Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Signs of Spring

Originally uploaded by tallasiandude.

Just one day after the rains that finally washed away most of the remaining ice and snow and there are already tulip sprouts.

A week ago, there was still a 3-foot tall snowbank; a snowbank which had been in place since mid-December and which was probably taller than me after the storm we got in February.

I'm assuming that these sprouts didn't grow three inches overnight, which means that they were already sprouting into the ice before the rains melted it away.

...which is still pretty damn cool.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Running Observations for Late March

I did my long run today, squeezed in between social engagements for the SOOTTAD farewell tour. I strongly considered pushing it out until tomorrow and just doing a shorter run today, but a quick look at the weather forecast (low 40s and rain, rain, rain) convinced me that I should just suck it up to do it today when it was sunny and supposed to approach 50°F. Just a few quick observations on the run:

  • Despite it being a beautiful spring day in the high 40s, I was happy to have worn my wind pants and brought my glove-liners. It may have reached 50°, but it definitely drops a few degrees in the shade and feels cooler with the wind. It also cools quickly in the afternoon as the sun descends.
  • I don't think I stuffed myself silly or anything, but apparently 2 hours is not a sufficient amount of time to properly digest the tasty Sichuan treats we ate for brunch. 20 minutes into the run and I'm burping little flashbacks which, not suprisingly, are not particularly enjoyable.
  • The snow is mostly gone, leaving a lot of winter detritus along the side of the road -- faded beer cans and plastic bottles mostly. It's not clear whether they're being dumped by pedestrian drinkers or getting tossed out of car windows.
  • The reservoir is still a sea of white, covered by a (hopefully thinning) layer of ice.
  • I counted passenger vehicles on this Easter Sunday. (I'll post more details about this soon, hopefully.) Total count: 13 SUVs, 0 Pickups, 6 Vans/Wagons, 18 Cars. It felt like there were fewer SUVs than usual, but I'll get a better idea as I collect more data.
  • Saw a Bush/Cheney sticker on a stationwagon that passed me. I observe two thoughts that pop into my head almost immediately:
    1. How could you vote for them?! You live in freaking Massachusetts fer cryin' out loud and should recognize the benefits (education, income, services) from living in the liberal oasis that is the Commonwealth. (Or maybe not. As I write this, I realize that these things are likely don't-cares to Bush/Cheney voters.)
    2. Damn, even in "li'brul" Massachusetts we have people who voted for these guys. I'm a freak, and it's only a matter of time before it won't even be safe to live HERE.
  • Last 400 yards before the 10 mile mark (and the end of the run) and I see a cute indie-rock looking chick dressed mostly in black, walking in my direction on the sidewalk across the street. Gee, I didn't think we had that demographic in the neighborhood... Oh, it's the SOOTTAD! Heh, cool.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Take your Chinese medicine...

Fellow tour members being diagnosed.

I was reminded of my trip to China when I saw this post at chineseamericanprincess.com.

That's how it works -- I don't sit around and just decide to reminisce about the trip; I'm usually just minding my own business and I'll see something that just kind of triggers the way-back machine.

Anyway, when we were in Beijing, we signed up for tour that visited the Ming Tombs and a section of the Great Wall. As with all tours, it included lunch, but also a few side trips that were designed to "educate" the visitor about various aspects of Chinese culture. On our tour (from Hell) of Hangzhou, we received a presentation about the production of tea (with an opportunity to buy some of the super-grade-A-superior-awesome tea that we had just tasted). On our Beijing city tour, we went to a pearl center and another tea house, both with informative presentations and plentiful shopping opportunities afterwards.

So, on the Tomb/Wall tour, we visited a jade store information center and something like "the National Institute of Traditional Chinese Medicine."

At the Institute, we were first led into a reception area with several display cases which provided information about various aspects of Chinese medicine, the history of the Institute, as well as several accounts (with photographs) of Chairman Mao being successfully treated for different ailments in his later life. We get taken upstairs into a small room where we hear a brief presentation and are then told that we can have an evaluation performed by one of their top practitioners, if we are so inclined.

