Monday, December 29, 2008

Year in review

This is the year I discovered Jason Bredle. He introduced me to George Saunders's work. I think I have now read everything both of them have published, and several of those I've read twice.

This is the year I made new and now very dear friends, like the Crabsons and the Cowins, who invited me to the Raconteurs show, whose opening band was The Fiery Furnaces.

This is the year I discovered The Fiery Furnaces. 4 out of 6 of the CDs in my car's CD player are now Fiery Furnaces CDs. I can't remember the last time I became so enthralled by a band.

This is the year I got back into hurling, and this is the year I played for Pat's Saints.

This is the year I really felt single again after spending years in an extremely difficult relationship, although it really ended almost a year before this year started.

This is the year I fell in love and had my heart broken again.

This is the year I traveled alone internationally for the first time.

This is the year I took a boat ride on the Yangtze river, and had fish nibble my feet, and ate real Sichuan, and was given a Chinese name.

This is the year my 156 year-old blue-chip American company got bought by an overseas behemoth.

This is the year Barack Obama was elected to be the first Black American President. I voted for him.

This is the year I spent a lot of money on a new wardrobe and quality haircuts.

This is the year I decided that being fit is not an optional thing.

This is the year I quit smoking... for the most part.

This is the year I took my first trip out on the ocean, and deep sea fished with Damian and his closest friends.

This is the year I learned that I do not get sea-sick easily.

This is the year I saw Tom Waits live.

This is the year I saw my first big "show": it was Wicked, and I saw it with Mom & Dad in Chicago. It was pretty awesome.

This was the year I finally got to see Chicago.

This is the year I was moved out of the Unix administration group. It's the first time since I entered the IT industry that I am no longer actually a Unix administrator. Not sure what I am now.

This is the year I put as much effort as I could into a class and did not get an A.

This is the year I got spontaneous w/an old friend and flew to Estonia. (We're leaving on the 31st - it counts.)

This is the year I paid off my car.

This is the year I got back into ski racing. Although it did start last year with training, I didn't get on the snow with the ski team until this year. I've rediscovered one of my favorite things in life.

This is the year that I was mostly happy to be me.

My cat is into pain

And that's a little weird. Like, when I pet him, he likes to bite me. It's not in a mean way, it's just a firm, but not-too-firm bite on the arm or the finger. It seems to be an expression of pleasure for him. He also likes to pull push pins from the bulletin board and just kind of roll them around in his mouth.

I got my ticket!


Yes, yes, yes I do, got my ticket, how 'bout YOU?

Monday, December 15, 2008

My new favorite artist: Erwin Wurm

I've just discovered Erwin Wurm. It was from this old link I found while searching for a different artist.

Erwin is interested in how people see themselves. His exhibitions seem to be composed mostly of photographs of his sculptures, which are striking, simple compositions which often involve actual people frozen in medias res.

His work embraces sarcasm and absurdity while presenting the dark side of human nature.

Here is an interview with the artist, apparently conducted while he was setting up an exhibition.




Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Juvenilia

There is no name for this composition. I just found it in an old notebook, and kind of like it. Morgantown, spring, 1997.


'dem fish shure are jumping,
I would be too.
From one of the top ten
dirtiest rivers
in the good ol' U. S. of A.

And the wind
Shure is blowing that river south
though it wants to go north
like the way that rusty pipe's pointing
from out the slimy bottom.

that train shure is a'rolling.
To Fairfax, Naples, Springfield...

The way that water's shining up at me,
you'd think I was the only one
The sun knows.

Ah, but it's not me.
It's the power plan I'm weeded in with
droning and hissing,
'don't think it'll ever stop.

I best get a job.
lessen I want to watch this terrible river
die for all my life.

I'm glad that the big bear hasn't bitten me (us),
I pray that he will not have, Amen.

Better news: the tree remains standing here,
Not where you are, where I am.
where I have always been.
Where I will remain.
It stands untouched, but the wind.
She bends him to the North!
And he breathes the clean air, New!
Anew, and like his eyes sparkled,
She showed him far far away deeds.
Learnt him right Straight, she did!
And he understands. He listens and sees, and he wants
to see so bad, but instead
Grows. And matures,
Right here.


Saturday, December 06, 2008

Word frequency lists

Over the past year, Wiktionary has become my dictionary of choice for online reference. Of course I'm still an OED man when it comes to source material, but as a go-to dictionary, Wiktionary is very good. (My only gripe is that its interface does not play well with my cell phone. In fact it completely sucks, and I can't believe they don't have a better mobile interface.)

Just now I discovered its word frequency lists! Oh yes. These are exactly what I've been looking for. Immediate uses coming to mind include:

  1. Creating "soda water bottle"-type sentences from the TV and Movie Scripts lists that use things like

    • the most frequently used sounds
    • various even distributions of most frequently used sounds
    • new English-like sounds
    • a metalanguage that sounds exactly like English but isn't

  2. Developing the Layman's Story, which utilizes only the top 20 nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverbs
  3. Eliminating the top 20 nouns, verbs, adjectives, and adverb from my vocabulary for a day
  4. Restricting my vocabulary to those words for a... as long as I can tolerate it...

I'll think of more.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday.

"What justification could there possibly be for denying the benefits of marriage to homosexual couples... ?" - Justice Antonin Scalia

I'm not gay, not that there's anything wrong with that. Now let's look at the numbers...

Couples who are allowed the benefits of marriage in America:

  1. Man and woman of same race
  2. Man and woman of different race
  3. Divorced man and woman
  4. Divorced woman and man
  5. Divorced man and woman of different race
  6. Divorced woman and man of different race
  7. Divorced man and divorced woman
  8. Divorced man and divorced woman of different race
  9. American man and foreign woman
  10. American woman and foreign man
  11. American divorced ...

Ugh... This would be easier using mathematics. Let's build a tree:

American
same race -<
/ foreign
divorced -<
/ \ American
/ diff race -<
/ foreign
person -<
...

Too lazy to draw the rest of this tree, but you can quickly see that there are 8 possible combinations for person.

Another way to represent this is by using sets:

A = {divorced, single}
B = {same race, different race}
C = {American, foreign}

Note that the number of combinations is the product of the cardinalities (number of elements) of each set:

|A| = Cardinality of set A = 2

Combinations = |A| * |B| * |C| = 2*2*2 = 2^3 = 8

But also note that there's no valid combination that involves two persons who are both foreigners, so there are actually 4 possible types of man or woman of various social statuses and races who are recognized as able to reap the benefits of a legal marriage in America, and they may choose from any of 8 types of the opposite sex. That makes for 4*8 = 32 possible combinations! (Wow, I really didn't realize there would be that many combinations when I started listing them. I'm glad I went to trusty ol' math to do the work for me.)

Anyway, the point is that there SHOULD be 4*8 + 4*8 + 4*8 = 96 combinations. That's 32 combinations for each pairing of man+woman, man+man, and woman+woman.

If you still believe that being a homosexual is a matter of choice, then you have come to the wrong place for an argument, because I'm way past that. I assume you have been paying attention to the research, and weighed the consideration that no sane person would choose to impose a social stigma on themselves.

If you believe homosexuality is a mental disorder, you have not been paying attention to the research. Homosexuality is not a mental disorder. Scientists have found genetic markers that influence the sexual orientation in some animals, which strongly suggests homosexuality is congenital in humans as well, not mental. So any further argument against homosexual marriage is an argument against people with congenital variations, which is a group that YOU are probably a member of. (In fact, one could make an argument that we ALL have congenital variations, because who is to determine what the "baseline" for the human genome is? Isn't that eugenics? And in fact some research suggests (as does common sense) that genetic variation is by design, so it is not a disorder.) So, moving on...

Who can reap the benefits of marriage by law is most certainly a civil rights issue. Marriage in a church is a religious sacrament, and any religious body can decide for itself what a marriage is, but that has nothing to do with the US code of law. Marriage in a court of law is basically a financial union, and denying any couple of legal age the right to form that union is a denial of civil rights.

