Transcendental Bloviation

Politics, Space, Japan

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Space: The Final Window of Opportunity?

Bad meme. Bad, bad meme. We have only a few more decades. Then Earth becomes a stinking, overpopulated, overpolluted hell-hole from which humanity cannot escape, within which humanity may even extinguish itself. The narrative is usually softened with vaulting rhetoric about how the vast resources of space will save Earth.

The Window of Opportunity meme, though perhaps most strongly associated with Jerry Pournelle, traces goes back to Heinlein at least, and probably much earlier. Lots of SF has been predicated on global Malthusian crises; mix space access into that, and the hybrid scenario may sound apocalyptically compelling. However, it hardly comes across as a brilliant invention as memes go. quotes Pournelle:
This generation is crucial; we have the resources to get mankind off this planet. If we don't do it, we may soon be facing a world of 15 billion people and more, a world in which it's all we can do to stay alive; a world without the resources to go into space and get rich... I don't think it will come to that because the vision of the future is so clear to me. We need realize only one thing: we do not inhabit 'Only One Earth.' Mankind doesn't live on Earth. Man lives in a solar system... Given [a] basic space civilization ... we'll have accomplished one goal: no single accident, no war, no one insane action will finish us off." [from A Step Farther Out, 1979]

At, you will also find Rick Tumlinson construing "sustainable growth" as an oxymoron, where I understand the term to mean "economic growth that catches up to and paces population growth, under the assumption that populations will stabilize." And they probably will. More than a generation has passed since Pournelle declared the Last Chance Generation, and one of the big economic questions of our time, ironically, is "Will China get rich before it gets old?" I.e., will it hit population shrinkage, as we did here in Japan, at a high enough developmental plateau? At its current growth rates, one can safely answer: yes.

Japan offers some interesting earlier precedents for sustainability. Japan appeared to hit a resource-constrained plateau in the Tokugawa period [Jared Diamond's Collapse, for details], and responded intelligently and sustainably:
"The first national census, conducted around 1720, indicates a population of approximately 30 million people, which remained relatively constant throughout the entire two and a half centuries of the EdoPeriod." [See

Were those Japanese all living hand-to-mouth in subsistence farming? No. In the year 1800 Japan enjoyed the status of most urbanized nation in the world. And they achieved this level of social surplus largely without the benefit of technological advances from the West -- advances which, by way of Dutch traders at Dejima, they knew of, but generally didn't adopt out of concerns for destabilizing effects and unsustainable resource consumption. I wouldn't want to live under feudalism, but I doubt the necessity anyway.

So maybe all this blather about how it's inevitable that the Earth will become a stinking hell hole is just that: blather. If the population of Japan, stretched out over an archipelago and speaking many mutually unintelligible dialects, with a long history of bitter internal conflict, could persevere, could overcome resource crunches and reach a higher level of civilization than much of Europe at the time, why not all of Earth in our time?

You can see a lot of manifest-destiny propheteering at Oddly, the only quote that touched me at all now (where in my youth I'd have been thrilled by most of them) came from Konrad Lorenz:
"I am convinced that of all the people on the two sides of the great curtain, the space pilots are the least likely to hate each other. Like the late Erich von Holst, I believe that the tremendous and otherwise not quite explicable public interest in space flight arises from the subconscious realization that it helps to preserve peace. May it continue to do so!" [On Aggression, 1963]

Perhaps one could hear some echo of Lorenz from a speaker from one of the Big Bad Bloated Aerospace companies at ISDC '06. He commented on the value of Russians and Americans working together on ISS, and said something like "real love comes not when you're looking at each other, but when you're looking together toward a shared goal." A Hallmark Moment? Perhaps. However, he seemed to offer this sentiment in all sincerity, and I must admit that some of my antipathy toward the whole undeniably-flawed endeavor melted a little just then.

Pournelle seems to come from Heinlein -- that we achieve the most profound and thrilling human unity only when faced with a common enemy. War as a unifier exacts unsustainable costs, however, and only for a unity too artificial to survive long except through perpetual renewal of hostility. In war, even people who hate each other passionately will work hand-in-hand.

Oddly, perhaps we find can greater spiritual achievement in solving a hard (even somewhat arbitrary) problem together. Or perhaps I am very little like most people in this respect. Team sports held little appeal for me, in my youth and even now, though I have great respect for athletes; my parents both taught figure skating. Back in the 80s, I had roommates who were slightly aghast to see me pleased that Katerina Witt (from darkest East Germany) won the women's gold in figure skating at the Olympics, with the favored American taking only bronze. But I merely wanted what I thought best for skating, not for America's image of itself. And fair judging of innovative skating could only improve skating. Does it matter? Do the lessons travel? What does that figure skting do but collect together some rather silly and somewhat arbitrary athletic and esthetic problems, when you look at it coldly? Never mind: people love how those problems get solved, and the better skating gets, the more they love it. Sure, it's all still framed within competition, just a slightly unfortunate means to a good end, in my view. Perhaps attitudes towards space development could benefit more by seeing it as sport and art, with the emphasis on art, rather than as dominance display, or as species escape hatch for the lucky few, who, having escaped, might or might not be motivated to save the rest of us.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Uberman On-Ramp Day ... uh ....

What happened? Good question. I don't quite understand it myself.

The end of a long stretch of smooth sailing at the ryokan, with a large party leaving after 9 days, forcing errands and interruptions as we went into guest turn-over tasks, certainly contributed to losing momentum. Lesson: when you see turbulence coming up, brace yourself.

Outages on my PC and finally some kind of service changeover at soured me on blogging for a while. Lesson: learn to handle frustration better.

A sharp reduction in caffeine withdrawal symptoms, and taking up swimming and meditation, seemed to release a torrent of energy, one that got blown on renewal of bad habits -- arguing on mailing lists (a very bad, very old habit) not least among them. Worse: I stopped swimming and mediating, even drank a full-caf cappucino on one day, with new withdrawal symptoms the next day. Lesson: the coming of good things can have unintended negative consequences. You won't become a better person overnight. Two steps forward, one step back. Smaller, tentative steps work better.

And these bad habits interfered with continuing adopted habits, and with the adoption of new habits. Lesson: guard areas of progress like a hawk, don't add too many life innovations at once.

Finally, all this happened during a rough spot on my Not-So-Secret Software Project. (Specifically, trying to bolt bakari ["just", "only", "approximately/about"] into the grammar of the Japanese parser. As with English "just/only", where you can have "Only John is going to the party," "John is only going to the party", and they mean two different things, bakari forms very freely, requiring augmenting a lot of grammar rules.) My response was to stop working on this project, even though at any given time, plenty of tasks sit on my project to-do list, most of them easy. Today I made progress, by simply noting that many of the test examples for bakari already involved forward references to grammar that I hadn't coded yet; and decided to put the examples and related vocabulary in the regression-testing database, solve the easier problems, and defer the harder ones. Lesson: be gentle on yourself as you're going through an adjustment, keep going where you can.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Why I hate Blogger, Reason #341

I had no idea that making a "legacy claim" on my own blog would be such a hassle. My blog is "legacy"? What's with that? Why? Why now?

