30 April 2009

Tulips. Finally.

These tulips have been threatening to come out for quite a while, but hadn't quite made it until today. Also, until today, I wasn't quite sure I was going to like their color. With the green still in them, before they'd opened all the way, I didn't like the color, but now that they've "ripened," I think they're gorgeous. I've also got at least one deep purple tulip that looks like it ought to open in the next week or so. I've been impatient because I've seen all sorts of tulips in bloom all over town for at least the past two weeks... not sure if mine are slow because they're brand new bulbs or because they're different varieties. I do know that the leaves on these tulips are spikier than the leaves on most tulips. I like the leaves better that way, actually, though I'm curious if it's possible to get the unusual coloring without the spiky leaves.

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28 April 2009


three years dead
I walked the hills a corpse
trapped in my own head
Blackened crust of a heart
glowed crimson through the cracks,
trickling, breathing pain
Numbness welcomed: dead in life,
desolate, drained, dazed


The first part is a description of how I felt shortly after my grandma's death. The awakening...has come in stages. I'm sort of hoping that I've come through it all now. Being numb gets old. Fast.

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GF: 5-Grain muffins

The first time I encountered Bob's Red Mill was a couple years before I found out I was gluten intolerant. I came across their 10-grain hot cereal mix, and bought it, despite the fact that I almost never ate hot cereal. However, there was a muffin recipe on the back which I did make, many times. Fast forward a few years, and I discovered that the mix contained several varieties of wheat, so I can't use it any more. However, there is an alternative which makes muffins just about as good: Bob's Red Mill's Mighty Tasty GF Hot Cereal (I'd link to the product page, but the site seems to be down). It also comes with a recipe on the back, but it's not nearly as good as the original (which you can find here), so I decided to adapt the original. To give some idea of the difference, the original recipe uses a full cup of the dry cereal. The one on the GF cereal uses 2 Tablespoons.

Mighty Tasty 5-Grain GF Muffins

2 eggs
2 t vanilla
1/2 c raw sugar*
1/3 c butter**
1 c 4-flour bean mix***
1/4 t salt
1 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
1 t xanthan gum
1 c Mighty Tasty GF cereal mix ****
1 1/4 c milk *****

Combine cereal mix with milk and let stand for at least 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 400° F. Cream sugar and margarine; add eggs and vanilla. Add all dry ingredients except the flour and mix well. Add flour and mix well. Add cereal and milk mixture and mix well. Spoon into a prepared muffin pan. Bake 18-20 minutes.

* if you can't find raw sugar (sometimes branded "Turbinado") substitute brown sugar.

** I used olive oil instead, and the muffins still came out with a rich, buttery flavor.

*** this is one of Bette Hagman's flour mixes, only I use white bean flour instead of garfava flour; mainly, you want a moist, protein rich flour for these muffins.

**** Any GF hot cereal made by chopping grains into small bits would work here. Cream of rice, cream of buckwheat, cream of quinoa... The more different grains in the mix, the richer the flavor, though.

***** Original recipe calls for buttermilk. I generally just use goat's milk. When I could still have soy, I often used soy milk.

On the latest batch, I also added 1 t cinnamon to the mix, but these have a very good flavor all their own. The cinnamon made a good complement, though. These are very rich, flavorful muffins, chockful of fiber, and with less fat and sugar than most muffins.

GF Tips Index

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27 April 2009

General Incompetence?

This will be old news for readers of Pharyngula, but the ICR can't even find competent lawyers to work for them, let alone competent scientists. What do you want to bet the lawyer was hired based on ideology alone?

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26 April 2009

Rawls and Nozick

I was busy writing my paper for political philosophy, and didn't even notice that I never posted anything here. Before I get back to that paper (as all I've got now is a rough draft), I figured I'd mention the topic a bit here. Rawls and Nozick are our last two philosophers for political philosophy. Rawls is, arguably, the most significant political theorist of the 20th century. He developed an entirely novel social contract theory, based not on presuppositions about how the State of Nature would or would not have looked, but based on what he terms the Veil of Ignorance. Nozick was a colleague of Rawls with very different political views. His response to Rawls seems to be inadequate, but there's a bit of a complication. Rawls published his book first. Nozick published a response. When Rawls' book was translated into German, he updated it to account for Nozick's criticisms, but the updated version was not published in English for many more years. So it's possible that Nozick's criticisms were adequate to the original version of Rawls' ideas, and Rawls simply fleshed them out/adapted them in reponse. As Pelletti said, to do it completely right, we'd need to read the first edition of Rawls, then read Nozick, then read the final edition of Rawls, but we just didn't have the time in that class.

Rawls works from what he calls the "original position," where a group of people have come together to come up with the founding principles of their society under a "veil of ignorance," whereby they know none of their own particular attributes. They know that they are people, that they have characteristics, that they have a notion of 'The Good' (someone explain to me why this translates as "a plan for their life," as I don't get it), and they know that to realize their plan they will need access to at least some resources. They also have access to all general knowledge, including historical information, but they don't know their own place in history nor their own geographical location.

I was skeptical of Rawls' conclusions at first, but I think that he's right that people would seek a system where, no matter who they wound up being, they would have a shot at carrying out their life's plan. So they would seek to "maximize the minimum," i.e. make sure that the people who were worst off in the system were as well off as possible. Rawls works out three principles (with two of them grouped together) to describe how this might be done:

1. Liberty Principle: Each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.
2. Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged to that they are both:
(a) to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged. Difference Principle
(b) attached to offices and posistions open to all under conditions of fair equality of opportunity. Fairness of Opportunity Principle

~Rawls, Theory of Justice, 266

Now, Rawls wants to exclude probability calculations altogether, but I think there is one probability calculation that would have to be made in his original position. These people have access to all historical data, so they would know that the vast, vast majority of people throughout history have been the "least advantaged," the poor, the serfs, the slaves, etc. Not knowing who they were, they would know that there was a very large chance that they were in one of these disadvantaged classes. They would also know that, even if they happened to be in one of the advantaged classes, there would still be a chance of falling down into the disadvantaged class. Thus I think it likely that, were Rawls principles presented, people who really thought about them in the original position would accept them. They seem to give the disadvantaged classes the best chance for a decent life.

