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Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Earlier this year, I took a Masterclass – Steve Martin teaches comedy. It’s a series of 24 lessons, each one between 10 and 15 minutes, about how to become a better comedian. It also has a workbook for you to follow along and do the exercises. I finished the classes in about 4 1/2 weeks, but I never really did the exercises (I’m a bad student, I know). Still, I retained a bunch of the knowledge.

I am not a funny person. Occasionally I will say funny things and people will laugh, but I don’t have the knack for making people laugh. Usually, it’s by accident or because I’ve copied it from someone else.

I don’t have any intention of becoming a comedian, but I thought I could work it into my performances – either when I do magic, or when I give talks/presentations at conferences.

I’ve known that I’m an average performer when it comes to magic; I can hold people’s attention for one trick and perhaps two, but I can’t carry an entire performance on my own. I’m at my best when I do a single trick by itself, and work it in that way. I don’t think people would pay to see me they way they would pay to see a professional comedian.

But that’s okay, I have no desire to be a famous comedian. I just want to be a better performer. I’ve taken some classes on it before, and this would help boost my skills. While I’m not the best performer around, I know I’m better than most of the speakers at conferences I go to.

There’s a few things that stuck with me from the Steve Martin comedy class, but the one that does the most is this – Use Everything. That is, if you look at opera performances they have lighting, and music, and costume, and staging… the whole nine yards. Comedy shows usually don’t. Therefore, as a comedian you should use everything you possibly can. Steve Martin used to use physical comedy in his routines (doing goofy things and making funny faces) and would also incorporate music.

The takeaway I got from that is to use everything I have when I do magic shows and talks at conferences. Or rather, when I give talks at conferences, use everything I have. I had already been doing this (open body position, arm motions, animations, and magic tricks), but now I do them on purpose. In order for me to give a good show, I should be using everything I can possibly use – music, magic, body language, facial expressions, funny voices, etc. So while I may not be able to say funny jokes, I can do funny things that are unique to me. I already have a reputation as someone who moves around a lot on stage, and does a lot of motion.

Looking back on my previous magic performances, I can see I didn’t necessarily do this. I have some magic tricks that are entertaining and can hold a crowd. But a lot of tricks are just… tricks. I am not differentiating them. That makes me a decent magician but not a great performer, only an average one.

So here’s my tip to the performers out there – use everything you have. It’ll make you a better performer.

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About a year and a half ago, we got Esmerelda, the younger cat in the household. When she first arrived, she was super needy. She kept crawling into my lap while I was eating, she kept shoving her face under my hand at night, and she meowed around the house when she wanted attention.

Well, that didn’t last.

Nowadays, she doesn’t need attention at all. In fact, she requires so little attention, I’ve nicknamed her “The Hermit” because she mostly stays in an upstairs bedroom and lazes around under a chair. She only occasionally comes out for attention, and that’s late at night (and maybe in the morning while we are eating breakfast). Otherwise, she pretty much hangs out there and we don’t see her unless we go in there to bug her. Contrast that to Ruby who almost always has to be in our vicinity, and there’s a strong contrast between the two cats.

Of course, it’s not always that Zelda doesn’t want attention. Once in a while, she will jump onto my lap and stay with me. Usually it’s for less than five minutes, but in a blue moon she’ll stay for about 40 minutes. In addition, roughly 2 days out of 7, I’ll wake up in the morning and she’ll be sleeping on our bed.

Finally, late at night, she’s figured out that when the wife comes home, she starts meowing loud, as if to say “Let’s play with the stick under the blanket!” She has figured out that I’ll play with her at this game after the wife comes home. She starts to meow at roughly 9:50 pm.

So, she still likes attention some of the time. The below pictures are four separate occasions.

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Remember that episode on the Simpsons when Homer went to clown college?

It all started when the first day of the month, Homer declared it was new billboard day! He sees ads that he found desirable (such as for food), but then saw one for Clown College. He says in disgust “Clown College? You can’t eat that.” He then drives off, determined to ignore the billboard.

Yet he can’t get it out of his head. In everyday situations, Homer images himself at Clown College, taking the classes to become a clown:

Homer_Simpson_Clown_college

Even when eating dinner with his family, he images them not as table mates, but as clowns:

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Finally, he gets up from the table and declares – seeming out of no where to the rest of his family – “You people have held me back long enough! I’m going to Clown College!” He then gets up and leaves the table.

I bring this up because over the past few months, I’ve been getting more interested in politics. I’m not sure what the catalyst is for this upsurge in interest [1], but here we are. I try to stay away from editorials, and instead I’ve done a few things:

a) I started subscribing to the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) daily newsletter, and I browse through the articles. The CFR is mostly non-partisan and provides a roundup of news from around the world. I even play to join the CFR if I can get a few members to recommend me (Note: I currently know nobody on the CFR).

b) I subscribed to Foreign Affairs, a newsletter and website that discusses foreign policy as it affects the United States. They are articles written by industry people with a lot of expertise. It cost $40 to sign up, and I read it most days

c) I listen to the podcast The President’s Inbox. This is put on by Foreign Affairs, and every 2-4 weeks they have a new episode of issues facing the President of the United States. One episode was on North Korea, another on jobs training, another on the impact of the US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and so forth. The President’s Inbox is also non-partisan.

d) I clicked on an ad from Norwich (online) University about getting a master’s degree in diplomacy, or perhaps in international relations. I had no interest in this until a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been poking through it. I thought to myself “Hmm, it could be interesting to be a diplomat.” This is especially true when I saw that you could specialize in cyber diplomacy. I’m like “Well, I like geo-politics, and I’m skilled with cyber-space, and now they’ve merged these two together and created a course about it?” There’s a big need worldwide for cyber diplomacy because cyber security is such a difficult topic, and there aren’t that many people in general with the necessary skills. There’s even fewer who would want to do government work.

