Wednesday, January 28, 2009

My Physical

MEPS was quite the experience.  I went to the hotel on Monday where the Navy was putting me up around 4 and got to read and relax until suppertime.  There were a lot of people there at the hotel, compared to the 20 that were present the last time I went to MEPS.  I'm guessing it was a combination of MEPS being closed for the holidays, and the end of the month when recruiters should be making quotas.  And quite a few people who were going into the Army had waivers for DUI's, DWI's, misdemeanor drug convictions, and other interesting arrests.

After supper, I biked for a little bit in the gym room they had, read for a few minutes, and then went to bed.  Except I couldn't sleep for more than 30 minutes. My roommate had turned up the temperature for the room, which meant the heat would cut on every 40 minutes like clock work, making me hot and sweaty enough to throw off the covers, and then the sweat would get cold and make me freeze, and I'd throw the blankets back on. That went on until 4 in the morning when I got up, dressed, and went downstairs for breakfast and to check out.

I arrived at the military entrance processing station around 5:45 AM and walked through the doors of my liason at 5:55AM.  Paperwork was first on the things to do, followed by even more paperwork.  Somebody screwed up and got the suffix wrong on my name (not a big deal...but that's not the name on my SSN, driver's license, or birth certificate) and corrections were promised to be made.  After completion of the paperwork, I was instructed to go to the medical section.  There my blood pressure was taken by a pert HM2 in Winter Dress Blues who barked, "Honey, you need to RELAX!" when my systolic was high.  So I did my best while the automatic cuff attempted to cut off the circulation to my arm.

The doctor was next who asked me general questions about my health, and then poked and prodded me.  Hearing and vision were tested in addition to a verbal reading test to make sure I didn't have a speech impediment or stutter.  The same HM2 who took my blood pressure also drew my blood.  And it only took her 14 seconds, including prep and tying my arm off!  Upon having my blood drawn, I went along with 15 other people into a room where we performed several different range of motion exercises.  I'm guessing its purpose was to tell if we had any sort of gait, balance, hand eye coordination, or scoliosis problems.  After the exercises, I had to urinate in a cup.

I was amazed at some people's inability to comprehend exactly how to urinate for the lab tech.  "Uhhhh, my recruiter didn't mention anything about this," "I know I haven't gone in 6 hours, but I don't really need to go to the bathroom," "Well I had to go a second ago, I don't know why nothing happened!"  And these people will be defending our country some day. Sheesh.

After that, all the people who provided samples were seated, and we essentially waited on the rest of the guys who had either failed to provide a sample numerous times or were waiting until they needed to go to the bathroom.  About that time I noticed how unusual the group was.  Some of the guys were former active duty who were reenlisting, and they were in their mid to late 20's.  Then there were guys who bald, gray, and over 40 who had served in the military half a lifetime ago.  It beats the hell out of me what they were doing there, but we were all sitting and staring at each other.  And it seemed odd that I was the only one with enough foresight to bring a book to read.

About this time while we were all waiting some of the younger unshaven guys began whispering to each other, and with each reply, puffed up their scrawny chests and jutted their chins out: "Hey, what're you planning to do?" "82nd Airborne Division, man! I know I'm going to make it!" "Screaming Eagles for me" "I'm going to be a Ranger" "1st and 5th!" "3rd and 5th!"  It only took about 3 minutes of this for me to realize that none of them were shipping out that day but were just entering the Delayed Enlistment Program and hadn't met with any counselor to determine their MOS or to be curtly reminded that specific jobs or MOS are not guaranteed.  But what the hey. The military needs clean toilets too.

After a final check with the physician and going over my medical records with another HM1, I left the actual building at 11:00AM after being there for a little over 5 hours.  I should know, according to the doctor, within a week if I'll be cleared medically but he was completely convinced that I would be cleared. Still, fingers crossed.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Lincang Yinhao 2007 Te Ji Tuocha

I've made a large enough dent in my small pu'er stash to justify opening the wrapper on this tuocha.  The predominant smell is sweet hay and the compression is tight but not impossible to pry leaves off.

The taste is simple but straightforward: hay, sweetness, astringency, smoke, and bitterness.  Each of the tastes can be picked out rather easily from the tea since they don't meld together into complexity.  This tea doesn't have a lot of middle notes to it.  It's just a little bit of sweetness and astringency as it enters the mouth, and then smoke and bitterness as it reaches the back of the tongue.

