Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Fortune Cookies

On my way home from work today I stopped to get some take-out Chinese (since I'm home alone tonight and not much in the mood to cook.) My single order was augmented with a bounty of not one - but two fortune cookies. After eating a bit I snatched up the first of them, cracked it open and read:
Depart not from the path which fate has assigned you.
It’s not that I’m overly (or at all) superstitious, but I had to face it - I’ve certainly been fate’s bitch as of late. And it occurred to me, as it often does, how ridiculously stupid these fortune cookie sayings always are. Assuming fate has assigned me a path – How could I part from it? So what’s the point? Am I supposed to be happy with whatever god-awful things come my way and simply shrug, knowing it’s my fate? Screw that. Unsurprisingly, in their lame attempts to make predictions, these things always end up giving hollow praise, or offering such circular logic. All this pseudo-philosophical I’m older than I ever was, yet younger than I’ll ever be sort of nonsense has never really resonated with me.

And as I sit here typing this, I’m suddenly reminded of a time years back when I was eating Vietnamese cuisine with my friend Ken. A meal which, curiously enough, also came with Chinese fortune cookies. It was a sort of celebratory meal. Ken was recovering from chemotherapy treatments for his leukemia. After finally getting free from months in the hospital he was just starting to be able to taste real food again. It looked as if he was actually in remission, but nobody knew for sure, and he was still uneasy about it. My cookie then boasted something shallow and superficial like, ‘You are well reguarded by others’, but when Ken cracked open his cookie he found – nothing. It was empty. He had no fortune at all.

This clearly upset Ken - only a little bit, but enough to trigger a shift in his mood. I offered him the fortune from my cookie, but he refused it - insisting it wasn’t his. Somehow our celebratory feast was strangely being overturned by the combination of Ken’s still frazzled nerves and the innocuous absence of a useless little strip of paper. It was a cold twist of fate manifested in an inanely trivial manner. After a short period of quiet brooding, Ken called the waiter and demanded another cookie. The waiter obligingly brought us a handful. Ken selected just one, which he carefully removed from its little cellophane package and then somberly broke open. I hung there, dreading what it might or might not say, knowing that after so much build-up it would be critically interpreted. Ken’s fragile mood hinged on a capricious cookie.

Thankfully, it turned out to be one of the better ones. Still nonsense, but nonsense obliquely referencing ‘a triumph of inner strength’, and it could only be interpreted as a good omen. And a good omen it was too. Days thereafter, Ken’s next round of tests confirmed he really was in remission. Ken saved the silly fortune. I’ll always remember it as the day Ken changed his fate.

But fate has way of catching-up with us. Ken stayed in remission for about a year before relapsing. The first time was horrible, but the second time was unimaginably worse. The one thing that impressed me most about Ken – the thing that impressed everyone – was how obstinately he clung to life. Even when the doctors told him death was certain he never stopped living - for whatever it was worth. He was a fighter. He lived months longer than anyone expected. Of course he never stopped getting sicker. He just wouldn’t die. And it’s not that he lied to himself about what was happening, he knew most every day would be worse than the previous. But he refused to accept his fate amicably, and I’ll always admire him for that. It still strikes me as a paradox that Ken – the man wouldn’t die – actually did.

Although I wasn’t thinking about it at the time (I didn’t reminisce on the meal with Ken until I started typing this) I’m sure it must have been behind the subconscious impulse to switch out my own fate. After my own brief period of quiet brooding, I turned to the auspicious second cookie and cleverly teased out its fortune without breaking it open. It reads:
You will make many changes before settling satisfactorily.
No kidding. It's strange how I managed to snag such seemingly flipside fortunes. I deftly to put the first fortune back into the whole cookie before I threw it away. Maybe I'll keep the new fortune. I know it's silly but, Ken would approve.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005


My wife and I had a great trip to NY / Canada visiting Niagara Falls. We stayed in a Bed and Breakfast a not much more than few blocks from the falls and spent three days visiting everything we could. The falls of course were amazing. We took the time to walk around them and across the Rainbow Bridge, viewing them from every angle. We even did the Maid of the Mists boat ride up to the falls themselves. Night viewing, when they were illuminated was beautiful, but we preferred daylight. Night-time was an illusion - colored lights and a dreamy glow, but in the daylight you can't help but be impressed with how colossal they are.

