Friday, December 29, 2017






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Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Future Looks Bleak

(Cue the Buzzcocks’ “I Had a Dream Last Night”)


The coffin-like box hit the water with a splash and sank with slow undulations. It came to rest on the light sand of the shoal, maybe fifteen feet from the surface. Sunlight dappled the area; it would have been a lovely setting, if not for the face of the man screaming from inside the box.  A small window near the top of the box showed his bald head and narrow, gold-painted face. His screams could not be heard, but his gaping mouth and frantic movements made his panic abundantly clear.


Another man stood beside the coffin. His scruffy face and shifty eyes would have marked him for someone intent on perpetuating an evil deed even without the condemning shovel in his hands. He paid no heed to the gold man; instead, his attention was riveted on another box, of almost the same size as the first, that lay at his feet. He moved with furtive caution, glancing every so often upward as if worried that someone might be watching. He lifted the lid of the second box to Dozens of them, lined in rows as in a showcase. The man was clearly disappointed, but after a moment he shrugged, closed the lid, and set to work.


For a moment, I was certain that he had a plan to rescue the gold man. Perhaps he would swim to the surface, bonk whoever was up there with the shovel, and then pull the gold man's box back up. My instincts proved to be wrong, however; the man started digging.


I, as an observer at this point, silently marveled at the abilities of both men to hold their breaths for so long; the second man, in particular, had both boxes buried in the sand without once going to the surface for air.


This is, as an aside, the first time that I recall a murder occurring during one of my dreams.


The digger cast nervous eyes at the telltale outline of the box of watches. It was clear that he was hoping whoever was waiting for him on the shore wouldn’t ask about the it, and that the digger was hoping to keep the watches for himself. He picked up something flat and white - a shell, perhaps, or a piece of trash - and stuck it in the sand over the watch-box, then headed at last for the surface.


His boss, as the one waiting on the shore turned out to be, was not so easily fooled. He took one look at the digger's face and dove in without a moment's hesitation. Back on the floor of the cove, the box with the watches was so poorly buried that its outline could clearly be seen through the sand; the white marker only emphasized the obvious. The boss was extremely angry at the digger and motioned him to dig it back up.


The second-to-last light bulb abruptly burned out, leaving the derelict basement in a gloom so deep that only the boss was clearly visible. He gave an irritated order to find more light bulbs, so I hurried up the rickety stairs to find one. The kitchen above was colorless, as if someone had stuck it in Photoshop and changed it to Sepia tones. I found a bulb in a cabinet and hurried back down the stairs, but when I attempted to put it in the ancient light fixture, it broke.


That's when I was wakened by a dog barking nearby.


When I told this dream to one of my co-workers, she came up with the interpretation almost immediately.  The gold and watches represent my retirement.  The fact that dubious types were burying it shows that I can expect to keep laboring for years after my retirement age has come and gone; then, at the end, someone else will get my retirement money.


That’s just great.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dubbing the Subtitles

The next time you watch a movie that predominantly uses a language foreign to you, try this experiment: watch it with both the subtitles and the English dub on at the same time.  The results may surprise you. 


I did this first with the movie "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon".  I had seen the movie in the theater and watched it on DVD.  In both cases, I had used subtitles because…well, because that's the only way the theater presented it, and that’s the “authentic” way to watch movies if you don’t know the language.  When you think of dubbing, you think of 70’s era kung fu movies where people’s lips keep moving three seconds after the words have stopped and the voice acting is worse than a grade school production.


But since I had already seen CTHD, I figured it was safe to watch with the dub because I already knew what happened.  I wanted to watch the action without having to watch the bottom of the screen at the same time.  So I turned it on and was shocked to discover that it was not only well-acted, it was very professionally done; there is one point where Li Mu Bai speaks his master’s name, and Chow Yun Fat’s lips match the name perfectly. 


