Visions of new worlds rising

Visions of new worlds rising/ Bearing none who fear/ Lift your dragging spirits/ And face the future quietly/

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What's the story with feng shui?

January 16, 2003
Dear Straight Dope:

What's the deal with feng shui? Every time I see someone on television espousing it, I reach for my wallet, because its fundamentals and supposed benefits seem a total crock to me. Am I just being reactionary and biased against non-European theories, or is feng shui really just flimflam?

— Chris Garrity, Los Angeles

Probably it's somewhere in between. Don't worry about your wallet--this is something that you CAN try at home, without spending a lot of money.


Feng shui (pronounced fung shoy) is the ancient Chinese art of placement. Feng shui tries to explain and manipulate the impact of the environment on people's lives.

The term comes from the two Chinese words for wind and water. There is no equivalent English word, although perhaps geomancy (divination of messages from the earth) comes close. Some practitioners call it an "eco-art," trying to link man to his surroundings.

Feng shui originated in China somewhere between 2,000 and 4,000 years ago, although the term itself is more recent. The earliest references in books and texts (though not by name) date back to 200 to 400 BC. Feng shui began as an oral tradition and remains primarily oral today. It first came to serious attention in the west in the 1970s. Several different schools of feng shui have developed over time.

Feng shui is partly mystic and relates to other eastern philosophies and tools such as the I Ching. Feng shui theory is firmly linked to yin and yang, which is familiar to most westerners, and to the concept of chi (more on this later).

From one perspective, feng shui is the art of arranging the environment (the exteriors and interiors of buildings, gardens, and even the body) to optimize the impact on the people who live there. Looked at another way, it is a very complex set of superstitions. And they are powerful superstitions indeed. The construction of large hotels in Hong Kong has to wait for the blueprints to be reviewed and revised by feng shui specialists--moving the escalators, for instance, so that money does not flow out of the building.

An Asian business person can stop a deal cold if the feng shui of the office isn't right. Westerners thus have had to learn feng shui in order to do business in much of Asia. Call it flim-flam if you like, but if you are dealing with Asians, be aware that you may be insulting a cherished tradition.

Whatever may be said for its modern incarnation, feng shui had its origins in a practical appreciation of the environment. The ancient Chinese noticed that homes built in river valleys were often lost to floods, whereas houses on hillsides were protected from the elements and easier to defend against invaders. Hence, hillside buildings had more luck than those in valleys. Similarly, houses facing north were hit by dust storms, while houses facing south got maximum warmth from the sun. Thus facing south was luckier than facing north. (As another consequence of this, Chinese maps were south-oriented, with south on top.)

It's not hard to see how these observations, reflections, and some common sense led to a system of beliefs or superstitions about the placement of buildings, doorways and windows, furniture, and so on. Over the centuries there developed what Simon Brown calls "a complex and integrated system of theory and practice, embracing almost every aspect of people's lives."


Not easy to summarize, but the idea is to arrange your environment (home, office, whatever) to create a place where you want to spend time and feel pleasant, rather than a place where you feel uncomfortable. The design, layout, and location of the places you live or work can influence your health, wealth, career, relationships, and fame. George Birdsall says that you "can encourage positive coincidences." (I love that phrasing!) Simon Brown says, "Everything in your overall and immediate surroundings--even the smallest detail of furnishing or décor--can help you or hinder you."

If you've ever bought a house, you probably walked into some that immediately didn't feel right. Practitioners say that you're intuitively sensing bad feng shui.

To understand feng shui we need to talk about chi. Chi is the underlying cosmic energy, spirit, or essence of a person, place, or thing. In the case of a place, chi is its "atmosphere," which can affect your well-being. There is no real English equivalent for chi, atmosphere or spirit perhaps, but it's easiest to think in terms of energy. Chi is called ki or oi in Japan, and prana in India. Chi underlies much of eastern astrology, traditional healing systems like acupuncture, and martial arts like tai chi or aikido.

Think of chi as a flow. It is carried by wind and sun, by light and sound. It moves like these things, but can flow through solid objects as well. Chi is like water, ebbing and flowing with the tides, or like wind. Hence the name "feng shui," from the words for water and wind.

The basic principles of feng shui are to position yourself to take advantage of the natural flow of chi. How do you do that? It's related to yin and yang--isn't everything? I won't go into yin and yang here, which are pretty well understood. Just think of balance and harmony. Yin is earth, yang is heaven; yin is mountain, yang is river; yin is female, yang is male; yin is interior, yang is exterior; yin is round, yang is straight; yin is green and blue, yang is red and orange; yin is pastel colors, yang is strong colors. Yin is moon and yang is sun, yin is dark and yang is light, yin is passive and yang is active. There is yin in yang and yang in yin--harmony in balance, balance in harmony.

Back to chi. If a room has too much chi flowing into it, it may be a source of excessive activity and frustration, and you may want to dampen the flow. Chi is good up to a point, but you don't want too much--a house should be a relaxing place. On the other hand, you may want lots of chi flowing through your office.

Negative or unhealthy chi arises from many synthetic materials (of course), artificial lighting, and electronic equipment like air conditioning and TVs. Dark corners and cluttered rooms can create stagnant chi, which slows your energy and causes a loss of direction in life. Adding a bright light, fountain, or aquarium can help churn stagnant chi.

The exterior shape of a building, its openings, and the materials used in its construction all regulate the flow of chi. Chi flows most easily through openings like doors, next most easily through windows. You need to pay attention to the sun and to surroundings like water and roads, and set the environment to allow chi to flow harmoniously through the building.

