30 November 2007

More Ornagami

I tried a few more of the models in the book tonight, and made a few more Saar Stars. Picture below the fold.

The angel turned out nicely, but it sort of creeps me out, to be honest. I'll try to pass it on to someone more into angels at some point. The star immediately in front of the angel is a five-point version of the Saar Star. Once you get the paper cut into a pentagon (very good instructions at the front of the book; leftover paper scattered around the models), it's actually easier to fold than the 4-point. Hmmm, though that could be because I was using larger paper for the 5-point. Anyway, the Saar Star at the left is one I mostly made at the philosophy club meeting this afternoon, mainly to see if I had the pattern memorized yet. Answer: not quite. I missed the very last fold on each point. But I had 90%, so I was pleased.

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Hume, Take II

Well, we finally made it to Hume in my philosophy class. I posted on it in August, after I'd read it for the first time. My initial impression still stands, but Dr. Levenson has helped clarify a few things for me.

He gave us more specific labels for the three characters than those I came up with.

Philo: the skeptical philosopher, likes to explore a multiplicity of ideas
Cleanthes: the rational theist, wants to justify theism rationally and empirically
Demea: the mystic, doesn't think the divine is knowable in a rational sense

In the Dialogue, Demea gets the short end of the stick. Philo initially seems to agree with him, but then makes an abrupt turn-around. In class, we've only discussed up to just before the turn around. But Philo does argue persuasively that the argument from Design has no merit. Why? Well, the obvious one is the infinite regress. A much larger problem, conveniently skirted by the current cdesign proponentsists, is that it gives no knowledge of the Nature of the Designer. Philo makes spectacular leaps of imagination, from an Infant to a Senile Fool to an Animal to a Seed... none of which are Ultimately satisfying.

My sympathies lay somewhere between Philo and Demea, despite Hume placing them at odds in the end. Demea's claims are a bit too stringent for my tastes. He brings to mind a Terry Pratchett line, something like "things man wasn't meant to wot of." Like we have to draw a line in the sand and say, "No investigation past this point!" I consider that patently ridiculous. Of course you can investigate the nature of deity. I would even argue that you are supposed to do so. I do agree with Demea that you can never be certain of the results of your investigations, but the idea that it cannot be investigated, or, worse, that it shouldn't be, is repulsive.

Earlier in the week, we also discussed some of Hume's other works. He seems to be the premier skeptic in the Philosophy of Science. We had a good discussion about cause and effect on Monday. Hume argues that we don't see events causing one another. What we see are successive, continuous events, that always seem to come together, so we infer that the first causes the second. But we don't see the causation itself. Another way of putting it, science is always contingent. Up to now, data may support that A always causes B, but suddenly A happens and there's no B, and theories have to be revised. That's the process of science.

An example that we used in class: Someone gets punched in the face and reels backwards. As this is the general pattern, we infer that being punched in the face causes one to reel backwards. But consider television programs and movies. There we also observe a punch to the face and reeling backwards...but it's rarely the punch causing the reeling backwards in that case. It's a plot device. We see successive, continuous events in both cases, but in the television case, if it's a fictional program, we don't think that the blow itself causes the reeling backwards.

At any rate, I may have more to say about Hume next week, but I just happened across a rather good take on Hume's empiricism that is worth reading. It seems to be part of a larger book review, but is perfectly readable on its own.

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'Kay, I feel better now.

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Lyrical Madness

This morning, I had a song from Sweeney Todd stuck in my head, so I went to look up the lyrics. It's amazing what people can misspell and mis-hear. Anyway, this is the bit that was in my head (I fixed the typos I was sure about, but there may be some I missed; so far all three sites have identical errors):

There's a hole in the world like a great black pit
and the vermin of the world inhabit it
and its morals aren't worth what a pig can spit
and it goes by the name of London.
At the top of the hole sit the privileged few
Making mock of the vermin in the lower zoo
turning beauty to filth and greed...
I too have sailed the world and seen its wonders,
for the cruelty of men is as wondrous as Peru
but there's no place like London!

The weirdest mistake is here: "The lady, sir, did she, sir, come?" This should be: "The lady, Sir, did she succumb?" It makes no sense whatsoever the first way. I'll have to check the lyrics book that came with my CD's and see if it was printed wrong there.

At any rate, you might guess that a pleasant mood would not put a song like this into one's head. It would be accurate to say that it's been a less than pleasant week, for a variety of reasons. Working on homicidal bots (the chatting kind; not the mechanical kind) is therapeutic.

On the plus side, I did get all my mom's new office furniture put together, and started moving desks around between the two sides of the building on Wednesday. Her boss's old desk wouldn't fit through the doors until we took the legs off and turned it sideways. We also got the desk that I'm getting moved out of the main office area, without dismantling it, and rearranged some of the stuff that IS staying in the main office area. That part of the week was good. There was one thing Mom forgot to have me help with before I took off...and I can't for the life of me remember what it was, now, but we're mostly done.

Wednesday overall was a good day, actually. At College Market, we discussed Hamlet, with connections to the Euthydemus, Jungian archetypes, and anything else that came to mind. That was fun.

It's just that when you feel like you're balancing on the edge of a knife, it doesn't take whole hell of a lot to throw you off. So... I'm at the point where I could really do with an explosion or twenty. I just want to see something blow up, preferably at close range. If it could be an ISU building (preferably empty), that would be a bonus, but I'd settle for even a miniature replica. Actually, I think I'd be happy with a simulated explosion, so long as it was sufficiently graphic. Might be a good time to watch the new James Bond movie. Surely SOMETHING gets blown up in it.

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29 November 2007

Ring, Ring, Ring, Ring...

Qalmlea is not functioning properly right now, but she would like to point out that there are only 4 Tue/Thur left in this semester, only two of which require the full four lectures. So, press 1 if you would like to hear her screech; press 2 to hear a full-on, soul-splitting scream; press 3 and get out of the way quickly if you have gluten free food on you; press 4 if you are volunteering to be a punching bag for her frustrations; press 5 if you have pentagonal paper to donate; press 6 repeatedly if you would like your line traced; press 7 only if you enjoy being electrocuted; press 8 if you can't think of anything better to do; press 9 to hangup.

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26 November 2007


trickster rides
the knife edge between
pain and rage

Explanation: Yeah, I'm getting minor twitches of holiday blues this year, but I made an interesting discovery this summer. There's an unstable equilibrium between the pain of utter depression and the rage when it turns outward. I finally figured out a description for it tonight: tricksterism. It's a bit dicey to stay there, but it beats the alternative.

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Weird Avdervtising

Kohl's slogan: "Expect Great Things."

Am I the only person who flashes to Ollivander in the first Harry Potter movie? "I think we must expect great things from you, Mr. Potter....After all, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named did great things—terrible, yes, but great."

I hear "Expect Great Things" and automatically add "Terrible, But Great." It certainly doesn't inspire me to shop there.

At a car wash: "CLEAN CARS LEAVE HERE."

Yep. I'm sure they do. Wouldn't want to stick around THAT place.

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Ain't it the Truth?

(Picture links to the full comic)

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25 November 2007

Random Thoughts on a Comment and a Carnival

New carnival today: Godless. Below the fold is a rather inchoate collection of ramblings inspired by some of the posts therein, and another related post.

From a comment on a deconversion thread:

"if unverifiable spiritual experiences are true, all religions must be considered equally true."

Yes! Exactly! There are really two options here. One is that the human brain is primed for such experiences, and that people just find them in the context of their respective religions. Pure neurobiology and upbringing. The other is that the human brain is capable of perceiving something powerful that really exists, and that everyone finds it in the context of his/her own religion. This is the position adopted by most (all?) mystics. We see the similarities in religious experiences across traditions and embrace them. I would quibble with the word "true" above. A better way of putting it might be that they all have validity.

Of course, there's always the traditional conservative Christian response: that all the experiences not in the (correct) Christian context are from Satan. In which case, Satan would seem to be more powerful than God, since there are more non-Christians on the planet than Christians. For this one to be even remotely interesting, let alone convincing, there would need to be a consistent means of verifying which experiences were from God and which from Satan. That is, someone analyzing the report of the experience itself, knowing nothing of the person's religious background, would have to be able to consistently say that experience A was from God and B was from Satan, and then compare the religious backgrounds at the end and see if all A's were from Version X of Christianity (or ANY version of Christianity). Lacking that, it is meaningless to attribute such experiences to Satan. More than meaningless to me, as Satan Him/It/Herself is just one of many deities.

On prayer: "I eventually concluded that I'd been talking to myself, calming myself down, all those years."

Again, exactly right! Intercessory prayer has never made much sense to me. The descriptions of prayer that made sense to me come much closer to meditation. What is meditation? Exploring your own mind, and seeing where it leads. It can be empty-mind, allowing the thoughts to drift down to the bottom and settle. It can be on a specific emotion or idea, just bringing that into the mind and seeing where it leads you. Some would argue that the latter isn't really meditation, but I disagree. It's a focused meditation. It requires only that you open yourself to what is really in your mind, and this is difficult for many people. It requires acknowledging not only your pain, but your own faults, and accepting that they are yours. It's much easier to split off a part of the mind to hide them away.

