Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Golden Breakfast

My kind of color coordination:
Eggs, cheese, honey, orange juice, butter, cornbread.

I have discovered breakfast.

First I discovered eggs, or what eggs should be. It turns out that what you put into an animal affects what comes out of it. Exercise matters too. When a chicken sits still and eats the cheapest food possible, the cheapest eggs possible come out. Those eggs are what you generally find in the supermarket.

Enter pastured eggs. Chickens are given freedom to move around. They eat healthy food, and have freedom to peck at bugs and what-have-you.

Does the result make a difference? Well, is there a difference between the following shades?

Those shades come from a photo I took of a pastured egg yolk with a supermarket egg yolk. The deep orange on top represents the pastured egg. I think it a safe assumption that the difference in color corresponds to a difference of nutrient content.

That's not the only difference. I was startled the first time I sought to scramble one of these yolks, because I could actually feel it give back when I pushed on it.

Let me tell you, the flavor speaks volumes more.

Back to breakfast. My housemate and his wife start every day with a spinach and cheese omelet. Culturally this seemed a bit extravagant, so I asked why. They said that, among other reasons, a higher-protein breakfast leaves them fuller longer and helps them have a healthier appetite through the day.

I tried it out, and my experience confirms their words. My old diet of a simple bowl of cereal left me hungry as few as two hours later, while after eating just two eggs with some toast I felt quite full for that same amount of time and not actually hungry for considerably longer.

Those reasons aside, that breakfast is delicious! Taking some time in the morning to treasure cooking and eating is a wonderful ritual. Prizing such luxuries as beauty and flavor and aroma really starts the day off on a good foot.

After all, what you put into an animal affects what you get out of it. If I want to be productive through the day I think I do well to invest time and money and thought into my fuel.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Day in Philadelphia for $20

Why is there a British flag hanging in Elfreth's Alley?
Let's call it...a sign of the glory of the First Amendment.

Yesterday I went with my friend Pat, my sister Samantha, and her boyfriend Jace to Philadelphia. Jace is from Maine and had never been here before. He is also studying to be a history teacher. So, we undertook to show him historic Philadelphia, on a budget. Our itinerary:
  • 8:04: Purchase SEPTA "Independence" day pass for $10 each and catch the R5 into 30th St Station.
  • 8:45: In West Philadelphia ("born and raised..."), catch the El to 2nd and Market St.
  • 9:10: Tour Christ Church at 2nd and Arch, birthplace of the Episcopal church. See George Washington's pew, a 300-year-old chandelier, and a 600-year-old baptismal font, among other treasures. Stingily give only $1 of the suggested $3 adult donation.
  • 9:30: Walk through Elfreth's Alley, one of the few preserved colonial streets left in the wake of demolition for Independence Mall and I-95. Price: free.
  • 9:45: Walk past Benjamin Franklin's grave on the way to Independence Hall. Price: Free.
  • 9:50: Get a fresh, fluffy, warm, mustard-drenched pretzel from a food truck. The pretzel is so good it "lives up to Avatar's hype." Price: $0.50
  • 9:55: Reach Independence Hall looking for tour tickets, only to discover we must walk a block to the "Independence Visitor's Center" to pick up the tickets. The Center is immensely pointless, a fact made more bitter by the knowledge of the aforementioned demolition of Elfreth's Alley-like neighborhoods in its place. Grudgingly pick up free tickets for the 11:45 tour.
  • 10:00: Stop in and see the Liberty Bell. Have the feeling that the history presented here is to real history as muzak is to music. Nevertheless, the bell is cool. Price: free.
  • 10:15: Stop for another pretzel at another cart. Find the second every bit as delicious as the first. Price: another $0.50.
  • 10:15 Walk to the Second Bank of the United States, and stumble upon an incredible exhibit of portraits of Founding Fathers and their contemporaries. Here is history intelligently and legitimately displayed, as the exhibit tries to explain these folks as products of a movement called the Enlightenment, grouped so as to leave room for visitors to make their own inferences and contextualization. See some really cool paintings. Price: free.
  • 11:30: Return to Independence Hall for tour. Hear excellent tour guide involve the whole group, which included visitors from both coasts, the South, Canada, and France. Price: free.
  • 12:30: Walk to Reading Terminal Market for lunch. Realize there are better times to go than Thanksgiving weekend at peak lunch time. Wait around 45 minutes for a cheesesteak at Spataro's, which proves pretty much worth it. Save money and unnecessary calories by bringing a water bottle from home. Price: $8.
  • 2:15: Walk to City Hall. Explore the tallest masonry building in the world. Find the city's Christmas Village set up in wooden huts on the west side. Meet Germans selling roasted nuts. Find out from the merchant that his group came from Bavaria just for this market and will return two days after Christmas. Share Pat's roasted pecans, which are out of this world. Price: free to me, $4 to Pat.
  • 3:30: Walk through Love Park with the intention of reaching the Franklin Institute.
  • 4:00: Stop in to see the Comcast Center's video wall, and receive 3D glasses for their "Holiday Spectacular" show. Enjoy the beautiful screen, though it is merely a glorified screen saver. Discover exactly how empty Christmas becomes when stripped of its Christian context, as most spectacularly displayed by a children's chorus of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year" for the finale. Price: free.
  • 4:25: Return to Love Park for photos of Sam and Jace under the iconic sign.
  • 4:45: Take the El past the giant clothespin to 5th and South with the intention of dinner at Pietro's and an exploration of the street. Price: free.
  • 5:15: Elect instead to return home for free lasagna from Mom's kitchen. Stop by Carpenter's Hall, site of the First Continental Congress. Price: free.
A wonderful day with a few surprises to boot. Total cost was $10 for SEPTA, $1 for the Christ Church donation, $1 for two pretzels, and $8 for lunch.