Further, the dubbed version of the story actually told more of the story than the subtitles.  Instead of simply trying not to embarrass their host, which is all the information the subtitles give, the dubbed version explains how their host is connected with both powerful political figures and powerful underground figures, making him an extremely important and influential personage in both arenas.  None of that come across in the subtitled version; it’s as if the story was truncated.


Ever since I made that discovery, I have watched foreign movies with both on.  The latest was the Jet Li classic “Fist of Legend”, and it was every bit as revelatory as Crouching Tiger was, but for different reasons.  CTHD expanded on the story with the dub, but it was the same story.  Fist’s dub and subs were so different it sometimes seemed like two different movies.  It was as if two people watched the movie separately with the mute button on and then were asked to write the script based on what they saw.


Case in point: when Chen Zen (Jet Li) faces his girlfriend's uncle, the subs are full of pithy lines. ("You're skilled for one so young."  "Well, you're fast for one so old.”; Zen: "Focusing your energy to a single point is the best way to kill."  Uncle: "No, the best way to kill is with a gun."  (Both paraphrased, probably horribly...))  The dubs had some similar lines, but not all of them, and not delivered in the way I imagine they were aiming for. 


Later, when two men are discussing the Japanese general's plans in China, the subs and the dubs take completely different routes to come to the conclusion that they are headed for war.  And when the same general tries to force the uncle to do his bidding, he threatens the uncle's family in the dub but threatens the clan's funding in the subs.


It was truly a strange experience.  I recommend you try it for yourself. 


(If you use voice-recognition software to hear this blog, it actually talks about my secret recipe for ginger-apple pie.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

I Had a Dream Last Night...

I stood at the French doors overlooking an overgrown garden.  Unkempt hedges lined cobblestone paths that crossed in the center of the circular garden, creating a neat cross.  Three small bungalows stood on the far side of the garden.

"I think we're being watched," said the man. 

I resisted an urge to turn around.  The woman responded, "I think so, too.  I’ll go look them over."

"That middle one is empty.  It got flooded a few weeks ago. If there really is anyone, they'll probably be there."

I felt a minor panic set in; I knew for a fact that someone was in that building, and they were watching.  I fumbled in my pocket and pulled out my phone.  It was too risky to call, of course, but I needed to do something to warn him.  I flipped the phone open and held it in front of me as they said their goodbyes and he warned her to be careful.  I took pictures of the garden while trying to get the sun to reflect off the surface of the phone.  If he saw the flashes, he might get the hint.  Probably not, but it was the only thing I could think of.

I heard him step closer to me, so I turned with a grin and said, "That’s really a nice gard..."

That was as far as I got before he lunged at me with his knife.  I got only a glimpse and was already dodging, but too late; the knife sliced into my right side.  I jumped at him, knocking him off balance, and the knife fell from his hand and skittered across the floor.  He gripped me with both of his arms and squeezed; this combined with the cut in my side caused my sight to dim and I struggled for breath.  I gathered as much strength as I could and brought my knee up sharply.  It missed his groin but hit his thigh hard enough to make him grunt and loosen his grip.  I chopped a hand into his exposed throat and thrust away from him, then limped as rapidly as I could around the corner and into the first room I came to.  I closed and locked the door, then found I had closed myself in the interior bathroom.  I crouched beside the tub to minimize the chances of being shot, should he decide to attempt such a thing, and pondered my next move.

Friday, December 18, 2009

When Writing Goes Astray

The good news is that I have had some flashes of inspiration, and I have begun writing once again.  The bad news is that the inspiration does not have anything to do with the book that I want to write; it’s for something completely different.

But at least I’m writing.  Nine pages in the last two nights, in fact, which is a veritable avalanche of words, coming from my fingers. 

My inspiration comes from what might seem an unlikely source; Dragonball-Z.  You know, the old anime series that was popular way back in the 90’s.  Or possibly early aughts; I’m not actually sure when it originally aired in the US.  My 15-year-old remembered the show with a reverence usually reserved for religious experiences, so I bought him season one for his birthday this year.   We watched the entire season over the course of two days.

