Saturday, August 25, 2007

In my "In Box"

Dear Tom,

Last night (Friday) I watched one of your performances at Universal Citywalk. You might remember me (tall guy, blue button down shirt), we shook hands after your performance. I just wanted to drop you a line and express again how entertaining your performance was. It was so much fun to watch and be a part of! The old fires are burning again as you have reinvigorated my interest in magic. I used to perform a bit and spend countless evenings at the magic castle.

Thank you for a wonderful performance and a healthy dose of inspiration!

Very Best Wishes!

Nathanael Lark

More Playing Card Presses

Playing Card Press


Just sold on Ebay for $177.50 (not to me. . . didn't like the style)

Playing Card Press, originally uploaded by stuartjudah.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Playing Card Press

Card Press, originally uploaded by stuartjudah.

Been looking for one of these for YEARS. . . still can't afford one I guess. This one didn't sell as the auction reserve price was not met.

Card Press, originally uploaded by stuartjudah.

Bowl Break

Sitting out back on the patio. Enjoying the refreshing cool breeze, quite the opposite of any afternoon lately. Temps in the low 90’s have kept me holed up in the ac. Happy as a turtle, I chill in my crib.

Tomorrow night, back to the Hollywood Bowl, then again on Saturday Night to see Big Bad Voo Doo Daddy. The fun never ends.

Life is full of outrageous splendor. Think it, manifest it, work it, live it. Whatever you want. I just want to make people happy.

I believe that magic can put a smile on a child's face and a child's face on a jaded adult. Not in a Hannibal Lector way, but you get my drift.

It’s late, I’m babbling, I should go to bed. Tomorrow were having our garbage picked couch and chair delivered from their adventure of being upholstered by Bill in Burbank.

More on that later, maybe with pics.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

the glowing valley, originally uploaded by gsgeorge.

Going back to the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday Night!

An all-star lineup of jazz greats: Dave Brubeck, the Bruce Hornsby Trio and Madeleine Peyroux, treat Hollywood Bowl audience to their masterful and diverse performances, Wednesday, August 22, at 8 p.m. American jazz singer Peyroux, whose vocal style is often compared to that of Billie Holiday, opens the concert in her Bowl debut. The ever-popular Dave Brubeck brings his signature and accessible style of jazz back to the Bowl, and Grammy-winner Hornsby, known for drawing from a multitude of musical genres for his whimsical yet refined sound, performs in a trio joined by jazz giants Christian McBride, bass, and Jack DeJohnette, drums.

Madeleine Peyroux - I'm All Right

LA Times Review of Diana Krall


The many faces of stylish Diana Krall

By Don Heckman

There were many aspects of Diana Krall roving the Hollywood Bowl stage Saturday night during the jazz diva's first Southland appearance since the birth, nearly a year ago, of her twin sons, with husband Elvis Costello.

The first was that of a stand-up, big band singer, romping through such standards as "Day In, Day Out" and "Something's Gotta Give" backed by the brassy swing of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Next up -- the more familiar Krall manifestation -- performing in far more subtle, laid-back fashion as a singing pianist, backed by guitarist Anthony Wilson, bassist John Clayton and drummer Jeff Hamilton, illuminating "I've Got You Under My Skin," "Exactly Like You" and "I'll String Along With You."

Then there was the gregarious Krall, a fairly recent development, joking with the enthusiastic crowd of more than 15,000, occasionally slipping too easily from sardonic to sarcastic. Perhaps most fascinating of all, there was the Krall who brings extraordinary musical and narrative insights to music generally associated with the pop world: a stunning take on a song she has virtually made her own, Joni Mitchell's "A Case of You," and the Bee Gees' "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?"

Krall did it all with style and panache in an impressive display of musical versatility. The sometimes tentative young Canadian artist of the mid-'90s, who nonetheless revitalized the craft of jazz singing, has been transformed into a full-service talent.

Fortunately, in the process of building programs diverse enough for appearances at big venues such as the Bowl, she's still in touch with the interpretive sensitivity of early performances, manifest impressively in her solo numbers and her interaction with guitarist Wilson. All was good news for fans of Krall's most admirable skills: the utterly gripping interpretive sensitivity she brought to numbers such as "A Case of You" and the buoyant, hard-driving swing she generates in Nat King Cole-inspired tunes such as "Deed I Do."