Could it have something to do with the Registry corruption I noticed on a reboot yesterday? With my Blogger password no longer being stored?

Monday, April 16, 2007

I, E-Primus

Blogging about blogging. What could be duller? Admittedly, some do it well – bloggers who focus on how the blog technology is proceeding, where the medium is going, what it’s good for, and who also write well. But that last is key: a good writer not only grabs you about things you’re interested in, but can also make a subject interesting even if you’ve never heard of it before, or never thought of it as interesting.

Maintaining my blog has entered into my categories of Uberman On-Ramp progress. But what could be more redundant than to mention it? “Oh, and I blogged today.” Yeah, we see that; we also see that you slacked off for three days prior. Thanks for the update, guy.

To be a true category of progress, blogging must be something I’m doing ever better. But blogging is just writing. Sure, the medium features some of its own peculiarities, idioms and conventions, and it has a few usability issues as with anything involving computers. In the end, though, blogging better means writing better.

Hereby resolved:
(1) You won’t see me use the word “I” more than once per paragraph, and never in the first sentence of any paragraph.
(2) I [don’t jump down my throat – the above was a paragraph and the “I” was in quotes!] will try to use E-prime to the extent reasonable.

(No confusion about the first rule, but ... E-prime? What’s that? I’ll get to it in a minute.)

These resolutions were inspired by a recent column by William Safire. He wrote about the politicized uses of the word “existential”, as in“existential threat”. He divined that writers and speechmakers resort to such usage only to pump up the volume and puff up their authority. What does “existential threat” mean, after all, except “a threat to the very existence (of a people or a nation or a way of life), which I must underscore by using a big philosophical word commonly associated with a bleak world-view, nameless dread, and chain-smoking in dingy Left Bank cafes”? Perhaps we should blame Norman Mailer, who (in Armies of the Night, IIRC) tottered drunkenly on stage before a crowd of Vietnam War protesters and proclaimed, “This is an existential moment!”. (But why, Norman? Because, with so many eyes on you, you were that much more convinced of your own existence?)

I digress. [“Gotcha!” cries the reader.]

In this column, Safire made two excellent tangential points:

(1) Frequent use of “I” often sounds egocentric.
(2) “Existential sentences” (for example, ones starting with “There is”), when used sparingly, might have their place, but repeated use makes for dull and pompous reading.

Who would second-guess Safire on writing, even when he’s dispensing pearls of stylistic wisdom only parenthetically? I was brought up short. After all, precious reader time spent on William Safire is, at least potentially, reader time not spent on me, myself and my blog. Millions of blogs compete for many reddened eyeballs. My blog ranks very low in the Great Chain of e-Being. Had it become yet another denizen of the swamp of blogospheric self-absorption? Were my entries full of egotistical I’s, and dreaded existential forms? Could it be time for a writing tune-up?

Cue E-prime. E-prime consists of English shorn of all forms of the verb“to be”. A student of Alfred Korzybski, arch-druid of the nutty semantic cult of General Semantics, invented it because he believed “to be” contributed too much to general vagueness, and, consistent with the teachings of General Semantics (which might be described as “Better living through more precise language”) doing without it would help people see things as they really ... um ... exist? It was an existential moment, and a moment of existential threat, a threat of great moment, to existential sentences everywhere.

Reality caught up with General Semantics. Language will always understate reality, and extreme precision is not only nerdy and dulling, it’s usually redundant in context. We know a lot before anything gets said or written, we fill in the blanks in our minds, and in speech we communicate a great deal non-verbally. Whatever the virtues of E-prime, it was buried when the General Semantics house of cards collapsed.

E-prime resurfaced in a mildly tongue-in-cheek essay published in the Atlantic Monthly, some years ago. The writer noted that nobody can speak pure E-prime, and that adopting it as a style during periods of sustained, intense writing tended to cause the writer to get a headache lasting about one week. (At the end of his piece, he pointed out that you had just read a whole essay written in E-prime without missing “to be”. But also that he had this incredible headache.)

The use of E-prime (within reason) does tend to spruce up prose. Some of its salutary effects might stem from a sort of placebo effect: E-prime forces you to read your own prose more carefully and rewrite it more carefully. As well, finding replacements for all forms of “to be” (and its sneaky variants – the colon for example) forces one to find verbs that usually ... um ... “are” more precise. “What do I really mean?” you ask yourself. You try one verb. Then another. If you’re lucky, you attain bon mot nirvana. If you’re not, at least you’ve done better than usual.

From now on: I, E-Primus. (Gotcha! cries the reader. And Gotcha!)

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Stay tuned

The blogger startup page hasn't been coming up on my laptop at home. Hence no blogging from recently, and I've got a killer backlog.

It works at Ben's Cafe, though. Why?

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Uberman On-Ramp Day 9: Good Rester

Really, Day 10 -- it's after midnight.

I did OK. 6.5 hours of core sleep, a bit long. Cheated a little on caffeine, with two decafs and two canned cocoas. Two nap periods, both solid (maybe too long, if anything). Not much dream material to record, but some.

I have two new categories of progress to track.

(1) Hand-written diary/notebook. I've been keeping a little clothbound notebook going. I write dream reports, record my caffeine intake, and my nap/sleep times, but also the moments when drowsiness hits. I hope get a statistical base of drowsiness "time-stamps" to figure out when I should take my naps when I get regular. Right now, I'm not regular, and I probably won't be until I get through my various addiction withdrawal symptons. But I want this habit anyway. The notebook is also good for the usual things -- to-do lists, general impressions, ideas that hit suddenly.

(2) Coding. Part of the rationale for Uberman: gain more hours in the day for projects. And having more projects helps maintain Uberman. I stopped working on my not-so-secret software project three or four days ago, stymied by a bug that, on closer inspection today, turned out to be relatively simple. I've got to get back to doing some coding every day.

I hope to add more project categories in the future -- I can't code all the time. Improving the ryokan business is obviously one of them. There will be others.

Tomorrow: go swimming. Go swimming every day this week, just to set the habit. Doing something aerobic will help, and I never crave a nap more than right after a good swim.

My grudge against Charles Simonyi

Charles Simonyi is in orbit. It seems even supposed Microsoft arch-enemy Google is celebrating, if the decorations on their logo on their current homepage are any indication.

Unlike some commenters on (and many others) I don't begrudge Simonyi the wealth that got him up there. I might begrudge him the part of his wealth that accrued from Microsoft's monopolistic position. But Microsoft would have made him rich even if it hadn't gone that route. He'd probably be in orbit now (or maybe sooner) even if Microsoft had somehow gone belly-up during the 90s.

No, my gripe against Simonyi is a hacker's gripe: I hate Hungarian Notation. It had a use at one time, I suppose, but why did he have to make it the Law of the Land at Microsoft? Writing code that way made sense if you were hacking BRAVO, the world's first personal computer WYSIWYG word processor, in a poorly-typed language like BCPL. But not if you're writing C, and definitely not if you're writing C++. At least, not if you're writing good code in those languages (or in other typed, ALGOL-family languages like Java.)

