Sunday Selection 2021-04-11

Some good news: I got me first dose of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine a few days. I was completely exhausted for a day and then very hungry and thirsty for a couple of days. I take all that to mean that my body is doing work. After over a year of mostly staying at home, it seems like there is now a promise of some semblance of normalcy at the end of the tunnel. It will be another three weeks before I get the second shot and two weeks after that before I can expect the vaccine to reach full effectiveness, so for the next month or so I’ll mostly be doing what I’ve been doing so far. But I am hoping to start easing back to normal after that. Till then, I’ll be continuing to spend more time in front of a screen than I would like to, so I might as well as metabolize it into blog posts.

Free Software: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed

If you’re anywhere around the software or information technology, you’ve probably heard that Richard Stallman was recently reinstated to the board of the Free Software Foundation. This has been widely regarded as a bad move, and has caused a number of board members to resign. This article argues that maybe it’s time not to praise free software, but to bury it, an opinion I find myself agreeing with.

The Long Term iPhone 12 Camera Review

With the weather starting to improve, and more people getting vaccinated, I am looking forward to being out and about more often, which means more opportunities to take pictures. Though I’ve always been interesting in photography, I’ve never managed to justify the cost of a good camera, and even when I’ve bought standalone cameras, I’ve not inclined to carry them on a regular basis. So having a very good camera on a device I already have on me has been just right for me.

The Point of Doing Pointless Things

I don’t know if this my type-A personality or something else, but it’s often hard for me to relax. Part of that difficulty is feeling the need to always do the best thing, even if it’s relaxing. For a long time, I would feel bad if even my “time off” activities didn’t produce something, or lead to personal improvement in some way. For better of worse, the last year of sitting at home has changed that. I couldn’t do a lot of my go-to activities like going to museums, concerts, or various talks and lectures. Doing the digital version of those things just felt like spending even more time sitting in the same place. Instead I’ve had to get used to doing things just because I liked them (like reading comic books) or sometimes just doing nothing at all.

What the Buddha Taught

But of course, I can’t escape my type-A-ness all together, so a lot of my non-fiction reading has been about Buddhist philosophy recently. It’s something I’ve encountered in bits and pieces over the last few years, but it’s nice to have a well-written book that clearly explains the key concepts in an orderly fashion (I’m one of those people who prefer learning things from a textbook). While the writing style is a little dated, and does flow awkwardly at times, it does a good job at both explaining key concepts and answering some more technical questions (like what does it mean for free will if there is no self). If you’re interested in Buddhism at all, this is a good place to start.

The Bodhisattva of Compassion

Yesterday I learned about Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. This particular bit about, Chenrezig, one of the forms of the bodhisattva stood out to me:

The bodhisattva vowed to clean up samsara once and for all. He put in a heroic effort. He thought he’d done it. But when he turned around again, the mess was back, unapologetically.

Chenrezig was so devastated by his failure to fix things that he shattered into a thousand pieces… What to do when even a bodhisattva of compassion can’t bear it any longer?

The story takes an instructive term. Amitabha, the Buddha of Boundless Light, comes down from his Pure Land and converts Chenrezig’s thousand shattered pieces into a thousand arms (plus eleven heads, so he can look in all directions). I find it hugely instructive that Amitabha gives Chenrezig a thousand tools and says, Hey, keep going.

Chenrezig’s thousand arms are a token expression of the patience and fortitude essential to the bodhisattva vow. As our world prepares to blow itself apart yet again, Chenrezig becomes more than just a symbol; the bodhisattva is an absolute necessity, a guide and refuge.

Sunday Selection 2018-06-17

It’s summer, it’s bright, sunny and getting unreasonably hot, the students are off on vacation or internships, and Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain passed away recently. After a few weeks of traveling, I’ve been spending the last few days reading about Anthony Bourdain, Buddhism and meditation (not necessarily in that order). Along those lines:

Around the Web

The Omnivore’s Agenda

An interview with Bourdain from several years ago. It’s a good summary and glimpse into his life, work and views on cooking, food and living. If you don’t know much about Bourdain, or haven’t seen his shows, this is a good place to start.

Let’s Talk About Someone Who Could Appreciate a Waffle House

Fun fact: I occasionally get a junk food craving, and on road trips I give myself a pass to eat whatever probably-unhealthy-probably-carcinogenic food I might stumble upon. On one of these recent road trips I learned that my mother apparently likes unglazed donuts from Dunkin Donuts. Go figure. Anyways, Bourdain appreciating a Waffle House should come as no surprise, but also makes me realize that appreciating both foie gras and Waffle House maybe takes a certain kind of person, or at least a certain spirit and openness, that hopefully can be cultivated.

Why Should I Meditate?

Why indeed. Maybe it will make you 10% Happier. Personally I’m coming around to the idea that meditation is essential for mental health in the same way that cardio and weightlifting is essential for physical health.

The Onion Declares War on Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook

It was bound to happen eventually, but still…

From the Bookshelf

Why Buddhism is True

I’m only about half way through this, but it’s one of the better examples of explaining why Buddhist practices, specifically meditation, “work”. To my pleasant surprise, it also does a good job of explaining certain tricky Buddhist concepts in clear terms (better than a lot of articles I’ve read written about Buddhism by Buddhists). It’s a long read, but definitely worth it.