Sleights of Mind

Sleights of Mind


The reason he had picked me from the audience, Apollo Robbins insisted, was that I’d seemed so engaged, nodding my head and making eye contact as he and the other magicians explained the tricks of the trade. I believed him when he told me afterward, over dinner at the Venetian, that he hadn’t noticed the name tag identifying me as a science writer. But then everyone believes Apollo — as he expertly removes your wallet and car keys and unbuckles your watch.

It was Sunday night on the Las Vegas Strip, where earlier this summer the Association for the Scientific Study of Consciousness was holding its annual meeting at the Imperial Palace Hotel. The organization’s last gathering had been in the staid environs of Oxford, but Las Vegas — the city of illusions, where the Statue of Liberty stares past Camelot at the Sphinx — turned out to be the perfect locale. After two days of presentations by scientists and philosophers speculating on how the mind construes, and misconstrues, reality, we were hearing from the pros: James (The Amazing) Randi, Johnny Thompson (The Great Tomsoni), Mac King and Teller — magicians who had intuitively mastered some of the lessons being learned in the laboratory about the limits of cognition and attention.

“This wasn’t just a group of world-class performers,” said Susana Martinez-Conde, a scientist at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix who studies optical illusions and what they say about the brain. “They were hand-picked because of their specific interest in the cognitive principles underlying the magic.”

She and Stephen Macknik, another Barrow researcher, organized the symposium, appropriately called the Magic of Consciousness.

Apollo, with the pull of his eyes and the arc of his hand, swung around my attention like a gooseneck lamp, so that it always pointed in the wrong direction. When he appeared to be reaching for my left pocket he was swiping something from the right. At the end of the act the audience applauded as he handed me my pen, some crumpled receipts and dollar bills, and my digital audio recorder, which had been running all the while. I hadn’t noticed that my watch was gone until he unstrapped it from his own wrist.

“He’s uncanny,” Teller said to me afterward as he rushed off for his nightly show with Penn at the Rio.

A recurring theme in experimental psychology is the narrowness of perception: how very little of the sensory clamor makes its way into awareness. Earlier in the day, before the magic show, a neuroscientist had demonstrated a phenomenon called inattentional blindness with a video made at the Visual Cognition Laboratory at the University of Illinois.

In the video, six men and women — half with white shirts and half with black — are tossing around a couple of basketballs. Viewers are asked to count how many times members of, say, the white team, manage to complete a pass, keeping the ball from the opposition. I dutifully followed the instructions and was surprised when some 15 seconds into the game, laughter began to ripple through the audience. Only when I watched a second time did I see the person in the gorilla suit walking on from stage left. (The video is online at

Secretive as they are about specifics, the magicians were as eager as the scientists when it came to discussing the cognitive illusions that masquerade as magic: disguising one action as another, implying data that isn’t there, taking advantage of how the brain fills in gaps — making assumptions, as The Amazing Randi put it, and mistaking them for facts.

Sounding more like a professor than a comedian and magician, Teller described how a good conjuror exploits the human compulsion to find patterns, and to impose them when they aren’t really there.

“In real life if you see something done again and again, you study it and you gradually pick up a pattern,” he said as he walked onstage holding a brass bucket in his left hand. “If you do that with a magician, it’s sometimes a big mistake.”

Pulling one coin after another from the air, he dropped them, thunk, thunk, thunk, into the bucket. Just as the audience was beginning to catch on — somehow he was concealing the coins between his fingers — he flashed his empty palm and, thunk, dropped another coin, and then grabbed another from a gentlemen’s white hair. For the climax of the act, Teller deftly removed a spectator’s glasses, tipped them over the bucket and, thunk, thunk, two more coins fell.

As he ran through the trick a second time, annotating each step, we saw how we had been led to mismatch cause and effect, to form one false hypothesis after another. Sometimes the coins were coming from his right hand, and sometimes from his left, hidden beneath the fingers holding the bucket.

