29 July 2008

Dark Knight

First response: WOW!!11!

First off, the plot was beautifully crafted. One of the problems with Batman and Robin was the sheer number of characters vying for screen time, and a big part of that problem was that there was no real connection between most of those characters and their "creation stories". There were close to the same number of semi-major characters in Dark Knight, but all the plotlines connected. It worked. I will say that I preferred Katie Holmes as Rachel, but ya can't have everything.

There is very little chance of me spoiling anything, because to explain any one part of the plot would require explaining two or three others, ad nauseum. It's that interwoven. The music is still brilliant. I read a critic describe it as "black on black" for Batman Begins, and that is largely followed in Dark Knight as well. There was one spot towards the beginning where an unexpected bit of melody distracted me, but otherwise the bits of melody were well-placed.

There is an overall theme for the movie. You could almost subtitle it "Dark Knight vs. White Knight." The idea is that, well, wouldn't it be nice to have a hero for Gotham who (a) shows his face and (b) works within the law? There's an amusing irony in (a), which would only be a spoiler to anyone who isn't familiar with the name "Harvey Dent." Of course, there's a Joker in the deck, too.

It is a pity about Heath Ledger. Seriously. I can't imagine anyone matching his performance as the Joker. A sequel isn't as strongly implied at the end of this one as it was at the end of Batman Begins, but there are certainly hints that one is possible. And, well, very mild spoiler: The Joker is alive at the end of the movie. What they'll do about him for a sequel... *shrugs*

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28 July 2008

Discworld Quiz

Which Discworld Character are you like (with pics)
created with QuizFarm.com
You scored as Lord Havelock Vetinari

You are Lord Vetinari! Supreme ruler of Ankh-Morpork! Cool, calculated, and always in control. You graduated from the assassins guild, but failed a course on stealth and camouflage, because the professor never saw you there (even though you attended every class). You always seem to know what everyone is thinking, and after a conversation with you, people feel that they have just escaped certain death.

Lord Havelock Vetinari


The Librarian


Commander Samuel Vimes


Carrot Ironfounderson








Gytha (Nanny) Ogg


Cohen The Barbarian


Esmerelda (Granny) Weatherwax


I find this result quite amusing, though I'm not sure I agree with it. I suspect Granny Weatherwax is so low because many of the questions were about her physical characteristics rather than her outlook on life.

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John Running, Stories in Stone

I said I'd bought some rock art. Just now I went looking for more info on the artist, John Running. There are several people named "John Running" involved in various kinds of art (or else he is extremely prolific), but adding "stories in stone" to the search produced two very good links. The first describes itself as "frags", presumably meaning "fragments." The next is "Artwork", and clicking on home takes you to the homepage. The piece most similar to the one that I bought is under painted rocks, this one. I don't know if that is the original from which the mold was made or not, but I do know that mine is painted differently:

*sighs* The flash made everything look a bit bluer than it really is, but my hand just wasn't steady enough for the non-flash pictures. The colors are fairly subtle, but beautifully applied. Hmmm... a closer look at the little pamphlet suggests that John Running himself did not do the painting, but that someone named "Magda" painted it, with John Running's permission. This is probably why I could afford it. ^/^

The other design I considered was a cast of this one, but the turtle just didn't speak to me the way the horse did. When I looked at the turtle carving/painting, I saw a turtle. When I look at the horse one, I see "freedom."

*ADDENDUM: I just came across a few of these available on e-bay. An unpainted one has a "buy it now" price that is higher than I paid for a painted one! I'd suggest avoiding these auctions and trying to find a reputable art dealer instead. Seriously, prices in Estes Park are most often higher than elsewhere.

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25 July 2008

Akron: The Lighthouse Inn

... aka "The Crestwood" to every long-time resident of Akron, Colorado. Even if the name-change lasts (as it likely will until the current owners decide to sell it), I would bet solid money that fifty years from now, you'll still hear some people in Akron calling it the Crestwood. Not everyone, but some people. This is the third owner since Grandma moved to Pocatello, and decided that she didn't want to show favoritism by staying at one particular friend's house over another. Ergo, hotel. Also, a wee bit more privacy. Grandma's gone, but we keep coming.

The first owner was an older gentleman with an apparently senile dog who would wander semi-randomly through the parking lot. He knew Grandma from when she lived in Akron, and we were VIPs since we were with her. The next one that I remember was a woman probably slightly younger than my mom. She had the hotel for several years, but under duress. Apparently her no-good brother had promised to help her run it and promptly disappeared once she owned it. Now it seems to be a family running it. The guy at the desk said he was helping his mother-in-law with it. I caught a brief glimpse of a puppy behind the desk, and one young kitty came out to greet us. Very cute and friendly, and also an efficient fly-trap.

The last owner did the best she could, but was pretty much on her own. So far, the new people seem to be doing a bit more upkeep. The doors all have fresh coats of paint; the plumbing works; the linens are all new; and there's a genuine wireless network. Oh, there are even itty-bitty soaps and shampoos in the bathroom ... which I can't use without a full ingredient list, but oh well. The new towels and shower curtain are actually a bit of a let-down. The last owner had clearly found her shower curtains on extreme clearance somewhere, as they were the most boisterous patterns in the gaudiest colors imaginable. Her towels weren't quite as interesting, but even blue stripes were nice after a week in hotel after hotel with white, white, white...

