Insight Timer

An article the The Ringer, Meditation in the Time of Disruption,  brought Insight Timer into my awareness. I had not previously stumbled upon this app as the app is not available in the Google Play Store for Micronesia. [As of 06 November 2018 the app is now availablein the Google Play Store for Micronesia. Insight Timer responded to my query within 48 hours. Amazing!] Out here that meant side loading, a practice not recommended by Google among many others. That said, the idea of an organized and categorized library of over 12000 guided meditations without a paywall attracted the attention of this YouTube taught meditator. YouTube is perhaps the opposite of an organized collection of information. As Insight Timer notes, “At Insight Timer we believe everyone deserves access to a free meditation practice.”

Insight Timer meditations
Insight Timer meditations

Having encountered meditation only through random YouTube videos and meditation apps, I had realized that I probably needed to return to one of the ancient sources of the practice. I was increasingly aware of “McMindfulness” and the proliferation of modern practices that bear little resemblance to meditation. Through reading Bhikkhu Bodhi’s In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon and  Nyanaponika Thera’s The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, I was aware of the obligation to show others the path to relief from suffering without charge. Meditation is a free gift given by a Boddhisattva, one who shows the path to others. Insight Timer echoed this core value in a way that mediation apps Calm and Headspace did not.

Both Calm and Headspace offered a very limited set of free features, with Headspace offering even less than Calm. That said, I found Calm’s scenes feature useful as a sound screen in a busy home. Plum Village released a meditation app that is fully free in all features and is perhaps the app most aligned with Buddhist philosophy, but lacked the sound masking scenes capability of Calm. Calm also tracked meditation streaks – a feature than appealed to the runner in me. Tracking runs – time, distance, pace – are the bread and butter of running apps. Calm taps into this attachment of mine to data.

Insight timer brings external sound masking, data tracking, along with guided meditations to your zafu on your zabuton. Insight timer, however, also brought one more element that echoed the call to community that Thích Nhất Hạnh often speaks of as being an important element in meditation. Just as Strava is the social running app, Insight Timer has social options as well. As with Strava, one can use Insight Timer in complete isolation. There is, however, the option to friend others which sets Insight Timer apart.

Lest one become concerned that if something is free, then you are the product, Insight Timer does have premium features available for a subscription, much as Strava is structured. The difference from other apps is that the paywall is not located immediately after an introductory seven or ten meditations, the paywall is located in advanced synchronization features, downloading content, and in being able to restart a guided meditation in the middle of the meditation.

Insight Timer statistics
Insight Timer statistics

Insight timer taps into both my attachment to data and to my runner’s sense of the value of consistency. Insight timer tracks number of sessions, total time, average time per session, consecutive days, longest session, with breakdown by timer versus guided. There is even a colored star system that indicates one’s progress, not unlike the color levels of the Nike Run Club App.  A yellow star is earned for every 10 consecutive days and for every 50 days, an orange star is earned for every 5 milestones, a green star is earned for every 25 milestones. There is even a progress chart reminiscent of similar chart in Strava.

Strava month-on-month progress chart
Strava month-on-month progress chart
Insight Timer progress chart
Insight Timer progress chart

While statistics, tracking of consecutive days, charts, and stars are attachments that run contrary to the founding spirit of the practice, these are the types of elements that encourage me to get out and run, or to plop down and meditate.

Insight timer bells
Insight timer bells

And bells. Insight timer is the only app I have encountered that offers a choice of chime tones to go with one’s meditation. Beautiful bells.

The social side of Insight Timer also sets the timer aside from other apps.

Insight Timer community
Insight Timer community

Each dot is a location of a meditator, and indeed when I used the timer, my unique location appeared on the map. The location is no more specific than seen above, and not as revealing of my location as Strava’s heat map, or all of my social media for that matter. If privacy is a concern, then one must never use any social media, perhaps never use any Internet connected technology.

Thích Nhất Hạnh, among others, notes the power of meditating with others. Insight Timer seeks to create a sense of a virtual community of meditators meditating together.

