Category Archives: Books

Nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen

…the evening star must be drooping and shedding her sparkler dims on the prairie, which is just before the coming of complete night that blesses the earth, darkens all the rivers, cups the peaks and folds the final shore in, and nobody, nobody knows what’s going to happen to anybody besides the forlorn rags of growing old…

— Kerouac

Chasing poetry…

It’s time to have another adventure!

“There’s no sense in going further—it’s the edge of cultivation,”
  So they said, and I believed it—broke my land and sowed my crop—
Built my barns and strung my fences in the little border station
  Tucked away below the foothills where the trails run out and stop.

Till a voice, as bad as Conscience, rang interminable changes
  On one everlasting Whisper day and night repeated—so:
“Something hidden. Go and find it. Go and look behind the Ranges—
  “Something lost behind the Ranges. Lost and waiting for you. Go!”

So I went, worn out of patience; never told my nearest neighbours—
  Stole away with pack and ponies—left ’em drinking in the town;
And the faith that moveth mountains didn’t seem to help my labours
  As I faced the sheer main-ranges, whipping up and leading down.

March by march I puzzled through ’em, turning flanks and dodging shoulders,
  Hurried on in hope of water, headed back for lack of grass;
Till I camped above the tree-line—drifted snow and naked boulders—
  Felt free air astir to windward—knew I’d stumbled on the Pass.

’Thought to name it for the finder: but that night the Norther found me—	
  Froze and killed the plains-bred ponies; so I called the camp Despair
(It’s the Railway Gap to-day, though). Then my Whisper waked to hound me:—
  “Something lost behind the Ranges. Over yonder! Go you there!”

Then I knew, the while I doubted—knew His Hand was certain o’er me.
  Still—it might be self-delusion—scores of better men had died—
I could reach the township living, but … He knows what terror tore me …	
  But I didn’t … but I didn’t. I went down the other side,

Till the snow ran out in flowers, and the flowers turned to aloes,
  And the aloes sprung to thickets and a brimming stream ran by;
But the thickets dwined to thorn-scrub, and the water drained to shallows,
  And I dropped again on desert—blasted earth, and blasting sky….

I remember lighting fires; I remember sitting by ’em;
  I remember seeing faces, hearing voices, through the smoke;
I remember they were fancy—for I threw a stone to try ’em.
  “Something lost behind the Ranges” was the only word they spoke.

I remember going crazy. I remember that I knew it
  When I heard myself hallooing to the funny folk I saw.
’Very full of dreams that desert, but my two legs took me through it …
  And I used to watch ’em moving with the toes all black and raw.

But at last the country altered—White Man’s country past disputing—
  Rolling grass and open timber, with a hint of hills behind—
There I found me food and water, and I lay a week recruiting.
  Got my strength and lost my nightmares. Then I entered on my find.

’Thence I ran my first rough survey—chose my trees and blazed and ringed ’em—
  Week by week I pried and sampled—week by week my findings grew.
Saul he went to look for donkeys, and by God he found a kingdom!
  But by God, who sent His Whisper, I had struck the worth of two!

Up along the hostile mountains, where the hair-poised snowslide shivers—
  Down and through the big fat marshes that the virgin ore-bed stains,
Till I heard the mile-wide mutterings of unimagined rivers,
  And beyond the nameless timber saw illimitable plains!

’Plotted sites of future cities, traced the easy grades between ’em;
  Watched unharnessed rapids wasting fifty thousand head an hour;
Counted leagues of water-frontage through the axe-ripe woods that screen ’em—
  Saw the plant to feed a people—up and waiting for the power!

Well I know who’ll take the credit—all the clever chaps that followed—
  Came, a dozen men together—never knew my desert-fears;
Tracked me by the camps I’d quitted, used the water-holes I’d hollowed.
  They’ll go back and do the talking. They’ll be called the Pioneers!

They will find my sites of townships—not the cities that I set there.
  They will rediscover rivers—not my rivers heard at night.
By my own old marks and bearings they will show me how to get there,
  By the lonely cairns I builded they will guide my feet aright.

