Sunday, March 31, 2013

Happy Easter!

He is Risen!

(Click on the above image to learn more about it.)

Happy Easter, all.


not exactly an image of Jesus on a tortilla

My brother David writes:

Behold. I slammed a beer cooler door on my pinky nail about 2 months ago. The door hit right around the nail matrix area where the nail actually [grows out]. As the nail grew out, it picked up the blood from the bruise. Now I have a blood spot on my nail that looks like the Holy Grail, complete with sparkly dots/halos around the grail. Perfect timing for Easter.

And here it is:

Maybe David should cut off his pinky and sell it on eBay. Then again, I'm not sure how Grail-like that image looks at second glance. To me, it's either a silhouette of Bart Simpson or someone's bare foot, stamping a mud puddle.


Saturday, March 30, 2013


Dr. Steve and I eventually settled on Chadwick's in Georgetown. Chadwick's, a lively bar-restaurant at least two stories tall, is located down by the river on the appropriately named Water Street. Before we drove to Georgetown, though, I had an unknowing brush with fame: Steve noted, as we were walking out of the Wardman Marriott Hotel, that the wild-haired guy walking into the hotel, not ten feet from us, was Oliver Stone. "Fucking traitor," I joked. Well, half-joked: Oliver Stone is certainly a kindred spirit with Sean Penn, whose priorities regarding our country are similarly upside-down. Stone was, it turns out, the keynote speaker for the conference that Steve is attending and presenting at. When I asked Steve, later in the evening, why he wasn't sticking around for Stone's keynote address, Steve said that he doubted he'd hear anything particularly new or interesting. "Hard to please," I gibed. It's something of a running joke between us: Steve rarely likes the movies he sees, the books he reads, or the speakers he hears.

The drive to Georgetown proved fairly easy despite the rush-hour blockage: the hotel was on Woodley, which ran into Connecticut Avenue; from there, it was a matter of finding K Street and taking the Whitehurst Freeway into Georgetown. I had suggested The Tombs as a possible dinner spot, but Steve was in the mood for something different: Thai or whatever. I suggested parking down by the river and deciding where to go by consulting Yelp or some other online source. While we were driving downhill on Wisconsin, I remembered that Chadwick's was right down the hill from us, so we eventually agreed to go there.

The resto turned out to be OK, if not spectacular. The quesadilla and calamari appetizers were good, but not particularly large. Steve's main course was Ahi tuna with rice and vegetables; his tuna was seared to perfection, and looked pleasingly pink, almost like salmon. I ordered my first-ever Cuban sandwich, and found it to be quite tasty with a mac-and-cheese side and a horseradish dip. Dessert was apple pie for me and a deconstructed root-beer float for Steve. By "deconstructed," I mean that Steve was given a mug of soft ice cream (no ball-shaped scoops) and a separate bottle of root beer. I'd never seen a root-beer float served that way, but despite its strangeness, Steve pronounced it delicious. My pie was also quite good.

Talk ranged all over. We covered Buddhism and Buddhist meditation (Steve's a regular meditator, although I didn't catch what tradition he's meditating in), changing jobs, job satisfaction, good and bad students, weight loss, weight gain, exercise, the new pope, the previous pope—shop talk, basically. Our friendly server popped by intermittently to ask how everything was; we told her it was all good.

Steve insisted on paying: his university was giving him a stipend to attend the conference, so we ate on the university's dime. After Chadwick's, I drove us to Georgetown University campus, where we went for a stroll from one end of the campus to the other, marveling at the many changes: some for the better, some for the worse. The place seemed quiet; it could have been spring break. (A look at GU's calendar shows that the school is currently on Easter break, having recently enjoyed a spring break. Georgetown is a Catholic university, so it's not shy about proclaiming the Reason for the Season. Happy Easter, by the way.) Our walk took us from Lauinger Library to Village A (the spacious apartments where the basketball players live), then over to the ICC Building; from there, we headed across Red Square, past the Reiss Science Building to Henle Student Village (my senior-year apartment). We passed Henle, ambled by Darnall Hall, and found ourselves in front of Saint Mary's, my freshman-year dorm. We then walked back to the Leavey Student Center, went up to its roof, walked over to the McDonough Fitness Center, went back downhill and past the Jesuit graveyard, then went up the hill past Village A and Lauinger Library, and back to my car. It was a cool night, but I was sweating like a champ by the end of our walk.

I drove Steve back to his hotel; he claims he's got a pile of student papers to grade, but I'm betting he'll spend the evening watching cable porn. I wish Steve good luck with his presentation tomorrow.


steppin' out

In a few minutes, I'll be off to the Wardman Marriott Hotel in DC, not far from the National Zoo, to meet my buddy Dr. Steve. We'll be dining I-don't-know-where; I had asked Steve to use Yelp or something similar to figure out a good place to eat in the neighborhood of his hotel. If he comes up dry, we'll likely head off to the Tombs at Georgetown, which is always my fallback resto. The Tombs has a great Bacon Bleu burger (yes, I'll be going off-diet today; it's Easter weekend, so screw it), among other délices célestes.


Friday, March 29, 2013

at the dacha with the dawg

I'm in Alexandria again, dog-sitting for my brother Sean. As I texted Sean tonight, this is the first time I noticed how much his chihuahua, Maqz, resembles a penguin thanks to his black coat and white chest hair. The resemblance is especially strong when Maqz assumes his upright "Doberman guard dog" posture.

I'll be in Alexandria for three nights. On Friday afternoon, I'll be in DC to hang with my buddy Dr. Steve, who will be in town—making the drive from Bucks County, Pennsylvania—to present a paper on Saturday. This is going to be dicey: I normally refrain from eating after 3PM on Fridays so that I can digest my food and avoid having to poop while at work on Saturdays. I have a sinking feeling, though, that my Saturday is going to be rather painful, gastrically speaking. It's karma: I'll be paying a heavy price for my Friday revelry.


Thursday, March 28, 2013

AC Doyle and the ambiguity of English

English has evolved since the time of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, which span the decades from the 1880s to the 1910s. Here's a good example—something that Holmes says about women:

Women are naturally secretive, and they like to do their own secreting.

Why, that sounds positively sebaceous, Holmes, old boy!

And then there's this juicy quote by Mr. Merryweather (a.k.a. "the stranger") from the short story I'm currently reading, "The Adventure of the Red-headed League":

"Oh, if you say so, Mr. Jones, it is all right," said the stranger with deference. "Still, I confess that I miss my rubber. It is the first Saturday night for seven-and-twenty years that I have not had my rubber."

How dreadfully prophylactic, dear chap!


18 defecation haiku (repost)

An oldie but a doodie from 2004. See here. If I ever publish a second edition of Scary Spasms in Hairy Chasms, these poems are going in for sure.

PREFACE: A Korean proverb says, roughly, "Frequent farting leads to shitting." If I knew how to do rotating taglines, this would certainly be one of them. Wisdom for the ages.

Onward with the haiku!

*** *** ***

never force your shit
lest you truly want to make
your asshole explode

no anal fissures
can be found on the surface
of my Mars landscape

push now, goddammit!
like the Death Star, you release
deadly beams of dung

animals take flight
once awakened, rectal wrath
shatters forest peace

pulsing hemorrhoids
form a pattern, telling your
anal horoscope

I took down a bull
with one glop of well-aimed shit
fired from my hole

The next step is more highly evolved shit haiku (shite-ku?). In this exercise, we keep the 5/7/5 syllabic structure, but mold it to an aba rhyme scheme.

lo, my gaping crotch!
spreading deadly brown and green
from the buttock-notch

call it infantile
all the while I bury you
under a shitpile

you cannot evade!
nothing can repulse the vile
spread patterns I've made!

Jacques Derrida screams
tries in vain to deconstruct
diarrhetic memes

like a pachyderm
I shit heavily upon
ALL you puerile worms

thicker than rat snot
dousing you with mountains of
warm, steaming butt-rot

But we're not done. Let's pull an Emeril and kick this up another notch by preserving the aba rhyme scheme and leaving the letter "e" out of the following haiku, à la Georges Perec's A Void.

on what basis do
you think that I shit so much?
I laugh... and fling poo

you just kiss my ass
right as I'm about to fart
lips blown up by gas

"Stop shitting!" you cry
OK, but you cannot stop
my licking your thighs

rabbit raisins can't
rival grandiosity
of shit in my pants

this is what's so fun:
radiating poo-stink from
rumbling, monstrous buns

taking a big shit
this is almost as cool as
staring at your tits


departure date fixed

My buddy Tom has come through with a plane ticket for me, and I'll be leaving for Seoul on April 18. My final day of work at YB will be Saturday, April 6. I plan to spend April 7 to April 17 getting a lot of paperwork done, especially the collection and apostilling of documents like my diplomas, official transcripts, FBI background check, etc.

Lots to do.


frittata attack!

What do you do when you've got a mess of bacon, a bag of baby spinach that's a few days old and getting limp, some equally aged eggplant, and a passel of eggs? You make a frittata, of course! Behold:

I fried up the eggplant in butter and olive oil, sprinkling it with garlic powder and red chili powder. I boiled down the spinach—which was dying, anyway—and threw the spinach and the eggplant into my huge turkey-roasting pan, along with the remains of a Food Lion package of "Mexican Mix" cheese (cheddar and jack) and a huge chunk of Kirkland-brand bleu cheese, which I forked into crumbles. I added my broiled, crispy bacon, a dozen eggs, and voilà—frittata!

