Friday, July 31, 2009

Remember the Milk

I've been trying out a new web app, basically an online To Do list, named Remember the Milk. I use it pretty simply. I type in a task with a due date. It then emails me each day with all the things to do that day and, if there is an exact time, emails me a reminder some amount of time before the due time. Currently, I am using two hours before. I always have my email open. It can also send Instant Messages, though I've gotten out of that world, and share lists with others or assign lists.

All of this is free.

There are some fancier features for you real techies so that it can send messages to your Blackberry, iPhone, Twitter, etc. Some of those require the non-free version, which is $25 a year. It also syncs with things like Google Calendar, iCal, and can be a widget right in gmail.

I don't do any of those things. I just type my task in and get an email. But I'm liking it so far. I just finished editing a paper and got to hit the delicious "complete" button on that task.

I think I will add writing this blog post as a task into it.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Most Important Event in America

The most important event in America is this flap between a cop and a yelling professor in Cambridge. The. most. important. thing. I am happy that our media and government are focusing their energies so continuously on this event.

Not as important as Michael Jackson, but really damn important.

Sarcasm is evident, right?

I can sum up my views on the case in three words.


Monday, July 27, 2009

Paca's Logical Guide to Global Warming Denialism

I made the mistake of getting in debates over global warming with others online in the past few weeks. The arguments over global warming are perhaps as interesting to sociology as they are to climate science. I am here to produce a set of watch points that could be useful or of interest to others moving forward.

Global warming has three basic claims: 1) the globe is warming, 2) it is warming in a pattern that doesn't match any cycles we've been able to reconstruct in the past, and 3) this abnormal fluctuation is caused by various heat-trapping factors, such as CO2 and methane CH4.

I cannot assess the scientific validity of these claims through my understanding of the research. Nevertheless, there are certain logical / argumentative issues in the denial of these claims that do not work. For instance

1) As evidence grows of warming, a claim is put forward that, yes, we are warming, but this is due to natural temperature cycles. Many of the same people will put forth another claim, which is that we have been cooling or steady for a decade. (More on this claim in a bit.) Such claims are possible if they occur at different time periods or in different places, but if they are supposed to be happening now, then they don't make any sense. It's a claim that the earth is both warming and cooling in the same place and at the same time. That's incoherent, and it is only entertained because each of the claims serves a rhetorical purpose at different places and times. Not all people who deny global warming make this mistake, but very many do, so you can be alert for it.

2) George Will, generally a very smart man, recently approvingly quoted social critic and columnist Mark Steyn, saying, "If you're 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life. If you're graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade." That sounds really bad for global warming doesn't it, particularly if accurate? It does sound bad (well, for the argument; good for the world), but what does it really say? If I am 29 and I became an adult at 18, then that's 11 years. 2009 - 11 = 1998. OK, now if I'm a senior in high school, and there's been no warming since first grade, that's 12 - 1 = 11 again. Huh, 1998 again.

So removing the rhetorical devices, it's a claim there's been no warming since 1998.

But I wonder, what if I'm 30? Has there been warming since I became an adult? The answer is yes. What about if I'm 31? Yes. 32? Yes. How about the other way? What if I'm 28? Yes, warming since you became an adult. 27? Yes. What's going on here? How could there be warming for people of every age around 29, but not 29? The answer is that 1998 was a very anomalous year. Here's a graph of temps for the last century.

It may be hard to see on that graph, but 1998 is that black dot that jumps really far out from all the averages, and all the years around it. Every year in the entire 2000s has been hotter than every year on the entire chart except for 1998. Even the very last dot, 2006 which has a slight dip (yay!) is hotter than 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999, and 2000.

The obvious point is "don't fall for the 1998 gimmick". The bigger point is "be wary of any argument that hinges on selecting just the right example.

3) Beware of a set of arguments where mistakes are never corrected when they are pointed out. For instance, there is a myth floating around that in the 1970s, all the scientists thought there was an ice age on the way. Clearly they didn't know what they were talking about then, so they must not know now. First, there's an obvious problem, which is assuming that scientific knowledge never improves. If someone said, "In the 20s, they didn't know how to land a man on the moon, so they must not know now," you'd laugh at them. Science has changed a lot since the 20s and in fact we landed someone on the moon already. Now, from the outside we don't know if climate science has gotten better or not (it has), but that's just our ignorance from not knowing the field. It's entirely possible that mistakes that were made 20, 30, 40 years ago would not be made now, because we know more.

All that aside, the real point here is that this "scientists all thought the ice age" was coming is just a myth. There never was a consensus at that time. This fact has been pointed out by the American Meteorological Society. Here's one of the most relevant quotes:

... despite active efforts to answer these questions, the following pervasive myth arose: there was a consensus among climate scientists of the 1970s that either global cooling or a full-fledged ice age was imminent ... A review of the climate science literature from 1965 to 1979 shows this myth to be false. The myth's basis lies in a selective misreading of the texts both by some members of the media at the time and by some observers today. In fact, emphasis on greenhouse warming dominated the scientific literature even then.