$20 for a day packed with history, culture, and delights for the senses in a world class city? Sounds like a great deal to me.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Next Up: Unintended Consequences

Please don't take this away!
"A bike is a legal vehicle with the same rights and duties as a motor vehicle."
"A Guide to Biking in Philly"
That quote defines a broken and inadequate philosophy toward biking which is harmless when tacitly ignored but harmful to society at large when actually enforced. Unfortunately, it looks like there is a new push to enforce this misguided idea, with tickets for $119.50 likely being written to cyclists in Center City as I write these words.

I see only one reason why a bicycle should be governed by the same rules as a car, and it is not a good one: thinking through proper regulations for bikes would require work, maybe even hard work. Applying rules designed for cars is simple, and might make sense to someone unacquainted with actual cycling experience on the city streets. But if carried to its extreme, streets would become unsafe and inefficient for all users of the road while severely hampering cycling in particular.

Cars have four wheels. Pedestrians have zero wheels. Bicycles have two wheels. As a first approximation, it might make sense to treat a bike as something between a car and a pedestrian. I think this idea is a much better starting point than the quote above.

For example, bikes go faster than pedestrians, but not as fast as cars. That means they should ride on the road, but accommodations should be made for the fact that they are slower. A great solution is the bike lane, which unfortunately does not exist in most places and is often obstructed when it does. However, bikes are flexible! They can bend themselves to be more like pedestrians or more like cars in any given circumstance, and this great advantage allows them to cope with most perils the road throws their way.

In my estimation, the crux of the issue lies in the assertion that bikes, like cars, should never be allowed to proceed through red lights or stop signs. To say otherwise would seem a dangerous idea if bikes were just like cars, but looking through the lens of a pedestrian provides a different perspective.

In Philadelphia, pedestrians frequently move through a red light when there is no car traffic coming. This behavior has the dual benefit of first, saving pedestrians time, and second, getting them out of the way so that when the light turns, parallel traffic need not wait for them to cross before turning. At times, pedestrians cross when it is unsafe to do so, but that does not invalidate the fact that jaywalking in general increases efficiency and productivity for everyone.

In this respect, bicycles are a lot more like pedestrians than they are like cars. A cyclist is equally as capable as a pedestrian of riding to the front of an intersection, determining whether it is safe to go through, and proceeding when it is so. In fact, doing so makes things easier for automobiles, since the slower bike is now out of its way and the car is free to go its normal speed.