Nozick takes an entirely different tack in Anarchy, State, and Utopia. He wants to argue for a "night-watch state," where the only function of the government is to protect property rights. He goes through some rather impassioned rhetoric of the "taxation is theft" variety, but never actually explains why property rights are to be held sacrosanct rather than some other set of rights. It didn't help his case that he utilized Locke's theory of property, which Locke grounded in biblical assumptions about the world. Yes, people use Locke without accepting that grounding, but then it's unclear that Locke's idea is grounded at all. But even if we assume that a coherent theory of property acquisition can be worked out, it's clear that modern society does not meet Nozick's criteria for a "fair property distribution." Nozick's suggestion of some sort of recompense to those whose property was taken unfairly seems unworkable, too, since (a) we don't know about all the unfairness that went on; (b) we don't know how much would have worked out differently had the unfairness not occurred; (c) it's likely that many of the victims are dead, so we'd be compensating their descendants; and (d) it's not clear that taking recompense from people whose own property acquisition was fair (but the property was previously obtained unfairly) would actually be just.

But on to Nozick's criticisms of Rawls. Nozick assumes that there is such a thing as a "correct" property distribution (one that has come about through fair acquisition), and then concludes that since the original position is extremely unlikely to produce that distribution, the original position must not itself be fair. He also tries to argue that the difference principle might be used in questionable ways, and that it is an end-state distribution; however, the questionable uses would be taken care of by the Liberty Principle (which Rawls considers to be the first and most important consideration), and while the difference principle puts a constraint on the "end-state distribution", it itself is not an end-state distribution, any more than Nozick's constraint of "fair acquisition" on the end-state makes his view an end-state distribution. Essentially, Nozick misses that liberty comes first in Rawls' view, and then, if there are things that the liberty principle doesn't settle, the difference principle can be applied.

I will admit that as Rawls describes it, his principles come across as a bit too cold and calculating. I think that's more a problem with his writing style than with the ideas themselves. For instance, Nozick criticizes Rawls' contention that, in a family, members should act to improve the lot of the family member who is worst off, and as Rawls words it, the example does fall flat. However, Nozick's idea is even worse, as it would seem to indicate that family members had no obligation whatsoever to their fellow who was worse off. Perhaps "maximizing" the position of the one who's worst off might be too stringent a condition (among other things, how would you know when there was no more room for improvement?), but ignoring your own brother/sister/cousin because you have a right to your own property is surely worse. And I think, in practice, Rawls' ideas would lead not so much to concern about "maximizing" the minimum, but more in the direction of "making the minimum not an entirely awful place to be." Perhaps with a few generations of that attitude, we would manage to maximize the minimum, but even improving the minimum would be a worthy goal.

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24 April 2009

Last Concert of the Season

The symphony concert tonight was awesome. I knew that they were going to be doing Carmina Burana, which would have been sufficient in and of itself to make the concert great. But the first half of the concert was The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. I'm sure I'd heard the first movement before (Pines of the Villa Borghese), but I don't think I'd heard the other three movements.

The really interesting thing was during the fourth movement. There is a strong, driving beat on the kettledrum throughout this part. I had allowed the music to take me into a middling meditative state, and I noticed that my heart was beating exactly in time with the beat. It was fascinating. As the music changed tempo, my heartbeat would take a beat or so to "catch up", but it would then beat exactly in time with the music again. I'd heard such a thing was possible, but never before experienced it.

Here is the fourth movement of Pines of Rome, and here is the first song of the Carmina Burana (O Fortuna!). We sang this one when I was in senior choir in high school, as well as Fortuna Plango. I think the next year, they did Ecce Gratum. There were actually several versions on YouTube. I picked that one because it seemed to have the best vocalization. I was extremely disappointed with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra version. It needed the quiet spots to contrast with the loud.

The Carmina Burana is a somewhat odd work, in that the lyrics are all from 13th century poems. About half of it is in Latin, and the other half is in archaic German. It's a mixture of songs that glorify love and songs that despair of fate, or at least acknowledge that fate is fickle and there's no getting away from it. The overall effect, if you pay attention to the translations, is rather existential. However, the music itself is enjoyable whether or not you pay attention to the translations.

(Apologies if this is a bit incoherent; I'm short on sleep)

AM ADDENDUM: Forgot to mention this last night, but after Pines of Rome, I heard the people behind us wondering aloud how the symphony could possibly top that in the second half. I just grinned to myself. Apparently these people hadn't encountered the Carmina Burana before! (And I'll let the disconnectedness from last night stand, as I find it mildly amusing now that I'm more awake.)

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23 April 2009

Gorgeous APOD

Just had to point this one out. Click on the picture to go to the APOD page for the image (where you can see a much bigger and even more impressive version, as well as info about the picture).

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22 April 2009

Breathing Well

My breathing is much improved from what it was last fall, particularly when that doctor put me on prednisone. I think I'm back to what I was right after graduating from CSU. Part of the improvement I'm pretty sure is due to walking to campus three days a week now that the weather is decent enough for it. Partly I think it's that I'm back on bromelain and quercetin, which usually do better at keeping my allergies under control than antihistamines, though the Nasalcrom does its part as well. And partly I think it's because I'm off the Zyrtec.

