Social Scroller

Woman looking at social media on her phone in bed at night.

I was supposed to be writing this blog post, but instead I was scrolling through my Facebook feed. I started seeing familiar photo galleries and link previews float past, which meant I was at the end of the new newness, which meant the odds of stumbling across something really exciting had just gone off a cliff, so I clicked over to Twitter and started scrolling there.

Same deal. Then over to Instagram. Then, before checking out of the scroll game to get to actual work, I did a quick pass through Google News, just to make sure there weren’t any active shooter situations happening in my neighborhood and that I hadn’t missed Donald Trump’s latest inflammatory satiro-facist policy proposal soundbite.

Sometimes while I’m scrolling, I’ll ask myself in disgust”What the hell am I doing?” as if I’m watching someone else’s thumb pawing at the iPhone’s smudgy screen. I feel powerless to turn away from the procession of partisan rants, clever baby announcements, links to Semi-Rad posts, cat vids and fail vids (or the ultimate: cat fail vids), selfies, and climbing butt shots.

I finally mustered the courage to put the phone down and turned my focus to this post. I had something else half written already, but decided it was boring and starting writing about my social scrolling addiction instead, mainly because I’m guessing I’m not alone.

Do you find yourself spending inordinate amounts of toilet time because you just can’t stop the scrolling? Or showing up late for a dinner because you got caught in an endless social media loop? Or perhaps you bathed your pupils in that Retina Display glow late into the night, even though you had to be up early the next day? Happens.

Turns out social scrolling isn’t (only) a symptom of a weak will, but a natural urge built into us by millennia of evolutionary programming. According to studies performed on monkeys, information seeking as survival tactic is encouraged by the neurotransmitter dopamine in specific areas of our brains. It makes sense. “Having access to more relevant information – such as knowing where the food is located – allows animals to make better decisions,” writes Chadrick Lane in a 2009 Scientific American article. “Furthermore, having access to such information might give us better control over our environment, thus increasing our chances of survival.”

Other research has suggested that anticipation of a reward is even more stimulating to the brain than the reward itself. Further, according to a New York Times article (which was citing this neuroscience study), unpredictable rewards elicit more potent responses in our brain chemistry because, “Unlike predictable stimuli, unanticipated stimuli can tell us things about the world that we don’t yet know. And because they serve as a signal that a big reward might be close by, it is advantageous that novel stimuli command our attention.”

It’s no coincidence that the most popular social media platforms are those that supply an unending and unpredictable stream of content, plus enticing bleeps and bings and badges to alert us of some exciting new comment or like or piece of information that might, for all we know, be changing our lives right now and we didn’t even know it!!

Come to think of it, this endless seeking behavior that’s proved so valuable in the human organism’s quest for survival probably also plays a role in our constant striving, our dissatisfaction with things as they (often predictably) are. Social media today is shaped by and for the mechanism of human motivation, to push all the right buttons that keep us clicking “like.” Social media has evolved into a mirror of the conscious mind. Both build an elaborate world of desire and fear that seems so real, yet ultimately proves illusory.

As Bernard Jaffe says in I Heart Huckabees, “everything you could ever want or be you already have and are.” If you truly understand and believe this, neither social scrolling nor mental striving will have anything left to offer. But that’s a lofty goal. In the meantime, I’ll think check my Twitter feed; maybe there’s a link to an article that will help make sense of things…