For a small-town hotel with all of maybe 16 rooms (some of which are likely occupied by the owners), it's quite nice. It could do with new mattresses and modern combined heater/AC units. I'm not as particular about mattresses as my mom, and I slept just fine, but just sitting on them, you can tell they've pretty much had it. As for the air-conditioner and heater, they are currently separate, noisy units. I have a sneaking suspicion that they'd save enough in power/gas bills by replacing them to make up the cost in a year or two. Pure speculation on my part, but I can tell you that when I replaced a forty or fifty year old furnace in my house, it cut my heating bill in half. These are likely that old.

Anyway, the latest thunderstorm seems to be breaking over my head, so I should probably log off. At least I'm not out in it this time. ^/^

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24 July 2008

Miracle of Miracles...

Thar be internet access herrre!

But thar not be time to write much.

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23 July 2008

Tumbling Tumbleweeds...

This is likely the last night I'll have internet access for a while. We used to have a back-up for Akron, vis-a-vis a very mediocre dial-up connection, but I cancelled it last year as that was the only time it was getting used. It's been a good trip ... other than the cloudburst as I was trying to climb the stairs to the labelled highest point in the park. I might have kept climbing anyway, except the thunder was getting closer and closer, and it's a wee bit exposed at the top. Also it was hailing. As a result, I got drenched, and wound up buying a dry pair of shorts in Grand Lake, as I had shortsightedly left my clothing bag at the hotel. It is a quite nice pair of shorts, with lots of large pockets.

The primary things I wanted to find this trip were a new coat and some new gloves. Both goals are now fulfilled. At the Nepal-Tibet import store, I found a quite beautiful coat with a wool exterior and cotton lining. The sales clerk informed me that it was a Sherpa coat, and that it was quite warm and good in the wind. The wool is thinner than on the wool coat that I currently have, but the lining may make the difference. My current wool coat is apparently from South America, btw. I had someone in a store ask me where I'd gotten it, as he recognized the design (around Pocatello, that likely means he went on a "mission" to S. Am.). It's the warmest coat I've ever owned. My only complaint is that the buttons have a nasty tendency to come off.

Anyway. Gloves. I lost one of my good gloves this winter. I found a very similar pair at the Twisted Pine. Better yet, it was on sale. See, I can't wear polyester-lined anything. I can't wear Thinsulate. I can't wear any of the fake-fleece, etc., garbage that is easily found and cheap. I can wear leather, and wool, and rabbit. So I got one leather pair lined with rabbit fur and one deerskin pair lined with cashmere. As if to reproach me, there's a rabbit hopping around the parking lot right now... I would love it if there were a natural plant fiber that would (a) keep my hands warm and (b) stand up to hard work (shoveling, for instance). To be honest, the artificial fibers are pretty lousy at (a), though decent at (b), but I can't wear them.

From a few web-searches, I found out that there's a dedicated gluten-free store between Loveland and Estes Park. It's called Granny's Gluten Free Zone. Most of the brands I'd seen before. One that I hadn't is called "Outside the Breadbox" and is apparently based in Colorado Springs. I highly recommend their multigrain crackers. Hmmm... those must be new, as they don't show up on the product page. Anything not frozen is supposed to be available to order, though it looks like the ordering process isn't quite automated. Still, you might be able to find them here, at the company's site. While it's hard to describe them exactly, they remind me a lot of wheat-thins, only with better flavor. *shrugs*

Okay, I think it's time to stop rambling now, and try to figure out where (if?) I want to hike in Rocky Mountain National Park tomorrow.

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21 July 2008

Hotel Reports

Rawlins, Econolodge: Lousy. Wireless internet was not available in rooms. Might have been in the lobby, but I was too tired to check. Bathroom door did not close all the way. Claims of "recent renovation" amount to papering over mediocre decor, and doing it badly (EX: marble threshold in doorway; carpet laid over board in closet; half-inch gap revealing old tile between). Bathtub drained more slowly than the shower put out water, so that I was up to my ankles by the end of the shower. For, say, fifty bucks or less, this would have been tolerable. They were charging much more. Don't bother.

Fort Collins, Quality Inn on Mason: Awesome. Good internet connection. Very clean and new interiors. Spacious. Also a good location. Most hotels here require driving five miles out on Mulberry to get to them, and that gets old very quickly. For very slightly more than we paid for the Rawlins Econolodge, we have a room that's several thousand times better. ADDENDUM: Got to use a luggage cart, as our room was on the second floor and I didn't feel like making enough trips to get Mom's suitcases and the coolers up without mechanical aid. If you take one into a small elevator, do make sure that the wheels that turn are pointed at the door, NOT the static wheels ... or else do not turn it at all once it's in the elevator. Otherwise, getting it out is a major hassle, especially since the elevator gets impatient and starts trying to close the doors.

*I've stayed in Econolodges that I liked; this just wasn't one of them.

