It’s all gone to hell.

….And there’s been no good music since the 1970′s. Or so you’d believe if you listened to the geezer chorus. Though I’m on the accelerated plan toward cranky old bastardhood myself, I don’t believe a word of it. It’s just the same inter-generational doomsaying that has been going on for, well….generations.

The good stuff survives. The garbage gets forgotten. And so the past looks rosier.

Banal stupidity apparently unwanted.

Couldn’t resist linking to this NPR piece about a writer’s conference in India if only for the stinger in the tail:

“There are so many brilliant young, old and middle-aged people across India who are really tired of the trivialization of things,” Gokhale says. “This festival proves that there are a lot of very, very bright Indians and other very bright people from around the world who want a relief from the banal stupidity that surrounds a lot of what they read in magazines or see on TV.”

New happiness blog

Slate has a new blog by Gretchen Rubin title The Happiness Project. 

I’ve picked up a useful term from psychology:unconscious overclaiming. It’s certainly something I’m guilty of.

Unconscious overclaiming is the phenomenon in which we unconsciously overestimate our contributions or skills relative to other people’s. In one study, for example, when students in a work group each estimated their contribution to the team, the total was 139 percent.

Personally, I’d rather be doing less of the work. At least, the work that I don’t want to do. But neither do I want to be idle.


Overheard from the waitstaff at IHOP yesterday: 

I was cutting my own hair last night and stabbed myself in the head!

Far not near.

 In the 1980′s Irish folk singer Kieran Goss had a line of stage patter about his ostensible popularity abroad. “Have you ever noticed that lots of singers claim to be popular in places that hardly anyone here has visited?  So you seem exotic and no-one can tell if it is true”. 

I was reminded of this by an NPR piece about a Mexican-American singer from Detroit last week. Rodriguez made an album in 1969 called Cold Fact that was expected to be a huge hit in the US but instead fizzled out. So for the next 25 odd years he worked construction in Detroit, oblivious to the album achieving meteoric success in South Africa and Australia. After being unearthed by a journalist in 1996, he spent several years alternating short tours abroad as a superstar with hammering nails in Michigan.

It’s just another reminder that commercial success can be virtually independent of talent, that the person next door may be miles above the constant stream of overexposed Disney brats, or most of the petulant narcissists you see on TV. The Wisdom Of Crowds may be real but it is easily manipulated by the hurricane of spin doctors we live among. Think for yourself…. and tell everyone you’re an icon in Gabon!

Sobriety test.

There’s a school of thought that the more you pay for something, the more you will think of it, even if it is the exact same item that you could have purchased more economically. This human trait is probably the underpinning of high fashion, art, music, food, and numerous other ‘branded’ goods. It’s irrational, but almost all of us are susceptible to this effect, at least in some realm of our lives.

Here’s a link to an article on Science Blogs where wine experts gave different opinions when served the same wines dressed up in different ways.

Despite the fact that they were actually being served the exact same wine, the experts gave the differently labeled bottles nearly opposite ratings. The grand cru was “agreeable, woody, complex, balanced and rounded,” while the vin du table was “weak, short, light, flat and faulty”. Forty experts said the wine with the fancy label was worth drinking, while only 12 said the cheap wine was.

What do you have an irrational preference for?

Coffee craziness and hot steam.

Economists and stock analysts are always trying to place monetary values on abstract behaviours and ideals but here’s a great commentary about what you pay for when you go to Starbucks, or to one of its hipster overwhelmed competitors.

you are paying a vast premium for the heating of your milk — but not the milk itself. The main ingredient is a double shot of espresso, and that costs $1.85. My Starbucks doesn’t charge for a single pump of vanilla, so that’s free. And at the sugar-and-napkins counter, you can pour all the milk into your cup that you like. So that’s free, too.

The $1.37 premium is therefore just for the labor of steaming the milk, which takes about 20 seconds.

He makes the point that we do it for the shared experience, the imaginary sense of community. We’re all still savages around the campfire, trying to reinforce the survival bonds to our tribe. Here’s the link so you can read it in the author’s own words.

MSN Money – Starbucks’ genius blends community, caffeine

I raise my paper cup to you!

Music and the brain.

Wired has an interview with Oliver Sacks, author of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain about the experiences of different people in response to music. He has some amazing stories.

Let me play something for you. This is Woody Geist, who I describe in my new book. He’s had Alzheimer’s for 40 years, and is profoundly disabled in almost every way, but is a member of an a cappella group called the Grunyons. After I’d written about him, he sang professionally again, and it was beautiful, though people were afraid he’d be lost before the performance. Ten seconds afterwards, he had no memory of it.

He’s a bit of an advocate for music and art, for the flowering of creativity that seems to get lost in a consumerist, corporate world. Here’s his take on smelling the roses:

All of us are apt to get a little desiccated if we don’t make a point of holding on to the delights of art and music and landscape. It’s very easy to become preoccupied with theorizing and the activities of daily living and stop noticing the beauties of the world.

What’s locked deep in your brain beyond your conscious control?

The downside of The Good Life

My friend Kelly  sends a link to an article making the claim that the better your life is, the more upset you get when something goes wrong.

Put another way, a hidden price of being happier on average is that you put your short-term contentment at risk, because being happy raises your expectations about being happy. When good things happen, they don’t count for much because they are what you expect. When bad things happen, you temporarily feel terrible, because you’ve gotten used to being happy.

We’re all familiar with the idea of the spoiled little rich kid. We’re more resistant to the idea that there is a ungrateful brat inside all of us. Maybe we should schedule a good spanking when things go our way, just to keep things in perspective. Of course, for some of you, that would make you even happier!

Think Fast

I’m an engineering type, and I used to work in a corporation. In the spirit of tearing us away from our computers and making us think about people instead of inanimate materials we once attended a training session on shipping, filled with terms like free-on-board, freight-forwarding, and other fascinating jargon from another walk of life.

At one point we were told about an employee who stacked pallets with various boxes. Being engineers, we suggested that a computer program might be able to derive the optimal stacking patterns on any given day. The presenter said that they’d tried that, but that the machine didn’t really do so much better to make things worthwhile. With hindsight, someone would have had to measure the boxes and put all the dimensions into the computer.

Just walking and breathing and picking our noses, we make incredibly complex calculations without conscious effort. We have a computer in our skulls that is much more effective than we often realize.