31 December 2008

A New Year

Happy 2009. I get to start the new year with the greens unhung. At the moment, blowing them up sounds appealing, but I'll settle for these explosions instead:

Pity about the music (and the commentators towards the end), but the fireworks are beautiful. Incidentally, this is Part II. Part I can be found here.

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30 December 2008

Consciousness and Meaning: Some Links

Now imagine these same circuits become hyperactive as sometimes happens when you have seizures originating in the temporal lobes (TLE or temporal lobe epilepsy). The result would be an intense heightening of the patient's sensory appreciation of the world and intense empathy for all beings to the extent of seeing no barriers between himself and the cosmos—the basis of religious and mystical experiences.


During such epiphanies I have seen eternity in a moment and divinity in all things. And, indeed, felt one with the Cosmos. There is nothing "true "or "false" about such experiences—they are what they are; simply another way of looking at reality.

~Self Awareness: The Last Frontier via Mind Hacks

Well, the reality is that meditation requires practice and dedication. It is not an easy fix. And some of the best-researched meditation techniques, such as mindfulness meditation, are very intensive. You need a trained facilitator. You need to stick to the practice.

~Meditation on the Brain

I figured out that joy can also find its way into the adult life. It can be very dim at the beginning, but it’s up to you to follow it, and make it the guide of your life. That’s the only way to wisdom; the wisdom to live a satisfactory, meaningful life. Why else would you need wisdom anyway?

~Joy: The Key to Wisdom

Truism Number 1: The world is all that is the case (Wittgenstein, Tractatus). All that is the case is the physical world.
Corollary: If something is found that is not physical, it becomes part of the proper domain of physics.

~Truisms 1

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29 December 2008

GF: Another corn bread recipe

This recipe is very similar to the way I modified the box recipe, with the primary difference being that it lists out a specific GF flour mixture. As I was hoping to try it for New Year's, I made a small test batch today, one quarter of the full recipe, or about 4 muffins' worth. Oh, the reason that I went looking for a different recipe is that on Saturday, rice did not agree with me at all. I suspect it's connected to the antibiotic I've been taking, but I wanted to find a recipe that didn't use rice flour. This one gives the option of using rice or sorghum, and I can verify that it works well with sorghum flour. The quartered recipe is below, or go to the link for the full recipe.

One Quarter version of Carol Fenster's Gluten Free Corn Bread

1/4 c + 1 T cornmeal
2 T sorghum flour
1 T potato starch
1 T tapioca flour
1/4 t + 1/8 t xanthan gum
4 t sugar
1/2 t baking powder
1/2 egg*
1/4 c milk
4 t vegetable oil

*I used 1 1/2 t of dried egg white + 1 T water instead of trying to divide up an actual egg.

This is actually ideal for me to just make a batch for myself. I wound up with four corn muffins out of it, ate two for lunch and I have two left over for another meal. For New Year's dinner, though, I'll need to make the full recipe.

GF Tips Index

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Belated Holiday Pics

Here's the wreath all covered in snow. Pity that it's now about 40 degrees and everything is starting to melt. On the plus side, that should generate plenty of business for Spencer.

Below are some of the boxes I made this Christmas.

This was my third attempt at covering an empty candy box with paper such that it would be potentially reusable. On the first two attempts, I used tape. Bad idea. The tape just gets in the way. On this one, I used a stick of glue. I also didn't try to wrap the paper around the edges of the box-top. Instead, I covered any bare spots with the green ribbon, also put on with a stick of glue.

This is an old box that I found in my dad's basement this year and figured it was in good enough shape to reuse. The problem with this style of box is that it does not hold together very well. So when I use it for gifts, I cheat a little: the ribbon wrapped around the body of the box is to keep the two halves from separating.

This was a box that I put together in an unconventional fashion. I wanted to emphasize the fancier paper, but de-emphasize the plainest paper. The nice thing was that the colors of the middling paper blended in nicely with the plain paper, so the asymmetry of the joining isn't as obvious. Below is the bottom of the same box, just because I like the way the two papers look together. I tend to save the not-quite-as-nice paper for the bottom of the box, but these would have worked well as a top, also:

And this one was made by joining the pieces of the lid pinwheel style. There are four pieces to each lid. To make the pinwheel, you put the "square" edge of each piece into the "angled" edge of each adjacent piece.

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28 December 2008

Happy Rebirthday to Me

Yesterday marked two full years of keeping up my daily practice. I've stopped caring so much about the number (and found when I went to check that my count must have gotten off somewhere along the way), but it now stands at 731 days of practicing breathing exercises, yoga, chanting and taiji. So what have I learned through 2 years of practice?

It took getting through the first year to get over my obsession with "How many days have I made now?" For a while, part of my motivation was sheer desire to see the number build. If I missed a day, it would start over at zero, and I didn't want that. Now... I still don't want to miss a day, but the numbers don't really enter into it. Thinking about missing a day is a bit like trying to imagine going through the day without breathing. There were times early on when I hadn't managed to practice by 11:00 pm or so, and I groaned when I realized it. When that's happened more recently, there was no groaning. It was more matter of fact. I needed to practice, and this was the time I had.

The other thing that motivated me early on was trying to overcome my depression. After practicing, I always felt better. It seemed logical to think that a regular practice might help me climb out of it. It did. It's actually a bit strange now to feel that weight gone. Every so often, a tiny bit of it reappears, but it's a bit like being hit by a rock after having a mountain sit on you for a year. The rock isn't pleasant, but it's almost laughable.

What I've noticed most is how differently I experience time now. I can remember when it went by quickly, and I wondered where it had all gone. Now... Most days seem to be two or three days long. The semester seemed to last a year or more. I'm actually aware of time as it passes. There's a lot more of it than people realize. I suspect that people don't know how to deal with all the time, and so they subconsciously find mental ways of making it go away. Then they wonder where it all went. I used to do that, too, but at some point over the past year, time just started opening up for me.

I've also found that the time I most want to practice goes in cycles. For a while, it will be steady in the mornings, then it will gradually shift over to evenings. Occasionally, other commitments dictate the time, but usually a morning or evening time just feels right for that day. Part of me would like to get something going both in the morning and in the evening, but I know full well that there would be days when that would be nearly impossible. So for the moment, I'm just keeping the commitment steady.

Sometime this year I'll pass the 1000 day mark. Supposedly, some of the breathing exercises I do have cumulative effects that show up past the 1000 and 10,000 day marks. I'll be curious to see if I notice anything unusual.

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26 December 2008


I wanted to post a picture of the snow on my wreath from yesterday. There was enough blowing to plaster bits of snow 8 or more feet up on the house. On every side. On the plus side, this made the wreath very pretty... but I've once again left the camera at my mom's house. So I'll share APOD's pic from Christmas instead:

Those are some nice holiday lights!

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Record Snowfall

... Records fall at Pocatello and Challis airports
today... correction...

0.62 inches of water equivalent fell yesterday... Christmas
day... at the Pocatello Airport and exceeds the previous record of
0.59 set in 1988.

A record snowfall amount of 5.9 inches fell
yesterday... Christmas day... at the Pocatello Airport and beats the
previous record of 1.1 inches set in 1988.

The Challis Airport also reported a record water equivalency of
0.29 inches yesterday... Christmas day... and beats the previous
record 0.17 inches set in 1959.