The drawback of this is that while the course can be completed in 18 months, and is done on your own time and is online, for me to go into diplomacy would be a pay-cut, probably 25-40% (I don’t know why the software industry pays me so well, but they do). And that’s for a mid-career level diplomat, not someone who starts from the bottom which I would probably have to do. Another drawback is that the tuition for those 18 months is $30,000. That’s a lot to shell out. While I could afford it, it would be a big investment for a repayment that is less than what I get now. And getting the wife to sign off on it is another big challenge.


So, it’s (d) that keeps sticking in my head. I’m like “A masters in diplomacy? How is that going to help me? This advertisement has no effect on me whatsoever!”

I just hope I don’t make an outburst like Homer Simpson during a meeting at work one day.


[1] Just kidding. It’s the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

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When at the office using Microsoft Outlook, when you are going to be away for a while, there’s a neat feature you can do to let others know that you are going to be gone.

First, you set up a meeting request and invite people to it but you have to do three things:

1. Make sure you uncheck the response options (that is, make sure “Request Responses” and “Allow New Time Proposals” are deselected).

Those are useful when sending a normal meeting request so you can know whose coming, and if they can’t come they can propose a new time for the meeting. But, they are not useful when you are sending a notice that you will be out of the office.

2. Next, make sure that the time shows up as “Free” because since you’ll be adding it to people’s calendars, you don’t want their time blocked

3. Finally, make sure that there is no reminder. You don’t need to annoy people that you’re going to be on vacation

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You then send it to your coworkers so that your out-of-office shows up on their calendars.

 

Second, you create a second appointment (not a meeting) that overlaps with the one from above, but make sure that the time shows up as Busy:

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You don’t invite anyone to this, and then save it. Whenever anyone tries to look at your calendar to schedule a meeting, they’ll see the time is not available. This lets others know that that time slot is blocked, and it’s also color coded.

That’s how you let others know you’ll be away.

 

But what other people do is treat their vacation meeting notices like regular meetings. They’ll send one meeting per the first one above where the time shows up as free, but they allow responses, and also let you propose a new time.

So, every time someone sends me a meeting request that refers to their vacation, I decline it and propose a new time, usually a week or two later. I edit the response before sending, saying “Proposing a new time for your vacation.”

The first time I do this to someone, they universally react with confusion. They say “Did you just decline my vacation and say a new time would be better?”

I say “Yes. Yes I did.”

The confusion gives way to amusement. Everyone always laughs.

And now you know why I send two meeting requests. The one I send to others prevents others from doing the same thing to me (declining and proposing a new time) that I do to them. I suppress the “Decline and propose a new time” option.

A couple of co-workers have learned that I always do that, and changed their behavior.

I consider that a personal victory.

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We discovered over the past couple of weeks that we have a paper shredder in the house.

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This cat sure doesn’t like pieces of paper randomly laying around. She sits on them, chews up the paper, and spits it out.

This was a pamphlet for a cruise (my in-laws get them all the time). I guess the cat is not a fan.

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This past year, the wife and I were in Salzburg, Austria, for a couple of days. We went there while we were making our way through Germany.

One thing I learned while we were there was the historical background of the Christmas carol “Silent Night.” You know the words, it’s that Christmas carol that romanticizes the night of Jesus’ birth.

Silent Night was composed in 1818 by Franz Gruber, in a small town 11 miles north of Salzburg, although the lyrics were written in 1816. That’s a critical year in Austrian history for two reasons:

  1. First, the Napoleonic Wars had completed raging through Europe only the year before, ending in 1815.

    Napoleon had marched through Europe multiple times, and Salzburg had switched sides four times between competing armies. Each time it did, the invading army ransacked parts of it, and deported many national treasures out of the city. Relics were taken back to other cities like Paris and Munich. It is only recently over the past 50 years the Austrian government had been able to recollect some of them and put them on display.

    No doubt about it, Salzburg took a pounding during those wars. When your city gets beaten up as much as Salzburg, it can demoralize the residents.

  2. Second, environmental pressures yielded a bad set of crops that year.

    1816 is known as
    the Year Without a Summer because of severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F). This resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.

    The root cause was a volcanic eruption of Mt Tambora in the Dutch East Indies. The resultant cool temperatures and heavy rains caused failures of wheat, oats, and potato harvests all around Europe. This led to food shortages and famines, and the BBC estimates that it led to 200,000 deaths in Europe.

