21 December 2007


So it's 2am and I'm getting into bed after having finished our Christmas newsletter. I start fiddling with the alarm and suddenly I can't for the life of me remember if the dot on the side means PM or "alarm activated". So I ask Kristen, who is starting to stir in the bed.
Daniel: "What does this dot mean?"
Kristen (without skipping a beat): "It means that if you want to get it at Amazon.com, you can get it there."
Whenever this happens, I try as hard as I can to keep the conversation going, hoping that more nonsense will follow. But this time she just flopped over and was back to sleep in a second.

Later that night, I woke up and told Kristen that I was going to start writing children's books. I must have been dreaming about Amazon.com.

I have acquired the remaining photos from my distorted photo shoot, and I'll be posting them soon. I think this next batch is even better than the first.

12 December 2007

The many faces of me

My sister-in-law, Lindsay, recently got a MacBook. Now I need one, of course. Mainly because of one particular program that allows you to take distorted pictures of yourself. I could entertain myself for hours upon hours. This is, in fact, what I did when Lindsay first showed me the program. I now share with you the results of my little photo shoot.

Here I am as a mischevious martian leprechaun. You'll never get me lucky charms, earthling!

I just imagine a shrill, deafening screech of anguish when I look at this one. Kristen is in the background, transitioning from amusement to a hesitant disgust.

I like to call this one "Young Mr. Jobbles". Actually, I couldn't think of anything else to say, so I just made that up. At the least, you can admire the hourglass figure . . . of my skull.

Whoa! I apologize for any nightmares that involve the disturbing image that follows. Has anyone reading this seen the movie Predator? If you remember the part when the predator takes off his mask, you'll probably agree that I look like predator's baby here.

And here's my favorite of the bunch. It's just perfect in every way. And Kristen's back to being amused.

29 November 2007

Dad's first publication

This photo of the Veil Nebula was taken by my dad. The premier space photography magazine, Sky and Telescope, recently purchased it and will be publishing it in the February 2008 issue. I just wanted to brag a little.

You can check out the rest of his beautiful work at his blog.

25 November 2007

bulbosaurs and bulldogs

Today I was teaching the 7 and 8 year-olds in Primary at church. The lesson was on fasting. I asked them, "If you could ask Heavenly Father for one thing -- just one -- what would it be?"
After the class had engaged in what appeared to be some serious and careful reflection, I went around the room and asked them to share their soul's deepest desire. The first three answers came from the boys in the class:

Boy #1: "Um, I would ask him to transform me into a clone. A medic clone."

Boy #2: "I'd like to be Mr. Dog or a Nintendo DS."

Boy #3: "I would ask for a Bulbosaur!"

Amused, but also concerned that these boys would be fasting for bulbosaurs and the like, I asked Boy #3, "Do you think you could manage to give me a serious answer?"

He just cocked his head to the side, pointed to himself, and said, "Why would a boy my age try to be serious?"

I couldn't think of anything to say.

Canine update: While talking to Kristen today, I happened to look out the window and (what did I see?) I saw a man walking a dog. What kind of dog, you ask? Oh, an English Bulldog, that's all. And where do this man and his dog live? Just right across the street from us. Happy happy day.

Kristen now calls me a dog-stalker. I try to retort, but, deep down, I think she might be right.

24 November 2007

I feel compelled to spread the word when I come across real genius. I thought I knew how talented Imogen Heap was, but I was wrong. So wrong.

proto-brains and boston terriers

Daniel: "How was work today?"
Kris: "Well, I have a co-worker who was telling me that marriage is a bad idea and that we should spread our genes as much as possible -- that limiting ourselves to one partner is working against evolution."
Daniel: "That's a sad understanding of evolution."
Kris: "Yeah, and I told him things might seem different if he ever has a relationship that lasts more than a year. He said that he has always felt this way and didn't expect to change."
Daniel: "How old is he?"
Kris: "Eighteen years old."
Daniel: "He doesn't even have a complete brain yet."
Kris: "That's true -- I should be like, 'Come back when your frontal lobe is done developing.'"
Daniel: "He only has a proto-brain. A pre-brain."
Kris: "I think we just discovered the ultimate wild-card for winning arguments with our [future] children."

I think this is something that parents have suspected since the dawning of time. How unfortunate that our lives are so short that we feel compelled to make the most crucial, defining decisions at a time when the part of the brain that is responsible for rational thought is almost done developing. Most of the time, it all works out. No doubt because of patient, loving parents. Anyway, for more on this topic, see this article.

On the other hand, while parents may have the ultimate come-back now, it's also true that their children have the ultimate excuse now.
"Maybe if I had a fully developed brain like you, Dad, I would've thought twice about going four-wheeling in your Bentley."
Even though these are ominous thoughts, I do rather like pretending that someday I'll have a Bentley.

Canine news: We have a neighbor who owns a 10 month old Boston Terrier named Billy. Billy is a "free-range" dog -- i.e., he tends to sneak out of the house. Whenever I see Billy out and about (okay, it has only happened twice), busy claiming every object in sight, I always run around with him for a few minutes before bringing him back to his home.
Anyway, Billy's owner must have seen how much I love hanging out with him. Last time I returned him, she told me that if I could find a mate for Billy, I could have one of his puppies for free! Kristen has already agreed to it. Now, we wait until the timing is right. I'm pretty excited about it. I'm even thinking about offering to walk Billy on Saturday mornings, just for practice.

Sure, Billy isn't a bulldog. But he's close enough.

This is what Billy looks like.

p.s. Because she knows it makes me laugh, Kristen has taken up the habit of adding the word "chutney" to every list that she makes.

30 October 2007

Anagram day

A showpiece rodent.

Here's a twist on new word day -- a bunch of anagrams. Review: an anagram is a word that is made from the same letters as another word. For example, the letters in dare could also spell read.

