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May 31, 2001

Ray Davis sends me email in response to my post yesterday:

Some perhaps related notes I took from two studies in the "Journal of Personality & Social Psychology":

Praise for intelligence or giftedness tends to lower performance and motivation. The goal becomes "to win" or to maintain the image rather than to challenge oneself and improve. Praise for the process itself or for effort works better; then failures tend to be interpreted as lack of effort or lack of experience rather than lack of ability.

Setting performance goals (do I have adequate ability?) mimics learned helplessness (negative affect, marked deterioration in performance) regardless of the task or the performer. Putting goals in terms of learning (can I improve my competence?) instead seems to sustain and improve performance.

(My immediate reaction to personal praise has always been viscerally negative -- as if it was some kind of deep betrayal -- which is why I found the studies interesting.)

Perhaps this is another reason why early success often seems to be problematic, and early failure and struggle often turns out to be beneficial. The often sad or mediocre fate of child prodigies comes to mind. I have noticed this tendency in my own life and with friends of mine who showed great early promise; in seventh grade I termed this the "L syndrome" (L for lazy) --- smart kids who breezed through elementary school because it was so unchallenging who, when encountering the rigors of junior high, begin to fall apart and stop being able to finish their work. This is a lesson that, alas, I have to keep teaching myself. 'Geniuses' in their adult lives were rarely prodigies in their youth. Indeed, the entire concept of innate talent turns out to be a poor model for eventual human achievement.

May 29, 2001

My brother Yuki found this interesting site on man / machine / brain / language. Check out the human page.

It's interesting that self-esteem and pride actually have a curious inverse relationship, in a way. When you're young and filled with pride, that is to say, assuming that you already know the answers and that life is going to be relatively easy, the difficulties that arise seem surprising and disappointing, and you react to them with a sense that "this is not the way things ought to be" and "if I really were as great as I thought I was, I wouldn't be having these problems" --- which leads to a diminution of self-esteem. On the other hand, if you think in your youth that you don't really know that much yet, that life is filled with mysteries and will be far from easy, when problems arise you just treat them as normal, ordinary, and you simply work with them in one way or another. In this way, as you actually solve problems, your self-esteem is actually reinforced. Of course, in order for the latter to work you need not only the expectation of difficulty, but a certain stubbornness or perseverance; that is, you expect things to be difficult, but not impossible.

Lao Tzu says of this: "Those who think things easy will find them difficult. Therefore the sage considers everything to be difficult, and so never has any difficulties."

May 28, 2001

I myself have never taken any psychotropic drugs, having decided long ago that I wanted to just try seeing what I could do with my mind and body via other means; however, I have many friends who have, some of whom did so very seriously, steeping themselves in detailed psychopharmacology, planning ahead sometimes for weeks or months, treating it almost as a religious ritual. They never took drugs like heroin, preferring to concentrate on more obscure and less addictive substances, and they always did their research. Most of them have stopped doing regular experimentation of this kind now, and none of them suffer any evident ill effects from their experiments.

This is not to downplay the problems associated with addiction or drug abuse, but I think it is pretty clear that alcohol and nicotine, both legal, have much worse health risks associated with them than most psychotropic drugs. Furthermore, the drug war hysteria I think obscures the fact that there are, in fact, responsible, educated users of drugs, who experiment carefully and rarely if ever seriously endanger themselves. They take precautions, they are sensible.

Even with something as pedestrian as pot smoking, heavy use isn't always as problematic as typically portrayed; I was reminded of this recently when we were talking about a friend from my Harvard days, I won't post his name here since I imagine he might not want this publicized, but in any case he was constantly stoned. He was easygoing and never seemed to be stressed out about anything at all, least of all schoolwork. Later I discovered that he had graduated with straight A's and went to Harvard Law and was at or near the top of his class there as well. Of course, this could either mean that pot 1) didn't affect his mental faculties, 2) improved his mental faculties, or 3) he was so brilliant that if he hadn't been smoking pot, he might have become a Nobel Prize winner but instead all he turned out to be was just another damn lawyer.

Tangentially: architecture is about both looking good and feeling good.

May 25, 2001

Thankfully Five Movements is alive and well, and Tait was indeed encouraged and cheered by all the email he received.

Via the aforementioned Five Movements,, who also made reference to Five Movements.