I should say now, I do believe in this stuff, at least to a certain extent. I believe that as a system, the body operates as a whole and that it is possible for it to manifest problems in ways that go beyond what can be observed via X-rays, MRIs or blood tests. And I certainly don't believe that there's anything particularly magical about Western medicine. That is, just because we use science and technology to develop our drugs, I don't assume that they're necessarily superior to substances found in nature -- herbs, critters or what have you. Ironic use of the word, I know, considering the common (although potentially diminishing) Western view of eastern medicine as being largely based in superstition. That it's effectively believing in magic. And as far as drugs go, I'm really no fan of pills, whether they're from Glaxo-Squabb-Merl-Co or some herbal supplement. But I'm getting ahead of myself. (And I realize that it seems like I'm fixating on the drug-thing, but the reason for that will become clear shortly.)

Anyway, I sit down, and after giving the obligatory duibuqi, wo shi meiguoren (sorry, I'm an American), we get down to business through the translator. From across the table, the doctor takes my wrists in his hands and checks my pulse, sitting quietly for a few moments. [I have a friend up in Vermont who practices eastern medicine and who's done this with me, and explained it... but sadly, most of the details have faded. What I do remember is that they're checking multiple pulses (that I think are tied to different organs); checking quality, checking strength.] He asks me (through the translator) if I have any back pain. I say yes. He tells me that it's because my kidneys are weak. (Funny, I thought it was because I have two herniated discs between some of my lumbar vertebrae.) He then marks a piece of paper in front of him and passes it to me to read. He's marked two paragraphs on it and the translator explains that they describe the appropriate herbal remedies that I can take to cure my problem.

And, of course, at this point in the story, you're probably wondering to yourself, "Gee, where on earth is he going to be able to get these obscure traditional herbs?" (All together now...)

Where can you get them? Planet Ten! Right here!
When can I get them? Real Soon! Right now!
So, they told me that I should get a month's worth of their special, concentrated herbal supplement (not available in stores!) and I would be all better. A month's worth of these supplements turned out to be two bottles that my crappy long-term memory is telling me would cost 1000RMB a bottle, or roughly US$240. Um, yeah. Like, no job. Not so much with the disposable income at this point. Not to mention that I don't like spending large sums of money without some careful consideration. And maybe it was 1000RMB for the two, but I'm pretty sure it was for each bottle, because I remember it still costing over a hundred bucks when the translator helpfully suggested that I just buy half the dose. (and get half better?)

She tried another tack:

It is your health, after all. Can you put a value on that? Isn't that worth the money?

Well, yeah.

But, taking pills? Wrong sell. Maybe they're just trying to appeal to the Western market. Or just human nature. We naturally gravitate to the quick fix, the easy, the accessible. Sure, I can change how I do things. Sure I can do it the hard way, the long way. But why should I, if I don't have to?

At our core, we're lazy -- it's what drives us to optimize processes, to become more efficient.

I guess I was hoping they'd tell me why my kidneys were bad. Is it something I'm eating? Something I'm doing? What was wrong with them? What can I do to make things better? It seemed to me that if there was something wrong with my kidneys, something made them that way. And even if one month of pills would make them better, wouldn't whatever it was that made them bad in the first place just make them bad again? [I'd put a nice little analogy in right here, but frankly, I'm feeling a little lazy and not coming up with anything that seems sufficiently engaging or amusing. And I want to publish this post sooner rather than later. Feel free to come up with something on your own. Sorry.]

I guess I was just a little disappointed. It felt like Western medicine with Chinese characteristics. (Although admittedly, I may have just been over-reacting to the pill meme.)

And then there's context -- I suspect that in general, I'd be much more inclined to believe somebody when they aren't trying to sell me something.

So, me and my bad kidneys took a pass.

The End

Alright, now I gotta go pee.


Speaking of peeing, I'd just like to note that when I spell-checked this post, it wanted to change "herniated" to "urinated."

Sorry, I just found that amusing.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

There's something in the air...