The airport is several miles outside of town, so there could have been more in town. Or it could just look like more due to being blown off of roofs and such. I suppose I'd better get shoveling, as we may be getting another wave this weekend.

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25 December 2008

Some Christmas Links

Shamelessly stolen from Exploring Our Matrix:

Merry Christmas!*

* This Christmas greeting is offered in accordance with the articles of Christmas previously posted. Some restrictions apply. If the merriness resulting from this greeting lasts for more than 8 hours, please consult your physician.

Make sure to visit his Articles of Christmas.

Also read Greta Christina's take on what Christmas means. Excerpt:
Let's remind ourselves that life is worth living, and that the cold and dark won't be here forever. Let's remind ourselves that we care about each other, and remind ourselves of why.

So who cares if someone wishes you a "Merry Christkwanzukah!"? The name is not the important part. Let's bypass names altogether, and just wish everyone a Fah-Who Foraze!

Backup Link

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Quite the Storm

From 511.idaho.gov, this is the current status of the roads in Idaho. Pretty much, if you weren't there by Christmas Eve, you weren't getting there. I can't remember seeing this much snow all at once since I was a kid. I can remember the snow being up to my waist at least once when I was old enough to attempt to help out using a shovel (probably 6 or 7). It's beautiful, so long as you're not planning on going anywhere soon. It's made more beautiful by my mom's generous neighbor, who took his snowblower to her walks and driveway. She tried to give him some Christmas goodies in return, but he refused.

I'd call it 10-12 inches on the ground at both her place and mine, though some of that could have blown off of rooftops. I haven't seen an official measure yet. Anyway, leaving town anywhere in Idaho is not recommended at the moment. Leaving the house may be problematic... So long as there's no traffic, I can get out of my driveway just fine, but if I have to stop right at the edge... Tomorrow will be plenty of time for shoveling out.

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24 December 2008

Snow, In Pictures

kitten tracks
in the snow
lead the way

The top picture is of the back yard, and the very specific paths that the cats have been using. They go to the chairs, the 'house' and the sheltered area under the old fence boards. There are also some leading to the driveway, but those aren't visible. However, I like to leave the back part of my driveway unshoveled. It gives me a reasonably safe place to practice getting stuck in snow drifts, and then getting back out. Sadly, I haven't managed to get stuck for more than 30 seconds this year.

The lower picture is of Pouncer (grey, in the lead) and Jilly (black), trying to figure out why I'm making funny noises at them. Answer: to get them to look at the camera.

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23 December 2008

Status Report

It's amazing how much easier it is to get stuff done when you can actually breathe. I got the drifts shoveled out at my mom's place this afternoon, and thusfar they have not reappeared. I've also been finishing up Christmas presents. Not buying things so much as adding on things that I can make. Buying things is a bit scary at the moment, actually. I took one look at Fred Meyer's parking lot and decided not to go in...then it took me ten minutes to get out of Fred Meyer's parking lot. As we still need veggies and coconut milk for Christmas, I'm planning to go in early tomorrow. Hopefully most of the lunatics will be sleeping in.

I've got some pictures of the snow, but they're on my camera and I'm in need of sleep, so I guess they'll keep.

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22 December 2008


We've gotten about 10 inches in the past 36 hours. Normally I look forward to shoveling, but the last time I went out and shoveled, I had a severe asthma attack. This time I took the precaution of using the inhaler before going out. Between that and the prednisone, I actually got the sidewalk, most of the driveway, and a path to the door and back yard cleared. I had halfway expected to get the sidewalk done and give up. It's nice to be feeling well enough to get stuff done again. The real question is whether the effects of the prednisone will last after I stop taking it. *sighs* The effects of the antibiotic, at least, should last.

I also went over to check on my mom's house, and someone had gone up and down her street, shoveling the walks, even the walk up to Mom's stairs and her driveway. He/She/They didn't do the actual stairs, so I wonder if it was someone with a blade on an ATV. Some more had fallen or blown in when I got there, so that everything was roughly four inches deep ... except the stairs, which were about 10 inches deep. So I took care of the stairs and re-shoveled the walk. Four inches was nothing compared to what I'd done at my place. I left the driveway alone, as it was easily navigable and I was already worn out. However, my mom just called to let me know that more had blown in in the interim. Spots were 10 inches deep again, and she didn't have the energy to shovel it all out. So I guess I know how I'll be spending tomorrow morning. ^/^

As they say, "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas!"

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21 December 2008

Mirror, Mirror

Subject and object from the start
Are no different,
The myriad things nothing
But images in the mirror.
Bright and resplendent,
Transcending both guest and host,
Complete and realized,
All is permeated by the absolute.

~Zhitong (d.1124) 2008.12.21 Daily Zen

For the rest, head below the fold:

A single form encompasses
The multitude of dharmas,
All of which are interconnected
Within the net of Indra.
Layer after layer there is no
Point at which it all ends,
Whether in motion or still,
All is fully interpenetrating.

The image is of Indra's net, which is often used to represent the interconnectedness of all beings. There is a parallel in Christianity, though it's a touch ironic (and gruesome, at the end):

34"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'

37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'

40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

41"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.'

44"They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?'

45"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

46"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

~Matthew 25:34-46

Ironic in that, by extension, the lord must then be sending himself to eternal punishment, just as he is doing to the least of his own flock. The gruesome should speak for itself. I always liked the thought that whatever good deed was done, it was done also to the "most high", and I more or less ignored the other part.

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20 December 2008

On Steroids...

... and breathing better. Okay, a steroid: prednisone. I woke up with a fever this morning, so I elected not to go to taiji and pass it on to everyone else. Instead, I went to Portneuf's Urgent Care Center, as this felt like a repeat of the last cold I'd had less than two weeks ago, which possibly started with some ear pain in August. So I got some antibiotics for that, but I also complained about how much trouble I'd been having with my asthma lately.

First thing the doctor tried was a sort of steam/oxygen/albuterol semi-darth-vader breathing apparatus. It gives a higher dose of the albuterol, but in a more dispersive fashion, presumably to help it be absorbed better. It made me jittery, restless, and cold, but didn't fix the tight spot in my chest which was what was interfering with the breathing. So he decided to give me prednisone, which is really scary stuff if you stay on it for long. One of my mom's friends at choir had an idiot doctor who let him take the stuff constantly for nigh twenty years ... at which point his kidneys gave out. He was lucky, though: they found a matching donor in under a year. I'm supposed to be on the stuff for a total of 8 days, and the last four are step-down doses so that my body doesn't go litig when it stops getting the prednisone.

Today I can't be sure that the difference isn't due to the steam/oxygen/albuterol treatment, but my breathing is better and the tightness in my chest does seem to be a bit better. We'll see if this continues through the treatment. Incidentally, one of the common side effects of prednisone is increased appetite. If anything, I had less of an appetite today...except for fresh vegetables. Any vegetable that I thought of sounded good, especially cauliflower. I didn't have many fresh veggies on hand, though.

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19 December 2008

Clearly the most valuable item in the store!

Real Story:

REXBURG - Rexburg police are searching for whoever broke into Pizza Hut overnight Wednesday.

The criminals got in to the building through the roof where they pried the hinge off a door leading to the attic.

Once inside the attic, they worked their way into the restaurant where they stole a first aid kit but nothing else.