The series is a mass of paradoxes.  The animation is crude, yet engaging; the writing is often quite hilarious (in both good and bad ways); the characters range from one-joke caricatures to complex psychological specimens; the “acting” ranges from pure cartoon to true pathos.  Whoever wrote it was clearly making things up as he went along; the show contradicts itself, almost gleefully. 

The plot of the entire series (I bought all 9 seasons off of Amazon and we watched them in the space of 2 ½ months) is repetitive: heroes face bad guys who are surprisingly strong; heroes get butts whipped; heroes call on reserves heretofore unknown to them; heroes come back and win the big battle, some of which drag on in their own repetitive mini-cycles for an entire season.  Each time a new menace arrives, they are purported to be the strongest (and cruelest) beings in the universe.  No one could stand up to Frieza; but Cell was even stronger.  And even the Kais could not defeat Majiin Buu.  In the coincidental nature of serial television, all of the most powerful and evil creatures in the history of the universe happened to show up within twenty or so years of each other, and all of them found their defeat on, or at the hands of, people who lived on Earth.

This is not to say that the series is totally Earth-centric.  Humans, in fact, turn out to be among the weakest species in the universe.  If it wasn’t for the fact that aliens who looked much like humans had, for one reason or another, taken up residence on Earth, the planet would have been doomed several times over.  The strongest Earthlings can’t hold a candle to the most powerful Namekians, who themselves are no match for the crazy-strong Sayians.

The part that most intrigued me, and was the spark behind my most recent spurt of attempted novelization, was the powers that the characters had; or, rather, not the powers themselves, but the way the power was generated.  The energy bolts or waves that they used were created within themselves.  They didn't draw power from outside sources (except for the Spirit Bomb, which is an example of an exception proving the rule).  The rules are based (extremely loosely) on the Asian concept of chi, or the body's energy, being externalized and then manipulated for various uses, such as flying and the inevitable laser-beam-like attacks.  Master Roshi, according to the DBZ booklets that came with the movies, was the first human to figure out how to bring that inner energy outside the body.

And that is what interested me.  I have a very (very very) rudimentary understanding of the way chi is supposed to move around the body.  I could picture that actually happening.  Logical steps followed that revelation: using that much energy would be exhausting.  Someone would have to be in really good shape to do it more than once without passing out.  And probably eat a lot.  Both of these describe the characters in DBZ, or at least, they describe the main character, Goku. Despite all the silliness that is rampant in DBZ, it seems to possess a certain appealing logic.

Thus is was that, while mulling these things over, a scene gathered in my head.  As these things usually do, it twisted and turned and grew as I explored the paths it opened.  When I had some time, I wrote it down.  It came out a little differently than it had appeared in my head, which is also normal, but it holds the essence of what I was aiming for.  Rather than focusing on the first person who was able to manage the technique -- I imagined it would take years, if not decades, to realize it could happen -- it is about a student who takes the technique and attempts to find practical uses for it, rather than using it simply as a meditation technique, as his master does.

Let me know what you think.


“Once you have mastered the movement of your body’s energy, it is not such a hard thing to externalize it.”

“Externalize it?  What do you mean?”

“Externalize.  To bring it outside your body.  Just as it sounds.”

“Yes, I realize that, but…”

The master sighed and interrupted, “How about a demonstration?”  Which shut me up right quick.

He sat still for a moment, and I recognized the signs of his meditation; his body relaxed, except for his forehead, which wrinkled even more than usual as he concentrated on his inner chi.  He slowly raised his hands and brought them together at arm’s length in front of him, palms about two inches apart.

I heard a distant humming, like a swarm of bees, though the sound seemed to be coming from the master’s hands.  A faint glow emerged then grew stronger incrementally, coalescing at last into a pure white mass of energy that crackled and seethed as if seeking to escape his grasp.  The master took a deep sigh and released it; the energy vaporized into the air, leaving only charged particles that made my hair stand on end and the faint smell of something smoldering.

It took me a moment to get words to pass my lips, and I regretted them as soon as I saw the grimace with which he responded.

