My sons gave me a Fitbit for Christmas in 2015 and I have tried to hit the recommended 10,000 steps a day. That’s the number that has always been recommended. I don’t hit that number most days. I seem to average out at about 6000. That’s better than nothing but not enough. But now it seems even 10,000 steps isn’t “enough.”

The best thing about having one of these fitness trackers is that it makes you mindful of your inactivity. On lousy winter days when I stayed in the house and worked on the computer, I would log less than 2000 steps.

Now, on the Fitbit blog they discuss a recent study  that found that employees who sit the most tend to have higher BMIs, bigger waistlines, and higher cholesterol than those who moved more. That is not a shocking result. I could have told you that and you wouldn’t have to give me a grant. The researchers also found that those who were hitting about 15,000 steps (roughly seven miles) a day had normal BMIs and waistlines and no heightened risk of heart disease.

But 15,000 steps – 7 miles?

I wouldn’t label myself as “sedentary” but I certainly spend too much time in front of screens – computers and TV.  I don’t need a fancy tracker to tell me that.

The suggestion is to increase your steps by 1,000 then 2,000 a day for a week or two and continue until you get to 15,000.

Part of the problem for me is boredom. I have never been able to do the gym thing. Exercise on machines totally bores me. And when it comes to  steps… I love walking, but I like walking in the woods or at least in a park. I do that whenever I can, but I also have been walking around the workplace and around my neighborhood.

The suggested ways to increase your steps are always things like squeezing in a couple of 10 to 15-minute walks and walking everywhere within a one-mile radius instead of using the car. Of course, the walk to the coffee shop probably isn’t “cardio” unless you are really walking fast.

10, 000 steps still has multiple health benefits, especially if you make the 10K at a fast pace. You need to determine the number that’s right for you.

 

The Summer Solstice for 2017 in the Northern Hemisphere happened here at 12:24 AM EDT today, Wednesday, June 21.  Did you miss it?

I was still awake, but I didn’t feel anything odd. Due to those manmade time zones, it happened yesterday Tuesday, June 20, at 9:24 PM on the other coast. And it is only the Summer Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the Winter Solstice in the Southern Hemisphere.

In any case, the Sun reached its northernmost point from the equator.

Solstice is from the Latin solstitium, from sol (sun) and stitium (to stop). It did seem to earlier observers that the Sun appeared to stop at this time and then again to announce the winter solstitium.

In ancient Egypt, this solstice marked the start of the new year. They watched for the rising of the star Sirius which occurs around this time and it coincided with the annual flooding of the Nile River.

The halfway point between the spring equinox and the summer solstice was on May 1. That day is known as May Day or Beltane and it marked the beginning of summer for the ancient Celts. It was a day for dance and song to celebrate that the sown fields were starting to sprout.

This is the day with the most hours of sunlight during the whole year – even if it is rainy and cloudy where you are reading this. Here in Paradelle, dawn broke today at 3:18 A.M., the Sun rose at 5:25 A.M. and it won’t set until 8:32 P.M. giving us 15:06 hours of sunlight.

If we were on Mercury, which has practically no tilt relative to the plane of its orbit, we wouldn’t experience any true seasons. Bummer. If we were on Uranus, which is tilted by almost 98 degrees, the seasons would last 21 years. Also a bummer.

If I lived in Sweden, it would be traditional to celebrate this day by eating the first strawberries of the season. Since we just passed the Strawberry Full Moon, and since strawberries never go out of season in Paradelle in this age of supply chain eternal summer, I’ll have some strawberries myself today.

 

castle

It’s 1962 and America has lost WWII. The east is the Greater Nazi Reich and the west is the Japanese Pacific States.

In The Man in the High Castle, a novel by Philip K. Dick,  this is the alternate history of the world. The United States and the Allied forces lost the war. This was the novel that established Philip K. Dick as an innovator in science fiction.

He was better known before that novel became a TV series for his fiction that was adapted for films, such as the two film Blade Runner films that are based on his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?  That novel, set in 2021, portrays a world where another World War has killed millions and moved much of mankind off-planet. Because so many species became extinct on Earth, people cherish living creatures,  but the less expensive alternatives are very realistic “simulacra” of  horses, birds, cats – and also humans. On Mars, these androids are common and so well made to be indistinguishable from true humans.

On Earth, there is fear about what these artificial humans might do and the government has banned them. Many of them go into hiding, some live among human beings, undetected. The novels’s protagonist, Rick Deckard (played by Harrison Ford in the film adaptation), is one of the officially sanctioned bounty hunters who find rogue androids and “retire” them.

Dick’s fiction approached and crossed the lines of popular science fiction, the serious novel of ideas, and the reality of his time and now our present and future.

The Man in the High Castle won the Hugo Award in 1963 and is one of my favorites of his novels, but Philip K. Dick (1928-1982) published 36 science fiction novels and 121 short stories, so there is plenty of his work to read – and to still be adapted.