I then stuck that bad boy in the oven at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, and it came out perfectly done. Smelled fantastic, especially thanks to the bleu cheese, which adds a "grown-up" component to the works. The eggplant basically disappeared into the mix; I couldn't taste or feel it at all. I assume the eggplant's fibers added some texture, but that's just a guess.

Magnificent meal. And I'll have enough for Saturday's lunch at the office. Along with a pile of pulled pork that is, quite possibly, the best damn pulled pork I have ever made before.



I couldn't help noticing that my blog's visitor stats have shot up since I wrote about my impending life-change. So that's where all my prodigal visitors have been, eh? Just fuckin' around, visiting other blogs, waiting for me to write something remotely interesting? Heh.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

(belated) Health Update: Day 54

Weight: 293.0

Pull-up negatives: 1

Suspended knee raises from pullup bar: 3 sets of 5 reps, two or three times

Cardio: 1 minute of "jumping rope" (with "ropeless" jump-rope system)

Finally—a few more stats to add. The above is just a haphazard mishmash of random crap I did after having purchased, for a mere $25 on sale, the Iron Gym Total Body Fitness Set, which includes a pullup/chinup bar (assembly required), pushup discs, arm straps for knee raises (the straps brace your upper arms so you can concentrate on raising your knees and not on hanging from the bar), and a "ropeless" jump-rope system that involves twirling weighted cords like a person furious at his Nintendo Wii nunchaku controller.

Better a haphazard start than no start at all, I say. The randomness is going to coalesce into more serious efforts in strength, stretching, and cardio. And more stats will be added to my health report, including things like waist size and resting pulse. Not sure I'm ready to invest in a blood-pressure kit quite yet, but we'll see.

And no, my weight isn't where I want it to be. The ten-pound goal still eludes me. It could be that the sheer amount of food I'm eating is the problem; I read recently that it takes 30 hours for food to pass completely through the average human's digestive tract, which means, since I eat at least once every 24 hours, that I've always got food in my stomach and poop in my intestines. A total purging may not be possible unless I starve myself for 48 hours. Even then, with my wily, tricksterish bowels, I can't guarantee I'd be totally empty.

In any case, the quest continues. Now that I've got my pullup bar set up, I'll be blasting out pullups in a few months. This is how it worked when I lived in Switzerland: my Swiss host family's basement had a set of pipes running along the ceiling, right over a particular doorway; I'd pass through that doorway on my way upstairs, which meant I was always crossing under those pipes. One day, I got the idea of trying to do pullups off them. I tested my weight, and there was absolutely no give. The pipes were strong; their width was just right for my hands. I started doing negatives (slowly letting myself down from a full-flex position), then one day, to my astonishment, I was able to do a legitimate, palms-out pullup. Just one, but one was revolutionary. Over the ensuing weeks and months, one pullup became two, two became three, and three eventually became seven, which is the most pullups I had ever done in my life. Skinny people might scoff at seven pullups, but I weighed over 200 pounds at the time. Seven was massive for me. I'd like to see those skinny folks blast out seven pullups while wearing a weight vest that makes them weigh 210 pounds. Not scoffing now, eh?

I need to recapture what was, for lack of a better term, The Switzerland Formula. When I lived in Fribourg, I was walking 40 minutes to school every day, up and down steep inclines; I was hiking everywhere—everywhere—in my free time. Exploring les alentours. Walking les pistes and die Wanderwege. Visiting die Altstadt (every European town has one). I would sometimes jog along one of those Parcours Vita running-and-exercise trails that the Swiss seem to enjoy so much. I was also eating only what my Swiss host mom fed me, and she didn't dole out huge portions of anything. She was a precise, unimaginative cook; her food was good, but lacked any verve. She even got mad, one time, when she found out I'd been sneaking chocolate powder from her cupboard to make chocolate milk at night. (Sorry, Mutti. I'm a confirmed chocoholic.)

Obviously, what I'm doing now just isn't enough. But things are starting to come together. My upcoming job hunt in Korea, for one thing: that's giving me something to hope for, something to live for, a reason to launch myself out of my current rut. Along with the renewed optimism comes the energy to organize an exercise program. Right now, it's just fits and starts, but in the coming weeks, I expect I'll become more directed. So I got that goin' for me. Which is nice.


not so fast

My boss at YB just wrote to say that YB can promise me work when I get back from my trip. That's mighty nice of her. No, sincerely—it's good to know I'll have work lined up.


Tuesday, March 26, 2013

shut of YB?

After a little more than two years of craziness, it may be that YB and I are definitively parting company. I emailed my supervisors last night about whether I could be granted a month's leave to go to Korea—and if not, then the email would have to count as my two weeks' notice. I got a reply this afternoon that was, well, valedictory (Ltn. vale = goodbye, dicere = say/tell) in tone—something along the lines of "we are extremely saddened to hear about your impending departure"—which leads me to believe that YB won't be guaranteeing me a job upon my return from my one-month sortie in Korea. Ah, well. It's no less than I had expected.

So now we move ol' Kevin into the next great phase of his existence. The world suddenly feels as if it's tilting wildly; everything's off-kilter; nothing is guaranteed. Life has been jolted forward again, like a conveyor belt that's just been unstuck. Forward, but into what?

Over the ledge, it seems.


one month of job shopping

My buddy Tom is insisting that, if I come to Korea to go job-shopping, I shouldn't do so for only a week: properly speaking, I need to stay for a month. I thought about this for a few days... and have decided to do this Tom's way. So I'm now planning to leave for Korea on April 8, and stay until May 7. Tom, that noble fellow, will be providing my plane ticket.

Since April is when the Korean universities put out their job ads, April seems the best month in which to be in Korea. My bosses at YB won't be pleased to hear that I require an entire month off, so I'm prepared for the nuclear option, i.e., quitting YB so that I get the month I need, anyway. I've already sent YB's office an email detailing my request and making explicit my reasons for it. It's now up to them as to whether to give me a month off (and welcome me back in May).

In the meantime, I've got a lot to do. I need to re-approach OneMain Financial about a $6000 loan. Once I get the loan (well, assuming I get the loan: I got rejected by them last year for a poor debt-to-income ratio), I'll be able to afford being absent from the country for a month with no steady income. After all, I'll still have rent and bills and scholastic debts to pay while I'm overseas. That burden remains.

I also need to prep all the requisite documents for a trip overseas: official transcripts (apostilled), FBI background check (apostilled), university diplomas (apostilled), passport, photos, etc. I'll also need to buy an iPad so I can function while in Korea: bang out cover letters, send résumés, email folks in the States, whatever.

One other thing that needs arranging: where the hell I'm going to stay while I'm in Seoul. While I do have relatives who would be happy to take me in, I hesitate to ask them for help. In part, this is because things got a bit weird after Mom died, and I haven't sat down for a heart-to-heart with Mom's four cousins (and their families) since her passing in January of 2010. I have some friends in Seoul whom I might ask for a couch on which to surf—a few days here, a few days there. I wouldn't want to inconvenience anyone for an entire month. There's also the possibility that I'll find a decent hasuk (student lodging) or yeogwan (inn) or goshiweon (stripped-down student study room) at which to stay for relatively cheap. That's something I can't find out until I'm on the ground in Seoul.

Big, revolutionary changes are afoot. This is all very sudden, but April looms, so I've had to make this command decision quickly in light of Tom's insistence that I need a month on the peninsula, not a mere week. I haven't sat down to think about what this means for me and my students, or for me and my generally good relationship with YB (yes, despite my complaints and gripes, my overall relationship with YB is positive). But there are times in life when, if you're looking to improve your situation, you just have to grab at any opportunity to do so.



A popular fast food in Germany—arguably the most popular fast food—Currywurst is normally served steaming hot, with a mess of salty pommes frites. The Wurst is generally made with a mild sausage like Bratwurst, Knackwurst, or Kielbasa; it's cooked in an aromatic tomato sauce (often a glorified ketchup) that has a good bit of curry added to it, and once it's plucked out of the boil, it's seasoned with a pungent blend of curry, paprika, and whatever else might make the flavor unique.

My sauce, in which I dunked my brats for twenty minutes:

ketchup (2 cups)
sriracha (1/4 cup)
mayonnaise (1/8 cup)
mustard (dollop)
garlic powder
onion powder
curry (heaping tablespoon)



This experiment was a lot more successful than my previous attempt, which was a confused mess of Italian and Germanic influences.

Compare my results with this and this.

NB to the carb police: I didn't ingest all two cups of the ketchup. The sauce, as you see it in the photo, is a mixture of ketchup and other non-carby ingredients. At worst, the above represents perhaps one or two tablespoons' worth of sauce, with the ketchup's carb count at nearly three-quarter strength (full strength = 4g carbs per TBsp; Currywurst strength = 3g carbs, so about 6g carbs total).


Monday, March 25, 2013

logic puzzle: extreme sports—who, what, where

The following comes from Original Logic Problems, October 2002, Penny Press. Enjoy. The puzzle took me a million years to solve, and I still haven't seen the official correct answer, but I'm pretty sure I've solved it correctly: I worked it twice and got the same results both times.

