Friday, July 31, 2009

Chick-fil-A, a craving I can't help.

Alright, this is going to be a short one, cause I'm really hungry and need to get some work done before the day is over. I love the chicken from Chick-fil-A, it's the truth and I can't help but crave it all the time. I love their sweet tea too, it reminds me of home in the south. Today I drove to the closest Chick-fil-A (It's near East Point Mall, about 20 minutes away, 30 minutes with all the lights.) I was trying to get there before they stopped serving breakfast, I knew it was a hard goal to meet but it was worth trying, cause I just love the Chicken Mini's. After going pass the mall, cause I did not see a Chick-fil-A, I finally found it on the other side of the mall at 10:45, 15 minutes late for the breakfast menu. So I ate a lunch selection of a chicken sandwich and waffle fries. It was still worth it, but that drive really sucked. We'll see if I do that again.

Something Toad

This subject has come up enough recently to warrant an entry. It started with a website devoted to the topic and then got personal when my friend Nick's blog (that's right, I'm calling you out) fell victim. What am I talking about? Unintended URL meanings.

If you're unfamiliar, here's how it works. Take a website name. As an example, Nick's advertising-centric blog is called, "Something to Ad." Now reduce that name to a web URL, a presentation that removes all spaces, "" Suddenly new and hilarious statements spring from formerly prosaic titles. "Something to Ad" becomes "Something Toad."*

This entry, like a few before it, doesn't fall into the positive category as such, I know. But it makes me and many other people laugh without being dark or mean-spirited, so I count that as positive. A few more examples?

A scrapbooking site called "One Hour Scrap" becomes "One Hours Crap." The womens heart disease charity "Go Red for Women" becomes "Gored for Women." A photo rating service called "Rate a Ten" becomes "Rat Eaten." A personal favorite, this online betting service "Odds Exchange" is transformed into something wholly different as "Odd Sex Change". And this specialty pen company, "Pen Island" becomes...well, I'll let you figure that one out.

Some of these are so funny. They're another odd artifact of modern life. The website I referred to earlier is Here's a Top 100 poorly named websites. Some are a bit off-color...prepare yourself. Enjoy.

*Nick eventually changed the URL for Something to Ad from "" to "" which we all determined also has an unintended meaning, though not nearly as funny as Something Toad. "Something Ad" becomes "Some Thin Gad", a gad, Nick discovered, being a pointed pole tool for loosening rocks.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Neighborly Advise

My garden out front has prompted some neighborly conversation that's included some gardening tips. This past Sunday we got a knock on the door and it was this lady from down the street asking if she could buy some of my basil. I told her she could just have some, but she insisted she pay me. She gave me two bucks in change and I asked if she could show me the best way to cut it. She was from Thailand and said she had a lot of wisdom about herbs. I grabbed a pair of scissors and watched how she snipped the top of the herb brushes at a angle. She also let me know that I should be cutting the flowering that's growing above all the herbs, supposedly the flowering effects the taste of the herbs making them more bitter. She was very kind and helpful.

Today I was out front cutting the flowering off and this nice redheaded lady came by and told me how much she loved my garden. She said she had to admit that when she walks by here everyday she brushes her hands past my herbs and that the smell of the lemon and cinnamon basil just makes her happy. That is such a wonderful compliment. She said her name was May, I think, and that she comes by here all the time. As I was throwing the flowering into the trash, she said I could still use those for seasoning stir fries and stews, by taking the flowering off the stems and freezing it. So then I started saving them. I just got done getting all the flowers off the stems and throwing a full bag of herbs into the freezer. My hands now smell amazing.

It's great to get such wonderful neighborly advise. Thanks ladies!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Humble Soybean

Observe, the humble soybean. Not since George Washington Carver circled the earth in a peanut-powered dirigible has a legume seen such a renaissance of practicality. The soybean's uses are legion, and growing. I've known this, in a limited form, for a while, and I've always been curious to research just how many uses ther are. There's a lot. A metric lot.

First off, soybeans are an excellent source of protein, both for animals and humans. Farm raised chickens, cattle and fish all eat soy protein as part of their diets. For humans, soy protein is one of the few considered a "complete" protein, meaning that it supplies adequate amounts of every essential amino acid that the human body can't create on its own. This allows soy protein to safely replace all animal-based proteins in the human diet.

The fiber contained in the soybean is strong and malleable, allowing it to be used in composite building products, including next-generation countertop and flooring products. As soybeans grow quickly, they're an excellent renewable resource, and a strong answer to deforestation.

Soybean oil is where the plant really shines though, because it's a viable replacement for petroleum in a host of different products. Obviously you can cook with soybean oil. Unlike petroleum, it's non-toxic and edible. But you can also make products more than comparable to their petrochemical cousins.

Soy can be used to make biodiesel fuels. It can be used to create industrial-quality, environmentally friendly solvents, lubricants and paints, including soy-based stains and urethanes. Soy-based lubricants are renewable, capable of withstanding higher temperatures, and are non-toxic. And SoyInk, a renewable, non-toxic, soy-based printing ink could supplant petroleum-based inks with exceptional results.

Here's an interesting one. Children's crayons, normally made from petroleum, can be made from soybean oil. You don't often think about crayons as industrial petrochemicals. Another one for the kiddies; soy-based infant formula, useful for children with allergies to cow's milk.

Soy-based foams are relatively new applications, and are gradually coming to market. Ultimately these renewable foams can be as insulators, cushioning, packing materials, etc. Nearly every product currently based on petroleum could be made using soybean oil, an exciting prospect as we consider our dependence on foreign oil.

I've scratched the surface here. Needless to say more research is needed, and is underway. As time passes I'm quite sure we'll find more and better uses for the humble soybean.*

*The soybean is actually a bit of a braggart, but wouldn't you be if you could single-handedly save humanity from the coming storms of food shortage and oil exhaustion, and still have time to get whipped up into a tasty soy chai green tea latte?

Helpful Networking

I'm at a loss of what to write about today. My old boss from Renegade, Noah, is moving to LA to pursue production work in sunny Cali. I'm really excited for him. I looked up an old friend of mine Jim Siler, whose currently doing sound engineering in the LA production world. He and his wife Lori, used to live in FL near my sister and that's how I met the couple. I asked Jim if it was okay to pass his info to Noah and with him knowing that networking is the only way to survive in this line of business he agreed that would be fine. I gave the info to Noah in an email today and he was very happy for my assistance. It feels good to help a friend, I'm glad I could help out. I may have some more contacts that I will try to search down for Noah. Best of luck Noah, you'll do great in LA, I just know it.

Blogging as a Medium

Some media pundits claim that blogging is a medium past its prime, one that will continue to decline in relevancy over the next five years. I simply don't understand that statement. Look at the position newspaper companies find themselves in, and tell me that larger and larger numbers of people aren't still migrating away from traditional print media to alternative online media, blogs included. The number of people I know personally that maintain their own blog, or at least contribute to an existing blog grows daily, and not because I'm constantly meeting new people. Because the people I already know are hopping the blog train and riding blog-style into the great wide blogosphere.