Estes Park: Travelodge. Pretty good so far. Slightly smaller than the room in Fort Collins, but everything's clean and works. The wireless network doesn't seem to reach into our room, and also requires a password. The network does work in the lobby, and I did acquire the password ... but I'm actually logged into some random open access network that reaches here. No clue to whom it might belong. This network did (sort of) reach into the hotel room, but wouldn't stay connected. Works just fine in the lobby. Oh, Highland Music now carries Native American flutes! And I now know exactly what my major Christmas present from my mom will be. `/^ Oh, I also found a nice piece of rock art. If I remember, I'll post a picture after I get home. The artist carves a master himself, on a real rock, then makes a mold for mass production. Very very nice.

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20 July 2008


Too busy getting ready to go to Colorado to post much here, but I thought someone besides me might find this helpful. I have a Jeep JXTCR2 travel alarm clock, which I got because it was cheap and had automatic time-setting via radio. Two things that the user has to worry about setting: the time-zone and the time for the alarm. And the controls are the least bloody intuitive things I've ever come across.

So if you, like me, have misplaced the instructions, I just managed to figure both of these out.

Timezone: Hit "mode". Release. Hit "set" and keep hitting it until the correct timezone is marked. Hit "mode" again to get back to the clock-screen.

Alarm: Hit mode. Release. Hold "set" for about 5-10 seconds (too long and nothing happens). When you release the key, the alarm times should start flashing. Hit "adjust" to cycle to the correct hour. Hit "set" again to get to the minutes, then "adjust" to cycle to the correct minute. Hit "mode" to get back to normal functioning.

Anyone who stumbles across this, feel free to post questions in the comments if there's something else you can't figure out. Who knows, maybe it's something else I know how to do on the thing. '/^

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18 July 2008

Choral Festival, Second Night

There were actually three simultaneous events for it last night. Mom and I went to the one at Stephen's performing art center, but there was one on lower campus at Goransen and one at the Blackfoot HS auditorium.

The first group to sing was from China. Very good. I would have liked to hear more, well, China, in the songs they chose. They were all by Chinese composers (this was the first group to provide a program of their songs), but most of the melodies would have fit right in to a European context. But that's a reflection on my expectations rather than on the performance itself.

The next group was from Spain. Very very good. They sang completely a capella, and did it beautifully. Most of their songs seemed to be Spanish folk songs. They wore beautiful, traditional Spanish garb, with the ladies all in long skirts, most with a shawl, some with an apron or apparent-corset instead (apparent because no one could sing in a real corset). The men wore knickers with a white shirt and dark vest, and either a kerchief or a hat.

The last group was a subset of Pocatello's Camerata singers. They have very good voices, and good energy, but I got extremely tired of their consistently religious repertoire. Many of the groups had a religious song or two, but the Cameratas... I can only think of two of their songs that were not religious. They had two spirituals, and normally I like spirituals, but I made the mistake of trying to make sense of the lyrics.

"Ain't Got Time to Die" is just creepy, especially when you remember that spirituals originated with slaves in the south. They ain't got time to die because they're busy "servin' my Jesus", "workin' for the Kingdom", and "servin' my master" on various verses. Now, if it were God/Jesus/etc they were serving, they could continue to serve him/it/them after death, right? So, er, yeah. In the context of slavery, it almost feels like a protest song, with a possible ironic casting of the "masters" as God. And that just creeps me out. But lacking that context, it just seems whiny.

The other spiritual falls into the trap that many in philosophy club accused stoicism of. Apparently in any sort of real world trouble you should shout praises to God. The subtext may be intended to read "and then God will come to your aid," but I got the impression it was more of a last act of desperation. It doesn't have to be. It could be a sort of ironic commentary, but, if so, the irony was lost in the performance. Then again, a lot of Zen and Stoic thought is concerned with accepting things as they are in this moment, and lots of people misinterpret that as fatalism, but it's really not. If you accept things as they are, then you, first off, know how they are, and might even know what you ought to do to improve them, keep them the same, etc. "Know" is entirely the wrong word for zen thought, of course. It's more that you're so in the moment that you act as part of that moment, and your action is exactly what is required. "Surrender to the moment." Praising the moment, on the other hand, requires conscious thought, which means that the moment is already lost. You can't be in the moment if you're thinking about the moment.

Apologies for not analyzing more songs, but most of them were in languages I don't understand. It's possible I would argue just as vociferously with them if I had understood the lyrics. `/^

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16 July 2008

International Choral Festival, 2008

Pocatello seems like an odd place for an international anything, but it also seems an odd place to find one of the country's best acoustical theaters (at Stephen's Performing Art Center). Anyway, I went to the opening event with my mom. A bit too much talking and glad-handing from the sponsors at the beginning, but otherwise I quite liked it. There were four choirs performing.

The Brazilian choir was very good. They attempted to have the audience sing along with the chorus of a Portuguese song. That sort of worked. They had good energy and voices, and a very enthusiastic director.

