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Archive for July, 2012

I had the most bizarre dream last night.

I dreamed that I woke up and I was in a cave.  I sat up after lying down and I said “What the?  Where am I?”  I looked around and the cave was icy, kind of like when Luke Skywalker was in the wampa cave in The Empire Strikes Back.  I was also wearing winter clothing.

Suddenly, the perspective shifted and the cave went out and rapidly moved up a sheet of ice to a large body of water.  In other words, there was a lake in a glacier, and the glacier was a mile thick, and at the bottom of the glacier was a cave.  And that’s where I was.

The perspective shift was like Google Earth when you go from one place to another.

Then it suddenly hit me – I was in Antarctica.

How I figured that out I don’t know, but somehow I knew it.  “How did I end up in Antarctica?” I wondered.

I walked out of the cave and started climbing up the glacier, all 1 mile of it.  At the top, I looked into the lake and there were a bunch of kayakers in stormy weather.

I could see the kayakers were taking on water, and it was absolutely freezing outside, but that’s what they were doing.  It was a bunch of kayakers on some sort of tour!

How did I end up here?

I scanned through my memory banks thinking this was crazy, when I remembered that the day before I had breakfast with a couple of my friends at a local restaurant.  To protect their identities, I’ll just call them “Todd” and “Frank.”  Anyhow, I had breakfast with them and I remember that Todd ordered me some egg dish that I didn’t want because it was so unappetizing.  During the conversation that ensued, I had talked about wanting to go to Antarctica one day because it seemed like a neat place to visit.

I then snapped back to the present and immediately suspected my friends.  I surmised that they drugged my food and somehow sent me to Antarctica, leaving me there to visit in my preferred destination.  I then began to wonder how I was going to get off that continent, seeing as how I had no idea how I got there to begin with.

And then I woke up.

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I heard a sermon the other day which mentioned certain prophecies in the book of Isaiah.  I thought I’d write about it because it’s my blog and I find theological topics interesting.  The minister who gave the message was using the traditional interpretation of the book of Isaiah and amongst conservative Christian circles, the passage is well understood.  I’ll rehash it quickly here.

  1. The book of Isaiah was written entirely by the prophet Isaiah.  It’s a fairly long book, 66 chapters.

  2. It’s a very prophetic book.  Isaiah lived in the southern kingdom of Judah, and at the time the most threatening nation in the world was Assyria.  Much of Isaiah contains oracles about the nation at the time. 

    Yet eventually, 150 years later, Judah would be invaded by Babylon and taken into exile.  Isaiah prophesied over 180 years that the king of Persia, Cyrus the Great, would declare that the Jews could return to Israel (Isaiah 45).  This was a very accurate forecast.

  3. The later chapters in Isaiah, especially chapters 52 and 53, are predicting the death and suffering of Jesus on the cross nearly 600 years after that, an even more accurate prophecy.

Thus, in the conservative interpretation, Isaiah deals with immediate concerns, distant concerns and much more distant concerns.

However, there is an alternative interpretation taken by critical scholars.  This interpretation denies that Isaiah contains prophecies but instead is about issues pertaining to Israel/Judah at the time.

  1. The book of Isaiah contains (roughly) three parts – 1 Isaiah, which was written around the time that Isaiah the prophet lived and deals with contemporary issues – Judah’s relation to Assyria.  1 Isaiah is chapters 1-39 of the book with some passages thought to be from a later period.
  2. 2 Isaiah is chapters 40-55 and was written while Israel/Judah was in exile after Babylon invaded and destroyed Jerusalem, or shortly after the exile.
  3. 3 Isaiah is chapters 56-66 and looks towards a future restoration of Israel as a light to the nations.  It dates either late in the exile or is post-exilic (after Cyrus the Great allows the Israelites to return to their country).

As you can see, conservative and critical interpretations of the book of Isaiah are quite different.  The conservative interpretation takes its view because it adheres to the doctrine of biblical inerrancy – the book says it was written by Isaiah, and since Isaiah lived in the 8th century BC, it must be a prophecy-before-the fact.  New Testament writers assert that the suffering servant in Isaiah 52 and 53 is Christ.