Insight Timer number meditating
Insight Timer number meditating

The home screen tells you how many are meditating “with you” and how many have meditated today.  Perhaps the most personal feature is a thanks feature.

Insight Timer thanks
Insight Timer thanks

This feature can be disabled and opted out of for those using the app privately or concerned about privacy, that said, there is something personalizing about seeing a message from an actual human being rather than some generic quote such as Calm offers post-meditation. More than anything else, this does bring home that one is part of a global meditative community. The numbers are just data, the thanks are an actual individual out there who meditated at the same time as you did. Takes the concept of bringing the world together to another level.

Once I shed my attachment to my streak in Calm, I am likely to shift to using Insight Timer as my primary timer. Insight timer includes a small selection of sound masking “scenes” that I can use when I need that functionality. And the social side appeals to me. If smartphones ultimately isolate each of us, which they tend to do at present, the solution may be socially connecting apps. Yes, one could hope that smartphones and their addictive apps had not been invented, one could attempt to go back to the past and never use them. The smartphone is out of Pandora’s box and wishing for a bygone era of small, connected real world communities is an option only for a few.

And perhaps the ultimate antidote to the exploitative behemoth that FaceBook has become with its 2.2 billion products (euphemistically called users) is socially connected apps that link smaller communities of practitioners – Strava, Insight Timer, apps with revenue models where the user is not the product.

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Plum Village

In June I noted that while the meditation app Calm remained functionally useful in an offline environment, market leader Headspace was functionally useless. The Scenes capability of Calm continues to be useful to me. Both Calm and Headspace are subscription based apps, although I use only the free capabilities in Calm. Entering into the active meditation app space is ninety-one year old venerated Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh with the Plum Village: Zen Buddhism Meditations app. Just released on early access, the “Plum Village app is completely free and always will be!” Thích Nhất Hạnh has a long history of being active in his effort to promote peaceful coexistence, compassion, happiness, and joy.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Thích Nhất Hạnh https://historynewsnetwork.org/article/165603

Thích Nhất Hạnh wrote to and met with Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1960s asking King to publicly come out against the American war in Vietnam. King was under pressure by those around him to keep the focus on the civil rights movement and not make public statements about the war. Eventually, in April 1967, Dr. King would speak publicly against the war. Dr. King also nominated Thích Nhất Hạnh for the Nobel Peace Prize.

For a Buddhist the path to enlightenment is through meditations and through the Plum Village app Thích Nhất Hạnh shares the wisdom and practice of meditation.  Perhaps in keeping with the Buddhist obligation to freely help others find the path to relief from suffering, all features of the app are free. The meditations, resources, videos, practices, chants, poems, trainings, and answers to often asked questions can also be downloaded for use in offline environments.

Plum Village app Meditations top level screen
Plum Village app Meditations top level screen

I realize that there are those who conceive that Buddhists worship Buddha, but that is not actually the way Buddhism works. In the language of the religions with roots in the middle east, Buddha was a prophet, not a deity. And while meditation provides the path to an end to suffering, meditation is not a form of worship nor prayer. Mindfulness meditation is an exploration of one’s own mind, a training in concentration and focus, on awareness of now, being fully present in each moment. As I type I am aware that I am typing. That this practice leads to compassion, joy, relaxation, and has proven effective in treating anxiety and some forms of depression, is rather remarkable. Meditation becomes the path through which one gains control of their mind.

The Plum Village app is, to borrow the words of Gilbert and Sullivan, the very model of a modern meditation app, including a meditation titled “Device meditation” on how to use a smartphone mindfully. As research continues to show the negative mental impacts of this “always on” age of continuous contact, taking a meditation break or learning to use technology mindfully will be important to health.

Through the Plum Village app the teachings of Zen Buddhism, Thích Nhất Hạnh, and the Plum Village will reach a vastly wider audience, and brings to app space an app that is both a strong meditation support app and entirely free  – a combination that, as far as I am aware, has been unavailable.