Simon Brown says, "If chi energy passes a sharp corner, it begins to spin and swirl, forming eddies and whirlpools like a fast-flowing stream passing a sharp bend." This can lead to disorientation and confusion.

Avoid L-shaped houses, which are unbalanced. There are cures if you're stuck, like planting bushes to make the L into a rectangle. U-shaped houses (like many apartment complexes with an interior courtyard) are unlucky for marriages.

For interiors, the basic tool of feng shui is an octagon. There are eight directions, eight seasons, eight body parts, eight times of day, eight colors, eight numbers, all arranged around this octagon. These are cyclic--if you go in a circle around the compass directions, you wind up back where you started. The year and the days form a cycle, as do the colors (think of a color wheel from art class). Alas, there are only five elements (wood, metal, water, fire, and earth) and five animals, but let's stick to the basic eights.

So draw an octagon. At the top is south, at the far right is west, at the bottom is north, and at the left is east. In each segment, going clockwise, you have the following:

Number: 9
Season: Midsummer
Color: Red
Time: Midday
Life Aspect: Fame
Element: Fire
Animal: Birds
Body: Eye

Number: 2
Season: Early autumn
Color: Yellow
Time: Afternoon
Life Aspects: Marriage, motherhood, partnerships
Element: Earth
Body: Organs

Number: 7
Season: Autumn
Color: White
Time: Evening
Life Aspects: Children, purity
Element: Metal
Animal: Tiger
Body: Mouth

Number: 6
Season: Early winter
Color: Grey
Time: Night
Life Aspect: Fatherhood, travel, helpful people
Element: Heaven/sky
Body: Head

Number: 1
Season: Midwinter
Color: Blue/black
Time: Midnight
Life Aspects: Death, career
Element: Water
Animal: Tortoise
Body: Ear

Number: 8
Season: Late winter
Color: Turquoise
Time: Early morning
Life Aspects: Knowledge, intelligence, self-learning
Element: Mountain
Body: Hand

Number: 3
Season: Spring
Color: Green
Time: Mid morning
Life Aspects: Family, health
Element: Wood
Animal: Dragon
Body: Feet

Number: 4
Season: Early summer
Color: Purple
Time: Late morning
Life Aspects: Wealth, fortune
Element: Wind
Body: Hip

This octagon is called ba-gua and is a tool for diagnosis. You start with a floor plan of the house, room, building, yard, or whatever. Overlaying the octagon on the plan helps you interpret the energies and qualities of the space.

There are several schools of feng shui, such as compass, form, and "black hat sect"; each has a different approach to placing the ba-gua on the room. For instance, the compass school says to orient the octagon properly to the compass points (with north on the octagon aligning with magnetic north on the compass.)

Black hat sect is the more westernized form of feng shui, and more easily adapts to western construction and culture. Black hat says that the compass alignment is only symbolic, and you align the octagon to the doors of the room. If the door is in the center of the wall, put north on the door; if the door is to the right, put NW; and if the door is to the left, put NE on the door.

Whatever approach you use for overlaying the ba-gua, you may have to stretch your octagon to fit the room, but the center of the octagon should be in the center of the room.

You then examine the furnishings and décor of the room to see where things are OK and where things are out of balance  For example, a corner jutting into the west or southwest segments of an L-shaped room may create marriage problems. You can remedy this by hanging mirrors or wind-chimes to reflect the chi, or by partitioning the room with furniture.

Feng shui practitioners say that studying the ba-gua and learning where things are out of balance helps get one's life and life aspects more in balance. The house is considered almost like a second body, and life aspects get reflected in the energy in the house.

You can deliberately push emphasis (chi) from one segment of the octagon to another. You can enhance or calm chi with colors, fabric/materials, shapes, plants, water, and light. You can use mirrors to reflect chi from one area to another.

Cures for bad chi include, inter alia, bright lights or reflectors like mirrors or crystals; sounds like bells and wind-chimes; living objects like plants or fish; moving objects like fountains or mobiles; and heavy objects like stones and statues.

For instance, in the south, wood or wicker furniture enhances chi, while ceramic and clay calm it. To add more fortune, fame, or festivity in a room, add red candles (fire) on the southern wall or south corner. Don't put an aquarium in the southern corner, since water puts the fire out. In the south, tall thin verticals (such as tall plants) enhance chi, but avoid plants with spiky leaves, which cut chi. Wide rectangles, stripes or checks calm chi in the south. Red enhances chi in the south, while purple strengthens it and yellow calms it.

You can make connections to get more chi.  For instance, if there is a detached shed, creating a pathway from shed to house will encourage the flow of chi. Or stick a hollow tube in the ground with a light atop it to pull more chi from the earth.

The following bits of feng shui amused me. This article is long enough already, so I'm not going to indicate which examples come from which school. It's probably not good scholarship, but it makes for more interesting reading. If you care, then go and study.

