Tuesday, January 17, 2017

eat it and weep, baby

Now, that's a good sandwich! Behold: homemade curry/satay chicken* with homemade Thai-ish peanut sauce on country-style baguette (from the new bakery in our building), with iceberg lettuce and store-bought mat-kimchi. I had worried that the kimchi might clash with the peanut sauce, but I needn't have. Despite its strong taste and smell, kimchi goes surprisingly well with a huge number of foods from very different flavor profiles.


Quite delicious, this was, although I don't think the baguette lived up to my expectations. It looked like a country baguette, but when I leaned close and smelled it, I got a distinct whiff of sourdough. I've smelled the sourdough odor coming off certain el-cheapo, store-bought baguettes in the States, and I just don't understand what these people are thinking. As offended as some politically correct nincompoop might be about my above sandwich and its various cultural appropriations (as you know, I don't think "appropriation" is a bad word), I'm more offended by these horrific knockoffs of what should be an awesome bread.

There is, however, a bit of irony** in not liking sourdough baguettes: sourdough bread-making apparently dates back to ancient times, but in more recent history, modern American sourdough was brought to California by French bakers. So sourdough has a pedigree that runs through France, but in my view of bread's evolutionary tree, there must have been a separation, somewhere back, between sourdough breads and baguettes. No proper baguette is made with sourdough, even if the internet is rife with recipes for such. Non, non, et non.

That said, today's bread was good enough to make for a fine sandwich. As with Paris Baguette's sad and shitty baguettes, it helps not to think of this bread as a baguette but, rather, as a new thing to be evaluated on its own terms. And by that criterion, this was a good-enough bread that contributed to a very tasy lunch.



*I pulled the curry chicken toward a satay by incorporating yogurt. Ideally, when making a satay (the yogurty kind, not the teriyakiesque kind), you marinate your raw chicken in a curry-yogurt-garlic marinade. A marinade should have an oil, an acid, and an aromatic: the garlic is the aromatic component, in this case, and the yogurt—being a fermented milk product—provides both the oil (well, the fats, anyway) and the acidity. The first time I realized that yogurt marinades were possible was a mind-blowing experience.

**I suspect I'd better spell the irony out before someone calls me on this. Basically: I love baguettes, which are French, but I don't like sourdough baguettes despite sourdough's French pedigree. Okay, maybe it's not that ironic, and now you're thinking I've misused the concept of irony the same way Alanis Morissette was accused of doing in her song "Ironic." But I see the irony even if you don't, dammit.



Happy Birthday!

A very Happy Birthday to the late, great(est) Muhammad Ali and to Benjamin Franklin, who share a birthday on January 17. There's some other unsavory person turning 75 today... can't remember who that is...



sometimes, life is like this


When I see two alligators wrestling with each other, snapping and writhing like angry dragonspawn, I see two tasty things competing for the chance to be first on my plate.



Monday, January 16, 2017

18°F

Walked back to my apartment—about a 25-minute trek—in 18° Fahrenheit (-7.8°C) weather last night. Didn't feel all that different from walking in 24-degree (-4.4°C) weather, to be honest, so I think my nighttime creekside walks are still doable. This isn't arctic weather: it's not as though the snot from my nose is freezing as soon as it meets the cold air, nor are my eyeballs in any danger of icing over. So yeah—this is all still walkable. I may, however, need one more layer of upper-body insulation for when I stop walking the staircases and just walk straight back to my place, sweating underneath my coat. It might also be nice to have thin gloves that fit under my thick gloves: with my current gloves, my fingertips still freeze. Aside from that, I'd say winter walking is quite feasible... as long as things don't get too icy, thus forcing me to break out my trusty ice cleats.



I give up

It is now officially too cold out for me to continue with my previous heating arrangement (space heater + boiling water). This building comes with no real insulation, so the place is an icebox when I get back from work,* especially now that nighttime temperatures have hit the mid teens, Fahrenheit (17ºF = approx. -8ºC). As a result, I am now turning on the dreaded ondol, which means my electric bill is going to go from manageable to massive. Ah, well. Such are the woes of winter.



*Yes... I worked until midnight on a Sunday. I have no family. Or friends. Or life, apparently.



Sunday, January 15, 2017

the new walk project

If I can clear this with my boss, it's gonna be amazing.

By the time we hit March 1, I will have racked up over 120 hours of comp time on top of the 20 or 30 extra hours I have left over from my Christmas/New Year's break. I've therefore broached the idea of taking three or so weeks off straight so I can walk the South Korean half of the Korean peninsula, from Seoul to Busan, by following the Four Rivers Project bike path. The path actually varies in length as there are some alternate routes (that all come together by the time you reach Busan), and one of the four segments will take me across the imposing (imposing to me, anyway) Baekdu Daegan mountain range.*

One athletic Canuck made a video of himself (drone camera, GoPro, and all) biking from Seoul to Busan; his version of the route covered a distance of 572.95 kilometers.** In miles, that comes out to around 355, which is a bit more than half the distance I walked in 2008. I calculated that, if I were to walk the route in 17-mile chunks every day, the walk would take 20.9 days, i.e., 21 days, or three weeks. If I block off about 24 days to walk the route (with a few days' padding as a "Murphy's Law buffer"), I can do the whole thing in about 3.5 weeks.

If I get the "yes" from the boss within the next week or so (we're still confirming our publishing schedule), I'll begin training much harder than I currently am. Having walked 600 miles before, I now have a much better idea of what to expect in terms of aches and pains, logistics, etc. On the bright side, I'll be armed with a much better cell phone, and since I've seen reports that there's a 500-kilometer version of the trail, I might suss that route out and make it my hiking route of choice.