I also believe that stably married and adequately vetted homosexual partners should be allowed to adopt children, just as easily as stably married and adequately vetted heterosexual partners.

So there.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Shoppers trample clerk to death

This is absolutely disgraceful. What is wrong with these people?

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/27955316/

A Wal-Mart clerk was actually trampled to death by shoppers this morning. They actually broke down the doors and poured into the store like locusts. What the fuck is wrong with these people? They wouldn't even leave when the police demanded everyone clear out because someone was killed. They were indignant.

It's sick. This is murder. Who is held responsible?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Why not an actuary?

I'm thinking of changing my occupation to actuary. From what I've read it's a very rewarding job and there is a shortage of applicants. There are two guilds associated with this profession, and they require certification by examination to join. The practice exam I looked at reads like a discrete mathematics test. Right up my alley! I think it could be fun, and there are opportunities here in St. Louis.

I will need to graduate first.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Earnest Politician

This hand gesture, first brought to my attention by President Clinton, has got to be the most ridiculous hand gesture ever invented. I call it the Earnest Politician. It strikes me as something contrived by political strategists as a gesture to demonstrate the strength of a closed fist, but without the menacing impact.

I noticed it again when Sarah Palin started using it during the Presidential races this year. Note the limp thumb cradled firmly and straight by the index finger. Also note the broken wrist. A straight wrist would be too intense. In the photo, I'm wearing my sleeves rolled up to show that I am a politician who likes to "go to work."

Here is a better view of my rolled up sleeve, to reassure all you Joe Sixpacks out there who might be afraid that I'm just another desk jockey. As you can see I'm a non-threatening politician who is earnest about what I'm saying, and I'm not afraid of rolling up my sleeves.

Have you ever seen anyone who is not a politician in front of a camera making this gesture? It is a stupid bit of political correctness. It conjures up nothing but images of test groups to me. "So, how does this hand gesture make you feel? Threatened? Assured? Do you feel like you can trust this person? Now let's compare this hand gesture with an open palm and a closed fist." Blegh!

And woe betide any man who stands before the power of the DOUBLE Earnest Politician, where both hands are poised sternly to deliver a firm but non-threatening message! It's difficult to imagine a more impressive display of patriarchal strength without feeling overwhelmed.

Next topic: the politician's "thumbs-up," which is actually only half of a thumbs-up, with the thumbs pitched forward at a 45 degree angle, for some reason. This one I truly don't even understand. Is a thumbs-up somehow threatening? Why does it need to be modified? See examples...




That one by Obama where he's wearing the jacket has got to be the weakest thumbs-up I've ever seen. That's shameful.

A proper thumbs-up requires a strongly clinched fist with the thumb vectoring orthogonally away from the arm line. What is with these people? Maybe it's that clinched fist they think would just be too much for the public to handle. Could be. Whatever. Seems pretty lame to me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Unrefined thoughts on b&w photography

Black and white photography tends to make me focus on shapes and spaces more than I would with color. B&W seems more concerned with layout and design than content.

Karl Benjamin shows that color can add a crucial element to the space/shape melange, even when space and shape appear to be all that matter at first.

Karl Benjamin is my favorite of the hard-edge painters. It is his work, in fact, that has raised my awareness of what differentiates B&W photography from color. He focuses on rhythm, space, and shape, as well as contrast, but in a way that B&W work cannot approach. It's like introducing a new dimension to B&W composition.

Black and white photography remains a vital tool in the artist's toolbox. It's an instructive tool. Sometimes a composition cannot be appreciated as readily by the viewer if he/she is distracted by the colors of it. When colors are introduced, the viewer can't help but consider them immediately, like whether or not the palate is agreeable, or how the flesh tones work, or the shades of light. With B&W all this distraction is stripped out so that only the shapes and spaces remain. The subject itself might even become secondary in some cases.

How well would Benjamin's work work if it included anything more than abstract shapes? Not very well, I think. This seems like a flagrantly obvious statement. What is a Karl Benjamin painting that includes an organic figure in it? It must include hard-edge objects. I guess that cubism, which preceded him, included this element. It's as if cubism came first, then its decomposition by different movements into its constituent parts. I guess this is true for all art, as realism came first, then its study by decomposition, which ultimately fell to abstract minimalism.

Unlike painting, photography started out in a decomposed state. Monochromatic photography was invented long before color photography, and the evolution continues with digital photography and supernatural, in the sense of surrealism, additions to realistic compositions.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Change has come to America

We dare to hope.


"To those who would tear the world down: We will defeat you.
"To those who seek peace and security: We support you.
"And to all those who have wondered if America's beacon still burns as bright, tonight we have proved once more that the true strength of our nation comes not from the might of our arms or the scale of our wealth, but from the enduring power of our ideals: democracy, liberty, opportunity, and unyielding HOPE."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Your 401k as a stabilizing force

One thing I have not heard any of the economists talking about is how much our 401ks are actually stabilizing the stock market. My 401k is small compared to most, but I have put thousands of dollars into it, and just about everyone I know who works has a 401k, so we're talking about a very large amount of money being poured INTO the stock market every day.

All that money must have some stabilizing effect on the market because we continue to invest every paycheck despite the fact that the market is in a severe slump. This is a GARGANTUAN stream of cash being pumped into the stock market every day. The finickiness of Wall Street's traders is dampened by our constant, escalating investment.

Ha! I just typed "401ks as a stabilizing force in the market" into Google, and sure enough, here is an article from 2001. But why is it not talked about now? What would this "economic turmoil" be if our 401ks were not buffering the market's erratic swings? As much vacillation as we have seen in recent weeks, it's pretty easy to think that we would've seen a full on crash by now of not for the bedrock-like quality of our 401ks.

So, there's a pretty strong argument in favor of the 401k. Whose idea was that? Darn good one.

Also, our 401ks probably saved the market from a complete crash, and our tax dollars will rescue the banks. Really makes you wonder what is wrong with this system and how to fix it.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Good use of pennies

Pennies are pretty worthless to most people. I have asked the Internet how much purchasing power a penny had when it was first issued, but nobody has answered me. I suspect it was quite a bit more powerful than it is now, or they wouldn't've issued it.

Thinking about that thief that died a couple weeks ago for trying to pull the aluminum wiring from a live electrical substation, I wondered how much a penny would be worth in terms of raw materials.

First off, pennies created after 1982 are mostly made of zinc (except for a brief accidental minting in 1983 that used copper). Pennies up through 1982 were made of 95% copper and weighed 3.11 grams, according to this article. 95% of 3.11 is 2.9545 grams. The current value of copper is $1.6865 per pound. There are 453.59237 grams in a pound.


So, with copper at anything over $1.54/lb, it is actually profitable to melt down pre-1983 pennies for their copper, assuming a zero-cost copper recovery operation. $1.54 in pennies sells for $1.69 on the copper market.

The really interesting thing is that the price of copper is actually way down from where it was a few weeks ago. The average price per pound in September was $3.1710 per pound! That means you could have made about $16 on the copper from 10 lbs ($15.40 worth) of pre-1983 pennies. You have to wonder why we still find pre-1983 in circulation.

Perhaps my assumption of a zero-cost copper recovery operation is too drastic. According to this document from WCU, the instructions for a classroom lab to recover the original copper from a penny, several chemicals are required, and perhaps their cost outweighs any potential profits. It would take a chemist to know how much the materials cost, and what quantities of those chemicals are needed to process a given amount of pennies.

Here's some chest hair for ya.

A classic performance by The Jesus Lizard.

I first heard about this band in high school when Eric Gordon Fur offered to trade me his Liar CD for my... something, I don't even know what I gave him for it, Sean might remember, but I do know that when we got home and started listening to it, we soon realized Eric had just fumbled one of the best CDs he owned. 15 years later my opinion has only been reinforced.

