Trip to Athens, Prague

In about 12 hours I’ll be taking the BART to SFO in order to fly to London, where I’ll meet my sister Rachel, who’s been doing a little backpacking around the UK. Together we’ll fly to Athens and spend about a week there. I’ve never been to Eastern Europe or the Mediterranean (apart from Barcelona), so I am very excited. Because we at Teleios (soon to be something else, hopefully) have been working furiously in preparation for the official launch of this website and more importantly our learning software, I haven’t had much time to focus on learning Greek, but I have been getting a minimal familiarity with the language. Ancient Greek doesn’t transfer super-well to understanding Modern, but it’s at least a good start, and I’ll certainly be able to read street signs for names.

Rachel and I aren’t too sure how we’re going to spend our days in Greece–we’ve heard that Athens is cool but not sustainable, so we’re going to try and visit some of the Isles or maybe some coast towns on the Peloponnesian.

After Athens, we have a couple days planned in Prague, another place I haven’t been. The word on the street is that Prague is almost not cool any more, now that all backpacking college students know it’s a good place to visit…but hopefully we’ll survive the tourism. Rachel has a friend from Capernwray who lives in Prague, and he has promised to show me where to find the best beer. Excellent!

I’m obviously looking forward to every part of this adventure, but given that a lot of it will involve some cultural or linguistic stresses or awkwardnesses (and given that I’m pretty sensitive to those situations), I’m honestly looking forward, at this very moment, to the plane flights. I think I’ve mentioned before how plane travel is a very “healing” sort of experience for me. It promotes the kind of solitude that helps me grow, helps me come to grips with myself, what I’m doing at the moment, what I’m doing in life, and so on. Since I’ve decided not to bring my computer along (can’t risk loss or damage), I’m also excited to have some companions who couldn’t possibly ask me to do work. I have 5 or 6 books which I hope to finish off, and I also put Howl’s Moving Castle on my iPod to watch, which I have been looking forward to seeing for a very long time.

Of course, I’m also very excited to have some extended time with my sister, whom I don’t get to see very often, and who I’m sure has changed a lot after this past year of school abroad.

I’m hoping that this trip will help provide clarity in my heart about what sorts of things I love, and maybe provide some clues about what I should be thinking about doing as I look ahead to next year and beyond. I have so many desires and dreams–they need some kind of ordering scheme or I’ll never be able to make any decisions that I feel good about. Oh well, I’m rambling…and I’ve got a lot of packing and e-mail writing to do. If I find a way to get on the inter nets where I’m going, I’ll try and check in here. Αδίοσας! (or however it might be spelled)

ἑδραῖος εἰμὶ;

῞Ωστε, ἀδελφοί μου ἀγαπητοἴ, ἑδραῖοι γίνεσθε, ἀμετακίνητοι, περισσεύοντες ἐν τῷ ἔργῳ τοῦ κυρίου πάντοτε, εἰδότες ὅτι ὁ κόπος ὐμῶν οὐκ ἔστιν κενὸς ἐν κυρίῳ.

Tesseract’s End

We had a sort of “dudes’ retreat” last weekend (as staunchly opposed to a “men’s retreat”, of course), full of celebration and adventure (two words which aptly describe wandering around San Francisco on St Patrick’s Day) and much borderline-appropriate behavior. Most importantly though, we set aside a good bit of time to delve deeper into our artistic selves and lay bare our current souls via poetry and song. Needless to say, I was shocked and impressed at the quantity and quality of art that was produced, and the honest ways in which it was delivered. Various pieces from that time will probably float around the e4 weblogs soon enough.

My main contribution was a song I had written the day before the “retreat”, but I will save its lyrics for the time when I have a recording to go with it. I also wrote a short poem while on the top of Mt Tamalpais, north of San Francisco, where we had all gone hiking on Saturday. From Mt Tamalpais there is a glorious view of the SF bay, and this apparent division of the world into air and water, juxtaposed all about by land, inspired the poem, which I am calling “Tesseract’s End”:

Rugged shoulders to spines on back
A strange animal I traverse
Its own life an undefined breath
Overlooked substratum of heaven on earth

I walk sometimes up, sometimes in
Phase shift accomodating forms that
Disregard boundaries of texture--
Oh that my soul felt the same!

To swim or run or fly between
The lines that slice the diff'ring spheres
A hardened wire of surface tension
That feels, from altitude, as rock
(on it I fall, and am crushed)

To be of wing or fin was given
To marvels of motion and muscle
But lightspeed travel twixt high and low
Alone can I exhibit
--if only I could breathe at Tesseract's end

Inspiration from Game Design

The list of bloggable topics on my mind is currently very long, and (I am thinking) very good. Prominent on said list are (a) a long discourse on spiritual discipline and its effects, and (b) an explication of a home-brewed, possibly-heretical theology of creation that Nick and I have been kicking around for a little while and are pretty enchanted by, which seeks to resolve intuitions of a good pre-fall state with what evolutionary history says about nature being “red in tooth and claw”–i.e., vicious and cruel–long before humans arrived on the scene. However, something I saw last night on digg inspired me to push these topics yet further back, and that was a demo for an upcoming game by Maxis (creators of all the Sim games–of which the early SimCity and SimCity 2000 were the most groundbreaking, in my opinion–incidentally, you can play SimCity Classic online here if you have a PC).

