Thursday, June 30, 2011

am I right?

Remember the Math Beast and his weekly challenge over at the Manhattan GRE website? Here's the beast's latest poser:

This Week's Problem: "Spinach Rows"

Q: Pea, tomato, and spinach plants are planted in a field. For every 2 pea plants, there are 3 tomato plants, and for every 5 pea plants, there are 6 spinach plants. Spinach is sown 18 plants to a row and tomatoes 12 plants to a row, with no partial or mixed-crop rows. What is the minimum number of spinach plants in the field?


(A) 36
(B) 72
(C) 120
(D) 144
(E) 180

I took a stab at this one, but am still unsure of my answer. Work the problem out for yourself, then look at my answer in the comments to this post to see whether we reasoned it out the same way. I think I may have gotten this wrong, but I'm not sure.


love it

Quite possibly one of the most profound XKCDs yet. Don't forget to hover your cursor over the comic to see the ever-present caption.


pu pu platter

Here. Open your nostrils wide and take in the awesomeness of Justin Yoshida's daughter. (Assuming that the artwork in question really is hers, and that this wasn't simply a cleverly composed photo in which the daughter's shoes were placed on either side of someone else's contribution.)


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Friday creeps in its petty pace

This coming Friday, July 1st, I take my first GRE as part of my campaign to be hired by Manhattan GRE. This will be the only time I can take the GRE as it's presently formatted; come August, ETS is switching over to the new GRE, which drops analogies and increases the number of fill-in-the-blanks math questions. (I can't say the phrase "fill in the blanks" without hearing Alan Rickman's low nasal purr from the movie "Die Hard.")

I have no work today (we'll talk about this in a moment), so I'm going to be taking care of a few housekeeping issues, running an errand or two, and finishing up the review sections of my GRE manual. On Wednesday and Thursday, I'll be flogging myself by taking a series of GRE sample tests (all this was delayed thanks to the car issue, which has occupied my time and attention for the past two or so weeks). At about 10AM on Friday, I'll arrive at the test center; at 11AM, I'll be starting my exam. I'm fervently hoping to get all this right-- to score in the 99th percentile-- on my very first try (the computer-based test gives you an unofficial score at the end, so I'll know my results while I'm still at the test center); it'd be nice to start the Manhattan GRE application process right away.

The fact that I've got free time today is somewhat disturbing. At YB, we've moved to a summer schedule, which means that, instead of having work hours that go from 3PM to 9:30PM, we now have an 11AM to 7PM schedule. We're also teaching so-called "boot camp" intensive SAT prep courses that run from Monday through Thursday. Boot camp was supposed to be different: it was originally designed as a more standard type of course in which four to six students would all be learning together. Our boss made a command decision to throw out that format, however, which now plunges us into curricular chaos. I found myself, yesterday, teaching boot camp students in ones and twos, and none of the students had prepared their work for that day. I had hoped to be embarking on the boot camp curriculum today, since I had spent yesterday familiarizing the students with the material and assigning them the homework they hadn't done. One student liked the class enough to ask whether I'd be there on Tuesday, and I said yes-- which I now realize I shouldn't have said.

Because YB Near has so few students, the office has been performing a sort of "rolling blackout" by shorting teachers' work hours in rotation. Sometimes I bite the bullet; sometimes another colleague gets hit with either a day off or only two hours' work. Tuesday is, I guess, my day to take a hit. This sort of rolling blackout has been going on for at least a month, but right now I find it especially frustrating because I had thought I was going to be building relationships with the boot camp students I'd met yesterday. Instead, they're going to be given to another teacher today. This isn't to impugn my colleagues' competence, of course; if anything, I'd say that most of them are more competent at teaching SAT prep than I am. But my point is that students need pedagogical consistency, and since our curriculum has gone from standardized to non-standardized, tossing the kids from one teacher to another is no way to establish any sort of rhythm.

So all of this is on my mind, along with the crushing prospect of new car and insurance payments (I had to upgrade my insurance coverage in order to purchase the car). I'm just hoping that Friday will get here soon, and that I'll rock and roll on the damn GRE without needing to take it a second, third, or fourth time. Keep your fingers and tentacles crossed.


Monday, June 27, 2011


The grass is greener on the other side. Pass it on.

The glass is cleaner on the other side. Pass it on.

The class has dreamers on the rubber tides. Pass it on.

The brass is cleaner than that Colonel Tigh. Pass it on.

My ass is meaner than your mother's thigh. Pass it on.

Welcome to Fantasy Island! Pass it on.


my poor brother

My brother David was a huge help today. He's always ready and willing to help others; he's just that sort of guy. I had to take my buddy Mike's car back to Fredericksburg (thanks for the use of your car, Mike!), and also had to pick my new/used car up from the Honda dealership in a nearby town. David drove 90 minutes out to where I live; we then drove 90 minutes in separate cars to Fredericksburg. After I dropped Mike's car off at his house, we drove another 110 minutes to retrieve the Honda, and now David's driving 110 minutes back to Alexandria, whereas I've simply driven my Honda Fit barely 30 minutes back to my place. David was operating on less than four hours' sleep, but he was willing to help me juggle cars all the same. Would I show such character in his place? I often wonder.

David gave the Fit his blessing after looking it over and driving it. My own drive home just now was also without incident, so at least for the moment, it looks as if I haven't bought a lemon (if "bought" is the right word for this diabolical financial arrangement). I'm looking forward to trying the car out tomorrow: my first full commute in the Fit. I expect it to become as bug-splattered as Mike's car became during its week in my care.

David advised me to get the Fit's engine and cabin air filters changed, since the car is over the 30,000-mile mark; there's a website where you can order the requisite parts, and according to David they're very easy to install yourself, as opposed to being charged $120 to have someone do it for you. David even demonstrated how one of the filters (cabin air) could be changed.

So now David's on his way home. I fed him a late lunch. Didn't pay him a cent, even though he deserves a king's ransom for all the help he's provided. He'll go home, talk to his girlfriend, maybe have a late dinner, then get up tomorrow morning and start his two-job grind all over again. Sunday's his only free day, and he gave it all to me.


Sunday, June 26, 2011


As of tomorrow, I'll be saddled with my newest burden: a 2008 Honda Fit. My thanks to the Honda crew who saw me through the whole procedure. They're placing new tags on the car today, so that I'll be able to drive the little gnome-mobile back home tomorrow morning or afternoon. I was able to get pretty close to the price I wanted, but I had to bump up my insurance coverage to do so: a person who buys a used car with a loan can't have partial insurance coverage. Effectively, I'm still being screwed when it comes to monthly payments. So! Does anyone come out of a car-buying experience not feeling violated?

My thanks as well to friends who have pitched in. I owe you. No, really-- I literally owe some of you money. Not to mention a debt of gratitude. Shall I sever a toe or three in your honor? I'm not fond of some of those digits, so I won't miss the little bastards.

At least I'll be mobile. And this upcoming week, the hours at YB will be swinging into summer mode: 11AM to 7PM. Unfortunately, I'm hearing that I'm scheduled only for 11AM to 3PM-- four hours. This is little different from the reduced schedule I've been working, alas. All the more reason to get out of Dodge. That's unfortunate, really: as I may have mentioned before, I've come to like this job quite a bit, but I wish it paid about five times more. Damn... imagine earning $1200-$2400 per week like a real grownup!