Here are today's anagrams. (with commentary)
By the way, don't take any of these personally. I got them all from a website called sternest meanings, and therefore cannot claim responsibility or credit.
If you don't find your name here, don't be offended. I probably tried it and it wasn't funny.
Maieutica = I am a cutie (I swear I didn't know about this when I created the word Maieutica).

Ammon Chase = Means macho. (lucky name for a boy!)

Betsy Anderson = Bossy, neat nerd. (sorry Bets!)
Russ Anderson = Darn! Sourness. (revenge isn't necessary, Russ.)

Sean Wood = New toad connives. (I knew about the conniving part, but...)

The Prevot family = Fatter, homely VIP. (ouch! I can only post this because they are neither of these.)

And now, my personal favorite....

Eric Stephen Wood = Showpiece rodent. (still laughing. Sorry Eric. Maybe mom and dad were trying to say something about how you looked as a baby.)

28 October 2007

Veterans day

Today I was at a planning meeting for cub scouts (my new church calling), and we were discussing possible activities for Veterans Day.
"Speaking of Veterans Day, I just thought of a joke," I said. "What do you call a retired Nazi who operates on animals?"

Blank stares.

"A veteran aryan veterinarian."

(I had reservations about inserting a Hitleresque cat into a post titled "Veterans Day." My reservations, however, were overpowered by my love of funny looking animals.)

20 October 2007

A heartwarming story

Today, while Kristen and I were perusing the philosophy section at Chapters (the Canadian version of Borders), she said something that made me love her even more:

(with a sigh) "I just can't take a philosophy section seriously if it doesn't have any Heidegger."

Just think, my darling little wife . . . a Heidegger snob. It warms my heart.

P.S. By the way, I feel like New Word Wednesday failed. Sometimes, I just have to imagine all my friends and family reading my blog, laughing hysterically, and wishing they could contribute something witty. That usually makes me feel better. If that doesn't work, I just stare at the ever-increasing-megabytes-of-storage-space-counter that Gmail has on the sign-in page. After a few kilobytes have gone by, it's hard to be sad about anything.

10 October 2007

New Word Wednesday #2

More new words, please? Okay, here you go.

Note: The first two were created by my cousin Bailey (3 years old, I believe) and suggested by her mom, my awesome aunt Stacy. Bailey sets the bar pretty high.

* Attackaling: When someone is in the act of coming after you with thoughts of destruction and running you down at the same time. "Help mom, Vinnie is attackaling me!!!"

* Hanatizer: The perfect solution to the unnecessarily long conjunction, hand-sanitizer. "I just put on the hanatizer, mom, and now my hands are perfect and clean."

* Frenchilada: a frilly enchilada made with thousands of smelly old cheeses.

* Pantlers: Stylish new pants to keep your antlers warm, if you have antlers.

* Cramburger: What you get when you combine hamburgers and Fast Sunday.

* Gristletoe: What you hang up when you know someone with bad breath is coming to your Christmas party.

* Splinterview: An interview with a mangy, old, human-sized ninja rat with 4 pet turtles.

* Dogment: To increase the number of canines. "We need to dogment this house, Kristen."

Dude, what'd you do to your pantlers?

Because words are funny, and due to some prodding, I'll try out a regular installment of listing any new words that come to me (or to you, dear reader). Here are some rules for the New Word Wednesday:

1. It only happens on Wednesdays, though it is doubtful that it will happen every Wednesday.
2. Brilliant replies are allowed any day--not just Wednesday.
3. Supplying an example of the word in use is recommended for clarity's sake, but not required.
4. I'll block anything that is potentially offensive. And anything negative about bulldogs.
5. Don't say anything negative about dogs or monkeys in general. Cats and goats are fair game.
6. If you don't chuckle at it admiringly after writing it down, don't even bother sending it.
7. No plagiarizing. This includes slight variations of previous entries.


30 September 2007

What I do all day

I develop my blog based solely on aesthetic considerations, so I'm adding some text to balance out the pictures I've posted lately. I'll talk about my research. If you get bored by the details, just skip to the bottom where I explain why I think my research is important.

So, quite basically, when light enters your eye it makes a few stops in the middle of your brain and then continues to the back of your brain where it reaches the visual cortex. From there it can go one of two general directions: (1) if it goes up the back of your brain towards the top, it is processed and converted into information that informs your actions, or (2) if it goes under your brain toward the front, it is processed and converted into information that informs your perception and identification of objects and scenes. We call pathway #1 the dorsal stream and pathway #2 the ventral stream.

These two don't always work together in perfect harmony. For example, studies have been done where a subject is asked to reach and touch a dot that appears on a screen. However, as soon as the subject begins to reach, the dot moves slightly at the same time that the person executes a tiny eye movement (called a saccade). The dorsal stream (the action stream) catches the change, and the person's arm quickly changes course mid-flight, then hits the dot head-on. But the ventral stream (the perception stream) doesn't quite catch it, evidenced by the fact that the subject doesn't consciously realize that the dot has moved or even that his/her arm moved with it.

Right now I'm studying these two visual processing streams with an experiment that looks at how predictability and/or practice affect our strategies for reaching out and grasping objects of different sizes. My experiment is based on an experiment where, in one set of trials, subjects reached out and picked up an object. Sensors attached to their fingers showed that their hand opened to a certain width and began closing at a certain distance from the object. In another set of trials, the subjects wore goggles that blinded them as soon as they began to reach for the object. The sensors showed that their hands were opening wider and staying open longer.

Here is where it gets cool. If you randomize the trials so that the subject doesn't know if the goggles will close or not when the reaching movement begins, the subjects will adopt a single, middle-of-the-road strategy (i.e. hand opens wider than visually guided reach, but narrower than blind reach) for every trial. Interesting, but not terribly surprising. You'd expect that if you told the subject, "Okay, now I'm going to alternate the conditions. First you'll be able to see, then you'll be blinded; back and forth," that the subject would be able to go back to the original tailored strategies they adopted in the first two sets of trials. Surprisingly, even though they can predict what is going to happen next, they still adopt the middle-of-the-road strategy for every trial.

