Walking Zen

Walking in NYC can be difficult, primarily because of all the other moving obstacles. NYC pedestrians, if they are destination-focused, tend to walk much the way commuters in, say, Dallas, drive: at a constant speed of just-past-comfortable, and with a desire to get out from behind anyone in their way.

Much like my fellow New Yorkers, I have a particularly swift walking pace. This speed is set unconsciously by the nervous system, and I’ve recently learned that walking rhythm is actually is handled by the spinal cord itself without any assistance by the brain. This means that whenever walking speed has to be altered, the task of changing pace is transferred up to the brain for a conscious decision. I’ve noticed that I get vaguely agitated when this happens.

Breaking rhythm seems to be something my body wants to avoid. When presented with a jam of people, my feet will often take the same number of steps, just in progressively smaller strides (often until I’m making near-imperceptible baby steps). It’s as though my brain is an irascible boss that my nervous system really doesn’t want to bother.

All of this depends on whether or not I’m actively trying to get somewhere. If I have no particular destination and am just enjoying walking around, I tend to move slower and with more flexibility to changes in speed. I mosey.

So my goal for my daily commute is to mosey more. But it’s hard. I have to really pay attention to each step. Unlike meditation, where breathing is controlled voluntarily in an effort to quiet the mind, walking mindfully requires the exertion of energy and a lot of environmental navigation (the tracking and predicting of others’ movements and the shifting of speed and position to compensate). To actively subvert natural biorhythms is a tricky business. The brain has only so much bandwidth with which to juggle all these activities, which is probably why it farmed out the walking rhythm to the spinal cord in the first place.

It’s a challenge. Most of the time I end up just reminding myself every few minutes to slow down.

I Was of the Understanding That There Would Be No Math

For the first time in my life, I have a job that requires me to use algebra on occasion. I’ve come up with a tough, yet basic linear equation that I’d like to tell Excel to perform in steps. Maybe you can tell me how in this example:

What number multiplied by 18%, plus itself = 1180?

Or, (X*.18) + X = 1180

Solve for X. The answer is 1,000 but show your work. I need to know how to tell Excel to perform it.

The First Documented Case of Legitimately Funny Conservative Humor

Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Political humor thrives on opposition. The liberal Bloom County flowered under the conservative Reagan/Bush period. The Daily Show exploded under Bush II. But no one really rose to the occasion during the Clinton era, unless you consider Rush Limbaugh to be an Andy Kaufman-esque performance artist/comedian[1]. Also, P.J. O’Rourke is too libertarian to qualify for the job and Mallard Fillmore as a comic strip is a misshapen, humorless, Unholy Thing That Should Not Be, so the less said about it, the better.

Now that a Democrat is in office, conservative comedy has the green light. And finally, the GOP may be able to bring the goods. In blog form, a concept that is actually hilarious…Barack Obama’s Teleprompter’s Blog.

The prose is pitch-perfect, and so well characterized that I almost wonder if it’s not being written by an extremely self-deprecating liberal.

1.) Which I kind of do, actually. He knows he a huckster. He has to. All talk radio hosts do. So does Ann Coulter.

Texas Vacation

I attended my fourth SXSW last week in Austin. For reference, that’s 2005, 2006, 2007 and now 2009.

There weren’t as many acts this year that I was face-slappingly excited to see, although the trip itself was thoroughly enjoyable simply because of the weather, the chance to bike around town, and to see a guitar show and record convention.

This is the first year I took videos, though:

St. Vincent
Nellie McKay
Maps & Atlases
6th Street on Thursday

Sadly I neglected to bring my camera’s battery charger, so my documentary efforts were cut short by Friday evening. D’oh! Still, I managed to get in a few nice pics of Andrew Bird, Ben Harper, Gomez, American Princes, and a bunch of St. Vincent, my new crush.

All this in addition to my usual batches of old signs, peculiarities, sundries and whatnot.

Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia

A friend recently told me she was diagnosed with a condition that translates, as she put it, to “my heart doesn’t talk with my head much… and then when it does it over compensates.”

Who amongst us hasn’t had that problem? I know my mind tends to overcompensate when it comes to communicating with my heart. I’m glad to have such a splendidly multisyllabic label for this. Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia.

As a bonus, the electrophysiological test involved to detect the condition involves going through groin arteries to analyze the heart’s electrical system. So to get to her heart, they had to go through her groin.

Who amongst us hasn’t had that problem? I think this one is less a problem for me than it is for other people, though.

Scotland Homecoming

EDINBURGH, Scotland — Scottish poet Robert Burns gave the English-speaking world some of its most famous sayings and sentiments, including the New Year’s favorite “Auld Lang Syne.”

Now, on the 250th anniversary of his birth, the government hopes worldwide interest in the poet will create a tourism boom. As part of the celebration, the tourism industry has launched Homecoming Scotland 2009 to attract visitors with Scottish roots from around the world, as well as those who are just curious. The schedule of some 300 events includes a huge gathering of the clans in Edinburgh in July.

Burns’ political radicalism, romantic verse and use of the Scots dialect have made him a heroic figure to many Scots.

“Burns is the inspiration behind our yearlong celebration of some of Scotland’s great contributions to the world: golf, whisky, great minds and innovations, our rich culture, wonderful heritage and of course, Robert Burns himself,” said tourism minister Jim Mather.

The Scottish diaspora dwarfs Scotland’s population of just over 5 million. More than 4.8 million Americans reported Scottish ancestry in the 2000 census, and more than 4 million Canadians also claim Scottish roots.

Markers and Milestones

One of the nice things about moving somewhere new is that you have a fixed marker in time for everything that’s happened to you within a given year. For example, in the last year I’ve gone through two bottles of shampoo, two toothbrushes (on my third now), two boxes of sugar, etc. I also have a tin of mints in my bag that have been there since September (I know because I bought them before a job interview). Previously I had no idea just how long these items last – who remembers when they buy these things? I never realized how long shampoo really lasts.


I’ve really been enjoying taking short videos for use on Flickr. They limit videos to a minute and a half, which is nice; keeps everything brief. And people seem to look at them more than the pictures, at least when they’re videos of kitties.

Here was my train platform this morning in the blizzard. I had to pass up a couple of trains because they were so packed there simply wasn’t enough room. The Carroll and Bergen stops after mine were even worse. Some people had waited an hour or more.

And here is a sunset from last week. I caught the last few seconds before the sun disappeared.

As a reminder, in the right column of this page you’ll see a thumbnail of whatever my most recent upload to Flickr is. Here are some other recent highlights:

The New York Times lobby installation
Coney Island at sunset
Symbols of my neighborhood
Really cool bookstore
Saving prostates