Thursday, August 31, 2006

Potsticker Recipe and Fusion (paca)

I made my first slight foray into Cajun-Asian dumplings tonight. All I did was use a "Louisiana sausage" instead of ground pork. Then I followed the normal recipe for Korean dumplings. The picture below are me making the dumplings the traditional way from about three weeks ago. These are mandoo in Korean, gyoza in Japanese, jiaozi in Mandarin, and dumplings or potstickers in the U.S. Here we go with the recipe:

I am making these with ground pork, chopped (and blanched) bean sprouts, chives, 2 eggs, 2 table spoons of corn starch, and a little sesame oil. Here we have the vegies and eggs.

Yeah, this is the gross-looking stage. It's like making a meatloaf. You put everything in the bowl and then get in their with your hands. Fortunately, this ewwww stage doesn't last long.

This part is optional but life is easier later if you do it. You make the little fillings into small balls and then chill for half an hour to an hour. The chilling makes the filling stay together more when you are stuffing the wrappers.

Here they are stuffed! To do this you buy the wrappers from the store. The jiaozi wrappers are better if you can find them than wonton wrappers. They are thicker and don't fall apart as easily. The process is that you get a small bowl with an egg and 2-3 tablespoons of water, beaten. You put the ball in the center of the mandoopi or wrapper, wet one inside edge with the egg water mixture using your finger, and then fold and squeeze the edges completely together. Obviously, size of the filling is an art.

To cook, heat your pan to medium high with some corn oil and sesame oil. When hot, place the potstickers in. Leave there until when you flip one over the other side is golden. What you see above is just before the flip. After you flip, you add a couple tablespoons of water in the pan and cover immediately. The idea is to steam the dumplings. How much water you need depends on the size of your pot and the dumpling. So put some in, let it steam, take one out and see if it is done. Repeat.

When they are done, they look like this. You also want a good sauce. The basic sauce is soy sauce, sesame oil, scallions, pepper, garlic. Experiment here.

This was a crazy fusion meal that the mandoo were a part of. I didn't intend to go crazy, it just sort of happened. Anyway, the meal was Korean mandoo, a tomato spinach green bean Indian curry thing, American trout with a butter and cream sauce, followed my Japanese mochi ice cream. So 4 items, 4 cuisines. The butter cream trout by the way I highly recommend. You sprinkle the trout with flour and cook in some butter. When it's all done, pour in a little cream. The trout flavoring with the butter and cream is delish.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Is the fat half full or half empty? (paca)

A couple weeks ago I happened to compare the fat content on a regular beef or pork kielbasa package with that of a turkey kielbasa package. It turns out that the turkey is significantly less fatty than the other. Like a third of the fat. If you had read that, what would your reaction have been?

1) Oh neat, I can eat less fat and still eat a decently yummy sausage!
2) Well, crap, it's not even close. I've gotta buy the turkey one.

My reaction was number 2. Apparently, I am a healthy eating pessimist.

A night of old things returned (paca)

Quick note: We have 2-3 new people who seem to be stopping by, I believe, from some of the writer blogs I frequent. First, welcome. Second, this is a two person blog - myself, the pacatrue, and not myself, the killer llama. That might help make it clear why one post talks about a mother and a 3 year old and the next talks about a nice date that probably has no future.

To the post.

Tonight the 29th was indeed my birthday and it was a low-key pleasant affair. To start the theme, I am today 33, which makes me a bit older than I was the day before. (Of course, every day I am exactly one day older than the day before.) N, B, and I went out to that local Hawaiian joint known as TGI Fridays. I was in search of french onion soup. One weird thing I did while there was have a strawberry margarita. Except for sipping a little wine, I think it is the first alcoholic drink I've had in a couple years. Not because I purposefully abstain, it's just that alcohol has never done much for me. My favorite way to have fun is dry wit (or geek humor as you wish) and after one margarita, I'm not much good in the way of wit. Anyway, I had a drink and it was a nice thing to do.

After dinner we came home for presents. I am now the proud owner of Godzilla vs Mothra, which we have already watched as of about 3 hours ago. I remember the old Gojira flicks as a kid and it was a nice idea of N's. I think I got in some trouble for playing a computer game during the movie, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.

We had a few other lovely presents, such as macadamia nuts (what's a celebration without mac nuts for paca?), the second season of He-Man on DVD, and a little holder for my iPod. So thanks, N.

I also just spent about three hours playing a computer game. I know for many of you, you are thinking, "uhhhh, so?" Well, I haven't played a computer game for more than about 5 minutes at least since we moved to Hawaii. It was another nice pleasure from the past returned for one evening. Next thing you know I will be watching some TV for adults. With two exceptions where I saw some Regis and Tony Danza, which are more like having a transcranial magnet stuck on your occipital lobe than adult TV, I haven't watched TV either. I think I will save that up for next birthday.