Also, from the latest Carnival of the Godless:
A Deeply Religious Nonbeliever

Some of this I could have written not long after deciding I was not a Christian. "The more I go on, the more God feels like Santa, to me. The definition keeps broadening, until it’s indistinguishable from nature. And I don’t mean nature like some trees and a pond. I mean everything in this awesome, unbelievable, almost unknowable universe and beyond it."

I wouldn't have made the comparison to Santa; I'm not sure that I ever believed in Santa, actually. I went through the motions of believing (to the point of sleeping in the living room to try and catch him, knowing full well it would be my parents caught; I was 7) because it seemed to make the people around me happy. I always knew that the Santas in the malls were fake; among other things, one of my cousins worked as a mall Santa one year. I never took seriously the idea that there was a fat man in a red suit living at the North Pole making toys. It was a fun holiday story, but I can't remember ever taking it seriously.

Here's something that bears repeating over and over and over again: "You see, religious people make things up and come to conclusions THEN attempt to prove what they have already concluded – like God, for example. A logical, rational person observes things and then tries to come to conclusions. There is a huge difference. And right off the bat a religious follower and his religion are on the wrong side of logic and reason. The end. There is no discussion necessary beyond this point, because they have already broken the rules of logic."

A few points. The type of religion described here starts by assuming that the Bible (or whatever holy book) is completely infallible. Evidence to the contrary is ignored, derided, or twisted so far out of reality that it's unrecognizable. Science starts by assuming that observable reality is, in fact, reality, and that there are rules that govern reality. Evidence matters to the scientist. It does not matter to this type of religionist, not in the same way. Among other things, there's always the fallback position that Satan planted the evidence. So once again, it appears that Satan is more powerful than God, since nearly all the observable evidence contradicts the Bible (when it's mistaken for a science textbook, anwyay). And if we switch to "fallen humans" making it all go bad, we have humans as a group being more powerful than God, to make such sweeping changes to his/her/its Creation.

Last link is to a curiously Anarchic Response to religious tolerance. I do not agree that organized religion will always lead to intolerance. I don't see much point in organized religion, since spirituality is a profoundly internal and personal matter for me. I don't expect anyone to agree with me on every single issue, nor think that they are wrong/idiots/damned for not doing so. The only purpose for a group meeting would be to discuss exactly those points of disagreement in a logical and consistent manner.

To me, part of "tolerating" or "respecting" another religion is in attacking its vulnerabilities. I suppose that sounds odd to non-martial artists, but that's how you learn in a martial art. The times you win are more immediately satisfying, but it's the times you lose where you learn something. To ignore the weaknesses would be the ultimate sign of disdain and lack of respect. To ignore those vulnerabilities or pretend that they do not exist in your own religion is the ultimate sign of weakness, idiocy and irrationality. To appeal to a higher authority and refuse to think about the issue yourself makes you an automaton in my eyes and worthy of no respect whatsoever.

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Sights Seen From the Park in American Falls

Just a few pictures that I really liked from my last stint up in AF.

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Pictures of Ornagami

Click below to see some models made (mostly) with my best paper.

Here we have two Saar Stars and a Faceted Star (the blues contrast more in real life; I think the flash washed them out in the picture):

And here is a Bell Bauble and an Octahedron:

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At Barnes and Noble yesterday, I found a very nice book of Christmas oriented origami. It's called Ornagami, and seems only to be available new through Barnes and Noble. I've run across dozens of ornament-origami books in the past, without buying any of them. Often this was because their example pieces, proudly displayed on the front cover, seemed rather pathetic. At the other extreme, they sometimes seemed impossibly elaborate, so that I didn't even want to get started. This book has a good mix of simple and difficult folds, most of which produce a decent-looking ornament/decoration.

Two very cool things about the book. First off, it's spiral bound. Sometimes I think there should be a law that all music, puzzle and origami books must be spiral bound. That way they stay on the page that you're working on. Second off, it comes with some starter origami paper, bound right into the book, with easy-tear perforation lines. It's not the best quality origami paper, but there are some very pretty patterns there. Also, once you've pulled all the paper out, the origami book will "collapse" from being about 12" by 8" to 4" by 8", since you'll have pulled out all the 8 by 8 paper.

By and large, the instructions in this book are very clear and easy to follow. I've tried close to a third of the models now, and only once have I had to sit and stare at a picture and instructions for several minutes to figure out what it meant. Admittedly, I've done quite a bit of origami now, but there are still some things that are just hard to get written down coherently. On the other hand, the instructions for making a "bird base" in this book are the clearest that I can ever remember seeing. Most books don't explicitly mention a few steps that make it a whole lot easier; this book does.

I'll probably post a few images when I get some made from decent paper. I generally try out new folds on generic/ugly/mutilated paper, so that if I mess up, I haven't ruined any of my good paper.

Quick break down by difficulty (for ones I've tried):

Easy enough that just about anyone could get it on the first try:
Quickie Tree
Paper ball
Candy Cane
Holiday Wreath (joining last two pieces is slightly tricky)

Candy Cup
Octahedron (1 & 2)
Bell Bauble
Angel (would be under easy if not for the "thirds")
Banded Hexahedron
4-point Estrella
Harlequin Diamond

Saar Star (simple...except that you have to be more careful)
5-pointed Saar Star (easier than the 4-point one, actually, but first you have to get a pentagonal piece of paper)
Reindeer (haven't tried it...but getting decent quadrupeds is ALWAYS tricky)
Faceted Star (the folding is easy, and the assembly is ALMOST easy...until you get to joining the last two bits together)

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24 November 2007

Long and Short of It

We've been alternating between long and short form lately. Mark would rather just do short form; I'm interested in at least finishing out the long form. So we've more or less compromised on it. One week we'll do long form, and the next week we'll go back to the short form. According to Don, we've made it to about midway through the second section, which corresponds to being about halfway through the form.

The sequence after repulse the monkey is:

Raise Hands Step Up
Brush knee twist step
Spear strike
Needle at (to?) the Bottom of the Sea
Circle Fist (there may be a named move preceding this, but if so, I don't know the name)
Step up parry and punch (with a cross step from circle fist)
A funny withdraw forward to set up for Ward Off Right...then cycle through back to Single Whip
Transition into Cloud Hands (peer under left hand, right hand wipes clouds away)
Single Whip
High pat on mare to cross-hands to split, and switch sides
Brush knee left and right
Low punch

Except for Circle Fist, I've got the separate movements okay (er, for a given value of "okay"); the transitions are still rather awkward in several places. I agree with Don that, application wise, the CMC form is better, but I think there is still a lot to learn from the long form. In particular, we can see why, exactly, Cheng Man-Ch'ing altered a few things, and where some of the explicit instructions came from.

The biggest differences are the reasons that I think CMC is better in terms of applications. Separating the weight is a big one. The long form just says "distinguish full and empty," while CMC says to separate full and empty. That is, get the weight completely over one foot and completely empty the other. This is why CMC-players generally take a shorter stance than long-form players. The next big one is keeping the shoulders in line with the hips. In the long-form, there are places where the only way to make the movement is by twisting the shoulders out of line. This makes you extremely vulnerable. Cheng Man-Ch'ing visualized the torso as a "stone tablet," a Chinese grave marker. The idea is that they are supposed to be kept perfectly upright as a sign of respect to whomever might be buried there. So keep the torso upright and straight as a sign of respect to...yourself? Your teacher? Your opponent? *shrugs*

Anyway, this week we worked on short form. Next week, who knows? ^/^

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23 November 2007

Braving Black Friday (aka The Importance of Socks)

Yeah, I went out before noon on the Friday after Thanksgiving. It's not a practice that I recommend, but, see, two places were having "buy one get one free" deals on socks. This may not strike anyone but me as significant, but both places carry wool socks, and I'm rather fond of wool socks during the winter.

First stop: Fred Meyer. It was mildly crowded by my standards, but not too bad...until I went into electronics. They have two cash registers in there. They needed, oh, six, and it's a small space anyway. I made a brief circuit, and headed back out into the main store to look for socks. Sadly, most of the ones that I really like were gone already, but I did find two pairs, and got one of them free. There was also a $10 DVD rack set up near books, and I found a few good deals there. These were recent releases, btw, on sale for $10. And I even lucked into a very short line. One person was ahead of me, and he was just leaving as I got in line.

Second stop: Sportsman's Warehouse. This wasn't nearly as crowded as Fred Meyer, likely because it's a store that caters to males, and males, by and large, are more sensible about bizarre early sales. I also noted that SW had no early morning specials in their ad: just some deals that ran the full day. There were a lot of people congregating around the socks, but not so many that I was put off from searching through them. I found 6 pairs (the limit was get 3 free) and headed up to pay for them. SW has VERY good socks, with prices to match. Most of them are designed for hiking. The priciest pair that I got are normally $17 per pair. $17 for two pair was much better, imo. And, once again, a very short wait in line to pay.

