Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Fuzzy Bunny's Rainbow Paradise

Sorry to disappoint. The title of this entry is a little misleading, but I thought it had more drawing power than, "A Positive Re-framing of Prison Time in American Society." I promise, as a gesture of good faith, to work little Fuzzy Bunny into the narrative.

So I read a short blurb earlier this morning that did a nice job of re-framing the purpose of prison time. It struck me as a really positive way to view what we generally see in purely negative terms. Instead of viewing prison as a punishment for crimes committed, try instead to think of it as a protection for society against repeat offending. That's a powerful distinction because it changes the way we approach the assignment of prison time per offense.

If prison is viewed as a punishment, than every criminal deserves it, even non-violent offenders, and those who commit victimless crimes (drug offenders, for instance.) Prison as punishment satisfies a primal human emotion. The need for retribution. But is retribution the proper emotion to feel when someone is caught smoking a joint, or stealing canned goods from a Shop and Save to feed his or her family?

Prison isn't always the appropriate answer for crime. In fact many soft criminals become much worse in a prison environment. Instead of thinking of prison as society's "pay back" for ill deeds, consider it as a way of protecting society from violent criminals, or people likely to offend again.

Take Fuzzy Bunny for instance, an "enforcer" for a prominent mafia family. His past indicates that, if given the chance, he'd likely kill/maim/cause general mayhem again. So we put him in a cage and lock the door. We don't let him prey on society again. Any convicted violent criminal should be given jail time to keep them safely tucked away from the general population. Same for anyone convicted of a victimed crime that is likely to repeat the offense.

But if prison is intended as a protection and not a punishment, would it be right to lock up victimless crime offenders? No. Not remotely. Putting a drug user in prison protects no one, most especially not the user. Since when has prison been considered a safe place? Nor is it right to lock up petty criminals if it can be demonstrated that, in all likelihood their crime was an isolated event. If, by placing an offender in prison we aren't protecting the rest of society, then prison isn't an appropriate way to deal with the situation.

I read somewhere recently that it costs around $22,000 a year to keep a single prisoner in jail, and that our prisons are horribly over-crowded. Here's what wikipedia has to say about incarceration in the U.S.

The United States has the highest documented incarceration rate in the world at 738 persons in prison or jail per 100,000 (as of 2005). A report released Feb. 28, 2008 indicates that more than 1 in 100 adults in the United States are in prison.

The U.S. population currently stands at 307,513,000, based on UN estimates as of July 1, 2009. Adults comprise 74% of that population, or 228,182,000. That would put our current prison population at slightly over two and a quarter million people. That's a prison tab of nearly five billion dollars a year! I think a re-framing or our current view of prison would be an extremely positive step for the United States. If, by placing someone in prison we would not be protecting society at large, that person doesn't belong there. Other "punishments", less expensive for the taxpayers, and less damaging for the individual would be appropriate.

And there should be rainbows. A paradise full.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Love Food Network



Food Network is definitively one of my favorite networks. It just puts me in a good mood as soon as I put it on. I love watching people make delicious food as they tell me in great detail how to make it myself. So many of my best dishes have been inspired by recipes from their website and shows. They have great personalities. One of my favorite chefs is Paula Deen. Her food might be rich, but who can resist it's yummy-ness. Then there's The Barefoot Contessa. I love her mellow personality and her food is to die for. Finally there's the food genius, Alton Brown who has the ability to put anyone in a trance during his food rants. Jason has a huge crush on Giada de Laurentiis and it's true that her sultry stature would make anyone drool a bit, but she is also an amazing chef and a wonderful teacher. I'm also enjoying shows like the locally produced Ace of Cakes and the Extreme Cuisine with Jeff Corwin.

Simple Pleasures, Part 2

This is the second entry to fall under the moniker, Simple Pleasures, though I'm sure it's not the second entry dealing with the subject.

As defined in Section five, paragraph two of the Blog Creation and Made Up Document Charter for this site, simple pleasures are those small moments in life, usually fleeting and entirely unpredictable, that help make the intervening time worthwhile. They don't have to be especially meaningful. They just exist as rest stops and pee breaks on the road trip of life.

One of these, for me, happens more often in the fall than any other time. The temperature is dropping, especially at night, becoming more unpredictable. You're not sure whether you should leave the air on, shut it off, or open the windows for a comfortable night's sleep. Going with the windows open saves energy but opens you to the risk of a muggy room or one a bit too warm. Or the opposite. And that's the scenario I'm talking about here.

You go to sleep with just a top sheet, comfortable. At some point in the middle of the night though, you wake up. You're cold, though your brain my only partially recognize thatt as the reason for your inability to return to sleep. You toss and turn for a while, trying unsuccessfully to pass back out. And then, happiness. You realize in your half stupor that an extra blanket is all you need to remedy things and return to that dream you were having about the battle in space with the lasers and the flying. You reach down, pull up the comforter hanging limply off the bottom of the bed. Instant bliss. The cold recedes. The goose bumps dotting your arms melt away along with your consciousness and the warmth of sleep returns.

That's a moment worth coming back for.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Soap Excellence

Jason, I'm so proud of you, your first batch of soap is awesome. Yes, it's lacking scent and I would prefer it to be a little more moisturizing. But really once you out of the shower for a bit and it drys your skin feels great. I don't think the bursts of yellow are that weird either, it's almost like you meant for it to do that. I can't wait to get my hands dirty with you next weekend, so I can say I contributed in making the next batch. Then we can both say "yeah that's right, we make soap."

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Soap Update

Saturday afternoon I created our first batch of soap. I wasn't sure I was going to go through with it. I was nervous all day and kept putting it off. I finally pulled everything out so that I either had to go through with it or clean up everything for no good reason.

It was the lye I was nervous about. Adding powdered lye to water creates a chemical reaction so violent it can heat the water to near boiling almost instantly. I had no idea what to expect. But I followed protocol and it ended up being somewhat anti-climactic. It was pretty cool though, overall. It did heat the water almost to its boiling point. But it wasn't violent. Just warm and misty.

Overall the batch was a success. I took it out of the mold today and tested its PH. Right where it should be. I sliced it into bars and stuck it on a rack to cure. That takes up to a month, but I plan on testing it every couple days to get a better understanding of what happens during the curing process. Cool stuff.

I screwed two things up, though. The first was a shortcut gone wrong, and the other was just stupidity at work. I added the colorant in its powder form directly into the combined soap mixture. You're supposed to dissolve it water or oil first and then add it, but I thought I could speed things up a bit. You can't, and I know why now. It doesn't dissolve in a saponifying mixture. So our soap bars have specks of undissolved colorant that will burst into temporarily skin-staining blasts of yellow whenever they reach the surface and come into contact with water. Needless to say we won't be distributing bars from this batch. But lesson learned.

The second mistake involved the mold. I built the soap mold myself from 1 x 6 and 1 x 4 pine beams. It came out nice, I thought, but the wood I used for the base was bowed a bit down the middle, causing the sides of the mold to slant in slightly. It didn't dawn on me what a problem that would be until I tried to get the soap out of the mold. It was stuck. The mold was wider at the bottom than at the mouth and so was the soap block. I had to destroy the mold to get the soap out. Given that any soap I made in the mold would get stuck, it was no major loss. I'll build another one this week, careful to keep it slightly wider at the mouth than at the base. Lesson learned.

I'm going to shower tomorrow morning with one of our new bars. Apart from the yellow dye explosions, I'm excited. This weekend we're making batch number two, sans mistakes. Hopefully.

MORNING UPDATE: The soap is soap. It works brilliantly. The scent didn't really come through (add more next time) and it does erupt in blasts of yellow (the next batch won't), but it lathers nicely, is mild on the skin, and rinses clean away with a slightly moisturizing afterglow. That's the best part for me. Kate likes moisturizing soap, but I usually can't stand it because it never really feels like it rinses off of you. This soap seems to be a good middle ground. I'm curious to see what Kate thinks.

I Could Save Your Life!

Quick certification classes are the coolest concept. I just got back from a 7 hour CCBC class titled First Aide and CPR for Young Children and Adults. It was very informative. You watch one section of a video while following through with your provided manual, then you discuss in the class, and take a short quiz, and then continue that pattern.

