31 December 2005

The Half-Blood Prince

Well, I just finished the latest Harry Potter book. Definitely a good one. As usual, I will try to whet without spoiling.

I'm sure most people have heard that a major character dies. It seemed fairly obvious from the beginning who it was going to be, so that the blow was lessened a bit (for me) at the end. While I can't say I'm happy about it, I think it was necessary for Harry to keep progressing.

And what about this "Half-Blood Prince?" Well, I had a few guesses. The most obvious one turned out to be right (though it wasn't revealed until the book was almost over).

Some very interesting revelations about Voldemort, and the price of immortality. Let's just say that Tom Riddle's diary isn't the only place where he's hidden bits of himself...

Incidentally, Malfoy isn't half as evil as he'd like to be. All swagger and no substance. Not sure if that's going to change in the next book, though.

As for our Harry, Ron, and Hermione... well, there's romance in the air for each of them. Some of it rather idiotic. So idiotic I wondered if there were a love potion involved, but that crops up later (and earlier).

What else? Oh, Snape. We learn quite a bit more about Snape. I'd like to say more, but a lot of it is rather vital to the plot and I'd probably reveal too much. Hmmm... yeah... I just made a rather obvious connection that I should have seen at the beginning of the book. *smiles mysteriously*

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28 December 2005

Rampant Speculation

Well, when rumors first surfaced about sequels to Pirates of the Caribbean, my first thought was that they would go on a quest for Will's father. They may have "strapped a cannon to Bootstrap's boostraps," but he was an unkillable zombie pirate at the time, right? Initial previews did not support this speculation, though I should have remembered the next part of that line: "and sent 'im down to ol' Davey Jones' locker." Anyway, whether that's central to the plot or not, this listing can be found on IMDB: "Stellan Skarsgård .... 'Bootstrap' Bill Turner" This is the seventh listed actor/character, so it is likely he has a prominent role. The only other movie I've seen Stellan Skarsgård in is Ronin, where he did a nice job of playing a cold-hearted Russian. (No, I haven't seen the trailer yet, though I'm told it shows with Narnia. I'm hoping to see Narnia this week.)

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Presents, etc.

Well, tonight I finished construction on the Empire State Building. "Santa Mom" left me a 3D puzzle on Christmas morning. It was quite a lot of fun to put together, though a bit frustrating towards the end. There didn't seem any way to get all the pieces fitted together without messing up other pieces when it came time to make it into an actual building. I think I see a way to do it (now that I know which flat segments go where), but I don't feel like disassembling it and starting from scratch right at the moment. It ocurred to me while I was working on it that it would be interesting to document the process with photographs (piles of pieces; sorted piles; wall sections assembled; etc.), but then I would think, "Blue. 3 window center," and forget about it.

My mom did not get as carried away as usual with gifts this year, but still got me too much. On the bright side, I liked all my presents this year, and I can't always say that. She got me a Peña dragon, in black (a color I didn't have) but in a style I had two of already. She also got me an office chair I've been wanting. It's called a kneeling chair and has no back. Finally, she got me the book Chronicles of Narnia, which she really should have realized I already had, but I talked her into exchanging it for the newest Harry Potter book, which I am now reading. This should have been plenty, honestly, but "just in case" she gave me some money to "buy something you really want." Well, my winter boots are starting to have a spiritual crisis (i.e. their soles are cracking), so I replaced them with nicer boots than I've ever gotten: leather, sheepskin lining, rubber soles. They are exceedingly warm and comfortable. I think my mom wanted me to buy DVD's or something with the money, but boots were more important.

Incidentally, and completely off-topic, going to Wal-Mart isn't so bad in the middle of a wind/hail/rainstorm. For some strange reason, this keeps most people away.

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27 December 2005

Mission: Successful

Time: 10:00 am
Location: a small house on a little-used road on one of the many hills in Pocatello
Objective: Retrieve Grandma's Buick LeSabre, deliver it to Hirning's for an oil change, return

Mission Report:

No trouble retrieving said car (heretofore referred to as GBL). Door was open. Keys were on the counter. Obtained blank check from G with which to finance the operation. End of Phase 1. Hirning's had not relocated and was thus easy to find. Handed keys over with instructions that they change the oil as well as wash and vacuum. End of Phase 2. Now had an hour to kill. Wandered to a nearby craftstore and secured very cheap, square paper. Wandered to the next-door dollar store and secured random decorations for M's room. Ascertained that it was now 10:53 am. Crossed the street to a furniture store. Scouted for bookcases for M. Found a candidate, but it may not be deep enough. Future inquiry is advised. Returned to Hirning's. Listened to an attempt to give driving directions to a tow-truck. Located the cashier's counter. Filled in the appropriate amount on the check. Secured the keys. Drove GBL back to G's house. Phase 3 complete. Operation a success.

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26 December 2005


Well, I didn't dream of sugarplums. I was cleaning out my parents store room, and on the highest, deepest shelf there was a satchel full of some sort of food item. It was slightly open, so I peered in and was not suprised to see a mouse in there. It seemed to be dead. Since the food was now useless, I sealed up the satchel and took it outside to throw away. As I walked, something in the satchel started to move, so I concluded the mouse had not been dead after all. As it had gotten in the house once, I decided to kill it before disposing of the satchel. I beat the satchel on the edge of a concrete step, then for some reason opened it again.

Inside was a dead/dying cat with a large gash in its throat. At this point, the satchel disappeared and another cat walked up and reached a tentative paw towards the dead one. From her face and movement, it was obvious she knew the other cat was dead. (Odd detail: in the close-up of her paw, it was limned in purple). Then something-or-other woke me up.

I can guess where part of this dream came from: I bought Ji'e'toh a cat-toy for Christmas called "thing-in-a-bag." It's a plain brown bag. You push a button, and the mechanism inside makes it jiggle around (as if something were trapped in the bag) at random intervals. As for the rest... *shrugs*

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25 December 2005

A fitting sentiment

To what shall
I liken the world?
Moonlight, reflected
In dewdrops,
Shaken from a crane's bill.

Dogen, borrowed from The Daily Yak

Somehow, that poem captures the essence of the season for me. And if anyone's interested in this Taoist's view of Christmas, click here.

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Relativistic Effects

Well, I managed to get the curry done by a bit after noon (and was quite shocked to do so), and since my mom wasn't back yet, I hurriedly chopped some vegetables to stir fry. Did you know that it's possible to peel three carrots in less than a minute? Well, possible so long as you're not too worried about where the peelings go. We had gotten a lot of vegetables to stir-fry, but since I was short on time I just grabbed ones that were quick to prepare. Three carrots (peel, chop, done). Two celery sticks (wash, chop, done). A zuchinni (wash, chop, done). Sugar snap peas (open bag, examine, toss out bad ones, done). So we've got a bunch more to stir-fry at a later date. Given how my morning went, I count it a small miracle that I got as much done in time for dinner as I did.

The thing that amazes me about coconut curries is how tender the meat turns out. Amazing is what I call it.

Oh, the curry had apples in it. I thought there were too many, and said, "Maybe I'll put in fewer apples next year."
Mom: "Why? I didn't think there were too many. Did you think there were too many?"
Dad: "There were apples in it?"
(Yes, Dad was there. He's been behaving more like himself lately and less like an utter lunatic badly in need of thorazine. He even picked out a Christmas present for me, and that is quite unusual for him. It's a shop vac. I am perfectly aware that part of the reason he got it for me is so that I never borrow his again, but I still appreciate it.)

Incidentally, Grandma thinks this is the first time all four of the burners on her stove have ever been used at once. One burner for the curry. One for the rice. Then one to mix up the sauce for the curry (quickly done and poured into the pot). Then I put on a pan for noodles (option of having the curry with rice or with noodles). Then one for the stir-fry. Everyone seemed to like the curry, though they thought it was too spicy. Bear in mind that I had doubled the recipe except for the red curry sauce. I didn't even put in the full amount for the undoubled recipe. It was pleasantly warm (i.e. I could feel the warmth, but it didn't burn). *sighs* My dad's exact words were "It tasted pretty good once I got used to the hot." I did tell them that removing the meat from the sauce would make it a great deal less spicy. *shrugs*

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Chinese Curses

May your life be interesting.

Yeah... that about sums up my morning. First, I couldn't find the coconut milk that I bought last week. I had one can in the cupboard, which was almost enough for the custard, but then I still had the coconut rice. Okay, so I tried making some from shredded coconut, and concluded that you need a better press than my hand and a stronger mesh than my strainer to get enough of the moisture out. So I was going to be stuck using lite coconut milk. Annoying, but doable. Then the timer beeped for the custard. I opened the oven to check and see if it was done. It slid out and spilled all over the floor. Parts of it had been done, but now they were floor decorations. And I was out of coconut milk.