Today I had a rather unnerving test of how much it had improved, as I managed not to put my inhaler in my backpack before walking to campus. My breathing was stressed at the end of the walk, to the point that I wished I had the inhaler with me, but it never got to the level of an asthma attack, and cleared up on its own after a few minutes of rest. That's actually major progress at this point. It means that I can own cats and still be able to breath and function normally. I'd been starting to wonder if, so long as I had the cats, I was going to be stuck with near-constant asthma attacks. Thankfully, the answer is no.

As far as the Zyrtec goes, when I first started taking it, it did seem to help the breathing, rather than making it worse. Unfortunately, it was a very temporary effect, and after being on it for a while, it didn't seem to help any at all. In fact, I strongly suspect it was making my breathing worse, as I've come to suspect it was responsible for my acid reflux problems last fall. They'd been mostly gone since December, when I first got off of the Zyrtec, but, during the four week period when I had Zyrtec in my system, the acid reflux started to come back. Not proof, but certainly suggestive.

I'm thinking that what caused my breathing to get worse in the first place, though, was not so much the cats as that I had stopped taking bromelain. The brand I'd been taking suddenly started being labeled as "Not Gluten Free." It was, and is, the only brand of bromelain that Fred Meyer carried, and it took me a while to track down another brand that was gluten free (at GNC). One caution about bromelain, however: taken on an empty stomach, it can cause cramping.

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21 April 2009


After noticing the TNT series was out on DVD, I started watching my old VHS tapes of the show again. I'd forgotten just how good the series was (though I remembered exactly how annoyed I was when they canceled after the second season). It's a show that could easily have wound up corny or ridiculously campy, and managed not to. Sara Pezzini is a cop who winds up with a strange and powerful bracelet on her wrist. Kenneth Irons is the richest guy in the world (or near enough), and he wants to control both the bracelet, aka the Witchblade, and its wielder. Ian Nottingham is Kenneth' protege, who has too much of a soft spot for Sara for either her or Kenneth's liking.

The show is primarily about Sara learning to control and understand the Witchblade, while she tries to avoid being caught in Kenneth's schemes. Again, it would have been easy for this to wind up as a ridiculous farce, but it works. The interplay of the characters is beautiful.

My favorite bit, though, is somewhat spoilerish, so it's below the fold.

This is the only show I can think of that manages to undo an entire season without betraying the viewers in any way. It was a beautiful way to end the first season, particularly since one of the themes of the season was Sara losing everyone she cared about. Now at the beginning of the second season, she has a second chance to save them. Of course, her memory of former future events is not perfect, so it's not like she has a perfect road map. Plus, after the first "undoing," all other events are going to play out differently.

I also find it interesting that, in the first season, it takes a while for the plot to reveal exactly how depraved Kenneth Irons really is. In the second season, it becomes clear right off the bat. Why? Because the viewers already know, so there's no reason to keep it behind closed doors this time around. In the first season, it's sort of, "Okay, so he's a bit power-crazed and manipulative, but he doesn't seem all that bad," at least until the last few episodes. Second season, same time frame, and there's no pussyfooting around. It's almost instantaneously clear that he's too depraved to cooperate with.

As for the DVDs, I'll either order them from Amazon or wait for the ones available in town to come down in price. It's been interesting to watch them from my old VHS tapes, as they also have all the original commercials in them. It's a bit like jumping back in time, particularly on the investment and banking commercials.

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19 April 2009

Response to a Humian Argument

Just pointing out this post at Neurologica. I got into a debate on this very theme a few weeks back at philosophy club. The short version is that science itself does not have a solely rational basis. As Hume noted, scientific inference requires assuming some form of uniformity in nature, generally phrased as "the future will resemble the past."

I need to read Novella's post again more closely, but I'm not sure that he's found a way out of the assumption. Yes, science is a method, but it seems to me that the very method requires the assumption that "the future will resemble the past." Otherwise, what purpose would testing anything serve? What worked on Tuesday might not work on Wednesday (or we might skip over Wednesday and wind up at Friday). Yes, the method is "self-correcting," but there would be nothing to "correct" without some form of uniformity.

As science has produced reliable results in the past, and continues to do so today, it may seem that we could make a probability argument, that all of those "hits" are so unlikely to be due to chance that we can reject that hypothesis. For the present. But as soon as we try to extend that into the future, we run into the uniformity problem again. An a priori assumption is required, and I still don't see a genuinely grounded basis for that assumption. Perhaps I'll find that there is one next fall, when I take Philosophy of Science, but for the moment I'm unconvinced.

Now, I don't think this invalidates science in any way, shape or form. I just think that it needs to be recognized and acknowledged. We do have evidence of uniformity throughout most of the past, so it seems probable that uniformity will continue for some time into the future. It's just not guaranteed. To my mind, the most important thing people should understand about science is that no theory, no hypothesis, no conclusion is ever held as sacrosanct. New evidence always has a chance of dislodging it. It seems somehow appropriate that if the uniformity principle were ever broken, science would likely be overturned in its turn.

Anyway, the post at Neurologica is certainly worth reading. And perhaps someone can tell me what I've missed in Novella's argument...

Vaguely related aside: I haven't encountered anyone trying to use Hume to argue for anything "New Age" in opposition to science, but there's an immediate problem if they do. "New Age" methodology also has a history, and also presumes that if something worked in the past, it will work in the future (so long as you believe in it in just the right way, and do it in the 14th arcminute of the third full moon of the 1000th year since.........). So such an argument is just as damaging to their own methodology, whatever it may be. Even invoking randomness, a la Tarot Cards or Yi Jing, presumes that the same random results point to the same "advice."