I wouldn't have known about the puzzle had it not been given to Kristi by my lovely coworker Lily (not her real name). If I recall correctly, Lily has mentioned that she enjoys doing these sorts of puzzles in her spare time. I find them about as pleasant as listening to country music while anally impaling myself on a cactus, but once I start such a puzzle, my inner pit bull takes over and I can't stop worrying it until I've either solved it or tired myself out. Happily, I can report that this particular puzzle proved eminently soluble; if I can do it, stupid as I am, I'm positive that you, Dear Reader, can untangle it just fine on your own.


Manuel and four of his friends like to live life on the edge and often engage in thrill-seeking activities. Currently, each person is planning his or her vacation around a different exhilarating sport and is traveling to a different exotic country (one is Paraguay) to indulge his or her thirst for excitement. While their spouses are content to relax in their hotels or explore local cultures, these daredevils insist that you haven’t fully experienced a country until you’ve risked your life in it! From the information provided, can you determine the full name (one surname is Kenning) of each daredevil, the activity in which he or she will engage while on vacation, and the country to which he or she will travel?

1. The five adventurers are (a) Jennifer (who isn’t the one who plans to paraglide), (b) Nikki, (c) the person going skydiving, (d) the one surnamed Stanton, and (e) a person who is not surnamed Firdusi.

2. The person surnamed Dacia is going base jumping. The one surnamed Firdusi is traveling to Greece for his or her vacation.

3. Neither Oberton (who is going bungee jumping) nor the person surnamed Nijinsky is the one going to Nigeria. Heloise (who is heading to Malaysia) isn’t surnamed Nijinsky.

4. Manuel has arranged a hang-gliding trip; he isn’t the person who is going to Bulgaria.

Note: A statement such as “Neither Oberton . . . nor the person surnamed Nijinsky is the one going to Nigeria” means that Oberton isn’t going to Nigeria, that the person surnamed Nijinsky isn’t going to Nigeria, and that Oberton isn’t the person surnamed Nijinsky.


You'll need the following charts to help you visualize your progress through the logic. The smaller of the two charts will be, once you've filled it in, your final answer:


the sprint

With so few work hours coming my way this week, I'm going to have to make up the difference by piling on work-at-home hours for curriculum development. I'm currently dealing with a large, four-week project involving several textbooks whose content needs radical rewriting. The bosses are expecting me to deal with approximately one textbook per week, and I'm currently a bit behind. So, today and tomorrow, I'll be piling on the work hours in a sprint to get me through the second and third textbooks by midnight on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, this at-home work doesn't pay nearly what it should (I'd earn at least three times this rate in Korea). It pays peanuts, in fact, but beggars can't be choosers, so I need to adopt the attitude that a pittance is better than nothing at all.


Sunday, March 24, 2013

home early, and an easy week ahead

Next week is spring break for Fairfax County students, which means that many of them won't be coming to YB. Next week's schedule is therefore going to be quite truncated, and Wednesday—normally my shit day—will have only one bad student instead of the usual three (no Maximus or Iblis). Praise Cthulhu!

Because today is Saturday, and thus technically the first day of spring break, I had my final class cancelled when my lone student ended up bagging, so I went home two hours early. The supervisors were very nice and told me they'd log in my final two hours, anyway, despite my limp protestations.

This promises to be a good weekend, and a good upcoming week.


Saturday, March 23, 2013


In this article about how China is killing 20 million trees per year to sustain its disposable-chopstick habit, we read the following bizarreness:

Chopsticks quickly became popular around Asia. However[,] Chinese chopsticks are longer than their Korean and Japanese counterparts in order to reach the communal dishes in the centre of the table. Koreans also often use metal chopsticks because of their love of barbecue. [emphasis added]

Am I dense, or am I just not getting the cause/effect relationship, here? Koreans love barbecue, therefore they use metal chopsticks. OK; got it.



So I took my car to the local shop, and once again, the guys seemed unwilling to do any repairs. This was good for my wallet but a bit disturbing for me: they seemed to be treating my problem as a non-problem. Because my car's dashboard "check engine" light came on, they took out their handy-dandy decoder box and hooked it up to my engine, and the error code that came up was "misfire on cylinders 2 and 4." They then reset the "check engine" indicator, told me to drive the car around a few minutes to see whether the warning light would come back on, and when it didn't, they sent me on my way, gratis, with a promise to call about an estimate re: fixing the stall-out problem.

So that's where things stand at the moment. I've got a car that stalls when the engine starts up from a cold state (and is immediately put in gear), and I'm waiting for a call from the shop regarding an estimate. At this point, I'm thinking of leaving the car at the shop on Sunday night, then walking home and letting the guys deal with it on Monday morning, after the car's had a chance to go cold. That'll give them a chance to experience the stall-out for themselves, and the problem will stop looking like a non-problem.

UPDATE, 7:04PM: No call about an estimate. For the moment, I suppose I'll drive the car until it freaks out and becomes undrivable.



Go figure. I might hit 291.0 pounds on Monday. Finally.


and in other news: my damn car

I need to put my Honda in the shop again. The car's low idle and stall-outs have become more problematic, and now I've got the mysterious and much-feared engine light shining on my dashboard. Christ knows how much repairs are going to cost me, but I doubt they'll be cheap.

So I'll be driving my carcass to the local mechanics' place to see what can be done. I don't think a can of Sea Foam is going to work this time.


Friday, March 22, 2013

bad, sad news

The email I just got from the Bank of Korea is a polite rejection. To wit:

Dear Kevin,

We hope this email finds you well.

We went through your application. Although you are qualified for the requirements of our opening, you will not be able to go through the recruiting process like other candidates here in Korea under your situation.

This letter is to let you know that you have not been selected for the position.

Thank you for taking the time to apply for the editor position at the Bank of Korea.

We wish you the best and thank you for your interest in our organization.


S. Choi

I appreciate the "you are qualified," but interpret the "under your situation" to mean "You still live in America, which means we can't hire you, because we're lazy and closed-minded, and we hire only those who are already on the peninsula, despite the fact that an interview via Skype is feasible and you are perfectly capable of paying your own airfare to Korea at no inconvenience to us."

As I just wrote my Seoul-based buddy Tom:


It appears, once again, that the fact that I'm in America has fucked me good and hard. I'm forwarding the rejection letter I just got from Bank of Korea. The gods are telling me not to come to Korea, I think. On the up-side, BOK at least had the courtesy to send me an email instead of leaving me hanging. I respect that.


Well, shit. I'm gonna mope for a while, then figure out what my next move will be. It could be that the gods really are telling me to stay put in the States, perhaps so that I can complete my walk project: a trip across the US on the American Discovery Trail, as this guy Nate did.


a lump in my throat

On, here is the harrowing, inspiring story of Lee Hyeonseo, a brave, brave woman who escaped North Korea, learned Chinese to be able to pass as Chinese, moved to South Korea, learned English, and went back to China to rescue the rest of her family from North Korea. People like Lee make me feel small, and perhaps inadvertently help me put my own troubles in perspective. I watched Lee's painful, soulful TED talk with a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. I can only imagine how much this strong woman has suffered, and can only respect—and be awed by—how far she has come.

[Thanks to LiNK's newsletter for alerting me to this video.]


teaching science to the little girl

[NB: Check the bottom of this post for an update.]

My tiny, timid student Kristi is, presumably, coming to YB this afternoon or evening to sit with me for a two-hour session. She didn't come at all to be with me last week-- not last Tuesday, because she supposedly switched her schedule from Mondays and Tuesdays to Mondays and Thursdays; and not last Thursday, because her mother supposedly suffered a flat tire. I know from personal experience that it takes only a few minutes to get a doughnut onto your car in the event of a flat, so I think this excuse for an absence was bullshit, and I wonder whether Kristi has been avoiding me ever since she sat with me two weeks ago. Being sensitive and easily hurt, she may not have the maturity to sit bravely across the table from me again.

If, by some miracle, she does come for a session today, I'll be ready: I've got my 150 questions to give her (see the above link); I've got a copy of Carl Sagan's Cosmos to get her started on; and I've got a packet composed mostly of the marvelous critical-thinking modules developed by Drs. Joe Lau and Jonathan Chan of the University of Hong Kong. In a few months, I'll have Kristi talking the language of science.

Assuming she takes to science, of course. I have my doubts.

Kristi is, by the way, not unique in her desire to attend TJHSST without explicitly knowing why. We have another student, a reed-thin half-Korean, half-Thai guy named Alexey (not his real name), who is also trying to get into the prestigious science high school for no discernible reason. Alexey says he wishes to become a CEO, so I asked him whether he's begun taking any business-related courses, or whether he plans to join DECA once he's in high school. Alexey's respective answers to these questions were basically "No" and "No idea." He's another one who, despite a weird desire to point himself in a general direction, has no specific notion of what he's doing.

Balancing my frustration and compassion when I deal with such students is difficult: on one hand, I do understand how amorphous a young kid can be about his or her future plans. On the other hand, I find it hard to believe that a kid with a specific desire to attend TJ could have no real notion of (1) what TJ is all about or (2) what s/he plans to do with all that marvelous science education. A vague desire to become a CEO of some sort of company, for Alexey's part, or a vague desire to go to TJ without any obvious interest in science, for Kristi's part, seems a recipe for four wasted years. I truly think that, in both cases, these kids are aiming for TJ mainly because, first, they want to please their parents and, second, the only thing they really understand about TJ is that it's prestigious. While it's better to want to please your parents than to flip them the bird, it's not particularly healthy to buy into the mythology that you should be living out their dreams. And that's the basic mission of childhood, I think: to figure out what you want out of life, and to go for it. Many of us adults don't have that figured.

