Archive for August, 2014

August 31st, 2014

Use your nose

I’ve always suspected that smelling’s gotten a bad rap. It’s even right there in the verbiage available to describe it; tasting, seeing, hearing, and feeling have no outright negative connotations, but smelling could just as well mean “to stink” as “to experience scent”. Smelling is also neglected as a point of sensory praxis. Sure, there’s the “stop and smell the roses” adage, but it’s not too often taken literally, and what’s worse, commercial parfumerie inundates people with the notion that the olfactory equivalent of Vegas blinkenlichten is the final word on what smells good. When’s the last time you went to a department store and were asked if you’d like to sample having your retinas bleached? The umbrella of “entertainment” offers tasting menus, spectacles, concerts, sports, massages of various plotlines, but where are the smelling tours, the scent extravaganzas? At best smelling comes as a mostly unnoticed and unappreciated by-product of the indulgence of some other sensory inclination.

This neglect isn’t the only thing that would seem to separate smelling from the other senses. As input devices for the brain, sensory organs send data along their respective neural pathways in the peripheral nervous system; data which arrives at a ganglion, a middleman for our purposes, before it can travel to the central nervous system. This isn’t the case in the course of smelling. The olfactory epithelium1, slightly behind and above the nostrils, transmits data directly to the brain without the need for interfacing with a ganglion. That the the process of smelling is thusly streamlined as compared to the perception of other sensory stimuli is interesting medically, as the swift and unfettered delivery of whatever therapies is prized. I’m not aware of any definitive evidence either established or sought without success, but while the cogs turn it’s something to sniff on.

While you may never be able to inhale an anti-epileptic, though, you can very well make greater use of your sense of smell. Hopefully you’re not stuck in a city that stinks, but even the most congested of places is bound to offer an occasional pleasant reprieve. Smell flowers when you find them. Walk a little more slowly and breathe in the scent of roasting nuts from a street vendor. Visit a spice shop and sample some things you’ve never heard of. There’s a lot more to the life of the nose than cups of coffee, strips of bacon, and some guy’s gnarly BO on the bus. Like any other sense, smelling acquires greater ability to distinguish with practice, and doing it consciously will produce greater refinement.

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  1. Anyone wanting to test their mettle against a giant tidalwave of squeamishness is invited to take a gander at this item. It’s possibly the most objectionable looking thing I’ve ever seen dissected. []
August 27th, 2014

Some mendicants, a hill, moistened bints, and deep breaths.

I took a break from lazily depriving myself of sleep the other day (how many stories have started this way?) to visit the Mercado del Progresso, a sort of permanent farmer’s market with butchers and produce procurers of upteenth generation hawking goods canopied by what, it turns out, is a great hiding spot for cats. Truly fulfilled is the cat that is content to nap amidst that much opportunity for meat (and fish!) snatching. I left weighed down with various prizes, including a bundle of fresh lemongrass stalks a kid gave me for free on the basis of having known what it was, and was chauffered home in a fifteen minute ride with the windows down, enjoying the sweet breeze like a dog breathing backseat euphoria.

Perhaps the parceled bounty beside me played a part, or the characteristic uninhibited friendliness of the locals filled my cup a little more. I’m sure the sleeplessness had a hand in the cocktail, too, but I tell you, that breeze was a balm that could’ve cured even the crankiest and foul of moods. In fact, stepping out in Buenos Aires is often accompanied by some exclamation or other of the pleasantness of the breeze, or the quality of the air. Makes sense given the city’s name, right?

Not really. As with nearly every Spanish-monikered city, Buenos Aires’ name is rather condensed from its true, terrifyingly mouth-stuffed name. She is, in her full glory, “Ciudad de Nuestra Señora Santa María del Buen Aire”. Or she was, anyway, for that was but the first time she was christened. Some local folks didn’t take kindly to her conquistadorial establishment, and the whole thing failed not long after it had begun. Wave two arrived shortly after and established who’s boss, at which point it must’ve seemed painfully obvious that a city with nine words to its name is doomed, and that at least thirteen were needed for commanding the requisite quantities of respect and fear. Hence the revision to “Ciudad de la Santísima Trinidad y Puerto de Santa María del Buen Aire”.