You have a partner and you practice some of the first aide procedures with them as you go through, such as stopping a bleed and the Heimlich Maneuver. Then when you get to the CPR section you practice on dummies going through the steps one by one. You go through different possible scenarios and keep practicing. The instructor then tests each person making sure they hit each point. We then had to do the same thing with baby dummies.

How scary it would actually be to use these procedures in real life, but at least I know them now and will feel more comfortable and knowledgeable to help out in these situations. We all left with our certified CPR cards, that last two years. How cool, I can now help in saving a life from a one day class.

P.S. Hey Kate R, I learned how to use an epinephrine shot, so next time we go to the Ren Fest we're covered.

A Fantasy with Deep Roots

I've had a vision of my future for years, a possible path as of yet untrodden. I've imagined it a myriad different ways, but there is one unifying element, common to all of them. Each one casts me as a creative conduit, channeling some sort of beauty into the world, something that hadn't existed previously, and taking a huge amount of pleasure from the process.

I've imagine myself as some sort of artisan, making useful objects out of leather or wood and selling them at crafts festivals around the country. I've fantasized about being a novelist, spending hours hunched over a laptop in lazy coffeeshops and remote wilderness cabins. Sometimes I see myself building furniture or, more recently I see myself cooking up huge batches of soap in a multitude of colors and consistencies.

There are three elements to these fantasies that seem to be most important to me. Number one, they satisfy a craving to create. To make something out of nothing, something that other people appreciate and that hopefully exists as something externally meaningful in their lives. Secondly, they create scenarios in which I am the master of my own destiny, architect of my own successes and failures (but mainly successes, is the hope.) Thirdly, they allow me a reason to create a physical space, be it a workshop, a soap station, or a writing den, that is mine, and called into existence for a very specific purpose, a purpose that would serve both my creative drives and my need to earn a living.

I just love the thought of it. Of waking up every morning, and, after a lazy breakfast with Kate, retiring to my office to work on my novel. Or heading into my wood shop to work on a desk, or a table, or some other useful, beautiful object. In my fantasies I'm fulfilled. Ultimately so, happy to meander around the routine I've built for myself and enjoy the spoils of a life geared towards the creation of objects of meaningful permanence.

How does one create such an existence? And do I have the talent for any of it? Those questions are central to the struggle, and the main reasons that my myriad fantasies have remained just that.

But I know that's what I want from life. I've been doggedly dreaming of it for too long for it to be a passing fancy.

It's the doing of it that's difficult.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Shows with Promise

It's not like Jason and I need to add more TV show watching to our schedule, but I do like when a new show shows some promise. So far we really enjoyed Modern Family and The Good Wife. We're trying not to add too many news ones since we're both trying to get some semblance of a life now. Accidentally On Purpose and Cougar Town we're only okay, so if we miss those it won't be the end of the world. We're going to try out Trauma and The Middle next week to see how that is, but I think that's where we're going to stop.

P.S. Mia if you're reading this we should get together Thursday nights for Survivor. Do you watch Grey's, I saw you watch the Office? Talk to you soon. Oh and do you watch Dexter, that starts tomorrow? We're so excited.

The First Batch

The big day has arrived. After I finish this entry, eat some breakfast and go to the grocery store to buy some safety gloves I'm going to whip up our first batch of soap. Kate's working today and has a CPR class tomorrow, so she won't be able to help, unfortunately, but I figure I'll be able to share with her what I learn from this batch, and we'll do the next together.

I'm a little nervous, but mostly excited. I've read enough now that I know how to handle the lye safely, which is really my only concern. Beyond that I just want to get through all the steps once so I can translate what I've read into meaningful actions and empirical knowledge.

This would have happened last weekend, but I discovered at the last minute that lye can't be bought in Maryland in retail locations anymore, other than at a few specialty stores. Red Devil lye, the original commercial retail lye has been discontinued because of lye's other uses. Not only does it function well as a drain cleaner and a soap saponifying agent, it also plays a role in the production of Crystal Meth. I'm sure my name is on a list somewhere now because I purchased eight pounds of lye from an online supplier. But I have no plans to manufacture Meth. I mean, our first soap batch will be a light yellow bar, scented with Tea Tree, Lavender and Crank, but I don't think you'll be able to smoke it.

I do suspect that lye was pulled off of retail shelves because it's harder to track purchases, whereas my online purchase was completed with a name, an address and a phone number. I payed roughly $14 for eight pounds of the stuff. If I were to have purchased it locally at a specialty shop it would have cost me $52 for one pound. Clearly I'm intended to favor online purchase over brick and mortar retail.

So my name may be on a list. It doesn't matter since I'm not intending anything nefarious. I think it's funny what an eclectic list it must be, compiling hardened crank cooks and lavender-laden grandmothers into the same category. Don't worry Homeland Security. Kate and I are hangin' with the latter.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Linway Lounge

Shrimp salad is so amazing, especially when it's made correctly with all the right spices and large fresh shrimp. It's been a family tradition of ours since I can remember to go to Linway Lounge, a dive bar in Parkville, and order a shrimp salad sandwich when any of us were in town. Now that I live here Jason and I make a point to have one every so often, it's so hard to resist when it's right down the street. They will forever be the creator of the best shrimp salad in Maryland! Linway Lounge, my family and I thank you!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Student Becomes the Master


Everthing is entangled. Case in point. My younger cousin Ian went to film school. He's very much on his way to becoming a fairly well-known DP (Director of Photography). But before all that he was just a guy in college tinkering around with the notion of possibly exploring the potential or maybe pursuing a career in film.

Working on one of his first school films, he asked me for assistance. I can't remember anymore what it was he needed, but it was something that, in my capacity at Renegade, I was able to help him with, and Renegade allowed it.

Now, more than a decade later, Ian is an authority on the RED camera, a new form of digital camera that more closely approximates a film camera than any digital video camera ever has. In fact he's written a software package, called Crimson that interfaces with the RED's native files and performs useful operations on them. It's a popular package that many production houses that shoot with the RED camera purchase. Renegade, while it doesn't own a RED camera, rents one on occasion, and thus edits with RED's native video files. And so we've purchased and used Ian's software.

The student has become the master, and I couldn't be prouder of my cousin.

Life's Multi-Tasking

I just got finished reading Jason's entry for today and it made me think about how I enjoy day-to-day life activity shortcuts, such as grabbing anything that needs to go downstairs before you start your way down or doing the dishes real fast as you microwave your tea in the morning. I guess instead of life's shortcuts this is called a woman's way of multi-tasking. I've taken up more and more of these multi-tasking habits since the beginning of my unemployment. It's great to get quick chores done while waiting for another task to complete. Now that I'm working part-time it's great to come home to an empty sink and clean clothes. I'm really getting those motherly attributes, it's especially nice to have these abilities before kids even come into your life. These tricks give you more time to relax and have some quality "me" time. Oh, and I can hang with Jason more too. Hey Jason, don't these short-cuts seem fun too?!!

Shortcuts

While GUI displays in applications make using them more user friendly, they aren't the most efficient ways to use your computer. Using keyboard shortcuts is much faster than say mousing to a menu, clicking to unfurl it, moving down to your given command and clicking it. Maybe not much faster on a per use basis, but over time the savings add up. Learning all the keyboard shortcuts you can for any given application will greatly speed up your use of the program and allow you to get a lot more done.

I use eight different applications on a daily basis at work, and a few more less frequently. Thankfully many shortcuts are shared across all of them, but each has many of its own unique shortcuts, which makes memorization difficult. But it's worth the time. Especially in applications where you tend to perform a lot of the same functions repeatedly, learning the shortcuts is a boon to your productivity. I'd be willing to say that if you just learned the shortcuts for the ten most common functions you use in each application you work with you'll realize huge dividends.

Now if only there were a keyboard shortcut to make this entry less boring.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

It's a New Day

I will have to make this short, since it's bedtime and I almost forgot to do my entry at all today.