Eat your vitamins, particularly folic acid. Folic acid may be an effective way to prevent Alzheimer's. It is also crucial for women to have good levels of folic acid in their diet if they're considering pregnancy. Adequate levels of folic acid could prevent some 50-75% of birth defects. Doctors recommend that women get adequate levels of folate (folic acid) in their diet every day for at least the entire 30 days prior to conception, as well as during pregnancy. I for one am eating Product 19 and Total a lot more than I used to (for my memory, not for pregnancy, as the latter is something a tad beyond my capabilities).

May 24, 2001

Went to see a retrospective of Matt McMormick's short experimental films, which were heavily promoted in both the mainstream paper and the alternative weeklies. The auditorium was packed. I'd seen several of them before, and it was good to see them again and to see some of his new stuff and old things I'd missed. It's remarkable how many people show up for these things, for a city this size it's pretty mind-blowing. Meanwhile, tonight is another show of Brad Adkins' Charm Bracelet series, 8pm and 9:30pm at Stumptown Coffee Roasters, 4525 SE Division. Brad always shows an eclectic mix of experimental film and performance and sometimes music and art, and usually a hundred or more people show up as well. It's inspiring.

With respect to Caterina's wondering whether posting something in these weblogs daily is really worthwhile; of course, this is advice I got from Paul, originally, so perhaps he ought to defend the idea himself, but as for my feeling about this... I tend to agree with my friend who writes Ruthie's Double, when she wrote a couple of weeks ago the following:

Heard: The internet isolates people, making them asocial
Experienced: Since the internet, I have so so many more friends. I speak often with people that, pre-internet, I would have met, but never kept in touch with. It also seems pretty often that I actually see these people (in person) whom I communicate with (or have met) through the internet.

It's true that I have found, in the past, a certain unsatisfying thinness in some forms of communication and interaction I've tried via the Internet: newsgroups, chat rooms, bulletin boards, a thinness that sucks time and energy from more worthwhile activities. But weblogs, for whatever reason, have expanded both my virtual and my physical interactions with people whom I greatly value both personally and through their work.

As for writing something daily or almost daily ... there is a sort of discipline here. I, actually, have to force myself to write regularly. I have many other things to do which often feel more pressing. But I think this is a discipline, a form of communication which has the potential to be every bit as serious and worthwhile as many other more well-established forms. This form also has a sort of feel of unboundedness which I can't easily describe, which truly excites me. I think there is a lot more that can be done with it, we're just at the beginning. So I encourage people to take this as seriously as anything else, but in particular I don't think that it makes that much sense to divide this activity from everything else, like writing letters to our grandmothers, and think of this as less "real" than other activities. This is real life, right here. Naturally, everything needs to be balanced --- too much of a good thing and all that.

But I think our seemingly frivolous weblogging can have potentially exponential impact on the world, if we keep it up, because we can be helping to create and shape culture. I can already attest to the multiplicative effects of weblogs in just my small corner of the world; and multiply this by tens or hundreds and keep doing the multiplication and you can get a very big number in the end.

May 23, 2001

Ordinary facts people often don't realize.

Buying persistent goods is much cheaper than buying perishable goods. Most people don't think too much about going to see a movie or going to eat at a restaurant now and then, but they might shy away from what appears to be the large expense of buying something like a television set. But televisions last ten to fifteen years. So the 27" Sony Trinitron that I bought nine years ago for $850, which still operates perfectly and plays DVDs with impressive clarity (especially since the television was made long before there was any consumer video source with DVD resolution --- but it displays them amazingly well thanks to Sony overengineering), will have cost me less than about $8/month and probably even less than that by the time the TV finally dies.

For journeys longer than about 300 miles, it is safer to fly than to drive. The greatest danger when flying occurs during takeoff and landing, so the longer your flight, the safer it is per mile compared with other forms of transportation. Walking, on the other hand, is considerably more dangerous: on average, walking is 35 times more dangerous than driving (per mile), and 250 times more dangerous than flying. On average, the fatality rate per 100 million miles is .2 for flying, 1.4 for driving, and 49.9 for walking. However, walking is more dangerous in cities with more sprawl. On the other hand, flying in a private plane is extremely dangerous; the rates for flying safety, above, apply to commercial airliners, not private planes.

If you invest $50/week in an investment that returns 8%, in 35 years you'd have half a million dollars.