11 Predictions About the Future of Rock Climbing

Astronauts explore the cliffs of Mars. Digitally enhanced acrylic painting for NASA by Pat Rawlings..
Astronauts explore the cliffs of Mars. Painting for NASA by Pat Rawlings.
Most long-term predictions about the future are terribly inaccurate, even when made by intelligent people with a good view of history and the current landscape of the topic at hand. Then again, sometimes the most absurd predictions come to pass. Basically, when it comes to painting a picture of things to come, it’s a crapshoot. It is in the spirit of wild speculation that I bring you 11 predictions about the future of rock climbing. What do you expect to see in the next 10, 20, or even 100 years?
  1. People forget the rocks. Due to increasingly turbulent weather patterns (“global weirdening”), worsening pollution, increasingly restrictive land-use laws (thanks to a combination of overuse problems and liability), and the proliferation of super-gyms, outdoor climbing rates actually begin to drop, despite a quadrupling of the total climbing population.
  2. Clean climbing 2.0. New reactive super-adhesives that can be activated and deactivated at the push of a button allow climbers to place “removable” pro pretty much anywhere with no ill effects to the rock. Likewise, a new bio-degradable chalk substance that evaporates after and hour in contact with stone makes traces of human passage far less evident. Purists are confused by such new developments and suggest that in fact it’s the lowering of the challenge to fit our limitations that is the main problem, not the marring of the rock.
  3. Gravity can suck it. The discovery of gravity-diminishing materials makes carrying gear to and from the crag a whole lot easier. In the Himalaya, the Sherpa community suffers a slowdown in business as visitors can now carry up to 500 pounds each of gear. Ethics debates rage around the appropriate use of these materials in climbing contexts.
  4. The first route on Mars. In the year 2032, the first viable Mars colony officially opens its doors to Earthlings interested in a serious change of scenery. In 2035, a climber named Maria Alverez from New LA makes the journey to Mars Colony Beta (aka Big Red), where she makes an ascent of the sheer 4000 meter cliffs at Echus Chasma. A bold feat in Earth gravity, she succeeds on her first attempt due to the significantly weaker gravitational field on Mars.
  5. Sticky rubber body pads. The invention of sticky rubber shoes in the 1930s and sticky rubber knee pads in the 1990s leads eventually to the sticky rubber body suits of the 2020s. Now climbers can use every part of their bodies to gain purchase on the rock, leading to more creative resting possibilities. New techniques like arm-wedging, chest-scumming, and “starfishing” become the norm, and most of the climbs at Rifle are immediately downgraded again.
  6. Comps are America’s pastime. Climbing finally makes it into the Olympics in multiple events, including bouldering, sport climbing, ice climbing, speed climbing, hangboarding, and a new parkour/climbing hybrid known as “free style.” Nike jumps on board. Kids get climbing scholarships to top tier universities. Stadiums are erected to house the wild new climbing structures, which can be reconfigured instantly using an iWatch app. Viewership of National Climbing League Championships exceeds Super Bowl and World Cup viewership. Merchandising goes off the hook (the most popular energy drink is called “Crimp Juice,” while its top competitor is “Sloperade”) and endorsement deals for top-level competition athletes reach into the hundreds of millions of bitcoins.
  7. A dark side emerges. Now that stakes are higher, people find new ways to cheat: anti-gravity pellets sewn into harnesses; nano-bot “chalk” that forms molecular bonds with the rock; genetic doping… . Gambling and corruption scandals become the norm. Climbers “throw” the comps in exchange for massive payoffs. The National Climbing Association is formed to monitor and enforce the rules of the game, but it’s ruled by an authoritarian regime that’s rife with its own transgressions.
  8. The sport grows younger. Climbing 5.14 or even V14 by age 14 is no longer a big deal. In fact, in 2023, a five-year-old flashes Just Do It,  Smith Rock’s iconic 5.14c, after his dad jokingly tells him his binky is up there. As competition becomes increasingly lucrative, parents start their little rock jocks earlier and earlier. Climbing moms replace soccer moms. Kids are placed on strict Zone diets and encouraged to practice their one-arms while doing homework.
  9. Climbing continues to splinter. As the sport grows, new subtypes of climbing cleave off and flourish. Free style climbing (see no. 6, above), one-move “max difficulty” problems, tread walling, slab comps, etc.—all of these grow into their own sports, complete with heroes and stars, specialized equipment, arcane rule systems, and dedicated websites.
  10. Robot climbing is a thing. Climbing bot battles become popular on the Internets as engineers design ingenious machines that can solve complex three-dimensional movement puzzles in unexpected ways. In 2035, the first climbing bot incorporating artificial intelligence is deemed a sentient being and allowed to enter a World Cup comp. The bot wins easily and in 2036 robots are banned from World Cup competitions. A Non-Human Climbing Series is quickly formed to accommodate them.
  11. The more things change. Despite all the changes, all the attention and the money, the new technology and trends, many people still just climb for the joy of it. Same as it ever was.

