Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Exercising in the big city

I remember something that one of my friends said when I was living in Taipei. It was during his interview for the school newspaper having been awarded the school's male athlete of the year. In response to the question to tell what were the most healthy and most unhealthy things that he did, his response was (something like), "The most healthy thing that I do is to exercise for several hours every day. The most unhealthy thing that I do is to exercise for several hours every day in Taipei."

This was wa~ay back in 1993 or 1994, and I haven't been back to Taipei since I left it in June of 1994, so I don't know if air pollution levels have improved significantly over the intervening 16 years. However, I do remember it having quite a lot of air pollution during that time, partly due to an already-crowded road network made even more so during the simultaneous construction of a subway system and an elevated train system (meaning that some major avenues were being torn up to install the subway, while others would have many lane closures because of overhead work). Since the only real way to travel to and from school was to take the bus, I was stuck in the middle of all that car exhaust.

I was reminded of all this when I read a summary of a new scientific finding from Mexico City that showed that the air pollution of Mexico City had deleterious effects on the hearts of young people. Caveat time: I understand that there are many variables that differ between Mexico City and Taipei, but both have car- and people-clogged streets, so I would imagine that the general principle holds true. I wonder, then how sadly true my friend's statement was, and how much damage his long-distance running did to his heart (and lungs). I also wonder what effect it had on my own heart and lungs, since I was quite active in competitive swimming at that time. (Traveling to swim-meets in other Southeast Asian capitol cities likely didn't ameliorate the situation much, either.)

In contrast, currently as I cycle in Ann Arbor, I am reminded of something that another friend of mine commented on when he came to visit: "Wow! You can actually breathe here, and it feels refreshing!" (And it wasn't a particularly bracing or fresh day, but one from mid-late summer.) Compared to living in Chicago, I suppose this is true; it's definitely true in comparison with Taipei. However, this statement rings true for me since I am rarely bothered by the exhaust of the car next to me as they pass me by or as I wait with them at a stoplight.

"The solution to pollution is dilution," is a phrase that, in addition to its mnemonic quality, seems somewhat apt here, for (although one cannot dilute what we breathe by adding more air) the dilution factor is controlled by the amount of pollutants in the atmosphere, and the fewer pollutants, the better the breathing.

To compare (non-rigorously) air quality measurements:

Monday, April 26, 2010

Poison ivy sucks

If poison ivy were any more annoying to me, I would seriously consider not doing any weeding without wearing disposable surgical gloves -- the kind that go up to the elbows. I currently have a small amount of it on the back of my right hand and a little bit on my left cheek (probably where I wiped away some sweat) courtesy of some weeding around the cabin, but other than that, I'm pretty sure that I'm ivy-free. However, it itches on occasion (just comes in waves of itchiness), and that itchiness isn't where the poison ivy welts are, but along my fingers and my forearm, like phantom poison ivy itchiness.

... and it gets worse when I think about it while it's being itchy. And that's the hardest thing -- to not think about something that is making you itch. Somehow, though, I usually manage.

Luckily, I still have some antihistamine topical cream from the last time I had poison ivy (last summer). Hopefully a year in the fridge hasn't allowed it to lose its potency.

Friday, April 23, 2010

I'm happy that I don't have to watch infomercials anymore

One thing that I really like about using the Internets for my TV viewing pleasure is that I don't have to watch stupid infomercials. Someone did a mash-up of really bad acting out of problems that aren't problems:

Thanks to Andrew Sullivan for putting it up.

(Side note: I'm impressed that Firefox's spell-checker has the word "infomercial" but not the name "Barack Obama". It's not like updates haven't come out since his inauguration...)

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Measure twice, cut once

Our salvation, our bane;
Our servant, our master.
Our muses, and Aergia
Apollonic, Athenic;
Dyonysian, Priapian both:
A modern Janus is technology.

Gadgets and programs,
Hardware and software,
Inherent and learned knowledge,
Conspire at every turn
Against the unsuspecting:
Closed the gates to the unbaptized.

How can we translate the world
Into a computer; rationalize
Motes of sunlight and greenery
Into lines and boxes on a screen;
On paper? Points-of-interest marked
As Xs against space...
Making sense only to initiated eyes.

GPS gadgetry mixed with opensource software,
Information-age technologies mixed,
In a cauldron of invention; intention;
And will out -- one can hope -- a tincture of truth;
Lines on space, signifying knowledge,
Skirting anguish and frustration
Through plastic clicks at laser speed.

