30 March 2008

Experimenting with Strawberries

I couldn't figure out what sounded good for dinner tonight, but I had some strawberries around and wondered if it might be possible to make a sort of protein-drink-dinner out of them. I found this page of suggestions, and more or less based my concoction after the first one. I added in a touch of vanilla, maybe a tablespoon of rice protein powder, and some coconut. Note: the coconut doesn't really seem to add flavor in flake form; coconut milk or flavoring might have been a better choice. But it's drinkable and tastes okay. If I try this again, I'll cut down on the rice protein powder. It's a bit...noticeable.

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29 March 2008

Paradoxical Art (and Book)

I picked up a book called A Brief History of the Paradox today. I haven't made it very far yet, but so far I like it. But it was the cover art that inspired this post:

The artist is Rob Gonsalvez. I'd seen this picture somewhere-or-other before, but not with an artist name attached to it. I found several galleries, and liked over half of the images. There's lots of overlap, but I think each link has at least one image unique to that gallery. I love these pictures. Very reminiscent of Escher, but with a more naturalistic focus that appeals to me even more.

But while I was searching for Gonsalvez, I stumbled across another artist with a similar flair, Jacek Yerka.

I don't like his stuff quite as well as Gonsalvez, mainly because there's a stronger element of fantasy I think, but I still enjoyed looking through the gallery. At the link, the most stuff can be found by clicking on "My Worlds" and then "Pastels" (or click here to go straight to them).

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28 March 2008

Clearance Sales

I wandered over to Dillard's today, and for about $45 I got two very nice pairs of khaki pants, a pair of wool pants (that I shall have to cut the nylon lining out of) and a yellow linen shirt. By way of comparison, each pair of pants was about $60 by itself before it went on clearance. Not sure about the shirt.

I was trying to find something not entirely ratty to wear to the ISU donor appreciation dinner. That's not its actual title, but I'm too lazy to look it up, and the name I gave it is accurate. My mom purchased 4 seats at the symphony this past year, which merited her an invite. She didn't want to go alone (and my dad wouldn't have gone even before he lost his mind), so we pestered the people in charge about getting a gluten-free meal. It was a decent meal. I couldn't eat the roll, the cupcake, or the sauce on the meat (so they brought me a plain one). It was also one of the most ridiculously boring 3.5 hours I have ever spent. And we even left before it was completely over. For all I know, they're still up there yammering away.

We sat at a table with a lawyer, a realtor, two University promoters, the Dean of Graduate studies, and a spouse who probably had a job, but I can't recall it. The lawyer was determined to make small talk through dinner. Decent guy... a bit odd. I happened to bring up statistics and he wanted to know how one would go about showing that the winds in Pocatello have gotten worse in recent years. I mentioned the basic process of gathering data and running a significance test. Problem is... I don't know how much variation is actually normal, or how long the cycles of variation might last. If there's a 100-year cycle, for instance, and we only have good data for the past 50 years, the results will be useless.

Anyway, I need sleep. *wonders how coherent this post actually is and decides she doesn't care*

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27 March 2008

Unbreaking the Buddha

There are two windows in my meditation room/ashram/dojo. The kittens like to get up into both of them, and, of course, managed to knock several items off of the side table in front of the north window. Two of them broke. I have since rearranged, so that there are no breakables near windows. They broke... more than a month ago. I was gluing the Buddha back together a piece at a time before I got sick, then gave up for a few weeks, and finally finished this week. The new tableau is in the corner, away from the kitties:

I honestly don't know if I got all the pieces to the Buddha. The glue filled up some of the room for the pieces, so that at the end I had an irregular piece, not quite rectangular, about half an inch by three quarters of an inch, that was too big to fit in the remaining empty spot. I wound up breaking it into smaller pieces to fill up the room as best I could. Then I filled in the remaining gaps with wood-fill. Incidentally, I discovered that the statue wasn't wood, as I had thought. It was plastic. As it was fairly cheap and came from Target, this wasn't a huge surprise...except that they did such a good job on the paint finish that it had never occurred to me that it might be plastic. Below is the patch-job:

And here is the undamaged side, for comparison:

So why fix it rather than replace it, since it was cheap? Sentimental reasons, I suppose. The statue has been there ever since I started my 108-days thing. Replacing it, even with a look-alike, wouldn't feel right. *shrugs* Besides, it was kind of fun trying to get it back together. And the other thing that broke was an onyx bowl. I think it was onyx. Some rock, anyway. It was much easier to fix. I had all but one piece, and that blank spot I filled with clear glue tonight. You can kinda see it, maybe a dime's diameter below the dime. It's up-side-down so that the glue can dry without sticking it to the little fair-trade bead-bowl it's sitting in.

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25 March 2008


You have Matt to blame for this one. I made up a word in passing and Matt insisted that it was worth publicizing. So I give you (the mildly edited version; Matt will probably put up his non-edited version):

PZ-ificate (v.) to discuss at length the reasons religious people are all ridiculously idiotic and need to just realize it and die so the rest of us can get along nicely

Basically, if you've read one PZ-ificatory post, you've read them all. Do a word substitution for the party being attacked, change out a few derogatory adjectives here and there... the only interesting variety is if he includes some science critique along with the diatribe. There haven't been as many of this style of posts lately, for whatever reason. But I dug around in the archives for some typical examples:

On Ann Coulter
On the pope

These are actually fairly tame ones, but they were the first ones I found.

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24 March 2008

Monday Project

Whilst cleaning over Christmas, I managed to misplace my Tibetan mala. It's much easier to keep track of chanting with it, so on Saturday I wandered over to the craft store in Idaho Falls (Michael's; we used to have a branch outlet of it here in Pocatello, but it got bought out, and the new place isn't even a quarter as good). I found some decent wooden beads, and even lucked into a sale. Instead of $4 for a fourteen-inch strand, it was $3. Overall, including the beads I have leftover, it cost me about $13. I did wind up wandering over to the local excuse for a craft store after getting 99.9% done, just to get some beads with a larger bore to finish it off:

I had planned on using the disc-shaped beads every 36 or so, but it didn't look like I had quite enough round beads to make that pan out. They're currently every 12, though I think I could have gotten away with every 18. It's kind of nice to have a marker to go past on the mala. When I had to restring the other one (which will probably show up this week now that I've made a replacement), I put a knot every 36 beads for the same purpose.

I wound up using green garden twine to string it...primarily because I couldn't find my plain white cotton string. Naturally, it turned up a few hours after I was done. ^/^ Anyway, here's a closeup of the twine:

It adds an interesting color, even if it is a bit rattier than string would have been. To close it off, I tied a knot, then unwound the twine, rewound halves from the opposite ends together, then wound both of those together, put the larger bore beads over it, tied another knot, and frayed the end. Finally I put a drop of glue in each of the knots. The unwinding/re-winding wouldn't have occurred to me if I hadn't run across a show on rope making at some point in the last few months. I have no idea how well this twine will hold up, but I'm pretty sure that my finishing will hold together for a good long time.

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IDiocy (Update: Spin attempt III)

Surprise surprise. The cdesign pronentsists can't even keep their story straight. Now apparently PZ was thrown out because the dear producer couldn't stomach the thought of such a vile atheist being allowed to see their precious movie for free.

Links with summaries for those who want to avoid random clicking:

Amused Muse with the latest on the saga.
A bit of background
The Expelled Atheist himself
Greg Laden defending PZ (against a fellow Scibling who apparently has never heard the maxim that laughter is the deadliest attack)
Richar Dawkins' review of the movie and account of PZ's expulsion.

So let's recap. What did the producers of Expelled do wrong, hmm?

1. Lying: they misrepresented their movie in order to obtain interviews with prominent scientists.

2. Hypocrisy: in the name of academic freedom, they Expelled one of the interviewees from the movie.

3. Lying: They then lied about why he had been expelled.

4. Crowd-packing: they planted pre-planned questions in their so-called Q&A session, with a plentiful helping of yes-men to boo anyone who asked INTELLIGENT questions (see the link to Amused Muse above)

Why, you'd think that they didn't have any scientific evidence to support their ideas and had no choice but to use dishonest tactics! [/sarcasm]

Update: Not content with two contradictory stories, the marketing people behind Expelled have released yet a third version of the Expulsion of PZ Myers:

Recognizing the opportunity to make a point of the inconvenience and pain that they, and others like them, have caused to numerous scientists and educators, the decision was made beforehand to deny Myers access to the film if he actually showed up.

