Saturday, December 29, 2012

dinner aura

(this and the previous post were written as dated, but are posted today, 1-5-13; the times are today's time).

last night, just as we were starting our saturday night banquet, i noticed that everything i was looking at seemed distorted, and then realized that a scotoma was developing, just below and right of fixation. i wasn't able to pay much attention to this one, since i had to eat dinner without looking like a lunatic, but it seemed normal; straightish out to the right of fixation, then arcing downward. there was a period early on where the scotoma was very difficult to find, but i think it was just distributed, or at least not exactly the same in both eyes, but was still there. whereas usually the headache would have started about halfway in, this time there was nothing; maybe a slight sense of headache-like pressure behind the forehead, but no pain. i am guessing this was maybe due to the constant alcohol ingestion? by the time the 10-15 minute mark came around, i had probably had at least 2 shots of baijiu.

absence of a headache was good, since following this i went with jp's father, uncle huang, and uncle wang to get my 'feet washed', which really turned out to mean a full-body massage. a full-body massage while fully dressed in winter getup, sweaters and pants and long underwear. it was nice, though! and lucky no headache, since there was a stage of head-beating.

also, i didn't detect any sort of prodrome. in the morning, i had felt it inordinately difficult to form sentences, and made some strange mistakes in chinese, producing strangely wrong words, which i noticed at the time as out of the ordinary. otherwise, nothing obviously in prediction..

Thursday, December 27, 2012

random observations:

(rambling chinese vacation edition):

1. due to jet lag, woke up at about 5:30am yesterday, lay in bed for ~1.5hrs. of course a thousand random thoughts ran through my head, but for a while a lay there watching the augenlicht. long, long ago i noticed how it cycles: against the dark, reddish-black background, a brighter cloud coalesces around the fovea, then fades, then coalesces again. the cycle is somewhere between 5-10 seconds, the cloud is a very low-frequency modulation (maybe ~5degrees across) of the high-frequency noise grain.

what i noticed yesterday was that as the cloud fades, some parts of it seem to 'stick'; this is hard to describe. imagine that the cloud was displayed on a screen, and that its brightest parts, around the peak, were 'clipped'; then, as the could fades, the clipped parts persist, then brighten noticeably, then dissipate as the cycle continues. the impression is similar to a very bright afterimage floating in front of a fixated object, except that my eyes were closed, and i was certainly dark adapted. the clipped portions are sharp-edged, small (half or a quarter degree across), with the spatial appearance of little interconnected droplets of a liquid. i wasn't able to tell if they had the same structure on each cycle, but it seemed that they did.

i cannot guess meaningfully what this is. some sort of pattern formation machinery being stimulated by the structure of the cloud cycle, which has a slower decay constant? it seems familiar, so i might have noticed it at some other time in the past when i found myself lying in bed, unable to go to sleep. when i was in college, that happened a lot, because i would have classes in the morning and force myself to bed, despite wanting to stay up until 2 or 3, and so i'd lay in bed for hours sometimes, waiting to sleep.

i also noticed that i could very clearly see the 'eye crank lines', especially when looking down, whereas usually i can't see them when my eyes are closed.

2. when we finally got out of bed yesterday morning, discovered it was snowing. it eventually stopped snowing and started raining, so the weather yesterday was miserable. still, we drove down south to visit family. we went to visit j*'s father's older sister, who i'd never met before, in a village in another corner of fanchang; her home was like something out of a fairy tale, not so surrounded by garbage and chaos like some of the other villages (which are still nice to visit, don't get me wrong). i had jingping take some pictures. there was a mountain running up directly on the side of the village, with a bamboo forest; spread out away from the mountain and the village was a large expanse of vegetable gardens. we had lunch cooked on a wood stove (and with some electricity). i hope that china is able to keep from totally losing this world as it moves on into the future.. all they really need is to find a way to deal with the garbage.

on the way down there, we drove on a new highway which took us through several tunnels beneath the mountains. at some point, to the right, in the distance, maybe a mile or so distant (in the south of wuhu, there are mountains and there are flat plains, and stark, sudden transitionsn between them), through the snowy, rainy, smoggy haze, i saw a massive building, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. it looked like something in DC; the size of the pentagon, ten or twenty stories wide, sixty stories wide. then, a little further south, a gigantic factory or processing plant, like a refinery or the biggest concrete plant you've ever seen. then, a mountain. i didn't bring the GPS to track where we went this time, but i can probably figure it out from memory. this reminds me of last year, something i never wrote down; on the bus back to shanghai, in the distance i could see a glowing tower, probably a hotel, surrounded by nothing else. it was probably fifty stories high, and surrounded by what looked like a 4th or 5th-tier town. maybe we'll see it again this time, since we're probably taking the same bus back.

also on the wuhu note, i've noticed lots of songbirds here in the subdivision, first time in four winters. maybe whatever drove them away is getting better?