There have been other analyses of the myth as well. What's important is that even when the myth is proven to be false, it continues on. No retractions, nothing. You just keep reporting the myth. This is how political arguments work, repeating the talking point to get traction, not scientific ones. The fact that evidence doesn't change arguments is an indication that one side is really presenting a political argument.

4) Beware the great conspiracy of peer review.

Most denialist literature exists on web sites, in white papers from think tanks, books from non-academic publishers, and other non-peer-reviewed formats. Not all, but it's certainly dominant. Moreover, you can't find any large scientific bodies who are skeptical of climate change. Why is that? Either peer reviewers are rejecting such papers for valid reasons or... they are rejecting them because they control what does and does not get published and they will never allow a competing view to appear. In other words, it's a conspiracy, covering journals and scientific bodies around the world.

Now, am I saying that peer reviewers never have their unjustified biases? Certainly not. It's not uncommon for a reviewer to have a biased view for whatever reason, usually to protect their own reputation. Sometimes these biases can spread to large number of reviewers. This happened in my field of linguistics in the late 60s to early 80s, when Chomskyan linguistics dominated everything. If you didn't work within those assumptions, it could be tough to get in the top journals. What did the field look like then? The so-called top journals were dominated by Chomskyan linguistics, and many of the top departments were as well. Yet at the same time, there were other smaller journals publishing fine stuff. There were other departments who had non-Chomskyan interests. There were members of departments who disagreed with Chomsky, but were still around and getting tenure. Non-Chomskyans had their conferences and all. Chomskyans thought they were wrong, but alternate research programs continued on.

This isn't what the state of climate research looks like. There are only a small number of researchers out there skeptical of global warming who can actually write something good enough to pass peer review, and, oddly for a conspiracy, they do get published sporadically. The number is small, and refutations are often published soon thereafter. In other words, the picture is neither one of a global conspiracy where everything that doesn't tow the party line gets banned nor one of a bias among mainline researchers. The picture is instead that the majority of climate research supports global warming and only a few skeptics write decent enough stuff for acceptance.

5) Beware the great conspiracies in general. There are a million claims about great conspiracies among "lay" skeptics, i.e., your average conservative Joe. This is a conspiracy by liberals who want to destroy the economy. It's a conspiracy by liberals who want to seize power. It's a conspiracy of funding. Cap and trade is a hoax for Al Gore to make a 100 million dollars (often the same round number is repeated). In many minds, Al Gore seems to be a great puppet master making the world dance for him. You think I'm kidding? Read the 200 plus comments that were posted on Yahoo after an astronaut dared to mention shrinking ice caps.

People in general are quite incompetent. A conspiracy involving more than six people wouldn't make it a week.

6) Organizations which are trustworthy when you cite them are not trustworthy when they disagree with you. It is very common to quote a scientific source in a skeptical argument as much as possible, since it lends credibility to your point of view. But what happens when that source you quoted disagrees? They suddenly become part of the conspiracy or are brainwashed.

7) Smart people don't know everything because they are smart. It's always really tempting in an argument to quote someone who's really smart who agrees with you. For instance, Steven Hawking believes that man-made climate change is possibly the greatest issue facing humankind today. Dang, it's Steven Hawking! I mean, it's Steven Hawking! So clearly that means something. Well, maybe, but it's hard to know. Has he ever really researched climate science? No real idea. Similarly skeptics can pull out a name periodically. There's a guy who got the Nobel on Physics in the 70s who made some skeptical remarks at a conference once. But, as far as anyone can tell, he's never done any actual research on climate science ever. No articles of any sort. I don't doubt the man's smart, but that doesn't mean he's educated on this topic. Larger point: Just quoting someone cool doesn't add much weight to anything. You need to know if they've ever actually done research on this.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Social occasion!

JaneyV and I had the exact same idea on the same day, or at least we went to post about it the exact same day.

The "minions-but-not-Minions(TM)" site on ning, created by the lovely Aerin, has a Chat facility. This means that we could actually get together and talk a little bit every once in a while, and not in a "refresh the 200 entry comment trail over and over" way.

I had in mind a simple social occasion. JaneyV had in mind something actually productive, like assistance with writing. Either way is worth a try. Anyone interested?

The really impossible thing is going to be a time. Here's how bad our time zones are:

When it is 9:00 AM in Hawaii, it is:

12:00 PM (noon) on the U.S. West Coast
3:00 PM on the U.S. East Coast
8:00 PM in London
9:00 PM in Madrid
5:00 AM the next day in Sydney.

If we try to meet in the morning my time, it's in the middle of the night in Australia. If we try to meet around noon my time, it's 8:00 AM in Sydney, which might be okay, but 11:00 pm or midnight in Western Europe, and if we meet in the late evening my time, it's (crap, my head just exploded), um, in the middle of the night for the rest of the U.S., but decent times in Europe and Australia.