Mostly out of curiosity, and because their ad had been mercifully brief (20% off entire store), I wandered over to Bed, Bath and Beyond...and wandered right back out. The lines were at least 3 deep across the board, and crowded to boot, and I despise both. Even if I found something that would have been nice to get 20% off on, I wouldn't have been willing to wait in line under those circumstances. For wool socks, I might have put up with it, but not for the flim-flammery that they have at BBB.

I don't know whether to call it clautrophobia or agoraphobia or something else entirely, but I really really loathe crowded places. The size of the space is mostly irrelevant; it's the amount of people packed in per square unit of space. If a place is too crowded for me, I will walk right back out. This is why, by and large, I avoid Wal-Mart. It's crowded nearly all the time. If I have to drive clear through the lot and still don't find a parking space, I drive right back out. My mom has occasionally dragged me there during an objectionable peak hour. I would rather stick my hand in a blender, quite frankly. It would be more enjoyable.

But I was careful with my choices for today, and did NOT go at 6:00 am, when Fred Meyer opened. Both places were only slightly more crowded than I like, and had very short lines.

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Gluten Free Tips (2): Hot Chocolate

Have you ever read the ingredients on those hot cocoa packets they sell in stores? Try it sometime. The vast majority of them are more chemical than cocoa, and with all those ingredients, there's a good chance of cross-contamination...not to mention that most of them have mono- and di-glycerides in them (can be made from wheat), and unnamed modified food starch.

However, it is surprisingly easy to make hot cocoa. All you need are cocoa, sugar and milk. The basic recipe I found suggested twice as much sugar as cocoa; I prefer equal amounts. You'll probably have to experiment a bit to find the right ratio for you. A good way to start, though, is to put

1 t cocoa
2 t sugar

in the bottom of a microwavable mug. Stir the powders together, then fill the mug the rest of the way with milk (I use goat's milk), and put in the microwave. The time will depend on your microwave; for a 1.5 cup mug in my microwave, it takes 2:35. Much more than that and it boils over. Also, I prefer my cocoa stronger than what I listed above; that's just a good starting point. In the same 1.5 cup mug, I would put 1 T cocoa and 1 T sugar, roughly.

Of course, this recipe won't work so well camping, or if you're out of fresh milk. You need some sort of instant powdered milk. Again, I use goat's milk. At home, put the correct amount of dry milk (read the label) in with the cocoa and sugar, mix, and pour boiling water over it. I'll give you my camping recipe, though if you prefer weaker cocoa, you'll probably want to cut down the amount of cocoa:

2 cups instant dry goat's milk
1/2 cup cocoa
1/2 cup sugar

For a 1 cup serving, use 4 T = 1/4 cup of the mix. Looks like a lot in the cup, but that gives you enough milk powder that it won't be watery. For a 1.5 cup serving, use 6 T, etc. Then pour boiling water over it.

Note: this uses 4 times as much milk powder as the other two ingredients. The ratio may be different for dry cow's milk; I don't know, as I don't use it. But it takes 1/4 c = 4 T of the goat's milk powder to make a single serving.

These amounts are all rough approximations. If you want it more watery, use less milk powder. If my mix isn't sweet enough for you, add more sugar, etc. But it's nice to have a definite starting point so that then you can fiddle with it if it's not to your taste.

GF Tips Index

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22 November 2007


I just saw an ad for a resumption of "American Gladiator." My first thought was WHY?!????!?? Me second... Oh, yeah, they don't need writers for American Gladiator. There are two shows that I'll miss if the strike continues: Chuck and Moonlight. Heroes, well, sort of, except that I haven't seen the first two seasons, so I doubt that I'll miss it nearly as much as the other two, as I can rent or buy the first two seasons and get all caught up. Also, it looks like they've planned the season's climax to happen just as the new scripts run out.

Personally, I'd prefer that they just let the tubes go blank if all they've got are reality shows and pseudo-combat silliness. Oh, and, yes, I used to like American Gladiator. When I was twelve.

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Gluten Free Tips (1)

Aka, things I wish someone had told me when I first started having to make everything be gluten-free.

The most important factor for getting yeast bread to turn out is the water temperature. Whatever flours you use, however you get it to stick together without gluten, if the water temperature is wrong, the bread will not turn out right. Period. Bette Hagman gets this consistently wrong, though I love her recipe books otherwise. She nearly always says to have the water at 105° Fahrenheit. When I first started out, I believed her and aimed for this temperature. Then one day I read the blurb on the jar of yeast. It said 110-115° Fahrenheit when added in liquid and allowed to froth, and 130° Fahrenheit when added into the dry ingredients. Most of Bette Hagman's recipes say to add the yeast with the dry ingredients. For the type of yeast I use, 105° Fahrenheit is just plain wrong.

There's a further complication, however. With wheat bread, water is generally the only, or at least the dominant, liquid. With GF bread, you're usually adding eggs at the bare minimum, which decreases the amount of water you use. This means that to get the liquid to 130° Fahrenheit, you need the water to be even hotter. I aim for 160° Fahrenheit. After some experimenting one summer, I found that 160° worked well for the type of yeast that I buy. For anyone else, read your own package of yeast and try to get all the liquid to that temperature before you add the dry ingredients. If there's a secret to making good gluten-free bread, this is the most important bit. Then, after you've gotten bread to turn out, you can start working on texture and flavor by experimenting with different flours.

For instance, for our Thanksgiving rolls today, I used Bette Hagman's Featherlight Rice Flour bread recipe, but I replaced a quarter of the flour with hazelnut meal. This gave a much lighter, moister texture, and a richer flavor. I'll find out tomorrow how well the moisture lasts. But still, it's best to start by following the recipe exactly, apart from the erroneous temperature instructions. When you can get it to turn out as a nice, risen bread, then it's time to start experimenting.

Oh, a few other modifications I make to that particular recipe. I use lemon juice instead of vinegar. The purpose is to make the dough more acidic to help the yeast rise, and I prefer to use lemon juice; I often add more than the recipe calls for, too. I also use more honey than the recipe calls for, especially if I'm making cinnamon pull-aparts out of the dough. And I use rice protein powder (1 T for the small loaf, 2 T for the largest recipe) in place of dry milk powder. The purpose is to add protein to a flour mix that lacks it, and rice protein powder works just as well.

GF Tips Index

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Happy Thanksgiving

I was planning to do something elaborate to a poem, as I did for Halloween, and, well, it's not going to happen. So I'll just post a relevant poem:

Thanks in Old Age

Thanks in old age--thanks ere I go,
For health, the midday sun, the impalpable air--for life, mere life,
For precious ever-lingering memories, (of you my mother dear--you,
father--you, brothers, sisters, friends,)
For all my days--not those of peace alone--the days of war the same,
For gentle words, caresses, gifts from foreign lands,
For shelter, wine and meat--for sweet appreciation,
(You distant, dim unknown--or young or old--countless, unspecified,
readers belov'd,
We never met, and neer shall meet--and yet our souls embrace, long,
close and long;)
For beings, groups, love, deeds, words, books--for colors, forms,
For all the brave strong men--devoted, hardy men--who've forward
sprung in freedom's help, all years, all lands
For braver, stronger, more devoted men--(a special laurel ere I go,
to life's war's chosen ones,
The cannoneers of song and thought--the great artillerists--the
foremost leaders, captains of the soul:)
As soldier from an ended war return'd--As traveler out of myriads,
to the long procession retrospective,
Thanks--joyful thanks!--a soldier's, traveler's thanks.

~ Walt Whitman

Also, an atheist discusses gratitude. In a similar vein, I thank the sun for shining. I thank the clouds for hiding the sun and bringing rain. I thank the traffic light for changing to green just as I pull up to the intersection. I thank the stove for providing heat to cook things. I thank the computer for giving me access to information and people that I would never know otherwise. I thank the people who made computers and stoves possible. It's sometimes hard to be grateful that things are exactly as they are, but it's an attitude worth cultivating.

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21 November 2007

Unusually Easy Pie Crust

I just got back from my mom's house. We were making pumpkin pies for tomorrow. Well, I was making pumpkin pies for tomorrow, but since I made them at Mom's house, her dishwasher can take care of most of the mess. At any rate, this is only the second time since I started making gluten-free crusts that it was easy. Seriously easy. Like, pre-gluten-free easy. By and large, I followed the same recipe as last year, but with a few minor differences. I have no idea which difference made the, er, difference.

(1) I added the full quarter-cup of olive oil before cutting the butter into the flour mixture.
(2) I didn't actually measure the vinegar or water... I put some ice cubes in a cup, dumped some vinegar in, poured some water in, then dropped two eggs in and beat the mixture with a fork. Rather than add the whole thing, I measured out slightly more than 3/4 of a cup of the liquid (occasionally fishing out ice cubes that escaped).
(3) I used a different rolling pin, a very bizarre one made of plastic that you fill with water for weight.

