31 August 2008

If you Like Philsophy Textbooks ... Gettin' Caught in the Rain

Amazingly, the rhythm on that scans. Anyhow, my Theory of Knowledge text got left outside for a while on a little side table. Given the past month or so, this was perfectly safe. Unfortunately, I forgot about it when it did start to rain this afternoon. It was not completely drenched, but it was rather bedraggled. On the plus side (sort of), I've had to deal with this sort of thing before. Usually I find the book after it's had a chance to dry out. I'm hoping that since I found this one while it was still damp, it will straighten better.

Technique: (skip this step if it's a book with staples or metallic decoration) Put in the microwave for a bit. Pull out. Put the damaged book on top of a solid book that is larger than it is. Stack a whole bunch of heavy books on top; the heavier the better. I'll check it tomorrow and see if it needs to be "nuked" again. (Why in the name of Colonel Potter's toenails is putting something in a microwave, which excites water molecules and has nothing whatsoever to do with fusion or fission, called "nuking"? Someone please explain this to me.)

Random items, potentially of interest:

I replaced a light fixture yesterday. Most of the light fixtures in the house were plain ol' 2-light boxes with glass covers, which would be fine, except they all seemed to have the same short: One bulb invariably burns out much, much sooner than it should. I've replaced all but one of them now (the last one requires either a longer ladder than I own or for me to climb into the attic; I'm not thrilled about either option). I lucked into a halogen light fixture on clearance for nine bucks at Lowe's for this one. It's got three aim-able lights on it. I haven't decided how well I like it yet, but so long as the bulbs last, it's preferable to its predecessor.

We had a fuller house than usual at taiji yesterday. Melissa's back in town, and Travis has decided to join us...which means we pick him up, since he can't drive (insurance vs. money issues). He's actually only a few blocks from me. But it's good to have a fresh face in there, especially one who's a bit rusty. Don keeps insisting that Melissa and I have very good forms, but I'm sure we'll pick up on stuff we've missed or forgotten as he walks Travis through things.

I finally have tomatoes attempting to turn red. My plants, both this year and last, just wanted to produce more and more vines, and leave the fruit green for a very long time. I looked this up. Apparently it means I put too much fertilizer on the garden. This is a bit puzzling as I have never put any fertilizer on the garden. So I guess my soil is "too good" for tomato plants. According to my dad, if I keep growing corn, it will get worse and require some sort of supplementation. Perhaps the tomatoes will produce more tomato and less vine then.

Lastly, I've taken to walking to campus on MWF mornings. I drive for my evening stuff, but it's actually easier and saves time to walk in the morning. How does it save time, when it takes 35 minutes to walk and maybe 10 to drive? Because I don't have to leave in time to get a decent parking space, nor leave myself extra time in case there isn't one. Instead of leaving by about 7:10 am, I can leave any time before 8:20 am to get to Chinese (which I'm loving, btw). I generally don't get any more done in my office when I get there at parking-time, so that time has been mostly wasted. Now it's spent in a pleasant physical activity.

So I suppose I'll stop rambling now, as I've lost the thread of my own thought process. For anyone not paying attention, the title really only applies to the two paragraphs above the fold.

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27 August 2008

Platonic Issues

Today's discussion clarified a few things for me, though it also gave me a headache. We read an excerpt from The Meno. It's supposed to show that learning must be "remembering" things we already know. To understand this requires knowing a critical assumption made by Plato. Without that assumption, it just looks like a string of leading questions that mean nothing of the kind.

The critical assumption is that one cannot recognize a perfect form from an imperfect one. So the discussion is about an abstract, perfect square, but the visual aid is an imperfect diagram scratched into the sand. Since one cannot possibly abstract to a perfect square from such an imperfect aid, it must be that the imperfect square prompts one to remember the ideal form of a perfect square. Thus all learning is really remembering things forgotten from the world of forms.

Another example (and I can't remember right now if it was in the excerpt from the Phaedo or from the Republic) is of perfect equality. That we never actually observe two things that are perfectly equal or identical, so the notion must have been there already, waiting to be remembered. But it wouldn't take a whole lot to stumble onto that one. I mean, take two things that are almost alike (say off of an assembly line), note the minor differences and think, "Huh. Except for those, these things are alike." It's not too hard a step from there to think that if the minor differences are removed, they would be exactly alike.

But there's a much simpler idea: a thing is identical with itself. Also, think reflections. Especially if someone can't tell that there's a reflective surface and sees something with its reflection, he's going to think that he's seeing two identical things. Of course, Plato has issues with reflections as well... *sighs*

*stops rambling*

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25 August 2008

Back to Classes

ISU's fall semester started today. I've taught two classes, and been to both of the ones I'm taking. Chinese is going to be fun. I like the teacher's style, and the general atmosphere. I've found one bit of pronunciation that's going to give me fits (and we haven't even gotten to tones yet). 'z' in the pinyin (peen-een) transliteration of Mandarin Chinese is pronounced "dz". 'c' is pronounced 'ts' (a very quick, sharp sound: like the end of 'cats'). However, as I've taken German, I can pretty much guarantee that I will try to pronounce 'z' as 'ts', which is what it is in German.