I rarely teach Alexey these days; he comes to our center mainly for advanced math. But Kristi is another matter. I'll be leading her to water... but can I make her drink?

UPDATE, 11:07PM: Miraculously, Kristi showed up, and we ended up having a very good lesson. I took her through the 150-question packet, had her do an exercise on deductive reasoning after explaining Aristotelian syllogisms to her (she scored 6 out of 10, alas, but we're only at the beginning of this project), got her started on what critical thinking and scientific method might mean, and led her through a few thought experiments (e.g., why do scientists theorize that the moon came from the earth?). Kristi now knows she's got a ton of reading, writing, and video-watching to do; I've loaded her up with Chapter 1 of Sagan's Cosmos, two TED Talk videos, and the first 10 questions of that 150-question set.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

at it again?

The Marmot's Hole, Korea's premier Koreablog, is reporting that South Korea may be under massive cyberattack at this very moment. I imagine that, if this is true, it's a retaliation for a blackout suffered by North Korea only days ago—a blackout that the North blames on the South. Truth is the first casualty in any war, and I have no way of knowing whether the assault on North Korea actually came from South Korea; some of the online scuttlebutt suggested the attack on the North may have come from China, of all places, or that North Korea may even have targeted itself.

The North's current offensive (assuming, of course, that it is an attack and that it is from the North) may be part of an ongoing campaign of intensified saber-rattling; some talking heads are openly wondering whether North Korea, under its new, young, and impetuous leadership, might be "more serious" this time around. We'll see. The 2010 sinking of the Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island seemed way more serious to me, so it's going to take quite a bit to convince me that the North's belligerence is any more belligerent than it has been. If a few artillery shells hit some tall glass buildings in downtown Seoul, then I'll be convinced. Not to make light of the many people who died in those two 2010 incidents, but in the larger scheme of things, even those affairs were minor.

My suggestion: float a bomb onto a couple North Korean landmarks. The Pyongyang Arch of Triumph, for one. The stadium where the Arirang ceremony is held, for another. The huge statue of that fat fuck, Kim Il-sung, for a third. And a nice, big bomb in that stupid mausoleum might be a good idea, too.


the Whafuck? meal

The meal you see below started out as a sort of Alfredo/Stroganoff-like dish with spaghetti squash as the "pasta" (about the only tolerable pasta analogue I've found thus far). Somehow, fresh basil and mushrooms got recruited, along with American-style red-pepper flakes, then one thing led to another, and before we knew it we were having sex on the kitchen floor, right there amongst the dust bunnies, with much yelping and queefing. Seriously, I have no idea how this dish got to its current state from where it started, but it smelled and tasted fantastic. The bacon scraps played a role, as you see.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Health Update: Day 47

294.0. Ah, the shame. (Up from a low of 292.8 earlier in the week.)

No change from last week, and I'm going to start exercising, anyway. I suspect that my body chemistry just isn't like Sean's; the low-carb approach doubtless works well for many, but not for all. I've long suspected that, for me, the key to weight loss is activity, not diet. My body has traditionally responded faster to changes in physical routine than it has to changes in eating habits.

So: tomorrow, we start a-walkin', and I'll be adding more data to these health updates.


l'échec (the failure)

My brother David insisted that I should try to make eggplant pasta. Eggplant flesh, when raw, is spongy and white. When cooked, it's as translucent and sodden as any squash. Despite knowing this, I decided to try spiral-cutting and cooking some eggplant pasta to go with my spaghetti sauce. The results you see below:

Blech. The "pasta" was mushy and almost tasteless. Eggplant is better when baked or deep-fried, and I have to say that spiral-cutting didn't work well with this vegetable, which is much too pliable and squirmy under the blade. Next time around, I'll fry that puppy. In fact, if I fry it to a sufficiently stiff and crunchy state, I might almost have an analog for nacho chips. Can eggplant nachos be far behind?


Greek salad, take 2

The same Greek salad that I had made before, but with the onions toned way down, and with a bit of mozzarella sprinkled in as well.


Monday, March 18, 2013


Behold a rather expensive can of escargot: Bai Top brand snails, sold at the local Grand Mart (Korean grocer) for a whopping six dollars a can.

Me, I love snails, especially this kind, which are Korean golbaengi (i.e., sea snails). I can eat them straight out of the can, dollop by delicious dollop. I don't care how slimy they are (they do often seem to have some sort of mucus dripping off them); they're sweet and good.


nasal history repeats itself

Remember the story of the zit inside my nostril (almost as bizarre as the lip-zit story)?

Well... it's happening again. But this time, the zit's inside my left nostril. How sinister.

UPDATE: A photo! It took me quite a few tries, and a lot of patience, to capture the following image with my cell phone, a tiny flashlight, and a bathroom mirror. Ladies: this one's for you. I know you'll be fantasizing about that sexy, sexy whitehead long after you leave this blog for greener cyberpastures.


walk to Mordor

A tweet by Aaron McKenzie (of Idiots' Collective) sends me to this post, "Level Up Your Life with Nerd Fitness," at The Art of Manliness, from which I saw a link to this Nerd Fitness post inspired by Tolkien.

Which brings me to my own project. Unlike my brother Sean and my online friend John McCrarey, I haven't been exercising along with my diet, and this may be a major reason as to why I've stalled in the weight-loss department. I'm expecting, once again, not to have reached the ten-pound mark by tomorrow's weigh-in, and I've resolved that, whatever my weight might be tomorrow, I'm going to start exercising again. For me, that means walking, at least as far as the cardio goes. The strength and flexibility training will begin with phone-app exercises, then evolve into a full-on weightlifting and stretching program done at my apartment complex's tiny gym.

Bring on the pain.


Happy Saint Pat's!

Somewhat belated, seeing as it's dinnertime, but a very Happy Saint Patrick's Day to you all.


Radagast's Racing Rhosgobel Rabbits

An interesting and amusing, if frustratingly errata-ridden, article on Radagast the Brown's rabbit-drawn sledge, which appears in Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey."

Epic fail: Radagast has his gangline attached to his brush bow. This is a sure way to have your super-powered Rhosgobel Rabbits pull your sled apart. [A proper] gangline is attached by way of a network of rope, called a bridle, to every upright “stanchion” on the sled, spreading out the stress. I have since seen some clearer pictures of [Radagast's] sled; it appears to have a support “keel” down the center[;] the brush bow attaches to this keel. Perhaps this is enough to strengthen it.

Opba'n Gangline Style!

The article also covers much that Radagast gets right.


Sunday, March 17, 2013

going stag

Looks as if I'll be hitting Third Edition alone this evening. Dateless, I'll be free to move about on my own schedule. I might take a nighttime stroll over to Georgetown's campus after I leave Thirds. Tonight, the plan is to arrive about midnight and to stay at the bar until about 2AM—or until I can no longer stand the bacchanalian atmosphere. My brother warns me that tonight will be a madhouse. Last hurrah, and all that. Perhaps I'll catch some interesting vomit photos. Or find the woman of my dreams.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

in praise of bibs and bobs

Bibs and bobs, a.k.a. bits and bobs or odds and sods, is a British slang expression meaning this and that, for miscellaneous bits and pieces of something or other. The expression seems especially apropos when it comes to bacon.

I didn't realize, until just last week, that people sold bacon scraps at the store with a straight face. I saw a three-pound package of the stuff at Wal-mart several days ago, hefted it, noticed the unit price, and tossed it into my basket.

Haven't looked back since. I am now a convert to bacon scraps. The per-ounce price for these torn-up chunks of pig flesh is fully half that of regular bacon, and when you open the package, you see right away that the contents are, lo and behold, perfectly good bacon. The fat content might be slightly higher, but when you're starting with a three-pound package, you're not losing that much in fat runoff.

You can make perfectly crispy bacon out of these scraps. It's easy: just set your oven to broil, dump the bacon scraps into a broiler pan, spread the meat out as far and as thinly as possible, broil for ten minutes (time will vary depending on how close your pan is to the broiler; mine's not that close), drain the fat, flip the meat, then broil another seven minutes. The result? Crispy bits of bacon, along with well-cooked chunks of meaty (not fatty!) pork belly. Absolutely delish, and ready to be cut up with meat scissors into little bits (bibs and bobs!) for sprinkling onto salads, pasta, or whatever.

Now that I know about bacon scraps, I no longer see any reason to buy regular bacon ever again. Same meat for half the price? Oh, hell, yeah!


Kiwi 45!

A big Happy Birthday to my buddy John Williamson, infamous Kiwi, ladies' man, and proud father of two lovely daughters. If I'm not mistaken, John's birthday is today, the Ides of March, and he tells me he's turning the Big Four-Five.

Read bad stuff about John here.


coming soon: a review of "The Hobbit"

I ordered "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" on iTunes a few days ago, and have seen it all the way through, along with the DVD extras. I plan to write a modest review of the film—after a second viewing—which certainly won't be as ambitious in scale as my buddy Charles's comprehensive review and analysis. In fact, what puzzles me is what I could possibly add to what Charles says in that piece. I'll find something, I'm sure. Stay thou tunèd.

One interesting bit of trivia, though: the actor who does the motion-capture work for the Goblin King is none other than Barry Humphries, whom most of the British world knows better as Dame Edna.


no sex in space, my love

Frustratingly vague article on why scientists don't recommend sex in space. About the only useful information is this:

...according to new research, getting down while we're way up high could theoretically cause health problems for spacefaring lovers.