A few tips for anyone working with gluten-free pie crusts, though. It does not hold together nearly as well as wheat-based crust. Gluten comes from the same root as "glue." It's very good at holding things together. We use xanthan gum to approximate that stickiness but it's nowhere near as strong. So we cheat a bit. Recipe books will suggest that you roll the crust between two sheets of saran wrap. This would work well...EXCEPT that I've never been able to find saran wrap that's a foot wide, and trying to combine two pieces so you've got the width you need just doesn't work.

What I've got is a pie crust bag. I can't see why you'd need it for wheat crusts, unless you were just starting out, but it's awfully handy for GF crusts. You do need to dust rice flour all around the insides of it, thickest directly above and below your ball of dough, but then you just zip the bag shut, roll until the dough spreads out enough to fill the inside, unzip, and flip into a pan. The plastic keeps the dough from breaking apart on its way to the pie-pan. It's not fool-proof. In years past, it's cracked while I've been trying to form it to the surface of the pan, but it gives you a better chance at a crust that doesn't need patching.

At any rate, I've actually got enough dough left over to make another crust, and Mom suggested we make a lemon pie tomorrow. I'm not sure why we need one when we've got three pumpkin pies to eat...but I haven't had lemon pie in a while, so I'll go along with it.

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The Subtle Knife

The second book is slightly shorter than the first, and Pullman is much more adept at drawing out the tension. The cavalry doesn't always make it in time.

We add a second major character, Will Parry, from the "real" world, rather than from Lyra's world. Will's daemon is on the inside. He's a fiercely protective survivor, who cares too much for his own good, and who seems to have a grand destiny before him. He's to wield the Subtle Knife, that can cut through anything, no matter how hard or insubstantial, and find a chink in anything, no matter how small.

We learn some more about Dust, and angels, and 'The Authority,' but I'd rather wait to say much on them until I've finished the third book. I wouldn't describe the book as anti-religious. It's exploring a fairly common theme, that the rebellion in heaven was a good thing, and that the only pity was that it did not succeed outright. Irreverent? Sure. Sacrilegious...maybe, depending on your POV. I'm still not entirely sure where Pullman is going with this, but the reason involves a spoiler from the first book, so I'll camouflage it for those who don't want to read it. Highlight it if you do.

At the end of The Golden Compass, Lord Asriel killed Lyra's friend Roger to open the doorways between the worlds. There does not seem to be any mitigating factor here, and I'm not swayed by the "casualty of war" argument, that it was necessary for Asriel to fight the battle he has to fight. It was a despicable action. The odd thing thusfar is that, in every other light, Asriel seems to be portrayed as "the good guy." So... I'm confused. Presumably the third book will shed some light on this. If not, you'll be subject to a rant when I've finished it.

Overall, though, highly recommended. The first book was good, and this one was even better.

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19 November 2007

Imaginary Wars

Given the time of year, you can probably guess which war I'm talking about. If not, here is information on one of the opening salvos. At one point, I debated not using a certain 8-letter word that begins with 'C' between, say, Thanksgiving and the holiday-which-shall-not-be-named, but I decided it would be silly. So I'll just keep it up for the duration of this post. `/^

At any rate, these guys want [CENSORED]mas to be printed proudly on all the shopping bags and catalogs of America. They want everyone to know that [CENSORED] was a staunch capitalist, who supported the ritual bombastic spending that goes on every year, and would be proud to have his name on it. Naturally, the true meaning of [CENSORED]mas is to buy lots and lots of things with [CENSORED]'s name on them. And if [CENSORED]'s name isn't there, than it's pure evil. Clearly the bible dictates a capitalistic orgy in honor of [CENSORED]'s (borrowed) birthday.

Funny thing... What I remember from Sunday school is an emphasis on the true meaning of [CENSORED]mas having nothing whatsoever to do with orgiastic spending and pretty bags with [CENSORED]'s name on them. It was supposed to be about an extraordinary event, the birth of God on earth. I'm curious. Did the Wise Men's gifts have "Merry [CENSORED]mas!" on them? Somehow, I doubt it.

It would be more in keeping with the "reason for the season" to decry the use of [CENSORED]'s name on all these external trappings, in the opinion of this admittedly non-Christian heathen. From where I'm sitting, the insistence on the use of the name smacks of idolatry, and suggests that money is the true object of veneration for these people. Spend for [CENSORED]! Make sure all your trinkets and toys have [CENSORED]'s name on them, whether they'd be approved of by [CENSORED] or not! "Moichandising! Moichandising! Moichandising! Where the real money from the religion is made! [CENSORED]: the T-shirt, [CENSORED]: the Coloring Book [holds up a Transformers comic book], [CENSORED]: the Lunchbox, [CENSORED]: the Breakfast Cereal. [CENSORED]: the Flame Thrower… [fires a short blast from flame thrower]." Is that really the message [CENSORED] would want to send? This heathen doesn't think so.

So you go ahead and buy your [CENSORED]mas golden idols and sacrifice all the cold hard manna you like to them. Seriously. My favorite thing about [CENSORED]mas is watching [CENSORED]ians show their pagan spirit.

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Furniture Frenzy

Yesterday, we took the hutch off of Mom's old computer desk so that we could get it (and the main desk piece) into the back of Dad's pickup. It was a matter of about 10 screws and four dowels to put it back together once we got it down to American Falls. Then I put the last of the drawers from the new desks together and, after getting the desks where Mom wanted them, we set about putting the drawers into their proper slots.

There was a slight problem. Every last one of the small drawers, with the weaker runners, had the runner on backwards and/or upside down. So far as I can tell, I got them on right...then forgot which end was forward when I was putting all the rest of the pieces on, and managed to do this consistently. Thankfully, that was a job that the electric screwdriver could handle, so it was a matter of minutes to fix them all. There's still one drawer not inserted, however, as the very last drawer handle had gotten smooshed somehow. At first, it wouldn't even stay in place on the brackets. I managed to unsmoosh it, somewhat, enough that it would stay, but then the pieces that are supposed to keep it from colliding with the wood weren't lined up right, so...it was colliding with the wood. Mom's hoping to find a replacement tonight at Lowe's.

I also started putting her bookshelves together. One of them is 99% together. All that's left is to put in the dowels that support the movable shelves, and the covers for the visible cam-locks. The second is about 85% together, as I was fed up with hammering and didn't get the back nailed on. They go together a heckuva lot faster than the desks do. There are two more still in their boxes, which I'll probably wind up taking care of if Mom drags me down there again this week.

At that point, I could tell I wouldn't be much more use without food, but even after the food I had a slightly...hinky feeling, like I might glue something together backwards without noticing, so I stopped and wandered over to the nearby park for a while. It was gorgeous and sunny when I got there, plenty warm enough for the light jacket I was wearing. Gradually the wind and the clouds picked up. I got some nice shots of the clouds that I may sort through and post, but meanwhile it was getting colder. Finally it was too cold and I headed back to Mom's offices.

Oh, I'm also getting one of the old metal desks that was down there, partially as recompense for my help, but mostly because Mom wants to get rid of it. It will be nice to have a desk with drawers in it again. It's a rather nice, bright yellow. ^/^

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18 November 2007

The Golden Compass

Very good read. I bought the trade paperback edition with the matte cover, as I found that cover to be the most appealing. To be perfectly honest, I've seen this series many times, as Pullman is usually near Terry Pratchett on the shelves, but the covers and the descriptions on the back always put me off. It was a very, very good read. Full review below the fold.

We follow the adventures of Lyra, a presumed orphan who has spent most of her life at Jordan college. Lyra is a quite ingenious, mischievous, and likable 11-year old. It all starts with the "Gobblers." They're snatching children from the streets. Every rumor of why contradicts the next. Lyra's about to find out more than she wants to know about the Gobblers, and how they connect to her own past. And future. Any more than that, and I'd start spoiling the book.

My only real complaint is that Pullman consistently builds tension, and just as it gets to the point that you start to wonder how Lyra's going to get out of the current predicament, the cavalry arrives. It's a bit annoying. I suspect that this is partially because it's a book aimed at children, but it did get on my nerves after a while. The tension at the very end of the book was better, as it was more drawn out, and there was no certainty in the outcome even after the cavalry arrived.

As for religion, it barely came up in the first three-quarters of the book. There were references to a Church, the Vatican, and some other Catholic-sounding infrastructure. Scientific instruments were called philosophical instruments, and there was talk of "theological experiments." Everyone seems to be worried about "Dust," which we first learn of as some sort of elementary particle.

At the very end, we get a few more details about this Church, but the negativity is directed at this one, particular institution, not at religion in general. There's also some odd theorizing about the relation between Dust and Original Sin, which oddly parallels something I came across earlier this month discussing Adam and Eve as nothing more than a coming of age story (sorry; didn't bookmark the link). But as of the end of the first book, there's nothing overtly anti-religious in the series. According to the reviews I skimmed on Amazon, it does become overt in the second two books.