Theory of Knowledge (aka Epistemology) will be interesting. It's supposed to be Dr. Wahl's specialty. There are some things about his lecturing style that bug me, but it sounds like it's due to become a discussion course once we have things to discuss, so that should be better. The text we're using starts with classical sources. I've skimmed through most of the Plato excerpts. One thing puzzles me. Well, one thing in particular. Plato insists that, for instance, a flower is beautiful to the extent that it reflects (or maybe contains) 'Beauty': an external 'form' that is the source of all beauty. So why is 'knowledge' not treated the same way? Why isn't there some abstract 'form' of 'Knowledge' and people only have knowledge to the degree that they reflect this form? I should admit that I haven't read a lot of Plato, so perhaps there are places where this is dealt with, but at the moment it seems inconsistent to me that he tries to define knowledge while he merely points at 'Beauty'.

I should also point out that the whole 'ideal form' bit makes little sense to me, and has less appeal. Particularly in the case of 'Beauty.' If you talk to most people who drive across Wyoming, they'll tell you how awful it is. How boring and dry and...and so on. I, on the other hand, think it's absolutely beautiful. Stunning, sometimes. I love the topography, and the colors, and the way the wind has shaped the rocks. They say "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder." That doesn't leave much room for a universal, unchanging, eternal 'ideal form' of 'Beauty'.

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23 August 2008


At the moment, I'm the only one coming to Saturday taiji practice. Largely because of this, I think, Don's agreed to teach me the taiji saber form. It's not a Cheng Man-Ch'ing form, but it's interesting. It's also weird that some of the moves feel like I'm remembering them from somewhere else... I have no idea if that actually means anything, but I'd like to think it means I was, say, a samurai or some such in a former life. The katana isn't quite the same as the saber (some pictures and links here), but they're both curved and single-edges, so I'm sure there's at least some overlap in usage.

The house is too quiet. Jacques was(?) the most vocal of all the cats. Best case scenario, someone took him in. It's unlikely that happened the night he went missing, though. It would have been between 10 pm and 4 am. So that entails the assumption that he got himself lost, then got taken in. We checked at the pound yesterday. No luck. When I was driving around through the nearby alleys and streets, I saw a yard with a cat trap, so I started to hope that he'd just gotten himself trapped and impounded.

The thing that I notice is that I'm still functioning. I wasn't really after Grandma died. It was something like automatic pilot at that point. Things needed to be done, and they got done, and I have little memory of how.

I just keep expecting to come home, and find him in the garden or on the porch... *sighs*

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22 August 2008


Item 1: I hate meetings where everything that we really need to know is already written down...and we spend two hours going over it anyway.

Item 2: Apparently the Virginia Tech incident has resulted in some odd policy changes regarding doors. All rooms must easily unlock from the inside. So the doors must not only open from the inside, they must unlock. Which seems okay...except that the one on the Math 108 center cannot now be closed and stay locked. If you close it, it unlocks. Thankfully, the other door does not have this unsecurity device on it, as it's a keypad lock. Supposedly the entire physical science building will be getting these unsecurity devices at some point. Hopefully they figure out how to make the things stay locked when necessary by then. Random thought: such doors may violate insurance policies on computer labs...

Item 3: Jacques is missing. He wanted to play Wednesday night, so I went to bed. He never came and meowed at the window to be let in. I haven't seen him since. I have no idea what happened to him. I've driven up and down all the streets around here, checked at the pound and left a picture and phone number. There's not a whole hell of a lot else I can do (except get him microchipped if he ever makes it back, along with all of his sibs and mom). *tries not to punch a hole in the desk*

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19 August 2008

Bugs at Bruneau

I found myself wondering if I would have seen as many bugs up there if there hadn't been a lake at the bottom of the dune. Certainly, there wouldn't have been dragonflies. Either way, they made for some nice pictures:

That plant looks for all the world like a spindly juniper, except I don't think that there are any junipers with pink flowers. Also, I didn't get a rash when I brushed against some that were a bit close around part of the trail at the lake. So... I'll call it a juniper-like-shrub-with-pink-flowers. Rather Quirmish name, innit.

Beautiful dragonfly. Most of the ones up there were huge black ones, maybe with white markings.

I nearly walked right into this guy's web. It was near the lake, built between two tall stems of grass. I didn't see the web until after I was nearly nose to nose with the spider. From behind, he actually looked a lot like the spiderman logo. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the camera to focus on him from that angle.

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17 August 2008

Bruneau Dunes

On Thursday, my mom had an Excel workshop in Twin Falls. I tagged along, because that got me most of the way to Bruneau Dunes State Park, and I've been wanting to go there ever since I heard of it. It's about another hour and a half from Twin to the park. Overall impression: HOT. Admittedly, I was there at the worst possible time of day (10:00 am to 2:00 pm). If I go there again, I think I'll plan on going down in the evening, camping overnight, and then going up the dunes the following morning. Still, it was enjoyable to play on a giant sand dune. This has to be my favorite picture:

Explanation and more pics below the fold.