So in a fit of desperation, I drove around to see if anyone was insane enough to be open on Christmas. I am pleased to report that no major stores were, not even Wal-Mart. There was activity at Wal-Green's and Denny's, and a street cleaner taking the rare opportunity of closure to go through Wal-Mart's parking lot. I am more pleased to report that during the drive, I remembered where I had put the new cans of coconut milk. So I got back, started over, got the rice made, and now the custard is baking again. With clothespins on the stove-shelf to keep the pan from bloody well sliding out again. *smiles sweetly*

(Incidentally, adrenaline + decongestant + yerba maté tea = mildly insane flurry of activity, including talking to the pans and bowls and mixtures)

Anyway, lunch will likely be late now, as I had planned to be over at Grandma's by 10:00 to start cutting up the chicken, and, look, it's 10:20 and I'm writing a blog-post, waiting for custard to bake instead.

Oh, before I forget again:

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! Feliz Navidad! Fröhliche Weinachten! Joyeaux Noel! Season's Greetings! (except ginger; all other seasonings I greet) 圣诞快乐!

(and may your day be far less interesting than mine :-)

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24 December 2005

Christmas Greetings

Okay, Howard Tayler (author of Schlock Mercenary; if you haven't read it, you should) has some thoughts on the holiday season that are right on:

There are those, of course, who will take offense at "Merry Christmas" AND "Happy Holidays." Usually these are people whose own belief system doesn't advocate any sort of holy day during this season, but sometimes they're just grumpy people. Having been grumpy myself once or twice, I know where they're coming from. And as a writer whose global audience almost certainly includes at least a couple of these people, I'm led to ponder what kind of greeting I could offer, what kind of message I could post that would be appropriate, inoffensive, and yet full of meaning.

I think I've found one. Worshippers of Christ will find it timely, and will see it as a reminder of who they are and what they should be about. Those familiar with the Christian message will certainly recognize it, but will find it difficult to argue with. Those unfamiliar with the lore of the season may wonder a bit at the wording, but will have a difficult time arguing with the sentiment.

And so it is that I hope you all enjoy peace on Earth, good will towards men.

(Uh-oh. I think I may have offended an entire camp of feminists. Is it too late for me to change "men" to "humans?")

(And... here comes PETA, right on cue. I give up.)

In a similar vein, here is a take on The Grinch that is quite well done. Excerpt:

Every Who down in Who-ville

Loved the Consti-Who-tion a lot.

But the O'Reilly, who lived up in Fox-ville,

Did NOT!

Oh, Fibonacci and I (mostly Fibonacci) came up with a more politically correct version of Howard Tayler's greeting:

"Peace and/or Risk to all the known and unknown universe(s), and good will toward various beings who exist within or without them."

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23 December 2005

Sci Friday

Hmmm... I'm attempting to do this on Friday again. I wonder if it will actually happen...

First, the big news is the Dover decision. So Merry Kitzmas to all, and to all a good night! The problem with Intelligent Design is that its version of evidence is to point at something and announce: "See! It looks designed!" There is no other evidence, and no attempt to quantify what "complexity" is, or even an algorithm to apply to something to determine if it is designed. So consider snowflakes. "Whoa. Dude. See how complex and ordered they are! There must be tons of little elve dudes sitting up in the clouds making them!" If you don't buy that argument, don't bother with intelligent design. (Not to mention that including this in science opens a huge theological can of worms: we were Designed to be prone to lower back problems and knee problems, etc, ergo the Designer is not perfet. Also, who Designed the Designer?)

Before I move away from evolution, consider that it makes specific, testable predictions. Creationism does not. Nor does intelligent design. As an example, consider the selection of genes fit for civilization. (For the record, I think it would be extremely entertaining if evolution turned out to be wrong, since I love seeing things put on their head, but the preponderance of evidence leads me to doubt this is going to happen.)

And some of the building blocks of life have been found by a nearby star. For a different kind of alien, we've got a new invasive threat to our trees. Also, evergreen and deciduous trees have different means of transporting water. Humans, on the other hand, used canals, and some old ones have been found in Peru.

Now, supposedly we shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but most people do, to the point that publishers devote a great deal of consideration to covers. The cover is the primary factor in influencing someone to pick up a book and take a closer look. At that point, the cover ceases to be important, but it seems to be the initial trigger. Perhaps books do hold a mirror up to life, but, if so, people aren't getting it. I saw a summary of this before, but that one left out a crucial detail and hence made no sense. This one includes enough detail to be useful, so I am happy to include it. Happiness, btw, is a predictor of success, not a result of it. Happy people tend to be more successful.

On a lighter (and higher?) note, baking spices contain compounds that are precursors to amphetamines. Also, an article analyzing insanity at Christmas.

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22 December 2005

'Tis the Season

Well, I dropped off Kim and Spence's (and David's) presents tonight. I'll admit that I got a bit carried away with them... I just happen to like giving presents to people. Kim said Pam was in town. Apparently she's trying to surprise people. Well, if she tried to come by tonight, I was at Kim and Spence's. Speaking of which, David is a budding golem. He's got the voice down (despite not seeing the movie at any time in recent memory) and has arguments with himself about his toys. High voice: "My tiger." Golem voice: "No, my tiger." So when his grandma came over for a little while, and David ran to her happily, I commented, "Oh, it's the nice master." She didn't get the reference, but wasn't bothered by it either.

Speaking of grandmas, I brought a bunch of the leftover pizza to my grandma's house, and she really liked it. I guess it was easier for her to chew than most of the stuff she's had lately (her dentures have been bothering her, and Mom doesn't think she's up to going to the dentist just yet). So I've been volunteered to make pizza for Christmas Eve dinner. I have enough leftover supplies that this won't be a lot of work. However, we still need to get stuff for Christmas dinner. The plan is to make Thai food (it sort of became a tradition two years ago...), and we need chicken and coconut milk at a minimum. I think I've got enough eggs for the coconut custard. I need to look up what else we need. I hope Mom and I can go shopping for the stuff tomorrow. It's going to be completely insane on Saturday. I ought to get a list together...and now I'm rambling... So I'll stop.

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Last box (probably)

Well, unless my mom has some last minute requests for me (which wouldn't be unusual), this is my last box for this holiday season. For this one, I used some animal print origami paper that really doesn't work for most projects. However, it worked well this time. The base has a yellow tiger-stripe pattern and the lid has an orange giraffe-spot pattern. You can't really see it in the picture, but the white paper in the base actually has faint spots on it. I finished it off with the sort of bronze foil.

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21 December 2005

Two more, not-quite-boxes

I had two (boxless) items to wrap that were...awkwardly sized for the origami boxes. Then it occurred to me that these objects were both quite flat, and I knew an envelope fold. It's intended for turning a letter into its own envelope, and is one of the few folds I know that requires rectangular paper: it doesn't work on square paper. It's also not from Tomoko Fuse. It comes from The Origami Handbook by Rick Beech ( Amazon) There are some nice things in this book, but its instructions are not very clear. I bought it because it used photographs rather than diagrams, and at the time I thought that would be so much easier to follow. Nope. A well-made diagram is a thousand times more informative than a poorly labelled photograph. Anyway, here are the results of this latest wrapping:

Since it's not really intended to hold anything, there is a noticeable gap in the front. So I covered it, with ribbon in one case and with a gift tag in the other.

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Boxes and Bows

Well, I found my digital camera, so here are some of the boxes I've made for Christmas presents this year:
This one is about two inches square, made from 4-inch square purple and silver paper.

This one is about 1.5 inches square, made from memo paper. Warning: Most memo paper is not quite square, which makes it not work well for origami. I bought this memo paper specifically because it was square.

The base (barely visible) is solid red and green origami paper. The lid is made from a fancy kind of origami paper that I've never used before. I had planned to mix the fancy and the plain papers (one of each in both base and lid), but there was an eighth of an inch difference in size, so they wouldn't mesh. Using the larger paper for the lids worked out nicely, since it's okay if the lid is a smidgen too big.

*grins* A triangular box! This is one of my favorite styles of boxes, but it's not the most practical. This one is made from 12-inch square paper and is about 9 inches on each side. I made the base of cardstock in varying shades of purple. Cardstock is sturdy, but not conducive to folding. The top is made from scrapbook paper that I found in local craft stores.

Another square box. I used one of my fanciest papers in the base...before remembering that those are better used in the lid. You can barely see it at the bottom, there. I threw in a slightly less fancy paper for the lid.

Last, another different style of box. This one is called a tsuzura (wicker clothes box), and does not hold together very well on its own. So I cheated. I put a line of tape all the way around then covered it with that pretty yellow ribbon that you see. This is cheating because origami is not supposed to require tape, glue, or cutting of any kind.

Anyway, all these designs are from Origami Boxes, by Tomoko Fuse ( Amazon). And yes I did learn them from a book, but it was a lot of work (though after reading other Origami books, I realized that Tomoko Fuse's style is much easier to follow than most). All but the triangle box and the tsuzura are the same style, though put together in slightly different ways (Square boxes, first series, in the book). Of all of these, I think the triangular boxes were the easiest for me to figure out.