My best guess is that someone using this in that manner would be arguing for something on the order of revelation or intuition. Hmmm, no, still doesn't work. Why do they trust revelation? Because it's been correct in the past! (FYI: Hume is my favorite modern philosopher to read. Very Dickensian in his writing style.)

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On the right are my second two daffodils to come out. On the left is my first hyacinth to bloom. (Click to see a larger view) It looks like I should have some yellow tulips soon. I'm not sure when my deep-almost-black-purple ones will bloom; the buds don't seem to be as far along. I've also got some fancier daffodils that haven't even produced buds yet, so I'm not sure when they'll bloom, either. Still, I'm pretty pleased with what came up and with the amount blooming thusfar. There might be one or two spots that should have had a bulb where nothing came up, but it's looking like 95% of them did come up!

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17 April 2009

What does this desk explain?

A while back, before it was time for the political philosophy class to start, there was a bit of a pre-class discussion. I don't know what started it, as I walked in in the middle of it to hear them discussing Spinoza's and various other formulations of "God" (in quotes because most of these were not the Abrahamic God). Pelletti made a comment that I found very strange. He said something to the effect of, "The problem with pantheism is that it doesn't explain anything."

But why should a deity explain anything? Does the existence of this desk actually explain anything? Perhaps it explains why my office tools don't fall through to the ground, but they could rest on the ground just as easily. The desk just is. We don't expect that noticing its existence will explain anything in particular. If I refused to believe that there is a desk here solely because its existence does not seem to explain anything, that would seem a trifle odd. Either there is a desk there or there is not.

Perhaps it could be argued that the desk explains the sense-data associated with it. I see a somewhat rectangular shape, with rounded off corners. It feels cold and impenetrable against my elbows. The top surface is brown, but the rounded corners have shiny metallic inserts. Yet there are sense-data traditionally associated with the Divine as well, particularly with the mystical sense of the Divine: a sense of Oneness, of Totality. Positing such Oneness, a la pantheism, would explain that sense datum, would it not? Or do we not count sense data as needing such an explanation?

And, I know, the immediate rejoinder is that those particular sense data are some artifact of the way the brain processes information. But isn't the way we perceive the desk likewise an artifact of the way the brain processes information? We see light reflected in a particular spectrum that our eyes can detect. Our sense of touch reports only a limited set of information to the brain. Those sensations, too, are influenced by mental processing, yet most of us would not claim that the desk is only the result of such processing. Why the difference? Why are some artifacts of mental processing interpreted as meaningful and corresponding to something existent, while others are dismissed as being only artifacts?

I suspect the rejoinder to that one would be "physical evidence." That is, anyone with the appropriate sensory apparatus will detect an object in its place, and those with the appropriate cultural background will recognize it as a desk. Yet the mystical experience is widespread across different cultures, all describing similar experiences, and most give that experience a name connected to the Divine. Perhaps because we don't have a machine that can directly detect that experience, we reject it as less meaningful than the experience of the desk, but I suspect that most mystics would argue that the experience of the Divine is more meaningful.

Finally, either a thing exists or it doesn't. Whether the thing actually explains anything seems irrelevant to whether or not it actually exists. For instance, invisible ants in my computer might explain its occasional hiccups, but that gives me no reason to think such ants actually exist. Except for the sense-data connected with it, though, the desk just doesn't seem to explain much of anything, any more than the letter 'h' on my keyboard does, or the air in my lungs does.

Ideas and theories explain things. Objects and Beings just exist. (I have a feeling I'm going to wind up editing this in the morning, but for now I'm just going to his hit* "Publish.")

*Hiss would be more amusing, yes, but it's not what I actually meant last night. And for the moment, I'll let the post stand apart from this rambling comment. It occurred to me a bit after writing this that 'pi' is another good example. The "ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter" exists for any circle, or for any constructed approximation of a circle, if you prefer. But that ratio in and of itself explains nothing. With a bit of work, one can prove that the ratio will be the same for any perfect circle, and then we can measure it for constructed approximations of circles to compare. So this number 'pi' exists as a property of circles, but it is the consequence of an explanation, and does not itself explain anything.

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16 April 2009

Coconut to Save the Day

I finally found a way of making beef taste halfway decent. My former method was to burn it to a crisp, as the burned bits tasted better than the beef itself. If it's not obvious, I'm not a big fan of the taste of beef. Rather than explain, here's an exchange that I've often gone through:

BeefEater: But why don't you like beef?
Me: It tastes like dead cow.
*confused pause*
BeefEater: It is dead cow.
Me: But it doesn't have to taste like it!
*even more confused pause*
BeefEater: Wh--?

It usually goes downhill from there. The problem is that beef just tastes dead. Chicken tastes like meat, like food. I would never say that chicken tastes like dead bird, though, in fact, chicken is dead bird. It does not taste dead to me. Neither does pork.

Not surprisingly, I don't cook beef very often. Every so often, though, my body informs me that we should have some. I tend to assume this means that there's some nutrient in the beef that my body hasn't been getting through other sources. So I give in, and cook up a batch, grimace my way through it, and move on.

