Friday, April 25, 2014

Dreams - strange wonders

 Dreams in ‘3-D’

Dreams are so condensed that it’s hard to remember them. It’s like they are in three dimensions and I have to convert them to four dimensions in order to remember them - or to write them down. It’s not really 3-D but it’s like that. Kind of like asynchronous VS synchronous, or parallel vs serial. That sort of thing. And my brain is not capable of converting this internally - it's not wired that way. So I  need to write down the dreams without trying to make sense of them. This external path (written or spoken) is the only way to bridge the dream part of my brain with the memory part. The 3-D dream needs to be converted first so it will fit into  4-D memory.

This makes sense if you think about the fact that dreams are not restricted in time, like our 'real' experiences. This extra dimension (time) doesn't exist in our minds where time can move at the speed of light - the speed of thought. We are free to 'move around' in our dreams untethered by time and space. But our memory banks are designed to remember things that happen in real life so they are tuned to a reality that has time as a component. So our 3D dreams don't fit very well into 4D memory and thus are hard for us to remember. This means that we have to insert the time dimension into the dream as we try to make sense of it after waking. One way to do this is to write it down. Since we are used to writing down things that really happen - and things that 'happen' usually happen in, and over, time - this helps us superimpose the dream onto memory "template" that contains the dimension for time.

For example:
In a recent dream, my "girlfriend/wife/whatever"and I had split up after lunch - we each had our own cars for some reason - and we were going to meet again up town. It was a small town like Centuria and they were re-doing the main road - it was all torn up so I was being smart and I turned down the alley to bypass the construction. There was snow on the ground but there were ruts showing that others had had my same idea. I met a car right away and had to move over into somebody’s yard to get by. Then I started coming upon wires laying across the road. Heavy electrical cables. I realized that due to the construction they had to run temporary wiring across the alley to provide power to the houses. The trick was to drive around where the wires were spliced and avoid the loops. This was high voltage shit and I didn’t trust the splice jobs and I didn’t want to disturb them; causing someone to lose power.

I finally got to the end of the alley and turned onto what I thought should be Main street. When I came around the corner I found myself right in the middle of a big city, not a small town. I was very confused. So I pulled into a mini-mall to get out of traffic so I could figure out what was going on. I asked a guy who looked like he owned one of the stores - or gas station - where I was. He said I was near the airport and listed off the names of some of the neighborhoods (suburbs) that I knew were in Minneapolis.

I told him where I thought I was and what I was doing and we both got a kick out of that. He was a nice guy and trying to help. We were speculating on what we - my girlfriend and I - may have been drinking - or smoking. He suggested that I call her and check my GPS (I can’t remember the order). Good idea. So I called her. Apparently the same sort of thing had happened to her but she was in Vancouver.

This all happened while I was waking up - like in a flash.


Silver Bat

I dreamed about a silver bat.
I was in a room with other kids (that's right, we were kids) - probably at night - and we were doing something that I don’t remember (it was a dream you know). Soon I saw something in a crack in the wall. First I thought it was a big spider but right away it began flying towards me. I could only catch a glimpse but I saw that it was a silver colored bat and it flew directly to me and landed on my neck. I couldn’t see it but I could feel it and I was afraid to brush it away for fear that it might get mad and bite me on the neck. (vampire bat??). I was totally at a loss for what to do - so I woke up.

That solved it.

Siskel and Ebert

 Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert
 I was sitting at a table and Gene at the head and Roger at the side of the other end. They were reminiscing about when they first met. At first I didn't recognize Gene - I recognized Roger right away. It took me a while to put two and two together as to who they were. I had a feeling they didn't know each other very well yet.

There was a stack of folders or something on the the table and it was like they were between movies and just kicking back a little, you know killing time.

I wondered if this is where they worked. You know we think they watched these things in a theater like the place where they did the TV show but this was more like a board room. Pretty stark in comparison to a plush theater.

Why would I dream about these guys. The only thing I can think of is that Roger had died recently.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Music on the brain.

Song writing. 

I like to write rhymes. 

I can't call it poetry because the way that people seem to define poetry baffles me. I've always thought of poetry as rhyme (for whatever reason). I think I really do get what they mean by poetry, and I think some of my writing is poetic - okay I think all of it is, okay - but I don't sit down to write poetry in the popular sense. So when I feel like rhyming I make sure I have a tune to go with it. And then I can call it a lyric. Cool.