Further research has revealed that foreigners who have biked the Seoul-Busan route were delighted by (1) how well-maintained and generally easy the route was, and (2) the fact that there are rest areas and free(!) campsites spaced evenly along the way every 10 or 20 km. That last thing was a worry for me: I had wondered how much back-country camping I would have ended up doing, with no recourse to civilization. Now, it seems that civilization is available every 10 or 20 kilometers. Good. So I can concentrate on walking.

One major issue is, of course, my knees, which haven't really improved since 2008, given that I've gained weight since then and have kept my knees under constant strain. I'm going to look into a wheeled carrier that I can hip-belt to myself, but I'd ideally like a rig that can convert easily into a backpack if necessary: I anticipate needing such a thing when I reach the mountainous part of the route. And if all else fails, I'll go back to using my backpack, but I'll do what I can to reduce my encumbrance to no more than 30 or so pounds. (In 2008, I was lugging about 60 pounds on my back, gear plus pack. I'm not a trained soldier—not used to carrying 120 pounds of gear plus 8-15 pounds of a weapon and ammo—so 60 pounds was insane for this untrained civilian.)

The prospect of a long walk is exciting, even if it'll be short in comparison with 2008's walk. Here's hoping the boss looks over our 2017 publishing schedule and says yes.

Oh, and: if I do get to do this walk, it'll likely happen this May. Walking during Korean summer would be unbearable.



*Korean mountains generally aren't that high, but their slopes can be steep. South Korea's tallest peak is actually Halla-san, which is not even on the main peninsula: it's on Jeju Island, just off the coast, and is 1950 meters tall (6398 feet or about 1.2 miles).

**Watch the video with the sound off. The music soundtrack is horrible and obnoxious, and the guy's voiceover narration doesn't add anything important to the video, except maybe for the one part where he ends up in the mountains and wastes part of a day inadvertently biking a loop instead of a line.



Saturday, January 14, 2017

24°F

ululate!


William Peter Blatty, author of that horror classic The Exorcist and director of "The Exorcist III" (from Blatty's novel Legion), has gone to his maker at age 89. I enjoyed The Exorcist in novel form as much as I enjoyed the movie version, and if Blatty's reward for his literary efforts is an eternity in hell, then may he traverse the laval fields of the inferno upon a regal palanquin carried by all of his legion of demons. He's earned it.



first checkup of 2017—and good news!

I went to see the doc this morning for my monthly (well...six-weekly) checkup. Somehow, I got away with not submitting a urine sample, but I did get the usual blood-sugar and blood-pressure checks. Blood sugar was fine; the doc smiled at the numbers and said I was good—much better than the previous checkup, anyway, when my HbA1c numbers came back looking rather poor. But the big news was my blood pressure, which was the lowest I'd ever seen it:

110/80

I did a double-take. A BP of 120/80 is considered "classic" normal. I have no idea whether I'll be able to maintain such stellar numbers over the next few months, but we'll see. I began exercising again a couple weeks before today's appointment, and I also did my usual cheat-diet* starting a week before today. If I stay on this path, that'll be a good thing, and I'm thinking that diet and exercise may have played a small role in my improvement.

But there's yet more great news: the doc no longer needs to see me every month: we're now moving to every two months. Eventually, if I get healthy enough, I imagine I'll "graduate" and will no longer have to visit the doc at all. That stage is still a long way off, but it's no longer unimaginable. In the meantime, I enjoy having a doc who acts as an externalized conscience. God knows I need one, given my general lack of self-discipline.



*You may think it's devious and wrong to do a cheat-diet instead of just changing my dietary habits over totally. But hear me out: all the doc sees are numbers, right? What he's looking for, from month to month, is a trend in those numbers. If I'm able to cheat-diet and provide the doc with that trend, then I'm actually obtaining real health benefits from my seemingly cheating lifestyle because, little by little, I'm shaving away the bad dietary habits and replacing them with good ones. It's a gradual process that mimics a graph's approach to an asymptote, but I'm going to stick with it for the time being, especially if I'm getting results like those talked about above.



Friday, January 13, 2017

Darth Vader and "Rogue One"

Continuing our Friday the 13th theme: here are some interesting articles on the issue of Darth Vader's spare but memorable appearance in "Rogue One":

"Can we talk about that final Darth Vader scene in Rogue One?"

"Let's Talk About Darth Vader in 'Rogue One: A Star Wars Story'"

"How Darth Vader Got His Groove Back in 'Rogue One' Thanks to Last-Minute Tweak"

And amusingly:

"'Rogue One': Vader's Final Scene Redone Shot-for-Shot in Epic Lego Fashion"

Vader sure made an impression. And yeah: they made him evil again.





here's a dark thought for Friday the 13th

With a week to go before the inauguration, Donald Trump has been making all sorts of enemies. During the campaign, the mainstream media did its best to make him into the next Hitler, and Trump has punked the media several times, either by bringing unexpected guests to a news conference or by inviting reporters to a presser for an "exclusive," then castigating reporters for their bias and sloppiness. Trump has also made enemies within the intelligence community, especially recently with the surfacing of Buzzfeed/CNN's "Pissgate," a fake-news scandal in which Trump has been accused of perverted dalliances in Russia involving prostitutes and golden showers in posh hotels. The president-elect has fired back at both media and intelligence for sloppy work, ranting on Twitter about a "witch hunt." Trump supposedly conducted his own private sting against the intelligence community as a way to determine whether that community was actively leaking classified information; he claims to have caught some leakers, none of which is endearing him to the spooks.

The media and the intelligence apparatus are two huge, powerful, and pervasive blocs that deeply influence American society. Glenn Reynolds, on Instapundit, has written ominously of "the Deep State," a term that refers to large entities that may be trying to quietly control national policy and exercise influence throughout all branches of government. Making these entities into one's enemy is, to my mind, a very dangerous thing, which makes me wonder: what if something terrible should befall Trump on Inauguration Day? It's not inconceivable. Many people, especially those on the left, are actively seeking to keep Trump from the levers of power, and they'll be agitating against him for the next four to eight years.