On a final old thing returned note, on Monday a co-worker/friend whose paper I have been editing came over with her mom visiting from Korea for dinner. That was the first time someone has been over for dinner since I think the spring of last year. B was killer excited. It was a very quick sort of affair. I picked them up at 6:45 and we were headed back to their place at 7:45. But her mom is not a person who stays out late anymore apparently. We seem to have been a success because we are being treated to a Korean restaurant on Saturday and the mother wants to take care of B some evening before she is gone.

Crap! I am lying to you. I watched some of a football game in the fall of 2004.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The search begins (Llama)...

It's hard to believe but my time here at TASC is ending in about three months. Does that mean I'll leave Bangkok? Probably, but not definately. I've started the search... got my resume updated and have already sent it off twice. The first time didn't really count; it was for a plum research assistant position for the UN based in Geneva. I had no chance, even though I was qualified. But today I also sent one out to a private consulting company that specializes in development work. Something may come of that... we'll see.

An issue I wasn't expecting to face is that of time. It seems to me like 3 months is practically tomorrow, but most of the jobs that I'm seeing are looking for someone to start in a month or less. I guess that makes sense, but not so convenient for me. I'd rather not have only a month to go here and still not have something lined up. I expect that to be the case, however. I hope my sister hasn't rented out the spare bedroom yet :)

I think I mentioned in my last update that I had a date last weekend... that went well enough that we are doing it again this weekend. Too much beer though left me with a headache on Saturday. Anyway she's a sweety but there's really not much chance of long-term, which is good since I'm most likely leaving. One thing that's a bit odd is that she speaks even less English than usual, so communicating anything complex is convoluted at best. Truly her English is about as good as my Thai. But that's ok... it forces me to really listen to her.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Better early than never... (llama)

Happy birthday to paca!
Happy birthday to paca!
He sho' ain't no slack'a
Happy birthday to paca!

(insert sound of a plastic horn blowing here)

Sunday, August 27, 2006

How do they come up with these names? (paca)

So my actual given name is relatively distinctive. Not as much as it used to be, but relatively. When I was a kid, people frequently remarked upon it. Ath this point it's relatively common and it is not unheard of for a mother at the grocery to store to call to her young son with my name, and I have to know not to turn. That never ever happened when I was a child. I didn't meet anyone with my first name until I went to a summer camp as a kid. Still, some people flub the name, as is natural, but what is weird is that when they do flub it, they choose something completely different. I can imagine a Katherine being called Karen or a Abe being called Gabe. That's not what I get.

A customer once called my old work looking for "Forrest".
I got an email today from a prof I am editing that started "Thanks, Darryl".

The only connections I can see are that they remember it's two syllables and that it's vaguely Southern.

Now*, I do frequently get people who think my first name is my last. Just a couple days ago I was giving my name out and when I gave my first name they wrote it in the Last Name spot and waited for the given. My son, B, is going to hate me and N when he is six. His first name is my mother's maiden name, my middle, and his first. Moreover, it sounds very close to a much more common first name, so he is going to spend his entire life being called with the wrong name. Oh well.

For those who do not know, my first name is the first name of the "gonzo journalist" Paca S. Thompson.

*For those linguistically inclined, the word "now" is a common discourse marker in American English and is used to mark the start of new paragraphs in speech. There are computers out in the world programmed to listen for the word "now" at the beginning of a sentence and note a probable new paragraph as they try to understand what it being said.

Friday, August 25, 2006

What it is like having a three year old (paca)

Cast of characters:
Paca, the hapless father as seen in a million sitcoms.
N, the kind and perfect mother of whom no flaws can be discerned (if I said otherwise, she'd beat me to death).
B, a three year old boy, covered in dirt from the playgroud in school.

Scene 1.

The curtain rises to reveal B lying on his parents' bed watching TV wearing only a t-shirt. The audience can see dirt on his legs and a couple smudges on his face. A beautiful woman, N, sits at a computer desk playing Heroes of Might and Magic III. She looks tired after a 12 hour day at work. Enter paca about whom nothing need be said.

PACA: Hey, he-man, it's time for a bath.
B: No bath.
PACA: You are all covered in dirt.
B: Watching tiger.
Paca leaves the room and we hear water running. A couple minutes later he re-enters.
PACA: OK, bath time.
B: Bath, Yeah!!
B gets up off the bed and lifts his arms for help in getting his shirt off. Paca assists and the naked boy goes towards the bathroom.

Scene 2.
A bathroom where a shower with a 5" lip is filling with water.