Those are the impressions left in the sand from my hat. It fell off when I stopped to rest on my way up the dune. ^/^

It's that way! This was when I finally cleared all the shrubs and things around the lake below the dune and could see the main path up to the top. It doesn't look that bad, does it? Probably wouldn't be at, say, 7:00 am.

Here is the view from just below the top. It took me roughly an hour from the previous picture to get to this one. Walking/climbing in that thick sand is rather interesting. It's a lot like walking in deep snow. I already knew that the trick for going down was to act like I was walking down a staircase and dig in my heels at roughly a ninety degree angle. That works beautifully in sand. For walking up, I tried the inverse of that: digging in the toes at a ninety degree angle as if going up a staircase. That does work if you get your toes dug in far enough. Unlike going downhill, gravity doesn't help you out. It's an exhausting way to walk, particularly in full sun.

And here's the view down the other side of the dune. Some interesting features that I might have been interested in exploring...had going down there not necessitated climbing back up.

I fell in love with these little grass-sand-circles. It looks like, when the wind blows, the grass tips contact the sand and make arcs as they go back and forth. There were lots of these where there was grass growing in the sand. Absolutely beautiful. Random fact: the sand where there were plants growing tended to be more solid, harder to dig my feet into, than sand elsewhere. I don't know if that's because there was more water in it, or more of a certain type of sand/soil, or what.

Those are my footsteps coming down the side of the dune, criss-crossed by another set of prints that look hoofed to me. Deer, maybe.

And here we have something that reminds me of crop circles. Clearly aliens have been using these dunes as a landing strip and the government is covering it up. Or, more likely, something about the wind flow and the shape of the dune and landscape results in oddly flowing air currents... `/^

EDIT: For more on treating sand as snow, and the presence of aliens and flamingos, click here. (Lots more pictures!)

RE-EDIT: Another good gallery here.

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15 August 2008

A Blessing

I found this as a card at the Paper Store in Estes Park. After I saw it, I'd hoped to find it as a magnet (also the source for the image), but they only had the card. I love the sentiment expressed in the blessing, and that it works for anyone, regardless of their particular religious leanings (or lack thereof). The magnet's slightly pricey, but if it's as large as the card (5 inches by 5 inches), that's not a huge surprise.

I bought the card while I was there, and put it up on a magnet board anyway. ^/^

EDIT: Erm, that link is for a journal with the blessing pic on the cover, not for a magnet. Which also explains the expense. I didn't read carefully enough. Here it is as a magnet. Smaller, but about the same price I paid for the card.

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Marlene Winell

I'm resisting the temptation to just steal this post. Much of it I could have written myself, though I likely would have been less eloquent. Also, I would not call myself an atheist or a theist, either one. I object to that language as much as I object to traditional language and descriptions of the divine. It's one of those useless "there are two kinds of people" gambits, a false dilemma. Anyway, I resisted the urge to steal the whole post, and just took this one part (with attribution):

There is no religious description of “god” that matches the grandeur of the universe as it is – elusive, ever-changing, impossibly mind-boggling. And this includes us. We are part of the fabric; there is no separation. If this is believing in god, then by all means, a hundred times YES! But I’m still not drawn to the language.

~Marlene Winell

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CrackerGate - Finale?

I haven't posted on this before now, but I thought that since at least part of the original issue has now been resolved, this would be a good time. Over at Greg Laden's blog you can read a summary of the decision.

If you have no idea what CrackerGate is, well, you must be a bit blog-isolated. Short version: Through a strange series of circumstances, Cook wound up leaving a Catholic service with a consecrated wafer. He was charged with disrupting the service and a few other things (more detail at the link) and threatened with expulsion from his university. Then PZ weighed in and, well, the loonier side of Catholicism surfaced, complete with death threats. If you want a good discussion of PZ's actions, try Thoughts in a Haystack. I mostly agree with Pieret's position.

As for Cook, he's been cleared of most of the charges. There's still some stuff to be decided, but it seems that what really happened was that two church watchdogs overreacted to a perceived attempt to leave with the wafer, scared the hell out of him, and then he really did leave with it. Catholic hysteria ensued, with charges being brought by someone not even in attendance at the service. More details here (same as first two links).

From the comments at Thoughts in a Haystack:

I held out hope to the end that PZ would come up with some clever way to "abuse" the host(s) without actual harm and then return them to some church or to the moron-in-chief, establishing, if not necessarily his moral superiority, at least his greater maturity.

This, I think, is the most entertaining idea I've seen. Seriously. If PZ's goal was to show up the irrationality of the Catholics, that would have been beautiful. Instead, he descended to their level, aiming for the much easier goal of enraging them. Oh, they would have been enraged either way, but PZ's point would have been crystal clear.

