Tag Archives: art of listening

Just Say NAK…

train through southern cal near the arizona border

train through southern cal near the arizona border

Just Say NAK – The Art of Listening: Part II

We might not think about it this way often, but we are all message driven. The multimedia culture we’ve created for ourselves worldwide makes this clearer every day. However the types of messages we choose to receive and send are of course just that: our choice.

But often (i.e., incessantly) we are confronted with messages that make every attempt to disregard those choices and so be delivered without our recognition or agreement. In data communications there have long been different protocols for sending messages. A favorite standard is referred to as ACK/NAK which stands for Acknowledgement/Negative Acknowledgement.

In an ACK/NAK world, messages are sent (say as a stream of characters as text) one at a time, perhaps controlled by the number of characters (say a fixed length of 128 or any other number), or perhaps controlled by a special character or two that indicates the end of the line of text (say a carriage return/line feed).

There may also be other information in the message to help ensure the integrity of the data being received. This is usually referred to as a checksum which is just a number calculated using the content (character by character) of the current message. The receiving end does the same calculation and compares its result to the checksum number sent, hoping they match indicating that the data received is “good”.

The beauty of the ACK/NAK protocol is that the receiving end must either acknowledge the receipt (and integrity) of the last message by sending an ACK character back, or deny it by sending a NAK character back. The receiving end may also end up doing nothing!

The only way the sender can continue its delivery of messages is to receive an ACK back! It essentially lives for ACK. If anything else happens, like nothing comes back or it receives a NAK instead, it may try to resend the last message. But that will only go on for a limited number of retries before the sender quits….This result is bliss to me.

Maybe the message I’m sending here is “Just Say NAK“…if you choose to. You may have to say it more than once, but before long, that message you’re NAK’ing will cease to come back. You can also say nothing with the same result. I’ve learned from applied statistical probability theory and strategic planning of different types that doing nothing (no decision) is often a very good choice to make!

I’ve developed ways of saying NAK to messages and media that suit my lifestyle. These include avoiding being bombarded with negative news and information that seems to have completely dominated the common media. Predominately we are confronted with bad news on a fairly never ending basis through typical sources of information like newspapers, web giants, and television. In fact I’m beginning to believe there is only one source feed of all media worldwide. But where is it coming from?

By not ACK’ing that source, I am keeping my channels open for receipt of other messages that are more beneficial to my well-being. That’s my direction anyhow. I am often surprised by where the messages I do receive and acknowledge are coming from.


The other interesting thing to me is the idea of applying the checksum to everyday communications. As years go by, it seems more and more obvious to me that no two people witness the same event the same way, at least in recollection. The event can be as simple as a short conversation between two people. Neither one will recollect the conversation the same way.

The words change and all the extra information entwined in body language, the weather, the mood, the time passed, all change completely, even within each retelling of the story from the same source. No checksum!

It is always someone’s story (version) of what happened and what was said. We expect accuracy in the story’s retelling but it is never probable or maybe even possible. This is due to our lack of skills in listening…

So instead of tuning up and tuning in to our observational, listening and memory apparatus it appears to me that culturally we have moved to a much simpler but woesome way to achieve accuracy: We put cameras and other recording devices everywhere, everywhere, everywhere…

The documentation of what happened everywhere is captured by data recording, video and still camera gear everywhere from yours or my driveway to the first traffic light we come to, to the first public or private building we walk by or into, to the first GPS’d phone call we make, to the first no-cash-accepted-here transaction we make, to the first Google search of the day we make, and then back again. Woesome.

As much as I like photography and video for their artistically expressive capabilities, I shudder and say NAK to the incessant recording of my daily activities.

It is our own societal escape from the Art of Listening in action. We don’t want to pay attention to what we hear or even see it seems.

We let devices do it for us. And so what is it then that we are doing?

“out into the cool of the evening strolls the pretender” – jackson browne


PART I in a series: The Art of Listening

I started listening to Jackson Browne somewhere right in the knee of the curve as they say. He had some killer albums from 1972 (“Saturate Before Using”) through 1977 (“Running on Empty”) that caught me at just the right time in life to listen to a poetic troubadour with many of the same killer musicians backing him as other favorite singer-songwriters of mine at the time like JT, Warren Zevon, Karla Bonoff, Arlo Guthrie, Willis Alan Ramsey,….

So Jackson Browne often rode on my turntable all night (with automatic replay! what a feature!!) for quite a few teenage years including the first years I started performing acoustic in front of audiences which were mostly college crowds but also dinner crowds.

I was talking to someone today about technology and realized as I was saying it that none of us know what we know without having listened to others pretty carefully at whatever times of our lives we were learning. That is, you can’t learn everything you know without listening. But at certain points, some of us or maybe most of us no longer feel like we have to listen to what others are saying very much if ever. It is a point of defiance that says, to quote another famous troubadour “All right, I’ve had enough, what else can you show me?”. I take that rhetorical question as one of irony and defiance where the answer is (obviously) “nothing”.

So if we have nothing left to learn, we have nothing left to listen to.

I hope I don’t get to that point.

To me the point is that I will have to remind myself more and more of this risk of turning off my inner-listener as more and more years go by. I hope that I can just recall spinning things like “For Everyman” and “Late for the Sky” and “The Pretender” on my dusty turntable between maybe the hours of midnight and 5am and just letting it play over and over while I was sleeping but still listening and carrying it around with me the whole next day in whatever background landscape it wanted to become and change as I changed with the weather and the world around me but always finding a place in my ear to tell me something I needed to learn.

“Doctor eyes have seen the years
And the slow parade of fears without crying
You must help me understand
I have done all that I could
To see the evil and the good without hiding
You must help me if you can”

– JB “Doctor My Eyes”

[photo of my flatbed truck stage, naung mai thai kitchen, hilo, courtesy of rebecca lucy marie]