I feel like my life is a little bit more in order now, I have a part-time job that's getting me out of the house where I get to take pictures and play with newborn babies all day and today I started the application process for the Baltimore City Teacher Residency Program. Jason and I brainstormed the essay questions together and because of his help I really feel good about the answers and I should be able to complete everything tomorrow with no hangups. Thanks for bringing my confidence level up, Jason. You know me better than I even know myself. Thanks for your love and support!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Simulate This


I was just reading this interesting article I found through a blog I randomly discovered called The Late Night Library latenightlibrary.wordpress.com. The article they were commenting on was originally published on Boing Boing here:

http://www.boingboing.net/2009/01/29/your-brain-on-fictio.html

Here's the not-so-short and nearly skinny. Researchers from the Dynamic Cognition Laboratory at Washington University in St. Louis have found through brain imaging studies that, as we read narrative stories, our brains simulate the events. The same areas in the brain that would activate if we actually performing the actions being narrated fire in response to simply reading about those actions. Your brain makes little distinction between you do, and what other people tell you they did.

For my part I know that when I read, especially when I get lost in the narrative I sometimes forget that I'm reading and, in short bursts, I instead feel like the story is happening around me, or, indirectly, to me. I think this brain reaction is the reason why we enjoy reading so much. And it helps explain why communication in general is so important in human culture. We communicate to share experiences. And our brains are wired to simulate those experiences, so that, quite literally hearing about an event is almost as good as being there.

It makes sense. Our early hunter-gatherer forebears had no written language. They had no way to document important information. Anything that had to be passed from person to person, generation to generation, had to be passed through the spoken word, and had to be remembered. Hence our brains evolved to, upon hearing (or reading) a given narrative, simulate that experience as if it were our own. Experiencing, even indirectly a story personally makes remembering it that much easier, because your brain remembers it as if you were there.

Prehistoric man, upon finding a new watering hole, would have to describe its location to his tribe mates. Their ability to mentally experience the trip as it was described to them made remembering and following those directions later infinitely easier. Today is no different. We've all had the experience of visualizing roads, signposts and landmarks in our mind's eyes as friends are describing driving directions to one place or another.

Our brains are wired to shared experience. We're social creatures. You learn something, we all benefit. You experience it, you describe it to the group, and it's as if we all participated. Isn't the human brain a remarkable thing?

Season for Cinema

I love when any of my favorite directors come out with a new film. There's a couple coming this winter, some that I've already talked about like Spike Jonze's Where the Wild Things Are or Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland. But I came across a few more that I'm really excited for.

From the director of Napoleon Dynamite comes Gentlemen Broncos co-starring Jermaine from Flight of the Concords. It looks totally awesome!! Same kind of off-beat dry sense of humor that I love.



Then there's Lars Von Trier's new creation Anti-Christ. I love studying Lars' past work, especially when he mastered Dogma 95 films, using only available light and mostly improv acting. He's a genius of his craft and now with Anti-Christ he seems to be digging deeper into what's scares humankind. I love a good scary flick, so hopefully Lars terrifies us all with this one.



To lighten things up I'll also touch upon Wes Anderson's new baby, Fantastic Mr. Fox, based on the childhood storybooks. This is Wes' first go at animation. What's great is all his acting clan are in it playing voices. This looks like so much fun for children as well as for adults. I can't wait to see what Wes has in store for us.



It looks to be a great upcoming season for cinema. Bring it on!

P.S. If you want to see the film previews in even better quality go to http://www.apple.com/trailers/ and scroll down to find the flicks.

Thankful For All Five


My right eye has been tender for the last day or two. There's a slight bit of very mild pain when I blink my eye, and a slightly stronger pain if I push on the eyeball. Nothing really bothersome of worry-worthy, I don't think, but I did briefly entertain the notion that there might be something seriously wrong that, left untreated, could cause blindness in my right eye.

I doubt it, but it got my thinking down a path I've traveled many times before. About how I'm so thankful to have all five of my senses. I couldn't imagine living without any one of them. I have a strong respect for any person missing a sense that still manages to live a successful life (I know that's generally all of them, but I don't respect them because they're unique, but because of the difficulty involved.) I especially respect those persons that had a particular sense and then lost it. It's far worse, I'd imagine, to know music, to know the sound of someone's voice, or the beauty of an autumn day, and then be denied the ability to ever experience them again.

Would I function if I ever lost my sight, my hearing, or calamity of calamities, my sense of taste? Of course. I'd have no choice. And who knows? Maybe the amplification of the remaining senses that seems to accompany the loss of any one would make up for what's missing. I already know what it's like to listen to music with my eyes closed, or stare out at a distant valley from a silent mountaintop. The absence of one makes the others more insistent, more pertinent, and even more highly appreciated. Music, without visual distraction, takes on an internal visual component. It seems to exist more definitively in space. And vision without sound has a purity it's not normally granted.

So if I'm ever faced with the loss of a sense, I think I'll do fine. I'll adapt. But I am grateful to random chance and kismet that, as of yet, that isn't a scenario I have to face.

Monday, September 21, 2009

NPH is Awesome!

Neil Patrick Harris is the best. He is so charismatic. In his role as Barney in How I Met Your Mother he's the one that lights up the screen with streams of laughter. It wouldn't be the same without his hilarious lines and great character acting. The shows season premiere is tonight and I just can't wait. Last night they had him host the Emmy Awards Show and he was fabulous. He kept everyone rolling with his funny gags, he definitely was the best host in years. Thanks Neil for being so darn funny. Also check him out in his online blog musical creation called Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, it's pure genius.

Escaping into a Good Book

As I've mentioned a number of times on this blog, books are a favorite item of mine. I've talked about my fascination with shopping for books, buying books, and owning books, but I've yet to mention how much I enjoy reading them. Buying and owning are pointless without using. You can buy racks and racks of clothing, but if you don't wear them, you'll be thrown in jail for indecent exposure (which will give you plenty of time to read a book.)

It often take me a few chapters to really get into a book. I've put down and never finished many, many books because they sparked but never combusted. But once I'm sucked in, I'm in for good. I hate putting the book down, and generally charge head-long for the finish as quickly as possible. But the funny thing is my sprint for the finish has a two-prong reason. One is obvious. I'm into the story and want to know how it plays out. But I'm also at that point thinking about the next book I want to read, and I find myself wanting to finish my current book so I can move on.

I'm like a serial lover of books in that way. I fall in love with a book, which makes me fall in love with falling in love with books, which leads me to think about other books and how great it would be to fall in love and read those books. Once I'm in that mode I can devour book after book, a cycle that finally ends when I hit a book that just doesn't measure up. I lose interest, in that moment, not just with that particular story, but with reading in general. It sometimes takes a few months before I find a book that starts the cycle over again.

Thankfully I have a lot of books to serve as kindling.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Funny Man

I love when I find a new comedian that really just knows how to speak the truth. This morning I watched the first thing that came on and it just happen to be this great comedian named Tom Papa, he was absolutely hilarious. He spoke all the truths that we think about everyday, but don't have the guts to say out loud.

Tom Papa Crazy Comedy Clip


Funny, Funny, Man!!

Power Tools


(Imagine your best Tim Allen impersonation throughout this entry.)

I'm not usually one to get all stereotypical "guy"-like, but man I love to buy new power tools. Even if they're just replacements for older, non-functional tools I already own. Like Friday. I did some research on Consumer Reports at work at the end of the day, drove to Lowes and bought a new power miter saw. My old saw still works, but the angles are completely out of whack, and seemingly nonadjustable. I've used it recently, to the detriment of my projects. So for all practical purposes, it's dead.

Yesterday I cracked out the new one, which, by the way comes equipped with a laser! I was cutting wood to build molds for our soap projects. What a difference the new saw made! It made clean cuts at, what a novelty, perfect right angles. I was disappointed to learn that the laser is for guidance purposes only, and doesn't actually do the cutting.* Ah well. My next saw will bladeless, and will cut wood with the power of the mind.

So yeah. As humans, there's certain purchase classes that get our blood pumping especially hard. It's different for everyone. Kate gets juiced over clothing and skin care products. My kryptonite is books, electronics, and power tools.

And I don't even use the tools that often. I just like to have them.



