Joel Riggs teaches Aikido, plays piano, enjoyed California for 22 years ('86 - '08), now enjoys Georgia, and reads voraciously.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Family So Far: 2002–2008


The Family So Far:  2002–2008

©2009 Joel Riggs

Friday, July 17, 2009

RIP Walter Cronkite

While reading Walter Cronkite's obituary tonight, I remember how my grandfather used to sit glued to his TV every weekday evening, hand cupped behind his ear, watching and listening to the news in Cronkite's distinctive, clipped voice. I think if there had been an internet in the 1970s then my granddaddy would have been on it constantly, but instead there was only the CBS evening news. No matter what else was on, there was no way any of us were going to watch it during that half hour. It was granddaddy's TV, and granddaddy was going to watch Walter Cronkite. (Grandmother preferred Lawrence Welk.)

One detail: Hoover Roosevelt Truman Eisenhower Kennedy Johnson Nixon Ford Carter Reagan Bush Clinton Bush Obama. Cronkite knew them all. Amazing!

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Joel North

As my senior year in college began, I was dating the arts editor of "The Dartmouth," the college daily newspaper.  As an amateur photographer who had gotten his first camera the year before for my term in France, I was keen to learn black and white darkroom techniques.  So, when Pamela said there was no one available to print photos needed for the next day's paper, I volunteered to apprentice with an outgoing photo editor that Sunday evening.

He gave me, literally, a 15-minute lesson, and walked out.  Our 'hit list' was maybe three prints; I taped a list with their sizes and contact prints is images circled to the wall next to the lamp, and dove in.  I think those first prints came out a little underexposed and with too little contrast, but I was hooked.

The next day I got my first assignment:  the traffic light on main street was off for repairs for a few hours, and the paper wanted a photo of the traffic cop keeping order from his post in the middle of the intersection.  Fifteen minutes later I had shot a roll of Plus-X and was fumbling to load the development reel in a tiny closet with the lights off.

I managed to print a contact sheet, showed the editor and got a photo pick, then went back to the darkroom to enlarge the best image to fit the space allotted.  It was a light news day, I suppose, for that photo ended up on the front page above the fold in the paper the next morning.

But wait!  There, under the photo sat the credit:  "Photo:  Joel North."

Who the hell was Joel North?  I rushed the editors' office where these people I barely knew had written the caption.  "Isn't that your name?" one of them asked me.  I thought about it a moment...  "It is now," I said, "we might as well keep it, since if it's wrong already, we will probably never get it wrong again."  "Fine," the editor said.

That is how, for all of my senior year, the entire staff of The Dartmouth came to know me as Joel North instead of as Joel Riggs.  I enjoyed having this nom de film, so much so that when it came time to write my name on the application for my Dartmouth College diploma, I wrote 'Joel North Riggs,' much to my mother's chagrin.

So, if you are ever in the morgue of The Dartmouth looking at editions from 1985–86, know that Joel Riggs is the real identity of the photographer whose pictures decorated the paper that year.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

New Job

New job in the house this month. I've just landed a website for a retailer complete with an e-commerce component. Let's do a bang-up good job on this one!!!

Saturday, April 04, 2009

The Left Brain/Right Brain Dichotomy as a Window Into Religion and Spirituality

Much of religion and spirituality, from my point of view, can be understood through the lens of the left brain/right brain dichotomy. (For a delightfully accessible intro to this dichotomy, check out Jill Bolte Taylor's TED talk.)

We humans live most of our conscious lives in our left brain, the part of our mentality that is concerned with abstracting our sensory inputs into words, labels, categories, logical connections, memories, and siftable sortable databanks of related information that can be brought to bear to help us understand what is happening to us right now. The left brain deals with memories of the past as well as plans and anxieties about the future.

In contrast, the right brain is that part of ourselves that absorbs and registers the present moment—the heat of this notebook computer on my lap, the ticking of the wall clock behind me in the kitchen, the hum of the refrigerator, the purring of the cat on the couch next to me, the light shining over my shoulder from the table lamp, the feel of the couch cushions on my back, and the slight thirst I have right now for a decent glass of wine. All these inputs come streaming into our bodies all the time, through all of our senses, creating an enormous flood of information that gets passed to the left brain for processing.

