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Archive for June, 2012

It’s been a while since I wrote about our trip to Bali, Indonesia, but I’m not yet finished writing about it.

While we were staying in the town of Ubud, the first few days we stayed in a hotel that we had to walk to down a long alley of about 500 feet.  It was a very narrow alley, so narrow that if you drove down it in an SUV, you couldn’t open the doors on either side.  How the drivers manage to get in there without scratching their vehicles is a mystery to me.

However, the last part of the week we stayed in a private house a bit further away.  It belonged to a lady who lives in the US most of the year and rents it out to travelers like us when she isn’t using it.

This was a really nice place but you had to exercise to get there.  The house was at the bottom of a hill and to get to it, you had to walk up 100 steps.  I know how many steps it was because I counted.  We tried not to come and go too often because from house to street level was at least a 5 minute journey each way.

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Along the walk there, we passed by several other houses.  The most interesting one was the place with stone Hindu sculptures outside of it, no doubt belonging to another wealthy westerner.

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This place was a risky location to stay because it was located next to a rice field. The wife would sometimes get hungry and try to eat the crops:

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But on to the house itself!  It was private amongst the trees, although we had neighbors that were located about 100 feet away.

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You can see the porch in front of the house in the picture below.

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This house had many of the things you associate with a tropical resort: outdoor facilities, a hammock and a private swimming pool filled with somewhat cold water:

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Here’s a picture of me just kind of lounging in the morning, fiddling on my phone which was connected to the wifi:

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The inside was nice, too.  It had two floors: a bedroom upstairs with a balcony (which is where the hammock was), a porch downstairs (which is where I am in the picture above), and kitchen facilities.  We would often walk the 10 minutes to the grocery store, excluding the time it took to get from the house to the street, to stock up on supplies and then walk back to the house (up the stairs) where we’d make our own food.

Downstairs, the kitchen is on the right (you can see a water jug covered in a cloth):

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Upstairs bedroom:

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But the most interesting part of the house was the bathroom; it wasn’t indoors.  It was an outdoor bathroom!

Now before you curl your lips in disgust, it was a private bathroom.  I went out there and looked around, it was covered from almost all angles.  Looking from pretty much any building you couldn’t see anything.  Here’s a view looking at the sink:

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The big white stone thing on the right is the sink.  You turn a faucet and water comes out.  If you turn it the wrong way, water sprays out at you and soaks you.  I did that five times.

Do you see the little head carving of at the top in the middle of the picture?  That’s the shower faucet.  Above you is nothing.  No roof, no doors, you are completely exposed.  But as I said before, it is covered from almost all angles because the walls are high enough to block anyone’s view and your neighbors are far away.  The only real risk are if someone walks into the bathroom, or Google Earth satellites taking your picture from 155 miles above the planet.  But it’s still a little weird standing stark naked in the outdoors having a shower where you feel like the whole world can see you.

The toilet is around the corner, to the right of that tree.  There is a screen in front of it so you are only exposed from one side.  In fact, from the shower, you can’t even see the toilet and vice versa.

The picture below is the outdoor bathtub taken just in front of the screen which is just in front of the toilet.  We never used this (I’m not sure I want to sit in a stone tub outdoors) but it was interesting nonetheless.

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All in all, this was a neat experience.  Even though it costs more than a regular hotel (although not a 5-star hotel) I recommend that people try the private dwelling.  It’s quiet and it’s almost like living at home, except you’re on vacation!

And that’s where we stayed in Bali.

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I’ve got to write this stuff down.

Four months ago, in February, I had a follow up appointment with my surgeon who did my third hip operation.  At the time, I was doing okay although I was still a little sore. He told me to come back in four months.  I scheduled an appointment but forgot to write it down.

Or maybe I did write it down somewhere.  But if I did, I don’t remember where.  I knew I had an appointment coming up but I didn’t know when.  But I figured “Oh, it’s alright.  They’ll phone and remind me when it’s coming up, they always do.”

But they didn’t.

I called them up last week and asked “Um, yeah, I’ve got an appointment with the doctor coming up soon but I can’t remember when it was.  Can you look it up for me?”

They agreed to look it up, and when the lady on the other end found it, she said “It says here it was scheduled for last week.”

I paused for a moment.  “Oh.”

“Do you want to schedule another appointment?”

“Yes.”

I scheduled it, and this time I put it in my Outlook calendar and into my phone.  That’s what I normally do; I’m not forgetting it next time!