The last thing I want to discuss is the daemons. In Lyra's world, every human has a daemon. When children, the daemon is free to change shape to any animal, but when they become adults, the daemon settles on one form. I wouldn't have caught this, say, two months ago, but there's a strong parallel to Socrates here. Socrates talked about his daimon all the time, a sort of "inner voice." So far as I know, his wasn't visible to others, but it acted as a sort of guide or conscience to him. Here, the daemons seem to be outward projections of the humans' souls, so far as I can tell. But they act as independent beings, except that there's a limit to how far they can go from their human.

For Socrates, the daimon got him into trouble. He was promoting listening to this inward voice instead of to the institutionalized gods; he was creating new gods (you really have to hear that in Levenson's voice to fully appreciate it). I haven't read enough Socrates to know how strong the parallel here really is, but I would be very surprised if Pullman hadn't gotten some inspiration from Socrates on this point.

ADDENDUM: One other thing. There are some quite violent scenes at the end, described with just enough detail to give a child with a good imagination some very bad nightmares. However, the reading level is high enough that most young readers who make it that far can probably handle it. But it surprised me a bit.

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16 November 2007

108 X 3

Yesterday I hit 324 days of continuous practice. This semester, it's been tough making just the bare minimum, but I managed it. So that's 3 cycles of 108 days, or 9 of 36 days. For the next 36 days, starting today, I'm going to work in 10 minutes of qigong as well. If I pick a specific qigong, I know that I'll find reasons to avoid it, say I don't have time, etc, but if I leave it open to any qigong that strikes my fancy that day, then I think I can manage it.

So my practice consists of (1) breathing exercises; (2) chanting; (3) a brief yoga routine; (4) a round of the Cheng Man Ch'ing form; (5) ten minutes of qigong. When I have time, I'd like to work in 10 minutes of empty-mind meditation as well. If I pick a relatively stationary qigong (e.g. standing meditation), I can combine those, but I'm not to the point where I could combine them for a moving qigong. And I'll be 5 days short of a year at the conclusion of this 36-day cycle. My current über-goal is now 1008 days of continuous practice, which is 28 36-day cycles. So I'm actually more than a third of the way there. ^/^

I'll be the first to admit that the numbers are artificial, and in a certain sense meaningless, but they serve as motivation for me. See, if I skip even ONE DAY, I have to restart the count at zero. That's the rule. If I break the rule, then, in effect, I will be lying to myself. There have been times when bedtime rolled around, and I groaned to realize I hadn't practiced yet; lacking my counting system, I would have skipped over it on those days. I like knowing that I've kept up my practice for almost a year now without skipping any days, and I hope to keep it up for many cycles to come.

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A while back I read a book, called something like "The Barefoot Doctor's Guide to the Tao." There were some interesting ideas in it, often more Hindu than Taoist, but a few things made no sense. At one point, he makes a comment to the effect that, since everything's probably predestined, there's no point in being afraid. To which I responded, "If everything's predestined, so's the fear."

The closest I come to an idea of predestination is a Chinese concept whose name I forget (and can't find at the moment). It describes the way a tree grows. Each year, it adds on a ring. So long as the tree lives, this is inevitable. But the way that the ring grows depends on the circumstances of that particular year. Warm, cold; wet, dry; no bugs, lots of bugs; etc. In that sense, I think that some events can become inevitable before they occur, but the manner in which they occur is not fixed until the event itself. The way I envision this is not that it's "predestined," however. It's more like... each event/person/thing/idea is a thread, and sometimes threads can get so tightly bound up that they have to move together. Robert Jordan's idea of "The Pattern" is very similar, and probably based on the same Chinese concept.

This came up in our philosophy-coffeehouse chat on Wednesday. I was talking about empty spaces. Seriously, I don't think very many people really understand how much empty space can teach you, and how empty space almost makes a sound in the mind (or is it a lack of sound?). I was describing an incident where I seemed to have forewarning of an event. I had just pulled into the parking lot of the Albertson's on Benton, and noticed that I had slowed down to a crawl. There was no conscious decision to do this, and I looked down at the speedometer, puzzled, wondering why I'd slowed down. Then a car, hidden by bushes and other cars, came zooming through the space in front of me. Had I not slowed down, I would have been hit.

My interpretation of this event is that I was subconsciously aware of something, some indication. I knew that there was no empty space in front of me to move into. How I knew that... it could be I subconsciously heard a sound; it could be that same awareness that tells me there's a vulnerability in push hands, an empty/full space that I can use. Will's interpretation was more along the lines of destiny. I was destined not to get hit there. He particularly wanted to know what conclusion I would have drawn had I been hit. I responded, "That I wasn't paying good enough attention."

"So you wouldn't think that you were destined not to be aware? Or that you were aware, but you were also aware that this needed to happen?" (or some very similar comment)

I blinked, thought for a minute. "Uh, no... that's not the way I think about things." I can see what he meant, but I don't see events like that as "meant to be" or as "not meant to be." I might use the terms avoidable and unavoidable. One theory of World War I that I encountered suggested some of the blame lay in time tables and contingency planning. That is, countries had plans along the lines of "if A, do B", and since the predominant means of travel and supply were railroads, once things had started moving, it was very difficult to stop them. I don't know that it was impossible, or that this was the sole reason the conflict escalated, but it is certainly something to think about.

In the sense that sometimes, once threads have collided, certain events become inevitable, I have a sense of "destiny." I have no concept of what kind of scale is feasible here. WWI would be a large scale event, but over a relatively short time period. There could be a hunk of rock floating in space now on its way to earth, with no obstacles in the way to deflect it, and it's been on its way since the universe was formed. That would be a very large scale "destiny." If our technology and awareness is good enough, we can still avoid a collision with it, though.

I see events as largely fluid. There are openings, ways around or through them, if you are open and aware. Timing is, of course, important. If you become aware when the rock is half an inch from your head, chances are that it's too late. Awareness is the key. If you become aware of the rock, but the only way to avoid it is to leap into a pit full of hungry crocodiles, well ... I suppose it depends on how big the rock is and whether you know how to wrestle crocs. `/^ At any rate, I would say that an event can be unavoidable—there's a rock on its way already—but the effects may still be avoided or minimized through awareness and openness. Most of the time.

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grey clouds hang over
brilliant blue horizon
opposites unite

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14 November 2007


Two weeks ago, I got a random call asking if I would do a taiji demo for a woman's group. It was on a Wednesday night, so I said "Sure." It was interesting. There's a "Whole Health" something-or-other on 12th street, which is where they meet. I didn't have much of a plan going in, other than "Show them some of the simpler qigong." They also wanted me to talk about the history a bit, and I'm not really an expert there, but I did mention some of the bigger style names. The Yang style came from the Chen family, via a servant who spied on the family while they practiced and tried to teach himself. He was caught, but the head of the family decided that the servant was better than the actual family and brought him in for actual instruction. That was the beginning of the Yang style. Then Cheng Man Ch'ing modified the Yang form, legendarily after spending a year with one of the Chinese Immortals.

Then we worked on some simple qigong. First, the two basic standing meditation postures. Both are feet parallel, shoulder width apart. The first involves balancing the bones of the legs on top of one another, so that you can release all the leg muscles but still stay upright. The second involves bending the knees to activate the quads and give the hips more room to bend. You want your spine perfectly straight, so you want to relax out of the so-called "natural" lumbar curve. The first one is challenging due to the amount of concentration; the second, due to the pressure on the quads.

Then I showed them the bear sway and the taiji walk, demonstrated the entire yang short form by their request, and then did several variations of cloud hands, as well as the five wrist changes that open the form. A lot of them were getting the warm, red palms characteristic of strong qi flow, so I talked about qi a bit. If nothing else, it's clear to me that qi is a bodily sensation, and that things are going right when you experience it. I suspect that there's more to it than that, but I have no proof of that. Well, I have one anecdote, but I'll save it for another time.

Anyway, the upshot (besides being paid for the presentation, which really didn't matter to me) is that this place may have a room I could rent out to give taiji lessons. It's a small room, but if classes are as small as they have been at ISU for intermediate level, that shouldn't be a problem. If it IS a problem, then a bigger place would likely be affordable. So I'm considering that right now. We shall see. Don's been telling me it's time to hang up my shingle. *shrugs*

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13 November 2007


3 more days of antibiotics left. Today's the first day where I've really felt like I turned the corner. Up until 19:00 I was feeling much better. Apparently 4 lectures is just one too many, even on a good day. On the bright side, there are only 7 more T/Th left in the semester.

We've got Mom's new desks 90% put together now. There's one drawer left on the smaller desk, and none of the drawers have been slid into place yet, as Mom doesn't want to have to take them back out when she moves the desks into their semi-permanent homes.

*sighs* I am very much looking forward to break next week, to the point that it doesn't quite seem real. Then two more real weeks, dead week, and finals week. I'm not really processing that next week is break, yet, so I'm not really trying to process beyond that.

And I've loved the first few chapters of The Golden Compass. Excellent writing, engaging characters, thusfar intriguing plot, and a few rather obvious jabs at The Chronicles of Narnia, starting with a girl hiding in a wardrobe. If there's a magical world inside it, though, it hasn't been revealed yet. ^/^

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fluffy grey kitten
squeaks for food and purrs
at the milk carton

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12 November 2007

Definitely a Rip Off...