Unless something happens on January 20, and Mike Pence suddenly finds himself being sworn in as the country's forty-fifth president.



the horse has been re-shoed

My "care" packages from the US have arrived, and I'm relieved that I now have spanking-new shoes, new muscle shirts, new tees, and a few other doodads, including a LifeStraw* and several bottles' worth of iodine water-purification tablets. My old tees and muscle shirt had been torn to shreds from five years of use; my walking shoes had died months ago (and I'd bought a shitty pair of Korean shoes that aren't working out), and my black semi-formal Rockport shoes, which I wear all the time, were recently given a new lease on life, but since that day, they've been worn down almost to holey status again. So now I have new Rockports and new New Balance** shoes, which means I'm good for another five or so years.

Am currently wearing my New Balances, along with a new pair of slacks and a new muscle shirt under my black, all-purpose button-down shirt. This feels much better than the usual rags. Of course, calling the old clothes "rags" is uncharitable; I did feel a twinge of sadness, this morning, when I got rid of my shirts. I decided to keep the old, tattered pants, which might be useful as emergency pants in a pinch, but I do need to get rid of my recently repaired, yet woefully superannuated, Rockports.

Sorry for the boring update, but that's the state of my clothing.



*I bought the LifeStraw before I'd ever heard about the Grayl, which looks to be a thousand times better. The Grayl is so effective a filter that you can pour Coca Cola into it, filter the Coke, and end up with pure water. Don't believe me? Watch this incredible product-test video, which also shows people drinking filtered toilet water.

**I had misgivings about buying Korean walking shoes, and that's because I've got finicky feet that seem to work best with only one brand of shoe that has ever conformed perfectly to my feet, and that brand is New Balance. It's not that New Balance is somehow an inherently superior shoe; it's just that that brand of shoe has always worked best for me. So I suppose that, in the case of New Balance and my love of the brand, it's a bit of a positive-feedback loop that generates brand loyalty: the shoes work for me; I buy the next pair of shoes; those work for me as well, etc.



Thursday, January 12, 2017

love knows no boundaries

I saw this the other day, and my friend Nathan saw the same thing and sent me a link:

Snow Monkey Attempts Sex with Deer in Rare Example of Interspecies Mating

I must say: the video of the mating was less than spectacular. In the vid, the monkey hops onto the deer's back and, completely missing the vagina, basically dry-humps the deer's spine. The whole tableau is weird, perverse, and a little sad for both the deer and the horny monkey. Ah, well... that's nature for you: weird, perverse, and a little sad.

Some animals go Platonic:


Some animals really don't give a fuck.





Wednesday, January 11, 2017

"tip" and "skip"

At my company, I work with a British freelancer who writes reading passages and reading-comprehension questions that are inserted into the grammar-vocabulary book I'm writing (in any given 18-page chapter, the freelancer writes 3 pages, and I write the remaining 15). The man is a pro, and I enjoy working with him, even though "working with him," in this case, means receiving emails from him because he lives way down south in the city of Masan, near the southern edge of the peninsula (Seoul is way up north, with its back pressed perilously against the DMZ). Not only does my colleague turn in his assigned work well ahead of schedule, he also produces passages that require very little proofreading.

That's not to say everything's perfect. When I proof my colleague's passages, I'll find the occasional minor punctuation error or inconsistency, but the thing I most frequently alter is my colleague's Britishisms. I've heard some people say that US and UK English overlap about 90%, but the more I read of British English, the less convinced I am that this conventional wisdom is true. There are so many differences.

Case in point: my colleague sent me a passage about a family in which the father, a man with no knowledge of computers, has decided to yank the old computer from his desk and take it to the local dump. What the father doesn't realize is that his son's 5000-word essay is stored in the computer's drive: the son had assumed the essay would be safe because the father almost never touched the computer. The story my colleague wrote uses the terms "tip" and "skip," neither of which I clearly understood until I got to the end of the story. Just to be sure, I looked the expressions up, which is how I discovered that, when a Brit says, "I'm taking this to the tip," he means, "I'm taking this to the dump." Once he's at the dump, he'll toss his garbage into a "skip," which turns out to be a dumpster.

I learned a lot of British English by reading the Harry Potter series. I obviously still have much to learn. Unfortunately, since my company's preferred style is US English, I had to change "tip" and "skip" to "dump" and "dumpster," respectively.



Tuesday, January 10, 2017

EU cascade failure in 2017?

I've made no secret of my desire for the dissolution of the EU and the eurozone, but I'm not willing to go so far as to predict that the EU will collapse this very year. This article over at L'ombre de l'olivier ("shade of the olive tree"), however, goes there.* The article concludes:

All in all the EU is likely to find a lot of politicians who find it a good thing to kick and very few who see any reason to protect it. This is a problem because the EU has utterly failed to endear itself to its citizens over the last 40 years. True people quite like the free trade and free movement bits but the rest of it fails to inspire. Moreover voters aren’t total idiots. If the Brexit talks stall, which they probably will, voters in the rest of Europe are likely to correctly perceive that the reason for this is that the EU wants to make countries that leave suffer. In Eastern Europe that’s going to remind them of the Soviet Union and the iron curtain.

All of this ought to be obvious to the EU Federasts but I’m fairly sure they still believe a combination of threats, blackmail and menaces will keep their restive populations in line because this has worked in all previous cases. The problem is that Brexit just showed that this is not the case.