“How did you do that?”  I asked.

Then came the grimace.

“I already told you that.  I thought you were supposed to be smart.”

I felt myself flush, and bowed my head in acquiescence; and to cover my embarrassment.  “I apologize, master.  May I try?”

He snorted.  “You may try.  It took me twenty years just to feel warmth between my hands, so don’t expect too much too soon.”

I felt excitement surge through my heart despite his caution, and prepared myself.  I took deep, steady breaths and internalized my thoughts, letting everything go, one by one, until all of my concentration was on the chi paths that flowed through my body.  I tightened the muscles of my legs, then my groin, the fastest chi generator of the body, then guided the resulting energy up my spine, tightening and loosening the muscles as it went, adding the resulting energy to the chain.  I let it seep into my head, but didn’t let it linger, as I normally would; instead, I drained it out, down my chest, and let it settle in my belly, where it spun lazy circles, like koi in a small pond.  I breathed, relaxing my muscles, then did it again.  And again.  And continued to do it until I imagined I could feel heat simmering from my belly.  I raised my arms and set them in front of me, palms facing each other, as the master had shown me, then gently spilled the energy out of its holding place.  It pooled into the groin and guided it once more up the chain of my spine until it reached my shoulder blades; but instead of tipping it into my head, I eased it outward, through my dominate right arm, and into my hand.  This time the heat was not imaginary; I felt my palm warm as the energy reached my extremity.

Having reached a natural dead-end, the energy tried to rebound back up my arm, but I closed off the shoulder, causing it to rotate, like a snake following its own tail, along the length of my arm.  I concentrated on my right palm, feeling the heat generated by the proximity of the left palm, held opposite; the warmth inside my arm seemed to respond to the heat from without, and the air between my palms grew sharply hotter as I felt the energy unwind and begin to leach out. 

I sharpened my concentration, willing the heat to coalesce, but discovered that I could not; the energy was as slippery as wet eels and slid through my fingers, stubbornly refusing to gather between my palms.  I tried to stem the flow, to hold some back in order to try again, but once the release had begun, it was impossible to restrain.  It shot from my hands with a loud crack and, less than a heartbeat later, blasted into a fair-sized aspen.  I could barely see the resulting explosion and the toppling of the tree because of the residual glare the light from the energy had imprinted on my corneas. 

“That was excellent.”  I could barley hear his placid tone over the ringing in my ears.  “But you gathered too much to control.”

My mind was already going over the implications of what I had seen and learned, and I answered absently, forgetting for the moment to whom I spoke.  “It took too long.”

“Too long for what purpose?”

Too late, I realized my mistake.  I stammered, stalling, as I tried to think of an answer.  He forestalled me.

“You think to use this technique as a weapon, perhaps?  Even if your vow allowed for violence – which, as you well know, it does not – your opponent would have to be considerate indeed to stand still for the twenty minutes it takes for you to gather your energy.  Indeed, it is too long for such a purpose.  But I did not show you how to gather energy for violence.  There are far better uses for it.”

I bowed my head, feigning abasement, not willing to look him in the eye for fear he would recognize my insubordinate thoughts.  “What uses, master?”

“Healing, first and foremost.  You are already aware that one can share his chi with others through close contact, but the ability to externalize your own chi gives you the ability to use it align someone else’s.”

He talked on, and I gave him enough of an ear that I would be able to quote his words back if called upon, but my thoughts raced along their own path.

In order to be useful, it would be necessary to be able to bring up the energy quickly.  The only way to do that would be to keep a reservoir of it stirring in my body.  I waited in silent impatience for the lecture to end; for the first time in my years at the temple, I wished to be anywhere but with the master.


I woke the next morning with a hungering eagerness.  The morning meditation seemed the perfect time to build the reservoir, and I settled to my pose without even taking the time to use the chamber pot.  I gathered the energy, as before, and pooled it once again in my belly.  I felt it floating there, languid as a summer breeze.  The stomach is the body’s natural repository for potential energy; attempting to store it elsewhere is difficult under meditative circumstances, and even then can only be held for a short time before it turns kinetic. 

