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January 4, 2007

Is silence addictive?

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That was the question that occurred to Dominic Swords as he conducted an "experiment with silence."

He just stopped talking.

Everything else in his life remained the same; when addressed, he held out an index card saying, "I'm not speaking at the moment."

He found his quiet state refreshing, as if he'd hit a sort of "reset" button, and wrote about it in an article which appeared in the December 30/31, 2006 Financial Times.

The piece follows.

    Silence treatment

    It's day five and the way I feel now I may never speak again. Inside my head there's a great, welling calm, a roaring without sound. It's like a pleasurable secret and I want it to go on and on. My mind is free of chatter but when I do think, the thoughts are pellucid.

    This is my experiment with silence. I don't say a word and I haven't for days. Apart from that, I'm going about my normal daily life.

    I slipped once. I was cycling. A bus whooshed past my ears, too close. I lapsed into vocality. Other than that it has been easy.

    When addressed, I hold out an index card that says: "I'm not speaking at the moment."

    A few people roll their eyes and ask: "Why?" I am tempted to reply "I'm not saying." But of course I don't. And they leave me alone.

    It's possible to speed up this process. With a little practice, the slightest shrug can communicate: "But enough about me. How are you?"

    It's like noticing what people are really like for the first time. Listening becomes intimate - more than that, reciprocal. The world slowly - quietly - reveals its secrets.

    Something else happens when you stop adding to the noise. Everything goes quiet, even noise is quiet.

    Large questions loom. Is silence the last frontier? Is it addictive? And why am I doing this?

    When my experiment ends, I look for answers from Professor John Teasdale, a retired research psychologist. Although quietly spoken, he doesn't profess to be an expert on silence but on stillness.

    There are two aspects to silence: there's being quiet or not speaking; and there's being in silence, where nothing around you makes noise.

    These are mirrored in the two traditional paths to meditation, as Prof Teasdale explains them. In one approach, you're meant to hold the mind still by shutting out thoughts and sensations. Mantras can be used to block other stimuli. "Eventually the mind becomes more tractable and peaceful."

    The other way is mindfulness meditation. Here you don't block things out, you open up to them. "This is more expansive in the sense that it's trying to help people be aware of the moment, of whatever they're experiencing."

    This sounds to me like not talking. Rather than blocking out the noise, as I did when I installed secondary glazing in my bedroom, I'm opening up to it. "It's not about being lost in thought," cautions Teasdale. "You're right here, fully present, seeing and hearing what's going on."

    But what about the other route: being in total silence? I head to a local flotation tank centre.

    I get to Floatworks and lie buoyantly in the salty bath. After 10 minutes of whale music, I am immersed in impressively total silence. At one point I think I hear an egret squawking for its mother in a remote eyrie. It's actually air wheezing through my nose.

    Afterwards, I meet Tim Strudwick, co-owner of Floatworks. He used to be a foreign exchange trader in the City of London. He recalls how frantic it was. "When you entered the room, you were pinned to the wall with the racket."

    He gave it all up to float. For Strudwick, silence is key. "In life, you are bombarded with information. Take that away and you get a chance to process things for yourself."

    What do people process? "They come out and feel like their mind's had a spring clean, or someone's hit the reset button. They know exactly what to do next in life."

    After my float, I decide to go to business school. Michael Chaskalson, a Buddhist business expert, is teaching MBAs and businessmen to dip into the silence at the campus in Regent's Park. Chaskalson does not ask his clients to forgo speech for long. "We start with a really simple instruction: just follow your breath for five minutes." It is surprising who finds this difficult.

    "I was working with a chief executive of a global financial services company," says Chaskalson, "his mind was hopping round like a monkey in a tree."

    It's as if the ability to predict scenarios, so prized by business people, is also in a sense a liability. Chaskalson calls this "spinning narratives".

    "Executives tell themselves they know what's going on. But then you walk into a room and everybody falls silent. 'They're talking about me,' you think. 'How do they know?' You see, it's quite consequential."

    Now I'm reluctantly speaking again. I tell Chaskalson about the strange, vivid dreams I had when I wasn't — the abnormally distant horizons and low meaningful mountains.

    "I think there's a very still space that it's possible to experience, which can't be described with any accuracy in terms of the world of concepts," he says. "We call it a space of unknowing, of openness, of radiant emptiness."