Almost every rationale offered for Hungarian Notation consists of offering a crutch for bad coding practices -- like, using lots of globals, writing procedures so long it's hard to scroll back to variable declarations, and tying variables to fixed types when more abstraction is almost invariably better.

Even Microsoft has apparently figured this out. For .NET, they actually advise against using Hungarian. Well, against the worst variant of it, anyway: so-called Systems Hungarian. Arguably, Simonyi's invention got out of control, and was used in ways that made people hate it. Still, he could have done something about that. But he didn't.

$20 million to go to space? He has probably cost the world economy more than that by simply not going public enough with his own objections to how Hungarian Notation got fetishized and perverted. But at least he went to orbit, which I applaud. I'm ambivalent about sending Gates up, though, unless he never comes back down. I'm not sure the Moon would be far enough for me. Why, it's a whole argument in itself for commercial space travel: if they can send one Microsoft billionaire to the Moon, why not all of them?

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Uberman On-Ramp Day 8: Rollin' Rollin' Rollin' ....

Yesterday was hectic. Lots of Polyphasic group admin hassles dragging me down. Some ryokan business to attend to. An enervating dispute with another Polyphasic moderator over issue not related to policy about minors on the lsit (since settled). Also (oh, yeah, blame computers), an uncooperative -- their startup page would never load enough for me to log in. Have I told you I'm going to blog about Why I Hate Blogspot? I think I have. For now, you can read someone else's rant.

It's been over a week on the On-Ramp. It's time for a summary of progress toward Uberman and the lack of it. Overall, I'm encouraged. Some things haven't gone as planned, creating new problems and new opportunities. Some things haven't happened at all. But you can't break some old habits and set a bunch of new habits all at once, much less practice them well.

This blog entry is organized as follows:

DEFINITE PROGRESS -- where I'm forging ahead nicely
PREPARING FOR PROGRESS -- steps I'm still mulling or studying
DEAD IN THE WATER -- where I've been a Bad Boy
THE ROAD AHEAD -- what I must work on next
... AND WHERE IT GETS ME -- thoughts on success and on the right kind of failure

Comments encouraged, and any encouragement gratefully received.


Caffeine Withdrawal-- I'm way down. Today was half a can of weakish tea, and one cup of Starbucks decaf. (Decaf is hard to get in Japanese cafes, by the way, and at Starbucks they ask you to wait an extra five minutes while they make it special.) I'm still having withdrawal symptoms -- a little more drowsiness than usual, headaches in the morning, sometimes stretching through the day. However, there's still cherry blossom pollen in the air in Tokyo, which aside from its respiratory effects, often gives me the same trouble. I might be farther along than I feel.

Dream Journal -- this has gone surprisingly well. My main block is fear of writer's cramp -- how much I'm going to have to write down every day, especially with naps adding to the number of remembered dreams. At some point, detailed records will become redundant, a waste of time -- to those who say they don't dream, or seldom remember their dreams, it may come as some surprise that you can fill pages and pages from just a single night, with practiced recall.

[Skippable Note: To those not caught up on what I'm trying to do here -- I hope to have more lucid dreams while on Uberman, including a type called WILD where you go almost straight from pre-sleep states to lucidity. I've read encouraging anecdotal reports that Uberman facilitates WILD. I also hope to become adept at dream interpretation using Eugene Gendlin's technique described in Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams. If that goes well, I want to try a Tibetan (?) dream yoga technique: interpreting a (previous? on-going) dream while lucid. I had a lucid dream last night, but I'm not counting it as major progress just yet, for two reasons. (1) It's very common to have a lucid dream shortly after becoming (re-)excited about LDs, only to face frustration for weeks afterward. (2) I was woken at about the 4-hour point last night when my wife got home, I got up, fiddled around briefly, and went back to bed thinking that what I'd just done was similar to the Wake-Back-to-Bed (WBTB) technique, which yields lucidity perhaps 40% of the time (cf. maybe 5% for other techniques) but which is incompatible with polyphasic unless it could be considered as part of a variant on Everyman somehow. I guess I'll find out soon enough.]

Start Everyman - I'm doing well here, I think, considering caffeine withdrawal and pollen allergies. Yesterday I thought I'd have trouble napping, but I got in several naps. Today I thought the same, but had a mid-morning nap (with vivid dream, on top of two vivd dreams, one lucid, during the early morning hours) only about 4 hours after waking. Not sure if 2pm or 6pm will work out.

Breakfast Every Morning - good and getting better. I've been skipping breakfast far more often than not, for several years now, and it's been dragging me down. Often I'm not hungry. Often maybe I am, but caffeine suppresses my appetite, as does smoking -- and I've been doing both for so long that my body is probably confused about what it's craving: food, caffeine, nicotine or sleep. Being up more hours, I'm getting hungrier more, and more often. Being down to a bare-bones dose of caffeine, I'm getting my appetite back. This good habit of getting breakfast isn't strictly Uberman-related except insofar as eating small but nourishing meals frequently is recommended. Breakfast is one of the more important ones, at least until I'm on Uberman, when the whole category becomes fuzzy. (Is it breakfast when you eat at 4am, or at 8am?)

Blogging Daily - this wasn't on the original list, but it should have been. It's more committing to go public with an intent, and to keep going public. This way, I at least have to try Uberman, or lose face. ("That flake Michael, always dispensing all kinds of advice and 'wisdom' on the Polyphasic group, but has he got any game himself? Nah.") It also helps me track my own progress, it might help provide a framework for preparation for other attempters, and maybe it will help others to help me more.


Start Meditating - well ... I do something like this sometimes when I'm settling down to naps. I'm very out of practice, and I should be practicing when not settling down to naps. Meditation will be probably be critical to quitting smoking -- it seems to have helped me a lot when I've quit before. And maybe I would never have started again had I continued.

Focusing - I've been working through Gendlin's book of the same name, taking it slow, re-reading passages when my attention wanders. I had good experiences with this technique in the past, but at that time I had a partner, I wasn't trying to do it on my own. Now, I'm reminded of one of two kindergarten report-card remarks that my mother never let me forget: "Doesn't always follow instructions." [The other remark was "Good Rester." Yeah. I got a star for that.] Gendlin's instructions are quite detailed. Some are hard to understand until you've gotten a handle on what he's talking about, and there's some learning-by-doing in getting those handles. He speaks of experienced Focusers being able to move smoothly and quickly through the steps (or Movements as he calls them -- as if they were symphonic sections, and given the steps within the steps, maybe that metaphor isn't as pompous as it sounds.) I can't even remember all the steps. I don't own a copy of Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams anymore. I'm hoping other sources (such as the PDF linked above) suffice. I'm considering writing a longish blog entry about Focusing, the scientific underpinnings, and the problems I'm encountering with practice.

CRON-ish diet - The sausage-cheese English muffin sandwich I had this morning with my Starbucks decaf doesn't exactly count. More like the opposite, except that it was well aligned with Japanese (i.e., small) portion sizes; few calories, but way too many calories from (bad) fat. I've written recently to the Polyphasic group asking about fasting, which in animal studies appears to have much the same life-extending benefits as CRON. I've got to clean up my diet a little more toward the Optimal Nutrition part, but I'm not sure I'm up to the complications of CRON.