I hope.

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Several years ago, I stumbled across the webpage wherethehellismatt.com, created by Seattle resident Matt Harding.  It’s a video of a guy who traveled around the world doing a silly dance.  It’s entertaining because he does it in random places and sometimes random people join in.  It’s very inspirational.  It inspired me to do my own dancing videos: once around Australia and Fiji, once around every building at the Microsoft campus around Puget Sound, and once around the world.

Dancing Matt did his original video in 2003, and then followed it up with another one in 2006 and a third one in 2008.  Since then, he has gotten married and had a kid, but during that time he was working on a fourth dancing video around the world.  This one is his most ambitious one as in it, he does actual dancing moves rather than his crazy jig.

Anyhow, check it out.  You can view it below:

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Every once in a while, I like to look at cars.  The wife won’t let me get a new (i.e., slightly used) one, but I do like to browse through the parking lot and look at them. It’s fun.  However, I prefer shopping for cars after hours when all the dealers have gone home.

Why is that?

Because every time I go looking through a dealer lot in person during regular hours, after about 3-5 minutes a salesman walks out and starts chatting to me about cars, if I’m in the market for a new one (no), if I’d consider trading in my older one (no), and if I’d like to hear about their financing plans (no). 

I just want to browse in peace. Just leave me alone, please.  I know you have to make sales and I know it’s your job to get me to buy. But when you come up and chat to me, I start to feel bad that I’m wasting your time and I then get really uncomfortable and it’s awkward.

I just want to look without anyone looking over my shoulder. But your desire for a sale (on the offbeat chance that maybe I will buy something today) no doubt trumps my desire for to be left alone.  So when I think about browsing during the day, I decide that I’d prefer to avoid that awkwardness altogether.  And because of that, I do most of my browsing on the Internet which is not nearly as much fun, nor is it nearly as informative

And that’s really too bad.

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I’m working on an iPad app.

I’m not going to reveal what it is just yet (not until it’s officially released) but I’m pretty excited this. It’s basically a travel-themed app that combines some of my strengths.

I first got the idea for doing something like this back in New Zealand when the wife and I were on a hike in New Zealand on my birthday.  In fact, this is the hike we were on:

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We were walking back on this hike and all of a sudden I got an idea and started thinking through it. I was like “What a brilliant idea!”

We got back from New Zealand in December and the idea went no where for something like 5 months.  I did a bit of investigation as my original investigation called for a physical product.  But when I looked into manufacturers in China, they all wanted something like 5000 initial units. I didn’t want that many, what if I couldn’t sell them all (or any of them)? Where would I store these things?

That’s when I got the idea to change my product into an app. With an app, I could do more with it and distribution would be way cheaper. So, one evening, I sat down and converted my idea from a physical product into an app.

I started drawing it out on a piece of paper.  I then moved to the computer and started making sketches of it, doing wireframes.  I worked on it for about a week and a half, tweaking things, until I got it right. It’s still not finished but I need to see an actual prototype before I tweak it some more.

Next, I started looking for developers. I can program but I am not good at graphics.  And for my first one, I want a professional.  I went to oDesk and posted an advertisement for an iOS developer and got back 22 responses in one day.

22!

I weeded through them all, looking at the portfolios, and then yesterday made a decision.  I went with the most expensive one but he is also the one that – by far – instilled the most confidence.

So that’s where I’m at.  I have the basic design, I have a programmer, and now I have to create the content.

Hopefully it’ll be up in the Apple app store in a few weeks!

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There’s a story this past week that a bunch of bullies on a school bus were harassing an elderly woman (68 years old) that was recorded on video and went viral. The boys, who were teasing the woman from upstate New York, were pretty cruel.

As I said, the story went viral. People from all over the country started making donations to send the woman on a vacation to DisneyWorld, and some corporations even pitched in to pay for the airfare.  You can read about the story here.  Here’s an excerpt:

The video of the seventh-graders cursing, taunting and physically threatening a crying Klein has become a rallying point against bullying. It has also prompted an overwhelming outpouring of support for the longtime school bus worker.

An online campaign to fund a vacation for Klein had grown to more than $500,000 by Friday afternoon, far surpassing the initial $5,000 goal. Max Sidorov, the Toronto man who started the fund two days ago, said he did so partly because he was bullied himself as a child.