The other day I was fiddling with my guitar (nice trick) and started playing a lick that I kind of liked. It fit the mood that I was in at the time. I fired up the "Voice Memo" app on my iPhone and recorded it. I do this because I've learned -- well, I'll get to that later.   Then I thought about the mood I was in and thought about some things that I've been thinking about for a while (song fodder) and started putting together words that fit the melody, the mood, and the thought.

It was morning so I continued this process on my bike; riding to work. I put together thoughts and words that sounded good and fit the melody (timing and rhyme). Each time I had a line that seemed to work I would stop my bike and add it to the 'Notes' app on my iPhone. By the time I got to work I had the whole song laid out. It was rough but it was there.

Okay, here's the deal - the part that kind of surprised me. On my ride back home after work I tried to remember the song and it was all gone. I couldn't remember the melody or the words.  I have been learning other peoples' songs and playing my own songs for most of my life, and especially in the last few years. I have been memorizing some pretty long ballads. Wouldn't you think it would be easier to memorize my own song? I just made it up this morning, after all. But it has actually taken me just as long - if not longer - to memorize this song, and it's not even a long song. Thank goodness I had the sense to record the riff and write down the lyric. Well, not so much thank goodness as thank past experience for teaching me that lesson. I have lost so many great compositions over the years by believing that the same part of my brain that creates a song is the same part that remembers it. I have learned that I have to be very careful while composing. I can't trust myself to remember more than a line or two at a time and even then I have to repeat it over a few times before I stop whatever I'm doing and write it down.

I wonder if this is common or if it's just me.

Biker butt means spring is here

After a very long winter ....

My first full week of riding bike means the snow is gone from the sidewalks and the weather is above freezing in the morning.

The seedlings are starting to pop in the west windows and I'm mounting grow-lights to extend the day.
March 29 - seedlings
New this year are the K-Cups. The flat on the right is filled with emptied K-Cups from a Kurick coffee maker at the office. I simply removed the foil top and emptied the grounds from the filter. I left the filter in place, then filled with starter soil and planted seeds. They seem to be working just fine.

New Alumni Pier at UW Wisconsin - Madison.

Lake Ice

Every morning I pass this pier and watch as the ice recedes in the spring. This year has had the longest ice coverage that we've seen for decades.

This picture was taken on April 11, 2004

Biker Butt 

The first week of riding usually makes my legs stiff and my butt sore.  This year not so much. I credit this with the fact that I spent a lot of time on the ice this past winter. The ice was good and the weather wasn't wicked cold so I was able to skate every other day and this kept my legs strong. And strong legs means I don't SIT on the seat so much while riding - resting my legs but bouncing my butt. Bike seats aren't designed for sitting (at least not the one I use).

Another sign of spring: 

First Crocus  March 29, 2014

Friday, April 18, 2014

Glen Denning

Every Tuesday morning, Jack takes a walk down to the local coffee shop where he joins a bunch of his old high school buddies for an hour or so of smart talk and tall tales. One cold winter Tuesday morning only Jack and one other fellow ventured out. Glen Denning is probably the only guy in town who is farther 'out there' than Jack.

"Hey Jack, where's everyone." Glen said as he started peeling off layers of overcoats and sweaters.

"So far we're the only one's crazy enough to be out on a day like this."

"Who doesn't have to be out on a day like this." As he nodded towards the cook/waitress who was pouring his coffee.

"Sorry Marge." I laughed. "I don't mean to say that you're crazy to be open today."

"Hey, that's fine, Jack" She said with a stern look, "next time you can just have your coffee on the sidewalk."

"No, no, you wouldn't want to leave us our there to freeze.

"I think you two would show up even if you had to sit out there."

"Probably so." Glen laughed. "Just as long as you were there serving us coffee."

"I don't know what that means." Marge laughed as she walked away.

"Neither does he." I called behind her.

Glen sat down and cradled the hot mug in his hands to warm them as he took the first sip and breathed in the warm aroma. 

"So what's new." I ventured.

"Well, I had a dream last night." Glen began. "Odd sort of thing."

"They usually are." I was speaking both generally and specifically because Glen's mind comes up with strange things even when he's awake and conscious, so his dreams are usually whoppers.

"Well, not so much the dream itself, but it got me thinking about dreams in general."

"Oh boy, " I thought, "here we go..."