*I didn't actually think the laser would do the cutting. My right to use power tools would be revoked if I'd truly entertained that notion. But a guy can dream.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Delicious Yummy Pot Roast

I made very yummy pot roast yesterday with celery, carrots, red potatoes, and onions. The sauce called for honey, fresh thyme, and red wine, which came out absolutely divine. Jason and I could not get over how wonderful it was while we were eating it. Sometimes my good cooking abilities surprise the heck out of me.

More on the Speed of Light

This is a favorite subject of mine, so I thought I'd delve a little deeper than I did yesterday. This may be old hat to some of you, but others might find it interesting.

The question I presented yesterday was essentially, "How can extreme distance cause the past to appear as the present?" To get a better fix on the solution, imagine we're all at a baseball game, box seats. A batter comes up to the plate, we'll call him Swingy McBallsmacker. He lines up, receives the pitch and cracks a home run out into the stands.

At that moment, if we're paying attention we'll notice that the sound of the crack of the bat comes a second after we see Swingy hit the ball. We've probably all experienced that, and we likely all know the explanation. Sound travels much slower than light, so while the light bouncing off of Swingy as he hits his home run reaches our eyes nearly instantaneously, the sound takes a perceivably longer amount of time to get to our ears. And the further away our box seats are from the action the longer the delay we'll perceive between the sight of the bat striking the ball and the resulting crack. In a sense, we're hearing the past, sensing with our ears an event that has already occurred.

Sound travels at 768 mph, or roughly one mile every five seconds. So if our box moved out to ten miles from Swingy and his triumphant home run, assuming our ears were sensitive enough we'd hear the crack 50 seconds after we saw Swingy swing. We'd be listening almost a minute into the past. But, assuming the glass windows of our box allowed us to telescopically see the batter from any distance away, even ten miles away we'd see Swingy's home run in realtime. Light travels at 186,000 miles a second. At that speed, even at 1,000 miles away the light coming from the action at the plate would reach our eyes nearly instantly.

But the point here is that light, like sound, travels at a finite speed. Like sound, if we got sufficiently far away so that we outstripped the distance light can travel in a given time period, we would sense the light from events, and thus see those events delayed from their actual happening. Imagine our box tore free from its moorings, lifted off into space and traveled a million miles from earth. Because of our telescopic box windows we can still see the stadium and Swingy's home run. However, we'll see it happen almost six seconds after the event occurs. Traveling at 186,000 miles a second the light takes about that long to reach us a million miles away. And the further away we are when Swingy knocks it out of the park the longer our perception of the event will be delayed.

Now imagine that our box is somewhere out in deep space, let's say one light year from earth. A light year is the distance light can travel in a year, or 6.87 trillion miles. Let's say we don't know anything about what's going on back on earth. We point our telescopic windows in the direction of the stadium just in time to see Swingy win it for the team. To our eyes the event just happened. But in actuality the light that allows us to see the event has been traveling toward us for a year. By the time we see Swingy smack the ball out into the bleachers he has long since gone home, finished the season, and started the next. In a very real sense we've just peered one year into the past.

Finally, scrap the box. We're now alien astronomers living on a planet 1o0,000 light years from earth. In the course of our normal investigations we train our telescope on a point of space that happens to be the surface of earth, inside a sports arena, where a strange looking creature with "Swingy" emblazoned on his shirt swings an elongated cylindrical object at a sphere another creature has hurtled at him. We make notes about this latest observation. We've been following the exploits of this distant alien culture for some time. However, our insights are tempered by the fact that what we're seeing took place 100,000 years ago. It has taken that long for the light leaving the surface of the earth to reach us. We have no idea what's actually going on for earth cultures in the present. That light is just leaving the planet. In fact, given the time span its likely that humanity no longer exists. 100,000 years is a long time, and while the human cities we're studying now seem strong and vibrant, a lot has happened in the intervening time. Cultures and peoples don't last forever, and it's very possible that the culture we're studying has died off or changed radically.

The point is, we're studying the past. We are seeing, in the present what happened to humanity, if it still exists, 100,000 years in its past. Swingy McBallsmacker is long dead, as is the game of baseball. If humanity still exists 100,000 years after Swingy's exploits it's likely unrecognizable. But we, alien astronomers living 100,000 light years from earth will never know. Or rather we'll have to wait 100,000 years to find out.

That's how extreme distance allows, and in fact forces us to see the past in the present. And it's further evidence of just how cool reality is.

Friday, September 18, 2009

One Down, Substituting Closely Approaching

One test down, one more to go, and then if I pass them both I need to decide if I really want to become a teacher. I really don't know how I did today, it was pretty tough and hard to decipher the outcome. But one is down and many more trial and errors to go. Oh life, isn't it grand. Sorry this isn't a very positive entry, but this is the best I could do today.

On another positive note, my cousin Darra, who teaches at a Parkville Public Elementary School called me and will keep me in mind when they need substitutes. I need the experience in the classroom to know if this is my true calling. Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fun with Space Time


Let's say that you, at age 20 go out on a cloudless night with an immensely powerful telescope, aim it at another, far distant planet 50 light years away. Light, leaving that planet will take 50 years to reach you. At the exact same time, on that far distant planet a member of another sentient species sits out on a cloudless night pointing a telescope back at you. Both of you, looking directly at the spots where each of you are sitting will see nothing. Empty space. Because the light each of you are seeing left that point on the other planet 50 years before each of you got there.

So you see nothing, but, on a lark each of you waves at the nothing you both perceive.

Fast forward 50 years. You're both 70 now, and for fun you both return to the same spot you took your telescopes to fifty years prior. Nostalgically you look back to the same point in space where you once waved to an imaginary alien, an empty spot of soil. Amazingly you now both behold a creature sitting at the spot that 50 years ago was empty. They seem to be young creatures, both peering back at you through a telescope. Excited that your sight-seeing didn't return empty-handed this time you both wave excitedly. And, in seeming recognition of your gesture, the creature on either other end of the telescope waves back.

Of course that wave happened 50 years ago, and was in response to seeing nothing. But, in a sense, there is real contact in the present. At least in the minds of each of our observers. And that's likely the closest we'll come to traveling in time. But it's enough. The farther away we peer into the cosmos, the farther back in time we're seeing. It's very possible that one day we may find another sentient civilization in some far flung part of the universe. But we may be seeing things that happened hundreds or thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of years earlier. By the time we find them, they may already be gone. But we can still watch their past. Observe them as our two stargazers observed each other fifty years in each other's pasts. We can observe but we can't participate.

Time travel is a spectator sport only.

Being Overly Prepared is a Good Thing

Being overly prepared for something is better than not being prepared enough. I've learned this lesson first-hand when I figured out that all the studying I've been doing for the past week and a half has been real overkill. I was given notes from a friend that went through the subjects like: Social Studies, Economics, Biology, Chemistry, Math, English, Politics, Geology, Writing, and a few more. It comes to find out that the Praxis I I am taking tomorrow morning only consists of writing, reading, and math. And my guess is that all those other subject matters are on the Praxis II, which I also have to take eventually, so really I didn't waste my time, I'm now just ahead of the game. Well, now I'm going to do something relaxing, since I didn't let myself relax like I could have while on vacation. Oh well, I should have read the fine print.

Ultra Capacitors


In electronics, capacitors hold power for later use. In that sense they are like batteries. However they hold far less power than a battery. Thousands of times less, which makes them poor substitutes for current battery technologies. However, ultra capacitors, developed back in the 1960s improved on his disparity by orders of magnitude. These high-capacity capacitors hold only 25 times less power than standard batteries. Still too poor for battery-type applications, given their higher cost to manufacture, but moving in the right direction. And if Joel Schindall gets the funding he needs, a new version of this decades old technology will finally have a chance at reaching commercial viability.

Schindall, a researcher at MIT, has developed an ultra capacitor design that includes carbon nanotubes, microscopic threads of carbon grown off of a sheet of aluminum. These nanotubes increase the surface area available for holding power inside the capacitor, increasing its total capacity by 25 times, bringing the ultra capacitor right in line with standard battery capacity.