PACA: Your bath is almost ready.
B: Go water in the potty.
PACA: Sounds great.
Paca lifts B onto the orange potty.
B: All done.
PACA: Yeah! OK, bath time.
B: No bath.
PACA: No bath?
B: No more bath.
PACA: But you just said 'bath, yeah!' and wanted to get your shirt off.
B: No bath any more. No baby gecko today! Battle cat take baby gecko outside.*
PACA: You are covered in dirt.
B: No bath today!
PACA: What if I go in too?
Paca removes his shoes and steps into the water in his jogging shorts and t-shirt. B follows Paca into the bath where they stand there.
PACA: Do you want to sit?
B: No sit.
PACA: We have to get the dirt off of you.
B: No sit water. Bath all done.
PACA: Well, let me wipe the dirt off with a rag. Here. Here's a rag for you and one for me.
Paca demonstrates wiping one's legs with a wet rag. B imitates.
PACA: I'll do your tummy and arms.
B: Arms all done.
PACA: OK, bath all done?
B: All done.
B gets out of the bath and Paca wraps him in a towel. B then climbs back on the potty. Paca takes the stopper out of the drain and the water starts disappearing. B climbs off the potty.
B: More bath.
PACA: What?
B: More bath. Play toys.
PACA: I just let the water out.
B: More bath!!
PACA: Sorry, little guy, you said 'bath all done."
B: Shower on.
PACA: Shower off.
B: Shower on.
PACA: Bath all done, water all gone.**
B: (almost crying and hit PACA on the leg) More bath!!
PACA: Don't hit. Water's all gone. Sorry.
B: More bath.

Scene 3. Back in the living room. N is on the computer. B and Paca enter.

N: The bath seemed quick.

* A week or so ago a bath ended quickly when a baby gecko appeared on the wall in the shower. B went jumping into N's arms and I, battle cat, took the baby gecko in a dust pan outside.
** Why doesn't paca just fill the shower again? To fill the bath empties the hot water tank, so there is no more hot water for a round 2.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Alive I Am

Wow, how long has it been? Obviously I stopped blogging... don't quite know whether I'll pick it up again regularly or not. I gave Paca the OK to move on without me, should he so desires.

What I like about blogging is having a forum to express myself. I guess that's the great promise fulfilled of the internet. It has completely destroyed traditional distribution models of everything, including opinion. To make yourself heard in the past you had to speak or write compellingly enough to win space in a paper or on television/radio. Now anyone can voice his or her opinion to the world. Whether anyone will listen, however, is still dependent upon the message.

What I don't like about blogging is the sense of... how to say... always feeding the beast. I like to post when I like to post, and I don't like to post when I feel I have to. But, of course, readers don't nescessarily like to wait for some whim of my fancy to read. Actually, if you guys were just readers, I probably wouldn't care if you waited till your teeth fall out; but since we are friends, and reading not because I am particulary insightful but because, well, we are friends, it seems a bit rude not to blog.

So what am I up to? It's amazing, time is growing short here in Bangkok. In a little more than 3 months I'll be finished with this job. It's been a great time; I've learned alot, met some very cool people... I have no regrets at all, I'm very glad I came. But what's next? I don't know. Shannon has helped me with my resume, and I'm starting to look around. I would very much enjoy either staying here or moving back to the US. I think my first choice is coming back home, but the reality is that I'll go whereever I can find a good job. What is a good job? Shannon, upon reading the "objectives" statement on my resume, commented that it was to broad. But the fact is that I'm not particular what field I end up in... what's important to me right now is to start the process of "settling down." I'm 33, and very much into the beginning of being a real adult; heck, most of you are married with kids. I'm not so much into travelling around the world by myself anymore... it's time to find someplace and stick. So that's my objective... to find a job that I can stick to.

The love life is as it always is... I have a date with someone new on Saturday... but I haven't really been able to attach to anyone since I broke up with Jah. She's returned to Bangkok, btw... found some job in an office. I don't really understand it. I feel a little sad for her, actually; I think part of the reason she moved to Bangkok was because she knew this girlfriend of hers and me. But I have been unwilling to put forth the kind of effort she wants to "make up", and her girlfriend has found a boyfriend and has virtually disappeared; so Jah is mostly alone. She may have found a guy, I'm not sure... but when we talk on the phone she sounds unhappy. I hope things work out.

I've been to Bangladesh twice since I last wrote, and will go again in probably 2 or 3 weeks. The program I was working for is written, but I'm still in the debug process, so I can't wipe my hands of it completely. We are also launching a similar program in Vietnam... should we decide to install the software there, then I'll probably have more than 3 months of work for me. I'll be curious to see how Mike and TASC react in that situation.