Explanations that come to mind: prank, scavenger hunt, or some sort of dare. Then again, they could just be absent-minded criminals who hurt themselves on the way in, grabbed the kit, then forgot about stealing the money...

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18 December 2008

GF Tips: Pumpkin cookies

At Thanksgiving, I had more pumpkin than I needed for the pies, so I froze quite a bit of it. Today, I decided it was time to do something with it and went hunting for cookie recipes. I used to love the pumpkin-chocolate-chip-cookies that they had in the stores, and I've never seen them pre-made and gluten-free. Of the recipes I scanned, I liked this one the best. It has a bit less fat than the others, probably because it adds eggs into the mix.

Mostly I stuck to the recipe, but I did add a quarter teaspoon of xanthan gum, extra vanilla, and varying amounts of the spices. Also, I used twice as much pumpkin as the recipe called for, mainly because that was how much was in the package I thawed out. They turned out quite well, and I'd recommend the recipe. Here's the link again.

Gluten Free Tips Index

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17 December 2008

GF Products: Bob's Red Mill GF Pancake Mix

I have several criteria for what I consider to be a good pancake mix. Flavor, of course, and texture, but the mix also has to be amenable to my preferred method of mixing up the batter. If a mix requires everything be measured out and leveled exactly, I'm not going to like it. However, the Bob's Red Mill mix works just the way I like it to, plus has good flavor and texture.

The way I make pancake batter is first to whisk the egg thoroughly in a large measuring cup, then dump some batter in (probably 1-1.5 c), mix, then add some milk until I get it to the right consistency. One warning: you'll probably want this batter to look thinner than you would on a regular (whe*t) pancake mix. It tends to thicken both as it cooks and as it stands. That's one reason for mixing it in a measuring cup: it makes it easier to pour a narrow stream of batter into the pan, so you can get the pancake thinner more easily. If you happen to like extra thick pancakes, you can try it without this, but I prefer them relatively thin. Another trick to get them thinner is to pour them with a hole inside; i.e. trace out a donut shape with the batter as you pour it into the pan. With the pan at the correct temperature, it should take about 2 minutes on the first side, then one minute on the other. If you opt for thicker pancakes, it may take a bit more.

As for toppings... I gave up looking for a commercial "maple syrup product" several years back, so it's possible that there is a GF one available now. However, now I'm used to using jelly and/or pure maple syrup on pancakes. Chocolate chips are also pleasant, just don't buy an off-brand. Some companies still dust their pans with whe*t flour, and that isn't required to be listed as an "ingredient" because it isn't put into the product itself. Idiotic, but there it is. Thankfully, labeling has gotten better over the past several years.

Gluten Free Tips Index

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Here We Go Again

Once again, an atheist holiday display has been stolen. No wonder people are so desperate to post the Ten Commandments in public places: they can't remember that one of them is "thou shalt not steal." However, the sign will be replaced and have a "thou shalt not steal" reminder with it. Let us once again peruse the sign:

At this season of the winter solstice may reason prevail. There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell. There is only our natural world. Religion is but myth and superstition that hardens hearts and enslaves minds.

And the winner for most idiotic comment on the story is: "This sign is Anti-Christian. If it were Anti-Jewish or anti-Muslim it would never have been allowed in the firs[sic] place." Ummm... it's anti-religion. Last time I checked, Judaism and Islam were both religions. It's anti-Buddhist, anti-Wiccan, anti-Zorastrian, etc. It's an equal opportunity "anti". And let's not forget that the primary reason for all this was a lawsuit to allow nativities on public property...and the only way to do that constitutionally was to allow any viewpoint to be represented on the same property. So if you want to ban signs like this, you also must ban nativities. It's called equal treatment.

(HT: Pharyngula)

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15 December 2008

A Cappella Carol of the Bells

This is probably my favorite Christmas song/melody. Instrumental or sung, electric guitar or organ or even bells, I have rarely found a version that I didn't like. Admittedly, it's a touch ironic to have the Carol of the Bells done a capella. For the non-musically-literate, that means "voices only; no instruments." And this version is awesome.

(Found via this link from James McGrath)

AM UPDATE: Fixed broken link (somehow two links got interpolated, so blogger decided to just make it link back to my blog). Oh, and I thought of one version of Carol of the Bells that I didn't care for. Showed up in a holiday commercial, which may or may not still be used this season. I can't even remember what it was an ad for... possibly one of those navigation devices for the car. But it was just irritating.

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Of Cats and Heating Pads

A few weeks ago, Jilly discovered the heating pad. Today, she kept meowing at me. I'd been leaning against the heating pad both for the extra warmth and to work on a sore spot in my back. I pulled the heating pad out and set it where she could get to it. She immediately went over and laid on it. She'd been begging for the heating pad! And now she looks absolutely content. *shakes head*

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14 December 2008

Wooden Art


Thanks to Fibonacci, I wandered down the basement of the SUB to check out the most recent art exhibit. I liked about 95% of it. A few pieces I found blah, and one I just didn't like. But most of them are quite nicely done. My favorite is the one at the top here, and there are more beneath the fold.

This was my next favorite. I love the tones of the wood, and the contrast with the copper.

This one is a broad view of one entire section. Part of the experience is the relation of the separate pieces to one another, and seeing them all from different angles. The most frustrating thing was that the flash on my camera washed out all the colors, but not using the flash made it difficult to keep the camera in focus. All of these were done sans flash, and they're decently focused.

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13 December 2008

Run Away!!

I love how Jilly is looking all wide-eyed and innocent in this one, while behind her, her sister tries to burrow into the chair. Princess likes to burrow into anything, particularly blankets and bags. The mostly asleep one at the front is Pouncer.

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Twelve Idiosyncracies of Christmas

On the first day of Christmas
the snow gods sent to me:
a book on philosophy

On the second day of Christmas,
the snow gods sent to me:
two wool ponchos
and a book on philosophy...

On the third day of Christmas,
the snow gods sent to me:
three taiji hours,
two wool ponchos
and a book on philosophy

On the fourth day of Christmas,
the snow gods sent to me:
four calling cats,
three taiji hours,
two wool ponchos
and a book on philosophy

On the fifth day of Christmas,
the snow gods sent to me:
...five jack-knifed semis,
four calling cats,
three taiji hours,
two wool ponchos
and a book on philosophy

On the sixth day of Christmas,
the snow gods sent to me:
six songs a playing,
...five jack-knifed semis,
four calling cats,
three taiji hours,
two wool ponchos
and a book on philosophy

On the seventh day of Christmas,
the snow gods sent to me:
seven drivers speeding,
six songs a playing,
...five jack-knifed semis,
four calling cats,
three taiji hours,
two wool ponchos
and a book on philosophy

On the eighth day of Christmas,
the snow gods sent to me:
eight icy red-lights,
seven drivers speeding,
six songs a playing,
...five jack-knifed semis,
four calling cats,
three taiji hours,
two wool ponchos
and a book on philosophy

On the ninth day of Christmas,
the snow gods sent to me:
nine slippery exits,
eight icy red-lights,
seven drivers speeding,
six songs a playing,
...five jack-knifed semis,
four calling cats,
three taiji hours,
two wool ponchos
and a book on philosophy

On the tenth day of Christmas,
the snow gods sent to me:
ten cars that slid off,
nine slippery exits,
eight icy red-lights,
seven drivers speeding,
six songs a playing,
...five jack-knifed semis,
four calling cats,
three taiji hours,
two wool ponchos
and a book on philosophy