My only solution is to alternate times, so that different groups can join in on different days.

Anyway, is there any interest in a Chat session? I suppose, leave a comment on the Minions-but-not-Minions(TM) web site under JaneyV's post there. Once we see who is interested, then we start the great time debate. Of course, people can show up at any time on that site and chat away. The point of this is just to organize things so that someone else actually shows up.

For the first session, the topic can simply be the new name of the site?

Or maybe it should be, "The Knights who say Ning"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Depressing or wonderful?

Researchers in Vienna have identified two more pieces by Mozart. Reading the article reminded me that Mozart died at 35. I'm 35 and will be 36 in one month.

So Mozart had created music that has made him live in people's memories for 200 years, regarded as a genius, by the same age I am currently. His entire life's work was done by this time in his life.

I should think, "that's awesome of Mozart," but sometimes I think, "that sucks."


Let's see if I can pull this post off.

I don't think it's any surprise to people that I basically vote Democratic and would be classified as liberal. I've toned down the politics on this blog a lot since back in 2006 or so when I was really, really angry about the Bush administration and Republican-controlled Congress all the time, but still, basically liberal.

And yet I'm not really as liberal as one would think. In many ways, I fit a very common model of the independent who is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. In fact, I've spent some time wondering if I could reinvent myself as a Moderate Republican. What do I mean by that?

I agree with Obama that the economy, the environment, and health care are the major domestic issues today. But I also think the debt level is equally important. On Twitter, I follow various blog friends, one celebrity, and... the Concord Coalition. This is a non-partisan group focused on the nation's fiscal health with the rising debt being the supreme issue.

Moreover, I have become increasingly wary of the federal government as the solution to problems, though perhaps not for the normal reason. It's not that I hate all government. Instead, 1) our nation is simply gigantic: 300 million people in 50 states with differing cultures and economies. There is never going to be one best solution to a problem for all. There needs to be room for local variation that fits one's own place. 2) The more local power there is, the more individual people are able to truly influence their life, and the more they must take responsibility for their own community. It's really hard to make one vote in 300 million count. But one voice that tries hard enough can be at least heard, even if then ignored, by local government. Taking responsibility for your own community breeds strength and connection.

In short, a robust, strong federalism has tremendous appeal.

Of course there are reasons that many people are afraid of strong state independence, and the best one might be the way that certain states treated their minority populations for decades. They took away voting rights; they sent people to work in mines on trumped up charges; they wouldn't allow their own citizens to be full citizens and respect basic human dignity. And it was only the federal government stepping in that put some end to it.

So my federalism works like this. Constitutional rights cannot be farmed out to local communities. The federal government must enforce these rights and it trumps any state individualism. This is quite a strong claim already, because many of the most controversial issues of the day come down to constitutional rights: abortion, affirmative action, religion and the state, privacy, etc. But I see no alternative. If the Supreme Court says those rights are in the American Constitution then all Americans must have them. This will disappoint some conservatives since they, for instance, would like to have abortion be decided on a state level. But that's the way it is.

What's left then for states? Implementing and designing policy. I would like for the federal government's job to be to give a set of requirements on a topic, say health care, the environment, etc., and then let each state decide on their own how to do it. For instance, the federal government might pass legislation indicating that carbon emissions must be cut by 15% by 2015. Each state then can decide how they wish to accomplish this: cap and trade, direct regulation of pollutants, etc. As long as the requirement is indeed met, the state can accomplish it as they please. Failure would have consequences, probably either monetary or through the fed seizing control of that operation. The Fed can also have a role in promoting "best practices" to use some corporate speak. Part of the federal governments job would be to ensure states know how others are doing it, have data on success and failure, and coordinate the implementation of another state's plan in a state interested in it.

Perhaps it's more "networkism" than federalism.

Of course, does this mean I'd be a moderate Republican? Federalism, fiscal restraint. These are supposed to be classic Republican values. One can make a good case that they are not actual current Republican values. The last Republican administration showed little fiscal responsibility and typically only cared about state's rights when they couldn't win a federal level victory. However, if one is going to try new ideas, perhaps the Republican party would be more open to them at this moment in history. They seem rather lost philosophically to me. There's a hardcore social conservative base, but that group by itself is not going to win a national election. They need a wider tent, so maybe they would be interested in thinking of new ways to go about things. Moreover, there's something of a Nixon to China element to it. Oh, I'm not Nixon. But if the Republican Party could ever get on board something like alternative, renewable energies, perhaps for national security reasons, then that issue might really move forward.

However, I then will read about something a Republican leader or group has done or said, and it drives me insane. They called a special meeting of the RNC to label the Democrats socialist. A special meeting. That's not leadership, it's name-calling. Or they deny basic scientific facts. Or they lead an often thinly disguised charge against some minority (gay rights being a prominent issue for me). And I just can never see myself finding common ground there.