The toilet flushes away water and chi. Thus, position the toilet away from the bathroom door, and be sure it's not reflected in a mirror. Keep the toilet closed as much as possible, and certainly when flushing. Water is identified with money, so if the toilet is not properly positioned, money will flow out of the house rather than into the house. As an aside, the term "feng shui" ("wind-water") is also used as slang to mean gambling, because money (equated to water) blows away on the wind.
An entry door that opens to a wall blocks the flow of chi. Facing the wall, you feel defeated and you lower your expectations. You have to move around the wall as you enter, and that affects your posture. The whole setup creates struggle rather than harmony. (I used to live in a house with such an entry, and it was certainly a struggle when guests came to get their coats into the closet.)
The elements have two cycles, a constructive one and a destructive one. The constructive cycle: fire burns wood to produce ash (earth), earth creates ores (metal), water condenses on the surface of metals, water nourishes growing wood, and wood fuels the fire. The negative cycle: fire melts metal, metal chops wood, wood decays to earth, earth muddies water, and water quenches fire. (I thought this idea of two rock-paper-scissors types of sequences from the same elements was one of those very cool zen things.)
Adding water such as a pond , bird bath, or aquarium, brings fresh chi into the area. The aquarium should be east or southeast, and you should use pebbles and shells rather than plastic decoration. Quick, aggressive fish that zip around the tank promote a more dynamic yang flow of chi, where slow, peaceful fish with muted colors produce a yin, a gentle, relaxing atmosphere. Furthermore, fish absorb accidents and bad luck. A bubbling aerator is very effective sound for relaxing chi. (You may have noticed that almost every Chinese restaurant has an aquarium.)
Avoid clutter. That doesn't necessarily mean being neat so much as avoiding an accumulation of bric-a-brac, objets d'art, and plain old junk. I tell my wife this all the time; perhaps now she'll believe me.
Electronic equipment has a negative effect on chi. Thus, position the television set away from the seating area. (In other words, don't sit too close. Western mothers have always had an intuitive sense of feng shui.)
Tables are interesting. A rectangular mahogany table creates lots of yang, and is best for formal dinner parties. An oval table from a soft wood like pine creates more yin, and is best for relaxing family dinners. A round glass-topped table is best for romance, while a square marble-topped table is best for business lunches.

That's the bottom line question, of course. Believers obviously think it works or they wouldn't bother with it; in Asia, feng shui consultants are big business. Skeptics on the other hand say it's a bunch of superstition, that "luck" is independent of furniture placement and other irrelevancies.

Many modern practitioners (especially the black hat sect) suggest a middle ground: it's possible to "encourage positive coincidences."

Up to a point, feng shui is just common sense.  Take an office. Even a cynical westerner knows that a cramped, cluttered, barren, and uncomfortable workplace can cause a feeling of discomfort or a negative attitude. That negative attitude can affect performance, and the combination of negative attitude and poor performance can affect "luck" such as raises and promotions.

Compare that to the worker who rearranges his/her workspace, adds a potted plant, and puts a large cheerful picture on the wall across from the desk. That person has a positive attitude, better performance, and lots of luck with raises and promotions.  Both the psychologist and the feng shui consultant nod their heads at this point and say, "Well, naturally."

Although feng shui is shrouded in mysticism, the practice generally reflects sound principles of interior design. Does that mean you need to accept the whole business about octagons and energy flows and so on? Of course not. But to the extent that feng shui offers a lens for examining the way in which you organize your environment, it can be a useful tool.


There are lots and lots of books on this topic. These were the most useful and entertaining ones in my local public library:

Brown, Simon, Essential Feng Shui, Carrol & Brown Ltd, London (1997)

Birdsall, George, Feng Shui Companion, Destiny Books, Rochester VT (1995)

Chuen, Master Lam Kam, Feng Shui Handbook, Henry Holt & Co. Inc, NY, 1996

Kennedy, David Daniel, Feng Shui for Dummies

--, Feng Shui Tips for a Better Life

Rossbach, Sarah, Feng Shui - The Chinese Art of Placement, Ed Dutton, NY (1983)

--, Interior Design with Feng Shui, Penguin Books Ltd, UK (1987)

— Dex

Monday, December 22, 2014

Pork in a dutch oven - Carnitas

Homesick Texan Carnitas

Adapted, just barely, from The Homesick Texan Cookbook

3 pounds boneless pork shoulder or pork butt, cut into 2-inch cubes
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup lime juice (from about 2 to 3 limes)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Kosher salt, plus more to taste

Corn tortillas, for serving plus
Avocado slices, chopped cilantro and fixings of your choice (we love pickled jalapenos or onions, lime wedges and a bit of slaw)

Place the pork in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot. Add the orange juice, lime juice, garlic, cumin, salt and enough water to just barely cover the meat. Bring the pot to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Simmer uncovered for two hours. Don’t touch the meat.

After two hours, increase the heat to medium-high and while occasionally stirring and turning the pieces, continue to cook for about 45 minutes, or until all of the liquid has evaporated, leaving only the rendered pork fat. Let it sizzle in this fat long enough to brown at the edges, turning pieces gently (they’ll be eager to fall apart), only as needed.

When pork has browned on both sides, it’s ready. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve on warmed tortillas with fixings.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

Moped Camper

I've been thinking about building my own "camper" for my own use in Singapore.

I would probably use a Motorised Tricycle as the base - something like this:
Hmm... okay... maybe not so funky.

Alternatively, and in line with our cultural heritage, I could used a modified Trishaw. Maybe motorised the front wheel with a hub motor or a friction motor.

What do campers have usually?

a) Bed or tent - shelter from elements

b) Kitchen - stove/sink - food preparation

c) Toilet/Washroom - ablution/hygiene

d) Storage - clothes, supplies (water), food/icebox/fridge

What will the camper be needed for in highly urbanised SG?

Shelter? Hold a Bed/Tent?
Shelter, possible. Sudden storms occur quite frequently. But a tent takes too long and is too immobile/inflexible. An Umbrella, a XL umbrella would be better. Like this:

Something big enough to shelter from sudden storms, and tropical storms can be quite strong. And quick and easy to put up.

Alternatively, if I use a modified trishaw, it would already have a canopy. Not very water-tight (from my eye-ball assessment), but there are usually extensions.

Two points to keep in mind about SG - the climate (heat and humidity) and the generally urban landscape. A tent would be too warm in Singapore. It would trap heat and humidity. A large umbrella like the one above may be more suitable.