No need to change your mind. Just learn to be the master of your own brain’s default mode network. Breathe in and know that you are breathing in.

Annual Numbers

Although I usually try to schedule my annual physical examination around the time I add one to the digits of my age, that happens during a busy time of the year in my calendar. An annual physical does not always get done. I also no longer make an annual physical a specific target. I participate in screenings for blood pressure and blood sugar as they occur here on island and keep an eye on my numbers throughout the year. I have been aware for a few years now that in asymptomatic patients the rate of false positives is an area of concern. Recommendations at present suggest that for otherwise healthy adults, a physical examination on a three year cycle is sufficient.

Throughout the year I post on matters of health and exercise on social media. I encourage family and friends to engage in physical activities as appropriate to their current physical condition and health. On health days at the college I encourage students to participate in the routine screenings. During statistics class data is gathered on resting heart rates and heart rates after climbing three sets of stairs. The Federated States of Micronesia faces epidemic levels of non-communicable lifestyle induced diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart diseases, and lifestyle related cancers. The rates of diabetes in the population are sufficiently high that some of my students view ill health with aging as an inevitable and unalterable fate about which nothing can be done.

I suppose when I point out that I am 58 years old and not in particularly ill health some will think that my genetics are different. I am from another place after all. The genetics that count, however, are the same human genetics. Heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes are found in my family as well. My father passed away at 56 from a heart attack. I have no special genetics. I say this to encourage others who live in families beset by lifestyle diseases – exercise and eating right make the difference. And I do not always eat right. My running habit is perhaps the primary difference.

What running does to your body via RunRepeat.com
What running does to your body via RunRepeat.com

In light of my focus on knowing one’s health numbers and encouraging others to get active in their health maintenance, I feel that sharing my own numbers is incumbent on me.

With 39 years of running under my feet, my annual physical numbers were encouraging. Statistically speaking I am aware that trends are perhaps more important than individual values. The individual values can and will vary, a long term trend would be a matter of more concern.

Indicator 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2018 Optimal
Weight 144 140 142 140 142
Systolic 110 100 117 110 110 Below 120
Diastolic 70 70 80 70 70 Below 80
Sugar 85 97 102 86 87 98 96 Below 100
A1C 5.6 Below 5.7
Cholesterol 169 219 178 138 165 158 142 188 Below 200
Triglycerides 78 124 105 Below 200
HDL 57 41 41 47 45 51 62 Above 45
LDL 100 144 118 86 103 88 79 105 Under 100
Ratio 3.5 3.5 3.1 Below 5
Uric acid 7.7 6.9 7.8 6.8 7.1 9.4 6.3 Below 6
Amylase 57 Normal 23-85
PSA 1.1 1.26 1.34
ALT 79
Heart Rate 49 60 53
Oxygen 97%
Hemoglobin 13.9 12.3 11.7 Above 12
Hemocrit 41.8 39.6

My numbers help me make choices on what areas I need to work on. My cholesterol has crept back up again.  This does not mean changing my diet – dietary cholesterol is now known to not be linked to blood cholesterol. The link between low density lipoproteins (LDL) and the build-up of plaque on the arteries of the heart runs through sugar. Excess sugar in the blood produces oxidative stress resulting in inflammation of the endothelium lining the inside of the arteries. The endothelium goes from being “slippery” to being “sticky” with respect to LDL in the presence of excess blood sugar. The result is blockage in the arteries and eventually a heart attack. The culprit, however, is sugar, not LDL per se. Thus my focus should be on the quantity of calories consumed and the type of foods eaten. Simple starches that convert rapidly to high blood sugar levels are going to be more problematic than complex starches.

The message is simple: go local. White flour based products are particularly problematic as they convert rapidly to blood sugar, but all wheat products are already out of my diet due to my own gluten intolerance. Moving completely onto taro, breadfruit, and yams remains challenging. White rice is still in my diet and I know I eat more rice when there is only white rice and not a mix of white and brown rice. The latter is more filling on smaller quantities. While eating pure brown rice is not an option in the house, a mix of white and brown is an option.

