Archive for May, 2009


Last weekend, I went down to the Folklife Festival in Seattle, which is right by the Space Needle.  My goal was to practice some of my newer mentalist effects.  Mentalism is a risk on the street because it’s not big and showy, and my style is more close-up.  I had 4 effects I wanted to rehearse on real people.

I went down to Seattle, found a place in the shade and watched the people go by for about 15 minutes.  I had to decide what my pitch would be.  At first I tried interrupting people as they went by and asked them if they wanted to see something.  They all said no, and I said "to heck with this."  That type of abrasive approach is not my style.

Next, I tried taking out a deck of cards and doing some flourishes.  This yielded mixed results.  A passerby would eventually stop and watch but it took too long.  I needed a better hook.  I went and sat down kind of out of the road and began to think.  I took out a spoon and started playing with it, and then started making it float up and down on my hand.  In other words, it balanced on my hand.  I wasn’t trying to attract a crowd, I was just playing around, thinking.  Suddenly, somebody stopped and said "Are you making that spoon float with your mind?"  Well, that was my opportunity.  I walked up to them and made the spoon lift up and down.

Next, I moved into a trick I brought along just in case (one of the four) but didn’t really plan to do.  I brought out a second spoon and gave one to the spectator.  I then proceeded to bend the other spoon in my hand in plain view of the spectators.  They were amazed!  I finished up with The Invisible Deck, may as well finish strong.  They moved on and I went back to the set of stairs and started doing the spoon thing again.  30 seconds later, somebody else saw me doing it so I did the same thing – a spoon bend and followed by Reminiscence, an effect where I pluck thoughts out of a spectator’s head, also very eerie.

At this point, I knew I had my hook.  I then decided to lean against a tree, very casual.  I watched people go by and then started "levitating" the spoon.  People would stop and I would then move into my spoon bending routine and then go into The Invisible Deck, Reminiscence, or Any Card at Any Number.  Sometimes I put two of them together.  I ended up getting a lot of practice with my spoon bending; I had only performed the effect once before, but doing it over and over again I got very good at it.

I didn’t get two perform two of the effects I wanted to rehearse.  I just didn’t think that the street was the right time to do it.  However, I did accomplish the following:

  • I am working on a small mini-routine featuring metal.  It will consist of spoon bending, but also coins.
  • I rehearsed another trick that hit every time before that day, but failed frequently towards the latter half of the day.  I don’t know why, it just wasn’t hitting.  But as I was doing it, I instantly came up with an "out" for it to make it look like part of the effect.  I’m quite proud of it.  But no details.

All in all, a successful day.

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Patriotism revisited

The other day, a bunch of friends and I were talking and the subject of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics came up.  I mentioned that I was planning on going to them to see Canada defeat the United States in the gold medal hockey game, or possibly Canada vs Russia.  I really don’t care who Canada plays, I’m quite sure that they were going to win.  I reassured everyone that I was planning on going because I was such a patriotic Canadian and it was my duty to go see my country celebrate our national sport.  Our real national sport, lacrosse doesn’t count.

"I heard that tickets cost in the neighborhood of $1000," said one of my friends.

Suddenly I became a lot less patriotic.  "Hmm," I said, "I need to figure out a way to get into that game for free."  Look at the key words — for free.  Not a reduced rate, but for nothing.  How in the world would I do it?

I wasn’t entirely sure, but last night I was reading one of my books on magic.  And that’s when I got an idea.  It’s going to be a stretch, but at least I have an idea on how to get into the gold medal hockey game at the 2010 Olympics at no charge to myself.  Will it work?  We shall see.

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Near miss

Today, while driving back from Seattle to a friend’s place, I nearly had a car accident.

I was traveling in the center lane of a two lane road (ie, on the inside lane with two lanes in each direction for a total of four lanes).  The lane beside me eventually turns right only, so cars in it have to turn to the right once they pass a traffic light.

I’m traveling down this street at 30 mph and there’s a car next to me.  The car was maybe a half car length ahead of me, so viewed from the side our vehicles are overlapping.  Suddenly, he starts veering into my lane!  At this point I just reacted.  I immediately swerved to my side; luckily there were no cars coming in the other direction and even if there were, there was a middle lane that is used for turning.

