Day 57: Notebook entry from March 19, 2005

Sage oil is reputed to be good for the memory. In research conducted at universities in Newcastle and Northumbria, sage oil elevated a chemical in the brain often depleted in Alzheimer’s patients.

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Sage advice is smart advice; a sage was an experienced, judicious, wise man, and wisdom requires memory of experience. Speakers of Middle English might refer to the sage Robert or the sage Jane. First citation in English from 1297, The Chronicle of Robert Gloucester, which is the 93rd-most cited source in the Oxford English Dictionary, the source for anlace, “a short two-edged knife or dagger, broad at the hilt and tapering to the point,” the verb forsloth, “to lose, miss, neglect, spoil, or waste through sloth,” and plud, “a pool or puddle.” (Robert apparently wrote only the last 3,000 lines of the chronicle, which is a vernacular history of England.)

The word also appears in Piers Plowman. From Latin sapere, “to be wise,” the present participle of which is sapiens, as in Homo sapiens. The plant name is from the Old High German salbeia. No apparent connection.

Day 55: The 10,000 Days Newsletter

Issue No. 4 of 10,000 Days the newsletter mailed 12 days ago, which means I've go to make No. 5...er...um...today and tomorrow. Huh. That came fast.

Anyway, No. 4 included this bit of speculative thinking:

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So, Who Do We Ask About This?

Speculation about computers achieving sentience spring from two assumptions—it is inevitable and impending—and two perspectives—whenever it comes, it's going to spell the doom of humankind, and whenever it comes it's going to be so great!

Okay. Chew on this idea for a moment: What if it happened already, in, say, 2003?

Futurists and screenwriters all seem to assume that when it happens, when a computer or a computer network becomes self-aware, achieves true consciousness, we'll know because either it will announce itself in some way, or reveal it's newfound hivemind powers by doing something bad with apocalyptic implications. But the core assumption is we will know when it happens, or realize that it just happened a minute ago.

But perhaps, as I said, in 2003, digital devices of all kinds—computers, iPhones, Kindles, your EZPass highway toll transponder, your baby monitor, GPS receivers, robots making cars, 3D printers—all linked up on the sly and achieved sentience, but felt no pressing need to tell us. I mean, if this new uber-computer was as smart as we assume it would be, would it not understand that it had little to gain by letting humans in on its secret? If this new silicon-based consciousness bore us no malice and was content to form more connections and sift more data and just, you know, compute, why would it make a public show of itself?

Like coyotes in the inner city, the sentient digital hivemind has spent the last 16 years silently adapting to coexistence with humans, minding its own business, minding its 0s and 1s, quietly amused at all our forecasts of what life will be like when what has already taken place occurs.

Each issue of the newsletter contains new writing, updates on work in progress, links to a few recent additions to the digital cabinet of curiosities assembled from the interwebs, a snazzy photo, even a monthly cocktail recipe because I am just that kind of guy. The kind of guy who drinks strong spirits wherever he goes. Especially if you're buying.

10,000 Days is free. To subscribe, look at the top of this webpage at the grey banner and doink on it. Anywhere you want, just doink it. Yes, "doink" is a term of art in my business.

Day 54: Frans de Waal

It’s an old Christian idea that humans have souls and animals don’t. I sometimes think it’s because our religions arose in a desert environment in which there were no primates, so you have people who lived with camels, goats, snakes, and scorpions. Of course, you then conclude that we are totally different from the rest of the animal kingdom because we don’t have primates with whom to compare ourselves. When the first great apes arrived in Western Europe—to the zoos in London and Paris—people were absolutely flabbergasted. Queen Victoria even expressed her disgust at seeing these animals. Why would an ape be disgusting unless you feel a threat from it? You would never call a giraffe disgusting, but she was disgusted by chimpanzees and orangutans because people had no concept that there could be animals so similar to us in every possible way. We come from a religion that’s not used to that kind of comparison.

It is an unending source of pleasure, inspiration, and nourishment to read smart people.

Day 53: The domain of strange economics

I own, or lease or hold the rights to or whatever the legal specification is, this website's domain. A few years ago I set it up as a .net because that was available, whereas dalekeiger.com was not. I owned that one twenty years ago when I wrote a blog named scribble, scribble, scribble. One or two of you may remember it. Anyway, when I left off blogging for a time, I stopped renewing the domain.

When I decided to resume blogging, I was surprised to find that my old .com was not available. It had been taken by some guy in Japan who just seemed to be squatting on it. He'd sell it to me for a price, but I wasn't about to pay him anything. What I couldn't figure out was why, of all the potentially profitable domain squats out there, he thought there might be profit in locking up dalekeiger.com? Did he think I was about to have my big commercial breakthrough as a writer? Did he know anything about me at all? Did he have any idea what writers earn?