That Buen Aire bit, which was all the kids and their progeny could be bothered with in the end, refers to a statue of the virgin kept at a fourteenth century Mercedarian abbey on a hill in Sardinia. Supposedly the statue had taken a stroll one day and plopped itself into the Mediterranean, whereupon it quelled a mighty storm, demonstrating that perambulatory sculpture of the conspicuously unfucked might as well also possess meterological dominion over those parts of the world otherwise dangerous to honest hard-working folk predisposed to believe in peram…well, you know. It was a miracle, and so the statue was retrieved from the sea (I guess it got tired somewhere in there and needed a hand to return to shore), and placed in said abbey. Enamored sailors and zealots called her the Holy Mary of the Fair Winds, and as conquistador Pedro de Mendoza’s Boatly Religious Consultant (I don’t care for “chaplain”) won the rochambeau or whatever was used to decide who gets to pick the city’s name, the watery tart prevailed upon this great new continent.

Unrelatedly, as I was saying, this city enjoys the kind of air quality that makes breathing a noticeably pleasurable event (much like a reprieve from suffocation, but without that tricky opener). But if not bestowed by magical names or miraculous hussies backstroking for alms, to whom, to what is this pleasant air due? To a lack of people available to fuck it up, for the most part. The southern hemisphere’s low population helped along by the high ratio of water to land means there’s a lot less pollution. And though Buenos Aires itself is stacked with people and cars and whatnot, and a late-night walk offers a good look at the sheer amount of garbage a metropolis can produce on a daily basis as rummagers and trucks sort through literal land-barges of trash, the city is palpably cleaner and less congested than anywhere else I’ve lived (with an exception for a certain medieval fortress in Transylvania, but let’s be fair, eh).

Air quality isn’t too often a selling point on showcase for people looking for a new landing pad, and if anything is only trotted out as something to be struggled with for egregiously bad cities. It makes quite the difference though, even if you’re stuck in the shadow of a statue that has nothing to say about the occasional hail storm.

August 23rd, 2014

On selling bitcoin, the idea.

Motto: do not sell a thing unless the value of the sale is greater than the value of the thing being sold.

People know how to convince each other of even wildly untrue things. Twisting the truth and pandering to individual preferences and abilities may be condemned by moral codes, religious systems, and colloquial conceptions of decency, but these are nevertheless innate human skills, polished despite whatever misgivings through nearly every manifestation of social interaction. Persuasive writing is taught in school, lies are organized into types, severities, and attendant consequences in households, and, of course, ubiquitous advertising demonstrates and exemplifies how to sell, how to create desire, how to capture markets, how to immortalize messages.

Left, for the most part, unchecked, the perceived importance of the sell has fashioned a wretchedly depressed society mired in consumer impulses and confusedly drawn to things that are “wild” or “different”, by now simply synonymous with that which isn’t packaged –or at least, which employs fewer or simpler layers in its cocoon. The sell creep, of course, sets its sights upon this mysterious beloved, too, so that difference becomes a new feature and wildness a new claim. The sell does not care what something actually is, but what it could be, and how it could be, and to whom. And certainly, it has its place.

That place is not among ideas. That place is not among essences, nor authorities. That place is certainly nowhere near bitcoin, nor bitcoin near it, and this is why attempts to sell bitcoin to people as an idea fail, and will continue to fail: it’s not a thing to be sold, whether you use the correct term for the attempt or pretend you’re attempting something else, and sane, and noble, by calling it “adoption”.