Spoiler and a mild rant below the fold. This Friday's Moonlight had something that really had to have been ripped straight from Forever Knight. It's too distinctive not to have been.

Coraline, Mick's former vamp wife, comes back and somehow she's become human. Of course, it took the entire episode to be certain of this. I actually figured that Coraline had found a human ringer and deliberately set things up so Mick would meet her, but, no, the human is, in fact, Coraline.

There's only one other place where I've seen a vampire suddenly return to humanity, and that was in one of Fred Saberhagen's books (I forget which one). A newly turned vampire desperately needs to get into a place where she hasn't been invited, and by sheer force of will, manages to turn herself back human so that she can. In Forever Knight, Janet fell in love with a human, and loved him deeply enough to turn herself human for him (completely out of keeping with Janet's character, btw).

While the plot device was borrowed, they're using it in a novel way. Coraline brought Mick over against his will, and he never forgave her for it. In point of fact, he tried to burn her alive and thought he'd succeeded. So now she's back, and human, and so far just playing with him. It's an interesting use of the device, but it still bugs me to see it lifted wholesale. *shrugs*

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11 November 2007

Godless highlights

New Carnival of the Godless up today.

Christians need Satan?: This is not true for all varieties of Christianity, but it goes well with my "Superheroes require supervillains" thought. However you try to get around it, there really is only one possibility if we accept the existence of a completely good god: An equally powerful, but completely evil entity (or group of entities). The idea of humanity's fall "creating evil" posits that humans have the power to create evil, and so humans as a group are the equally powerful entities. Why equal? Because we observe a neutral "creation," not one with more good than bad and not one with more bad than good.

Political Discrimination is nothing new. What kind of a message does all the "Christian Nation" and "Man of Faith" garbage send to the "differently (un)faithed"? Click to find out.

Problems with Hell: Remember a while back I said that the Dalai Lama didn't think altruism could evolve, because then it wouldn't be true altruism as it would serve an evolutionary purpose? What about hell as a motivator for altruism? Seems a heckuva lot worse to me. Be altruistic or you'll go to hell! Yup, that's true altruism. No ulterior motives there. [/sarcasm]

Morality without Sin: meaning without the concept of sin. Hmmm... the Euthyphro might work equally well with "piety" replaced with "sin" and "what the gods love" replaced with "what the gods hate." Probably a few other replacements would be required as well. So, is an act sinful because God dislikes it, or does God dislike it because it is sinful, hmmm? `/^

The Golden Compass: The hysterical Christian reactions to this movie have convinced me to both see it AND read the books. Congratulations on helping with the marketing guys! You can't BUY publicity like THIS! Why all the fuss? Oh, because Pullman is an atheist who despises the Narnia books. Yup. Can't have the children exposed to THAT. Why, they might decide they prefer polar bears to lions! The truly, truly sad part is that the people screaming the loudest have neither read the books nor seen the movie. This gives them all the credibility of a worm explaining what it's like inside a cloud.

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Bible Quiz

Everyone should take this.

"What Do You ReallyKnow About The Bible?"

Congratulations! You scored 36 correct out of 50!

40 - 50: Wow! You know more than a minister, priest, or rabbi!

30 - 39: Congratulations! Better informed than most Americans

20 - 29: Passing Grade

10 - 19: Did you get your bible knowledge from Sunday School?

0 - 9: Don't feel bad. You may be better off not knowing much about the bible.

Average score: 15

Disclaimer: This comes from the FFRF (Freedom from Religion Foundation), so of course you know there's a bias. But the questions are still textually accurate, whether you agree with the FFRF or not. You may disagree with their interpretations when you go to read the answers, but they're still only using the words that are really there.

ADDENDUM: I just discovered a post discussing the very idea of reading the actual words that are there vs. "interpreting" them.

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We may come back to Islam, but for the moment we're moving on to the more philosophical side of religion, starting with Plato's Euthyphro. The somewhat odd thing is that he says that this was one of our required texts, but I knew that I hadn't seen it, so I went back to the bookstore on Friday afternoon. I had all six of the texts that were listed as required for the class. None of them were the Euthyphro (unless it had been bundled in with Hume or Freud, but that seemed unlikely). But a quick glance through other philosophy classes' texts found two books with that dialogue in them. I picked the one with the most extra material, since there was only a dollar's difference in the price. Eight bucks for five dialogues. Gad. Mozilla's spellcheck doesn't even recognize dialogues?

Anyway, I read the dialogue yesterday. It's only about twenty pages, and is quite entertaining. It wouldn't be at all out of place in, say, a Shakespearean play. Socrates, about to face those who have accused him of impiety, wants Euthyphro to tell him what piety is. Wikipedia has a concise summary, but it's so much more entertaining to read it in full. The most amusing thing is the way that Socrates keeps flattering Euthyphro all through it, calling him an expert, and the most learned, etc, on the subject of piety, even as Socrates completely decimates Euthyphro's arguments, all the while apologizing for not being able to follow them. Beautiful, absolutely beautiful.

Just for fun, how's this for a definition of piety? "Acting in a manner which the State (or Church, etc.) believes will be approved of by the god(s)." Somehow I think this definition would have the Greeks prosecuting me for impiety as well. `/^ And I'm sure that Socrates could twist that definition around nine ways to Sunday, too.

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10 November 2007

Philosophy Non-class

Not much to report from class itself, as we closed up with the gospel on Monday, had a test on Wednesday, and just started philosophical religion on Friday. The test wasn't too bad. We had five essay topics and had to write on two of them. Hopefully my handwriting was legible enough... On the chalkboard, I've gotten pretty good at legibility. On paper...well...

The first question I wrote on was discussing the roles of earth and sky in modern religions. Sky is seen as the distant creator god. Earth is seen as the more accessible mother goddess. Generally speaking; there are cultures who reverse the genders. I mainly took it in terms of abstraction vs. tangibility. The sky aspects are hard to get hold of, while the earth ones are more immediate and tangible.

The second gave a list of figures we'd discussed and had us compare any two of them. The list was Taoist Sage, Krishna, Hebrew Prophet and Jesus. Dr. Levenson had used Krishna as a contrast to Christ several times, so I didn't want to write on those. That left Hebrew Prophet and Taoist Sage. Mainly I discussed their differing personalities with regard to their respective deities (or views of deity). Short version: the Hebrew prophet is antagonistic and angry, belittling to his people, and foreseeing a bad outcome unless they mend their ways; the Taoist Sage is calm and self-effacing, aware of when the people fall short, and guiding them without forcing them. The Taoist Sage acts in such a way that people will believe they have figured things out for themselves. Revelation is rather antithetical to this.


On Friday, Jen and I discussed suffering and pain some more. I get the impression she's had a rough life, based on the few specific details she's mentioned. Dr. Levenson had given her a sheet of notes that he thought she might find interesting, and we went over it together. One of the first ideas that came up is this notion that depression is something people can just "get over." Poof. Snap. Done. Bull. I can say with certainty that no one who thinks that has ever been clinically depressed, and Jen was right with me on that. Worse, it's almost considered taboo to admit to depression. You should soldier on, grin and bear it, etc.

Depression is...pain. Near-constant pain. Sometimes it disappears for a few minutes, and then when it returns it seems that much worse for the respite. Occasionally it dulls to numbness and that's worse. It's possible to function through the pain, but the numbness numbs you to everything, making it hard to care about anything at all. Getting things done when you don't give a damn is damn near impossible. Finding a way out is even harder. There, the pain is much preferable; it gives you an impetus to find a way out. I found my own way out, but I would bet that there are plenty of people who are incapable of doing so without help.


Then there was a philosophy club meeting discussing religion. Dr. Levenson set us to finding a definition of religion that included all the things that we might describe as religions, excluded the things that we didn't want included, and that also hit at the very essence of religion. Not surprisingly we didn't come to any sort of consensus. Interestingly, there were a rather wide range of backgrounds: Presbyterian; Jewish; LDS; ex-Muslim; Taoist (me); eastern mystic; ex-Catholic a few other non-identified Christians; a possible atheist (from the philosophy department; equally possible he was just arguing to argue); and a few others that I couldn't place based on their comments. The closest thing we found to an axiom was the idea of focusing on something eternal, be it eternal life, salvation, bliss, freedom, utopia, etc.

I'm running out of steam, so I'll close this rather rambling post now. I'm sure there's plenty I left out, but if I wait until I get it all in, this post will never get posted.

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08 November 2007

Grading Oddities

The homework question was, in essence, "Why wouldn't we generate a random number from 0-5 to simulate the number of boys in a family with 5 children?"

At least four students said that we should change this to 1-5, since there were 6 numbers and only 5 children!!! Ummmmm.... Yes. So, it's apparently impossible to have five girls in a family with five children. Not to mention that they missed the whole point, that it is less likely to have either all girls or all boys than to have a mixture of the two, so that this simulation would not match up with reality.