I do not deny that reckless "jayriding" is hazardous, inefficient, and stupid, but that fact should not be used to condemn safe use of the practice. If bikes are prohibited from jayriding, the result in a city with ever increasing bike traffic will be a pileup of bikes at the light. This result would be inefficient, since not only would the cyclists' commute time be greatly slowed, but cars would also be inconvenienced by the obstacle which multiple cycles present. Given sufficient volume, this situation would also be unsafe, since there is not much space for bicycles to begin with.

How does a city prohibit behaviors like unsafe jayriding while allowing safe and productive use of the practice? This is the kind of challenge which city legislators should take up if they truly wish to make city streets safer and more efficient. Actually condoning moving through a red light for anyone may be hard to swallow at first, but that is only so if one has only experienced the perspective of an automobile.

It is easy to shackle cyclists to all of the limitations of motorists while denying them any of the benefits of the pedestrian side of their nature, but actually doing so almost keeps cycling from being worthwhile. Depending who you are, that may not be a problem. In a society as auto-dominated as ours, most people probably would not care, and many would probably be happy to have streets sanitized of the two-wheeled nuisances.

But any Center City rush hour prominently displays how broken our auto society has become, and any look at obesity statistics shows how sorely many Americans are lacking exercise. Within the city, biking is faster and more efficient than driving, with virtually none of the parking hassle. It is also a great way for people like myself who struggle to get enough exercise to burn calories.

In short, biking is a godsend, working against several social problems at once, and we ought to seek to make even more provision for its use rather than bullying cyclists off the road. There is no question that as use has increased, more regulation has become necessary. Let us hope that we as a city can rise to the challenge of doing so in an intelligent, useful fashion.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

If this is the placebo effect, I'm going to look like a fool.

To try and make ends meet while unemployed, I have been taking part in a study of the effects of Adderall on memory, concentration, and personality. For that work this morning I took a pill which was either Adderall or a placebo, watched an hour of the Planet Earth documentary while the drug kicked in, took a personality test, and took part of the SAT.

The drug's effects are likely still with me as I compose these thoughts.

This was my first time taking a pill for the study, but I feel pretty confident that this one was the real stuff. The sharpest changes I notice are an increased need to concentrate and increased self-awareness.

I say "need to concentrate" rather than "ability to concentrate" because I feel a drive to go deeply into whatever is my focus. I dove deeply into each separate task on the SAT, yet switching gears was unpleasant. I wanted to be absolutely immersed in each task while I was doing it, and having to come back to the surface before diving into a different task was unpleasant.

This behavior made clock management a little more difficult. Rather than having the back of my mind tethered to the big picture of completing the entire test as best as possible, I wanted to delve fully into every problem and task for its own sake, spurning the larger task at hand.

While I was able to concentrate more and attack problems with fiery zeal, I don't think I necessarily performed better. For instance, at the beginning of the math section there were several problems which I had trouble completing, yet with which I was fairly sure that I would not normally have much trouble. I felt as though there were a couple of circuits in my brain not connecting well.

I think the increased self-awareness I notice may not be directly due to the pill, but rather due to my curiosity as a scientific observer of myself in changed circumstances. Nevertheless I found myself thinking about my posture and my motion on my bicycle in ways I don't normally, which are the kinds of observations I wouldn't be making just based on searching for the pill's effects.

The questions lurking behind any such study are, first, can we actually expand human capabilities with this pill? Second, should we?

The consequences of answering those questions with respect to Adderall are pretty benign, since its effects in any rate aren't dramatic. Whether we do or we don't, most people's lives probably don't stand to change much.

But those answers will follow us once we open the door to more dramatic "enhancements." Our ability to change who we are and our descendants will be undoubtedly will increase, whether by taking drugs to change our minds and our bodies, by altering our genetic code, or by other means. In my opinion, the answer to the first question (can we?) is a clear yes.

I wonder whether many who are providing those yeses to the first question will give the second question a second thought. To most I expect it, too, leads to an obvious yes.