Anyhow, this swerves into my lane and without even thinking, I see him and swerve into the center turning lane.  I also slow down a bit.  But the thing is, he then puts his hand out of the skylight and waves at me, as if to thank me for letting him in!  I was like "Seriously?  Dude, you nearly side-swiped me!" 

That was a close one.

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A few months ago I bought myself a pair of dance shoes.  They differ from regular shoes (well, my regular shoes) in two ways:

  1. The soles have a smoother fabric on them which allows me to slide
  2. They have a bit of a heel; there is a gap between the heel and ball of my foot.  It’s like a very shallow high-heel

The shoes are good for dancing but they are not particularly comfortable.  Because of the way the shoes are, they put a lot of pressure on the ball (front) of my foot.  Because dancing position is asymmetrical (right hand on follow’s shoulder blade, left hand up in the air), I don’t do the same moves equally on both sides with regards to turns, spins, leads, etc.  The point is that by the end of the night, the ball of my right foot hurts.  It’s because my weight is going down my leg and onto that part of my foot.

As I was taking them off at the end of the evening, it occurred to me that women wear even higher heels than I do.  Thus, they are putting even more pressure on their feet.  I have to wonder how in the heck they do it.  If my foot is sore at only a couple of hours of being on my feet, I wonder how theirs feel?  Is there some sort of trick to it?  There has to be, because there’s no way anyone would voluntarily choose to do that to themselves for that long.

BTW, I’m aware that I’m somewhat admitting to wearing high-heels, so don’t bother pointing out.  Because they are dance shoes.  So shut up.

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Over the past few weeks, I have done a lot of performing at various events:

  1. America’s Got Talent
  2. The Seattle Gong Show
  3. Dance performance at the studio I attend
  4. A conference down in Los Angeles (it was for work but I performed an effect during my presentation)

Each of these, in various incarnations, have been consuming a lot of my time.  Now that they are all completed, my time is starting to free up.  I have no upcoming shows or anything like that so the question is this – where do I go from here?

At the moment, I am not planning on doing another dance performance.  After my first one, I was thinking about my second one.  But after my second one, I thought to myself that I had succeeded in doing what I set out to do.  I liked the music that I selected but ultimately, I don’t feel like I have anything else to prove, nor can I think of a song that I like well enough to do another show.  Besides which, I probably have to go back in for hip surgery and that will probably come in October.  So, that rules out a performance anyhow because that’s when the next one would be, I think.

That leaves magic.  I do not have any upcoming magic shows, but it has been my goal for a long time to get my act together (literally) and start advertising myself and doing more.  I have been considering doing some street performing down at Pike Place Market.  The advantage there is that I get a lot of traffic and can rehearse my act.  The downside is that mentalism doesn’t work as well on the street and I’d have to revert to my old act (sleight-of-hand) when I really want to advance my mentalist stuff.

That is my current dilemma.

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From time to time, I think about getting another form of transportation.  Not a motor vehicle, but a foot-pedaled one.

But not a bicycle, either.  I sometimes think to myself that it would be neat to get a unicycle.  You see, a bike is quite large and I would have to drag it into my apartment.  I’m trying hard to cut down on all the stuff I have, and as you can tell from my previous blog entry, I just went out and got a bunch of suitcases.  Sigh…

I wouldn’t ride my bike very often.  It rains too much in Seattle and most of the time I’d get wet.  Plus, I’d always have to lock it up everywhere I went.  With a unicycle it’d be the exact same thing, but the difference is that a unicycle is very unusual.  I’ve always wanted to ride one, it’s my life-long dream (since 2001).  I think it could be kind of neat.

But I’ll probably never do it.  Probably.

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I’m off to Los Angeles this week for a couple of days to attend a conference.  I’ve been traveling a bit lately and I decided that I need to get some luggage.  I already have a suitcase but it’s kind of large.  It’s good for going on longer trips but not so good for small trips.  I don’t want to have to lug around a bit piece of luggage even if it is on wheels.  I had to go and pick one up.