Critical interpretations take their view for the following reasons:

  1. Writers write about what is relevant to their audience at the time.  When George W. Bush was president, lots of authors released books decrying about how much they hated him, criticized him, etc.  Now that he’s out of office, who writes books about former President Bush?  Nobody.

    But lo and behold, now that President Obama is in office, plenty of books are written by right-wing authors criticizing how he’s a terrible president, a socialist, and so forth.  How many books about Obama do you think they’ll release in 2017 after Obama has been out of office for a year?  I’m betting almost none.

    Why is this?  Because people don’t write about irrelevant things; no one cares when the president is out of office.  They write about things that are relevant to them.  Thus, 1 Isaiah being written by Isaiah himself makes sense because he’s dealing with his contemporaries.  2 Isaiah is totally irrelevant, and so is 3 Isaiah.  What does it matter something that is 150 years in the future?  People back then would have cared about it as much as people today would care about things that will occur in 2162.  But an author who lived during and just after the exile is very relevant to the situation of the day, and therefore writes about life events.

    Somehow his writings get added to Isaiah’s original book, but the situation is this – 2 and 3 Isaiah are not future prophecies but instead commentaries by people living at the time.

  2. What motivated the writer of 2 Isaiah?  The Babylonian exile was a critical turning point in Israelite history.  How could the god of the Babylonians be stronger than the God of the Israelites?  The cruelty of the Babylonians is reflected in the bitterness of the writer of Psalms 137:8-9 where the author says “Blessed is the one who takes Babylonian babies and smashes them against the rocks.”

    To the Israelites, this catastrophe forced them to re-evaluate their view of their God vs. others’ gods.  Rather than others’ gods being more powerful than theirs, it was the God of the Israelites who was responsible for this situation, even that bad things that occurred.  This is reflected in Isaiah 45:7 where God is responsible for light, darkness, good and evil.

    There are no other gods, only the God of the Israelites.

  3. But the question is why did God allow the Babylonians to destroy their city? 

    God knows very well that his people were oppressed and that he allowed it.  But he would redeem his people.  In chapter 52, God would demonstrate his power and his servant would prosper, and all the ends of the earth would be amazed.  His servant, in context, is national Israel.  The writer is using a literary technique where the nation of Israel is personified as the suffering servant. 

    In chapter 53, it talks about the suffering of the servant so that the many descendants (vs. 10 and 11) could prosper and achieve righteousness.  The nation of Israel would be redeemed from the suffering they felt at the hands of Babylon.  This is reiterated in 54:8 where God declares he was angry but that he would have compassion.  In 55:4, God declares that he would display his power among the nations by taking his people who were crushed and then raising them up.

    Thus, the suffering servant is national Israel whom God allowed to be punished but then he would reverse their fortune.

  4. As an aside, Isaiah 55:11 is the verse where God says that his thoughts are higher than human thoughts, his ways are beyond anything humans can imagine.  People frequently use this verse to say that God acts in mysterious ways and we can’t understand his logic (they use the term “You can’t put God in a box”), but the context of this verse is that if people repent, God will have mercy. 

    This is counterintuitive – why would God be merciful and make them prosper? Because that’s who God is; this undeserved mercy (i.e., grace) is what makes God’s ways higher than ours because us humans prefer to dole out justice as we see fit.

That’s a very brief summary of the critical scholar’s interpretation of the book of Isaiah.  Rather than a future prediction of Cyrus the Great and Jesus, they have to do with historical events that the writer was living in at the time.

I leave it up to the reader to decide which version they agree with.

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Fresh from our 16 mile hike that we did yesterday, the wife insisted that we do yet another hike today.  I was a bit sore from yesterday, but not too bad.  The week prior I felt much worse.

This hike was a 70 mile drive from Seattle.  We got there around 2:15 pm and made the 7.3 mile round trip up the mountain to the lookout (a cabin built at the top of a mountain).  Even though this was a shorter hike and less elevation gain, I thought it was harder than yesterday.