So it’s these two factors combined – a ransacked city and famine around the land – that is the background for the song.

You might think a carol would be composed that reflects the turmoil of the time, and it does… but you have to look really hard. Rather than decrying the circumstances of the time period, Silent Night says “Yes, I know that things are tough, but we can be calm. Look at the miracle that has occurred! Even in the midst of all this turmoil.”

So, the carol’s lyrics are repudiation of the bleakness of the time.

When I first heard that story, I thought “Man, why did I never notice it before?” I didn’t have the song memorized, not past the first verse anyway. But when I looked them up, even then it doesn’t jump out at you. I’ve reproduced them below along with color-coding what can be a repudiation of the despair. Obviously, most of the song will have some theological significance, but other parts have clues:

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

A “silent night” where a child “sleeps in heavenly peace” seems paradoxical if your city has no resources and no food. But I think that’s the point of the song.

If you read up on Silent Night on Wikipedia, you won’t read anything like what I just told you.

And now you know.

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(I’m currently writing this three weeks after the fact)

I recently turned 38 years old.

I know that some people lament getting older, and of course, no one likes it because your body starts getting aches and pains; there’s a cult-of-youth in our society; and it means you are one year closer to death.

But, it also means you are still alive, your mind got a little more mature, you got to experience a bunch of new things (hopefully), and you (hopefully) became a little wiser. It’s actually not all that bad.

For my birthday, the wife and I went out to an estate sale. That’s something we started doing this past year, and we’ve picked up a few things like little paintings, a chair, and a bookshelf. The prices are competitive if you go late in the day towards the end of the sale.

We didn’t get anything that day, but we did see these interesting carvings:

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That may be difficult to see, but they are small carvings of dragons. I might have bought them and given them to a friend… if they weren’t going for $400.

Nope.

Later on that day, the wife and I headed down into Seattle to Café Turko, a Turkish restaurant located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.

We discovered this place after returning for Turkey. We were like “Are there any Turkish restaurants in the city?” And there were! We’ve only checked out this one, but we liked it a lot.

The wife asked me where I wanted to go out to eat for my birthday, and there were a few places that ran through my mind. But in the end, I went with Café Turko.

Before the meal, we got appetizers – Rainbow Hummus. This is where they give you warm pita bread (I love warm pita bread) with four different types of hummus: regular, beet hummus, olive hummus, and sweet potato hummus. It is super-good, I can’t recommend it enough.

Then we ordered the main course. I can’t remember what I got, or what the wife got, but it was also good.

What I like about this place is that the food is not overly covered in sauce, but instead the meat, rice, and salad are flavored with spices.

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Finally, for dessert, we had Turkish coffee. If you haven’t had it before, it’s super strong coffee. My mother once likened it to putting a spoon in it, and the spoon standing straight up. We have ours with cardamom; and while it is strong, I like it. It’s not a large cup of it, just a little shot glass-sized cup (I guess this is one of the few times I buy coffee, but in my defense it’s Turkish coffee which is something I would never brew at home).

We went to Café Turko somewhat early in the evening (getting there at 4:30 pm) so we got out of there reasonably early. I can’t remember what we did after that, we may have come home and watched a movie, or perhaps went out to see a movie.

One of those two things.

But as you can see, my birthday was pretty low key. But I like low-key things. It’s not a lot of pressure, and you can take things as they happen.

So, a pretty good 38th birthday.

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Did I ever tell you the time I went to a cult meeting?

No?

Oh, let me tell you about it. It was so weird.

It was two and a half years ago, and one of my friends wanted to go to this celebration. A lot of people were going to be there and he wanted a ride, so I said I’d take him. Maybe it would be fun. This was a special occasion as some of the local deities that the cult members worshipped were involved in an annual ritual, and this worship meeting was dedicated to celebrating the deities.

Let me tell you, it was a crazy atmosphere.

There were two groups of deities and the event was televised, but unless you identified yourself as worshipping the local deities, you were ostracized and insulted. Maybe of the worshippers there wore clothing signifying their identification with the group, and some of them even painted their faces.

During the celebration on TV, whenever the deities did something positive, all of the cult members cheered and screamed loudly, giving a chant “SEEEEE… HOX!” They chanted it over and over again.

Many of the members consumed copious amounts of alcohol, and it was encouraged by the other members. Everyone who clearly identified themselves was treated as a valued member of the cult, even if they hadn’t met before. Screaming at the TV was encouraged, and saying a word against the local deities was discouraged regardless of whether or not a competing cult member made a good point.

I didn’t like the cult mentality. No tolerance for other views, loud people getting in each others’ faces, an atmosphere intended to reinforce all of this.

I decided I wouldn’t go back the next year.

The Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl turned the local fan base’s party into as repressive a cult as any you can imagine.

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Following up from my last post on why we should study art I thought I’d talk about something that has become more relevant to me: Abstract art. If you don’t know what I mean, here’s a couple of examples.