Right, so... it was because he had no ticket! Er, wait, no, it was because they wanted him to have to pay for a ticket! Er, wait, no, it was to make an academic point, yeah, that's it! Uh-huh, suuuure. Lemme tell ya a story about a Little Boy Who Cried Wolf...

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23 March 2008


Yes, it's also Easter. And it's "blog against theocracy weekend". And probably dozens of other holidays beside. As for me, I'm happy that the vernal equinox has passed. To celebrate, here's a poem I found here. Technically it's for the fall equinox, but I liked it well enough not to care:

Deer drift among the trees, a slow brown fog.
And I have way too much time now on my
Eyes, that wander from my work and gaze outside.

Here on the balance beam of the equinox
We teeter into fall.
The weather tilts and pours my garden out.

Where's the balance in this equinox?
"In the destructive element immerse," the poet said
Meaning an ocean - but every element sustains and

Destroys us, at the whim of god knows what.
Let's bring the fire-wood inside
And practice fire forgiveness. For it's time.

Forehead to forehead, the does push back and forth
Under the glance of their three-point fiancé.
Their coats are changing now to winter grey.

They keep some kind of calendar in their heads:
Come October, they'll be gone.
I warm both hands upon a cup of coffee,

Waiting for words to come.
I'm feeling for another equinox:
To balance on these parallel bars of faith and doubt,

Resist and yield. The deer
Are often close like this, it's no surprise
To see them just outside the window now: three does,

Their noses up from browsing, point northeast
Staring at what? Some element of danger.
I'm caught in the perfect symmetry of their stillness

(Just so, I'm caught in the creation of a poem,
Staring inward, waiting for an element of surprise) --
A triptych of attention

Until they one by one shake heads, flap ears,
Resume their secret lives
Along the secret highways of the grass.

                                                         ~Elisabeth Hallett

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Atheist Spirituality?

On this, the day most people celebrate as the day their god-man rose using pagan fertility symbols, I finished reading an excellent book: The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville. It was one that I happened across at Barnes and Noble a few weeks ago, picked up...and didn't want to put down. Comte-Sponville has a decidedly mystic outlook on things despite choosing the label "atheist" for himself, and this book is just a joy to read.

There are three sections. The first one deals with the question of whether religion is necessary to humanity. Comte-Sponville concludes that some find it necessary, but not all, and pretty much leaves it at that. The second section deals with the reasons that he does not believe in "God." I put it in quotes, because he is specifically addressing the traditional Judeo-Christian God. He goes through 6 arguments for why he does not believe in that particular god. (Somewhere, and I wish I could remember where, I ran across a quote that said 'Describe for me the god you do not believe in; I do not believe in him either.') Specifically, he goes through the classic existence "proofs": ontological, cosmological, physico-theological. Then he explains why he doesn't find them convincing. The weakness in these arguments is only the first of his 6 reasons for not believing in this particular notion of God.

The third section was the most enjoyable, and illuminating, for me. It deals with his attempts to define an atheist spirituality, rooted in the reality of his own mystical experiences. It contains probably the most lucid and well-thought-out descriptions of such experiences that I've ever encountered. A few quotes from this section to give the flavor:

Mystics are defined by a certain type of experience ... They see. Why would they need dogma? Everything is present. Why would they need hope? They live in eternity. Why would they need to wait for it? They are already saved. Why would they need a religion?

When you feel 'at one with the All,' you need nothing more. Why would you need a God? The universe suffices. Why would you need a church? The world suffices. Why would you need faith? Experience suffices.

Also, he shares this quote from Henri-Marie cardinal de Lubac:
The prophet recieves and transmits the word of God to which he adheres through faith; the mystic is sensitive to an innter light that exempts him from believing.

I would recommend this book to anyone with a sincere interest in spirituality. It expresses thoughts that I had thought unique to me (much more eloquently, I might add). The first two sections took me the longest to get through, mainly because I was only reading a single section every night. Once I got to the third section, I didn't want to stop. I made it almost all the way through it today. Seems like an appropriate celebration of Easter to me. `/^

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21 March 2008

Nietzsche and Plato

For the midterm in Philosophy/Literature, we had to pick two philosophers that we'd read, discuss their views on tragedy, and then apply them to the plays we'd read. The philosophers are Plato, Nietzsche, Aristotle, and Hegel. It was a bit too structured for my tastes, but I would recommend to anyone else not to do Nietzsche and Plato together. I'll give a short explanation of why.

Plato doesn't care for tragedy because it exposes the deep feelings the people have and generally suppress in polite company. He considers this a failing of tragedy. Nietzsche loves it for exactly the same reason, and thinks that the deep oneness at the heart of the world is, by it very nature, tragic. My head hurts from trying to write from both perspectives in one night. But the paper's done...unless I reread it tomorrow and hate it. Technically it was due by whenever they lock up the liberal arts building, but he offered us the option to e-mail it to him by Monday...so long as he gets a hardcopy on the following Monday, as demons usually eat his e-mail. Or so he says.

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20 March 2008

Curse of the Golden Flower

Interesting tragedy, with subtitles. Curse of the Golden Flower has the same director as Hero and House of Flying Daggers, and a very similar flavor. The emphasis is on lavish sets with flamboyant color. Oh, yes, and extremely twisted characters. There are aspects of Romeo and Juliet, and of MacBeth and of Hamlet in it. It's well-crafted, and haunting, but...I didn't really like most of the characters, and the ones that I did like, well... it's a tragedy: you can figure it out.

The story centers on the imperial family: Emperor, Empress, their two sons, and a son from the Emperor's first wife. Think of every possible soap opera plot of a scheming family, stir them around and keep the most sordid bits, and you've got a good idea of what the family is like. It's very nearly accurate to say that everyone is plotting against everyone else. And then there's the Imperial Doctor's family... I don't want to spoil details, so I'll leave the familial relationships at that.

I think the main thing I didn't like was the ending. Now the question is whether I can describe why I didn't like it without spoiling it... Lemme put it this way: the worst "bad guy," while he'll be miserable for the rest of his life, is not sufficiently destroyed for my tastes, and the character for whom I had the most sympathy is in no way freed at the end. I would have liked some resolution on both of those issues.

I'd recommend it for the flamboyant atmosphere, and the nicely interwoven plots... I'd just like to rewrite the ending a bit.

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Who's Expelling Whom?

Background: Expelled is a movie paid for by the so-called "intelligent design" crowd, "explaining" how scientists who speak up for the idea of design are expelled. I'm told it makes the stronger claim that all theistic scientists are also expelled and discriminated against, etc. So you'd think that such people would be open and inclusive and welcoming to all points of view, right? You'd think that they'd want to preserve open discussion to show how much better they are than the evil, nasty evilutionists. Well, they've proven once again that, when it comes to free inquiry and discussion, they demand rigidly defined off-limit areas. P.Z. Myers was expelled from a screening of this movie. You'll have to click to find out the best part, though. ^/^

UPDATE: Here is a post from someone who did make it in. Apparently the cdesign proponentsists are trying to spin this as PZ causing a disturbance and harassing people whilst trying to "sneak" in. Uh huh. Suuuuuure. How exactly is it "sneaking in" to put your own name on a list and show your own photo-ID, hmmm?

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Time Warp, II

Mental time warp, that is. Everyday this week, I've kept thinking that the next day was Friday. Well, it's finally Thursday, so the next day really is Friday, and I'm down to one lecture to give before break, and one test to give tonight. The test is already written and printed out. Okay, so I've got a philosophy paper technically due tomorrow, and a logic assignment due after break. Those are more fun than they are work. Anyway, I thought I'd share this LOLCroc:

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18 March 2008

Timewarp and Taiji

No, not the song from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Also, not a Star Trek plot. It's a new show on the Discovery Channel that uses a high-speed camera to slow things down so that we can see what's really happening. Some absolutely fascinating shots, especially when they compared what a normal camera would catch to what their 1000-frames-per-second camera could do. On that one, they popped a balloon. On the normal camera, the actual pop happened between frames. In one frame it was still whole; in the next, it was popped. The high-speed camera had 16 or so frames in between those, and you could see that the balloon had been 2-ply: there was another balloon inside, which popped a thousandth of a second later.