Castle has a “novel within the novel” structure and so there is an alternate history within this alternate history. That internal novel is titled The Grasshopper Lies Heavy, written by the character Hawthorne Abendsen. (Minor Spoiler: Hawthorne is the man in the high castle) In this version the Allies defeat the Axis but not in the same ways or with the same results as the actual historical outcome. The Bible verse “The grasshopper shall be a burden” (Ecclesiastes 12:5) is supposed to be the title’s inspiration.

In season two of the Amazon TV series version, they play off the novel and the films that the “Man in the High Castle” has released that show the alternative history where the United States defeated the Nazis and Japan.  Of course, the Germans have tried to destroy all the copies of the film. In Dick’s novel plotline, the Grasshopper book is banned in the occupied U.S., but widely read in the Pacific, and its publication is legal in the neutral countries.

The Grasshopper Lies Heavy tells of  President Roosevelt surviving an assassination attempt but not trying for a third term. The next President, Rexford Tugwell, pulls the Pacific fleet out of Pearl Harbor, saving it from Japanese attack. When the U.S. enters WWII, it is a well-equipped naval power. In this version, Italy reneges on its membership in the Axis Powers and betrays them.  At the end of the war, the Nazi leaders—including Adolf Hitler—are tried for their war crimes.

Philip K. Dick (PKD) said the main inspiration for writing The Man in the High Castle was the novel Bring the Jubilee, a 1953 novel by Ward Moore of an alternate nineteenth-century U.S. wherein the Confederate States of America won the American Civil War.

The Man in the High Castle became a television series in 2015 produced by Amazon Studios that is somewhat loosely based on the 1962 novel. There have been two seasons with a third forthcoming. If you are an Amazon Prime member, you can watch the series free. If not, some video from the series is available on YouTube that gives you a sense of how the series has progressed.

I know that the idea and images of the series turn off some people. My wife gave up on watching it with me. (She was creeped out right away by the version of “Edelweiss” used as the theme song.) In a 1976 interview with Philip Dick , he said he had planned to write a sequel to The Man in the High Castle, but couldn’t make any real progress because he was too disturbed by his research for the two boks and he could not mentally bear “to go back and read about Nazis again.”

He regarded the published novel as intentionally having an open ending that could segue into a sequel . He even suggested that perhaps the sequel might be a collaboration with another author:. Perhaps, the Amazon series would be to his liking.

The other books that he acknowledged inspired and disturbed him when writing the novel include The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1960), Hitler: A Study in Tyranny (1962), The Goebbels Diaries (1948), and Foxes of the Desert (1960). He also acknowledged the influence of the 1950 translation of the ancient classic I Ching by Richard Wilhelm. That text is not only read and used by characters in his novel, but was used in its divination way by Dick himself to make decisions about the plot of The Man in the High Castle.

Two chapters of the sequel were published in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick. They touch on the Nazis using time-travel visits to a parallel world in which they lost the war, but stealing nuclear weapons from that world to bring back to their reality.

Dick said that his 1967 The Ganymede Takeover began as a sequel to The Man in the High Castle, but evolved into a new unrelated story. Some portions were used in VALIS, published in 1985, three years after Dick’s death.

Philip K. Dick’s later work turned toward deeply personal, metaphysical questions concerning the nature of God.

Eleven of his novels and short stories have been adapted to film, most notably Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and A Scanner Darkly.

He was inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame in 2005. His work has been translated into more than twenty-five languages.

I believe PKD would have at least been amused by this android version of him.

I was quite charmed last year when I made my first visit to Prague in the Czech Republic. I had in my mind a Romanticized version of the city and its famed café culture. In my imagination, it was people sipping coffee on sidewalk table and talking about art and literature. When my wife and I went for coffee and dessert at the Café Imperial, it was certainly much grander than anything I had imagined.

We did find those little cafés too, so I was able to embrace my Romantic version of the city. There is also the well-documented role of  the coffeehouse in the Age of Enlightenment. These informal gatherings of people played an important role in innovation in politics, science, literature and religion.

Next year, I hope to visit the Café de Flore which is one of the oldest coffeehouses in Paris. Located at the corner of Boulevard Saint-Germain and Rue Saint-Benoît, it is known for its history of serving intellectual clientele. At one time, those tables overheard conversations from existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre,  writer Albert Camus and artist Pablo Picasso.

In science, breakthroughs seem to rarely come from just one person working alone. Innovation and collaboration usually sit at the table together. We are currently in a time when, at least in American politics, collaboration seems nonexistent.

This notion is what caught my attention in an interview I heard with Steven Johnson who wrote Where Good Ideas Come From.

He writes about how “stacked platforms” of ideas that allow other people to build on them.  This way of ideas coming together from pieces borrowed from another field or another person and remixing feels very much like what has arisen in our digital age.

