Archive for June, 2008

Jun 22.08.d173/w25
The Sea Pearl

A ship waited, anchored, in a harbor. Her owner and builder, Captain Valor, originally built her to serve as his flagship, but loved her so much that he did not wish for her to be soiled by the rough sea waters. So he kept the ship tied in the harbor. Day after day, he sat and admired the beauty of her majestic sails, her intricately carved mahogany wood, her shiny bronze helm. She was the gem in his eyes, perfect in every way.  He decided to call her “Sea Pearl.”

The people of the nearby village loved ships and always came by to acclaim Sea Pearl. The final question was always, “when are you going to take her out on the high seas?”

To which Captain Valor would laugh and say, “never! Sea Pearl is too beautiful, I would never take her out because then the winds would tear her majestic sails; the water would soften her intricately carved mahogany wood and my hands would dull her shiny bronze helm. No, she is staying right here in the harbor, where she will be safe forever!”

There were other ships in the harbor. Their owners took them out regularly — fishermen,  oil riggers, leisure boats, sailboats. Captain Valor knew none of those ships could compare with his Sea Pearl in terms of beauty. None of those ships lasted nearly as long. Their sails were wind-torn, their wood was softened and the bronze color of their helms was grimy and dull. Sea Pearl’s harbor-mates changed as often as the seasons.

As time went by, Captain Valor noticed something. Fewer and fewer villagers were coming by to admire Sea Pearl when they visited the harbor. It was gradual — the adults would head for the other ships, but the children still wanted to see Sea Pearl. Then, even the children stopped coming, preferring instead to look at the other ships. Soon, his only visitors were parents bringing their very young children who had never before seen Sea Pearl. He was confused. What could possibly be so interesting about those other boring ships that would be junkyard material at year’s end?

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Jun 20.08.d171/w25
The Kitten and the Crow

I once saw this story on TV, it’s one that I love! A crow took it upon herself to care for a tiny kitten (eventually named “Cassie”) in an older couple’s back yard. Every day, she would swoop down from the sky to feed the kitten, play with her, keep her out of the street and more. I’ll let you watch it for yourself.

The crow surely thought the kitten was one of her own, and mothering instincts kicked in. Prejudices just don’t exist in the animal world. Sure, many animals have natural predators, but there are always instances when the caring instinct takes over. I am a strong believer that you can be friends with anyone on this earth despite your differences if you met them under the right circumstances. This video is certainly evidence of that! As the vet says in the video:

“If you’re able to gain trust in someone or something, or each other, than anything is possible.”

Jun 19.08.d170/w25
File Format Obsolescence: Translating (and preventing other formats from becoming) the dead languages of the digital world

The following entry is the highly-condensed, abridged version of a paper I wrote for a class this past semester.

USB Flash Drive

The year is 2038. An archivist working at a digital repository has acquired an old storage device filled with image files from about 30 years earlier. The better part of the past year was spent creating a hardware emulator that would allow current computing devices to read the archaic storage device. Now, the archivist eagerly sifts through the files with the purpose of converting them into a newer format so that the archive can eventually add them to the digital collection. Unfortunately, the original creators of these files had saved them in a proprietary format unique to the software with which they used to create them, in hopes of preserving them for future use. Now, thirty years later, that software no longer exists. The archive has no other software capable of reading the cryptic files. Paper prints do exist for some of the images, but many remain in their original digital form; their information locked away in a capsule that no modern key could open.

This scenario, while hypothetical, illustrates what could occur when file formats become obsolete. File format obsolescence is a silent threat to individuals who manage and preserve digital materials for the long term.

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Jun 16.08.d167/w25
Putting the world into perspective

I once saw a book for kids at a science museum gift shop that used interesting visuals to put certain things in perspective. Unfortunately I don’t remember the name of the book because it was so long ago, but I’m pretty sure it was published by Klutz.

One example from the book included a spinner that displayed your statistical chance of being born into the richest 10% of the world’s population. Much of the “western” and “developed” countries were included in this 10%. I created a quick little graph to illustrate this example below. I’m not sure if “10%” is the number they used in the book, but you get the idea.