Saturday, June 25, 2011



a nice (F)it

Today, I test drove a 2008 Honda Fit with only 38,000 miles on it. The interior looked spanking new, the A/C worked fine, it performed well on the highway, had good lines of sight and almost nothing in the way of blind spots, and was equipped with startlingly responsive brakes: merely tapping them was enough to slow one down significantly.

The Fit's also got automatic transmission, a tape(!) and CD player in the console (no MP3 port/jack, but that's OK), all manual door locks, plenty of hatchback space for groceries, and folding rear seats for carrying large items. In all, it looks like a pretty good deal, but the asking price is $13,800, not including the title, taxes, etc. My brother David has advised me to bargain hard for a firm "out-the-door" price, i.e., let the dealer figure out how to calculate the costs, then give me a set figure that includes everything, and allows me to do the easy work of dividing the total by 72, to reflect a 72-month debt structure.

So my hope is to go into negotiations tomorrow to get the following deal: $13,500 as the out-the-door price, with 72-month financing at 2.5%. According to the various online car finance calculators, that works out to a series of seventy-two $202 payments.

Does this mean I'm now committed to staying in the States? Not necessarily, but it does make returning to Korea a bit harder, and I'm not getting any younger. Were I to go back to Korea only after the car's been paid off, I'd be 48.


Friday, June 24, 2011

two days of car-shopping

I'm off tomorrow, so I'll be spending tomorrow and possibly Saturday shopping for a used car. My brother's recommending a Honda Fit, but he notes that Fits aren't cheap-- not even the used ones. But anything's possible through negotiation, so we'll see. It'll be weird, though, telling people I a have a Fit.


Thursday, June 23, 2011

tests make you testical

I'm now officially scheduled to take my first GREs since 1998 or 1999. The dates: July 1st, in Falls Church, Virginia, at 11AM; and August 26th, at the same place, at 7:30AM. I'll be there 30 minutes early for check-in. The exam goes a little longer than four hours. The July exam will be the last possible time for me to take the GRE in its current format; starting in August, the new GRE will be in force.

Cross dem fingers. I want to make 99th percentile on my first try.


easy come...

I'm now $2000 richer, but as is typical of my current existence, the money I received from selling my poor old Honda is already spoken for. I can pay some bills before they become very overdue; I can finally sign up for my first attempt at the GRE in July; I can breathe a bit.

But some of that money has to go to the first couple months of car payments for the used car that I have yet to buy (am hoping to hear from some people today), and some money has to be held in reserve for sundry unanticipated expenses.

Two thousand dollars. Easy come, easy go.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Yes, visualize it with me: $2500.

That's what I'm hoping to walk away with this morning. I'm heading out to Jack's auto shop to see about selling my Honda to him. The car's blue-book value depends, as it turns out, on whether I'm planning to trade it in or to sell it outright. The trade-in value for that car, in fair condition, is $3500. For the purpose of an outright sale, the value jumps to about $6000.

I can't expect to get either of those amounts, however, for a car with a shot transmission, so I'm hoping Jack and I can settle at a figure of around $2500. That would be a godsend to me at this point: $2500 would help not only with the first month of car loan payments, but also with other bills. Work at YB has really slacked off over the past few weeks, so I'm once again barely managing to tread water. The jump to better-paying work can't happen fast enough, despite how fond I've become of this job. Money means survival.

Wish me luck. Here goes nothing.


BigHo sighting?

Reader and friend Hahna sends in a pic snagged from YouTube and asks whether the guy on the left is yours truly:

The gent certainly bears an uncanny resemblance to me, but while it would have been an honor to be part of a Weird Al Yankovic project, the man on the left is not the Big Hominid. As I told Hahna, his man-tits aren't big enough. Hahna did a bit of research and discovered that our mystery dancer is none other than Donny Osmond.

A revelation that now leaves me with much to ponder. Most of it sad.


Chance, Christ, Serpent, Trickster, Zen

Go read my friend Nathan's excellent take on the Peter Sellers movie "Being There."


quick update

Yes, kiddies, it's very likely that I'll be finishing up this week with a new used car. My brother David is an invaluable resource regarding how to navigate the car-buying process, so I'm leaning on him pretty heavily.

Meanwhile, I've set up an appointment for tomorrow morning with Jack (the owner of the service center that towed and took in my car); we'll see how that goes, and what he has to offer from his lot-- including the financial arrangements.

I've also gotten approved for a car loan of up to $13,500 via the Capital One Blank Check program which, according to David, means I now have some leverage when talking with dealerships. I'm about to get ready for work, so I can't do any more car-related research now. But as of tomorrow morning, let the games begin!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

a new old car?

Diagnosis: it's the transmission for sure. Cost to fix the problem: either $1500 or $2200, depending on whether I want a simple replacement with a used transmission, or a full-on rebuild. Not cheap either way.

My brother David is suggesting that I bite the bullet and get a used car. The cost of repair doesn't seem worthwhile, given the car's age (it's a 2002 model); and without serious financial heft, I'm not going to be covering that cost. David's reasoning is sound; even a schlub like me can likely be approved by, say, the Capital One Blank Check car loan program.

So I'll be calling the towing/repair guy-- let's call him Jack-- tomorrow in order to set up an appointment for Wednesday morning. After I finish that call, I'll be talking with Capital One about my options. Jack's auto shop has a small fleet of used cars, so this might be as simple as driving a different car off his lot and abandoning my Honda. That, or if I go the Capital One route, I'll be towing the car to a Capital One dealership and getting a new old car there, since Capital One's Blank Check loan works only with approved dealers.

Question: to what extent does a shot transmission affect a car's blue book value?


no news yet

The auto shop hasn't called yet with their official diagnosis; I'll give them a call before I go to work today. Bracing for major impact.


Monday, June 20, 2011


Happy Father's Day to all the good dads out there.

In other news: the problem with my car remains a mystery. It'll be another day before I know anything more. Meantime, my buddy Mike is lending me one of his cars for a few days while he and the family embark on a vacation/pilgrimage for several days.

Tried calling my benefactor, but had to leave a message. We'll see how that turns out. At least I'll have wheels by tonight.


Sunday, June 19, 2011

dead car

My poor 2002 Honda, which you might call an inheritance, decided to die on me this afternoon. I'm beginning to think that age, plus a 90-mile daily commute at an average speed of 75 miles per hour (roughly 3500rpm on the tach for a tiny, underpowered, in-line 4-cylinder engine), is taking its toll. The car wasn't designed to take this sort of punishment-- especially not now, when it's past its prime.

I had just turned off Route 495 (you non-DC residents may have heard of the Beltway, the route that circles DC and passes through both Maryland and Virginia) and onto westbound 66 when my car lost power: the engine was still running, but almost no power was going to the wheels. I was able to coast onto the left shoulder at Mile 59.5, where I then texted my brothers and called a towing service. I was told that the cost for towing would be $95-$150, depending on mileage, and that it would be 45 minutes before they got to my location. The guy arrived (with a wife or daughter in his truck) in 40 minutes, and I ended up paying $125 cash.

The day had started so well, too: I had driven back to the Costco where I'd gotten my eye exam done yesterday (Friday) in order to get a refund on the $160 order for the contacts. Costco refunded me in cash, and I had hoped to deposit that cash since I needed it to pay my bills. The cosmos had other plans, apparently, and decided that $125 needed to go right back into the ether.