This band has stood the test of time. Their complete lack of respect for anything pretentious or fashionable is always refreshing. Their honesty and energy is infectious. You really have to listen to the songs for several years to even make out the words, but it's one of those things where when you do make out some words, they're exactly what you had always hoped they'd be, which is basically a lurching conveyor belt of social criticisms that go down like broken glass, bizarre narratives, and colorful profanities.

Their meaning is not essential to appreciating the music. David Yow uses his voice as an exotic instrument. Not at all like how Jonsi Birgisson uses his voice, or how Ella Fitzgerald used hers, it's more like how a bare knuckle boxer uses his fists. It's angry, flagrant, uncaring. I've seen it described as the sound of someone who's been gagged and forced into a trunk. But it's also infectious, and exciting, and awesome. It's guttural, and disjointed, and it's everything you're missing in life, and every bad night you wish had never happened.

Here's an interesting Jesus Lizard video (not live). It's a good representation of their studio sound, and the video is perfect. It's just a bunch of street fights with an upskirt shot in the middle. Simple, direct, frank, and actually rather informative. If you pay attention you might learn something about the art of self defense.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Hope or Fear?

Which is the more important factor when you make your political decisions: hope of what could be, or fear of what could be?

How does fear of the unknown affect your decision making? Do you prefer to go forward with a system that is known to be broken because you are afraid that the alternative will be worse?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

[In|De]creasing American Conservatism

Postulate 1: Conservatism is generally characterized by a desire to maintain the status quo - a resistance to change.

Postulate 2: The more wealth a people have amassed, the more vested they are in maintaining the status quo.

Hypothesis: As the American middle class increases its wealth, it becomes more conservative.

It has often been said that Nixon would be considered a liberal by today's standards, because the country as a whole was more liberal in the past than it is now. I believe it is not merely the money itself that contributes to this result, but the self-imposed isolation that results from it as well.

These two graphs illustrate my point:



These two charts are completely made up. Note how the chart of relative conservatism trends upward in the same direction that the US Median Household Income chart does. As anyone can see, if these two graphs actually represented real data, my hypothesis would be proven.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Craving China's Food

Only a few days ago did I finally download the pictures I took in China from my camera. I know. I was craving the sweet mung bean soup that they eat in Wuhan when it's really hot, which is like every day, because it's so sweet and refreshing, and Wuhan got up to about 104 degrees while I was there. They served that soup every day in the cafeteria at the brewery, and it is delicious. I liked it so much I have actually developed a hankering for it. They call it green bean soup, or (lit. green bean soup, pronounced lù dòu tāng). It is served cold and refreshing - one of the few foods that Chinese serve cold, but it's also good warm or hot. It's often consumed as a beverage. You will almost never find a Chinese person eating lunch with anything to drink other than a bowl of soup, or maybe hot tea. Come to think of it, the only cold things I can recall them ever drinking were mung bean soup or beer.

Above is a picture of a cup of cold mung bean soup I had for breakfast on Hù Bù Xiàng (that's the name of the street, I can't translate it, but here are the characters - ). Note the slivers of ice floating in it. Hu Bu Xiang is a old little alley in Wuhan famous for breakfast food. There are dozens of eateries lining the street that each specialize in one food, and seat about 5 at a time. You get a serving of whatever it is, maybe go inside and sit down to eat it, then move on to the next one. After the cold soup we went for some savory, bread-style dumplings (second picture), along with my very favorite, the soup dumplings! The third picture shows Jarod eating soup dumplings, which are called Xiǎolóngbāo. Those little dumplings are filled with a vinegary broth and a little meatball. I could just about live on them. Next is a picture of the two cooks making the Xiǎolóngbāo.

There's a certain way you need to eat the dumplings when there's soup in them so you don't accidentally pierce the skin before you get it to your mouth. The best way is grasp it with your chopsticks near the top of the bun, where the skin is all crimped together, making it stronger.

So anyway, I got a hankering for the mung bean soup, and it couldn't be easier to make. There's three ingredients, water, beans, and sugar. I went up to Jay's International and got the smallest bag of mung beans I could find (called moong beans at Jay's), which was a 2 lb. bag. Now, as you can imagine, that's actually quite a lot of beans. The bag did not look that big, but suffice it to say when I was done making the delicious soup this evening, after taking it off the heat not once but twice to put more water in it, I actually ended up with about 3 gallons of soup.

But hey, it's a great breakfast food as well as snack, because it takes no effort to make (serve cold), can be poured into a cup and drank on the road, and it's packed with beanie goodness that will give lots of energy in the morning.




Here's a picture of Jarod and Jim standing out on Hu Bu Xiang after eating the dumplings. A few weeks ago someone asked me what people in China wear. I think he imagined they wear some kind of traditional clothing like what you might see in a painting. As you can see, the clothing found on the streets of China is exactly the same thing found on US streets.

Continuing the food gallery, here is a picture of the next stop - peppery gravy on noodles and a pan fried breakfast bread made with several vegetables. The bread was really good, but the gravy was kind of eh. That green bottle is my favorite beverage to get when I'm there. It's just called green tea (綠茶 - lù chá), but I do believe it's actually jasmine tea. I would get a bottle any time I was walking somewhere, and a couple for the room. Here are pictures of the man making the bread.
I have left no room to show the 3 gallons of sweet mung bean soup I made today, so I'll have to save them for another post some time.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Dow covers 1000 pts, McCain musters dignity

October 10, 2008: The Dow Jones Industrial Average rolls from a low of 7883 to 8901, but ends the day only (!) down 128 points. Pretty freakish graph to be looking at after tumbling 20% on the week. It's an alarming situation to watch unfold, knowing that a complete market seizure could be right around the corner.

And while the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan rage on in the background, McCain and his running mate have been whipping up such a frenzy with the conservative base, people are actually believing that Barak Obama is a terrorist, or supports terrorism, or that he's muslim, or that he's an Arab, or at least not an American, or is unpatriotic.

Well, I'm glad to see John McCain finally putting the brakes on this insanity. It's just downright sickening to those of us who don't actually buy into these ridiculous political attacks - those of us who belong to the generation who, as David Foster Wallace put it in his book, McCain's Promise, have been marketed and spun and pitched to more relentlessly than any previous generation.

All this inane dialog about Obama being linked to terrorism and not being an American citizen is just background noise to us. We don't even think about it because the mere idea that the CIA, and Secret Service, and NSA, not to mention the Republican part, did not perform a complete background check on the man who is about to be voted into office as President two years ago, when he entered the race, is preposterous. Or how about the fact that he's already a US Senator. It's just so far beyond even passing the red face test, it doesn't register on our list of considerations. But evidently it does ring with some constituents.

The only bright spot in this whole day was to see John McCain push back against the hatred welling in his base. It was like seeing the man I have wanted to vote for for 10 years back again. A man I had given up on weeks ago, when he brought in his fear mongering "barracuda" of a running mate. A man who had lost my vote because of his allowing this Rove-esque campaign to unfold in all its fact-warping demagogic glory. He is finally back.

It feels good to see John McCain behave like the person I thought he was. Now he shows that he is in fact a maverick. He has turned his face in embarrassment from his own campaign, which is a positive move in my book. I am feeling genuine concern for Barak Obama after hearing some of the horrific things conservative voters have been shouting at these rallys. I hope the real John McCain continues to assert himself as the sincere, honest, decent person that I believe he really is. It's unlikely he'll get my vote back. I can't stand Sarah Palin. She's a Bushie through and through. But it would feel good to feel good about McCain again.

I think this segment does a good job of examining the danger of the McCain campaign's defamatory tactics:

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

What keeps me up at night

1) Falling asleep on the couch after dinner and then not waking up until after 11pm.