I also had one student think that the simulation was reality and the real world situation was...something else. Weird.

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07 November 2007

Health Status +miscellaneous

My cold seems to have acquired a bacterial colonization. Actually, I'm betting that colonization started last Wednesday, because it was on its way out up to then. I went to Portneuf Urgent Care Sunday night because I was relatively certain the cold had turned bacterial. The doctor asked me not to fill the prescription unless the cold wasn't gone by today. And, no, it's still here; same as it's been for the last several days. My colds generally don't do that. I have 1-3 bad days, then things gradually diminish over the next week or so.

However, cancelling classes Thursday night and then going to UU on Friday made me feel immeasurably better, like I'd had a nice, long vacation. I actually feel like I'm in school mode now.

My mom also got antibiotics yesterday, for her swollen cheek. They told her it was "a sinus infection related to the surgery". She's hoping she's not allergic to the antibiotic this time. The first antibiotic they gave her after the surgery made her feel exhausted and nauseous; they then switched her to amoxicillin (I swear that should have a 'y' in it, but that seems to be an uncommon spelling). Now they've given her something stronger than amoxicillin, but in a different family from the one that made her sick.

Oh, philosophy test today. I'm glancing over texts and the study guide.

And since I keep forgetting, I've gotten a few more chapters of the Tao te Ching up:

Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13

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05 November 2007

Life Stuff

Let's see... no taiji Saturday. I hadn't been planning to go anyway, as I didn't want to get Don sick. Melissa had some sort of thing going with her church. Mark decided to go hiking. So Don just cancelled class, before I could e-mail him that I wasn't coming.

Sunday, I decided maybe I ought to start writing my philosophy paper that is (more or less) due Wednesday. The firm deadline seems to be Friday, but I've got a decent draft now. I may post it when it's cleaned up a bit. The assignment was to compare any two of the texts we'd read this semester, looking for similarities and differences. I specifically looked for unity of opposites, and unity in general.

I was also feeling well enough to walk Buster yesterday. I recently got him one of those retractable leashes. It's sixteen feet long, but I can lock it shorter when needed. On the canal, I just let it go, and he can wander almost freely. The interesting side effect is that he's better behaved on it now when I do lock it short. I think maybe having a bit more freedom, where he would wander without pulling, made him realize that it felt better with a bit of slack in the leash. Or maybe I'm just projecting. Whatever the reason, I'm glad of it.

Today, I finally caught up on backlogged bills. Not sure why I got so far behind on them. I also went to College Market with Will, Jen, and Dr. Levenson. It was mostly a discussion of suffering, and whether it's possible for it to have a purpose. If there was any sort of consensus, it was that, purpose or not, the pain is still real. For me, it doesn't matter if there is a purpose to it. What matters is how we respond to it. Maybe it serves a purpose; maybe it doesn't. While it is happening, that doesn't matter in the least. A purpose of suffering is to bring us into the moment, to allow us to feel. Whether that makes it worth anything is left as an exercise for the reader.

In other news, the left half of my mom's face is rather swollen, like there's a rather large golf ball that's taken up residence in her left cheek. She's also having some cold symptoms, which may or may not be connected. It could be a complication of her sinus operation, an infected tooth, a nasty cold, or something else entirely. I wonder...what would a sinus infection do to someone whose sinuses were still a bit raw from being messed with? Probably nothing good. She's going to have it looked at tomorrow.

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02 November 2007

Philosophy Conference

I've got to admit... I enjoyed the philosophy conference more than I expected to. Much more than I've enjoyed similar physics conferences, for instance. I think it's because I'm much more interested in ideas than, for instance, technology. Also, it was like a mini-vacation and got me out of town for a bit. It's about a 2.5 hour drive down to University of Utah from here. It took a bit longer coming back, as 6:00 seems to be rush-hour-ish. I say 'ish' because I've driven in much worse. We never came to a complete stop on the interstate, for instance, though at times I had to slow down to around 35. At any rate, I left at 8:30 yesterday morning, after stopping to pick up Will (he of my philosophy and the beginning taiji class).

We got to Salt Lake right about 11:00 am, and I stopped at Wild Oats (which I discovered was only a few blocks from the university whilst checking routes then night before). I was running low on buckwheat, and Wild Oats actually has it in the bulk bins. Much cheaper than I'd been paying for it in Pocatello. Also, Wild Oats has a salad bar/deli, so we ate lunch there before heading up to the conference. And I mean 'up' literally, as UU is up on a hill, and Wild Oats was still down in the valley. Anyway, onto the conference!

Keynote: PreSocratic Science?
I really enjoyed this talk by Daniel Graham. It was examining whether preSocratic philosophers were working within a scientific framework. The traditional view is that they were not, as they either did not bother to test their ideas or lacked the means to test them. Graham mentions one case where they clearly did rely on observation to confirm their ideas: the moon. Actually, he said there were three cases, and included eclipses and meteors, but the strongest case was for the moon. The earliest indication was a verse of poetry, something about the moon "shining by borrowed light" in a work by Parmenides. Two of his students carried on with that idea (Empedocles and Anaxagoras). Anaxagoras stated directly that the moon gets its light from the sun, rather than couching it in a poem.

This idea had several consequences. (1) It indicated that the sun did not "die" or even stop shining at night, as otherwise there would be no way for the moon to reflect its light; (2) The path of the sun must be a circle (or at least a near-circle) that goes under the earth (until the rise of heliocentrism several centuries later, anyway); (3) If the moon stops shining, something must be in the way of the sun's light, which then tied into his presentation on eclipses; (4) A solar eclipse might also be caused by something getting in the way of the sun's light.

I won't go into all the gory details, but there were two solar eclipses in the time period when Anaxagoras was writing, and one of them had a path that would have put all of the Pelopenessus in shadow, and he later says that the moon must be at least as big as the Pelopenessus. I would agree that this constitutes scientific thinking. Get an idea. Consider a testable/observable consequence of that idea. Gather data. (All spelling errors on Greek names are undoubtedly mine).

2:15 Ontology of Mathematics
Meh. This was by Paul Hendengren. Now, I'm sure there were some interesting ideas buried in this guy's rather horrid presentation, but, ya know, if you're invited to give a one-hour talk, you prep for a one-hour talk. You don't get there, realize it's too long, and then try to rattle off stuff like an auctioneer, reading straight from your paper, and every so often deigning to look up and make an actual comment about it. I'll try to summarize what I got out of all the blather.

He's arguing against the idea of numbers, or any other mathematical constructs, having any reality other than that granted in thoughts, and doesn't think that thoughts themselves are real "things." There was a rather odd repeated refrain, that you can't put "things" in your mind, just like you can't put keys in your walking. He sees the mind as a process, not as...I don't know...a storage device? Because the presentation was so frenetic, it was extremely difficult to follow. But he seems to presuppose some things: (1) thoughts exist only in the mind, and have no reality other than the mental processes underlying them; (2) numbers and all other math constructs are nothing more than labels with no intrinsic meaning of their own (he would say the same thing about words); (3)meaning lies only in the process of reading/interpreting the symbols/numbers/words, not in the symbols/numbers/words themselves.

First thought: so what? No one claims that the word "blue" would be instantly recognizable by any human as designating a certain set of wavelengths of light. Of course the meaning is in the agreed-upon interpretation and not in the word itself. Does that mean that the color blue only exists in the mind of those observing it? I very much doubt it, though I'm aware that there are those who would argue otherwise. There is a range of measurable wavelengths that people would agree were blue. There might be some disagreement about the exact cut-offs between, say, blue and green, and that may have more to do with variations in the way our eyes process visual data than anything else. But after deciding on the range of wavelengths that are blue, it would be possible to build a machine to observe and indicate if the light coming from an object was in that range. If so, blue. If not, not blue. To me, that indicates that it is reasonable to talk about the "blueness" of an object. Is it an artificial definition? Yup. Do I care? Nope. Arguments that the properties of objects exist only in the mind of the observer just leave me cold. It's not that there's no mental component; it's that there are objective, measurable components as well.

So try this one. Someone who's never heard of "blue" is shown a blue object. Will she call it blue? Of course not. Now show her other objects that are also blue, even the same identical shade of blue. Unless she's color-blind, she will agree that there is a commonality between the objects. Hmmm... that does suggest the commonality could come in the instrumentation attached to the mind, but not the mind itself. Similar instrumentation (e.g. non-colorblind human eyes) would produce similar observations. I can see a case for that argument, but not for the purely mental construct one. But... eh, I'm tired of the topic, so I'm moving on.

3:30 Probable Evil
I debated between this one and a concurrent session, Necessity of Theism. Now I wish I'd gone to that one, because by and large I agreed with Jim Hardy, and probably would have disagreed vehemently with the other presentation, and that's much more entertaining. I'm going to try and give the outline of his argument without the specific numbers he used. First off, though, I found it inordinately amusing to see an atheist using an argument from probability. He, however, was intellectually honest enough to point out when he was just making up numbers, and to show what would happen if those numbers were wrong.

