may hope, concepts such as causality, system, interaction, and interdependence will be extended and enriched by the findings of quantum physics. Perhaps we are already beginning to see this happen and to appreciate that the new viewpoint does not entail as much of a loss as we once believed. In both classical physics and quantum physics a list of well-defined dynamical variables is associated with each system, and in some respects the quantum mechanical description by state vectors is analogous to a phase-space representation in classical statistical mechanics. Formally, the dynamical variables play a different role in the two theories, but in both cases their specification exhausts the observable properties of the system. The probabilistic aspects of quantum theory, as stressed before, certainly do not imply an inability to find lawfulness and orderliness in nature.

Although quantum mechanical predictions of, for example, position are inherently probabilistic, in many instances a particle is sufficiently localized that probabilities of it appearing outside a restricted range are essentially zero, that is, the dispersion of the distribution is small. It becomes meaningful, for example, to speak of shells and subshells in atomic structure. Overall, it appears that abandonment of the rather limited classical cause-and-effect scheme is a minimal loss compared to the far greater gains achieved by the theory as a whole.

Like many ideas in quantum theory, the celebrated Heisenberg uncertainty principle becomes less mysterious if examined in its concrete role in the theory. The uncertainty principle is not an insight which preceded the theory, but is built into its structure, that is, it can be derived from the abstract formalism. Heisenberg’s matrix mechanics and its success in accounting for experimental results came first; the uncertainty principle and its implications then were recognized.

Essentially, this principle means that the dispersions, or variances, of probability distributions of noncommuting observables are constrained by one another, or, alternatively, that a function and its Fourier transform cannot both be arbitrarily sharp. The physical significance of this result is that measurements of certain pairs of observed quantities- such as position and momentum, or time and energy- cannot simultaneously be made arbitrarily accurate. The principle has been confirmed, many times, by an overwhelming mass of evidence. Accordingly, the principle is an objective property of events that must be confronted in future advances of our understanding of the physical world. Much the same is true about all the other main features of quantum theory.

Although quantum mechanics and the blurred mode of existence that it reveals represent current frontiers in the direction of the infinitesimally small, it is generally acknowledged that this is not the final answer. Quantum reality is reality, to be sure, but it is still very much a virtual reality inasmuch as it refers to states of affairs relative to Man. As such, it is reasonable to expect that it has a source and a destination, being perhaps an integral albeit temporal phenomenon of an underlying ultimate reality. That is, quantum mechanics is objective reality; but it remains to be seen where it comes from and where it goes. However, that’s another story.


Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Chess and Aptitudes

Albert Frank Headshot by Albert Frank

I very briefly introduce you to an experiment that was performed in 1973.

Very often one hears statements such as, "You need to be intelligent to play chess," "Chess fosters intelligence,"… All this is too vague.

In 1973, in co-operation with the Psychology Department of the "Université Nationale du Zaïre" at Kisangani, I undertook an experiment to clarify these issues.

It should be stated that in many countries there is a "Chess Class" taught in primary and secondary schools by the faculty. This makes it extremely difficult to obtain unbiased statistics since there is a general familiarity with chess.

As an initial step, I received permission from the Government of Zaire to alter the curriculum of three classes of the fourth year curriculum for an entire year in a major secondary school of Kisangani. (Belgian school system class denominations are assumed here.) In those three classes, two out of a total of seven hours of mathematics taught per week were replaced by two hours of chess instruction.

There were a total of six classes each with 30 students in the fourth year in this institution. So now they were divided into two groups : The three classes in my "experimental" group (A) ; and the three others in the "control" group (B).

I was allowed to administer the following battery of intelligence related tests:

  • the Belgian version of the G.A.T.B. ("General Aptitude Test Battery")
  • the P.M.A. ("Primary mental abilities" by Thurstone)
  • the D.A.T. ("Differential Aptitude Test" by Bennet, Seashore and Wesman)
  • the D2 (Brieckenkamp)
  • the Rorschach.

Some preliminary remarks should be made before going over to the description of the results of the experiment.

  1. Knowing the degree to which the tests employed were culturally fair to the tested persons is not absolutely necessary, since the aim was merely to compare groups A and B for whom there were no significant cultural differences.

  2. No student in either group had ever even heard of chess, which is a very useful feature. Ideally, there could have been a third group, but you can't have it all!

  3. There were seven hours of instruction weekly (mathematics + chess for group A, exclusively mathematics for group B). The instruction was provided by French speaking teachers — two Belgian teachers for mathematics and myself for chess.

Experiment phases:

  1. At the beginning of the year, all students (A and B groups) were administered the battery of tests described above. Both groups scored approximately the same.

  2. Whereas group B was taught mathematics 7 hours a week, group A was given the same program in five hours a week, and received two hours a week of chess instruction. (Wednesday 11-12 a.m. and Saturday 7-8 a.m..)

  3. Instruction involved testing of subject matter. This included the chess lessons, just like the others mathematics lectures. In group A chess tests and exams accounted for 2/7ths of the usual mathematics curriculum score, and actual mathematics skills accounted for the fractional part, 5/7 of the total score.

  4. At the end of the year, all students of both groups were given the battery of intelligence-related tests again. The students of the experimental group A also took an exam to test the chess level reached. The items of this exam were mostly written by Doctor Max Euwe, former chess world champion and chairman of the F.I.D.E. (Fédération internationale du Jeu d'Echecs).

The results obtained:

Among tested intelligence-related aptitudes, the two groups differed significantly, with the experimental group A scoring significantly better than the control group. The "arithmetic", with a confidence level of 0.95 and "verbal logic" (most often measured by the identification of synonyms or antonyms) with a confidence level of 0.99.

These findings answer some of the questions that were being investigated. But why verbal logic? … There is still no answer.

  1. The experiment also enabled us to answer questions with a view to delineating, by taking the results of the aptitude test into account, the ability to enhance chess performance… but this is beyond the scope of this summary.

  2. The students of both groups received special attention till the end of their secondary studies, i.e. two years after the end of the experiment. The students of the experimental group obtained significantly better results in the long term, both in their mathematics and in their French abilities.

The complete study description is given in the book CHESS AND APTITUDES, Albert Frank, American Chess Foundation, December 1978.

A technical summary (in French) has been published under the title "Aptitudes et apprentissage du jeu d'échecs au Zaïre" in the magazine "Psychopathologie Africaine," 1979, XV, 1, 81-98.