The 40-minute wait for the tow truck was also excruciating because, as Murphy's Law would have it, I needed to dump somethin' horrible. So I sat in the car with hazards flashing and the windows partly rolled down to let in a breeze, trembling and sweating as if I were about to give birth, but didn't want to.

I rode with the driver and his wife/daughter/whoever back to his gas station-cum-service center. I was told that if the problem was the transmission, I was looking at either $1500 for a replacement with a used transmission, or $2200 for a total rebuild. I don't have this sort of money, so I'm hitting up a benefactor, Great Expectations-style, on the worst of all possible days-- Father's Day.

Right now, I'm at my apartment only thanks to my brother David. He'll be helping me rent a car tomorrow, after which I'll drive to visit my benefactor (to whom I never gave any "wittles"), plead my case, and hopefully receive enough fundage to tide me through this mess, which only seems to get bigger with time. One thing I'm grateful for is that, while I don't have many close friends, I have good close friends. I owe all of them a moral debt.

NB: I've already had the "uh-oh... they always say it's a transmission problem" discussion with David. This is apparently something to watch out for, but in my case, I'm pretty sure this is indeed a transmission problem: when you've got a revving engine and almost no power going to the wheels, then power isn't being transmitted to where it needs to go. I don't think a transmission-related diagnosis will be bogus. We'll know more in the morning, when the repair guys have had a look at the car. David's hoping it's just a fuel pump issue. I know next to nothing about cars, so I'm at sea, here.


quest ends in failure

It was a good dinner with the relatives last night, but my earlier quest for a place that makes dojang ended in failure. After trying several stores that sold the sort of products one might find in Insa-dong, I was told, in every case, that there's no such craftsman here. While I'm not inclined to believe this, the certitude of every ajumma I met became unnerving. One lady, however, was kind enough to direct me to the Korean phone book, where there's a section devoted to "pyogo-sa" which, if I understood her correctly, refers to stores that cater to artists.* I snapped a photo of the phone book page for future reference. Unfortunately, the listing doesn't include any addresses: it's just a short list of place names plus a phone number.

Two of the shopkeepers I visited recommended that I simply ask a friend in Korea to get a cheap dojang made, and have it sent to me. I told the ladies about how easy it is to get machine-made chops on the streets of Seoul, which is why I was sure that something like that would be easy to find here in a local Koreatown. They countered that, in America, there's really no use for a dojang: here, we use signatures and rubber stamps. True enough, I said, but what about local artists? The ladies didn't think it likely that those artists would have had their chops made in the States.

The beautiful set of chops that I had made are, I think, still in Korea, being guarded by my friend Sperwer (not his real name), who's been storing many heavy and light-but-bulky boxes of my possessions in his basement. I can't ask him to rifle through all those boxes just to find one tiny object; it'd be too much work, and would take too much time. So it may be time to formulate a Plan B.

*I don't see the word in either the Yahoo! or the Naver online dictionaries, but I do see entries for pyogo. I already knew one meaning of the word: shiitake mushroom. I didn't know the other one: altitude above sea-level. The pyogo-sa in question is neither of these; instead, it's a store for artists who want, among other things, to get their works framed.


Saturday, June 18, 2011

abandoned by my bruddaz

I'm sitting in the parking lot of the restaurant where I'm to meet my relatives, and I've just heard from both brothers that neither can make it for dinner. So I guess I'm the only representative from my branch of the family. Ought to be an interesting meal.


Friday, June 17, 2011

a new set of eyes

Before my family meeting this evening, I've got a 1PM eye appointment at a local Costco: it's past time for a new year's supply of disposable lenses. Can't say that I'm a fan of disposables; they're more expensive than the old daily-wear contacts, which you could wear for a year, but which you also took out every night. The daily-wears were much cheaper because you purchased only a single pair as opposed to twelve pairs. Disposable contacts, don't seem anywhere near as comfortable, and they're designed to deteriorate: after two months, they become distinctly scratchy when sitting on your corneas. Alas, they're considered safer for your eyes because they're better at promoting oxygen exchange, which is why the old daily-wear lenses have been phased out. Many consumers swear by disposables and see them as a superior alternative to daily-wear lenses, but I guess I'm one of the hold-outs.

Since I'll be in that particular part of town soon, I'm also going to continue my search for Korean art supplies. Still no luck finding a place that makes cheap dojang (a stamp or chop used by artists, officials, and regular citizens for a variety of signatory/identification purposes). If I thought I could make one myself, I would, but that particular skill isn't mine yet. I'm hoping that, somewhere in Koreatown, there's a shop that makes those cheap, machine-generated dojang for just a couple of bucks. The quality is generally impeccable, and once the stamp's image is on the page, who can really tell whether the chop is made of stone or wood or plastic?

I feel like an idiot for not having brought my original, hand-made chops home from Korea. I had made a set of three gorgeous chops several years back; the cost was W150,000, or about $150. The workmanship was very traditional; the chops' images had a rough-hewn, organic appearance that a computer-generated chop can't replicate. Since I don't have this set with me, I'm going to have to make do with whatever I can find here. If I can find what I'm looking for. I'm optimistic, though: the local Koreatown is big and varied; there's got to be someone, somewhere, who does cheap dojang work.


another family meeting

Tomorrow, I'll be sitting down with an uncle and aunt from Texas. My uncle, Mom's younger brother, has been wanting to get together for a while, but his job doesn't take him to the DC-Metro area that often. He and his wife are in town this week, however, and I'll be meeting with them tomorrow, not long after I get a new set of contact lenses. My brother David will be there, but I don't know whether my other brother, Sean, can make it.

We've got a lot to discuss as a family. Many family issues, regarding Mom's cancer and its aftermath, remain unblogged. I expect a few of those issues to pop up in conversation.


Thursday, June 16, 2011

birthday haiku

To Mike, who turns 42 today:

flung from uterus
thrown into chaotic times
--Maximum Leader!

sagging scrotal skin
from which happy children swing
he is Dad to all

Anthony Weiner
wanted to send Mike a card
but he's been delayed

forty-two times 'round
loving lasses, beating dwarves
what a merry life

Kim Kardashian
offers birthday wishes by
flapping her ass cheeks

"Water into wine?
"Ha!" says Mike, who then transforms
waiters into wine

when the Buddha was
asked about the deepest truth,
he said, "Talk to Mike."

Happy 42, my friend. You can't know how much you and your family mean to me.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

is this not totally me?

Large, hairy, and ugly-- this tee shirt image (found here) epitomizes the Big Hominid:

We wants it, Precioussss.


drei hundert vierzig

My car repair is going to set me back $340. Yes, Dear Reader: three hundred forty fucking dollars. As it turns out, the VTEC solenoid is indeed the problem. In addition, the mechanic saw that my oil was "low and dirty" (much like my character), so he took the liberty of doing an oil change. Assuming the oil change costs about $20, and the solenoid is $200, that puts the labor charge at about $120.

"When was the last time you had your oil checked?" the car dude asked.

"When I went to see you guys!" I answered. "I had a coupon for a free oil change!"

"That was back in February," came the response, "and you've gone 3800 miles since then."

That made sense: I've been commuting at least 90 miles per day since mid-March, and most of that commute has been done at an average speed of 75-80 miles per hour. Little wonder that the poor Honda Civic is left gasping and problem-ridden.