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
the snow gods sent to me:
eleven lights a flashing,
ten cars that slid off,
nine slippery exits,
eight icy red-lights,
seven drivers speeding,
six songs a playing,
...five jack-knifed semis,
four calling cats,
three taiji hours,
two wool ponchos
and a book on philosophy

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
the snow gods sent to me:
twelve degree windchill,
eleven lights a flashing,
ten cars that slid off,
nine slippery exits,
eight icy red-lights,
seven drivers speeding,
six songs a playing,
...five jack-knifed semis,
four calling cats,
three taiji hours,
two wool ponchos
and a book on philosophy

And that was my day. Shorter version: first big snow storm of the season hit last night. The road to Idaho Falls was bad, but by the time we got to a place we could turn around, the road was getting better, and it seemed more sensible to go on rather than go back over the nastier bit. There were at least 10 slide-offs, possibly eleven if a car ensconced in the median with three police cars was a slide-off and not a pull-over. There was only one jack-knifed semi, thankfully, but it was the most severe angle I've ever seen between a semi and its trailer. Still, we made it there for taiji and back, and the roads were much better on the way back.

After I got home, I let the cats play outside for a bit, but they didn't seem to like the snow very well. At 2:00, I went with my mom to choir practice, as she needed a page-turner. Decent songs, good melodies, but the more I look at the actual lyrics of the more overtly religious carols, the more I find myself inordinately puzzled. But that's for another post.

EDIT: Forgot to explain the "book" or the ponchos. Melissa needed to stop at Barnes and Noble to take care of some books she'd ordered that had been damaged in transit, and I found a book describing various approaches to the "meaning of life". Then this afternoon I discovered a beautiful little shop in the mall, ensconced in the corner where a jeweler used to be, carrying a ton of alpaca coats and sweaters and ponchos. I bought one coat, and my mom decided to buy me a poncho as a Christmas present (as she has no idea what kind of clothing to buy for me without input). She bought it with me there because there were only two on the rack, and we both figured they'd be gone if she waited. So I know one of my Christmas presents.

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12 December 2008

Dogged by the Sun

This morning, for half a second, I thought there were two suns in the sky. There is a genuine astronomical phenomenon where there appears to be more than one sun, but, alas, that wasn't it. Instead, the sun was at exactly the same height on the horizon as a row of windows on a building, and I was seeing the reflection.

The astronomical version is referred to as "sun dogs" or, more formally, as "parhelia". It has the same cause as solar and lunar halos: ice crystals high up in the sky that refract the light. From Wikipedia:

Sundogs typically, but not exclusively, appear when the sun is low, e.g. at sunrise and sunset, and the atmosphere is filled with ice crystal forming cirrus clouds, but diamond dust and ice fog can also produce them. They are often bright white patches of light looking much like the sun or a comet, and occasionally are confused with those phenomena. Sometimes they exhibit a spectrum of colours, ranging from red closest to the sun to a pale bluish tail stretching away from the sun.[1] White sundogs are caused by light reflected off of atmospheric ice crystals, while coloured sundogs are caused by light refracted through them. White sundogs are also thought to be caused by the light from the sun reflecting off of water on the ground and focusing the reflected light on the clouds above.


Here is a more concise discussion of the physics involved; and here is one with a few more diagrams and examples. If the ice crystals are randomly distributed, you wind up with a halo, but if they are all "oriented with their flat faces horizontal", then you wind up with sun dogs instead. Wikipedia mentions that the size of the ice crystals may also influence the end result.

I first read about these in sixth grade when I was on an extreme astronomy kick, and I found it a very strange idea. Synchronistically, that year I actually saw some sun dogs. It was the last year that Mom and I took the train out to Colorado. I was wandering through a car with glass walls and ceiling (probably the dining car, but I can't remember for sure), and looked up at the sky as we were going through the mountains in Colorado. There seemed to be 3 suns in the sky. I might have been very confused if I hadn't gone on an astronomy reading spree the summer before!

One point is confusing me, though. The books I read said that 2 extra suns was the norm, but that there could potentially be 4 or 8, while everything I'm finding on the web only mentions 2 ... except Wikipedia's discussion of sun dogs on other planets. Okay, some of the pictures (page down) show a third sun at the peak of the halo, and there would likely be one at the bottom as well, but that part of the halo is below the horizon. So... if there were eight, either they'd have to be at the midpoints in between, or possibly on a second halo. And as double halos are possible, that seems plausible. Incidentally, that photo came from a site full of awesome pictures.

ADDENDUM: I got curious as to the origin of the phrase "sun dog" and went hunting. There doesn't seem to be a clear consensus, but this explanation seems plausible:
Sun-dog, the phenomena of false suns which sometimes attend or dog the true when seen through a mist (parheliong). In Norfolk a sun-dog is a light spot near the sun, and water- dogs are light watery clouds ; dog here is no doubt the same word as dag, dew or mist, as "a little dag of rain " (PUlolog. Soc. Trans. 1865, p. 80). Cf. Icel. "';/, Dan. and Swed. ilug, = Eng. "dew." In Cornwall the fragment of a rainbow formed on a rain- cloud just above the horizon is called a weather-dog (K. Hunt, Romances and Drulls of West of England, vol. ii. p. 242).

~Folk Etymology (Google Books)

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11 December 2008

GF Products: Kinnikinnick

My first encounter with a Kinnikinnick product was not one that I particularly enjoyed. It was a package of gluten free cookies, mock-oatmeal chocolate chip, I think, and I barely made it through the package. There was a strong aftertaste, likely due to the pea flour that was used. So I wasn't inclined to be thrilled when many of the GF products at Wealth of Health in Idaho Falls were Kinnikinnick.

However, I got two of them anyway, and I can recommend both of them. The first was a box of chocolate dipped donuts*. Six in a package, package to be kept frozen. These are cinnamony cake donuts with a coating of chocolate frosting, and the package is labelled: "gluten free - wheat free - dairy free - soy free". Since they are kept frozen, you have to heat them up to eat them. The package says 20-30 seconds in the microwave. I found that 20 seconds dry, then 30 more seconds with a small dish of water in the microwave with it, produced better results (times will vary by microwave). Things tend to dry out in the freezer, and a small dish of water in the microwave can help replenish the lost moisture. One caveat: while I did like these, I much prefer raised donuts; the richness of these donuts is such that I'm unlikely to get another box for quite a while, and it took me nearly a month to get through the one box.

The other Kinnikinnick product that I tried is labelled "K-Toos" or "KinniToos", available here. Essentially, these are gluten free "Oreo" cookies. Based on my vague memory of "real" Oreos, the flavor wasn't quite as good but the texture was better for Kinnikinnick's GF version. Unfortunately, these do contain soy lecithin**, but they are labelled as "gluten free - wheat free - dairy/casein free - egg free - trans fat free". Compared to most packages of gluten free cookies, you get a fair number of cookies in a package. Hmmm... the linked page says a package is 7 oz, but my package is labelled 8 oz. In the 8 oz package, there was a plastic tray with four rows of either 8 or 10 cookies (I've recycled the tray, so I'm guesstimating), so either 32 or 40 cookies. If the packages have since shrunk, there may be fewer now.

*Link also includes other varieties.