You'd have to figure with all the snow we've gotten over the last few days, weeks, months, that Spring has GOT to be right around the corner. We've had a few days over 40, and that's always a good start, especially after getting 8-10 inches of wet snow on Saturday. But that's not it. No, there's something else. And actually, I wouldn't really call it a sign of spring, but I guess my brain is just making free associations -- nature's rebirth, birds and flowers, new beginnings.

People are getting married.

The march of progress is inescapable -- I got my first evite to a wedding a few weeks ago, from my friends H & J. It was just a save-the-date, but still kind of amusing. (It also asked for my meal choice -- salmon, chicken or mushroom risotto.) And practical -- a heads-up before they got the actual invitations in hand, addressed and in the mail. And, I knew they were getting married this summer, so it wasn't like it was a surprise or anything.

As opposed to hearing about the engagement of some frisbee friends, B & C, at a party on Saturday.

Or the phone call I got last night from my friend V, when he told me that he had just bought a car, and oh, by the way, he and M had just gotten married.

And then finding out about Matt and Amy by reading Matt's blog this morning.

Yep, there's something in the air.

Me? I think I might've caught a bug -- my throat's feeling a little scratchy today. And my girlfriend is moving to Chicago.

I don't want this to come off the wrong way. I admit to being pretty cynical sometimes, but I AM genuinely happy for all the previously mentioned couples. And things between me and the SOOTTAD are still really good, other than not wanting to think about the logistics of living 1,000 miles apart, and dealing with the visceral "she's leaving me" response.

But sometimes I feel like the one guy who bought the [insert wicked cool thing that everyone loves] when it was first released and had the battery explode when I turned it on. The only guy to fall off a Segway? Um. No, maybe not. But you get the idea.

Or, to use my favorite analogy, it's like David Wilcox's Big Blue Poodle (from Live Songs & Stories):

I'm tryin' to find my way to some club, and somebody will have told me, "oh, you just drive straight on such-and-such, and you see the..." y'know, something ridiculous: "you see the HUGE BLUE POODLE, and then you CAN'T MISS IT... and then you turn right and..."

...and I'm thinkin' to myself: "now, I've been driving now, and driving and driving... and I have only one landmark to go by. What if I... missed it?" And you know they said you can't miss it (which is the kiss of death) so what if I'm just driving into oblivion, and I'll just drive for the rest of my life, you know?

And the reason why it bugs me... Y'know, it's no big deal -- I can make it to the club, I can skip the sound check. I'll find it, eventually.

It's only bad directions.

It bugs me on a metaphorical level, because it's just too much like life.

Y'know, like as a kid when you're asking people "well how do you know... when it's true love?"

What do they always say?

"Oh, you'll know, you'll know."

Well, y'know, that's like saying "you can't miss it." It's the KISS OF DEATH, y'know...

...you just imagine you're 96 years old: "No, I'm holding out for the big blue poodle... They said it was on the road here, 'I can't miss it...'"

To follow through with the analogy, you could say that I've already made the turn at the big blue poodle. Except that, well, it turned out that it wasn't actually the big blue poodle.

I kinda jumped the gun... y'know? I didn't want to miss it... And, well... at the time, it seemed kinda poodle-like. But well, y'know, maybe it was really, uh, like a big shrubbery. Or a rock or something that kinda looked like a poodle? Y'know, from the right angle it might have looked like some kind of dog or something. Ok -- so maybe it was a big rock that might have been shaped more like a fish. And it was red. But I coulda sworn there was a sign next to it that said that it was a blue poodle. (Ok, maybe it said I was a poodle. It's been a while, it's hard to remember the details.)

And I wasn't entirely sure there really were any poodles on this road, so I figured it was close enough, you know?

So anyway, it took me a few years to get back on the road.

A few years ago and a few years later, I thought I might have really found the poodle -- so I turned... but there wasn't actually a turn off. And when I got the car back on the road, I noticed something up ahead and pulled up to it to figure out what it was.

I'm pretty sure it's blue, but you know -- what if what we call "blue" is actually perceived as a different color by different people? So, if I could look at something I think is "blue" with someone else's eyes, it would look... "orange," except they'd call it "blue" because it's always been "blue" to them. Then is it really blue? (So maybe it's orange. Or aqua. Or cyan. WTF is cyan, anyway?) And I think it's a poodle. Well, a dog, probably. But what if it's really a puli or something? And is it big enough? "Big" is a pretty subjective word. . . .