Over the past several hundred generations of human history, it is the evolution and growth of our left brain capacities that have given us our huge and historic advances in agriculture (remember what time of year to plant the seeds so that we can have food a year from now), language, industry, and now media and computer technology. The wide spread of information throughout our culture has led to an ever-accelerating rate of technical and political and even physical progress (e.g., curtailing of certain diseases).

But, religion and spirituality consistently and universally tell us that our thinking minds—our left brains—are not all there is to life. Whenever a sage or seer or seeker reports back from their enlightenment journey, they tell us that our life is also defined by our connection to the universe as a whole, that we are part of that whole, and that we are connected to all things. THESE ARE THE ESSENTIAL WAYS IN WHICH OUR RIGHT BRAINS VIEW THE WORLD EVERY SINGLE MOMENT. To become enlightened is to rekindle a relationship with our right brain experience, to recover that part of ourselves which we as a species have foregone in exchange for more potent manipulation of our environment (including each other) through our science and business and politics. It is truly a Faustian bargain to have given up our proper relationship with the universe in order to be able to control our world a little bit more.

Ethically, reconnecting to our right brain's innate realization of the interrelatedness of all things means that we need to have active care and concern for the well-being of others (my own definition of love). If we are connected to others or if we see ourselves in others, then we are far less likely to harm or kill them.

In other ways as well, the right brain sees our experience and the human condition in the same terms as those who are enlightened. For example, the enlightened speak of eternal life. "Eternal" means, of course, "without time", not "forever and ever." In exactly the same way, the right brain has no concept of time (past present future), but rather experiences only the "eternal now."

As I understand it, religion and spirituality generally move through a metaphysical frame (a myth of human formation and existence) to arrive at an ethical requirement ("Love one another"). In my opinion, both these elements—the narrative myths of religion and spirituality, and their resultant ethics—indicate that we need to work to create a balance of the two halves of our brains in our daily lives. Therefore, one goal of any religious or spiritual practice is the restoration of our right brain to its proper position as an equal partner in our human experience; we need sense and sensibility in equal measure. Ideally, both the left and right halves of our brain would work in harmony with each other to the point that we could be 100% right brain and 100% left brain all the time. (A topic for further study.)

But, more important than an explanation of the metaphysics and ethics of our human condition, it is imperative that we continually develop new ways of training and practicing our religion (re-linking) of our two halves, and developing our spirituality (our energy and our connection to others). With the existing suite of religious and spiritual technologies, plus any more that anyone cares to create from time to time, we can practice our humanity both alone and in concert with other people on the same path.

My goal in forming and operating an aikido dojo here in my new hometown of Decatur, GA, is to create a community of people who practice this religion and spirituality together in a space dedicated to that purpose. More on aikido in particular as a technology for this practice in a future post.


1. Anyone who understands religion and spirituality is not threatened by the technologies that others may use to explore and practice their humanity.

2. Most religions externalize our right brain experience into a "God", or a "Trinity" of gods, or a "Pantheon" of gods. While useful for mythic storytelling, this externalization has created an alienation of human beings from their own right brain experience and truths. This half of our condition needs to be reined back into our own lives in an immediate way. We need to draw God down out of the sky and restore 'him' to 'his' rightful position as a part of our own being. "Emmanuel" is a start. "I and my father are one" is far closer to the truth. Or again: as we know, little children have not yet developed the left brain capacity for abstraction and alienation, and therefore Jesus said in Matthew 19:14, "Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these."

Friday, February 13, 2009

Two Ways at Once

It is odd to hear myself say it, but I am growing in two directions at once: I am more and more appalled at how much stupidity resonates all around us all the time, but at the same time I am hopeful that each tiny step forward, each micro-advance that we make will contribute to intelligence someday gaining the upper hand against the forces of entropy.

Another robbery, another shooting, another child abduction, another seven-car pileup, another bailout, another salmonella outbreak, another divorce, another bad marriage, another show of disrespect of one person by another, another celebrity headline, another ignorant talk show host railing against the government, another day without a vacation, another argument, another plane crash, and another owie.