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11 August 2008


Via John's comment on the post below, I started thinking about the "Why are we here?" question for a bit. This was, roughly, my mental process:

Why am I here? : Er, where else would I be? This is where I am.

But what is the purpose of my being here? : Purpose? You mean like a function, like a mop or a broom or something?

No, no... What's the purpose of LIFE? : It's life, so you live it. What more do you need?

But surely it all must mean something!: Ummm... It just is... why does it have to mean anything? Seriously. What is the meaning of a coffee table? Sure, it was made for a specific purpose, but is that its meaning? Does it have a meaning? Sure it does. *sets a vase of flowers on the coffee table* There, see?

What does that have to do with anything?!?? : Tables are for setting things on. Life is for living. The only trick is to pay attention. Otherwise, you're not really living.

But why? What's the point? : Weren't you paying attention?

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10 August 2008


I've started reading a book discussing probability theory: Chances Are: Adventures in Probability, by Kaplan and Kaplan. So far I'm enjoying it. It's intended as a lay introduction to probability, but I'd say the minimum pre-req thusfar is Math 108. That's not what inspired me to post.

Since they're discussing statistics, they bring up the question of testability, and what is a scientific question vs. a non-scientific question. Their example of a non-scientific question is, "Why is an apple sweet?" Er, sorry, but WHAT?!??!. I'm going to generously assume that they have no background whatsoever in biology or anything remotely related. In fact, that is a scientific question, and one to which I can think of several correct answer, depending on exactly what you mean.

If you mean, "What is it in the apple that makes it taste sweet?", then the answer is "sugars." If you're going a bit deeper and wonder what makes these things called sugars taste sweet, it gets more complicated, but the evolutionary answer is, roughly: "Sugar contains nutrients useful to mammals, thus it is advantageous for its taste to appeal to us. We describe this appeal as 'sweet'". Maybe you mean, "Why should an apple contain things that taste sweet to us?" Answer(1): We've bred and cross-bred apples over the years to give them an appealing taste. Answer(2): Having a taste that appeals to animals helps the apple's seeds propagate.

I think that, maybe, what the authors really mean is that "Why is an apple sweet?" is not a question that we can answer with numbers, and since numbers are the focus of the book, the question is not of interest to them. But to proclaim it's not scientific is pure nonsense. I'm trying to think of a non-scientific question that is not, well, just silly. Pretty much, as soon as you make a generic claim across any sort of class, you've made a scientific question. An exception might be: "Do all apple trees like the color blue?" or something equally bizarre. Even then, I can think of ways of testing it, and so that's still a scientific question, even if it's a strange one. So... "Are all apple trees in contact with an invisible dimension that we cannot detect in any way, shape or form?" Okay, that one's completely untestable by nature and hence unscientific.

Another way of creating a non-scientific question is to put it in terms of a particular circumstance or individual, particularly concerning something that happened in the past for which inadequate records exist. For example, I've hated boiled egg yolks for as long as I can remember. I love the whites, but I cannot stand the yolks. Why? I have no idea. I can tell you what I hate: the texture. I've tried getting over it, as it seems wasteful to throw away half the egg*, but as soon as I get more than a tiny amount of boiled yolk in my mouth, I want to throw up. Asking "Why does Qalmlea hate the texture of boiled egg yolks?" is not scientific because we have no good records of my reactions to food before I started remembering them. I can speculate that maybe I choked on something with a similar texture, or became ill, etc., but with no means to test that, it isn't a scientific question. We can make a general case that is scientific: "Do infants who experience negative reactions to a particular food retain an aversion to that food later in life?" That is something science can test and answer.

So there is one very simple way of reformulating their question to make it unscientific. "Why is this particular apple sweet?" If it's already been picked and we have no idea from which tree it came, this is not a question for science. If we do know which tree it came from, we can run tests on the tree to see if consistently produces sweet apples and even examine the chemistry involved. I suppose it's possible that this is the question they had in mind, but mathematicians should know better than to use poorly defined statements as counter examples.

Back to the book, I expect the Kaplans are paying blind homage to N.O.M.A. as it's sometimes formulated: "Science answers the how; religion answers the why." That's always seemed like a false dichotomy to me. Consider the case of the apple again. Apples that tasted sweet were more likely to be eaten by animals and have their seeds propagate further from the original tree, so sweet apples would have a better chance of producing offspring that produced more apples, which were more likely to be sweet, which were more likely to be eaten and have their seeds propagated far enough from the parent tree ... Why? Natural selection. How? Natural selection. I don't see a meaningful distinction between 'how' and 'why' in this instance.

*Now the cats get the yolks, so it bothers me less.

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Bale Before Batman

The first movie in which I encountered Christian Bale was the 1990 TNT version of Treasure Island. It is by far my favorite cinema version of the book. In part, I like it because it stays closer to the book than most other versions. But it also has the best cast of any Treasure Island movie I've seen. Sadly, TNT has not released it to DVD. It was released on VHS ... and at the moment there is exactly one copy available from a seller for $90.