One example he gives is the 1981 record My Life in the Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne. It is an innovative album for that time in its use of samples well before the practice became mainstream. Eno was inspired by the varied voices and music and advertising on New York AM radio which was so different from the straightforward BBC radio he grew up with in England. He thought about repurposing all that talk into music.

We call that “decontextualizing” now – in this case a sound or words taken out of context and put in a new place. But this borrowing and remixing also occurs with ideas in culture, science and technology.

Unfortunately, ideas are not always free to connect with each other. Things like copyright and intellectual property law get in the way. We often silo innovators in proprietary labs or departments and discourage the exchange of ideas.

I didn’t know that Ben Franklin had a Club of Honest Whigs that would meet at the London Coffeehouse, when he was in England and they would hang out and exchange ideas.

Johnson describes these as “liquid networks” – not so much for the coffee, but for the fluidity in the conversation. These informal networks work because they are made up of different kinds of people from different backgrounds and experiences. Diversity is not just necessary as a biological concept but as an intellectual one.

The Internet was built on ideas stacked on top of ideas. A whole lot of code and ideas are underneath this post. At its best, when I write online I am connecting, if only virtually, with other writers, artists and thinkers, and connecting literally through hyperlinks to those ideas.

I know there are “Internet cafés,” but what about Internet as a café?

 

16Today, June 16, is Bloomsday. At least it is celebrated as such by fans of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. It is the day that Leopold Bloom walks around Dublin for the 732 pages of that radical and now classic novel.

It is a novel that changed literature. I tried to read it. Several times. As an English major in college, I had to say I had read it. I had to say that it was extraordinary. But I just found it frustrating to read.

But that’s me. I did attend a Bloomsday celebration a few times that was held at the Old York Books (long gone) on Easton Ave. in New Brunswick near my Rutgers campus.

People will go to Sweny’s Pharmacy to buy lemon soap, like Bloom did in the novel. Fans will be making many stops in Dublin, some in period costume. They will do public readings. They will definitely be going to the pubs.

james_joyce

Some Bloomsday readings focus on the “easy” parts, some do the tougher sections and certainly some readings include the dirtiest parts. After all, the dirty/profane/obscene parts are what made it subject of a landmark American obscenity case.

In a letter written in 1924 by James Joyce, he acknowledged that even then “There is a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day – 16 June.”

The Bailey pub in Dublin has the door from No. 7 Eccles Street that was Leopold Bloom’s front door.

Now, there are celebrations all over the world.

You might have picked up on allusions to the day in pop culture. The Mel Brooks’ play/film featured the character Leo Bloom, and in the play Leo asks, “When will it be Bloom’s day?”  When Leo and Max meet, the office’s calendar shows the date as June 16.

Irish rockers, U2, have a song “Breathe” which refers to events taking place on a modern-day 16 June Bloomsday. It’s not a tale from the novel, but on the album where it first appeared (No Line on the Horizon) Bono uses several characters in the songs and the narrator within “Breathe” is one who is able to find redemption – something Mr. Bloom is concerned with in the novel.

monroe-blog-2

I still have my copy of Ulysses. Maybe, like Marilyn,  I’ll take another shot at the novel this summer.

issa

Yesterday was the birthday of Japanese poet Kobayashi Issa. He was  born in Kashiwabara, Japan in 1763. He is one of the masters of haiku.

Haiku packs so much into 17 Japanese characters in three distinct units.

Here is one by Issa that seems appropriate for Father’s Day this weekend.

if my father were here –
dawn colors
over green fields

What do the green fields of dawn have to do with is father? How would you fill in that unfinished thought “if my father were here” for your own life? The empty spaces in haiku often hold the meaning.

Issa spent most of his adult life traveling around Japan, writing haiku, keeping a travel diary, and visiting shrines and temples across the country. He was a lay Buddhist priest of the Jōdo Shinshū sect. He is known as simply Issa which was his pen name meaning Cup-of-tea.

Where there are humans
you will find flies
and Buddhas

Along with Bashō, Buson and Shiki, his poetry helped popularize the haiku form in Japan and later to the world.

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

He was no slacker. By the end of his life, he had written more than 20,000 haiku.

In this world we walk
on the roof of hell
gazing at flowers

Issa liked writing about the commonplace. He wrote 54 haiku on the snail, 15 on the toad, nearly 200 on frogs and about 230 on the firefly.

Everything I touch
with tenderness, alas,
pricks like a bramble.

I like Bashō’s haiku too, but he only wrote about 2000 in all

Kobayashi Issa died on January 5, 1828, in his native village.

This dewdrop world –
is a dewdrop world,
and yet, and yet…

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The Kobayashi Issa Museum:Issakan in Nagano, Japan

Issa’s Haiku

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