Quick Addition: Kinnikinnick also has a blog, with a post describing their procedures for ensuring their products really are gluten free.

GF Tips Index

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08 December 2008

Civic Literacy Quiz

Well, I didn't do too badly on it:

You answered 32 out of 33 correctly — 96.97 %
Average score for this quiz during December: 74.9%
Average score: 74.9%

I found the quiz through Daylight Atheism. Take it here and see if you know more than your political representatives do. I should admit that, on a few of them, I was able to determine the answer by knowing what it wasn't and eliminating the ones I was certain were incorrect.

The one question I did miss is below the fold:

7) What was the source of the following phrase: “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”?
A. the speech “I Have a Dream”
B. Declaration of Independence
C. U.S. Constitution
D. Gettysburg Address

I wasn't sure. But once I saw the answer, I thought, "Yeah, that sounds right."

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07 December 2008


Mainly because not much happened today. First, one of me (sort of):

The dark shape holding the camera in the side mirror is me. This turned out surprisingly well for being taken at twilight and from my mom's car while it was going 75 mph. Next is of Princess, and her first experience with a regular size Christmas tree. Last year, all I had time or energy for was Grandma Fern's ceramic 2-footer, so it's nice to have a "real" one up this year. "Real" as in "large and decorable".

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06 December 2008

Deck the Capitol!

I just love this story:

The state Capitol [Seattle] hosts a Nativity scene and a 25-foot "holiday tree." The nearby atheists' sign that sparked a nationwide furor was back in place Friday after being stolen and then dropped off at a country-music radio station.

And joining those displays soon could be a 5-foot aluminum pole in celebration of "Festivus for the Rest of Us." Not to mention a protest, a balloon display and even more signs, this time supporting religion.

What started the ruckus? The Freedom From Religion Foundation's sign, which reads:
At this season of the Winter Solstice, may reason prevail.
There are no gods, no devils, no angels, no heaven or hell.
There is only our natural world.

Pictures of the sign available here.

And we must also thank the supreme court:
The U.S. Supreme Court has been consistent and clear that, under the Constitution's First Amendment, once government admits one religious display or viewpoint onto public property, it may not discriminate against the content of other displays, including the viewpoints of nonbelievers.

Hence the current multiplicity of signs and displays. Beautiful. I love the sense of a competition of ideas going on in these displays. I love that there isn't the usual monopoly of one display representing exactly one viewpoint. And I love the farcical nature of the whole thing. Now if only we could get some pagan groups in on it... I'd particularly like a representation of the sun's descent into the underworld for the three days of the solstice before returning triumphantly, bringing the promise of spring. ^/^

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05 December 2008


This is from today's Narbonic (I'll fix the permalink when I have access to Firefox {fixed}). Dana sounds a lot like me when I've had lots of chocolate (or Thai iced tea) ... only I usually don't build the random things that I ramble on about. ^/^

I suspect that it's more suspicious to proclaim, "My sanity is intact!" than to proclaim, "I'm not crazy!"

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A Feverish Week

In more ways than one. On Tuesday, I was feeling okay...right up until I got done teaching and headed over to say hello to my mom. She wasn't back from practicing organ at her church yet, and by the time she did get there, I was more or less dead on my feet. I didn't want to move. We checked, and I had a slight fever. I gave in and took some ibuprofen when I got home. That helped.

Unfortunately, I had a Philosophy of Knowledge paper to write, and I'd barely started on it. I got a decent amount written on Monday. Any time after that when I felt coherent enough, I needed to work on that rather than attempting to keep this blog going. However, I got it finished up and turned in this morning (either nine hours early or 44 hours late, depending on which of his due dates you believe). So all that's left in that class now is the final, which will be a take-home to be turned in during our technical final exam slot.

I've been gradually getting to feel better over the week. I'm just glad that the flat tire wasn't on the same night I felt the worst. No, that was last night. When I came in to teach my evening classes yesterday and got out of the car, I noticed that the front left tire was down a bit. Of course, it was still down when I got back to the car after teaching. I crossed my fingers and hoped there was enough air in the tire to get me home. There wasn't. About a block and a half later, I pulled over...then I realized I was on a block with no streetlights, and decided to pull another block up and park under a streetlight. This turned out to be a good choice, as a gentleman across the street noticed me struggling to see what I was doing and provided both a flashlight and a bit of help. So, thanks to the nameless stranger, even though it's doubtful he reads this blog. He did most of the work with the jack, once I got it lined up, and I did most of the work on the lug-nuts.

Which means that this afternoon, or morning if the 108 lab isn't too busy, I get to go over to Les Schwab... and while I'm at it, I may as well have them put my snow tires on. There hasn't been much snow yet, but maybe putting my snow tires on will result in snow. Or at least I can make the fallacious post hoc ergo propter hoc conclusion that it did, if snow actually follows.

At any rate, now that the paper's done and the fever's abating, I might be able to get back to a regular posting schedule.

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30 November 2008

A Conunundrum of a Quiz

Via James McGrath, I found the Belief-O-Matic quiz. Top five results above the fold, the rest are below.

There were several questions where, from my perspective, there was no meaningful distinction between two of the responses, so I picked the one whose wording I liked better. Probably choosing the other would have altered my results. I do find it amusing that I placed only at 51% as a "non-theist" when, in fact, I would accept that label. I wonder if this quiz considers it synonymous with "atheist"... The distinction that I make, which may or may not be standard, is that "non-theist" means simply "not a theist". Thus it would include polytheists, pantheists, atheists, etc. Atheist is sometimes defined in the same way, but I tend to think of it as "one who lacks belief in any god or gods." Feel free to attack these definitions in the comments, as I have no particular attachment to them. I just prefer to define my terms before using them.

Oh, as for my #1 result: Universalist, yes. Unitarian, green. That is all.

1. Unitarian Universalism (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (89%)
3. Neo-Pagan (83%)
4. Theravada Buddhism (80%)
5. New Age (78%)

6. Secular Humanism (77%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (76%)
8. Mahayana Buddhism (75%)
9. Taoism (74%)
10. New Thought (63%)
11. Scientology (63%)
12. Reform Judaism (60%)
13. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (54%)
14. Orthodox Quaker (53%)
15. Nontheist (51%)
16. Baha'i Faith (49%)
17. Sikhism (45%)
18. Jainism (44%)
19. Hinduism (44%)
20. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (29%)
21. Orthodox Judaism (29%)
22. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (25%)
23. Islam (24%)
24. Seventh Day Adventist (22%)
25. Eastern Orthodox (20%)
26. Roman Catholic (20%)
27. Jehovah's Witness (7%)

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28 November 2008


UPDATE: Gumby the Cat has a more complete (and appropriate) version of the story. Stories like this make me wonder why anyone would specifically want the shopping season associated with their own preferred name of the holiday. Is it okay that the employee was trampled to death if he said, "Happy Holidays!" instead of "Merry Christmas!"? 'Cause that's the message I get from the "War on [Censored]mas" loons.

Below is half the text of a BBC news article. Emphasis mine.

Crowds of shoppers turned up at dawn to snare the best deals.

A worker died and at least three people were injured after being trampled by a crowd of shoppers at a Wal-Mart in the New York suburbs.

The day after the Thanksgiving holiday is viewed as an important test of how willing consumers are to spend.

Police said a throng of shoppers broke down the doors to the Wal-Mart store in Valley Stream, Long Island shortly after 5am, knocking the 34-year-old worker to the ground.

