Thursday, January 30, 2014

Another Chapter

I've been on my own, self-employed, or gainfully unemployed as I sometimes think of it, since November 2011.  It's been an interesting challenge, sometimes exhilarating and sometimes terrifying, but never dull. There were not a few sleepless nights where I've tossed and turned, worrying about money, where my next paycheck will come from, how I'll make ends meet, and yet somehow it's always managed to come together, sometimes not so elegantly, but the only victim has been my pride (and my savings account).

I managed to soothe myself by thinking about impermanence.  All things change, and this too, I knew, shall pass.  While there's no guarantee that the next stage will be better or worse, there was still no point in worrying that things will always be like they are at the present moment.

Now, some 26 months later, the next chapter is about to unfold.  I've accepted an offer for full-time, salaried employment, working in the same environmental consulting industry I've been in since 1981 (I know, I'm old), but with different partners and in a different role.  After two years and two months of self-employment, I can appreciate what I had taken for granted for 30 years:  the prospect of regular paychecks, paid health care and vacation, co-workers and office coffee.

Of course, there's always this:


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

A Children's Treasury of Atlanta SnowJam 2014 Pictures

Hi-Res Mesoscale model updates hourly

So here's what happened: it started snowing at around noon yesterday. This is rare in Atlanta - it only happens once or twice about every other year or so.  But when it started yesterday, all of the schools, public and private, decided to all close at once, sending large numbers of school buses out on the streets and calling for parents to come pick up their kids.  At the same time, most businesses closed and sent their employees home.  So between about 12 noon and 1:30, a sizable percentage of Atlanta's 4,717,397 residents all got off at about the same time, and since Atlanta is grossly underserved by public transportation, all those vehicles on the road caused a massive traffic jam. That's bad enough, but while they were out there, the snow got worse and then turned to slush and eventually to ice. And while everyone was stuck in gridlock, the salt trucks couldn't de-ice the roads or get back to their storage bins, so the ice got worse and worse until short trips turned into epic, hours-long journeys and some folks decided to ditch their cars altogether and just walk, leaving their abandoned cars in traffic.  They couldn't get very far due to the cold, and since the suburbs are often a good 10 to 15 miles away from downtown a lot of people wound up sleeping in the aisles of all-night drug stores and supermarkets, and a number of children and staff spent the night at the schools because there was too much ice on the roads for the buses to safely take them home and too much traffic for their parents to come and get them. According to the Georgia DOT, there were about 940 automobile accidents, and one woman gave birth in a car stranded on I-285 (mother and child are reportedly doing fine).

Silence in the middle of traffic
Men's heads explode in Beirut
Men's hearts explode in the zendo
Who's going to pick up the pieces?
Your finger's on the detonator button.
  -Philip Whalen, Silence in the Middle of Traffic

Typically, Georgia Republicans chose to blame Democratic Mayor Kasim Reed for the lack of preparation, and Georgia Democrats chose to blame Republican Governor Nathan Deal for the gridlock. Weatherman Al Roker blames both.

Traffic cam shot about 1 mile from my home.

Children stranded overnight at E. Rivers Elementary, about 2 miles from my home.
View image on Twitter

Folks overnighting at a Publix Supermarket (picture from

I work from home, so my commute went fine - from the kitchen to the study and back again, and I had stocked up on groceries on Monday afternoon (unlike our Governor and Mayor, I saw this one coming). My driveway, though, has turned into a steep sheet of ice, and I'm not about to attempt a slide down it until it warms up a little, and the forecast high for today is only 31 degrees.  It's supposed to warm up over the coming week, though, and I can take consolation that by Sunday the temperatures are expected to get into the low 60s. 

Taken on Marietta Road in Riverside last night.

Abandoned cars on Lenox Rd.


Today, Wednesday, the city was a virtual ghost town.