James Bond may have given it a go in Moonraker, but experiments on mating plants by scientists at Montreal University show that weightlessness affects the way cells are transported inside living things, causing 'traffic jams' on the vital highways that connect different processes.

Although researcher Anja Geitmann said they could not draw any specific conclusions on the implications for animal - and human - sex in space, she added that intercellular transport is important in a variety of human cells.

Geitmann told that many neural disease, including Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and [Huntington's] are all related to this 'trafficking'.

The phrase "the way cells are transported inside living things" implies that entire cells are being moved inside the body, presumably along vascular pathways. But later on, the phrase "intercellular transport" implies that some X is being transported from cell to cell. What exactly are the "vital highways"? What "different processes" are connected by them? This article could use some serious rewriting, because right now, it sounds for all the world like a description of bodily phenomena from a New Age-y perspective.

Bothersome vagueness notwithstanding, I guess that means that I and my funny little honey won't be playing the freefall version of Dodge Spoo anytime soon. It could also mean that the best astronauts for long space missions might very well be monks. In the meantime, regarding those experiments, we should probably see what happens with two randy dogs before giving it a go ourselves; along with providing us crucial sexual information, the YouTube video of dogs mating in freefall would easily outstrip "Gangnam Style" in hits. (PSY's song might work as the background track for the dog vid.)

I think this initial report is just a bump in the road. Sex in space will happen eventually, if it hasn't happened already, and it won't be long before we have our first orbiting brothel, our first documented space orgy, and a novel branching-out of the porn industry. "Yum-oh!" as Rachel Ray says. Come to think of it, that should be the name of the next space vehicle we launch: the starship Yum-oh, with its EVOO drive.


Friday, March 15, 2013

the end of an era (and I need a date)

My brother David informs me with regret that the bar at which he's been working for several years, Third Edition in Georgetown, will be closing its doors this coming weekend. David says that Saturday night will likely be his final night there, and I had promised him, several weeks ago, that I would be there to witness the ultimate sinking of the great ship. It's astounding to me that Third Edition should be closing, given its prime location just uphill from Wisconsin Avenue and M Street, the very heart of Georgetown. But the scuttlebutt is that Thirds has suffered setbacks from poor management and the suspension of its liquor license—several times over the past three or four years, in fact—as a result of underage drinking.

I don't normally go to places like Thirds. I prefer quiet, calm venues: a library, a decent restaurant, a tranquil spot on campus overlooking the quad. But this weekend marks a milestone, the end of an era, so I figure the least I can do is bear witness to the passing of a popular watering hole. Who knows what the future holds for that patch of real estate? Here's hoping that a good restaurant takes its place.

And as much of a shame as it is that Third Edition is going the way of the dinosaur, it'd be an even greater shame for me to go there alone. I need a date. But whom to ask? I'm privileged to work with several smart, kind, gorgeous ladies, but there's the weird politics about the whole coworker thing (I can at least thank God that I won't have to bring up Steak and Blowjob Day, which was yesterday/Pi Day; that would've been awkward), and I'm not sure that any of them would say yes, anyway. Plus, the next time I see any coworkers will be Saturday morning—much too short of a notice to ask someone out that same evening. Ah, well. Going stag might be just the ticket; it's going to be a bittersweet night, after all.


it's official

Two years of working at YB, as of today. Where has the time gone?



Lee expresses cautious optimism about the new pope.

So does Mike.

Charles answers five questions about translation.

Elisson on Pi Day, which is today. And sticking with the circle theme, Elisson also writes on green bagels for an early fête of Saint Patrick's Day ("Oon airly fate awff SenPaahdysday," said he with an Oyrish accent).

Lorianne on surviving disasters.


Thursday, March 14, 2013


I've got my curriculum for Kristi (not her real name; I mention her here) almost totally prepped, and I'm also in the process of arranging to have Sybill (again, not her real name) act as Kristi's "big sister"—to give her some frank talk about science and TJHSST, but also to expose Kristi to science's wonders, to make science real for her. I'm aiming at nothing less than a total reparadigming of Kristi's consciousness. Either she'll end up loving science, or she'll end up hating it. I don't care which way Kristi skews, as long as she's able to make a firm, informed decision, and to follow it with passion.


another reason to steer clear of Facebook

Saw this quote on Instapundit:

Simply by delving into volunteers’ Likes, the researchers could determine in 95 percent of cases whether a person was Caucasian or African American and in 88 percent of cases whether the person was heterosexual or homosexual. They could determine whether the person is Christian or Islamic 82 percent of the time.

The researchers described Facebook Likes as “a generic class of digital record that could be used to extract sensitive information.” Volunteers used the myPersonality Facebook app to track their Likes, which were fed into algorithms to arrive at the results. The data were supported by information from volunteer profiles and personality tests.

Of course some of these Likes are a no-brainer. Liking “Being Gay” is at least a decent indicator of one’s sexuality. Liking Barack Obama means there’s a good chance you’re voting Democratic next time around. This is not exactly rocket science. But some Likes appeared to have zero connection to personal attributes. Sure, curly fries are delicious, but is Liking them the best indicator that you have a high IQ? Also, one of the Likes that helped identify heterosexual men was “Being Confused After Waking Up from Naps.” Is that really a trait only straight men are afflicted with?

While the results can be seen as hilarious for anyone that’s not a Harley-Davidson rider (I kid), the privacy implications are alarming. Facebook Likes are public by default.

Glenn Reynolds comments: "Facebook isn’t about privacy."

Damn straight it ain't. I'm glad I quit it.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

dos años

March 14—Pi Day— will mark the two-year anniversary of my career at YB. In some ways, that first day on the job still feels like yesterday, when I was snowed under by bewildering paperwork. Since that time, I've gotten a lot better at the record-keeping; I balance and budget my time more efficiently whenever I find myself in a three-on-one student/teacher situation, and I'm a lot less uptight about lesson planning, which is no longer a big deal for me. It's all been a matter of getting accustomed to the system. While I'm still not perfect at my job, I am a lot more comfortable at it, and it helps that most of my students are good apples.

Alas, the job has its downside. I don't see that YB has much in the way of upward mobility for a bloke like me, so there's no way I'll be making a career of working here. Although I've heard talk of pay raises (aside from the standard yearly raise), I'll believe such talk when I see the raises. I'm still not used to the weird work schedule; starting at 3:30PM during the week, then shifting to a 9AM start every Saturday, remains harsh for my old-fart equilibrium. I'd be a lot happier if I could work regular hours, but we tutors have to work around the students' daily schedules. Of course, if I had to choose between cutting out my Wednesdays or my Saturdays, I'd much rather cut the Wednesdays; Wednesday, when all the bad kids come, remains my shittiest weekday (not looking forward to today, in fact).

All the same, it's amazing how quickly two years can go by. I'm thankful to have gotten this job, which has provided me with a steady, if meager, paycheck for the past 24 months. I've also had the chance to relearn a lot of information I had forgotten since my own time at school; I'm a much better English and math teacher than I used to be, for example. I consider my time at YB as a stepping-stone to bigger and better things, and the time to leave is fast approaching. It'll be sad to say goodbye to great coworkers, decent management, and mostly excellent kids, but two years is about enough for this old hoss.



...and a few hours and poops later, I'm back down to 292.7 pounds. I'm going to weigh myself frequently this week. If I make it to 291—the ten-pound-loss mark—I'll start exercising right away, even if I hit the mark before next Monday's weigh-in.


Tuesday, March 12, 2013

10 out of 10, baby

See how you do on this logical deduction quiz. I scored 10 out of 10.

(In fact, that entire University of Hong Kong website on critical thinking is quite neat.)


150 questions on science

I have a seventh-grader—we'll call her Kristi—who has suddenly conceived a desire to go to TJ, i.e., Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. TJ (also known by its more awkward, nerdy initials as TJHSST) is a magnet school, i.e., a special public school for the crème de la crème of local students. I was, to be honest, surprised at Kristi's desire: up to now, the girl has shown absolutely zero interest in (or aptitude for) science. Her performance on a mock "TJ test," which comprised a verbal and a mathematical component, was abysmal (10 out of 25 in both areas), and when I asked her whether she had been reading any books on science, she lied and said "Yes," but failed to name the title of a single book when I challenged her to be more specific. I also asked Kristi whether she saw herself working in a lab fifteen or twenty years from now, and she vehemently responded, "No!" All in all, I saw no logic in her stated goal of entering TJ, and I took her to task for that. "Maybe I'll go to TJ and become interested in science while there," Kristi said lamely. I found this to be the most ass-backward reasoning I'd heard from a student in a while. You see, most students vying for admission to TJ are already intrinsically motivated when it comes to science: they're curious about the world, and they want to help people by creatively solving current human problems. They eat, drink, shit, and breathe science. It's always at the forefront of their consciousness, and they don't shut up about it.

I have a student, a senior—let's call her Sybill—who fits that profile to a T. She's been accepted to MIT and is awaiting admissions results to Harvard. I tease her about coming back from Baaahhston with a Hahvuhd accent, and she just laughs. Sybill is amazing: strong-willed, motivated, and ferociously focused. She has already invented a shoe that generates power while you walk. Truth be told, I envy her drive and find myself lacking. I don't recall being nearly so self-directed when I was her age, although I did entertain vague notions about becoming a teacher back then. Anyway, I fully expect Sybill to Make It In Life, and I imagine I'll be buying one of her bestselling books someday; they'll be on the shelf at Barnes and Noble, right alongside some Steven Pinker monographs. Sybill is going places, and I have no fear for her future. She is, as the poet says in "Invictus," the captain of her soul.