Also, there may not be many opportunities or locations to camp outdoors in an urban environment. There may be restrictions to camping or setting up a tent.

BUT... "setting up" a BIG umbrella... hard to argue with that, eh?

The warm, humid, tropical climate also means little need for sleeping bags. And in Singapore, mosquitoes/flying-biting insects are not usually a problem (in urban areas, which is most of Singapore).

A simple lounge chair or cot may be more than sufficient to watch the scenery (no need tent or mosquito nets). Or whatever.

The largely urban landscape means that supplies are easily available. You do not have the "wilderness" and isolation from civilisation experience of true camping to require you to be fully self-reliant or to bring all your mod-cons with you.

So here are some of my thoughts about putting together a camping tricycle or trishaw and what needs to be in it.

Kitchen? For Food Preparation?
Outdoor Heavy Duty Standard Campers Kitchen, Great for Camping and Hiking or Trips At the Camp Site Giving You the Ability to Create and Cook Meals At Your Own Comfort - Comes with a Carry Bag for Portable Use When Your on the Go, Features a 16-gallon PVC Sink with Drain, Made with a 19m Steel Frame for Guaranteed Durability Camping Equipment, Be Prepared for the Summer and Give Your Family a Reliable Source on Your Next Vacation! On Sale Limited OfferFood is readily available, with 24 hrs outlets in most parts of Singapore. Same with drinks. If needed, more as protest against commercial food/ drinks, or desire to prep own food, or to control own diet.

Or just to show off (Right =>).

Too much?

Might have trouble fitting all those in the tricycle.

This one (below) packs down to about 4 inches (10 cm) high (about 90 cm by 30 cm, but unpacks to what you see).

It is just a frame or a stand and you will need to add a something to cook with - like a simple gas burner (below).

But this is all very complicated, unless the point is to establish your "camp ground". Otherwise, I see the simplest option is to have a fold-down food-prep counter. With a burner as the main feature.


A "personal" and "portable" toilet could add some convenience... but waste management/disposal would be a problem. Might be easier to find a public washroom. Generally, one would be within reach with 30 minutes anywhere in Singapore.

But if you are camping, perhaps you may want a simple portable washbasin with all your toiletries for washing up. This one holds water, toothpaste and toothbrush, shavers and a mirror and light.

But you can have a portable/disposal toilet for emergencies, with a privacy cabana tent, and for showers, a PET bottle with spray holes poked in the cap.

Portable Pop up Tent Camping Beach Toilet Shower Changing Room Outdoor Bag Green
Privacy tent for shower/toilet/changing room.
Handy Toilet for Man and Woman
Handy Toilet - for emergency use.

Here's a tip for toilet waste managment: "use a zip lock bag for outer bag, a 4 gallon trash bag for inner. Put a baby disposable diaper in bottom for absorbance (remove the outer plaster side), a little baking soda and voila! You can make them up ahead. When done using, place inner bag inside ziplock and dispose properly. Can also use kitty litter to absorb liquid waste/ control smell."

There are also powders that will turn liquids  (like pee) into gel or semi-solids for odour control, and toilet bags (like garbage bags but they fit portable camping toilets like this one:

Alternatively, just get a bucket/pail, put plastic bag to line it. Double bag in case of leaks, throw in some kitty litter to absorb liquid waste, and some baking soda to absorb odour, and you have a cheap but serviceable portaloo.

More importantly, you may want a storage for drinks (in hot and humid Singapore, a cool drink is one of the two most important things to have (the other is air-conditioning).

A cooler or ice-box could be essential.

Better yet, a cooler that has refrigeration!  However, most of these work with 12v car chargers. Depending on how long you want to camp, an unpowered cooler could easily work. You may just need to top up the ice from a 7-11.

Tech and Connectivity

In todays' world, "wilderness" may well be defined as anywhere without internet connection. So a Mifi or a smartphone with 4G connection may be good, but you will also need power packs to charge your devices.

Alternatively, a Biolite stove can provide energy to charge your devices even as you use the stove to cook or boil water. This is not as good a solution as you might think, but it could help.

SOLARDAYS FS-S903 DC Solar Home SystemSolar Power

    Found this. It's a home solar power kit.

The solar panel is 61 X 35 cm and will charge a 12v 12 AH battery to provide 5V and 12V power for various devices and equipment.

I'm thinking it could be used to run a cooler-fridge. This would provide some cool drinks although most of these coolers only lowers temperature to about 20 C below ambient or environment temperature. Still, a 10 C cool drink would be quite nice.

Product Specification (for the solar power kit):
Model No. Solar Panel Battery Controller Led lamp in set Output Voltage
FS-S904 18V25W 12V12AH 12V3A 3W*4pcs 5V+12V

Working Data
Model No. Fully charging time by solar(h) Using time after fully charged
LED Lamp In Set 5W Mini Fan 6W Mini TV 15W Standing Fan
FS-S904 6-8h 9-10h 22-23h 18-19h 7-7.5h

Monday, June 16, 2014

Facebook 2012

20 Dec
Probably NSFW. Prafanity mixed with profound truths.

The cleaned up version:

#6 The world only cares about what it can get from you... or nobody owes you a living, so what have you got to offer to the world in order to get a living?

#5 Love and kindness doesn't pay the bills. After you have paid the bills, then maybe, just maybe, you get to enjoy love and kindness.

#4 You don't have to do it for money, but it helps. Or... if you don't wanna do it for money, people must benefit or in some way want what you are doing or producing.