But, on the same day, my son climbs the stairs for the first time standing up, I find a better IDE (Coda), I get a lower interest rate, I swap calf massages, I find a ten dollar bill, I teach an aikido class and a kid lights up, I get a call from a friend in California, I see a full moon, I kiss my wife, she kisses me.

Funny thing is, it all makes sense to me. I do not have any questions. In fact, I am at peace with the way things are, all of them. I can still get angry, righteously so, and I can mourn. But there is no need to try to start over again.

Let us just go from here, and try to share a little sunshine along the way.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Going Postal

I did not want to write this story, but the spirit moves me. So buckle your seatbelts.

I have decided to sign up for a post office box here in my new town of Decatur, GA. It is Monday between Christmas and New Year's at the end of 2008. The two holidays fell on Thursday this year, so after making my decision on Christmas eve, I waited a few days before going to the town Post Office.

Several weeks before the day this story takes place, I had stopped in the PO to inquire about boxes, and I found that they require extensive proof of identification, way beyond what I needed in Fairfax, CA five years ago when I last got a box. They wanted not just a GA driver's license (which I have) but also two other forms of ID, including either a passport (which I do not have), vehicle registration, birth certificate, mortgage statement, vehicle insurance statment... you get the idea.

So, I have collected my birth certificate, a mortgage bill, my driver's license and headed to the PO to sign up. First of all, the line was nearly 20 deep, instead of the two or three I had seen the last time. Probably because of Christmas, everyone put off going to the PO a day, I thought. I resigned myself to a 20-minute wait, which turned out to be about right.

Everyone in line seemed pretty calm, if unhappy about the wait. But one person already at the counter looked to be having a bad day. There are three stations at the desk, but only two of them were staffed, and one of these was dealing with a rather difficult customer, it appeared.

With all of us watching and listening, the woman customer at the desk talked very loudly about wanting to rent a PO Box. When presented with the list of required and acceptable forms of ID, she protested loudly that she did not have a driver's license or a passport. No problem, the clerk told her; your auto insurance or mortgage statment will do. I am not giving you any of my personal information, the customer screamed. And back and forth they argued.

Slowly our line waiting for service got shorter. Now I was about fifth in line.

Periodically the customer would step away from the desk to read a regulation or to fill out the application, but finally everything that could stall the inevitable had been done. She returned to the desk and demanded to see the manager. He very graciously explained the rules again, even highlighting on her form the list of acceptable items of ID. Now, totally irate and practically abusive, she yelled I do not have to give you any of my personal information. The manager smiled and said And I do not have to rent you a box; it is as simple as that. Several of us in line cheered.

First in line, I was glad to see that this woman customer had finally given up. The clerk and her manager behind the counter seemed to sigh visibly in relief as she walked away. She has just made our line take twice as long as it otherwise would have, and now the line was closer to 30 deep rather than the original 20. The customer stormed out of the building and I stepped up to the counter.

Hi, I said, I would like to rent a PO Box.

Oh, no, the clerk said.

Actually, I do, I replied, but I will be nice about it. I smiled at her.

Louis, she said to the clerk at the next station, do you have another one of those applications for a PO Box?

You mean you did not make a copy of that one? That was my last one, he said.

Uh oh.

Let me check, she told me. She looked all around her station, and around Louis's, and then disappeared into the back of the building. Five minutes later she came out and told me, we are completely out of applications, and you will have to come back tomorrow. I am sorry about that.

I am pleased to report that I left the Post Office without shooting anybody, but I now completely understand the urge.

$470 for a Boo-Boo???

In August Rocket either punctured his index finger on some sort of sharp object, or he had a splinter. We could not tell which. Once it got infected and swelled up with a pus-filled abcess, though, we figured it would probably be best to have it lanced and cleaned by a professional. Unfortunately, it was Friday night at 8:30 when we made the decision. And, since we were spending the month in Santa Barbara rather than still being at home in Marin, we had to go to a medical facility outside the Kaiser system.