Shit, shit, shit, shit, shit!
It's lost. Gone without a trace:
Sequences of ons and offs;
Arcane numismatics, that
In context
Can pay the gatekeeper to enlightenment;
But are now just lost to the ether.

I must again cover the same ground,
Click the same plastic laser clicks,
Collect the same sequences of ons and off,
Attempting to bribe enlightenment's keeper:
Sisyphus or Tantalus? I don't know which I am,
But repeated action appears to be my task.


Monday, April 19, 2010

Apparently, I can cycle kinda fast

So, today I cycled into town using a Garmin Forerunner 301 strapped to my wrist. It can measure various things, including one's path and speed along that path (and the number of calories burned from such an exertion). When I got to the campus, I downloaded the data onto my computer and found that I had -- on the Liberty between Stadium and Virginia -- managed to get up to 34.2 miles/hour. True, I didn't sustain it for that long, but for a little while, I was going the speed limit, along with the flow of traffic (and possibly freaking out the driver of the forest-green Volvo station wagon with whom I was keeping pace). I think that if the wind was behind me (or not there), then I could have easily gotten to 35 miles/hour, however, at that speed, even though I'm all the way on top gear, the pedal spin is so fast that the ability to pedal faster becomes more of a limiting factor than wind resistance.

Translate this page

Just installed the Google translator tool (on the right of the page). Just click on the pull-down menu, scroll down to your language, and read the website in whatever language you want! (Of course, I can't guarantee that the language selection will translate what you want in the correct way...)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Eating at Tomukun

Currently at the new Tomukun noodlebar on its first day of business. The staff: everyone is young and East Asian. The layout is quite open, but could easily it a lot more people. I noticed that it was open as I slowly down the sidewalk on Liberty -- Asians standing outside, looking at the menu in the window. Peering in the front door, I noticed that all the tables were filled with patrons -- almost all East Asian. Apparently, this place knows its clientele. Hopefully, too, then, it will cook for them, and not provide some sort of Americanized Asian food. Yet… perhaps opening the restaurant right at the end of the regular university term is not such a good idea, because, unless it is a hit with the locals, it will be a long, slow summer before the foreign students come back to town.

Tomukun cooksStill, as I am seated at the bar, I am looking down the line, to where the cooks are gathered around burners and pots of broth and hot water -- cooking the noodles as the orders come in. Perhaps, then, Ann Arborites will finally learn about the difference between "real" ramen and Maruchan instant. And for a cost of $9 for a bowl of what many Americans assume to be a college staple of MSG-laced dehydrated noodles , this will (in my opinion) take some retraining.

a bowl of tomukun ramenA bowl of the eponymous "Tomukun Ramen" has arrived. It's in a nice ceramic bowl; good shape and heft. The ingredients -- egg, pork, fish sticks, and vegetables -- all look well prepared. The broth is good, too: not too salty and not too much miso. Not like as what I've had when visiting family in Sapporo, Japan, but then again, not anyone can easily challenge the best in the league (and I can't afford spending thousands of dollars every time I want a really good bowl of ramen). Still, while not absolutely, positively, over-board sublime, it is definitely several significant grades above par (hey, my family's from Sapporo -- that place knows how to make a good bowl of ramen).

The noodles: very tasty, indeed. Phew! A relief. Not at all like the cheap dehydrated Maruchan; so many worlds different, in fact, that one should not compare the two. Doing so would be like comparing a communist-era Dacia with a modern-day Volkswagen: true, both are cars, but that's where the similarity ends.

I sincerely hope that Tomukun stays open, especially if they don't change the quality of their dishes (and if all the other dishes are as tasty as their main ramen). Furthermore, since they are located so conveniently close to the ELI, I can imagine myself coming here quite often. (I hope they have lunch prices, because otherwise I can also imagine myself easily busting my weekly food budget.)