I went down to the store and headed to the luggage.  I took a look at a price tag and it said $200.  $200!  Oy!  For that price, I may as well keep the big suitcase.  But I looked a little closer… it said "Buy one, get one free!"  Well, that reduces the cost of a suitcase down to $100.  Still expensive but easier to swallow.  The problem is that I only need one bag.

I then continued to browse and saw another bag available for $140.  Even better.  But on closer inspection, it wasn’t one bag.  It was a bag, another bag inside, a carry-on bag (like for a laptop or something) and a personal bag, like what you put toothbrush, toothpaste, razor, etc, in.  In other words, it was 4 bags for the price of one.

But that’s not all.  Not only did you get 4 bags, if you bought one set, you got a second one for free!  Man, I didn’t need a second set of bags, but if they’re going to give me something for free, I’m going to take it.  I don’t really count the personal bag as a real bag,  it’s too small and I already have one.

But the point is, I decided to go with this option.  I walked into the store looking for one piece of luggage.  I walked out with six.  I can’t believe it.  What am I going to do with all of these luggage bags?

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From time to time, I browse discussion forums.  I really only go to a couple of forums, one is a Christian discussion forum and another is an atheist discussion forum.  I only ever go to the Politics boards, however.  I stay out of the theology boards because the discussions are all the same.

One thing that has come up lately is the subject of the United States’ use of enhanced interrogation, otherwise known as torture.  This is coming on the heels of the Obama administration’s decision to make public the torture memos issued by the Bush administration.  I have noticed that in general, the conservative Christians tend to be in favor of using torture while the atheists are categorically against it.  The atheists, in general, tend to lean leftward politically, so I should expand that by saying that the left-leaning participants are against torture while the right-leaning participants are for it.

I rarely visit the atheist forum, maybe once every two – four weeks.  But I could see that it was the general consensus that torture was always wrong, 100% of the time.  Being the contrarian that I am (that is, I always argue against the consensus opinion for some reason, no matter where I am), I decided to jump into a discussion.  Keep in mind that I don’t participate in discussion forums very often anymore.  I have better things to do because in general, I find it to be a waste of time.  People never change their opinions even when they are clearly shown to be wrong.

On this forum, the reasons that torture is wrong is the following:

  1. It is against the Geneva conventions.
  2. It doesn’t work, anyhow.  It produces false confessions.
  3. It is cruel and inhumane.
  4. Once torture is approved once, it’s net is widened and will start being routine rather than extraordinary.
  5. It preserves the dignity of the ones not doing it, ie, it is morally wrong to use it to extract information.

It’s hard to argue with those reasons.  There is merit to all of those.  But I cannot go so far as to say that torture should not be used 100% of the time.  Against each of these, I say the following:

  1. True, it is against the Geneva conventions.  But I don’t know the conventions well enough to comment.
  2. It does produce false confessions, but so can traditional interrogations.  Suspected terrorists can stonewall by the use of their silence.  And, as we learned from CIA documents, waterboarding was used on senior Al Qaeda operatives and it did produce actionable information.  So the claim that it doesn’t work is incorrect.  When you don’t have the luxury of time, other options that may take longer is a risk.

    The whole problem of torture is not that it doesn’t work, but that in exceptional circumstances, it does.

  3. It is certainly cruel.  I understand that.  I cannot advocate it’s wide use, only in very exceptional circumstances.  Torture can (and does) undermine good intelligence gathering but the whole point in using it is that it is not something to be used as a primary resort.  Sometimes, in very rare circumstances, you might have to get your hands dirty.  Because you cannot know how much time you have or whether or not it will even work, it is a difficult and complex decision.
  4. It is not true that once it is used once, it’s use will become widespread.  We know this is not true by counterexample – the Bush administration rescinded its use in 2003.  This is the slippery slope fallacy.
  5. The last one is the one with the least merit, in my opinion.  The person I was discussing tried to use the line of argument that using torture morally degrades the ones using it.  I countered with the argument if you don’t use it and the information that the person withholds leads to an attack that costs the lives of many innocent people, that does not make you morally superior because you decided to not use torture.  While you cannot know that using it would have extracted the information you need, you do know that you did not utilize all of your options.