Exercise will always be the other part of the equation, although my family doctor suggested I consider taking up tennis. Tennis can help one live longer, but perhaps not running. There was a catch, however, in the sample underneath that study extolling the virtues of tennis. The study was short term and the runners were younger. There were also possible sampling issues that led to skew in the results. Although I had thought tennis might be associated with higher rates of injury due to the more complex turning movements, one study found that the rates of injury for running and tennis are essentially equivalent. At the Olympic level, track and field athletes experience more injuries than tennis athletes.

Ultimately one should choose a sport that keeps one coming back for more. Any aerobic sports activity is better for the cardiovascular system than being sedentary. Running keeps me coming back for another run day after day. Runners do see more of a place when they travel. And if my numbers are good, then blame my running as my diet is hardly exemplary of healthy choices.

My thanks to those in leadership who put in place running tracks, sidewalks in town, and lights along the causeway that provide places for those of us who run to do so. These investments in infrastructure usable by walkers and runners provides return on investment in healthy outcomes.

Hoka One One Arahi 2

For two decades I have been running in ASICS GT 2000 series shoes. Every so often I try other shoes, but I have always returned to the GT 2000 series. An experimental foray into zero drop shoes with an Altra Provision 3.0 shoe proved unsuccessful – the shoe altered my gait, as promised, but despite trying to gradually get used to the altered gait, my 58 year old body with 39 years of running – many of those in ASICS shoes – just could not adjust.

I had found comfort in Avia shoes, but they disappeared years ago. Mizuno came the closest but their lines shifted and changed in ways I sometimes found hard to fathom. Other shoe experiments also often went awry – a pair of New Balance shoes seem to have precipitated planters fasciitis in both feet. With shoes being something I buy once a year, having a pair be a failure is problematic. When I do find a shoe I like, I run them to exhaustion. I retired my ASICS GT 2000 4 after two years of running and 1,113.7 miles.

I had friends who really liked their Hoka One One shoes, but some size information on line suggested that the shoes might fit different, and I was really unsure which model made the most sense for a flat footed runner who probably does not overpronate as much as I once used to.

Hoka One One Arahi 2
Hoka One One Arahi 2

I was only going to be in Honolulu for about 20 hours, a brief layover. I walked into Runners Route on Kapiolani as part of a walking shopping trip. I explained my running history and my desire to try a Hoka One One. A runner who worked at the store pulled an Arahi 2 from the shelf and said, “This is the line you want.” A brief bounce around the store could only tell me that the shoe basically fit, not how the shoe would feel at mile five of a run. I could only trust his recommendation and I told him to go ahead and wrap up the pair.

Runners Route Kapiolani
Runners Route Kapiolani

The Altra Provision 3.0 shoes had proved problematic for me from the first hundred meters of my first run, and despite attempts to adjust over months, I never did. Thus while one run is not enough to know how a shoe will fare for me over the long haul, one run is usually enough to reveal a shoe that definitely will not work for me.

Airport out and back in Arahi 2
Airport out and back in Arahi 2

I am not a fast runner, and I have been essentially off of running for most of the past two months while I was over on the island of Kosrae. Those paces are really good for two months off from running – they are in line with my usual running paces. The Arahi 2 felt secure and stable. I even found I could loosen the laces without the shoes feeling loose on my foot. The shoe seemed light compared to my ASICS GT 2000 4 and 5 series shoes, yet cushioned. A pair of ASICS GT 2000 6 trail version shoes had some curious traction problems during the summer, the Arahi 2 provided a solid sense of traction on a variety of surfaces. The heel is different from an ASICS shoes, more rounded, and shifted my landing forward towards my midfoot, which has been my preferred landing since 2003. The result was a very quiet foot strike, and a sense of running efficiency.

A good first run and a sense that these could be a shoe that I run to exhaustion. My thanks to Runners Route Kapiolani in Honolulu for the recommendation.