The dude told me that the solenoid wouldn't be in until tomorrow (Wednesday), but that the replacement wouldn't take long. I asked whether the car would be ready in time for me to get to work, and he said, "It should be."

So the plan for tomorrow is this: I'll leave my apartment at 11:30AM, walk up to the auto center, and arrive a bit before 1PM. Ideally, the car will be ready, which means I can vomit out a pile of cash (thanks, Dr. Steve et al.), drive back home, shower and change, and be out the door again before 2:10PM, which is my absolute cutoff time. (We have to be at YB by 3:10, twenty minutes before the 3:30 start time, as part of a required planning period.)

Since tomorrow is also my buddy Mike's 42nd birthday, I'll be trundling over to his place in Fredericksburg after I'm done with work. We'll kick back for a bit, I'll hand over some humble gifticles, and then I'll head on home, trailing a huge, Dubya-style "MISSION ACCOMPLISHED" banner.


the saddest thing in the world

We Americans use superlatives very sloppily. We're constantly calling such-and-so "the best X ever." Another beloved, overused superlative? "The saddest thing in the world is..."

While I was walking home from the auto repair shop (it's exactly four miles, as it turns out), I started thinking about some of the more lighthearted applications of that locution. Feel free to add your own "saddest thing(s) in the world" in the comments section.

The saddest thing in the world is...

1. uneaten chocolate mousse.

2. a Lamborghini stuck in New York City traffic.

3. the great Liam Neeson, trapped in the hell of "The Phantom Menace."

4. a lion with hiccups.

5. ice cream on the sidewalk.

6. a little too much lemon juice in your otherwise-perfect hummus.

7. a Korean who hates kimchi.

8. a legless giraffe.

9. a fat Cary Elwes.

10. Jabba's unrequited lust for Princess Leia.


recent acquisition

It came free in the mail:

I had already configured my phone to accept credit cards, thanks to the Square's free app (sign-up and account linkup are super-simple). The Square itself, which is a miniature credit card slider, plugs into your phone's earphone jack, and allows for easy card-swiping. In addition, transactions done via swiping result in less of a per-transaction deduction (I tend to think of it more as a penalty).

My town has a Saturday and Sunday flea market. As was true in Korea, when I spent some Saturdays at the Huimang Shijang, the local flea market lets you set up an all-day booth for $10 a day. I'll need to load up on sunblock and buy some sort of protective gear in case of rain, along with all the other flea-market niceties, like a decent tablecloth, decent signage, etc. I also need to call and reserve a spot: I've seen the local flea market in full swing, and it can get crowded.

Now: what to sell there? Aside from my soul, that is.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

troisième tentative

This morning will see my third attempt to get the car into the shop and have it repaired. I don't have class today, as I found out last night (but I do have class on Wednesday, for once-- at YB Near, instead of the usual YB Far), so I can leave the car in the shop all day, if need be.

I'll be bringing my GRE material with me. Depending on how long the guys say the repairs will take, I may wander up the road to a local restaurant and just chill, or I may even wander back home. As long as they call me an hour and a half before closing time, I can walk back up to the shop in plenty of time to retrieve the car and pay the piper.

Here goeth nothing.


I up now

And ready to go to work.


Monday, June 13, 2011

I nap now

I got up at the ungodly hour of 6:30AM, blearily got ready for my 3.2-mile walk, and stumbled out the door at 7:15AM. The morning was cool, which was a nice way to start the walk, but about 45 minutes in, I noticed that the sun was already into its burn.

With several minutes to spare before my scheduled 8:30AM pickup time, I got to the Enterprise rental office... where I was told I wouldn't be able to rent a car. They had to check whether I had $200 in my bank account, which of course I didn't. I lamely offered cash, but the guy, very much By The Book, said he couldn't take it: what if a customer paid cash, then made off with the vehicle? So I nodded tiredly and lumbered out carless, wondering how the hell I was going to get to work.

It came to me pretty quickly: the auto repair guys had said there was a backlog, which is why they couldn't guarantee that my car would be ready on time for me to drive to my 1:30PM staff meeting today. So I walked another mile to the auto center, and sure enough, the dude behind the counter told me they hadn't had a chance to begin work on my car. I explained my situation, promised to bring the car in tomorrow morning, got my keys back, and drove home. Arrived just a few minutes before the time stamp on this blog post. Lovely morning.

This may be for the best, really: this way, I don't shell out more cash for a rental. Tomorrow morning, there won't be a backlog, and I can just hang around the car shop until the work is done. Given what happened at YB Near last Tuesday, there's also a chance that I won't have work, so I may be able to wait all day without the pressure of wondering whether I can make it to work on time.

The car saga continues. Stay tuned for more shenanigans. And I'm gonna take a two-hour nap since I got only about four hours of shut-eye.

ADDENDUM: Forgot to mention that the four-mile walk felt great, by which I mean that I didn't feel it at all. No aches, no pains, no nothin'. That's good to know.


naughty, naughty man

Liars often get caught. And when they're narcissistic enough, like Congressman Anthony Weiner, they don't bother repenting: they keep blundering onward, damaging themselves and those around them.

This might be a good time to break out the ol' dick proverb:

Read it in columns from right to left:

bul un shi = mis- fortune time (In a time of misfortune)

dae nam geun = big man root (a big dick)

mu so yong = no use (is useless)

This was my response to a challenge issued by my buddy Mike, years ago, to render a Roman proverb in Chinese. The English version of that proverb was "When your luck runs out, it doesn't matter how big your dick is."

Congressman Weiner is now learning, albeit slowly, the wisdom of this proverb.

(Buy the tee here.)



I forsook sleep and finished my rereading of Chaim Potok's The Chosen this morning. The book, written in simple prose and lavished with Hebrew and Yiddish terms that make it feel somehow foreign yet familiar, is filled with glittering bits of human wisdom; you could create a series of 365-day meditation calendars from them. I first read Potok's novel sometime in high school; I've come back to it a few times over the years, usually long after the plot's details have become fuzzy. Here is one passage that grabbed and held me this time:

But my father didn't seem to have heard me. He sat on the bed, lost in thought. We were quiet for a long time. Then he stirred and said softly, "Reuven, do you know what the rabbis tell us God said to Moses when he was about to die?"

I stared at him. "No," I heard myself say.

"He said to Moses, 'You have toiled and labored, now you are worthy of rest.'"

I stared at him and didn't say anything.

"You are no longer a child, Reuven," my father went on. "It is almost possible to see the way your mind is growing. And your heart, too. Inductive logic, Freud, experimental psychology, mathematizing hypotheses, scientific study of the Talmud. Three years ago, you were still a child. You have become a small giant since the day Danny's ball struck your eye. You do not see it. But I see it. And it is a beautiful thing to see. So listen to what I am going to tell you." He paused for a moment, as if considering his next words carefully, then continued. "Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye?" He paused again, his eyes misty now, then went on. "I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one's life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here. Do you understand what I am saying?"