"When we sleep, our conscious minds give up control and our souls are free to wander."

"Our souls?" I asked, dubiously.

"Well, yes - for want of a better word - our souls"

"Okay, so they wander when we sleep. Where do they wander?"

"Maybe to heaven."

"Heaven? Really Glen? I didn't think you believed in Heaven."

"Well Jack, you're right; maybe not Heaven. " He admitted. "But someplace else besides here. And 'Heaven' is as good a name for it as any."


"Yes. 'Heaven' defines in our minds a place that is outside of our day-do-day reality. It is a place that we cannot go to, and then come back from." "This, " he whispered, "is a convenient trait for those who want to make a living by describing it because they can say whatever they want and nobody can prove them wrong,"

"Whatever", I said. I had to smile because Glen has this tendency to insert his own prejudices into every conversation. "Okay. So our souls go to Heaven while we sleep." I was trying to get him off his soapbox and back on topic. "Why?" I asked.

"I don't know. Maybe to re-charge."

"That's real original." I scoffed. "Everyone knows that sleep is necessary to re-charge our brain cells. Isn't that the same thing?"

"Well not exactly."


"Well maybe they do recharge - like a chemical sort of thing. Maybe that's part of it but we know that our brains aren't idle during this recharging process." He gave me a satisfied look and continued. "Yes, we know this because we dream. And dreams are an active process performed by a working brain."

"So our brains are still active - our conscious mind is still working - during this recharging?"

"Maybe.", he continued, " Or maybe the recharging doesn't take all night and part of the time that we are asleep and part of the time we are dreaming. We don't dream all night - and I'm talking about dreaming here - the time that we're asleep and dreaming."

"Okay, so why do you think our mind is taking us into some other reality during these dreams?"

"Because they can." He paused a moment for effect.

"What do you mean, 'because they can' ?" "Who can?"

"Our brains!" He insisted. "Because while we are awake and functioning within this physical world we must be completely conscious of our surroundings in order to survive."

"Okay, that makes sense"

"Survival demands our undivided attention in order to navigate all the hazards this world is constantly throwing at us." "We have evolved this way as a species. Or, if you prefer,  we were wired this way by our creator in order to survive and propagate."

"So we're not allowed to day-dream?" I said, laughing.

"It's not the best thing to do if you want to survive." He said. "If you're not completely in the present reality - not completely in tune with your surroundings - you might not notice that ledge that you just walked off. And if you splat yourself down in that ravine, you aren't as likely to have kids. Are you"  So the affinity for day-dreaming is not a trait that will be as likely to be passed on to future generations. Full and complete attention is required in order to survive in what we call our physical universe."

"But, we're not fully attentive of our surroundings while we sleep and yet we still survive." I countered.

"That's right." He continued; "One of the things we do when we are consciously navigating this world is to find a place where we can be safe for those hours when we need to sleep. So our sleep time is a time when we don't need to be fully aware of our surroundings in order to survive another day."

"So what if this place that you find is a nice cave. And while you're sleeping a large bear - the rightful owner  - returns and eats you while you sleep."

"Well it won't matter much if you were asleep or not when this happens", he said. " it won't change the end result, will it?"

I laughed, "I guess not."

"So assuming our brains are smart enough to choose a good; safe place for these bodies to sleep every night,  this leaves our minds free to wander. To explore places where our bodies cannot go. "

"Whoa," I said, "You're saying that dreams are really out-of-body experiences?"

"Hmm, " he said, "I guess you could say that."

Marge walked over to our table with a pot of coffee and as she filled up our cups she asked; "So which of the world's problems are you guys solving today?"

"Glen says dreams are really out-of-body experiences." I laughed.

"Well, I can believe that - for Glen, at least. "she said. And then in a mock whisper (loud enough for Glen to hear) she said; "His mind is out there most of the time even when he's awake."

"Hey, " Glen protested, "I'm right here, you know."

We laughed.

"And I resemble that remark." He continued.

Just then the bakery delivery guy came through the door and Marge excused herself; "You guys let me know what you figure out. Okay?"

"Well, I don't know if I trust you not to laugh." Glen said as she walked away.

She laughed. "That's never stopped you before."

Glen poured cream in his coffee and watched the white cloud spread through the dark liquid. "I think that's so pretty." he said. "I never stir it because it just turns to mud."

"So, you're asleep and dreaming." I pressed on, "where do you go to, exactly?"

