Listening for everything

The more you listen, the more you hear, according to Gordon Hempton*, an acoustic ecologist.

But Hempton says that if you listen for something, you stay inside a narrow expectation of your previous experience and tune out what you’re not listening for. In other words, when you listen just for the sound of the cricket, or the bird, or the wind, you will often miss other sounds going on at the same time.

He contends that real listening occurs when we truly pause and let everything in, opening our ears, our heart and our mind to be filled with all there is to hear.

It’s in this listening that we hear the Universe speak.


*Hempton is the author of  One  Square Inch of Silence and is waging his own war to save silence from extinction.

Creating art from words

Thanks to a friend, I was introduced to this really cool website that literally turns words into an art form. creates “word clouds” in which the most used words take a more prominent place than lesser used ones. Commonly used words like “a,” and “the,” are left out, leaving only the major ones to find their place in a Wordle.

The program is the brainchild of Jonathan Feinberg who, on IBM’s nickel, produced this amazing piece of code that’s entirely free to all of us. Feinberg, who claims the site gets about ten hits a second, collaborated with a couple dozen people-among them artists, software developers, Java experts-to visually depict the power of language.

Although uses for Wordle seem more whimsical than practical, a word cloud, if studied, can say much about the meaning of a speech, phrase or letter, etc. Here, for example, is a word cloud of Barack Obama’s inaugural speech using the program’s standard setting which automatically filters out commonly used words.picture-14In this rendition, “new,” “nation” and “America” seem to be the most frequently used by the new President.

However, a different pattern emerges when automatic filtering is turned off.

picture-15In this version, “our” (used 68 times in the address) and “we” (62 times) are most prominent.

And, it would seem that Obama is saying…?

Some things are better left unGoogled

Ever look at things around you and just wonder WTH*?

I just got off a brief Delta flight that featured a brand new Embraer 175. The aircraft was sleek and immaculate, as you’d expect a new plane to be. It sported the latest navigation technology, comfortable seating, smart controls for the lights and air vents. And, a “turn off electronic devices” light replaced the dated ones that used to say “no smoking.”

230075607v3_240x240_frontBut, despite its newness, the lavatory signage and equipment were, well, different. (For a more intellectual discussion of “emotionally intelligent signage” visit Daniel Pink’s website and choose “emotionally intelligent signage” from the categories column on the right.)

The faucet was a sleek mixing variety that, if pressed just right, dispensed cold, warm or hot water for a nearly perfect 20-plus seconds or so—just long enough to require a second press for another 20-plus seconds of water, of which you usually only need another five, unless, that is, you subscribe to the 60 second hand washing rule, and then you’d go for a third push.

Then there was the “smoking is not permitted in the restroom” sign under which a strategically positioned ash tray was mounted. “But if there’s no smoking in the rest room,” I reasoned, “Why would there be a…?” I decided that logic would not apply here.

And there was the sign to the left of the faucet. [Note: An airline lavatory affords plenty of reading opportunities.] It read, “No liquids other than water should be put in the sink.” Coffee, tea, or soda, I wondered? Then I realized there must be some reason for the sign and, at that point, I stopped thinking. On purpose.

A small notice along side the toilet’s “flush” button then caught my attention. “Do not flush toilet while seated,” it read. Since I wasn’t seated, I figured it must be safe to press it and WHOOSH, air rushed in around the lavatory door, water in the basin gurgled, and my hair shifted ever so slightly.

What would happen if someone was actually seated while flushing? Would she be permanently glued to the seat? Would he remain stuck until flight attendants entered, armed with crowbars, to pry and free his newly framed rear from its captor?

I concluded that the sign was there for some sort of reason, but decided not to Google the subject to learn if (and how) the public unwittingly (hopefully) contributed to its presence.

It would seem that any toilet system with such hostage taking power should be against the rules, whatever they are. And should some small sign be adequate protection to keep some unsuspecting Joe getting his booty glued down? Maybe I will Google it to see if it’s fact or fancy.

Then again, maybe not. I’d rather not know.

*That would be “What The Heck.” (Sometimes other four letter NSFW* words are substituted for the “H.”)
**And that would be “Not Suitable For Work.”