As I'm not politically active and actually dislike all parties, this party decision will likely never come. Even though I've typically voted Democratic, I only became an actual member of the party last year when I wanted a say in the Democratic Caucus. I actively dislike most of the emails I now get from them. I really have no interest in politics. It's governance that's appealing.

So let me bounce an idea off of you with my stunningly informed "networked" government model. Two ideas. Health care reform is one of the biggest issues today. First, do you think it could work to set requirements for each state, universal coverage and reduce costs, and then let them handle it as they see fit? If one state wants to tax the wealthy to fund private care for the uninsured, another state wants to introduce single payer health care, and a third wants to fund "a public option" as a competitor to private care, then they can. Let's see which works. The biggest problem with this approach is money. Who collects it and how is it distributed? Secondly, we are really doing two things at once: reforming health care to reduce costs and expanding coverage to millions of Americans who currently do not have it.

The great problem with both, but particularly with expanding coverage, is that you have to pay for it, and we are trying to find this money in the middle of a deep recession and loads of debt before the recession even began. How about, though this is highly over-simplified using money that comes from actually realizing savings to expand coverage. As 1 billion is saved through reforms, that money is then spent to implement the expanded coverage. Another billion saved later, and that money too goes to coverage. Of course, it does mean that the coverage will only expand slowly over a several year period, but we are in a recession, and as Obama himself argues the long-term health of the economy is tied to health care reform. If we only successfully expand coverage without actually reducing costs, then it will be a huge drag on our economy going forward and that future terrible economy would eventually reduce our ability to continue the coverage that we added for the short term.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Test test

김 지**

Is this the word kimchi? Might be. If so, yay!, it means I've figured out the exciting 2-set Korean keyboard. Well, how to turn it on at least. Now, I just need to learn Korean.

I think I've mentioned before how cool the Korean writing system is linguistically. The consonants are quite systematic. The vowels are systematic too but based on philosophical principles, not linguistic ones. But going back to the consonants, let's review how various consonants are made. To make a p or an m sound, you put your lips together. Here is how to write those sounds in Korean:

p m

They are basically little diagrams of pursed lips.

Then, you can make a whole bunch of consonants with your tongue pressing against various parts of the top of your mouth. Imagine the roof of your mouth is a horizontal line. To make a t sound, you place the tip of your tongue forward and up to either your teeth or, more commonly, unless you're French, to the ridge a little behind and above the teeth. Here's the Korean symbol for the t sound.


It's a diagram of the tongue position. Tongue forward and up.

The k sound is done with the back of your tongue pressing against the soft palate further back in your mouth. Here's the Korean for that:


Pretty cool, and then there are varieties of these things based off the basic position. n, for instance, is done at the same place as t and its symbol is


One of the hardest things about Korean for English speakers is that there are essentially three varieties of t, three varieties of p, and such, that each differ mostly on when precisely you start vibrating your vocal cords. They are a real nasty thing to learn to say, but at least the written sign makes them clearly connected.

ㄷ - so-called unaspirated t
ㅌ - so-called aspirated t (there's a puff of air)
ㄸ - so-called tense t

So, go Korean, for being scientific about these things, even if they are impossible to say and hear.

When writing, you then put these things together in little syllable blocks. Remember
ㄱ = k
ㅣ= i
ㅁ= m

Now put them together and you have 김 or kim.

And that's how Korean writing works. It's completely different than both Chinese and Japanese. Chinese uses characters entirely. 你 好. That's ni hao or hello (literally, 'you good'). There's some meaning to the characters. I know three of the four components there. The first half of ni is the common symbol for humans. And then for hao, you have a woman on the left and a child on the right. With a woman and a child, everything's good.

Japanese I don't know much about, but it uses a combination of characters, kanji, and two different syllabaries. The latter means simply that each syllable has an entire symbol for it, unlike Korean which takes each sound and creates syllable symbols on the fly. Here's come complete gibberish in Japanese hiragana: かやらて

These are just random symbols (to me) after turning on my Japanese keyboard, so hopefully it doesn't insult anyone. The main point, however, is that each symbol is 1) related to sound like Korean and English writing, but not Chinese (by and large), and 2) an entire syllable, not individual sounds like Korean or English. Korean and English (really the Latin alphabet) then differ because syllables are not marked in English, while they are in Korean. If one writes "kimchi" in English, you just have to know that there's two syllables there from knowing how to speak. But in Korean, each syllable is its own block.

And that's all I got to say about that.

** The kim of kimchi might in fact be: 킴. I'm too lazy to look it up right now.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Ethnicity in your writing

First, I should say that I hate almost all discussions of ethnicity, because they always seem to end up going in circles, trying to break out of treating people as groups and always consider them as unique individuals, but not wanting to deny the importance of culture, ethnicity, or appearance in real life and hence some group identification, but, a focus on group identification can easily devolve into stereotypes at best, and yet completely ignoring differences can become an attempt to wipe out other cultures or backgrounds where everyone is assumed/forced to be the same as the majority group, and, well, you see the circle.