2) What will happen to our relationship with countries like Saudi Arabia if/when we finally liberate ourselves from OPEC oil? Trade is an important factor in a relationship btwn. two countries. If we stop buying oil from them, that's a lot of money lost for them. At $100/barrel, and 1,600,000 barrels per day, that's $160 million per day lost for them. That's $58.4 billion per year. Who knows, it might improve relations with them. I'm sure they'll have plenty of buyers elsewhere. Or maybe we won't stop buying from OPEC, but we'll just be in a position where we're not completely dependent on OPEC, such that we could cut off purchases from them, albeit resulting in a higher cost of oil, but still we would be able to maintain a certain level of energy in the US with or w/out OPEC oil.

3) The Catholic church needs to allow married men to be priests. I believe that it does not because of the people in power now who control those decisions. Until it does, it suffers from a very small pool of males to draw priests from, and, in my mind it seems apparent, that small pool includes many men who are trying to hide from their degenerate sexual preferences by finding an occupation that forbids sex completely. It's unnatural. Once the church allows married men to be priests again, it will find itself in a new era of growth and enthusiasm.

4) Confessions of a Dangerous Mind is an awesome movie. Sam Rockwell's wardrobe is bad ass. How did they manage to make '70s style relevant and cool in this movie? I think perhaps by using contemporary designs with '70s elements to create a convincing and attractive mix. Like in his house, the house is appointed with many things that say '70s, like opaque glass walls, loud stonework and woodwork, and strange lamps, but the colors are all subdued, modern, and the designs are refined in a contemporary way.

5) Modern cryptography is rooted in one simple principle: it's extremely time consuming to perform certain mathematical operations. Like factoring, for instance. Think about it. There's no trick to factoring a number. It's a time consuming process. We know that every composite number (a non-prime) can be represented as two or more prime numbers. Factoring a composite number into primes takes a long time, especially if that number is extremely large, like say 2^128 bits long. In that case, we can just pick two very large primes, and make a secret key based on the knowledge of exactly what they are. Since there's two of them, we can also produce a "public" key part that we can give to other people freely to encrypt things with. There's an infinite number of prime numbers. Even the fastest computers today cannot produce all the possible prime factor combinations of a composite number that is 2^128 bits long in a reasonable amount of time, like 100 years or so, and by then, you've moved onto using a different key, so it's irrelevant.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Chill, baby, chill

God, the sound of that idiotic chant. Hearing it on national television is exactly like hearing the sound of your country flaunting its shameless ignorance on national television. I mean here we are mired in a war where tens, possibly hundreds of thousands of people have DIED, and let's not bullshit here, people, there's a perception in many parts of the world that our actions in Iraq were heavily motivated by our need to control OIL, and we're chanting "drill, baby, drill."

Yes, I say idiotic, because I feel that the people who chant "drill, baby, drill" are behaving like idiots. It makes me very angry. That's the feeling I get, which is probably a fight or flight reaction to a mob chanting something I instinctively disagree with, and percieve as a flagrantly ignorant position on an very nuanced issue. (However, I'm sure they're really nice people with families, and that they're most guilty of being swept up in an idiotic chant, although I saw many people at that convention just looking around like "seriously?", and I can only hope that the chanters really do care about the thousands of families in Iraq who have lost everything because of oil, and given some degree of enlightenment, would find shame in chanting something like that in front of the whole world, considering the current context.)

But on the topic of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, here's the bottom line: even if we get extremely lucky with drilling in the ANWR, WE MUST reduce our daily consumption of oil by 6 million barrels if we're serious about getting off of OPEC oil. That is a 29% reduction in daily oil consumption.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), an administration whose mission is to provide official statistics to the US government, a BEST case scenario for drilling in the ANWR would result in a peak capacity of 1.9 million barrels per day for about 1-2 years. By BEST case scenario, I mean they estimate a 5% - FIVE PERCENT PROBABILITY of that being the amount of oil present in ANWR's coastal region.

A more likely scenario, which they estimate a 95% chance for, would be that we could sustain peak production of about 875,000 barrels per day in about 15 years, for about 2 years, and the rest of the time we'd be averaging about 500,000 barrels per day. Unfortunately, America currently consumes 21 MILLION barrels of oil per day. That would mean there's a very good chance we could go to all this trouble for what will amount to 4.2% of our daily consumption of oil for a very short span of time, if we're lucky and aggressive, presuming we consume the same or less amount of oil 10 years from now, when our rigs are up and running.

Our oil consumption increased by 10% between 1997 and 2007, according to the EIA, so, if that trend continues, we could be looking at daily consumption of closer to 23 million barrels per day. That would mean actually we would most likely be getting 3.8% of our daily intake from the new Alaskan oil fields... for that small window of opportunity I mentioned before.

Still though, from an optimistic point of view, if it is coupled with significant implementations of solar and wind power, or other alternatives, it could be important in helping us get off of psycho foriegn oil. (Not you guys, Canada and Mexico, our #1 and #2 suppliers of oil, you're totally cool. I'm talking about those other douchebags who hate our guts.)

It would in fact not be a complete waste of time, like some media outlets would have you believe, assuming we actually do, as I say, have some serious wind and solar power plants deployed by the time the rigs are ready, because 3.8% is a drop in the bucket, but if it's accompanied by many other drops, then we have something.

To hedge the probability that there's actually not much oil there at all, we would probably want to start drilling at any other domestic locations we can think of as soon as possible.

Again, the oil will run out fairly quickly, even in the best case, and will certainly not, on its own, be able to replace, or really even MAKE A DENT in the 13,468,000 barrels per day we import. Although to be fair, Canada and Mexico alone make up nearly 1/3rd of our imports, 4 million barrels per day, which is nice, and OPEC as a whole provides about 44%, or 6 million barrels per day. So again, even if we hit that 5% mark, which would really be something, we would only reduce our dependency on OPEC by 31%, so we MUST reduce our oil consumption by about 6 million barrels per day if we are serious about getting off of OPEC oil, let alone FORIEGN oil as a whole.

And that is the bottom line: WE MUST reduce our daily consumption of oil by 6 million barrels - a 29% reduction.

English/Tattoo Fail blog

Just in case this is news to you, you really need to check out the English Fail Blog, and its sister site, Tattoo Disasters.

Hilarious content. I shudder to think how many "english fails" I've produced in this blog, but that does not detract from the enjoyment of seeing other people's failures.

City Art Supply

Finally, St. Louis has an art supply opening up in the city! It's called City Art Supply. No more driving all the way out to Maplewood just to buy a sheet of mat board. Apparently they're opening this weekend. Here's the announcement.

Speaking of Art in St. Louis, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum at Wash U. has an exhibition going on right now called The Birth of the Cool: California Art, Design, and Culture at Midcentury. It looks fascinating. I can't wait to check it out.

Also, an exciting exhibition starts on the 19th at the St. Louis Art Museum called Action/Abstraction: Pollack, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976. Pollack is one of my favorites. I'm going to try to attend at least one of the lectures.

Friday, October 03, 2008

East Coast Politicians

That's what Sarah Palin said in last night's VP debate. I looked this term up in the Google to find out what it means. There does not seem to be a consensus, but many seem to lean toward thinking this means LIBERAL. For all I know it just means politicians from states along the US eastern seaboard suck. Or is it all states east of the Ohio, or what? Is West Virginia considered East Coast?

Regardless of what she was trying to say, one thing is clear, and that is division. As if contrasting liberal vs. conservative, or Democrat vs. Republican was not enough for her, she has to go and pit EASTERN Americans against the rest of the country. Nice. Why can't she just see AMERICANS? Why does it have to be HER kind of Americans and the kind she doesn't like (and neither should you)? Kind of discounts all her rhetoric about "crossing the aisle," in my opinion.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Stew au Poivre

... Not Steak au Poivre. I didn't want to spend $6/lb on filets mignon of questionable quality, and didn't want to wait for a better selection, so I improvised this dish from regular stew meat, presumably chuck, and I do believe it is at least a promising beginning. The inspiration for this came from Alton Brown's Steak au Poivre, which I have made before, and used way too much pepper. It was pretty tasty anyway.