The first one is by the American artist Jackson Pollock painting around the middle of the 20th century:

 

 

Now, if you’re anything like me a few weeks ago, you’d probably look at the first painting and say to yourself "What’s that supposed to be? Is it some sort of those ‘magic eye’ and we’re supposed to find the hidden message? It looks like a bunch of random splatters of paint on the canvas. How is that art?" This one, White on White, is by Kazimir Malevich, a Russian artist who completed it in 1918:

 

Once again, if you’re anything like me – without any background in art history – you would say "Well, I guess it’s a couple of white rectangles with one at an angle. So what? I don’t see the aesthetic appeal in it. I mean, it looks okay. But nothing special. I much prefer things that look like actual things." If you said anything like that to either of the two pictures, that’s exactly what I would have thought.

As I said in my other post, I used to not understand abstract art, and I thought it was stupid. Now, I still don’t quite understand it, but I no longer think it’s stupid.

Why do I think that?

Because now that I have studied art, I realize that art doesn’t exist in a vacuum, it’s relative to the period of time that came before it – at least in European art. Successive periods in art are defined by what came before it, and as a counter-reaction to what came before, and what’s going on in society at the time.

So let’s go back to medieval art. Below is a picture that was common in the middle ages. Back in the day, nearly all art was produced because a wealthy patron wanted it. Most medieval art was two-dimensional on a flat surface, like below, and at least in western Europe it usually told passages from the bible because in those times, religion played a major role in people’s lives and most people were illiterate. Art was a tool for learning for people who couldn’t read. You can see in the below that the picture is not "realistic" compared to what comes later (i.e., later in this post).

 

 

 

The Renaissance is where we see a revolution in the way scenes are depicted (the Renaissance is a term that refers to the rediscovery of classical times, that is, Greece and Rome). I don’t have time to go into it (mostly because even I don’t know all the techniques) but you’ll see how everything now exists in three dimensions. In Raphael’s The School of Athens, notice how the scene is depicted as more realistic. Figures in the foreground are interpreted as being closer to the viewer while people in the background are interpreted as being further away:

 

 

Even though we take it for granted, the big shift you’re seeing is one of perspective. Renaissance artists would use a ‘vanishing point’ off in the distance and then draw people along it, moving them up or down to create depth. For example, look at my little stick figure diagram below. Which characters are closes to the audience? Which ones are further away? The pixels are the same distance away from your eyes but you can "clearly" see that the ones that are bigger are closer while the ones that are smaller are further away. Furthermore, from what angle are you, the viewer, supposed to see the picture from? You’re not center on, but looking at it while you are standing on the right with your eyes looking to the left:

 
Simple_perspective

 

To see what a shift this is, just go and do a simple web search for medieval art and then for Renaissance art. This perspective shift that I talk about above for medieval art (composed during that time, not after) is either missing or minimized.

The next major art movement is Baroque Art, and it is a counter-reaction to the Reformation. It is characterized by much more emotion in the picture (from its human subjects depicted in it), as well as movement. Baroque art has other characteristics, but I don’t have time to get into them. The below image shows the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (from the book of Daniel in the Old Testament). Look at the raw emotion on Daniel’s face, he is clearly (?) in fear, or awe, or something or other. Whatever it is, he doesn’t have a straight face.

 

Another characteristic of Baroque art is its lack of clearly-defined lines. Take a look at the background behind Daniel and among the lions. There are shadows everywhere and it tends to blur together the rocks, and even the lions in the back are less clearly defined. You don’t see that so much during the Renaissance.

The term Baroque comes from a translation of a Portuguese term meaning ‘misshapen pearl’, and it wasn’t a term of endearment. But gradually people came to accept it.

 

Skipping ahead many decades and a couple of smaller movements and we get to the Age of Enlightenment, and the Neoclassical Era. This is the time period where we find many of the great writers that the founders of the United States borrowed heavily from – John Locke (natural rights), Baron de Montesque (separation of powers), the need for a strong government (Thomas Hobbes). The Age of Enlightenment and the Neoclassical period was ushered in by the scientific revolution and a callback to the rational times of Greece and Rome, after the Renaissance did it the first time. But the neoclassical era’s art was focused on science and rationality.

The Oath of Horatti by Jacques-Louis David is one of the most famous paintings in neoclassical art. It’s a throw-back to Roman times and the general spirit of the times is rational thought. This is the period of time where writers we associate with the Age of Reason – Voltaire, Beccudia (prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment) – were most active; the American Constitution borrows heavily from this period. The art also reflects this. This is also the period where the Industrial Revolution really took off in full force in Europe. England was first, and later on followed by France, Italy, and Germany (though not necessarily in that order).

 

 

We in the west like to pride ourselves on how we use Reason, but the Age of Reason came to and end with a very strong counter-movement called the Romantic period. Romanticism is still popular today and we can see it everywhere, especially in art. The Romantics rebelled against the stale lack of taste characterized by the Industrial Revolution. Think about the movie Star Wars – the Empire is cold, mechanical, and emotionless and they are the Industrial side. Meanwhile, the rebel alliance is driven by ideals and they represent the Romantic side.