Top 10 Most Popular Posts of 2012


I started The Stone Mind less than a year ago, in February 2012. In some ways, it feels like I just started. In other ways, it’s like I’ve been writing it forever. At first it was just a way to keep me working with words after I left my job as a magazine editor. I wasn’t even sure what I wanted the blog to be about. I posted product reviews, photo galleries, an interview or two, personal essays, even a short story. As the months passed, things came into their own focus, and now most of my posts deal with climbing, nature (human and otherwise), and Eastern philosophy, and the many ways in which these topics connect, overlap, and inform each other.

In 2013, I plan to explore these topics further, while at the same time reserving the right to strike out in new directions — this blog, after all, is nothing if not an experiment and an act of personal passion.

Before moving ahead, however, I thought it might be nice to take a quick look back at the most popular posts of the past year. Here are the Top 10 (out of more than 100), ranked by page views. For various reasons, these are the ones that have garnered the most eyeballs. There are many other posts that are dear to me on this blog that have received only a fraction of the views. I know time and attention are the Internet’s most precious commodities, but if you like any of the posts listed below, you might consider taking a moment to poke around in the archives, too. Either way, I hope you find something that interests you.

As always, thanks for reading.

–The Blockhead Lord

Top 10 of 2012

  1. How to Spot a Climber in the Wild
  2. Couch Crushers to Widgeteers: 10 Climbing Personality Types Identified
  3. It’s Not Cool To Care
  4. Can You Cold-Brew Coffee With A French Press?
  5. From Chalk to Salve: Crap Climbers Put on Their Hands
  6. 50 Shades of Plaid: The Unofficial Uniform of Outdoor Retailer*
  7. Seven Deadly Sprays
  8. The Rotpunkt Method
  9. RIP Urban Climber Magazine
  10. Master of Movement or: Why Bear Grylls Is Running Through the Desert

*This “50 Shades of Plaid” ranking does not include the tens of thousands of page views if you add up all the separate images in the gallery — with those it would easily be the top post!

First Encounters With the iPen: A Real Stylus for the iPad. Or Is It?

The iPen with its receiver and a "refill" nib

The iPad is undoubtedly the king of pads (a dubious title if I’ve ever heard one). Although it certainly wasn’t the first tablet, it was the first tablet to achieve widespread acceptance. The iPad’s simple, “just works” interface (Apple’s hallmark and greatest asset) has enabled users to… to… well, I suppose it’s allowed them to “surf” the “net,” check email, watch videos, listen to music (and more!), all from the palm of their hands. Both hands. Or more realistically, their laps. Their laps where their laptops used to go.


Well, iPads do have touch screens and killer battery life. At any rate, I have one, and I’m pretty psyched on it, even if it doesn’t do all that much that my laptop, desktop, and even my Android phone can’t do. Now that I think about it, it’s weird how much I like it, considering it’s almost completely redundant. (It does really shine when I’m traveling. And I like reading books on it.) But there’s one thing I always felt would add a lot to the iPad, and that’s a real stylus.

iPen with iPad
The "active" stylus setup: a battery powered pen with a receiver that plugs into your iPad and pics up the pen's location.

I bought one of those crappy capacitive stlyli from the Internets about a year ago. My fiancée sighed when she found out. “What’d you get that for?” she asked. I explained how fat and dumb my finger felt when taking notes or making sketches on the iPad. I explained the need for a finer point and better control. “How cool would it be if I could use the iPad like a pad of paper — you know, to take notes in a meeting or edit PDFs onscreen. It would make the iPad, like, nearly perfect!” She rolled her eyes, which was the correct response. I’ve hardly used the thing. Every time Ido use it I’m amazed at how litte demonstrable improvement it offers over my fingertip.