Personally, I think blogging, as a medium isn't going anywhere. It's micro-publishing, giving a voice to people that wouldn't normally have the opportunity to be heard. I'd argue that being heard is a basic human drive. We all have opinions. We all would like to make an impact on the world. Blogging gives you the chance to sway public opinion one entry at a time. If people are reading. I'll grant that a good deal of blogging is done in a vacuum. Blogging let's you publish to the masses only if the masses know you're there. And getting the word out about yourself is trickier than you might expect. I know. I've been trying to promote our little patch of the blogoverse for months now, to very little effect.

But, sans being heard, blogging, like journaling that came before it, still confers a strong benefit to its authors. It helps you develop your worldview. It lets you get your thoughts down into physical form. It forces you to organize and codify your views on issues (assuming that's what you write about) and helps develop solid arguments. It's a tool that can help you learn about yourself; your likes and dislikes, dreams and aspirations. It can help clarify what's important to you. Thoughts are nebulous. Fleeting. The written word is permanent. Keeping a blog gives you a snapshot of your development as a person. And it's an album you can share with other people. One they can comment on and reference years later. Blogging is like keeping a journal that everyone you know, and many that you don't, can participate in with you. It's a sharing of yourself with others, and, sometimes more importantly, with yourself.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Extraordinary FX

I'm not usually "a special effects loving person" but recently I saw two flicks where the special FX were out of this world. Eagle Eye did not get the greatest reviews, but Jae and I decided to watch it regardless last night and we're so glad we did. The action scenes are so extreme and the FX were unbelievable. It was a decent film and I recommend it to those that appreciate a good action thriller.

We saw the newest Harry Potter this weekend, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Having not read the series my only less than positive review would be that there were some holes in the plot. It must be so hard to pick and choose the events to include in the film and what to discard from such an enormous book. They still pulled off a fantastic film. The characters really came to life as they grow into adulthood. I'm also guilty of having a little girl crush on Ron. He is turning into such a red-headed cutie. The action special FX scenes were once again amazing. I was sitting at the edge of my seat during those scenes and could not take my eyes off the screen. It had to be my favorite Potter movie to date. Fabulous job cast and crew.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Using a Commitment to Declare Another

I'm committed to adding an entry to this blog everyday, and I've stuck by that commitment. And even though the entries aren't read by many people, it's still a soap box of sorts. A platform about the positive, which can be harnessed toward positive ends. So I'm using it to declare a new commitment, one that I'm hoping some of you will help hold me accountable to. I'm going to get in shape.

Starting tomorrow I'm going to the gym every Tuesday and Thursday mornings before work. I'm starting small. Two days a week is something I can commit to and stick with. Any more than that I'm afraid is biting off more than I can chew. I need to keep this realistic. So I'm committing to two days a week, with an open-ended option to increase to three when the time seems right.

And I'm giving all of you permission to hold me accountable to my commitment. Ask me about it from time to time. Give me a hard time if I'm not keeping up my end of the arrangement. I would appreciate it, because working out, historically, is a commitment I have a very hard time managing.

Ultimately a healthier me is a positive

Literature Surrounding

I feel at home in about all bookstores and libraries. I love the feeling of being surrounded by literature. Everyone is reading and are encapsulated in their preferred fantasy or nonfiction world. I worked at different Barnes & Noble stores starting my last year of high school through all my college years. I wasn't a huge fan of the corporate aspects that come along with working for a chain company, but I did love the atmosphere and the wonderful intellectuals I met over the years. I would take my breaks in the cafe or by reading on one of the comfy chairs. It was just a great environment that I still treasure to this day. I've started meeting my photo clients at Barnes and it's just so funny how life brings you back to those same familiar places.

Where I

This is an interesting little site. Photographer Kyle Cassidy prefaces it with a story. He was invited to a party at the author Michael Swanwick's house, he believes by an accident of mistaken identity. Once there, Cassidy asked if he could see the authors Hugo awards, a request Swanwick enthusiastically granted, escorting Cassidy directly into the author's creative space. Cassidy says that seeing the space where Swanwick created his tales was revelatory. "It was like I'd cracked open his skull and seen the gears of genius."

Cassidy was granted a few pictures of Swanwick's work space, which started something of an obsession. He's since photographed the work spaces of a dozen of so notable authors, adding the images to his site,

I think Cassidy's correct. Where somebody chooses to work in any creative pursuit is direct reflection of their creative process. Most of the authors pictured work in home office-type rooms, while one or two recline on couches in more living-room type settings. Most are surrounded by books and nick-nacks that I would imagine help inspire creativity, with the Harry Harrison being the notable exception. His space is a small desk in what looks like a bedroom less welcoming than many hotel rooms. The walls are nearly devoid of decoration, save a single peacock illustation, and the spartan furniture barely fills the perimeter of blandly-painted tan. Harrison, it would appear, generates all of his inspiration internally.

I do wish the site was a little more forthcoming with images. Only one photo per author isn't enough, for me, to get a true appreciation for their work environments. I hope that maybe Cassidy will expand the site at some point. In any case it's an interesting peak into the creative mind.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Affirmations of Humanism

Lately I find myself drawn more and more to a very specific philosophy, Secular Humanism. I'm not necessarily a fan of our need, as a species, to classify and name everything, but as it is this particular philosophy does a good job of encapsulating my view of the world. The philosophy is exactly what you'd expect based on the name. Secular, meaning non-religious, and humanist, meaning focused on the betterment of all mankind in the here-and-now.

Recently I found this document, "The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles." To me, this is profoundly beautiful. Without any posturing on my part, I present them to you.

  • We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.
  • We deplore efforts to denigrate human intelligence, to seek to explain the world in supernatural terms, and to look outside nature for salvation.
  • We believe that scientific discovery and technology can contribute to the betterment of human life.
  • We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
  • We are committed to the principle of the separation of church and state.
  • We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
  • We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.
  • We believe in supporting the disadvantaged and the handicapped so that they will be able to help themselves.
  • We attempt to transcend divisive parochial loyalties based on race, religion, gender, nationality, creed, class, sexual orientation, or ethnicity, and strive to work together for the common good of humanity.
  • We want to protect and enhance the earth, to preserve it for future generations, and to avoid inflicting needless suffering on other species.
  • We believe in enjoying life here and now and in developing our creative talents to their fullest.
  • We believe in the cultivation of moral excellence.
  • We respect the right to privacy. Mature adults should be allowed to fulfill their aspirations, to express their sexual preferences, to exercise reproductive freedom, to have access to comprehensive and informed health-care, and to die with dignity.
  • We believe in the common moral decencies: altruism, integrity, honesty, truthfulness, responsibility. Humanist ethics is amenable to critical, rational guidance. There are normative standards that we discover together. Moral principles are tested by their consequences.
  • We are deeply concerned with the moral education of our children. We want to nourish reason and compassion.
  • We are engaged by the arts no less than by the sciences.
  • We are citizens of the universe and are excited by discoveries still to be made in the cosmos.
  • We are skeptical of untested claims to knowledge, and we are open to novel ideas and seek new departures in our thinking.
  • We affirm humanism as a realistic alternative to theologies of despair and ideologies of violence and as a source of rich personal significance and genuine satisfaction in the service to others.
  • We believe in optimism rather than pessimism, hope rather than despair, learning in the place of dogma, truth instead of ignorance, joy rather than guilt or sin, tolerance in the place of fear, love instead of hatred, compassion over selfishness, beauty instead of ugliness, and reason rather than blind faith or irrationality.
  • We believe in the fullest realization of the best and noblest that we are capable of as human beings.
I must credit the Council for Secular Humanism for this list. Here's a link to the original web document.