The first demo, though, was of what happens in a fight. They had two fighters (at a guess I'd say they're from Discovery Channel's martial arts reality show, but I'm not sure), and took shots of them banging on each other... mostly with protective padding on. What we can't see without slowing things down is that there are shockwaves that resonate through the body at each impact. Bodies, actually, since the attacker also gets shockwaves from the force of impact. Newton's Laws an' all.

Now, the thing about taiji is that, when it's done right, there is no force, and hence no impact. I'm getting this more often than I used to. When it's really right, the other person goes out and I feel nothing: no impact, no force, nothing. Oftentimes, I don't even know why the other person went out. We often hit the rewind button to figure it out (and to give the other person a chance to find a way out). But by using no-force, there is no corresponding equal and opposite force to damage the attacker (on the other hand, every attack leaves you vulnerable...).

So what makes it work if not force? Depends on whether you ask a mystic type or physics-type. The mystic type will smile and say "Qi." The physics type will talk about allignment and torque and other such things. As I don't know what qi is, it may well be nothing more than the result of alligning the body properly so that the (physical) force can flow directly through it. I can feel something that I would describe as energy flowing through my body when things are working as they should. It may be nothing more than some sort of body-mind feedback, or maybe it's really a mystical energy field. Honestly, I lean more towards the latter, but I can't rule out the former. It's easier to talk about it if we treat it as actual energy, if nothing else.

One anecdote that relates. My teacher has taken several workshops with Henry Wang, and seen some very impressive stunts. In one of them, Wang will have say 10 guys in a line pushing on him, and, barely moving, send the one on the end flying off. Then he'll send the next one flying off, etc. My teacher was allowed to put his hand between Wang's and the next person in line during the push. He felt no force whatsoever as the last person in line went flying off. Again, that could be explained by allignment and speed, and one of Timewarp's cameras might be very illuminating. But Wang also practices pushing at a distance.

My teacher, in fact, was pushed in this way. He said that he tried to resist, and could not. Here's the interesting part: it only works on people who are sensitive to qi, and the more sensitive the person is to qi, the better it works. My teacher was impressed that it could be done, but considered it very nearly useless. He used to be a cop, and often says things like "When I see him push a 300-pound guy high on amphetamines, I'll be impressed." He wasn't very interested in learning the technique, as the better you got at it, the more vulnerable you were to such a "push" from someone else.

So why does it work at all? I'm inclined to call it qi. I suppose it could be self-hypnosis or something on those lines. It might also be an exaggerated sensitivity to another person's intent. That is, so aware of what the opponent is about to do that you react before it occurs. If I ever have a chance to experience it in person, then I might have more to say about it. As is, I consider it interesting that it can be done, but, like my teacher, don't really see much use in it if it won't work on 99.9% of the population.

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Just testing a few html tags to see if they're blogger compatible

            "& # 160" to get a space in html mode (deleted if you switch to compose)

x2 - sup

x1 - sub

  • li

    1. ol




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    17 March 2008


    At various discussion groups with Dr. Levenson and fellow students, the topic of suffering has come up. He made a very good point, that no matter how we view it, applying our theory to specific instances offers no comfort. Karma. God's will. For the greater good. It will balance out in the end. Random chance. For a rather potent example of that, read the comments here. If the supposed purpose of a religion is "comfort," the idea that anyone in the tsunami somehow deserved his/her fate is anything but comforting: it's revolting. It's no better than the gods-bedamned evangelists blaming every catastrophe on homosexuals.

    Do I think there was a purpose to the tsunami? Not in the sense that most people would mean. It was an event. It had consequences, the most obvious ones horrific. That was its "purpose." Its purpose was not to wipe out human life. That was a consequence of time and place. There's no sense in asking "why?" There's no comfort to be found in reasons: quite the contrary, in fact. The more you hear them, the more they become meaningless platitudes. Looking for an overarching, universal meaning is futile.

    But looking for a personal meaning, that just might get you somewhere. What does the event mean to you? How does it affect you? Was there any sense in which you contributed to it, or worked against it? Was it something completely out of your control? And, yes, these are fundamentally selfish questions, but they're far less selfish than foisting meaningless and empty platitudes upon the grieving. The last thing a grieving person wants to hear is that it was Fate, or God's Plan, or Karma. You may as well slap them in the face as tell them that.

    And if the event had no personal effect on you, find something useful to do, rather than serve up useless platitudes.

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    Happy St. Patrick's Day

    5. September 1913

    WHAT need you, being come to sense,
    But fumble in a greasy till
    And add the halfpence to the pence
    And prayer to shivering prayer, until
    You have dried the marrow from the bone;
    For men were born to pray and save:
    Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
    It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

    Yet they were of a different kind
    The names that stilled your childish play,
    They have gone about the world like wind,
    But little time had they to pray
    For whom the hangman’s rope was spun,
    And what, God help us, could they save:
    Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
    It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

    Was it for this the wild geese spread
    The grey wing upon every tide;
    For this that all that blood was shed,
    For this Edward Fitzgerald died,
    And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,
    All that delirium of the brave;
    Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,
    It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

    Yet could we turn the years again,
    And call those exiles as they were,
    In all their loneliness and pain
    You’d cry ‘Some woman’s yellow hair
    Has maddened every mother’s son’:
    They weighed so lightly what they gave,
    But let them be, they’re dead and gone,
    They’re with O’Leary in the grave.

                           ~W.B. Yeats

    link to this poem found here

    Yesterday's Poetry Sunday was also quite good.

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    16 March 2008

    A Dragon, A Dragon!

    And they say dragons aren't real. Pshaw. `/^

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    The Legend of Bagger Vance

    This one made quite a stir when it first came out, but at the time the previews didn't interest me at all. I became vaguely interested when I read a review that mentioned it was a modern take on the Bhagavad Gita. In fact, the name "Bagger Vance" is almost certainly tied to "Bhagavad". The protagonist is Rannulph Junuh, as in R. Junuh = Arjuna. When I saw it was on TNT this morning, I decided to give it a try. Very nicely done. It's a bit slow... and a bit heavy on golf, but still enjoyable.

    Junuh (Matt Damon) is a local golf-hero who went off to WWI and lost himself. He disappears for 10 years, and when he finally does return, he has no interest in his former life. Then he gets sucked into a golf tournament, and Bagger Vance (Will Smith) shows up and offers to caddy for him. On the one hand, there's a touch of "wise black dude" syndrome...on the other, there's no sense that Smith's character knows all this because he's black, and in the Gita, it's clear that Krishna can take any form he feels like. I think if there hadn't been so many movies where the one non-white character was the font of all wisdom, this wouldn't bug me. It just gets overdone.

    Anyway, back to the movie. Even though most of the movie is focused on a golf game, it's not really about golf. It's about the "game you can never win but can only play," i.e. life. Arguably, it's about golf as meditation, but that's too narrow. It's about life as meditation, as practice; about being aware of each and every moment in that life and responding as needed. It's about being in the game and participating rather than making a show of it. It's about being in the game for the game, and not for your ego or for the people watching the game.

    Good movie. Good interactions between the characters. I find the context of a golf game slightly odd, but it was good in spite of that `/^ ... Actually, what I found odd was the extreme excitement people were expressing at this golf tournament, though I can sort of see it since Junuh was a local and the other players were the best of the best. *shrugs* I'm not really into sports, so I can only relate in an abstract fashion. Still, it's one I'd recommend for when you're in a thoughtful mood. If you want something fast-paced and exciting, this isn't it...on the other hand, it might do you some good if you constantly crave speed and excitement. `/^

    I'll post one exchange from IMDB to give the flavor:

    Bagger Vance: What I'm talkin about is a game... A game that can't be won only played...
    Rannulph Junuh: You don't understand...
    Bagger Vance: I don't need to understand... Ain't a soul on this entire earth ain't got a burden to carry he don't understand, you ain't alone in that... But you been carryin' this one long enough... Time to go on... lay it down...
    Rannulph Junuh: I don't know how...
    Bagger Vance: You got a choice... You can stop... Or you can start...
    Rannulph Junuh: Start?
    Bagger Vance: Walkin...
    Rannulph Junuh: Where?
    Bagger Vance: Right back to wehre you always been... and then stand there... Still... real still... And remember...
    Rannulph Junuh: It's too long ago...
    Bagger Vance: Oh no sir it was just a moment ago... Time for you to come on out the shadows Junuh... Time for you to choose...
    Rannulph Junuh: I can't...
    Bagger Vance: Yes you can... but you ain't alone... I"m right here with ya... I've been here all along... Now play the game... Your game... The one that only you was meant to play... Then one that was given to you when you come into this world... You ready?... Stike that ball Junuh don't hold nothin back give it everything... Now's the time... Let yourself remember... Remember YOUR swing... That's right Junuh, settle yourself... Let's go... Now is the time, Junuh...