So when I came across the Cregle iPen on Kickstarter and watched the compelling video, I scrambled to place the order. (Well, my fiancée placed the order, as it was to be a Christmas gift. I guess I convinced her the iPen was better than the other stylus I bought.) At the time, the fundraising goal had already been more than tripled. (At close, the project raised $162,333, more than 500% to goal.) I pledged my $70, was excited for about fifteen minutes, and then forgot all about it. Until I started getting the emails.

Over the next three and a half months, I received seventeen thirty-two emails from Cregle. There were delays. Problems with Apple. Talk of refunds. Talk of which apps the iPen would work with. About a week ago, I started inquiring about a refund myself, thinking perhaps the whole project was taking on water. There was this disheartening post on about Cregle not really being a start-up, the iPen not really being the first active stylus for the iPad, and other shady business. In fact, there may be shady business going on, but I no longer care, because today I got my iPen.

The tip of the stylus
The tip of the stylus

Just so you understand the theory, the iPen is an “active” stylus, meaning it feeds additional information about its location to the iPad, rather than just interacting with the iPad’s capacitive touch screen, like the above-mention crappy stylus. To make the iPen active, Cregle employs a two-part system. The stylus itself is battery powered and holds at its tip a nib that moves slightly in and out with pressure. The second component is the receiver, which is a rectangular block about the size of a pack of gum that slots into the the UART port (the charging port) on the bottom of the iPad. The receiver picks up on the pen’s location and relays that information to the iPad. In theory, this should offer a very fine-grained location awareness and, thus, a more accurate stylus experience.

I’m looking forward to putting the iPen through its paces and writing in more detail, but having played with it for ten minutes, I can already make a few observations.

  • The stylus itself is stylish and comfortable to hold.
  • The iPen works, but it is not a perfect or seamless experience. Sometimes it will stop writing, or loose sensitivity and need to be re calibrated.
  • However, when it does work, the sensitivity and accuracy are much better than with capacitive styli or a fingertip.
  • For truly taking notes, as with a pen and paper, the iPen is still not there. It reminds me of writing with a ballpoint pen that periodically stops writing and then starts flowing again; it’s not impossible to write with, but it is hard to get into the rhythm of it.
  • Something strange: the iPen came with two “refill” nibs that go into the end of the pen, and a little metal tweezer to extract them. What happens to these nibs that requires them to be replaced, I can only imagine.
  • Due to the “active” stylus design, the iPen is only compatible with a few apps. Cregle claims to be working with developers to get support for more apps, the most exciting of which is probably Procreate. Autodesk SketchBook Pro and Brushes support would be great, too. But at the moment, the only compatible apps are GhostWriter NotesGood Notes, and iWriteWords.
  • I get the sense that GhostWriter Notes, which is the only one of the compatible programs I have, is not the best. UPad seems better, and I’d love to try the iPen with another app, as it may be that some of my issues are software and not hardware related
  • Probably the best thing about GhostWriter Notes is the Evernote compatibility. I depend on this app for my day to day writing and thought storage.
The receiver
The receiver, which picks up the pen's location and relays it to the iPad. Unfortunately, this approach means that only apps specifically made to work with the iPen will know what to do with the signal.

At this point, I couldn’t rightfully say whether the iPen is worth the money. (One doesn’t, or shouldn’t, go in on a Kickstarter project expecting perfection.) But I think the iPen is a very interesting concept that’s relatively well executed. My guess is that additional and more-advanced app support will improve the experience greatly. And the next generation iPen will probably offer improvements in accuracy, consistency, and maybe even some additional features, like pressure sensitivity.

I’ll write and doodle with the iPen for a while and then report back. In the meantime, I’m happy to answer questions or hear from others who get early release versions of the iPen from Cregle.

[Updated] Belkin AirCast Auto: Car Bluetooth on the Cheap

AirCast Auto header image

*** Updated January 6, 2013 – scroll to the bottom of the page for my thoughts after 10 months of use, including impressions of the Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree and the iPhone 5 ***

[No duh] Music technology moves fast. [/No duh] Depending on the product, a reasonable upgrade cycle can be anywhere from a two to four years. Any piece of high-tech gadgetry more than five years old, even if it’s still working, is in danger of becoming a paperweight. Most people, however, upgrade their cars a lot less frequently than they do their music players. (In the past fifteen years, I’ve owned a Walkman, two or three portable CD players, a MiniDisk player, thee iPods and three smart phones with music capabilities.) The result is a car / music technology gap that fuels a whole industry for quick-fix products.