The Little Things

I love discovering a new feminine product and having it become part of your daily routine, say you get a new scented body wash or shampoo. I recently used one of those new razors with the shaving cream built on the razor. It sounds kind of weirdly unsanitary, but it works so well. My sister had one and I used it when she was visiting me to shave my legs and it was amazing. It's made by Intuition, scented with milk and honey and has Shea Butter lotion built on, surrounding the razor. It was a little pricey, but it comes with 2 extra razor/lotion combos, you never have to buy shaving cream, and those steps are eliminated. My legs have never felt so smooth. I had no cuts and I really couldn't feel it as it went over my skin. It made me think it wasn't working so I went over my legs twice, but I really don't think I needed to. It just works that well. I'll keep the lids of the razor/lotion securely fastened, so no nastiness is generated. It also came with a razor holder with a suction cup on the back, so it hangs in the shower neatly and out of the way.

It's really the little things that can make you happier and more satisfied with your life sometime.

I also got a new scented deodorant that I'm enjoying, it's by Dove scented with waterlilly and freshmint. It smells great. Remember that when your feeling blue that buying even the smallest thing for yourself can easily help light up your day.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Moment of Positive Reflection Part 1

Positive reflection is my focus lately and what I choose to live my life around. We have to venture towards the positive and hope that life will bring us comfort and love in return. We need to view each other as equals in the the same united world. Once we have embraced equality and have united as one, the human race will together strive to heal the environmental dangers that we have caused surrounding us. We need to work together, we need to feel loved by all. If all we have is this one moment to be, then let's all be together.

Weekly Writing Assignments

A friend of a friend, a PR guy over at Planit Agency in Baltimore recently started a new site, "Weekly Writing Assignments." I'm pretty excited about it, as someone attempting to improve his writing style and maybe his social standing with Baltimore's Glitterati.*

The concept is pretty simple. Every week a new assignment is posted, each one lasting the full week. The contests are open to anyone living, literate, and possessing of a valid email account. Using arcane methods involving the reading of animal organs, tea leaves, and the entries submitted, the site's editors chose a weekly winner and publish their work on the site. A monthly winner is chosen from the constituent weekly winners, and ultimately an annual winner is chosen from the twelve monthly finalists.

I'm jazzed. I can't seem to find enough avenues for writing lately, and the prospect of pitting myself against what I'm guessing will be a bumper crop of talented people is strongly motivating me to participate. And the more the merrier. If you're interested in submitting, check out the site at this address.

The more you write, the better you get. The better you get the more you'll want to write. The more you want to write, the more likely it is that you'll be saying something from the heart. The more you write from the heart, the more you will be read. And the more you're read, the more you'll want to write. It's a beautiful feedback loop. Just spool out your first sentence to get it started.

*The first statement is true. The second is 1) unlikely, 2) not really something I'm pursuing, and 3) just an excuse to use the word "glitterati" in a sentence.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Sexy Facial Piercings

I like how a lot of facial piercings look. I like the lip, nose, eyebrow, and cheek piercing. I've never had one myself. I think they look really sexy on both males and females. Being off work this long makes me consider getting one, then I realize I'm going to be entering a new workforce soon and decide it's a bad idea. If I get one now though, it should heal enough by the time I get to teaching, that I'll be able to take it out and no one will know. What I want most is my nose pierced, just a little stud would be perfect.

I guess I've been jonesing a change in my looks, cause I'm also getting my hair dyed dark next week. I like change, I could not imagine staying the same throughout your whole existence. That is such a sad image to me. You have so many possibilities to chose from in the world. If your personality stays mostly the same throughout your life than the best you can do to feel alive and different is to get a tattoo, a piercing, or change your hair then I'm all for it. I don't mind a little pain for something you'll admire forever or as long as you have it.

Independent Film, The Other White Meat

As a film lover, this year's experiment wouldn't be complete for me without at some point giving a nod to the independent film industry. And not by deriding the major studios. I love a good blockbuster studio picture occasionally. Both worlds have their advantages. Major studios have capital. Loads of it. They can afford to bankroll film extravaganzas that an independent producer couldn't dream of tackling. Special effects-driven bonanzas with more eye candy than you can shake a 200 foot transforming car robot at.

But...because of the massive budgets involved in many major studio films they have to appeal to the widest audience possible in order to be profitable. So you get a lot of formulaic filmmaking. Dense plotting that reminds of you 15 other movies. Or films with gorgeous visuals and little plot meat. And remakes...I just heard a remake of "Footloose" is in the works. What? I can somewhat understand remaking older films to recontextualize them in a modern setting or special effects based movies to update the visuals. But Footloose? It's only 25 years old (which I just learned...obviously they're remaking it for its quinvicennial). Soon movie sequels released by the studios a year later will simply be remakes of the original film with a new cast.

This is where independent film steps in and shines. Independent pictures are produced for much lower budgets generally, often employing up and coming or unknown talent. They focus more on story and character development, and less on eye candy. And because the investment per film is so much lower, they can afford to appeal to more niche audiences. They can take risks. This creates a much more diverse crop of films. You could say that the independent film industry appeals to film lovers generally, while the major studios appeal to people who like the spectacle of movies. Independent producers are enamored with the art of filmmaking while the studios are enamored with the art of making money selling films.

They both have their place. I'm not necessarily favoring one over the other. Like most of you I'm eagerly awaiting the next big-budget special effects blowout. I'm just glad that independent films exist as an alternate voice. Films that scream at you are fine, but sometimes you just want your movies to have a conversation. Or not talk at all.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Random Dream Worlds

Dreams can be so far fetched from your reality. How in the world do you even fathom the ideas our dreams contain? It's fascinating to me. Two nights ago I dreamt of all my old friends from High School, some folks that I met up with at my HS Reunion a few years back and others I have not seen in 10 years were present. I can't quite remember the context, but I remember it being bizarre. Last night I dreamt that my dad, mom, sister, some other random handy men, and I had to paint the interior of a Giant Food store to celebrate my grandpa's birthday (who has passed away in reality). Very strange. How in the world do our minds come up with this stuff. It's really crazy to me. I have so many obstacles approaching in my real life like teaching or getting my next photo gig. You'd think one of these current dilemmas would haunt my dreams, but no, they are all completely random. It's just crazy to think about, but completely fascinating.