The specter of transhumanism has already graced our baseball players and our Olympic athletes, and it looms larger in the future as we journey inward. Should we? I hope to write more later.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Great Plain Drain

Meritocratic winners debate whether the world is getting better and better,
or whether it is getting worse and worse.

Tomorrow's anticipated World Series opener between the Philadelphia Phillies and the New York Yankees carries an interesting twist. The starting pitchers, C.C. Sabathia for the Yankees and Cliff Lee for the Phillies, each won Cy Young awards* in 2007 and 2008, respectively, while playing for the Cleveland Indians.

In other words, if you're a Cleveland baseball fan, you probably want to kill yourself.

I'm struck by how similar this situation is to a more widespread and more consequential phenomenon in our country. I witnessed it as a student at Penn, a university which boasts an acceptance pool from all fifty states and many countries besides.

People entering Penn may come from all over, but graduates are not nearly so far-flung. They tend to congregate in the major metropolitan areas of the Northeast and of the West Coast. My dear friend Ben, who returned to his native Minnesota for law school in Minneapolis, is by far the exception.

The result is what some have called the "Problem of Meritocracy:" the nation's smartest are drawn from all over to the coasts, leaving the "flyover states" desolate of leaders and thinkers with perhaps the highest potential. This article puts it aptly, likening the SAT to strip mining:
For the meritocratic system is a method that uses impersonal technology (e.g., the SAT) to help us identify valuable natural resources (bright kids), and then pitilessly removes them from their ecological contexts (local communities), never to return them, thus creating cultural landscapes just as ravaged as the denuded mountainsides of Kentucky coal country.
I am not sure what I think about this issue. If you ask me, the principal advantage in going to the University of Pennsylvania compared to the much-cheaper Penn State University, where one could ostensibly learn the same facts and study the same subjects, is in being surrounded by brilliant friends and classmates. This grouping would not have been possible had we not been brought from hither and yon to the same twelve square city blocks.

In addition, my primitive understanding is that the "knowledge-based economy" into which the United States continues to develop requires collections of really smart people. Take a company like Google for example, whose achievements have made significant improvements in daily life for just about everyone who uses the Internet. Those achievements were all developed by groups of very smart people who likely came from all over.

Yet I also know that a great deal of this coastal congregation amounts to selfish gain rather than the greater good, as a large stack of currency trading books I saw today reminds me. The University instills certain values, but duty and responsibility are not among them, nor anything that acknowledges anyone is responsible for students' success but themselves.

Perhaps the great danger in meritocracy lies here, in the easy bridge it offers to entitlement. Those who have conquered meritocratic establishments do so by definition according to their own achievements. That is probably a better system than the old standby of heredity, but it hides the many factors that students have no control over yet which play crucial roles in their successes.

Since students are led to feel entitled to their standing, nothing inhibits them from adding to that privilege rather than sacrificing for others' benefit. Notable losers in this exchange may be the communities which poured their resources into raising these children to begin with, or anyone not blessed with the same kind of golden ticket.

I have pride in my hometown of Phoenixville, which is doing just fine without me, but to which I would love to contribute meaningfully someday. I know there are countless other locales which are not so lucky, and which could be enlivened greatly by the devoted attention of their native sons and daughters.

Make no mistake. I will be rooting for Cliff Lee to absolutely topple the Yankees hitters, while I hope C.C. Sabathia is himself toppled by the Phillies' bats. But lurking in the back of my mind, as I watch the game with many friends who are lucky in the same way I am, will be a feeling of loss for the Cleveland fans and the large swaths of America which they represent.

*The Cy Young award is given annually to the American League pitcher and the National League pitcher deemed to be the best in his respective league.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

What else is going on in there?

I woke this morning with Pachelbel's Canon in D played by a Game Boy synthesizer stuck in my head.

This occurrence is intriguing because while I have heard Pachelbel's Canon many times, and while I have heard music played on a Game Boy synthesizer many times, I have never heard Pachelbel's Canon played on a Game Boy synthesizer before. Yet there it was, playing through my head.

Even more interesting: I realized later on that the canon playing through my head was at least in parts in a minor key, while the actual canon is written in D major.