    It's worth mentioning that in the Bhagavad Gita, the context was a war rather than a golf game. Most modern readers seem to interpret that war as a metaphor for life, and in this case they've used golf as the metaphor rather than war.

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    15 March 2008

    Three Days to Never

    Last Saturday, I discovered that Tim Powers had a new book out in paperback, Three Days to Never. Interestingly, it looks like I may have missed some of his books between this one and Earthquake Weather.

    I was slightly disappointed in this book, primarily because it seems to be a sort of synthesis between Anubis Gates and Expiration Date. But, the thing is, Tim Powers at his worst is better than many authors at their best, so it's still a very good read. It's only because I expect to be completely blown away with new ideas in Tim Powers' books that I was somewhat disappointed.

    Tim Powers is particularly good at integrating outrageously mystical ideas/devices/things with everyday, ordinary life, without making it seem that the world itself has to change in order for these things to occur. He's also quite adept at integrating historical figures into his plotlines in...semi-plausible ways. That is, my inclination is not to dismiss the integrations out of hand as completely ridiculous, even if at the back of my mind I may be scoffing. In this case, the primary historical figure is Albert Einstein. He's not a direct character, except at the seance, but his fictional descendants are, as is a device that he supposedly constructed.

    It's hard to make a plot summary of this book without dropping major spoilers... But I'll try. We've got two groups after Einstein's device. One group at least tries to be the good guys, though doesn't always succeed. The other is perfectly happy to sacrifice random strangers to jump onto a spiritual, fifth-dimensional highway. Then there are the people who actually have the device, without knowing that they have it, and they're not having much fun at all... particularly after the daughter accidentally watches the last surviving copy of A Woman of the Sea by mistake and a "dybbuk" tries to take over her mind. What's a dybbuk? Well, that's not explained until sometime in the last 100 pages, so I'll leave it at that. But here's a nice summary from the Publisher's Weekly review at Amazon: "In typical Powers fashion, his characters' spiritual need to undo past sins or mistakes propels the ingenious plot, which manages to be intricate without becoming convoluted, to its highly satisfying conclusion."

    To sum up: Possibly not as good as some of Tim Powers' other books, but still very well-written and highly enjoyable.

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    Titanic Puzzle, with Monsters

    Weird weird dream, verging on nightmare. It started at "the" mall, which vaguely resembled the local Pine Ridge Mall. I was there with the Scoobies from Buffy. I went outside in what would have been Shopko's parking lot, only there was no Shopko, to check out some loud noises we'd been hearing. I was actually expecting it to be monsters, but it took me a while to spot them. They were on the western horizon, slowly coming towards the mall. I ran back inside.

    "Uh, guys...? You're not going to believe this." Er, why not? They were the Scoobies, after all??? Or maybe they didn't have an identity in the dream until I'd seen the monsters, and then they became the Scoobies by default? *shrugs*

    At any rate, once they'd decided that, yes, monsters were coming, we ran around in unproductive circles in the mall. My POV character became Willow at some point and she/I yelled at Xander for running around in circles...and then ran and hid under bed. No, I don't know why there was a fully made bed in a room immediately off the mall that did not seem to be a mattress store

    And while she/I was hiding there, we saw this huge HUGE spider shadow, and I thought that one of the monsters was a giant tarantula and it had followed us under the bed...only it turned out to be a trick of the light, as the actual spider was about an eighth of an inch in diameter, and we squashed it with a book for scaring us. Naturally, at that point, one of the semi-humanoid monsters made it into the room.

    Despite being under the bed, I had a clear look at him from above. Think zombie/Frankenstein-like monster, about 1.5 times as big as a human, with greyish skin, tattered clothes, and lots of stitching. He/it seemed to know that I/Willow were under the bed, and I had a "memory" of this "episode" and was waiting for the knives to come tearing through the mattress to get us. They didn't. If anything, it seemed he/it was going to bounce on the bed as hard as he could and hope it crushed us.


    I wake up enough to see that I'm on top of a bed, not under it, and that my alarm clock has just started glowing (the light gets brighter and brighter for a half hour before it goes off, simulating a sunrise). Then I drift back into sleep, but not quite into the same dream.

    So I stay on top of the bed in the new dream, and Bataan (one of Cheng Manch'ing's students, who leads the summer taiji camps that I go to) is there, directing a tour of a very weird Titanic museum. The bed floats by a table of artifacts and two catch my eye. They're both pendants, maybe 2-3 inches across. Before I pick them up, they both look like glass cut/faceted to look like a gem. One looks that way after I pick it up; the other, when I turn it over, has a glowing, spherical amber stone set in the middle. It feels like the stone is looking at me, so I hastily put the pendant down.

    Meanwhile, a large puzzle has been put together to cover the entire floor. I say the bed must have been floating, because otherwise it would have torn up this puzzle. Parts of it were of fish and things swimming by the wreckage; parts were probably bits of people's lives who had died aboard the Titanic, one part was this, for no obvious reason... And either the floor was uneven, or the puzzle didn't quite fit, as it's starting to go up a wall in at least one corner.

    I'm sure there are some details I've forgotten, but not long after I noticed the corner-thing, my alarm went off.

    Incidentally, last night I had an odd dream, but there's less detail-recall. My mom and I were heading into a new restaurant in a dark, omnious brick building. I was hoping there was a menu posted, so I could see if they served any food I could eat. But as soon as we walked into the building, the dream changed. A woman was standing in Jeremy Irons' office, smiling at him. Apparently he was a dentist, and she was supposed to be bringing her young son to see him.

    "He'll be here in a few minutes," she said.

    "If you wouldn't let him run around in traffic, he'd be here now," Jeremy Irons retorted.

    Meanwhile, in one of the pictures on the wall behind the woman, her little son was peeking out at a man in a chair. There was a sense that this had been going on for hours, this game of hide and seek in the pictures (think Harry Potter pictures), and that the boy was deathly afraid of the man in the chair...

    And that's all I remember of that one.

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    14 March 2008

    Turkey Sausage?

    WinCo has this strange habit of not carrying the sausage that I like in warmer months. I have yet to figure out why, but it's rather annoying, as the only other sausage that I've found in town that I like and doesn't have questionable ingredients can only be bought frozen, which doesn't work so well if you want to cook it for a meal as soon as you get home. So on Thursday, in a mild fit of desperation, I decided to try some turkey sausage that WinCo did have in stock.

    I expected it to be mediocre, edible but not very good. It's quite a bit better than that, actually. It's certainly in the top 50% of sausages that I've had. The texture is just a touch off from pork-sausage, likely because it has so little fat (in fact, I had to add some oil to the skillet when I cooked it). The flavor is pretty good. Better than low-end pork sausage, but not as good as the really good pork sausage. That, though, probably depends more on the spice mix than on the meat itself. The only way to be sure would be to have them use an identical spice mix on pork sausage and compare.

    I haven't yet tried this sausage just cooked on its own in patties; that will be the crucial, final test. But it is very good on rice cake pizza, and pretty good in my staple "sausage-with-tomato-sauce-and-GF-pasta". Pam called it "goulash", but as I don't use beef in it, that name seems inappropriate. There I particularly notice the texture difference. It's not bad...just not quite as good as it could be. Still, I was pleasantly surprised. It was definitely on the high end of the spectrum for sausages.

    On a completely different note, I bought an iris at K-Mart tonight. There was no tag. The cashier couldn't find a tag at the display, and had to run an override and just type in the price. So my iris showed up as "socks" on the receipt. I suppose that might be the default label, but who knows...

