Weather-themed cocktail recipes

Four seasons, four pitchers.  Make ’em in advance, chill them well, pour them out at parties, keep it flowing!

All numbers below are parts to indicate proportions.


6 Rum
1 Sweet lime juice
1.5 Passion fruit puree

Autumn Wind:

3 Apple cider
2 Whisky
1 Cinnamon Schnapps
Bitters and lemon juice to taste

Chocolate Thunder:

1 Bailey’s
1 Rum
1 Kahlua
4 Coca-Cola

Note: keep the coca-cola separate until serving; careful when pouring, as it will create a head like a root beer float; afterwards, you can keep the leftovers of the 3-alcohol combination outside of the refrigerator


3 Ginger beer
1 Bourbon

Chill both ingredients separately, and only combine when pouring.

At Richard Feynman’s grave

Yesterday, the family and I went to the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles for some pig-snout tacos, after  which we headed to The Last Bookstore to browse the shelves.  Such a beautiful bookstore, nestled in a historic building:



I love being in bookstores, not only to discover, but to listen to the books, to hear which ones would speak to me from the shelves.  This time, it was the books on the late Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman – books of his lectures, a few biographies about him, and of course his incredible autobiography Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!

“Surely You’re Joking…” was a touchstone book for me; I read it in college, and Feynman instantly became my intellectual hero: a supremely gifted but dedicated thinker; an exceptionally curious and skeptical mind; the morally-searching creator of the world’s deadliest weapon; a holy prankster… and a lover of women, flotation tanks, world travel, and playing the bongos.  Here was a man who could live the life of the mind while still living life to the fullest, with his eyes wide open, leveraging his hard-earned knowledge to experience to be able to enjoy an honest sense of mystery and awe which to me seemed more beautiful than any world mythology.  I wanted to be like him.


From the great Wellington Grey:


And as I flipped through the books on Feynman at The Last Bookstore, I remembered that he had taught at Caltech, and I started to get the idea that he was probably buried right near my house, and that we should visit his grave.  I looked him up and saw that he was.  So we drove to Mountain View Cemetery in Altadena to look for his grave, and after some time, we came upon it.  And to my delight, his gravesite matched my image of what it should and would be – the humblest one in the whole lot.  For Feynman was a man who always had laughed at pomp (he had resigned from a club at MIT because it spent most of its time deciding who would be worthy of membership).

As my family stood beside his grave, I tried to tell my 8-year-old son how much Feynman’s thoughts and life meant to me, but Anatol was only in the mood to goof around – which seemed entirely appropriate.  So I snapped this picture, which is beautiful to me.  In heart of my family, Feynman lives on.


Anatol Felsen at Richard Feynman’s grave



Anatol’s chess variation

My son’s not a bad chess player, considering his age and the fact that he’s just as happy to play any other game with me, but he invented a delightful variation this weekend which I’d like to share:

– Set up pieces on first three rows anywhere you want; you can make one adjustment after your opponent does the same.
– Pawns move forwards as normal, but they capture sideways instead of diagonally.
– Night pieces are now queens, and the queen is a knight.

He’s also experimenting with a “towering pieces” move, where you can move your piece (via a legal move) onto another of your own pieces; then, you move that tower forward as the top piece would move, remove the top piece from the board (it’s “taken”), and move the bottom piece from there as the bottom piece would move. But I prefer playing his original variation without it.


Alan Lomax’s archive of field recordings now is available for free online!

In 1995, I was running the Philadelphia Music Conference, one of the country’s largest music/business gatherings.  It was that year when I discovered world music – and I used to drive my staff crazy playing discs like “Mbuti Pygmies of the Ituri Rainforest” when they wanted to hear Pearl Jam.

So I called Smithsonian Folkways and offered them a deal: I would give them a grand sponsorship to the conference, and they would send me their catalog – every single CD in their world music collection, and hundreds of cassette tapes.  I treasured this music greatly, and it influenced my composing and changed my life.

To go beyond their catalog, I had to go scour through Goldmine, libraries, or NYC record stores to hear great music at the margins.  But today, I discovered that much of the work of the great folklorist Alan Lomax is now online to browse and listen, for free.

Now, you can watch videos of Appalachian folktales and hear shepherd’s tunes from Azerbaijan, all in one place – and see the cultural heritage of our species beautifully laid out.  It’s an embarrassment of riches – which you shouldn’t be too embarrassed to plunder.  Enjoy.


My first book of poetry is now live on!


When I was at the San Francisco Writers Conference for BookBaby, I participated in the late-night poetry reading – and the poets encouraged me to publish my own work!  It’s a collection of poems on love, desire, romance, relationships, and the artistic endeavor.

Please buy the book now – it’s only 99 cents – takes 30%, and 100% of the rest will go to Camfed USA Charity (the Campaign for Female Education in Africa).