So completely unbidden by conscious thought, for no reason known to me, while I slept my brain spun together a novel arrangement of a song it knew and an instrument it knew, and then transposed it to a minor key.

By now, however, various other songs have crowded it out. If only I had a USB port for capturing such things...

*I have some basic musical inclination, but nothing special, and I am not nearly as avid of a music listener as many others I know. Yet I virtually always have something playing in my head, which I understand to be relatively rare. I think my dad was the same way. Curious.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


Apparently the world is going to end in three years and some change.

Sony is making a movie about it. The date will be an almost-symmetric 12/21/2012. Also it's the end of the Mayan calendar or something. Some of my students last year were fascinated by this possibility.

Conjecture on the end of the world based on round numbers seems to be relatively common (remember Y2K?). But roundness of numbers is misleading.

1,000 is only round because we use a base ten number system (a choice almost certainly due to the fact that we have ten fingers). The choice of ten is otherwise arbitrary.

By base ten, I mean that each place in a number refers to a power of 10. The number 3,762, for instance, is shorthand for:
3x103 + 7x102 + 6x101 + 2x100
= 3x1,000 + 7x100 + 6x10 + 2x1
= 3,000 + 700 + 60 + 2
= 3,762
Computers are built on a base two number system, better known as binary. In this case each place refers to a power of 2. For instance, the binary number 10110 is shorthand for:
1x24 + 0x23 + 1x22 + 1x21 + 0x20
= 1x16 + 0x8 + 1x4 + 1x2 + 0x1
= 16 + 0 + 4 + 2 + 0
= 22
Any number can be represented in base ten, or in base two, or in base anything. This means that numbers which look round are only round in one particular number system. In base two, 1,000 is just 8. Some people find 8 a particularly appealing number, but most probably do not. But 1,000 in a base two system? That's 1111101000.

So to us, in our crazy base 10 mindset, 12/21/2012 looks mildly interesting. However, in another system, say base seven, the date is represented 15/30/5403. The year 2,000, which many more people got excited about, is just 13132 in base six. Not so round in either case.

Humans are superstitious as a rule, and it's easy to believe that round dates carry hidden significance. Whatever adjectives you might use to describe such a belief, it is if nothing else a tad anthropomorphic.

Side question: How would human history have differed as a function of the number of fingers we have?

*All of this is not to say that I am above celebrating the arrival of a round number.
** 2,000 in base 7 is actually 5555, which still has a certain roundness to it. We're so lucky the world didn't end at Y2K!

Monday, October 5, 2009

You, sir, are not like me.

Today's ride, about 12 miles.

Is it better or is it worse to encounter in your daily life people who are not like you?

I think most would say that it is better to encounter a diversity of people. However, most choose to live around others similar to themselves, which would speak to the contrary. Certainly, auto-dependent and traditionally homogenous suburbs do quite a bit to keep their residents selectively isolated.

One such experience today got me thinking about the question. While on a bike ride, I waited at a light to turn from 12th onto Walnut. As the light changed the other way, an African American biker transitioned from the sidewalk to the road, signaling his way with the "ding ding!' of a bell attached to his handlebars, offering a polite thank-you as he passed.

Within a few blocks I had caught up to him and found myself biking side-by-side. This experience is a pleasing one, for reasons related to physics, and because I feel safer and more relaxed when taking up the whole lane with another rider. (This practice is perfectly legitimate in Center City, where there is no bike lane and the right lane is thus reserved for bikes and for buses.)

Soon we crossed through an intersection, and he alerted some jaywalking pedestrians of our passage again with his bell. "I like your bell," I said.

"Thanks," he replied. "My partner gave it to me."

"It's nice."

"Yeah, I want him to get one for my grandson, too. I know he'd like that," he responded.

"It's useful, too," I added.

"Yeah." We rode a bit more. "I'm heading up Sixteenth Street here, so you have a good day," he said. And we parted ways.

I don't know how many gay African American grandparents I've met before. I don't think that number is very high, but you wouldn't expect it to be for someone like me either. Yet by virtue of using a non-isolated mode of transportation, and by living in a city where many kinds of people reside, we came into contact just by chance.