Optical Illusions Reveal That What We See Isn't Necessarily What's There

It's remarkable what we can do visually. We can see a face or any object, and nearly instantly recognize it. We can detect motion and automatically track the speed and direction through 3D space. Etc. Etc. You have eyes. You know what we're capable of. But we like to imagine that our eyes are like cameras. Perfect reproducers of the unalterable world as it is. It's comforting to think that what we see is always what is there to be seen. But we know that isn't true. Our brains accomplish high-level visual tasks by taking the incoming data from our eyes and performing all sorts of filtering and decoding tasks, applying shortcuts and pre-constructed models of reality. Transparently. The beauty of our ocular system is that we are nearly completely unaware that our brains are changing what our eyes see, and only showing us what we need. All this occurs in the brain, through filtering and wetware calculations, without our awareness catching wind of the process.

So I love optical illusions that manage to shed light on these and trick our brains into revealing the filtering and the manipulating it's doing to our visual world. It's like getting a peek at the man behind the curtain. By short-circuiting what is normally a transparent, automatic process we get a sense of just how powerful our brains are. Here's a few of my favorites from a site I found recently. There are many more.

An example of motion-induced blindness.
The Stereokinetic Effect
This one really caught me off guard. Since the last few illusions I'd looked at were animated, I just assumed this one was too. But it's an entirely still image. Look closely...

I've always loved this effect.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

New Horizons Approaching

Okay I'm finally getting excited enough about my new career proposal to talk about it in my blog. I want to teach Elementary Education. I'm going to apply to two different fast track programs, but they won't be starting up for a while. I keep imagining myself in front of a bunch of 2nd graders and it's making me nervous and excited at the same time. I have a lot of teacher contacts including Jason's mom who will be able to help me through the process. I've been applying for daycare type jobs for extra experience and even though I don't have any background other than babysitting I got a response today from one of the ads. It doesn't make me feel very nervous to talk to them further, but more excited and happy to be doing something I feel good about. I going to continue doing freelance photography gigs, since that also makes me happy. Give me luck everyone. I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, but right now I feel it will all by worth it.

Epic Fails are Epic Fun

There are many blogs in the sphere today who's sole purpose is to point out the many, many ways that people screw up. I love it. is the granddaddy of them all. With cell phone cameras ubiquitous throughout the country, more and more of life's little (and massive) screw ups are getting noticed and recorded for posterity. acts as a hub for all that finger-pointing fun.

I mean hey, if we can't laugh at ourselves...

A little taste...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Jackson at 4 1/2 months

Jackson's getting so big. He is such a cutie and becoming a real flirt. I went to Stephanie's last week and I took some pictures I'm pretty proud of. Jan, Judy, and Jan's friend Carol were there too and it was great hanging with the ladies.

Jackson is getting a great personality. Stephanie and John are doing great parenting jobs, keeping things humorous and joyful. I love witnessing the growth of child and parent, it is a beautiful site. I think I might be going to visit her tomorrow. I can't wait to hang out with Jax and Steph again.

Open Discussion

My boss and I disagree on many fronts. He's a staunch conservative, firmly entrenched with several right-wing political groups. I'm far more liberal, sympathetic to causes that would make my boss shiver (I would imagine). He has, over time grown much more deeply involved with his Catholic faith, and wears it like a badge of honor. I, as my entry from two days ago demonstrated, am a card-carrying atheist, about as far removed from any church or synagogue affiliation as you can get.

But one of the things I appreciate about my boss is that he welcomes free and open discussion. He wears his religion and his political beliefs on his sleeve, and he makes no apology for them. He's usually the initiator of discussion (who in their right mind makes a habit of instigating religious debates with the person that signs their paycheck.) He often forwards me emails he's received, pushing one or another facet of his worldview. He does this knowing I'll respond. He expects the response. In a sense I think he welcomes it. That, to me, is a very noble attribute. He has his faith, and he's firmly set on his path. Nothing I can say will dissuade him. Nor can he move me from my position. But we talk about it anyway. We never insult. We never get personal. Or try not to anyway. We just keep a dialogue going.

It's a very positive thing, from my perspective. Too often people on both sides of any debate will surround themselves with like-minded people and never test their beliefs against the foil of the other side. They make a decision about the world, and then cut themselves off from any further inquiry. That creates artificial barriers between all of us. Open discussion is required to find common ground. I'm happy that my boss is open to that.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Artscape Wonder

This entry's going out to Artscape as a whole. The fact that the city agrees to close off numerous streets so that local artists can express their talents is amazing to me. I would love to be part of the artist joy one day. Jae and I are setting a goal to be part of it come next Artscape with whatever we decide to make. The streets had art even hanging across the streets decorating every angle. It was marvelous for taking photos. I promised myself I would only buy one or two things. I fell in love with a ring at the first booth I went too. I told the lady I had to review other jewelry before committing to this ring. I went to all the other vendors and looked at their creations. Some were really appealing, but none matched my love for that ring. I ended going back and buying it. It was the only thing a bought and I'm completely satisfied with that.

We rode our bikes there and back. We were totally fine on the way there and once we got their it felt so liberating to have ridden there. I was so proud of us. Now going home was another story, we both got sick from exhaustion. We survived, but barely.

Thanks for another great festival, Artscape. You are still one of the top five reasons I love Baltimore!

The Chemistry Behind Soap

After yesterday's heady, six page entry I'm going to keep things easy today. We spent some of Friday night and most of Saturday at Artscape, watching musical and theatrical performances, animated shorts at the Charles and perusing the artisans booths. One thing I noticed is that a lot of people are hand making soap these days and selling it at crafts fairs. In one aisle of Artscape alone we passed three different soap vendors. It got me interested in the chemistry behind handmade soap.

From when I was younger I remember hearing stories of soap and candle making by the early European settlers in the United States. It sounded like a nasty, labor intensive process involving animal fat and caustic lye. Turns out that's exactly how soap is still made by hand today, though the process has been streamlined a bit, and "vegetarian" options exist, using all vegetable oils instead of lard. I read through the whole process last night and found it fascinating. It's all about very precise measurements and temperatures for your different oil and fat ingredients, water and lye. If you get it all right and stir it all to the right consistency a process called "saponification" starts. Once it's begun, nature takes over and converts the oils and caustic lye into a gentle bar of soap.

It's a cool sort of Ying and Yang process, taking two disparate elements, one viscous and slimy, the other caustic and dangerous and fusing them into a single, subtle object with a completely different purpose from its constituent elements. I'm sort of curious to try it. We met a couple at a party a few months ago that were raving about the process. The guy was even more enthusiastic about it than his girlfriend was. They both really loved it, and made soap together. I like that idea, and I think Kate does, too. We'll see. I haven't had a chemistry kit since I was ten years old, and I'm really interested to watch the chemistry happen. I'm also curious to see how saturated (no pun intended) the soap market is. Can you make a little extra scratch selling soap?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Live Music and Nature

I love listening to live music outdoors, especially on a beautiful day.  Yesterday Jae and I watched The River City Extension and Cake live at Artscape.  We sat on the lawn amongst a huge crowd.  I had a few drinks in me so I was feeling good.  We sat while River City played, I had never heard them but I really enjoyed their sound, they sounded a little like Vampire Weekend.  The sound system was great.  I just love that kind of environment, loving the beauty of music together. When Cake began everyone in the middle of the lawn stood up.  It was great cause it gave me a reason to dance.  I've loved Cake forever, they are a wonderful energy and they are so musically talented.  Dancing was somewhat difficult since we were on a slope, but it was the challenge that made it even more fun.  