#3 As Rachel Dawes said to Bruce Wayne (Batman), "it's not who you are on the inside that matters, its what you do"... so here's the test - name 5 impressive things that you have achieved. Not 5 things that you are (e.g. I'm Batman - doesn't count; but I've saved Gotham City from the Joker would).

#2 Who you are inside only matters if it drives you to do great things - "I'm Batman, and because I am Batman, I will save Gotham City."

#1 Everything inside you will fight any attempt to change your life for the better. You have to read the profanity-laced article to see examples of self-defeating excuses you will come up with to NOT change yourself.
27 Oct 
Tolerance for the sake of tolerance achieves nothing.
Tolerance is to restrain your initial visceral reaction long enough to understand.
If after you have truly understood the issue you still find the situation intolerable, then you should respond from reason, from logic, and for the sake of the common good.

19 Sep
If you want to go fast, go alone.
If you want to go far, go together.
If you need to go, just go.

[5 Aug 2014 update:
If you wanna go far, go together
If you wanna go fast, go alone.
If you wanna go cheap, go by budget air.
If you just wanna go. Bring toilet paper. Just in case. ]

16 Aug
“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique. It’s not easy, but if you accept your misfortune and handle it right, your perceived failure can become a catalyst for profound re-invention.” - Conan O'Brien
14 Aug
“If you talk only work and mundane office topics of course you won’t know much (about each other). Need to talk about hopes and dreams and wishes and schemes and art and life and beauty and experience and funny things and crazy ideas and beliefs and loves and fears and dark thoughts and fantasies and visions and demons and quiet moments and sadness and scenes and shared times and so on. And if you look back with a sense of peace with the person you shared it all with then that is the person you should grow old with.”
13 Aug
TFR is falling and needs to be reversed. TFR reversed is RFT: Recruit Foreign Talent.
20 Jul
If you know the rules and know the reason for the rules and you break the rules, you're a revolutionary.
If you know the rules but don't know or understand the reasons for the rules and you break them, you're just a rebel.
If you don't even know the rules you're breaking, you're just a punk.
14 Jul
"With great power comes great utility bills."
13 Jul
"Defensiveness is the opposite of confidence, just as arrogance is the alter ego of insecurity" - Asad Latiff
 1 Jul
Everything happens for a reason. Just not necessarily the reason you are think is the most plausible or in line with your belief system.
21 Jun
"Only those who respect themselves have the courage to be humble."
17 Jun
"Believe in yourself, but do not be attached to your own point of view." - Jing Si Aphorism.
5 Jun
"The effort to deceive oneself is what Buddhism refers to as evil."
- Soun Houshi
15 May
Because it is never about what you don't have that makes you unhappy, but what you don't do to be happy.
11 May
We don't become gracious by demanding other people be gracious to us. We don't mature by demanding others act maturely.

Ayam Penyet was invented over a hundred years ago in Indonesia when the automobile first arrived in Indonesia. - Wikifraudia
12 Feb
You have to lose something to get something.
15 Jan
Sometimes the wisdom to know when to do nothing, is only recognised when juxtaposed against the wisdom to act with impeccable timing. Without this juxtapositioning, I just look like a lazy bum, who don't know what to do.
New Year:
May the New Year bring you what you need. May what you need be what you want. And may what you want not be illegal, immoral, or fattening. Unless you really need it!

Thursday, October 03, 2013

What's the story on the "toxic lady"?

March 22, 1996

Dear Cecil:
Enclosed are two of the many articles on the death of Gloria Ramirez, who became known as "the toxic lady" because she downed several medical attendants with her fumes. Pesticides, nerve gas, cervical cancer, kidney failure, cardiac arrest, crystals in blood, and other obscure causes were cited in these and many TV reports. Did they ever find out what killed Ms. Ramirez and made the workers sick?
— J. Pilla, Tucson, Arizona

Cecil replies:

What killed the 31-year-old Ramirez was no big mystery. She died of kidney failure due to advanced cancer of the cervix. What stumped people was what caused all those emergency room staffers to keel over. Nearly two dozen vomited or passed out, six wound up being hospitalized, and at least one suffered complications that persisted for months. Nobody's sure exactly what happened, but investigators have come up with a promising theory, as we shall see.

It all began when the terminally ill Ramirez began having heartbeat and breathing problems at her home in Riverside, California, on the evening of February 19, 1994. Paramedics rushed her to Riverside General Hospital, administering oxygen en route. Shortly after arriving at the ER she passed out.

Dr. Julie Gorchynski tried to fix Ramirez's fluttering heartbeat by shocking her with defibrillation paddles. A short time later a nurse took a blood sample with a syringe. Dr. Gorchynski smelled ammonia and felt dizzy. The nurse keeled over. Dr. Gorchynski took the syringe and sniffed it. She smelled ammonia again and noticed the blood had funny straw-colored crystals in it. Seconds later she blacked out and went into convulsions.

Soon medical staff all over the place were retching and fainting. The ER was ordered evacuated. Further attempts to revive Ramirez failed, and she was pronounced dead. The body having been sealed in an airtight casket, the experts arrived to clean up and figure out what had gone wrong.

They didn't get very far. An autopsy conducted by doctors wearing space suits revealed that Ramirez was suffering from a urinary blockage, among other things. But no known toxic chemicals were found. An inspection of the ER's plumbing and ventilation systems and whatnot also turned up nothing.

Baffled officials came up with one inane explanation after another. The coroner's office said the ER staff were sickened by the "smell of death." The California department of health services blamed the whole thing on mass hysteria. This POd the victims no end, particularly Dr. Gorchynski, who was in the worst shape. She was in the hospital for two weeks, stopped breathing repeatedly, came down with hepatitis and pancreatitis, and later developed bone rot in her knees.