I don't agree that the EU has "utterly failed to endear itself to its citizens." This may be true for millions of Europeans, but it's also true, especially among millions of younger Europeans, that a "European first" identity has emerged and continues to burgeon. Knowing quite a few Europeans, I've seen this up close: many consider themselves European above all else. While I don't believe that Brexit, Frexit, or any other potential "-exit" should be framed as an old-versus-young problem, I do think the specific question of being pro-EU or Euroskeptical falls at least roughly along generational lines.**

I also doubt an imminent EU cascade failure. Such a collapse might indeed happen if, as the article suggests, France elects Le Pen and goes through with its Frexit. But my understanding about la présidentielle this year is that François Fillon is currently ahead of Marine Le Pen, assuming the polls are accurate (which we have no reason to assume). Fillon is more moderate than Le Pen; much depends on how cautious the French are feeling. With Hollande in the command chair, the French have had a full dose of socialist policy, which has turned out badly (see also: Venezuela and other centrally planned economies, although admittedly, France hasn't fallen that low), so perhaps the French are set to swing fully toward the free market. I just don't imagine that that's going to happen, though: old habits die hard, and the French love their short work weeks, their long breaks and holidays, their habit of striking whenever things get slightly onerous, and their "free" government-sponsored "services."





*The article's title, "Wither the EU," may or may not be a mistake. The opposite of "whence" is spelled "whither," with a "wh-," but perhaps the title is meant to suggest the EU's withering, as with a dying plant. Hard to say. I'm leaning toward "spelling gaffe" myself.

**This is tough to untangle. I can hear you replying, "But wasn't the Brexit motivated by Euroskepticism? If it was, and if you're saying at the same time that Euroskepticism may be more of a generational thing than the Brexit, isn't your stance self-contradictory?" The situation in Europe is complex and not easily summed up. I think it was wrong for the anti-Brexit "Remain" crowd to portray the situation as a fight between the old and the young; part of the reason for this is that a healthy fraction of young people ended up in the "Leave" crowd (see here). But in terms of what a person thinks about his own citizenship, it tends to be the younger folks who say, "I'm European first." This only makes sense because the European-first idea is relatively new, so of course it would be picked up more easily by the young. I hope this makes sense. While there is, no doubt, some overlap between the Leave/Remain conflict and the pro-EU/anti-EU conflict, I don't think these are the same animal.





the Kyber conundrum

If you haven't seen "Rogue One" by now, you might not want to read further, as I'm about to spoil part of the film.

On the sere planet of Jedha, our heroine, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), encounters a blind almost-Jedi named Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen).* Because he's a Force-sensitive, he perceives the mystically powerful Kyber crystal hanging from Jyn's neck. As Jyn walks away from the stranger, he calls after her: "The strongest stars have hearts of Kyber!"

Imwe is a guardian of the local, now-defunct Temple of the Whills,* and Jedha is a planet on which a major Kyber-mining operation has been established. It turns out that the Empire is using these puissant crystals to power its new superweapon: the Death Star. It's unclear whether the Empire is using the crystals for their inherent Force-power or because the crystals have other physical properties that make them uniquely useful for the Death Star project.

So my question is this: if Chirrut Imwe is suggesting that Kyber crystals come from stars... why is the Empire mining them out of the ground on Jedha?

Granted, this isn't necessarily a contradiction: Carl Sagan, in his series "Cosmos," intoned, "We are the starstuff of the universe." It's entirely possible that stellar material might end up baked and folded into a planet. Nevertheless, I'm having trouble imagining how a Kyber crystal goes from here... to there.



*Way back in Star Wars prehistory, in the 1970s, George Lucas first used the term "Whills" as part of the title of a fictional document called The Journal of the Whills. The trivia for "Rogue One" is that the Whills—re-invoked for this film—were a race of powerful, Force-sensitive beings. The term "Kyber," meanwhile, is a new spelling of what had originally been "Kaiburr," from Alan Dean Foster's 1978 Star Wars-offshoot novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye: in that story, the planet Circarpous V (also known as Mimban) is the home of the Temple of Pomojema, in whose sanctum sits an enormous gem: the Kaiburr crystal, which is a mighty concentration of the Force that can magnify a Force-user's power.



Monday, January 09, 2017

what took so damn long?

The alien-encounter movie "Arrival," starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forest Whitaker, came and went in the States a while back, but for some reason, it never arrived in South Korea, and I've been dying to see this film. Well, just today, I checked Naver Movie, the Korean movie-schedule site, and "Arrival" will finally be coming to Korea on Groundhog Day, February 2. It'll probably be out on video in the US by then. Grrr. I wonder why Korean cinemas dragged their feet. Is it because "Arrival" has been marketed as cerebral fare as opposed to the usual noisy, superficial, explosion-filled sci-fi crap? Profound films don't make that such money—not compared to the substance-poor blockbusters.



English chicken

The historically aware say that chicken tikka masala was invented in England, that it's not an Indian dish by a long shot. Who am I to argue with history?*

My buddy Jang-woong's wife gave me a packet of masala paste,** so I whipped this up last night and reheated it today for lunch. Not bad.




*Did you catch the Trek reference? (Although Dr. Who apparently said it, too.)

**Indians are much more likely to refer to their complex spice mixes as some sort of masala. The term "curry"—referring to the pungent spice blend with which Westerners are familiar—is used primarily in non-Indian countries, and not by Indians themselves. The etymology of "curry" is somewhat confused. See here. More here.



Sunday, January 08, 2017

today's lunch

Instead of saying anything at first, I'll just let the pics do the talking. Think of this visual narrative as a comic strip with no words. I'll explain everything after. Ready?









Explanation:

I knew I was going to the office on Sunday, and I knew I had lasagna leftovers, but only in a meager amount. So I devised a plan: take my leftovers to the office, but while there, go down to the building's basement grocery and buy mozzarella and a small jar of spaghetti sauce. Mix the purchased cheese and sauce with the cheese and sauce brought from home, and voilà: I'd have enough to make a decent 4-layer lasagna that I could microwave.