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    13 March 2008

    Free Rice

    I keep coming across this site, playing for a bit, and forgetting about it, so I decided to put a permanent link in the sidebar. What do they do? They donate grains of rice for every correct answer you give to a vocab quiz. It's for real: the first time I encountered it, I wondered if it was a scam, but they really do donate rice for playing. You will notice ads run across the bottom of the page as you play; that's where the money for the rice comes from. But if you need to play a game for a while, why not play one that accomplishes something in the real world?

    (15 minutes later) Okay, that color clashes with my blog... so we'll try this one:

    Ah... much better. (Modified using Printmaster Gold 17, "frosted sepia" effect.)

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    12 March 2008

    Two Years

    I slept on the sofa
    And did not sleep
    But roused fitfully
    Too soon called up.

    Too frail to stand, to walk...
    Yet Grandma breathed.
    Once more we carried her
    Back to her bed.

    Fearfully wakened by
    Mom's tear-stained face:
    Grandma's body empty,
    Already cold.

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    10 March 2008


    On a parking meter near ISU's new Rendezvous Center:

    Cars may park on this street for no more than 2 hours in any 3 hour period.

    Time limit: 4 hours.

    Since the LED time displays do, in fact, go up to four hours, I'm inclined to believe the latter and ignore the former.

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    08 March 2008

    Letters and Sayings of Epicurus

    I just finished my first read-through of a the Letters and Sayings of Epicurus (Amaxon; Barnes and Noble), as translated by Jean Makridis. It's quite an enjoyable read, especially as it is clear that the Greeks were starting to work their way towards a scientific conception of the world. They aren't quite there yet, as they're relying heavily on "thought-experiments" rather than actual observations, but Epicurus comes close. He even gets some stuff almost right, surprisingly close to right for the time period. I'll try to give a brief run-down by section.

    Letter to Herodotus
    This seems to be a primer of the minimum that students should know by rote. First is a summary of current beliefs/knowledge of the structure and origin of the universe. "Nothing comes into existence from what does not exist." Later Epicurus uses this to argue that the universe must be infinitely old. "[T]he building blocks of bodily natures are the atoms or indivisibles." He argues to these by reason, that if matter could be infinitely subdivided, it would have done so in the infinite time span of the universe and there would be no substance left to comprise the world.

    He goes through quite a lot relating to the ways we perceive the world, then comes very close to one of Newton's Laws: "[T]he atoms move with equal velocities when they move through empty space because nothing collides with them there to block and retard their motion. And the heavier things will not move any more quickly than the smaller and hollow ones whenever there is nothing to meet them in their paths. Likewise, the small things will not move more slowly than the large ones ..." Some of his reasoning is just a touch off, but he has the basic idea that, lacking interference, objects will move at the same rate independent of size.

    Epicurus also maintains that the soul is the source of the ability for all varieties of sense perception, even if the body itself is required for said abilities to function. He believed, also, that the soul perished with the body. He equates the idea of an incorporeal soul to empty space, which, he argues, "cannot make anything happen and cannot itself be affected by anything in any way. ... So those who say that the soul is incorporeal are speaking in vain."

    Another point of interest: he believes that the words used to describe things were not chosen randomly, but developed from perceived properties of objects which had some association with a particular sound. The only detail I remember from something I read discussing language origins was that the vast majority of languages have a word for mother that starts with "m", possibly because this is the easiest sound for a newborn to generate, and so that sound would become associated with mothers.

    The rest mainly discusses "meteorological phenomenon", which includes weather, lightning, meteors, eclipses, phases of the moon... pretty much anything that happens in the sky. In his discussion of methods, he verges on the scientific method: "take an all-around survey of the many ways in which the same phenomenon [is observed to] take place." He has the first step, at least: gather data. In his Letter to Pythocles, he also admonishes against favoring one interpretation over another when both are equally supported by the evidence. What he lacks is the idea of testing the validity of these ideas by any means other than theorizing.

    Letter to Pythocles
    This letter is a deeper discussion of the "meteorological phenomenon." This is simply a fascinating read. I won't go into a lot of detail, because it needs to be read in its entirety to be appreciated, but here are some interesting bits: Volcanoes erupt and earthquakes happen when "winds become confined within the earth." Though with earthquakes he adds, "also because small masses of earth, which are situated adjacent to each other, move constantly." Ice is produced when "the rounded configuration is squeezed out of the water-mass" and triangular particles in the water "happen to converge". Comets occur when "flames gather and are nourished together in one place."

    Letter to Meneoceus
    I probably enjoyed this one the most, as it is a discussion of Epicurus's views on philosophy. The entirety is well-summed up in this short paragraph:

    It is indeed imperative to attend to all those things that produce well-being and happiness. For, when happiness is ours, we have everything; and, when happiness is absent, we do everything to acquire it.

    Epicureanism is often oversimplified to pursuit of pleasure, but it stresses moderation. Note the emphasis on "well-being." Pursuit of unhealthy pleasure will not result in well-being, so there's a built-in safeguard.

    I also rather like his views on the Divine:
    [T]he divine is a living entity which is indestructible and blessed*—a view that is indeed underwritten even by the commonly held view of the divine.
    And never attach to the divine nature any [characteristics] which are incompatible with indestructibility or are not akin to blessedness.
    And [don't think that it is] impious to reject the gods of the many. What is impious is to adhere to and internalize the common beliefs about the gods.

    *He uses the same words to describe heavenly bodies, like the sun and the stars.

    As far as death, since Epicurus believes that the soul perishes with the body, his emphasis is on living this life to the fullest and not worrying about death. "So, death exists neither for those who are alive nor for those who have died: because it is not an actual present thing for the former and the latter do not exist themselves." Recently, and I didn't bookmark the page, I came across a critique of Epicureanism that suggested this near indifference toward death was the primary reason that Epicureanism did not really catch on: people wanted reassurance rather than rationality.

    The largest discussion concerns pleasure and pain. Short version: pursue the former and avoid the latter. When it's shortened this far, critics have a tendency to equate Epicureanism with hedonism, but it's nothing like that. It's pleasure as in 'that which leads to an enjoyable life.' The translation uses "pleasant" rather than "enjoyable," but I think enjoyable fits the spirit of the passage better. Binge-drinking, for instance, produces pain as well as pleasure, and thus is to be avoided. And this passage sums of that idea:
    Prudence teaches that it is impossible to live pleasantly without leading a life of moderation, honorable civility, and justice; and that it is impossible to live such a life without living pleasantly.

    Principle Doctrines: Diogenes Laertius X
    Roughly the first half is a summary of what was in the Letter to Meneoceus, then there's a detailed discussion of the Epicurean notion of justice. I'll just share one passage: "Injustice is not a moral evil in itself: what is bad about injustice consists in the wearying apprehension that one might fail to escape detection by those who mete out punishments."

    The rest of the book consists of short fragments. The first section are those that have been attributed to Epicurus, not necessarily with certainty, and the second section consists of comments made by other philosophers about Epicurus. Amusingly, he's called an atheist for not believing that the gods interfere with earthly matters.

    I'd recommend this book to anyone interested in Greek philosophy, particularly Epicurean thought.

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    GF Tips: Blueberry Muffins

    When I was a kid, the first thing I learned to make on my own was Blueberry Muffins from a Betty Crocker box-mix. Well, those box-mixes are not an option now, and even if a GF mix exists, it's almost certainly cheaper to make the muffins from scratch. So here's how I adapted a blueberry muffin recipe out of Betty Crocker's New Cookbook. In fact, I bought the recipe book specifically for the blueberry muffin recipe, as I hadn't found anything useful in my GF cookbooks. Looks like it's out of print now, but there's likely to be a new edition that's comparable. Anyway, recipe with modifications below the fold. Apologies to IE users, but the modifications will look like they're mixed in with the recipe, as for some odd reason, my inset boxes don't work on IE.