This recipe could be emboldened, I think, is how President Bush would say it. For instance, allspice is like a conservative cook's clove. You could go all in with clove, perhaps. Also, heavy cream is what Alton Brown actually calls for in his Steak au Poivre, not half-and-half, but that's a bit too rich for me, and we're using a pint of half-and-half, which theoretically does contain 1 cup of heavy cream (two cups in a pint), which is the amount he uses.

The taste of the cognac is really subtle, even though it seems like we use a lot. I like the amount of attention it receives in this recipe, but if you're completely crazy for that flavor, just add more at the end.

There are no doubt other spices we could add to complement the cognac, but I would have to perform a more in-dept olfactory, and perhaps gustatory investigation, to be completely pretentious.

This recipe requires:

1 lb of stew beef (a.k.a. top round, bottom round, or chuck cut into bite-size pieces)
2 yellow onions
2 red potatoes
1/2 stick of butter
1-2 tablespoons of olive oil
4 cups of flour
32 oz. vegetable stock
1 pint half-and-half
1/2 cup whole black pepper corns
1 tsp allspice
About 4 cups of Courvoisier (could substitute with more veggie stock)

Crush the pepper corns into very coarse pepper (like the pieces should be about 1/4th to 3/8ths of a pepper corn) and set aside. I do this by putting the whole corns in a little pile between two paper towels and beating them with a rolling pin, then separating out as well as possible the big pieces. We want about 2 tablespoons of the big pieces. The dust can go away.

Cut the butter into pieces and put in stainless steel stock pot with the olive oil. The oil is primarily to keep the smoke point of the butter down, so use however much you feel is necessary.

Thoroughly coat the beef with flour and shake off excess. Put it in the pot to brown. You want it to brown on all sides at a high enough temperature to create some crust on the bottom of the pot. While it's browning, chop the two onions and dust them in flour the same way, shaking off any excess.

Once the meat is browned, remove it from the pot and put in the onions and the pepper. Sauté the onions over medium heat, then remove and put aside with the meat.

Now there should be a lot of brown crust in the bottom of the pot. I hope it did not actually burn black. It should be dark brown, but not burnt. If it actually burned, you either had the heat too high, or you need a pot with a thicker bottom that distributes the heat better. My pot has a paper thin bottom, so I have to be careful about the heat.

Now comes the deglazing. Open the Courvoisier and turn the heat up to high. Let it get hot for a few seconds, then pour in the cognac. I don't really know how much to tell you to pour in, but about 1/2 inch or so deep. That will come to a boil. Back off the heat to where it's boiling, but not like crazy, and stir as much as possible, trying to loosen up any pot crust that didn't deglaze immediately. Do that until it thickens, then add the vegetable stock.

Cut up the two potatoes into bite-size pieces and add to the stock, along with the meat, the onions, and the allspice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover, and let simmer 20 mins. Then remove the lid and let reduce for another 20-30 mins, until all the ingredients are showing because the liquid is so low.

While it's reducing do NOT stir it too much. You'll cause the potatoes to break down making it too starchy. Or maybe you like it that way, I don't know. You could also just add the potatoes 20 or so minutes after you've started the simmer.

How long should you let it reduce for? Well, you're about to add a pint of half-and-half, so however much you think would be sufficient to maintain a thick consistency after that happens. I would say let it reduce by about 1/3rd.

Turn off the heat and let cool for a minute or so, stirring gently. Pour in the half-and-half and one tablespoon of cognac. Mix thoroughly. Serve.

Republicans and Unemployment

The national unemployment rate is currently 6.1%. When Bush came into office it was 4.0%

Looking at this chart of unemployment, which ranges from 1950 to 2005, there seems to be a pretty clear correspondence between republican administrations and increases in unemployment. The blue parts are democratic administrations. With the exception of the Reagan administration, all Republican administrations trend sharply upwards.

With a little under three months to go, and teetering on the brink of economic disaster, you have to wonder what this chart will look like in January.


I found this image on the Wikipedia page for Unemployment.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Yo mamma...

Yo mamma is so fat, her measurements are more easily represented by converting them to spherical coordinates.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Who should get the bennies?

According to this article on cnn.com, iReporter and mortgage broker Margaret Lopez thinks we should use the $700 billion to bail out citizens who were sold these bad mortgages.

Sounds like a great idea to me. If banks need the bailout because the mortgages they invested in turned out to be bad, then we should be ensuring the mortgages get paid, right? $700 billion should cover it.

Right? I mean who should get tax dollars? Banks who made bad investments, or tax payers who made bad investments?

Obviously people should not have their mortgages bought outright. There should be a review process where their payments are reduced, possibly to pre-balloon rates, and their years extended to some large number that means they'll have difficulty building equity in the home because they'll be paying 99.9% interest for a long time, and their credit rating should reflect their poor judgement, but after all that, they should be able to keep their house and make the payments, just like the banks need, and everyone's less scared and a little wiser.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The bald faced hypocrisy

Check out this story about Obama and Biden voting FOR the "Bridge to Nowhere" legislation not once but twice. The best part is the last two paragraphs:

"CNN asked Biden's campaign whether it could ask the senator about his earmark requests and his votes on the Bridge to Nowhere.

"In response, a staffer e-mailed, 'You've interviewed Gov. Palin re: her completely made up position on the Bridge to Nowhere right?'"

Wow, what a great response.

Also important to note is his flagrant opportunism and betrayal regarding the coal industry. On Sept. 21st, Biden spoke to the UMW in southwestern Virginia, saying "I am a hard-coal miner, anthracite coal, Scranton, Pa.," yet in this Youtube video, Biden clearly says "We're not supporting clean coal," and "no coal plants here in America."

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Un-American bailout

"This massive bailout is not the solution, it is financial socialism, and it is un-American."

Thus spoke Senator Jim Bunning today about the so-called Paulson Proposal, and I couldn't agree more. Why would a republican-led congress coupled with a republican administration even consider a $700 BILLION plan to resuscitate our failing banks? Republicans are supposed to be for DE-regulation, free markets, free enterprise, and less government intervention. That is the FUNDAMENTAL set of ideals that makes their party attractive.

The United States market system is based on the principles of a free market. It's that simple. Sure, there must be some oversight and regulation, but in general it should be only as intrusive as it absolutely must be to ensure FAIRNESS. Injecting $700 BILLION into Wall Street to float banks that would otherwise auger violently into bankruptcy is about as far from free market as you can run.

"The situation is very fluid."

That's what I keep hearing from our best economic minds today on the radio. That's a euphemism for nobody knows what the fuck is going to happen.

Why the bailout? Because a resuscitation is exactly what it is apparently to be. Our market system is not just ailing, it's feeling the icy touch of death's hand on it's shoulder, and it's freaking out big time, because there's really nowhere to run. If we let this thing play out, as free market principles mandate that we do, the so-called "adjustments" could set the world back for years. Markets around the world would seize. The import and export of goods would halt because credit would not be available, which would slow the movement of goods, since nobody can trust each other (that's what BANKS are for - uniting buyers and sellers), massive job loss, starvation, you get the idea.

Ahmadinejad is laughing his ass off. I can't stand that douchebag.

Of course, the adjustments would take place, and from the moldering carcass of our financial system would rise something more robust and powerful, presumably, if our nation could maintain cohesion through it all, which we have done before (see Great Depression).

But my favorite bit of news today was hearing Treasury Secretary Paulson slyly rest blame on the American people:

"There is a lot of blame to go around - a lot of blame with big financial institutions that engaged in this irresponsible lending ... blame to the people who made loans they shouldn't have made, people who took out loans they shouldn't have taken out,"

Dude. I'm sorry, but if you honestly believe that the number of people making $60,000 per year (the median US household income), who would knowingly risk their family's livelihood on some shady mortgage, amounts to anything more a negligible percentage of all home buyers over the past 10 years, you do not represent us.