Why is that exciting? For one capacitors can be charged completely in a matter of minutes, as opposed to the hours standard batteries require. In the time it would take to fill a tank of gas you could completely recharge an ultra capacitor-powered car. Plus capacitors can release power in quicker bursts than batteries, allowing for improved performance in power hungry applications. And ultra capacitors can be recharged thousands of times, allowing them to last the life of your car, as opposed to the seven or eight years you'll get from a standard battery. And I believe, although I can't confirm this, that they weigh considerably less than batteries, and less weight means less power necessary to power the same car.

One last positive? Batteries generally require noxious and dangerous chemicals. Ultra-capacitors use aluminum and carbon. Environmentally speaking they're a far safer alternative.

At current funding levels, Schindall has said ten years was the cost-crossover for ultra-capacitors, when the price would likely drop in line with standard batteries. However, if companies began investing in the technology in earnest this arch could be significantly shortened. Given all the benefits, I sincerely hope one of the major automakers takes up the mantle.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Lennon-esque Diversion of Thought

I'd expect to find the following line of thought lodged deeply into the mythology John Lennon created with his lyrics. A little pie-in-the-sky, yes, and probably impossible to achieve. Nonetheless it bears saying, because it would be an awfully nice world to live in.

Imagine (see, Lennon would be proud) if every single person on the planet took great pleasure in the happiness of others. If, in fact, people uniformly based their happiness on the happiness of those around them. They didn't judge people. They didn't think them wrong or immoral for acting any particular way. They simply suffered when those around them suffered and took great joy from bringing joy to others.

To put it more precisely, imagine if every human being was concerned primarily with other people, focusing on themselves secondly. The exact opposite of the model we find most of the planet functioning under currently. It would be a wonderful, powerful feedback loop. I, being one of the human beings under scrutiny here, would expend great effort to bring happiness to my neighbors. This would make them happy, and bring me even more happiness. My neighbors, observing the happiness my efforts in their favor were bringing me would, being that they too were made happy by the happiness of others, have their happiness amplified.

This happiness-building loop would spill out from my small network of people, and from other pockets of happiness-amplification around the globe until the entire planet, from individuals to entire governments, all race and all creeds were united in making the planet as exceptional a place for humans to exist in as possible.

The alternative model (the world as it is now) doesn't work nearly as well. In it individuals strive single-mindedly to bring happiness to themselves. Sometimes they're successful. Often times they're not. But they're working on it alone. And many times they build their happiness on the backs of others' misfortune. Even if they are successful in building a solid, honest foundation of happiness for themselves, that sentiment may or may not make the jump to others around them. After all, they are happy and satisfied. The rest of the world can go about its own way.

I'm speaking generally, of course. There are those already that subscribe to the philosophy I espoused earlier. But those people are the minority. I'm imagining what would happen if those people climbed securely into the majority and beyond. How would you go about realizing a universally "you" centered model instead of the "me" centered one we currently promote? I have no idea. But it sounds awfully good.

Shopping at High Speeds

Fast shopping is sometimes the best way to get what you need and move on to the next objective. Today we were about to leave OC when an outlet shopping center with a Gap came up on our right. Without much hesitation Jason pulled right in. He went straight to The Gap, because he's so particular and knows they usually carry his kind of clothes. I spotted a Bali and went right in knowing that my bra collection had been depleting. I tried on fiften or so and settled on four that fit just right. I think I was out of there and on my way to The Gap in about 35 minutes. Jason was doing great, finding a few sweaters and tee-shirts that he was much needing. I tried on a few sale items and fell in love with a couple of them.

All in all a very successful, fast-paced shopping trip accomplished in about an hour.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

OC's Boardwalk


Ocean City's boardwalk is it's best feature. You really don't need to leave the area; everything you would like to eat, drink, or shop for is right at your disposal, especially if you're staying at a beachfront hotel. Walking the boardwalk can be very relaxing and can be a great source of exercise whether you're biking it, walking it, or jogging it. You can also rent cute bike buggies that you can ride with your friends or family. It's also great for people watching. It's clean with beautiful scenery. It's especially nice this time of the season when most folks are back to work and school, so the beach and boardwalk is a lot less crowded. I've had a very nice time at Ocean City and I'm not looking forward returning to my new career challenges. Thanks Lou and Karin for this wonderful break at a gorgeous location.

Floating in the Ocean


My Dad and I spent about an hour and a half or so floating in the Atlantic yesterday afternoon. What a way to spend a day. Floating in sea water is somehow even more relaxing than floating in a pool. Is it the extra buoyancy that salt water provides or is it just the fact that you're floating out a distance from civilization, surrounded by raw nature (and probably a little bit of raw sewage...but you ignore that bit.)

When I was a kid I loved playing in the waves. Getting clobbered by the big waves, the bigger the better, was the ultimate ocean experience. At some point though, when I got old enough to appreciate what medical waste spills and shark attacks were, I lost that fascination with the ocean. My love for the waves was replaced by a palpable fear, and I spent 15 years or so avoiding the ocean like a plague. Finally in my twenties I went with the family on a beach weekend and talked myself into braving the surf.

That was it. Fear defeated. I know there may be something nasty lurking below the surface, but I also know that encountering it is unlikely. The benefits outweigh the possible detractors. So now I'm back to being in love with the ocean.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Sushi, Sushi


I really enjoy good quality sushi. I love how fresh it tastes and it never seems to make me feel gross no matter how much I eat. I love rolls with eel and eel sauce, spicy scallop rolls, tuna rolls, lump crab meat and avocado rolls, and so much more. I really will try any roll and most of the time really enjoy it. I like nigiri a lot too. It's just a wonderful break from normal American fair. I also really enjoy the salads, tempura, edamame, and miso soups you get at Japanese restaurants. Yummmm...

I recommend the new place we checked out for my birthday Joss Cafe Sushi Bar, it's a popular sushi place out of Annapolis and recently opened a location on Charles St. in Baltimore.

Even If You Can't Sleep

Last night neither Kate nor I could sleep. We tossed and turned until about 3:30 AM, at which point we got up and read for about a half hour or so. After that I think we both slept spottily until 7:00 or so. I think at that point I went out solidly for a bit, and when I woke up at 9:00, Kate was out.

So we didn't get a lot of sleep last night, but it doesn't matter because we're on vacation and we're at the beach. We can nap if we want, sleep on the beach, or, and likely both.

Three days of beach, starting now.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

My Birthday Cheer

I just want to thank the small but amazing group of people that contributed to my awesome birthday yesterday. It was a perfect day of fun, art, music, yummy food, wine, and especially laughter. I love you Lauren, Don, and Jason.

Also want to thank all the birthday shout outs I got through email, phone calls, and Facebook.

Now to continue the fun we're off to The Ren Fest and then Ocean City.

Renaissance Festival


It's such an odd thing, the Ren Fest, a bunch of grown adults playing dress up, running around in the woods calling each other "sire" and "bawdy wench". I'm not one for the dress up portion, but I like going and watching other people do it every year. Since I was a kid I've always enjoyed the Ren Fest, and while there was a long stretch in my twenties when I didn't attend, Kate and I now try and go once a year (we actually both agree that less than once a year is too little, but more than once a year is a bit too much.)

I can't put my hand on what makes the experience for me. I think it's a combination of a lot of things. The food is a big part of it. As I said in a previous post, food is just better when it's served on a stick. The people watching is another strong positive. Rarely do you get such a diverse group of people, from young punky goth kids to old fart pirate impersonators all in one place. It's a cauldron of human interest.

The shows are great, of course, as well, even though it's a lot of the same performers every year. You generally can't fit more than three shows into a single visit, so repetition of performance happens on a bi or tri-annual basis, and not an annual.

I guess it's just the spectacle of the thing. Plus when else do you get to drink mead in the forest, or really drink mead in general?

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Happy Birthday to me!


Happy birthday to me, Happy birthday to me. It's going to be a wonderful weekend and I'm going to start with a short blog entry! Happy Birthday to me!!

How We Manage What We Manage

Today's entry is short, and mostly visual. How, as a species evolved from toothed field mice, do we manage to create seemingly unmanageable beauty like this?



Stars and black holes be damned. Our brains are the single most powerful clumps of matter this side of the Milky Way galaxy. They can order chaos into beauty, make sense of the senseless, and create in the most formidable of circumstances.