Fern Street Run

As I rounded the corner and headed south bound I could see a sign that said Fern Street. That sign brought a flood of memories of meals shared, of conversations had, of runs that started and ended on Fern, of three in the morning wake-ups to catch the island hopper. Of family now so remotely and separately located that seeing them again, all of us together again, simply will not occur. A sense of loss and sadness came over me.

Fern street
Fern street

Seeking to escape the emotions that floated like a sad cloud over Fern, I ran vaguely towards Diamond Head, headed for the former coastal wetland that is now Waikiki.

Down along Kalakaua the sidewalks became increasingly congested. I ran the congested sidewalks of Da Loop for many years. There pedestrians move purposefully, with distinct lanes. Flow is on the right, just like cars on a road. No one suddenly stops – they would be rear ended by the person behind them. Pedestrians literally pull over to stop.

Waikiki sidewalk
Waikiki sidewalk

In Waikiki, tourists will dead stop midflow. Groups will stop to chat amongst themselves without moving to the side. Sudden changes in direction are the only constant. Which is as it should be – Waikiki is the tourist heart of Oahu, not a business district. Space for runners is not the reason for the infrastructure in Waikiki. On the contrary, the designed-in curves of the sidewalk are all about slowing flow, getting tourists to look around and see the store fronts and the products being offered. I am the one that does not belong. The runner carrying no credit card, a crumpled couple dollars in my pocket for water.

Running lane
Running lane

I rapidly learn to use the broad curb top as my running lane. San Diego had already taught me that bike lanes are not for runners. I respect that. The curbs are wider and more stable than a coconut tree trunk log bridge, plenty of space for a runner.

Even with the curb top running lane, progress is in fits and starts. Diamond shaped construction warning signs overhang the curb, and at intersections one has to wait for the walk light. The walk lights include countdowns just as I had encountered in San Diego. Countdown clocks act as a challenge to a runner. I could see the ground left to be covered until the light, I could see the remaining time. I could sense that an uptick in pace would bring me safely across without endangering either pedestrians nor myself. I was not alone in this reaction. Another runner, young, wavy blonde hair, muscular, went past me at one point. As I watched him move away towards a light, I saw him pick up his pace to beat the countdown at the light ahead of him.

Waikiki beach
Waikiki beach

Although the beaches of Encinitas had their share of sand denizens, the population density of a southern California beach and the near shore waters cannot compare to the density of humanity packed onto the beach at Waikiki. This summer has brought me to three beaches – the beaches of Piyuul, Malem, in Kosrae, the beaches of Encinitas and Carlsbad, California, and the beaches of Waikiki and Ala Moana on Oahu, Hawaii. Each has their own charms and attractions, my own preference has to be the quiet beaches of remote and exotic Kosrae.

 

Duke Kahanamoku
Duke Kahanamoku

I set as my short term goal the statue of Duke Kahanamoku, using him as my Waikiki turn-around. Duke was one of the first athletes to break the color barrier in American sports and the Olympics. A Pacific islander would lead in forging paths that would later be trod by other greats such as Jesse Owen. A son of ancient navigators showing the way to new places where, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, one is not judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I am reminded of this every time I see Duke.

Ala Wai harbor
Ala Wai harbor

I then headed back west, making a left onto Ala Moana. The south side of Ala Moana is good to the runner as there are few, and later no, roads to cross. The art deco arches at the Ala Wai marina are always a memorable sight, a reminder of how far back the marina dates. One imagines yachts in an era of luxury and glamor ninety-five some years ago during the roaring twenties. That brief period of exuberance between the end of the war to end all wars in 1918 and the crash of 1928. A reminder too that the war to end all wars did not, and that the crash led to the development of important government based social programs that provide necessary safety nets for society. Unbridled capitalism leads to unstable boom and bust economies. The dot com boom of the nineties followed by the 2008 economic collapse. Humans are particularly adept at thinking their generation is immune to the lessons of history. Wars and economic busts will end when every family everywhere on the planet is lifted out of poverty. When every child everywhere is loved and educated. When societies are structured to protect families, keep them intact.