The Lithuanian choir was awesome. If you only have time to go to one of the events, make it one where they're performing. Awesome voices. Spectacular energy. Their last song was the only one in English, and it was a compilation of Andrew Lloyd Webber bits. I recognized all but the very last bit. Oh, their luggage got lost, so they were performing in Festival T-shirts instead of in their native costumery. As my mom commented when they were done: "With voices like that, they don't need costumes."

The Taiwan children's choir was good, but a bit heavy on the pageantry and gadgets. Some of them had very good voices; some needed a bit of work. It was...cute, but it ran on a bit long.

Last was a choir from New Jersey. Good voices and diction; horrible facial expressions. They also needed a bit more expressiveness in their singing. I'm not sure why they only performed three songs. The other choirs all did maybe four or five. *shrugs*

I'm going to one more of the events tomorrow night. I no longer remember why I picked that night over Friday or Saturday, but I agreed to go to two of them with my mom. I think she's planning to go all four nights, but I know I'd be burned out on choirs if I tried that.

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Someone Needs a Proofreader, Stat

On a hotel-booking site:

Children 17 And Under Are Free In Room With One Paying Adult In Existing Bedding.

Changing "Are Free" to "Stay Free" would help. Not sure what to do about "In Existing Bedding" ...

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15 July 2008

Birthday Stuff

As usual, my dad gave me money, and it was just enough to cover two DVD sets I've had my eye on. Ancient Voices and Lost Civilizations. I haven't officially mentioned it on the blog, but I no longer have cable ... largely because I lost track of the bills at some point and they strangely objected to not being paid. I got home, saw a polite little note on the door informing me that it had been cut off, and mentally said, "Huh."

I suppose some people would have frantically rushed over to the office and begged or bribed them to turn it back on. I just shrugged and decided to see if I really missed it. Answer: not by much. I missed the few channels I actually watched: Discovery, History, HGTV mainly. I didn't miss any of the network programming. So I've just been getting myself a good documentary collection now and again and very much enjoying the complete and utter lack of commercials. Once in a while I do turn on the tv at my mom's house, and sort of recoil in horror from all the commercials, rather like I do when I have to use IE (no adblock). So that's $600 less of a drain on my income every year, with my mom's place as a backup should I desperately desire to imbibe of the boob tube. [Aside: that's a really weird sentence; I think I should go get some sleep.]

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14 July 2008


Okay, I know I'm out of shape. I should be walking everyday, not just the three or four times a week I manage. I was reasonably certain that some of my breathing problems stemmed from being out of shape as well. Only, I made an 8.5 mile hike with 2200 foot elevation gain yesterday, and only the blister on my right heel is sore. My calves are a tiny bit stiff, and my hips twinged once or twice last night, but that's it. So I'm confused. Best guess? The breathing problems have made me feel more out of shape than I actually am. Which is good, I suppose.

The way down seemed shorter to me, as well, but my memories of that may be colored by the time that I got lost and wandered 6-8 miles extra. Then again, I managed to find the "shortcut trail" at the end that bypasses several of the switchbacks. I don't recommend it for going up, but it's useful for getting down. Also, what I've taken to calling the "nightmare pass" (a rather nasty climb to get from the non-motorized side to the motorized side of the trail) didn't seem quite so nightmarish. Unpleasant and tiring, but no where near as bad as I remembered. Again, I suspect my memories are being influenced by the time I had to climb the thing after wandering 6-8 extra miles.

A guide to avoiding that is below the fold.

The Right Way:

The Wrong Way:

The Sign:

The Confusion

Now if the sign were actually upright, it probably wouldn't be an issue. As is, it's a bit difficult to tell if the Gibson Jack arrow is pointing towards the small trail that climbs up or towards the wider, road trail.

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12 July 2008

Birthday Jaunt

For my birthday, I've decided to make the whole trek around Gibson Jack. So far my sole present is a Purple River Beech tree that I picked out and my mom got for me. It will be planted in the front yard so that (eventually) it can shade the house in the morning. Anyway, in lieu of a long, sleep-depriving post, here's a picture of Pouncer that came out rather well:

*UPDATE: I've now given myself blisters in addition to the tree. You'd think my hiking boots would ruddy well be broken in by now. *sighs*

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11 July 2008

Random Triad of Links

Irony: McCain proves that "McCain = Bush" by throwing out a protester with a sign saying "McCain = Bush". Now how's about everyone making their own sign, plus a picture of the arrest, and heading out to each and every McCain rally, hmmm?

Cult? Religion? Fascist Underground? You Decide! Paraphrasing from this comment, "A religion is afraid its apostates will go to hell. A cult is afraid they'll talk."

Finally, an intro to the science behind genetic family analyses, and how we can often trace the exact genetic lineage of an organism. Unfortunately, real genes are more complicated than cards.

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Forbidden Kingdom

I dragged Fibonacci to see Forbidden Kingdom Wednesday. The primary plotline is, well, a standard one. Prophesied hero starts out as a bungling misfit, gets better as the movie goes along, and manages to save the day. So in that sense, there are no surprises. The surprises come in how well done it was. Also, it borrowed a great deal from Chinese myth, and I always find it refreshing to see non-Western sources utilized. Plus, it's the first movie ever to feature both Jackie Chan and Jet Li.