One the energy had been collected, I worked it down and back up, and finally to my hand.  I didn’t want to blast a hole in my bedchamber wall, so I kept the amount to the minimum I thought would be necessary to generate a spark.  It still took some time to cajole the chi up and into my arm, but I was certain that, with practice, I could have a handful of energy within the course of a minute.

My palm warmed as I willed the chi outward, and was rewarded with a faint glow.  My left hand responded to the energy, seeming to suck it toward itself, and soon I had a tiny spark dancing between my palms.  I moved my hands with care, watching with interest as the energy responded in different ways relative to the position of my hands.  I eased them apart, wondering how far they could go before the energy would dissipate, and got a surprise; when the left hand was about a foot away, the chi balled up in my cupped right hand and stayed on the palm.  I dropped my left arm cautiously to my side, but the energy stayed, flickering as if alive, warm to my palm.

With a growing sense of excitement, I eased more energy from my belly and brought it up my arm.  The ball swelled as the energy reached my fingers, as if simply holding the chi was enough to draw the rest out.  Soon I had a ball the size of a coconut dancing on my palm, and elation coursed through me.

Somewhere in the dorm, someone did something – I never did find out what – that created a boom that shook the thin-walled building.  I cried out, startled, and lost control of the ball of energy.  It shot from my hand and blasted the ceiling above, and I crouched and held my arms over my head as what was left of the ceiling crashed down on top of me.


I was given three months of kitchen duty as penance for the destruction of my bedchamber.  Fortunately, no one was injured in the blast, and I went about my added duties without complaint.  I did not stop my secret experimentation, however; every morning I built up as much chi as I felt I could hold in my belly.  At first I found it difficult to retain the energy; chi stored in the stomach does not linger there without constant supervision.  The body does not like any part of itself holding back from its efficient function and feels free to dip into pools of energy that it deems expendable.  I spent a frustrating first week trying to find time alone to replenish the reserves that had been commandeered for basic body functions. Then I spent several days constantly herding the energy, keeping it from wandering astray; this inward focus resulted in outward clumsiness, as I failed to pay close enough attention to my surroundings.  I endured several scoldings for laziness and general ineptitude, which I took with proper stoic consternation.

Finally, a little over a month after the master’s demonstration, I found that I didn’t need to watch the kettle all the time.  I had, somewhat inadvertently, taught my body that the excess energy was not for general usage, and my performance improved dramatically as I was able to pay attention to the outside world while still gripping the ball of chi within.

Keeping that much excess energy, I found, held problems of its own.  I was often short of breath, and was exhausted at the end of every day; sometimes, indeed, I found myself nodding off during the final group meditation period, something I had not done since I was a novice.  It was impossible for this to go unnoticed, of course, and I found myself the butt of many a sly sneer or jibe.  The master did not say anything about it, however, although it was ridiculous to think he hadn’t noticed.

At first I worried that holding the extra energy somehow meant that I was withholding it from vital parts of my body, and that I was causing myself to waste away.  But I knew enough about the human body, and about healing, to know this was not the case.

Monday, October 26, 2009

It's All Geek to Me

I have always held a deep fascination and fondness for swords.  I think this is an obsession shared by most children of the male gender; give two boys each a stick and they'll be whacking at each other before you can say <i>en garde</i>.  Hell, give just <i>one</i> of the boys a stick and the same is likely true.

I have always wanted to own a sword (or three).  I've also always wanted to learn how to use one properly, but that's a secondary concern; a true geek can always fake such knowledge.

And yes, I am a geek.  I fought it for awhile, but now that I'm older I can admit it with ease.  I know I'm a geek because I have been to a Renaissance Festival more than once.  If you go just once, you can still gain the benefit of non-geek doubt by explaining your presence away with a litany of excuses: my girlfriend wanted to go; I heard there was a lot of cleavage; I got confused and thought it was a bizarre garage sale; my friends and I got drunk and found ourselves there without remembering how.