"Maybe we can send her on a great, early retirement," Sidorov told The Associated Press.

This is a good news story in that people are coming together to help the picked on lady who did nothing to deserve the torment; it’s a good thing.  But the story continues:

But not all of the reaction has been positive. School officials in Greece, N.Y., and the boys who bullied Klein have received a barrage of threatening messages. Police stepped up patrols near the teens’ homes.

"We have a cellphone of one of the boys, and he’s received more than 1,000 missed calls and more than 1,000 text messages threatening him," Capt. Steve Chatteron said. "Threats to overcome threats do no good."

The bullies are now getting repercussions for their behavior, and cooler heads are urging the public to tone it down.

I have a very difficult time feeling sympathy for the kids who did the initial bullying.  As someone who was bullied every single year from seventh grade through twelfth grade (usually by a new bully, but sometimes the same one would return), I get a sense of satisfaction from that.

A big part of it is my brain; our limbic systems are parts of our brain that are designed to react automatically without thinking, and there are four things that are very susceptible to the limbic system:

  1. Food
  2. Sex
  3. Money
  4. Revenge

The non-thinking part of my brain sees bullies getting what they deserve and this is reinforced by the fact that I know exactly how it felt to be bullied and I feel like the vengeance I never got when I was a kid is now being doled out by proxy.

My neocortex is saying “Oh, good for the community!  It’s good to see people coming together to help this lady!” but my limbic brain is saying “Oh, the bullies can’t take their own medicine? Well, now they’re getting what they deserve!” and that brings me more satisfaction than the good news part of the story.

I don’t know the nature of the threats and if I did, the oxytocin in my brain would probably kick in and I’d say “Okay, that’s enough.” But sitting here from afar, remembering my own experiences, the emotion of contempt and revenge is the dominant one.

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I found another article yesterday about several students at a hypnosis show in Montreal were left in a hypnotic trance for several hours after watching a hypnotist’s act.  The performer was unable to bring them out of the trance and instead had to ask his mentor to break them out of it.

A group of young students at an all girls school were left in "mass hypnosis" after a demonstration from a fledging hypnotist reportedly left them locked in a trance.

Maxime Nadeau was forced to call on his mentor for assistance after the hypnotist could not reverse the condition of several 12 and 13-year-old girls at the Collège du Sacré-Coeur private school in Quebec. One of the girls was reportedly left in a trance for five hours.

"Being in a trance is a state of well-being," Nadeau told the CBC‘s French-language service. "I wasn’t stressed. I knew they would get out of it."

Still, Nadeau eventually called in his mentor and trainer Richard Whitbread to reverse the effects.

Hypnosis enjoys a reputation amongst the general population as something that is mysterious.  When you’re put into a trance, you are in an altered state; you’re not awake but you’re not asleep, either.  You’re somewhere in-between.

Among skeptics, hypnosis is not that.  It’s one of the following:

  • Social pressure – You do things because you’re on-stage and want to be the center of attention.

  • Suggestibility – You want to be “hypnotized” and therefore you play along with the performer’s suggestions.

You’ll notice during a show that a hypnotist will frequently bring many people up on stage and will gradually eliminate them until he is left with 6-10 who are then asked to do many crazy things.  But most skeptics will say that they are not in a trance or an altered state – they are simply playing along.  There is no such thing as being hypnotized.

Yet people are capable of telling themselves things and then doing them. A person who is “hypnotized” cannot move their arm because they believe they cannot move their arm.  But for centuries, nobody could run a 4-minute mile.  Then someone did.  Now people do it all the time.

The placebo effect is real and measurable, too.  Sugar pills don’t do anything but they have real and measurable effects.  But it doesn’t mean that we intentionally market pills that are placebos (at least, not as established by the scientific community).

So this one girl was hypnotized for hours.  What happened?  She believed she was in a trance, and she believed that the guy’s mentor could bring her out of it.  In reality, he could have gotten a friend of his to bring her out of it just by saying the words “I’m his teacher, and when I count to three and tap my finger on your forehead, you will be completely refreshed and not hypnotized.  One, two, three!”

That’s what happened.

Probably.

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You know Easter Island?  That island in the Pacific ocean 500 miles off the coast of South America? The one with all the heads and statues?  Yeah, that one.

You’ve probably heard of the island but you most likely don’t know its backstory.  Easter Island used to be a thriving “metropolis” for much of its history until it became overpopulated.  It had several rulers simultaneously and its kings built those great monuments to themselves – the stone heads.