Name of track: Thorp Mountain
Distance: 7.3 miles
Starting Elevation: 3463 feet
Highest Elevation: 5848 feet
Elevation Gained: 2445 feet (includes up-and-down backtracking)

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As I said, I found this hike to be more difficult. Our moving-to-stop-time ratio was lower today (meaning that we stopped and rested more often than yesterday) and our average moving speed was less as well.  What’s more is that the track gets progressively more difficult; the last half is where well over 2/3 of the elevation gains, and the last 1/2 mile gains 800 feet.  That is work.  On the way up, I kept saying “How much further is it to the top of this stupid mountain?!?”

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It also wasn’t nearly as warm today as it was yesterday.  Yesterday I could walk in a t-shirt and shorts, but today I had to wear long pants.  Then I had to wear a long sleeve shirt.  Then, in the final sprint to the top and after we got there, it was so cold I had to put on my toque, gloves and jacket.  That was pretty much all the clothes I brought along.  It was cold!

As for pictures, the below is a view of the lake that you can see in the topographical map above:

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This next shot is a view of the lookout cabin.  It’s gray all around because of the fog.  If it were a clear day, you would see blue sky.  When the fog rolls in, the temperature drops.

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This picture here is me wondering how much further it is to the top.  That last stretch nearly killed me.

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But the highlight of the track?  1/3 of the way through, we got to see the carcass of a dead horse that had died there the previous year (2011).  How did it get there?  I don’t know.  My theory is that it was a horse-and-rider that was trying to cross the river (small river) when it slipped and fell.  They couldn’t get the horse up and then it either drowned or die of injury.  That’s a tough way to go, even for a horse.

Still, it was cool to see (if you’re a guy).

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Here’s a link to the terrain view in Google Maps, and below is the screenshot in Google Earth.  I’ve been playing around with the 3D rotation and this much better captures the trip we went on because you can see the depth.  From the above graph, it looks like there is a long way from the top of the mountain to the lake.  But from Google Earth, it’s clear that there’s a steep drop!

We couldn’t see it at the top because it was so foggy.  But man, it would have been neat to see.

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And that’s what we did this afternoon.

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Today the wife dragged me on my longest hike ever – 16.4 miles! My previous record was 15 miles (maybe a little more) in New Zealand last year when we went around the town of Marahau.

Yet this one didn’t seem so bad.  Even though it gained a lot of altitude – 4000 feet – it was spread out over 8 miles in one direction.  This means it was an average of 500 feet per mile, which isn’t too bad.  I thought I was going to die on this trip, but I didn’t.  I survived!  The downside is that now the wife will be able to use this as a precedent (“Oh, you did a super long hike before, we can do another one!”).

The wife got me out of bed at 5 am (!) and we left the house by 5:30.  We drove 2+ hours to Leavenworth and then after a couple of pit stops, we began hiking by around 8:30 am.  I got my GPS out and prepared to record the trip.

I’ve noticed something about my GPS, though.  It has a Track Calculator, and an Odometer.  The Odometer tracks your moving speed, time spent moving and time spent stopping, as well as the instantaneous altitude and the total distance you’ve traveled.  If you don’t reset it between trips, it keeps going.

The Track Calculator tracks your route on a map.  It also has an odometer.  Yet the Track Calculator’s odometer is always less than the Trip Odometer.  Sometimes it’s off by a significant margin.  I’m not sure why that is, it could be that the map it tracks is not totally accurate and therefore it cannot be the right readings.  Therefore, for these reports, I use the Trip Odometer because I reset both it and the Track Calculator before each trip.

Anyhow, here are the statistics:

Name of track: Windy Pass
Distance: 16.4 miles
Starting Elevation: 3360 feet
Highest Elevation: 7296 feet (3936 above start point)
Elevation Gained: 4600 feet (includes total of all up and down parts on track)

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In the altitude chart below, the hike starts off a little steep then flattens, gets a little steep and then flattens, but it never gets super steep the way it did last week.  There’s also a little bit of up-and-down, up-and-down, which is why the total elevation gain above is not simply the high point – the low point.