This tea never really evolved from the first few steepings.  I've become somewhat accustomed to tea being a little bitter than I'd like for the first two cups since the infusions are very short and it's often hard to decant a teapot precisely within 5 seconds or so for the first infusion.  And a few seconds late means bitter, astringent tea.  But this tea was smoky and bitter throughout several sessions and the flavor beneath the smoke and bitterness was hay.

All of these flavors combined to produce a tea that was ultimately forgettable. The smokiness was overpowering and never really smoothed out to add complexity to the tea, and the hay flavor never developed any sweetness or fruitiness or anything.  Maybe 10 years or so would be beneficial to this tea, but there's certainly nothing redeeming about it now.

One Clown Right After the Other

Great. George W. Bush left office taking creepy Dick Cheney with him, and now we've got another clown in the executive branch: Joe Biden.  Who can forget the classic idiotic quotes from Ol' Joe like, "You can't got into the 7-11 without an Indian accent. I'm not joking," or upon introducing his wife, he made some off the cuff remark about her having an advanced degree...and that he didn't want the audience to discredit her because of that.  And what about requesting Missouri state senator Chuck Graham to "Stand up, Chuck, let 'em see ya!" when senator Graham is wheel-chair bound?

Former President Bush had plenty of these moments, but at least when he screwed up, he knew that he screwed up. And you knew that he knew.  Mostly because his eyebrows arched a little bit higher, his eyes darted back and forth, and you could imagine him thinking "One third of America just saw that on live television. Crap."  Joe Biden's face remains stoney which is either a pretty good deadpan, or he's being absolutely serious when he's being absolutely idiotic.  Based on the way Obama discretely grabbed Biden's elbow, I'd have to say it was the latter: "Now, now, Joe. We've talked about this. Too many words, too much excitement."
"Sorry, Barack. Say, I still don't understand why you chose the more qualified Hillary Clinton over me."
"We all have our reasons."

At the start of the new year, Pat Robertson predicts with deadly inaccuracy what's going to happen in the year.  I praise the Lord everyday that I'm no Pat Robertson, but here's my prediction with Joe Biden and Obama:

Biden takes a trip to China to reestablish goodwill and open economic talks between the USA and China.  Upon seeing a senior party member over 5'6" he loudly exclaims, "Wow! You must be considered tall around here!"  Obama sees it on the morning news and races outside for a cigarette.

Biden prepares a speech for UN delegates meeting to draw up peace treaties for the Middle East.  Obama makes the secret service take an alternate route so that Biden arrives late and can only give 15 minutes of his hour long speech.

Biden goes to France and meets with President Sarkozy.  He leaves his microphone on and goes to the bathroom.  He spies a bidet and says, "What in the heck is that? Wait, I'll call Barack and see if he knows.  Hello, Barack? Joe here. No, I'm not having any trouble with the names again, I'm wondering what this thing is here in the bathroom. Probably a bidet? Ok. Yeah, see you later. PEACE OUT!"  CNN captures the whole thing, along with President Sarkozy stifling a laugh.

Right now I'm hoping that Obama will quit smoking and stay healthy enough for the next 4 years to continually remain stony faced throughout Biden's screwups.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Deep Thoughts

Often times I'll ponder the deep mysteries of the universe: How did we get here? Where are we going? Why can my beagle not stand the cold on a walk in the 28 degree snowy morning, and yet run for over an hour chasing a tennis ball with aplomb in the same weather?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Laptop Troubles

My laptop troubles started when I first received my laptop from UNC.  I first noticed that it was running slowly within 2 weeks of having it so I ran the craptastic anti-virus software that came with it.  
"Hmm, looks like you have some viruses," the IT guy said.  
"What?! How is that possible? All I did was download a bunch of music and TV shows from some Phillipean host!"