Though I suspect there is virtue in such experiences, I am not exactly sure what that virtue is. I do think it is helpful just to be reminded that there are ranges of experience drastically different from my own, that the world is a lot bigger than I conceive it to be.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Science on Spokes

Zadrejko stands tall.

Jon majored in biology. I majored in physics. We both went for a bike ride.

At the start we spontaneously took a few revolutions around a cul-de-sac. I remarked what an interesting frame of reference that had been - he stationary in front of me and the rest of the world spinning.

We stopped at an old one-room schoolhouse. He noticed a spider on the handle of an old pump, and we talked about how underrated spiders are.

On the way back a flock of geese suddenly passed overhead. Jon was surprised at how low they flew, and how large the flock was.

Soon after, I waxed poetic about the mystery of riding bikes with friends. Again, the frame of reference struck me. Riders are all moving, often at a pretty good clip, yet in each other's eyes they remain still. This exclusively shared frame of reference is a great source of bonding.

It was fun to see our disciplines come out in our observations.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Culture Crossing Complications

Stereotypes only get you so far.

I find understanding Korean culture is helped very little by any kind of stereotype, or even by some of the more nuanced things I picked up in my Korean studies before coming here.

I usually try to understand the world by finding a few guiding principles and explaining everything I see in terms of them. I don't think this has much to do with why I majored in physics, but that is exactly what physicists try to do. Newton used three concise laws to explain all motion.

However, if there are a few such principles at the core of Korean culture, they elude me. American stereotypes of Koreans, such as aptitude in math and science and obsession with video games, are several dimensions short of what I find here. I have found approximately nothing in Korea which would lead me to deduce those stereotypes.

It's not that I haven't tried to understand the people here in such a way. At times, I form a hypothesis based on an experience, but it seldom explains other experiences. (Am I living and breathing the Scientific Method or what? Makes one sick...)

For example, before leaving the airplane in Korea I had to fill out a card certifying that I did not have Swine Flue or any of the associated symptoms. The next day customs even called me to make sure that I hadn't come down with the bug. This experience led me to think, "Koreans are very serious about hygeine and preventing the spread of disease."

I am baffled, then, every time I use a public bathroom and find there is absolutely no soap. Not just no antibacterial soap - no soap.

Asian cultures are also known for being family oriented. This is true of Korea, yet people get married late even by American standards and the population is almost the fastest-declining in the world, with a birth rate of around 1.15.

Another example: when we went to the beach one afternoon three weeks ago, only one other person actually took off the clothes he was wearing over his bathing suit - and he was Chinese. The rest went in and got soaked in their clothes.

This might lead you to think that Koreans are very shy and private when it comes to their bodies. But then you would have no way of explaining the group shower I took in the same room with 5 other guys later that night, or the culture of public bathhouses here in which you can have your skin scraped by a stranger while you swelter in the nude.

A reductionist who has failed to this point might throw up his arms and label the country something like, "Korea: Land of Contradictions." But that label would excel in both ignorance and in arrogance. The fact the people can't be understood via a few simple rules (i.e. "They're just like us except a, b, and c...") does not indicate that their culture is strange or illogical; it indicates that there is something wrong with the reductionist approach.

This failure is one reason humility is such and important virtue in crossing cultures. As an outsider, the only way to begin to understand a people is by living as one of them. The presumption that you could understand them through a textbook, or that trying to understand and accept their culture isn't necessary in loving them, is fatal.

Omniscient God chose to live as one of his creations in demonstrating his love for them. We celebrate this miracle as Christmas. We would do well to fully consider the implications of his Incarnation.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

I am a transit pro.

You there! Don't you know shoe etiquette?

Transferring lines in the subway yesterday, I noticed another white man puzzling over a subway map. He looked American enough, so I boldly asked, "Can I help you?"

"No English," was his reply in a Russian accent, a bit self-conscious.

"어디 가요?" I asked.

"Ah," he said with a word of recognition. He showed me where he was headed on the map, and I gathered he wasn't sure whether to turn to the left or to the right in transferring.

Carefully surveying the situation for a moment, I pointed to the right, he thanked me, and we moved onward on our respective paths.