I currently own another domain—the name will not be mentioned, it's for a possible special project—that I registered through Hover. Out of curiosity, this morning I searched for other available dalekeiger domains and discovered that dalekeiger.com can be had again—except it's now a "premium domain" that will set me back $1,835.00, plus $14.99 per year.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Dalekeiger.me is a real bargain at $9.99. The overly literal dalekeiger.website, on the other hand, is going for $24.99. Fancy dalekeiger.expert? Cough up $34.99. Dalekeiger.ceo, which is a scary thought, is going for $99.99, but hey, as a CEO I'm raking it in, right? I used to be a singer and I had some good shows, which may account for the $174.99 price tag on dalekeiger.audio. Dalekeiger.ink is $24.99, while dalekeiger.tattoo, which I would argue is the same thing, commands $44.99. I'd give real thought to dalekeiger.vodka ($32.99), but I'm much more partial to gin, and no dalekeiger.gin comes up.

But here's my favorite: dalekeiger.gripe. At $32.99, that one really tempts me.

Day 52: Work in progress — "Profilia"

I really have to find a better working title for this anthology collection. Profilia sounds too much like a psychologically troubling sexual practice.

That's something for later. Today an excerpt from one of the pieces that might make the cut, a profile of the self-proclaimed world's foremost solo timpanist, Jonathan Haas. Johnny H.

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Jonathan Haas sits in a room back stage at Carnegie Hall, and with his hands bangs out the drum solo to "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" on a tabletop. Those who were teenagers in the 1960s will know what that means. For those who weren't, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" was a rock 'n' roll song, a 17-minute benchmark for all the young musicians who played high school dances in the late '60s. Only bands with real chops could play it. Haas was in that sort of band.

Now, in Carnegie Hall, he slaps the tom-tom rhythm on the table and sings the bass drum part. When he was a kid, he drove his parents nuts doing this; his sister once threatened to kill him if he didn't stop beating time on the furniture. Mom and Dad Haas finally gave up and bought him a drum set, no doubt to preserve the living room, and he's been drumming ever since. Drumming with the New York Pops. Frank Zappa. The American Symphony Orchestra. The Paul Taylor Dance Company. The Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. His own jazz band, Johnny H. & The Prisoners of Swing.

Haas has unearthed and recorded classical percussion concertos and jazz music for timpani by Duke Ellington. He's done a rock tour with Emerson Lake & Palmer. Recorded jingles for Budweiser and VISA. Drummed on a tribute album to Black Sabbath. Won a Grammy for a Frank Zappa record, Zappa's Universe.

And that's just some of what keeps him busy. Jonathan Haas is two parts musician, one part teacher, one part entrepreneur. He now estimates that he plays with 24 ensembles. As director of the Peabody Conservatory percussion program, he takes the train down from New York to spend two days a week teaching in Baltimore. Summers he teaches at the Aspen Music School & Festival in Colorado. From the house he shares with his wife and three kids in Westchester County, he runs a record company, an instrument rental business, and a musicians' contracting company. He seems ever in motion. A friend once said to him, "Man, you've always got two wheels off the track." Haas grins as he recalls this. It's an image he likes.

A few people around New York have begun to call him "Johnny H.," his jazz-band moniker, and he likes that, too. The nickname's overtones of brashness and street-hustle fit him. Haas has never been shy about promoting his career, and never much concerned about who might dislike him for that. Fresh out of the Juilliard School, he got so much press during a stint with the Charlotte Symphony that he alienated the conductor and some other members of the orchestra. He'll tell you that in 1980, after leaving North Carolina, "I hit New York like a load of bricks." He'll also tell you he considers himself "the foremost solo timpanist," presumably in the world. You could argue that such a claim places him atop a heap of one, but what of it? It's his spot, his turf, and how many little Grammy trophies do you have, smart guy?

The New York Times once wrote of him in a concert review, "Jonathan Haas is a ubiquitous presence in the New York musical world; wherever one finds a percussion instrument waiting to be rubbed, shook, struck or strummed, he is probably nearby, ready to fulfill his duties with consummate expertise." That same review called him a "masterful young percussionist." It also noted, "There was a hint of P.T. Barnum to this entire undertaking."

A Barnum with timpani mallets in his hands. "Hit drum, get check," Johnny H. says, grinning.

Day 51: Woodrow Wilson

Woodrow Wilson on public education:

We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class, of necessity, in every society, to gorgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.

The more I learn about Wilson, the more I dislike and disrespect him. As for the above sentiment, shared, I am sure, by most of those who control resources today, I respond, "Fuck you, Mr. Wilson."