Unfortunately, rather than attend to the ecosystem of the island, the kings tried to outdo one another and built all those useless statues.  They also cut down all the trees on the island.  In order to move those huge statues they had to chop down the forest, put the statues on the trees as rollers, and then drag them into place.

This deforestation devastated the island. It changed the ecology of the place and the population of Easter Island collapsed. Without the natural resources of trees, which kept climate change in check, it could not support all those people living there.  Decades (centuries?) later, Europeans would invade the island in search of plunder and raided the islanders, taking them back to South America to be used as human slaves.  But by that time, the island was in complete decline. It leads to the question – what was that Easter Islander thinking as he cut down that last tree?

But that’s what happened – environmental change caused by humans led to its downfall.

Today I read an article on Yahoo News. In it, some researcher proposes a new theory about how the Easter Islanders moved all those big statues (and they are big, weighing many tons).  Rather than moving them sideways on a series of planks and rollers like a sled (which is why they cut down those trees), the natives had them upwards and “walked” them into place.

The “scientist” who came up with this theory first proposed it, then constructed his team to re-enact it which is what you see in the photo above (notice that there are no large trees whereas centuries ago Easter Island was covered in them).

Writing in July’s issue of National Geographic magazine, California State University at Long Beach archeologist Carl Lipo and Hawaii anthropologist Terry Hunt postulate that Polynesian natives used a system of ropes and manpower to walk the statues across the island.

"A lot of what people think they know about the island turns out to be not true," Lipo says.

Using the ropes, islanders would stand on each side of the statues, swaying them back and forth to create the walking effect.

Popular theory has held that the islanders created sled-like devices out of the island’s trees to cart the statues. That theory also claims that deforestation from the island’s inhabitants as part of the statue transporting process was directly tied to the population’s eventual downfall.

Instead, Lipo and Hunt say the island’s population was actually sustainable and instead fell victim to disease when European explorers first visited the island. In fact, Lipo said the cooperative effort involved in his transportation theory might have led to a more harmonious existence amongst Easter Island’s inhabitants.

This theory is absolutely ridiculous. What kind of moron would you have to be to “walk” a big statue into place with a series of ropes in the above?  When you move a couch, you move it on its side unless you have to get it around corners.  When you transport anything big, you lay it on its side.  Why?  So it won’t fall down and break! 

Gravity and friction make it too inefficient to move any other way.  The only time you would “walk” something into place is to move it the last little bit; you don’t do it over long distances.

So why would Professor Moves-a-Little propose this dumb theory?  Because he wants to believe that the reason Easter Island collapsed is not because the islanders did it to themselves by deforestation, but because evil, white Europeans came and raided the island and introduced foreign species like rats. The natives just wanted to live in peace with nature.

Let’s be clear – white Europeans did loot the new world. That’s why they left Europe, they were in search of new riches.  And they did loot Easter Island.  But Easter Island was in decline long before Europeans ever reached there.

The researchers are avoiding the most logical explanation to support their theory. The myth of the highly tuned-to-nature pre-modern man is not true.

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This past week I got a call from my mortgage broker about a new program from the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that they are giving responsible home owners a break.  If you’ve made your payments on time and you have a decent credit score, they will lower your interest rate to market rates.

This is a great deal.

I have three options:

  1. I can refinance at 3.875% and pay nothing to refinance. There are no other costs other than getting a new 30-year loan at a lower interest rate.

  2. I can refinance at a lower rate of 3.75% and pay about $500 for this option.  You might think that this makes more sense, but as it turns out, it does not.

    I did the math and paying a lower interest rate means less interest (well, duh) but it also means a smaller mortgage interest deduction on my taxes. Because I plan to keep on paying the same amount each month (the extra goes towards the principal), the lower mortgage payment would not result in any additional money in my pocket each month.

    As it turns out, it’s actually better for me to take a slightly higher interest rate because the lower rate only pays off the loan 5 months earlier but I get fewer mortgage interest deductions.

  3. I can do nothing and stick with my current loan. At the rate I am going it will take 27 more years to pay it off without making any additional payments.  If I go with either of the above options, I pay it off in 20 years.  Therefore, this option is rejected.

Math is fun when you can use it for real life.

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Ever since I got the GPS, going hiking has become a lot more fun.  I can create a trail ahead of time and upload it to the device, then I can view statistics about the hike afterwards.  It’s neat!