So, if the American citizen is such an ignorant stooge when it comes to personal finance, the biggest question in my mind is WHY!? We are citizens of the United States, the (for the moment) world's largest, most powerful, enlightened economy! WHY don't we learn anything about it in school?

All US high school seniors should be required to know the difference between an ARM and a fixed rate mortgage. I mean they all plan on buying homes at some point, so why not teach kids how to create a budget, acquire and pay off a loan, invest in the stock market, RESEARCH A MORTGAGE!?

That question has bothered me for many years, and I finally found a reason to blog about it. In fact, I believe it is this fundamental lack of economic knowledge that contributes to persistent poverty in the United States. If schools would teach poor students how to wisely manage money, perhaps some of them would see the light, and find a way to break the cycle.

You can be ABSOLUTELY SURE that if every American home buyer of the past decade knew the difference between an ARM and a fixed-rate mortgage, and what the risks and consequences involved in using those tools are, we would not be in the situation we're in now.

IF EVERY American student was educated in the ways of the American market, don't you think that our country would be stronger because of it? Don't you want a country of informed investors?

How embarrassing is it to be the Secretary of the Treasury, and blaming the failure of your country's financial markets on citizens whose greatest sin was believing they could afford a house? As the Secretary of the Treasury, you should be taking a very hard look at yourself and wondering what is wrong with the system you've helped supervise.

Oh wait, let me go ahead and tell you, so you can get on flushing our money away: It's not the fault of citizens you dipshit, it's your fault. You stood by and watched as millions of ignorant Americans were preyed by silver tongued jackals who sold them into the possibility of owning homes they couldn't afford. YOU had the power to do something about it then. You and your ilk.

You're the asshole, Paulson, not us.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Save Hidden Valley!

It's heart breaking and mind numbing and enraging. The only ski resort in the St. Louis region may be closing. I've come to love this hill and the people I've met there. With a roster of about 50 kids, the Hidden Valley Ski Team is producing some amazingly talented racers who compete strongly on the USSA, WIJARA, and FIS circuits, ages 6 to 18.

The problem is between Tim Boyd, the owner of Hidden Valley, and the City of Wildwood, where Hidden Valley is located. Mr. Boyd requested that the city issue HV a building permit to construct a 250-space parking lot on HV property. The new parking lot would accommodate visitors to a planned $1 million tubing park. The city responded by requesting a $251,000 fee, more than 5 times the cost of the parking lot, and requested that HV shut down the lifts by 11pm each night.

Besides the outrageous nature of the permit fee, Hidden Valley stays open until 3am on some nights, which Mr. Boyd says results in 20-25% of HV's revenue.

The City Council and Mr. Boyd have not been able to find an agreement. It is not clear if either party is making much of an effort. If Hidden Valley closes, Mr. Boyd will build a subdivision, and Wildwood will have a new property tax base.

In the end the only losers will be St. Louis area skiers and snowboarders.

Scott Baker has started a website at savehv.com in an attempt to organize people interested in saving Hidden Valley.

If you are interested, please attend the City Council meeting on the 22nd!

What about old home construction?

This country's very solvency is being threatened and it all comes down to this subprime mortgage crap: Citizens who have bought more than they can afford using ballooning mortgages which were sold to them by conniving lenders. It all comes down to INSTANT GRATIFICATION. For the lender: another sale, another commission. For the buyer: a big house with a big yard, just like the ads say they deserve. The REAL cost is now being presented.

One of our biggest problems now is called investor fears. Investors get freaked out by pretty much anything these days, but that's because many markets have become so fickle. I mean the price of gas may jump $.20 on the report of someone sneezing in Arkansas. What makes investors happy or sad? Indicators. One of their favorite indicators of late is the rate of NEW HOME CONSTRUCTION.

What's up w/the rate of new home construction? What about old homes? What's it like where you live? Because where I live, there are a lot of old homes, and especially loft apartments, that are being renovated and purchased by home buyers. Those renovations require labor - much the same labor required to build a new home, although there's usually a lot less vinyl siding purchased, but I don't think the vinyl siding industry is the backbone of the US economy. Why don't investors latch on to something a little closer to the bone, like the rate of new primary mortgages assumed? Isn't that the number we're ultimately after here?

What do we care if some developer just erected 30 units? Isn't it only relevant if the units were sold? I mean if it's actually the act of construction itself that is supporting our economy, then perhaps this realignment is overdue, because that's not a sustainable path anyway. What happens when the whole country is paved over with subdivisions? No more new homes to build! They're all built! Time to start building out oceanic platforms? I can imagine the names now... Wavewood, Dolphinwood, Kelpwood, Jellyfishwood... Scallop Terrace, Plantation Reef, Tidehurst... we could just update the random subdivision/housing development/rest home name generator with some seafarin' speak.

Anyway, the question is why aren't old homes being sold to new families included in the list of economic health indicators? I believe there is a boom in old home renovation right now, including the aforementioned loft apartments... why no mention of that in the media? Is it because the sale of homes isn't really important, but the act of building them is?

Answers are welcome...

Friday, August 29, 2008

Want a job?

I have just discovered online freelancing websites!

http://www.guru.com
http://www.elance.com
http://www.getafreelancer.com

Apparently, if you are ambitious and can manage your own time, you could earn a lot of money by taking jobs from online freelancing websites like Elance, Guru, and GetAFreelancer. I think you basically pay a monthly membership fee, then submit bids for work requests you find on the website. If your bid is chosen, then you go to work! Awesome!

This whole post totally sounds like a "want to be your own boss?" ad, but this is obviously the real deal.

Want to write for a living? How about programming? Graphics design? Accounting? Transcription? Whatever! What the hell, do it all! Just go and look. What a great thing to know about.

If I'm stuck in a rut and can't find a job, I could hopefully find work there. It could also be a great way of making secondary income, although I personally am already busy enough and would like more free time, but maybe someday I will need money more than freetime.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

STLtoday.com: Worst Website Ever

If you know of any good sources of local news for St. Louis other than stltoday.com, please let me know.

I was a loyal reader of stltoday.com for my local news ever since they started. In recent months the website has become a Class VI Unnavigable Catastrophe with invasive Flash adds, pop-up ads, and ridiculous Javascript menus.

I sent them an email this morning expressing my concerns for their website, suggesting that they consider an ad-free subscription program or at least less time consuming experience, since it takes like 5 seconds to click through the stupid ads to get to the content. Guess what they sent me in return... "Thank you for taking the time to write..." blah, blah, blah. Standard boilerplate response. They didn't even take the time to read my email.

Nothing grinds my gears like when I get brushed off by a company after I took the time to submit some well thought-out feedback.

After looking around Google, I quickly discovered that I am not the only person to think their website is a disaster. I found many in agreement in the 206 comments for the Redesign FAQ, and here in the 68 comments for this Redesign Update article. Unfortunately, comments for both articles are closed now, or I would chip in my ire. The design disaster is also discussed in the Urban St. Louis forums.

Things that suck about stltoday.com:

1) Doesn't work on a mobile phone. I mean are you serious? It's 2008. You redesigned you website in 2008, and it doesn't work on a mobile phone, and like everyone has broadband access on their mobile phone now.

2) The gigantic Flash ad that takes up about 70% of the screen and tries to appear as a page being folded over from the upper right hand corner of my screen that I have to click "close," once it's done loading, to close before I can see the rest of the page.

3) The colors. Teal + red + white = craptastic.

4) The Big Fat Navigation Menu at the top of the screen. Seems like every time I move my mouse this monstrosity drops down over where I'm trying to navigate to, so I have to move the pointer all the way to the side of the window to get it to go back up... bleagh.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Sheriff Justus

This is Sheriff Mearl J. Justus. Just soak that in for a minute.

OK, I'm serious, this is the St. Clair County Sheriff. Not only does this man look like his swagger alone would knock over chairs as he walks through a room, but he is in fact quite an innovative law man.

There's an article in stltoday.com today about his idea of hanging wanted posters over the urinals in the Sheriff's department. It's apparently been a pretty successful project.