You can get your copy here:

RIP Peter Bergman

Peter Bergman, founding member of Firesign Theatre, died last week.  If you haven’t heard them, break out your headphones and check out my two favorite albums of theirs (both on Spotify and iTunes): “Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me The Pliers” and “How Can You Be In Two Places At Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All

Their work was a huge influence on me – I first heard the Firesign Theatre in college, when I played their albums so many times that the grooves on the records wore thin.  These weren’t merely comedy recordings; they redefined spoken word recorded performance: stereophonic cinematic plays, best through headphones, even better with dwarves.  They played with language not just as hipster word-poetry, but to reveal important truths about the nature of conscious experience – while managing to be as ghastly funny and frightening as the expanding universe itself.  Many consider “Dwarf” to be the greatest comedy record ever made, although I tend to play “How Can You Be…” more often.



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Father to a 7-year-old existentialist

Albert Camus, Nobel prize winner, half-length ...
Image via Wikipedia

Last night, we were eating dinner at a stargazing gathering in the Mojave desert. Anatol made a comment about death, and I commented, “That’s my little existentialist.”

Anatol: “What’s an existentialist?”

Me: “Existentialism is a school of philosophy which was big after World War II… you know, Camus, Sartre… OK, it means that even if life seems absurd, you have to create your own meaning…”

Anatol: “I don’t understand.”

Me: “Suppose I were to ask, what’s the pupose of life and why are we here?”

Anatol: “We’re here because of the explosion of a supernova!”

At this, the scientists at the table from NASA and JPL pricked up their ears.

Me: “No, I mean… let me put it this way: A lot of people believe in God, and that’s OK, but suppose you don’t – what do you think, then, is the meaning of life?”

Anatol: “The meaning of life is 42!”

The whole table laughed.

Anatol: “Daddy, can I go roast some marshmallows now?”

My 7-year-old is quite proficient in finding his own meaning and living sincerely and passionately, and I’m here to help him roast those marshmallows.

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Book review: Nicholas Humphrey’s “Soul Dust”

In an earlier post, I wrote about how the dinner I had at Nicholas Humphrey‘s house while visiting the UK for the London Book Fair. I was so moved that I decided to post here a book review I wrote for his latest masterwork, Soul Dust. Enjoy!

Why do people have qualitative phenomenal experiences, and why is it “like something” to have sensations? And why do we feel special and spiritual, as if we existed in a “soul niche?” In his marvelous book Soul Dust, Nicholas Humphrey provides perhaps the most sensible solutions to these fundamental but seemingly-intractable questions, and he offers some credible possibilities how and why consciousness likely evolved with these features.

The first half of Soul Dust is a whirlwind tour through Humphrey’s thoughts on sensation and why first-person experience feels like it does. As the author favors brevity, this part of the book is dense and requires some mental lifting on the part of the reader. Humphrey explains how natural selection could “adjust the properties of existing sensory feedback loops so as to steer the activity toward a special class of attractor states… [which] would seem, from the subject’s point of view, to give sensations their phenomenal properties.” Then, he illustrates multiple lines of evidence on what consciousness is for – why it may not enable you to do something but still has the crucial function of encouraging you to do something – and that primary individualism, by helping us develop a theory of mind, is beneficial for the individual *and* for the social group. Finally, he surveys the important work of scientists and convincingly argues why philosophers are still necessary, arguing that “the probability is that brain scientists would not recognize the NCC [neural correlates of consciousness] for what it is even if it were right in front of them.”

With this foundation in place, it’s the second half of Soul Dust which truly astonishes, for here, Humphrey shows why life can be beautiful in the face of death. Drawing on multiple lines of evidence (from for types and degrees of consciousness and “presentism” in other animals; poetry; primitive art, psychological studies; and even the last meals of death row inmates), Humphrey describes how and why we take pleasure in existence in itself. If natural selection can arrange pleasure in the feeling of existing, existing can become a goal, and you can plan and go through pain or delayed gratifications to achieve or continue it. In a brilliant move, Humphrey shows how and why our experience and the structure of our minds guide the false intuitions that our “souls” could somehow live on after bodily death. This helps explain why reductionist theory is counterintuitive for so many people and how religion rides as a parasite on our natural predilection for spirituality (and not vice versa).

The beautiful final chapters provide strong evidence for how phenomenal consciousness is a “magic show” you stage in your head which lights up the world so you can feel special and transcendent, and why it’s adaptive for you to feel that way (as well as even to have death anxiety). In so doing, Humphrey gives voice to the notion that there is actually beauty in being a creature which knows it’s going to die.

For thousands of years, people have told crazy stories to explain and to comfort each other in the face of death, tales which include positing earth-centered creation, the permanence of souls, and even consciousness as a separate fundamental element of the universe. But, to quote the film True Grit, “I do not entertain such hypotheticals, for the world as it is is vexing enough.” It can seem like a dark joke to have a subjective experience of consciousness for such a brief period of individual existence. But this book finds meaning and beauty in our brief skein not as a fairy tale a “gallows-humor” consolation prize; it shows how this “magical mystery show” of consciousness and sensation over a limited timeframe is actually lovely, and in so doing, it gives the reader the feeling that everything is illuminated. “Sentio ergo sum” (“I feel, therefore I am”) indeed!

Soul Dust is worth every minute of attention it demands, and it’s a mind-expanding, life-affirming work.

– Brian Felsen, President, BookBaby
@bookbaby, @brianfelsen