As it's been a while since I've seen it, my memory is almost certainly rusty, but Christian Bale was exactly the right age and temperament for the role. When I first saw this, I was thrilled to see that they'd left in the scene where Jim Hawkins (Bale's character) has to move the ship by himself. I don't know enough about old-time ships to say how accurately the scene was done, but it looked good to me, at least. Also, the recently deceased Charlton Heston was the best (as in worst) Long John Silver I've ever seen. He was perfect for the role. He had the disarming charmer turns to cold-blooded killer bit down pat. Christopher Lee also did a nice job as Blind Pew. In fact, I can't think of a single performance that disappointed me in the movie.

The problem with the other live-action versions I've seen is that they invariably want to cutesify it. In the Disney version, for instance, Jim Hawkins is ridiculously young, and Silver doesn't have the right aura of menace. The TNT version, imo, captures the characters as they are in the book, and that is very, very rare for a movie-adaptation from a book.

So while I'm hoping this one will make to to DVD, I was rather pleased to see that the entire thing seems to be up on YouTube in 10-minute increments. Here's Part I:

How long it will stay up is anybody's guess. I figure that if TNT does decide to release it on DVD, the first thing they'll do is pull down any web-versions, but, hey, I can enjoy it while it lasts! Oh, and the permalink to the video's page is here, and links to Parts II through XV should show up as well.

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09 August 2008

Good for Something After All

Orac has discovered the one thing that Bush is good at: alienating people from the Republican party.


It turns out that my friend, who had been more conservative than I for longer than I, had come to the same conclusion as I: That George W. Bush is the worst, the most incompetent President that either of us could remember and that the invasion of Iraq was the biggest foreign policy fiasco in either of our lifetimes, and arguably in the last century. Indeed, he may have been even harsher on the whole misadventure than I was, pointing out how it's bankrupted our nation, strained our Army and Marines to the breaking point, and diverted the attention of our military from where it should have been all along, namely Afghanistan, the nation from which al Qaeda had launched the 9/11 attacks against us. This war had resulted in the deaths of thousands of our best and bravest young people in the service of, it turns out in retrospect, doing Iran the biggest favor any nation has ever done for it, remembering that we both came of age during the Iranian hostage crisis in the late 1970s, and that was the crucible that forged our political orientation.

Not exactly related: what does it even mean to "pledge allegiance" to a flag? If we actually take this literally, then placing an American flag decal on any item makes it something we owe allegiance to. I'm suddenly imagining a Monty Python sketch where people follow the person wearing the most flags (decals, embroidery, whatever), and the process of politics consists of trying to remove opponent's flags and add to one's own. *pauses* Sadly, that's not an unreasonable metaphor for the current state of politics.

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08 August 2008

Idaho Falls Waterfall

water tumbles, gushes, roars
over, under, between the rocks
when will canyons form?

Yesterday, my mom had to go to a presentation in Idaho Falls and I tagged along. While she was freezing at the meeting, I wandered IF, but eventually I got bored and stopped at the waterfall that I think gave Idaho Falls its name. I'm not entirely sure, but it's a waterfall that's in Idaho Falls, so my guess makes sense. It's a small waterfall in terms of height, but it's massively wide. I didn't walk along the the whole width of it, but I'd guess it's at least a quarter mile wide.

Hmmm... turns out it's not a natural falls (but my guess at the width was close):
Idaho Falls in the city of the same name is created by a man-made diversion dam used for hydroelectric power. Before the dam was created, this was just a bunch of small rapids. Now, the Snake River makes a drop of about 20 ft. or so over a width of 1200 ft. It is an interesting location, and there is a beautiful walkway along the river here, so one can stroll along the whole length of the falls. ~Source.

There are some pictures of the actual falls available, but I chose the one above (from Portland's Japanese Garden) because, until I saw these falls, I didn't quite understand why they thought the arrangement of bushes looked like a waterfall. When I saw the falls, this image came immediately to mind, and I understood. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera with me, so I couldn't try to capture the feel myself. ^/^

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If it's shaped like a duck, and worn like a duck...

Am I the only one who's never heard the term "trucker hat" before today? I ran across it, and had to go searching to figure out what the devil it was. As far as I'm concerned, it's a particular species of "baseball cap." Giving it a different name serves no purpose. We had several of these so-called trucker hats when I was growing up. Most of them said "Bass Pro Shops" on them, and we wore them for fishing, but, if asked, we called them baseball caps. The basic shape is almost identical, except that the foam goes up straighter on the "trucker" version. Essentially, this is like saying a tanktop with mesh sleeves and a foam front needs a name other than "tanktop". (images from here)

Oh, and apparently despite my never having heard of them, they are now going "out" as a fashion statement (????) ... Er, sorry, but that's as ridiculous as saying "T-shirts" are a fashion statement. Add a descriptor to that and it becomes somewhat meaningful. For instance, "hard rock cafe T-shirts" were "in" when I was in high school. I never really fathomed why, but at least that's a meaningful statement.