So I got that fixed. Then my hard drive crashed after 3 months of use. Then my screen burned out my sophomore year. And the problems piled up. I've been through 2 hard drives, 2 laptop screens, 1 fan, and 1 OS re-install because I deleted a good portion of junk that UNC puts on its hard drives (which they reinstalled when they put Windows back on the laptop) which caused some vague system error.  And now my fan's died and the stupid thing refuses to turn on.
I'd love to get it replaced, but the last time I tried to get it fixed in my hometown, the repair store took two weeks to completely determine that they could not install a fan on my laptop. Something about not being certified parts dealers for IBM or some other odd reason, though they're qualified to repair IBM's.

What in the HELL gives?

I have a dream that someday in the future computers will be disposable (and indispensable), so that when yours royally f's up your term paper or project, you can just pull out the tiny hard drive containing your data, get a hammer, and smash the stupid computer to bits, plop down $10 and get another computer that functions properly, and resume working.

But for right now I'll settle for the hammer.

New Teapot

I got a new teapot from Puerhshop. It's the real deal, so to speak.  Its pour is great, its lid fit is great, and I'll be able to tell in a couple of months if the clay is great.  All it holds is 120 ml, but that's plenty for me.

The teapot has a neat design which I chose because I figured it was better to have the tea leaves expand outwards rather than upwards.  It's squat and circular, and the lid fits flush with the top of the pot perfectly.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Xiaguan 2007 Xiao Fa tuocha 100g

This tuocha shu pu'er is quite attractive in appearance with a melange of tan, brown, red, and black tea leaves, and with a nice aroma.   However, the resultant tea is simple, with a nuttiness and sweetness standing out from a smooth background flavor.  The nuttiniess doesn't last very long and appears at the beginning of the sip, with the sweet taste appearing at the back of the tongue and a few seconds after swallowing the tea.  Different steeping times didn't cause any bitterness, which was a boon to me.  
For $4 this isn't really all that bad, but I don't think I'll buy anymore for the time being.  The taste is really just average, but comforting.  There's so much tea out there, that I'm still trying to figure out the tea that resides within my tastes. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

CCCI Yixing

I always planned to acquire another yixing teapot, but I figured it would be wiser to figure out what's wrong with the CCCI bug and gourd yixing I have now, and get a teapot that doesn't have those flaws.  Besides, teapots don't grow on trees nor does money.

But I've had the CCCI yixing teapot for a while and I can name all of its attributes, both negative and positive:

The negatives: It's a little larger than I'd like (180 ml) which means I have to limit my cups of tea per day to 5 (about 2 full sized cups or 500 milliliters), and miss out on tastes of the pu'er as it opens up to each infusion.  Which is kind of a bummer, since I've tried continuing infusions from previous days, but the resulting tea is always a little thinner and harder to coax flavors out than if I'd continued my tea session.  It also takes longer for the cups of tea to cool down between infusions, so having 5 cups of tea takes more than half an hour.  On the weekends and late afternoons, being able to enjoy tea for a half hour is great, but in the morning during the week it's impractical.  

Also, because of the time between infusions, the teapot cools a little which weakens the taste of some sheng pu'er-but not all.  The Kunming Guyi 2006 Jingmai Spring seems to be the most susceptible, with the Xiaguan 2007 Bao Yan being the least.

The biggest flaws are the spout and the lid-but from what I've heard, this isn't uncommon.  The spout is quite narrow and it has an internal filter.  This makes the pour a little slow at 10 seconds, but it's something that can be accounted for.  It's just that I wish the person designing the teapot went with either a narrow spout sans filter, or a wide spout with a filter.  We live in a far from perfect world, and when any bit of broken sheng makes its way into the teapot, it lodges in the filter where it is met by its cousin, then brother, then sister, and soon the entire filter is clogged with tea "mulch."  I suppose I could relegate the yixing to solely whole leaf or long leaf sheng pu'er, but I'm trying to get the whole-leaf sheng bings that I have to age, and I'm sampling them intermittently.  The teapot would rarely get used if I went this route.  Removing the filter or having a wide spout would solve the problem of the stopped pour, since a wide spout would have more paths for the tea to go, and a narrow spout without a filter wouldn't offer as much resistance to broken tea leaves to pass through.