Ala Moana beach
Ala Moana beach

The Ala Moana beach park was filled with families being together, playing together, eating barbecue and poke. The sound of children laughing, chasing each other in endless games of tag.

Ala Moana sand
Ala Moana sand

After a loop out into Magic Island I ran onto the beach at Ala Moana beach park. The sand was tropical coralline sand, not the soft, sinky, sandstone sands of Encinitas.

Lifeguard station Ala Moana
Lifeguard station Ala Moana

From there I headed towards the middle of the Ala Moana Mall. I wanted to stop at Walgreens, and the optimal route was straight through the the heart of the mall at the Makai food court. Upon entering the mall I dropped to a walking pace, passed through, and went into the two story Walgreens. I was looking for Efficascent oil. I could feel that my muscles would need a rub down post-run. Walgreens, however, had no idea what the sweaty tourist runner was babbling about. I was, very helpfully, pointed in the direction of Don Quijote’s grocery store par excellence. Although Don Quijote would not prove to have Efficascent, I did find virgin cold press coconut oil which would suffice.

Don Quijote's
Don Quijote’s

I trotted, not ran, from Don Quijote to the Pagoda Hotel where my run had begun. Although my layover in Honolulu was but a few hours, I had already seen so much more than most would see given those same few hours.

Running route
Running Route

Sightseeing

An attempt at running in Kosrae this summer proved problematic due to packs of dogs chasing that which is not seen on Kosrae at this time – someone running down the road. I shifted my energies to cleaning up on the farm in Mesen. A trip to San Diego gave me the chance to put on my running shoes for the first time in two months. The area where I am has bike lanes, sidewalks, and many accommodations in the road infrastructure for a runner.

I started the run heading north alongside a light rail line called the Coaster. There are no trains in Micronesia. The running path paralleled the tracks northbound. The sudden horn blast of a northbound train coming up from behind caught me unaware.

Coaster seen from farther back than when it first past me
Coaster seen from farther back than when it first passed me

The bike lane saw some cyclist traffic, but I did not encounter other runners along the route. The route is far from scenic and is not particularly inspiring. The route also lacked the sort of stores that sell water by the bottle. I passed yoga centers, massage parlors, and liquor stores, as in more than one of each. That was interesting,

IMG_20180714_153622747_HDR
Northbound between A101 and the Coaster tracks

Temperatures were on the cool side, and the air was relatively dry compared to what I usually consume on a run. I was not overheating, but I was in need in hydration.

7-Eleven
7-Eleven

Eventually I came up upon a 7-Eleven in a building that looking rather unique, in white tile with a red top trim line, and a curious cylindrical front corner. The 7-Eleven doubled as a gas station and I had the sense that the building had been there a long time.

This would prove to be the only rehydration available along A101 into Carlsbad. As I approached South Carlsbad State Beach at South Ponto I saw a small, sandy track running up to a bluff overlooking South Ponto. Steep, rutted, and sandy, this was the sort of place only a runner or hiker can access.

The view from the bluff at South Ponto
The view from the bluff at South Ponto

Runners really do see so much more of a place, as also perhaps cyclists also do. Still, the cyclists I saw decked out in kit that rolled up the east side 101 northbound would never mount the bluff, and certainly would not wander down to the beach as I did.

South Ponto beach
South Ponto beach

I headed back south, this time branching right at Leucadia Boulevard and taking side streets from there southbound to Moonlight Beach State Park.

Moonlight Beach State Park
Moonlight Beach State Park

Moonlight Beach State Park had tents and umbrellas lined up far down the coast. The ocean was full of people.

Moonlight Beach Lifeguard tower
Moonlight Beach Lifeguard tower

The lifeguard was not a wooden shack on stilts but an impressive two story building with glass tinted to counter the effect of the setting sun on visibility. Guarding this coast must be a challenge: the sun in the west kicks off a ferocious glare from the water, and there are hundreds in the water to keep track off.