Even better, I’ve (almost) gotten the hang of figuring out how much further we have to go to the next point (whether it is a junction, a trailhead, or the end of a hike). The one thing that still annoys me about it is that it takes forever to acquire a signal. Thanks to its lollygagging, we didn’t capture the first 0.6 miles of the hike.

Today we went out to Lake Serene, which is a hike just outside of Goldbar, WA.  From our place it takes a little under an hour to get there. Even though it’s June, it’s still cold out and you have to dress for multiple weather conditions – warm, cold and rain.

Today, we had all three.  It was warm going up the trail, but cold at the top; I had to put on extra clothes. It also started raining near the top and didn’t stop until we came back down again.  The wife and I both got very wet. Indeed, this was the wettest hike I have ever been on (although not the coldest).

Below are the trip statistics:

Hike: Lake Serene
Distance: 7.5 miles roundtrip – includes the walk up to the waterfall
Elevation Gain: 2000 feet

Below is the Google Earth screenshot.  You can also view it in Google Maps but it doesn’t have the trailhead.

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Here’s a picture of me by the lake. You can see that there’s still a ton of snow on it:

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That picture is deceiving because it looks like the water is just behind me maybe three or four feet.  In reality, the water is about 30 feet behind me and I’m about 20 feet above the surface of the water; the rock slopes downward sharply and if you’re not careful (it was raining up there) you can slip and slide down.  But because of the angle the picture is taken from, it looks really close.

Here’s a panorama shot of the lake:

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Another optional part that is 1/2 mile each way at a junction (you can see on the map above how it breaks off a bit) is the waterfall. We went up there and this was one big waterfall.  You can get close to it and water is just spraying everywhere:

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I could only stand there for a few moments because the spray coming off of there was drenching me.  It doesn’t show up that well in the picture, but trust me, it’s there.

So that’s what we did today.

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This week, I was reading on The Associated Press that they recently discovered 100 new terracotta warriors over in China.

A member of an archaeology team unearths a terracotta warrior at the excavation site inside the No.1 pit of the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses, on the outskirts of Xi'an, Shaanxi province, June 9, 2012. It is the first time that shields have been unearthed during an excavation. A large number of the terracotta warriors and horses bear traces of burn marks, which are suspected to have been caused by Xiang Yu, a military leader who rebelled against the Qin Dynasty (221 BC - 207 BC), according to local media. REUTERS/Stringer (CHINA - Tags: SOCIETY) CHINA OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN CHINA

If you don’t know what the terracotta warriors are, it’s okay.  When I first went to China in 2008, I had never heard of them before.  White people are usually familiar with European culture and history but we know very little about far east Asian cultures other than Chinese people eat with chopsticks and the Japanese make good cars and electronics.

Anyhow, the terracotta warriors were in the 1970’s by a Chinese peasant digging a well not too far from the city of Xi’an.  He discovered a bunch of buried stone carvings of Chinese fighters.  They were built by the first Chinese emperor over 1600 years ago.

The thing about the warriors is that there are tons of them, and they are life size.  They are literally taller than I am and each one is different than the other.  You can see their faces and each of them is unique to the individual soldier; no copying-and-pasting!  It’s unreal just how much time and effort they put into them. It’s theorized that the all of the warriors are facing east (I think) in order to stand guard in a certain direction in order to repel invaders.

When I got there and saw the warriors, I was blown away. “Wow, why have I never heard of this?” I took a bunch of pictures there but I lost my camera in the city the next day.

This discovery is cool because archaeologists have discovered 110 new warriors.  That sounds like a lot but they already have at least 1000 and they aren’t even finished digging yet.  Some of them are color statues which adds another element of coolness to it.

If you ever visit China, you need to visit the terracotta warriors near Xi’an.

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My influences in magic

During my previous post, I was reading on Wikipedia that Japanese anime director Isao Takahata influenced filmmake Hayao Miyazaki.  That got me to thinking: which magicians have influence my style in magic?

I have made this list often in my head, but this is the first time I have formally written it down.  Here they are, in order:

  1. Lance Burton

    Lance Burton is a Las Vegas magician with a smooth, ballroom style of performing.  He wears a tuxedo when he performs and he is very good at sleight-of-hand.  He did a trick on TV during the World’s Greatest Magic in 1994 which is what inspired me to become a stage magician.  I have never seen him perform live, but next time I go to Vegas I am going to get tickets (my wife can consider this advance notice).