Electronics retailer Best Buy and department stores Kohl's and Macy's also opened their doors at dawn.

Toys R Us offered up to 60% discounts from 5am to 10am.

Several major retailers indicated that crowds were at least as large as last year's, but deep discounts are likely to hurt retailers' profit margins.

"The traffic is up compared to last year, but the bag count is down," said Marshal Cohen, chief retail analyst at NPD Group.

"There may be more casual shoppers, but they're not buying as much as last year."

Now, is it just me, or does a death deserve more than two sentences buried amongst a whole bunch of trivial shopping descriptors? At the very least, it ought to be set apart from the rest of the nonsense.

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Six Things

I've been tagged. I was wondering if I'd get hit with this one:

#1 Link to the person who tagged you.
#2 Post the rules on your blog.
#3 Write six random things about yourself.
#4 Tag six people at the end of your post and link to them.
#5 Let each person know they've been tagged and leave a comment on their blog.
#6 Let the tagger know when your entry is up.

So, six random things...

(1) My first lawnmower once plotted with my elm tree to kill me. See, a lawnmower is designed so that pieces of shrapnel dislodged from underneath it are very unlikely to go shooting backwards. So when the piece that holds the lawnmower blade in place shattered, the shrapnel flew off at an angle ... then one piece of it bounced off the elm tree back at me, and sliced across the inside of my right calf. I didn't feel much at first, just a mild sting. I looked down and saw blood. Naturally I was home alone at the time. I put one hand over the wound and hobbled into the house to wash it off and see how bad it was. It was (and still is) the deepest cut I've ever had. I wrapped toilet paper around it and tied it off with a torn up plastic shopping bag. Then I called my dad to drive me someplace to fix it up (he could still see and drive then). He took me to Physician's Immediate Care, and I found it quite entertaining to watch the doctor sew up my leg. Mildly painful, but still entertaining. And, yes, it is unlikely that there was a deliberate plot involved between the elm tree and the lawnmower, but the unlikeliness of the piece breaking and flying off in just the right place and at just the right angle... * peers suspiciously at the elm tree *

(2) I don't really understand the concept of cleaning one room at a time. If I did, I would probably clean more often. But I see the house as a whole. If it's all at roughly the same level of dirtiness, I'm okay with it. If one room is significantly cleaner than the others, then I have to level things out somehow or it will drive me nuts. Also, there are usually things that need to be transferred to other rooms, and how the devil are you supposed to do that without cleaning the rooms that the things need to go to? So I tend to clean the entire house in the same short period of time. I started with the living room this time around, and am currently working on the kitchen. Then probably my office, then my bedroom, then the cats' hallway, then the piano room, and then the store room. If I can at least get all the upstairs' rooms done, I can probably cope.

(3) My favorite raw vegetable is probably cauliflower. At least, when it's good and fresh and crisp, which is difficult to find, though I managed to get a decent head of cauliflower for our Thanksgiving veggies this year. The first place I can remember having Cauliflower, strangely, is at Godfather's Pizza Place in Pocatello, which is now defunct, not that I could eat there anymore even if it weren't. I remember thinking that the cauliflower looked like little trees, and I think I made up stories to go with them... something about a wolf coming to eat the forest, I think.

(4) I like wool socks. I went to two of the Black Friday early morning sales this year, one for my mom and one for me. The one for me was Sportsman's Warehouse, and their "Buy one pair of socks, get another for a dollar" deal. So I got 8 pairs of wool socks. Then I got four more tonight at CostCo. Probably not as good a quality as the one's from SW, but that's okay. Now, if only I could find some tie-dyed wool socks. That would be awesome!

(5) My color preferences tend towards extremes. I like extremely, eye-wrenchingly bright colors, and I like dark, saturated, deep colors. I like very little in between the two. Pastels, for instance, turn me off entirely. So do the oh-so-generic colors available at most of the box stores. The goal is apparently for the products to go with everything, hence they go with nothing. As far as combinations go, I also like to combine the extremes. My favorite combo is probably deep, deep purple with bright, bright yellow.

(6) The only show that I've made an effort to watch since losing cable is Mythbusters. Every so often, I'll scan the tv schedule at my mom's house to see if there's anything else that I might want to watch. So far, there hasn't been. This tells me that I'm better off not getting cable back, and just borrowing my mom's tv when new episodes of Mythbusters are on. And if she decides to cancel as well, I suppose I'll just wait for them to come out on DVD. It'll still be cheaper than paying for cable.

Now I'm supposed to tag six people... I can come up with four that I'm sure haven't done this one yet (some of whose blogs may be mothballed, but oh well): Aunt Bee, Kate, Fibonacci, and John. Enjoy.

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27 November 2008


Last week, I came across a rather bizarre screed claiming that non-theists must be miserable at Thanksgiving, as they have no one to thank. This strikes me as being exactly backwards. A non-theist has that much more reason to be grateful. There's no safety net. No supreme being watching out for everyone. Instead, everyone has to watch out for everyone else. There are many, many more people to thank with that point of view. Moreover, there's the universe itself, and the random chance that produced it. I feel more gratitude at watching a flower unfold of itself than I do at seeing some feat of engineering, complete with designer and blueprints. Impressive things are possible, but the most impressive of all is to allow things to be what they are. See what they are. Accept what they are. And be grateful, especially for all the little things that are so easy to pass by without noticing.

Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks be to all who do their best in this world.

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Useful Things

I got two sets of these silicone baking cups last week and tried them out today on the cinnamon pull-aparts. They work surprisingly well. I just lined them up in a cake pan, rubbed butter on them, and filled them. The dough did not stick to them at all, so far as I can tell, and being in the cake pan seems to have kept the rolls from getting overcooked on the outside (in comparison to the batch that was in a standard metal muffin pan). I can't be certain that the difference was due to the cups vs. pan, however, as the cups were on a higher shelf in the oven. Still, if you've been hesitant to try them, after one use I think they work well. It's possible I may revise this after a few more uses. We'll see.

UPDATE: Extra plus - they keep the cinnamon pull-aparts fresher. Slight minus - The sugar, etc., seems to like to stick to them, so that they don't come clean easily.

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GF Tips: Pie Crust

If you just want a recipe, go here. Below are my comments on the recipe.

I've been using Bette Hagman's "Vinegar Pastry" for quite a while, and I wound up making quite a few modifications to it, primarily because they make the dough easier to handle. See, we're trying to get GF flours to stick together and roll out nicely, even though it's the gluten that makes regular flour stick together. Xanthan gum only gets you so far. Eggs help, too, but they can only do so much. The key to making the recipe work for me was when I, for no reason that I can remember, replaced some of the "shortening" with olive oil.

First off, I can't actually use shortening, as it all seems to be made from soybeans these days, and soybean oil makes me ill. Same problem with margarine. So I'd been using real butter to make the crust, and it just didn't work very well. The year that I replaced a third of the butter with olive oil, though, the dough was suddenly manageable. Here is a site with (almost) the original recipe... I may have to try using featherlight flour instead of separately measuring the separate flours, but that's for next year.