Chances of being born into the richest 10% of the World

9 spins out of 10, the pointer would land on the red portion. And in all of our cases, this spinner was “spun” before we were even born. We can do the best we can with what we’re born into, but it is not always easy. I know that I’m lucky to have so much going for me (a great family, great friends, a relatively safe town, a good education), and I’m working on not being so materialistic and to focus on cutting back whenever possible. Also, I understand that being born into a “rich” nation does not necessarily mean you are rich in general. The United States has an especially large disparity between the rich and poor, something I feel we should all be working harder to close, somehow.

Another interesting example in the book that really stood out to me was an illustration of a world map. The map looked like any normal map, except for one thing — look at the images below and you’ll see what I mean (these particular maps come from the Nations Online Project).

Map #1:

World Map

On first glance, I was compelled to say that this maps is “wrong”, that it is “upside down” and “flipped.” But then I realized that no, it is wrong from what perspective? We’re accustomed to seeing maps oriented in a certain accepted way, but that doesn’t mean that that “accepted way” is the “correct” way. In the universe, there is no direction. There is no North or South, no East and West. There is no top and there is no bottom. We use directions because they make it easier for us to pinpoint locations, but it is still a human construct. If an alien species were to happen upon our planet and marvel at the beauty of its landmasses and water from space — so much that they wanted to draw them, do you think they would know to orient the continents from the ONE perspective that we accept as correct? Here’s another example:

Map #2:

World Map

The book suggested that the way we orient our world map may reflect notions of superiority, with the implication that some locations are on “top” of others, and that some locations come first. Whether or not you agree, it does challenge you to think of the world in a different light — and raises some interesting questions. How  different do you think the world would be if we adopted another standard for the “correct” display of maps? How much of an effect, if any, does map orientation have on the perception of a country and its place in the world?

Jun 15.08.d166/w24
Ashokan Farewell

Ashokan Farewell is one of my favorite songs of all time. I was first introduced to it my senior year of high school, when we sang it in choir. The video below is not my high school (we didn’t have YouTube back in those days :) ) but the choir in this video is singing the arrangement we sung:

I fell in love with the song then, but interest in it gradually faded as I got involved with college and other happenings in my life. I’d say the interest picked up again sometime in the middle of my undergraduate years. I managed to find a wonderful vocal solo recording of the song, sung by Priscilla Herdman. And here is a video of an arrangement for piano:

I did some more research on the song. My high school choir director had told us that the song was used in Ken Burn’s PBS Series on the Civil War. I wanted to learn more! Where exactly was Ashokan, and was the song originally composed for the documentary? How did it fit in to the context of the Ken Burns documentary (which I haven’t seen)? I did some research, and here’s what I’ve picked up over the years.

It didn’t take long for me to find the website of Jay and Molly Ungar. The couple run a camp called the Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camps for over 25 years. The camp is located in the Catskill Mountains, a picturesque natural refuge which is located Northwest of New York City, in the actual state part of New York (although closer to the southern part of the state). The camp is named for the Ashokan Reservoir, which in turn got its name from the Ashokan Village that was once located in the area. The term “Ashokan”, according to the Ungars’ site, could have derived from a possible Lenape Indian term meaning “a good place to fish.” This is fitting, considering that the village was located near the water

The Ashokan ReservoirAt the Ashokan Fiddle & Dance camp, people come together to learn, teach and play music and dance in a natural environment removed from the artificial constructs of modern life. Jay Ungar states on his site that he composed the song in 1982 to reflect the nostalgia and poignancy when the camp ended for the summer, and the reluctance of transitioning between the natural environment back to every day life. Fittingly, he wrote the song in the style of a Scottish Lament. It was originally composed for strings, guitar and upright bass. Jay’s wife Molly suggested the name “Ashokan Farewell.”

Ashokan Farewell was included in the album “Waltz of the Wind,” recorded by the Ungars and their band, Fiddle Fever. When Ken Burns got a hold of the album and heard that song, he was so moved by it that he included it in his 1990 Civil War documentary and also in an earlier documentary about the politician Huey Long (known as the Kingfish).