Sunday, June 12, 2011

not-so-random thought

With conservatives now baying for the exploitation of domestic fuel sources (coal, natural gas, etc.) and lefties perennially complaining about jobs going overseas, you'd think there'd be some across-the-aisle harmony.


the solution

There's an Enterprise Rent-A-Car center just 3.2 miles out from my house, and the roads along that stretch are walkable, so here's the plan: since my car is in the shop and won't be ready until after 1PM on Monday (which is too late for me to be ale to drive to my 1:30PM Monday staff meeting), I'm going to walk up to the rental place, rent the car for a day, drive over to the auto shop, check up on when the car will be ready (probably later in the day, when I can't do anything about it), drive back to my place in the rental, wash, change, and go work, drive back to Enterprise at night, top off the rental's gas tank, drop the car off, walk home, then walk back out on Tuesday morning to pick up my own car. That'll be 9.6 miles in two days-- a decent workout for someone who hasn't walked (or even exercised) that much in a while. My thanks to Dr. Steve for his generous loan to help me out with expenses.

Ah, yes: the car dude noted that he still wasn't sure whether the problem actually was a VTEC solenoid. "It could just be a wire," he said. Here's hoping.

UPDATE: Slight change in plans: I'll be dropping the rental off at Enterprise on Tuesday morning, because they're not allowing drop-offs the night before. Works for me: I'll have to walk only a short stretch from Enterprise to the auto shop to pick up the car that day. Instead of 9.6 miles of walking, it'll be closer to 6.8 miles.


Saturday, June 11, 2011

car, no car

My buddy Steve and I dropped my car off at the local auto shop. I was told that the car would not be ready by early Monday afternoon because of the backlog of cars the mechanics had to wade through. So now I'm stuck trying to figure out how the hell I'm going to get to (and from!) work on Monday: I normally have to be there by 3:10PM, but we've got a special staff meeting to kick off the week. I can't miss this meeting.

I'm thinking I may need to rent a car for three days and two nights-- starting Sunday, going all day Monday, and returning the rental on Tuesday morning. Will have to check my options tomorrow. Let's hope that car rentals in my small town are cheap.


gettin' ready

My buddy Dr. Steve is coming down from Pennsylvania for an overnight visit, so I'm getting the place ready for his arrival. I had thought that he, my buddy Mike, and I might go see "The Trip," which is in limited release as of today, but I've been having trouble finding out which theaters are showing the film. As of last night, not even the film's official website was revealing where the movie would be playing.

Ah-- I see that the site is displaying showtimes... but nothing for the DC-Metro area. We'd have to trundle four hours north to New York City. Damn.

Poor Steve, meanwhile, will have to undergo the horror of conversing with me for extended periods, since I have no TV. Luckily, we've got a lot to talk about. And he's bringing food and libations from Wegman's, which doth rock.

Much damage to be done.


brain cancer news resource

See my post here.


Friday, June 10, 2011

stay thou tunèd

I'm going to be writing, sometime soon, about the exercise apps I've added to my Droid. From smallest-scale to largest-scale, they're called:

1. Ab Workout (requires no equipment, except perhaps a mat)

2. Arm Workout (requires dumbbells)

3. Butt Workout (some exercises require dumbbells)

4. Push Ups (that's how they spell it; requires no equipment)

5. Squats (requires no equipment)

6. Virtua Gym (equipment optional, depending on the program you select)

7. JEFIT (requires an actual gym; this is the badass motherfucker workout)

More soon.


Thursday, June 09, 2011

moving Plantinga-ward

I've never been a fan of the work of Alvin Plantinga, but there's no doubt that everyone with an interest in the philosophical problems posed by religious diversity should read him. Plantinga's focus is often on questions of evidence, warrant, justification, and so on; he offers an epistemological defense of religious exclusivism in Chapter 10 of The Philosophical Challenge of Religious Diversity. Lately on his blog, Dr. Vallicella has been tackling the question of burden of proof, and I've been paying attention, because this brings us into decidedly Plantingan territory.

Over the past decade or so, discussions about religious diversity have taken a pronounced epistemological turn. From the very beginning, the overriding theme of most interreligious or metareligious discussions has been: we can't even dialogue unless we can agree on some terms. Setting aside the meta-issue of whether term-agreement even matters to most non-academics of different religious (or even nonreligious) stripes, let's accept for the sake of argument that we do need to have some way to communicate with each other. In a discussion of religious diversity, the fundamental question is: what counts as evidence for one's beliefs? Doxastic practices (i.e., the internal, often unconscious, ways in which we come to form beliefs) aren't built on nothing, are they? A cynic might be tempted to say that religious beliefs are all castles in the air, but this stance betrays its own doxastic prejudices. There needs to be a way for both sides to talk about their own beliefs, to justify those beliefs, and to critically appraise the other's doxastic arguments.

Dr. Vallicella has just published another post on burden of proof, and it's mostly about miracles. In this post, he argues that there's no apparent "fact of the matter" regarding the party on whom the burden of proof falls. He notes-- convincingly, I think-- that "burden of proof" (BOP) is commonly understood to fall on one party or the other, but never on both. In the case of miracles, where one side claims miracles exist/are possible and the other side claims they don't exist/are impossible, it's not obvious on whom the BOP falls. Both sides are making a positive claim, after all: the pro-miracle side is making the positive claim that miracles can and do happen; the anti-miracle side is making the positive claim that the universe is, as Dr. V puts it, "causally closed," i.e., admitting of no supernatural causes.* If BOP, as generally construed, falls on the positive claimant, then in cases where both sides are making a positive claim, there's no objective way to assign BOP. All that remains is for people to agree that BOP falls on party X or Y depending on the agreed-upon conventions of discourse:

My point, then, is that BOP-assignments are context- and community-relative and depend on conventions that members of these communities collectively adopt. In the legal context the BOP is on the prosecution while in the science arena, where methodological naturalism rules, the BOP is on anti-naturalists: those who defend miracles, the existence of God and the soul, the libertarian freedom of the will, etc. But the science 'game' is not the only game in town. There is the religious 'game.' No one who takes the latter seriously could possibly think that science delivers the ultimate metaphysical low-down. Relative to the religious 'game,' the BOP will be on atheists.

All of this is applicable to discussions in the philosophy of religion. When two groups of people meet, scriptures (or test tubes) in hand, to hash out their differences, there's a real risk that each group will talk past the other. Meaningful dialogue requires the laying-down of certain ground rules and an acknowledgment, by both interlocutors, that the current exchange is taking place on one of the two parties' home fields.

*Theists can rest assured that, even if it were objectively true that the universe is a causally closed system, this fact would say nothing about the existence of a universe-transcending deity. Deism remains a live option even when miracles are removed from the picture.


Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Khan Academy: not a panacea

Remember what I wrote here? Partial vindication here.


up shit creek and paddle-free

So I took my car to the shop earlier this afternoon. The mechanics were kind enough to do a bit of poking around gratis, and they came back with the doleful news: while they're not 100% sure, it looks as though the problem with my car's engine is a bad VTEC solenoid (see here for VTEC; and here for why I'm screwed). The part alone costs $200, and I've currently got about $200 to spare. (Thanks to a kind reader whose recent contribution will be used, with her permission, to defray labor cost!)

The car goes back in-- officially, this time-- tomorrow morning at 8AM. I'm hoping they can be done with the car in time for me to get to work, but there's a good chance that YB Far won't be needing my services tomorrow, if the previous two Wednesdays are any indication.

Stay tuned.



Not even Christopher Hitchens is immune to lowbrow humor in the wake of Weinergate. Get a load of the opening to this article:

In one of the routines from his heyday, Richard Pryor would enact the anguish experienced by a man who cannot get his male organ to rise. In this redefinition of the whole concept of standup, he ended by practically seizing the torpid member by the throat, howling plaintively, and demanding to know, "Whose dick is this?"