Romantic art tends to minimize its human subjects and greatly play up ideals, emotion, and nature. The Industrial Revolution (and neoclassical era that accompanied it) tended to create new technology but degrade the countryside. Consequently, the Romantics sought to idealize nature. The Sea of Fog is one of the Romantic period’s more well-known paintings. It shows a person in the middle of the picture gazing out, but the person is not the focal point of the picture. Instead, he is gazing out to the true focal point – raw, untamed nature.

 

  

 

This is a recurring theme in Romantic art, but it was a pretty big movement and nature was not the only characteristic of that time period. I’d say maybe 1/3 of the time period contained nature. It was a lot but by no means everything. Above all, Romanticism idealized emotion over reason. For all the progress the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment made, it was rejected strongly by the artists and society eventually followed.

Whew.

I go through all of these art history movements (more quickly than they deserve) to show you how art has evolved. Each movement is a reaction to its preceding movement, and they reflect what’s going on in society at the time as well. Art makes much more sense, or at least is more fun to appreciate, when you understand the context in which it was created. And one big thing that happened in the middle of the 19th century was the invention of photography.

This was a turning point in art history. Whereas before artists used to create paintings that were realistic, after photography came along, artists knew that they could no longer compete with photographs. Realistic paintings were out, and using color to convey emotion was in. Artists decided to use color and created new art styles to convey the emotion of contemporary society, or of themselves. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. Even today, our artists use color to depict emotion:

 

Leaving the present and coming back to the 19th century, two big movements in using color to depict emotion were Impressionism (which depicted an ‘impression’ of the actual image):

 

 

… and Post-Impressionism (I don’t yet really know what the difference is, but I do know that Vincent Van Gogh was part of this era).

 

You still know what’s there in the picture, but the artist has moved away from a realistic view of the world and is instead using color and painting technique to depict something else about the picture. "If you want realism, take a photograph" says the artist. 20th century art movements continue this move away from realistic depictions of the subjects. Expressionism, Dada, and Cubism are all parts of this counter-movement that was itself a reaction to technology. The White-on-White painting above was painted during World War 1, a time of massive social upheaval. Russia was getting clobbered during the War, and then they experienced the Bolshevik Revolution. In response, the artist painted the picture of two white boxes. They are not the same shade of white, they are off white. They also don’t have clearly defined edges but instead are fuzzy edges (my term). The picture is not necessarily supposed to be something, but instead could be the artist’s reflection on the disjointedness and instability of Russian society during that time.

I think.

That’s the problem with abstract art, I don’t know if I’m reading into it something that’s not there or if I am getting it right. But maybe that’s the point?

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Why study art?

A few weeks ago, for some reason I don’t fully understand, I started learning about European art history. My entire life I had zero previous interest in learning about the history of art. Sure, I enjoyed looking at images and I knew what I liked, but I couldn’t have cared less about the story behind it.

But then I read about a book about European history and art. I didn’t think I would care about the art part, but I did. In fact, I soaked it up like a sponge and I’ve been reading about it and watching YouTube videos (some on Khan Academy) a lot of the past few weeks.

I’ve noticed how my opinions have changed, even over the past few weeks. I used to not understand modern abstract art, and I thought it was stupid. Now I still don’t understand it but, but I no longer think it’s stupid.

So why study it at all?

I study it because it teaches me to be a good observer. Why do I like what I like? what details did the artist put into the picture? And why did he or she do it? Before, I couldn’t have told you. And I still can’t… not entirely, but I’m better than before. But by observing and paying attention to the details in a painting, it trains me to observe and pay attention to the details in real life.

Thus, I study art to get the context of a painting, as knowing the full context trains me to be a better observer.

Below is a picture entitled The Third of May, a painting by Francisco Goya of Spain, completed in 1814.

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You can see the original here.

Now, before when I was just looking at the painting, I’d say “Hmm, well that seems interesting” and gaze at it for 10-15 seconds and then move on. But no more. What do I notice now?

(Before I continue, I am cheating. This is one of the paintings they analyze on Khan Academy so I am remembering this off the top of my head).

First, it’s important to understand the context. During the Napoleonic era, France had invaded Spain. Some Spanish rebels led a resistance and the next day, the French military put down the revolt. This painting commemorates that, and it is the time period in which the painting takes place. It takes place on May 3, one day after the rebellion.

The next thing I notice is the structure of the painting itself:

  • It’s painted with depth. Prior to the Renaissance, paintings were “flat”, that is, in two dimensional space.  You can go here for an example (I’m not putting the picture here because I don’t want to divert attention away from the focus of the above picture). By contrast, in this painting, we can see the town way off in the background in three-dimensional space, the artist is using a technique to give depth that was popularized during the Renaissance.

  • The soldiers on the right are depicted in the shadows while the victims being executed on the left are in the light.

  • The victims on the left of the painting are also trapped in front of a hill. There’s no where for them to run.

  • The scene is depicted as taking place at night.

Next up is the social commentary that the artist is making:

  • The perpetrators in this scene are shown without their faces visible, a common motif in art to depict aggressors, a lot like this.

  • The look of fear is evident on the man whose arms are in the air. However, the artist is depicting him not as a victim in retaliation for leading or participating in a rebellion, but as an innocent victim – either he wasn’t involved or he was involved but the cause he was leading was a just one.

    How do we know?