That said, I am going to talk about ethnicity in your writing. I also should say that this post sort of wanders around this topic with no real point.

Moving forward...

How do you handle ethnic identification and backgrounds in your writing?

There are easy mistakes to avoid such as making everyone good be of some identifiable real ethnicity and everyone bad be of another. I love C.S. Lewis, as people know, but several of his Narnia books revolve around basically Turks as bad guys with the English as good guys.

Apart from such things, how do you decide what ethnicity to make your characters? Naturally, it will depend upon the type of novel you are writing. Let's start with real world settings:

As everyone knows, I haven't actually written fiction in a couple years now, but when I did, I did end up with one story involving a white American character and a Vietnamese-American character. This was sort of accidental. I've never been good at plot, so I like to borrow them as much as I can. I happened to read a brief romance between an "Asian" woman and a white man, and I liked the general idea of what the person had done, but I wanted to do such a story in my own way. In the end, I dropped virtually every detail of the original, except their very approximate ethnicities. Next I wanted to make her character more precise and developed, since, in the original story, the heroine was just vaguely Asian and it didn't seem the author had any real idea what specifically. As I was brainstorming, I thought about setting the story in a suburb of Minnesota, and I knew from my college time there, that there's a sizable ethnically Vietnamese population there, so, bam, she was suddenly Vietnamese by ancestry.

And so now I have a story about a Vietnamese character without ever setting out to write about a Vietnamese person in particular.

However, sometimes I will just randomly change the ethnicity of a person (if it's a main character, of course I have to genuinely develop it) solely for the point of having people of different ethnicities. There's no particular reason a never-met ex-girlfriend or an old P.E. coach or whoever must be, say, Indian (as in India), but why not? There's no reason they have to be white, black, or anything else unless the world demands it. (This last bit is sort of the crux of things I think.)

But is that right? I don't know. There's a famous saying from Checkov that if there's a gun on the mantelpiece in Act I, it needs to be fired by Act III. Of course, this idea is based on the notion that something like a gun is going to catch people's attention, and so it needs to be part of the story. But there's no comparable saying that if there's a poker by the fireplace, someone must be hit with it. Pokers are assumed to be naturally next to fire places and don't need to be a part of the story. If I make an ex-girlfriend Indian, is that ethnicity choice a poker or a gun? I often want it to be a poker, because the idea is that America (and most places in fact) are multi-ethnic and people need to get used to that being represented in fiction. Am I writing a story about the Indian-American experience? No, course not. But I am writing one deliberately set in a world where ex-girlfriends are periodically Indian (or whatever). In the end, it really comes down to the reader. Some readers expect the presence of any non-standard (I deliberately chose that term) ethnicity to require an Important Reason.

Of course, all of this has been written as if I must justify the ethnicity of anyone who is not white, but I don't need to justify a white ethnicity. Well aware of that, but, well, this post has to end some time, so I won't go into that issue.

Then there's so-termed speculative fiction, such as fantasy, urban fantasy, sci-fi, etc. How do you handle ethnicity there? It's interesting because in theory the world is entirely created by the author. How is this handled?

As always, it will depend upon the sort of world being created. Ello's shopping her novel set in a mythic ancient Korea, so I assume most of her characters will naturally be Korean-ish. Classic fantasy worlds a la Tolkien are really a mythical, never existed sort of medieval Europe. Rohan is basically Vikings on horses for example. And in such a fantasy Europe, I assume it actually does make sense for most people to be European-looking, even though in theory the world is not the real one, and so could be anything. Would it be wacky to make everyone in Rohan look Tahitian? Culturally Vikings, but Tahitian in appearance? I think this would knock most readers off, even though since Rohan is fictional, it could be just so.

But what if you want to create a world that isn't a modified / mythicized version of some part of the real one?

However, we rarely truly do this in fantasy at least, do we? Characters are almost always human, or a modified human. It's a conceit that they speak Modern English (really the reader's language) as the Common Tongue. If they didn't, the reader couldn't read the story. The technology is modified real world technology of some real culture. So we are back with modified humans as characters, which means you have to make the choice of ethnicity again. Is that what's wrong with Tahitian Vikings? Ripping the technology and culture from one place, but the physical appearance from another? (OK, Tahitian Vikings might be a bad example, since there's an actual biological association between climate and skin color, but we can just change the example to Tahitian Mayans or whatever.)

I'm done wandering aimlessly through this minefield. What choices do you make?

Sunday, July 19, 2009

No appropriate title for this one


I am back in Hawaii as of this morning and looking forward to some sleep soon.

In all my hours on the plane, I've finally been reading that history of the 100th battalion and 442nd regimental combat unit (larger than a battalion; in fact the 100th later became part of the 442nd), which were the two units formed during WWII manned almost entirely with Japanese-Americans, about 2/3rds from Hawaii and 1/3rd from the mainland.