Using the cleaver my boss had gotten for me as a gift, I snapped three rectangular sheets of lasagna pasta into squares (as it turned out, I didn't need to do this, but whatever) and packed those in a Ziploc bag. My cheese and sauce were already containerized, so I toted everything to the office. Once there, I knew I wouldn't be able to use the pasta while dry: I had to let it soak in hot water to soften it up, so I placed the pasta squares in the stoneware pot I keep in my office, covered the squares with scalding-hot water from the dispenser, and waited fifteen minutes. With the pasta nicely softened and plausibly microwavable, I began the build.

1. In the first image, you see the cheese-like pasta squares.

2. In this picture, we've got our sauce (homemade + bottled), as well as our cheese (original mix + store-bought mozzarella).

3. Pasta, laid out and ready for stacking.

4. The build begins in earnest. This is looking plausible, but I'm worried about the differences between microwaving and regular baking.

5. A completed lasagna. I'll be microwaving this for six minutes on high. How will it turn out? Will the exposed pasta harden and/or burn around the edges? Will the cheese burn? I had no idea what was going to happen.

6. We're done microwaving. The thing smells like an actual lasagna, which gives me hope. My hand pauses, gripping the lid. Suspense. The moment of truth is upon us.

7. Relief! While microwaving doesn't "suntan" the cheese in the same way that baking does, this looks like a legitimate lasagna, so I'm happy with what I see. I am, however, a bit taken aback by the huge pools of grease on either side of the lasagna, so I dab most of the grease away before taking this picture. The lasagna cuts surprisingly well: it's melted but still firm.

8. A final food-porn shot of a steaming, melty chunk of lasagna heading for my gullet. What can I say? Lunch was pure bliss.



Christmas gift from my boss

I now own a cleaver that, according to my boss, was made by one of the finest bladesmiths in Korea. I received this kind gift on December 28, when the boss and my coworker came over for lasagna. I'll be putting the chopper to good use.

manly men doing manly things

YouTube is a trove of fascinating slices of life. You never know what you're going to stumble upon with the next click. Here are two videos that I found fascinating and inspiring:

Dressing a Full-grown Alligator

This guy knows his way around a gator. Watch as he butchers a sizable alligator while providing professional commentary on the muscle groups and other body parts along the way. Not for the squeamish, but absolutely riveting to people like me. I've now subscribed to his YouTube channel, and I look forward to seeing more of these entertaining videos.

Restoring a Rusty Old Cleaver

While viewing this, I felt like a kid watching one of those old "Sesame Street" videos that showed some sort of manufacturing process or the step-by-step procedure followed by a craftsman. This clip shows the amazing transformation of an old, tossed-away meat cleaver into a shiny, functional piece of kitchen equipment. Some angry commenters have gone after the craftsman for using a grinder instead of a vinegar bath to remove most of the rust, but since I'm not a pro restorer, I'll stay out of that argument and just enjoy the visuals.



stay tuned

What could possibly be inside the stoneware pot? A culinary triumph? A culinary disaster? Stay tuned for the full story later tonight!

Saturday, January 07, 2017

almost

I'm at the office, continuing to work on our grammar-vocab textbooks. I'm working on a section that gets students to think about inconsistencies in prose: sentence structure, style/tone, and verb tense. To that end, I wanted to write a paragraph that the students would have to analyze, the goal being to have the students identify the inconsistencies they find. (Not to worry: there will be other exercises devoted to having students actually correct these problems on their own.)

I wrote a paragraph that I found amusing, but upon rereading and reconsideration, I decided to delete it and start over. The paragraph contained wild inconsistencies in style and tone, and I could have laced it with verb-tense errors, etc., to provide students with a target-rich environment. In the end, though, I decided that the paragraph's inconsistencies weren't actually problematic because they worked to comic effect.

Here's what I wrote (and then deleted):

Clark hated fishing, but his friend Simon loved to fish. One day, Simon knocked on Clark’s front door. The moment he saw Clark, Simon asked excitedly, “Hey—wanna go fishing?” Clark sighed, looked down at his feet, and finally said yes. Clark and Simon got into Simon’s truck and drove to the local lake. Simon’s boat was already there, so they carried the fishing equipment from the truck to the boat, then rowed out into the middle of the lake. Clark noticed how beautiful and quiet the scenery was and thought, You know…this isn’t so bad. At that very moment, the terrible underworld god Agoroth rose from the lake’s eldritch, obsidian depths, flailing its muscular tentacles, opening its horrifically fanged maw, and swallowing the two terrified friends whole, carrying them—screaming piteously—down into the infernal abyss that burned within the evil god’s very being.

So, yeah... that almost went into my company's textbook.

ADDENDUM: it appears that the name "Agoroth" is already taken: Agoroth is a "boss monster" in some video game. If you're an old fuddy-duddy who doesn't know what a video-game "boss" is (the term has been around since at least the 1980s): it's the the beast that your video-game character must face at the end of any given level. You must defeat the boss before you can advance to the next level. The old Nintendo game Contra (and its sequels) had a hilariously bloated, HR Giger-ish boss. In this case, I think you were supposed to fight the boss's head first, then you had to fight its ass or its guts or something. The boss was constantly spewing these nasty little offspring, somewhat like how the monster in "Cloverfield" kept dropping little critters (offspring? parasites?) off its body.



your Gedankenexperiment for the day

The Free Dictionary is an online dictionary with a nifty section devoted to listing idioms. I went to the page showcasing "horse" idioms, which is here. Your assignment is to visit that page, scan the plethora of idioms... then mentally replace "horse" with "whore." I love how this changes everything.

a whore of a different color
don't put the cart before the whore
damn—I've got a charley whore
beating a dead whore
so hungry I could eat a whore
straight from the whore's mouth
whoa, whoa—hold your whores
don't look a gift whore in the mouth
get off your high whore
I gotta piss like a racewhore
you can lead a whore to water...
ah, that old warwhore


I got the idea for the above from my brothers, with whom I often joke about Asians speaking English with an Asian accent. There are, of course, many different Asian accents—thus many different ways to mispronounce English—and when my brothers pick on the Chinese, they often focus on how the Chinese omit final-consonant sounds. "Come to my house," for example, becomes "Come to my how." So imagine "horse" pronounced the Chinese way.



yesterday's lunch

With added salami and pastrami.