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As for some images from the trail, here are a few:

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It’s a tough slog on the way up.  Even at high altitudes, it’s warm.

We saw a bunch of wildlife on the trail, too.

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Hello, I am a Marmot.

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My name is Mr. Goat.

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I am a chipmunk.

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We finally got to the top, 8.2 miles later.  It was a tough slog and we were at a good altitude, but it wasn’t too bad.  The wife was so happy she decided to celebrate:

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I felt pretty good so I decided to click my heels together.  I think I got pretty good air in this picture:

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As good as it felt to get the to the top, it felt even better to get back to the bottom.  My legs and feet were sore when I was done, and so was my shoulder (from where the backpack with tons of water was digging into it).

As always, here’s a Google Earth screenshot along with a link to the Google Maps image (the trail does not show up in Google Maps).

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And that was the longest hike I ever took.

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I read an article today on Yahoo! Finance about a former CIA officer who used to be involved in detecting deception.  In this interview, he analyzed some interviews that members of the press made with several leaders in the world of finance (Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, MFGlobal former CEO Jon Corzine and a couple of others).

I read through the interview along with the ex-agent’s analysis and I wish I had seen those same interviews.  I have been practicing detecting deception for a long time and I have gotten good at it.  I could completely understand what the agent was saying and probably would have arrived at similar conclusions.

On the other hand, detecting deception is notoriously difficult. It is not as simple as someone “not looking you in the eye” when they talk to you and therefore they are lying.  Instead, many liars have made up in their minds ahead of time what they are going to say, and because they are focused on it and concentrating, they look right at you when they lie to you.

Most people are very bad at detecting when someone is lying.  There have been tests on this and researchers have found that people can tell when someone is not telling the truth around 53% of the time – only slightly better than chance.

So how do you tell if someone is lying?  After all, I have two tricks in my mentalism repertoire that rely upon deception and if they don’t work out, I look quite the fool.

The answer is that you need to do several things:

  1. Establish a baseline – If you want to tell if someone is lying, you need to know how they behave when they are telling the truth.  If they deviate from this, it means something.  It doesn’t mean they are lying, but it does mean something.

  2. Look for signs of deception – There are some things that liars will do more often that people who tell the truth.  One example is the use of contractions.  A person telling the truth might say “I didn’t do it!” whereas a liar might say “I did not do it.”

  3. Look for signs of telling the truth – People telling the truth often do certain things.  If you know signs of truth-telling vs. lying, you can figure out if someone is trying to pull something over you.  For a truth teller, when retelling a story, they frequently jump back and forth, adding details and then resuming the story.

Detecting deception is not straight forward.  It’s tough!  There’s not a checklist you can follow that says “Oh, this guy is lying.”  However, by applying some body-language analysis, you can up your odds of figuring it out to 80% or 90%. 
That’s a lot better than chance.

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The wife and I went on a hike today to Bandera Mountain.  This is the first time I have gone hiking in almost a month; the last two weeks I was on-call and couldn’t go anywhere, and the week before that the wife was in California and I was at home doing something or other.

Anyhow, this hike isn’t too far from Seattle, only a 40 minute drive from where we live along I-90.  Not too bad.

Name: Bandera Mountain
Distance: 9.0 miles
High Point: 5129 feet
Low Point: 2166 feet (at the starting point)
Total Ascent: 3262 feet (includes some back tracking)

This hike was only 9 miles (including the walk from the car to the trailhead), but it was a difficult height due to all of the elevation gained.  It starts out relatively flat and then much of the ascent occurs towards the end as you scale to the top of Bandera Mountain (1100 feet in 0.6 miles which is very tough).  Even though this wasn’t the longest hike I have ever done, it was among the most difficult.

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If you look on the graph above, you can see that starting at the 3 mile mark it goes sharply upwards.  Going up that part was like going up a set of stairs.  Our average speed dropped significantly.