Now, I want to preface this whole entry with a bit of history, since to many of you it may come as a shock that for most of my life I have considered myself and been considered by others a “gamer”. If you want to skip the history and get to the point, scroll down to “The Reason for this Entry” below.

Continue reading “Inspiration from Game Design”

The Amnesiac Shipbuilder

Last night at community dinner, we did an exercise which was meant to replace/augment the normal process of sharing with one another how each of us is doing, what we are thinking about, how we are feeling, etc. Usually we’d just go around in a circle and have each person contribute whatever she feels like about herself, but last night we decided the contribution needed to be slightly more formal: we each took roughly 45 minutes alone with pen and paper, and wrote, either in poetry, prose, or a mix, the answer to the questions “where are you?”, “how are you doing?”, and “what are you feeling?”.

The idea was to imbue some more constrained object (a few paragraphs of prose, or a haiku, or a rant) with a more focused, albeit artistic, answer, with the hope that this presence would be actually a more meaningful way to share than just saying verbally whatever would have come to mind. Indeed, I was very surprised at the level of depth I felt we were able to achieve, seeing as we were working with a significant economy of words; in fact, when we came back together and read what we had written, we had enough time to go around twice, in order to further understand people.

Hopefully at least a few of us will post what we wrote on our weblogs here–I’m going to start with my work of the evening, entitled The Amnesiac Shipbuilder. It’s a story.

Land, that once felt safe and so sweet
Now a detestable spit of sand
What gave life and surety to feet
I'd banish if I thought it would heed a command

Water to drink is no good if it keeps
Life alive but alone, incomplete
Fruit follows suit, it belongs in the deeps
If health is all that there is in this heat

I have in the wreckage a thousand tomes
Whose wisdom's satisfied a thousand men
But my adventure lies not at home--
Useful a shipbuilding book would have been!

Resignation is my lover at night
With whom I wrestle sensuously
But her charms are not even close to delight
And in daylight, I spurn her contemptuously

Laziness would no doubt have been my bane
If I thought effort could affect
But helplessness never gave one gain
Unless him for rescue did God (or fate) select

Either one would be fine.

Adventures in Driving to Tahoe

After looking at Friday’s forecast for new snow in Lake Tahoe, my friends Kyle and Dan convinced me to leave at 5am on Friday to get in a good day of skiing/snowboarding at Kirkwood before driving back that evening. It was a good plan, and we were confident that it would lead to a full day of great snowboarding conditions with relatively few people on the slopes. Unfortunately, Nature had several other ideas for how we were to spend our time.

We left reasonably close to the 5am goal and made record time to the central valley, but after making our way up into the hills, things got interesting: a regular blizzard was in session, and the roads were soon quite treacherous after the snow was compacted by tires in the sub-freezing temperatures. At one point we were stopped on a slight incline behind traffic, and when it was time to go, the Civic refused to move forward–traction had disappeared. Luckily, the car behind us happened to be a police officer and so he held traffic while I mustered all my clutch ability and eased into first gear and then to the side of the road where we put chains on the tires for the rest of the climb.

It soon became apparent, as the snow kept piling up, that we were going to have serious problems, and it was indeed so: the pass to Kirkwood was closed for avalanche control, and so we were out of luck. Determined to get on some mountain, we went all the way back down and took another road, intending to find Bear Valley, a lesser resort. The pass was not quite as high on that road, so there was a good chance it wouldn’t be closed, and it wasn’t!

Of course, though open, the road was still dangerous and the going was slow. Even with chains, the car would slide and fishtail with anything but minor changes in velocity or minor turns of the wheel, making it exhausting to drive many miles at such a slow pace. Eventually, though, we made it through the whiteout (parts of which were so white that it was impossible to make out where the road was and where the snowbanks to the sides of it were) and to Bear Valley, where we were able to get 2 hours of snowboarding in before the slopes closed.

I was exhausted from 7+ hours of driving, and I hadn’t been on a board since 2004, so I had quite a few amazing spills–none of which were very dangerous, given the multiple feet of fresh powder there to break my fall! So we had a crazy fun time careening down the mountain and trying to make the most of our short time. Here you can see the snow that accumulated on my car after just that short time (and this was just the residual, post-storm effect):

Another 5 hours of driving (not including the horrendous chain installation/removal events which definitely tried our collective patience), and we were back–a very long, very intense, not-too-snowboarding-filled day! But you have to love these little adventures.

New World Record

Some people I know have world records in sports, and what have you, but I have just today earned the assuredly-awesome distinction of being the first Standpoint user to reach 1000 beliefs. What is Standpoint? Standpoint is an online community started by my friends Justin and Gentry, which I’ve been having a lot of fun with recently, and have been able to help along in some small ways.

Basically, Standpoint is an online community organized around formulations of, and reasons given for, beliefs. The basic unit of Standpoint is a “claim”, or a proposition, towards which you can take a few attitudes, including belief, consideration, or “disbelief” (which is more complicated). You can create your own claims, believe ones others created, disagree with people, and in general try to have discussions using very short, disjointed, and atomic sentences. At least that’s the idea–in practice, people aren’t very good at keeping things short, atomic, or well-formed, so it gets interesting (and at times frustrating to the logician-philosopher inside me).

Anyway, I thought that making it to 1000 beliefs was a fun landmark in the short existence of Standpoint–if you want to check my profile out, go to jlipps.standpoint.com. Please do sign up, play around, add your beliefs and reasons, ask to be my friend, etc! Some new features should also be rolling out soon that will greatly enhance the Standpoint experience.