My first set of experiments will simply examine whether the same "homogenization effect" occurs with the predictability of the size (instead of the predictability of visual feedback) of the object that the subject is picking up.

Why is this important?
Well, aside from the fact that they are intrinsically interesting to me, these experiments further our understanding not only of healthy vision, but also of certain kinds of blindness. One interesting and lesser-known form of blindness is called "blindsight." It earned this name because those who suffer from it have a lesion in a part of their brain that cuts off the ventral stream (the perception stream) from visual input while leaving the dorsal stream (the action stream) partially intact. In other words, the action part of their brain can see, but they don't consciously see anything at all. Imagine being blind and yet being able to reach out and grasp things pretty much as well as someone who has perfect vision. This is the seemingly paradoxical world of someone who has blindsight. In order to help those who suffer from this and other related pathologies, we must increase our understanding of what each part of the brain is contributing to our visual interaction with the world.

27 September 2007

Our pets can join the fight against cruel and petty dictators.

Bonzai Cat recruited by: daniel wood
Okay. Time to get back to studying.

26 September 2007

Goat Simmons

I'm not familiar with the music of KISS, but I've seen enough pictures of them that when I came across this picture of a goat, I had no choice but to do this:

Out of tuna

caption: daniel wood
original author: ?


Caption added by: Daniel Wood
Original photo: www.blueheronfarm.com

I've found a new hobby.

16 September 2007

I've never given voice to my feelings about goats. Today a friend's blog had a post with a picture of a goat, and I was surprised by the disgust that surged within my heart.

Goats and camels disturb me. Their eyes are too far apart. It's like they can see you from any angle. Especially goats. Of course, camels are like large, deformed desert goats, but they don't pay as much attention to you as goats do. Goats like to sit there and stare at you until you get uncomfortable. Camels are like, "Yeah, whatever."

I know that I'm technically wrong here, but my gut feeling is that any animal that has chosen, over the course of evolution, to attack things by bashing its skull into them is merely dangling on that precarious string of survival through utility to humans.

25 August 2007

some new words

Here is a list of some new words that just came to me. Enjoy!

wigloo: a dome-shaped wig filled with ice chunks to cool one down on a hot day.

pumpire: an official who stands by gas pumps and ensures you follow all the rules of the gas station by yelling helpful things such as: "Unsafe!" when you talk on your cell-phone at the pump, or "You're out!" when you go to check how much gas you currently have in your tank.

gagriculture: when farmers sell you rotten, maggot-infested crops.

blunderwear: skivvies designed to withstand multiple "accidents".

panhandlebars: bicycle handlebars equipped with two baskets -- the one on the right comes with an overweight, three-legged pug wearing a scarf, and the one on the left has a sign reading, "Please help. I'm caught in a bad cycle."

Nursa Major: a new constellation shaped like a bear wearing a stethoscope.

presidenture: a specialized gold-plated mouthpiece worn as a symbol of authority by the president of a corporation.

dorchestra: a bunch of nerds making music.

22 August 2007

The move to Canada

I'm sorry.

I apologize for my streak of faux-news articles.

An update on the Wood family: After driving across the entire continent (effectively, from Sacramento to Toronto) in two separate cars, Kris and I are almost done unpacking in our new townhouse here in London, Ontario. Exactly 100% of our furniture was donated by the Pallin family. Not only did they donate it, they stored it and moved it for us. A million thanks to them.

Aside from getting unpacked, we’ve been busy getting ready for classes to start. I’m in the process of choosing a research project. When I settle on one, I’ll write more about it for anybody who’s interested. I’m just really happy. I’m feeling that fire of curiosity that has been a driving force for so many of the good things that have happened in my life.

Here are a few nice surprises that I’ve had over the past week:
* I discovered that I’ll be teaching a lab on research methods in psychology (a course I haven’t even taken yet – should be interesting).
* Jason Bourne gets more and more awesome as time goes by.
* I actually get my own room on campus. It’s on the 6th floor and has a window.
* Not counting books for electives, I only have to purchase one book for both years of the program. Less money = yay. Fewer books = boo.
* Most of the pants that I recently unpacked still fit me after a year of sitting in a suitcase. The pants were sitting in the suitcase, not me.

The only dark cloud in my substantial happiness is the basement. Let me paint a picture. As you walk down the stairs into the basement, you notice a cool sensation on your face. That’s the ultra-high humidity. You start to feel a hot, searing sensation in your nostrils. That’s the cat urine. Slowly, it dawns on you that each breath is ushering particles of feline waste into your cardiovascular system. Unless you leave, you’ll soon be cat-atonic. (Again, sorry.) Then, as you leave, your shoulder brushes something slippery on the wall. That’s the leak from the . . . no, wait . . . that’s just more cat urine.

To purify this nether-region, we borrowed a high-pressure hose from Kristen’s dad. In our preparations for the hose-down, Kristen called for me to come and look at a curious little compartment that she had found in the wall next to the water heater. It was covered with a metal plate. I pried the plate open and, to my chagrin, discovered the body of a dead pigeon, reposing peacefully alongside its severed head. My first thought was, “Hmm. Voodoo.” I admit, there was a ventilation shaft in this little hole (which probably exits on the roof somewhere), so the bird could’ve fallen in. But I can’t imagine that the bird fell so hard that its head fell off, or that the bird was standing on the roof near the hole when its head was somehow detached, at which time it tumbled, along with its head, into the hole. Maybe the bird fell in and there was a sharp knife wedged halfway down the shaft. I don’t know. I’m convinced there was human involvement.