Wakeup Call Network - I'm still ambivalent about this one. Then again, I've never been good about asking for help with anything, and maybe it'll turn out to be one of my better ideas. I think by contributing to the Polyphasic group and moderating diligently (maybe a little too diligently, but still), I'm establishing the good will that will lead to some reliable helpers -- people who will call me at appointed times to make sure I'm up, and to help wake me up by talking a little, during the harder parts of the Uberman adjustment period.


Quitting Smoking - As noted earlier, I'm in some trouble here. I'm moving unexpectedly quickly toward Everyman, which gives me more hours of the day to smoke. I had hoped to be sleeping more by now because of caffeine withdrawal, and that sleeping more would buffer nicotine withdrawal effects, but I'm actually sleeping less. I'm not meditating yet. I still haven't set up any hands-occupying habits. I'll tell you how bad it is: this is a two-ciggie blog entry so far, and about to become a three-ciggie. (Go ahead -- hate me. Does it help to say that I always smoke outside? That I have a no-smoking rule at the ryokan? That I think all government taxes on tobacco should go toward public nicotine-addiction treatment programs, free to all?)

Exercising More - This is also helpful in quitting smoking. First, you can't smoke while you're exercising (though I like to imagine puffing away while doing backstroke in the pool.) Second, it releases endorphins (opioids), which nicotine also does -- you're substituting for one of the things you're addicted to, from a healthier source, not just getting rid of what you're addicted to. Not to mention that exercise is good for body and soul, which can't help but improve the Uberman experience? Right now, I'm an exemplar of the old joke: Whenever I get the urge to excercise, I lie down until it goes away.


In the next 7 days or so, I think the concentration has to be on getting into habits that will help me quit smoking. Maybe I could do Uberman without quitting, but ... jeez, it's such an unhealthy, disgusting habit. To think of it as a mere Uberman risk factor trivializes it. An old friend from college died of lung cancer last month. A friend collapsed in a series of strokes (not a smoker, but drinking while also being diabetic). A brother-in-law is dying of cancer that started in his throat (not a smoker, but his wife is). Health catastrophes happen, and with little warning. Then there's me: a little shorter of breath than ten years ago, and with what might be warning signs of macular degeneration in my left eye. It's time to retire Marlboro Man. (Actually, I smoke a Japanese brand called Hope. "Hope Man"? Before that, it was an even deadlier Japanese brand called Peace. It comes in a dark blue pack emblazoned with -- could I make this up? -- the Dove of Peace plunging downward.)

The habits that I beliee will help the most to quit smoking are, in order, meditation, some busywork hobby, exercise and Focusing. Meditation calms me--something I use cigarrettes to do currently. Some occupation for my hands substitutes for fiddling with fire and tobacco, and distracts me from cravings. Exercise -- see endorphins, another substitute. Where Focusing fits in here: quitting smoking is an emotional experience. You start figuring out what you're using nicotine to self-medicate for, and it's not pretty. Focusing while quitting might help me get to the bottom of those conflicts (which are ofen with other people, not just myself), and maybe help me root them out more effectively than in the past. There is the simple fact of physical habituation, of course -- that, being an addict, I now smoke just to get normal. But there is always more to an addiction than that.


If I succeed at Uberman, with all this preparation, the benefits go beyond me. First, I will have helped make a case that you don't have to be anything special to do Uberman -- except perhaps in having near-total control over your own time. I'm not a great candidate, after all: I'm an Owl, I've always slept a lot, I've never been terribly self-disciplined (except when athletic), I'm 51 and am having many of the usual problems with achieving positive personal change in middle age. Maybe I have some points in my favor: I think I'm as open-minded as anyone with a scientific-rationalist outlook can be, and I think any doctor (one who didn't look down into my lungs, anyway) would say I'm physically closer to late 30s than early 50s. But for the most part, if I can do Uberman, it's more likely that almost any reasonably healthy person with enough self-discipline to clean up their lifestyle can do it, too.

OK, but what if I fail? What if I do everything right in preparation, and still can't get to Uberman from Everyman, nor from any other angle of attack? That could also be good: it would tell people not too different from me that it's going to be much harder for them. If, as a result my experience, they don't try, that might be all to the good, too. We don't need more Uberman failure stories out there. Failed attempts are hardly risk-free anyway. It's reported that a large contributing factor to injury accidents (for monophasics) is sleep deprivation. Why add yet another sleep-related factor to further boost that casualty rate? Maybe, in failure, I could save some other people more than just some frustration.

Finally, if I fail, the whole exercise of preparation still have cleaned up my life a lot, and laid a foundation of habits for keeping it clean. Now that's a keeper, you have to admit.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Uberman On-Ramp Day 6: Flat Tires

Today I've been trundling along on rims at the shoulder, imagining dozens of young, sprightly Uberkids in the world flashing past me, 0-60 in 10 days, leaving their turn signals on as they head into the fast lane. Head-achey. And cherry blossom pollen is killing me. (Oh, listen to me, cringing and moaning as if I were already trying to DO uberman, rather than simply preparing myself.)

Got a good nap in at 4pm, though. Will lie down and try again soon at 8pm, just to observe the every-4-hours schedule. Relatively little caffeine -- 3/4ths of a can of vending machine coffee, a decaf, that's it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Space Cadet Turner Reporting for Duty

Henry asked me last night, "Why are you interested in space?" After all, clearly I am -- I talk about it, I write essays about it and get them published, I go to space conferences, I contribute to online forums devoted to it. I mumbled something about how I was the usual Space Cadet case -- reading lots of science fiction as a kid, then going into engineering for a lving.

Then I saw the subtext of Henry's question: "Why are you, a middle-aged man, interested in space?" An--leaving aside any Puer Aeternus self-diagnosis for the moment--I told the truth: 9/11 shook me up. As it did all of us, of course, but in particular it made me ask "Why wasn't the real 2001 more like the movie?" and "What did I used to be really interested in, and how does that former interest relate to what I might want to do with the rest of my life? "

Perhaps the horror of the events of that year aroused the escapist in me. At the same time, however, in 2001 and afterward, I couldn't suppress another automatic reaction I have to the world now, as an adult and as someone who likes to think about things: why is it that some things happen, and other things don't? I could see (sort of) why airliners piloted by fanatics plowed into the Twin Towers--geopolitically, sociologically, I could make some kind of sense of it in the end. But as for why the events were not also greeted with horror by thousands of lunar colonists--that was a mystery. And it was one I felt like solving.

You'll see these preoccupying questions ("Why this? Why not that?") and my attempts at answers in the essays I write. My most recent essay, "When semantics, politics and reality collide: the 'space tourism' debate", is in some sense a sociolinguistics discursion. There, I'm saying that it's in the very nature of language that the great mass of people who are less interested in the details and the advancement of some enterprise will inevitably want to call things by one name, while those who are more concerned with the endeavor will use other terms, reflecting technical distinctions or internal political sensitivities. And that it's in the nature of language that there's little that anyone can do about it.

Before that, in "'Permission to believe' in a Moore's Law for space?", I pointed out how space launch hardware development and integrated circuit development couldn't be more different, in every way that mattered for rates of technological progress -- and that's why we have almost absurd progress in computer hardware and networking, while rocketry inches forward, with slowly branching technological family trees of designs with that all-important "heritage".