If only Kristi could be like Sybill. Alas, Kristi is rail-thin, soft-spoken, timid, and possesses not an ounce of true passion. She's very good at being sulky and resentful on occasion, when she confesses that her Korean mom has pissed her off in some way (resentment of parents is a common theme among Komerican kids, who tire quickly of the Tiger Mother shtick), but aside from that show of emotion, Kristi's got nothing. All the same, she's one of my favorite kids, mainly because she's such a sweet, caring soul, but her sensitivity—I might call it oversensitivity—is a problem if she's really expecting to get into, and enjoy, a hyper-competitive environment like TJ. Her attitude on that score baffles me as well: according to one of my supervisors, Kristi, whose desire to try for TJ originates from herself and not from her parents, doesn't really care whether she makes it into TJ or not: if she gets in, she gets in; if she doesn't, she doesn't. This blasé, oh-well attitude, too, fails to fit the psych profile of the average TJ-bound student.

I read up on TJ through Wikipedia. The place is no fucking joke. I just don't think Kristi has any notion of what she's in for, and if, as I suspect, she's really not that into science, she's in for a brutal, four-year-long ass-kicking. Une vie misérable l'attend.

But if Kristi wants to go, then it's my job to help her pursue her dream. To that end, I need to baptize her, drench her, dunk her, drown her, in science. I need to get her thinking like a scientist, encouraging both her skepticism and her curiosity, two of the most powerful weapons in the scientist's arsenal. I don't think Kristi's much of a skeptic or a critical thinker; my reading of her is that she has the gentle, sensitive soul of a poet or artist, and would probably flourish better in that sort of freeform, touchy-feely, right-brained environment. Be that as it may, I have to believe that a person can be trained to think scientifically, so I've begun crafting a curriculum just for her. Today, for a few hours, I began by noting the fifteen major scientific areas that Wikipedia states TJ deals with. I wrote ten questions for each area. Here they are; see below. Do you think a semi-capable seventh-grader can handle them? I'd say yes: with just a touch of Googling and a bit of cognition, Kristi can easily find the answers to these questions and formulate responses in her own words. Ostensibly, I'm supposed to be helping her with the nebulous subjects of "reading" and "writing," but my plan is to move Kristi into a violently content-based curriculum in which reading and writing are both in the service of science, science, and more science. If she gets sick of the curriculum, she'll know she shouldn't apply to TJ.

My 150 questions, then:

(for TJ Prep)

A. Organic Chemistry

1. What is organic chemistry?
2. What is the difference between organic and inorganic matter?
3. What is a solution (chemically speaking)? How is a solution different from a mixture?
4. What are hydrocarbons? How are they different from carbohydrates?
5. Biologically speaking, why are organic compounds important?
6. Why is the concept of chemical structure important in organic chemistry?
7. What is the relationship between organic chemistry and the petrochemical industry?
8. What are the four principal analytical methods used in organic chemistry?
9. What are melting and boiling properties?
10. What is solubility?

B. Neurobiology

1. What is neurobiology?
2. How is neurobiology different (if at all) from neuroscience and neurophysiology?
3. Neurobiology is often considered interdisciplinary. With what other fields is it commonly connected?
4. What is trepanation? Why is it historically significant?
5. Name the major lobes of the brain, give their locations, and provide a rough description of their functions.
6. What is the cerebellum, and what does it do?
7. What is the brain stem, and what does it do?
8. What is a reflex?
9. Why might neurobiology be important for psychology?
10. Name five major neurobiological discoveries, from ancient to modern.

C. Marine Biology

1. What is marine biology?
2. Why is marine biology important?
3. Name at least four different marine habitats that marine biologists study.
4. From these four habitats: name at least two types of creatures that inhabit them (i.e., 8 creatures in all).
5. Name at least five major types of marine animal.
6. Name at least three types of marine plants.
7. What is a chromatophore, and what kind(s) of marine animal(s) has/have them?
8. What evidence do we have that octopi are intelligent? And how does an octopus breathe?
9. What are phycology, invertebrate zoology, and ichthyology?
10. Why do most fish and cetaceans seem to be similarly designed (long, thin bodies, fins, eyes at front of body, etc.)?

D. DNA Science (Genetics)

1. What is DNA science/genetics?
2. Why is DNA science important? Who is Gregor Mendel, and why is he important?
3. In a genetics context, what does inheritance mean? What is a Punnett Square?
4. What is the subfield of medical genetics about?
5. What is a genome?
6. What is selective breeding?
7. What is hybrid vigor?
8. What aspects of a human being are genetically determined? Name at least five.
9. What are nucleotides and why are they important?
10. What connection is there between genetics and criminology?

E. Quantum Mechanics

1. What is quantum mechanics?
2. Why is quantum mechanics important?
3. How does quantum mechanics differ from classical mechanics?
4. What is "the Uncertainty Principle"?
5. What is a wave-particle duality?
6. How is the quantum theory of gravity different from the Einsteinian theory?
7. Why is the quantum/Einstein conflict a problem for many physicists?
8. What is string theory? (Give a brief description.)
9. What is the Schrödinger's Cat Paradox?
10. What is quantum entanglement?

F. Computer Science

1. What is computer science?
2. What types of people might have need of computer science knowledge?
3. What are some of the major programming languages in use today? (Name at least three.)
4. What are computation and information processing?
5. What is the relationship between computer science and artificial intelligence?
6. Briefly describe software engineering.
7. What is information science?
8. What are some of the things you can program a computer to do? Name ten things.
9. What is the Turing Test and why is it important?
10. What is an algorithm?

G. Robotics

1. What is robotics?
2. What exactly is a robot? Does it have to be shaped like a human? Why or why not?
3. What is a servo? What is an actuator?
4. In what areas of life can robotics be useful? i.e., What jobs do robots already perform?
5. What jobs might robots perform in the future?
6. Robots aren't perfect. What sorts of things do robots today have trouble doing?
7. What are Isaac Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics? Do you think today's robots actually follow these laws? Why or why not?
8. What kinds of power sources do—and could—robots have?
9. What is the "uncanny valley"? Why is it significant in robotics?
10. What are some of the ethical issues related to robotics?

H. Microelectronics

1. What is microelectronics?
2. Define: semiconductor, transistor, capacitor, inductor, resistor, diode, insulator, conductor.
3. What is wire bonding?
4. What is an integrated circuit? What is a printed circuit board?
5. What is the difference between analog and digital circuits?
6. Why is the field of microelectronics important?
7. What are parasitic effects and why are they significant?
8. What relationship is there between microelectronics and computer manufacturing?
9. What relationship is there between microelectronics and robotics?
10. Microelectronics is a subfield of electronics. What is electronics?

I. Chemistry

1. What is chemistry?
2. Briefly describe the parts of an atom, and talk about those parts' electric charges.
3. Why do protons bond with neutrons and not electrons?
4. What is a chemical bond?
5. What happens when you mix water with pure cesium? Why?
6. What is PH, and why is it important?
7. What is the difference between chemistry and alchemy?
8. What relationship is there among plant biology, chemistry, and drug companies?
9. What is the difference between an atom and a molecule?
10. In a chemical context, what do the terms energy and entropy mean?

J. Prototyping

1. What is prototyping?
2. Define: Proof-of-Principle Prototype, Form Study Prototype, User Experience Prototype, Visual Prototype, and Functional Prototype.
3. Why prototype?
4. What is the difference between a prototype and a production design?
5. What are some limitations of prototypes? Name and explain at least two.
6. What relationship is there between computer modeling and prototyping?
7. What is the difference between a prototype and a mockup?
8. In computer science, what is a function prototype?
9. What is scale modeling, and why is it important in prototyping?
10. What does the term prototype mean in biology and metrology?

K. Optics

1. What is optics?
2. What contributions did Isaac Newton make to the field of optics?
3. In what way(s) does optics relate to human health? To marine biology?
4. What is the difference between geometric optics and physical optics?
5. What is the electromagnetic spectrum, and what are its major parts?
6. What is fiber optics and why is it important?
7. Define: diffraction, reflection, and refraction.
8. How does a microscope work? How about a telescope?
9. What makes a laser beam different from a flashlight beam?
10. Why do reflections in curved mirrors look different from reflections in flat mirrors?

L. Computer-aided Design

1. What is computer-aided design (CAD)?
2. What relationship, if any, exists between CAD and 3-D printing?
3. What are raster-based and vector-based graphics, and how are they different?
4. Why is CAD important? What is it used for?
5. What sorts of things can be designed using CAD? Name at least five things.
6. How can CAD help an amputee?
7. What relationship is there between/among CAD, prototyping, computer science, 3-D printing, and robotics?
8. Does CAD have any relevance to biology? Why or why not?
9. Does CAD have any relevance to entertainment? Why or why not?
10. Define: wireframe, solid modeling, graphics tablet.