The first such “gap product” I owned was the infamous tape-deck adapter. You probably had one, too. I used it in my ten-year-old Honda Accord hatchback in the CD era. I remember popping the fake cassette into the dashboard, plugging the trailing wire into my DiscMan, and then trying not to hit any bumps on the way to school, to minimize skipping. My next car had an in-dash CD player (hurrah!), but before long, I had to buy an FM transmitter so I could listen to my iPod while cruising for honeys.

The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes. Today my car has an AUX input, but now I want Bluetooth, so I can play my music, sans annoying wires, and make hands-free phone calls. Some modern / luxury cars come with Bluetooth capabilities, and you can buy after-market in-dash stereos with this functionality, but those solutions are too involved for me. To again cheaply and easily bridge the car / technology gap, I began searching for an add-on Bluetooth solution.

When I started poking around, I assumed there would be many established automotive Bluetooth devices on the market. Strangely, I found only a handful of items. Further, the available information (reviews, product specs) was thin. I Googled, and read, and Googled some more, eventually landing on the Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree.

The AirCast Auto product video, although cheesy, was relatively clear. The AirCast seemed to offer the functionality I was looking for. With it, I would be able to:

  • Play music from my phone wirelessly, via Bluetooth, through my car stereo
  • Control my phone wirelessly — play and pause music and skip songs, plus initiate voice dialing
  • Conduct in-car, hands-free phone calls via built-in microphone
  • Keep my phone charged on long rides via a powered USB port

I went to BustBuy to pick one up, but the sales guy knew of no such device. He checked the system and found they didn’t have any in stock, so I went home and logged on to the Internet, where I was able to order one no problem. It cost $57 before shipping.

Belkin AirCast Auto
The Belkin AirCast Auto, via Belkin’s webpage

When the AirCast Auto arrived at my door three days later, the box was so light, I thought they’d forgotten to enclose the product. On opening, however, I found the device. Simple and cleanly designed, the AirCast is composed of a round, half-dollar-sized button/microphone; a mounting plate for the button/mic, which is simply a disk with stick-um on one side and a magnet on the other; a thin wire connecting the button/mic to a 12-volt plug, which goes into what used to be known as the cigarette lighter port; and another cable terminating in a 3.5mm headphone plug that goes into the AUX port.

I glanced at the minimal instructions and then ran giddily to my car to set up the AirCast.

The first thing you should do is plug in the AUX cable and the 12-volt plug. Then, find a flat spot on your dashboard facing you and as close as possible to your head, making sure the cable will reach and not get in the way of any important stuff, like your gear shifter. Once you have a good spot for the button/mic selected, un-peel the backing on the sticky mounting disk and press it firmly down. When you hold the button/mic to the mounting plate, it should attach itself via the mysterious force known as magnetism.

Belkin on the dash
The Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree button/mic mounted on the dash. Via the Belkin website.

Finally, you’ll need to pair the AirCast with your phone, which takes a little doing. I won’t go into it here, but refer to the instructions. Also be aware that the AirCast isn’t necessarily compatible with all Bluetooth phones. My phone, the HTC Inspire, wasn’t listed on the packaging as one of the compatible devices. It works anyway, so I’m not sure how Belkin came up with the list.

Once you’ve successfully paired your phone to the AirCast, every time you get in your car, you should be able to push the AirCast’s single button to re-establish the connection. The lighted ring on the button’s face will go from red to blue when the pairing is made. Wait a few seconds and then press the button again to begin playing your music. When music is playing, a single press will pause the song. Press again to resume. Two presses in quick succession will skip to the next track. Hold and press for two or three seconds to activate your phone’s voice dialing (“Call: Kings of Grillz,” for example). When making a call, simply speak into the air as if you were talking to a passenger and the mic will pick up your voice.