"Another universe - perhaps? A meta-physical sort of place, I guess you could say. It could be heaven, I guess. Maybe a place that you go to recharge your soul. Maybe it's a place you go to atone for your actions the past day. Why should our souls have to wait until we die to face judgement day? Perhaps every day (night) is judgement day."

"So you're saying that every night we stand before God and answer for our sins?" I asked incredulously.

"Maybe." He answered. "Why not?"

"Well, I don't know if you want to be saying that too loud." I cautioned.

"Hey, it's just you and me here." He protested. "It's just coffee - right? -isn't this a safe place?"

"Yeah, but I'm just sayin' , you know."

"Yeah, I know. But all I'm sayin' is why not? That's all."

 We sat for a while and sipped our coffee and watched the bakery guy carry the day's supply of bread and pastries in from his truck. Each time the door opened a gust of cold snowy wind blew in to remind us what we'd soon have to face ourselves.

"Do you want a doughnut?" I asked.

"Sure. It might be the only thing Marge sells this morning."

So we asked Marge bring us two glazed doughnuts along with a refill on our coffees. This time she was too busy with the deliveries to stay and chat.

"It doesn't have to be Heaven, you know." Glen continued as he bit into the doughnut.

"Whew, that's a relief." I sighed.

"It could be a parallel universe."

"Oh boy, here we go..." I said, and thought, "Oh geez, here we go."

"Well, why not?" "Look at the evidence. Our dreams seem surreal but they usually are based on things we experience only in a different context." "Maybe we're drifting into this parallel universe where we are the same but our surroundings are the result of slightly different choices."

"Different choices?"

"Yeah, you know, we make decisions all the time. Should I do this? Or should I do that? These are forks in the road and depending on which fork we choose determines the paths that our lives take. They define the universe in which we live - so to speak."

"So what if in this other parallel universe, at some time in the past I was faced with the decision that ultimately lead to my death? How could I go there? Because I don't exist there anymore."

"No, you couldn't go there very well could you." He admitted.

I thought I had him now.

But he continued; "But suppose there are an infinite number of parallel universes."

"Ugh." I groaned.

"Right." He pressed on.  "And in some of those universes you have made very similar decisions - or very similar decisions have been made - and therefore these universes are very close to this one. And the closer these universes match the easier it is to move back and forth between them."

"As we sleep." I said.

"Yes, as we sleep. Like I said, that's the only time we can afford to risk moving about like this."

"Okay," I said, "So, I guess in some of these universes I don't even exist."

"And you never would have existed. Yes, in most of them, I'd guess." He paused. "There are an infinite number after all."

"Then, theoretically, there could be some number of these universes which are exactly the same as this one?"

"Yes, I guess that would be possible." He thought for a bit while he looked into his cup. Then he continued; " But why bother? If any universe is exactly the same as this one why would it NOT BE this one?"

"You're assuming some logic here. Which means that it's not just random chance."

"Perhaps." He agreed. 

"The existance of God - perhaps?", I ventured.

I thought I had him.

"Perhaps. In essence. But it could just be a systemic parameter built in to the model. A structural requirement."

Yes, he's pretty slippery alright. But I wasn't ready to give in. "So, if there is a system with  parameters and there is a model, as you call it,  who (or what) built it?"

"Listen Jack," He said, "It's like story of the man who explained to his son that the world rides on the back of a giant turtle. And when the son asked what is holding up the turtle, the man said, 'It's just turtles, Son, all the way down.' "

Our coffee cups were empty and our doughnuts were eaten. It was time to face the cold wind and deep snow once again.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Do You Hear What I Hear?

Do you hear what I hear?

I've been wearing these hearing aids for nearly seven years - or so my audiologist tells me - and I've decided that it's time to get a new pair.

When I was a young boy living in northern Wisconsin,  I would walk into the windbreak that sheltered our house, lay down on my back in the snow under the pine boughs, and just listen  to the trees as they whispered to the wind; eavesdrop on the secrets they shared.  This is one of the memories that I treasure from my childhood partly because it will forever be just a memory. I can no longer hear these secrets. I no longer hear whispers of any kind. I am becoming deaf.

In my late 40s I could tell that my hearing was going. I was beginning to notice some pretty loud tinnitus (ringing in my ears) even when I hadn't just been to a rock concert. I also noticed that I was saying "What?" more often.