I really like using these as gift boxes. My friends like them because when I've spent time making the box, I'm less likely to spend time with duct tape, confetti, saran wrap, and anything else that strikes my fancy to make it more interesting to get the package open. I used an old phone cord on Spencer's birthday present this year. I've used foil and towels and bandannas... There isn't much left I haven't used (at least that's easily accessible and flexible). When I can't make a gift box, I tend to go a wee bit overboard. *shrugs*

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20 December 2005

Productively Destructive

Well, after submitting grades, I came home and continued wrapping Christmas presents. I got a bunch wrapped last week, but I still had some left. It would take less time if I didn't make boxes for all the small (and some of the not-so-small) gifts, but it wouldn't be nearly as much fun! I might post pictures of some of the nicer ones if I ever find my digital camera again...

Anyway, I got a bit stir-crazy from just sitting and wrapping and folding and taping and tying, so I wandered over to Grandma's house tonight. While there, I put Mom's work-table together and mostly got her storage cabinet together. I ran out of nails for the back panel, presumably because I grouped them closer together than the manufacturers had intended. So I need about 6 more nails, then we can stand the thing up and put on the doors and shelves.

Oh, the box for the cabinet was sitting out in the garage. Mom and I had left it there because we were both exhausted the night she bought it. It weighs at least 80 pounds if not 100. Naturally, I decided to move it by myself. Getting it to the door was no problem. Getting it in the door took a bit of creative manipulation (I could not lift it, but I could shift it). So I got it in. Got the door closed. Then I had to figure out how to line it up so that it would slide down the stairs. A push here, a shift there...and then it was lined up, all right...BOOM! It slid down and crashed into the doorjamb at the bottom of the stairs. "Oops," I said, hoping there wasn't too much damage. In retrospect, I should have made the final adjustment while I was below the box rather than above...though I'm not sure it wouldn't have just knocked me over. The damage wasn't too bad: the bottom foot of the door jamb is rather cracked, but that's about it. And I can either replace that or cover it over so it's not visible. My mom was horrified that I had even contemplated moving the box by myself, but she was busy practicing her songs for Christmas Eve so I didn't want to bug her. *shrugs*

I'm worried about Grandma, though. Every time I've seen her lately, she's been depressed. I cheer her up a little bit, especially when I'm being exuberant (Mom asked me to take out the trash, so I rushed over, grabbed it out of her hand, ran for the back door and the street-side trashcan, and raced back; Grandma actually smiled, for probably the only time that night, then she called me "ornery"). Also, I'm taking her to dialysis tomorrow, and Grandma didn't remember that I had already done this for her a few times. Only twice, but it wasn't that long ago. It may just be a side effect of all the junk they've been doing to her lately, but it's not encouraging. I hope as she starts to heal from her last bout of surgeries that her memory and mood both improve.

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19 December 2005


Nearly done with grading. I've got a few make-up tests (from Exam 4 when bad roads kept several people away) and a few replacement papers to do for stats (a paper looking at a research article that uses statistics; this paper can replace a student's lowest test score). Good thing I'm almost done, as grades are due tomorrow. :-) However, my brain isn't processing the papers at the moment, so I'm calling it good for tonight. I must say that most students probably spent less than an hour total on this paper. So they may not have benefitted at all. A few have been quite well-written and thought-out. One that was almost good completely missed the point of the article she was reviewing. It was comparing two models of global warming; her analysis claimed it was demonstrating proof that global warming happens. *sighs*

A slightly different complaint came from the statistics final exam. I had a question about blinding a study involving temperature. In the first scenario, researchers were looking at the effects of temperature on after-surgery recovery. I said to assume the patient was unconscious and "discuss the possibilities for blinding this experiment." Most correctly identified that this alone guaranteed a single-blind test. Most completely missed the point that it would be rather difficult to blind the surgeons: they're in the room; they'll notice the temperature, even if you don't tell them. A few picked up on this. Most had no clue. The Thursday question was the same but for a different scenario: it was comparing performance of a time machine based on the temperature in the room. Strangely, this question got better answers than the surgery one. Maybe students find time machines easier to deal with. *shrugs*

ADDENDUM: Done, done, done, done, done... Except for one small detail: One of my Math 143 finals is missing. I sent the student an e-mail and sent out e-mails to the other 143 instructors. I know the student was there. *sighs* Back to statistics, I had three students attempt to use abstracts instead of actual articles. Aside from the abstracts being too short (and I specifically warned them not to use too short an article), don't these kids know the difference between an abstract and a paper? Yeesh.

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18 December 2005

Sci-Fried in the Sun

I did try to do this on Friday...and my browser kept crashing.

The first article of note is more political than scientific: Christmas & Congress. Apparently Congress in its infinite inanity has passed a law to fight attempts to ban mention of Christmas. *looks at holiday ads; looks at tv programming; looks at holiday cards; sighs*

On the topic of religion in the media, an interesting review of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It's long, but there are some good thoughts. One interesting one from the actress who portrays the Witch: "The Christians are welcome," she says, with composed irony. "As everyone is welcome. Honestly, the connection had to be explained to me. And the more I got to know about Lewis ... I know he was a very devout Christian and that he was capable of writing, as he did his entire life, very obviously Christian tracts. This is not one of them." Ummm... if the connection had to be explained to her, she did not attend very many Easter services. Ah well. She goes on to say that she sees it as almost anti-religious: "What I mean by that is that it's about children learning to draw not on any kind of dogma or doctrine but on their own resources, outside of the box. Outside their family, outside parental guidance, outside anything. The thing about Narnia is that it takes you to the heart of yourself, your own conscience and your own experience, and so I think it is so much wider than any religion could be, actually." (I might say more about this after I've seen the movie, but I would disagree based on the book itself)

Okay, now from cultural perceptions to mental ones. It seems that self-discipline is a stronger indicator of academic performance than IQ. This really shouldn't be that much of a surprise. Also, Americans may have differerent brain structures from the rest of the world because we're descended primarily from immigrants (if this link dies, I've got a back-up copy saved; NYTimes has odd archiving policies).

Also, some thoughts on mind control. Specifically, subliminal messages. It turns out that subliminal messages are most effective when combined with a directly related non-subliminal message (at least according to one study). Without the non-subliminal stimulus, people who saw "beef" as a subliminal message were more likely to be hungry, but not more likely to choose beef over other foods.

The other side of mind control, using MRI scans to control pain, is a more advanced version of biofeedback. A bit impractical for wide usage, but interesting.

On the more physical side of things, humans and fish have a common pigment gene and a nearby star has a dust ring around it that could indicate the presence of planets. The star is "only" 137 light years away.

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Christmas Cantata

Well, I had to turn pages for my mom at church this morning. The choir was singing a rather nice Christmas Cantata that took up most of the service. It was mostly good, but there was one segment that I couldn't stand. The melody and rhythm were okay, but the lyrics... Even when I considered myself a Methodist, I could not stand songs that came across as love songs to God/Jesus. They come across as cheap, desperate, and boorish. Apart from that one segment, though, I quite liked the Cantata.

The mini-sermons were another matter (mini since the cantata took up most of the time). Eric (the pastor) explained how, according to the Gospel of John, all light in the world originated from Jesus. I very nearly cracked up (which wouldn't have been so bad as I was ensconced behind the organ and hence not visible). Christians always want to talk about how Light comes from God, but as the Creator of all, Darkness must also come from him (if it doesn't, then he's not the Creator of all). And here Eric was going on about how hard it was to fathom that all light came from Jesus. Uh, obvious much? Light, darkness, rubber bouncy balls, giant turtles, machine guns, sand, etc. Not fathoming the "hard to fathom" part. It's sort of like expressing surprise that all odd natural numbers can be additively generated by "1" when you've already proven that all natural numbers, odd or even, can be generated by "1". *shakes her head*

The children's service was at least entertaining. They were discussing Christmas trees, and how, since the trees point up, kids should be looking up at God, and not down at the presents. So Eric had them all looking up and told them they should stay that way until Christmas. One kid voiced my thoughts perfectly: "What if we fall into a hole?" So then Eric had them tilt their heads sideways to keep one eye at the ground, then reminded them it was a metaphor for keeping their hearts looking at God. One of the best moments came when Eric asked the kids what the trees might be pointing to: "The ceiling!" came one answer. *grins* Incidentally, if you're only looking at the Divine with your heart, then you're missing a whole heckuva lot, but that's a topic for another post.

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Strange Filk

I just ran across these parody songs on a link from Pharyngula. Not for the faint hearted. The top few are Christmas parodies (some seem to have a lost a line or two in the cutting and pasting). I suspect they would be more amusing if I'd actually read any Lovecraft, but they're entertaining enough as is.