I'm starting to think about another essay, about why open source software processes probably won't help very much in non-governmental space efforts. Again, you can see the implicit question: "Why not?" I think it's part of growing up -- or my growing up, anyway -- that these words go from being a rhetorical question, a protest against the status quo, a Kennedyesque oratorical posture, and become a part of true, unbiased inquiry. I don't want to give up those former uses of the question. But in the end, I want answers. Life is short, it keeps getting shorter as you get older, and being able to see all the way down a blind alley beats walking to the end of it and banging your head against the wall.

One of these days I'll tackle the ultimate "Why not?" question in space advocacy: Why are some people hardly interested in space at all? I'd love to come up with an unignorable answer for the space advocacy community. It's a question they dislike facing. At one point, last night while arguing with Henry, we finally arrived at the obvious reason for our differences over a space access issue: he's not as pro-space as I am. I asked him, "Would you care if somebody paid $20 million to go into orbit, and turned out to be a crook, causing a storm of public outrage about how government space infrastructure (much of which was justified in terms of 'speaking to the highest aspirations of mankind') got used by some rich thug, with the upshot being that this branch of commercial space travel was shut down for the indefinite future?" His answer was "No." To him, the principle that anyone should be able to buy anything that was legal and on the market was more important. I happen to think he was overapplying the principle -- many industries -- but particularly those catering to the rich or dependent on government facilities -- manage their image in part by qualifying the customer. But at least I knew the source of my differences with him.

Uberman On-Ramp Day 5: Wrap-up

Several minor business-related crises since I last wrote, not least of which was that I promised my friend Henry some Euros for his trip to Europe tomorrow, but didn't collect even half the amount I thought I could from our French guests.

Caffeine: asked for decaf at Starbucks while doing the currency deal with Henry, but maybe they screwed it up. All I know is I blabbed with him at high speed for an hour at least. On the other hand, I often do that with Henry anyway. He's a walking encyclopedia, I'm a knee-jerk theorizer; he's a moderate conservative, I'm a moderate liberal; he's East Coast Ivy League humanities, I'm West Coast U.C. system tech-sector. And we're both here in Japan with not many of the same types to hang out with. It's a recipe for seething conversational catalysis. Which is why we're friends, I guess.

Not much else to report about progress, because of the above-mentioned crises. Stay tuned. (Daniel Yokomizo on the Polyphasic list asked me if I had an RSS or Atom feed. I looked at my configuration page. I guess I do, Atom anyway, but not RSS as far as I can tell. I'm not sure if I have it set up right, though. A future blog entry will be entitled: Why I Hate Blogspot. Google does many things right, but I don't think this site is one of them.)

Japan's Birth Dearth

Today I noticed a news story about tele-obstetrics in Japan -- web-cam assisted pregnancy care. To those with a less jaundiced eye on the country, it dovetails with the standard view of Japan as a dizzyingly high-tech country. The real reason is different: the countryside (a source of voters for the Liberal Democratic Party, which is neither) is becoming one vast old folks home, and young couples especially would rather not have their children in a rural hospital system that's increasingly an archipelago of geriatric wards. Obstetric units are on the decline everywhere in Japan, but especially out in the sticks. The Powers That Be tend not to be very experimental (the country's medical association just recently considered the idea of endorsing surrogate motherhood, and voted it down), but they'll try anything just to keep the countryside populated.

I live in Takadanobaba. You won't see Aging Japan here. But Baba is different: it's home to a major university campus and countless little trade schools, where young people can learn everything from advanced animation techniques to flower arranging. Once, when I was coming back from a hike in Okutama, one of our party looking out the train window exclaimed "wakamono!" -- "young people!" We were back inside the Tokyo urban core, where social surface tension -- and a generally more interesting, if more expensive, existence -- causes young people to collect and cluster. These urban puddles of the young are drying up.

Birth rates have been below replacement rate for a long time. Last year, I read a story saying 2008 would be the first year of population shrinkage. It was followed almost the next day by a correction: the statistics had been recomputed, and 2007 would be the First Year of Shrink. Not long after, the truth came out: Japan was already shrinking. These consecutive revelations weren't too much of a contradication of my beloved Spectrum of Mendacity: Lies, Damned Lies, Statistics, Government Statistics and Japanese Government Statistics.

Uberman On-Ramp Day 5: Mid-day

Make that "Late mid-day" (jeez, it's already 5).

Got up at 8:30am. My wife didn't comment on this, which is unusual. Ordinarily, if I crawl out of bed before 11, she knits her brow, all concerned and asks, "Are you sick?" That's what a slug I am. But I got up. Second day in a row. Something is happening. Maybe I'm going almost directly to an Everyman sleep schedule. See notes below about how that's a departure from plan, and what it might mean.


Caffeine withdrawal: one cup of decaf, one of regular. No cocoa so far. Attacks of drowsiness, but reasonable energy.

Everyman habits: one attempt that I assumed would fail, at noon. Some slight hypnogogia, though. Then struck by drowsiness after lunch, and had a nap around 2:15, only interrupted by cat (Luna) stepping up onto my chest for a nap of her own. (INTERRUPTIONS AND SOLUTIONS NOTE: it's not enough to make sure their food dishes are replenished -- gotta nap somewhere they can't reach me.)

Smoking -- don't ask.

Meditation -- some done lying down for first nap attempt. Main observation: I'm way out of practice.

Dream journal: made an entry just after getting up. Something about a kidnap of me and a Chinese-American math professor during his office hours.

Focusing: read more of Gendlin over lunch, and before nap attempts.

Breakfast: didn't. Bad.

CRON-ish diet: Soup Stock Tokyo for lunch, pretty light (their two-soups set.)

Exercise: I thought really hard about going swimming, in fact so hard that I was almost out of breath at the end. Aren't you proud of me? Took a walk around the block.

Establishing wake-up call network: nada, unless my efforts this morning to frame policy on the Polyphasic Google group count as brownie points with people who might volunteer to wake me by phone.


So how is the plan going? Well, maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.

I had planned to

(1) taper off caffeine,
(2) use the resulting greater sleeping time to buffer nicotine withdrawal,
(3) reduce my sleep hours to an Everyman schedule,
(4) then try Uberman.

What seems to be happening is that I can't count on caffeine-withdrawal-induced sleep time increases to buffer nicotine withdrawal. Even the few naps resulting from merely practicing being on a nap schedule seem to be reducing my core sleep time. This is consistent with my past Everyman experience, when I hardly cut back on stimulant intake at all, just moderated it when a nap was approaching. It's also consistent with other anecdotal reports: once you've done polyphasic, it's easier to get back on it again.

My core sleep last night was from about 1:30 am to 8:30, several hours less than my usual -- and considerably fewer hours than when I've quit caffeine in the past. What may end up helping is something I've noticed in the past: I also sleep more when I quit smoking. Unlike caffeine withdrawal, which I can't do cold-turkey (I get migraines usually), nicotine is a "Just Do It" proposition. Maybe it's already time. This scares me: I get very irritable on the third day, and often relapse after some outburst (typically at my wife, which doesn't help matters at all.)