I would really like to attend a music fest, where you camp out and listen to a bunch of different bands.  Hopefully I'm not getting too old to do this one day, I guess you're never to old to experience something new.  

Us, Relative to Everything Else

This is an entry I've been wanting to do for a very long time, but I've been putting off because I knew writing it the way I wanted to would take a good four or five hours. But it's a topic that's very meaningful for me, so I knew one day I'd make the investment. It's a bit long, but worth it. I hope you'll invest the ten minutes or so it might take to read it. It may change the way you view the world.

You may have seen the images I'm using in this illustration before. They've been floating around the web for a while. I'd credit them, but they apparently appeared anonymously originally, so there are no credits to be given. I'll just give heartfelt thanks to whoever created them.

We humans imagine ourselves to be very important, our problems and issues of vast significance. And some of us imagine themselves better than their fellow humans, or more enlightened than the rest of humanity, and sometimes commit horrible atrocities for either personal gain or to propagate their view of the world to other people. So let's try and find out, in the grand scheme of things, how important we humans really are.

To begin, let's take an average human. A single, solitary individual. Now imagine that single individual in the company of 6.772 billion other individuals, the entire world population, as estimated by the U.S. Census Bureau. Each of these individuals, weight averaged between the sexes, weighs, on average 150 pounds. That gives a total mass for our species of roughly 1.015 trillion pounds. That's a scale breaker.

But compare that to the planet we all live on. The earth, measuring at one earth mass (obviously) weighs roughly 1.317 x 10 to the 25th pounds, or 10,317,000,000,000,000,000,000,000. A bit bigger. The weight of our entire species, every member of our population combined is a sneeze in the ocean of our planets mass. Now let's compare that planet to it's cosmic kin.

Here's earth, relative in size to the other planets (or dwarf planet, in Pluto's case) in our solar system smaller than earth. Impressive, aren't we? We could punt Pluto into next week.

Okay. Now here we are relative to all the planets in our solar system, the larger bodies included.

Not quite so impressive anymore. Earth's equatorial radius (ER) is 7,926 miles and has an earth mass of one. Pluto looks tiny relative to earth, with an ER of only 1,429 miles and an earth mass of .0026 (meaning it's 26 ten thousandths as massive as earth), it barely exists in our comparison next to Jupiter. Jupiter has an ER of 88,731 miles and an earth mass of 377.833, meaning it's 377 times more massive than earth. This shrinks earths place in the cosmos significantly, and we have a long way to go. Here we are relative to our sun.

The sun has an ER of 432,163 miles (earth, if you remember had an ER of only 7,926 miles) and an earth mass of 332,830. The sun accounts for more than 98% of the total mass of our solar system. It would take 109 earths, end to end, to stretch the distance of the sun across and 1.3 million earths to fill it's entire volume. It takes light, traveling at 299,792,458 meters per second 8 minutes and 19 seconds to travel from the sun to earth. The sun's core reaches temperatures of 27,000,000° F and has an atmospheric pressure 340 billion times more intense than Earth's air pressure at sea level. Beginning to feel a bit puny? Maybe a little bit insignificant? That's good. Let's forge on.

As big as our sun is, relative to us, it's tiny compared to some of its compatriots. Here's our sun compared to other known stars.

The small print that's hard to read says, "Jupiter is about 1 pixel in size" and "Earth is invisible at this scale." Incredible, right? Our sun, our massive star, 332,830 times more massive than our planet is a ten pound weakling next to the size of other stars. Sirius, the Dog Star, part of the Big Dog constellation, is 8.6 light years away from us, meaning it takes light 8.6 years to travel from Sirius to earth. Compare that to the 8.25 minutes it takes our sun's light to reach us.

Pollux is an orange giant star 34 light years away from earth in the constellation of Gemini. It has 8.8 times the radius of our sun and is 32 times brighter. Arcturus is a red giant star in the constellation Bo├Âtes, 36.7 light years from earth with a total power output 180 times that of our sun. You can see that the relative size difference between our sun and Arcturus is larger than the relative difference Jupiter and our sun. At Arcturus's scale the earth is invisible, and there are 6.772 billion of us living on that invisible mote. Ever read Horton Hears a Who? Continuing on.

Here's where Arcturus, and our sun by proxy, sits relative to some even larger stars.

That tiny little orange circle just to the left of Rigel is Arcturus. We see Pollux, Sirius and our sun further to the left. It's hard to read, but the small print says that our sun is only one screen pixel at this scale, and Jupiter is invisible. That's our massive, life-giving sun, a mere dot compared to Antares. Antares, a neighbor 600 light years away in our Milky Way galaxy, in the constellation Scorpius is classified as a Class M Red Supergiant star with a diameter 800 times that of our sun, with 65,000 times the total power output. Our sun gives off enough power to warm our planet at a distance of 92.5 million miles. That alone is a staggering amount of power, and Antares gives off 65,000 times more power than that. At 600 light years away, more than 18 times further away from us than Pollux or Arcturus it still ends up being the sixteenth brightest star in the night sky.

And Antares isn't even the biggest star known today. That title goes to VY Canis Majoris a red hypergiant star more than 5,000 light years away from earth that was recently calculated, at its upper size to be 2,100 times the size of our sun! That's a little more than two and a half times the size of Antares. Massive by ANY definition.

Compare yourself to VY Canis Majoris. And then consider that VY Canis Majoris, as big as it is, is just one star amidst the estimated 200 to 400 billion stars in our Milky Way Galaxy, a galaxy which is estimated to be roughly 100,000 light years across. Remember from earlier that light from our sun takes 8.25 minutes to get to earth? It would take that same light 100,000 years to cross our galaxy, passing billions of stars and an innumerable number of planets. Our sun is estimated to be only 26,000 light years from the galactic center, and it takes 225 to 250 million years for our solar system to complete a single galactic orbit. Compare yourself and the sun you orbit to the space required to fit 200 to 400 billion other stars, many much bigger than our sun. Is the fact that your neighbors lawn is bigger than yours really all that important by comparison?

Now realize that our Milky Way Galaxy is only one of an estimated 80 billion galaxies in the observable universe, containing 30 to 70 sextillion stars (that's a 3 or a 7 followed by 21 zeroes). We are orbiting a small sun, an afterthought amidst the 30 to 70 sextillion stellar relatives we share in our observable universe, the edge of which is 46.5 billion light years away.

But the universe is only 13.7 billion year old? How can we be seeing something whose light took 46.5 billion light years to travel to us? I quote wikipedia:

The age of the universe is about 13.7 billion years, but due to the expansion of space we are now observing objects that are now considerably farther away than a static 13.7 billion light-years distance. The edge of the observable universe is now located about 46.5 billion light-years away.

I know. Things are starting to get a bit mind-bending. I'll close with one further calculation. The observable universe consists of everything out there, the light of which has had time to reach us. That's why our observable universe centers on the planet earth. Not because we're especially significant, but because we are here, observing. Light from all around the expanding universe has been traveling towards us (and every other point in the universe) since it was first emitted. The light that has been able to reach us creates the outer sphere of the observable universe for us. Life on another planet at another point in the universe would have a different observable universe. Which begs the question, how much bigger is the universe than what is observable for us? There is stuff beyond that threshold. One scientist has estimated that the rest of the universe is 24 times the size of our observable universe. That's potentially another 80 billion galaxies 24 times over.