After a few phone calls, we ended up at the ER of Cottage Hospital, at 9 on a Friday night. Not too crowded, got in to a room by 9:30. But it was midnight before a doctor came into our litter to check on Rocket. Within barely 5 minutes he had sliced open the abcess, lavaged it with sterile solution, bandaged it, and handed us a 10-day supply of antibiotic for Rocket to complete. Thanks for coming, and we will bill your Kaiser insurance, no problem. No co-pay, no credit card, nothing. Kaiser will take care of it.

Well, would that that were the end of the story.

We got our bill a couple weeks later: Cottage charged $470 for their service.

Kaiser covered their share and we are left to pay the balance, but that is not my issue today. Rather: How is it reasonable that 5 minutes of a doctor's time plus one sterile washing kit plus 20 doses of an antibiotic costs over $470? What if Rocket had had a broken arm or needed his leg stitched up? It could have cost thousands.

Medical expenses are a key cause of bankruptcy filing in this country, and the exorbitant costs involved keep the sick or injured from receiving quality care or from seeking preventive care. A system that fails to contain costs and fails to provide care at the same time is not working for anybody, whether they have insurance or not.

Health care is a basic human right. It should in no way be tied to employment, for those who need it are the least likely to hold down a job. And the bulk of the costs must be collectivized. Just wait until the first major epidemic hits when we have no national health system in place. I would like to see capitalism try to win a conflict with a virus.

Now it is 2009, and I trust and hope that the new administration in Washington will attend to this expensive and necessary national imperative.

I'm disgusted by the whole system, and am ready for Universal Health Care/Single Payer.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Adobe CS3 and Mac OS X 10.5.6?

Does the Adobe CS3 suite run properly in the new Mac OS X 10.5.6 released today? I run CS3 on 10.5.4, and have no immediate plans to upgrade, so I don't want to get into that bind where you upgrade your system, but then have to upgrade all your software as well.

One note in the Apple support pages gives me hope:

"[10.5.6] Improves printing for the Adobe CS3 application suite."

That is a clue that it works, but can anyone confirm this?

Also, does anyone know how easy it may be to downgrade back from 10.5.6 to 10.5.5? That is always another option if things blow up in my face.

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Monday, October 20, 2008

Starting Over

Well, we arrived last Tuesday after four and a half months on the road. Technically, we are not yet in our own home, which we do not get to move into until November 1. Until then we are staying with my sister and her family, right next door to our house. Our tenants have until the end of the month to finish moving out.

I am glad the trip is done, in many ways, even though it was great to be out and about for a change. I can hardly believe that we were in Santa Barbara, CA; Hanover, NH, and everywhere in between over the past weeks. But, it all reminds me that all these places are there all the time, whether I can see them at the moment or not.

Even though I am sitting here in Georgia, I still know that Hinman Cabin is still tucked up against the side of Reservoir Pond just east of Lyme, NH. The wood pile, with the yellow plastic handle maul/axe leaning in the corner. The three paddles and five life vests in little puddles of water in the canoe in the lakeside shed. The "C.H. 1955" carved upside down into the side of the wooden kindling box next to the wood stove. I can see it all in my mind's eye.

[Hence the name 'BeenThere', which I chose for my map publishing company 13 years ago. Even though I am not on the territory at the moment, with this map I can project myself across space and time and learn the lay of the land from a distance.]

Now, though, I do not miss the road. I do not want to be in the van driving any more, for now. I am content to go no further than a little walk to the coffee shop in Oakhurst three blocks away, to see the same sixteen houses again and again, and to deepen my acquaintance with our new neighborhood.

I do miss California terribly, though, both the place and my friends who remain (Lisa, Mikaela, Peter, Jory, and all the rest). I know that we will make friends here as well, and in time this can place can feel like home as well. But the adjustment is a "thing". It is a piece of work. It is a large task.

Wish me luck.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Chevron's Last Sale (To Me)

Two days ago at the Chevron Station in Ventura, CA (on Google Maps):

I tried to use my credit card at the pump, but it did not recognize my zip code. So I walked into the store to talk to the clerk, a 20-something young man.