We went up to the top of the mountain and took a look around, although it didn’t seem as impressive looking out over the highway.  We then hiked back down a bit past the sharp incline and then walked to a lake, as you can see from the route above.  That was pretty neat because we took a picture from the top looking down and then a picture from the bottom looking up at where we were.

This is from the top of the mountain looking down at the lake.  You can see a patch of snow in front:

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And here is the view from the lake looking at the top of the mountain.  You can see the patch of snow at the top right where the above picture was taken:

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And of course, if you’re interested in where we actually were, below is a screenshot of Google Earth along with a link to Google Maps.

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And that’s what the wife and I did today.

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Today I had  a mentalism show down in Seattle.  I had a 60 minute slot but I prepared enough material for around 40-45 minutes.

I haven’t had a show that long since… ever.  I have had long shows but never continuously.  Prior to this I’ve always broken them up into two slots.  No such thing for this one.

As I was planning for it, I went through my repertoire of effects.  What should I do?  They needed to be larger stand-up effects, not close up, so everyone could see them.  Then, they had to be routined properly.  My mentalism library consists of a lot of predictions (do something, I predicted it ahead of time) and after-facts (think of something, I figure it out later).  As I was scribbling around my notes, I re-ordered my tricks a few times because I couldn’t have too many prediction effects.  I also had to make the best stuff come at the end.

Whenever I do a show, I’m always worried I don’t have enough material.  Will I get through it in only 25 minutes and then have a huge hunk of time left over? I can practice, but practicing always goes faster than performance.  I’m not sure why that is but I ad lib a lot when I perform.  Stuff comes to me as I’m doing the show and I just toss it in.  I become more creative when I perform on stage – much more so than close up.

I was also concerned ahead of time that there would be a small crowd.  I was performing on a stage at a street festival but I knew the same caveats would apply as when I street performed before – I am not talented enough to draw a huge crowd street performing.  I can entertain some people and draw others in, but I’m not good enough to draw the crowd, retain them, and keep getting more.  It’s a technique I have yet to master.

Anyhow, I settled on 10 effects and I ended up performing 9 of them.  Here’s my mental notes:

  1. I didn’t transition smoothly – When I do close up shows, I frequently put a lot of stuff in my pockets and when trick is done, I go right into the next one.  I can’t do that with stage shows. I was painfully aware that when one trick completed, I had to go and hunt through my props to get the next set ready.  The lapses between effects felt really awkward and when it was occurring, I was thinking “Shoot, I planned this very poorly.”

  2. Microphones are awkward – I don’t have a voice that projects so I prefer to use a microphone.  But it’s hard to use a microphone and do magic at the same time because it gets in the way.  I’m always tilting your head one way or the other, trying to ensure that my voice project.

  3. Two tricks went wrong – The first four tricks went well.  I was pleased with how they turned out as well as the reactions they got.  I forgot a prop at home so I had to construct a new one before the show, but it still worked out.

    However, tricks #5 and #6 were terrible, they could not have gone any worse.  One effect involves a spectator putting an object under a Styrofoam cup and I guess it.  Unfortunately, being outdoors, the wind blew them off my table.  Why didn’t I think of that ahead of time?

    The next trick involves me slamming my hands down onto the cups in an attempt to find which one has a nail under it.  Unfortunately, I was using my portable table and the first time I slammed my hand down, the table top slipped off the base and all of my props went flying about.  A complete disaster!

    The worst part is that these two were back-to-back.  That really sucked.  Unprofessional, not up to my normal game.

    The last three effects after that went well (I mistimed my invisible watch somewhat but still went okay).  I tried out a new trick that worked perfectly (!!!) despite never being perfect when I practiced it ahead of time.  Finally, my trick where a word from a book ends up on a spectator’s arm went well.  I had to do a lot of audience management.

Because of my two mess-ups, and my not-quite-100%-Invisible-Deck routine, but still getting 7/9 effects right, I grade myself a B-.  Not bad, but room for improvement to polish off and get to A+.

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