Still, psychologically, this doesn't seem right, it feels inverted. Deep down, I think that we evolved not to deal with the long term; we deal with what is immediately apparent. So an airplane crash that kills hundreds seems a much more intense threat than a car crash where only a few people die, even though per mile travelled, airplane crashes are so much less common. Similarly, a TV seems like a "big expense" even though it is miniscule in comparison with other things we take for granted, but which we buy in smaller quantities at a time.

On another subject.

Listening to a newly-acquired Tortoise CD. I really like them, sort of jazz-ambient with a rich texture and complexity that I always seem to gravitate towards in music. Also got a Yo La Tengo. I liked the title, "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out" which is a perfect description for what people sometimes call "enlightenment". And finally, picked up an eX Girl CD after seeing them on public access playing a gig at Satyricon. They're a strange blend of punk, 70's stadium rock (if you can imagine that), and strains of baroque choir music. I kind of prefer their more punk-oriented tracks. Very Japanese melange.

Speaking of peculiar Japanese things (and keep in mind that I am Japanese-American so I can say that)... Japanese scientists have found a very promising treatment for Alzheimer's. However, they've given the protein they've discovered the somewhat unfortunate name of "humanin". It's peculiar because it's hard to verbalize exactly why that name sounds strange for a protein, yet it's the sort of name that a native English speaker probably would not have chosen. Those wacky Japanese.

May 22, 2001

Been playing around with PHP a lot today, it's a server-side scripting language. It's free and quite nice, simple but powerful, and available practically everywhere. A neat and easy way to quickly build database-driven web sites and dynamic content, or to just implement HTML templates and do simple content management and things like that. I like it. Also, been playing around with the Apache mod_rewrite which will let me easily transform existing websites to PHP without having to update any links, external or internal, because you can use mod_rewrite to make .html URLs magically read from .php files without the user knowing it.

I'm excited that Jeffords is likely to bolt the GOP today. If he does do this, as everyone expects, the following question comes to mind: how competent is a Republican Administration that presides over the first Republican-controlled Congress since Eisenhower and then loses control of the Senate after only five months?

It was fun to walk by Ground Kontrol, a 70's and 80's retro arcade filled with classic games. My favorite from that era is Tempest, a game I loved because of the feel you had to get for the game in order to do well. It was a perfect game to get you into the zone... there was strategy yet always an element that you couldn't express verbally about how you were playing. I also liked it because it was abstract and playful. The arcade is kind of eerie because it tends to be filled with people my age (early to mid thirties), GenXers. Don't know how long this business is going to last, but I highly recommend stopping by there if you're in Portland, while they're still there.

May 21, 2001

Please write to Five Movements encouraging him in his decision to continue on with his site. He wrote this in his recent post:

There's a real conflict between one's social life and one's intellectual life. It's not really to one's advantage to have a set of idiosyncratic opinions, much less to publish them. Our society has such an ingrained belief that "serious" thoughts are incompatible with pleasure and sensuality, and you can't fight that tide. Don't laugh, but I didn't tell the last girl I dated that I do this site. That was partly because I knew that it wasn't going to last, but also partly because I saw no reason to run her off right from the start. Emotional needs come first over politics or art or whatever.

This is kind of a weird entry tonight. Thoughts, anyone? I just came back from a second viewing of In the Mood for Love and I'm not feeling particularly upbeat, so perhaps that's coloring things a bit.

Thankfully, in his next post, he decides to continue the site, despite his dire words the previous day. However, before I read that, I wrote to him encouraging him to scale back the amount of his writing if need be, but definitely not dumb himself down in order to have a social life. I mean, okay, if you're going for a cheap thrill fine, sleep with somebody who can't appreciate the things that you care about, but my you don't have to settle for that in terms of long-term friendship or lovers or mates. People often are tempted to settle for things that are way less than they ought to or could, and shortchange themselves and the world from the contribution that they could make, do make. Please anyone reading this, I implore you also to keep your voice in the world, find the truth as best you can, and speak it loudly. If we can't do it here and now, then when will we do it? We have the best opportunity we have ever had, and now is the only time anything ever happens. Can you tell I feel strongly about this?