With my arrival at Moonlight Beach I had returned to central Encinitas where my run had begun. I had covered just over seven miles and logged 11,500 steps. And I had, as runners do, seen sights and accessed places that would not likely be encountered by someone in a car.

Tiahk en Sahp

“The breadfruit does not come like it did before. Before there were four, five times for breadfruit during the year. Each a different kind of breadfruit. Maybe only one month in the year no breadfruit.”

Nena looked out wistfully towards the now vine covered hills .

“Now no breadfruit, not like before,” pausing in thought before continuing, “No one took care of the trees.”

Two days later I am alone in Mesen, surrounded by a green sea of Merremia peltata vines held up by primarily by Cheilocostus speciosus, a useless wild ginger relative. Merremia lays like a tarp covering everything in the valley. There are tall structures under the tarp, perhaps a coconut over there, maybe a breadfruit tree there. The carpet of vines extends down the valley and out towards the bogs. As far as I can see there is only Merremia.

Underneath the choking tarp the trees are weak and under attack by termites and opportunistic diseases. A single remnant lime tree bears a single lime fruit, a last effort to reproduce under the heavy mantle of vines.

The land is sick.

In the homes down along the oceanside road pots of Oryza sativa cover counters. The residents consume a short grained starchy variety of Oryza, a variety that only briefly satiates one and then one is quickly hungry again. The Oryza spikes blood sugar levels. Their bodies respond by spiking insulin levels, but they quickly develop insulin resistant autoimmune diseases.

The people are sick.

Both the land and the people are dying.

I look out at the sea of vines and tangled thickets, touch stone, pick up my machete, and start swinging. I will lose this battle. As surely as the residents have lost the culture of the land and are now are losing their lives, I too will not prevail.

Calm

Calm app
Calm app

If prayer is asking, meditation is listening. Although meditation is perhaps optimally accomplished in remote isolation, that is not always an accessible possibility. Amid the bustle of an active environment, modern day smartphone apps and headphones can be helpful for the solo neophyte.

These meditation apps, however, tend to be network connectivity dependent. Offline capabilities may be limited or none.

Taking a couple of the market leaders, Calm and Headspace, into an offline environment rather quickly reveals whether the program designers considered disconnected operation.

Calm scenes selection screen
Calm scenes selection screen

The free version of Calm has a scenes feature that operates offline along with offline timers and downloadable meditation music. Calm remains functional in an offline environment, although preloading of scenes must occur prior to heading offline.

Headspace app screenshot
Headspace app

The free version of Headspace, however, appears to have no offline capabilities. Headspace is a collection of streamed sessions rather than a set of meditation tools and meditation support platform.

Offline and disconnected Calm has some potentially useful capabilities, Headspace does not.

While some faiths embrace meditation, other faiths tend not to emphasize meditation.  For those who are interested in adding listening to their asking and are wondering how to listen in a manner in keeping with faith, guidance geared to those accustomed to asking is available. Remember, one need not ask, but one should listen. Smartphone apps such as Calm can also be a useful introduction to meditation while providing support to continuing the practice in an offline location.

Dausokele 16 x 9

Aspect ratios

Thirty-five millimeter film had an aspect ratio of 13.5 to 9. The world was seen through a 3:2 view port, 36 glimpses per roll.

35 mm image
35 mm image, 13.5 to 9 ratio

1997 brought me a Sony digital camera shooting only at an 12:9 ratio, perhaps better known as 4:3. Two decades of the slightly wider 35 mm film ratio left the resulting photos feeling horizontally clipped. Where the horizontal dimension was held constant, as in a blog, the image felt disproportionately tall.

Dausokele 12:9 digital image
Dausokele 12:9 digital image

When the wearable digital cameras I had come to prefer offered 16:9 ratio images in camera, I shifted to the format immediately. I understood that the 16:9 ratio was actually just a cropping of 12:9 on some of these cameras. I was actually throwing away image on the camera’s CCD sensor.

Over the years, however, I had shifted away from editing photos and moved towards ensuring that what was in the view frame was what I wanted in the final image. I wanted to see the 16:9 frame, and the lost pixels were meaningless when my target destination was social media. Nothing throws away more pixels than social media.