"Candlelight is not public sentiment."

Someone on President Park's defense team brazenly stated that candlelight protests, with demonstrators numbering over a million, do not reflect the popular will. This is an amazingly tone-deaf, astoundingly obtuse thing to say. It does nothing to help President Park's case.

news from Korea

Courtesy of the online Chosun Ilbo:

President Park Now Denies Everything

My thinking is that Park Geun-hye is doing whatever she can to run out the clock. She's no longer even concerned about carrying out her duties as president (which she can't, anyway, given she's now going through impeachment proceedings*); for her, the important thing now is to avoid the dishonor of being forced out of the Blue House before the end of her term. Call it "face," call it "honor"; it comes down to pride and ego.

I still think Park would serve the country better by simply stepping down and allowing a snap election to select a president pro tempore to serve out the rest of her term, but that alternative no longer exists thanks to Park's conduct. For her, the strategy now is to throw as many roadblocks in the way as possible so that she can last until the end of her term, thus preserving her ability to say, "I served a full term as president."

In other news, Chung Yoo-ra, the pampered, over-privileged daughter of Park's spooky, manipulative, domineering confidante Choi Soon-shil, has been found and arrested in Denmark. She's in detention with Danish authorities and has retained a Danish lawyer who specializes in criminal law. Denmark says it will happily extradite Chung if South Korea makes such a request (which I hope it does). My boss notes, pessimistically, that there seems to be little substance to any of the allegations against Park herself. Park's and Choi's various associates, the whole ring of corruption, are brazenly stonewalling Korean authorities who are trying to question them. Justice in Korea never moves straight from A to B (as is true for pretty much everything in this country**); I'll be curious to see how this all turns out. In the meantime, I think 2017 is going to be a very interesting year for South Korea.



*As my buddy Mike reminded me, this is quite unlike what happened to Bill Clinton, who continued functioning in office despite being impeached.

**To be fair, US justice often works in mysterious ways, too.



Friday, January 06, 2017

the virus-killing surgical mask

Korean professor gets innovative:

A University of Alberta engineering researcher has developed a new way to treat common surgical masks so they are capable of trapping and killing airborne viruses. His research findings appear in the prestigious journal Scientific Reports.

Hyo-Jick Choi, a professor in the University of Alberta Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering, noticed that many people wear a simple surgical-style mask for protection during outbreaks of influenza or other potentially deadly viruses such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Trouble is, the masks weren't designed to prevent the spread of viruses.

"Surgical masks were originally designed to protect the wearer from infectious droplets in clinical settings, but it doesn't help much to prevent the spread of respiratory diseases such as SARS or MERS or influenza," says Choi.

Airborne pathogens like influenza are transmitted in aerosol droplets when we cough or sneeze. The masks may well trap the virus-laden droplets but the virus is still infectious on the mask. Merely handling the mask opens up new avenues for infection. Even respirators designed to protect individuals from viral aerosols have the same shortcoming—viruses trapped in respirators still pose risks for infection and transmission.

Masks capable of killing viruses would save lives, especially in an epidemic or pandemic situation. During the 2014-2015 season nearly 8,000 Canadians were hospitalized with the flu. That same year, deaths related to influenza in Canada reached an all-time high of nearly 600.

Knowing that the masks are inexpensive and commonly used, Choi and his research team went about exploring ways to improve the mask's filter. And this is where a problem he is struggling with in one field of research—the development of oral vaccines like a pill or a lozenge—became a solution in another area.

A major hurdle in the development of oral vaccines is that when liquid solutions dry, crystals form and destroy the virus used in vaccines, rendering the treatment useless. In a nifty bit of engineering judo, Choi flipped the problem on its head and turned crystallization into a bug buster, using it as a tool to kill active viruses.

Choi and his team developed a salt formulation and applied it to the filters, in the hope that salt crystals would "deactivate" the influenza virus.

Finally: an actual justification for wearing surgical masks may finally be upon us.



gi-il (忌日, 기일)

[NB: This is an updated repost originally from here.]



My mother died of brain cancer at 8:03AM on January 6, 2010, seven years ago today. Seven years is a long time, but sometimes, it still feels like yesterday. If this were a Dickens tale, I'd be expecting a visit from Mom's revenant about now.

Alas, I don't believe in ghosts, and I'm not inclined to believe in souls or in other remnants of personhood after someone dies. You're gone; you scatter; your echoes are the only things that remain, rippling forward in time ever more weakly, affecting the history of the cosmos in increasingly subtle, occult ways. At what point do you fade completely? Or do you ever fade completely? If there's no true boundary between you and the rest of the universe, the answers to such questions may be inarticulable.

I chronicled much of Mom's cancer ordeal at my blog, Kevin's Walk. Today is Friday, and I thought I'd pass along, as I do every year, a famous story about the Chinese Taoist philosopher Chuang-tzu, who is said to have acted strangely when his wife died:

When Chuang Tzu’s wife died, his friend Hui Tzu came to offer his condolences and found Chuang Tzu hunkered down, drumming on a potter pan and singing.

Hui Tzu said, “You lived with her, raised children with her, and grew old together. Even weeping is not enough, but now you are drumming and singing. Is it a bit too much?”