So my primary modifications are to add extra eggs (I usually go for three) and to use 1/2 c butter + 1/4 c olive oil. I played around with that this year, decreasing the butter a bit to see if I could get away with it. Answer: not quite. I wound up having to re-mix and add some of the missing butter back in, as the first crust I rolled crumbled. Other modifications: I usually need more ice water than the recipe calls for, and I find that the dough is much, much easier to handle if you ignore the instructions to refrigerate it. Perhaps if I could actually use shortening, the refrigeration would help; I don't know.

The final tip? Get a pie crust bag. Yes, I know, the books say that wax paper/saran wrap/ etc. also works. Unless you've got double wide wax paper or saran wrap, it really doesn't. What I've got is no wider than my pie plates, and you need at least some excess.

GF Tips Index

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24 November 2008

Cleaning and Driving

That's what I've been up to the past two days. On Sunday, I got my living room 90% clean, which involved rearranging furniture. I hadn't actually planned to do anything beyond moving the recliner so that I'd have a place for the Christmas tree (which I will likely put up on Black Friday so as to avoid the Blackness). However, the more I looked at the couch, the more I thought that it was time to move it. As I didn't want to move the bookshelf/plant-stand from its spot at the south window, my options were limited. It finally wound up at an angle, facing the northwest corner, where I put the tv stand. The cats seem to like it in that locations, as there is now a cubbyhole behind it and they can climb through the VCR/DVD access area to get there.

As for today, I went to Idaho Falls with my mom. I'd originally planned to go back down to the Whole Foods and Barnes and Noble down in the Salt Lake area, but my mom wasn't acting very enthused and I didn't relish the idea of 6 hours of driving just to get there and back...so I scaled back. Downside: No GF/Soy-free chocolate chips to be found, but I can order those online. However, the Wealth of Health Nutrition Center on Woodruff has a surprisingly large selection of gluten-free items. Much more than the last time I stopped in there, which was 2 or 3 years ago. They didn't have the Enjoy Life chocolate chips that I was hoping to find, but, again, those are available online.

And now I'm seriously considering just going to bed. I seem to have worn myself out. I did wake up to an oddly random dream this morning. I was with the Mythbusters out in a desert canyon somewhere. Carrie was telling everyone to be careful not to draw the attention of "The Alpha," as in the leader of the wolfpack in the area. However, someone was speaking too loudly, using too many "ow" sounds, and we heard the howl start up. The wolves came in. They were... very small, and strangely doglike. One of them looked like a cross between Buster* and Socks*: the size and shape of a small terrier, but with tight black curly hair. The other one that I saw looked like Scamp*. This one I successfully distracted with a rotten piece of fruit (either a tomato or an apple), which he happily started eating. That was when my alarm went off.

*Socks: the first dog my family ever had. Small terrier with a spring in his step. Literally. He had some sort of neurological/genetic thing that made one back foot move like he was skipping.
Scamp: cockapoo; second dog my family had. Sort of. He was really Dad's dog. He tolerated me, but hated everyone else (including my mom). Well, not quite. A cat had adopted us around the same time we got Scamp, and they became buddies. The cat (Indiana) died a few years before Scamp did, and I remember how sad it was to see him looking around, checking all her favorite napping spots, trying to figure out what had happened to her.
Buster: Dad's current dog. Larger than the other two. Terrier-mix. He's a much sweeter dog than Scamp, though more mischievous.

As I'm pretty sure I'm rambling, I'll stop there.

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22 November 2008

Me Heap Big Thinker

INTP - The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especialy attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

I found the Typealyzer over at Ed Brayton's place. I think my result is reasonably accurate, though I have gotten better about communicating ideas to people; teaching intro-level math classes for a few years will do that to you. However, judging by the comments, most people are not getting particularly accurate results. Also, some have tried putting in the URL for specific blog posts and comparing those results with the overall results...with little consistency.

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21 November 2008

Class Listings Amusement

I've been going through, debating what classes to take next semester, checking to see which books people are using, etc., and this was too amusing not to share:

Apparently the computer system isn't set up for the possibility that the class has no text. Thus you can order the nonexistent text if you wish! It's also amusing that the nonexistent text is optional. Does that mean you can use a text if you wish?

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20 November 2008

99 Things

I saw this over at Evolving Thoughts and couldn't resist participating. Anything in bold, I've done ... with occasional qualifications/details added beside.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars

3. Played in a band
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland/world
8. Climbed a mountain
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch (Origami)
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty (I think the stairway to the torch was closed due to safety concerns, but I remember distinctly being inside her head. It was more cramped than I expected. Also, the staircases are steep, windy things)
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill (Sort of. This was actually back in 6th grade, when I was mostly bored out of my skull by how easy everything was; jr. high and high school were better)
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors (recent ancestors, anyway; my mom was born in Akron, Colorado!)
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself Learned a new language (German and Chinese)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Bluebird Cookies (Or maybe the organization is called "campfire"; either way, it's a lot like the Girl Scouts)
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check (Sort of. In fact, the bank mistyped a deposit, so the check only bounced due to their error, not mine.)
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone (Sort of. Stress fracture, not a full break)
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car (Jean Luc!)
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper (Twice that I know of. Once when a guy from the Idaho State Journal was wandering around the math department on the Friday before break looking for someone to interview; once when a photographer from the ISJ happened by when Don was teaching us the sword form in the park and the photographer thought it made a good filler picture)
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating (Trout and Bluegill)
88. Had chickenpox (Twice. Really.)
89. Saved someone’s life (Several times, my mom and I found grandma in the beginnings of an insulin coma and had to administer orange juice to get her blood sugar back up)
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous (Star Con, anyone? My favorite was seeing Kenny Baker in person. I don't think he's more than two feet tall!)
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee

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19 November 2008

On Cats and Lateness

At noon, I generally let the cats play outside for about an hour while I'm preparing lunch, and then try to get them back in within a half hour of when I have to leave again. Up to now, I have had no real problem doing so. Today, Pouncer decided to be uncooperative. Finally, at 2:25 I got him to climb back into the yard from the alley and got him back inside. I did not quite make it to my 2:30 Theory of Knowledge class on time, but luckily Dr. Wahl was just talking briefly about the final when I came in, so I didn't interrupt someone else's presentation. Also, another person in the class (Robin, I think her name is) got there at the exact same time that I did, so that also lessened the effect.

And, no, I wouldn't let the cats play outside before a class that I was being paid to teach. That's just asking for trouble. ... I really, really need to get a gate put in the back fence next summer... Driving around to try and corral Pouncer doesn't work.

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18 November 2008

A Thought

Imagine if there were states in the country which refused to recognize your marriage. It was risky for you and your family even to travel through such states because, in the event that one member of the family was hospitalized, the others could be forbidden to visit, and would not be consulted on the types of treatments to be applied. Now, what type of marriage is specifically called into question in the so-called bible?

The re-marriage of divorced people.

Mark 10:2-12
2Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"

3"What did Moses command you?" he replied.

4They said, "Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away."

5"It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law," Jesus replied. 6"But at the beginning of creation God 'made them male and female.'[a] 7'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife,[b] 8and the two will become one flesh.'[c] So they are no longer two, but one. 9Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

10When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11He answered, "Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery."

Now imagine that some of the states in the U.S. refused to recognize the validity of second, third, etc., marriages. There is prominent support for their attitude to be found in the "bible." On the other hand, the prohibitions against homosexual behavior (which are only ever implied) are in rather out-of-the-way places. No where do they receive mention in the "gospels." In fact, some will argue that Jesus implicitly endorsed a gay couple.