Downtown Atlanta as a winter wonderland. This is the snowfall today on Broad Street. Nearby, GSU students are having fun making snowmen and having snowball fights in the park.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Snow Day

When the truth is realized, the white snow in a thousand layers departs,
And the blue mountains on numerous scrolls come painted in a picture.
- Zen Master Dogen, in Gabyƍ (A Picture of a Rice Cake)

Dogen calls these words the talk of great realization, the state of truth that is realized through zazen. The "numerous scrolls" are the blue mountains and white snow that have been captured in a picture at the moment of attaining the truth. Dogen asserted that every motion and every expression of stillness is nothing but the painting of a picture. Our actions in the present moment are solely derived from pictures. If one says that pictures are unreal, then all thoughts and things must also be unreal. If all thoughts and things are unreal, then even the Buddha-Dharma must be unreal. But if the Buddha-Dharma is real, then pictures of blue mountains and white snow must just be just as real.

It's snowing today in Georgia.  I understand it's even snowing in Florida.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Big Dirty Belly Bag Blues

When Tozan came to Ummon for instruction, he was asked, “Where have you come from?” “From Sato,” he replied. “Where were you during the summer?” “I was at Hoji Temple in Konan Province.” “When did you leave there?” “On the twenty fifth of August.” Ummon burst out, “I'll spare you the beating that you deserve!”
All night long, Tozan wallowed in the waves of the sea of Yes and No until he could get nowhere, and the next day he came and knelt before Ummon and said, “Yesterday I was to be beaten by you, but I did and said nothing that I shouldn’t. What did I do wrong?” Ummon said, “You big dirty belly bag! What did you come from Sato  and Konan for?” Suddenly Tozan came to a realization.

If at first Ummon had given Tozan the essential food of Zen and awakened him to an active Zen spirit, his lineage would not have become extinct. When the long-awaited dawn broke, Tozan went to Ummon and had his eyes opened by him and was suddenly enlightened, although he was still not yet a seasoned man. Now I ask all of you: Did Tozan deserve to be beaten? If it was right, then everything in the universe should be beaten; if it was wrong, then Ummon was a swindler. If you understand this clearly, then you and Tozan breathe the same air.

The Closing Verse
The lion has a round-about-way of teaching her cubs.
Intending to urge them on she kicks them away.
And they soon redress themselves and charge back.
Heedlessly he came back to Ummon but was checkmated.
The first arrow was only a scratch, but the second one went deep.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Friday Night Video

Notice how it feels when the whole visual/mental model of what you thought you were seeing suddenly collapses.

So tell me again why it is that we believe what we see with our own eyes?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Lighthouse

Humorous though it is, I can't think of a much better example of the problems with schema, the mental constructs and models created in our subconscious to help us understand the world around us.

Erich Fromm once wrote that "Man needs a map of his natural and social world, without which he would be confused and unable to act purposefully and consistently.  He would have no way of orienting himself and of finding for himself a fixed point that permits him to organize all the impressions that impinge upon him."

It matters not if the person is a hunter/gatherer, a scientist, a priest, or even the captain of an aircraft carrier. With a mental map in place, "his world makes sense to him, and he feels certain about his ideas through the consensus of those around him.  Even if the map is wrong, it fulfills its psychological function."

On the other hand, a lighthouse is certain of its place without having to construct mental maps and schema.

Monday, January 13, 2014

"I think human consciousness is a tragic misstep in evolution. We became too self-aware. Nature created an aspect of nature separate from itself. We are creatures that should not exist by natural law. We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self. A secretion of sensory experience and feeling, programmed with total insurance that we are each somebody. When in fact, everybody's nobody. I think the honorable thing for our species to do is deny our programming, stop reproducing, walk hand in hand into extinction, one last midnight, brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal."  - Quote from last night's premier episode of HBO's True Detective.  

This could get interesting.

Thursday, January 09, 2014


Just in case you were wondering, I've spent much of this week in the lovely, bucolic town of Hiram, Georgia - out in Paulding County, about 20 miles west of Atlanta.  Truly wonderful place.

Last week, we installed some groundwater monitoring wells at a property there, accessing the difficult terrain using a little track-mounted bobcat.

This Monday, literally the coldest day in over a decade, I developed the wells - pumped the muddy water out so that the clear groundwater could flow in - but the temperatures got so cold my equipment kept freezing up and I had to abandon the effort until it warmed up a little.

So I spent the day indoors on Tuesday and Wednesday with my friend Eliot inspecting the frost on the window. 

I got back out to the site today and sampled the wells.

I'm about 80% complete, and am going back out again tomorrow to finish the sampling. So I ask you, how much fun could one boy have?  And, are you jealous yet?