One lesson my friend Matthew reported understanding better after his band's European tour this summer was that,
America just doesn't fit into the cultural spectrum of "white people" as they exist in their homeland, Europe. You have to go to countries that are actually ethnically "white countries" to understand that America isn't a white nation any more than it's a black or a Hispanic or an Asian nation.
The above encounter, combined with meeting Sergei from Ukraine on the street last week, has taught me a bit about how this is so.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

First Ever (Only Ever?) Fashion Post

Coming to Korea this summer, I didn't have any idea what to expect with regard to fashion. I figured with my Phillies hat, polo shirts, and khaki shorts my clothes would broadcast "American" even more loudly than my skin.

In this I was somewhat mistaken. Korean fashion is a lot more complicated than I'm capable of understanding, but I see lots of polo shirts and not a few pairs of cargo shorts.

The big surprise comes with regard to the Phillies hat. In Korea, Major League Baseball hats are in style big time, especially among men but also among women.

The most popular teams are (expectedly) the Red Sox and the Yankees, followed by (unexpectedly) the Detroit Tigers and maybe the Pittsburgh Pirates. I don't think the people wearing the hats generally know anything about the teams, and so I suspect that the cool script "D" on the Tigers hat explains its prevalence.

I have only seen a Phillies hat twice. Perhaps when they win the World Series again this year, I will be able to welcome many Korean friends onto the bandwagon.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A First Approximation

"You say, 'I don't know how to solve an elephant, but I do know how to solve a mouse.' And so you start with a mouse and build to an elephant."
Dr. Marija Drndic, professor of physics, University of Pennsylvania
I may not have mastered introductory quantum mechanics, but Professor Drndic's words have remained with me. She speaks with regard to problem solving (perturbation theory, to be precise), but I think of them now with respect to travel.

On Sunday I will leave for six weeks in Seoul, South Korea. I have studied Korean. I have some Korean friends. But by no means do I profess to understand Korea.

For the sake of this analogy, let's call Korea the elephant. And let's call Pennsylvania, my home state, the mouse.

Wikipedia affords some comparisons:

So, while Pennsylvania has about 20% more space, in Korea reside almost four times as many people. It's liable to feel a bit crowded over there. Also, to the extent that GDP per capita is a reflection of wealth, your average Pennsylvanian is a little wealthier than your average Korean.

Judging by latitude, climate should be similar, though Korea's peninsular nature and other geographic features should make for differences.

How about each locale's respective largest cities?

Yikes. Like I said, it might feel crowded.

How about a comparison of the depth of history in each place? I remember a conversation with my Korean conversation partner in which I told her the various, mostly European lineages from which I descend. She replied, "My 58th grandfather is Korean."

Hmm. Perhaps statistics will only get me so far.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Great Commission

I saw a site in Scotland.

No, I am not speaking of the Loch Ness, nor of the loping, sheep-whisped countryside, nor of the centuries-old cobblestone Royal Mile of Edinburgh, though I saw all of these things.

This was a site you could see anywhere. And that is precisely the point.

On a commuter train from Glasgow to Edinburgh, I sat next to a man. A man in a suit. A man at work.

It is hardly news to find someone working away from the office. That he worked electronically is similarly passe to report. What struck me was that this man did his work, not on a BlackBerry, not on an iPhone—

—but on both.

At the same time.

Is it accurate to say I was next to this man? Can we even speak of being embodied in such a case?

Granted, he made good use of each. With the iPhone and its superior display he browsed, while with the BlackBerry and its superior keyboard he communicated. But what a sacrifice for such productivity!

Truly, the Space of Flows marches onward to the ends of the Earth. Amen and amen.

Sunday, June 7, 2009


I saw Up last night.

I was struck by how unorthodox of a film it was. For one, it doesn't follow a traditional story arc, even though some sort of arc is present.

For two, it is full of the whimsical and the fantastic.

For three, it doesn't worry about logically explaining certain things. Normally this means filmmakers were sloppy, but in this case they intentionally don't bother. The ability of an old man to inflate enough helium balloons to lift his house overnight and the associated physics of those balloons just aren't important.