Finally, though, I've found a way to cook it that improves it immensely: make it into a coconut curry. The key to any coconut curry is to cut the meat into thin slices, about 1/8 inch thick, and simmer it in coconut milk along with whatever spices and flavorings you want. Since coconut milk is very sweet, it's a good idea to throw in something sour (like lime juice, or tamarind, or tomato), and I tend to add a Thai garlic-chili-oil sauce. You can also find actual Thai curry sauces, but the last time I checked they all had ginger in them, and I don't particularly need another bout of suicidal depression, thank you very much. While the meat is simmering, add any slow-cooking vegetables. Potatoes and eggplant are commonly offered in Thai restaurants... I'm not a big fan of eggplant, and the coconut milk isn't much help with it. Let it all simmer until meat and vegetables are done, and then add a crisper vegetable that doesn't require as much cooking for the last five minutes or so, say zucchini or snap peas or even carrots. Serve with rice, preferably jasmine rice.

For those who want something more specific, here's the recipe I made Tuesday night (approximately, as I wasn't actually measuring):
1 eight-ounce steak, cut into thin slices
1 can coconut milk
a bit of salt
1/4 c tomato sauce
1 T chili oil or curry sauce
1 T basil (I used dried; if you've got fresh, go for it)
1 T red pepper flakes (at least; it is nearly impossible to add too much of this...unless you don't like hot food, but that's just silly, right?)
1/2 T fish oil (you can substitute GF soy sauce, but fish oil is more authentic)
----->Simmer in a large saucepan or crockpot, stirring every five minutes or so.

Meanwhile, get the rice cooking according to package directions. Assuming white rice, it should take about 20 minutes to cook, then let it stand for 10 minutes.

While the rice is standing, add 1 cup of fresh snow peas to the coconut milk mixture and stir. Let the peas simmer for 5-8 minutes, or to desired level of doneness.

The beef turns out remarkably tender and tastes much less dead than it usually does.

One can of coconut milk is actually more than you need for just 1 steak, but I've found it effectively impossible to keep the unused portion in usable shape. Still, you could easily double or triple the amount of both meat and vegetables. As written above, I got two servings out of it. Doubling, then, should be 4 servings.
I like to keep the rice and curry separate, and serve each in its own bowl, but some prefer to mix them in the same bowl.

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15 April 2009

Minor Update

One of my daffodils is fully open now, and two more look ready to join suit. I've also got a hyacinth that looks almost ready to bloom, and many many tulips just starting to raise their buds up from the ground. They, at least, seem to like the large amounts of moisture we've been getting this week!

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13 April 2009

Wheel of Time: Keeps on Rolling

Brandon Sanderson recently announced that "the" last book of the Wheel of Time will, in fact, be three books. That... feels about right to me, to settle most of the major outstanding plotlines. I wonder if Robert Jordan, had he lived, could really have gotten the whole thing into just one final book...? Hard to say. I also find Sanderson's semi-apologetic attitude amusing. I've been waiting for "the next book", whatever it might be, since I was in my teens. I've learned patience. ^/^

I should add that I'm perfectly happy to have more books set in a world that I so enjoy visiting. I was a bit disappointed when the announcement first came that there would be only one more book.

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12 April 2009

No More Zyrtec For Me

I hadn't given up on Zyrtec, despite the side effects, because it was the only antihistamine I'd ever found that actually worked for me. I figured that so long as I didn't take it continuously, and had anti-itch stuff around for when it wore off, I'd be fine. Well, sort of. If it was only the itching, I think I wouldn't be writing it off. Unfortunately, it's a bit more insidious than that.

I'd been off of it completely for almost four months, and had bad allergy symptoms one morning. So I took a Zyrtec, and was curious to see whether I would get any itching after it wore off. On the fifth night after taking it, I woke up with extremely itchy feet, applied Benadryl spray, and went back to sleep. There were a few more minor itches over the next week or so, but nothing bad. Exactly two weeks after taking it, I had another bad allergy attack. Two weeks is also the time that it usually takes for the itching to stop completely after you go cold turkey on Zyrtec after taking it for an extended period of time. I noted this "coincidence" but went ahead and took a Zyrtec that day. The itching was a bit more persistent, and started sooner. Still not too bad.

Two weeks after that? Massive hot and cold chills. Nothing that I could call "allergy symptoms," but I'd noted the two week intervals when I was trying to get off of the stuff last fall as well. I'd just make it through the two week itching period when something would happen that would induce me to take another of the bloody things. So I don't think the two-week nonsense is coincidence. My suspicion is that two weeks is when enough of the Zyrtec and whatever it breaks down into is out of your system. It still seems to protect somewhat against allergies all through those two weeks. Then when the level drops past some threshold, there's something on the order of a histamine rebound, resulting in worse allergy symptoms. Note that this is speculative, but fits my experience. (YAY! Anecdotal Evidence!)

I'm not particularly interested in taking something that both has annoying side effects after the fact and, just after the side effects wear off, induces symptoms to encourage you to take more. Still, since I finally found an antihistamine that does work on me, I may play around and see if there are any others that also work, and what kind of side effects they produce.

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11 April 2009

Cat in a Drawer

Normally, this drawer holds telephone books, but I'd pulled them all out and Pouncer decided he wanted in:

I'm not sure how long he would have stayed had I not started taking pictures. I got the impression that the flash both irritated and interested him, so he came out to get a better look at the camera.

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10 April 2009

Piratical Absurdity

I realize the situation is serious, and at least one man's life hangs in the balance, but the whole Somali-kidnap-captain-thing is so surreal that at one point during the news report I actually burst into laughter. Now, imagine that a writer was trying to get a screenplay made into a movie that contained:

(1) A small force of pirates trying to take over a ship carrying many more crew members than there were invading pirates
(2) The captain bravely volunteers himself as a hostage if the pirates will let his crew go free.
(3) Meanwhile the crew manage to either overpower the pirates or hide from them (I'm not sure which is the case, or if both have some accuracy).
(4) Remaining pirates and captain wind up in a skimpy lifeboat.
(5) Captain jumps out in sight of a battleship but pirates manage to pull him back into the lifeboat.
(6) U.S. Warships are moving in to rescue the captain.
(7) Pirate ships are also moving in to rescuesupport the pirates.