  2. Guy Hollingworth

    Guy Hollingworth is easily the magician who most influenced my style.  In 1996, during a TV special, he did two magic effects: Twisting the Aces (where a bunch of cards flip over in his hands) and Restoration (wherein he tears up and restores a signed playing card).  I later bought his book Drawing Room Deceptions, which contained some of the most difficult tricks ever to performed.  But I learned both of those tricks that amazed me!

    Hollingworth’s style was smooth and heavy in sleight-of-hand.  It’s because of him that I wanted to get really good at it, and for a few years in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s I was really good at it.  I’m still good, but not as good as I was.

  3. Alain Nu

    Alain Nu is a magician currently based out of Baltimore, Maryland (or maybe Washington, DC).  I first saw his TV specials on the Discovery Channel called The Mysterious World of Alain Nu.  What makes Nu so special is that he is a mentalist and is what first drove my interest in the topic.

    In 2007, I saw him give a lecture to my magic club where he showed a new twist on my favorite card trick The Invisible Deck. I was amazed when I saw it because I had been doing the trick for years and this new addition was absolutely fantastic and completely fooled me (fools others, too).  I bought his book and can do most of the ones in it, and have bought other effects from him including Any Card at Any Number and The Book Test where you pick a word from a book and I guess it. I’ve learned from him than any other mentalist.

  4. Derren Brown

    I first heard of Derren Brown in 2002 but I didn’t really get interested in him until 2009 when I started switching my act to mentalism. 

    I haven’t learned many of Brown’s effects but I have learned a lot from his performing style and borrowed some of it in my show.  Out of any magician I have ever seen, I have spent more time watching Derren Brown than almost anyone else.

  5. Penn and Teller

    When I was growing up, I enjoyed watching Penn and Teller.  They didn’t have very many TV specials, I only saw them once in a while.  But they were funny!

    It’s possible that they got me interested in magic from the very beginning because of how funny they were and even today they are still entertaining. I don’t do any of their tricks or even copy any of their style, but they are fun to watch and definitely care a lot about the art.  I can’t believe they’ve been around as long as they have.

Somewhat surprisingly, David Copperfield is not on the list.  I always heard of Copperfield and making the Statue of Liberty disappear, but he never appeared on TV specials that I saw growing up.  I don’t think I ever saw him perform until 2004 when I went and saw his show live.

Another performer that isn’t an influence on me is David Blaine.  While he did revolutionize TV magic with his style of performing, I never sought to emulate him or learn any of his effects.

Finally, the performer that has had no impact on me at all is Criss Angel.  In real life, he’s a really nice guy. I think he’s a good person.  But I don’t like his performing style, and I don’t like that he does “TV magic.” If you can’t do the same trick in person as you can on TV – at least 80-90% of your tricks – then it’s not really magic.

Those are my influences.

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A few years ago, my brother and I borrowed our friend Butters’ copy of the Japanese anime filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki’s movie Spirited Away. I remember really enjoying the movie.  It’s the story of a young, immature girl being whisked into a magical parallel world and she has to grow up and find her way back home, and at the same time rescue her parents.

Spirited Away  {Sen To Chihiro No Kamikakushi}

Since that time, I have seen four other Miyazaki films:

Castle in the Sky (one of my favorites)

Castle in the Sky  {Tenku No Shiro Rapyuta}

Princess Mononoke (which is my least favorite of the five I have seen)

Princess Mononoke  {Mononoke-Hime}


Howl’s Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle  {Hauru No Ugoku Shiro}

And finally, Kiki’s Delivery Service

Kiki's Delivery Service  {Majo No Takkyubin}

These are films that were originally made in Japan and for a Japanese audience, but they have been ported to North America and dubbed in English.

If you haven’t seen any of Miyazaki’s movies, you must see them, and you’ll get your chance if you live in Seattle.  They are coming to the Seattle International Film Festival at the end of June and beginning of July. Every day for about two weeks, they are showing two different movies.  Some of them are dubbed in English, while others are in Japanese but have English subtitles.

What makes Miyazaki’s films so good?