Have I named one single river? Have I claimed one single acre?
  Have I kept one single nugget—(barring samples)? No, not I!
Because my price was paid me ten times over by my Maker.
  But you wouldn’t understand it. You go up and occupy.

Ores you’ll find there; wood and cattle; water-transit sure and steady
  (That should keep the railway rates down), coal and iron at your doors.
God took care to hide that country till He judged His people ready,
  Then He chose me for His Whisper, and I’ve found it, and it’s yours!

Yes, your “Never-never country”—yes, your “edge of cultivation”
  And “no sense in going further”—till I crossed the range to see.
God forgive me! No, I didn’t. It’s God’s present to our nation.
  Anybody might have found it but—His Whisper came to Me!

— Rudyard Kipling, “The Explorer”

I secretly upgraded you to Hulu Plus

I would never tell you, because we always got in fights over stuff like this, but I got this really intense feeling of love for you one time while I was watching you sew a button onto your shirt. I was totally overcome by your beauty or vunerability or something, and I got caught up in the moment and secretly opened your computer and upgraded you to Hulu Plus.

— Chelsea Martin, Even Though I Don’t Miss You

Someone has stolen our tent!

I mentioned before that I’m enjoying BBC’s Sherlock on Netflix. The character of Sherlock Holmes is well known for his amazing skills of observation and his “powers of deduction”. However, contrary to Holmes’ assertion that he “deducing” when he solves cases, he doesn’t actually use deductive reasoning in his process. Rather, he arrives at his conclusions through inductive reasoning, where observations of previous instances are used to form generalizations about future instances.

If you watch enough apples fall to the ground, then you may form the general hypothesis that apples always fall down, instead of maybe sideways or up. Based on your observation of apples falling, you may make the general assumption that pears, too, fall to the ground because they share similar properties with apples. And so on. This is how science progresses and, likewise, how our favorite detective solves cases.

In their book Plato and Platypus Walk Into a Bar…, authors Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein use the following story as an illustration:

Holmes and Watson are on a camping trip. In the middle of the night Homes wakes up and gives Dr. Watson a nudge. “Watson,” he says, “look up in the sky and tell me what you see.”

“I see millions of stars, Holmes,” says Watson.

“And what do you conclude from that, Watson?”

Watson thinks for a moment. “Well,” he says, “astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I see that God is all-powerful, and we are small and insignificant. Uh, what does it tell you, Holmes?”

“Watson, you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!”

Poor Watson. In any case, the authors go on to explain how the above conclusion is arrived at through inductive reasoning:

We don’t know exactly how Holmes arrived at his conclusion, but perhaps it was something like this:

  1. I went to sleep in a tent, but now I can see the stars.
  2. My intuitive working hypothesis, based on analogies to similar experiences I have had in the past, is that someone has stolen our tent.
  3. In testing that hypothesis, let’s rule out alternative hypotheses:
    a) Perhaps the tent is still here, but someone is projecting a picture of stars on the roof of the tent. This is unlikely, based on my past experiences of human behavior and the equipment that experience tells me would have to be present in the tent and obviously isn’t.
     b) Perhaps the tent blew away. This is unlikely, as my past experiences lead me to conclude that the amount of wind would have awakened me, though perhaps not Watson.
     c) Etc., etc., etc.
  4. No, I think my original hypothesis is probably correct. Someone has stolen our tent.

On the Road, the movie

If anyone is a fan of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, I can say that the movie version is definitely worth seeing. It lacked a lot of the literary style in the book, but in fairness there’s no real way to translate that to the screen — Director Walter Salles does a remarkable job in getting as close as anyone could. My only critique is that I think it was light on Kerouac’s mysticism. In the book, Sal Paradise looks up to Dean Moriarty as a kind of spiritual guru. It wasn’t completely absent in the movie, but it seems that they downplayed that aspect of their relationship. Again, in fairness, maybe that doesn’t translate well to the screen. Still, conspicuously, they left out one of the best lines from the book in the closing narration: “… and don’t you know that God is Pooh Bear?”