3. dinner at uncle's restaurant. dog meat tastes weird. it was worth a try.

4. still on the roman history kick, been reading Tacitus' history of the 'year of four emperors', on the civil war that commenced with the death of Nero. it really is great reading. in the section on Otho's last stand and suicide, i paused for a while and thought about how all this had happened. i still don't know much about roman history, but i've read livy, so i know something about the beginnings of the republic and how it came to be; and i've read plutarch's lives of marius, sulla, crassus, pompey, and caesar, so i kind of understand how the republic cascaded into the empire.

i thought, the romans had all these lawful institutions for separating power, trading offices more-or-less peacefully and agreeably, avoiding autocracy and civil wars. they kept this up for hundreds of years, but only because to have faltered would have probably meant the end of rome, because there were still so many other powerful players in the vicinity. only after those players - the etruscans, the gauls, carthage - were subjugated, only then could the internal struggles really commence. the rise of the emperors, through the disruptions of marius to caesar, put an end to those struggles by ending all the power sharing. but that meant that once an emperor had failed, the struggles would flare again, and there would be civil war. the situation described - and witnessed first-hand - by Tacitus was the first of several times that this would happen, and it would eventually bring the end of the empire.

so i thought all of that, putting together the pieces that so many others have put together so many times, and then i turned the page, and Tacitus himself begins a digression where he outlines the same reflections on the same reasoning, and again i was impressed at the immediacy of reading the thoughts of a person who lived and died more than 1800 years ago.

5. despite the preceding item on how great Tacitus is, i switched yesterday (at the beginning of the next book of Tacitus, on Vespasian's rebellion) to reading Darwin's 'on expressions of man and animals', or whatever the title is. i've wanted to read this for years, never got around to it until there it was, Free on Ibooks. reading Darwin is great because of the way he makes his thinking so transparent; he explains everything iteratively, first in broad terms, then more and more specific, each time tacking on anecdotes or examples with more and more density. origin of species and the descent of man were written similarly, spiraling down from general statements to specific demonstrations, with examples at every level, but there was less anecdote; here, Darwin is on every page noting a story from some friend or acquaintance, or describing the behavior of his own dogs or farm animals. so, the story is solidy anecdotal, but still convincing, because you can see how he is being led at each stage to a question; if such-and-such is true, we should observe this, and here is an example that we all know, or an anecdote that i'm sure you'll recognize (e.g. how a dog acts when in anticipation of something he likes).

i also like all the talk about "nerve-force". the idea that this nerve-force overflows from the channels of immediate use, into channels of frequent or necessarily convenient use, and only later into less frequently used channels, is important in a lot of his examples. also, his 'principle of antithesis' in explaining some expressions is, i think, an interesting example of something more general than an adaptation aftereffect. for example, the excited dog, when it finds that it will not get what it expects, will look dejected - the 'hot-house face' - with this expression explained as, essentially, the aftereffect of adaptation to an excited manner. i think i will look more into this idea of antithesis in behavior..

Saturday, December 22, 2012


trying, trying, to get to a black belt in tkd. it's hard, because i am not good at tkd. i have no athletic talent whatsoever, but i try anyways. sometimes it goes well.

so i keep hurting my back over the years, and for the most part it's been less frequent in the past 3, what with the regular exercise. however, i hurt it badly, permanently, last year, after *resting* for a month. not resting actually, but working on a grant proposal, doing nothing but sitting/slouching and reading/writing.

so then, lately, i decided to start doing the sunday afternoon core training class, which is basically variations on sit-ups that you do in rounds, over and over again. it's good. i did it this sunday. the day before, i went to the grocery store, and forgot that we were almost out of rice, so i didn't buy any.

monday night we ate the last of the rice, so tuesday night, on the way home, i went by the grocery and bought two bags, because if you buy two you get a discount. then i went home. this was all on foot or by train. with two 15 pound bags of rice. i didn't perceive a problem.

wednesday night i reached out to lift up the toilet seat, and something in my upper back exploded. so no more tkd for the rest of the week, and it hurt a lot. it's mostly better now, hurts, but i'm not partially immobilized anymore. thursday and friday, along with the back pain, my right arm hurt and my hand was numb. so i'm suspicious that the damage wasn't just to a muscle, but to some part of the spinal machinery, although if so maybe it shouldn't be improving so fast.

