The ramblings of an Eternal Student of Life     
. . . still studying and learning how to live
Monday, May 31, 2010
Current Affairs ... Society ...

There’s an interesting article in the June Atlantic Magazine by Caitlin Flanagan about the current state of teenage girl-dom. The article is titled “Love, Actually” (a twist on the 2003 British romantic comedy movie); Ms. Flanagan reports that teen girls are currently staging a social revolt of sorts, rejecting the notion that they should celebrate a culture of promiscuity (wherein girls usually don’t get as good as they give to the boys in their lives, in terms of basic human regard and respect; and in terms of physical pleasure, most likely), and go back to holding out for real love.

Ms. Flanagan cites a variety of signs, including the lyrics of the latest teen pop idol, Taylor Swift. I took a quick look at some of Ms. Swift’s lyrics, and yes, they do seem to envision something more than “love the one you’re with” (ah, the old Crosby Stills and Nash anthem of the late 60s). One quick example from Ms. Swift:

“Sometimes I wonder / How it’s gonna feel / Will my first love be true and real?”

(from Am I Ready for Love). OK, if this is what the teenybopper girls are listening to these days, perhaps that is a good sign. However naive the sentiment is (like a 17 year girl is going to find “true and real love” with a 17 year old boy; yea, right), it at least sets high standards and expectations; maybe even VALUES (ah, the conservative side of me is coming out here).

But the question remains: just what is LOVE?  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 11:57 am       Read Comments (4) / Leave a Comment
Friday, May 28, 2010
Food / Drink ... Photo ...

I really like home-made apple pie. I’ve made it in the past. And I recently had a hankering for apple pie, but I didn’t feel like making it. It’s a pain for me. First off, I stick to a low-fat diet, so I can’t use the classic pie-crust recipes calling for solid shortening (or heaven forbid, pig lard). I can use canola oil for my pie crusts, but oil crusts are harder to deal with; they don’t hold together too well after you roll out the dough, so you have to put the pie crust together in patches, as opposed to laying down one big sheet. Another problem: since I live alone, I eat the pie over the course of maybe 2 or 3 weeks, which means that I have to keep it in the refrigerator. And my refrigerator is a bit crowded (given that I do all of my cooking and store a lot of pre-cooked food for serving during the week). A round pie wastes too much floor space, given the round and flat configuration of a pie.

So I did some re-thinking about how to make an apple pie. First off, I decided to try a different geometry, based upon a pound cake loaf pan (hopefully a glass pan, but a metal bread loaf pan will do). That way, the “pie” would be square and deep, and would fit better in my refrigerator. As to the crust, I decided to go with something more like a cookie dough crust, using sugar (but not eggs). So I mixed together some wheat flour, a bit of oat flour (not terribly exotic; just take some rolled oats and put them in a food processor or grinder), some brown sugar, some canola oil, a pinch of salt, and a bit of honey or Karo dark syrup (not the light syrup, which is high in corn fructose, the bad kind of sweetener) for added moisture (thus lessening the amount of oil needed). If you get your proportions right, this should have the consistency of a relatively dry putty, and is easy to line the pan with. The thickness of this pan crust should be about ¼ inch, a bit thicker than the classic pie crust (which is around 1/8 inch).

Then you peel and core your apples and mix the slices with a bit of flour or corn starch, a bit of sugar (don’t need as much as for regular apple pies, since the sugary crust will contribute some sweetness), and the classic spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice, if you’ve got it handy). Since I’m a natural fiber kind-of fellow, I don’t throw away the apple peals; I put them in a food processor and turn them into a fiber mash, then mix that with the apple slices (along with the flour, sugar and spices).

Next, you pile the sliced, coated apples into the crust-lined pan; pile them up deep, so that they heap up above the edge of the pan. During the baking phase, these apples will shrink and the top of this “pie” will get lower and lower. So you want enough filling in there so that it won’t go too low. Now, we have to put something on top of the apple filling. You could use the same putty-like sugar dough that we used for the sides of this “pie loaf”. But given all the apple filling compression that happens for a deep “pie” like this, a solid roof would allow a big air gap between the top crust and the filling. So I prefer more of a crumb top. You just mix a little more flour and oat flour (and perhaps more sugar and spice) into the dough mix, as to dry it out just a bit and make it more “crumbly”. Then you grab it and crumble it and sprinkle it over the apple filling. You want to cover the filling sufficiently (as to keep the top of the filling from drying out during baking), but not so much as to merge into a “solid roof”.

Then you bake the thing. I’d say 375 degrees for least an hour. A glass loaf pan is good for this, since it lets you see how dark the crust is getting. You don’t want it to burn, but you can let it get darker than the usual apple pie crust would get. More of a middle-brown, versus the darker tan shades that pie crusts generally are baked to.