Comes now Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y., who might be described as a sitting member.



Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Ave, Mr. Turdman and Charles!

Tom Turdman writes in to share his own (well, his son's) stab at transformation-- and to note the old pedigree of this game by citing correspondence by Lewis Carroll, who referred to the activity as "Doublets."

Well done, sir!

And may I take this opportunity to compliment you, if I haven't done so before, on your surname? I assume it comes from the South Dublin pronunciation of "third man" and has nothing whatsoever to do with la manière de chier. (In case anyone is wondering, I was given a copy of this 18th-century screed by a French-speaking coworker back in the late 1990s.)

Charles, meanwhile, solved one of the more difficult transformations: from GOOD to EVIL. See the comment thread of the relevant post. He did a fantastic job of it, too.


spelling and pronunciation as relates
to phalluses in the recent news

Glenn Reynolds noted a while back, when the Anthony Weiner scandal first rose hairily into view, that people should be mindful of the spelling of the congressman's surname, which is Weiner, with an "EI." Reynolds noted that this was in contrast to Wiener, with an "IE"-- the German-language adjective for a citizen of Wien (Vienna, Austria).

What Reynolds failed to note is that the congressman pronounces his name "wee-ner," as if it were spelled "Wiener" (and if you'll allow me a moment of pedantry, I'll point out that a German would pronounce that as "vee-nuh," since the English rhotic "r" makes very few appearances in German, and the German "W" has an English "v" valence). So when people began writing about "Weinergate," they weren't wrong to pronounce this as "wee-ner-gate."

Robin Williams once joked that God created men to have two heads, with enough blood to run only one at a time. I get the impression that Congressman Weiner, whose ego remains sadly, stubbornly tumescent despite the press onslaught, hasn't gotten the message that this might be a good time for him to step down. At the very least, he needs to tend to the disaster in his own home. Weiner's refusal to fall on his sword (or should I avoid phallic imagery and say "bow out"?) doesn't bolster my estimation of his character. Chris Lee (R-NY) left his post after posing shirtless. Weiner should do the same. Leave his post, I mean-- not pose shirtless.*

I agree with Robert Koehler that the Democrat demand for an ethics investigation is over the top. At the same time, if there's a chance that Weiner's predations included a minor or two, then an investigation-- possibly a criminal one-- may be warranted.

In the meantime: his named is spelled "W-E-I-N-E-R," and it's pronounced "hot dog."

*Although it appears he's already done that. The man leaves nothing to the imagination.


Monday, June 06, 2011


Using the Blogger app to publish this from my Droid.  Success?


it's what everybody's saying

Yet more of the same conventional wisdom for Congressman Weiner:

As for Weiner, the TweetDeck stamp won’t solve the case itself. But McCroskey knows what can.

“Here’s the thing that solves it all,” said McCroskey, “for him to call for a criminal investigation. All they have to do is look at his TweetDeck and see if it came from there, see what IP address [it had]. The local police department or Capitol Police could probably figure this out in 15 minutes.”

Call a real investigation, sir, and absolve yourself if you're really innocent. All the dodging and bullshitting just makes you look like the liar I'm sure you are.

ADDENDUM: Just a few months ago, we had a Republican congressman in a similar scandal: Chris Lee (also of NY-- what the hell is wrong with you people?) sent shirtless pictures of himself to a woman on Craigslist. I don't think anyone quite understands how privacy settings work on any of these social networking sites.


Sunday, June 05, 2011


Transforming one thing into another is no longer the sole province of Jesus or the Transformation teachers at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. You can do this, too. Take a four-letter word and change it, one letter at a time, into a new "destination" word. Don't add or subtract any letters (i.e., no 3- or 5-letter words), and avoid using proper nouns, curse words, acronyms, and abbreviations. Rare words are fine, as long as they're searchable in a standard dictionary or encyclopedia.

Change DOGS to CATS!


That was easy. Let's go Taoist, and change FIRE to SOIL.


And now for some Western alchemy, as we change LEAD to GOLD:


Ha ha! Too simple. And now for a transformation that'll give many hope: let's change UGLY to SEXY!

SEXT (see also here)

Damn... that was harder than it looked, and it took a ton of research. A bit like trying to beautify someone through plastic surgery.

One last one: let's go biological and transform RICE into POOP.


That took all of thirty seconds. I wish my actual poops were that brief.

Feel free to use the comments section to perform your own magical transformations.


Bwadli Coopair speaksa da Fraintch

A random flipping through YouTube brought me to a page full of videos of Bradley Cooper in France, speaking French with various interviewers as he promotes "The Hangover Part II." Cooper's French interlocutors seem largely impressed that he speaks French at all, and some American commentators coo over his "perfect French."

Euh... non.

I don't want to diss a fellow Hoya, especially since Cooper himself isn't going around bragging about his French skills, but I do want to say that the fawning is a bit much: Cooper's French is decent, but he makes some cringe-worthy mistakes (at one point referring to fellow male co-stars as actrices, for example, and not knowing the French word for "subtitling").

From a language teacher's point of view, I'd give Cooper high marks for listening comprehension: he's capable of handling full-speed French in a variety of pressure situations (radio interview here, for example, and a more formal TV interview here). But his responses are full of errors, many of them quite basic. He does, however, speak French at a respectable speed and doesn't trip over himself too often. I get the impression that he's not up on current French slang (then again, neither am I: my own knowledge is stuck in the late 80s and early 90s); the above-linked radio station interview shows him struggling to think of what to say when he's asked about French curse words.

I suppose the world is still shocked when a mere American manages to speak another foreign language with any competency. In Korea, such surprise is routine, perhaps because of a combination of cultural expectations related to foreigners, and a Korean's modest notion of where Korea ranks globally: surely no one would bother learning our language, right? That sort of surprise makes less sense in France, where Franco-American cultural exchanges have been ongoing for centuries.

It could simply be that Cooper whipped out his French after having played things close to the vest. The fact that he's doing this now may indicate that his agent (or the marketing team for "The Hangover Part II") thought that this was the time to bust a move, linguistically speaking.

In any case, I congratulate Brad on demonstrating a decent level of competence in French. If I had the chance to speak with him, Hoya to Hoya, I'd say he should brush up on noun genders, build his vocabulary a bit, and watch that grammar. In the meantime, for those who want to hear an American speaking impeccable French, I'll once again link to this always-impressive video of Jodie Foster, whose French ability far outstrips mine.*

*UPDATE, 11/8/15: The original Jodie Foster interview is no longer available on YouTube (damned link rot), so here's another.



I've been avoiding the controversy currently surrounding Anthony Weiner, a Democrat in the US House of Representatives who serves New York's 9th congressional district. The basic facts of the case are summarized here; Jon Stewart's hilarious "defenses" of Weiner, a personal friend, are now all over the Net (visit Comedy Central to see some of the vids).

But because I'm rereading Tom Wolfe's 1998 novel A Man in Full, I can't help viewing the Weinergate scandal through a Wolfian lens. A Man in Full is primarily the story of Charles Earl Croker, a hotshot, good ol' boy real estate developer who goes beyond his means when he builds Croker Concourse, a phallic monument to himself located on the outskirts of Atlanta. The building's location makes it unappealing to many investors and businesspeople; its sheer size makes it difficult to fill. Croker Concourse is hemorrhaging money, and Croker himself is facing financial ruin as his debt soars to the billion-dollar mark.