Me: I would like to fill up on Pump Five.
Clerk: I need a dollar amount.
Me: Whatever amount it takes to fill up my van.
Clerk: I still need an actual dollar amount.
Me: Can you give me change if I don't use it all?
Clerk: I don't really know how to do that.
Me: Never mind, just give me one hundred dollars worth on Five.
Clerk: What grade of gas do you want?
Me: Eighty-seven octane.
Clerk: Is that "Plus"?
Me: I don't know what you call it; it's the lowest grade you have.
Clerk: Oh, that's called "Unleaded."

He rang me up. I entered my PIN and walked out without another word.

Can it be that a Chevron gas station attendant:
  1. Does not know the octane level and the name of the product he sells?

  2. Can not complete the most common transaction (a fill-up) ever known at a gas station?

Oh, it be.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Active Marketing vs. Passive Ads

Been thinking a lot about advertising lately.

Rather than putting a static ad (or fifty) in front of a viewer, what if a website offered a viewer the option to answer three questions about the thing being advertised, and then be presented with all the content they are seeking AD-FREE? That way, the viewer wins because they see a clear tit-for-tat that rewards the time they invest in answering the advertiser's questions, and the advertiser wins because they get to actively engage with the viewers, burning their message into the viewer's brain far more effectively.

Example: Instead of an ad for Coca-Cola, let a 'locked garden gate' webpage greet the user. In order to open the gate and proceed inside, the viewer would have to answer questions like these made-up ones:

1. What is the name of Coca-Cola's Lemon/Lime drink?
A. Mountain Dew
B. Squirt
C. Sprite
D. 7-Up

2. In 1894, what was the ingredient that gave Coca-Cola its name?
A. Cocaine
B. Coca leaves
C. Cola root
D. Chocolate

3. How many calories does a 20-oz Diet Coke have?
A. 5
B. 2
C. 10
D. 1

A detail: If a viewer misses an answer, that answer is eliminated and they have to choose again. If they miss a time or two, then a confirming question is asked that reinforces the learning, and has the effect of requiring a correct answer before admitting the viewer.

With a system like this, a viewer might spend 30 seconds researching and answering the questions, and then be rewarded with unfettered access to the site's content. The advertiser then knows that the viewer has digested and incorporated the message they were trying to send.

(Essay or written answer questions would be more difficult to review and grade, perhaps impossible, but they would provide an even deeper level of inculcation than mere multiple choice questions.
As a viewer, I would certainly go for that. Would you?

Without the Ads

I am getting tired of the expectation that my attention is available for ads, whether on TV, in the press, or on a billboard or bus shelter. Or, as of today, on an airline boarding pass... ugh.

So, how about this? I envision purchasing two copies of some crapazine, such as Vogue--you know, the kind where you can never find a page number and it takes five minutes plus tolerating assaults by stinky perfume ads just to find the cover story--and cutting out all the ads, leaving just the editorial copy. I will need two copies because editorial on one side of a leaf may have an ad on the back.

Then, reassemble all the clippings back together and paste them onto the pages of a blank book the same size as the magazine. You would then have an expurgated version, ready to read and not be distracted.

On second though, I think I have just landed on a great reason to hire an assistant or six :)

I am opting out of the unspoken contract that states that my attention is constantly available for abuse by the highest bidder, and that I will constantly and mindlessly take in whatever shill anyone wants to foist before my eyes. (Ears are a tougher nut.)

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Nidan Exam set for Friday, July 25

I have scheduled my nidan exam for the last friday of July, at the end of the advanced class at City Aikido (around 7:45 pm, 1336 Mission St., San Francisco, I have been training with Robert Nadeau shihan since September 1993, and have been a shodan since March 2001. This is the last class for me in San Francisco, before we leave for good for Georgia.

Training has been a major part of my life in the city, and I will be sad to leave my dojo and friends here, but once in Decatur, GA, I plan to start a new dojo. Start slowly, with only a few students, incorporate a kids program too, and before long, I hope to obtain a dedicated space where the dojo can grow.

As a part of the nidan promotion, I am required to write a short essay on aikido as well. Look for that to be posted here soon, too.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

On Google Maps

No, this is not an essay about Google Maps. I discovered yesterday that I am literally on Google Maps' Street View:

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