I encountered one person describing Forbidden Kingdom as "The martial arts version of the Wizard of Oz." There's a bit of truth to this, only Dorothy would have needed to rescue the Wizard from the Witch before she could go home. Also, no Toto. It can't be the Wizard of Oz with no Toto. But we do have a boy from our world magically transported to a mythical realm and needing to find his way home. He does wind up with three companions: a drunken scholar warrior, a silent monk, and an orphan bent on revenge.

The premise of the movie is that the Monkey King has been imprisoned by the Jade Warlord and has turned the Celestial Kingdom into a depraved tyranny. The only way to stop his reign of terror is to return the Monkey King's magical staff to him.

The Seeker, prophesied to be the one to return the staff, turns out to be a kung-fu-movie-obsessed teen from our world, who needs to learn real martial arts in a hurry. Though they were brief I was impressed with the training sequences. There was a bit of genuine taiji philosophy thrown in, and used "correctly": i.e. a beginning student would have very little idea what it actually meant. Also, they showed a standing meditation variant, with a much deeper stance than the one I've trained in, plus a bit of iron shirt style training (in this case, attacking bamboo both to strengthen muscle and to learn how to absorb force). Of course, I tend to remember the fabled words of a taiji master. "Yes, very useful ... if you're ever attacked by a stand of bamboo." ^/^

The timespan is difficult to judge, but as the Seeker's hair grows about 3 inches in the course of the movie, presumably the journey took a few months. That's not a completely unreasonable timespan to gain martial proficiency, particularly if that's about all that you do. It took Ben Lo either 1 or 2 years to become Cheng Man Ch'ing's best push-hands student: the one who fended off challenges to Professor Cheng. As far as I know, he was unbeaten. Someone (whose name I should remember) fought Ben Lo to a draw, and then Professor Cheng came out to face the interloper, who was quickly and soundly beaten, and immediately asked to become Professor Cheng's student. Anyway, back to the movie.

Two of the Seeker's companions embody two of the major religions in historical China. The Silent Monk (Jet Li) represents Buddhism. The Drunken Scholar (Jackie Chan) represents Taoism. Both schools emphasize a "middle path," but, by and large, the Buddhist path tends to lean more towards asceticism, and Taoist schools with more Buddhist contact tend to lean more that way as well. So we see a rather dour Silent Monk, and a very relaxed Drunken Scholar. Naturally when they first meet, there's a bit of a conflict, and there's a very nicely choreographed fight scene. They're pretty much evenly matched, and that fits the balance between the two schools that has developed in China over the centuries. There are some very famous, and very bloody, conflicts between the two sects, especially when Buddhism was first introduced to China.

Then there's the Jade Warlord. He supposedly rules under the Mandate of Heaven, but, by becoming a despot, he should have lost that mandate. That quibble aside, he represents the worst despots in Chinese history. A lot of Chinese thought was born in the Warring States Period. Despotic warlords were the norm. Life for ordinary people was chaotic, bloody and short. The Monkey King stands for someone who will stand up to the despots, and make them look like fools in the process.

The last of the major characters is Sparrow. The Jade Warlord murdered her parents when she was a baby, and her only goal is revenge. Revenge seems to define her entire existence; there's no room for anything else. That's not a healthy way to live in any philosophical system, so it's pretty clear that this will end badly from the start. I think Sparrow represents the bitterness and anger that can develop under a tyrant, as well as the self-destructiveness that they can bring.

In essence, then, Forbidden Kingdom can be seen as a microcosm of Chinese history. It can also be seen as just another quest movie, and most Americans will probably do just that. Either way, I thought it was a lot of fun. In particular, I liked that the prophesied Seeker would have been helpless without guidance from his native companions. There are certainly some corny bits, but, eh, no movie's perfect.

Oh, as far as I know, this tale is not one of the traditional Monkey stories, but it fits right in with the ones I have heard of. Just a few links for more information:
Illustrated Monkey Tales
Analysis of Journey to the West (often called simply "Monkey" in the west)
Just a touch of geography.

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10 July 2008

Acid Update

Since starting on the acid-refluc-reduction regimen, my breathing has improved. It's not back to "normal" yet, but compared to needing 2 or 3 full doses of my inhaler each day, it's pretty close. Amusing but welcome side effect: I think I'm losing some fat as well. I've followed the recommendations here for the most part, as they're based on a fairly recent study.

So I've got the head of my bed elevated and I've been taking naps in the recliner instead of on the couch. I've switched my major meal to noon and made sure to get my smaller dinner eaten by 7:00 pm (preferably by 6:30 pm), with no food between then and bedtime. I'm pretty sure I've decreased the total amount I've been eating as a result. My evening meal is roughly half the size that it was, while my noon meal isn't a whole lot bigger than it was. I'm not really doing the "frequent small meals" thing, mainly because my hunger cycles don't work that way.