Finishing my ramen

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Underlying Problem of a Central Premise Behind the Militia Movement

One of the reasons that I've heard bandied about as to why we need local militias is that it is there to act as a check on a tyrannical (federal) government. Recently, a state senator in Oklahoma supported the creation of a state militia, justifying the call-to-arms (which he has since backed away from) with the second Amendment to the Constitution:
The founding fathers “were not referring to a turkey shoot or a quail hunt. They really weren’t even talking about us having the ability to protect ourselves against each other,” Brogdon said. “The Second Amendment deals directly with the right of an individual to keep and bear arms to protect themselves from an overreaching federal government.”
Of course, the "to protect themselves from an overreaching federal government" isn't in the second Amendment. The second Amendment -- in all its ambiguous grammar -- states:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed
True, the amendment -- as commonly understood -- is about federal actions against individuals, but there is nothing about "overreaching federal government" there, unless this is a personal interpretation of "the security of a free State". (The amendment doesn't make any statement about state or local bans, and I wonder if it really could be interpreted as such, even under the so-called Supremacy Clause; Article VI, Clause 2, but I'm no constitutional lawyer.) However, there is one problem with the state senator's particular interpretation, and this lies in Article II, Section 2 of the United States Constitution (emphasis mine):
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to Grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
Hmmm... This would imply that the original framing of the Constitution (and not the amendments to it) state that the President is the Commander in Chief of militias as well as the regular armed forces. Therefore, if Oklahoma did create a state militia, then it couldn't constitutionally be used to fight against an "overreaching federal government" because it would fall under the constitutional purview of the Commander in Chief -- possibly the very person who is "overreaching."

Now this creates some conundrums, since the regular rallying call of the American right-wing seems now to be constitutional originalism (i.e., doing only what is in the constitution; what the founding fathers would have wanted). What to do, though, when the very document that you support as the way to do governance explicitly states that the President is the Commander in Chief of state militias? Especially when your implied reason for creating a state militia is to oppose the Commander in Chief?

That's just one underlying problem of the militia movement.

This particular (hopefully) flash-in-the-pan seems to highlight the extreme amount of focus that is given to the Second Amendment, without actually linking it to the enumerated powers of the President, as laid out in Article II of the Constitution (i.e., it divorces one part of the constitution from another part of the constitution). It's the wedge with which the National Rifle Association has expanded gun-ownership rights, having (in recent years) been able to divorce "the right to bear arms" phrase from the "well-ordered militia" phrase. If this divorce weren't there, though, then (in my reading of the amendment, and my own opinion), all gun-owners would need to be part of a state militia, and then its connection with Article II would place all state militias under the control of the President, thereby making the "good senator's" personal presumption as to the meaning of the second Amendment not only null, but quite laughable, too.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Just how many continents are there?

In a recent conversation with my girlfriend, we got into a conversation about the number of continents. I insisted that there were seven, and she insisted that there were five (six if you included Antarctica).

"Seven!" I said, emphatically, knowing this to be an absolute truth, only to be rebuked with an equally emphatic, "Six!"

Since the usual solution of just escalating the volume of one's voice didn't seem a good way of resolving the dispute, I laid a trap for her. "Okay," I said, "name the continents for me."

"Okay... Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, Antarctica, and America."

"Ah, but America is actually two continents," I told her. "North and South America."

"No... They are one continent," came the reply.

Hm... This seemed to be the root of the problem. Doing a quick search online, I discovered that, indeed, there are six continents in Spanish, and that I was actually not going crazy in remembering there to be seven continents in English (if one were to include Australia and Antarctica).

This all seems to have stemmed from a cultural definition of "continent" that was then surpassed or justified by plate tectonics. Of course, under the plate tectonics world view of land-masses, Asia and Europe become divided up differently, since the Indian plate and Arabian plate are separate from the Eurasian plate. Still, looking at the world as plates does justify a distinction of North America from South America, but not a justification of a split at Panama from South America (and it does require the inclusion of the eastern part of Siberia, since that is part of the North American Plate).

So, in the end, the continents as they stand today are a social construction, and not a physical description based solely on plate tectonics (although the science of plate tectonics can be used to justify certain delineations). In Spanish, though, there are six continents, and in English there are seven. (As a side note, in Japanese, there are -- apparently -- also only six continents, but in this case, Europe and Asia are part of the Eurasian continent, while North and South America are/remain two separate continents.)

Looking through the entry on "continent" on Wikipedia shows that this controversy is known (by some), and the discussions of how to group landmasses into continents includes several different iterations, meaning that the number of continents can range from only 4 (Antarctica, America, Afro-Euroasia, Australia) to 8 (Antarctica, North America, Central America, South America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia).