Here's the first line from an Animaniac's parody:
"We're slimy, we're squishy, we're all a little fishy,
You humans are delishy and we're feasting on your brains!"

(odd, it says it's a parody of a They Might Be Giants song that I've never heard of. So either they wrote the melody for the Animaniac's theme song, or the citation is wrong *shrugs*)

Here's another fun one:
"God rest ye scary great old ones;
Let everything dismay.
Remember Great Cthulhu shall rise up from R'lyeh
To kill us all with tentacles
If we should go his way.

O tidings of madness and woe, madness and woe
O tidings of madness and woe!"

There's also "Victims roasting on an open fire."

Yes, I have a strange sense of humor. :-)

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Party...of two?

Well, this was an odd day.

More or less at the last minute, Fibonacci and I had decided to have an after-finals get-together. So I invited Theresa and Chad (math grad students), as well as Kim and Spencer. Fibonacci thought his roommate and one other person might come. It seems to have been fated not to be. Kim has kidneystones, which put her and Spence out. Theresa wound up in Twin Falls. No clue about Chad as I don't have a contact number. Fibonacci's roommate had a disagreement with a hockey ball and needed stitches. So Fibonacci and I had four pizzas to ourselves and watched Fiddler on the Roof. Good movie. I hadn't seen it before, but I'd heard most of the music. It was nice to finally see the music put in context.

Since it's late, I'll just make one point about the movie: if it were made today, it would be vastly, horribly different. It is beautiful as it is. But a modern "remake" would (probably) insist on focusing on details (Siberia, Russia, etc.) rather than on the daily lives of these people. The ending in particular would not fly in Hollywood, while I think it is perfect. "There are no beginnings or endings to the Turning of the Wheel of Time."

AM ADDENDUM: I was so tired, I actually forgot about this last night. After dropping Fibonacci off at home, I drove back, walked up to the front door, got my key out...and it would not go into the lock. Not even a smidgen. Sometime between 16:00 and 0:00, it had frozen up. Luckily, the back door lock was not frozen and I was able to get into the house. If it had been frozen as well, I probably would have driven over to my grandma's house and slept there, then come back with a hairdryer. (Yes, there is an outside plug-in in convenient reach of my front door; I might have needed a 6-foot extension cord, but it's doable) Hmmm... I may have to do that anyway, as the lock is still frozen and/or stuck. It looks like there's a piece of metal jammed in there, which is odd since I was home the whole time when this had to have happened. Maybe the lock's just jammed. I wonder if such a thing is fixable or requires replacing the lock...

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17 December 2005

Holiday Drivers

'Tis the season to be reckless!
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Grab the wheel and hit the hecklers!
Fa la la la la, la la la la
Don we now our casts of plaster,
Fa la la, la la la, la la la
Still we drive even faster,
Fa la la la la, la la la la.

I made this little ditty up several years ago, in honor of insane holiday drivers, and it seemed like a good day to post it. Let's see...
(1) Driver in IF who floored it when the light turned yellow and STILL didn't make it across the line before it was red. Two traffic lights later, I caught up with this idiot. So he had risked his life, and the lives of the drivers around him, and gained absobloodylutely nothing.
(2) Tailgaters. Several. Guys, if you can't be responsible enough to leave enough distance to stop if I happen to slam on my brakes, then it is MY responsibility to slow down enough that if I hit my brakes, you'll have room to stop. Translation: The closer you get, the slower I go.
(3) Parking lots, both drivers and pedestrians. Drivers: go slowly, especially if you are cutting across parking spaces or driving lanes where pedestrians regularly cross. Pedestrians: Yes, you have the right of way, but in a contest with a car you're going to lose, so PAY ATTENTION. Even good drivers may look away at exactly the wrong moment, and not all drivers are good. Having the right of way won't do you much good if you're squashed into the pavement.

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16 December 2005


So...two interesting things from my morning meditation session (well, one's from the pre-meditation reading):

By a strange coincidence, I just got to the chapter describing exactly what I did when I channeled my Grandma's negative emotions. Not surprisingly, this is not something that is recommended to do (though it's usually safer with close relatives). This author calls it "sponging."

Next... I think if I were a proper Zen student, I would probably just shout, "The moon is rising! The moon is rising!" As I'm not, I'll try to put it into...more comprehensible words. Actually, I might as well just shout, "The Source is in me! The Source is in me!" Okay, more analytical attempt coming up. There are a set of breath and energy exercises that I do at the start of most meditation sessions. Afterwards, I generally just...let myself sink into myself. For some reason, I had a mantra running through my head: "Who am I?" which changed to "Who are you?" at some point without me noticing the transition. I felt the universe open up around me. The Source of Everything was a bright...something...hanging over my head. I tried to reach it, and it seemed to get further away. Then I remembered that I shouldn't try...I should allow it to happen. And all at once I realized that the Source was already within me. It was...an indescribably positive feeling. And now I look around at the objects around me, and realize that the Source is in them as well. It's in Everything and Everyone. Otherwise it couldn't be the Source! *grins* I've probably analyzed it too much already, but that's just something I tend to do.

(Oh, before I saw the Source over my head, I briefly found myself on that space-beach again, but the "who are you" mantra rejected it as illusion and it vanished. That was fascinating as well.)

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15 December 2005


Via Random Ramblins from Sunny Southern CA, I seem to be Batman (likely because I picked all the antisocial, go-my-own-way answers):

You scored as Batman, the Dark Knight. As the Dark Knight of Gotham, Batman is a vigilante who deals out his own brand of justice to the criminals and corrupt of the city. He follows his own code and is often misunderstood. He has few friends or allies, but finds comfort in his cause.

Batman, the Dark Knight


The Amazing Spider-Man


Neo, the "One"




Lara Croft


Captain Jack Sparrow


The Terminator


James Bond, Agent 007


Indiana Jones


William Wallace


El Zorro


Which Action Hero Would You Be? v. 2.0
created with QuizFarm.com

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Hmmm... No, even in the picture, the star on my tree doesn't look much like a globular cluster (picture to the right is from Wikipedia). And, yeah, my star doesn't have nearly enough separate lights to qualify. Globular star clusters have tens or hundreds of thousands of stars in them. And...nice. Some of them may even be age-old galaxy cores!

Anyway, for comparison, here is my star in IR and in visible light:

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Blues and Greens

*sighs* Last night, just as I was drifting off to sleep, the phone rang. It was my mom: Grandma had fallen (she'd tried to sit down in a chair with wheels and it rolled out from under her) and Mom couldn't get her up off the floor. I hurriedly put a few more clothes on and drove over there. I can't remember ever seeing my grandma cry before. She was just...horrified and depressed that she was so helpless. I'm pretty sure I could have gotten her off the floor on my own, and with Mom's help it was no challenge at all. Physically, she wasn't hurt. Emotionally...well...

So I did a stupid thing. I opened myself up as a channel for her emotional distress; taking up the overflow, as it were. It's the kind of thing I do instinctively when someone else is in pain, only now I'm aware enough to realize when I've done it. It did seem to help her calm down, but it left me with a huge overflow of negative emotion. I thought I had grounded it out last night, but I woke up this morning and was extremely cold. When I did my usual morning meditation, I discovered that the inner portion of my aura was a pale, sky blue (it's usually yellow). [If you don't believe in auras, then translate that to 'my synesthetic perception of my inner state was pale blue'] Anyway, several cleansing exercises later and I was starting to warm up, and the yellow was starting to show through again. Several rounds of the taiji form helped even more. So I think I'm back to "normal" now, for a given value of "normal," anyway.

[Just a sidenote: emotions are primarily energy, i.e. qi. The more I practice taiji, the more aware I become of the energetic component of emotion. Just as I can borrow qi from an opponent in push-hands, I can channel emotional qi from someone in distress; at least, if that person allows me to. But if you think about how good and bad moods are "infectious," you may have an idea how this would work. If you just think I'm insane...*shrugs*...honestly, I don't blame you, but such is life.]

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14 December 2005

Merry Christmas!

*grins* I finally got my Christmas decorations up! Well, the tree and a few other things. I still need to put my fancy schmancy lights around the ceiling, but that can wait a bit. I also rearranged the living room, much to my relief. It's been in the same configuration since August. This is bothersome. I still need to vacuum under the tv stand (it's on wheels; no big) and move the side table by the door to vaccuum and put Christmas finery on (oh, and dust it; definitely dust it). That's slightly more of a pain, but it's pretty small. A note on the picture above: it was taken without a flash, and my camera seems to have an infrared setting. Yeah, I took a picture with a flash, and it was clearer, but I like this one better. Anyway, Merry Christmas!