It's also the saddest "children's" film I've ever seen. I don't say that because there is (or isn't) a sad ending or some tragic "Bambi's mom" kind of moment, but because the film is draped in a quietly melancholic aura.

So kudos to Pixar for continuing to tell the best stories, and to be willing to venture well off the beaten path in doing so.

I also took the occasion to rank all Pixar movies. This list is objective and absolute.
  1. The Incredibles
  2. Toy Story
  3. Monsters Inc.
  4. Up
  5. Ratatouille
  6. Finding Nemo
  7. Wall-E
  8. Cars
  9. Toy Story 2
  10. A Bug's Life
Further comments available upon request.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


According to the New York Times:

"'This is a day of mourning for all of Germany,' Chancellor Angela Merkel said in a brief statement in Berlin. 'Our thoughts are with the friends and families.' "

It's probably better than paying lip service to belief in God when no belief exists. Still, how empty is that comfort?

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Irony at 37th and Powelton

Practice what you preach, Philadelphia!

I don't have many artistic gifts, but from time to time I conceive of projects I would create if I did possess such gifts.

One project, for example, would be a better version of the above photo, more clearly highlighting the irony.

Which brings up another point. Philadelphia's roads are in terrible condition:
  • The above intersection has been that way for weeks.
  • I can think of at least three intersections where the stoplights at times don't work properly.
  • It's not unusual to find sections of road blocked off because of giant potholes or ditches.
  • When it snowed two weeks ago, it seemed the roads weren't treated at all. My car almost got stuck going down Chestnut St. Roads across the Ben Franklin in New Jersey were completely clear.
I can only conclude that the road condition highlights the desperate condition of our city's finances.

A book I'm reading now puts the current crisis in perspective. It's called "A Prayer for the City," and it's about Ed Rendell's first term as mayor of Philadelphia from 1992-1995. I've been amazed at how worse off Philadelphia was then. However, I've been struck by how similar the city's plight seems now.

For instance, Rendell's big challenge upon taking office was dealing with Philadelphia's unprecedented budget deficit. Mayor Nutter's has been the same.

It remains to be seen whether or not the roads were in similarly bad shape then.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Post Office Cross-Cultural

It is kind of weird, when you think about it.

Today in the post office, I was approached by an Asian couple (I think Korean) in their or 40's or so. The woman asked a question - how were they to seal their envelope?

"Oh, you have to lick it," I said. I think they heard me, but thought they must have gotten the words wrong. "With your tongue," I elaborated, pantomiming the motion.

They were quite amused.

How many aspects of our culture do we learn by the age of six, never to think of again unless reminded that they are but aspects of our culture?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Can'ts hold no fruit.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion..."
Genesis 1:28
My friend leighcia has written about the joys of knitting, of the process "From one dimensional string to two dimensional fabric to three dimensional garment." In one post, she writes:
Being a financial analyst by occupation and a writer/reader at heart, I usually work with the substances that cannot be touched. Abstract numbers, thoughts and ideas, shuttling back and forth from computer screen to paper to words...Sometimes, it's just so refreshing to just be able to hold something in my hands and not feel obliged to say anything at all.
As a student and now as a teacher, I have felt a similar longing, as I articulated in a comment on another of her posts:
You make pretty things. I wish I make pretty things one day too. Not sewing things. Other things.
What kind of "other things?" In another comment, her husband Matthew (who builds amps and bikes) hit the nail on the head:
Yes. Something masculine.

What do I already create?
  • As a teacher I primarily seek an impact on the hearts, minds, and souls of my students. Very real, yes; tangible, no.

  • Along the way I churn out copious amounts of worksheets, Powerpoint lectures, and grades. Tangible? Sort of. The real creation exists in zeroes and ones on my hard drive.

  • Today I made Scantron answer keys for my midterm exams. They possess a certain beauty in that they are codified truth, a standard to which my students' imitations will be compared. But, while I can hold them in my hand, they are hardly tangible. They must be fed through a dot machine in order for their worth to be made manifest.
So what am I left with? Well, I like to cook.

I'd like something more.