The other biggest flaw is the lid.  The lid fit isn't quite airtight, but it prevents most of the tea from flowing out of the top instead of the spout.  And that's fine.  It's my ability to hold the actual lid which is a major flaw.  The lid handle is a bug which measures all of 2 centimeters long and .5 centimeters high, making it impossible to grab when I need to remove it, and the handle is so close to the lid and boiling hot tea that it's really hot to hold. So if it isn't impossible to hold on to, it's too hot to handle.  Today was the last straw; I formed my fingers into pinchers and attempted to grab the lid handle, which shot out of my fingers and chipped for the second time on a hard surface.  One more chip, and the crack on the inside of the handle will definitely widen and cleave the whole thing in two.  

And I should probably mention that the teapot is first slipcast to give its shape and then worked by inexperienced artisans.  The result is that the teapot has a blueish tinge from the different colored duanni clay where someone attempted to get the drying clay off by rubbing it with a finger, and then scraping with tools around the vine handle.  There's also a large, noticeable seam on the outside of the teapot, and the inside of is rough looking.  It appears that someone ran their hands along the inside of the pot...for whatever reason, so that the inside is composed of little valleys and ridges made of someone's fingers.  And the handle developed a crack where it joins with the body of the teapot, but it's stabilized for the moment.

I don't mind the teapot being slipcast, though I'm starting to doubt this method would leave lots of air pockets in the clay, enhancing its insulating properties.  If I wanted a handmade yixing teapot from the studio of a master artisan, I would purchase several bonds, wait for them to mature in 10 years, commission one, and then yell unprintable curses when a mover accidentally drops a box containing it.  It's just that with the finish of my teapot being this rough, the overall integrity of the teapot comes into question.  Will the seam come apart over the years? Will the handle completely crack off? Will some other unknown flaw reveal itself in a stupendous manner?

Enough of the negatives.  So what are the positives? It holds tea, has good heat retaining quality, and is pleasing to look at.  But, I'm still taking those positives with a grain of salt since this is my first yixing teapot.  It "rounds" the tea off, removing any bitterness or off-flavors, but I'm debating whether this is caused by lack of seasoning or the properties of duanni compared to zisha or zhuni or what have ye.

I decided to relegate the bug and gourd yixing to solely shu pu'er, and it had its first session today.  I'm kind of irked that it didn't release any of the sheng pu'er flavors with the shu, but I have to realize that the quality of clay that's been slip-cast is less than ideal.  But, the need for a fast pour isn't as dire with shu pu'er, and I'm sure the teapot will serve well.

The new teapot that I ordered online is a plain, 120 ml volume yixing teapot that has a nice looking spout.  This wasn't exactly an order based on faith; I'd heard of another guy buying an yixing from the vendor and he said that the pour was great, the lid fit was tight, and the whole thing was solid.  Which is something I certainly look for in a teapot.

As of right now, though, I don't plan on buying anymore yixings. If I happen to drop a teapot, my cup will have to suffice for a while...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Hardest Instrument to Play

On Monday I had my third violin lesson of my entire life, and I was asking my music teacher about his background of music.  He attended a music university or academy where its sole purpose was to prepare its students to teach music for an orchestra.  So, as I found out, he was required to learn how to play every instrument in the orchestra.  "What's the hardest instrument to play?" I asked.  I was expecting a reply of "piano," since it has always seemed the most ambidextrous and distant instrument to me.  Your fingers don't press strings, and you don't breathe into it to make sounds. You're supposed to make expressive sounds with a series of levers, hammers, and dampers that you don't have direct control over.

So I was a little surprised when he said, "The erhu is the hardest instrument to play." I blanked out until he explained that it was a distant cousin to the violin, except it had a resonator "box" instead of a body, it had a neck but no fretboard, and its bow was in between two strings that are tuned in 5ths.

I then thought back to grade school where a young college student who returned from China came into our world studies class with an erhu.  She'd tried picking it up, but for all we could tell, its sole purpose was to let guests know that they'd overstayed their welcome at dinner.

And so my teacher went into great detail about how to play the instrument, moving the bow back and forth between the two strings and the fast tempo which most pieces are played.  "What does it sound like," I pressed.  "The most melancholy instrument."

That wasn't much to go on, but when I went on youtube I recognized the sound before, but I'd actually misinterpreted it as some sort of Chinese flute.  And Mr. He along with all other top musicians with their respective instruments, show a difficult piece and instrument are made to look easy with the musicians' credo: Practice, practice, practice.