One of the biggest helps in getting through nicotine withdrawal has been finding something to do with my hands. Usually it's something that doesn't require a lot of brainpower, but that I still find intellectually satisfying in some way, and that's a problem. The main thing I do with my hands these days is type, but I hate myself for writing dreck, whether it's prose or code. Worse, whether I'm hating writing dreck or exultant over some (usually imagined) brilliance, my first impulse is to smoke. I don't have any busywork hobbies.

The last time I quit smoking for any length of time, I spent almost two weeks obsessively messing around with Pykrete. (At one point, I was filling balloons, pasting soggy toilet paper over them, and freezing them, making these big weird icy eggs that were satisfyingly difficult to crush. My friends feigned great amazement.) The last time I quit for a short stretch, I was messing around making Very Rich Dirt: finely mincing food garbage, putting it out in plastic containers to ferment for week or so, grinding up charcoal and mixing it in. In this, I was inspired by ECOSS, a carbon-negative soil amendment with a Stone Age precursor in Tera Preta soils. I felt so Green, so much like some kind of soil alchemist.

But maybe it's time for something humbler, more mundane. Like growing potted plants on the roof. Yes, we have some storage places that are hideously cluttered, and organizing them would engage my mind and my fingers. And it would be to the point: it would help secure nap space. But if past is prelude, it would also engage the possessive owners of all that junk (mostly my wife and her daughter). This has proved to be a source of explosive issues in the past. Getting into explosive issues while I'm quitting tobacco lead to explosions, which lead to flustered visits to the convenience store to buy cigs and smoke a bunch of them. Can't have that. So maybe it's gardening after all.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

My Not-So-Secret Software Project

I've been cagey about what I've been working on. Maybe what I've felt is akin to that superstition of some writers: that talking about what you're going to write soaks up creative juices that should be oiling the machinery of production. But I've told too many friends now, and besides, I'm stuck for a blog entry between my twice-daily Uberman On-Ramp entries. I don't want my blog to become All About My Weirdo Sleep Schedule. It's not as if you can't work toward uberman and still be an interesting person. Consider PureDoxyK (the mother of the movement, such as it is), or self-made self-help guru-blogger Steve Pavlina.

My Project X? Here's what it is: a Japanese-to-English machine translation tool that even professional translators wouldn't scorn. [He waits for the laughter to die down, scowling, thinking "You laugh now, but when I'm rich ...."] I started work on it in September, let it lapse in December and January, but have since been working on it almost every day since early February.

Here's the problem: much of the job of being a translator is already fairly mechanical. Of course, if you're translating Japanese that's semantically nuanced and culture-bound (novels, poetry, ad copy, movie subtitles, manga, anime), you'd better be full-spectrum human, and quite fluent and literate in both languages. But for anything technical or legal, it might even be an advantage to have a touch of Aspberger's Syndrome.

I've mostly translated patents, which are both technical and legal. Japanese patents run very much against the grain of vernacular Japanese, which is, in daily use, a notoriously vague and allusive tongue. Patents are grindingly explicit. In fact, the only distinctly human thing I've found in patents is the phenomenon of invention itself. (And not as often as I'd like; see below.)

I know I've got a good patent when I'm confused while reading it, only to have the proverbial lightbulb light up in the foggy comic-book dialogue-cloud above my head: "I see! The reason I was having a hard time understanding it is that this is a real patent: an explanation of a new and counter-intuitive technological idea."

Then it's fun. Then I'm rooting for the patent filers, because I feel they deserve their claim and any royalties accruable, for Bringing Fire to Man. I'm grateful for my bit part in the relay race -- I get the torch, I carry it my little part of the way, I pass the torch, but before I pass it, I sit huddled in my dark cubby after midnight, before my glowing screen, and blow on it and watch it flare a little. At those moments I feel more a part of the great human story than I ever would have felt as an altar boy on his first day, or if I had joined the Cub Scouts. (Two things I never did and never wanted to do -- I'm not a Joiner.) If only all patents -- but especially software patents -- were actually for real inventions. But that technological Valhalla must be pulsing and throbbing away in some other part of the galaxy. Here, we chip flint, we grovel before those who claim a slightly new style of crafting arrowheads, we pick lice out of their hair, we polish their arrowheads and crow over the hypocritcally, and hope they toss us the leftovers of their mammoth marrow pudding.

At its worst, patent translation is a special circle of hell: the patent text and claims are so long, the language so convoluted, the idea so evanescent (or non-existent -- many Japanese patents go on at great length about the obvious and nothing more), and the translator (that would be me) so tired from translating so much nothing, that you just start obsessively reviewing, wondering if the idea is so brilliant but so counter-intuitive that you just can't get it. This is especially bad when you've already blown one of those soul-crushing deadlines. Which I never do. Ever. (Well, sometimes.)

OK, so that's the problem: coming up with machinery that helps get the soul-crushers out of the way, and also helps you with the good stuff. Maybe it reduces the amount you have to type -- some translators have resorted to dictation to avoid further tendinitis damage. Maybe it helps you break vocabulary blocks. Maybe it helps you juggle parts of long sentences without doing damage to the syntax. Maybe it helps you automate sweeping, complex revisions. Maybe it makes sure you don't miss anything. I'd eventually like something that can figure out things about the diagrams, but that might be far too ambitious ona project that's already very ambitious.

There are several problems that I hope this project solves for me. One is that I'm in a sabbatical from translation, hoping to improve my skills in Japanese before I take on work again. Another is that my dream life is to make my living while traveling. And any software that takes the edge off, and helps me meet my deadlines while I'm also contending with the stress and logistical complications of life on the road is all to the good. Also, software was about the only thing I ever got professionally very good at. (I just fake being a hotelier -- so far, it's working.) Software is still a career option. But only if I keep my skills sharp. Alas, they've gotten rusty.

Finally, there's just what I most loved about writing software as a craft: messing around with complex data structures and algorithms. I'm sure I'll get my fill of that with this project. I like translating patents, but mainly because I like invention. I want to contribute inventions of my own, even if it's in a field (software engineering) where invention seems to be slowly waning, where doing anything new is getting harder every year.

I think I'm two years away from a production tool that others could use. Maybe one year away from having something I can use in my translation work, while continuously improving it. I've considered making it open source, but I'll cross that bridge when I come to it. Right now I'm bogged down in just getting the thing to parse basic Japanese. I'm giving myself three more months to finish that. Then what? Yes: parsing intermediate Japanese.

Uberman On-Ramp Day 4: Wrap-up

One cappuccino at 9am, a couple canned cocoas. Sleepy much of the day.

Too many cigarettes. Then some breakfast, which I should have done earlier.

One early afternoon almost-nap, quite refreshing anyway (my breath suddenly slowed at one point, like an automatic transmission shifting into drive -- very relaxing; some brief hypnogogia), another nap from about 3:15 to 3:45pm.

Carrot-pumpkin soup for lunch, chicken-onion curry rice for dinner, plus some bread; healthy stuff at least, if not CRON-ish.

Read some of Gendlin's Focusing. No meditation -- but still time for that before bed.