So this was my “apple pie loaf” experiment. Below is a pic of the results. It doesn’t look too bad, IMHO. And when I finally cut and lifted out a slice and heated it for desert, the actual eating wasn’t that bad either. It may take another 2 or 3 tries to find the right mix and the right baking time and procedure (I might experiment with putting a foil cover over the pan during part of the baking phase, as is sometimes done with apple pies). But this was certainly a good start, and will provide me with some enjoyable deserts over the next few weeks.

Oh, does it taste like apple pie? No, not exactly. But it will still satisfy that occasional urge for something that blends together apples, sweetness, spice and baked crust. And it lends itself to different fruit combinations, e.g. apple and pear. I can’t wait to try it with peaches during the summer! (Just remember to add more flour or corn starch when dealing with peaches, as they are more “wet” than apples.)

◊   posted by Jim G @ 9:17 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Science ...

I’m still waiting for that book or article that weaves together all (or at least many) of the present-day mysteries in cosmology and modern physics. Something that gives you that “ah-ha”!! experience on a huge basis. At my age, “sex and drugs and rock-and-roll” just aren’t the big kick they used to be. But having an intellectual enlightenment can still be orgasmic (in a way). So, I’m looking for some hard-core science stuff. Something that can link together and make sense of ALL of the following:

  • zero-point energy / virtual-particle quantum foam
  • hyper-dimensional superstring theory
  • the Heisenberg uncertainty principle
  • dark energy / accelerating expansion of the universe
  • quantum entanglement / zero-time interaction over a distance
  • information and entropy as two sides of the same metaphysical coin
  • does a black hole destroy information?
  • entropy / information as proportionate to the surface of a black hole, not volume
  • connection between entropy and nature of time; and thus information and time?
  • does our 4 dimension universe project a 5D hologram where string theory operates?
  • OR, is our 4 dimension universe a holographic projection from a 3D shape (one that is timeless, but contains time-related information) ?
  • is time thus a holographic illusion and not really real?
  • the preponderance of matter over anti-matter
  • gravity waves and graviton particles
  • how and why is “space” created via “inflation”

And there’s probably lots of other neat stuff to add to this list. So come on, who has the “big theory” that will make sense of all this? Maybe Radiolab, that PBS radio show about far-edge science, would have the guts to take it on.

(More about Radiolab shortly!)

◊   posted by Jim G @ 5:32 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Personal Reflections ...

Back in 1988, I bought my first pair of Timberland boots. They were a nice, heavy-duty pair of 8 inch high-tops with thick vibram soles. I had just been divorced, and was doing a lot of hiking in the regional mountain parks in northern Jersey and southern New York state, to help get my mind back together. Those boots and I put a fair number of miles in on the trails, and were also good companions in snow storms and other bad weather. They were good shoes to have whenever the terrain was bumpy or wet, or you were trying to get some real physical work done.

Well, nothing lasts forever, but those boots sure lasted much longer than most. They finally bit the dust about a month ago, when the top came unglued from the sole as I was changing a car tire. They served almost 22 years! But the time had finally come to get a new pair of heavy boots.

So I checked the web, and it turned out that Timberland  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:44 am       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Personal Reflections ... Religion ...

I’ve been attending a Zen service on Sunday mornings here in Montclair now for a couple of weeks, and I’m rather enjoying it. I have been in group meditation sessions before, and I’ve generally enjoyed them. And Zen is nothing if not meditative. So I’m hoping to make this a part of my routine, at least once or twice a month.

But, Zen is also a very Buddhist thing. Some people cite Zen as a “container” whereby the practicioner may also pursue a more-theistic faith system (Christianity, Judism, Islam, etc.) without any great contradiction. And that may well be true, as Buddhism in itself isn’t terribly doctrinaire. In fact, Zen people seem to bill it as an “anti-intellectual” tradition, or perhaps better said, a “counter-intellectual thing” (since you don’t have to be a dummy to practice Zen; you just have to adopt the right attitude and viewpoint about the mind and its ways).

But still, even in the Zen ceremony, there are Buddhist trappings. There are the Buddha altars in the zendo, and there are Eastern-ish chantings and readings during the ceremony. A key reading is the Heart Sutra, which asserts some of the most difficult things to accept about Buddhism. Why? Because, there are a lot of “NO” and “NOT” statements in this Sutra, and very few positive statements.

That to me is the big problem with Buddhism: it is very contrarian (which is good, in itself),  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:13 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Saturday, May 15, 2010
Politics ... Religion ...

Since I’m a regular reader of Atlantic Monthly magazine, I’ve been familiar with writer Christopher Hitchens for some time now. I find his literature review articles to be difficult reading. He doesn’t have any sense of humor that I can detect, and he doesn’t explicate his points for those readers like me who don’t share his literary interests. He may well be brilliant, but he is a bit niggardly with it. His writing is a tad too convoluted and presumptive, for my taste.