Anyway, many of you may have heard of Sen. Inouye who is currently serving his 8th term as the senator from Hawaii, and you may have heard that he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in WWII. But now I know what he did to get the medal. Get this:

1945 in Italy. He's a second lieutenant in the 442nd and his unit needs to get up yet another hill defended with German machine gun nests. There were three nests in this case. So he rises up with his tommy gun and grenades and is immediately hit in the stomach. But he keeps moving up, taking one nest out with a grenade, then a second one all by himself with another grenade and the machine gun. He pulls the pin on the third, remember he's already been shot once, but suddenly an enemy grenade with shrapnel takes off most of his right arm. But his grenade is already live because he's pulled the pin. So he reaches down with the one remaining hand, pulls the live grenade out of his own detached hand that is now lying on the ground, and then takes out the third German machine gun nest with it. Then he's shot again in the leg and finally goes down.

By the way, people might also be interested in Young Oak Kim (Yeong-ok Kim). He's from Los Angeles and was a captain in the 442nd and later became a colonel during the Korean War. Fascinating biography in itself. I only knew the WWII stuff, but this guy must be a major figure in the U.S, or should be. Here's the wikipedia bio. And here's a better one, which is his obituary from just three years ago.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Koalas who aren't Mc

With this post, let's skip the story and move right to the good stuff:

All together, awwwwwwwwwwwww

Little joey there sticking out of his mum's pouch.

Here's my best wallaby shot

And another pretty good 'oala.

So the only true tourist thing I've done is visit Phillip Island, which is about 2 hours southeast of Melbourne. Phillip Island is most famous for the "penguin parade". A large colony of fairy penguins live there and hundreds of people go to see them return from the sea and a day of fishing as the sun goes down. I was only on Phillip Island in the morning and saw no penguins, but I did visit the Koala Conservation Center.

They basically have preserved a little eucalyptus grove and built walkways about.

A koala, as I learned apparently spends about 20 hours a day just sleeping. This is largely because there's not really that much energy in eucalyptus leaves, so they just rest all the time. At night they come down from the tree, climb up some new tree, and then go back to sleep. Ok, I guess the eat some, too. The "rangers" walk around each morning and find where the koalas are that day and put a sign there.

A couple of the koalas were at a level pretty close to humans, but many can get way up there. Here's a young but independent koala. See that ball way way up there?

This one was particularly high, but all were at a fair distance.

And then I used my camera's zoom lens to get a decent view of them.

They also had black wallabies, possums (supposedly, never saw one), and tons of birds that are common in Australia, but funky outside of it.

Here's the famed kookaburra sitting in the old gum tree.

Here's a few more pics of the proud mum and the joey hiding progressively further into the pouch. I wonder if those claws hurt in there, the same way children kick their moms inside the stomach.

And, finally, just to prove that I was there... The koala behind me is the one right near the top of this post who doesn't have the baby. (And to answer clothing questions, the answer is Nashville Predators ice hockey).

Driving Miss McKoala


I did make it to Kiama, found a lighthouse, found a blowhole

Unfortunately, to my great disappointment, no matter where I looked around here, I just could never find the legendary McKoala. I had a pretty decent idea what she looked like, but just... she wasn't there.

However, quite bizarrely, I did run into McKoala's very good friend Shona. Shona had with her Mr. Shona, Boy Shona, and Princess Shona as well.

It wasn't McK, but I decided to make do with this group, and so off we went to watch the blowhole semi-blowing, more like the sniffling hole today, and then off to find lunch.

For lunch, I did get to learn all about sports clubs that have slots in them. Apparently, they rake in money this way and so end up supporting lots of sports teams. As I understand it, you can only eat in these clubs if you are a member or you live sufficiently far away so that you can become a temporary member. So temporary members we became and then we were able to feast upon sausages and mash, octopus salad, chicken sandwiches, chicken nuggets and a couple battens of chips.

Yay, I used "batten of chips". I learned this lovely phrase from my extensive petrol station dining over the first three days. More on that soon.

As you might expect, it turns out that Shona and clan are quite nice people, easy to get along with, have lovely smiles, and are just generally a winning bunch. You would only expect this, of course, because McK would never choose someone for her close friend if they were not like this.

Princess Shona did a dance for me, Soccer Boy Shona discussed the midfield position, and the adult Shonas filled me in on all sorts of things.

And here's what you've been waiting for. Most of the clan in front of our new favorite church.

After the first Minions Down Under Meet, I jumped back in the car to race south about 5 hours to beat my next hotel's reception closing time in Eden, New South Wales.

Australia becomes quite rural not too long past Kiama, and it stays that way until you hit some towns getting close to Melbourne. It's farm land for a long long time with a whole lotta cows and sheep. Eventually that switched to 2-3 hundred kilometers of eucalypt forest. Here's a little country road off the main one inside these forests.

And a massive field of flowers somewhere in Victoria. This is just one piece of the pasture.

Life is real quiet in these parts and half of the vehicles you pass in the forest are either logging trucks or caravans, i.e., campers.