No exercise -- almost went for a walk with a friend, but begged off, feeling drowsy from caffeine withdrawal.

Just couldn't write code today. I seem to need to get wound up in order to hack, but without caffeine ....

WAY too much Google Polyphasic group moderation activity -- ugh. Why this sudden attack of responsibility? Or am I just offsetting aggression generated by life-change stress? I sign off on those exchanges as "-michael turner, your increasingly fascist moderator", but I think the self-deprecation comes off as a little soggy to those who like me there, and is probably taken seriously by certain members with whom I must be increasingly unpopular.

What part of "somewhat" didn't you understand?

The International Herald Tribune doesn't come out on Sundays here in Japan. I'm reduced to the The Daily Yomiuri (or, as I like to put it, the "Gomi-uri" [trash vendor]) Today's top headline 'Amity needed between U.S., Japan, China' -- in quotes because it's the result of a poll of university students in Japan and in China.

What I liked was the poll results pie-chart. Asked "Should Japan, China and the United States strengthen their respective ties?", 60.3% of Chinese students and 46.3% of Japanese students answered "Yes." HOWEVER, 30.4% of Chinese and 42.7% of Japanese answered "Somewhat."


Now, I don't know how it works in China, but here in Japan, a good translation of "somewhat" into Japanese is chotto. And a good translation of chotto back into English is "no (but I'm too polite and refined to say so.)"

In addition, 6.2% of Chinese and 6.3% of Japanese answered "Not really." 2.1% of Chinese and 3.1% of Japanese just sprinted way the hell out on a limb and answered "No."

So how I add all this up: 38.7% of the Chinese students said "no", as opposed 52.1% of the Japanese students. Which rather belies the conclusions of the article. But what else do you expect from The Daily Gomi-uri?

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Uberman On-Ramp Day 4: In Which Things Do Not Go As Planned

It's odd writing a mid-day report on my uberman prep at an hour of the morning at which I'd ordinarily still be dead to the world. I had planned to sleep late after yesterday's rush of guests at the ryokan. Have my one coffee, and some breakfast, before deciding whether to continue smoking today or try going on the gum instead.

Instead, I get a call from friends of the French guests who arrived yesterday, at 8:30am. It ties up my mobile phone for 10 minutes. One of the guests asks me to fax something. Fear sets in: maybe these people will be the dreaded High-Maintenance Customers? Maybe my cheery projections about having a wealth of schedule slack for the next week or so are out the window?

I go down to the Starbucks on the corner, I tank up, I smoke a couple cigs, I brood under the sunny skies. I sniffle and curse the drifting cherry blossoms, the delight of the season -- when we will have a mode of interspecies communication that permits me to explain to cherry trees that my sinuses represent no worthwhile reproductive opportunities for them? How can I enjoy any of the immediate benefits of quitting smoking if I feel just about as crappy anyway?

Adding to the misery: yesterday I didn't hack on my software project at all. There's an annoying and very mysterious bug in something I assumed was working all along. I keep telling myself: "just work on other, simpler, things." It's set up that way, I can do that. And during uberman adjustment, I'll need that, for any sense of progress.

Adding further to the misery: I've decided the Polyphasic Google Group needs a stated policy about underage contributors. Sometime it sucks being an adult.

Had this been an actual debate ....

Michael Huang argues persuasively that the job of arguing for robots in space instead of humans is too important to be left unautomated.

I'd respond, but I'm out of the office right now. Please leave a message after the main text of this blog entry, and I'll get back to you as soon as possible.

Uberman On-Ramp Day 3: Last Report

Damn, that sounds official, doesn't it? You'd think I was planning a deep space probe launch or something.

A total of 45 minutes lying down today, earplugs in, sleep mask on. No naps. Kind of "hypertired" as an old girlfriend used to say, from business demands and getting up earlier than usual. Drowsy from lack of caffeine, but unable to sleep.

I must start keeping a catalogue of Potential Interruptions and Solutions. Take my cats. Please. Cats know exactly one word of felinese, and it translates roughly as "Why the frak haven't you fed me yet? I've been hungry for several minutes, now!" There are various intonation patterns implying an infinite spectrum of guilt-trips, some of them employing frequencies they must have picked up from hearing fingernails raking across blackboards.

Way to cope: make sure the cat food dishes always have enough to tide them over any 25-minute lapse of operation in the Feeding Machine AKA Me.

And my wife just interrupted this blog entry with another one: it's time to go to the laundromat. Again. Second time today. (11 guests from France -- 10, really, with one more arriving tomorrow. Running a 6-room bulging-at-the-seams ryokan means going through a lotta towels, sheets and pillowcase every week.) Solution: stay on top of it, so she doesn't even have to ask. She lets it pile up. I have to sneak it out under her nose sometimes, just to get it done.

Phone calls: I have to set up space away from the business phone (we're on cordless here, so mainly that's a matter of moving the handset to another room), and always remember to turn off my mobile. I'd say one out of every three nap attempts in recent months has been interrupted by the phone.

Less manageable: customer arrivals. Guests can be as much as three hours late. Maybe a prominent sign would work, when I can't have my wife fill in for me: "Back in 20 minutes -- your faithful concierge." It would only have to work once in a while.

I must say I have it easy, though, compared to many attempting polyphasic schedules. No school. No job with a boss (unless my wife counts, and she does, sort of.) No irritating social demands, except for that guy who moved to Okinawa but still calls me at all hours for help configuring his Linux boxes, oblivious to my protests that I actually don't know what the hell I'm talking about in that department.

JAL: Seamlessly Insolvent

Air travel. Doesn't just thinking about it make you slightly nauseous these days? It's gotten so that when things go well on a flight, it's newsworthy. And in my case, it piques a certain suspicion.

The April 7-8 edition of the International Herald Tribune carries a story by Tyler Brule, who found himself "stunned" at "real customer service" from Japan Airlines, as he was embarking from that execrable excuse for an airport known as Heathrow. His flight left slightly ahead of schedule, provoking "looks of amazement" among the passengers. The flight itself met his highest expectations.

To what do we owe this miracle of latterday civil aviation? The article's callout quote extols "Japanese management" -- to my ears, a distrbing echo of the 80s, when Japan had the U.S. running scared, and management pundits everywhere were trying to unscrew the inscrutable of Japan's apparent success.

So what gives? With insolvent airlines all over the world, how is Japan Airlines able to finance such sterling service quality? I won't sugarcoat it for you: they are even more insolvent than most carriers. Specifically, they are $12 billion in debt -- more indebted than any other Asian carrier. A Japanese analyst at Fitch Ratings says that JAL's cash flow is "too weak to support its high debt and capital expenditure plans .... [however] the Japanese bankruptcy regime tends to prevent large-scale corporate failure because of continued bank support ...."

Yep, that good 'ol Japanese management. Failure is not an option. Why, it's almost illegal. Your punishment, if you're caught failing: government support in perpetuity -- a corporate life sentence. How cruel!