    First, the man is dressed in white which is a another motif of innocence that is common in art.

    But second and more important, the man has his arms up in a pose that you would see on the image of Christ that you would see on crucifix. The theme in the Christian story is that Christ was an innocent sacrifice who was unjustly executed by an oppressive regime.

    And third, to cement the fact that Goya is drawing an exact parallel between the innocent Spanish resistance and that of the innocent Christ, if you look close-up on the palms of the man with his hands in the air you can see “holes” in the palms of his hands. This is similar to the image of Christ with holes in the palms of his hands on the crucifix.

    image

Thus, it is clear from the picture of the innocent man in the Christ-like pose that Goya is drawing a parallel between the Spanish resistance and the French putting it down, likening it to a justifiable movement where the ringleaders were sacrificed unfairly.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

All of that analysis wouldn’t have been possible without learning about art history, and now whenever I see a picture I try to look at it and do a quick analysis (actually, it goes pretty slow because I have to consciously analyze it).

It’s my hope that learning about art gives me a more well rounded point of view and that what you see is often just scratching the surface of what’s really there.

 

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This is a follow-on from my previous post on the book Sapiens.

I’ve been thinking a lot after I read it about how humans have been conquered by religion, empire, and especially money. Our religion, that people have no trouble following, is Romantic Consumerism (the need to buy a lot of different things). Real religion requires frequent sermons and reminders to people to behave in a certain way; not so with Romantic Consumerism, we’re good at doing it all on our own.

After reading the book, I came away somewhat depressed by the state of the human species and how I see so much of the downsides of humanity in myself. For example, I personally don’t care about almost anything that doesn’t affect me, at least when it comes to charitable causes. There are plenty of people starving all over the world, but I am an expert in dissociating myself from it and worrying about my first world problems.

Yet capitalism seems to be the great hope of things. We often look back at history and think “Wow, people back in the day would champion science just to advance knowledge.” But it’s not true, even Charles Darwin hitched a ride on the boat to the Galapagos as part of a science+empire expedition. The king of England let him hitch a ride along and that’s where he developed the theory of evolution, but he didn’t get funding for himself. Instead, the English empire was busy building its empire.

So really, capitalism+science work together.

There is no free lunch. I recently read another book, The Rational Optimist, where the author says that trade + capitalism is the basis of nearly all human development. After reading it, I agree that he is right about a lot of things.

This is so because we humans are innately inward-focused, that’s how natural selection designed us (accounting for natural selection, kin selection, and reciprocal altruism).

In a capitalist society, we care about things if they give us value. I’ll buy your shoes with some money, and you take that money and buy some cabbage, and the shopkeeper takes that money and buys my coats that I weave. We don’t care about each other’s wellbeing, but we care that each other provides us something of value.

Altruism just doesn’t scale.

I bring this up because I recently read a left-wing friend of mine post something on Facebook – “You are worth so much more than your productivity.” This is a rebuke of capitalist society that measures people by their output, whereas people instead should have intrinsic worth and not be taken advantage for that reason alone.

I agree with the sentiment, but it’s not how humans work.

The fact is that we don’t care about other people’s plights as much as our own absent of some underlying influence. For example, religion teaches us to care about others; secular humanism teaches us to value others. But those two philosophical systems must be continually nailed into us, day after day, and if they don’t we revert back to our norm of not caring.

But if they sell me something, then suddenly I do care about strangers.

That’s not the way it should be, but it is the way our species works.

So when it comes to conservation projects, such as saving the African Okavango Delta, us westerners can complain that Africa should be preserving it and the animals within it for its own sake. That is crazy talk, it is more worthwhile for the locals to bulldoze whatever land they need so they can raise crops. Instead, only capitalism can help; if tourism vastly increases the amount of return on the Okavango Delta, then people will want to preserve it.

And it’s the same everywhere else. Altruism says you should do good for good’s sake. Capitalism can actually make this a reality by providing a profit and doing good at the same time, such as eco-tourism, or employing poor people in the developing world, or micro-loans that return a profit. That may not be what altruists want to hear, but if given a choice between a capitalism/social good mixture that is sustainable, and pure altruism that is not (in the long term) then I have to pick the former.

If I didn’t get a tax break for making charitable donations, would I do it? Probably not, unfortunately. But is it a good thing that I do it, even though I reap a benefit? Absolutely yes!

So maybe the capitalists have it right after all. While I don’t agree that capitalism is in itself a moral good, I do think that a product or service that generates a sustained profit which also serves an underlying social good will work better in the long term (e.g., me buying dark chocolate that goes to protect endangered species).

It’s entirely possible that I am tricking myself with regards to this, but I hope I am not.

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This year, we had a very low-key New Year’s celebration.

I’m still recovering from being sick starting two weeks ago. And while nearly all of my symptoms have gone away, there’s still one that has stuck around – I get very sleepy at around 4 pm. This is true whether I am at home or at work.

On New Year’s Eve, the wife and I went with some friends to see the latest Hobbit movie at 4 pm. We had food and drinks and watched the two hour and 15 minute film, which I enjoyed. Afterwards, we went out with another couple to a restaurant and I had a bit more to eat. We hung out for a bit and then went home after, arriving between 8:30 pm and 9 pm.