Seriously. This sounds like an extended Monty Python sketch, though apparently there's still plenty of food on the lifeboat so they won't have to bicker about who gets to eat whom.

Quotes from the BBC report:

The cruise-missile carrying USS Bainbridge was sent to the scene in a move analysts say will strengthen the hand of US negotiators.


Analysts have said negotiations could be lengthy, with the pirates likely to want a hefty ransom for the captain as well as compensation for a boat that was wrecked in the attack.


The crew held a wounded pirate for about 12 hours, dressing his wounds "because he was bleeding all over the ship"

I should point out that the situation would not be even remotely funny if the pirates did not have a reputation for releasing their captives unharmed (so long as sufficient ransom is paid). Of course, right now, the captain may be the only thing keeping U.S. ships from opening fire on the lifeboat. Maybe not, though, if more pirate ships containing more hostages are moving in. *shakes head*

UPDATE: The pirates were killed by snipers, apparently because the snipers saw one of them train a gun on the captain. Tragically ironic, perhaps, that they met the fate they'd threatened the captain with, but not particularly funny in the aftermath. I might have updated this sooner, but yesterday I took a day off from the internet (mostly; one brief period online last night), and didn't hear the news until this morning.

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08 April 2009

Particles of Weather

Sometimes, the misprint is much better than the intended meaning:


Accumulatinos sound like an exotic fundamental particle, maybe one produced when enough of some other particle accumulates. ^/^ This is from a warning about likely thunderstorms 'round these parts for the rest of the week.

Oh, and I added a local weather banner to the sidebar in place of the former "god of the day" bit. I figured if I was going to have mythology on the sidebar, it might as well be potentially useful mythology. On a related note, when the cable company rearranged the channels recently, it put the weather channel right next to the sci-fi channel. That was the one change I approved of. (And, no, I still don't have cable; I find I enjoy television much more when I can only watch it someplace else.)

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07 April 2009

Early Butterfly

fluttering twixt
glass and screen; capture
yields freedom

There was a butterfly trapped in the window of my garage's person-sized door this afternoon. The window was open a smidgen to let fresh air into the garage, but the screen was still there, so I'm not sure how the butterfly even got in there. Maybe it crawled in as a caterpillar and built its cocoon in there. *shrugs* Either way, it wasn't having much fun getting out, and just opening the door wasn't enough: the butterfly just kept flying at the glass. So I gently cupped my hands around it and carried it around the door. Once it was in the sunlight, it just spread its wings and hung out on my hand for a bit: resting and soaking up rays. I think if I'd stayed still, it would have stayed there for quite a while. As soon as I started moving gently forward, though, the butterfly flew away. It looked something like this one that I came across two springs ago.

AM EDIT: After logging out last night, I decided I wanted to change the last line of the poem a bit. Above the fold is the new, hopefully improved, version. Here's the original:

fluttering twixt
glass and screen; capture
equals freedom

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06 April 2009


You know you're hungry when you discover there's a bag of almonds on your desk and think, "YAY! My life just got immeasurably better!"

You know you're a mathematician when you immediately object to your own use of "immeasurably" and start thinking about how you would, in fact, measure the improvement.

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05 April 2009

GF Products: riceworks Gourmet Brown Rice Crisps

I'm not finding the flavor I bought available online. Though Amazon lists it with its riceworks products, it says it is not currently available through them. I found these at CostCo, and a quick scan suggests they may also be available at Target. CostCo has a surprising number of gluten-free snack options available, though they don't have too much in the way of gluten free baking ingredients.

The flavor I tried is Sea Salt. I was ... very pleasantly surprised by these chips. There is a small list of items that I still miss and have not found anything remotely equivalent in gluten-free options. I can now cross "Triscuits" off that list. The texture is not the same as Triscuits, but the flavor is strongly reminiscent. I can't compare directly, of course, but I can say that whatever it was that appealed to me about the flavor of Triscuits is also in the flavor of these chips. The texture, though, comes closer to that of the fried tortilla strips that I sometimes found in Mexican offerings, but crispier.

So I finally have one product I can recommend today without reservation. Unfortunately, I can't provide a retail link to it, so you'll have to hunt around Targets and CostCos if you want to try it.

GF Tips Index

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GF: Hodgson Mill - Apple Cinnamon Muffin Mix

This is a GF baking mix that I found at Albertson's, of all places. Though, looking at the online prices, it was a bit overpriced. (Hodgson Mill's Site, Amazon)

On the one hand, it's nice to have an out-of-the-box muffin mix that's easy to find. On the other, there was an odd taste to the bread that I didn't care for. In this case, I'm not sure what ingredient is resulting in the funny flavor. Like the Glutino bars below, flax seeds are part of the ingredient list, but I know what flax seeds taste like, and that's not what I'm tasting; however, there's a note on the box that says Hodgson uses "specially Milled Flaxseed" which is processed to make the Omega-3 oils more absorbable. It could also be due to the millet flour, which is an ingredient I haven't used in any of my own cooking.

This is one that I would not buy again, but I think that you would need to try it yourself to see whether or not the "funny taste" was something that bothered you or not. The only way I've been able to eat these is by putting a ridiculous amount of strong-flavored jam on them, to drown out the funky taste. FYI: 3 of the 9 Amazon reviews are positive; one neutral review suggested that adding a freshly grated apple to the mix would improve it; and the 5 negative reviews agree with me that it has a funky, bitter taste. So... try at your own risk.