Here is my beautiful Hyundai Getz that has been getting me around. It's a beast.

These forests continued for a long, long time with periodic watch for kangaroo signs, watch for wombat signs, and one boring old watch for deer sign.

Apparently, leaping roos and wallabies are a real hazard, and I was warned by both Bernie and Mr. Shona. They are big enough that slamming one of them can hurts your car by a thousand or more easy.

But for me, I couldn't wait to see some creature. I did see something hunched over and munching plants in the late afternoon, and then another something hopped out of the way of an oncoming car just as I got there. Finally the next day I managed to pull to the side of the freeway ans capture a pic of this one.

I can tell you with some confidence now that this is not a kangaroo but a black wallaby. Works for me. Tomorrow/later I have better pics of wallabies but they were at a nature conservatory, while this was a real wallaby living in the bush, so that's cool for me.

Eventually, I did make it all the way around, about 1100 kilometers from Sydney to Melbourne. I managed to eat nothing but gas station food all the way, with the exception of the Shona meet-up of course. So I can tell you all about meat pies, pepper steak pies, "massive sausage logs" (That's what she said), vegie pasties, chikitos (actually still don't know what that was), salt and vinegar chicken tenders, and battens of chips either with salt shaken on top or "chicken" which appears to be some sort of freaky chicken bouillon mix. I don't think a vegetable other than the potato passed my lips for 72 hours.

Tomorrow / later: Phillip Island

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The wrong side to Kiama

Well, here I am in Melbourne. Presentation is tomorrow, so while I delay practicing the presentation, I will post about the trip.

The first three days of this trip were almost all about driving.

But first things first. It's an 11 hour flight to Sydney from Honolulu, which, sure, it's long, but Honolulu to Houston was 9 or 10, so this is really just a consequence of living in the middle of the Pacific. Of course, for all my mainland and European friends, it would have been longer.

The Australian people have truly been embarrassingly friendly so far. I mean, the whole lot of them have been at worse neutral and most seem happy to give advice of any sort. I spent my 11 hours with Bernie, a bloke from South Sydney who's in his early 60s or so and just coming back from 3 and a half weeks in the USA. Bernie's so dang friendly, he's either the nicest man ever or a serial killer. He's in a "big brother" type program where he meets periodically with a 17-year-old whose dad has been gone for years, and so he tries to do 17-year-old type things with him like going jet skiing. He's the kind of guy who met the American family in the rows behind us near the bathroom and so spent a while writing up a list of tourist attractions at all their destinations for them. I've got his card as well, so that I can call him if I have any troubles or just to report how I am when the trip is done.

More normal Bernies have been everywhere from the construction guys looking after a big lost dog to the dad from Canberra who chatted with me about the Big Reds (kangaroos) and AFL (Australian Football League) games in Melbourne to the guy in the toll booth in Sydney who gave me directions. I do find myself saying, "I'm sorry?" repeatedly because I didn't understand something, but that's my issue not theirs.

As I said, however, most of my life pre-conference revolved around the Australian freeways. I'm hanging in there now, but, boy, was I having issues the first night.

My entire job was to get from the Sydney airport to my hotel just outside City Center. With normal traffic, it should be a simple 20 minute drive in a northeasterly direction on one of the main "freeways" with a simple turn on one road.

Two and a half hours later, I made it.

There was no one thing that got me, but put it all together and I was wandering, just hanging on for dear life. Of course, Australians drive on the left side of the street and the driver is on the right side of the car. They've got the blinker on the right as well, and the windshield wipers on the left, where an American would expect the blinkers to be. I also rented a standard transmission, which is no big deal by itself, since I drove a standard transmission for several years, but it gave me one more thing to think about. I had no map, but I did have Google travel directions.

Unfortunately, none of the roads by the airport actually had names that one could catch, at least not while trying to stay in the correct lane and turning one's windshield wipers on and off in attempts to turn. I swear I followed sign after sign for "City" or "City Centre", but soon I was in some area called Ramsgate. Maybe I had gone too far and missed the city and was now in North Sydney? I pulled into a petrol station and asked to buy a map. He didn't have maps, but I did learn that Ramsgate was in the opposite direction that I needed to be going in. I wasn't in North Sydney. I was southwest and headed in the opposite direction from the one I thought I was going in.

I managed to get back on highway 1, this time headed towards the city, looking in vain for a way to turn right on Williams St. to get to the hotel. After seeing no signs for William St., I hit the toll booth and ask how much further. Apparently, I'd already missed it. But if I just go up here, turn left and then left and then.... I will be right there. But downtown Sydney is not a calm and peaceful place on Saturday night. One cannot look at tiny little blue street signs hidden in the corners because there are leaping pedestrians hoping to be run over by Americans on every block. I need all concentration to not kill anyone, including myself, and so soon I'm just driving in circles around downtown Sydney having no idea what road I am on nor the direction I'm headed in, but as long as I haven't mowed anyone down, I'm at least still legal. I spent about an hour doing this. Since it's downtown, one can't just pull over and ask someone. There's no place to stop.