So, the Ashokan Farewell was not written during the Civil War nor was it written about the War itself. But I can see how it fits in with the civil war theme, especially when the lyrics are added in. There are two sets of lyrics for the song, written by Grian McGregor and Cleo Lane & John Dankworth. The McGregor lyrics are the ones I am most familiar with, but both sets fully capture the sense of longing for that precious time shared with a special individual, and the inevitable realization that that time must end. I don’t find it to be a sad song, necessarily. It’s poignant, yes, but to me it also invokes a feeling of reflection and willingness to remember the good times lest they fade away, with the hope of holding on to them — even if that hope resides only in dreams. It suggests that yes, we may part, but we are not parted forever as long as we hold on to the memories — and who knows, maybe we will meet again!

Ashokan Farewell is an inspiring, moving song that I enjoy listening to. Definitely gets the creative motor running. I especially love to turn it on when I’m driving on scenic roads (we do have some of them around where I live). If that song can transport me into the mindset of being far away from the hustle and bustle of every day life, then I can only begin to imagine how wonderful it must be to actually be there in the Catskill mountains, the very place that inspired the song.

Ashokan Farewell, performed by Jay and Molly Ungar:

* Photograph from Wikipedia.

Jun 13.08.d164/w24
Lord of the Fading Lands by C.L. Wilson

Lord of the Fading LandsI am currently reading Lord of the Fading Lands, C.L. Wilson’s debut novel. I came across this book by accident when I passed the new book shelf at the public library. The amazing cover is what compelled me to pick the book up. The blurb on the back was very short and did not tell me much about the book. But it looked very interesting and so I decided to give it a try.

A few days later when I finally got to opening it up, I was pleasantly surprised. The first chapter drew me in right away. It introduces Rain Tairen Soul, the King of the Fey (a race of magical humans with cat-like eyes). The Tairen are dying out (the Tairen are winged, cat-like creatures who have a crucial bond with the Fey. Each race’s survival depends on the other to survive), and Rain is not sure how to save them, and in turn, save the Fey. As a last resort, Rain touches a sacred object and appeals to the Gods, asking what needed to be done to save his people.

The Gods direct him to Celieria City in the land of Celieria, to one individual in particular — Ellysetta Baristani. Celieria’s inhabitants are mortal humans, ruled by a king and queen. Ellysetta (Ellie) is the daughter of a woodcarver. Her family is considered to be among the lower ranks of society. The nobles of Celieria are very particular about their social status. Ellie is about 24 years old and her mother and father are anxious for her to get married, as is the custom for women of that age. However, Ellie is not like most Celierian girls. She does not have the usual “Celierian look” and she’s tall, awkward and unattractive in the eyes of others in the city. So it would be very difficult for her to find a suitable man. However, the only man who is interested in marrying her is obnoxious and Ellie wants nothing to do with him. Her mother, serious about Ellie getting married, goes ahead and makes arrangements for Ellie to marry him, however.

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Jun 10.08.d161/w24
New direction

Well, I’ve finally decided on a direction for this site! I didn’t know what to do with it for the longest time, so it really feels great to have a plan in mind. For the longest time, I wanted to use this site to explore a variety of topics that interest me, and share my findings with the world. In 2004, I was doing that for a time, but fell out of it due to lack of time and interest. I hope the interest and motivation will stick around this time! ;) More specifically, here is what I plan to do with this site from here on:

  • Tell interesting stories.
  • Look at the world through a variety of lens to facilitate understanding of different cultures, ideas and worldviews.
  • Share, teach and discover.
  • A vehicle for creative expression.
  • A means to practice writing.

So there you have it. Each entry will fall under a specific category. These categories were carefully selected and you can find descriptions of each one on the “About” page. I don’t pretend to be an expert in any of the topics I discuss on this site. I’m just trying to explore the vast world of knowledge and make sense of it. I hope you enjoy your stay here!

Note:
all previous blog entries dating from August 2002 through February 2008 have been archived and are accessible through the archives page. For the sake of privacy, I’ve limited access to them. If you have the password, please respect my privacy and don’t give it out. If you don’t have the password, don’t worry, you aren’t missing much. Those entries contain years of my babblings about life. I couldn’t bring myself to delete 5 years of entries.  :)