The Casual Blog

Tag: Capital Club 16

Spinning hard, mental health, and getting inspired by a great violinist (Joshua Bell)


I’ve been finding it hard to get in a good gear recently at my weekly Friday morning spin class, but  yesterday I kicked butt and took names! My final score was a healthy 337, and I came in first by a good margin.  My recent scores have been a little over 300, and there have been several strong riders who have made that look quite unimpressive.  I appreciated their not showing up this week and letting me look good.

There was a report in the Wall Street Journal recently about the types of exercise that were best for mental health.   The best ones were team sports and group exercises, like cycling and yoga.   So spinning may be doing my brain some good. I’ve also been getting to yoga class a couple of times a week, which I’m confident is good for my head.  

Speaking of mental health, I finished up the introductory mindfulness meditation course provided by Calm, the smart phone app.    I found it worthwhile.  Mindfulness meditation is really simple, in a way, and it’s easy to find basic directions online.  But the Calm coaching gave me some new perspectives, and helped with motivation.

On Thursday, we had dinner at Capital Club 16, and then heard the N.C. Symphony play the Brahms violin concerto with violinist Joshua Bell.  Bell has been much hyped as perhaps our greatest living violin virtuoso, which is bound to raise questions.  But he completely lived up to the hype:  he was truly electrifying. I got big goosebumps and moist eyes, and also a richer understanding of this great concerto. He performed on a Stradivarius instrument that Brahms had heard play this very piece.  Bell’s cadenza, which he composed, was a brilliant distillation of Brahmsian thought.

Some great virtuosos are intimidating, and make music students think of quitting.  Bell, however, made me want to listen harder and be a better musician. Music in the classical tradition takes time and effort to enjoy, and it’s reasonable to wonder if it’s worth it in the modern world.  But Bell made a strong case for its survival. The Brahms is a supreme technical challenge for the violinist, but also dauntingly complex for inexperienced listeners. It was cheering that a concert hall full of North Carolinians seemed to get it and love it.  In fact, we gave Bell a good ovation after the first movement. In the U.S., we almost always wait until after the last movement to clap, but apparently we agreed that Bell deserved to have us break the rule.

I loved the little poem in last week’s Sunday Times magazine:  On a Line by Proust, by Adam Gianelli.  It you’ve never read Proust or Milton, it may not hit you quite as strongly, but it might inspire you to try them.  Like Proust, it evokes the painful joy of recovering past experience, and how our literary lives can illuminate our ordinary lives.  

I’ve been making my way through the NY Times special titled The Plot to Subvert an Election, by Scott Shane and Mark Mazetti.   It’s basically the story of Putin, Trump, and us.  It is hard to believe that this happened, and is happening, and easy to feel overwhelmed.  Shane and Mazetti have done some great reporting, which is worth reading.

I went to Raulston Arboretum this morning and found these butterflies.  There were a lot of beautiful creatures flitting beyond range of my camera.   I was grateful for these.

Picturing light snow, and thinking about privacy and our digital selves

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It snowed in Raleigh this week, which was kind of exciting and kind of annoying. I love the transformative quality of snow – all that clean white soft quietness. But moving about in a normal human way becomes difficult. When I tried to drive rear-wheel-drive Clara to work, we got stuck as soon as I cleared the door of the apartment building garage. Unable to get up the modest slope, we managed to back down to a lucky parking space, and I walked the mile or so into work – in 18 degree cold. Burrr!
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On the way, I used my new camera, a Nikon D7100 with a Nikkor 10-24mm lens, to get a few images of my snowy neighborhood. I forgot to adjust the ISO, which I’d previously set at 800, but it didn’t seem to cause noise problems. I’ve been reading a book titled Mastering the Nikon D7100, which sounds very boring, but doesn’t seem so at all – which suggests I’m becoming a photo nerd. Oh well. There really is a lot to learn about this camera, but it can do so much! It sounds a little weird, but I’m feeling warmly towards it – almost like a new friend.
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Speaking of digital devices and friends, there was a lively essay by Colin Koopman in the NY Times this week about why we’re struggling so to grasp the nature of the problem with the NSA’s increasing intrusiveness into our lives. Koopman proposes that we should start viewing ourselves more as data (“info persons”). It is, after all, the way we’re viewed by our internet service providers (Google, Bing, Facebook,LinkedIn, Twitter, Amazon, eBay, Opentable, Angry Birds, etc. etc.).

Koopman proposes a simple thought experiment: imagine what would happen if all our digital data, from social security numbers to credit card accounts, medical records, school records, bank records, insurance records, search queries, book preferences, food preferences, porn preferences, avatars, Instagrams, Tweats, and posts – suddenly disappeared. Try it.

When I did, my stomach did a quick shimmy and I felt a bit of vertigo.

His point, I think, is that we have trouble grasping the privacy issue posed by mass electronic surveillance, because we have trouble grasping how our digital technology has transformed us, changed what a human being is. Our digital selves are an increasingly integral part of the human fabric. Because we still don’t quite get how they relate to the pre-digital revolution part of our lives, we tend to not notice them or downplay their significance.

But advertisers and spys have realized that, from another point of view, the digital self is a high value target, enabling the intruder to predict with a high degree of accuracy what we will buy on Amazon and view of Netflix tonight and do with ourselves tomorrow. The new Age of Information is transforming commerce and law enforcement, but it we haven’t evolved political or legal tools to address it.

Our privacy is closely related to our dignity, and to community. We all have imperfections or oddities that we prefer to keep concealed. They may be physical flaws, financial limitations, unusual appetites, or unpopular ideas. Our ability to maintain self-respect and to live in cooperative groups depends on a tacit mutual agreement to respect boundaries for these differences, and to not insist that they be exposed.

We didn’t realize until recently that just by using the new normal tools of communication and commerce, we had opened the door on our private selves. Once we know that our health problems, financial problems, sexual proclivities, and other traits are within view of strangers, we feel diminished and alienated. This is why, even leaving aside the risk of tyranny, data privacy matters.

Speaking of technology and transformation, on Friday we had a nice dinner at Capital Club 16 (an eclectic and vegetarian-friendly place) and went over to Mission Valley to see Her, starring Joaquin Phoenix, the voice of Scarlett Johansson, and the wonderful Amy Adams. It’s about a new sort of digital assistant app that is so human that humans fall in love with it – and it with them.

The premise didn’t seem farfetched to me. I thought it was touching and unsettling, though kind of slow toward the end. The next day I was still thinking about the themes: how prone to loneliness we are, how desperate to connect, how ecstatic in love, how despondent in loss, how changeable, and also how resilient.
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