Chuang Tzu said, “That is not how it is. When she just died, how could I not feel grief? But I looked deeply into it and saw that she was lifeless before she was born. She was also formless and there was not any energy. Somewhere in the vast imperceptible universe there was a change, an infusion of energy, and then she was born into form, and into life. Now the form has changed again, and she is dead. Such death and life are like the natural cycle of the four seasons. My dead wife is now resting between heaven and earth. If I wail at the top of my voice to express my grief, it would certainly show a failure to understand what is fated. Therefore I stopped.” (Chapter 18)


This version of the story is taken from here.

Different cultures develop different ways of dealing with death and mourning. In Korea, which carries on the old Chinese tradition of venerating one's ancestors, people typically have a jaesa (제사), a ceremony for previous generations. While it may sound morbid, I suppose this day could be described as a "death day," the closed-parenthesis counterpart of a birthday. But is it really all that morbid to celebrate the transition from life to death? Far from being morbid, the day could be seen as a kind of ritualized symmetry.

Today, then, I and my family commemorate my mother's death. While it pains me that I can no longer hug her or hold her hand, I'm grateful for the care and wisdom she imparted.

I love you and miss you, Mom.








Thursday, January 05, 2017

back pain... but not so bad

I was going to get on the blog and whine piteously about the back pain I've had since Christmas—a pain whose cause I still haven't discovered—but after a longish walk this evening, during which the pain subsided substantially, I now realize I have very little to complain about. Given how beneficial tonight's walk was, I imagine I'll be doing the same thing tomorrow evening as well (walking, I mean—not complaining).

The pain is in my lower back, but it's affecting my left leg. Walking—at least during my short daytime walks—felt like moving through syrup until tonight. There's an ache, but no acute pain. I do know instinctively, though, that I can't bend sideways in either direction: to do so would be to invite that acute pain into my consciousness.*

I suspect sciatica or something related to the sciatic nerve. I'm going to the doc for my monthly checkup next week, so if I'm still in pain, I guess I'll let him know about it. What bothers me is not knowing the cause: when you don't know the cause of something painful, it's hard to know what to do to prevent it from happening again.



*UPDATE: I can bend sideways now. 'Tis a miracle!



"Make America European Again!"

Glenn Reynolds, from last April:

In conventional political thought, Democrats are always trying to make America more European—Higher taxes! Free college! A smaller military!—while Republicans are a passel of cowboys who view Europe as a bunch of socialist libertines.

But, as with much of conventional political thought, this isn’t quite right. And if the Republicans really want to mess with Democrats’ minds, perhaps they should launch a new campaign to make America more like Europe.

A good place to start would be with the Scandinavian countries that Bernie Sanders often uses as a model. [Sanders’s] problem is that the Scandinavia he has in mind is the Scandinavia of the 1970s. Scandinavians today have learned a few things since then, which Bernie seems to have missed.

As Swedish pundit Johan Norberg writes: “Sanders is right: America would benefit hugely from modeling her economic and social policies after her Scandinavian sisters. But Sanders should be careful what he wishes for. When he asks for ‘trade policies that work for the working families of our nation and not just the CEOs of large, multi-national corporations,’ Social Democrats in Sweden would take this to mean trade liberalization—which would have the benefit of exposing monopolist fat cats to competition—not the protectionism that Sanders favors. ... Being more like modern Sweden actually means deregulation, free trade, a national school voucher system, partially privatized pensions, no property tax, no inheritance tax, and much lower corporate taxes. Sorry to burst your bubble, Bernie.”

[...]

[WaPo writer Charles] Lane adds: “Like many American admirers of Scandinavian welfare states, Sanders lacks detailed knowledge of how those systems work, or an appreciation for certain cultural peculiarities that make cradle-to-grave welfarism politically sustainable there but not, so far, here. ... Denmark, tolerant and generous toward the Danes among its 5.6 million people, is deeply anxious about its 260,000 Muslims—so much so that a left-right parliamentary coalition recently authorized police to seize cash and valuables from refugees, ostensibly to help pay for their accommodation but also to deter them from coming at all.” Imagine the outcry if Trump proposed that.

Reynolds's article goes on to talk about how Trump's agenda of a "vaguely pro-single-payer position on health care, plus temporarily banning Muslims and walling off Mexico—bears an eerie resemblance to the Danish government’s current policy mix."

Toward the end of the article, Reynolds observes how draconian a European country like Sweden is regarding abortion policy:

Sweden, for example, bans all abortions except by special request after 18 weeks. And, BBC News reports, there are serious restrictions on abortion after the first trimester: “Between 12 and 18 weeks of gestation, the women must discuss the procedure with a social worker. After 18 weeks, permission must be obtained from the National Board of Health and Welfare. Abortions must be performed by a licensed medical practitioner and, except in cases of emergency, in a general hospital or other approved healthcare establishment. Abortion is subsidized by the government. The country says illegal abortions have been eradicated.”

Bernie Sanders, while a likable enough fellow in person, has no notion of how a healthy economy works, and as a self-avowed socialist, he's a damn hypocrite for owning three large properties in up-market areas. So much for "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need."



object lesson

"Cuba Is Actually a Terrible Place to Go."

Wanna see, close up, what really happens in a centrally planned economy?



Wednesday, January 04, 2017

"Trumpism Explained"

Take the following for what it's worth: this link is to a somewhat desultory meditation by Newt Gingrich, transcripted (with awkward spoken-English grammar intact, along with additional transcription errors) from a December 2016 speech titled "Trumpism Explained" that Gingrich gave at the National Defense University. Filled with remembrances and chunks of history (Gingrich's doctorate is in history), Gingrich's speech makes several points about the way Donald Trump thinks. To wit (warning: unedited, despite my urge to clean up the prose!):

I want to start by suggesting to you that you should think about November the 8th as a potential watershed. We don't know for sure yet that it's watershed, but the odds are pretty high. It's a watershed in the choice of Trump, he's the only person ever, in American history to win the Presidency without ever holding a public office, or being a General in the military. No one else has ever done this. He did it against 16 Republican candidates of whom at least seven or eight were first class. He did it against the elite media, and he did it against the presumed next president, who had a billion dollars in her campaign.

