What Makes Something Bodyhacking?

cyborg

A few months ago, in a dark club on the always-busy 6th Street in downtown Austin, there was a very odd party going on. To get in, you had to show a thin metal badge with a dancing woman etched into it. Projected onto the wall above the DJ playing house music there was a big counter that read: “Steps: 646873”. Every 15 minutes or so, the number crept up. “Steps: 646934.” The party was an “Interactive Wearables Concert.” Attendees were encouraged to connect their devices so they could add to the total on the wall.

This was the event that kicked off the first ever BodyHackingCon, “A Con as Unique as Its Attendees.” And the attendees certainly were unique. At one table, set back away from the dance floor, a group of men in jeans and t-shirts who could have walked out of any Office Max in any state. The grinders. On the dance floor, people in long leather skirts, zebra print onesies and fancy leather fanny packs. The burners. There were the health hackers, muscled and wearing tight shirts to show it off. Team mindfulness wore flowing pants and a serene look. Continue reading

Pain Management Hurts

Treating all drug users the same makes no sense. This is not me.
Treating honest painkiller users the same as drug abusers makes no sense.*

I take painkillers. The kind with names that end with “done” and start with “oxy” or “hydro.” I’m not happy about it, but, like millions of others out there—actually about 100 million—I suffer from chronic pain, mine related in some way to my twisted gut and mixed-up immune system.

I’ve seen all kinds of doctors, had surgery and lain a long while in hospitals, and I’ve tried just about every pain-relief option available over the last eight years. That includes nerve-blocking medicines, intense physical therapies, acupuncture, elimination diets that eliminate everything I like to eat, herbal tinctures, meditation-type activities, and just plain screaming. Nothing has worked (except the screaming, but the effect is brief), so I’ve had to step it up to the only thing that seems to help significantly: opioids. Continue reading

A Pilgrimage for the Soul

image1On Friday, May 13, group of road bikers got together for the 44th annual Pacific Coast Century Ride. I guess that’s its name. Honestly, I have no idea what to call it. Ever since I was a kid, we just called it “The Ride.”

It started back in the 70s with a guy named George Andrews, who was a passionate biker and peddled throughout Europe and across the United States looking for the best rides on Earth.

Today, this kind of thing is commonplace and it even has an official name: Bike touring. But back then, Anderson was a bit of an oddball, leaving his law practice for months on end to just … ride.

Anyway, he eventually found his stretch – the best 100 miles of open road he had ever seen – and began returning to it every year. Pretty soon, other began coming along too and before long it was an institution, or so the story goes.

The Ride begins in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, and traces the famed Highway 1 all the way south past Big Sur, Hearst Castle and eventually to the sleepy town of Cambria. Along the way there are redwoods, lighthouses, elephant seals, endless wildflowers and the most stunning coastal views on Earth.

Continue reading

Guest Post: When Everything Good Is Also Beautiful

sea pic 8 gradoFor the better part of 30 years, my head was firmly stuck in English. But when I moved to Italy three years ago, I also started my first genuine effort at picking up a second language.

My barely remembered high school Spanish prepared me for some things about Italian, like the gendered nouns and overwhelming conjugations. But the most difficult lesson was a basic one: Definitions of words just don’t line up into easy translations across languages.

Meanings can shift into false-friend territory. For example, if I want to tell someone not to worry, sometimes I dig up the word “fret” from the English in my head and I tell them not to have “fretta”. Only later do I remember that “fretta” in Italian actually means hurry.

Words also don’t always exist in the same form, such as “need.” There is no common verb for “need” in Italian. It’s just the noun: bisogno. So I have to think “I have need of” in English and then say “Ho bisogno di” in Italian. And then, only if I want to be kind of rude.

But most maddeningly, definitions can expand and contract in ways that don’t seem natural to an English-stuck brain. Of those, there was one word I struggled with in particular: Bello.

Bello and variations like “bella” and “bel” mean beautiful. Learning the word was simple. The problem was how it rolled off Italian tongues with an ease that startled me. Bello is the Italian go-to word for everything from beautiful, to pretty, to handsome, to pleasant, to wonderful, to cool, to nice, to neat.

So it sounded to me like Italians thought everything good was also beautiful. The sunset is bello. This car is bella. That dog is bello. Your jacket is bella. Someone might call you bello or bella, and depending on the context that could mean they’re either happy to see you or hitting on you.

I just couldn’t handle it. I needed an English word that was somewhere between beautiful and cool that I could transfigure into bello in my head before letting it out my mouth. I wound up settling on “lovely” as something with similar flexibility. Emotional yet gentle, it’s a word I’ve since come to appreciate, and it has crept into my casual English. We could all stand to be a little more lovely.