The Belkin AirCast does a great job of adding very basic Bluetooth functionality to a vehicle for a reasonable price. I’d definitely recommend it, with the caveat that it’s not fancy. It lets you play music, make calls, and charge your phone. You cannot switch between playlists or otherwise control your phone.

I love being able to get into my car, phone in pocket, push the dashboard-mounted button, and have my whole MP3 library rolling on shuffle, loud and clear through the car stereo. When I get a call, I just press the button to answer. After the caller hangs up, my music kicks back in where it left off. Sweet.

The sound quality is actually better than when I used a 3.5mm audio cable to plug my phone directly into the AUX port. My theory on this is that there is one less connection for the signal to travel through, as the Bluetooth stream is digital and, therefore, without interference or quality degradation. Someone who knows better than I do should correct me in the comments, below, if this doesn’t make sense…

The quality of the calls is pretty solid, too. I have been told by the folks on the other end that I sound a little faint, but relatively clear. I think things would probably be even clearer and louder if I had a better place to mount the mic. Right now, it’s pretty far down and to the right of me when I’m seated behind the wheel. (See update, below, for my new take on this topic.)

The biggest problem I have encountered with the Belkin AirCast Auto is the interface with my phone’s various music player apps. I have three apps for playing music — a Android stock player, Poweramp, and doubleTwist. I’m not sure how to dictate which of these the Bluetooth music connection automatically activates. When I’m using Power Amp, and I do the long press to initiate a voice call, for some reason the music starts to play through my phone speakers and not the car speakers. At the same time, the voice dialer kicks in, but the phone is no longer connected to the AirCast, so I can’t hear what’s going on. I have to manually cancel the voice dial on the phone and reconnect with the AirCast. If your phone was in your bag or pocket, this would be very inconvenient, and you might have to wait until you pull over to get the music playing again. I think this issue is more with my phone than with the player, but it’s still an issue. Maybe when I replace my Inspire with an iPhone, things will work a bit more smoothly.

Anybody else out there try this thing? As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts…

*** UPDATE January 6, 2013 ***

I have been using the Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree for about 10 months now. For most of that time, I was using it with an Android phone, the HTC Inspire (which, on the whole, was a crappy phone). The combo worked tolerably well, but it had a few problems: First, it took a while (10-15 seconds) to pair whenever I go in my car (I know, big deal, right?). Worse, I couldn’t find a way to set the default music player app that my phone used with the device. When using anything other than the stock Android music app, the voice dialing capability of the phone didn’t work. In addition, I couldn’t figure out how to use Android’s voice command functionality to do things like play a particular song or playlist. All I could do was play, pause, and skip songs. Basic, but still a nice set up.

But about two months ago I got an iPhone 5 and it’s been a major improvement.


The iPhone 5 seems to work better with the AirCast Auto HandsFree in every regard. It pairs almost instantly and it works like a charm with Siri, allowing me to verbally initiate phone calls, select songs, albums, artists, or playlists to play, and more. Unfortunately, it does not let me do things like request turn-by-turn driving directions, which would be an excellent addition. “Siri, give me directions to the Johnny Kolache’s, Salt Lake City, Utah,” yields the following response: “Sorry, Justin, I can’t help you with that.” Ah well, maybe in the next update…

A note on call quality through the Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree: After using the device to make calls from the road for several months, I’ve decided it’s not worth the convenience. The quality on both ends is just a little too low. When talking to my parents, they’ll often remark that it sounds like I’m calling from a tin can, and the road noise (I drive a Honda Element — maybe your Lexus would be better in this department) is overpowering. Instead, I plug in the headphones with in-line mic that came with my iPhone and chat that way. It’s easier for both parties to hear the conversation.

So, after 10 months, my verdict remains the same: for a low-cost Bluetooth add-on solution, the Belkin AirCast Auto HandsFree is great, especially with the iPhone 5 (and, I’m assuming, the 4 and 4s, too). If you want something that will allow you to visually control your phone’s music player, you’ll probably need to pony up for an in-dash system with LCD display, but that’s a whole other ball of wax. If all you want is to play your tunes through your car stereo system sans wires, this is a killer little solution.