Gay couples face the situation I described above the fold every bloody day. They can be barred from visiting their partners in hospital (not "technically" family); they can lose children that they've cared for since birth if the birth parent is killed. There's probably a lot more that I don't know about. If you think that disallowing gay marriage is about protecting families, you're an idiot. It's about destroying existing families, because they don't measure up in some fashion. Exactly the same arguments were made against mixed-race marriage some fifty years ago. Why are you still making them?

And why, when Jesus himself called "remarriage" a form of adultery, are remarried couples recognized nationwide as genuinely married, yet gay couples are in most cases not allowed to marry, and have no recourse should their marriage not be recognized from state to state? Imagine if remarried couples were treated in the same fashion, if they could lose their children without any legal recourse, if they had no guaranteed hospital visitation rights if they crossed a state line. If it's not right for them to be treated this way, why is it right for gay couples to be thus treated?

(discussion of biblical divorce here and here)

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17 November 2008

Quite Villainous

Name That Movie Villain

Okay, I took this at work and got an 85% the first time through. The next time through I realized that I did recognize one particular name, and then the others I'd missed became obvious. I haven't seen every film they took villains from, but I at least recognized the character well enough to know what the movie was on all but one. I'd probably seen about half of the movies.

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How Many Was That, Again?

I named 9 planets in 30 seconds Can you name all the planets in our solar system? (in 30 seconds)

Erm, aren't there technicaly eight planets now, not nine? Technically one* of them is now classified as a dwarf planet. Oh well.
*aka, Pluto (didn't want to spoil it for anyone who didn't know who wanted to try the quiz).

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16 November 2008


The end of last week was insanely busy. That post from yesterday? I started it on Tuesday and didn't have time and/or energy to finish it until yesterday. It would have helped if I hadn't forgotten about the take-home test in Philosophy of Knowledge over the previous weekend. I thought of it Sunday night, and managed to get most of the Quine question written. Then I didn't have a chance to look at it again until Wednesday night. The theoretical due date was Wednesday, but he always adds a clause to the effect of "but you may turn it in as late as the following Friday."

At any rate, I did get it turned in Friday morning. Then I had to scramble and prepare for a test in Chinese. No clue how I did on that. I suspect it will be worse than my previous two tests. And how was everyone else's week?

(Pic. from my Valvehouse hike)

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15 November 2008


"To hear, one must be silent." ~Ursula K. LeGuin

It seems that some form of 'existential dread' is common in most societies; some fear a sense of emptiness, or of meaninglessness. Sometimes dubbed the "god-shaped hole", I think the best name I found for it is 'the ineffable ache'. The thing that I find strange is that most people either try to deny that the ache is there or try to cover it over somehow. Sometimes the covering over is a symptom of the denial, particularly in people who avoid introspection at all costs.

What I have to wonder, though, is why people do not explore this emptiness that they find inside themselves. It's there, a part of the identities of many people, yet they refuse to acknowledge it except in trying to hide it or escape from it. It's also odd that they assume emptiness is a bad thing.

Thirty spokes converge on a hub but it's the emptiness that makes a wheel work
pots are fashioned from clay but it's the hollow that make a pot work
windows and doors are carved for a house but it's the spaces that make a house work
existence makes something useful but nonexistence makes it work

~Dao de Jing, 11, trans. Red Pine

That emptiness inside, that sense of no-self, of a void, maybe that's telling us something, and maybe we need to be quiet enough to hear it. Not paper over it. Not cover it with music and chat and games. Not blind ourselves to it through the false comfort of religion. Just experience it, and listen.

It can be difficult going at first. We're so used to the constant chatter of our thoughts, of the people around us, of the television or radio or computer. Allowing the mind to become still so that the world can be reflected in it goes against most of what society tries to ingrain in us. Many people work so hard to cover up that ineffable ache that they don't even notice who they themselves are. Their very self-image comes from the constant chatter.

What is that you hear, when you allow the mind to be silent? I don't think it has a name. Giving it a name just reinforces our tendency to chatter chatter chatter. Some might call it 'God', but what is gained by that? Invariably, people begin to argue about the proper label, and claim that they've found the one true religion. Calling something the 'one true religion' makes about as much sense as going on about the 'one true science' or 'the one true toaster oven.' Reality never fits into the small box of any 'one true religion' (or any 'one true toaster oven', for that matter).

So stop trying to cover up that 'hole', and you may be surprised at what you hear.

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12 November 2008

Random Weirdness

I'm posting this mostly because I'm amazed that I recognize all but two of the characters. And what I can read doesn't quite translate as given, but whatever the other two characters are, presumably they contain the key to figuring out what it actually means.

From left to right: bú yào wèi nǐ de měi ?? ?? le wǒ

bú is a negation, so "not"; there's another word for don't, but depending on context, bú might be translated as "don't". Usually it's just "not" or "no".

yào means to want or desire, or can indicate future action; I wonder if "bú yào!" would translate as "do not want!" Possibly.

wèi ... well, the meaning I know for it is "for", but Bào Lǎoshī told us it had many other meanings.

means "you"

de is a possessive particle (think 's in English)

měi means beautiful or is used as the name for American. I don't think that's the usage here, though, as it's not followed by "guo", meaning "country".

The next two characters I don't recognize... le is a grammatical particle, generally indicating completed action. At least, that's how we've used it. It can also imply past tense.

Then wǒ means "I" or "me". There are no cases in Chinese.

So... "No desire for your beautiful (noun?) (verb-completed?) me/I.

If I remembered for sure where I'd put my Chinese dictionary, I'd try to look the other two up, but I think it's time for sleep now. Oh, the picture is from Engrish.com

Hmmm... I wonder if it's supposed to say, "Don't hurt me because I'm beautiful?" Presumably the missing verb, then, would be "hurt", and yào would be used in the sense of "future action", rather than "desire." For the moment, I'm leaving it, but that seems like a reasonable guess.

AM UPDATE: Found the first missing character. 美麗 (If those show up, the second one is the traditional version of the same character; mainland uses simplified, Hong Kong and Taiwan use traditional) It goes along with měi as "méilì ", apparently emphasizing "beautiful". And the second is 伤 shāng , meaning "injure" or "injury". So... "Don't for your beauty hurt me." I wonder if there's an idiom in there... The literal translation doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

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11 November 2008

Veteran's Day

On Veterans Day, we as a nation pause to honor those who have served their country. Problem is the Bush Administration doesn’t want us to know about their sacrifice. From refusing to allow the press to photograph flag-draped coffins of the dead, to covering up the suicides of veterans after they come home, the officials in Washington who lead us to war have done everything they can to hide it’s terrible cost.


How can we even begin to honor our veterans, if we don’t even track their sacrifice?

~Juan Cole

Read the whole thing.

Support the troops. Stop treating them as playthings to be sent on pointless missions at the whim of a liar and a madman. Thankfully, that liar and his cronies will be out of office soon.

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Weird Ads

Found here, which was a link from today's APOD. Presumably, what the ad means is that they'll ship you the paperwork about the star being named after you. However, that's not what it says, and I seriously hope they don't try shipping any stars to earth. So far as I know, there aren't any that wouldn't cause massive problems. Then there's the logistics of trying to find a truck big enough to haul them that wouldn't melt from the severe radiation... It's just a bad idea, all around.

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