We also visited the rapids and the whirlpool downriver, as well as Old Fort Niagara at the mouth of Lake Ontario, an impressive Buddhist temple, and several nearby vineyards. But my absolute favorite part of the trip was visiting the Butterfly Conservatory. Apparently we showed up right when droves of different imported species were emerging from their cocoons. There must have been thousands of butterflies floating and fluttering everywhere. They were landing on us and swirling about so much we had to move slowly to ensure we weren't stepping on them or injuring them somehow. I even got to see a handful of butterflies emerge from cocoons and slowly struggle to fan out their wings. It was incredible.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Another Intelligent Design

In an attempt to ensure for the well-rounded education of our nation's youth, many concerned citizens have sent a letters to our nation's schoolboards urging them accept the axioms of Intelligent Design. Following are excerpts from one particularly compelling letter:
. . . I think we can all agree that it is important for students to hear multiple viewpoints so they can choose for themselves the theory that makes the most sense to them. I am concerned, however, that students will only hear one theory of Intelligent Design. . . . I and many others around the world are of the strong belief that the universe was created by a Flying Spaghetti Monster [and] that the overwhelming scientific evidence pointing towards evolutionary processes is nothing but a coincidence, put in place by Him. [For instance] a scientist may perform a carbon-dating process on an artifact. He finds that approximately 75% of the Carbon-14 has decayed by electron emission to Nitrogen-14, and infers that this artifact is approximately 10,000 years old, as the half-life of Carbon-14 appears to be 5,730 years. But what our scientist does not realize is that every time he makes a measurement, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is there changing the results with His Noodly Appendage. We have numerous texts that describe in detail how this can be possible and the reasons why He does this . . .
Be sure to check out the complete report from the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster Website.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Speaking of Space . . .

Burt Rutan's X-Prize winning venture, Space Ship One - the first civilian craft to fly in space, is now hanging in the National Air and Space Museum right between the X1-Bell and The Spirit of St. Louis. I imagine Rutan rightly feels some measure of pride in such an auspicious accomplishment, but it can hardly be an unfamiliar feeling for him. He needs only look across the lobby to see another of his designs, Voyager - the first aircraft to circle the globe without stopping or refueling. Wow.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Rocket Racers

Peter Diamandis, the same man who brought us the Ansari X-Prize, is proposing to create a Rocket Racing League to hold regular competitions across the United States with a yearly championship race to be held in New Mexico. As always the intent behind the league is to generate new developments in the technologies that will eventually take us all into space.

Next week is the exhibition event for the newest phase of the X-Prize Cup and I really wish I could be there. This is exactly the kind of nonsense I want to get more involved in. Of course I've never flown a rocket yet, but I'm ready and willing to learn. And since I already have my own goggles - all I really need now is a sponsor. So, if there are any rich rocketeers out there - I'm your man - be sure to drop me a line.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Salt and Pepper

This image of a grain of salt and a peppercorn was taken by David McCarthy using a Scanning Electron Microscope. Originally black and white, the coloring was added by Annie Cavanagh to highlight the details and contrast the objects. A simple concept masterfully done, this picture won the overall award at the Visions of Science Photographic Awards for 2005.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Serenity is Firefly

You may or may not remember me writing about my favorite TV show of all time, but after much anticipation Joss Wedon's movie version starring the same great cast of characters finally arrived in theaters. I was a bit apprehensive that the movie might not live up to the hype (and my lofty expectations), but wild horses couldn't have kept me away.

Just moments into the opening scenes and I knew it'd be great. The story picks up right where the TV series left off, never missing a beat. Thankfully, the characters who had been so convincingly defined in the original series were all their same old irascible selves. It was the same ship, same crew - only the special effects had gotten better.

The real story had always been about the crew itself. An oddball bunch of hardluck cases, most of whom had at some point been upstanding members of society, but now found themselves marginalized in one way or another. They're left needing eachother and their quasi-criminal lifestyle in order to survive. They struggle to get by, they struggle to get along, and they struggle to maintain some measure of their dignity and honor in a universe gone amok.

I liked how the movie took a dark bent - darker than the TV series had been - but I was wholly unprepared for just how dim it would get. The movie was at times violent, and I expected that. People died, lots of people died - even main characters. I wasn't expecting that. I'm not sure I understand the point of killing-off key characters (other than just to heighten the sense of danger and 'realism') and I'm surprised at just how much it bothers me. I'm still shook-up over it. But despite it all I have to admit it was one hell of a movie, and I suppose it's testament to how well developed the characters are that I care so much.

After watching the movie, I came home and checked on the fansite message board and was not too surprised to discover the movie has suffered casualties in its fanbase as well. Leagues of disconsolate fans of the original TV series are irate with Wedon for killing-off their favorite characters, while countless other die-hard fans hail the movie as an overwhelming success. And regardless of how the original fans feel, the movie continues to generate rave reviews with the public at large. I'm guessing it'll be up to the survivors of Serenity to try to make some sense of the senselessness in the sequels I'm sure will come.