One thing I recommend all of you, since Mao Zedong said that, "War is politics with blood, and politics is war without blood", Trump's worth studying. What is it that he did? What is it that he understood? If you look at his Cabinet, it leans towards the watershed idea.

The idea that Trump would say, let's have General Jim Mattis as Secretary of Defense, that means you have to get the first waiver in 57 years. General Marshall was waved in 1950, during the Korean War. Nobody else has been.

Then Trump would pivot and say, General Kelly is actually, far and away, the best person to be Homeland Security because of his time at Southern Command and his capacity as a person, so let's put a second General officer in the cabinet.

Then Trump said let's have General Flynn as the Director of National Security, the National Security Advisor. By the way, Americans don't mind this because at a time when 75 percent of Americans believe that there's widespread corruption in government, the most respected institution is the military.

If you ask Americans would you rather have three Generals or three lawyers? The country will overwhelmingly prefer three Generals.

[...]

I think Trump is worth looking at as a potentially transcendent figure. What does Trumpism mean? First thing it means is, get the best. I'm hoping that the National Security Establishment will think about these principles. Trump is very prepared to find what's the best product, this is why he's raising Cain about the F-35, and Air Force One. He's not at all convinced that they're good deals.

You'll see him negotiate very toughly. He built really big things and he built them so they're really pretty. Go look at Trump Tower. He's also very ruthless about getting good service, and getting good construction. What people never understood in this city is, he is not a financier. He's a builder.

[...]

He ran a $10 billion dollar empire, but of course, he didn't know anything. He made Miss Universe a success. They said, yeah, but what do you really know about the voters? Well, he knew that they were consumers. What does he know about consumers? Branding matters. What did he say from day one? Let's Make America Great Again. If you're on the left that's a frightening concept, but if you are a normal, everyday, blue collar American, the kind of people who built Trump's buildings, you thought, yeah, I like the idea of making America great again, so then they bought a hat. The hat didn't say Trump. It said, Make America Great Again.

[...]

You have to get it in your head. The current system is broken. It is obsolete, so don't try to fix it. Try to replace it. Trumpism also means they use modern technology. Trump has 25 million people on Twitter and Facebook. His great realization, which occurred around October of 2015, you can actually reach all these people for free. He decides on Tuesday, let's do a rally in Tampa. They email, and Tweet, and Facebook, everybody in Florida that's in their list, and says, hi, I'm going to be in Tampa on Friday at 5 o'clock, and 20,000 people show up.

The other candidates are all buying TV ads. He's showing up at a mass rally, which is covered live on television. He then has 20,000 people with smartphones who take his picture. They all send it out on Facebook and Instagram. If you figure 40 people per person, a 20,000 person rally, is an 800,000 person system, about twice the size of MSNBC. For free. There's no exchange rate you can create that makes sense. It's like trying to compare Polish cavalry and the Wehrmacht in 1939. These are totally different exchange rates.

Trump also understands that you have to be on permanent offense. If you look at the Wehrmacht, the Army of Northern Virginia, and the Israeli Army, they all have the same doctrine. If you are surprised, one third of your forces go into defense, two thirds go on counterattack. You never give up the initiative. That's Trump. Trump's core model is, you hit me, I hit back, and I hit harder than you hit. He learned it in the New York media when he was a business man. He's on permanent offense. He gets up in the morning figuring out, how am I going to stay on offense? He understands that the media has to chase rabbits, so he gives them rabbits to chase, because if he doesn't give them rabbits to chase, they'll invent a rabbit.

I'll leave it up to you as to whether you read the rest. Personally, I'm a bit wary of hagiographies too early in a president's career. Barack Obama was unduly and undeservedly lionized early in his first term, before he'd done anything substantial, and certainly well before he'd done anything to deserve the Nobel Peace Prize (which, frankly, he doesn't deserve, given our many military entanglements and the continued existence of Guantanamo's prisons eight years after strong promises to get rid of them). Of course, you might quibble that Gingrich's speech isn't a hagiography, per se, but I can say that I smirked when I read how Gingrich had already written at least three different treatises on Trump (The Principles of Trumpism, Electing Trump, and Understanding Trump), which sounds like something a hagiographer would do. (But as one Instapundit commenter reminds us, this is the selfsame Newt who once dismissively said, "Little Trump is frankly pathetic." Is it to his credit that Trump made a believer out of Newt, or is Newt merely weather-vaning, i.e., not a true believer?)

And here's a tangential thought: Trump owns the media primarily through Twitter, a platform that gives him direct access to the masses (and, apparently, the ability to instantly influence Congress even before having been sworn in). But at the same time, people are saying that Twitter is dying given its tendency to delete or suppress right-leaning accounts while allowing left-leaning accounts to spew hatred at will. Twitter's stock price is on a five-year downward trend; divestment continues apace. So what happens when Trump loses one of his most effective megaphones, assuming Twitter's ultimate collapse?

I can already anticipate some answers: (1) a more pro-free-speech Twitter alternative will fill the vacuum; (2) Trump will lean harder on other social media, like Facebook or YouTube (which Trump took advantage of to make a quick "first 100 days" speech); (3) something new and unanticipated will come along. Most successful businessmen are roll-with-it people: when adversity hits, they quickly get back up and start plugging away again. While losing Twitter might hinder Trump, it probably won't stop him.

In the meantime, it seems to me that Newt Gingrich has appointed himself Donald Trump's faithful chronicler, a bit like Mako's character in those two Conan the Barbarian movies. It was quick thinking for Newt to rush in and occupy that niche. He now needs to work on focusing his writing instead of being so digressive. People who are natural raconteurs might be enjoyable to listen to, but they're seldom all that coherent on paper.