EDIT: I just noticed a note at the bottom of the Hodgson Mill page, that says "Garbonzo[sic] is out and Sorghum is in", so they've recently changed the formulation. I checked my box, and I have the newer formulation, but some of the Amazon reviews may be for the older one using garbanzo ... which would make the flavor even worse.

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GF Products: Glutino Gluten Free Organic Bars

I got two varieties of these at Wealth of Health a few weeks ago. Chocolate Peanut and Wildberry. They were ... okay, but not particularly good. Both suffer from the same problem, at least in my opinion: flax seeds.

In hearty, multigrain offerings (crackers, breads, etc.), I don't mind the flavor of flax seeds. It goes well with other hearty flavors. It does not go well in something intended to be a sweet snack. Everything except the flax-flavor was enjoyable, so if it weren't for that, I would recommend them without hesitation. As is, if you've tasted flax seeds, you'll have a pretty good idea if you would like them in a sweet offering. If not, you might consider trying one box to see if you like them better than I do.

(Interestingly, Glutino has voluntarily recalled the chocolate/peanut variety, due to the salmonella scare. No one's actually been made sick by the bars, though.)

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Gluten Free Tips Index

5.April.09 UPDATE: I finally decided to separate the recipes from the rest of the stuff below. Hopefully that makes it easier to find stuff here.

The list isn't very long yet, but I thought it might be useful to have an index for them, for anyone who wanders over here looking for gluten free info. Hopefully I'll keep it updated as I continue to add tips.

Bean Flours
Chicken Stew
Coatings for Frying
Pie Crust (links to a recipe)
Pumpkin Cookies (links to a recipe)
Restaurants (national chains)
Restaurants (Southeast Idaho)
Yeast Bread

Blueberry Muffins
Corn Bread
Corn Bread II (rice-free)
Five-Grain Muffins
Hot Cocoa, Hot Chocolate
Hot Vanilla
Hot Spiced Apple Cider
Red Rice "Salad"
Taco Seasoning

Amy's Rice Crust Cheese Pizza
Annie's Rice Pasta and Cheddar
Bob's Red Mill: GF Pancake Mix
Glutino Crackers
Glutino GF Organic Bars
Hodgson Mill - Apple Cinnamon Muffin Mix
Kinnikinnick - Cookies and Donuts
Kinnikinnick - English Muffins
Kinnikinnick - Frozen Waffles
riceworks - Gourmet Brown Rice Crisps (Sea Salt)
Stuff to Avoid

1,000 Gluten Free Recipes by Carol Fenster ***NEW***

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04 April 2009

Quote of the Day

Some argue that science is amoral, and that no inherent ethical conclusions can be drawn from scientific findings. There is, however, one precept that we scientists all take as holy from the time we begin as graduate students: “Tell the truth.” There is no greater sin in science than falsifying data or conclusions. Scientists are asked to let the world speak for itself, to observe without bias or preconceived ideas. In the ideal, scientists are asked to witness the world in its own great pathways of beauty, without the filter of prior desires or demands.

~Adam Frank @ Reality Base

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Might Explain a Few Things...

Your Aspie score: 116 of 200
Your neurotypical (non-autistic) score: 76 of 200
You are very likely an Aspie

Take the Quiz.

At Barnes and Noble today, I happened across a children's book titled All Cats Have Asperger's, and picked it up. It was short enough that I read the whole thing in the store. Essentially, it seems to be aimed at kids who either have Asperger's Syndrome or who have friends/siblings/etc. with Asperger's, to help them understand what's going on. What struck me, though, was that a lot of the described traits seemed very familiar. So I searched for an online quiz, mostly to satisfy my own curiosity.

Here's a shorter one. On it I scored 31, which is just below the listed threshold of 32.

So there's a good chance I have a mild version of Asperger's Syndrome. Funny thing is that I mostly feel relieved to know that there's a reason for some of the disparity between what I experience vs. what the majority of the population seems to.

As an interesting side-note, I think I would have scored higher before I started teaching and before I started doing taiji. To teach, I had to overcome some of my aversions related to being surrounded by lots of people, and taiji took care of a lot of my physical awkwardness. Some of the other questions related to habits that I had consciously worked to overcome, too.

One odd question that I had to answer "no" to: "Do you tap your ears or press your eyes (e.g. when thinking, when stressed or distressed)?" I almost answered "yes," except that I tend to tap my chin, lips or mouth, not my ears or eyes. You know how most kids count on their fingers when they first learn? I counted by tapping my chin. So I think that, for the spirit of the question, it would have been accurate for me to answer, "yes," but not for the question as actually phrased.

And one last thing... They say people with Asperger's are "overly literal" about figurative language. I've always assumed this to mean that they don't understand the symbology. However, I generally understand the symbology and choose to be overly literal instead, mostly because it amuses me to do so. I have no idea where that might fit into the overall spectrum.

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03 April 2009

Mirror, Mirror

I ran across an interesting optics problem at Cognitive Daily yesterday. The claim is that "your reflection occupies the same proportion of the mirror as you walk away." This is easily demonstrated to be false. The clearest, most obvious demonstration (also posted in a comment at the link) is to use a dry erase marker to trace the image of your hand as it sits directly on a mirror; at this point, the image on the surface of the mirror will be identical in size to the hand itself. Now, walk back several feet and try to line the hand's new reflection up with the outline of it. The image on the surface of the mirror will not be the same size, and, hence, does not occupy the same proportion of the mirror.

