Thursday, January 15, 2009

Hot Springs Canyon: Happy New Year, Holiday Letter, Greetings

Happy New Year! Here's my holiday letter.

January 1, 2009

Dear Friends,

Greetings from Canyon, California, 20 minutes southeast of Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area. Happy New Year! How are you? I’d love to hear your news.

I've traveled a lot this year, focusing mostly on doing fieldwork at Harbin Hot Springs, - - a hot springs retreat center 2 hours northeast of San Francisco. I'm writing an ethnography about it, and planning to create a virtual Harbin in Open Sim and/or Second Life. In addition to this, I've taught “Society and Information Technology” about the digital revolution in the 3-D virtual world of Second Life this year, both on Berkman Island (not on Harvard's faculty) and on Penn State Island. In addition to teaching, I've taken classes this fall at Berkeley to focus the chapter writing for my book.

In the course of the year, I also visited Sierra Hot Springs, Harbin's sister springs in the Sierra Valley in northeast corner of California, a number of times for research, traveled to the Pacific Northwest - Oregon and Washington - seeing many old friends :), and visiting my alma mater Reed College, attended a "Cultures of Virtual Worlds" conference at U.C. Irvine near Los Angeles, went to the Rainbow Gathering in early July in Wyoming, and visited Cuttyhunk Island, Massachusetts in the summer.

I think a fair amount about my father, around this first anniversary of his death on November 25, 2007. It was caused by complications from a subdural hematoma from a concussion he received while in Belize 4 years ago, on Semester at Sea on December 30, 2004. While I'm very sad he's gone, I'm glad he's past the challenges he was facing over the last three years of his life. We all miss him. Here’s an entry in Wikipedia about him:, with some additional web sites about his life. My mother and brother, who I just visited in Pittsburgh, are doing relatively well.

I’m re-visiting here some ideas from my holiday letter 2 years ago. What is wisdom in modernity, or the network society, (, social conditions that some social theorists suggest is ‘shaping’ life today (say, since the printing press, the Enlightenment and 'industrialization'), now influenced significantly by computing and the Internet? How does the Internet help reshape modernity and post-modernity? In this now information-rich world in which we live, is wisdom a moot idea? I think that wisdom in the network society has both to do with networking, and in making connections in a broad sense, and which, in my experience, is somehow made better in conjunction with the relaxation response (Benson 1972). Here are some steps to elicit the relaxation response -

I’ve had an eventful few years. In the fall of 2005 I was on Semester at Sea, and, at the end of this voyage, I spent 3 ½ weeks traveling through a lot of India, a fascinating motherland. In the spring of 2005 I lived at Harbin Hot Springs in northern California for a few months. Since studying at Berkeley (2000-2001), the University of California, Santa Barbara (2001-2003), and the University of Edinburgh (2000-2004), I’ve taught college in anthropology and sociology, most recently in the 3-D virtual world of Second Life. I study some social effects of the Internet and information technologies.

One place you might enjoy exploring is the virtual emerging world and society in Second Life - The program and going in-world are free, and there are a lot of virtual islands to explore (your computer needs to have a gigabyte of RAM). And all kinds of things take place there like musical performances and lectures, universities and nightclubs. In addition, you can communicate with other avatars, through type-chat and voice, and create and build anything imaginable. And there's a currency, the Linden dollar, which has an exchange rate with the U.S. dollar, if you want eventually to buy things, but at no time do you have to give your credit card. Second Life, like other virtual worlds, is developing quickly and will change a lot in the upcoming years. Virtual worlds are fascinating and it’s worth getting an avatar – having an avatar is a little like having an e-mail address - but exploring in world doesn’t compare with having good friends. The Internet and virtual worlds allow for all of us to become information producers, relatively freely, with far-reaching implications.

In the spring of 2007 I taught "Sociology" at Penn State, and “Society and Information Technology,” at Chatham University, and through the University of Pittsburgh’s OSHER program, all 'in-the-actual-classroom.' And in that summer and fall of 2007, and the spring and summer of 2008, I taught "Society and Information Technology" in Second Life on Berkman Island. Virtual worlds like Second Life make meeting at any time, and across great distances, a possibility, - online academic conferences and courses, for example, are a ‘real’ possibility – and virtual worlds allow opportunities for innovation in many other ways. And they’re easy to use. My research interests are leading me to examine some of the distinctions between ‘real’ and virtual processes, which have arisen due to information technologies like Second Life.