In 1990, according to the article, he set up a fake shoe store and sent out letters to the last known addresses of people on his list of wanted, saying they won a free pair of shoes. He bagged 33 bad guys that day! Holy cow!

Wait a minute... criminals read their mail on a daily basis? I'm unlikely to read mine once a week. And they showed up on the right day? That's almost as amazing as the idea itself!

Other fun facts about Mearl is that his department's homepage is at http://thebadge.us. And he has a blog at http://www.mysheriff.us. This guy's awesome!

Monday, August 18, 2008

You Can Awesome! episode 3

This one is also about a year old, but still one of my favorites...

Especially 1:30 - 2:30.




Their 80s style sensibilities were ahead of their time last year.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Watley goes to Vegas

This scene literally never gets old...


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Back to thought

When I find myself in one of life's valleys, I can always find peace and inspiration in the pursuit, or rediscovery, of new avenues of thought. Specifically I am talking about philosophy. I mean really, just the thought of opening up my copy of The Portable Nietzsche gets me excited. That book has never failed to provide inspiration for me in the 16 years I've owned it. Whether or not you agree with Nietzsche's philosophy is practically irrelevant, because he is one of the most exciting writers you will ever find.

But, rather than go to old faithful, I've (re)started reading Jacques Derrida (WAH wah). I tried to read one of his books a few years ago (Archive Fever), but couldn't stay awake long enough to finish it. Seriously, it was like Sleepinol. His writing is so dense and pedantic, it's a chore to follow. The introduction for that book actually notes that he even writes in a style that makes it difficult to translate into English. What a dick! However, he is noted as the founder of the philosophy of deconstruction, which is heavily referenced by most of the important modern architects, specifically in deconstructivist work, so I figure it is worthwhile to try to understand him.

My brother made me a t-shirt with a montage of work from Lebbeus Woods's Radical Reconstruction. I fell in love with Woods's work as soon as Sean introduced me to it a couple years ago, but I had forgotten about it until that shirt arrived in the mail. Thanks, Sean!

Sean pointed out to me today that Lebbeus Woods has never been known as a deconstructivist, but, in his words (Sean's), certainly a futurist, and maybe, if you had to label him, we'd call him a post-functionalist.

Lebbeus Woods has a blog! Yes!

If I can derive anything useful in my study of Derrida, I'll be sure to post something about it.

Here's a picture of me with a disembodied light bulb hanging from a string. This whole post is really just a bunch of words surrounding this picture. It's a deconstructivist picture in a room that's been partially de-constructed... and I'm wearing a shirt that's disintegrating. Oh yeah, that t-shirt is like as old as my copy of The Portable Nietzsche. I treat it like a priceless artifact. It's sooo comfortable, it's almost as light as air, and as soft as a newly shorn lamb.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Shanghai

I didn't post anything while I was in Shanghai, because I didn't have much downtime, but I feel compelled to describe at least this one outstanding thing that happened to me there, which happened during dinner on Thursday night with two of my Chinese friends. We were eating at an Indian restaurant, all you can eat and drink, it was totally awesome, but that's not the point. We were talking about difficult life experiences, and after telling a story of mine, one of my friends asked me, "Do you know the show Growing Pains?"

Smiling broadly, and doing my best to contain intense gleeful laughter for what was about to transpire, I of course conceded that I do. He then related to my story by describing an episode of Growing Pains where a young Mike Seaver dealt with an experience similar to mine. I could barely contain the wondrous, disbelieving guffaw I felt for his choosing to empathize with me through Growing Pains. All I could think was how Jason Bredle would've shit a solid gold capybara if he could've been there to hear it. And are they still airing this show in China? And I can't believe the world has shrunk so much that this scenario is even taking place!

I mean, when was the last time you even thought about that show? For me it was when I discovered the afore-linked Bredle poem, which was only a couple months ago, but before that I mean really, maybe what, 14 or 15 years? But then my friend made the most astute observations about the show's impact on Chinese society, and I was forced to step back and consider the changes it affected on American society. He noted how shows like it and Family Ties made it OK for the family's patriarch to show emotion, and openly love his family. Shows like that made it clear that family is the most important thing of all, and it's OK to hug your son. Their popularity pushed important social issues into every family's living room, especially issues of social equality and forgiveness.

Of course, they pushed them out in perfectly formed chunks of happy shiny entertainment, easily digestible, devoid of the ugly spurs and splinters that make coping with real life quite a bit more challenging and time consuming, but nonetheless, I had never actually given that show any importance until he forced me to consider it.

I can't upload pictures to this post for some reason. I'll try to put together a stream sometime.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

For Food Fanatics

And alliteration advocates...

I have eaten many dishes, some fantastic, some scary, some hot, and all delicious.

Some fantastic: You've already seen that glorious clay pot [ed: Glorious clay pot? I must be channeling Lynn Rossetto Casper...], but the hotel's kitchen has produced something else wonderful for me. I've discovered their "traditional club sandwich." It had a fried egg on it, at about the third layer of the second layer, and egg foo young, like a multi-layer St. Paul sandwich! It's a bit of home! Sorry, but no picture.

Some scary: Monday night I ate at the Red Passion (yes, haha, it's actually a very upscale restaurant) with the auditors, and we had one dish called Begger's Chicken. It was whole chicken wrapped in a thick layer of lotus leaves, and then a hard pastry shell, pictured here near the end of the meal. (Yes, those are French fries in the background. I don't know who ordered them, but they were darn good. The ketchup was extra sweet. Also, I didn't take that picture.) The interesting thing about that chicken is that every time I stuck my chopsticks into that mass of food, for the first four takes, I came out w/a surprise!

The first time I ventured in, I didn't know how to approach it, so I just retrieved a piece of lotus leaf and started ruminating. I was informed that that was not for eating. OK! Too late. It was rather fibrous. My second attempt I thought I was getting some shredded meat, but actually it was a mass of dark meaty strings, which I know from previous experience eating similar food is actually like, well, intestines. The third time I went in, I thought I had seized on a nice big lump of dark meat, but as I pulled it back to my plate, I recognized a beak, and vacant eye sockets!! The shock repulsed me from the table, and the baked head fell to my plate.

I gathered myself and tried once again to pull out another piece of meat, but that bird's bony red face was staring at me, so I had to put it back on the platter, and cover it with a napkin. Yes, everyone at the table was having a hearty snicker at my expense.

Some hot: Very hot. Two nights ago I had the very special honor of being the first měiguó rén invited by the A-B IT staff to dine at a particular restaurant that specializes in Szechuan cuisine! Dude, I mean just look at all the peppers on this plate! The dark parts are salty, hot pieces of fish. That picture is from the very beginning of the meal. There were MANY more dishes, and almost every one seemed to be 50% red peppers. I was actually buzzing from all the peppers... and the many bottles of Bud. They also said I am the only American they have seen eat the dan dan noodle. Of course, they did order everything on the most mild setting, but trust me it was hot! They even gave me a Chinese name. That meal was very special for me.

After that meal we all went for foot massages. I've never had a foot massage, and I can be pretty sure I'll never get to have one like that again! For the first phase, they brought in foot baths with tiny African fish in them (don't know the species) that looked like minnows. The fish eat your feet! Serious! I have pictures, but, of course, the stupid laptop won't read them. I'll have to wait to get home to download them using my Linux box. That was pretty fun though. The massage therapists were amazed at how white I am, but of course my friends were too polite to tell me that at the time. I learned later. I had a feeling it was either that or my apparently soft feet which couldn't really handle the full force of the massage.

The next morning (yesterday) Jarod Li took me to Hu Bu Xiang street, which has a whole block of small eateries that specialize in different types of traditional Chinese breakfast food. We had three different types of dumplings (dim sum) that I had never tried before, a sticky rice pancake that is considered local food, and some rice noodles in a very peppery gravy. I've very sorry that I have no pictures of that either, because my computer won't read those from the card for some reason. I even have a picture of two cooks making soup dumplings and one of another cook making a gigantic sticky rice pancake.