I had fun with the power-washer. I even etched “I love Kris” into the paint on the floor.

Tip of the day: don't spray your bare feet with a high-pressure hose. It stings like the dickens.

Love to all.

11 August 2007

The Daily Nous, August 11, 2007


Cairo, Egypt (AP) -- Early Friday morning, Al Qaeda’s No. 2 issued a new video that includes a chilling call for jihad against those who contribute to global warming. In what has already been called “the most glaring blunder in the history of terrorism,” Ayman al-Zawahri's 36 minute presentation included roughly 14 minutes of material that was directly plagiarized from Al Gore’s recent documentary “An Inconvenient Truth.” This is especially surprising in light of Al Qaeda’s recent decision to open an official Al Qaeda Film School, which is rumored to be based somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan.

This latest tape is peppered with the usual harsh rhetoric and, refreshingly, some good, hard science. In a characteristic move, al Zawahri repeatedly applies the label of infidel to anyone who contributes to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere.

Safwan al-Naseem, the noted suicide bomber who became disenchanted and left Al Qaeda after his near-death experience last week, made the following remarks about the tape: “It isn’t surprising to me, really. Osama believes he is this passionate environmentalist. He’s such a pompous fool sometimes.”

The news of Al Qaeda’s plagiarism has spread rapidly in film circles. “You’d think the standards would be raised after the film school was opened,” said Jordan Turner, who is both a professor of film at Columbia and a popular Al-Qaeda scholar. “They did use blue-screen technology, which is a slight improvement. However, they used the blue screen to make a backdrop with images of a grinning al-Zawahri methodically beheading different kinds of vegetables from their stalks and vines. Simply puzzling.”

18 July 2007

The Daily Nous, July 17, 2007


(CNN) -- NFL quarterback Michael Vick, recently indicted on federal charges for his participation in a dog fighting ring at his home in Virginia, is now under investigation for an alleged earlier dog fighting ring that had a bizarre twist. Incredibly, Vick was actually inside the ring fighting the dogs himself.

Vick isn’t contesting the charges. He has been open and cooperative with law officials and the press about his involvement since the charges surfaced. “I figured, hey, things can’t get much worse than they already are. Maybe this cooperation will buy me some leniency when I’m being sentenced.” On that note, PETA released a statement on their website early Thursday, decrying Vick’s actions and pledging to see that he receives the maximum sentence for his actions. This official statement points out that "the one thing worse than training animals to inflict harm on each other for our entertainment is inflicting harm upon them ourselves for our entertainment."

In reply to PETA, Vick was reported to have said, “I’m really sorry. If I had known that I was supposed to just let the dogs fight each other, I would’ve been doing that this whole time. I mean, as soon as I did find out, I made the switch immediately. Believe me, it would’ve been a whole lot easier if I’d known from the beginning. I missed so many practices because of lacerations and puncture wounds on my hands—I had the team doctors breathing down my neck the whole time.”

“Some of those pit bulls are mean machines,” said Vick. “Worse than any linebacker I’ve ever met.”

16 July 2007

The Daily Nous, July 16, 2007

Sacramento, CA (AP)--While waiting at a busy intersection in downtown Sacramento, pedestrian Reginald Whipple made a startling discovery that may revolutionize the practice of crosswalking. It all began last Tuesday when he pressed the "walk" button at Arden and Howe.

"After hitting it the first time," said Whipple, "I thought, 'What if it didn't work?' So I decided to hit it again."

Then Mr. Whipple noticed something strange. As soon as he had finished hitting the button twice, the light changed and he was allowed to cross the street.

"Literally, a light just went off in my head. I figured I'd do a little experiment," explained Whipple. "I repeatedly punched the button as fast as I could. Every time I did, the light would change faster than when I only hit it once."

When asked if he thought that the lapsed time before the changing of the light was correlated with the speed of the button-pushing, Whipple shrugged and replied, "I don't know that we can say that just yet. There's still so much more to be done on this study. The exciting thing is that we know that the lights are actually responding to the repeated depressions of the button."

At a recent press conference, Whipple made some conjectures about the inner workings of this phenomenon. "It is my hypothesis that the stoplight networks have developed social practices with pedestrians, and that they have done this to the point where they are now capable of perceiving distress or urgency in something as simple as a rapid burst of button depressions."

Pedestrians all over the nation are now taking advantage of Whipple's startling discovery.

13 July 2007

Russ and Bets, Russian Bends

Rascality, Porter-style.

Kris and I visited our friends Russ and Betsy last week. They fed us, entertained us, and kicked us out to sleep in a tent in their neighbor's gravelly driveway. It sounds bad, but it was actually quite posh--a five man tent with an inflatable mattress. Playing tug-of-war with their dachsund, Terry, was one highlight. Another was watching Russ jump into a not-quite-hygienic canal to fetch his frisbee.
On Sunday we were able to be with Russ and Bets for the blessing of their newest child, Reid. We feel grateful to have been there--and grateful for such loving, funny, talented friends.
Another highlight: while setting up our picnic at the park, an old guy interrupted his exercise stroll and approached us.
"Nice park, eh?" he said. (Murmurs and nods from around the picnic table.)
"You know what would make it nicer?" he asked. (Sadly, nobody did.)
"A public restroom," he announced. He paused, nodding, letting it sink in.
He then proceeded to tell us the history of the park and how obstinate the city council has been regarding this bathroom issue. He urged us to do our civic duty and call the representative and express our displeasure over the dismal bathroomlessness of the park. As he left, we all yelled "thanks", but I don't think anybody meant it.