I'd love to know where this photo was taken because I'd like to see this in person.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Birthday Joys

I stocked up on all my favorite snacks and drinks yesterday. I also got something we could eat for dinner and lunch the next couple of days so I don't have to cook. Reason being, tomorrow's my birthday and I don't want to have any stressful moments. Lauren's coming into town from NY and a few of us are going out to dinner. Then on Sunday we're meeting a bunch of friends at the Renaissance Fest to hang out and be merry all day. It should be a great birthday!

Here are a few of my favorite things (sing with me):
pistachios
popcorn
cheese and crackers
chicken salad
potato salad
grapes
olives
frozen pizza (I prefer this over pizza delivery, I'm aware that it's strange. :)
black cherry ice cream

As you read in Jason's blog, I also got ingredients for a yummy new drink creation and I picked up a couple 6-packs of our favorite beers.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

I'm No Alcoholic, But...


Sometimes there is nothing better than a well-mixed adult beverage. Notice that I said well-mixed, because that's the crux. If you're simply drinking to get hammered it doesn't really matter what you drink. Axle grease and vodka. Gin and Mountain Dew. Miller Lite.

But if you're drinking for the sake of drinking, with an appreciation for what it is your swallowing, not just any old beverage will do. There's a certain level of refinement necessary to enjoy alcohol for the flavor alone. Care must be given to your choice of alcohols, the mixing components, temperatures, relative densities of liquids and many other factors. And it's very clear to anyone paying attention when the mixture succeeds and when it flops.

I've recently begun drinking Old-Fashioneds. My sister can attest to the level of my devotion. What I've found is that the devil (and the angel) truly is in the details, because the recipe itself is very simple. Here's the recipe as written by Esquire magazine:

Ingredients
  • 1 sugar cube
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • club soda
  • 2 ounces rye whisky

Glass Type: old-fashioned glass

Instructions

Place the sugar cube (or 1/2 teaspoon loose sugar) in an Old-Fashioned glass. Wet it down with 2 or 3 dashes of Angostura bitters and a short splash of water or club soda. Crush the sugar with a wooden muddler, chopstick, strong spoon, lipstick, cartridge case, whatever. Rotate the glass so that the sugar grains and bitters give it a lining. Add a large ice cube. Pour in the rye (or bourbon). Serve with a stirring rod.


That's it. Bourbon, bitters, sugar and a splash of club soda. Mostly bourbon. Too much sugar and it's like candy. Too little and the bourbon clobbers your tongue. Same for the bitters. And of course, the better the bourbon (I've never had one with rye) the better the result. I've had some really stellar Old-Fashioneds now, and some pretty pitiful examples. One of the worst had Sprite added. Blah!

Finesse is the key. Knowing proper proportions and knowing proper procedures. Not to say that creative experimentation is excluded. But you have to have a sense of where you're going. Kate did that tonight and cooked up a freaking delicious drink. If I remember correctly, she said she created a simple syrup with water, sugar, honey, a cinnamon stick and some cinnamon basil from our front yard. To that she added guava nectar, gold rum, and a splash of Ginger Ale. I don't know the exact proportions of it all. She poured the final concoction over ice and a sprig of fresh basil.

It was really phenomenal. You could taste every element of the drink, each one amplifying the rest. The basil was the most interesting flavor component, just subtle enough to be noticed, but adding a really unusual edge to the drink. It sounds like a lot of disparate flavors, but, well-mixed the whole becomes much greater than the sum of its parts.

New Fall TV

I'm really anticipating the new Fall TV line ups. Most shows premiere the end of this month. The returning shows I'm looking forward to are Dollhouse, Fringe, Grey's Anatomy, Survivor, Heroes, and How I Met Your Mother. There's also some interesting looking new shows, that I would like to give a go, such as Jenna Elfman's comedy series Accidentally on Purpose, and new dramas like Trauma and The Good Wife. I don't want to become a TV junky, but I believe I might already be one. I just love a good flowing scripts with interesting plot twists or great comedic relief. If the actors are talented and portray likable characters, then it's hard not to get addicted. Yay for Fall TV!!

Now That's Dedication


We were watching Girl with a Pearl Earring about a week or so ago. The film stars Scarlett Johansson as a servant girl who falls into being the model for one of 17th Century Dutch Master Johannes Vermeer's most famous paintings. It's a decent movie, but nothing special. What impacted me most was the amount of work it took for a painter of that era and earlier to ply their craft.

Most notable was the obvious, but not too often appreciated fact that early painters had to mix their own paints. There weren't commercially available art supplies like today. Early painters had to procure base pigments, made from minerals, plant materials and other sources, crush and grind them well and mix them with oil and probably other binding materials to create paint. And I would imagine that the availability of certain pigments varied from place to place, dictating to some degree the color palettes each painter had to work with. It's a creative constraint modern painters don't have to trifle with. The movie did a nice job of exposing this much less glamorous side of pre-industrial revolution painting. To be a painter then you truly had to be passionate about your craft. And you had to be good, or at least show strong promise, because the amount of work involved generally precluded gainful employment. Painters needed patrons to pay their living expenses while they worked on their art. Hobbyist painters were probably only found among the wealthy.

Imagine the parallels in other arts arenas. What if sculptors had to quarry their own stone? What if singers had to write their own music, or actors had to pen their own scripts? What if performance artists had to first invent the concepts of randomness, pointlessness and pretension?

I'm not a painter, but I would imagine that if you were you'd appreciate the fact that today the tools of your craft are readily available, leaving you free to just paint.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Unexplainable Randomness

I enjoy random unexplainable occurrences. Yesterday I left the house to go to work and like everyday I admired our garden for a bit and noticed sitting in the front part of the garden was a glass bowl with a few silver forks, knives, and spoons sitting in it. How unbelievably random!! I picked it up and put it up on the porch and told Jason. It was the strangest thing, why in the world would that be sitting there. Jason thought the bowl was cool. How could someone be carrying that and decide to put it down in our garden and forget it. Was someone giving a gift, did they take some herbs in exchange for the silver. An answer will probably never appear, but the random possibilities are endless and that what makes the event so mysterious.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Creativity Through Lesser Known Channels

Sometimes I'm like that easily distracted halfwit of so many stories, drawn to shiny things and pretty, pretty rabbits, George. I find myself falling into as many interests and diversions as you can think of, though often only sticking with them for a short time. But I've always liked that about myself. Not the part about stopping without finishing most of the projects I start. The part where I throw myself into a wide variety of different projects. I feel like it lets me be creative sometimes in ways that most people don't get the chance to.

Case in point. I just designed a card game. The initial game design phase is mostly complete. I have a full deck of cards, 130 in total if I'm remembering them all, some illustrated (poorly), and a working set of rules. Now I just need to play test it with people to work out which rules and which cards work, and which don't. Though it's based on a card game that's roughly 60 years old, I've reset it entirely in a new storyline, added new rules, new cards and card actions and have, hopefully, come up with something fun, though a little geeky and not necessarily family friendly (remember what I said in a previous entry...everything's better with zombies, including card games.)

Yes. I know. Just two entries I was going on and on about making soap. Now I'm designing card games. You'd think I was A.D.D. with the amount of interest hopping I do. I'm not, I'm pretty sure (I've tried Ritalin and it definitely does the opposite of calm me down.) So yes, I flop around like a fish in a hobby shop. I think overall it's a good thing. Some people never have a hobby. I've had twenty six or more, to varying degrees. With some I never got past the initial foot-dipping. Some get waded into up to the knees. Most get jumped into whole-hog with an almost religious fervor, only to be abandoned. But some have stuck. Anyway, how can you ever know what you're good at if you don't give everything that even slightly piques your interest a try? There's nothing wrong with quitting. It's never getting started that's the real tragedy.

I'm still planning on making soap. Now I'll just package each bar with a small assortment of Zombie Run cards. Collect them all!