    He regards the search for silence, inner or outer, as "doomed". It's a quest he's followed diligently. "I do a month's solitary retreat each year, eight hours of meditation a day. I used to look for somewhere very, very quiet."

    He rented a place in the Pyrénées for a month and was plagued by French dormice "like three-quarter-sized squirrels". When he took a caravan on the Norfolk coast, "a farmer started pumping out a reservoir with a diesel pump 24 hours a day". And in Wales, for Christmas, his cottage became infested with flies as the place warmed up.

    "I have given up on silence. The world is alive. It's important to reorient yourself to that vibrancy."

    He's asked me to join him for a mindfulness course but we haven't arranged it yet. Now that I'm speaking again, I'm too busy.

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The exploration of silence by Swords brings to mind Herman Melville's wonderful character, Bartleby the scrivener, in the 1853 story of the same name.

Just magnificent is Bartleby who one day simply decides to reply, "I would prefer not to," to each and every request, no matter by whom and regarding what.

But don't take my word for it: read the story for yourself.

January 4, 2007 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Copper Bedding

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Say what?

Just that: sheets and pillowcases with tiny copper filaments (below)

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woven into the material.

The company says the metal prevents microbe growth and improves skin appearance.

From the website:

    Better Looking Skin While You Sleep!

    Cupron® embeds copper into fabric to:

    • Reduce the appearance of facial wrinkles, fine lines, and liver spots

    • Safely eliminate the bacteria and fungus that cause odor

    • Protect you from bacteria, fungi, and mold

    • Provide a hypo-allergenic fabric

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One color (surprise): Natural Copper.

$30 to $192.

I may spring for a pillowcase

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just for the heck of it.

[via Sara Schaefer Muñoz and the Wall Street Journal]

January 4, 2007 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

How to find a decent hotel fitness center

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Fitforbusiness.com is one place to look.

Healthytravelnetwork.com is another.

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I must say that I have become so discouraged by the miserable fitness centers at hotels I've stayed in over the past few years that I am seriously considering renting a treadmill and having it delivered to my room the next time I stay for a week or more.

No, not for running, silly Billy — so I can walk and work

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like I do at home.

January 4, 2007 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

BottleBag

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Nicole Donohoe out Chicago-way (Go, Bears!) suggested this item in an email yesterday.

She wrote, "I may sound pretentious [no, you don't — but I digress] but this bag screams EUROPE to me. It makes me imagine riding my bike from the store with this bag in the basket filled with wine and perhaps a baguette or two."

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"I bought a few of these in Italy this [past] fall to give as gifts (7€ — about $9) and they were a huge hit."

So for a change you get a review from a user instead of me waxing poetic about stuff I've never seen, held nor used.

From websites:
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BottleBag

The price is not a misprint!

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This versatile canvas bag is really only $9.

Designed to hold up to 9 bottles without hearing the glass clink & clank while you travel, the BottleBag is the perfect take-along to the wine store, grocery store, party or picnic.

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Or, if you don't feel like using it for bottles, why not store your socks?

Think of it, you can separate by color, style or length in 9 neat little compartments.

Okay, maybe that's not how you'll use YOUR bottle bag, but it does prove its versatility.

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11.5"H x 9.5"W x 9.5"L (open).

Two tear-proof straps.

Polyester.
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Orange, Lime, Beige or Black.

Hey, wait a minute — is that Jack Bauer from "24"

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speeding away from the scene with his BottleBag?

$9.

January 4, 2007 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Switched-On Art[s] Council England

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"... Arts Council England, a publicly funded organization... owns about 7,500 works by some of Britain's most important 20th-century and contemporary visual artists, including Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and David Hockney," wrote Camille Ricketts in a December 30, 2006 Wall Street Journal article.

They've just cut the Gordian Knot of being unable to display all their works at one time with one simple move: posting the entire collection online here.

Have you noticed the lines are much shorter, as well?

Starting last month, the collection began posting images of its works, with a goal of getting everything up by 2008, eventually including audio and video.

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Sure, it's not the same as being there — but how many people in the world have that chance?

Consider that New York's Museum of Modern Art has posted 5,600 of its 150,000 works online, and that in 2006 its online gallery had 2 million unique visits — only 500,000 fewer than the physical museum.

Just wait till that $100 laptop hits Africa — talk about transformative....

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Here's the Wall Street Journal story.