    1 cup milk
    I've used goat's milk, soy milk, even coconut milk with no problems
    1/4 cup vegetable oil
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla
    Be brave. Go with a full teaspoon
    1 large egg
    I use two eggs, for the usual reasons: protein, binding, rise
    2 cups flour
    Bette Hagman's Featherlight Rice Mix works well, as does 4-flour bean mix, once you find a bean flour you can stand. Honestly, with quick breads, as long as you don't make the mix too heavy (e.g. all rice flour), it will probably work.
    1/3 cup sugar
    3 teaspoons baking powder
    Why can't we just call a tablespoon a tablespoon, hmmm?
    1/2 teaspoon salt
    As usual, I've decreased the salt a bit. It's a matter of taste in a recipe like this, but I use 1/4 teaspoon.
    ADD: 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
    1 cup blueberries
    Recipe says "canned" or "fresh", but I've used frozen without incident. Try to find small ones if you can. The big ones (maybe a half-inch in diameter) tend to sink to the bottom of the muffin. Oh, and this time as I was a bit short of blueberries, I threw in some leftover frozen raspberries. Turned out great

    Method: Heat oven to 400°F. Grease muffin cups (or line with paper baking cups). Mix dry ingredients, except sugar, in a separate bowl. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs*. Add milk, oil and sugar and continue to beat. Add dry ingredients. Mix just until moistened; do not overmix. Fold in blueberries. Divide batter evenly among the muffins cups**. Bake 20-25 minutes.

    *I tend to put the eggs into my stand mixer and let it beat the heck out of them for 5-10 minutes. This generally results in a fluffier end product.

    **Try using a 1/4 c or 1/3 c measure, and use a flexible spatula to transfer the batter into the muffin cup. I find this works well for getting the muffins to be close to the same size.

    At any rate, for quickbreads it usually doesn't take much to make them turn out well and be GF. The main key is having a flour mix that's not too heavy, and adding xanthan gum, and maybe an extra egg.

    GF Tips Index

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    Atheist "prayer" ?

    It's more an affirmation than a prayer, and I almost like it. Full thing is here at 43rd State Blues. The last two stanzas are perfect:

    We have but one life,
    brief and full of struggle,
    leavened with love and community,
    learning and exploration,
    beauty and the creation of
    new life, new art, and new ideas.

    I rejoice in this life that I have,
    and in the grandeur of a world that preceded me,
    and an earth that will abide without me.

    The first three stanzas begin with "I believe in X". That usage is always problematic, as it implies that it could be otherwise, while affirming a commitment to believe in X even if it is otherwise.

    I would reword all of those. Here's a reworking of the first stanza: "I experience the passage of time and the sensory experiences associated with matter and energy, which make up all the world I have been able to observe." It's certainly less elegant than the original, but at least it doesn't come across as faith-based. I, for one, do not "believe" in time or matter or energy. I experience things which I can describe as time and/or matter and/or energy. I don't "believe" in reason; I notice that reason seems to work. Belief is unnecessary.

    That said, I still think it's a beautiful sentiment. In a similar but opposite vein, James McGrath recently posted a Tillichian reworking of the Lord's Prayer that I rather like. Referring to the Divine as a person always puzzles me, as it seems like a self-obsessed projection, but oh well.

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    07 March 2008

    Better Now

    Finally finally finally FINALLY feeling better. As you might have gathered from the surplus of posts this evening. I even made it over to walk Buster this afternoon, and I'm not sure when the last time I managed that was. And there was a mallard couple swimming 'round the canal, male and female, so likely in a few months there will be ducklings. Anyway, just felt like announcing that. Good night.

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    Ebonmuse has some good thoughts about "heaven" up. They took me back to a post I started to write a while back, and gave up on, so I'll try again.

    I don't see the point of heaven. Really don't. I don't mean "afterlife" in general: either there is one, or there's not, and I'll find out when this body gives out on me or is damaged beyond repair. I see no value in worrying about it, though I may occasionally give it thought. No, I mean the concept of a heaven full of perfected believers who have been subsumed into some deity's presence. Ummm... why...?

    First question: What, under that definition of heaven, is the point of this life? The only thing I can come up with is that it's to make people feel miserable knowing that they're cut off from the divine source...so that they'll appreciate it more when they get there...? Is there something else? Some actual purpose to this mortal life other than as an inconvenient stop gap before "real" life begins in the presence of the Divine? If so, most of what the churches are teaching their followers is completely useless and irrelevant. Maybe someone who understands can try to explain it to me, but it just seems... silly.

    Second question: Is there no sense of unity with the Divine allowed in this life? If not, then I have to say that such religions are missing out on a lot. The Divine is everywhere and in everything. Spill your tea, there It is! Start your car, She's there, too! Smell a flower, clean out a litterbox, in the beautiful and in the mundane, They're there. Why, exactly, are people supposed to "wait" until heaven to experience the Divine? Are the churches actively suppressing this to keep the people in their thrall? Are they just blind? I really, really don't get it.

    Third Question: In what sense is the "Self" preserved in the theological concept of heaven? This one I ask due to a disconnect between the higher-level presentations of heaven and the common-level representations of it. The higher-level presentations imply a genuine union, which would extinguish the Self as a distinct entity (if it ever was one, but that's for a different post); the common-level perception is that people stay themselves, just in non-corporeal form, often involving wings and a harp.

    Fourth Question: What's in it for this Deity presiding over heaven? Minions? Worshippers? Minds to feed on? Further, why are there restrictions on who the Deity allows in? Are only certain minds compatible with His diet, for instance? Why do people want to get in? If the Deity is so limited that Its presence can only be felt in a limited span of spacetime known as heaven, I'll take the Divine presence that shines throughout the Cosmos over That any day.

    In fact, that sums up my objections to most forms of Christianity. The world cannot be fit into the small box of its reality. It's like trying to stick a lion inside a paper grocery bag: it's hard on the bag and annoys the lion. I've encountered broader conceptions of Christianity which I find less objectionable, but I find that I don't care for the baggage carried by the language that is used. So I'm just trying to shake some answers down. Seriously; any thoughts, post them in the comments. Just be warned that I like to argue; in fact, me not arguing with your answers should be taken as an insult, not the other way around.

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    9 Geologists Went Into a Lava Field...

    This one I just have to share: What if they made a Reality Show about geologists? I have no idea if this is a true story or not... either way, it's hilarious. Excerpt:

    The second event, landing in a bush plane in upper Alaska, was a complete failure. None of the geologists were nervous at the idea, which destroyed the drama the crew was hoping for, and worse yet, no-one in the production crew was willing to accompany the geologists to the site, out of sheer terror. The result was that small cameras were given to two of the geologists to film themselves. When the footage and geologists returned, the editors found tapes filled with footage and commentary about mountains and ‘glacial erratics’. Only ten percent of the footage featured humans, and most of that footage was simply the petrologist standing by outcrops for scale.

    Also, check out Wilkins' take on Dawkins' recent lecture, and then read P.Z. Myers' version, then come back and tell me which of them sounds irrational, hmmm?

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    GF Products: Annie's Mac & Cheese

    Full title: Annie's Rice Pasta and Cheddar: Gluten Free

    This is quite good, and has lately been something of a staple for me.

    The Pasta: Good texture and flavor, provided it's cooked enough. With most GF noodles/pasta, overcooking is more of a problem. With these, I find that I'm more likely to undercook them. Last night I tried boiling them for 14 minutes, and it came out about right. (FYI: elevation is approx. 4500' here) I also had been having a problem of the elbows sticking together, but once they were sufficiently cooked, that problem went away.

    The Cheese Sauce: Good flavor. I would suggest halving the amount of milk the package claims you should use, unless you like extremely watery mac & cheese. So I've been using roughly an eighth of a cup of milk. Do follow the directions to mix the sauce mix and milk together before pouring over the cooked noodles, unless you like glomps of undissolved cheese-sauce-mix.

    The Caveat: There are roughly two servings in the package, one if I'm extremely hungry, and it is a bit pricier than non-GF mac and cheese. Still, I find that it's worth the price.

    I generally buy it at Fred Meyer, but it's available here if you can't find it locally.

    Gluten Free Tips Index

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    06 March 2008

    Daylight Savings

    Love it, hate it, or indifferent to it, can someone please explain to me why people don't prepare for it? Seriously. Everyone freaks out about losing an hour of sleep. So why not take it in increments? I've been setting my alarm clock back by increments of 10 minutes for the past few weeks, and I'm now within ten minutes of what will be the "new" 6:05 am after this weekend. This weekend, I will "lose" only ten minutes of sleep, rather than the full hour. This also results in me getting tired earlier, closer to the "new" 10:00, so that I'll be able to go to bed at the appropriate "new" time.