Fun Times Close by

I really looking forward to this weekend. It's My Birthday Weekend! Friday I have a wedding to shoot, which will be a lot of fun hard work, then on Saturday Jason and I are chilling and my friend Lauren in coming into town, there's a few street festivals that day and then we might stop by Julianna's husbands 30th birthday surprise. Sunday is the day we're celebrating my birthday at the MD Renaissance Festival. It's always a great time. A few of my friends should be stopping by. It's weird for me to finally start seeing weekends for what they really are instead of just more days off for the unemployed. I feel like I'm fully employed with my photography gigs, Our365, Arbonne start up work and with studying for the Praxis every night. I wish I could see the results in monetary form, but it will accumulate with time.

Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday of next week we're going to Ocean City with Jason's Dad, Step Mom, Stephanie, John and little Jackson. That should be a great little break from all the mind-scrabbling hecticness that is my life.

Looking for Purpose

We all want our lives to have a purpose. To be meaningful in some way. We desperately want their to be a reason why we're here, both as individuals and as a species. The question is, do we create religion to help fill this hard-wired need of human consciousness, or do we have this craving for meaning because there is a truth out there to be found?

That isn't an easy question, obviously. We each answer it for ourselves. The religious see this need to believe, this longing for something beyond ourselves as a natural offshoot of our status as children of god. Just as children seek love from their parents, we as a species search for our heavenly father, whether or not we know that's who we're looking for.

I come at it from the other direction. I imagine that our quest for meaning isn't related to any specific truth. It's an artifact of self-awareness. At some point our species evolved a brain large enough, and a consciousness hefty enough to realize that it existed. That it was someone. In that instant the light went on for humanity as we could suddenly ask the question, "who am I?" That question, that germ of a thought that says, "who is it that's thinking this question to myself right now?" is the root of the search for meaning.

"Why am I here?"

"What's that giant bright circle in the sky?"

"Why do my crops grow splendidly some years and whither on the stalks the next?"

"Is there something I'm supposed to be doing?"

We ask difficult questions. It's what defines us. And in the absence of any forthcoming answers, we create or own. And that's both the central difficulty with atheism, and its biggest asset, for me. I crave meaning just as much as the next person. I long for my life to be "about" something. To have a purpose larger than myself. But I can't subscribe to any one of the multitude of religions available today. I can't because, at my core, I know I'd be lying to myself. Pretending to believe for the sake of "meaning".

I want life to have a purpose but I search my intellect and my heart, and come to the unavoidable conclusion that there is no inherent purpose to life at all. So what's a guy to do? I realized a while ago that your life has whatever meaning you ascribe to it. If you want it to be that you exist to save souls for god, than it is. If you want to imagine that you were put on the planet to end world hunger, then, for you, you were. If you choose to dedicate yourself to ending intolerance, then follow that path. Whether or not it's true is unimportant to your experience of it. The great thing is that you get to decide what's important to you. If there is no cosmic significance to anything than that means you get to create your own.

Making that choice is no easy task. The world is your oyster when you get to pick your own destiny. One thing I try and keep in mind is that, because my choice isn't set on some tablet, burned into rock by some divine finger, I can always change directions. So purpose is mutable. Purpose is what you want it to be at any given moment. I exist, and therefore I exist, and I get to do what makes me, and hopefully other people happy until I can't anymore.

It's all easier said than done, of course, but what's ever really easy that's worth anything?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Proud of You, Kate

Just a quick entry to put out into the ether how proud I am of Kate. Since leaving Renegade she's done a lot of soul-searching, much of which you all have been privy to in her entries. It's been a difficult trek, one that still poses challenges, but one that Kate's stuck through. In the process she's started her own wedding and event photography business, taken on a part time job photographing newborns, is beginning to foray into network marketing with Arbonne cosmetics, and has registered successfully to be a substitute teacher in Baltimore County (Baltimore City is next.) And on top of all that she's now studying for the Praxis exam so that she can begin training as an elementary ed or special ed teacher. That's a LOT of stuff! But she's handling it in spades.

I'm proud of you, Sweetie. Keep kickin' ass (and taking photographs of it in makeup, and then instructing it on how to avoid getting its ass kicked again.)

Cozy bed

I'm very sleepy after my first day of work. All I can think about is taking a nap, so I'm going to do just that. I love our jersey cotton sheets and with the air unit and the fan above the bed now it's the perfect temperature to get cozy and take a short refreshing nap. Night Night, I promise to get work done after my nap.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Making the 30 Minute Breaks Count

Studying for the Praxis the past few days has really not gotten my positive juices flowing. I really haven't enjoyed it, but I know I have to do this if I want to get into teaching. Okay, so something positive, when your busy as hell, the little breaks you have in between mean a lot more. I really look forward to hanging and cuddling with Jason and watching part of a movie or something, then going back to the grind 30 minutes later. Those 30 minutes are precious and I will try my best to be positive during those moments.

Getting Excited

Anyone that knows me will know that this is my normal operating procedure, and will probably chuckle under their breath. What can you do about it? I am how I am, and I'm getting really excited about the soap making business. Have I made any soap? No. Do I know at all whether I'll enjoy the process? No. Have I sketched out a five-tier, multifaceted marketing plan, including web, Etsy and craft show presences featuring a constantly expanding product line? Of course! Our horse can't even see the cart anymore, it's so far out in front! But that's the fun of all this. The planning. The devising. The scheming. I can only hope that the doing of the plans and the living of the schemes is just as much fun.

My post yesterday garnered a comment from one member of a husband and wife team that sell hand-made soap, lotions, scrubs, candles, scents and more under the moniker Ten Digit Creations. He or she wanted to make sure we'd done our research and were aware of the risks Lye posed. Thanks for you concern, 10DC. We have done a good bit of reading and feel pretty confident to give it a try.

After reading the comment I took a look at the 10DC website. That's when I really started getting excited. This husband / wife pair was doing a lot of what I'd been thinking about, in terms of product design and description. I was thoroughly impressed with the site and with their business model. What they're able to do, just the two of them (she makes the candles and scent-oriented products while he makes the soap) is really commendable. I'd love to approach this business from the same angle and hopefully be successful.

Now we just need to start making soap. Step one, followed immediately by Step 76.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Stylized Films from the 60s and 70s

I like the stylized aesthetic of films produced in the 60s and 70s. I like the rawness of reality they capture; not having the special FXs to help pull in the audience really made them rely on the aesthetics. The ambiance perfectly portray the time periods, they probably just kept everything in tact since the 60s and 70s fashion was so in your face. The hair, the bell bottoms, the retro tops, the cars, were all so stylized.

I gave a new 70s film a try yesterday night, it was a B-Horror film that I will not be recommending. It's only for those folks that like horror movies that are slow-moving and once the horror portion is revealed is ends up being completely revolting to witness. It was honestly making me sick, so I had to stop watching it. I even had nightmares as a result. If your interested in being completely disgusted it's called Who Can Kill a Child.

60 and 70 films I do recommend to those fellow film lovers are Harold and Maude, Blow-Up, Walkabout, Brewster McCloud, Wings of Desire, Clockwork Orange, The Shining, To Kill a Mockingbird, Seconds, Breathless, Fahrenheit 451, Psycho, and The Birds. That's all I can think about at this time, if anyone has any suggestions that are along the same lines of these films, I would really appreciate you passing them along. I need to find something to take my mind off the last film.

Unexpected Support

Two days ago I posted a quick blurb on Facebook about how Kate and I had ordered all the supplies and equipment necessary for making soap, and how we were that much closer to our first batch. It was the first time I'd mentioned it on Facebook, so no one had any preconceptions about what we were doing. Almost immediately I got a comment from an old high school classmate asking if we were planning on selling our soap, adding that she'd happily buy some if so. That was followed minutes later by another old classmate chiming in her intentions to purchase, too. A few other people entered the conversation after that, and it felt good that my short comment had stirred an unexpectedly large reaction.

The next day my formerly good friend (we just lost touch...it happens) from high school, Heather messaged me for the first time in years to ask if we'd made our soap. She was excited for us as well. It was really a great experience because it showed me that there's support out their for any endeavor you might try your hand at. And you don't even have to look that hard. Kate and I haven't made soap bar one and we already have customers. I think that's pretty cool.