Yeah, so I've been here a while, but I really don't want to mess this up again. Of course, there's more than one way to mess this up. Yeah, we're good like that.

So maybe that's a little backstory, perhaps more than was necessary, which we can set aside so we can move on to more important things.

Things like: congratulations Matt and Amy! Congratulations H, J, V, M, B, C, and all the A to Z's that I've forgotten or haven't heard from yet. Congratulations, good luck, well wishes and happy thoughts to all of you.


I hope to see you all soon, with my own poodle.

Monday, March 14, 2005


Originally uploaded by tallasiandude.

Boston's Run to Remember Half-Marathon, March 13, 2005.

Started a little slower than I had originally planned, but ended up finishing around where I wanted to be. Chip time: 1:45:19.

Next up: Big Lake Half Marathon on May 7th.

But I'll probably take a few days off before starting up again.

Google, you fail me.

I've been a advocate of Google for quite a while. I'm generally not the early-adopter type, and I certainly hadn't picked up on Google when they first went beta or anything (I'm just not that plugged in), but I did start using it in the fall of '99 when I heard some buzz on it and I noticed a friend and coworker using it at the office. It was hard not to: it stood head and shoulders above the competition at the time, and y'know, not being Microsoft is always a plus in my book.

So I was trying to find some information to an animated short that I had seen at an animation festival at the Coolidge a few years ago. I think it was a flash animation that had two kids sitting across each other discussing the merits of their cup-o-noodles that they were eating. I figured I'd find something, but no such luck. I actually remember having this same problem when I was trying to write about ramen last August. Eventually I figured I could just link to my original post, but Blogger (also owned by Google now) was acting up, so I was having a hard time finding the original post from the editing index.

So of course, I tried to google it.

And found... nothing.

WTF, yo?

Ok, so I realize that there's a lot of chaff in the blogosphere. You'll even find "blogs" now that are basically just being used as link farms, presumably trying to increase their search ranking by saturating the pages with link after link after link to porn, consumer sites, erectile dysfunction meds, ad promotion, porn, insurance, porn, and, well, porn. So I totally expect the search engines to do some kind of filtering to try to keep this stuff under control and maintain the relevancy of their search results.

I realize that there are very few people that read this blog who haven't stumbled on it by accident following the "next blog" link on the header of all the free Blogspot blogs out there. Still, this was annoying. I felt so, well, not relevant.

Hello, my name is Chopped Liver. Pleased to meet you.

So fine. We'll ditch the general search for references to the animated short and just do a search on my blog.

See? I'm being specific now. I'm not putting on airs about how important I think my opinions are. I just want to find something on my blog. Someone else might want to do that, right?


If you do a search on "grey matter gruel" and just about any other noun, you either get the "tough noogies" page, or if you're lucky, you'll get a link to a page that links here. So I google:

"grey matter gruel" cup o' noodles - Nothing
"grey matter gruel" noodles - Nothing
"grey matter gruel" animation - Matt's page
"grey matter gruel" ramen - Matt 's page and the Bostonite webring

No such problem on Yahoo-exclamation-point or AltaVista. Dogpile and Webcrawler (apparently, both search aggregators) only find the top page. Oh, and nothing on MSN. Congratulations Microsoft, looks like you're in good company.

Ok, I think I see the pattern, after having some success with "running," "movie," "manhattan," "chinese," and "hoops." It looks like they stopped indexing the archives sometime in early 2004. (Geez, I am such a nerd.)

C'mon Google, you guys are smart -- you can do better than this. Or are you going to be like every other company that started out sharp and innovative and cool that just grew too much for their own good and got lazy and complacent?

Friday, March 11, 2005

The pitfalls of contentment

A few months ago, I wrote a post about appreciating the things that I had going for me.