    It's not difficult. Really. It's not. It's the only logical way of dealing with such an expected time-shift. I have no sympathy for the bleary-eyed majority who seem unable to grasp this concept. I do have sympathy for people with genuine sleep disorders who have enough trouble finding a sleep schedule that their body can accept without having to readjust it twice a year. Not planning ahead, however, does not constitute a sleep disorder, any more than wearing a blindfold would count as a vision disorder.

    As for the earlier date of DST this year, this just may be the only year. Much as the bleary-eyed majority might hate it, there are actual energy savings to be had from playing with the clocks. However, putting it back this early will result in early morning increases in energy use that are likely to offset any evening savings (source). The main report is for California, but it's likely to be worse in the real world, where mornings will probably be colder. There are other issues to having it come this early as well.

    At any rate, I will not be a member of the bleary-eyed majority come Monday.

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    05 March 2008

    Morning Commute

    irregular blue
    patches glimpsed through curvi-
    linear frames

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    04 March 2008


    Well, I think the doctor I talked to on Friday was full of himself. He seemed to think what I had was not bacterial, and that it was, in fact, normal for a viral infection to go on for 3-4 weeks. Not for me it ain't, and the day after I started on the antibiotics, the yellow tinge to the mucus was gone. Today, I feel just fine for what seems like the first time in several weeks. Now, if all I needed was a "placebo", the goldenseal and/or the garlic should have been enough. I do realize that they don't want to encourage the evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria...or rather the further evolution of antibiotic resistant bacteria, but I just wanted to slap that doctor. Or worse.

    Also on Friday, I played junior accountant. My mom's assistant had funeral duties, and there was a deadline coming up, so I drove down to help out. There actually wasn't much to do. I smiled nicely at a few people who came in the door before shuttling them off to Mom's office (unless she came out first), punched numbers into a weird computer program, and spent most of the time grading stats tests. I did miss a few numbers on one return, mainly because I didn't notice the "next" button on a screen, but otherwise no problems. Oh, I did answer the phone once and had to write down a random assortment of charitable donations for my mom to put into someone's return. Observations on accounting: very dull and much wasting of paper. When I suggested to my mom that she could save paper by laminating the appropriate forms and writing on them with an overhead marker, she looked at me like I was nuts. I mean, it's going in the computer anyway, right? Why keep the scratch work? *shrugs*

    As for taiji on Saturdays, Don's a bit fed up with the long form. Mark seems to be even more fed up. I'm...not quite fed up, but since the third section is as long as the first two sections combined, and we've spent maybe 5 months just to get the first two sections... I'm just as happy to close it off at the end of the second section. I do think it was valuable to learn as much as we did; I'd just like to get back to Cheng Manch'ing for a while. Don hinted once that he might see about having us go through William CC Chen's 60-move variant of the Cheng Manch'ing form at some point; apparently he put back in a few long-form moves that Cheng Manch'ing took out.

    As it's edging towards midterms, every class but stats has tests coming up, and stats had theirs last week. In Math 123 we've been playing with graph theory, and I've discovered that I'm much better at making graphs to print out than I was a year or two ago, when last I taught it. Two years ago. Grandma was still alive. Through most of it. And in Math 143 we're mainly graphing various kinds of functions, and maximizing and minimizing anything that's quadratic.

    At any rate, now that I feel like I'm functioning up to par again, I'll probably be posting more regularly. Most likely. Unless I get distracted by things that didn't get done when I wasn't feeling well. Oh, one annoyance with the antibiotic: it needs to be taken with food, but not with anything high in calcium. I didn't realize how much I relied on goat's milk and yogurt until I started trying to find things that were safe to eat with it. *sighs*

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    03 March 2008


    crystal clarity
    comes—as anguish

    Not an indication of further depression, to anyone who might wonder. Just...an observation of a certain state of mind that only seems to come in the midst of pain. As if the clouds went away leaving only clear, crystalline air. No sunlight to distract. The pain transmutes itself to clarity, and the world can be seen as it is for a fleeting moment.

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    02 March 2008

    February Searchlight

    It's that time again...

    gluten free toothpaste - Ummm... I've never run across a toothpaste with suspicious ingredients, actually. Well, natural flavors are always suspect, but I've never reacted to a toothpaste. I've used several varieties of Arm and Hammer, but at the moment I'm using Colgate, Luminous something-or-other.
    "a wish named arnold" meaning charles de lint - Good story. If it's up on the web anywhere, I don't know about it.
    "einsteinian orthodoxy" - Ummmm... You do realize that when it's called "science," it's constantly subject to testing and revision, right? There may be resistance to change, but there are built in safeguards to ensure that, if something is found to be incorrect, change will come.
    "fishes in eight" - It's a transtion "posture" in the Cheng Manch'ing form. The toes point towards one another, making the Chinese character for "eight". The hands circle around, tracing the "fishes" of the yin-yang symbol.
    "sari coasters" - Check Pier 1. At one point, they had a useful, easy to use web-site. Last time I checked, it was a big, flash, mess.
    and the lady sir, did she succumb - Not willingly.
    daoist belief in uselessness - To be useless is not to be used up.
    does curry chicken have gluten? - Depends on the recipe. Ask and/or read carefully.
    i found beetle in my rice - Annoying, isn't it? Make sure to check any adjacent packages as well.
    nausea in evenings - do you drink caffeinated drinks in the morning? That was the culprit for me. By nightfall, I was getting withdrawal.

    A few more below the fold.

    poems about the sin gluten - Uh, sin? Poison, yes. Nasty, yes. But sin???
    seeing a dog's skull in my dream - it means that you have offended the spirit of the Wolf. To make amends, you must join a pack and live as one of them. (and if you believe that, please send me your credit card numbers and bank account info)
    "smashed the tv" - Good for you.
    "sneaky dog" - Not as sneaky as kittens!
    carl baugh is an idiot and lunatic - Uh, obvious much?
    door drows - ??? Ummm... are you planning to make doors out of drows, or what?
    flours christian greetings - I hope you mean flowers. If not, you have now become my sworn enemy for spreading gluten through the mail.
    mathematician death's quiz - Uh, as in how we die or as in how past ones have died?

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    Self Inflicted Meme (Now with more than 13% more Solutions!)

    I can't remember what I was searching for when I came across this meme, or if it was a random link, or whatever, but it's exactly the kind of thing I like, so I figured I'd go for it.

    Meme rules:
    1. Pick 15 of your favourite movies.
    2. Go to IMDb and find a quote from each movie.
    3. Post them here for everyone to guess.
    4. Fill in the film title once it's guessed.
    5. NO GOOGLING/using IMDb search functions. Totally cheating, you dirty cheaters.

    Left to identify:

    10a. Jake, in order to buy $120,000 worth of gold, you need $120,000.
    10b. You're tryin' to tell me that your little pussycat came from another planet in another galaxy in a spacecraft and landed right here on earth...?
    The Cat From Outer Space Preview Here

    13a. My driving is rivaled only by the lightning bolts from the heavens!
    13b. Of course you know certain sceptics note that perhaps 10,000 of the nations's most elite highway patrolmen are out there waiting for us after we start, but let's stay positively: Think of the fact that there's not one state in the 50 that has the death penalty for speeding... although I'm not so sure about Ohio.
    The Cannonball Run Opening Credits and 20th Century Fox Crash

    Other players: John, Fibonacci, Snark.

    Go over and take a look. Much to my surprise, I was unable to identify ANY of the ones posted by Snark and Fibonacci. Recognized a few, but not well enough to put them to a movie.

    RE-UPDATE: New player. Fibonacci has decided to join in.

    UPDATE: I've decided to label two more that required an extra quote from me for someone to guess, and I've also added an extra quote to the two other holdouts. The extra quotes ought to be obvious to anyone who's seen the movies. Particularly #10.

    Note: Since mine are mostly labeled now, John has some more. And I've moved up the holdouts to make them easier to see.