Dausokele 16 x 9
Dausokele 16 x 9

Computer monitors were also catching up with my camera preference, with 16:9 monitors becoming a default ratio. During the summer of 2017 I came to realize that in a classroom where students were accessing an online textbook, using an online graphing calculator, and simultaneously completing assignments in an online learning management system, the students needed a 21:9 monitor.

Monitors at 16 x 9 and 21 x 9
Monitors at 16 x 9 and 21 x 9

Short of switching to a panorama mode or cropping in editing software, 21:9 is not available in the wearable cameras I prefer to tote around. For me a camera has to be able to be strapped to my body for a seven mile run or a three mile joggle. My photography is of some instant that I find myself in, some now; unplanned, unprepared.

24 x 9 video
24 x 9 video

My vague awareness of the use of ratio, and preference for particular ratios, caused to me to sit up and take notice that the videographer for a recent video was shooting in 24:9, a ratio I had not seen used this way before. The effect was interesting, creating an almost pseudo-panoramic look to the video. There were shots where the videographer was almost trying too hard to use the 24:9 format.

24 x 9 reaching for using the frame
24 x 9 reaching for using the frame

The four cameras set up left and right almost seems to be a deliberate desire to fill the frame, as if an attempt to justify the extreme letterbox choice.

29 x 9 panorama
29 x 9 panorama

Shooting at 24 x 9 would be interesting if available in camera. One can get close by clipping off a panorama, many of which go well beyond the 24 x 9 ratio. Human vision feels to the user to have a wider span horizontally than vertically. This makes sense for a terrestrial animal for whom most threats were in the horizontal plane. While there is no fixed human eye aspect ratio, functionally human vision is somewhere between 1.5:1 and perhaps 2:1. This puts everything from 13.5:9 to 18:9 in the sweet spot for mimicking human vision.

The 29 x 9 image above cannot actually be seen as one has to turn one’s head to take in everything from the Terminalia catappa on the extreme left to the sign in front of the A building (off-camera) on the extreme right.

33 to 9 panorama
33 to 9 panorama

Even more extreme is this 33 x 9 aspect ratio image that spans nearly 180°. Both of the panoramas distort the reality available to the human eye. Even the 24 x 9 ratio leaves the viewer with a sense of a clipped vision up and down, but then perhaps that was part of the director of photography’s vision for the video. A sense of being vertically trapped, hence in the video the escape from the prison was up a ladder into the sunshine.

Someday perhaps the bulk of images will be viewed in virtual reality equipment that will provide a full spherical image virtually surrounding the viewer. One will be able to look in any direction from the location of the image capture. In that age aspect ratio will no longer have a meaning. Until then, photographers will get to choose the ratio of the frame for their images.

Share what you are seeing with those you know who would also want to see what you are seeing.

Memories

Today the college gathered to remember Professor Lucia Donre. Every organization has their own ways of honoring a fallen comrade, and today the college engaged in the college’s own rituals for loss. Being there was so very important, being there for each other, being there for her family. We stop for a death, we pause, we commune, we console, and for a moment we hold each other.

We speak centrally of remembering perhaps because faculty are, in part, engaged in remembering the knowledge gained in a field and sharing that knowledge with a new generation of learners. Education is an institution devoted to not reinventing wheels. Although faculty publish, not all of their wisdom resides in publications. A loss of a fellow faculty member is a loss of a beloved colleague and a loss of knowledge. A light that shined brightly is lost.

In the small island world here, faculty and their families are interconnected. We know each other’s children. We socialize together, we meet and eat in the same handful of restaurants. There is only one college on the island. Lucia’s older daughter was student in a class of mine. A younger daughter is a friend of my own daughter. We are perhaps all the more keenly aware that we are mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers. We know and care about those who feel the loss most directly.

We are left with only our cherished memories, the joys and sorrows shared. We gather and reshare those stories, reshare the love Lucia brought into our lives.