Anyway, here are my rules for fashion:
(1) Clothing that fits. Oversized is okay if it serves a semi-useful purpose (showing underwear does not count).

(2) Clothing that I like. I don't care if puke-brown and girly-pink combos are in (common in stores maybe 2 years ago). They look awful to me, like someone threw up all over a Barbie house. Likewise, if I don't like what's currently "in", I will not wear it.

(3) Clothing that does not make me ill. I can't wear any artificial fabrics. A mix with 10% or less of, say, spandex seems to be okay. I can't wear anything with big plastic designs on it. I can't wear anything with metal decorations on it, whether as metallic thread or just little metallic discs glued on. So far, I can tolerate a metal zipper in something, but I try to get plastic zippers if there's a choice. Lesser of two evils.

(4) Clothing that will last. The vast majority of women's clothing costs more and is less durable than the vast majority of men's clothing. There are exceptions in both directions, but, in general, if I can find a near-identical item in the men's section, it will be cheaper, made better, and last longer. Presumably this is because fewer men see clothing as a commodity to be traded out when fashion changes.

(5) Clothing that is comfortable and that I can move in. (1) takes care of part of this, but stuff can fit and still be miserable to wear. Pretty much, if I can't do at least 90% of the taiji form in it, I'm not interested. 100% is better. Dress clothing I might put up with 80% if I particularly like it, but that's my limit.

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06 August 2008

Music to Write by

I had an odd experience as I was leaving the theater after seeing Dark Knight. First off, I saw it at an afternoon matinee, and it was extremely bright when I got outside. It really seemed brighter than I thought it should. Also, I was feeling very agitated, restless, maybe even a touch panicky. I didn't want to go home, but I couldn't think of anywhere I did want to go. I wound up driving by stored on that side of town and finally stopping at Ross. If nothing else, it would be darker and cooler inside.

I went inside, was bored almost immediately, and wandered back out. I sat in my car for a while, AC blasting, trying to ignore the brightness, and trying to figure out what was going on. I'm still not really sure. But suddenly the thought of "writing" popped into my head, and that gave me motivation to head home. I got home and started working on a bunch of stuff that I'd ignored for nearly a year, and it was going well, and I was enjoying it.

Whatever the effect was, it seemed to start wearing off the next day. So I went out and bought The Dark Knight soundtrack, loaded it onto my computer, and that was enough to restore the writing bug. Something about that music woke up my desire to write. Admittedly, the stories had started creeping into my head again of late, so I think it was ready to be woken up, but either that movie or its music or some combination of both was the final trigger.

Incidentally, that soundtrack doesn't work for every scene. I got stuck in one spot and finally switched over to the Pirate's 3 soundtrack, and then back when I'd finished that scene. But it seems that, for the moment, music is the key to getting myself to write.

Incidentally, my best guess as to what I was experiencing is some form of Panic Attack, but either it was comparatively mild or I didn't develop the "feedback loop" described in the article. The restless agitation fits with the "fight or flight" theme of trying to escape, but it was more...like I had too much energy and didn't know what to do with it all. So maybe a mega-adrenaline rush that triggered some symptoms similar to a panic attack without actually inducing panic? *shrugs* It was...weird. Oh, and I have no qualms about returning to the theater; the article mentions that people who have had panic attacks often feel aversion towards the places/events surrounding them.

Anyway, I'm happy to be writing again. Ironically, this seems to mean I've been writing less on the blog. ^/^ Ah well.

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05 August 2008

GF Tips: Chain Restaurants

There are plenty of good guides to these, and the lists seem to be growing. Here's a site that lets you search for gluten free restaurants by city and state. It's not complete, but it's a starting place. Here's another that is alphabetized by the chain's name, and has a brief review of each. And yet another that mainly links to "allergen lists" for each restaurant. When traveling, it's useful to know these names so that, given a choice, you can choose a restaurant that you know will have edible food.

Prior to my Colorado trip this year, I went looking for restaurants that accommodated gluten-free, and found a big surprise: Wendy's actually has a list of gluten-free products. Unlike most other fast food places, the list does not consist of "Order X without the bun." The chili, several salads, and the frosties are all gluten-free. The fries themselves are gluten free, but in some places may be cooked in the same grease as things that contain gluten, so ask. Oh, if you try to order one of the Chicken Salads, and they ask you what kind of chicken, tell them grilled. That may or may not be one of the mentioned options, even though, theoretically, that should be the default option, but anything else (American or Spicy were the choices offered my mom) will be breaded.

Other chain restaurants that I have been to and tried their gluten free menus:
Beau Jo's: pizza place; in Fort Collins, at least, the GF menu is simply a page in the regular menu.
Chili's: Decent selections; ask for the "allergen menu".
Pier 49: Most locations. So far, there doesn't seem to be an official GF menu, but the one in Pocatello posted "gluten free crusts available" on its sign. Hopefully they'll go one better and get a list of guaranteed GF toppings soon.