M. Astronomy

1. What is astronomy? What is cosmology? What is the Big Bang Theory?
2. Briefly describe the subfields of planetology, cosmology, and orbital mechanics.
3. How is astronomy different from astrology? How seriously do legitimate scientists take astrology? Why?
4. How old is the science of astronomy? What ancient civilizations practiced it?
5. Why was the Catholic Church upset about certain astronomers' observations?
6. Who were Copernicus, Kepler, and Brahe? Who are Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking?
7. How many stars are there in the Milky Way?
8. What is the difference between observational and theoretical astronomy?
9. Explain gravitational lensing.
10. According to the latest theories, what occupies the center of our galaxy?

N. Biotechnology

1. What is biotechnology?
2. What are Frankenfoods, and why are they controversial?
3. Name and explain at least five ways in which biotechnology has proven useful to humanity.
4. Why is it important to map the human genome?
5. What is eugenics, and why is it controversial?
6. If scientists were able to create a "Jurassic Park" scenario (bringing back dinosaurs), should they?
7. Fermentation is a biological process harnessed by people. Name at least five foods or beverages that are products of fermentation.
8. What is computational biology?
9. What are Blue, Green, Red, and White Biotechnology?
10. What are some other ethical issues that people in biotechnology must deal with? Name at least two and discuss their importance.

O. Oceanography

1. What is oceanography?
2. How is oceanography different from marine biology?
3. What relationship is there between oceanography and the petrochemical industry?
4. In oceanographic terms, what relationship is there between plate tectonics and marine ecosystems?
5. Oceanography is interdisciplinary. With what other disciplines is it involved?
6. What is the Gulf Stream?
7. What is a continental shelf? What is the deepest part of the ocean? How deep is it, and what is the water pressure at that point?
8. Define: reef, atoll, archipelago.
9. For what can you use a bathyscaphe?
10. What connection is there between the oceans and global climate?

I plan to feed Kristi these questions only a bit at a time, so as not to overwhelm her. I expect her to write answers that vary from short to lengthy, according to the dictates of the question. Along with these questions, which are meant only to introduce her to the fifteen TJ fields, I plan to put Kristi on a strict diet of VSauce and TED Talks videos. On top of all that, I want to introduce her to the two science guys who've inspired me: Carl Sagan and Stephen Jay Gould (both dead, alas). I may also throw in a bit of Oliver Sacks (his The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is excellent, and each chapter is very short). On top of that, I plan to introduce scenarios that require Kristi either to think outside the box or to think critically. Her desires needs to be circumscribed by a realistic consciousness of her cognitive limits.

Designing this super-comprehensive curriculum is a challenge. I'm doing it because I'm unconvinced that Kristi actually cares about science at all. She may prove me wrong, and that's what I'm hoping. I hope she drinks in all this information and, come TJ testing time, proves able to talk the language of science, and has a better idea of which scientific fields or subfields might be of interest to her. She, of course, has no damn clue as to how much effort I'm putting into all this, but you, Dear Reader—you do. And that's all that matters.

Well, OK, that's not all that matters, but you get the picture.


stiffing update

So I was stiffed this past Friday, as you'll recall. I wrote YB's accounting department that day, but had to write a second time—today—to get a response. Here's what the lady wrote back (edited for privacy):

Dear, Kevin.

I am very sorry about late respond.
I got the answer from Ms. K******, we did add your working hours in ADP system but some how rate was not set up right.
We having a issues with ADP system right now and trying to work this out.
Your will get pay the difference amount on upcoming pay day (March 22nd).
Again I apologize for your inconvenience.
If you have any other questions, please contact me.
Thank you.

I suppose that's about the best anyone can hope for. I do wonder, though, whether "a issues with ADP system" means that other people were also stiffed. I should ask my coworkers.

Financially, what this means for me is that the next two weeks are going to be hellish. I'll have barely enough to survive on. But come March 22, my paycheck ought to be quite bloated with monetary goodness, and then in very early April, I'll get my regularly scheduled check for private tutoring. In the meantime, I've got to worry about the return of my Sallie Mae debt (in the neighborhood of $330/month). I may try for one last deferral (forbearance, really*), on the assumption that I'll have moved to Korea—and will be working a better-paying job—in the next few months.

*Deferrals are preferable to forbearances, as a forbearance takes the accrued interest during the deferred period and capitalizes it, i.e., piles it into the owed principal, thereby making both the principal and the interest higher in terms of raw numbers. But given how Sallie Mae works, deferrals are a lot harder to obtain than forbearances, which is why I'll likely be going for the latter. Again.


Health Update: Day 40

Bad news, Poison Girls: the weight went up to 294.0. That's a 2.5-pound gain. Apparently, a lot of us are having a bad week. John McCrarey just noted his own 1.5-pound gain, and Charlie Martin, whose cat just died, isn't happy about his lack of progress (a net gain of about a pound after five weeks of increased exercise on top of his low-carb diet).

So... the goal of reaching ten pounds has slipped out of my grasp this week. Like John, I think I can attribute weight gain to the amount I've been eating, not to the smuggling-in of extra carbs. I still remain processed-sugar-free; whatever carbs I'm ingesting are likely coming in through veggies and nuts. I admit that I should probably eat more leafy greens, but I've had plenty of greens over the past week.

Let's chalk this up to a Bad Hair Week and move on, shall we? And let's make it official that, when I finally hit the ten-pound-loss mark, I'll begin exercising. As for the exercise: cardio will consist of what I do best, which is walking. On the muscle-development side, I'm going to start by mastering my phone apps, of which I have several:

•Daily Ab Workout (up to 10-minute workout)
•Daily Arm Workout (up to 10-minute workout)
•Daily Butt Workout (up to 10-minute workout)
•Pushups (up to 125 in a row)—I'll start with girl pushups, master that, then restart with regular pushups
•Situps (up to 250 in a row)
•Squats (up to 250 in a row)

The one app I didn't mention above was JE Fit, which is all about using gym equipment, like a universal, to do one's routines. That app is a complete program in itself; I don't plan to start using it until I've mastered the above-mentioned apps.

In the meantime, can I lose three pounds by next week? We'll see.


my thoughts exactly

Dr. Vallicella, with whom I disagree on most things metaphysical, writes a brief post discussing an essential ingredient for a good marriage, and for once I agree completely with him. He writes:

What makes for a good marriage? It is not enough to like your spouse. It is not enough to love her. The partners must also admire one another. There has to be some attribute in your spouse that you don't find in yourself (or not in the same measure) and that you aspire to possess or possess more fully. Must I add that we are not talking mainly about physical attributes?

I've long contended that respect—a close cousin of admiration—is a strong component of attraction for me. I might find a particular woman compellingly hot, but that attraction dissipates the moment I discover the woman's got nothing going on inside her head. If she's too flighty, too loud, chatty-about-nothing, needy, neurotic, or temperamental for no reason, she's outta there. There has to be something about that woman that I can respect.

Jack Nicholson's character in "As Good as it Gets" sums it up nicely when he says to Helen Hunt's character: "You make me want to be a better man." That, friends, is the secret ingredient. You admire—respect—the one you love, and you strive to make yourself worthy of what you admire about her.


Monday, March 11, 2013

scientists scoff at Plantinga and Nagel

Philosophy, fascinating as it is, can be an embarrassingly irrelevant navel-gazing exercise of the first water. Conservative Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga and not-quite-theistic philosopher Thomas Nagel both seem to agree that something about science's current account of the evolution of life doesn't add up, and they express this agreement through a recent bout of mutual congratulations. Biochemist Neil Greenspan writes an article jeering this lovefest. Here's a meaty excerpt from Greenspan's article:

In the past six months, I have encountered a review, by Thomas Nagel in The New York Review of Books (2012), of Alvin Plantinga’s latest book (Where the Conflict Really Lies: Science, Religion, and Naturalism, 2011 ) and a review, by Alvin Plantinga in The New Republic (2012), [of Thomas] Nagel’s latest book (Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, 2012). Both authors are regarded as distinguished philosophers. In their respective books, they both criticize what may be called the materialist neo-Darwinian approach to explaining life. Plantinga and Nagel both discuss as a putative alternative to evolutionary explanations, the framework known as intelligent design (ID). Whereas Plantinga appears to support ID, Nagel does not endorse ID but criticizes proponents of evolution for being overly disparaging of ID theorists.

My purpose here is not to review these two books, which I have not read in full and which do not focus solely on ID. Instead, I concentrate on issues that are more appropriately regarded as scientific as opposed to the related philosophical issues. Consequently, I propose to re-visit (Greenspan, 2002) the deep problems with the central tenets of ID, which claims both to identify profound flaws in the standard evolutionary account of living systems and to offer a different explanation in the form of an entity, the intelligent designer, that can somehow specify molecular structures, apparently simultaneously in billions of organisms and possibly trillions of cells, all over this planet. The identity of this “intelligent designer” is left completely unspecified, as are any of its attributes or its modes of operation, which must be extraordinary given that they completely escape all detection.

Proponents of ID have no useful thoughts on how these ID-mediated operations could be implemented within the constraints of physics and chemistry or, and this next point is key, subjected to experimental interrogation of any sort. Their need to rely on the supernatural thus obligates ID advocates to object to what they term “scientific naturalism” or “materialism.” This line of thought leads to re-defining science so that it includes what the vast majority of scientists, and likely many non-scientists, regard as non-science: ideas incapable of serious testing or investigation. Furthermore, I am aware of no advances in the understanding of scientific phenomena that have emanated from the individuals who subscribe to ID. The approach offered by ID embraces cognitive capitulation before any standard scientific conundrum and the acceptance of a recurring deus ex machina (“the intelligent designer did it”), the ultimate realization of intellectual cowardice.