The novel isn't Wolfe's best work. His The Bonfire of the Vanities, a New York-based story published in 1987, was far superior. A Man in Full feels, ultimately, like a repeat of the same story, but with an older protagonist and a Southern setting. What makes both novels interesting, however, is that they both explore and lampoon male hubris. Charlie Croker, much like Sherman McCoy in the previous novel, isn't happy with his first wife, Martha, after she becomes too old and "handsome" for him, so he tosses her aside and marries twenty-something Serena. Like Croker Concourse, Serena is on display as a sign of Charlie's virility-- a reminder to the world that, although Charlie's sixty, he's still a Big Swingin' Dick.

While the facts of the Weinergate scandal don't clearly point to Congressman Weiner's guilt, one gets the impression that the man is well on his way to a hubris-fueled implosion of his own. Although he's clearly denied sending the underwear photo to a young lady who is one of his Twitter feed followers, he hasn't been clear as to whether the penis featured in the picture is his own. As Jon Stewart rightly points out in his various spiels on the topic, this is a bad move: it serves only to make the congressman appear guilty, whether he is or not.

I happen to agree with the conservatives who say Weiner should have called for a formal investigation: if his Twitter account truly was hacked, as he's claimed, then this would have any number of security implications. In the days following the outbreak of this scandal, Weiner apparently did hire some sort of security firm to "investigate" what might have happened, but this firm wasn't a neutral third party, and the investigation hasn't been as objective or rigorous as an actual, formal investigation would have been. My intuition is that Congressman Weiner is doing what he can to save face-- denying everything until the lies out themselves and he's left with no choice but to crash and burn. It's not going to be pretty, even if he manages to survive the scandal. Pride goeth before the fall.

Much of the world's trouble can be traced back to men with power and authority. These things are easy to misuse; a person with means may feel he can escape the sorts of consequences that normally befall the rest of us when we try to be naughty. Tom Wolfe's novels and the current scandal (in the end, it doesn't make a bit of difference whether the man is a Democrat or a Republican) show that male hubris is alive and well, even in these latter days.


Saturday, June 04, 2011

a dream within a dream

I took a late-afternoon nap today after having slept only four hours last night, and something rare happened: this was one of the few times where I've both remembered major parts of a dream, and had a dream within a dream.*

Can't say that it was pleasant. My "inner" dream involved my brother David, who got mauled by an escalator at an airport while on his way to a flight to Europe or somewhere; I was a helpless witness as my brother's clothes somehow got caught in the machine and he was torn apart. I can only imagine that this scenario has something to do with my having read that article about the poor woman who recently died on the subway tracks in New York City. (Also, the escalator scenario isn't as preposterous as it seems.)

The "outer" dream involved me, David, and my brother Sean: Sean and I saw David's clothing get stuck in the escalator, and we managed to pull him free before anything could happen, then we saw him off as if we hadn't just been through a near-death experience. In the "outer" dream, I told Sean afterward, as we were walking toward the airport's exit, that I'd dreamed this was going to happen. As soon as I confessed this to my little brother, the pain of the imagined loss made me cry-- and when I woke up from this weird experience, I was indeed wracked with sadness and resting on a tear-soaked pillow.

Moral: beware late-afternoon naps. (And for those who don't know me: I don't believe dreams are prophetic. They augur nothing.)

*Since I rarely remember my dreams, it could be that the dreams-within-dreams occur more frequently than I think they do.


engine trouble

My car's engine light went on last night while I was driving back from work. Not long after that, the engine started acting as if it were going to stall out whenever I tried to push the car past 4000rpm. Not good. I was able to get home just fine, and was even able to maintain a decent speed, but I'm worried that something crucial has given way, and that the car may be on the brink of dying. This makes the prospect of going to work next week rather dicey, and I currently have no money for car repairs. I have a feeling that, if something fundamental truly has gone wrong, I could be staring at a repair job costing several hundred dollars.

That, in turn, throws off my plans for my second monthly paycheck: most of that check will go to the usual bills, but the remainder is supposed to go to new contact lenses. So: car or contacts? Assuming the cost of the car repair will be under $200, then it's no contest: I've got to get the car repaired. Getting to work is more important than whether I look dumb wearing glasses. (My contacts were the one-month disposable kind; you get twelve pairs. I started wearing my current pair in early May. Going 1.5 months is feasible; I've done it before. Going a full two months, though, is going to be a problem, so I may have to break out the old glasses when teaching and driving.)

A few changes are in the works, meanwhile. I'm going to request Saturday work at YB Near; I don't know whether they can offer me a full eight-hour day since they already have a "Saturday team" of regular tutors there, but something is better than nothing, especially if YB Far is going to be stingy in giving me work on Wednesdays-- a trend I fear will continue. Still, if I can earn a couple hundred extra bucks per month, that'll give me a wee bit more breathing room.

Those following my Twitter feed (which you can see here on the blog, actually, if you glance over at the right-hand sidebar) know that I've just downloaded the Square app to my Droid. Square allows one to accept credit card payments directly to one's bank account. As with PayPal, every transaction is subject to a nominal fee: 2.75% of any transaction done with a swiped credit card (the little square-shaped swiper, for which Square is named, is coming in the mail), and 3.5% + 15 cents for every transaction performed manually, i.e., by typing in the credit card info and having the payer "sign" on my Droid with his or her fingertip.

With Square in place (it's already ready to go on my phone), I'm now free to become a traveling salesman. The question is: what to sell? I'm once again thinking about plopping down somewhere and selling art, or perhaps even selling some of my remaining books while wandering around DC. One never knows. And hey-- there's also rum cake and budae-jjigae.

In the meantime, the GRE studies continue apace. The sooner I can jump ship to better-paying work, the better. Keep those fingers and tentacles crossed.


Friday, June 03, 2011

Jesus Christ

Quite possibly the most horrifying news I've seen in a while: a woman in the NYC subway system fainted from the heat, woke up to find herself on the rails, and tried to get off the tracks-- only to be "cut in half" by an incoming train.

See here for the news. The woman had been studying to become a doctor.


how close I was!

I check my SiteMeter regularly to see who's reading what on my blog, and last night I saw that someone had found my old BSG and Foundation and Earth post. I slapped an update on that post, in the hopes that the mysterious reader might hit "refresh" and see it (note to readers: some of my typos magically disappear when you hit "refresh," because I usually go back and retro-proof my published posts, often within the first few minutes after hitting "publish"); the update links to my post at Kevin's Walk re: BSG's deity.

What struck me about the Foundation post, which was written soon after the end of BSG's Season 3, was how close it was to predicting the actual finale. It's a point of pride, among us SF geeks, to be able to anticipate where the writers will go in their story arc. Here's part of what I wrote:

Instead, I want to ponder the BSG version of Earth. What will Earth be like? I think we can assume it will exist: the final moment of the season-ender for Season 3 shows us a glimpse of the North American continent. Because the continent is recognizable, we can further assume that, when the ragtag fleet arrives, they won't be seeing Earth during its Pangaea phase, nor during some future time, millions of years hence, when the continents will have drifted and rearranged themselves into something unrecognizable. At the very least, then, we know the fleet will see Earth during a period when it's possible that humans will be there.