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Hurry Up and Wait

...seems to be the motto of every hospital, not to mention government and military organizations. We got to the hospital in Blackfoot a few minutes after Grandma did and went up to see her. At first, they weren't sure if they were going to put the catheter in that same day, or wait a day (since she'd been sick the day before). An hour later, the anesthesiologist came by to get info from Grandma, which meant they'd decided to go for it. They did 3 things: connected a vein to an artery on her left arm for the dialysis catheter (there's a fancy name for the procedure that is floating just above my head at the moment; maybe if I ignore it, I'll remember it[Addendum: Ha! Fistula! I remembered!]); drained the fluid out of her lungs (*); replaced the catheter on her chest(**). They also had to get an IV in her...and this was a challenge. They couldn't use her left arm, because they were working on it. Her right arm has been horribly swollen since her mastectomy in the '80's. Her neck didn't cooperate. They wound up putting the IV in her shin...

(*) I was mistaken in thinking they did this during her last hospital stay. She had too much coumadin in her system at that time, and they were afraid to operate. See, a nurse at the place who was supposed to be monitoring her coumadin levels didn't actually bother to look at the levels, and just told her to take more of it. She deserves to be fired, especially if she does this a lot.

(**) Surgeons in Pocatello put the original catheter in and it has never worked right. I don't know for sure, but I suspect this is why she was sent to Blackfoot for the one in her arm and to get the original one fixed.

Incidentally, Grandma's room in Blackfoot is one of the more comfortable hospital rooms I've been in (for visitors, at least). There was a couch in her room, so while Grandma was in surgery I was able to curl up and catch up on some sleep. Mom had gotten less sleep than I did, but she seemed to think the couch was too small to sleep on... *shrugs*

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13 December 2005

Good News, Bad News, and Weird News

Good news: My problems to grade on the Math143 final are a log problem and a word problem. Half of students leave these blank or write such nonsense that it's instantly a zero. Thus, easy to grade.

Good Addendum: All of the tests that are in so far, I have graded. Some won't come in till tomorrow though.

Bad news: Grandma's in the hospital again. Why? Diarhea and other stomach problems as well as severely low blood sugar (which my mom thinks is because she took too much insulin for the amount of food she ate). On the plus side, her blood sugar had started to come up before Mom got her to the hospital.

Not necessarily bad addendum: They're sending Grandma to Blackfoot to get a permanent catheter for dialysis, and they're sending her in the ambulance. Mom is going to follow, and she's going to pick me up in a few minutes. This is possibly GOOD news, since it means Grandma is stable enough to go gallivanting.

Weird news: During the 143 final exam last night, I got severely stir-crazy in the last ten minutes (two students still there), so I arranged all the chalk and erasers. 6 pieces of chalk on the left end of each tray. One eraser at the right end. That left 7 pieces of chalk and four erasers, so 6 pieces of chalk and one eraser went in the middle of the back blackboard. Three erasers, an unopened box of chalk, and one piece of chalk went in the middle of the front blackboard.

Weird Addendum: Did the same thing in the Math 253 room: No chalk left over; 5 erasers left over. So I made a sort of "house of cards" of them on the front blackboard.

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11 December 2005

Scanner Systems Go

Well, my old Xerox printer and my new computer have been having a communications problem. There is nothing wrong with the printer, except that Xerox never created a driver for WindowsXP (also, the ink is getting harder to find; apparently Xerox has gotten out of the home-printer business). So I got a new one yesterday. A rather nice one for the same price as the Xerox, only this one also copies and scans. My one prerequisite was that the ink pigments had to be separately replaceable. Very few things annoy me more than having to replace a tri-color cartridge because it's out of yellow when it's still got cyan and magenta. My Xerox printer is this way, and so is this new Epson.

The copier works (and produces very NICE color results).
The scanner works:

Though on auto-mode, it scanned my replica throwing star as a black and white photograph for some odd reason. I had to change the settings to get it to recognize that it should be in color. As you can tell by the little hole at the left, it's probably intended to be worn as a pendant (real size is about two inches from point to point), but I wear very little jewelry any more.
The printer works... I had to play around with it to figure out how to put in off-size paper and keep it from rotating about random axes. No such problem with standard paper.

This printer/scanner is going to be the major component of my grandma's Christmas present to me (as usual, she's given me money; in her current state, shopping is nearly impossible anyway).

For those who are interested in the picture, at the center is the yin-yang (or taiji) symbol, which stands for constant motion and change (esp. from one extreme to another). Surrounding it are the eight tri-grams of the bagua (they all stand for varying interactions of yin and yang, but I'm more likely to post about that on A Musing Taoist), and the Chinese characters are most likely the names of the trigrams. I haven't checked to verify this, but I would be surprised if they were not. Just as a point of interest, the 64 hexagrams of the Yi-jing (I-Ching) are made by taking all combinations of the 8 trigrams.

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10 December 2005

Sci-Fried on Saturday

First, a poem:

I have lived on the lip
of insanity, wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door. It opens.
I've been knocking on the inside!
Real value comes with madness
matzub below, scientist above.
Whoever finds love
beneath hurt and grief
disappears into emptiness
with a thousand new disguises.

—Rumi, found at Mind Hacks

Using radio telescopes, astronomers measured the parallax angle to the Perseus arm of the Milky Way: 6360 light years from the sun. Previous measurements had conflicted with one another, but parallax is one of the most accurate methods of measuring stellar distance. They "look" at the area while the earth is on one side of the sun, and again on the opposite side of the sun and look to see how far it seems to have moved (like closing your right and left eyes and seeing things shift). That gives the parallax angle, then simple trigonometry gives the distance.

Speaking of seeing things in different ways, it seems that ambiguity can really mess with our decision making skills. Though the notion of freezing in response to danger has always seemed...less than useful to me. It would only make sense when being tracked by something that relied almost entirely on vision, and whose vision relied on movement.

Also, a researcher questioning the placebo effect. It would be interesting to compare placebo results between different experiments, to see if there is any noticeable pattern. Like, time of year, or type of treatment, etc. However, there is too little detail in the linked article to draw any conclusions.

And the world may turn up-side down sometime soon... at least magnetically. Evidence shows that the earth's magnetic field flip-flops every so often. Incidentally, the North Pole is currently headed for Siberia. How do we know about past flip-flops? Because of the allignment of magnetic particles in rocks that formed from molten lava. Incidentally, on the sea floor this forms "strips" of different magnetic allignment in the rocks, and the dates obtained from assuming a relatively constant rate of spread on the sea-floor agree with those obtained by radioactive dating.

Last but not least, an entirely different kind of magnetism (also connected to dating): love** seems to have more power over the mind than sex. Try telling that to the media, though.

**Accidentally relinked to pole-shift article. Now fixed.

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More on Christmas

Two things to add:

On NPR this morning, there was a quite amusing reaction to the hub-bub over "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings" vs. "Merry Christmas." I'll paraphrase: "Whoa... Dude... You mean if I want my kids to learn the true meaning of Christmas I should take them to, like, church instead of, like, Wal-Mart?" Amazing, isn't it?

Also, from ThinkProgress, Bill O'Reilly has declared that any seasonal greeting not containing the word "Christmas" is offensive to all Christians. Well, Bill, Blessed Be on the Solstice and may the Light of the Sun shine on you. I think someone should sneak into ol' Bill's audience and stand up and say nothing but "Christmas," but in varying inflections. (Like the "Dude" conversation in Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure) Then someone can get up and start "arguing" by saying nothing but "Holiday" or "Season".

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Dreams within dreams

This was odd. I've had people describe being aware of their real bodies in dreams and feeling paralyzed, but I'd never had it happen to me. Until last night.

I woke up, or so it felt, and knew that I was in bed in my room. There was a skeleton in bed beside me, so I tried to get out of the bed and found I couldn't move. So I think I woke up just enough to be aware of my surroundings, but not enough to stop dreaming. Anyway, I "woke up" again (in the context of the dream), and it was my mom beside me and we were in a hotel. This time I could move (I had actually gone deeper asleep not woken up), and got out of the bed. And that's all I remember at the moment. It's not pleasant, though, feeling like you're paralyzed.

(Incidentally, the last time my mom and I shared a bed, I was 7. The hotels were booked except for one room with a single king-size bed. My mom swears that I took up the whole bed and that she woke up with bruises. )

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09 December 2005

Status Report

Well, it's the last day of classes. One more lecture to give, and one more lecture to attend. Then I have two stats finals to write and a whole lot of grading (oh, and a take-home final in the class I'm auditing). Anyway, I'm cleaning my office at the moment. It looks less like a paper storage facility and more like an office now.

As far as injuries go, I don't recommend concussions, btw. I'll take a nice laceration of the leg over a concussion any day (yes, I've had a laceration of the leg). However, it's getting better. My head only hurts in the places where (presumably) I hit it, and I don't get dizzy/fatigued when I'm busy running around. The nausea seems to come and go, and it's the most annoying part. However, it's the kind of nausea that says "Eat something!" rather than the kind that says all food is horrible, so it may have something to do with my body needing extra fuel to heal itself. Oh, one more bit of strangeness: the left half of my face is swollen. It's obvious to me when I look in the mirror, but no one's commented on it so far. *shrugs*

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07 December 2005

What's in a Name?