So here we are, feeling important and superior because of our microwave ovens and great literature. But we are a completely insignificant dot of nothing against the cosmic background. I mean really. Try and let the depth of what you just read sink in. We're a brief hiccup against cosmic space. Our entire civilization is a fraction of a blink of an eye against cosmic time. Our entire power output since the dawn of man wouldn't light a candle in the universe. We are so fragile compared to the monstrously violent, enormously powerful vacuum we orbit inside of.

Some of you know I'm an atheist. For me, compared to the awesome majesty which is just our observable universe, our small concepts of god can be a little petty and silly. Please keep reading. I don't mean to insult any of you that do believe in god. I just want to explain why this topic is so dear to my heart. In a universe so much mind-bogglingly bigger than us, the need for a creator god goes out the window. Our god concepts and religions have simply been us trying to understand our place in the world. Now we know our place, and it's much smaller and insignificant than we ever could have imagined. Just 400 years ago, prior to Galileo, the dominant view of the cosmos was that earth was directly at the center, with the sun orbiting the earth. We've learned quite a bit since then. As our significance in the universe decreases, the idea that an all powerful god would somehow stake his entire career on us gets less sensible.

The "my god is greater than your god" game is meaningless when placed against a backdrop 30 to 70 sextillion other stars. Why do none of our religious texts mention the entirety of god's creation? Because we didn't know about it when we wrote them. For me, all our religious beliefs do is separate us. Create "us against them" mentalities. They are harmful to human life, as is any divisive philosophy. Especially given how insignificant we are on the cosmic stage. Instead of laying a supernatural realm over our reality, just try and step back. Our universe is bigger, more complicated, and more amazing than anything man could ever dream up. And we are so unimportant in that context. The star Antares doesn't know we're here, and wouldn't care a whit if it did.

I've been asked by a few people, indirectly, (you know who you are) how I could possibly not believe in god. This is how. Human civilization has come, and will go, in an instant compared with the age of the universe. No story we can ever tell, no religious text we can ever formulate will be able to infuse meaning into such a brief stay on a such a infinitesimally tiny swath of universal real estate. The universe is far more than any human mind could ever encompass, and I'm happy to be forever entranced by that beauty. For me, having to involve a creator god simply diminishes the grandeur of the universe, in a desperate attempt to create meaning that just isn't there.

We humans are meaningless, except to each other. So instead of fighting over ancient beliefs, trying to dominate each other for no good reason, let's work together to better our world and our lives. No one's going to do it for us. Not the universe, for sure. We barely exist as far as it's concerned. There is no god entity out there to save us from ourselves. It's us and us alone. Let's make the best of our time here and stop arguing over meaningless philosophies.

Our place in the universe is a positive because it shows us that life is meaningless, except for the meaning we give it. Let's make that meaning universally good for once.

One planet, one people.

Saturday, July 18, 2009


I've always been a little fascinated by mirrors. The illusion of an alternate reality they create is alluring, especially for a child's mind. I remember, as a kid, staring into the bathroom mirror of my childhood home, imagining it was a portal into a similar but slightly different version of "things as they were." Like Alice in "Through the Looking Glass".

My cat Banjo was similarly convinced of the mirror world's substantiality. He would perch himself in front of full length mirrors and watch the reflections of people in the room as if they were the actual people themselves. The he'd go up on his hind legs and started feverishly scratching at the mirror in a desperate attempt to join everyone on the other side of the "window". It was hilarious...and a little sad. Banjo wasn't the brightest bulb in the bunch.

As an adult I'm still somewhat enticed by the illusion. It's amazing to me what a difference mirrors can make in a small room. Throw one on the wall and suddenly your room appears to double in size. In an instant a flat surface transforms into a lifelike room addition, and a claustrophia-inducing space is expanded into a breathable environment.

Plus mirrors allow you to fix your hair. Very positive.

Art Beyond Boundaries

I love the idea of art for art's sake. Yes, it can be pretentious and way too out of the box sometimes. But the idea of coming up with something that no one else has attempted and then displaying it for the world to see is pretty amazing. At Artscape (The biggest free art festival in the country and only a bike ride away.) they have one strip of really bizarre art. My favorite this year is a human Foosball court, where people are tied together trying to get a big cushioned ball into the other teams goal. The people leading the game are making crazy sound effects as the games go on. Really funny stuff, I'll get some pics of it today.

They also have decorated "art cars", my favorite is one with a million different kinds of cameras attached to every inch of the car. They are very strategically placed so everything lines up perfectly. I thought I had a nice camera collection, but this person wins. I like to think about how these people brainstormed these ideas and how long it took to make their visions come to life. "Today I'm going to start decorating a car with a million cameras", who does that?! I'm betting a lot of artisans of this medium are a bit off their rocker. I really admire and love the idea of people thinking and creating outside the boundaries of the norm and I can't wait to see more of it today.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Power Napping

I love napping, I know it's not the most productive thing to do, but I do love it. I go through a moment of hating myself after I take a nice nap, but really it was great and could do it all the time. Horrible I know. The computer was really acting up this morning, so I had to sit and stare at it for a while, I started falling asleep while doing that, so what did I do, I got up and passed out in my bed for an hour. Now, that I'm writing about it hopefully I won't do it again today. Stay awake Kate!

The Creative Process

I guess I do it all the time, but it still amazes me, this process of creating something from nothing. Every day I stare at a stark white, blank "New Post" form in Blogger and manage to conjure up a cohesive (I hope) entry. For the last almost fifteen years I've spent my days cobbling together commercials, training films, and other corporate communications, often from thin air. It's all gotten easier over time, of course, the process becoming more organic and natural for me. But it's no less mystifying. I often feel like I'm simply along for the ride. A bystander more than an active participant.

I've heard that many artists already know what the project they're working on is supposed to look like. They can see it in their heads, or at least have a strong sense of the final work before they land the first brush stroke. The process of creation then becomes a realization of that vision. They know they're finished when the two images match. For me it's not like that. I do have a vague sense of direction before I start a project. An impression of a potential path. A jumping-off point. But that's it. To chip away at the white space I simply start somewhere and watch along with everyone else as the work develops. I'm usually pretty surprised by the final product, having simply been the button pusher for my subconscious mind.

The creative process, I think, remains both intimate and alien for a large percentage of the people who engage in it. It's a familiar set of experiences that's never the same twice. An extremely active pursuit followed in a sort of haphazard, passive manner. Sort of like shooting baskets at a moving target with your eyes closed, with only muscle memory and vague sense of the space around you as your guides.

Case in point. I never would have guessed I'd be using basketball analogies by then end of this entry.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Show Redemption

I like it when a show I once enjoyed thoroughly comes back and redeems itself, becoming the show I fell in love with again. Both Weeds and So you Think you Can Dance have done that for me this week.