But over time I started to think that the Italian use of bello was more than just a linguistic quirk. What if it’s a fixation on beauty itself? Just maybe, to Italians, everything good is also beautiful. Continue reading

The Last Word

WIlder Square

May 16-20, 2016

In the hierarchy of correspondence forms, nothing beats a physical letter, writes Christie, particularly for their superior ability to be stumbled upon.

Cassie threw up her hands in despair about climate change – and her intractable fatalism about it – and LWON’s trusty commenters took the ball and ran with it.

Wherever rivers get sucked underground, the sinkholes act as a kind of time capsule, capturing things like mastodon tusks and harpoons, then preserving them.

Guest Ivan Amato is a like birder, but his prize sighting is the moire effect – the phenomenon that emerges from overlaying two patterns and moving your point of view.

And finally, the diary of a bird poop magnet, by Helen Fields.

Photo courtesy of Joanne Mattera Art Blog

Update: On Getting Pooped On By Birds

I originally wrote about getting pooped on by birds on October 23, 2014.

Recent events call for an update.

I know you're planning something, bird

1. Washington, D.C., 2004 or so

A bench around a circular planter, with a tree in it. I was eating my lunch. I felt something on my arm.

We call it poop, but the stuff that comes out of birds’ behinds is more complicated than that. Birds, like most vertebrates that aren’t mammals, have a single all-purpose exit called a cloaca. From that hole they expel eggs, the leftovers of their meals, and the products of their kidneys.

I assume that’s why the waste is two-toned.

Continue reading

Guest Post: Moire in the Wild

Wilder Disc

My first sighting of one of life’s everyday astonishments was as a little fellow in the 1960s, sitting unbuckled in the back seat of my family’s ’57 Chevy. Whenever we hit the highway on our way to the Jersey shore or the Lower East Side of Manhattan where my grandparents lived, we would approach and then zoom under overpasses, some of them flanked with metal fencing like two sides of a cage. Yep, I am talking about gritty transportation infrastructure here. But I coveted these drive-by encounters with highway overpasses, because I knew all I needed for a wide-eyed moment of wonder was to pay attention from the comfort of my 60-mph, backseat sofa.

It would begin when we were a few hundreds yards from the overpass. Even from there, the two-tiered fencing above the overpass would take on a roiling character, as though the heavy-gauge, chain-link mesh might be more like churning water than the stand-still metal I knew it was. In the next few seconds, as the angle between the paired fences and my ever-shortening line of sight subtly changed, a vignette of visual verve would silence my breath. In a way that surely must have seemed hallucinogenic to my kindergartner self (because it seems so to me now with a half-century under my belt), a morphing and increasingly tight diamond metapattern of black lines would overlay and slide across the fence faces like a liquid-geometric ghost. This would last a few seconds until we had passed the Goldilocks window in which the dynamic of fence-fence-eyes-visual cortex had been just right to elicit this optical effect. If I was quick enough to look out of the back window of the Chevy, I could sneak in a second morsel of eye candy as we raced away from the overpass.

I later learned these emergent visual surprises are known as moire patterns. The word moire likely derives from Arabic and then French words for mohair, which suggests a biological anchor for what now is an entire category of moire effect fabrics. Continue reading

Going Paleo in Florida

Screen Shot 2016-05-17 at 11.59.41 PM

The Florida panhandle got some big press this week, yet another early human find confirmed in North America, people entrenched along the Aucilla River south of Tallahassee 14,550 years ago. This came from an underwater excavation where archaeologists have been plumbing a sinkhole through which the river flows. Artifacts and megafauna remains have gathered in the hole. A mastodon tusk shows clear butchering marks while it was fresh, and stone tools were collected in the vicinity.

When you hear news of these finds, what picture comes to mind? What kind of landscape are we in? It’s an important question to me. Archaeological finds are not what is seen in collection drawers and display cases, not photos in textbooks. They lose their color and context when they leave a place. They lose the sounds of the night, the burble of water. These objects are more than themselves. They tell a story of the earth around them, which in turn tells the story of the artifacts.

I visited the Aucilla River a few years ago in the lowland pine and palm forests of Florida’s Big Bend country. The river disappears holes; I’d never seen anything like it. It would come up again in a quarter mile, where it traveled a short distance through crowded palmettos and ferns, and went under again. Like stitching through fabric, the Aucilla flows in and out of a chain of sinkholes and skylights in dark and karstic earth. This is what preserves the archaeological and paleontological remains. The sinkholes act as time capsules. Archaeologists go down with SCUBA gear and spotlights, swimming into the underworld to find the past. Continue reading