Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Mile High Rub

I am in hour 3 of my flight from DC to Frankfurt. It’s not a full flight, and from stress position 36F, I can clearly see an exit row aisle seat not far ahead just after the midgalley bulkhead. However, I must remain here because the exit row counts as Economy Plus and thus another 97 dollars. Bremen will only pay for Economy Minus, and even then only after griping from my boss. Fortunately, I can vent my sarcasm onto this laptop, and then redact any hint of other indiscretions such as (continued on page 77673).

To my right is a characteristically tall German man with whom I played a high stakes game of footsie until we silently compromised on space sharing. Specifically, he can intrude a little into my footspace as long as I get the armrest and associated airspace. My right shoulder is thoroughly planted to dissuade renegotiation, with my right arm shielding my rib cage against any ‚accidental’ slips from his left elbow. This only resolves three out of four; knee space remains disputed. For the first time in my life, they are charging for alcoholic drinks on an international flight, which sours the deal for me, but not him. Good, it’ll impair his reaction time. On my left is a rather cute brunette who seems to find me far less charming than I do. She’s kinda dull, and it’s tough to recover when you open with Spanish, then say (truthfully) that you were just hanging out with some Italians. Bad moves, she’s Portuguese. Woulda guessed that next, but women have no Three Strikes law. At least she’s small and noncombative. I might have recovered thanks to my new retinue of Italian hand gestures that Febo Cincotti just taught me, last night and a thousand years ago. But we all know there is a $10,000 fine for stretching in economy class, or disabling or destroying any responsible United executives.

Five hours left. Despair inspires sarcasm. I am graced by United Hemispheres magazine. The flashy article about Telluride this month bullhorns inaccuracies and poor copy editing, which is appreciated because it may discourage tourists. The highlight is on page 124, where they have six helpful stretches for us. They are:

Knee flexion
Knee extension

The descriptions of these elaborate motions seem written by teams of doctors, sports therapists, and masters of physiology, with impressive sounding terminology that obfuscates the stark and simple reality that they just tell you to lift your knee, then straighten your leg as much as possible. These two both give me a solid, written defense if the person in front of me accuses me of kicking her chair.
If I didn’t know better, I would suspect they are just splitting one exercise into two to impress us with the grand array of stretching options. Sort of like a bench press is actually two motions: lifting, then lowering. But of course we know we can always trust glossy technobabble. Then they start to sound really high tech! They must be very advanced exercises that will clear away any trace of lactic acid, permanently eliminate fatigue, and rejuvenate my soul!

Plantar flexion
(layman version: lift your heel. Lift the ball of your foot.)

(layman version: roll your foot inward. Then, roll it outward.)

I think this pretty well ends any competition within the airline industry. I mean, how could American, El Al, even KLM ever compete wth this? I wonder if there was some oversight giving me Hemispheres magazine, as these exercises are so helpful and nonobvious that they should only be provided to first class passengers, and then only if they sign a nondisclosure agreement.

I’m still pretty pissed off that nobody paid me a dime for German 2.0. But it’s still available, on my prior entry On the Engineering Superiority of German Speakers, and you should buy it quickly before the krauts engineer their own airline seat exercises. Nobody bought my Urban Hop maneuver either, which is also foolish, and I’d love to be bracketed by midgets right now. But I’m gracious, and bored, and so I cast more literary pearls before you graceless swine. Ready? New airline stretches!!!

Extensor hallucis longus dorsiflexion and metatarsal counterrotation

With feet flat on floor, lift your big toe. Press the base of the big toe against the metal bar under the seat to further stretch the big toe back toward the foot. Cease during turbulence. Repeat with the left big toe.

Podidigital perpendicularization via abductor hallucis actin electrification

With feet flat on floor, bend the right big toe until the front is perpendicular to the floor. Repeat with the left big toe. Continue until exhausted.

Anus puckerflexion

While seated with the bottom of the buttocks firmly in the chair, tighten the sphincter muscle. Release. Repeat. If any sounds emerge, yell, „Thar she blows!!“ or „How did Mabel get THAT one through security?“ Warning: avoid the release component within 8 hours after eating airline food.

Barf bag extension

Remove the vomit bag from the seat pocket in front of you. Open it and hold it in front of you. Better yet, ask a neighbor to open it. Purse lips and blow, inflating your nasovocal cavity to maximize cheek concavity. If desired, combine with the „upward stretch and call button press“ described in the previous edition of Hemispheres magazine. If a flight attendant arrives, apologize for the false alarm, but state that a repeat may be imminent. Recite: Here I sit, broken hearted. Paid a dime, and only farted. If the flight attendant is not amused by the metaphoric association between an aborted shit and puke, initiate a foot eversion in front of his foot just as he tries to walk away.

Right finger pronation

Hold your right hand such that one finger lies such that its pronatory displacement would depress the seat back button. Pronate and thereby also stretch your saccral region by four degrees. Next, press the button while leaning forward. Repeat until dizzy. If the person behind you complains, accelerate this motion while yelling, „We got a live one here!!“ If female, first place a pillow under your blouse and instead scream, „He’s coming!! The Messiah is here!! Breathe breathe breathe….“

Orifice stretch

Place one finger in one nostril. Rotate in a counterclockwise motion, then clockwise. Evert the finger to maximize the diameter of your nostril, then invert to stretch intranostril cartilidge. Repeat with all (of your) fingers and orifices. If bleeding occurs, blame it on the altitude and demand a free ticket. Otherwise, continue if desired with (your) pets and infants. Ask before involving others. Expert’s tip: a disproportionate number of flight attendants are gay and may participate with unanticipated enthusiasm.