Positive Liberty has a rather nice article discussing the so-called "War on Christmas." One of the links mentions that some groups automatically assume that they will be persecuted and wage war on their own traditions whether or not anyone has complained. Sorry, but that goes beyond even self-fulfilling prophecy. Yes, things get carried away at times. However, the real war on the Spirit of Christmas has nothing to do with "Merry Christmas" or "Christmas Break" or any other labels. The greetings given at a retail store are of no interest when the retail store's own policies indicate that Christmas is about material goods and nothing else. Guess what, guys. If saying "Merry Christmas" brings in more people, they'll say it. If saying "Gruben Malifructonium Trilbonite" brings in more people, they'll say that, too.

Incidentally, if these retail stores are waging war on Christmas, why is it that Christmas decorations now show up in most stores in JULY?!??!

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06 December 2005

Maybe it's not just the ginger...

Okay, the tension headache is gone (i.e. the feeling that someone had a cord wrapped around my head and was slowly tightening it). However, this morning I discovered a bump on my head. I'm starting to wonder if I managed to knock myself on the head hard enough to give myself a concussion. The problem with this hypothesis is that I have no memory of hitting my head. If it was hard enough to concuss me, you'd think that I would. However, in the past ginger has only resulted in tiredness and fatigue, and now that I think about it (and research it), my symptoms over the weekend do fit with mild concussion:

  • Tiredness
  • Sensitivity to noise
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Clumsiness (somewhat; could easily be due to the fatigue)
  • Difficulty focusing the eyes
  • (minor) Sensitivity to light
  • Headache
  • Oh, and the bump on the head
This wouldn't be the first time I've given my head an extremely hard knock without really noticing. A month or so before my retinal detachment, my dad remembers me hitting my head while we were carrying something into my house. He was concerned, and I shrugged it off. Honestly, I don't remember it hurting very much. However, a blow to the head is a classic cause of retinal detachment, so... *shrugs* This probably means I shouldn't have driven to IF on Saturday; however it's a bit late to realize that.

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05 December 2005

Electrical Adventures

Since my mom plans to move into my grandma's basement, she's been bringing over much of her office equipment...all of which requires a three-prong, grounded outlet. The only outlet in one room was still two-prong. I went over on Saturday to change it out...only to discover my mom had neglected to purchase a three-prong replacement. (She had a multioutlet plugin to plug into a three prong outlet, but not the outlet itself) Naturally I discovered this after getting the old outlet out.

Note 1: If I am going to do this on a regular basis, I really need to acquire a wire-stripper. Stripping wire with a plain ol' pair of pliers is a right pain. At any rate, I did get the two lengths of wire to connect to the ground prepared on Saturday night.

Note 2: Anyone who wires a house with two-prong plugs and cuts off the ground wire as far is it can go needs to be shot. No, they need to be drawn and quartered. Or possibly have their fingers slowly, slowly crushed over a ten-year period. I had to pull out the cord as far as it would go, cut it open, and extract as much of the ground wire as I could into the outlet box. I was not happy.

Okay, so I went back over on Sunday night (when I knew for certain my mom had the necessary equipment) and got the first outlet changed. Started on the second...which leads me to:

Note 3: Anyone who puts up wood-panelling over an outlet and does not cut the hole large enough for later extraction of said outlet also needs to be taught a lesson. I think locking them in a room with a small hole in the wall not quite large enough for them to get a piece of food through it might be appropriate.

Since we lacked a small enough saw to cut through said panelling without making a major mess, that outlet is not changed yet. However, I did change out the socket in an old lamp. New experience for me, and quite interesting. Also much easier than switching outlets (and under normal circumstances, that isn't hard either)

Oh, the most amusing thing was my mom while I was working on the outlet that did get changed. Every time I moved, she jumped, terrified that I was being electrocuted or something. "Mom, we turned the power off. Look." I touch the live wire. "Yes, but you moved back so fast!" "Huh? I was adjusting my position so I'd have a better angle." And so on.

In other news, my mom took me out to dinner for helping her move furniture. The strange thing is that I really don't mind moving furniture: I think it's rather fun. When she asks me to do something that I find distasteful (like turn pages for her at church), she never even considers compensating me. *shakes her head* We tried to eat at Mandarin House...only to find that an inept employee had overbooked them (or booked them for times that weren't supposed to allow reservations, or something weird), so we went to Chang's instead. Good food there. I decided I was tired of my usual (curry chicken in coconut cream, CK7) and decided to try the green curry (last CK on the list) instead (after making sure it didn't have soy sauce in it; soy sauce has wheat in it, if you didn't know).

Mistake. It tasted very good. It was only after eating half of it that I realized it had ginger in it. Here's the thing: I love the flavor of ginger. But last June, I tried using it as a replacement for decongestants. It worked, for a while, but then I started feeling tired and achy, kinda like a cold was coming on. Eventually I made the connection to the ginger, and have been limiting my exposure ever since. Every time I've gotten even a little bit, I've been tired and out of it the rest of the day. This wasn't a little bit. On Saturday when I woke up, I felt like I had a hangover. After getting up, having tea and taking a decongestant, I felt well enough to make it to taiji class. However, the headache has persisted on and off ever since. It is much better this morning. Presumably it will go away once my body clears the last of the ginger from my system.

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02 December 2005

Sci Friday

I finally got back to checking the science blogs that I read on a semi-regular basis. I thought I'd post the highlights:

Color, Movement, Shape and Form
From Bad Astronomy, is it a moon or a space station? And from Artsy Science, a picture that looks like feathers. It's not. :-) An artist who records and denigrates history all at once (I wish there was more than one example, but the article itself is quite interesting). Then from pretty pictures to how we see them, an article about the perception of color.

It's the Mind
First, a few discussing Alzheimer's. It could be Type III Diabetes, which at least gives options for treatment. Also singing seems to help. If this is backed up in future studies, I would guess that it involves different paths in the brain that can be used to accomplish what the deteriorating ones did formerly.

Speaking of memory, two different studies highlight the importance of being able to filter out unimportant details. One involved rats; the other, humans.

And more on meditation. Looks like meditators experience a wide range of benefits; this article mentions that meditators have stronger immune systems. Correlation vs. causation will have to wait, since they don't mention a randomized study. But it's still impressive...

In the philosopher's corner, how well can we know our minds? Now, it seems to me that this article misses an important distinction: the difference between "knowing" and "labelling" or "articulating." You feel pain. You know that as soon as the message reaches the brain. If it's sharp, you'll react before conscious awareness comes. If it's mild, you'll probably look down to try and figure out what's causing it. That indicates knowledge. A moment or so later, you might give conscious recognition to the experience, but the knowledge was there already. Perhaps the article assumes "conscious knowledge." *shrugs*

Lastly, a rather virulent article from an anti-theist scientist. Parts of it do make sense. For instance, "People of all creeds naturally recognize the primacy of reasons and resort to reasoning and evidence wherever they can. When rational inquiry supports the creed, it is always championed; when it poses a threat, it is derided." However, he descends into irrational gibbering, posting quotes from pro-theist scientists and stating they are ridiculous without ever explaining why. Still, he does make some good points. He closes with: "What we need—desperately—is a public discourse that systematically encourages critical thinking and intellectual honesty. What we do not need are more scientists who are willing to demonstrate that even well-educated people can swallow the false certainties and abject consolations of religion without gagging." My complaint about this variety of atheist is that they are as guilty of irrationality as the extreme fundamentalists. If people hold beliefs neither confirmed nor denied by science, they are condemned (by such atheists), when the appropriate position would be neutrality. Yet the atheist also holds a belief neither confirmed nor denied by science: that no god exists. The anti-theist takes this a step further to believe that all belief in any sort of god is evil.

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Congrats to Fibonacci for passing orals to complete his Master's degree!

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01 December 2005

Jolly 'oliday!

*sings* (to the tune of Jolly Holiday)
Ain't it a glorious day?
Snowin' an' blowin' away!
I feel like I could fly!

'Ave you ever spied
the ground so white,
or a greyer sky?

Oh, it's a jolly 'oliday in winter
Winter makes your 'eart so light!
When the sun would burn you to a cinder,
Winter makes the day turn white!

Oh, 'appiness is bloomin' all around 'ere!
The snowflakes are smilin' at the ice!
When winter takes a stand,
You feel so grand!
Your 'eart starts beatin' like a big brass band,
Oh, it's a jolly 'oliday in winter!
No wonder that it's winter that we likes!

*grins* I love this weather! (though two of my students who commute from Twin Falls are less enthusiastic and have indicated they will not risk their lives to come take a test, for some strange reason; buses aren't running either)

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30 November 2005

Me tired, sleep soon.