Is having children a choice? (paca)

I was recently an observer to a discussion of whether or not having children is a choice. I think the entire discussion was among people who have no children - and then there was me. It revolved around several issues, including Family Parking Only signs, adoption, the good of children to society, overpopulation, and the like. I won't tackle those issues directly here, but I thought I would discuss this idea of whether or not child bearing is a free choice or not.

In one sense, it clearly is. It's certainly possible to not have children and live a happy and fulfilling life. It's not quite as easy as it seems, but it is certainly possible. One could never have sex again. But if the stats on rape are true, then 1 in 3 women will have sex against their will (or is that the stat for sexual abuse, which may not be complete rape?). Some percentage of those will have children. But one could allow for multiple forms of birth control and abortion procedures. Every man could have a vasectomy and every woman get her tubes tied at the age of 13. Seriously though, even without all that, you could use abstinence and birth control and have some very small number of births.

In theory.

The problem is that child-bearing isn't the same sort of choice as, say, orange juice or apple juice. Virtually everything is a choice of some sort, but they aren't all the same. Here is an example of choices from the most constrained choice to a very free one.

1) Breathing. It's pretty much impossible not to breathe. Even if you are able to make yourself not breathe with immense will, you will eventually go unconscious and start breathing. The only way to not breathe is to kill yourself. Living is still a choice, as we don't have to live, but it's obviously a very contrained choice.

2) Eating. The consequences of not eating are the same as not breathing, but there is more freedom here. People choose to fast quite frequently. Some people can go months without eating before they die. Eating is a choice with a little more freedom than breathing, but it's still pretty constrained.

3) Falling in love. Many people probably never fall in love, I think, and they might be quite happy for it. And one can certainly choose not to act on the emotion. One can choose to take oneself away from the person inciting the emotion. One can even, probably, let the emotion go - I am thinking of monks here, where the form of love they feel is usually different than romantic love. But still there is a reason that the metaphor is "falling in love". Falling is not something you choose to do, by definition. If you chose to fall on the floor, you didn't fall, you collapsed or you laid down.

4) Making friends. Again there are people who live happy lives without friends, but by and large people like to have friends. Humans are social animals and most people who have no friends feel the worse for it. It is the exception rather than the rule for a human to spend large amounts of time with a number of people and never have friendly feelings for anyone.

5) Having sex. I think now we are getting to the important part, and not just because of the tie to child-bearing. Having sex is clearly an option. We don't have to have sex with anyone in our entire lives (obviously excluding rape here). We can wait to a certain age. We can wait until marriage. Sex is a choice. The idea of teaching abstinence in school is based on this notion of sex as a choice. But, my understanding is that the abstinence programs don't really work. I believe the studies indicate that abstinence programs lessen sexual activity for several months, after which the behavior returns right back to where it was before. Why? Because, while having sex is a choice, it is also a basic activity that humans do. Any social program based around the idea that people just won't have sex is doomed, because people in fact do have sex. It's interesting that many people who accept this fact and therefore fight for birth control for adolescents simultaneously think that child-bearing is a completely free choice - often because they are choosing to put it off themselves.

6) Working at a job. This is something that we can usually choose - the type of job, whether or not we want to do it at all, etc. Though, there are pressures that often don't make the choice that free. Paying bills, supporting loved ones, fulfilling a promise, legal obligations. There is certainly nothing that makes me sit at this desk - it's not a basic activity of life like sex, friendship, and breathing - but there are reasons that incline me to sit here.

7) Drinking a Pepsi. Some people don't like them at all. While there can be a caffeine addiction, this is a largely free choice.

That's good enough, I think. The point is that child-bearing, yes, is a choice, but I think it is a choice more like having sex or having friends than like working at a job or drinking a soda. Bearing children is what people do. It's what all animals do. It's what every living creature does. If you believe evolutionary psychology (and I don't really), bearing children is the purpose to life. People are going to have sex and they are going to have children. Simply saying that it is a choice, even though it is in a sense, is never going to be a productive belief. People will have children whether or not it is good for society or not. Most people will have children whether or not it is even good for them. People have kids.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Quick Hits (paca)

1) Today was the first day of school for both me and little B. Not as big of a deal for me, as I was taking French for the spring semester a whopping 10 days ago. But today B, who is 3.5, switched over from his Auntie of two years to his new preschool the University Children's Center. He seems to have done just fine. He waved goodbye to N this morning as he read a book, while some other girl was screaming when her mom left. We took him for, I think, 3 visits before today's class, so he had a little chance to adjust. Also, I guess he's just pretty laid back.

2) My classes have ended up being Learning Algorithms in Computer Sci, French Phonetics, Acoustic Phonetics, and Music Theory. 4 classes, 4 departments. I might drop the music theory still. We will see.

