When you smile at me, you bring me down, you betray your thoughts.

When I was in high school, someone gave me a collection of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories. Of course, all of his classics (“The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Pit and the Pendulum”, etc.) were present, but at the very back was a story I had never read before, called “The Imp of the Perverse”.

The Imp is a sneaky guy who lives in your head. He’s the one who implores you to pull the red stop cord on the train, or take a step over the edge of the Grand Canyon – or to drop a snide comment at your family reunion. He eggs you on with a simple motivation: to see what happens when you do exactly the thing you’re not supposed to do.

I was fascinated by this concept, mainly because I often feel this temptation. (I feel like it should be as well known as schadenfreude – it’s got to be as universal, and there’s no other good term for it.)

Anyway, I was delighted to read an article in the New York Times about the Imp featuring Daniel Wegner, who wrote the awesome The Illusion of Conscious Will. The article mentions that actively fighting “perverse” thoughts can paradoxically increase your chance of acting on them.

I had a related meta-problem: since I’ve read about the Imp of the Perverse, I’m always waiting for him to arrive. So as soon as I spot that tempting “Emergency Stop” button in the elevator, I think “Good ol’ Imp”, and before I know it I’m dreaming of pushing the button. One step closer.

I have a very simple technique for highway driving: I drive 13 miles an hour over the speed limit. This is usually fast enough to place me into the fast lane, but slow enough that it’s not worth it for cops to ticket me. I’ve driven roughly 30k miles and have never been pulled over. So I think it’s a good strategy.

However, the Bay Area is tricky about speed limits. Changes are frequent, and can vary by up to 20 mph (50-65 on 101S in SF; 45-65 on 880N in Oakland). So if I’m cruising at 78, I can get into big trouble if I don’t notice that the limit just dropped to 45. I want some kind of phone or GPS app that will just tell me what the current speed limit is. (Even better: one that will beep when I exceed 13 mph over it.) Anyone? I don’t really care about speed traps; I just want to know the speed limit.

I’ve been listening to a lot of American Analog Set lately. My friend Lonnie introduced me to them in 2000 and since then they’ve been a constant, steadying presence in my life. In fact, one of their songs was the genesis of the title of this blog. For various reasons I’ve listened to them less frequently of late, but they’re back.

I guess you could classify Amanset as “drone-rock”: whispered vocals, fuzzy or chiming guitars, languorous tempos, repetition, melancholy lyrics. A warm blanket. It’s easy to find them boring if you don’t listen carefully enough. But if you do, and let the music feel for you, it’s a powerful experience.

Here’s a playlist of some Amanset songs.

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What’s my favorite Amanset song? None of these, actually. Why spoil the fun?

I may continue this trend of exploring bands that I like. Next up might be Porcupine Tree, just because Steven Wilson keeps pumping out amazing stuff.

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