After leaving the Andersons, we went to visit Kris' aunt and uncle in Santa Cruz. While we were there, we visited the Boardwalk. All I can remember from the last time I went to the Boardwalk is that I caught a little fish and wanted to keep it but it died on the way to my great-grandma's house in Oakland, so I tried to revive it in her toilet. I think I was five years old.
It was overcast the whole day, so all we did was walk around, go on one rollercoaster, and watch a circus put on by some Russians. When I hear the words "Russian Circus" I expect bears and wolves, mustaches and M.C. Hammer Pants, and vodka. Oh, I guess they had vodka. And a guy dressed up in a bear suit doing cartwheels. But, lamentably, in all other respects the Russian Circus is modernizing itself.
First of all, they had a clown, which I didn't expect, never having associated clowns with Russians. The poor clown. He spent about two minutes preparing for his elaborate vaudeville trick where he hung his hat and vest on a cane, which he balanced on his forehead. His goal was to let the cane drop and have the hat and vest slip right over him. There are few things more difficult to watch than a clown taking himself seriously and messing up repeatedly. Those few other things are pretty much comprised by the rest of the circus.
I hope the crowd didn't leave with the impression that all you need to start up a circus is to find a couple double-jointed girls, dress them up in embarrasing outfits, and find two guys that are able to lift the girls up while they do their bendy stuff. To be fair, I should mention that we didn't watch the whole thing. Maybe the wolves came out later.
Man, what a harsh reviewer I am. Here's an honest suggestion: If you guys ever come back to the Boardwalk, maybe you could dress the girls up in scuba gear, have them walk out of the surf and onto the stage, announce that, due to a rapid ascension, they have the "bends", and then let them do their bendy routine to "The Bends" by Radiohead. Good Russian humour. I totally would've laughed.

08 July 2007

Ethics of Memory

An unwelcome guest.

I have a problem with my brain: thoughts sometimes get on a loop and just cycle for days, sometimes weeks. My brother X.W. (of course these initials are fictitious for the protection of my brother Eric) suffers from the same problem, and his is of a particularly vicious flavour (I’m practicing my Canadian spelling before we move there). The phrase “I’ve got a song stuck in my head” is the point of departure for X. He’ll be stuck on a line from a song for days. Lately he has had a tough time escaping the rut of “Encarnacion”, a love song by Jack Black in the movie Nacho Libre. And X doesn’t remember with quiet images tucked into the recesses of his private thoughts—X remembers with his entire body, most prominently his highly developed, operatic, stuck-on-full-volume vocal chords. This gives the reader a taste for the struggles endured by my brother and me.
This neurological issue isn’t the same thing as my past-time of being obsessed with a problem or two for years at a time. In fact, this loop malfunction often interrupts me in what contemplations I’ve managed to conjure. Just when I feel I’m on the verge of some important intellectual milestone, everything unexpectedly shifts gears and I find myself mentally repeating something like “gorgonzola . . . gorgonzola . . . gorgonzola,” as if it were the most natural thing to be doing with my time. Other times, it's more of a motor memory. If I'm on the computer I'll find myself just randomly clicking the mouse in circles, mesmerized for minutes by the little white arrow. And this has led me to the latest obsession: the intrusiveness of memory.
Well, it started as an interest in intrusiveness, but now I’ve moved on to other interesting aspects—particularly the ethics of memory.
The more I read about memory, the more I’m convinced that memory isn’t a matter of simple retrieval or access. Rather, it is a relatively creative process that relies upon cues from the situation that called for the memory in the first place, cues including personal contributions to the situation like emotional mood, level of hunger, the particular social goals and fears that are most salient at the time, etc. In light of the possibility of our creative role in memory, intentional or not, we should be anxious to explore different attitudes toward the ways in which we remember ourselves and others.
It seems to me that one important application of these thoughts, if they're accurate, is that we have the ability to examine how we see others and analyze the role of particular memories with them (memories we maybe once considered infallibly accurate portrayals of how things played out), take advantage of our creative role in memory, and reinterpret the event in a more charitable, humane light. If we do this enough, we may even find that we have formed rather pernicious habits of remembering events in a self-absorbed way. I don’t think it would be inaccurate to say that we form addictions to certain roles (usually those that are, ironically, self-preserving in some ultimately destructive fashion), and that our acts of memory tend to be shaped by these roles.
And this also goes for how we remember ourselves. In our struggles to be honest with ourselves, how can we be true to something into which we only have foggy insight? Do we sometimes assume that it is impossible to be wrong about what some mistake, some blunder, or some bloated victory ultimately means for our selves? And do we make the mistake of assuming that these memories about others and ourselves could ever be neutral? What happens when we start to take responsibility for the implications of the meaning of a memory? A memory is never a neutral thing.

28 June 2007


Kristen and I are loving it out here in sunny Folsom, CA. We're staying with my family en route to Toronto. Which is odd because Folsom isn't en route to Canada when you leave from Salt Lake. We're taking the scenic route.

I guess the main reason we're here is because there is a serious family reunion coming up (in Lake Tahoe) and we want to celebrate my Grandma Wood (Gabby, whose house we've been sitting), the matriarch of the family, who has been so loving and generous to us. Kristen and I have been feverishly transferring my late grandfather's journals into electronic format, and we plan on presenting the finished product to her at the reunion. I hope we finish in time. Kristen is really the star player here. I get really frustrated with the voice recognition software, which always thinks I'm saying "in" when I say "and" or "can't" when I say "Kent". To give you an idea, Kristen has done 600 pages and I have done 150 pages. She gets so absorbed in it that she sometimes forgets that it is 2007 instead of 1968.
For example, we were recently shopping at a second-hand store when Kristen sees a little dress and says, "Oh, that would look so cute on Noel!"
"On who?"
"Wait, Noel isn't 3 years old anymore. Nevermind."
The Noel of whom she speaks is my aunt who is now in her early forties. I thought that was pretty cute.