3) I am remarkably detached from my department. Maybe it's my personality, my own office, or my outside school life with a family, but I don't really participate in the social life of grad students. I discovered today that one of the students I was closer to got married two months ago. Shows you how close I am. I get along pretty decently with another fellow student whose dissertation I am editing, but she's going to head back to Korea in a couple months. Whatever.

4) I heard from the llama. He is alive. He mentioned perhaps posting in a few days, so I will wait for him to speak before I do.

5) Sis C, I love ya, but I can barely understand your writing in the comments. But I am happy you dropped back by. Missed ya.

6) I seem to have issues with advisors. As an undergrad, I studied Chinese history. When it came time to do my senior thesis, guess which prof went on sabbatical my senior year. The one chinese history prof. My current advisor just took off for India for the fall. The guy I wanted to do a independent study with next spring, who could be my advisor... taking next spring off from teaching. I have absolutely no idea who is going to be my chair. The problem is my damn independent thought. I don't do exactly what anyone else here does. I need to just copy the research program of one of the profs, so I can start the co-publishing route. Whatever.

7) If I am sounding a little bitter. I'm just tired. Got home from the office at 2:30 last night. Working late today, but probably no longer than midnight.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Pure old bragging (paca)

I took the French placement test today and passed into the year 3 courses. That's right. I started taking French 101 in June and two and a half months later passed out of two years of French. Do I rock? Yes, I rock.

Of course, year 3 is going to suck considering how spotty my knowledge is, but well, whatever. Now I can check this off of my requirements list. 2 years of French, one summer. Check.

Is this all OK for a 3 year old? (paca)

Little B has a foam sword that he sleeps with. He asks for it first thing in the morning and he asks to get it back when you pick him up at day care. It's his Grayskull sword, and he holds it and recites the opening sequence to He-Man. "I am Adam, Prince of Eternia, Defender of the secrets of castle grayskull." He even does the motions for both "Hold aloft my magic sword and said..." and "I have the power!!!!" This morning he woke up calling for Teela (N's He-Man name). When I went to see him he said, "Not you, Battle Cat." This isn't too much He-Man is it? Really this foam sword is the first favorite toy he's ever had for more than a couple days. He's never carried around a stuffed animal.

Friday, August 11, 2006

The great class debate (paca)

As always, there are far more courses that I would like to take than I can in fact take. Here is the list of what's under serious consideration for this fall (which starts on August 21).

Acoustic Phonetics - mostly an intro to acoustics and audition as related to speech - this is a certain one.

Learning Algorithms - this is a Comp Sci course about computer learning, which is important to me because I want to do simulations of computers acquiring language. If I don't take this, because I may not be qualified, I will be doing an independent study on the topic with a Ling prof. I've written the comp prof, but not shockingly she hasn't responded. That was a pet peeve a few weeks back.

Intro to Neurobiology - This is what it says. It would be useful for the mentioned simulations of language learning. The main problem is it is of course not focused on language per se.

Music Theory I - I audited this my first term here 2 years ago now. I would perhaps take it for real this time and even do the homework. If I am going to do music/ling psychology, I have to know how to talk about music.

French 202 - I will be taking some French course. It will most likely be this second semester of year 2. I have dreams of exempting 202 as well and then taking either French Phonetics or French conversation, but that depends on me studying well for the French exemption exam, and so far I've just been playing catch up on my job - and surfing too many blogs.

Pattern Recognition - also in the computer science department. Same idea as the Learning Algorithms exept focusing exactly on patterns. Problem - requires elementary probability theory, which I again lack. The prof is interesting in that she builds cortical models of visual recognition.

What is cool about this list of courses for me is its breadth(sp?) - Ling, French, Music, CS, Neuro. That's what I like. And they are actually focused on my topic of research, believe it or not, because I want to build neural network simulations of intonation and music. To translate that research topic into a list of departments, I want to build Neurobiology Computer Science of Linguistics and Music. If I take some of these courses, I will probably have to do pass/fail, because there's a slim chance I'd get an A in Learning Algorithms.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Last day of class (paca)

So tomorrow (Wednesday) is the last day of class for the summer semester. I'm looking forward to it very much. However, being me, it won't make a huge difference. I am currently planning on taking the French placement exam next Wednesday to see if I can add another semester or two worth of French before the fall semester starts. So, if I am a good boy, I will be studying French (and working on the journal) through-out my 7 day holiday. If I am a good boy....

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Neurological humor

To say the least most articles on cognitive neuroscience are rather dry. So I was pleased to see this sentence thrown in a chapter I was reading tonight: "At present, neurophysiological evidence would appear to support an interspike interval representation of F0 at the level of the auditory nerve and cochlear nucleus (citation 1, 2, 3, 4, 5) although even this representation runs into trouble with the click trains from hell!"