As for the two "big" fast food chains, last I checked, Burger King did not acknowledge the existence of celiacs in any way shape or form. Please boycott them. McDonald's has the typical "Order X without the bun" guidelines, with an oddity. McDonald's French fries apparently contain either wheat or an ingredient made from wheat, but independent testing has found no traces of gluten in them (sorry for no citation, but I can't remember where I found that). I still will not eat them, at least in part because I don't go to restaurants where the assumption is that everything will be served on a poisonous bun, but I thought I'd pass the info along.

GF Tips Index

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04 August 2008

From Comedy to Farce

As I was walking Buster this morning, I stopped by my mom's house with him. Much to my surprise, she was awake. Normally on days when she doesn't work, she prefers to sleep in until 11 or so, and it wasn't even 10 yet. At any rate, she asked me if I'd help her get a file cabinet into the choir room at church if she went and bought one. I shrugged and agreed to help, so I drove back over after getting Buster back to Dad's house. Then we went back to Dad's house to get the pickup, and I followed in my car as Mom went to Office Max to get the file cabinet. So far so good. Soon after, the farce began.

Mom picked out the cheapest, large cabinet, and went up to pay for it. I asked her if she wanted me to wait for her or meet her at the church. A light dawned in her eyes. She'd forgotten to grab keys to the church. So she sent me back to her house to get the keys, or at least the briefcase containing the keys. Since we were short on time, I then headed directly over to the church to wait. And wait. And be puzzled. Unfortunately, my cell phone was nearly dead and the charger was sitting on the entry table at home. I tried to call her anyway, and apparently she could hear me, but I couldn't hear her, so I still didn't know what was going on. When she tried to call me back, the phone died for good.

So I waited some more. Finally I got fed up, dug the keys out of the briefcase, and decided to find a working phone. I lucked out on the keys: the first one I tried opened the back door. Then I had to find a phone. Back when I was still going to the church, there had been a public phone just outside the fireside room. Nope. Bare wall. I wandered back, and spotted a phone in the Oelwein room (don't ask me why it's called that; it just is. Mostly it's used to serve coffee and cookies). This phone did actually work, so I called Mom again.

She was still at Office-Max. It turns out that the model of filing cabinet she'd chosen was due to be "updated", so they didn't have any in boxes and were extricating the floor model for her. The good part about this was that they gave her a $50 discount. The bad part was that we weren't going to have time to deliver the thing before her dentist appointment. So I went home and let Mom know that her briefcase and keys were in the passenger seat of my car.

The rest of it isn't particularly farcical, unless we were in the episode with the neighbor desperately trying to sleep. After the dentist appointment was done, we made it over there, located a handtruck, and I took the cabinet down the steps into the choir room. It boomed on every step, as Mom needed to hold a door open at the bottom and couldn't also steady it down each step. But it's in the choir room now.

It seems to me that if we combined my yesterday and today into a single episode, with the calls to help with the filing cabinet coming at the worst possible moments in the muffin-making, we'd have a fairly typical disaster-sitcom-episode. *wonders what genre tomorrow will be*

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03 August 2008

Life as a Sitcom, with Zucchini

Well, zucchini's coming ripe again. I've made the zucchini casserole from last year, and decided I much prefer it with mozzarella instead of cheddar. Today I made zucchini muffins. That's when the sitcom started. Let's see, how many things went wrong...

(1) I had already put the eggs in the stand mixer when I realized I had neither walnuts nor pecans, and I much prefer nutty zucchini bread.
(2) After lunch, I had all the ingredients, got the eggs mixing again, and somehow got it into my head that it needed 2 cups of oil instead of 1. Naturally I had them both in before realizing there was a problem. So I had two choices: throw it out and start over, or double everything. Throwing it out seemed like a waste, so I decided to double the recipe.
(3) This was already a large recipe, so I wasn't entirely surprised to find that it was going to overflow the bowl on my stand mixer. Then I had to figure out what to do about it. I dug out my largest mixing bowl, one that's been used exactly once before, and, by a complicated series of exchanges, managed to transfer the batter to that bowl and keep something under the stand-mixer's beaters the whole time. Of course, the new bowl wasn't made for the stand mixer, so I had to keep a close eye on it and rotate it, etc. But it worked.
(4) I knew that the batter would probably overflow my muffin pans (even with an extra one borrowed from my mom), so I put a third of a cup of batter in each one instead of the usual quarter of a cup. This filled the muffins cups to capacity (with the paper liners in them, anyway). Any more, and they would have overflowed.
(5) I got the first batch of 12 muffins in the oven and realized that I had neglected to redouble the cinnamon. "Redouble" because technically I usually use twice as much as the recipe calls for. The first batch taste good, even without the extra cinnamon, but the latter batches taste even better.
(6) The muffins on the bottom rack of the oven wound up burnt on the bottom (likely I should have moved the rack up a notch), while the ones on top weren't quite done. The burnt ones I'm just dealing with. The top ones I just left in the oven for quite a while after I'd turned it off, and they seem to be done now.