Our yellow labrador, Holly (who suffers from acute urinary incontinence, aggravated by baby-talk and any degree of eye contact -- or a malevolent combination of the two), has been keeping me company when Kristen is lost in 1968. Holly isn't a bulldog, but she suffices. She and I mostly play fetch, but every once in awhile I'll throw her toy into the pool, and her instincts will snap (like Lambert the sheepish lion) into Rescue Dog mode. She leaps and belly-flops after that toy with such gusto that I can hardly keep from laughing every time she does it. You may say to yourself, "Gee, that doesn't sound like Rescue Dog mode; that just sounds like good old fashioned fetch." Trust me. You try jumping into that pool and she'll try to fetch you.

Holly mid-flight.

She usually waits until she's right next to me before she does this.

I've also spent some quality time working with my Dad out on the ranch that he and my mom are slowly developing. It is about 70 acres out in Ione (Amador County, near Sutter Creek). It has rolling hills with scattered oak groves and a river running through it. My Dad (who is getting his Masters in Astrophysics) built an observatory at the top of one of the hills. He uses the telescope for astrophotography (you can see a few of his photos by going to his blog, in the Links section to the right). His passion for the heavens (in more than one sense) is contagious. Lately we've been working on irrigation lines for some young trees and for a new horse arena that they're building. My mom and her friend go out there every other day and spoil their horses, Ty and Tude. The more time I spend out there, working and watching my parents build their dream up from the ground, the more I yearn to own some of my own earth and put my mark on it.
Last week, while I was eating lunch out at the ranch, a beautiful bird flew by. I had this funny feeling and I asked my dad, "Dad, do you ever see a bird fly by out here and say to yourself, 'Hey, that bird belongs to me'? 'Cause I just had that feeling."
"No, son. I can't say that I have."
"Well, it's true, in a way, since you own this property."
"No, son. It's not."
I'm paraphrasing. He actually said this with more tact and with a fatherly smile -- you know, the kind of smile that says, "Let's just change the subject to something sensible."

I'm counting down the days until school starts again. It's springtime again in my mind, which is nice after an unseasonally long dry spell.
I own this tree!

19 May 2007

an anthropological study of "garage sapien"

We had a garage sale today. This is my first one since, oh, the junior high days. I admit I was a little nervous about the whole thing because I didn't think we had enough stuff and I was afraid that our relatively remote location would be hard for people to find.

Nah, they sniffed us out like bloodhounds.

I stayed back while Kristen set up the signs. Seriously, it couldn't have been two minutes after she left that she diverted a steady flow of "yard sale junkies" (the term "junkies" is employed loosely here) in my direction. Most of them executed the "drive-by" technique -- this technique is the embodiment of the inference that the size of the sale is indicative of the quality of the items being sold. Really, this is quite the rich sub-culture (the term "rich" is employed loosely) with rules governing everything from the standard price of magazines and VHS tapes to the politics of haggling. I offended one person for asking too much for a magazine and I offended another person for asking too little too quickly for a stack of books. Apparently I robbed him of that precious sense of triumph that can only come from talking someone down from $2.00 to $1.50. My very last customer of the day, as luck would have it, told me about all these rules.

Here are some of the other highlights with our "garage sapien" buddies:
* A man walked into our garage (while we were talking with other customers) and began to sift through our belongings, which were clearly not for sale. His mongrel dog followed suit and began to eat our Gandalfo's breakfast sandwiches, which were clearly not for canine consumption.
* I had more opportunities to practice my Spanish today than I have in the last two years combined. I met some awesome folks from Peru (where my little sister Christina was born). This nice Peruvian couple said that they wanted to cook me some Peruvian cuisine -- something involving "lots of shrimp".
* I got a big hug from a nice lady when I gave her son (a new philosophy major at BYU) a good deal on some philosophy books.
* Someone stole the nice camera we had for sale, but left the nice case that came with it. We gave it to a girl straight out of the "Teen Girl Squad" who wanted to use it as a purse.
* Only AFTER I sold my handheld tape recorder did I realize that I forgot to erase some embarrassing clips of me singing.
* An old man (decked out in biking apparel) pulled up on his bike, parked it, and took a quick glance at the pile of free stuff at the front of the driveway. After a few seconds, he mounted his bike and said to me, "I'm gonna be riding this bike all day." Then he drove away, leaving me with a funny mix of puzzlement and admiration.

Overall, it was a smashing success. The best part of the day was when Kristen, in her exuberance over the amount of money we managed to make with the whole affair, accidentally gave me permission to spend $30 on books.

And that's why the quote of the day comes from Amazon.com.

Here's the "What in tarnation?!" quote of the day:

"I think the human brain is highly overrated."

-- a reviewer on Amazon.com

30 April 2007

Bollywood breakdancing

There's nothing I can say about this except that I don't condone smoking (for midgets or anyone else). It's bad for your body and it makes cars and hotel rooms stink. However, I do condone awesome breakdancing with an unbeatable grin on your face.

26 April 2007

why I love her

There really aren't reasons, per se, that explain my love for Kristen. But there are some things that sure make it easier to love her; some things I really like about her, and I want her to be able to remember these things whenever she's having a bad day.

She loves hiking with me.

Many of my defining moments have happened in the mountains, and I'm happy that Kris not only understands that, but also is excited to continue that pattern.

She's passionate and involved.

One of the first things I noticed about Kris was that she isn't lukewarm about many things. Whether she's dancing and lip-synching to the newest Beyonce song, almost getting a technical foul for yelling at the ref for not calling fouls, (or for that matter) getting up at 5:30 AM to coach junior high basketball, or firmly expressing and defending her opinion as a student in class, she jumps in headfirst, totally committed.

She loves my family.

I love my family. So does Kris, and that means everything to me. And I like that my brothers have an ongoing battle to secure the "favorite brother" status.
She also has a great relationship with my extended family. My grandma Wood kissed her before I did (on the cheek, of course). I got jealous and made sure that our first kiss was at the end of that date.