I also had the best cup of green tea I've ever had in my life. The IT department was given a large bag of homegrown, home processed, completely organic green tea, and it was amazing! I can at least provide a picture of that. Also that day they introduced me to a fruit I've never had called longan (lóngyǎn), which actually means dragon's eye. You can see why from the picture. You just pierce the hard outside with your fingernail, and it peels easily. They tasted a bit different from grapes, but that is the closest comparison. They were very good!

Yesterday Jarod also took me to a tea market. At a Chinese tea market, you are invited to sit down and sample the various types of tea before buying. The shopkeeper prepares the teas for you, and it is an extensive process that includes warming the cups with hot water, pouring out the first cup, and then finally serving the tea in small Chinese tea cups. You are given many many cups. I finally purchased about 1/8 kilo of the best oolong tea I've ever tasted. It had a slightly sweet aftertaste which was surprising and delicious. There was nothing in it but the brewed liquor from the leaves.

My work is nearly complete here, and it went very well, to my substantial relief. Tomorrow I leave for Shanghai.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The rest of the weekend

Saturday night I was anxious to go out and see the Wuhan nightlife, so I asked the doorman, Kenny*, where he recommended, and the waitress inside, and between the two of them I had a few ideas.

It took me a little while to build up the nerve to explore this radically foreign city alone at night, but I'm glad I finally did. About two blocks north of the hotel, I came to a corner where people were crowded around, and as I got closer, I realized there were about 10 musicians there playing traditional Chinese music!! What an unexpected treat! There were about 4 or 5 men playing the erhu, one or two playing wooden flutes, one was playing a large percussion instrument that looked like a yangqin, I think a couple of small drums, and there were three singers, one woman and two men, and they took turns singing from song to song. IT WAS AWESOME!

It seemed like a neighborhood thing, but I mean these people were really talented and organized. I guess they've been doing it for many years. I tried my best to kind of hide behind some people, because who knows what kind of awkward hilarity would await me if I didn't. Of course, after the first song, the man who was MC said something to the microphone and everyone turned around and smiled at me expectantly. Haha! I just smiled like an idiot and waved. A man next to me said "they are welcoming you," so I meekly mumbled thank you in Mandarin.

I stuck around for about 3 songs and then headed on down Taibei Lu, which was my original mission. I didn't find much on Taibei Lu, which was the waitress's recommendation, that looked inviting, so then I took a cab to Jianghan Lu, which was Kenny's recommendation, and that was pretty exciting, like Nanjing Lu in Shanghai, but, like Nanjing Lu, it was all shopping, not clubs, so that was kind of a wasted trip too. Now I wish I had just stayed on that corner with the locals listening to the live music.

Really, what a dumbass I am. That was a priceless experience that you will not find on a tourist map, and nobody will tell you about (if they even know) because the young people here I told about it looked at me like I had antlers growing out of my head, like "you like traditional Chinese music??" Well, I mean how could I? I've never heard it before! There I was, reaping the benefits of having the gall to explore Wuhan at night alone, experiencing a bit of culture that could very well become extinct over the next 20 years, as China discovers the trappings of globalism and modern society, but I just had to break off and go find "nightlife." I hope dearly they will be out next Saturday night. I will bring a camera and not be shy.

Sunday I went to the Hubei Fine Art Museum, and then the Hubei Provincial Museum. Both were fine museums, but the Hubei Provincial Museum was huge, spanning like five buildings, and packed with cultural treasures. I got to see the Sword of Goujian, the most famous Chinese sword of all (2500 years old and not a speck of tarnish)!! Evidently it is one of the most important museums in China. I tried my best to see all of it, but after walking so much the day before, I was ready to collapse. Really, you need about three days to explore that museum. I think I gave it about 3 hours (that was after about 2 at the Fine Art Museum), and then just tried to find the Sword of Goujian.

The funny part is it took me like another hour to find that darn sword, but I wasn't leaving until I saw it. I started asking museum security at like every corner, "Jian zai nar?" (The sword is where?). They would point and say something back to me, and I would move a little closer. Building to building, room by room, I moved closer. Finally I found it, and the quest actually pulled me through every single exhibit that I hadn't seen already anyway. Ha!






*Kenny is his "English name," which is something most young people take for themselves to make doing business with English speakers easier. They often pick names that make you think 'why?' I also met his classmate, also a doorman, name of Jordan, "like Michael Jordan." They are both undergraduate students at a local university for hotel management. They are also both fluent English speakers and very eager to ask me questions about America. I appreciate the opportunity to ask them questions about Wuhan and the Chinese language.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I am tourist! Hear me babble something in broken Mandarin!

So, the secret to getting me up at 6:00 in the morning is simple: just send me to the other side of the planet. I had showered, eaten a leisurely breakfast (French toast and three cups of coffee), researched some places to check out, and hit the street before 8am. Oh man, let me just say first that I used every single bit of Mandarin I know today, and then some. It was pretty fun.

About 1 in every 10 people I passed today just outright stared at me. Last time I was in Wuhan it was a bit unnerving, but this time I was able to pretty much ignore it.

I spent the first couple hours exploring a large swath of the downtown area, and taking pictures. The most interesting discovery was when I came across a huge tea market. The entrance to it was not very obvious, but as I walked through, I realized it occupies about half a block! Inside are dozens of small tea shops specializing in either tea or tea accessories. If I could read Mandarin, I would probably be very happy with myself for discovering it, but instead it's kind of out of reach for me, because there didn't appear to be many English-speaking Wuhanese in there. I may have to get brave to take advantage of it before I leave.

The picture above is from where I very first walked in.

I located the place that I got the Ya Bozi last time (see previous post), but my stomach wasn't up to it at the time, so I just took a picture and noted the location. Then I took a taxi to the Guiyuan Temple. It is a beautiful old Buddhist temple with many altars, statues, and courtyards. I would have a lot more photos of the amazing woodwork there, but unfortunately, the most beautiful rooms prohibited photography.

The second picture is one of the courtyards at the Guiyuan Temple, where people were putting coins into the mouths of the little dragon heads jutting out from that bronze piece.

After that I went across the street to a funky little museum called the Wuhan Chinese Rare Stone Museum. My impression from talking to one of the English speaking employees there is that they obtain the most interesting stones that are excavated during construction, and have made a museum of it. I love museums with weird themes. I had to give it a try. Oh yes, it was interesting. They had some fossil collections in there that seemed to take some liberties. I saw a fossilized head of something that looks like some kind of cow with antlers, but not like any antlers I've ever seen. I suspect someone took some creative liberties with the fossil collection...

I can't resist including at least one picture from that strange museum. What do you think? It was labeled "Cervus Linnaeus."

But they did have some souvenirs unique to Wuhan, so I was told. They are what's called Chrysanthemum Stone pieces, which are black and white stone pieces where the white part is a quartz/calcite aggregate, and the black part is volcanic rock. They are very pretty, but heavy, so I bought just a small bowl.

Next I went by foot to the Wuhan Yangtze River Bridge. Oh man, that was a longer walk than I thought it would be. Then I went below the bridge to Lotus Lake Park, which is a truly beautiful municipal park. Then took a cab back to the hotel for MUCH cheaper than the previous cab... but eh, whatever, the other one was less than $6, so it was still much cheaper than US cabs. From now on I know to just ask for the meter instead of letting the cabbie offer me a flat fee.

Got back to the hotel and ate lunch. Wow, it was awesome. Clay pot rice w/a special sweet Cantonese sausage, chicken, wild mushroom, and some kind of vegetable. Exactly what I needed. I was so moved I took a picture.

Hobbled up to my room to find that they were in the process of installing a new flat panel HD TV in my room. Sweet! Helped them install it, then collapsed on my bed, kicked my shoes off, and watched Gold Medal Ping Pong Tournament. Definitely getting the full Chinese treatment. Love it.

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