I think I saw Click Trains From Hell last spring. It was starring David Arquette or something.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Shy yet sociable (paca)

I appear to have two conflicting aspects of my personality. On the one hand I am very sociable. I want to know all about people all the time. Other people fascinate me. I am a huge people watcher and I always wonder what it is like to be that guy or girl. (Oddly, I have almost no interest whatsoever in celebrity gossip.) But at the same time, I am rather shy in an odd way. I just can't ever think of anything to say to someone. My French prof last semester was a grad student with a Laotian mom and French dad. He's super built muscle wise and super nice, and I kept wondering what his life is like. Was there any Laotian connection other than ethnicity? How did he end up in Hawaii? Is he mauled by men or women who find him gorgeous? But I have no idea how to speak to people. I look at someone and my mind just draws a blank.

So yet another paca idea I've had bouncing around in my head was to do interviews and profiles of people. Just people I see. Talk to them, find out their stories, take some pictures of their life, and then wrap it all up in some form of writing. Something like "a day in the life of X". It would be a way for me to talk to people but give me some formal reason for being there.

Sometimes the profiles would be of exceptional people, but not always, and I'm really thinking right now of grabbing people at UH. I discovered a while ago that one of my fellow grad students here has children and the children are at home in Korea, while she is working on her doctorate here. They talk over webcam on a regular basis, and I think they might even just turn the webcams on sometimes just so the family can see each other while they play and study. Now, that's really an interesting choice, not one that everyone would make. If you believe in stereotypes of Korea as a conservative society, it might be surprising that a mother would go off for a degree. Is she unusual or not? (I think the answer is no.)

There are people in my French class I'd like to talk to. Another is a woman who is 27, from Hawaii, and she's going back now for her undergrad degree. She works in a store in the mall, I think in a job she probably could have gotten when she was 17. Why? What's she been doing? She is fairly attractive. Has that held her back in some way because she could get by on that alone? Everyone I know is like me: they have degrees from good schools, usually grad degrees... (I am not sure if there is a single regular reader of this blog with less than a masters or terminal degree.) What made her different, or what made me different? Why did she decide to go back to school now?

There is another woman in French class born in Puerto Rico and her family is in the military. She's very opinionated, mentions Puerto Rico every single chance she gets, works 40 hours a week in a hospital while working on a masters and teaching Spanish. I want to know more about her.

There's a guy who doesn't look over 21 with low riding pants and a shirt hanging from his head all the time. Turns out he and I are the only married people in the class. How did he get married so young?

You get the idea. Anyone ever done an interview before? Any advice? In some ways, I'd like to do this as an article for the student paper, but it might be better as a blog so you could have more pictures and space. People's daily lives are so amazing. A little window into them through their stories, their appearance, the clothes they wear and the houses they live in.

Math majors in love (paca)

Here is a viral video making the rounds. A singing group takes a mathematical look at love.

I also like this one. Permission But not so funny.

Friday, August 04, 2006

This is embarassing (paca)

A small quote from an AP News report about the current senatorial campaign in Tennessee, where Frist is giving up his seat. They are mostly talking about the Republican primary, because it is hotly contested, while the Democratic side is not. The quote:

"The winner will most likely face Rep. Harold Ford (news, bio, voting record) Jr., who has no serious Democratic primary opposition and is hoping to become the first black U.S. senator elected in the South since Reconstruction."

No, the South doesn't have a problem in race relations at all. Nope. Nada. Those are the old days, not the New South. To do the math, I am going to guess the South includes 10 states.* A senate campaign will happen every six years for two candidates each. Since I am too lazy to look it up, let's go with 1880 as the end of Reconstruction. 2006 - 1880 gives us 126 years. 126/6 = 21 senate campaigns per office. 21 x 10 x 2 = 420 chances at electing a single black person to the Senate. 0 out of 420.

If we want to go with 1964 as the passage of the Civil Rights Voting Act, that gives us 2006-1964 = 42 years, which equals 7 elections. 7 x 10 x 2 = 140 chances.

But I am sure it's just a lack of good candidates....

* LA, MS, AL, GA, FL, NC, SC, VA, TN, KY.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Old countries and old languages (paca)

I was browsing the posts and comments for a political blog I read (The Moderate Voice - see link on right), and there was one post about the best way to deal with the Chinese government. People espoused various opinions and then there was a comment that it was silly for Americans to give advice to China, since we've only been in the business of government for 300 years, while China's been up to it for 10,000. That comment itself is a silly one for a list of reasons, but I want to focus on only one.*