Finally some folks with IQs in the triple digits got into the act. Scientists at the Forensic Science Center at Livermore National Laboratory found a chemical called dimethyl sulfone (DMSO2) in Ramirez's blood. Dimethyl sulfone is a reaction product of dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), a solvent sometimes used by cancer patients as a home pain remedy.

Neither DMSO nor DMSO2 is especially dangerous. But while reading up on the subject a Livermore scientist came across a related chemical, dimethyl sulfate (DMSO4). DMSO4 is a powerful poison gas, and it can cause nearly every symptom suffered by the Riverside ER staff.

The Livermore scientists hatched the following hypothesis: (1) Ramirez doses herself with DMSO. Due to urinary blockage, the stuff builds up in her bloodstream. (2) Oxygen administered by the paramedics converts the DMSO in her blood to a high concentration of DMSO2. (3) When the DMSO2-laden blood is drawn out in the syringe and cools to room temperature, crystals form (this was confirmed by experiment). (4) DMSO2 is converted to DMSO4 by some unknown mechanism (the defibrillation shock?) and clobbers the medical staff. (5) The volatile DMSO4 evaporates without a trace.

Step four is obviously the weak link. The Livermore scientists have proposed some possible chemical scenarios. While skeptics have raised objections, Livermore's Pat Grant tells me, "There weren't any showstoppers." Those people got zapped by something, and right now this is the best explanation we've got.

Another theory

The Los Angeles weekly New Times has come up with a possible alternative explanation for the toxic lady episode: the hospital where the incident occurred may been the site of a secret lab used to illegally manufacture the drug methamphetamine. In stories appearing in the May 15-21 and September 11-17, 1997 issues, staff writer Susan Goldsmith reports that "meth chemicals" may have been smuggled out of the hospital in IV bags, one of which was inadvertently hooked up to the dying Ramirez. This triggered the round of nausea, headache, and other symptoms that put six ER workers in the hospital.

"Those smells and symptoms are classic to meth-fume exposure," a forensic chemist who analyzes drug-lab materials is quoted as saying. Meth manufacturing is said to be big business in Riverside county, where the hospital was located--authorities have shut down more than 1,000 meth labs since 1988, and many more may remain undetected.

Still, you gotta think: a secret meth lab in a major hospital? A meth lab, moreover, that's run by people so stupid they somehow allow an IV bag full of meth chemicals to wind up in the emergency room? Hard to believe. On the other hand, Goldsmith points out, the authorities never took the precaution of testing the IV bags to see what was in them. Cover-up or just incompetence? Right now it's anybody's guess.

— Cecil Adams

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Lessons From A Yogi

Yogi Berra was a better baseball player than he was a speaker,but he's probably quoted more than Churchill. Much of what he said seems silly, until you think about it for a moment...then you discover a more profound meaning.

Here are a few of my favorite Yogi-isms. Each is like a Rorschach test and self-help course rolled up into one.       ~Dean Rieck~

"You can't think and hit at the same time."

"Nobody goes there; it's too crowded."
 "It was hard to have a conversation with anyone, there were too many people talking."

"A nickel ain't worth a dime anymore."
"We were overwhelming underdogs."

"It's dej`a vu all over again!"
"We made too many wrong mistakes."
"If people don't come to the ballpark, how are you gonna stop them?"
"The other team could make trouble for us if they win."
"It's never happened in World Series history, and it hasn't happened since."
"Slump? I ain't in no slump...I just ain't hitting."

"The only reason I need these gloves is 'cause of my hands."
"If I didn't wake up I'd still be sleeping."
"If you can't imitate him, don't copy him."
"Congratulations. I knew the record would stand until it was broken."
"You can observe a lot by watching."
"It ain't over till it's over."

Questions and Answers
"If you ask me a question I don't know, I'm not going to answer."
"I wish I had an answer to that because I'm tired of answering that question."
"Don't get me right, I'm just asking!"
"Never answer an anonymous letter."

"Why buy good luggage? You only use it when you travel."
"When you come to a fork in the road, take it."

"We're lost, but we're making good time."
"It's not too far, it just seems like it is."
"You've got to be careful if you don't know where you're going 'cause you might not get there."

Say Again?
"I usually take a two hour nap from 1 to 4."
"If the world were perfect it wouldn't be."
"It gets late early out here."
"90% of the game is half mental."
"Always go to other people's funerals, otherwise they won't go to yours."
"Steve McQueen looks good in this movie. He must have made it before he died."
"I'm as red as a sheet."
"Pair up in threes."
"We have a good time together, even when we're not together."
"Little League baseball is a good thing 'cause it keeps the parents off the streets and it keeps the kids out of the house!"
"The future ain't what it use to be."
"I really didn't say everything I said."