A similar problem afflicts the arguments, in connection with ID, of both Plantinga and Nagel, both of whom, however intelligent and philosophically sophisticated, lack familiarity with the numerous domains of relevant primary literature relating to evolutionary phenomena. There is also no evidence that either individual adequately understands basic and relevant concepts in evolutionary biology, genetics, biophysics, biochemistry, microbiology, and immunology. That their arguments are taken seriously reveals more about the appreciative audience than the plausibility of their specific assertions relevant to existing scientific results. The positions of Plantinga and Nagel bring to mind a statement of a prominent philosopher made in the context of a 1998 review in The New Republic, of a book by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont attacking post-modernism: “We may hope that incompetents who pontificate about science as a social phenomenon without understanding the first thing about its content are on the way out...” That philosopher was Thomas Nagel.

Although the claims of Plantinga and Nagel are certainly not identical to those targeted for derision by Sokal and Bricmont, and are more carefully reasoned, they, like the post-modernist theorists, lack sufficient knowledge of the pertinent science, as opposed to philosophical positions related to or about that science, to seriously evaluate the scientific plausibility of ID. Like some ID supporters, Plantinga and Nagel appear to have almost no appreciation for the subtleties of proteins and genes and fail to recognize the pervasiveness of pleiotropy, the range and diversity of mutations other than single nucleotide substitutions, or the surprising resilience, due in part to functions shared by different molecules or pathways, of biological systems in the face of perturbations. I offer the preceding judgments despite having previously appreciated a number of Professor Nagel’s articles in a variety of publications.

Intelligent Design is a goofy position to adopt, but it's no surprise to see it espoused by the likes of Plantinga.


Sunday, March 10, 2013


So at 2AM this morning, America had to spring forward, thus cheating me out of an hour's sleep. I think the concept of Daylight Savings Time has run its course, and it's time for this country to drop the tradition. Korea, where I lived for eight years, doesn't shift its hours back and forth, and I thought that was just fine while I was there. So what if the length or shortness of days seems exaggerated by the lack of adjustment? The advantage of not changing the time is a greater sense of chronological stability.

Thanks to today's adjustment, Korea is once again only thirteen hours ahead of the American east coast. In the fall, this will change to fourteen—a perfectly unnecessary seasonable wobble. Time-changing began in the United States in 1918 and didn't catch on until just after World War II, although the concept of time-changing originated in the late 19th century. As traditions go, this isn't one of our older ones. My feeling: if a tradition can begin so recently, it can also end suddenly.

Let's kill this silly practice.


let down...


badly constructed joke

It's a long-established hermeneutical truth that a well-executed joke shouldn't be immediately subject to multiple interpretations. I just saw this on my Twitter feed:

If diamonds are a girl's best friend and a dog is man's best friend, who really is the dumber sex?

The tweet was made by a woman, tweeting on behalf of single moms. Given that context, the implication is that men are the dumber sex because women wisely value diamonds, which are both more expensive and more durable than dogs. (Not to mention the fact that diamonds don't shit, puke, or bark incessantly.)

But think a little further, and remove the joke from its quasi-feminist context. Aren't dogs members of the family? Doesn't that make dogs, with their touching loyalty and obvious love for people, worth far more than diamonds? Who, then, is the dumber sex?

Of course, I'm not really taking a stance, one way or another, on which sex is dumber (although I'd gladly vote male, given that most violence is caused by young males). My point, though, is that the joke was sloppily conceived and poorly executed. Bad joke.


Saturday, March 09, 2013

contra Mark Rowlands

Author, philosopher, professor, martial artist wannabe, long-distance runner, tennis fan, and father Mark Rowlands has written a very interesting article on the virtues of engaging in play, the way children do. I was initially led to this article by a tweet from Lee that contained the following pretentious sentence: "Play, in its purest form, is the embodied apprehension of intrinsic value..." That sounded like a bunch of Continental gobbledygook to me—the sort of solipsistic, masturbatory rubbish a French or Czech philosophe or artiste might utter while sporting a black turtleneck, thick-framed Hirohito glasses, a flop hairdo, and a fucking pipe. But something about the sentence intrigued me, so I clicked on Lee's link and found myself face to face with Dr. Rowlands's article.

The article turned out not to be as self-consciously abstruse as that quoted sentence would have led one to believe. It was, in fact, a pleasure to read, and I found myself—at least at first—nodding in agreement with the various points that Rowlands makes. The quote that Lee had selected for his tweet actually came to make sense in context: Rowlands wasn't using the concept of embodiment as a self-importantly postmodernist buzzword (PoMoists, who execrate universals, are all about embodiment and contextualization—the fleshing-out of circumstance and specificity at the expense of abstract notions like principles). To the contrary, Rowlands was making a point made by Aristotle in his Nicomachaean Ethics: there is only one thing we do for its own sake, and that's be happy. Dr. Roger Bensky, one of my old Georgetown profs, referred to the phenomenon in an article he wrote years ago: homo ludens. Being happy, being in touch with the Good, says Rowlands (switching from Aristotle to Plato), is as simple as engaging in play—an activity that, if done right, is done only for its own sake.

There comes a point during a long run, perhaps at the limits of my endurance, when I am no longer running for any reason other than to run. There comes a point in karate — perhaps when I am in the middle of a kata, and each movement flows thoughtlessly and seamlessly into the next — when I am no longer acting for reasons, but acting without them. There is a point in tennis, when I thrust aside as irrelevant all thoughts of point and games and sets, and am absorbed instead in the sheer and savage delight of swinging at a moving target. These are all moments when the endless round of doing one thing for the sake of another comes to an end — however briefly. In these moments, I am acquainted with what is worth doing for its own sake. In these moments, I experience intrinsic value in my life.

I think Rowlands's heart is in the right place when he reminds us adults that, first, we have lost our sense of play (and don't really rediscover it until we have kids of our own), and that, second, we need to reengage the world in a childlike (not childish) manner, one that doesn't make distinctions or frame activities in terms of goals or purpose or achievement. His emphasis on the here-and-now dovetails well with my own Zen-sympathetic sensibilities.

But Rowlands seems intent on deconstructing the benefits that come with maturity, and this is where he and I part ways. He denigrates adulthood in favor of childhood, especially when he writes

The idea of a second childhood is often portrayed as a time of decline. ‘He has returned to his second childhood,’ one might say, meaning that his intellectual capacities are on the slide — perhaps that he is becoming a little senile. As [philosopher Moritz] Schlick also pointed out, we naturally think of childhood as a time of immaturity, a time of preparation for the important part of life that comes later. We often imagine that, if we think hard enough and are skilful enough in our thinking, the meaning of life will one day reveal itself to us, in our maturity. Like Schlick, I suspect this gets things around the wrong way. Children know what is important in life: they know instinctively and effortlessly. For adults, it is hard work. We have to rediscover it all over again. Children understand that the really important things in life are the things that are worth doing for their own sake. And all those other things: they are just unfortunate — inconveniences thrust upon us by an intransigent world. We all knew this once, but we forgot it because we chose to play a demanding game — the great game of growing up. It is a good game, one of the best. But it is also a jealous and dissembling one: dissembling because it refuses to recognise that it is a game, and jealous because it allows no other games. The ‘return to a second childhood’ is a way of rediscovering this thing that we once knew but had to forget.

Rowlands gives short shrift to maturity, and glosses over the fact that childhood, while representing a time of simple worldviews and instinctive understanding of play, is also a time of brute selfishness, animalistic combativeness, and evil mischief (for many if not most children, anyway). Rowlands omits the flip-side of kids' behavior: the lying, the hair-pulling, the food- and object-throwing, the obnoxious screaming, the accidental or purposeful incontinence, the flaring tempers, the hitting, the slap-worthy stubbornness, the infuriatingly inertial laziness, the arrogance coupled with willful stupidity, and all the other puerile sins that have convinced generations of Christians that human nature is inherently fallen and debased. Childhood is indeed a time of indiscriminateness, a time of inchoate thoughts and proto-morality. This is good as long as we focus only on the childlike, but curdles the moment we focus on the childish. And children are, by their very nature, childish. To overlook this fact is to turn a blind eye to the perils of using children as moral exemplars.

If I had the opportunity to return to and relive my childhood, especially if that meant that I would lose all the memories I had accumulated as an adult, I would refuse it. I retain no nostalgia for those days. I treasure the life-wisdom I've accumulated over the years, and while I can't claim to have learned everything, I know that I act more wisely now than I ever would have then, and that this wisdom will only grow as I age.

I suppose the reader could accuse me of having missed Rowlands's point, which is to focus on what's childlike about children, and not on what's childish about them. But my point is that, even if we restrict our focus purely to the childlike, we sacrifice all that wisdom we have gained, all those complex and simple insights about the world, all those cultivated social instincts and that refined faculty for profound aesthetic, moral, and scientific appreciation—everything that makes a person deep. After all, human children aren't the only ones gifted with an uncomplicated sense of play: I might as well look to a puppy to understand true happiness. But why in hell would I want to experience the world at the same shallow level that a puppy does? I'll keep my maturity, thanks, along with my deeper version of happiness. And here's the irony: simple-hearted happiness that rests on a mountain of acquired wisdom is, in the end, the happiness that Rowlands himself is experiencing during his tennis, karate, and running sessions: he could never have had (or shared) his insights into happiness and play had he remained a pure-hearted, undiscriminating child forever.