The problem is that Chinese civilization has existed for that long*, but governments have come and gone. The land area that is modern China has been ruled by dynasties of the Han people, the Manchu people, the Mongol people, among others. There have been extended centuries of warring states and three kingdoms and warlords. And the way that the Chinese government has operated has changed over and over. Also, China for a long time operated much more like Europe. You had kings/emperors who owned various tracks of land, but there was much less a sense of the nation state of China (which is different than a cultural sense). It's not clear that people have for 6,000 years thought of themselves as politically Chinese, as much as they thought of themselves as living under the Tang dynasty or the Ming dynasty. Now, yes of course there are some continuities politically that keep popping up - various versions of Confucian ideals with senses of the roles and responsibilities of government have cropped up a lot. For example, China fell in love with the idea of national examinations to test their youth 2,000 years ago and they still do this (though now it determines your eligibility for education, not for government office, and for all its flaws the idea that merit determines who holds office instead of being determined by who your dad was was very progressive). In short, there have been a host of continuities and discontinuities in the political organization of China for a long time.

Now, the key is that America is the same. The modern American government wasn't formed until 1789, but there were articles of Confederation before that, and state assemblies with colonial governors before that. Moreover, the American governmental system didn't just pop up in Jamestown out of nowhere. It is a continuation of the English political tradition. And the English tradition takes its ideas in the various feudal systems of Europe, which draw from Roman and Greek government, which was inspired by Egyptian, Sumerian, and Hebrew governmental philosophy.

The point? Yes, Chinese government draws on roots going back thousands of years. Confucius' thoughts on the proper role of a governor have a very loose but real connection to the modern Chinese government, but it is equally true that America's concept of the rule of law has a very loose but real connection to Babylonian Law Codes and the Roman idealization of the supremacy of the law above all other principles. Of course Cicero wasn't writing about the governors of Virginia when he spoke on the rule of law, but large swathes of modern day China weren't in anyone's thoughts in the China of the Chou dynasty either.

This all reminds me of the question, "what is the oldest language?" Meaning, what language that is spoken today was spoken a really long time ago? Is it Chinese? Japanese? Pawnee? An Australian language? The answer is "none of them". Or more accurately the question doesn't make sense when you know about language change. Let's take the case of Chinese. Of course, Chinese is actually a host of separate dialects/languages. Let's just go with Mandarin. Confucius spoke Chinese too in the 4th century BC, so Mandarin must be really old, right? Unlike English, which didn't even exist until... I don't know, let's say the Old English of Beowulf in the 9th century or so.

Not really. Modern Chinese would be completely incomprehensible to Confucius, and vice versa. The Chinese language has continually changed throughout history. We call the language of 1000 BC Chinese, but it is no closer to current Chinese than Latin is to modern French. To put it differently, Latin still exists and is spoken all over the world. Of course, it's split into different branchs of French, Spanish, Romanian, etc. But there was never a time when people were speaking Latin and said, "this Latin thing is boring, let's speak French now." In their minds, they just kept on speaking Latin. Maybe some grandparents periodically thought that their grandchildren sure were using some stupid slang or saying a word in the wrong order, but it was just bad Latin to them. But as time went on, one day the Latin the Franks spoke would be incomprehensible to someone who spoke Latin like they did 500 years before. Chinese has progressed in the same way. People kept on speaking Latin and they kept on speaking Chinese. By accidents of history, we just give one set of changes the same name and the other set different names.

So congratulations, you already speak the oldest language in the world** and live in the oldest country in the world, but then so does everyone else.*** Have fun with it.

*The historian in me also can't help but mention the factual errors in the thought. Even if you go back to the legendary Hsia dynasty, that takes you back to about 4,000 BC, or 6,000 years back. Before that, and really including the Hsia, you are talking about prehistoric man more than anything else.

**You might make a case that new languages are created periodically. They are called pidgins, then creoles, then just languages. I can talk about those another time.

*** OK, I am being hyperbolic for the fun of it, but it is largely true. One thing I have glossed over is some languages change a lot more rapidly than others. For some reason the French just went crazy with their version of Latin compared to Spanish or Italian. I am not sure if anyone knows exactly why this happens.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Laissez faire borders (paca)

It's often been noted that conservatives and liberals don't differ on what amount of control the government has over a citizen's life so much as on what should be controlled. So the stereotypes have conservatives wanting to keep the government out of your wallet, while they are just fine with the government in your bedroom. Liberals then argue for reversing this. At least that's the stereotype.

I was thinking recently that not really anyone has a true laissez faire attitude about one thing - immigration. Certainly in the current immigration climate, conservatives clamor for more border patrol, while liberals argue for revamping immigration policy. But in general we all assume the right of governments to control their borders in some fashion.

This is a tremendous claim and it isn't obviously correct.

It's a version of property rights essentially and of course different societies have had very different ideas of what property is. In our culture, almost everyone has a very strong opinion about ownership of our own body. Each person gets to control their own physical body, and violating this is one part of what makes the abortion debate so controversial. Let's say we grant that each person has ownership over their own body.