I love her family.

Kristen's family is wonderful. Her mom gave her the compassion and good looks (sorry John, but I'm glad Kris doesn't look like Clint Eastwood). Her dad gave her a quick sense of humor and a lot of electronic singing fish toys. And her three sisters are all talented, beautiful, and funny. And a little wierd. Just kidding.

She takes care of me.

Kristen is the reason that I'm still alive, believe it or not. She doesn't spoil me by any means (she's good at reminding me to do my duties). Still, I feel spoiled.
Her cooking skills are legendary. And they're getting better. Very yummy, but stretching the tummy.

She's a caring, inspiring teacher (and a proud canadian).

Kristen works very hard to educate her students. She teaches English and three levels of French. It isn't uncommon for her to divert a date or a vacation because she noticed something that would make a great object lesson, or a great book to read with her students, or a good picture to hang up in the room. Right next to her gargantuan Canada shrine.
She has a reputation at the school for being very strict and demanding, but also very fun and rewarding. She also has a reputation for praising Canada. Once a concerned parent contacted the principal because she heard that Kristen was preaching socialism to the children.

She makes me laugh.

Kristen has an arsenal of three or four things she can do at any time to make me laugh so hard that I cry, no matter what mood I happen to be in at the time. This isn't one of them, but I still think it's a funny picture.

I think she's the prettiest woman I've ever seen.

And she's my best friend. How lucky am I?

I love you, Kristen.

Bulldog or Bust

This is the official kick-off of the "Bulldog or Bust" campaign. You see, I want a bulldog. Kristen absolutely refuses on the grounds that bulldogs are, as a breed, notably flatulent. I didn't want to believe it, but apparently it's true. I say that's a small price to pay for the companionship of a beast that is, in all other respects, a paragon of beauty and delicacy. She disagrees with me there, too, claiming that bulldogs look, and I quote, "disgusting."

I've tried to appeal to her "frenchness" by suggesting a french bulldog, but she's taken up the habit of ridiculing them. She particularly likes to mock their prominent ears, and even suggests comparisons with bats, of all creatures.
Not being one to surrender easily, I've hoarded up some pleasing pictures of bulldogs.

If the pictures so move you, gentle reader, please consider replying to this post and expressing your support for the Bulldog or Bust campaign. I'm only one man, and I can't do this alone. Together we can overcome the evils of prejudice toward our stocky little buddies!

Here's the bulldog parade:

This is the French Bulldog. Notice the elegant ears.

06 April 2007

one swinging hepcat

Fact: The strings of many stringed instruments, including those of this size, are made out of catgut (also used for stringing racquets).

Disappointing fact: Catgut isn't made out of the guts of cats.

Fun fact: The cat in this picture has a funny gut.

22 March 2007

another one

Coldplay and Panzers don't mix.

Dear Dream Diary,
Last night I dreamt that I was at an outdoor party where the band Coldplay was playing. Someone had managed to get a huge Panzer tank into the party. At first the Panzer was merely chasing people around, but eventually someone decided to use the tank to shoot at a target that was adjacent to Coldplay's stage. Upon impact, the poor band flew off the stage amidst rubble and smoke. Being the troopers they are, Coldplay crawled back on stage, bloodied but unbowed, and plugged back in. Unfortunately, by the time they were ready to start again, another band had started up on another nearby stage. It was a polynesian reggae band. Chris Martin, the lead singer of Coldplay, looked at me (at this point I'm a member of the band) with an expression on his face like, How are we supposed to compete with that? I looked out at the crowd and noticed that they were all polynesian.

A few moments later, I'm back in the crowd and Coldplay has set up on the same stage as the other band. This little reggae band has a great rhythm section with guys wearing drums all over their bodies and throwing these little boomerang drumsticks that hit the drum and come back. And boy are they rocking out! Dancing ensues. The song ends, and Coldplay triumphantly starts one of their signature grooves. The guys in the reggae band get this confused look on their faces and begin to shake their rastafarian heads. All the guys with the drums turn and face Coldplay and start tossing the boomerang-sticks in their direction, taunting them and playing drums at the same time. Then one of the sticks hits Coldplay's bass player in the face and he falls backwards off the stage.
Rough night for Coldplay, but everyone at the party had a good laugh.
Are these dreams interesting to anyone else? If not, someone please tell me to stop.

15 March 2007

A Dream Come True

Sorry, no witty picture.

I don't know if these people qualify as mentally cacophonous (see this post for more info on the mentally cacophonous and their #1 enemy), but if you want to see a real music video from a real Southern Baptist Camp, click here. The best thing about all this is that most of the video is in fast motion, which actually does give everyone's movements a jerky, spasmodic quality. Just like I saw in my dream. I don't mean to brag, but I think it's clear that I have some sort of clairvoyance or some other unique access to truth.

I think it would be a dangerous thing to show this video to my brother.

For more Southern Baptist Camps, click here and here. The website where I found the video is here.

25 February 2007

Moment of brilliance

I'm giving him a run for his money.

One day last week the parking near campus was especially cutthroat. By the time I found a spot, I was late for class, so I bolted up the hill to campus without locking the car or giving nary a thought to the whereabouts of my parking spot.
After class, I walked back to the car and found nothing but empty curb. I looked up and noticed a sign: "NO PARKING ANYTIME. VIOLATORS WILL BE TOWED."
There wasn't any phone number, so I walked around the vicinity looking for other parking signs. I found a few with phone numbers. No luck. They suggested calling the city.
After waiting on hold for a good 15 minutes, I finally spoke to a dispatch. I gave her a rough description of the car, and she said, "There doesn't appear to be anything matching that description. Maybe the person who towed it hasn't reported it yet. Check back in an hour."
Right. After about a half-hour of sitting on the curb I couldn't take it anymore, so I called the city again. Still no luck.
"Would you like to make a report, sir?"
"A report? How do I do that?"
"Well, a police officer comes to where you are and you fill out the report."
"Let's do that."
I assumed the report was for the towing incident. After waiting for the officer for 10 or 15 minutes, I realized that something didn't make sense. I called the city yet again.
The woman informed me that the officer wasn't coming to fill out a report for a towed car, but rather for a stolen car. Feeling like a genius by now, I told her it wouldn't be necessary.
By this time, Kristen, who I had called earlier, had arrived to pick me up. We went out to eat at a nearby restaurant. She was very understanding, especially given the fact that this little incident meant that she wouldn't be able to buy that pair of shoes that she's been looking at. I felt pretty bad about it, so it was nice that she took it so well.