Somehow I finally ended up heading back south into neighborhoods and finally turn around... about 6 kilometers north of the damned airport where I started an hour and a half earlier. This was almost my third trip to the airport for the evening. I then end up back on the freeway, back at the same toll booth I was at before, still looking for the mythical Williams St. Okay, so this time I do a left and a left and a left and a I don't know, where the hell is this damned Williams St. I might just die going in circles in this damned city and it's hopeless and oh! I'm on Williams St.! How did that happen?

So I made it.

I called McK to find out the arrangements for our next day's meet-up. We are supposed to meet in Kiama, which has a lighthouse and a legendary blowhole. It should take about an hour and a half. With my experience driving, I left about 2 and a half hours early and was still 10 minutes late.

I got to Kiama and did indeed find a lighthouse

and a blowhole, not much blowing today


It looks like you will have to wait to see more since blogger will not accept any photos for about an hour now. I'll finish the story later, blogger willing.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Off to the Land Down Under

I'm leaving tomorrow morning for Oz. Since there's a 20 hour difference between Hawaii and Sydney, the 11 hour flight will turn into a 31 hour flight, getting me in Saturday evening. The good news is I arrive about 10 hours before I leave on the way back. I'm taking my laptop, so I might be around. But then I might not.

I guess I will have pics of both Australia and Kaua'i when I return the following Sunday.

Take care.

Oh, and Yes! I am scheduled to meet Ms. Koala and Mr. Koala for lunch on Sunday.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Lion head on tree

Lion head on tree? New exhibit at MOMA?

You never know, but not yet.

A couple years ago when N was away for a business trip, B and I hatched a crafts project. In general, I don't do craft projects. That's entirely N's responsibility. But B was into Chinese lion dancing at the time, so I decided the two of us would create a lion costume. I knew I couldn't create a real one nor did I have enough money to do so, so instead we devised an idea where we'd cover ourselves in Hawaiian aloha fabrics and then the person in front would hold a lion head made of cardboard on a stick.

The two of us in fact did make the lion head through paints and scissors, but never actually got around to sewing together the fabric we purchased, largely because I don't know how to sew and I got lazy. So the only lion dancing we did was in just one piece of fabric on top of us with the sides never attached.

The lion head then sat around for months on end, finally ending up near the garbage cans getting rained on, and the fabric got turned into some curtains by N and her maman. Last night I finally took the lion head to the street to have it taken away by the garbage trucks.

This morning I went out to bring the garbage can back in and discovered this:

It appears that someone pulled the lion head out of the garbage can, and then tied it to the palm tree near our house using the straps that cinch a garbage bag together, having pulled them out of some bag. It's possible that the garbage collector guys were in a fun mood, but more likely, it was one of the people who go through trash every night looking for 5 cent recyclable bottles and cans.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Turning into my... mom!

I spent many teenage and college years encountering the following scene:

I'm sitting on a sofa reading a book. My mother would walk through the room and turn on the lamp next to me so I wouldn't ruin my eyes.

I just did that to N.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Karaoke night

This is another pic I stole from Facebook of my sister's wedding. After the wedding, we went out to a karaoke bar. Maid of honor on left, bride, me, groom. You can see that I'm being my normal crazy self; the other three can barely contain me, but you guys already know how absolutely crazy I am. We are singing Love Shack by the B-52s. Other lovely items which I serenaded the crowd with included Hey Hey We're the Monkees with my sis, You Can Call by Al by Paul Simon with the killer llama (who almost none of you know anymore), and Anthem from the musical Chess all solo and all. This was the first time I've done karaoke in front of people since I got dragged up around 199...6 or something?

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Know your viral videos: Web Site Story

Web Site Story, created by College Humor. My favorite line at the end, "I can't wait to read about me later on your blog."

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Twitter ... is a woman

I came back on Tuesday but I've been absolutely swamped with getting ready for the conference in Australia. I leave next Friday. Ugh. But today I accidentally signed up for Twitter, even though I vowed not to. I stumbled across the fact that Papa Nez (Michael Nesmith) is on Twitter and apparently even says stuff. So I signed up. But I'm not sure how it works. Will I get an email when someone I'm following says something? I'm not going to bother saying anything myself unless someone's listening to me. So, um, I guess, please tell me in a comment if you are on Twitter and I'll follow you or something. I think WW is on there. You will be shocked to hear that I am "pacatrue" on Twitter.

Who's Michael Nesmith you might ask? Here's a video using one of his better songs from the early 70s. And here's another where I discover that the lead guy from one of my fave bands ever, lambchop, was guesting on one tune on the new, now no longer new, Nez album. OMG! OMG!

Anyway, here's a video of one of lambchop's tunes called " a woman". It is very peaceful and quiet. Don't click on it planning to rock-out. The lyrics do word painting more than anything else.