    1. People in your country do not like conversation? - Last Samurai

    2. Ok, you people! Sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we're not back by dawn... call the president. - Big Trouble in Little China

    3. I'm afraid currency is the currency of the realm. -Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest

    4. When someone asks you if you're a god, you say "YES"! -Ghostbusters

    5. Either you're part of the problem or you're part of the solution or you're just part of the landscape. -Ronin

    6. So, Peter, you've become a pirate. -Hook

    7. Uh, begin, commence, start moving... theoretically you have been racing for about forty seconds now, and so far Mr. Schaffer is winning because he's nearest to the door. -Rat Race

    8.a. When I come back, I expect to find you gone. Wait for me!
    8.b. I'm not a Brewster! I'm the son of a sea cook!
    -Arsenic and Old Lace

    9. Beware all wenches. -Blackbeard's Ghost

    11. Well, ain't this place a geographical oddity. Two weeks from everywhere! -O Brother, Where Art Thou

    12a. You remember the day I went out for cigarettes and didn't come back? You must have noticed.
    12b. There's a ninety-five pound Chinese man with a hundred sixty million dollars behind this door.
    -Ocean's 11

    14. No crater? But I want a crater! I want wreckage, twisted metal. Something the world will not forget! -Pink Panther Strikes Again

    15. Are you suggesting coconuts migrate? -Monty Python and the Holy Grail

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    01 March 2008

    Sweeney Todd

    It never made it to the only large theater in Pocatello during the initial release, but is finally showing in the second tier theaters. And I got to see it tonight! Very, very well done. It's not quite how I would have done it, but everything works. If you've seen any of Tim Burton's other films, especially things like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Beetlejuice, you'll have some idea what kind of atmosphere to expect.

    Johnny Depp managed to surprise me. At the very beginning, I had my doubts. There just wasn't enough expression in his first lines. Seeing the rest of it, that must have been deliberate, perhaps as if he were feeling a bit numb to see London again. The rest of his performance is beautiful. Gruesome, but beautiful.

    Helena Bonham Carter is quite good as well. I would either have cast someone with a scratchier voice for the role, or tried to train her to sing it that way. Her voice was just a bit too pretty for the role of Mrs. Lovett, imo. But maybe that's just me. Her speaking lines were wonderfully delivered, and she had just the right flair, so I can't complain about anything else.

    They did leave out quite a bit that was in the musical. No tooth-pulling contest with Pirelli; no Judge Turpin lashing himself; no chorus; no "resurrection" at the end. The chorus I particularly missed. The melody ran throughout much of the movie, but no one ever sang the lyrics. I thought maybe they'd show up in the credits, at least, but they hadn't by the time Fibonacci and I headed out. As for the other elements that were omitted, I can understand that based on the way the movie ended; those elements would have been distractions. I will say that what happened at the very end of the movie was in the musical, but it was not the very end of the musical. There was a bit more closure on other plot elements.

    At any rate, I would highly highly highly recommend this. Er, fair warning, it is a bit graphic: blood spurting and whatnot. I'm the type of person to note such things and begin wondering how they managed the effect, so it generally doesn't bother me. So perhaps I should amend that, and recommend it to anyone with a grand sense of the macabre. PS: if you liked the song, you'll love the way they did "A Little Priest" in the movie. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

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    The Bacchae

    For philosophy and literature, this week's reading assignment was The Bacchae by Euripedes. It's enormously entertaining, if a bit grotesque in places. In fact, my first impression was that if you took one of the Christian gospels and turned it into a horror story, you'd probably end up with something quite similar to The Bacchae... but the Bacchae dates to 403 BCE. Note: I seem to have Woodruff's translation, which is not available on line. Here is a different translation.

    So what similarities to the gospels... Dionysus is referred to as "son of god", referring, of course, to Zeus. His mother, Semele, caught Zeus's fancy, but Zeus's wife Hera did not approve, and tricked Semele into asking Zeus to appear in his true form. As this was a lightning bolt, this didn't go so well, but their unborn child, Dionysus, was saved.

    So his mother bore him once
    in labor bitter; lightning-struck,
    forced by fire that flared from Zeus,
    consumed, she died, untimely torn,
    in childbed dead by blow of light!
    Of light the son was born!

    The plot of the play is Dionysus's return to his almost-birthplace, Thebes, where he has been ridiculed rather than acknowledged as god.
    No, he desires his honor from all mankind.
    He wants no one excluded from his worship.

    The theme for Dionysus is intoxication, particularly by wine. This image is particularly interesting:
    And when we pour libations
    to the gods, we pour the god of wine himself
    that through his intercession man may win the favor of heaven

    Sound familiar? Sounds rather like the Roman Catholic view of the communal wine, though in that case it becomes only the blood of their god. Something else is required for the flesh. Additionally, Dionysus is described as:
    the prince of the blessed,
    the god of garlands and banquets
    Now we get to the meat of the play, and if you read it through, you'll understand that nastiness of that pun. Dionysus comes to Thebes disguised as one of his own priests, and is imprisoned for attempting to import the Dionysian Mysteries into Thebes. After Pentheus orders his men to chain him, we have this:
    You do not know
    the limits of your strength. You do not know
    what you do. You do not know who you are.

    and after his hands are bound and they are leading him to the stables:
    I go,
    but not to suffer, since that cannot be.
    But Dionysus whom you outrage by your acts,
    who you deny is god, will call you to account.
    When you set chains on my, you manacle the god.

    There's also a theme of the god releasing his people from bondage, via a sacrifice.
    O Dionysus, do you see
    how in shackles we are held
    unbreakably, in the bonds of oppressors?
    Descend from Olympus, lord!
    Come, whirl your wand of gold
    and quell with death this beast of blood
    whose violence abuses man and god

    While in some sense the sacrifice will not be by Dionysus himself, in another, the one sacrificed has become Dionysus before the end. Pentheus goes to spy on the rites of the Bacchae (the followers of Dionysus), who include his mother:
    Uncontrollable, the unbeliever goes,
    in spitting rage, rebellious and amok,
    madly assaulting the mysteries of god,
    profaning the rites of the mother of god

    As Dionysus' own mother died before his birth, this can only refer to Pentheus's mother, and thus Pentheus must thus become the god. This fits, as he is dressed as the god in order to try and spy on the Bacchae.

    And there's an analogue to the splitting of the temple in the gospels, one scene prior to Pentheus's sacrifice: an earthquake collapses Pentheus's palace, cracking the stones apart, and anything left is consumed by the thunderbolt that follows.
    He has brought the high house low!
    He comes, our god, the son of Zeus!

    O greatest light of our holy revels,
    ... Without you, I was lost.

    But let the truth be told: there is no god
    greater than Dionysus
    Those are the parallels. The overall message, though, is quite different. In the end, Dionysus is more destroyer than redeemer. The impression I get is that balance is needed. You cannot stop these mysteries; worse, trying to stop them is both futile and fatal. You also can't ignore them without ignoring the god. What's needed is a compromise. This play does not find one, though if you read the articles I linked to, Greece eventually does work out a balance, by harnessing the power of the mysteries rather than fighting them. This article, linked from Wikipedia, suggests Euripides thought that civilization itself was incompatible with the Dionysian mysteries, but I wouldn't take it that far. It's more that it's incompatible with rigidity.

    If we consider Dionysus as the god of wine (and more generally, of intoxication), this fits. In moderate amounts, alcohol has pleasant, even soothing effects. In large quantities, it can turn people violent, and even make them insane. When banned outright, these effects become the predominant ones. So I see it as a play warning of the dangers of excess, in either direction.

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    Goldenseal: reduced mucus flow but didn't touch the infection
    Garlic: made a valiant effort, but wasn't enough on its own

    Hence, clinic last night and antibiotics now. *grumbles* Nasssty, wicked antibioticses. But if they do the job, great. It's just been going up and down and up and down for the past week. A good day. A less good day. A lousy day. A better day. A good day... etc. I'm rather fed up with the whole thing. And there is one way in which I resemble Terry from Bandits. All he had to do was hear about a symptom to develop it, no matter how bizarre the symptom might be. The doc last night, in his infinite asininity, decided to go through the litany of everything I should be experiencing with a bacterial infection. * mutters *

    Possibly not quite as annoying as this doctor:

    Not related, but I just like this sketch. The candy assortment for people you really don't like. `/^

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