I don’t like all anime; I saw one called Spriggen which I thought was over-the-top violent.  There was a second one that was similar.  What sets Miyazaki’s films apart are that they are different:

  • The plots – The plot lines are more complex than traditional western movies.  In the west, there are clear good guys and bad guys and they are straight forward, most of the time.  We cheer for the heroes and boo the villains. Unfortunately, this carries over to real life and we frequently divide the world into heroes and villains (political parties, sports teams, even religions).

    Miyazaki is different.  Often times at the beginning there is a villain who seems bad, but halfway through the story you see things from their point of view and get a more sympathetic view of them.  They aren’t the bad guys anymore.  This makes you think hard before seeing things in black and white.

  • The themes – All of the films I have seen so far have young characters, less than 12 years old, as the protagonist.  In all of them, at the start of the story, they are immature and childish.  But as the movie progresses, they have to work and grow up and by the end, they are not the same characters they were before.  Growing up is an important theme in all of Miyazaki’s films I have seen.

I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of his movies, but also seeing some of the other directors (Hiroyuki Morita and Isao Takahata) with whom I have no prior experience.

Should be a good time. My parents are coming into town while these are playing, maybe I’ll take them to go see one or two of them.

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I’m getting seriously frustrated with my hip.

It seems like no matter how much I massage it, and no matter how many sore points I find and fix, the pain when I do certain movements always comes back.

I first started doing self massage last August and I was able release my muscles so that I was nearly pain free for a few minutes.  Since that time, the muscles that were hyper sensitive have gotten better and I have moved on to other muscles but the deep pain in my hip/groin always returns. 

I am wondering now if what I am doing is fruitless?  I have almost no more muscles that are painful to massage, yet I still have the same amount of pain as I did 6 months ago. 

Not sure what else to do.

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As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, the wife and I recently acquired a GPS device to take while we go hiking.  As I have fiddled with it, I have figured out some of the features, including the most common ones that I use.

Here’s what I have learned so far:

  1. The GPS does what it is supposed to do – it tracks where you go and it records individual hikes.  Afterwards, you can see how far you have gone.  You can do this on the device itself, or you can upload them to your computer and have a look.

  2. Some of the device’s menus are very unintuitive.  The most glaring example is the odometer.  The odometer is a quick way to view your trip statistics – elevation gained, stop time, moving time, average speed, and other statistics that aren’t useful.  It has 8 stats on the main screen.

    However, the odometer is continuous.  There’s no way to stop and reset the odometer for your next hike from the odometer screen.  This means that if you hike 5 miles one day, and 8 miles the next, it says you have gone 13 miles. 

    You can reset it, but you have to exit out and go to the Setup screen, go into the settings, and reset the odometer that way.  It’s a hacky workaround, but I guess it works.

  3. The GPS is a consumption device.  By that I mean that when you are out hiking, you just hit “Record” and start your hike and while you are walking, you can see how far you have gone. When you’re done, hit “Stop.”  You can’t map out stuff on the fly and do fancy things to see whatever paths there are.

    You can do that, but you have to do it offline.  You download charting software from Garmin, upload maps, plot your charts, do all the fancy stuff, and then upload to the device.  The GPS is meant to reflect all the stuff you do off the device.

So how does it work?

Well, we went hiking this past weekend, here’s a shot of Dog Mountain.

Length: 7.5 miles
Elevation gain: 2900 feet

image

The above chart was exported from the BaseCamp software.  There are more stats, but I think that length and elevation gain are the most important.  7.5 miles isn’t that far, but 2900 feet elevation gain is a lot!

But there’s another piece of software called MapSource.  MapSource isn’t as easy to use as BaseCamp.  Even though I can do everything in it that I can in BaseCamp, I haven’t figured out yet how to switch between tracks (the only way to do it is to go File –> Open; whenever you go to a new one, the old one is lost from memory. What year is this, 1982?).  For example, below is a shot of Indian Point.

Length: 7.8 miles
Elevation: 3000 feet

image

Here is the profile:

image

MapSource forces me to do multiple clicks to get the distance (I have to shift and click on all of the GPS navigation points) and to get the elevation, I have to look at that elevation chart and do the math (BaseCamp also has an elevation chart but the statistics are easy to get).

If I had to pick one of them, I would definitely select BaseCamp.  However, MapSource does have one significant advantage – it lets you export your track to Google Earth.  Here’s the landscape version of Dog Mountain:

image

Now that is seriously cool.  It’s too bad that BaseCamp doesn’t have this feature otherwise I’d use it all the time instead of splitting between the two of them.

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