He left us with his definition of magic: “The theatrical linking of a cause with an effect that has no basis in physical reality, but that — in our hearts — ought to.”

• • •

In his opening address, Michael Gazzaniga, the president of the consciousness association, had described another form of prestidigitation — a virtual reality experiment in which he had put on a pair of electronic goggles that projected the illusion of a deep hole opening in what he knew to be a solid concrete floor. Jolted by the adrenaline rush, his heart beat faster and his muscles tensed, a reminder that even without goggles the brain cobbles together a world from whatever it can.

“In a sense our reality is virtual,” Dr. Gazzaniga said. “Think about flying in an airplane. You’re up there in an aluminum tube, 30,000 feet up, going 600 miles an hour, and you think everything is all right.”

Dr. Gazzaniga is famous for his work with split-brain patients, whose left and right hemispheres have been disconnected as a last-ditch treatment for severe epilepsy. These are the experiments that have led to the notion, oversimplified in popular culture, that the left brain is predominantly analytical while the right brain is intuitive and laid-back.

The left brain, as Dr. Gazzaniga put it, is the confabulator, constantly concocting stories. But mine was momentarily dumbstruck when, after his talk, I passed through a doorway inside the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino and entered an air-conditioned simulation of the Grand Canal. My eyes were drawn upward to the stunning illusion of a trompe l’oeil sky and what I decided must be ravens flying high overhead. Looking closer, my brain discarded that theory, and I saw that the black curved wings were the edges of discs — giant thumbtacks holding up the sky. Later I was told they were automatic sprinklers, in case the clouds catch fire.

“It’s ‘The Truman Show,’ ” said Robert Van Gulick, a philosopher at Syracuse University, as I joined him at a table overlooking a version of the Piazza San Marco. A sea breeze was wafting through the window, the clouds were glowing in the late afternoon sun (and they were still glowing, around 10:30 p.m., when I headed back toward my hotel). How could we be sure that the world outside the Venetian — outside Las Vegas itself — wasn’t also a simulation? Or that I wasn’t just a brain in a vat in some mad scientist’s laboratory.

Dr. Van Gulick had come to the conference to talk about qualia, the raw, subjective sense we have of colors, sounds, tastes, touches and smells. The crunch of the crostini, the slitheriness of the penne alla vodka — a question preoccupying philosophers is where these personal experiences fit within a purely physical theory of the mind.

Like physicists, philosophers play with such conundrums by engaging in thought experiments. In a recent paper, Michael P. Lynch, a philosopher at the University of Connecticut, entertained the idea of a “phenomenal pickpocket,” an imaginary creature, like Apollo the thief, who distracts your attention while he removes your qualia, turning you into what’s known in the trade as a philosophical zombie. You could catch a ball, hum a tune, stop at a red light — act exactly like a person but without any sense of what it is like to be alive. If zombies are logically possible, some philosophers insist, then conscious beings must be endowed with an ineffable essence that cannot be reduced to biological circuitry.

Dr. Lynch’s fantasy was a ploy to undermine the zombie argument. But if zombies do exist, it is probably in Las Vegas. One evening as I walked across the floor of the Imperial Palace casino — a cacophony of clanging bells and electronic arpeggios — it was easy to imagine that the hominids parked in front of the one-armed bandits were simply extensions of the machines.

“Intermittent conditioning,” suggested Irene Pepperberg, an adjunct associate professor at Brandeis University who studies animal intelligence. If you want to train a laboratory rat to pull a crank to get a food pellet, the reflex will be scratched in deeper if the creature is rewarded with some regularity but not all the time.

Dr. Pepperberg has thrown a wild card into studies of consciousness with her controversial experiments with African gray parrots. With a brain “the size of a walnut,” as she puts it, the birds display what appears to be the cognitive potential of a young child. Her best-known parrot, Alex, can stare at a tray of objects and pick the one that has four corners and is blue. He has also coined his own word for almond — “cork nut.”

With appearances on PBS and a cameo role in a Margaret Atwood novel, “Oryx and Crake,” Alex has entered the popular imagination, while Dr. Pepperberg struggles to find a secure academic position. Critics can’t resist comparing Alex to “Clever Hans,” the famous horse whose arithmetical abilities were exposed as learned responses to his trainer’s subtle cues. Dr. Pepperberg says she controls for that possibility in her experiments and believes her parrots are thinking and expressing themselves with words.