Monday, April 12, 2010

This last weekend... was tasty

Hrm... spring weekends in Ann Arbor. Quite nice, if I say so myself. Saturday was a brilliant day -- cleaning the house for the bed and dressers that would be coming on Sunday... This -- and some ADD outings to do some weeding outside -- made for a lazy Saturday. Follow this with a quick turn of the forest to ensure that people aren't doing anything untoward, and then I was off to a friend's house to walk over to watch the Billy King Band at LIVE@PJ's. (I texted my friend when I was about 3 miles away, and ended up showing up just as she and her friends and housemates were leaving for the show.) It was a very different sort of venue for both the band and the venue (who normally hosts DJs and rock and jazz bands). Knowing the members of the band, I enjoy watching the BKB perhaps more than when I watch some of the other local acts that I've been to see.

Billy King Band at LIVE@PJ'sThey played two solid sets, but they did (in my opinion) need to work a little on their transitions between songs: too much of a pause between songs will allow the dance-tension to slowly deflate... (sorry guys, but there were times when I really wanted to continue dancing, but then stopped...) Still, I love listening to Angie's vocal licks of (Ain't No Sunshine) When She's Gone and Jolene. Amazing, and soul-moving. That, and the song-writing skills of Billy make for a great evening out when watching this group: solid singing as well as solid original music. Love it.

Returning to Fort Hiscock (named after Hiscock Street, Ann Arbor), we ate popcorn with some Tony's Spice and nutritional yeast (an amazing combo) and then the BKB came by and we all jawed and played some games of Bananagrams, and ended up playing a game of meta-bananagrams, where we built words that sound like real words, but aren't. I originally came up with MUFTO, and then this was built on to create the super-hero (villain?) MUFTOR. This was on-upped with the addition of the penultimate letter to create MUFTORY: a fake word that sounds kind of like a portmanteau of "muff" and "rectory". Hilarity! (It was eye-wateringly hilarious to me, possibly because it was after midnight!) The members of the BKB eventually took of back to the farm, and I crashed at the Fort.

Making a gluten-free banana breadNext morning, I woke up and helped make some gluten-free banana bread. This involved two different kinds of flour, as well as some ingredients that I had never heard before or used. Although the bread did smell good when it came out of the oven, it was for a birthday party, and so it was mitts off! (The bread -- placed as it was on a circular dinner plate -- somewhat expectedly -- due to its lack of gluey gluten -- clove itself in twain, falling to the indefatigable and inimitable force of gravity.) Leaving the Fort with Cat, I headed up to Kerry Town, where the trees were blooming. (It is so much like springtime, and evokes memories of when I was growing up in Tokyo, where cherry blossoms abounded every springtime; so much so that the canal waters would turn white with their petals.) The brisk morning air made me hunger for a little bit more /AUT/ bar brunch cuisine. (On this point, I must say that the /AUT/bar has -- in my opinion -- perhaps the best diner-style brunch in the city, served at a reasonable (i.e., non-Zingerman) price.) While I normally love to dive into their yummy, yummy hollandaise-covered benedict concoction of the weekend. However, this day, I was feeling a little bit fragile, and as I rode up to the /AUT/bar, decided that I don't need to test my stomach, and to go for something more light.

Boulder Scramble (with rye and light on cheese)I was greeted by an empty (and cool) courtyard bedecked with strips of flagging-like cloth and a (non-bedecked) crowded main bar area. However, seating at the bar was completely open, and since I was alone, this was my first choice. Taking a seat next to their supply of liquid gold, I eventually decided to go with my favorite (though very rarely used) stand-by: the Boulder Scramble. However, remembering that the cooks like to put in a nice serving of very tasty cheese (something that I felt a little too fragile for that morning), I ordered it with half the cheese, and it came out all nice and tasty; the flavor of the tempeh mixing well with the flavor of the vegetables. (And tying it together with the rye bread? Fantastic.)

Tangent: I really like the jars of jam that /AUT/ uses. I like it even more when I sit next to a jar of apricot jam. For some reason apricot jam reminds me of growing up and my father, who loved apricot jam. I bet he still does love it, but since it is so much easier to get in the US than in Japan, I don't know how often he eats it these days. Still, the flavor brings back memories of breakfast around the table, growing up in Tokyo.

While at the bar, I got a call from my friend, D.R., from whom I was buying my bed and dressers ('coz he and his wife are moving to Ecosse and don't need them in their furnished apartment). He was a little out of sorts, because his friend (who was going to give him a lift to Home Depot, where he would rent a Ford F350 to move the furniture) wasn't going to be able to pick him up for another couple of hours, thus throwing off his schedule for the day. Eventually, after some back-and-forth, I remembered that I had a ZipCar membership (I learned later that D.R. had e-mailed me asking if I had one, but I hadn't seen the e-mail yet), and we ended up getting a rental SUV for two hours and making the move in two perfectly-packed trips (one with dressers and the other with bed).