And then, while chewing on some orange chicken and contemplating the disappointing events that had occurred over the last two hours, I realized that I had actually parked on the adjacent street.

Wow. Just wow.

a dream

This is "Mental Cacophony"

Last night I dreamt that I was watching a TV special on a music video that had been produced by a "Southern Baptist Camp" (whatever that is). The lead singer was afflicted with a disorder that gave all of his movements a jerky, spasmodic quality. The narrator noted that some people had controversially poked fun at the handicapped singer's disorder. That's when my little brother, Eric, appeared on the screen, doing a merciless impression of the music video, complete with spasms and all. The following caption appeared at the foot of the screen:
"Eric Wood -- number one enemy of the mentally cacophonous."
Apparently that was the name of the disorder from which the singer of the Southern Baptist Camp Band suffered.

I don't know why, but I thought that was the funniest thing I'd heard in a long time.

On a more serious note, I think there is something that I've experienced, on a number of occasions, that could be called mental cacophony. Has anyone else ever felt like their thoughts were way too loud? This usually happens to me in libraries and other excessively quiet places. But this doesn't make me flail my arms and jerk my head like a zombie on crack. Thank goodness.

06 January 2007

Let the maieutics commence

Classes start next Monday (after a 9 month break), and I've consciously remarked to myself at least three times today that I am way too giddy. I'll be paying graduate tuition, since I graduated last August, but I'm not technically starting a graduate program until September. Don't ask me where. The admissions deities will decide that. For now, I'm plodding ahead with the personalized educational program that I like to call "The Credit Binge." Of course, when I purge my 225 credits at the sacred gates of graduate institutions, they're more likely to feel pity than awe.
My point is: three cheers for education!

Warning: As I get back into school, this blog will probably morph into something that is, well, boring. We all have something to say, but none of us are obligated to listen. The great thing about blogs is that I don’t know if five people or five thousand people are holding their heads and weeping at the beauty of my verbal catharsis.

Here's a shout out to Russell for being the only person who responded to the post on animal consciousness. I guess the rest of my faithful, growing readership (all five ... I mean four of you) simply doesn't care what goes through a puppy's head when it is starving to death in some crack addict's basement. Oh well, we all have our priorities.

I suppose I'll say a few things in response to Russell. I’m grateful that Russ caught the unintentional ambiguity between (1) self-consciousness as a feeling of concern about how others perceive oneself and (2) self-consciousness as an awareness of oneself as a being distinct from other beings. I was referring to the second sense.

I suspect that many, perhaps a majority, believe that animals have self-consciousness. Russell agrees. He provides three anecdotes to support his position:
(1) The behavior of his dog, Terry, is nearly indistinguishable from the behavior of his son, Porter.
(2) A study on sheepdogs concluded that they have a capacity for memory that is roughly equivalent to that of a 3-4 year old child. For example, they can identify a fetch toy (from a pile of other toys) after having not seen it for a year.
(3) Terry (the dog) shows a sort of self-concern and/or self-preservation that is inconsistent with a lack of self-awareness.

Here are some short thoughts in response:
(1) I, too, have always thought that infants are more like animals than humans, and should be treated as such. We teach them “tricks” like walking on two legs and we condition them to repeat phrases (like a parrot). Who can deny that we speak to babies and puppies in exactly the same babble-language? And when they do something bad, we speak real English in harsh, repetitive bursts, as if they magically understand after the third repetition. Unfortunately, I think this point gives us no reason to think that either babies or dogs are self-aware.
(2) This is the best argument, in spite of the fact that memory can be characterized in ways that don’t require self-awareness. The ability to identify something like a chew-toy (regardless of how much time has passed) in the way that the sheepdog does it ends up playing an important role in this discussion.
(3) How is Terry’s self-preservation different from a thorn-bush’s self-preservation, or that of any number of toxic plants, for that matter? Those plants are the way they are because any of their potential ancestors who were palatable and nice on the stomach were eaten. The tough, poisonous plants were the ones who passed down their genetic information. Of course, someone can say the same thing about the behaviors of humans, but there is (we hope) an important difference between humans and plants, and that difference has something to do with self-awareness. What is it about Terry that makes him seem like he has that extra ingredient?

The crucial point of self-consciousness, I believe, isn’t so much the consciousness as it is the self. Consciousness is such a hard term to define that we find professional philosophers (i.e. David Chalmers) who are willing to say that thermometers are conscious. If we are going to be so broad, we might simply say that consciousness is a responsiveness to information in the environment (which, if I remember correctly, isn’t terribly far from what Chalmers says). A self-conscious thing would then be responding to information about its self. Again, we come up against an ambiguity: something that responds to itself could be as simple as a camcorder taping itself in a mirror, but something that responds to its self must be in possession of some self to which it can respond. A camcorder doesn’t have a self. Why are we willing to say that?

Is there some activity or capacity—possessed by humans and lacking in camcorders—that is a necessary condition for selfhood?

I think there is, and I’m not sure that dogs have it. Before I taint you with my views (which are probably wrong anyway), I hope a few more people will share their thoughts.