But first:




Oh, and there was a nice symphony concert tonight. Danse Macabre was the highlight, though it
was placed first. Also had an excellent cellist. I didn't really like the first piece he played on (he
did a nice job; just not my style), but the final piece was excellent. Except for the fuzzy pink
middle part, but the rest was a nice chestnut brown with hints of blue and gold and purple.
Tschakovsky. Gesundheit. Anyway, of the five songs played, I liked three of them. The other
two put me to sleep, not that that's difficult at this moment in time.

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27 November 2005

Odds and Ends

Went well. My mom seems to like featherlight rice rolls better than ones I've made in the past. How do I know? She actually had more than the obligatory one at Thanksgiving Dinner! :-) So I'm pleased, and will likely make this kind for future holidays. Grandma said she liked the sweet potatoes better than anything else. My suspicion is that there's a nutrient in them that she's lacking in, but I could easily be wrong. Dad showed up for a while. Long enough to carve the turkey and eat a meal. Mom used her overly bright voice the whole time he was there, while he more or less glowered and tried to pretend he wasn't there. It was rather a relief when he left (too much tension in the air).

Notes (mostly for myself for later): Scooping the bread dough up by quarter-cupfuls and putting a quarter cup in each muffin cup makes nearly uniform size rolls that do not need much smoothing. The dough comes out easier if the cup is sprayed routinely with olive oil. Also, for the cinnamon-pull aparts, it works well to scoop it up by the teaspoonful (dipping the spoon in olive oil when too much dough gets stuck to it). Oh, and for the pumpkin cookies, use about 1 1/3 cups of whatever flour, two cups pumpkin, plus whatever else the Bette Hagman recipe calls for, and 1 1/2 c GF chocolate chips.

While decorating the Chrismas tree, Robin (the Church choir director) muttered, "Where am I?" So I helpfully told her, "Pocatello."
My mom chimed in with, "In Idaho."
I added, "In the U.S."
Mom: "North America."
Me: "Earth."
:-D Robin glared at us. "I think I'd have a permanent headache if I had to spend very much time around the two of you." Then she threatened us with swear words learned from her military father. This did not have the desired effect. I was mostly curious. My mom said that her father (my grandad) had been in the Merchant Marines, so there was little she hadn't already heard.

I got my driveway nearly completely shoveled (as complete as its going to get; I've got room to turn my car around), and got a path made on the sidewalk. I was nearly done when the neighbor's...cousin (possibly brother or nephew) came over and offered to help. To be fair, I think he'd been going around the neighborhood helping other people. He also might have just gotten home from church. Anyway, he did about an eight foot section of sidewalk. It was the deepest part of the sidewalk, so I appreciated it. I am very glad I got as much done yesterday as I did. The six or so inches on the driveway wasn't too bad. The fourteen or so inches on the sidewalk was...difficult. My legs got tired enough that I had to use my back a bit more than I should have, but I'm still not nearly as sore as I have been in years past...and in years past, I never did this much. I always gave up and talked my dad into bringing his snowblower over to finish. I am planning to avoid that this year. Dad's been going wacky whenever anyone asks for any sort of favor, especially if it involves borrowing any of his "toys."

Anyway, I don't quite smell like a yak at the moment, but my presence will be more appreciated after a shower. Au Revoir.

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26 November 2005

Let it Snow!

Well, Pocatello got its first big snow. The weather forecast said something like: "Snow showers likely. Chance of precip, 90%. Up to an inch of snow expected." I think there was a typo. That should have been "Up to a foot of snow expected." Actually, I think we've gotten more than a foot. There was at least 8 inches when I shoveled my driveway (might have been 10). And at least six more inches have fallen since. So between 14 and 16 inches. Ah, it's beautiful.

So, going on the "up to an inch" report, I went to taiji class in Idaho Falls today. Roads weren't too bad until I got past Fort Hall. Then it was clear that (a)lots of snow had fallen and (b)the plows weren't out yet. But I made it. A bit late, but Don understood. Going back, the roads were much better...up until Blackfoot. The plows had made everything nice and safe except for a few places where the wind had piled things up a bit. After Blackfoot, it looked like a plow had been through there, but a long, long time ago. Not fun. And the closer I got to Pocatello, the worse it got.

So after I got home, I rested a while and decided I might as well shovel the driveway. Snow was still coming down, but I'm glad I made a start today. 8 inches and 6 inches aren't too bad to deal with. 14 all at once would have been a right pain. At any rate, I'm actually in better snow-shoveling shape this year than last year. Why? My quadriceps. They've gotten a lot stronger this year, from taiji practice. Which means my legs did nearly all of the work. My back is not sore (in past years, it has been after shoveling snow). My arms are slightly sore. My legs are not sore. *grins* I am quite pleased.

After shoveling, I came inside and decided I smelled like a yak, so I went to take a shower. Naturally my mom called just as I was getting ready to get in. She wanted me to help decorate the choir Christmas tree at church. I told her I would call her back after the shower. The snow kept most of the choir away (or at least gave them a convenient excuse for not coming), so I did go and help. Stopped at Fred Meyer on the way back and bought a bunch of provisions.

After playing on the computer a while, I realized I was hungry. Starving, in fact. Also, my eyes were doing strange things (I think this was due to fatigue; if it doesn't repeat, I'll assume that was the case). So I headed out to the car, put it in gear, drove forward...and got stuck right where the sidewalk meets the street. I called my mom to tell her I was stuck and that I would need a ride. Oh, yeah, forgot to mention that the leftover turkey is in Grandma's fridge. That's why I was heading over there. Anyway, Mom said she'd come over. Meanwhile, I got out the shovel, did the ol' bump and grind (alternating between drive and reverse, flooring it; turning the wheels occasionally), and got out and dug several times. Much to my surprise, I actually managed to extricate Jean Luc (my car). Called Mom and told her the good news...only she wasn't happy because she was already halfway there. Anyway, I then proceeded to my grandma's house. She lives on a hill. There's one really hasty hill on the way there. I barely made it up. *grins* It was fun. See, I had to floor it, and the snow shifted and took my tires with it, so I was constantly turning the steering wheel to get it going somewhat straight (or to point it another way if it got stuck). But I arrived, ate turkey, and managed not to get stuck in Grandma's driveway, so here I am.

Now, it may sound like I'm complaining about the snow. I'm not. I loved every minute of it, being stuck and all. I enjoyed the drive to IF through the snow. I enjoyed digging out the driveway. I enjoyed extricating my own car from being stuck (in previous years, someone has always had to help extricate it). So I had quite an enjoyable, if far too interesting and fatiguing, day. Oh, and if parts of this are completely incoherent, bear in mind that before I left for Grandma's, I was so tired that it took effort for me to figure out that I was tired. Anyway, I think I might actually go brush my teeth and go to bed now. I'm exhausted. But pleased. (Note: my mom was rather annoyed with my exuberance at Grandma's house, but I get that way when I'm tired; she really didn't like it when I saw that the corn was boiling and loudly cheered, "It's boiling!") Ummm... I think I'm getting less coherent (if that's possible), so I suppose I'll stop now.

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24 November 2005


Happy Thanksgiving!

(from someone who defies the studies claiming we tend to underestimate the amount of time tasks will take)

Okay, rolls are done. Cinnamon pull-aparts are done. Pumpkin seeds are toasting. Pie crust cookies are baking (half of them are; they didn't all fit on the pan). When I get the rest of the pie crust cookies in, I'll wash dishes and have everything clean except for the bowls/pans/plates holding the finished goods. Based on previous years, I expect Mom will get the turkey in late and we won't be eating until 13:00. I'm going to be close to three hours early... Hmmm... I need to get over there in time to get some rice cooking, so maybe this is about right after all.

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23 November 2005


Well, the pumpkin pies are done. My mom had a fit when I insisted on using whole pumpkins (not canned), even though she knew full well that I'd be doing all the work. It's no fun using canned pumpkin. You don't get to rip open the bright orange heads and rip their guts out. Though it's always a chore finding pumpkins the week of Thanksgiving. I suppose most of the people who make it from scratch buy their pumpkins around Halloween... At any rate, I had enough cooked and pureed pumpkin for the pies, plus two cups leftover. So I made pumpkin cookies. I looked at a few recipes (both GF and non) and vaguely followed the GF recipe, except I doubled the pumpkin and added chocolate chips. It's another Bette Hagman GF recipe, and I know from experience that she always lists more flour than is necessary. Sometimes she lists more flour than the amount of liquids can even dissolve. Yes, cookie batter is supposed to be thick, but not THAT thick.

So...what's left... Well, I've got four eggs sitting out so they'll be room temperature by morning. I need to either put out some yeast as well or get all the dry ingredients mixed up with the yeast. I'll make rolls tomorrow, one batch of plain and one batch of cinnamon pull-aparts. My mom actually asked me "Are you going to make rolls this year?" Duh. Yes. I'd like to be able to eat them. Now, it's true I could just make enough for me, but I really, REALLY, REALLY, REALLY don't like to be at the same table as wheat-based food. I've been told I take this too far. I disagree. See, gluten is poison to me. A tiny amount won't do very much. Neither will a small amount of arsenic. So imagine you sit down at a table with a family, and the family is unconcernedly spooning arsenic onto their food, passing it around less than carefully, and seeming puzzled that you won't join them. That's an accurate analogy to my usual situation, and a perfect description of how I feel about having wheat around me.