Although it was a chore to shove the bed frame pieces, box spring, and mattress up the hole to the loft, it all fit (just) and now I have a room up here that looks like something more than a person camping out. (Although there is also a lot less space, too.) Sunday ended with me filling the dresser with clothing that was piled on my low tables and on my [book]shelves, making the bed, and then standing around to admire my handiwork before eventually going to bed (after a long Skype conversation with the g/f).

I would talk about what I did today, but that was quite boring and banal. (And mind-meltingly fatiguing.)

Sunday, April 04, 2010

This makes me want to go to South Africa!

Happy Easter

Easter morning daffodils in Saginaw Forest
Last year, I did a little post about the etymology of the name "Easter". And like last year, there are no daffodils blooming in Saginaw Forest. However, there are some that are close, and on my way out of the forest this morning, I was able to capture these bring flowers about ready to trumpet the coming of Spring.

Knowing how popular Sunday brunch normally is in this town, and expecting it to be even more popular for Easter Sunday, I headed into town to get to the /AUT/bar for as close to their 10AM opening as possible. Since it was such a nice day, I figured that I would at least have a chance at sitting at the bar -- having assumed that the general seating outside and inside would be filled to capacity, and having a line around the building. I pulled up outside the Braun Court and found a rather sleepy gathering of people seated in the chill morning air, and a completely empty set of tables inside. "Hello?" I called to the empty room. "Can I sit at the bar?" Someone poked their head out and told me that all the tables were reserved -- their little paper tents indicating each future party and their estimated time of arrival -- and that I could sit at the bar (which was what I had asked in the first place).

After sitting down, one of the longer-working servers, Abe, brought the first in my long line of cups of coffee (I really like their coffee) and I ordered a salmon eggs benedict. With usual speed, it came to me -- a 14" plate with two stacked eggs benedict: perfectly poached eggs seated atop small grilled salmon steaks all on top of a home-made English muffin and all smothered in home-made paprika-dusted hollandaise sauce. Delicious, and really worth the additional splurge in cost. (It is, after all, Easter, and the weather was quite nice to boot.)

/AUT/bar Easter brunch

Now, I'm uploading photos to flickr at the People's Food Co-op's adjoining Cafe Verde. It's not as busy as I would have expected it to be, but I imagine that they likely had a LOT of business yesterday -- people shopping at the Farmers' Market for today's Easter feasts stopping in for some fair-trade coffee and organic food. So maybe there aren't going to be as many people out for Easter brunches as I would have thought (what with them waiting for their home-cooked dinners or late lunches, slaved over for the 10-20 hours prior to their serving).

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Why Obama is funny

Hat tip to the Daily Dish.

Now how long will it take for someone to sink to pure partisan demagoguery and use the seed-planting analogy as "proof" that Obama is a communist, using Mao's "Let 100 flowers blossom" quote about socialism. (But I won't let this possibility get me down.)

Did you finish your taxes?

Although for some strange reason, I never got my census form (very disappointed) -- and therefore couldn't fill it out and send it back on time -- I actually did just finish and e-file my taxes. The down side is the cost. (And what a cost! TurboTax online is nice, but after their purchase and fees requirements, I might have well just saved the ~$100 and done it all by hand.) The up side is that they have your tax information on file so that it makes it so much easier to file the next time around.

Still, you don't have to use an online program (or even an on-your-computer program). Just make sure that you file before April 15.

And if you don't live in the US, then I suppose you don't really have to worry.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Yakult vs. Ya Cool

I was at La Tienda Libertad yesterday, purchasing some chorizo, and saw - in the refrigerator - something that looked a lot like the Yakult "pro-biotic" drink that I had when growing up in Japan. It was in the same shape of container, the same color of liquid, and nearly the same name: Ya Cool.

After bringing this drink home, it proved to have the same taste as I remembered from my youth. So my question: is Ya Cool the same as Yakult? (And does Yakult have a possible lawsuit for copyright infringement?)

Strange singing Russian

I don't know how I missed this meme, but I just now learned of this 1976 singing Russian (with no words, just "lalalala" and the like)