Oh, I've also started adding more yoga and qigong to my daily practice sessions. So it's the ol' "decrease calories, increase activity" "miracle cure." ^/^ Now the only question is whether I can maintain some semblance of this schedule once school starts again and I'm teaching evening classes. That's what got my meal schedule out of whack in the first place. *sighs*

Random sidetrack: You'll find lots and lots of "foods to avoid" for acid reflux, but the recent study found no consistent correlation between any of those foods and acid reflux symptoms. So any triggers are particular to the individual, not ones that you can really find on a list. I have determined that ice cream does not agree with my body. My mind is fond of it. My mouth rather likes the taste. My body ... gets sluggish, and wants more food after consuming anything with ice cream in it. So that one's a no-go for me. Amusingly, it's one that's on most of the AR lists, and also something that Deng Ming Dao recommends avoiding as part of a healthy, "Taoist" diet.

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09 July 2008

A Starling

Shortly after I took the kitties out this morning, Dovienya sauntered into the yard with a bird in her mouth. I didn't think much of it until she let it go and it was still moving. I sort of assumed it would be wounded, and watched as the cats crowded in for a look. After a few minutes, it became clear that it was not wounded, so I gathered the cats back into the house and gently caught the little bird between my hands. It became very clear that its wings were functioning, but that it hadn't quite worked out flying yet. So probably a recent attempted fledge. I caught it again, hands cupped lightly around the wings this time, and set it in a grassy, shady spot, since I didn't really know what else to do for it.

It seems to be gone now. Whether something else caught it, or it finally figured out the whole flight thing, I'm not sure. But I suspect that it did figure out how to fly, and that it was the starling that lit on a line just above my chair when I went out this evening. It very nearly cackled at me and the cats. If my life were a cartoon, that would be the same bird. I could swear that it came back just to say "Nyah, nyah, na-nyah-nah." Yes, I'm probably projecting. But I'd like to think that the not-quite-fledgling made it.

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08 July 2008

GF Tips: Pizza

If you want it quick and easy, you can use ricecakes as a "crust". If you're in the right part of the country, both Pier 49 and Beau-Jo's offer a gluten free crust. (Pier 49 has the better crust, while Beau-Jo's does a much better job with toppings, imo).

However, if you want a really good crust where you have complete control, you're going to want to learn to make a rising-yeast pizza crust. There are "quick crusts" that don't use yeast, and are easier, but they will not taste like "real" pizza crust. In The Gluten-Free-Gourmet Bakes Bread, there is a yeast recipe specifically for pizza crust that is decent. Not great, but decent. I find I get a much better crust by using one of the regular bread recipes and just spreading it out for a pizza crust. In fact, I did this for our Fourth of July family meal, and my dad actually complimented me on the crust. He even ate most of the outer crust, which he rarely does with regular pizza.

Use any bread recipe you like, but probably a mild-flavored bread would be best (unless you're into hearty-flavored pizza crust). I tend to use the Featherlight Rice Bread recipe from GFG Bakes Bread, but use any that you've gotten to turn out as decent bread and you should be fine. Do make sure to use the water-temperature on the yest package and NOT the temperature in the recipe.

The challenge with gluten-free bread dough is that it is runny, and so we can't just roll it out into the shape we need. I generally slather some dough onto the pizza plate, put some olive oil on my hands (usually by dipping into a shallow bowl of it), and gently pat the dough out until it fills the pan. Very, very messy, but I've never had much luck using spatulas to do the job. However you shape it, try to make sure that the outer edge is at least slightly thicker than the middle parts. It will hold the toppings better that way. Then let rise until it's roughly doubled in height, pre-bake for 15-20 minutes at the temperature indicated in the bread-recipe you're using, put toppings on, and bake again for 20-30 minutes (mainly depending on how thick your toppings are).

Almost forgot. If you're making it just for you and don't want tons and tons of leftovers, a pie-plate makes a good 1-2 serving pizza. I tend to make lots of extra pizza dough when I do make pizza, and make a bunch of pie-plate-size crusts to freeze. On the Fourth, I used the largest recipe for Featherlight Rice Bread (using 4 cups of flower) and got one 12" crust for my family and 5 pie-plate size ones for me. Just spread them in a greased and floured pie-plate, let rise, and bake for 10-15 minutes.

Some generic tips regarding any yeast bread:
-Water Temperature Matters. Always read the yeast container to see what temperature is recommended. Since we generally add a bunch of room temperature liquid, you may need to increase it further.
-Fluffy eggs make better bread. I usually start by putting the (room temperature) eggs into my stand mixer, putting it on high, and letting it go for a good ten minutes or more, until the eggs turn into a rather nice foam.
-Gluten-free dough does not need to rise twice. The second-rising for wheat breads is to activate the gluten appropriately, thus is unnecessary if there is no gluten.
-Oil works just as well as butter or margarine, and for pizza crusts I definitely recommend olive oil. Products made with margarine will probably have a longer "shelf life," but it's difficult to find margarine made without mono and di-glycerides (or without soybean oil, which makes me ill).
-Bette Hagman recommends vinegar as a dough enhancer, but I tend to use lemon juice, and increase the amount. Same acidity, and the vitamin C acts as a natural preservative.
-If you've got an ingredient that's not at room temperature and you're in a hurry, put it in a water proof bag (say a ziplock), partially fill a measuring cup with hot tap water, and clip the bag to the sides of the measuring cup. I don't know how well this would work with eggs, but with any "powdery" ingredient, it works just fine. In ten minutes or less, the ingredient should be up to room temperature or better.

