Salt of many flavors

This is about the furthest away from a “food blog” than you can get, so pardon the surprise diversion of topic. (Although years ago I did publish a few restaurant reviews, before the hell spawn Yelp became a big thing.)

Anyway, I have called you here today to recommend Sel Magique. It is the “the worlds finest blend of salt and herbs,” and it’s French. So you know it’s pretentiously expensive.

But it’s also very delicious. Especially with smashed Avocado. This is the sort of seasoning for which kings launched a brigade of ships to retrieve from a distant land, but you can have it delivered to your door via the Amazon. What a time to be alive!

Thanks to friend and Realtor Brian Loomis for pointing my taste buds in this direction.

Book Review: The Experience Machine

This 2023 book by Andy Clark is subtitled “How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality,” and it was this subtitle that drew me to the book. Partly because I’m a follower of guerrilla ontologist Robert Anton Wilson, who has written extensively on the subject of reality manipulation.

When you pick up this book from the shelf it’s a bit intimidating — but that’s mostly due to its academic nature and a substantial proportion of the back pages being filled with references, footnotes, and appendices. But don’t be frightened, it’s approachable, readable, and definitely insightful.

The odd title of the book refers to the central premise that the mind doesn’t observe reality then draw conclusions; it creates what we perceive based on experience-derived expectations. Simplified to a 1970s bumper sticker, “You are what you think.” But this isn’t armchair conjecture, it’s backed by cognitive science.

I finished the book with dozens of notes, here are a few of them:

  • What we perceive today is deeply rooted in what we experienced yesterday, and all the days before that. Every aspect of our experience comes to us filtered by the brain’s best expectations rooted in our past histories.
  • We see the world by predicting the world (which is what conjurers exploit).
  • There was a fascinating 2001 study of hearing music (and sometimes, indistinct voices) within white noise. This is the brain predicting ahead to make sense of the sound.
  • The prediction effect is why you can’t tickle yourself. Tickling relies on the element of surprise. It’s also why drinking water when you’re thirsty is immediately satisfying, even though clearly the water hasn’t been absorbed by the body yet.
  • Schizophrenia might be the brain’s predictive system gone haywire.
  • The placebo effect is well documented, but there’s also a “nocebo” effect in which the patient knows they are receiving an inert substance, but it still works just as well.

There was one part of the book that I found somewhat jarring. Clark seems to be the rare scientist who is willing to challenge orthodoxy, which makes his derisive dismissal of all things “supernatural” such a surprise. It’s an odd, unsubstantiated knee-jerk section that otherwise undermines his cultivated image of being open-minded. Particularly so, since it follows lengthy, positive discussions of psychedelics, yoga, A.I. sentience, and other fringe topics.

I would never have predicted (ahem) that I’d read two books on psychology this year, and enjoy them. But here we are. If you’d like to explore this fascinating topic — which the author deftly links to “A.I.” — then I foresee you enjoying this book too.

I bought my copy at Barbara’s Bookstore, but you can find it at the Amazon too.

The sad death of AM radio

In a parallel universe, I’m a disk jockey, or maybe a newsman. Being on the radio was once a career goal for me, and very few of my friends know that I almost earned a degree in broadcasting. Almost, because I was one class short of earning a dual-major in “broadcast communications” in college. (I really should have just taken the extra class and gotten it done, right?)

So, I’m sad that AM radio is waning. (Catch me in the right mood and I can even explain the physics and practical differences between AM and FM — it was part of my course of study.)

Today, even though I have some excellent Tivoli receivers, most of my “radio” comes over the Internet courtesy of Tune-In or another streamer. Other than the now quaint call letters (another mini-lecture that I can deliver on demand), I don’t even know from which band — or in which city — the stations I listen to exist. Hell, now that I think about it, some of them aren’t even licensed and don’t broadcast over the air at all.

But old-fashioned AM radio is still my guilty pleasure when I’m driving. The last car I bought, a few years ago now, didn’t initially have an AM radio, but I was happy to discover that the AM band was an option hidden in the settings of the navigation system. Many manufacturers have dropped it completely, but recently, I read that congress is considering mandating its return.

(That, frankly, is probably motivated by the conservative politicians who know that AM has become a key method by which right-wing con artists spread their propaganda to rural Americans.)

But back to my listening on road trips — if you’re persistent, you can usually find a weak AM station that is broadcasting hyperlocal news. You’ll hear reports of new businesses, quaint weather references, and best of all; radio auctions.

The first time I heard a radio auction was driving across Oklahoma. If you’ve never heard one, the basic format is that people call in and describe household (or farm) items that they have for sale. Let’s say, a leatherette couch. Then, other listeners call in and make offers to buy it. Cash money. The radio host takes their bids on the air and keeps track of the highest one.

During these calls, everyone gives their phone numbers, names, and sometimes addresses over the air. Hell, maybe they all know each other anyway, but as a city guy, this free exchange of personal information always surprises me.

In addition to being quaint, the radio auction is great “Gladys Kravitz” entertainment. Some callers will talk about when and where they bought an item, what they like about it, and why they’re selling it. As in “My last kid moved out so I ain’t got no need for the couch cuz I set in the Lazy Boy. It only has two cigarette burns but you can’t notice them if it’s not sunny out.”

If AM radio goes away, I guess I’ll have to start listening to podcasts. Please, Congress, don’t make me do that.

It’s not easy being easy

I love writing instructions. (Luckily, I’m also pretty good at it.) When I am faced with the task of assembling IKEA products, I always get distracted with professional admiration for their assembly instructions. I’m not kidding, they have nailed the wordless thing well, and they are a shining example of John Carroll’s minimalist approach.

ikea illustration for wordless instructions

Every detail in their illustrations is only there because it is necessary for success. (That’s why people can sometimes struggle with minimalist instructional material, they are accustomed to a high percentage of “blah blah blah” and overlook the important, if not critical, details because they are used to skimming through overwritten instructions.)

But the IKEA instructions wouldn’t work without their partnership with product design. The latest thing I’ve assembled (below) has built-in detents, bumps, and other indicators that not only allow the instructions to work, but they also ensure the product is usable and stable after assembly. What a partnership!

If you’re looking for an iPad stand that is sturdy, and quite inexpensive compared to others, take a look at the Havrehoj. At just $14 it’s a bargain, and when you’re putting it together, please consider savoring how the assembly instructions set you up for success, provided that you pay attention.

Announcing: Escape from Bucktown

My latest project is ESCAPE FROM BUCKTOWN, a self-guided tour and puzzle walk of a dozen neighborhood sites of historical and cultural importance. At each location, answer an optional challenge question, gleaned by in-person observation. The Escape from Bucktown booklet is all you need, and you can get a copy at Quimby's (1854 W North Ave) or, for Kindle (free for Kindle Unlimited members) and Apple Books. $6 for an afternoon of family-friendly outdoor fun. gordon meyer escape from bucktown cover