Anyway, it's not quite sitcom worthy as is, but it isn't hard to imagine working that into one of those panic-stricken sitcoms. There would need to be a deadline for the zucchini bread, of course. Also, a few more disasters with the potential of destroying the house would be required. For instance, the sparklers my dad found in a shed and gave to me recently would have to have been so close to the stove that they ignited. Of course they would burn the (party|wedding|funeral) dress that I had promised to fix, so that I would have to fix it again and creatively hide the burns... Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

At any rate, the muffins turned out to be edible and tasty, in spite of it all.

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02 August 2008

Estes Park

in the dumpster

*Kept meaning to post this while still in Colorado... Finally got it done now.

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there is no 'I' in 'me'

There was a good post over at Greta Christina's while I was wandering around in Colorado. She discusses her reason for not believing in the soul. I agree with many of them. At some point along the way, I realized I could no longer accept the traditional view of the soul as some unchanging thing that makes people who they are. Below is my analysis of what's left.

Now, the most common arguments against the soul use examples of brain injuries radically altering personality. The problem is that there's an immediate counterargument, that the soul is the software and needs properly functioning hardware to completely express itself. I'll be the first to admit that this approach has its own problems (e.g. if someone is born with a brain defect, his/her soul will never be able to fully express itself; is there then any point to that person living? -- not to mention that it seems to be completely untestable as a hypothesis), but it is an answer. At any rate, brain chemistry and injuries are not the reason that I have to reject the more traditional notions of a soul.

Still, it is the "unchanging" part of the definition that I have the most problem with. See, brain injuries or not, a person's personality continues to develop and change throughout life. Sure, some people get to a certain point and just stay there for the next umpty-nine years, but that seems to be the exception. I'm not the same person I was a year ago, or two years ago. I'm certainly not the same person I was twenty-five years ago, when I was all of six years old. Some basic preferences have remained the same. Others have changed radically. Now, you can argue that this is the "soul" coming to express itself fully as the body/mind matures. But then where did the earlier preferences come from? Were they mistaken? Were they from the body itself, needing to be tempered by the soul? Okay, that might be workable, but...

What about changes that come about due to bodily chemistry? It doesn't even need to involve the brain directly. Take gluten intolerance. In a nutshell, it's an auto-immune disease where the immune system attacks the intestinal walls in the presence of gluten. Shortly before figuring out I was gluten intolerant, I was the "I'll try nearly anything once" type ('nearly' in case something really grossed me out). Now, I'm the "It's poison until I can see a full ingredient list" type. Fresh unseasoned veggies or fruit? Fine. Anything else? Probably poisonous. You could argue that this is simply an attitude change, but it has affected my personality, and it seems to be independent of the soul. Or could my particular soul only be born into a gluten-intolerant body so that the appropriate personality would develop? Then we get into "If the soul needs a particular kind of body, then what's the point of the soul anyway?" Isn't it supposed to exist and be what it is independent of the body?

Then there's the existence of "muscle memory." This is partially connected to the mind, but has a great deal to do with the muscles themselves. The more we repeat a particular movement, the easier it becomes, and the more automatic it becomes. This is the point of repetition of martial arts forms: to get the basic movements into muscle memory. Anyone who's done any sort of martial arts will understand the sentiment: "I know that in my head, I just can't get my body to do it!" Then once it's been practiced enough: "Wow! I just did that without thinking about it!" See, these things are dependent on the body itself. Without the body, they have no meaning. Part of my identity is "taiji player." Without a body, the "player" part is meaningless. Where is that stored in the "soul"?

The first time I encountered the sentiment that there is no mind, or there is no self, I resisted it. It made no sense to me. Now that I've spent some time meditating, I think I know what it means. The more I explore my "mind", the more that I find that there is nothing of substance in that which we call "mind." There is nothing permanent. Likewise, there is nothing permanent in that which we call the "self." The only constancy is what I've heard termed "continuity of consciousness." There is a sense of things coming before, and that we have experienced those things, and an expectation that this will continue. Everything else rises up for a time and then disappears.

So to me, the notion that the soul is some repository of our true personality is nonsense. It's wishful thinking projected on the world by an ego terrified of ceasing to exist. But even the ego's permanence is illusory. The 'I' who began this blog a few years back is not the same 'I' now writing this article. We share the same body, and many years of the same memories, but to claim that we are the same person with the same personality, the same motivations and desires is nonsense. Sure, there's overlap. But not identity.

What's left? Consciousness. Awareness. Pure and simple. Might these one day have material explanations? Sure. I don't see that as any particular threat. I believe it was Carl Sagan who said something like, "Man is the matter of the cosmos, observing itself." [Note: Can't find the quote I'm thinking of; closest is "We are a way for the cosmos to know itself."] That is the point of existence. We are here and it is now. We are aware here and now. That is the most profound truth that I can imagine. Why? Because that awareness links us with all-that-is.

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