The next step up is probably the house you live in, maybe a cow you own, or a garden you grow vegetables in. I don't really know how to justify the idea of property itself, but you can easily see the point of personal property of this sort (the cow might be another matter for some). By owning my house, I get to preserve the fruits of my labor. It would be hard to make almost any economic system function if there was not some concept of controlling access to personal goods. It may not be a matter of personal ownership but there would be some system of control and distribution.

Then we get to the idea of national borders in which this abstract entity, a government, owns an entire section of the earth. We actually think that we own a volcano in the area near Puget Sound. We think we own an island between a river and a sound on the east coast of the American continent. We own the Mississippi. Isn't this a bit weird? So there might be a piece of land in the Great Praries that someone from across an ocean would like to farm. However, we feel it is up to us to determine whether or not that person can actually farm there. That piece of the Earth is ours, and if we want to let it sit there while the other person waits, so be it. It's our land.

It's interesting that in our supposed capitalist economy we don't think it is reasonable to just let the market work out who works where. Our country can clearly handle the 12-20 million illegal immigrants, because it has. But few think that is the way things should work. No one advocates having an officially open border in which anyone can work anywhere in the world they can find a job. We do for the 300 million citizens who already live here. They can work and live wherever they can sustain themselves. But everyone outside those borders can only work if we give them permission.

I am not really arguing that open borders is the way to go as a practical matter. But as a matter of rights and ethics, I do find the idea of owning the earth a little dubious. We live on the earth, but is the earth ours? Do I really have a say over who lives in Nebraska? I've never been to Nebraska.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Business Idea 2: Red Delicious

I mentioned the Flat Breads eaterie a couple posts back. Another business idea from a couple years ago was for a Bricks and Mortar digital music store. I took this one pretty seriously. In my notes, I apparently talked with the llama about it, while he was in Singapore maybe? I researched the market (even went to measure activity at a local Sam Goody's counting passers-by and customers), examined competition, read research reports.... Then I think I finally got into grad school and dropped it all. I started notes on a business plan, however, which I have pasted below. This was in the era when iTunes was new. I was a subscriber to the online PressPlay, which soon became the legal Napster. Red Delicious was my pet name for the project, and somehow I remember convincing myself it wasn't a blatant Apple rip-off. I don't know how, since it clearly is. Anyway, the central insight behind the store is I think still legit. The defining characteristic of a bricks and mortar music store is the stacks of CDs. That both defines the decor and atmosphere of the store, as well as probably becomes one of the major costs. With digital music, you can eliminate most of the costs of distribution and inventory management. After that, I was kind of at a loss. The plan as it existed in... 2003 or so: I added some thoughts in CAPS for the fun of it.

Music Retail Business Plan

Vision: Change the face of music retail, making it friendly, flexible, and fun.

Red Delicious will provide the highest possible value for its customers by providing a superb product at a reasonable price and delivering the highest possible customer experience. (THAT DOESN'T SAY ANYTHING DOES IT?) Red Delicious plans to set the standard for music retail internationally, transforming the experience for all.(KEEPING MY GOALS MODEST AS ALWAYS)

Red Delicious will provide a friendly environment for the sampling and purchase of digital music. The buyer will be able to relax in a comfortable chair, sip a cup of tea, eat a chocolate oatmeal cookie, listen to music by themselves or with friends, and purchase the music they like. (STARBUCKS IS SUPPOSEDLY MOVING IN THE DIRECTION OF SELLING MUSIC IN THEIR STORES NOW, THE THIEVES) The music they purchase will be burned to CD in Audio or Portable (I.E., AUDIO, MP3, WAV, WMA...) format, and art work will be provided for the sleeve. The overall process will be as easy to understand as purchasing a pre-packaged CD in traditional retail, and yet will provide the flexibility that current lovers of digital music require. The retail cafe environment will bring in music lovers and the music will bring in cafe lovers. (I know what this last sentence is trying to say, but it doesn’t make any real sense. Why would music bring in a cafe lover?)


1. Drastically slash music inventory costs and management by licensing digital music providers.
2. Merge the online digital music world with bricks and mortar retail.
3. Generate revenue from auxiliary sales when customers listen to free streaming audio.
4. Create simple, very fast method of burning and purchasing CDs. It should take no more than 3 minutes to burn a CD. (I STILL LIKE THESE OBJECTIVES AND THEY ARE THE REAL MEAT OF THE PROPOSAL)

Possible sources of revenue:
• Music sales
• Music artwork sales
• Food and Drink
• Dry Goods: clothing, mugs, mouse pads, etc.
• Books, magazines
• Music equipment
• Players – CD, MP3, WMA, etc.