• • •

One evening out on the Strip, I spotted Daniel Dennett, the Tufts University philosopher, hurrying along the sidewalk across from the Mirage, which has its own tropical rain forest and volcano. The marquees were flashing and the air-conditioners roaring — Las Vegas stomping its carbon footprint with jackboots in the Nevada sand. I asked him if he was enjoying the qualia. “You really know how to hurt a guy,” he replied.

For years Dr. Dennett has argued that qualia, in the airy way they have been defined in philosophy, are illusory. In his book “Consciousness Explained,” he posed a thought experiment involving a wine-tasting machine. Pour a sample into the funnel and an array of electronic sensors would analyze the chemical content, refer to a database and finally type out its conclusion: “a flamboyant and velvety Pinot, though lacking in stamina.”

If the hardware and software could be made sophisticated enough, there would be no functional difference, Dr. Dennett suggested, between a human oenophile and the machine. So where inside the circuitry are the ineffable qualia?

Retreating to a bar at the Imperial Palace, we talked about a different mystery he had been pondering: the role words play inside the brain. Learn a bit of wine speak — “ripe black plums with an accent of earthy leather” — and you are suddenly equipped with anchors to pin down your fleeting gustatory impressions. Words, he suggested, are “like sheepdogs herding ideas.”

As he sipped his drink he tried out another metaphor, involving a gold panning technique he had learned about in New Zealand. Lead and gold are similar in density. If you salt the slurry with buck shot and swirl the pan around, the dark pellets will track the elusive flecks of gold.

With a grab bag of devices accumulated over the eons, the brain pulls off the ultimate conjuring act: the subjective sense of I.

“Stage magicians know that a collection of cheap tricks will often suffice to produce ‘magic,’ ” Dr. Dennett has written, “and so does Mother Nature, the ultimate gadgeteer.”

At the end of the magic show where I was fleeced by Apollo, The Amazing Randi called on Dr. Dennett and another volunteer to help with the final act. As Mr. Randi sat on a chair, the two men tightly bound his arms to his thighs with a rope.

“Daniel, would you take off your jacket for me for just a moment?” the conjuror asked. “Now drape it around the front of my hands.”

“A little higher,” Mr. Randi said.

Without missing a beat, he grabbed the collar and pulled it up toward his chin. The audience cheered. Either he had slipped the ropes in a matter of seconds or his hands had been free all along.

“Allow people to make assumptions and they will come away absolutely convinced that assumption was correct and that it represents fact,” Mr. Randi said. “It’s not necessarily so.”

The New York Times

Monday, August 20, 2007

One more Saturday Night

The Diana Krall concert at the Hollywood Bowl Saturday night, kicked ass! The LA Philharmonic opened the first half with "Times Square, 1944" (from Three Dance Episodes from On the Town) Leonard Bernstein, followed by "Caravan" Juan Tizol & Duke Ellington , and ending a short first half with "Suite from Porgy and Bess" George Gershwin. Beautiful music beneath the stars tucked away in the Hollywood Hills. How cool is that!?

During intermission I smoked a bit of cigar as we wandered about. The second half of the evening featured Krall with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Both Krall and the jazz band are familiar to Bowl audiences - she has performed at the legendary venue numerous times and the band served as the resident jazz orchestra from 1998 to 2001.

With Polly cuddled up to me I thought how very wonderful this night was. We started our evening at a quaint Italian Restaurant, in Polly's old neighborhood, where we enjoyed sauteed calamari and some pesto lamb chops, Polly had the linguini with sea scallops. Yummy.

At the bowl we uncorked a bottle of wine and soaked in the beautiful music and atmosphere. Diana Krall belted out a beautiful selection of jazz standards, Nat King Cole, Sinatra, Cole Porter. This my friends is great music. The band was great. Another wonderful evening in LA.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Diana Krall

diana krall, originally uploaded by Sea to Sky Golf Company.

DSC_9535, originally uploaded by Toni Wasinger.