Friday, January 9, 2009

My week thus far

This week's been busy and I've had a lot going on.  The beginning of the week kicked off by me not hearing any news from the doctor who's supposed to decide if I'm fit for the Navy or not.  My second violin lesson commenced on Monday afternoon, sprinkled throughout with such nuggets as

my teacher: "Do you know who wrote 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star?'" 
Me: "Uhhhh...Mr. Suzuki?" 
My teacher: "No. It was Mozart when he was 6 years old." 
My teacher: "And do you know what breed of dog this is?"
Me: "Uhhhh...a mix of chihuahua and terrier!"
My teacher: "Actually it's a rat terrier. Do you know how they got the name of rat terriers?"
Me: "(Finally an answer I was sure of) Yes, they got it because they were originally used for blood sport. Bets were placed on how many rats the terriers could kill in a given time."
My teacher: "Well, they search for rats and tear up yards for shrews and moles."
Me: "[Frowning] Hmmm"

The next few days culminated with me still hearing nothing from the Navy, and I was given the task of removing feed buckets and hay stalls from my grandparents' stables.  Whoever put them in did so with the purpose that they would never be removed.  I ended up using a prybar and a ridiculously long jimmybar to tear the boards off the wall...and even then the feedbuckets were still attached to the boards. I'm leaving the task of removing the wood to the next recipient of these items.  Sometime tomorrow I'll have to use a wire brush to get rid of the 1/4 inch thick iron oxide on the hay stalls.

Thursday I went to see Lara and the black-and-tan coonhound puppy that found her.  Lara gave me my birthday present which was the complete collection of Jeeves and Wooster (Fry&Laurie version), and the rest of the evening was spent with the dog, trying to make it urinate outside.  I imagine things will be pretty loud once the puppy figures out how LOUD and long her breed can howl.  Personally, I'm still trying to track down the elusive Carolina dog.

My grandmother's bike is almost finished.  I've got another coat of clear acrylic lacquer to spray on it, but after that I'll buff it out, clean up the wheels, get a chain fitted, and reassemble the bike. It's been long enough, and I had to scrap the plan of painting a skull with a snake coming out of its mouth on the chainguard and the Motley Crue's Dr. Feelgood album cover on the front fender.  Something about generational differences.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The Magic of Writing

Writing is one of those tools that I like to carry in my tool bag.  It's one of those tools that can easily turn the straightforward and accurate into something teeming with drama, intrigue, sabotage, and revenge.  Take for instance, just a few weeks ago when I helped my grandfather take his dog to the animal shelter for adoption.  A page in my journal without writing might sound like this:
I helped my grandfather take his dog, Roscoe, to the animal shelter for adoption. We figured it was for the best since it knocked him down several times and he didn't need a broken hip. Or a broken head.  And the dog was still a puppy, needed regular walking, and attention which were things my grandfather couldn't have provided to the dog's satisfaction.  When we entered the shelter's lobby, there were two girls, a nurse in a chair, and a cat on the counter.  We signed some papers and put the dog up for adoption and left.  One of the girls left and went outside to smoke.  Grandfather and I got into our car and drove off a little saddened.
Now, if I take my writing wrench out of my toolbag and give the paragraph above a three quarter's turn, it would transform into something like: 
My grandfather and I piled out of the car and steeled our hearts.  It was a grim task we faced, made harder by the fellow in the back not knowing we were about to abandon him; leaving him stranded.  A stranger in the strange land, surrounded by strange faces and stranger smells.  The dog loped out of the car, its thick, sable coat shining with the winter solstice sun.  When the light hit the fur at an angle, the sable hairs would turn from opal black to a golden red that darkened down to the root where it remained as black as midnight.  

The dog sniffed the green grass that was growing in clumps were it wasn't trampled by two and four-legged visitors to the shelter.  My grandfather's sun-seasoned face went taut and his dry lips pursed together as if savoring the words he were about to say...or perhaps trying to hold them back, hoping that they would come from his throat, reach the dam of his lips, and turn back, deterred.  "This looks like it might be your new home for a while, dutta" he finally drawled.  Roscoe didn't say anything, but his eyes darted to and fro. He was unsure.  