I usually get so engrossed in SYTYCD, loving the dance numbers, the couples energy together, and the unbelievable talent. This year's show has been lacking in all those categories; the couples haven't had much chemistry, everyone is equally talented with no real standouts, and the dance numbers except for maybe two have been a tad boring. Last night Travis, a past winner, choreographed Jeanine and Jason in the most beautiful performance of the season. The dance was incredibly powerful and original. This really redeemed the show for me. I hope to see more powerful numbers like that one after this show. The judges were all in tears it was such a glorious masterpiece. I can't display it on my entry because none of the resources will allow embedding. If you're interested in seeing it you can go to:

Weeds is a great show and the first three seasons were the best and then seasons four and five have kind of just been too over the top, a bit unrealistic. I felt the old energy and tone of the show coming back to the surface the last two episodes, the relationships are getting more complex and the humor of the show returning. It's still too serious at times, but the drama of it all is more interesting than it's been. I also feel myself falling hard for Andy, the Jewish brother-in-law. He's is so clever and such a cutie. Anyways it's getting good again, I hope it keeps it up.

Chocolate, with Bacon

Sounds strange, right? I thought so, too, but a still, small voice, located somewhere between my brain and my stomach reassured me, and goaded me into trying it. "How could it be bad?", it said confidently, with a small rumbling of hunger to accent its point. "After all, accidental syrup spills onto your breakfast bacon just make a good thing better. How different are syrup and chocolate?"

I couldn't argue. Sweet and savory often make a great combination. I'm not an over-the-top chocolate fan generally, but I like it. And I love bacon. Baconing up anything sounds like a good idea to me. So I tried an eight dollar bar of gourmet medium dark chocolate with bacon pieces scattered throughout.

It was proof that you could add bacon to drywall spackle and have a hit at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival. Bacon illuminates everything good in chocolate. The salty complements the sweet on a basic level, and the smokey notes of meat cradle nicely in the bittersweet dark of the chocolate. It was easily the best (and most expensive) chunk of chocolate I've ever eaten, and I'd recommend it to any chocolate lover. The manufacturer of the bar I had was Vosges Haut-Chocolat. From what I can gather, they removed the "e" in order to make room for the bacon. I'd be more than happy to eat Chocol if it meant even more bacon in the mix.

Ummm...Chocolacon. How about these beautiful looking desserts?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Sasha Baron Cohen the controversial Genius

Sasha Baron Cohen is one gusty SOB. We saw his next controversial film Bruno last night, and it was even more crude than Borat. He is one crazy genius. He pushes all elements to their most extreme boundaries. I'd say I enjoy Borat more than Bruno, but it was still freaking hilarious. He is beyond talented with the way he consumes the characters he portrays. He is fearless and no one pushes the political envelope as far as he does and gets away with it. Did I mention yet that he's another beautiful and brilliant Jew?! He's so hot when he's not in character.

I admire the man for getting to the core of the hate that goes on in this world everyday. He shows how awful people can be. His extreme acts bring the hate people have to the surface, making you realize that deep rooted racism does exist in this world and probably will continue to forever. Cohen at least makes the ignorance known and visible. Thanks Sasha for creating such controversial masterpieces, you are one-of-a-kind and hot as all hell.

Kurt Vonnegut's Eight Rules of Writing Fiction

I discovered these yesterday, through a random tweet from someone I don't know. Vonnegut was one of the greatest writers of the last half decade. Although I haven't read them all yet, I own at least one copy of every one of his novels. Breakfast of Champions is so far my favorite, though a few of his short stories are in close competition. So I was pretty jazzed when I found these, Kurt's Eight Rules for Writing Fiction.

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.
I have to admit that some of these are fairly counter-intuitive for me. And some I don't really understand. Number five falls into that category. Is that telling you to establish a short, shallow story arc? I can't imagine that. It does seem to pair with number eight. If you're giving your readers as much information as possible up front, your essentially rolling out the ending before you get there. Which seems counter-intuitive. To heck with suspense? I always thought suspense was one of the main avenues for tension development. I suppose it aligns with what I've read of Vonnegut. Character studies to the core. His writing is all about the internal life of his characters. The story arc exists primarily as a substrate for Vonnegut to flesh out his players. Numbers two, three, four and six all support this view of writing. I guess there's no harm in giving up the map when it's the mapmakers you're concerned with.

Or is this some sort of devious misdirection?

I need more time to think about this. I'd really like to find an online discussion and read how other people interpret these maxims, especially other professional writers. I might share more when I find it.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Love me some Hosting

I really enjoy throwing small parties at our house. Sunday we threw a brunch for Jae's mom for retiring from teaching. Steph, John, Jackson, Jan, David, and Judy came over. Just the right amount of people. I made roasted potatoes with onion and peppers and I made banana pudding from scratch. All the food was great and everything seemed to go pretty smoothly. I like being the host. Especially cause you can drink all you want and just pass out when everyone leaves without having to decide who drives. And that's exactly what we ended up doing. We had mimosa's, Bloody Mary's, and Southsides for the drinkers to enjoy. I love brunch food and beverages. Jackson was as cute as ever. It was a blast and I can't wait for the next party. Bring it on!

Deep Understanding

It's one thing to know generally how to do something. But it makes a huge difference when you start to get a deep understanding for what's going on behind the scenes, how the process really works.

As an example, I've been doing web design projects on the side, learning as I go. I've been using CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, more and more, as CSS is now the preferred method for page layout and design. And I've learned how to use it well enough, but on a surface level. I knew which tags I needed to accomplish certain things, but I didn't have a complete understanding of how and why CSS and HTML together were doing what they were doing.

So I started reading about the mechanics below the surface; Why the these mark-up languages were designed the way they were. Their strengths and weaknesses. Ways to integrate the two more fully. I'm slowly developing a much deeper understanding of the process. Not just the how, but also the why. It's making a real difference already. Suddenly thorny little needling "bugs", where my code doesn't perform the way I think it should reveal themselves for what they really are. Not errors in code, but holes in understanding. Code left incomplete because a lack of understanding regarding what was happening below deck.

When you learn a new skill, regardless of what it is, try and go as deep as you can. It's not enough to know just the how, the basic skills. Knowing the why can help quickly get you out of jams, because applications can differ slightly from situation to situation. When elements change in a given system, knowing just the basics will get you stuck. But knowing deeply what's going on allows you to alter your methods without having to relearn new basics. You become more nimble. More effective.

So go deep, ya'll. Go deep.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fearless Karaoke

I gained real confidence this weekend at my friend Kate's Karaoke Birthday bash. I've always been able to get up there and sing in groups or maybe do one solo as I shook in horror. This time I went with complete confidence, singing multiple songs by myself. I started with the Squeeze song Tempted. As I was singing in this white trash hole in the wall bar, a fight broke out. Guess what I did? I kept my cool and kept on singing. Everyone in our party was proud of me for staying calm and finishing my song. I've got to say that was the first time my voice caused a brawl.

Then I sang PJ Harvey's Down by the Water, which Jason said was my best. I finally chose the right songs for my voice. They were more talky songs with attitude. That's what I need to stick with. I finished the night off with the Violent Femme's song Add it Up. I love singing and this really gave me the chance to feel that energy of the spotlight. I really had a great time.