It was cold that day, so we went upstairs after. But I had missed my 4 pm nap because I was watching the movie. I felt very sleepy when we got home. The wife streamed the New Year’s countdown in New York City and we watched the celebration, and then after I drifted off to sleep for an evening nap.

That’s right – no party, no games, no staying up late – I just wanted to go to bed early because I was so tired.

It’s basically because I was sick with the flu. I don’t feel lousy anymore but I still have the mid-afternoon crash (like a cat), no matter how much I sleep at night (I get plenty of sleep, at least 7.5 to 8 hours lately). But on New Year’s Eve, I just couldn’t stay up.

But it doesn’t matter; I feel like I should be able to do what I want to do. And if I want to go to sleep early, then that’s what I’m going to do.

At least in 2015.

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A few weeks ago the wife and I took part 1 of a stained-glass class and yesterday we completed part 2. We were there for about 4 hour each time (I’m a little slow) but in the end the product turned out pretty good:

image

I liked how it turned out. As I was creating it, I thought nearly the whole time “Man, this looks pretty bad.” But 5 minutes before I finished I said “Hey, this looks halfway decent!”

You may be curious what it takes to make something like this. Well, let me tell you:

  1. You pick out a pattern that is drawn on a piece of paper.
  2. You pick out large pieces of colored glass (red, blue, pink, gray, or pink).
  3. You cut out the patterns using scissors from the paper and glue them onto the glass.
  4. Using special tools, cut the glass out. Be careful not to do what I did and slice open your fingers with glass.
  5. Line up the pieces of glass on the pattern and shave down the corners and edges of the cut out pieces. Do this over and over and over again until they fit. This takes FOREVER!
  6. Continue shaving down the edges until they fit even better.
  7. Line the individual pieces with copper liner.
  8. Put goop on the glass pieces and solder the glass pieces together.
  9. Solder the other side of the glass pieces together.
  10. Solder on the edges.
  11. Wipe the goop off the glass.
  12. Put a chemical on the solder to give it a grayish, metallic look.

Finished!

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My 2013 year-in-review

People often send Christmas cards with a little year in review tucked in with it. The wife and I can’t even get our act together to send out cards, let alone write a letter with our own highlights of the year.

So, I thought I’d do a blog post of our year in review along with of my own personal accomplishments:

Terry and The Wife’s 2013 Year in Review!

January

  • Hiked Patagonia (southern Argentina and Chile)
  • Watched the musical The Book of Mormon at the Paramount Theater in Seattle

February

  • KODO at Meany Hall in Seattle (scantily clad drummers… men)
  • Went to San Francisco for a conference – Feb 20th – 24th
  • Saw the National Geographic lecture Adventures in Polar Exploration

March

  • The wife started a sewing class
  • The wife went to Iceland
  • I went to the National Geographic lecture K2 (second highest mountain in the world)
  • Saw Cirque du Soleil – Amaluna at Marymoor Park in Redmond

April

  • Visited Winnipeg for a friend’s wedding
  • Went to the National Geographic lecture Birds of Paradise

May

  • The wife went to Vancouver Island with a friend
  • Went to the National Geographic lecture Dawn of the Maya
  • Went hiking in the Columbia Gorge
  • Bought a FitBit and started counting my steps

June

  • Went to Vienna, Austria and Prague, Czech Republic and discovered that I like beer!
  • Started to consistently get 10,000 steps per day

July

  • Went to Kelowna to visit family
  • The wife discovered vegetarianism

August

  • The wife went to Wind River with some friends for hiking
  • I climbed the Murderhorn!
  • I experiment with vegetarianism 4 days per week

September

  • Moved houses
  • Went to Whistler in B.C. and got 50,000 steps in a day
  • My parents came to visit

October

  • The wife’s parents went back to live in Taiwan for 9 months
  • We visited Montreal and Winnipeg

November

  • Saw the Vienna Boys choir in Seattle
  • Saw the wife’s renter’s choir performance in Seattle
  • Saw a comedy shot in Kirkland (it was okay)
  • Watched my weight drop 7 lbs from the year before

December

  • Saw A Christmas Carol by the Taproot Theater in Seattle
  • Saw The Coats (a capella singing group) in Seattle
  • Got 10,000 steps per day every single day of the month!

Well, those are the highlights from 2013. I’m sure there’s a bunch of things I am forgetting. My blogging this year was the worst of any year since I started writing. But, I finished December strong!

Onwards to 2014.

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The Internet makes things too easy.

Earlier this year, I watched the first eight episodes of the TV show Breaking Bad on Netflix. I enjoyed it, it’s a good show.

However, the show split up their final season into two 8-episode splits. The first split I watched, and the last split has been airing on TV for the past 8 weeks.

Rather than wait until it goes to Netflix, or buy a cable subscription, I’ve been reading all the episode summaries online. I couldn’t resist! I wanted to find out what happens to Walter White!

Did I do a bad thing?

Should I have waited to see it “live” online so I could be surprised? Well, I was just as surprised reading about it as watching it.

But maybe I should have waited.