    A major collection opens to the public — on the Web

    Museums have a problem: Most only have the space and resources to display a fraction of the works in their collections; the rest are stored out of sight. Now, one organization is finding a way around this issue — by posting its entire collection online.

    It is a project of Arts Council England, a publicly funded organization that owns about 7,500 works by some of Britain's most important 20th-century and contemporary visual artists, including Francis Bacon, Lucian Freud and David Hockney. The works are loaned out to museums that request them; at any given time, only about a third of the paintings and sculptures are on display. This month, the collection's administrators have begun posting images of the works online; by 2008, the Web site will include the whole collection, and it will continue to be updated. It also will eventually include audio and video.

    On the site, users can search for a particular artist or browse a scrolling reel of thumbnail photos, stopping at images that catch their eye. Clicking "Take 60" opens a page of 60 of the collection's most famous and influential works. These include Francis Bacon's seminal 1949 work "Head VI" [top], a distorted image based on a 1650 portrait of Pope Innocent IX by Velazquez, and Lucian Freud's "Girl in a Green Dress" (1954; below),

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    a portrait of his second wife. Each image is accompanied by a short essay on its history and significance by a curator at the Hayward Gallery, which has administered the collection since 1987.

    But looking at art online is a far cry from seeing it in person. "A lot of the information just doesn't translate into an image on a computer screen," says Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff.

    For several years, museums have been launching online galleries to attract wider audiences, though few have put their whole collections on the Web. New York's Museum of Modern Art has posted 5,600 of its 150,000 works online. In 2006, its online gallery has had two million unique visits — only 500,000 fewer than the physical museum.

January 4, 2007 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Tip and Sip — World's most technical coffee mug

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From the website:

    Tip and Sip

    Finally, a coffee mug that not only won’t spill, it won’t scald either — no matter how hot the brew!

    Tip and Sip was recently named one of the top 10 gifts for the gadget crazed, and among the top 100 hot new products.

    Here’s why.

    Coffee is brewed at 205ºF — too hot to simply swallow.

    But Tip and Sip’s patented Temperature Control Chamber quickly adjusts your next sip to the "Perfect Zone" of 150-170º.

    Just tip away and swish gently to fill the chamber, then take a sip.

    No matter how hot the rest of your coffee, the sips you take from the Control Chamber are the right temperature — thanks to thermodynamic transfer technology!

    Double-walled insulation keeps the rest of your coffee piping hot — Tip and Sip regulates just the next swallow.

    Triple-function lid lets you select “Lock” (sealed and spill proof); “Tip & Cool” (Temperature Control Chamber activated); or “Sip”, which bypasses the chamber.

    16 oz. capacity.

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Mos def not TechnoDolt™-approved — I mean, I almost got burned just reading the description.

Everyone else, go right ahead.

Raspberry, Lime, Orange, Forest Green, Black or Blue.

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$19.95.

January 4, 2007 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Onomatopoeia — by Thomas Lux

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The word sounds like the thing.
The sound of the word next to
the sound of another word
sounds like the thing feels
or you desire it to feel. You want
this alive
from its insides
and the mind, the denotative, the dictionary
means naught: what you want
to be known must be known
cellularly, belly-wise,
or on the tongue: cerulean blue,
for example, or punch drunk.
Those who live elsewhere
than in their bodies don't buy it, don't like it,
this in-the-body; the science
and the math tests on it
are yet inconclusive.
There's always this little humming
beneath the surface
of the painting, the dance, the play
(the good ones) that tells your heart
that it — the painting, the dance, the play — tells
a truth: dewlap, dewlap,
it's dawn's time, it says — the sound
provides the thing its lungs, mouth,
and blood-beat. The sound, the noise of the sound, is
the thing — the deaf can hear it,
the blind can see it, this tuning fork
beneath the breastbone, sweetly
accompanying its song.
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January 4, 2007 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Segway x2 — 'Tuned for cross-terrain'

Just out, the new off-road model features bigger tires, higher ground clearance, seriously aggressive fenders, a wider wheelbase and new LeanSteer technology, which lets you steer by leaning in the direction you want to go.

Even I could do that.

Nice Oakland Raiders black-and-chrome color scheme — I wonder if Al Davis has seen it yet?

If a picture is worth a 1,000 words, a video (top) is that much more valuable.

$5,995 at Segway dealers everywhere.

I wonder if this puppy will make it onto the Segway polo fields in California anytime soon.

Woz?

Bueller?

Anyone?

January 4, 2007 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

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