As far as the amount of time it takes to write, Paul Perry once told me that whatever I do, I ought to post something, anything, at least once a day, whether I think it profound or not. It doesn't have to be long. I haven't always followed his advice but I think of it often, and it has encouraged me to write on many days when I was tired, wanted to go to sleep, didn't want to write. And I encourage all of you out there, my friends, you know who you are, to write just a little, continuously. A tiny bit every day versus nothing for many days makes a huge difference, more than you might realize. And those of you reading this who don't write; consider it.

And on the same subject, come back soon Stewart. Like tomorrow? All right. next week. Write less, if need be. But write.

A million divided by a millionth is a trillion; but a million divided by zero is...

May 19, 2001


A photograph I took many years ago through a window in the basement of an old wooden building. At the time I took the shot I hadn't really thought much about it, but later, when I developed the picture, it made me think of a cathedral. The seemingly ordinary world dissolving in a blaze of light; not to disappear, but to be revealed for something closer to what it really is. Or that has always been the feeling I get when I look at it.

Miranda July's new website is finally ready; designed by David Nakamoto, with usability and performance ehancements, HTML, and DHTML contributed by myself and Susan.

May 18, 2001

Samantha responds with more context in her post of May 17. Yes, while I was thinking about this I realized that it wasn't so much the anti-decorative impulse in Loos that I objected to (although I tend to agree with postmodernists that the modernists went too far in eschewing all decoration --- for example, older construction with its extra framing around the windows, etc. does in fact have a warmer feel than more recent construction, although there is certainly something to be said for leaving things open for the inhabitant to use the space as they see fit), but it's his conclusion that architecture and art have fundamentally different aims. I think, broadly speaking, they do not, even if in some narrow interpretation you might say, okay, there is something to be said for leaving a wall blank. But I think to me the real reason for leaving spaces empty is not so much providing for functionality per se as it is allowing for flexibility of use, which is a related but slightly different idea.

Meanwhile, the weblog/zine panel discussion continues on and has been extended. Again, email your contribution to the moderators if you like.

May 16, 2001

Samantha talks about Adolf Loos, his notion that art and architecture ought to be rigorously separated, and contrasting ideas following off of that. I've been thinking about this for a while since Stewart mentioned that he subscribed to this Loos notion.

I thought about this for a while. I think there is something slightly amiss about the Loos formulation, although I do not entirely disagree with it; but the problem I think is his assumption that function can, in fact, be clearly understood entirely separate from aesthetic experience. I think this notion betrays a lack of understanding of the interconnectedness of systems, the way in which systems feed back on themselves in endlessly surprising ways.

For example, we could say that the "function" of a kitchen is to make it easy to cook food; the "function" of a bedroom to provide a space for sleeping, and so forth. Loos argues that houses serve conservative functions, appealing to the comfort of the individual, whereas art serves a radical function, serving to bring the individual out of their zone of comfort.

But I think that this dichotomy is not quite what it seems. The implication of Loos' notion is that we know, in advance, what it is that makes us comfortable, that we know the function or functions that our architecture will serve. In fact, however, I believe that architecture at its best enables us to find precisely that which we had not necessarily expected --- not necessarily expected either from our individual life, or our life in the context of a community. Architecture can help us to confront our preconceptions of what it is that makes us comfortable, it can help inspire us, or help us form better lives and communities within and without the structure --- and urban design can foster the creation of larger communities which in themselves can produce unexpected cultural benefits far exceeding the imaginations of the original designers (see my previous post about Portland's UGB).

I am not talking here just about the visual appearance of architecture, but rather the aesthetic experience of people living within architecture --- that is to say, not only the "retinal" aesthetic experience, but the whole experience, retinal and in every other sense. I do not believe, for example, that the "purpose" of art is just to make people uncomfortable, per se --- rather, it helps us to challenge our preconceptions of comfort, our unexamined comfort, our mere habits of perception and thought. Architecture, on the small and large scale, can have precisely the same effect: it can open us up to new possibilities, it can surprise us, it can help us to live lives which, in turn, create new openings which we had not expected. In other words, good architecture can help produce a better aesthetic experience, defined broadly: a better life. An artist produces work to help us see or experience more than we might have, given our perceptual blinders, and good architecture can help us live more than we thought we could live. They do not, from this point of view, seem to me to be at cross purposes in the least; in fact they can easily have exactly the same aim. One could think of architecture as a giant installation which we live in; like an installation, the architect must consider every dimension of the experience of the person moving through and living within it.


first half of may