Stupid Internet; makes things to easy to read spoilers.

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Learning a new language

For a few months now I have been thinking about learning Mandarin Chinese. My wife is Taiwanese and as has been confirmed to me over and over again, Taiwanese and Mandarin Chinese are not the same language. I finally confirmed this on Wikipedia yesterday.

Learning a language like Mandarin is difficult.

  1. The writing script

    Not only do I have to learn the words, I also have to learn the writing script.

    You see, Mandarin does not use the Arabic alphabet, the very text you are reading right now. Instead, it uses its own script of characters. Different words have different symbols, unlike in English where you can build words by adding letters.

  2. The pronunciation

    Mandarin has this thing called “tones.” In English, your tone-of-voice can change the meaning of a sentence (“You’re coming!” vs “You’re coming?”), but in Mandarin, the way you say it can change the meaning of the word completely. It’s hard for me to hear the difference and get it right.

To learn this, I am downloading a bunch of apps on my iPad. I am also taking a tutorial on the web. Finally, I may get a book or two. The idea behind this is to find the most common concepts because the stuff that repeats is likely to be important.

Is this going to work?

We’ll find out in a month.

 

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This is weird.

About a month ago, or maybe two months ago, there was a car in the condo complex where we live that was on fire. I’m not sure if it was the engine or the interior or both, but it was on fire. Police and fire trucks had to come out and put it out.

I found out at the Condo Board Meeting last week that this turned out to be drug related. Apparently, the owner of the car was in some sort of drug ring and had snitched on someone. Because of this, the other person went to jail. However, that guy got out of jail and as payback for the snitching, he lit the owner’s car on fire.

I am not making this up.

It’s like I’m in an episode of Breaking Bad. In fact, you can call me… Faraday.

image

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This past weekend I had the opportunity to perform a magic effect at an annual church campout. This is an event I go to some years and they have a talent show. I perform a magic effect and I often use it to test out new material.

This year, I decided to perform an effect I had never done there before but had in my repertoire for years, The Invisible Deck.

image

This is one of my best card effects, and everyone loved it. I opened up with a couple of smaller effects and finished on this one. I received a lot of compliments afterwards which I am always grateful for; it means I did a good job and people enjoyed it. One lady even said I could be doing this professionally. I don’t think that’s true (I’m not good enough) but I appreciated the thoughts.

But that’s not the part I enjoyed the best.

For you see, when I started the trick, I started by talking about how I’ve been reading a book by another author by the name of “Charley Erik Mintz”, and then I clarified by saying “Erik with a ‘K’”. He’s a very good writer and a very good performer. I then said that if anyone else ever becomes a magician they should definitely read his stuff as he talks about how we as performers should challenge our audience’s perception of reality.

reality

This introduction didn’t really have much to do with the trick. So why say it? What’s so significant about Charley Erik Mintz?

Here’s what:

image

Yes, that’s right – “Charley Erik Mintz” is an anagram of “Terry Michael Zink.” Pretty clever, wouldn’t you agree? I’m boasting about being a great writer and a great magician right in plain sight (sort of)! I also did it to talk a bit about my philosophy of magic and how we should blur reality.

Thus, it wasn’t a throwaway line, I put it in there to amuse myself and talk about my greatness.

And I succeeded.

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Valentine’s Day 2013

Today is Valentine’s Day, 2013, and it’s the third Valentine’s Day the wife and I have spent together.

She’s working late tonight, so I think that as I write this, there is no chance that she will read it because she’s currently on the way home from work (11 pm). We’re not big holiday people (i.e., doing major things on holidays) because that’s just not who we are.

But I did get her a card. I put it in the refrigerator because when she gets home, she always eats something. When she opens the fridge, the card will be there right in front of her.

What a surprise!

This plan only works if my timing is right and she started work at 2:30 pm today and not anytime later…

45 minutes later…

It worked!

image

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The other day, I wrote a review on Amazon for a product that I purchased. I have never written a review on Amazon before, this was my first.

For our first anniversary, I bought the wife a stuffed Totoro doll. Totoro is a character in the Hayao Miyazaki anime film “My Neighbor Totoro”, a story about two girls living in rural Japan who run stumble upon a mystical animal in the forest known as Totoro.

For some reason, I can’t get this film out of my head. I’ve seen something like six of Miyazaki’s films but this one is the one that I can recall the best, by far. The plot is not overly complicated, but Totoro is probably the most memorable character out of all of them.

Anyhow, for our anniversary, I bought the wife a 16” stuffed Totoro off of Amazon. It took a couple of weeks to get here since they shipped it from Japan. And let me tell you, this stuffed Totoro was not cheap. But it came, and it seems to be a good creature.

But, I only rated it 4 stars:

image

Why did I rate it only 4 stars? Because the Totoro is not 16”. It’s only a bit over 14”. I took a picture:

image

From the angle I took the picture (I had to hold up the tape measure with one hand and snap the photo with the other), the Totoro almost hits 15”. But it’s a bit under 15”.

15” is not 16”. The stuffed toy is good quality, but the advertisement is not what we actually got in the mail.

And thus I deducted 1 star.

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