I had a friend here in Tokyo who worked for an English conversation school that was bankrupt, owing all its assets and more to a bank, and yet continuing in operation. Their bank was itself bankrupt, and being kept afloat by the Japanese government. And what about the Japanese government anyway? It has the highest ratio of government debt to GDP in the G-7, surpassing Italy in that league long ago.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Uberman On-Ramp Day 3: Interim Report

As I reported in my "Building up to uberman" entry on the Google Group for Polyphasic sleep, I'm going to take 4-5 weeks for Michael Turner's Total Lifestyle Overhaul before attempting uberman.

We've got 11 French guests -- all of them here for a Japanese archery competition -- arriving at the ryokan, so it's busy-busy-busy, gotta go get some laundry out of the dryer in 20 minutes, then get my head amputated so that I can run around like a chicken with my head cut off. After tomorrow, things settle down a lot -- for 9 whole days, perfect for de-stressing and getting my life more in shape. Here's how things stand right now, early afternoon JST.

My to-do list for the transition prep:

Quit caffeine
Quit smoking
Start meditating
Start dream journal
Start self-Focusing
Start Everyman
Breakfast every morning
CRON-ish diet
Establish wake-up call network

Caffeine -- I've been a bad boy. But it was an accident, I swear! I had the one can of vending machine coffee, then a little later, plunked in 120 yen for what I thought, in my muzzied state, would be a can of cocoa. The first sip disabused me of the notion that my Japanese vending machine button-pushing accuracy rivals that of Kyudo archers. It was that drecky, over-sweetened coffee crap, probably with that non-dairy creamer that lays down several more nanometers of porcelain on your coronary arteries with each dose. I drank half of it anyway, then threw out the rest.

Quit smoking? It is to laugh. Probably six ciggies this morning alone. But I was planning to put that off until caffeine withdrawal was helping me sleeping through a lot of the nicotine withdrawal.

Start meditating? Does thinking about it count?

Start dream journal: OK, here I score. I wrote a couple pages from memory. Something about some job I might or might not have gotten, meeting some young woman in the workplace who was a little like Chloe O'Brien on 24, only much nicer, with frizzy hair, and somehow even nerdier (if that's possible without requiring hospitalization). My goal is lucid dreams, which I used to be sorta good at. Beyond lucidity, see below.

Start self-Focusing? Um ... does thinking about it -- oh, never mind. I count it as progress that I thought about how to interpret the above dream. Eventually I want to try using Eugene Gendlin's dream-interpretation technique (from Let Your Body Interpret Your Dreams) while actually in a lucid dream.

Start Everyman: today I woke up around 9:15. And about 3.5 hours later, I felt drowsy. I really want to start lying down every 4 hours, sleep mask on, earplugs in, alarm set, just to get into the habit. In this case -- well, not having had breakfast, I was too hungry to nap, and things are too busy here at the ryokan anyway. So I went to Soup Stock Tokyo for lunch.

Breakfast every morning -- oops, see above. Maybe a missed nap opportunity because of this.

CRON-ish diet. Lunch at Soup Stock Tokyo counts, sort of. They are big on nourishment (but not on portion sizes.) Going without breakfast is way too much calore restriction, though, and not exactly optimal nutrition either.

Exercise -- does carrying a lot of futons to the roof of the ryokan to air out count as exercise? I got a little out of breath. What I'd like to do is go swimming every day, just to set the habit, then start doing more other kinds of exercise. I used to be a rock-climber, a trail-runner. Geez, I was even a champion gymnast as a kid. In my late 30s, I thought nothing of popping out of bed as 6:30 AM so I could do laps in the pool for half an hour before work. How far I have fallen.

Establish wakeup call network -- hey, I got a couple offers, one from PD herself!

OK, from now on, I won't be quite so blow-by-blow.

The Wizard of .... WTF!?

[Redpill Spoiler Warning: if you loved the Oz books the way I did, do NOT continue reading.]

Yesterday I discovered that the Wizard of Oz has been analyzed as political allegory. Weirder still: an allegory for the Free Silver controversy in the late 19th century.

Dorothy (Theodore [Roosevelt] spelled backwards, sort of) is Traditional American Values. Cyclones are politico-economic instability. The Wizard is President McKinley. The Cowardly Lion is William Jennings Bryan (hey, that rhymes!). The Silver Slippers (changed to ruby in the film) were Free Silver vs. rigid adherence to the Gold Standard. The Tin Man and the Scarecrow were the reformist Farmer-Labor coalition. And so on. Read all about it.

L. Frank Baum said that the story was written purely to please children -- a fairy tale without all the weird, horrific moralizing. And to think I believed him. I guess we'll soon find out that Ozma of Oz was really about transgender issues.

It doesn't totally spoil Oz for me. Not totally.


Uberman Ho!

Um ... OK, maybe that's not such a great blog title after all. On a second reading, it makes me think of a blinged-out inner-city hooker with a tattered Penguin edition of Thus Spake Zarathustra tucked into her purse.

What I mean is: I'm going to try transitioning to an Uberman sleep schedule (20-25 minute naps, 6 times in every 24-hour period) over the next 4-5 weeks. Yesterday I announced this intention on the Google group for Polyphasic sleep, where I'm a moderator, and where I also preach oh-so-sagely while practicing not at all.

My goals? I'm working on a big, long software project of my own, and I'd like more time. I'd like more time for a lot of things, but that's the biggie. On Uberman, if I can do it (think positive, Michael) I can get maybe 6 hours more waketime per day. Maybe more like 8, when you consider that I usually stumble around sleepily for a couple hours every day after waking. (If I told you how much I sleep these days, I'd blush so hard it would pop zits, if I had any zits.)

More time is the main goal, but I'd also like to get back to lucid dreaming, experimenting with how an uberman schedule might increase the frequency to one LD a day or more. I have some anecdotal evidence that uberman does help have lucid dreams more often, though the quality is reportedly low.

Yesterday I announced my intentions on the Polyphasic list. Today I had one cup of coffee (actually, one can of coffee -- from a vending machine), and several cups of cocoa. I napped about two hours this evening, after unusually intense ryokan chores -- we expect 11 guests to arrive tomorrow and we're less than half-prepared. After that, it's 9 days of slack, because our guests are usually pretty low-maintenance types. I can start seriously cutting the caffeine.

I had planned to quit smoking only after all the caffeine withdrawal symptons subsided, then start uberman after the nicotine withdrawal symptons were gone. But that could take up to five weeks. Tonight's crash made me think I could combine the two. Reasoning: When I go off caffeine, I sleep a lot, for about a week, with the first three days being the worst. When I quit smoking, I feel serious temptation for about a week, peaking on the third day. Well, when I'm sleeping, I'm not smoking. Nor will I feel the need, right? And being sleepy can be nicely calming -- I smoke a lot just because I'm one of those jittery types you'd rather didn't have a right to keep and bear arms. (Relax: I live in Japan, where I don't). AND I've got this longish slack period coming up with few demands on my time. If I do both at once, it could cut weeks off my start date for Uberman.

Tomorrow: one more cup (can) of coffee, plus cocoa, and my usual cigarette breaks, to get me through the last intense workday for a while. Then I'll start halving my caffeine intake every day, maybe chew some nicotine gum for a day just to remind me of what it's like to not smoke. After that, well -- I hope I can still manage to type on Wednesday.