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Swing and a Miss

On the fourth of July, I helped my mom put a porch-swing together. Okay, it would be more accurate to say that I put it together and she occasionally ran to grab me tools. The directions were poorly written, but I got most of it figured out due to good packaging and decent labelling of the parts ... with one exception. I got the arms of the swing on the wrong sides. There were, in fact, labels on them: "left" and "right" respectively, but they were on what would be the top of the arm, and I was attaching them up-side down and hence did not see them. A few things were going together oddly, but the reason didn't become apparent to me until we got the bench up-right and suspended from the frame. Then I saw the labels, and the odd angles things had connected at suddenly made sense.

So on Sunday I had to take the bench apart again. Because of the mistake, two of the bolts had bent, and even if I could have gotten them back through the holes (getting them out was difficult enough), it didn't seem wise to rely on bent screws to support the swing's weight. So we went to Lowe's to find a replacement. Naturally, the size we needed was not in their inventory (2.75" long, 1/4" bore). There was a three-inch set of two nuts and bolts with the correct bore, so we got those.

This afternoon, I went over and re-attached the support arms, using the two non-bent original screws and the two replacements. It seems to work just fine, and the arms are not going out at funny angles this time. So if anyone else happens to be putting such a swing together and sees bizarre angles, STOP and make sure that you've got things on the correct side(s). Oh, a ratchet is a good tool to have around for it, too. The set came with itty-bitty wrenches that fit the bolts, but it's much faster to get them most of the way with the ratchet.

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05 July 2008

Valvehouse Trail[sic]

This "trail" still looks mostly like a road, and there's a gate that could be unlocked to allow vehicles through, so I suspect it may still get some use as a road. Once again, I wound up where the cattle had been let loose to graze, but unlike the last stop, the hills around this "trail" didn't look overgrazed. I didn't make it all the way up the trail because it looked like the entire herd was up just past where I turned around, and I wasn't in the mood for working through them. The thing with large herbivores is that, roughly, 99.9%* of the time, they'll leave you alone if you leave them alone. It's that 0.1% of the time when you accidentally annoy them, or something already has them spooked, etc., that is problematic. Two cows had already startled me earlier on the trail. I heard a sort of snort and almost growl come from the bush and slowly backed off...only to realize that it was just a cow passing through.

Still, the hike was well worth it for one single plant that I got to see in bloom. Pink prickly pear! It may be Mojave cactus, as that's the only identified prickly pear I found with pink blossoms. Pretty whether that's what it is or not.

There were bunches of these blooming. Gorgeous little plants. I first saw them on a rather nasty, rocky slope, and dutifully scrambled up it to get some pics. Then I had to get down. The taiji walk came in handy for this, as the rocks were not particularly stable. Naturally, I later saw some that were much more accessible, so the scramble was completely unnecessary. ^/^

*[AM ADDENDUM] Completely made-up percentages. Not for use in calculating.

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04 July 2008

Hurroo, Hurroo

This is what war is. Glory, victory, honor... all are incidental to the fundamental, inescapable horror and destruction it brings.

Here is some info on the song. There's debate about whether this or the seemingly more upbeat When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again came first. Johnny Comes Marching Home has always sounded to me as if it were intended to be heard ironically. I hear the music and I don't see a triumphant march back home; I see a funeral march. Maybe that's just me, though.

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The Day Sanctioned for Blowing Things Up

What? Oh, you mean the lack of pirate flags? Or Pirate ditties? Or sarcastic commentary about the current administration? I might have done something like that, but I rather like the sound of "Patriotic Explosion Day", so I'm sticking with it. (Last four links found via Exploring Our Matrix, and links from links therefrom)

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03 July 2008

Unsophisticated Untheology

There's a good post over at Greta Christina's, discussing a certain kind of hypocrisy. In one sense, she's dead on. It is hypocritical to demand that the "sophisticated theology" of one's own religion be examined before rejecting it, while rejecting plenty of other religions without knowing even their basic premise, let alone their theology. I agree with her completely on this. It's very close to the "Outsider Test" promoted at Debunking Christianity.

My problem is that this does not address any sort of universalist claim. So let me lay out my very unsophisticated untheology.

1. Something exists worthy of being described as Divine.
2. Different cultures have perceived and interpreted this Something differently.
3. This Something can still be experienced today (the classic "spiritual/mystic" experiences)

That's it. That is the extent of my untheology. Anything else I say is pure speculation about the nature of the Something. In this view, all the so-called holy books were attempts by humans to try and codify this Something, and perhaps even bend it to the human will. To my way of thinking, trying to capture the Something in words is rather like trying to catch the ocean in a teacup. "Those who know, don't speak. Those who speak, don't know."

And Those Who Haven't Learned Better Yet, try to explain anyway. Only... there's no point. It's like trying to explain how to breathe. So I'll just mangle a quote (I don't remember who said the original): "A single earthly thing, fully experienced once, is enough for a lifetime."