I'm not sure, but I suspect the confusion is between two uses of the word "image." In optics, the "image" is not the "image" as it is on the surface of the mirror. It is the image as it appears, and it is a virtual image located behind the mirror. In an ordinary, flat mirror, this virtual image is the same size as the object being reflected, just as if I had an identical twin and was looking at her through a window, and we were the same distance from the mirror. So the size of the virtual image does not change for a fixed object. However, the apparent size of the image as seen on the surface of the mirror will change, just as my twin would appear smaller if we both moved farther away from the hypothetical window. To say that the image always occupies the same proportion of the mirror is as nonsensical as saying that, if my identical twin and I keep moving further and further from the window, I will see my twin's image occupying the exact same proportion of the window. That can only happen if my twin does not move. As soon as she moves back from the window, her image in the window becomes smaller.

Another way to see that this is pure nonsense is to take a mirror that is much smaller than you are, say one the size of a picture frame. Place it close to your body; all you can see in it is the portion of your body closest to the mirror. Now, lean it against something and walk backwards from it. Eventually, you'll be able to see your whole body in it. So the proportion of body:mirror goes from a value larger than 1, where the body's image will not fit in the mirror, to a value less than 1.

I also found a NY Times article discussing this, and it may just be that it was reported badly. There's a link to the primary article at Cognitive Daily, but, alas, I don't have a subscription.

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02 April 2009

Darkness or Void (or Swiss Cheese)

I've always been fascinated with the idea of dark energy and/or matter, and I find it rather depressing that it may be nothing more than an artifact of data-processing and/or the happenstance position of our galaxy within the universe. Then again, it may actually exist. The plus-side to it not existing is that, based on current data, eventually the universe will expand to the point of either ripping itself apart or of such a low mass/energy density that the whole thing is effectively a vacuum.

I just stumbled across an article discussing the possibilities, and highly recommend it to anyone with an interest. (H/T Three Quarks Daily)

AM CLARIFICATION: That last sentence is rather muddled now that I'm more awake. Current models of the universe that include dark energy have found that the rate of expansion of the universe seems to be accelerating. Thus if the dark energy model is correct, one likely "final outcome" for the universe is that it continues expanding forever, eventually breaking apart all structures held together by gravity, like stars and galaxies, until all matter is spread so thinly that for all intents and purposes, the entire universe is nothing but vacuum. Another potential outcome is that there is some limit to space-time expansion, and after it expands to a certain expanse, it will simply rip apart if it tries to expand more. No one's really sure what happens when space-time rips itself apart, but it probably wouldn't be pleasant for any life-forms left in the universe. But if the current models are wrong, and what we're seeing is just a local phenomena or a happenstance result of averaging data, then those outcomes become less likely.

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We discussed the Communist Manifesto in class today. The thing that most intrigued me was the potential explanation for why some revolutions "work", meaning that they accomplish what they set out to do without causing more problems than they solve, and some fail. This is something that's puzzled me at least since high school. We had the American Revolution, which is considered one that "worked." Then, roughly a quarter century later, we had the French Revolution, which was a miserable failure in terms of its goal of improving people's lives.

One of the key differences is which group of people was revolting, and how much did they have to lose? Essentially, the American Revolution was not being run primarily by "radicals." It was being run by people with property, land, business interests. Yes, there were radicals, but it was not the radicals calling the shots. The ones calling the shots had a vested interest in not upsetting the existing society too much. They had something to lose if the entire social order were overturned.

Contrast that to the French Revolution. That one was being run by the radicals, by the extremists, by people with nothing left to lose. They had no interest whatsoever in preserving anything of the previous social order. It had brought their lives to utter misery, so there seemed to be no reason to keep any of it. Starting over from scratch, however, is very difficult to do well, particularly for something as complicated as an entire country.

This idea would also suggest that, if you want a successful revolution, you need to get the middle and upper classes involved. They'll have a better perspective for what parts of the system really do work well enough, and which parts can just be disposed of. The people at the bottom of the scale, with the most reason to revolt, are less likely to be able to recognize, or even care about, such issues.

It's interesting stuff to think about. While it seems unlikely that this is the only factor influencing the success of a revolution, it does seem like an idea worth applying and examining. I don't know of any counter-examples, but I'm hardly a historian. I would also suggest that this gives a reason even for those who claim to act solely for their own self-interest to avoid driving any segment of society to the point where it feels that it has nothing left to lose. There are other, better, reasons, of course, but here's one more.

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01 April 2009

Storm Jitters

We had a thunderstorm last night. It took me by surprise. When the first bolt of lightning flashed, I saw only a quick flash through a window, and started trying to figure out why someone was taking flash-pictures outside my house at nine o'clock in the evening. 5-10 seconds later, the thunder rolled in, and I felt rather silly.

Normally, I enjoy thunderstorms, but for some reason this one was making me nervous. I wasn't really sure why. However, the nervousness turned out to be somewhat justified. Just as I was getting ready for bed, a flash came. I automatically started counting under my breath, to see about how far away it was. I got as far as "one on—" before the thunder crashed around me. Call that half a second. 5 seconds is approximately one mile, so half a second would be roughly a tenth of a mile, or 500 feet. I didn't hear fire trucks any time in the next half hour or so, so presumably it didn't strike any flammable structures. Still, I was a bit jumpy for a while after that. The thunder actually rattled the house.

That's not the closest I've been to a lightning strike, though. Once my dad and I were at the Westwood Mall (probably at the sporting goods store that has since moved out), and as we were getting ready to leave, the lightning/thunder was breaking overhead in the parking lot. That was...unnerving. As far as we could tell, none of it was reaching the ground, but it was loud, with lots of static in the air, and probably not a particularly safe place to be. We made a dash for the pickup (which was, in retrospect, incredibly idiotic) and made it out safely.

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