Various collections of people touched by the fairies of false conclusions, broken summaries, and perpetuated hearsay will insist that bitcoin requires universal adoption to succeed, a notion with no basis in reality but a particularly sticky embrace of the obsession with all-inclusiveness currently going around. What’s perhaps lost in the half-argument, half-yodeling contest between the touched and those patient enough to respond is the fact that even when mass adoption of bitcoin isn’t being paraded as a chivalrous goal or a desperate need, it’s still being put on the sales shelf, even among people who understand that good things aren’t for everybody, and that existence does not preclude exclusivity.

In an age when education is more often about enforcing agreement than disseminating information and building knowledge, it makes sense that basic instincts to share would take the shape of persuasion and idiosyncratic analogy. (Here’s a lesson that recently hit me over the head, by the way: an analogy is a literal equality. An analogy that merely illustrates a relationship and does not provide actually equal components is broken. You’re selling, not explaining.) But this is all it is: a basic instinct to share using shitty tools that may work just fine if your job is to make the sale and to get your paycheck. Hopefully these wouldn’t be the tools you use to encourage understanding.

When bitcoin is sold to idiots, the sale perpetuates idiocy. It creates people eager to make bitcoin answer their particular problems and quench their particular desires. When bitcoin is sold to the unidiotic, it creates people eager to write bitcoin off as a scam, a blip, or some other conveniently marginalized anomaly. Either way, the sale creates nothing of value, and plenty of noise –noise which may be pleasing to the salesman because listen! there’s a buzz. But on the rare occurrence that someone idiotic or otherwise looks past the sale and on their own initiative seeks understanding of bitcoin, that victory cannot be said to owe credit to a marketing ploy.

The notion that bitcoin is difficult to understand has been used as an excuse for all manner of offensively bad diagrams, summaries, metaphors, and flat-out lies. That your friends and family aren’t starry-eyed and weeping at your bitcoin talk doesn’t mean bitcoin should, or possibly could, change form or function to absorb them as adherents or make you sound less silly. That some shocking swathe of the general public thinks bitcoin is an arcade token this week or a pyramid scheme the next doesn’t mean contentless “nuh-uh!s” or contextless extractions of half-understood facts are okay to spout and spread. These mean you’re not explaining well, or that your audience is unable or unwilling to think, or some mixture of these. You can address the first: elaborate facts, explain causes, express appreciation, but do not sell unless the value of that sale is greater than the value of the thing being sold.

August 2nd, 2014

Line betting on BitBet, July 2014

Report 4. August 1st, 2014
Accounting url: bitbet.us/stats/18bCNXjdT2NUjcip6KdbFR5EEFAu3oTgTq

Total wagers made: 6 (2x wagers on 3 bets); all time: 46 (2x wagers on 23 bets)
Total wagered: 3 BTC; all time: 23 BTC
Total bets resolved: 4; all time: 9i
Total calls won: 3; all time: 8
Total calls lost: 1; all time: 1
Total calls pending: 14
Total amount won: 3.32767982, less 4 BTC resolved wagers, for a period loss of 0.67232018; to date, 8.59704351 won less 9 BTC resolved wagers, for an all-time loss of 0.40295649.
Outstanding wagers: 14 BTC

New bets this period:
1. Bet 1000, Republicans win majority of the U.S. Senate; .7 on Yes (bet 2), .3 on No (bet 3); status: ongoing
2. Bet 1004, Block 338,000 in 2014; .2 on Yes (bet 1), .8 on No (bet 2); status: ongoing
3. Bet 1009, Honkie peg to be broken; .7 on Yes (bet 5), .3 on No (bet 4); status: ongoing


i. Bets resolved from earlier placing periods: 938, 947, 814, 539.

Total bets resolved for the previous period totaled 4, not 5; 784 was counted twice. This modifies last period’s results as follows:

Total amount won: 4.18750492, less 4 BTC resolved wagers, for a period gain of 0.18750492; to date, 5.26936369 won less 5 BTC resolved wagers, for an all-time gain of 0.26936369.