First off, his goal was to have a counter-argument to the Design argument, which often throws out ad hoc probabilities. He did not call them ad hoc, but I think he should have, because his argument did not rely on any particular probabilities. He also made it clear what kind of god he was addressing. He called it a "Good Enough God": (1) Very powerful, capable of manipulating the weather, healing flesh, etc, easily; (2) Very, very good; superior in goodness to any human; (3) Responsible for much of what goes on in the world (either in the strong sense of directly causing, or in the weak sense of setting it up from the beginning), and who maintains an interest in all that goes on. So, for instance, the classic omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent god would be considered a "Good Enough God," but so would weaker formulations of deity.

So, nearly everyone agrees that there is evil in the world. The classical theist must argue that it is all justifiable, that intervening would make the world worse or no better. Then the atheist need only provide a single act that is unjustifiable to make the whole house of cards come crumbling down. The crux of the argument is that if we take any act that we all agree was evil (a child killed by abusive parents, hundreds killed in a tornado), if any reasonable person would perceive a non-zero probability that the world would have been better (or no worse) if God had intervened, then there are so many such act that the likelihood that all of them were Justified Evil is vanishingly small. Just for kicks, he threw in the "747 in a junkyard" figure that gets trumpeted around, and showed that, for a single year, looking only at child abuse in the U.S., and even giving a high probability of justification, he could beat that figure. That is, the probability of all those acts being justified was nearly zero, and less than the (assumed) probability of the 747 in a junkyard. That was for a single type of evil act in a single country over a single year.

I'm not bringing numbers into it, because they don't matter. All that matters is that people concede any non-zero probability that the evil was unjustified. Now, he is assuming independence, and I'm not sure that's valid from a theological standpoint. I'm not sure that it isn't, either, but something feels wonky about that assumption. Still, he did mention that issue, which is more than the Design probability people do. He also indicated that he's only going off of "publicly available evidence." He's not trying to disprove the existence of such a god; he's trying to show that, base solely on publicly available evidence, it is extremely unlikely, as a counter to the ID'ers position that the existence of life and the universe is extremely unlikely without a Designer. Oh, and he actually understands the math he's using.

One person asked him directly whether he was trying to prove that god-belief was irrational. He said that he thought it was irrational based solely on publicly available evidence, but that his argument said nothing about personal or privately available evidence. It's pretty obvious that he's just trying to beat the ID'ers at their own probability game, and succeeding.

4:45 Categorical Syllogism
*sighs* I would have gone to something else if I'd realized how basic this one was going to be. Essentially, it was all about a philosopher examining predicate logic and discovering that, since there are three pieces to the argument, there are six possible orderings, which yield three unique partitions into two sets, respectively called Deduction, Induction and Abduction. He spent most of the time going over S3 (the symmetric group on three elements), and used an extremely nonstandard notation for it. Some of his closing remarks were of a bit more interest. He said that using the Symmetric group notation on 4 elements, he found that "argument by analogy" fell into one of two cases: (1) Abduction followed by induction; or (2) Abduction followed by deduction. I would have liked to hear more about that than about a bunch of stuff I learned in beginning Abstract Algebra.

It was well-presented, and I'm sure non-math people needed to go through the intro material, but... it's S3! You don't need to spend the whole time on S3! A simple combination argument will show that there can be 3*2*1=6 orderings, with two possible partitions each, and an exhaustive search will show that only 3 of those are distinguishable. Come on. Also, I was getting tired at that point, so I may have been a bit irritable.

Lots of fun, mostly enjoyable, and definitely worth the trip down.

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Does it Disturb anyone...

...that I often do the same thing whilst walking around campus, or at the mall? Btw, the giant planters at the Pine Ridge Mall are far too heavy to use directly as weapons, but would be effective as an obstacle if you could get someone to crash into them. Oh, and the benches outside the entrance nearest Walden Book are bolted to the concrete, so don't plan on hitting anyone with them. The marquee sign just inside is loose, and could result in the classic Jackie Chan ladder hijinx.

I'm especially likely to do this when it's dark out and I see someone approaching me. I automatically take stock of what's on me (keys--effective brass knuckles and eye gougers; backpack--if loaded, a good club) and what's around me.

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01 November 2007

Evolving Meme

I've been tagged with a meme, so I'll try to play along. The rules are a bit complicated (it was started by P.Z. Myers on Pharyngula, so go figure). Rules and results below the fold.

The Rules:

There are a set of questions below that are all of the form, "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...". Copy the questions, and before answering them, you may modify them in a limited way, carrying out no more than two of these operations:

You can leave them exactly as is.
You can delete any one question.
You can mutate either the genre, medium, or subgenre of any one question. For instance, you could change "The best time travel novel in SF/Fantasy is..." to "The best time travel novel in Westerns is...", or "The best time travel movie in SF/Fantasy is...", or "The best romance novel in SF/Fantasy is...".
You can add a completely new question of your choice to the end of the list, as long as it is still in the form "The best [subgenre] [medium] in [genre] is...".

You must have at least one question in your set, or you've gone extinct, and you must be able to answer it yourself, or you're not viable.

Then answer your possibly mutant set of questions. Please do include a link back to the blog you got them from, to simplify tracing the ancestry, and include these instructions. Finally, pass it along to any number of your fellow bloggers. Remember, though, your success as a Darwinian replicator is going to be measured by the propagation of your variants, which is going to be a function of both the interest your well-honed questions generate and the number of successful attempts at reproducing them.

My Ancestors:

My great-great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Metamagician and the Hellfire Club.
My great-great-great-great-great-grandparent is Flying Trilobite
My great-great-great-great-grandparent is A Blog Around the Clock
My great-great-great-grandparent is The Anterior Commissure
My great-great-grandparent is Laelaps
My great-grandparent is Quintessence of Dust
My grandparent is An Evangelical Dialogue On Evolution
My parent is Exploring Our Matrix

My Questions (and Answers):

1. The best scary movie in sociopolitical dystopias is: Well, it doesn't quite fit the category, but I'm still going to go with the original Crow, may Brandon Lee rest in peace (and stop being subjected to horrid sequels)
2. The best song that moves me inexplicably in 80s pop is: Peter Gabriel Cetera's Glory of Love. That was '80's, wasn't it? Yes, it was. 1986.
3. The best classical story in Historical Fiction is: Hmmm... Well, for classical, I suppose I'd go with Dickens' Tale of Two Cities. For more modern, I'd go for Fred Saberhagen's Holmes-Dracula File. Come to think of it, Saberhagen may have had a story set partially in the French Revolution as well...but the title escapes me.
4. The best book appealing to both children and adults in Fantasy is: How about a whole series? Terry Pratchett's Discworld. If you want one specifically aimed at younger ones, A Hat Full of Sky.
5. The most fantastic melody of all time is found in: Star Wars, May The Force Be With You. This theme is first heard when Luke looks off into the horizon at the double-sunset in Episode IV. It's always been a favorite.

And now, to infect a few others:


I'm sure they'll all be eternally grateful, right? `/^

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Blasted Bronchioles

Course of illness:

Sunday: severe sneezing and runny nose; felt like allergies.
Monday: Mild cough, a bit of fatigue.
Tuesday: Felt mostly better, but the cough was slightly worse.
Wednesday: Worse. Much worse. By the afternoon, I was having mega-breathing problems.
Wednesday night: Ever try to sleep when your body wants to cough? I finally found a position to lie in where the coughing went down to once every hour instead of once every ten to twenty minutes.
Today: Considered going to Portneuf Urgent Care...but the new inhaler my mom brought over seems to have alleviated the major breathing problems. My own inhalers were, well, past their "use by" date. And I plan to acquire some cough suppressant...though the cough actually seems to be 99% dead at the moment. Still, I want to be able to sleep tonight. Ergo, cough suppressant.

*sighs* Bronchitis. I haven't had a bout of it in probably five years. Maybe longer. I absolutely hate and despise not being able to breathe. Admittedly, the shakiness that results from the inhaler isn't much fun either, but at least I don't feel like I'm going to pass out from it.

UPDATE: cancelled my evening classes. Made it through the ones during the day. Math 108 was the hardest, and I suspect it was because of all the steps I had to climb to get into the building almost immediately before starting. But I managed a solid 20 minute lecture, then sat down. I spent my office hour getting homework written for the cancelled classes and hunting down a logarithm worksheet for the one un-cancelled class. I talked for about half the time there, feeling mostly all right until I hit the half hour mark. Then I knew it was a good thing I'd grabbed something for the students to work on without me talking.

And, by the way, cough suppressant really does suppress coughs. I couldn't tell you whether I'm tired due to the medication or due to the poor quality of sleep last night. At any rate, it's nice not to have a persistent need to cough. There's still an occasional cough; I'd forgotten that it's possible to cough enough to make your diaphragm and back muscles sore.

I'm still planning to drive down to the philosophy conference tomorrow. Getting out of town would be awfully nice. I feel 95% all right so long as I'm not moving around much, so I think I'll be all right to drive. And I think I'll start rambling aimlessly if I try to type any more, so that's all for now.

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