We three walked into the animal shelter.  A wizened African American nurse sat in a chair at the entrace, enjoying the sun. A brindle-coated cat sprawled across the counter, slurping up the afternoon, its eyes blurry and lazy with the rivers of Lethe.  Two young women were working at the counter, one thoughtfully chewing a pencil and gazing intently at a document hidden by the counter.  The other woman was looking at us with a tan produced by artificial lights and a hair color that was decided upon by what hair dye was on sale that week.  We sauntered over to the counter and began talking to the girl. Yes, we needed to put the dog up for adoption. Yes, it's for the best. Yes, we understand dogs are put down every day. Yes, we know it's a crying shame.

Steel bands gripped my heart, and my eyes flicked over to my grandfather's hands as he attempted to sign the documents that would give the shelter the dog.  His hands turned into claws, refusing to cooperate to sign the document.  However, his will overcame his heart, and he knew it was for the best.  The dog would have a new owner soon. An owner that would be able to withstand a fall as the dog bound onto him.  And the patience to discipline the dog.

We took the dog towards the back, crossing the threshold of a door, while the dog's eyes rolled back and forth while its nose sniffed the different smells of rejection and fear that lay pooled on the floor.  The room was fully upon us. Cages there were, jails were the bars were not just steel but also rejection.  And they were filled with the loudest inhabitants that were happy to see a new arrival.  The dog was placed into one of these cages, and it soon wore the unhappy look that was considered a uniform in that sterile yet hopeful environment.

My grandfather and I walked out, through the lobby and outside.  One of the girls from the counter had gone out into her car.  I paused and mused what she could be doing.  Suddenly A FLASH! of white, and a cancer stick dangled from her lips.  A tchik thcik tchik of the ligther, and a bone fed to her insatiable craving of Lady Nicotine.  I stared at her, sadness and practicality reflected in my eyes, and she blew out a puff of smoke.  She noticed me, and cocked one eyebrow quizzically.  Smoke tendrils blew past, causing me to gag a little, and she remained looking at me, slowly lowering her eyebrow as if to say, Yes it was for the best, Yes dogs are put down everyday, Yes it's a crying shame, but that is the way of life, and your dog is one of the younger ones and will be adopted by a home.  I lifted my head and turned to my grandfather and we both strode to the car and drove off, slightly mollified.
And there you have it.  The a slightly sad story turned into a tearjerker! That's the magic of WRITING! 
Tune in tomorrow when I write about my difficulties in choosing brands of socks at the department store, and use writing to transform it into an introspective look at the banality of life.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Sulawesi Goo Goo Muck

I got this coffee from Sweet Maria's to make my total purchase the mandatory $15 minimum.  It cost $2 and I figured I could at least try it to see what makes bad coffee bad.  And now I know. Roasted at a full city, the beans are an ugly mottled tan, brown, and black, and emit a weird funk.

The first few sips invite you with a generic coffee taste, a little acidity, and a little bitterness.  The sourness (or acidity) persists throughout the cup, but the tastes begin to flesh out: wood, wavering between popcicle stick tastes and rotten, a raw quality to it that tastes muddy and dirty, but mostly swampy, and a lingering bitterness that makes you wonder if strychnine is present in the cup.

The only "good" cups I've had of this bean were the ones were I inadvertantly flooded my manual drip filter with water so that the beans didn't extract fully.  The results taste somewhat like perked coffee.

So why am I drinking this coffee that tastes like my backyard in the springtime?  Well, I'm sort of using the Sulawesi as my "lead" standard.  Coffees that have tastes similar to this are rated low, while coffees that improve upon the Sulawesi's tastes (ie, instead of wood, cinnamon.  Instead of mud, rustic sweetness. Instead of bitterness, bittersweet.) are rated higher.  Of course, not all coffees will have tastes remotely analagous to the Sulawesi.  But the Sulawesi gives me a broad idea of what makes a bad cup of coffee:

It's much too bitter for a full city roast.  The tastes are overwhelmingly strong, jarring, and terrible.

But, as far as an educational tool for coffee, I'd say this is a pretty darn good cup. 

Monday, January 5, 2009

Deep Thoughts

When I get old and pass away, I don't want my friends and family to remember what a kind, loving husband and father I was, or a person who gave back to the community. I want them to remember me as that creepy, funny guy who could belch the ABC's backwards.
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.