I also know that he is an atheist, as he recently published a book (God is Not Great) and gives lectures spreading the good news of his faith in the salvific powers of human rationality. I’m not in any hurry to read this book, given my displeasure with Mr. Hitchens’ writing style, and my overall disregard for “the New Atheism“. I myself would not assert the certain existence of a caring God; I don’t think that we, as humans, can ever know for sure, one way or another. The best I can do is to view the question of God as “the ultimate koan“. And not just view it as such … but also, embrace it, celebrate it, even worship it. Be grateful for our freedom to appreciate an ultimate paradox.

But back to Mr. Hitchens. Given that I don’t read British newspapers or publications,  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 2:35 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Aspergers ... Socrates Cafe ...

The Socrates Cafe question of the evening – Is Morality Deeply Rooted in Empathy?

The initial impressions were favorable; morality is strongly tied to empathy. But what is empathy? Most of the group appeared to be conflating empathy, the ability to detect and understand another person’s mindset, with sympathy, which is a positive and favorable feeling towards the other person and their mindset. A late-arriving participant cut thru the fog and made the distinction. I finally threw in my .02, that morality is close to sympathy, but would not necessarily emerge from empathy in and of itself.

This question interests me given that I have certain behavioral and cognitive patterns that can be associated with Asperger Syndrome; mostly regarding my lack of EMPATHY. I am clearly not an “empathic” person; I have a hard time picking up clues about what is going on in another person’s mind. Once I get to know someone, I get a general sense; but for strangers or people that I am just starting to know, I am “mind blind”. So does that make me an immoral person? And thus, does that make all Aspies, people who are mostly “mind blind”, immoral?

I’d like to think not. I may not be a saint  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:45 pm       Read Comments (2) / Leave a Comment
Monday, May 10, 2010
Photo ...

My brother decided to take his girlfriend Diane and me out to dinner yesterday, as to celebrate Mother’s Day. It was a dual tribute, both to Diane who has two daughters, and to our own mother who died last October. Yes, it was a table for four, with one empty seat. Sort of a ‘missing (wo)man formation’.

But dinner was nice. I had eggplant parmigana with some veggies, plus that dubious yam mash on the left side (which would have been much better without butter and milk; just a bit of olive oil and brown sugar could have made it ‘sing’). My brother ordered a promising bottle of Stag’s Leap merlot, as seen on the right. However, this wine had a dry, gravely, tannic feel to it; not at all like the big, rich, fruit-driven Napa Valley libations that I’ve come to love.

But we drank it (and my brother paid too much for it). The day still went well. There’s still something good about being at a table with people, food and drink, even if all three possess their imperfections.

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:25 pm       Read Comment (1) / Leave a Comment
Friday, May 7, 2010
Outer Space ... Science ...

As a fan of cutting-edge physics and cosmology, I look out for quirky little discoveries and speculations by scientists as to what these quirky discoveries MIGHT mean. Most of them turn out not to mean much, but once in a blue moon some odd little thing signals the eventual overthrow of a whole way of looking at – well, looking at the Universe! E.g., back in the mid-19th Century, astronomers knew that something was a bit off with their observations of Mercury. They were still using Newtonian physics, whereby they needed the more sophisticated Einsteinian relativity theories to predict what light and gravity would do on larger scales like solar systems. And those theories eventually came along, and changed the Newtonian world of absolute coordinates and timeframes into the relativistic worldview that Einstein requires.

So, I couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow after reading an article about the non-dilation of time in recent quasar observations. Time dilation is the crazy effect of clocks going slower on a system moving at very high speeds (perhaps close to light-speed) relative to the system where the observations are being made. E.g., the example given in many physics books regards twin brothers, one who stays on earth all his life and the other who blasts off in a super-rocket at age 20, loops around the Milky Way at near-light speed, then returns to earth 50 years later. The earth brother is now aged 70; the rocket man brother was subject to time dilation, and thus might only be 10 years older (this varies, depending on just how fast that rocket was cruising); he really does still have the body of a 30 year old!

Well, the astrophysicists now say that something’s not right with quasars;  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 10:19 pm       No Comments Yet / Leave a Comment
Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Aspergers ... Brain / Mind ...

As I have noted previously, I share some behavioral characteristics that could be identified with Asperger Syndrome; i.e. relative difficulty and clumsiness in relating with other people. (I.e., it takes more effort for me in dealing with others, as I don’t possess natural grace; but I generally like people so I try to make the effort, nonetheless). Thus, I’ve taken an interest in this condition.

Whether I could be formally diagnosed with Aspergers hasn’t been terribly important to me, however, given that nothing can be done for an adult Aspie other than have some therapist talk you to death while simultaneously bleeding your savings to death. An occasional vacation or spending spree with the money seems to have more “supportive bang for the buck”; for me, anyway.

I see, however, that researchers are experimenting with  »  continue reading …

◊   posted by Jim G @ 7:58 pm       Read Comments (3) / Leave a Comment
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