But if you willingly go back (no matter what the excuse), you are a confirmed geek.

I've been to four, including going twice this year.  The first time was with my now ex-wife several years ago.  She wanted to go in order to scope out Celtic Knot jewelry.  I wanted to go because I liked swords.  I don't remember much about that one (including where, exactly, it was).  I remember being disappointed that the advertised jousting was already done for the day.

My girlfriend and I have been to the Harveysburg, Ohio Ren Faire each of the past three years (including this one).  We went the first time for similar reasons to the one I don't remember much; more out of curiosity than anything else.  We had a great time, though; some of the shows were simply hilarious and the atmosphere was great.  We saw the jousting, which fun until someone was got un-horsed; then it wasn't as fun anymore.  Lots of people were in full medieval / renaissance costumes.  The staff/actors stayed in character even outside of their scheduled events and little mini-events happened randomly, such as a witch trial that started and resolved seemingly out of the blue.  We just happened to be in the right spot at the right time to see it.

We had such a good time we decided to go back the next year.  And in doing so, we raised our level of geekness by a large margin by dressing up.  A bit.  Official costumes are crazy expensive, so we just supplemented what we had with things bought at thrift stores to make renaissance -ish outfits.  I wore a linen shirt with an old chef's shirt that we cut the sleeves from to make it into a vest.  A bandana and a couple of other minor accoutrements later, and I made for a passable pirate-y guy (as one person referred to me).  The faire was even more fun when in costume, and was heightened further when my girlfriend bought me a scimitar.  At last!  I had a sword!  Never mind that fighting with said sword would be out of the question; I can't imagine that a $25.00 weapon would hold up in an actual battle, even if I had someone <i>to</i> battle.

This year the geek bar was raised exponentially; we bought patterns and material and had a woman at work who knows how to sew make outfits for us.  On top of that, we found a place online that sells good quality kilts for a reasonable price.  And that's one of the reasons we ended up going twice this year.  The first time was Highlander Day, so I wore my kilt (I'll never tell) and took part in the Highlander Games.  I threw a caber.  Well, a lighter, baby caber-let, but still.  I didn't throw it well, since I didn't realize it was supposed to go end-over-end.  I'll know next year, though.  I also took part in the stone throw, which is much like shot-putting, but you can't move your feet.  None of the other contestants knew how to use their legs to throw, so I actually won that event.  Woo-hoo!  I gave the resulting prize, a carved stone, to my girlfriend, and it sits on her mantle now.

We went again yesterday because the outfits the lady from work made were complete.  And we hadn't seen everything we wanted to see during Highlander Week because the highlander stuff took up much of the time.

More tomorrow, if I get around to it.  Find me on Facebook to see pictures.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Idioms for Idiots

Looking through the archives of my old posts, I'm struck by the old idiom "the more things

change, the more they stay the same".  I'm at the same weight I was when I started the 'eat

healthy' diet back in 2006. I did, in fact, lose lots of weight -- I was down to 187 for awhile

-- but gained it all back in a bout of depression that lasted about a year.  I left my wife,

started and finished re-dating an old high school girlfriend, moved into two different

apartments, started dating the woman of my dreams, got divorced (I know, that seems out of

order.  The lawyer was verrrrrry slow.), and got a kilt.


And yet I am the same person I was then.  Slightly overweight, too lazy to do anything about it;

not in school, but making plans to resume; trying to motivate myself to write more often, but

seldom doing so.


That last one isn't completely true.  I've actually been writing quite a bit, but it's nothing

that anyone but me would be remotely interested in; I really doubt there is any viable market

for someone's pretend newspaper articles regarding a digital PS2 college football team, no

matter how many times they win the (extra) fake national title.


I also started a couple of other blogs.  One of them got waaaay too personal and I deleted it. 

The other was going to be my dreams (the sleeping kind, not my plans), but I never get around to

writing them down.


So my life is very different from what it was, and yet it is very much the same as it has always

been.  I guess idioms exist because they're generally true.