Jason sang many songs and his voice was amazing as usual. At one point I came out of the restroom and he was doing a duet with this fantastic girl singer. My jealousy went away fast because they sounded so good. I would love to be a girl rock star, but I'll settle with Karaoke every so often. My fears are gone and I'll hopefully forever be able to sing my heart out in front of a bunch of strangers. It's really exhilarating.

Jason's Dime Store (or Nickel Bag) Being-ness Discussion

Last night, by random chance, I came across something that I wrote down years ago. I really don't remember when, or what provided the impetus, but it doesn't really matter. I obviously felt it was important to jot it down then, and knowing the Jason of eight to ten years ago as well as I do, I know why. The current Jason likes the thought just as much, and still has no answer to the question. So I'll share it with you and let you roll it around for a while. This entry falls into the "positive" category because it asks a question that gooses my grey matter just the right way and creates a whole host of other interesting questions. So I'll quote what I wrote first. Then they'll be a discussion period, followed by shortbread cookies and punch at the back of the multi-purpose room.

Here's what I wrote:

Let's say you're involved in an accident and suffer complete amnesia; your name, your past, everything. Not a shred of who you are is left. Is the first question you ask yourself, "Who am I?" or does the fact that you don't know only occur to you when someone else asks you, "Who are you?" In other words, does the human sense of self, stripped of identity, need or seek one automatically? Is it enough to say, "I am" or is it essential that we entwine that with, "and who is that?"

Whoa, Jason, that's off the hook, man. You're blowin' my mind.

Thanks, reader who's reacting to this question exactly as I hoped they would. I love this thought experiment, but until I find someone who's had the experience detailed above, I'll never be able to adequately answer it. It's important though, I think, because it gets at the root of who we are as people. Is our identity a necessary, emergent property of the human mind, or is it just a mask layered over the only real truth we can muster; that we are. That we exist. And not that we are "someone", because that's identity, but just that we are. That we exist as self-aware entities. Small dots of raw awareness bound up in, and inseparable from the small lump of squishy, nerveless brain matter floating in our skulls. What is the identity we've layered over that awareness?

It is just an assemblage of behaviors and reactions to stimuli that we've learned since birth? We come into the world raw, and we're immediately given a name and a back story, as the child of so and so, grandchild to so and so and so and so, etc. From there we slowly learn our relationship to the rest of the world around us. Each and every person. Each object we come into contact with. Each experience we have. As we naturally learn language, and with that the ability to think as we know it, the words and concepts are intimately bound up with the experience of learning. The people that guide us through the process. Our mistakes and successes.

Over a period of a few years we go from being a blank slate to being pretty much the person we're going to be for the rest of our lives, though in an immature, unpolished form. That raises a few questions. Is the infant mind primed to accept an identity, apart from outside influences? From the moment it enters the world, is the baby's awareness seeking out an answer to who it is? Is that "identity adoption" process an automatic response for a naked mind? Would our amnesia patient, stripped of his identity, immediately begin seeking a new one? If that need to identify exists in infants, does it stop once the human brain is fully matured? What part of us is the real us?

Our amnesia patient loses his memories. He loses his past. His name and his back story. But his language is still there. His basic knowledge of the outside world remains. His conceptual reference points for being a person remain. That's the difference between an infant and our amnesia case. The infant can't frame a question. But is the seemingly automatic process of identity adoption a de facto proof that the infant would ask the question if they had the language to do so? Is the question "who am I" the root of awareness, a necessary offshoot of awareness, or unnecessary cultural baggage built up over time?

I don't know. Please, if any of you have any thoughts you'd like to share here, drop them into a comment. I'd love to start a discussion about all this.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Be Thankful Everyday

Well it was a very fulfilling weekend, but I think I'm going to touch upon an event that occurred a few days ago. The subject matter is not a positive one, but the end result is something to be thankful for. My sister and my two beautiful nephews were in a terrible car crash Thursday. Blake and Kerri walked away with scratches and bruises and Kaiden had to stay over night at the hospital for observation. He was just in pure shock, so they were concerned he might have a concussion. Kerri was such a strong and loving mother the whole time. She's an amazing lady.

Everyone is now still shaken up and beat and battered some, but overall doing amazingly well. Let's be completely thankful everyday for all the loving family we have in our life. It was so terrifying getting that phone call. All you can do is hope and pray that everyone makes it out alive and healthy. Thanks to good car manufacturing and well structured car seats and seat belts my family is still here with me today. I am so unbelievably thankful. We must continue to talk to and if you can hug the people that we hold deep to our hearts everyday. I love you Kerri, Kaiden, and Blake. This too shall pass and before you know it the bruises will be healed and life will back to its beautiful state.

Growing Your Own Herbs

We're late to this game, but we're becoming big fans. When we planted up our front yard this year, we added, along with our purely ornamental plants, some basic herbs. I think we put in mint, cinnamon basil, lemon basil, dill, and one other that I can't remember. The last two didn't make the evolutionary cut, dying off before they could reach a sustainable size. But the first three are getting to be huge plants!

The obvious benefit is a front yard full of tasty fresh herbs for cooking. We had some family over today for brunch, and we used both types of basil in our breakfast potatoes and the mint in cool summer Southsides.* But here's the cool thing. The herbs look really good as ornamental plants, too. I was a little dubious about placing them right at the front of the yard, but they've become really attractive plants. The basil plants especially get these really nice looking mini flowers all across their heights and they smell amazing. Just walking past them you get strong scents of basil, cinnamon, lemon and mint. To me those smells trump your standard floral scents any day.

Next year I'd like to put in even more herbs so that we never need to shop for spices again. At least not fresh ones. It's a goal.

*Southsides are one of the finest summertime adult beverages you could ask for. Look for the mixer at your local beer and wine store. Not every place carries it, so you'll have to ask around. Trust me, it's worth the search.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Buy what you Love

You got to love impulse buying. I really don't do this very often. The one I did this morning was more like an ironic meant to be purchase.

There's been this lady from FL at the Farmer's Market selling her knitted hats with her sister, who's local, for the past two weeks. The first time we saw her I fell in love with her hats, trying them all on, she thought I was really personable, I gave her my card and everything. Anyways her and this older lady loved this one hat on me. It was more feminine than I'm used too, so I wasn't quite sure about it. Let me also mention the fact that I loved this red hat with a cute rim. I put the feminine hat on again and the old lady yelled out "It even looks good from far away." So I went ahead and bought it, the colors on it were beautiful and I know I would wear it on dressy occasions.

Last week we went to find her out there again. We talked for a little bit, I knew she'd be going back to Florida, so it was my last chance to buy the red hat. Not having any money on me I decided it wasn't meant to be, maybe I would go to her website and buy it.

So I went this morning, she wasn't there, but guess what was - All her hats sitting on a table. Her sister had kept them to sell. The red hat was there! I had just gotten $60 out of my account. Enough to buy the hat, fruit, and breakfast danishes. I finally have the hat I loved from the beginning! Sometimes impulse buying is meant to be and don't let others influence your purchases, only you know what you like.