    I don’t think that not using torture makes you morally superior when you are trying to protect the lives of others – I think it makes you smug in your self-assurance that you are preserving your own dignity at the expense of the lives of others.  Unless you are prepared to personally live with the consequences of your actions (namely, the risk of injury or death) then you need to stay stay out of the way and keep your mouth shut.

Again, I do not advocate the use of torture as widespread use.  Abu Ghraib was abhorrent.  But to claim that it can never be used 100% of the time is a step that I won’t take.

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Man, door-to-door salesmen annoy me (although not as much as my neighbors beneath me).

I don’t like door-to-door salesmen for a couple of reasons.  First, I’m too polite to end the conversation early and tell them I’m not interested.  I won’t interrupt them and let them finish their spiel before I finally end up saying no.  The net effect is that I end up wasting a lot of my time.  Second, I typically end up buying something and regretting it later, because then I have to phone up the customer service department and cancel what I just bought.  For some reason I feel bad (guilty) by telling them to leave right off the bat.

The other day, I got home from work and started walking to my apartment.  I saw that there was a guy standing outside my neighbor’s door and was talking to him.  Now keep in mind, I rarely see this neighbor.  He’s like a ghost.  As I got a little closer, I heard him saying the words "… for a professional such as yourself…"  I immediately knew what was going on — that guy was a door-to-door salesman.

I froze in place.  My mind started racing.  In that instant, I knew I couldn’t go home.  For you see, this guy probably already tried knocking on my door and saw I wasn’t home, so he likely moved onto my neighbor.  If I walked up the stairs, unlocked the door and walked in, this salesman would know I was home.  What was I going to do, pretend I wasn’t home?  That certainly wouldn’t work.  I had to think quickly.

I immediately turned around, put my bag back in my car and decided to go for a walk around the block.  That would take about 5 minutes or so.  And that’s just what I did.  Not only that, when I got back, the salesman was gone!  Success!  My plan worked! 

I congratulated myself on my spontaneous plan of action.  I achieved my goal of not having to talk to the salesman and I could genuinely pretend that I wasn’t home.  I like it when those types of plans of mine work out.

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I recently discovered I have a condition.  It’s called SW-syndrome.  But in order to describe what it is, I have to give you a bit of background.

Back in Winnipeg, I have a friend.  In order to protect his identity, I shall call him Shaun W.  No, wait, that’s too obvious — S. Warkentin.  Anyhow, this friend of mine, back in the day, used to walk around in winter with an old, kind of run-down jacket.  This was in spite of the fact that he could easily afford to get a different one.  I used to mock him and say "Why don’t you get a new one?  The cost to you is almost negligible."

He responded with the following logic.  "What for?  It’s warm and it does the job!"  I merely shook my head.  I couldn’t understand him.

Yet here I am, perhaps 2 or 3 years later, doing the exact same thing!  I have a leather jacket that, while functional, is starting to get a little old and decrepit.  Yet I can’t bring myself to get a new because, in SW’s words, it is functional.  Argh!  What is wrong with me?  Seriously?  It does not make sense (like the Chewbacca defense).

Thus, I dub the condition of being able to replace something that should be replaced, yet not doing so because the old one is functional, SW-Syndrome.

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Yesterday evening, I decided that I was going to stretch my hamstrings.  This is something that I used to do two years ago but ever since my hip surgery, I have let it slide.

It did not go well.

I leaned over to touch my toes and found it to be unbelievably difficult to do and hold for any length of time.  I held for a count of 20 and then moved onto the next stretch.  I put my leg up slightly more than horizontally and stretched the inside of my legs as well as my hamstrings.  I used to easily be able to get my leg above my shoulders.  Now I could barely get them halfway from my waist to my chest.  This was true for both my left leg and my right leg (for some reason, my right leg is more difficult).

I have lost a lot of flexibility and it’s high time I regained it.

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