The cynical me has always tried to keep expectations low, because when it comes right down to it, if things don't work out, at least you won't be disappointed. But I've been trying to ignore him, Mr. Negativity, of late. And thus I've attempted to venture forth into the new frontier, the new millennium as it were. The new and improved me -- confident, centered, hopeful, positive. (I mean, let's not be stupid: there's no sense in unnecessarily walking under anvils or driving behind piano movers. Living next door to bomb factories. But really, there's no need to expect the worst.)

So despite everything that had been going on at the time -- the upcoming presidential election, discontent at work, and just a general malaise -- I came to the conclusion that things were Ok. I might have been in a rut, but I really had nothing to complain about. I took a step back and said to myself, "Y'know, self? Life is good."

And six months later, Bush has been reelected, I've lost my job, and as of yesterday, my girlfriend, the SOOTTAD, has accepted a new job in Chicago and will be moving there in the next few weeks.


This immediately makes me think of two things:

  1. I really ought to get around to signing up for my COBRA benefits before the NEXT BAD THING happens.

  2. Maybe I shouldn't feel too accepting and content with what I've got now, lest something even more catastrophic happen to try and get me to readjust my perspective yet again.

I mean, it's not like the world has come to an end. We'll get through this. But I have to say -- I really don't like this game.

Friday, March 04, 2005

Thursday, March 03, 2005


Milk? No.

Chicken? Beef? No and no.

Originally uploaded by tallasiandude.

This is our freaky, starch-loving kitty licking the breadcrumbs off my sandwich plate.

He will also eat mashed potatoes.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

Meditate on this

I keep forgetting that running is a form of meditation for me.

It's been far to easy to think of it only as training, therapeutic maintenance for my back, and more recently as a mood enhancement.

It also doesn't click when I'm running with other people or when I'm running at the gym. Ugh, the gym. At the gym, my brain is all over the place: I'm thinking about my pace, the time; I'm concentrating on adjusting my stride to the infernal machine; I'm watching my mileage, the clock, other people, the TV. There are just too many distractions. And it's intentional, because you're trying to distract your brain, because it's just so damn boring. Just go, do your thing, get it over with, and get the hell out of there. If people try to exercise more (say, for a New Year's resolution) by joining a gym, it's no surprise to me that so many people don't stick with it. It drives me crazy, and I LIKE exercising.

No, it can only be a meditation when it's solo, outside, preferably on quiet roads or through the woods.

I had forgotten, until yesterday.

It was cold. I didn't really want to go out, but I hadn't run all weekend; two days off since the long run on Friday.

I'd been thinking about a class from the previous day. It's a class that focuses on people skills, taught in the context of the therapeutic relationship, but which has broader application in developing general communication skills and self-awareness. For the most part, the class has been enjoyable, but some of the discussion and exercises in Sunday's class (on self-awareness and finding the core self), didn't jive and had left me a bit frustrated.

And so that's where my head was when I went on this run.

Well no -- I was probably spending more time dwelling on how I didn't really feel like going out in the cold, but that I needed to put some miles in, and that being outside would be better than being in the gym.

Probably high 20s, headphones on (MP3 player in an inner layer). Just wanting to get the damn thing over with.

And sometime around mile 3, past the busy intersection by the hotels and the 'Co and the Despot, past the last traffic light, with the reservoir on my right and the woods on my left, I find my rhythm.

There's a mindfulness to it. Breathing, moving.

Breathe in, breathe out. Left foot, right foot. Arms swing. A gentle pendulum twist between the shoulders and hips. The road passing underneath. And just you inside your head.

I found my core. Connections between memories and thoughts. It was good, but I'll spare you the details.

Running IS exercise. But it's also mindfulness of your breath, of your body. There's discipline and dedication*. And hopefully clarity of thought.

In the most recent issue of National Geographic, there's a photo of a Buddhist monk chanting under the frigid waters of a waterfall in Japan. I thought it was a cool picture, but I remember thinking that, in the pursuit of a more spiritual self, I probably drew the line somewhere well before standing beneath a torrent of freezing water.

But I will run. (Although I'm thankful I've only had to run in the rain once this season so far.)

* I found an article that discusses the difference between discipline and dedication on the Runner's World site. Check it out. As a dedicated, but fairly undisciplined runner, I found it an interesting and valuable way of looking at things.