Yogi Berra


Monday, September 26, 2011

Zen and the Art of Simplicity at Work

September 25, 2011, 10:11 AM GMT

The Zen aesthetic ideal of shibumi is reserved for objects and experiences that exhibit all at once the very best of everything and nothing: elegant simplicity; effortless effectiveness; beautiful imperfection.
Tracing the Zen Aesthetic, what sets shibumi apart as a powerful design ideal is the unique combination of surprising impact and uncommon simplicity.
It entails achieving maximum effect through minimum means, which, it turns out, is a universal pursuit that takes many forms: artists and designers use white or ‘negative’ space to convey visual power; scientists and mathematicians and engineers search for theories that explain highly complex phenomena in stunningly simple ways.
What these various forms all have in common, and what shibumi has at its core, is the element of subtraction.
Not only is the thought of subtracting something in order to create value a very different way of thinking (neuroscientists have shown using functional MRI scans that addition and subtraction demand different brain circuitry), it figures centrally in Zen.
The question that remains is, how does this elusive quality come into being? In pursuit of the answer, let’s take a look at the specific Zen design principles that frame and support the pursuit of shibumi, and then, at their practical applications to the design of business and work.
1. Koko (austerity).
The first principle is that of koko, which emphasizes restraint, exclusion and omission, embracing the idea that ‘not adding’ is a valid subtractive approach.
There is a wonderful photo widely available on the Internet of the young Steve Jobs (a Buddhist practitioner) circa 1982, sitting in the middle of the living room of his Los Altos house.
There isn’t much in the room, save an audio system and a Tiffany lamp. Jobs is sipping tea, sitting yoga-style on a mat, with but a few books around him.
The picture speaks volumes about the motive behind every Apple product designed under his command, and even helps to explain his aversion to buttons.
Beyond the obvious fact that iPods, iPads and iPhones are virtually buttonless, rarely, if ever can he be seen wearing a buttoned shirt.
Jobs even removes buttons from elevators in multilevel Apple retail stores.
Zen design lesson #1: Refrain from adding what is not absolutely necessary in the first place.
2. Kanso (simplicity).
Kanso dictates that beauty and utility need not be overstated, overly decorative or fanciful and imparts a sense of being fresh, clean and neat.
Instagram, a wonderfully simple and fun iPhone photo-sharing application founded by CEO Kevin Systrom, is a great example of kanso in software design and functionality.
Instagram allows the user to snap a photo, choose a filter to transform the look and feel of the picture into a work of art, and share it through social media.
But Systrom’s first iteration (called Burbn) was a feature-laden app lacking a simple value proposition, and thus had few users. By cutting out the clutter and paring it down into a streamlined app people could understand and have fun within 30 seconds. Instagram reached two million users in only four months.
Zen design lesson #2: Eliminate what doesn’t matter to make more room for what does.
3. Shizen (naturalness).
The goal of shizen is to strike a balance between being at once ‘of nature’, yet distinct from it—to be viewed as being without pretense, without artifice, not forced, yet to be revealed as intentional rather than accidental or haphazard.
When UK-based urban designer Ben Hamilton-Baillie goes about designing “shared spaces” found around Kensington High Street and Sloane Square in London, he is taking a page from the shizen-inspired high-traffic intersections in the Netherlands that have been redesigned to be void of traffic controls.
In these shared-space intersections, curbs have been eliminated, asphalt replaced with red brick, and there are fountains and garden-like café seating right where you think you should drive.
When you come to such an intersection, you have no choice but to slow down, have some human interaction, and use your intelligence.
The result is an organic, naturally self-organizing order that leads to half of the accidents and nearly twice the vehicle flow. The only rule is driven by the context: first in turn, with all due respect to the most vulnerable.
Zen design lesson #3: Incorporate naturally-occurring patterns and rhythms when designing a solution.
4. Yugen (subtlety, implicitness).
The principle of yugen captures the Zen view that the power of suggestion is often stronger than that of full disclosure: leaving something to the imagination creates an irresistible aura of mystery, compelling us to find answers.
The seduction lies in what we don’t know, and because what we don’t know far outweighs what we do know, we are naturally curious.
Apple used yugen in its marketing strategy for the original iPhone which, in the months leading up to its June 2007 launch, was hailed as one of the most hyped products ever to hit the market.
To hype something, though, means to push and promote it heavily through marketing and media.
Apple did the exact opposite.
Steve Jobs demonstrated it at Macworld ‘07 just once, giving a masterful and tantalizing presentation a full six months before the scheduled launch.
In between? Radio silence.
No publicity, no leaks to the media, no price discounts, no demos for technology reviewers, no pre-ordering.
The bloggers and Apple loyalists took over, interpreted and extrapolated, completed the picture resulting in over 20 million people expressing an intent to buy.
Zen design lesson #4: Limit information to engage human curiosity and leave something to the imagination.
5. Fukinsei (imperfection, asymmetry).
The goal of fukinsei is to invoke the natural human inclination to seek symmetry.
Nearly everything in nature is symmetrical—it’s the predominant organizing principle of the universe. But because it’s so prevalent, we often take symmetry for granted—until it’s missing.
David Chase, creator of the TV series The Sopranos, used this principle in the now-infamous final episode.
The Sopranos was an eight-year long series about a band of somewhat organized criminals in northern New Jersey run by one Tony Soprano. There was a great buildup to the final episode, made special because Chase himself wrote and directed it, and the audience would find out whether or not Tony would finally get ‘whacked’.
But the ending presented Chase with a true dilemma: if he killed Tony off, he would alienate half of his audience and squash his chances for a feature film; but if he let Tony live, he would disappoint the other half of the audience, because Tony was a really bad guy.
In the final seconds of the show—with 12 million people watching—just as something was about to happen, the screen went black. Credits rolled a few seconds later, and The Sopranos came to an end.
People sat dumbfounded, cursing their cable provider for signal failure, or blaming a spouse for not paying the bill. No one saw it as the ending, but rather ‘something gone wrong’, because they were robbed of traditional story symmetry.
The media uproar was deafening, with many calling Chase’s decision a cop-out.
Within 24 hours, though, Chase announced in a stroke of genius that everything one needed to know about the fate of Tony Soprano was embedded in that final episode; he had planted all kinds of clues.
Within three days, another 25 million had viewed or reviewed the show, and not one, not two, but three distinctly-different endings sprang up on the Internet, each with a logical argument for why that ending was correct.
By denying his audience symmetry, leaving the story incomplete and imperfect, and requiring audience participation to complete it, David Chase managed to triple his impact.
Zen design lesson #5: Leave room for others to co-create with you; provide a platform for open innovation.
In closing, while there is nothing easy about achieving shibumi, if taken together as a cohesive set of design principles, the concepts described herein will guide and inform your efforts. Keep in mind that very often in life, although something looks effortlessly simple, it takes a great deal of effort and refinement to reach such a state.