In June 2007, I spent about 2 ½ weeks in Greece taking a yoga course with Angela Farmer and Victor van Kooten, who are unique and creative yoga teachers.

In August 2007, I helped celebrate my parents 50th Anniversary on Cuttyhunk Island in Massachusetts. I was so glad my father could participate a year and a half ago.

Sandy, my brother, is a sculptor in Maine: His art is an ongoing exploration for him, and beautiful.

My mother is fully engaged in Pittsburgh on the board of the Pittsburgh Chamber Music Society, walking, gardening, traveling and visiting friends.

Concerning health, I return to the thinking that a very low-fat, varied, natural foods diet, 30 minutes of daily movement (vis-a-vis Dean Ornish’s, M.D., clinical, medical research showing the heart disease is reversible through lifestyle changes – WebMD -, a multi-vitamin, and omega-3s {for mood, heart disease, and more} (Dr. Andy Weil: have numerous health benefits. Dr. Andy Weil’s web site’s search field, in particular, offers much useful integrative and complementary medical information. In a related vein, keeping one’s brain active learning, for example, a foreign language or a musical instrument benefits the mind, and is useful for lessening the effects of aging, particularly memory loss ( (Use it or lose it?)

Thinking outside the ‘box,’ I wonder how one might realize great happiness / bliss, in conjunction with the pragmatics of daily life? My Friends’ Dalton Letter and 4 other related letters are partly an exploration of this:, and I continue to find creative possibilities in thinking about these letters. Listening to Mozart’s arias, doing contact improvisational dance, contra-dance, and talking with friends, are ways for me to access qualities of bliss, - so yes, it is possible. I'm curious how extensively and with what qualities? Click on ‘notes’ on my yoga page - - for related perspectives. I’m interested in your thoughts about this.

This past year, I've also begun to envision and realize World University and School: A Global, Virtual, Open, Free-to-Students, Multilingual University {potentially Degree-Granting, with Great Universities as Key Players} and School, using a Wikipedia model, for the Developing World {One Laptop Per Child countries to begin with} and Everyone - So, all languages, all subjects. Add or take a class. Here's the Facebook page: World University and School is based on a kind of Wikipedia-cum-MIT Open Course Ware model. While the possibility that many people will contribute an amazingly wide variety of courses is exhilaratingly exciting with creative potential, and academically, too, I'm particularly interested in how we might make learning fun, and to explore questions of eliciting loving bliss here, as well. Post a course about this :).

I've also started to play my Scottish Highland Bagpipe regularly, and for events like weddings, too -

I also started this blog - - in June 2008, and as of January 16, 2009, have made 189 entries. Click on the 'poetry' tag here to read some poetry I'm writing, including some haiku-ish :)

hot pool, cold plunge
light through a leaf ~ fig:
green light smile

Whether or not wisdom has something to do with connecting positively, the world continues to be a beautiful and symbolically-rich place, especially with the Internet. Engaging it creatively is enjoyable. And for me, the relaxation response - - accentuates this.

Warm regards in the New Year,


The computer adds new ways to create things, easily. Here's a perspective on the Apple MacBook:

The new-ish Apple MacBook, which runs both main operating systems (Mac OS - operating system - and Windows OS), has useful and easy video technologies, including making video-making and conferencing easy. The Mac OS makes computing elegantly easy. There’s now a program that runs both the Mac OS and Windows OS at the same time on the same machine, called Parallels.

There's no reason not to get an Apple MacBook now. (You can run all your old Window's software on it). Getting a MacBook with a large hard drive and the maximum memory will make it useful well into the future. The thirteen inch screen Apple MacBook has a battery that lasts much than the 2 hours of the larger screen of Apple’s MacBook Pro, and does everything the larger laptop does for $1850, instead of $2900 for the MacBook Pro. Everything is done and ordered through the Apple web site. Here’s a CNET review about it:;lst. If you have or get an Apple MacBook, and want to video-conference using iChat, which makes it very easy, let me know your .mac or free AIM address.


And MIT’s new One Laptop per Child, the XO – is another fascinating convergence development.


This click-to-give web site: - with 6 possible clicks daily, plus more with mult. browsers, and x 2 with a MacBook w/ Parallels, allows you to give to worthy causes just by mouse clicking.


(Scott Macleod Bagpiping at Easter Harbin Hot Springs with wizard and Easter Bunny
photo: Harbin Hot Spring's Easter 2005 (Scott MacLeod and Eric R.) photo credit ?)

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