As an update, all the stuff we ordered ought to come in sometime next week. That weekend after is Kate's birthday, and then we're at the beach for a few days with the extended family. So, hopefully, if nothing changes, we'll create our first batch of soap the weekend of the 19th.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Exercise Regularly

Like Jason's recent entry, I thought I would update you on my exercise regimen. I am keeping up with my original plan. I too had some off time when I went to NYC and then camping, but since then I've continued my workout plan and feel great for doing so. On Tuesday and Thursday I jog/walk fast to the gym, bike for 7 mins., lift at seven stations, and then jog/walk fast back home. On Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I do 30 minutes of Pilates from my living room. I'm noticing muscle definition forming in my legs and arms. I'm really proud of Jason and I for keeping this up. I really enjoy it now and look forward to doing it everyday. It's now part of our regular daily routines.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Labor Day Oddity

You know that when an entry on this blog starts with, "I know this isn't really a positive, but...", and then follows with some lamebrain attempt to shoehorn the chosen topic into the positive category, it was a rough day for brainstorming. Today is one of those days. I know this isn't really a positive, but it's a funny oddity that makes me laugh. Or at least makes me snicker softly under my breath. Or at least gives me something to write about today.

Why is it that we celebrate Labor Day by not working? Doesn't that seem backwards? Labor Day would seem to be a celebration of effort in all its forms. Why then do we sit on our duffs and do nothing but drink beer all day in honor of the event? That would be like celebrating Independence Day by chaining ourselves to a lorry, or Thanksgiving by adopting an air of entitlement. It's something like clear-cutting a forest on Arbor Day, suffering amnesia on Memorial Day, or NOT causing the decimation of an indigenous culture on Columbus Day.

Labor is the reason for the season. I think, in order to honor the namesake of the holiday, we should spend all 24 hours of Labor Day knee-deep in some sort of grueling physical labor. Some callous-ridden, bone-jarring task that makes us realize just what it really means to labor for our existence. And then, to set Labor Day apart from the rest of the calender, we shouldn't work at all for the other 364 days of the year. Then Labor Day will be what it labors desperately to be. Labor Day, the day that we labor.

And if everybody's just hanging out and being groovy 364 days a year we won't have need anymore for holidays like Memorial Day or Veterans Day.

Chi-Tea and Coffee Makers

I've been making my own batches of sweet ice tea for a while now. Sometimes they turn out okay and on a rare occasional they turn out great. Well I've finally perfected a recipe that turns out wonderful every time. I use 3 regular caffeinated tea bags (I use Red Rose these days.) and two bags of Raspberry Zinger Herbal tea. I brew them in 12 cups of hot water for about 45 minutes to an hour. I then put a 1/2 cup of sugar and a 1/2 cup of honey into a large left over plastic tea container (I usually save one of the plastic Arizona Green Tea jugs, they're a perfect size and you can just put the top on tightly and shake it well to mix the contents.) I then add my hot brewed tea in and shake it well. I've started to add a few tablespoons of lime juice to add a little sour bite to the tea. Then I fill the rest of the tea jug with cold tap water. I usually don't fill all the way to the top, so there's room to shake the tea well. I then shake all the contents real good and stick in in the frig. It turns out so tasty, I came up with a name for my creation, it's called Chi-Tea. I think it's pretty catchy.

Another thing I wanted to share is how I'm brewing my tea these days. My tea pot has never been very efficient, you can barely hear it when it starts boiling. It usually starts shooting water out. Also the plug got caught under a burner recently and melted the plastic, so it doesn't even fit on the kettle anyone. So I've started measuring 12 cups of water into our coffee pot and heating the water in that. It's awesome cause even if you forget it for a bit it stays hot sitting on the coffee burner. I then turn the coffer maker off and put the tea bags directly in the coffee pot. It really works well, just make sure the coffee maker is clean so your tea doesn't taste like coffee.

Modern

I think the term "modern" is really interesting because of its constantly shifting meaning. Statically, modern can be defined as, "the historical period starting after the Middle Ages." That's the modern age. But that definition is skewed by our current temporal position. At its most basic level, modern means, "of or pertaining to present and recent time; not ancient or remote". That's a truly static definition that doesn't vary with time. But the experiential baggage that walks lockstep with the definition is constantly changing, and so, what "modern" means to me is very different than what it meant to someone twenty years ago, or 50 years ago, and certainly different from 150 years ago and farther.

I think we all tend to imagine our "modern" time as the best of all possible worlds. We look back at the past, see where we've come from, note all the improvements made to life since then, and almost pity those on the timeline less fortunate than us. We can't imagine how someone could have lived without indoor plumbing, or modern medicine, or the internet. On that point we can look back even fifteen years and wonder how those poor people managed. But imagine life in this country 150 years ago, before the industrial revolution. Before most of the enhancements to modern living we've become accustomed to.

Were those people miserable? On the whole, no. In fact they likely looked at their modern time and too imagined it as the best of all possible worlds. Because we as a species acclimate ourselves into the world we're born to. We're constantly striving to improve things, yes, because we always look to a better future. But at the time we look at the here and now and see it as generaly good. The major exception might have been Europe in the throes of the Dark Ages, nestled tight with the Plague. Those miserable, illiterate wretches likely didn't have a historical perspective, and simply new that the here and now sucked. For the most part, though, history has moved our species forward.

So clearly we know that our plum life is fleeting and that 100 years from now people will look back at us with awe and wonder that we were able to get by. "They had to physically type each word into their computers? That's so labor intensive!" "Achh! Traveling wasn't instantaneous? Where did the find the time to "drive" places, or "fly" to more distant points? Teleportation is the only way to travel." It's likely that even many of our labor-saving devices today will seem like a major imposition to future humans. We do the same thing with those same devices from our past. No reason to assume it would be different when we're examined by people 100 years from now.

I think it's a good thing that humanity tends toward excepting its lot. Life is difficult enough sometimes. Throwing in a constant, major dissatisfaction with life as it is would be enough to drive most people insane. Society works because we imagine that "modern" refers specifically to us, something that all those "past-ies" wouldn't get. Losers.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Reading to No End

I think another post about the joy of reading is in order.

Since I started reading again seven or so months ago, I haven't stopped. I read all four Twilight books in no time and since then I've read two more novels and then read some short stories and now I'm onto another novel. One of Jason's sister's favorites is called "Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Friend." I've only read the first chapter so far, but so far I'm really liking the tone. Thanks for the recommend, Steph. I've gotten to the point now that I can't go to sleep soundly without reading ten or so pages of a book. I love wiping everything stressful out of my mind and entering a fantasy world for just that little bit of time before I get too sleepy to keep my eyes open. It's a new world that I'm very happy to be part of. I really think this blog has had a lot of do with my renewed enthusiasm to read.

Another positive has sprung from this positive experiment of ours.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Dividends of Exercise

Okay, so I didn't quite stick to the initial workout commitment I made on this blog a few weeks back. I was less than a week in when I went to Chicago for a wedding and let it all far apart.

But...

I've made an even more ambitious commitment since then, and I've been sticking with it. Instead of going to the gym only two days a week, I'm now going Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for a cardio workout and then doing a crunch regimen at home Tuesdays and Thursdays. Surprisingly I'm having an easier time sticking with this much more extensive program. Maybe because I do something everyday I don't run the risk of letting my "off" days invade into my "on" days.

Whatever the reason I've been sticking with it, going on two weeks now, and it already feels habitual, which I think is a good thing. But more important than all of this as a motivator for continued exercise is how I feel. I feel much, much better. The heaviness and weariness I was hefting around with me has lifted. I'm more energetic in general and feel more like a participant in my own life than I have in a while. It's amazing how much just two weeks of constant activity can accomplish. I'm excited to see what a few months will gestate.

That's probably the strongest motivator you can have, I think. Having real desire to exercise for its own sake, and not just as a means to an end. When viewed as a means to an end, exercise will always inevitably cease, if not before, than surely when the "end" has been reached. But exercise for it's own sake, for benefits reaped on a continuing basis, and not at some point in the future, is self-perpetuating. Exercise should be its own end.

I'm feeling better than I have in quite some time, and I think I've dropped a pound...it's a start. Thanks for the support I've gotten from some of you. I'll keep you posted.