Mile high rub

Reach down and apply your own special mix of pronation, flexion, and eversion (but NOT inversion) until attaining maximum extension. Freely stretch your legs and feet, as the pushy Kraut to your right will probably give you a wide berth. If a flight attendant objects, state that your doctor instructed you to avoid stress, and you have a morbid fear of flying. Demand free wine and threaten a discrimination lawsuit.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Gerwin Squawk

The Society for Neuroscience conference began with a bang and ended with a whimper, like every year. What changes is not content but the human nervous system. SfN assaults its members with a multimodal cacophony best described by James' characterization of the newborn's experience: a buzzing, booming confusion. Babies are allowed to cry, but somehow this is frowned on in equally overwhelmed adults. After five days of days of having your brain bombarded by brain posters, talks, exhibits, socials, and people, you can't handle anything beyond soft warm mush. Your brain is like a sponge on day one and an anchor on day five. This phenomenon should be studied, and would make a fine SfN poster.

The conferences get better every year, because every year, you have more friends to see, and your existing friends become old friends. This adds to the chaos - on top of juggling all the ostensible work, you have to have some plan for lunch, coffee, dinner, and drinks each day, often with different people, each of whom are making their own semiconflicting plans. I used to be contemptuous of this sort of work socializing, as it seemed like faux work, a distraction and excuse from real work. This was just confusion between work and fun. The SfN socializing is essential politicking and strategerie. Gotta have a combination of good work and good self promotion. The former is better, and serves as an essential check on those who try to bluster through with only the latter. But you need both.

An emerging catalyst is the BCI party that was thrown each of the last 3 years by Cyberkinetics and Guger Tech. They choose a location, send an Evite, and pay for the first hour of drinks. Each year, they come up with different drink names based on (almost exclusively) BCI researchers. This year included such atrocious flops as the MoLeighto and Gerwin Goose.

The best event of SfN was Gerwin Schalk's talk. He opened by announcing that, while he usually required no mike thanks to his Schwarzennegerian vocal chords, he would use one this time. He did not announce any ear plugs. I grabbed the sides of my chair and looked for a seat belt. We were saved by a bird that somehow got loose within the room. It flew all about, without even waiting for Gerv to pause, and caused a really funny effect as people covered their heads as the bird flew over. A little like the wave. Gerv, unlike the bird, was unflappable. I was waiting for him to make a little joke, or get mad and splatter the bird with the darts we all know Germanspeakers carry, but his talk ended without further incident.

The whole thing cost me fifty bucks but it was worth it. Except the fucking pigeon just used the fifty to line his nest. I should have just given him a one dollar bill, or even a duck bill. He was a pretty stupid pigeon. Didn't even try to haggle.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Fox Blues

The trip to San Diego has been full of work and a fair amount of play. I gave 4 talks already and had countless meetings, some of them overdone but some over green chile garlic sauce. Wrote a poster, new talks, part of a grant proposal and a paper, many many jobhunting emails, and still made it to a Charger game and saw many people. I made it to the beach for a couple hours today and caught a couple waves. Nobody was there, no fighting for waves or sand, no interruptions, kinda like the old days. Except that the water is freakishly warm for November.

Fox has cheered up lately, which is too bad. They were positively funereal for a few days there, with intermittent ungracious malice and Chicken Little handwaving about the perils endemic to the upcoming hard left presidency. But between these tirades, they lapsed into hilarious drudgery that was evidently too much for Brit Hume. Sarah Palin cheered up, and it's tough imagining a quiet or helpful future for her. She can't be snubbed because the evangelical base loves her, but she embarrasses the also necessary pool of more moderate Republicans like Powell, Will, and Buckley. If only evangelicals had maybe 3 votes each, it'd be so simple.

Life could also be simplified by spending more time hiking.

Single yellow aspen - Yellowjacket Mine hike

View west from Yellowjacket Mine

Icy river from Yellowjacket Mine trail

Peak from Twin Peaks hike

Twin Peaks hike facing east

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Free Soap Box

The Big Game is on all day. It happens once every four years. The pre-game hype dominates the airwaves for months ahead of time. Advertising and sponsorship involves far more money than any sporting event. It draws more viewers than the Olympics, Superbowl, and World Cup combined. The whole world watches.

To get away from such portentuous global developments, my letter to the editor below was printed on Thursday, October 16 in the Telluride Daily Planet.

Dear editor:

Recent articles have discussed the growing enthusiasm for eliminating the Free Box in Telluride. Two reasons are given. First, people sometimes place trash in the Free Box. Second, some Free Box donations encourage alcoholics, marijuana users, and others whom nearby boutique owners dislike.

I remember the early days of the Free Box. I remember my Mom explaining it to me, and my initial thought was: why does anything ever remain in the Free Box? I was five and, like nearly all of us, I later came to appreciate that a thriving and sophisticated society like Telluride prospers from giving and sharing, even though this places some expectations on people who have more to share. The Free Box is an intense and poignant metaphor for larger issues. Of course, there are always a few people who will take advantage of societal largesse, and they were there 30 years ago too. A community that decides to be a little more altruistic, together, hip, and forward than most towns may attract some baggage. Should such people ruin a structure and a mindset that even the most ardent Free Box disestablishmentarianists agree is as central to Telluride historically and culturally as geographically?

Someone will dump junk in any Free Box, both literally and figuratively. This is wrong, insulting, and inevitable. A lot more people will leave clothes, blankets, trinkets, and a little toy plastic brain that I loved for four years until returning it to the Free Box. It was gone the next day. Don’t let a few leeches ruin it for the next generation. Keep the Free Box.

Brendan Allison, PhD
Brain – Computer Interface Scientist