Some notes on gluten-free baking: most recipes adapt easily. Switch the flour, add a bit of xanthan gum and maybe an extra egg, no problem. Yeast bread does not, and I have yet to find a decent GF white cake recipe; also pie crusts are...problematic (I'm starting to get the hang of them. If you've ever made wheat pie crusts, imagine working with flours that crumble ten times as easily; the trick is to use oil and eggs). Cookies, brownies, muffins, have always turned out for me. As far as tomorrow goes, the bean flour bread worked, but the flavor isn't as good as some of the rice-based stuff I've made in the past, so I think I'll stick with featherlight rice flour this year. It has a nice, sweet flavor. Oh, and I also ought to get the pumpkin seeds cooked. Hmmmm... That may not get done by tomorrow at noon. Oh well. I'm about the only one who likes them anyway.

Update on Dad: he might show up tomorrow (at Grandma's house). Honestly, I'm surprised Mom bothered to invite him again. On the one hand, I don't want to exclude him. On the other, I really don't want him there. Not while Mom is around. *sighs*

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Just in time for the holidays...

Well, "unpleasant holiday season" just turned into the stuff of nightmares. Apparently on Monday, my dad announced to my mom that he no longer wanted a joint checking account, that he would decide how much of stuff he wanted to pay for (including monthly bills). So my mom is planning to move into Grandma's basement, since it is likely that he wouldn't pay anything at all. I found out about this this morning when my mom came over... she said she e-mailed me about it, but I never got such an e-mail. Mostly I feel numb. That's the combined effect of several conflicting emotions. The strongest of those is relief. This has been a long time in coming, and I was not looking forward to walking on eggshells every time I came over to my parents' (now my dad's) house this Christmas.

Sadly, I can see Dad refusing to pay any of the monthly bills and losing gas, water, and power to the house. I can imagine a lot worse things, too, but I won't post those. See, my mom has always taking care of the financial stuff. The bills. Balancing the checking account. Property taxes. Et cetera. To be honest, I think my dad will choke on them, and probably lose everything. But if this is how he wants to play it... Looks like he's going to be spending Christmas alone (or nearly so; if he's behaving himself, I might visit him occasionally. IF). I think someone needs to let his blood family (besides me) know... His sister Sandra is in town, and has been helping out when neither I nor Mom can get Grandma to and from appointments. Dad thinks she and my mom and just about every other female on the planet have been conspiring to destroy his personality. Got news for him: he destroyed it all on his own. But at least Sandra might get him to join her part of the family's holiday activities. Insane or not, I'd rather not see him completely alone. *sighs*

So now I've got to get enough people together to help move Mom's stuff out, and probably find a pickup or trailer to use. Yes, I have my own key to Dad's pickup, but so far I don't seem to be part of his paranoia and I'd rather not give him reason to include me. Possibly just helping Mom move out will do this anyway, but so be it.

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22 November 2005

Dreams and Meditation

It's interesting... when I go deep into meditation, it's essentially like being in a lucid dream. The only difference is that I know I'm really awake and sitting in my meditation room, and if I want to come out, I can do so nearly instantaneously. Today I found myself on the same seashore, and waded in. The imagery is familiar, and I'm sure I've seen it in a painting somewhere. I went hunting on the internet for it and found some that came close (and idiotically forgot to note the artists after saving the images, so if anyone knows the artists, let me know and I'll give credit. These images are NOT mine.).
The one on the left comes closest in terms of material: large planets hanging over the sea.
The one on the right comes closer to the colors I experienced.

Neither of these shows the shoreline where I first came in. At any rate, after wading out into the waters (likely symbolic of my subconscious), I swam around. I think I saw a few fish this time. Then I came across a rift in the ocean floor (not very deep, btw. At most, 200 feet), and swam through it...into open space and surrounded by stars. This part got a bit odd. It was like I was flickering back and forth between the starry expanse and my body, and meanwhile my body was flickering between being a mirror, being its usual form, and being filled with light. There were words floating through my head: "Clear like a mirror; clear like space" and a sense that this body was merely a temporary shell... After a while, the flickering started making me nauseous, so I found my way back through the rift into the ocean, and swam up into normal consciousness.

I see these sorts of "dreams" as my mind's way of interpreting the sensations of meditation. This is one that I'll need to spend some time thinking (or not-thinking) about.

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21 November 2005

Weekend Update

Well, I forgot to mention that Micah stopped by my office on Friday. First time since the beginning of the semester... and he wonders why his family started requiring him to send them a weekly letter to let them know he's alive... Nice kid, kinda clueless in some ways. He's looking much healthier than the last time I saw him. This summer he thought he had some hormonal problems...however, it seems likely now that he was just in a late growth spurt. Also, having less contact with his family has probably been good for him.

I was supposed to bring Knife of Dreams over to Kim and Spencer on Friday...and forgot about it until it was too late to do anything about. So they got it on Saturday. Unfortunately, they have both come down with a bad cold, and Kim's been so dehydrated that she's been to the hospital several times. David was staying with Spencer's mom until at least one of them got feeling better. Spencer says he's trying to get into a habit of writing; I suggested he start keeping a blog.

Not much happened at taiji on Saturday. Melissa made it (for the first time this month), as did Joe and Mark. No James. We spent most of the time working on form (Joe's our newest member, so that's how most sessions go when he comes). I had a realization in push-hands, but not one that I can duplicate predictably. The thing about push-hands, that I know in my head, is that it has nothing to do with the hands. Not really. The power all comes from the body, from the waist. And for a little bit on Saturday, I got that feeling, of just rotating around my center. I didn't maintain it for long, but it's a start.

Then there was Sunday... As usual, I went out to lunch with my parents. While we were eating, Mom suggested that we could have Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma's house, since she has trouble moving very far. Dad said that was fine, but if we did that he wouldn't come. I wish I could say that I was surprised...but I've suspected since summer that this was not going to be a pleasant holiday season. Later my mom asked me what I thought we should do for Thanksgiving. I suggested beating Dad over the head. "No, I mean, besides that." Here's the deal: Dad is perfectly capable of driving the two blocks to Grandma's house, climbing the steps and going inside. Grandma is not capably of getting to our house under her own power, plus she wouldn't have all of the stuff she needs right at hand. It is much more efficient to have Thanksgiving at her house. So I told Mom that we should have it at Grandma's house, and if Dad wouldn't come, we could bring him some leftovers. My mom commented that she thought Dad was being very selfish...but she ought to know better. He's not selfish. He's paranoid. He's convinced that everyone (except possibly me and Ji'e'toh, and I'm not even sure of that) is out to get him. He needs medication, but suggesting this to him would bring, at best, an angry tirade. So we're stuck.

Sunday evening was better. I experimented (successfully) with a different GF flour mix. It's Bette Hagman's Four-Flour-Bean-Mix, but with white bean flour instead of garfava flour. I can't stand garfava flour. I use it about once a year, and that's enough to remind me of why I don't use it the rest of the time. It is nasty stuff. Bette Hagman seems to like it, but, yech. For a while I was substituting soy flour for it, but soy doesn't agree with me in large quantities any more. The white bean flour worked out great. The taste isn't quite as good as soy flour, but it's much, much better than garfava. Oh, for those who don't know, garfava flour is made from a mixture of garbanzo and fava beans. At any rate, I just used Bette Hagman's most basic GF bread recipe. I used lemon juice instead of vinegar (the yeast works better in an acidic environment), and added some honey to the mix, but otherwise I stuck with the recipe. I accidentally added too much water to it...and thus had to add extra flour to balance it out...but the plus side of that was that it gave me enough extra dough to make a mini-pizza-crust. So I had pizza for dinner last night.

As for today, I had a very, very nice meditation session. In my head, I felt these waves lapping towards me, and finally I "waded" out towards them and submerged myself entirely. It was very peaceful there. It's a visualization that I will have to try again sometime.

Then my mom called and said I should go with her to take Grandma for dialysis (since I will likely be the one driving her on Wednesday). She told me they'd leave at 11:00. Fine. A little after 11, she called me again, wanting to know where I was. "At my house...why?" Somehow she'd gotten the idea that I was going to meet them at Grandma's house, which made no sense to me since my house is on the way to the dialysis place. Eventually we all made it there, and dropped Grandma off. Then mom and I went hunting for zip-up shirts for Grandma. She needs something that can zip down, so the dialysis people can get to her veins, and that she doesn't have to work hard to refasten. Buttons don't work well for her anymore. Unfortunately, zippers don't seem to be "in" right now. Maybe I'll do a web-search...

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