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02 July 2008

Red Rice "Salad"

A quick generic tip to the gluten-challenged: look for cookbooks that utilize alternative grains. The cookbook that this recipe came from is not strictly gluten-free, but it does contain recipes for some of the gluten free grains, and it's often helpful to see ways to use grains that most people have never heard of before going gluten-free.

I found this recipe in Yoga Journal, modified to be vegan, and just discovered the original. The only change YJ made was to take out the hard-boiled eggs. I'll reproduce the recipe below the fold (minus the eggs) and note any changes I made (note to the gluten intolerant, soy sauce contains wheat but fish sauce does not):

1 3/4 cups to 2 cups water
1 cup red rice
2 tablespoons canola olive oil
4 large shallots, chopped
I wasn't quite sure how to interpret this, but wound up interpreting it more like "4 large shallot cloves", as shallots seem to be onions that grow in cloves like garlic
31 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large red chile, seeded and chopped
All I could find were small red chile peppers, so I used 3
1-inch piece ginger root, chopped
With some trepidation I did use the ginger. So far no ill effects.
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 large carrot, thinly sliced
8 ounces green beans, trimmed and chopped
I found a six ounce package of green beans that were in much better shape than the a la carte ones, so I decreased these a bit
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup soy sauce1 T Fish Sauce
1/2 teaspoon molasses honey
1 large lime, quartered
Forgot about this, so the lime is still sitting in the kitchen. Maybe I can make lime-ade with it?
1/2 cup julienned fresh basil
1/4 cup macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped


In a 1-quart saucepan with a tight-fitting lid, bring the water to a boil. Rinse the rice and drain in a fine-mesh strainer. Add the drained rice to the boiling water and keep the heat high until it returns to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 45 minutes, or until the water is absorbed. Let the pot stand, covered, for at least 10 minutes, and then let cool to room temperature.

In a wok or large sauté pan, heat the oil over high heat. Add the shallots, garlic, chile, ginger, coriander, stir fry until the shallots are almost transparent, then add the carrot, and green beans. Stir-fry until the vegetables are crisp-tender.

Add the coconut milk, soy sauce, and molasses fish sauce and honey to the wok, and bring to a boil. In a large bowl, mix the contents of the pan with the rice. Add the basil and macadamias, then toss and serve.

I had this for lunch, with some baked fish, and it was quite tasty. If I make it again, I'll probably use more carrot and less green bean, but that's just my preference. Red rice tends to be just a bit dry, and adding the vegetables in coconut milk made up for that.

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01 July 2008

May/June Searchlight

Two months together, as I just didn't feel like it at the beginning of June.

stealing poems and poems about stealing and poems on stealing: You might have better luck with "heist", as it seems more poetic than "stealing."
aluminum sparks: Most metals spark under the right (or wrong) conditions.
dandelion digger: AKA a dandelion propagator, unless they're newborns with very small roots that the digger can actually get to. If they're big ol' grandaddy dandelions, you're wasting your time.
idaho, rattlesnake, blog: You were probably disappointed. I've only ever seen one rattlesnake in the wild. On the list of things not to do to children: make them so scared of rattlesnakes that they extend the fear to all snakes and simply freeze up in the presence of any snake (one of my mom's grandmas did that to her).
impassable river: Depends largely on what you've got with you.

"atheist spirituality" and "problem of evil": Generally atheists don't have a problem with accounting for evil in their world view.
"black female howler" monkeys and mango: You weren't expecting to find a black female cat named Howler, were you? (formerly named Howler, now called Jilly)
"i think i'm going mad": Join the club. The water's fine, but the cherries on the wallpaper are going bad.
"i hate mowing the lawn": Join the club. Try converting most of the lawn to something else. I'm slowly working on that. I don't plan to eliminate it entirely, but I'd be happy with a much smaller patch.
bad things that affect health: Er, just about anything can be bad in the wrong quantity... `/^
gluten-free theology: Tons of gluten-free stuff, but unless you're Catholic, afaik, all theology is gluten-free. Idiot Catholic authorities don't consider a gluten-free wafer to be a "true" eucharist. Right, so poisoning the flock every week is okay, huh?
ken cohen taiji fraud: Not having seen his form, I'm not qualified to comment. Based on the one book of his I've read and the video my teacher has of him practicing the five animal frolics, I very much doubt he's a fraud.
recreation of the magic bullet shot: You're probably looking for a show the Discovery Channel made a few years back, so try their site instead.
song ohhhh oh oh ohhhhh: Uh, there are probably thousands of songs with those, er, lyrics.
tao "queen headboard": Best guess, you were looking for one with Taoist symbols on it. I've never seen one like that.
thomas ashley farrand's healing mantras blogspot: If he's got a blog, you can probably find it here. That's his official site, as far as I know.
xkcd nihilist existentialist: LOL. I would guess that the author of xkcd has about as much use for labels as I do.
zyrtec wears off before 24 hours: I find that it gives odd hiccups every so often, then comes back online. Usually they're minor for me. Doesn't mean they are for everyone.

Those were the more interesting newish ones.

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