Many Lives, Many Masters

I recently finished reading "Many Lives, Many Masters" by Dr. Brian Weiss, a classic in the literature on past lives and reincarnation in the Western world. The book is based on the true case history of a young woman named Catherine who visits Dr. Weiss's psychiatry practice in the early 1980s seeking treatment for depression, anxiety, and multiple phobias. Dr. Weiss was head of psychiatry at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, Florida, at the time. As a classically trained psychiatrist, he is well-versed in conventional treatments that eschew the supernatural and spiritual dimensions in favor of more scientifically verifiable and measurable methods.

After such conventional treatments provide little relief to his patient, Dr. Weiss tries hypnosis on Catherine, opening an unexpected and unorthodox pathway of treatment. During hypnosis, Dr. Weiss hopes to find reasons for Catherine's phobias in repressed childhood memories of trauma, but instead he finds trauma from more than a dozen of Catherine's past lives, ranging from ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire to Celtic Britain. Dr. Weiss discovers the so-called "Master Spirits" in the space between Catherine's lives, a space where she has died in one lifetime but has not yet been reincarnated into another lifetime. These beings seem to guide immortal souls through their many lifetimes, dispensing advice in the form generic platitudes that could have been lifted from almost any of the world's religions. There are identifiable personalities among the Master Spirits, and they continually reappear throughout the book, with Dr. Weiss eagerly awaiting the messages they bring.

Dr. Weiss continually reminds the reader of the skepticism he feels during these sessions with Catherine. He imagines his colleagues' chagrin if they were to realize the depth to which he's gone with Catherine in exploring these topics. In some instances, Catherine's hypnotic recall of past lives borders on believable. Dr. Weiss reassures us that Catherine speaks languages she has never studied while she's under hypnosis, or that she can expertly describe the embalming of the dead in one of her ancient lifetimes in the Near East. Despite this, I am skeptical of Catherine's ability to recall her past lives. Most of the accounts contain very general descriptions of Catherine's appearance in the past life along with depictions of surroundings that any person remotely familiar with antiquity could manufacture. In a few instances, Catherine describes a life in the 19th or 20th centuries. In one such life, she is a German fighter pilot during World War II and has landed her aircraft directly after a battle to help evacuate the remaining soldiers and wounded from the area. Dr. Weiss encourages Catherine to approach and enter her aircraft. She says "I don't want to go [...] [i]t's so senseless," referring to the war and her role within it, a fair statement and sentiment. However, in avoiding the aircraft she also avoids Dr. Weiss's questions about the aircraft and its appearance and operation. Unlike the process of embalming the dead, flying an aircraft involves technical skill not easily imagined by the uninitiated.

While maintaining my skepticism of past lives and reincarnation, I am hesitant to fully dismiss the utility and effectiveness of Dr. Weiss's unusual approach to trauma counseling. If describing traumas from past lives, whether real or imagined, improves one's ability to cope with situations in the present, then I see no reason why such a treatment method should be ridiculed. Dr. Weiss alludes to this viewpoint later in the book when his own anxieties about death are assuaged by the knowledge that we may live multiple lifetimes. This, in essence, is the same reassurance that mainstream Judeo-Christian religions offer, except they avoid reincarnation, instead offering immortality to the soul after one lifetime. There are exceptions to this, like the concept of reincarnation in various Kabbalistic texts, but most Western religions either do not mention reincarnation or actively deny its existence.

Whether or not the reassurance that "there must be more to life than this" is a weakness of humanity or a key to our survival depends largely on our individual approach to the question. Dr. Weiss continues to treat patients with hypnosis and past life regression, and he continues to see positive results. In the end, Dr. Weiss's patients benefit from his treatment, and we are left with thoughtful questions and a good story.

Tags: book reading

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(Re)Learning Morse Code

When I first received my amateur radio license in 2019, I barely thought about Morse code. Older hams reminded me that Morse code was once a required part of the exam for obtaining a license, and that new operators should be thankful for the much easier tests of recent years that don't require it. A few months after I received my technician license, a fellow ham (one of my Elmers) invited me on a hike for Summits on the Air (SOTA). He worked stations around the world on CW using 8 watts of power and a key made from paperclips and spare wood pieces. I was intrigued and decided to begin learning Morse code.

After a few months of studying, I purchased a decent Morse code paddle. By this point, I was a general class operator with HF privileges. I called CQ on 40 meters for several nights using CW. When a station replied to my call one evening, I discovered, to my horror, that I could not understand the code transmitted by the operator on the other end. The speed was not excessively fast, and yet I could not complete the QSO. I was frustrated and didn't understand what had happened.