i wrote a facebook poem about it:

people who stand
on escalators
cervical spinal nerve eight
the north wind
on cambridge street

in other news, i'm like most americans, preoccupied with guns lately. i don't think anybody has a right to have one, that sums up my opinion. oh well.

going to china tomorrow morning! that will be nice, except i have work to do that i'm not interested in doing but have to do anyways. should be alright.

also, this came out a few days ago, didn't know where to put it, it's pretty ordinary:

undirected urges
to assemble words
vaguely resembling
the task at hand

sitting quietly
struggling silently
ignoring tomorrow
avoiding time

congealing thoughts
pooling together
into my hands
out of my mouth

watch and wait
the page to complete
vaguely resembling
the task at hand

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

red boots

m* is visiting the lab, sitting behind me at the desk where p* used to sit. he's leaving friday. i've had several talks with him about methods relating to the blur adaptation studies, and he's really helpful in clarifying certain issues. he's always solidly skeptical.

he has a whole foods paper bag under his desk, i think it's filled with bottles of beer. when you come in the door to the office, if he's sitting there at the desk, you see his back, and the red and brown paper bag sitting on the floor right next to his feet. yesterday, several times, i came in the door and thought immediately i saw him sitting there wearing red cowboy boots, only to realize what i was really seeing. deja trompé!

Monday, December 10, 2012

bo xilai rides my train

Bo Xilai rides my train. He's usually there when I get on at Reservoir on the 9:45. He always has a seat in the rear car, where I ride in the morning. He sits facing the rear, which I figure he does so that fewer people have a chance to recognize him. A lot of Chinese people ride the D train, but I've never noticed anyone seeming to recognize him. Maybe they do and just ignore him.

He wears Nikes and blue jeans. He doesn't look wealthy or powerful. Sometimes I see him reading a Chinese newspaper, but usually he's just sitting there looking around kind of nervously, or napping with his eyes closed. He rides to the Chinatown stop and gets off. His son went to graduate school at Harvard, so he must have some connections to some Chinese people in town.

But still, why is Bo Xilai riding the train in Boston? Isn't he afraid of being recognized, especially in Chinatown? He's supposed to be under house arrest in China, not riding around on public transit in America. He can't assume that everyone will be friendly and understanding. You'd think it would be excellent tabloid material: "Bo Xilai Escapes to Boston". And what's he doing in Chinatown? Maybe he has a job in a store or a restaurant to pass the time, trying to start a new life, or maybe he's going to some kind of a meeting of exiles.

He always looks a little confused and uncomfortable. I feel like everything isn't right with him. Maybe he's homesick? I saw the pictures of his wife in the docket. Does he think she really did what they say she did? I wonder if she's here too, in Boston. I haven't seen her. Maybe he's just lonely. Maybe he doesn't know anyone here, and he goes to Chinatown to remind himself of China.

I wonder what will happen when it's time for Bo Xilai's trial. Will they use a look-alike? Maybe they'll cancel it, or hold it in secret. Maybe they'll announce that he's died. I can't believe that they'll announce that he's escaped. We'll see what happens - it will all be in the news. I won't tell anyone what I know, though, whatever happens. If Bo Xilai wants to stay in Boston and ride the D-Train, it's really none of my business.

Monday, December 03, 2012

train headache

slightly excruciating headache. developed on the train. may or may not be migraine, it's a fuzzy cloud of pain centered between behind my eyes and my palate. maybe a sinus thing instead, or maybe there's an interaction with the winter air and the train heating. nauseated and photophobic. i keep holding my breath.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

visual phenomena at the two edges of sleep

1. going to sleep last night, and saw that high t.f. flicker, though i didn't have a headache at the time. actually, haven't had one in almost 2 months, i think. woke up this morning feeling like i had a hangover, but no headache per se, so maybe i had a migraine in my sleep? or, it was an overdose on thai food. there were definitely abdominal repercussions.

2. been meaning to write this down: jingping usually gets up before me what with the school and all, and usually when she gets up to leave it's still dark. if she turns on the bedroom light and i'm sufficiently conscious but still with eyes closed (and maybe also if my face is pointing in the right direction), i will see a quick red flash. nothing interesting, right? but the flash has a geometric structure, a hexagonal lattice, like an M-scaled honeycomb. a typical sort of visual field hallucination, but i only started noticing it in recent months.

that is all.