I visited the doctors and they told me that, yes, I was losing my hearing and no, there wasn't anything they could do to fix it. It was a genetic problem and would progressively get worse as I got older. And that soon I should consider getting hearing aids. Yes, that's right, not just one hearing aid but TWO hearing aids.  This was not welcome news. How could this be? Was I turning into my dad? He wore a hearing aid for as long as I can remember. He tried many styles and shapes and sizes over the years and none of them seemed to do much good. He graduated from the behind-the-ear style to the in-the-pocket-with-the-long-wire-that-always-got-hooked-on-things style. It seems like he was constantly adjusting the volume or pushing on the earpiece to get it to stop whistling. And cleaning earwax out of the earpiece. Ugh. No, I wasn't much interested in having one - or two - of those.

But it did make sense, I guess. My father often talked about his father's deafness. He said; "My father  never heard my voice when I was growing up. We had to write things on a little chalk board that he kept near - if we wanted to say anything to him." He was stone deaf. We always thought it was from artillery in the Civil War (he was a Major). And my father was in the middle of some fierce battles in World War I. I guess we always thought this had something to do with our 'genetic' problem. And I am the youngest of seven and none of my brothers or sisters had trouble hearing. At least they didn't when I was in my 40s.

But as I grew up I listened to rock and roll - loud rock and roll. And I went to concerts where they played loud rock and roll. And I was in a band that played loud rock and roll. None of my siblings did this. Maybe the genetic thing was mitigated by loud noise. That seemed to make sense. Music has been an important part of my life. My earliest memories have me sitting in front of a Hi Fi record player listening to the albums that my parents and older siblings had collected. After we were married one of the first things we bought was a stereo. I remember the first time I heard "Stairway to Heaven" on our new Marantz tuner with a pair of Large Advent speakers. It was a spiritual experience.  And when my son first let me listen to his Sony Diskman it literally brought tears to my eyes. I remember it well: I had just dropped him off at a high school forensics meet on the UW campus and he wanted me to take his CD Player so that nobody would steal it.  I was walking down Bascom Hill on my way to the car. The album was one of his Pink Floyd CD's. It was amazingly beautiful. I was actually sobbing - music does that to me.

So it was time for me to get a new pair of hearing aids. "The technology has improved dramatically!"; according to the salesman at Costco. My wife doesn't think my audiologist is very good and she thinks my current hearing aids are crap - she always has. So I'm looking around - shopping around - before I make a decision that will cost me thousands of dollars. Yes, we're talking between $2K and $5K per ear. These little puppies aren't cheap.  And for that price you'd think they'd be better at what they do. But they don't and after sitting through a fairly high "no pressure" sales pitch I couldn't see any reason to abandon my audiologist. To be honest, I couldn't tell any 'dramatic' improvement over my old hearing aids. Costco's price was about $1K less than the clinic's. But my insurance covers the first $1K per ear so it was a wash. And I've gotten 7 years of trouble free service from my current Oticon hearing aids so I think it's worth staying with them. My audiologist agreed that improvements have been made in the technology but her customers have reported a range of improvement from very little to modest to good. Not 'dramatic' by any means. But almost all have considered it well worth the upgrade.

I've had my new hearing aids for a couple months now. Are they better than the old ones? Yes. Do they make music sound as good at it used to sound. NO. But thank goodness for ear buds and iPods!! I don't listen to our Marantz and Large Advent speakers much any more. They sound like I'm listening over an old telephone with these new hearing aids (same as the old ones). The hearing aid's job is to make me understand speech. To do this they amplify the high part of the spectrum so I can tell the difference between the 's' and 'th' sounds. This makes music sound tinny. The ear buds 'main-line' the sound past the hearing aids and drive the full spectrum into my ear. I still miss the very high - unless I play it too(?) loud - but it's a far better balance than the hearing aids. (Oh, and the Apple ear buds do the best job.)

I haven't given up hope. These new hearing aids have a button that allows them to switch between different 'programs' OR change the amplification. I currently have them set to change volume. My next visit to my audiologist I will ask to add one program for music and one for conversation. That is one of the improvements in technology. These things are like tiny computers and this button is new. And they talk to each other. Press the button on the right aid and the volume goes up in both. Press the left ear and the volume goes down in both. They also do a far better job if canceling noise and 'fixing' the whistling.

Yes, I think they're worth the upgrade.