When studying during the previous months, I had relied on visual reference materials to learn Morse code. I had a reference guide with the dots and dashes representing each letter and number on it. When I listened to pre-recorded audio clips of QSOs, I diligently followed along with my visual aid, mentally translating each sound into pictures of dots and dashes. The proper way to study Morse code is to listen to the sounds, translating them directly into letters and numbers. The extraneous step of visualizing the dots and dashes in your head significantly slows down comprehension and response time. Additionally, I had focused too much of my studying on transmitting instead of receiving. This was the cause of my inability to complete my first Morse code QSO! I needed to relearn.

In many ways, relearning Morse code is harder the second time around, especially since I'm coming to it with my existing visualizations. I've now been using a mobile phone app called MorseZapp to help me break my bad Morse code habits. The paid version has a lot of practice exercises for both transmitting and receiving in addition to exercises on Q signals and common CW phrases. I highly recommend this app if you have an Apple device.

I practice with the app at least once or twice a week, and I've now completed several successful QSOs on both 40 meters and 20 meters. It's a huge improvement from where I was in 2019.

Tags: amateurradio cw

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I'm now sending and receiving Webmentions on this site!

Webmention is similar to Pingback, except it is simpler to implement. I wrote my own Webmention handler following the spec on the W3C web site.

The core concept is that an HTTP endpoint receives a POST request with two variables set: source and target. When sending outbound Webmention requests (e.g. links from your site to an external site), the source will be a page on your site, and the target will be the external site. When receiving inbound Webmention requests (e.g. an external site linking to your site), the source will be the external site, and the target will be a page on your site.

The Webmention protocol requires that the source and target are valid URLs and that the source actually links to the target. Checking that the source links to the target requires retrieving the source over the network and parsing it for links. That lends itself to abuse by malicious actors if the processing is done synchronously. To mitigate some of the abuse risk, my Webmention receiver processes inbound and outbound requests asychronously (i.e., by storing the requests in a database and processing them later via a cron job).

Pingback was plagued with spam almost from inception, and if Webmention is more widely implemented, it will most likely suffer the same fate. There are multiple extensions to Webmention (like Vouch) that try to reduce unwanted spam. I'll be implementing Vouch in the near future on my site.

What happens once a Webmention is received and processed? The spec doesn't define any required action beyond the HTTP 202 - Accepted response on success or HTTP 400 - Bad Request on failure. I intend to publish any Webmention requests as comments on the blog post for which the request was received. The code to handle that portion of the process is still in progress.

For now, I am sending the Webmention endpoint URL for each blog post on my site as part of the Link header. Most Webmention libraries should be able to retrieve and parse the endpoint from that header.

At some point, once I feel comfortable with my Webmention implementation, I'll likely release it on Github under a BSD-style license.

Tags: webmention

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I wrote this blog platform specifically for my site. It's a minimalistic platform intended for a small site with a single author or administrator. As I was developing the platform, I debated how to handle the input of new entries, specifically whether to include HTML tags in the content of an entry when storing data in the database. I originally stored the entry content as plaintext without HTML tags, and when displaying the content, I used PHP's nl2br method to convert newlines to HTML line break tags.

That solution left me unsatisfied; it felt like a hack. Ultimately I settled on using markdown to input new entries in the system. I store the markdown plaintext in the database, and when displaying the content, I utilize Parsedown to convert the markdown to HTML.

The blog entries can now be displayed for the web quite easily, or they can be used in other applications that understand markdown. Arguably, HTML is widespread enough that portability concerns should be minimal, but its hierarchical nature means that a valid HTML document requires the appropriate opening tag, header, body, closing tag, etc. A blog entry in a database with basic HTML tags is not a valid HTML document on its own. With markdown, the plaintext of the content in the database is valid and can be easily rendered as HTML.

Pedantic? Perhaps, but this solution is satisfying.

Tags: markdown

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First Post

Another blog, another inaugural post. Another wellspring of activity that lasts through the warm months and drifts away in the colder ones.

I'm not sure what I want this blog to represent. Maybe a reading list? A brief synopsis of my day? Quotes and random interesting facts?

Our modern lives are difficult to quantify because we are taken in so many directions simultaneously. The digital world lures us into its ethereal and luminal spaces. It brings connection without presence, experience without perception. We are everything at once and nothing at all.

I'd like to write more about my relationship with the online world in terms less poetic than above. I'd like to write about my work in technology and my search for meaning.

Maybe this blog will give me a chance to do so.

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