So far, so good, right? I should note, though, that geekier geeks than I have pointed out that the Earth we see briefly at the end of Season 3 has terrestrial features that wouldn't have existed 150,000 years ago.

The next part of my post gets things totally wrong. I immediately dismiss the parallel-evolution hypothesis (which turned out to be the path that series creator Ronald D. Moore took) in favor of the as-yet-unnamed-homeworld hypothesis. The BSG writers actually did a great job of confounding expectations, here: they threw us a "first Earth" as a red herring before eventually showing us, in the series finale, our very own Earth.

But then I get back on track first by noting what Isaac Asimov did in his Foundation series:

The characters eventually do find Earth, but Earth turns out to be a dead world, long since turned radioactive by various conflicts early in the period of imperial expansion.

Moore took the above route, probably knowing that many of his viewers would recognize the ghost of Asimov in this turn of events. But as we now know, this Earth, which was established by a more advanced version of the Cylons we know and love, isn't "our" Earth. In the BSG universe, it counts as the real Earth to the remaining human population, because its existence dovetails in most respects with the legends they had been taught about the thirteenth tribe/colony. Our Earth turns out to be, in a sense, Lucky Fourteen.

My very next paragraph would have been prescient had it been written without question marks. It begins:

What Earth will the characters in BSG find? Will Earth turn out to be a red herring or a MacGuffin?

Damn, damn, damn, I was so close to getting this right!

Near the end of my post, I speculate:

I trust that Ron Moore and his team of writers are smarter than the "Galactica 1980" crew, who had the ragtag fleet find Earth and be able to speak with Earthlings in fluent modern English. This makes me all the more curious as to what Earth our characters will find. I'd love for them to find a future, technologically fearsome Earth-- that, or a completely "parallel" Earth, i.e., one whose history has absolutely nothing to do with our own. But that's going to be a major stunt: the culture of the ragtag fleet already mirrors North American culture, which means that North American culture already exists in the BSG universe. Perhaps the best solution is for our intrepid group to find Earth devoid of human life-- an Eden waiting to be colonized.

The last sentence of the above paragraph is so close to being on the money that it almost pains me physically to read it. The ragtag fleet finds "our" Earth, which turns out to be Earth back when the human population was pretty sparse: in effect, an Eden almost devoid of human life. But Moore was cleverer than I suspected, and he went for the parallel-evolution scenario (nicely tying into the series' background theism), which led us to little half-Cylon Hera being the MRCA for modern humanity, sharing her Cylon mitochondria with all of us alive today.

And the greatest pain of all comes from knowing that I had the puzzle pieces in my hand. Near the very end of my post, I write:

Maybe the colonists should arrive at Earth and find signs from the thirteenth colony: "Earth sucks. Went elsewhere."

Fuck. This is almost exactly what happened when the first Earth was discovered. The fleet didn't find a sign, per se, but they found radiation and desolation. Earth sucks. And the Final Five Cylons, who are of this race, definitely went elsewhere, slipping in among the human population of the Twelve Colonies the way the robots in Asimov's novels have done in the Galactic Empire.

I was so damn close. Even now, this bugs me.

You know what this reminds me of? It reminds me of a scene in "The Princess Bride": the battle of wits between Westley/The Man in Black and Vizzini the Sicilian mastermind. Vizzini doesn't realize it, but every time he says "So I can clearly not choose the [goblet] in front of me" and "So I can clearly not choose the [goblet] in front of you," he's got the answer! He can choose neither goblet! But despite having all the pieces of the puzzle in his hands, he's unable to see how they fit together. My BSG/Foundation post was pretty much the same thing: tantalizingly right in the particulars, but unable to synthesize the mess into a coherent whole.

This won't stop me from predicting other series finales, of course. The upcoming eighth season of "House" will most likely be its final one. So I've got that to look forward to. Which is nice.


Thursday, June 02, 2011

the wonder of feta

When I go to Costco, I usually buy myself a big box of Président brand feta cheese. I have no idea what the best brand of feta is, but I find that Président works just fine for all my feta-related needs. The Président box is transparent, so you can look at the feta crumbs all piled on top of each other in the same way that you can look at an ant farm: it's a cross-section view. Very archaeological.

Here's the thing. Whenever I look at the cross-section, I always see small crumbs. When I stare down into the box from the top, however, I see huge crumbs. That in itself isn't disturbing; I suspect that the larger crumbs somehow end up on the surface through the random jostling that occurs during shipping.

What is disturbing is that, whenever I scoop away that layer of large crumbs, I see more large crumbs! I keep expecting to see the smaller crumbs-- the ones that are visible from the side-- but they never seem to be there when I look at the box from the top. Large crumbs keep appearing, taking the place of the large crumbs I've just scooped out.

I'm beginning to think that the Président brand is blessed by a series of rabbis and priests and monks, all of whom add some sort of fetanic mana to the box, making the large crumbs always appear on top. Maybe this is why feta is white: it can't contain all that holy power without leaking some into the visible electromagnetic spectrum.

I need to take a handful of Président feta, make an unguent, and go find a leper.


Wednesday, June 01, 2011


Unsure whether I have any classes to teach at YB Far today. Last week, I was told there were no classes for me-- a fact confirmed by a coworker who said the student load was extremely light. Normally, I get an email from YB Far on Tuesday night, confirming my schedule for the following day. Two Tuesdays ago, I was given only four hours' work (out of six); last week was a big zip, and then last night, I didn't even get the regularly scheduled email, so I'm bracing for a second Wednesday with no classes.

It could be that the nice lady running YB Far had forgotten that yesterday was Tuesday and not Monday (we all had Monday off for Memorial Day); it's easy to slip up like that when it's a short week. I'm worried, though, that if she thought yesterday was Monday, then when she made the schedule, she assumed the following day was Tuesday, which is normally a Kevin-free day. So it could be that I've got no classes today-- not because of a dearth of students, but because of a gaffe in planning. I won't know what the story is until 1PM, when the YB Far office opens.

As other coworkers have noted, YB Near is a much better-organized office than YB Far. I've put in a request to work at YB Near for all four days of the week, starting at the end of June. This will save me a good deal of gas, and maybe even save me some stress. YB Far can be a more stressful place to work; the nice office lady sometimes schedules four students to sit with a tutor for two hours, which is technically against YB's corporate policy: the student-teacher ratio isn't supposed to exceed 3:1.* There's been no such trouble at YB Near, primarily because student numbers are already low there (yesterday was a rare 3:1 day for me, for both of the sessions I taught).

YB Near often schedules me for short days, but short days are preferable to having no work at all from YB Far. I hope I can endure the current instability for another three weeks.

UPDATE, 1:20PM: No class today. No explanation given. At a guess, student volume is low, and will be getting lower as we move fully into summer mode. That, or the office doesn't want to admit that they made a clerical error.

*A three-to-one ratio doesn't sound like a lot, but keep in mind that the students are of different ages, learning different things. There really is a waiter-like aspect to this job, as the tutor rotates from student to student-- now in math mode, now in English mode, now in science or history mode-- while making sure that everyone is always working on something. As others have pointed out, this sort of multitasking is overrated, and isn't as efficient as having all students work on the same subject, or maintaining a 1:1 teacher-student ratio. The YB arrangement is also shortchanging the student: the parents pay for two hours' instruction, but the student receives only forty minutes' worth.