Excerpted with permission from Rotman Magazine, the magazine of the Rotman School of Management. The full article with the complete set of “design lessons” is online and the magazine may be purchased online.
Matthew E. May is an internationally-recognized expert on change, innovation and design strategy. He is the author of The Shibumi Strategy: A Powerful Way to Create Meaningful Change (Jossey-Bass, 2010) and In Pursuit of Elegance: Why the Best Ideas Have Something Missing (Crown Business, 2009).

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Roast Pork

From my other blog

(posted originally on Wednesday, October 08, 2008)

1.5kg piece of Belly pork, skin on
1 tablespoon sichuan peppercorns
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp white peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
2 teaspoons Chinese five-spice powder
2 teaspoons fine sugar

2 tbsp coarse salt for roasting/drying the skin

Spike or score the skin with a fine skewer or sharp knife as many times as you can, piercing the fat but not going so deep as to pierce the meat. Then pour about 1-2pints of boiling water over the skin & then dry well.

[A sharp knife works well. Skewering is a bit difficult unless you have a sharp pick or s special utensil with multiple spikes.]

Making the dry-rub
Heat a dry, heavy-based frying pan over a high heat & add the three peppercorns & dry fry until you can smell the aroma. Turn off the heat and add the five-spice powder onto the hot pan to toast. I also add about a tbsp of chilli powder to toast, but this is optional.

In small batches, add peppercorns to a pestle & mortar & bash the hell out of them until you get a coarse grind then add to a bowl with the salt, five -spice powder & sugar. And chilli powder if using.

[I like this bit. Dry-frying the peppercorns caused the pepper corns to give out a wonderful aroma.  

The dry-rub is for the meat. If you do not want to go to this much trouble (toasting and bashing the peppercorn), you could just use ground pepper, sugar, salt, and five-spice, or just a simpler dry rub (salt and five-spice). Or no dry-rub if you like your roast simple.]

Turn the pork flesh side up & rub in the dry-rub/spice mixture & then set aside somewhere cool for a few hrs or overnight. [You don't have to use a ziplock bag, but it was what I used.]

Preheat the oven to 200degC/400degF/gas mark 6. Turn the pork skin side up and place on a rack, resting on top of a roasting tin of water. (See picture below. The small container has hot water.)

[I "rubbed" coarse salt into the skin before roasting for about 30 minutes, then removed the salt. This helps to dry the skin which is important for the skin to be crispy. See picture. The coarse salt just sits on top of the skin. I used foil to "fence" the salt in and prevent the grains from rolling off.]

Tip: The skin side may curve leaving some parts farther from the heat and resulting in uneven roasting (and crisping). To prevent this, you can use long metal skewers to straighten the meat, or placed the meat in a roasting pan, and use bunched up foil to raise any drooping portions.
Roast the pork for 15 - 30 mins & then remove the coarse salt, and lower the oven temp to 180degC/350degF/gas mark 4 & roast for a further 2hrs, topping up the water in the roasting tin when it starts to get low, so keep checking the level of water as you do not want it to run dry.

After the 2hrs of roasting, check if the skin has crisped. If not, increase the oven temp once more to 230degC/ 450degF/ gas mark 8 and continue to roast the pork for a further 15mins until the skin is crisp. If parts are crisp well other parts are not, use foil to cover the crisped portions to prevent burning as you try to crisp the rest of the skin. When most if not all the skin is crisp, remove from the oven & leave to cool, this dish is best served warm.

[The final bit of crisping the skin could have been done better as the skin blackened in some parts. I used an aluminium foil to protect the skin after removing the coarse salt crystals, removing it only in the last 10 minutes to let it crisp. At that point watch the oven regularly and intervene at the first sign of smoke. :-)]

This is really good when it's served still warm from the oven (within 2 hours of roasting).

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Fish. Bird. Lake.

This is an old story. Someone told it to me. I can't remember who.

But I remember it. Because it has meaning, and a lesson.

There was a little lake high in the mountains, not much bigger than a pond. It was so high that in the winter the surface of the lake would freeze over. But it was a deep enough that the water below got really cold, but did not freeze. When it got that cold, the fish slowed down, became less active, and waited patiently for the waters to warm up again.

The fish had lived in the lake for many generations and many winters. Seasons passed, the waters rose and fell with the seasons, and turned cold and warm with the seasons.

The younger, more vigourous, and more adventurous fish swam up the streams that fed into the lake, and came back reporting that the waters ran faster and shallower as they swam up, until finally, the waters ran too fast, or too shallow, or were blocked by ice.

The Little Lake and the streams that fed into it was the whole world to these fish. And it was good.

But one spring as the ice thawed, and the waters warmed, the streams that flowed into the lake did not swell as it usually did, and the waters did not rise as much. In the heat of the summer, the waters grew warmer, and receded from the shore, further than it had ever before.

That winter when the water froze, the water that remained water was very much lesser than usual. The water also felt stale, and the fish moved slower and more sluggish than usual. Many fish died that winter.

Spring came again, the streams melted, and the water flowed faster, but there was noticeably less of it. Some streams ran briefly, then dried up. The waters receded further from the shore. At this rate, winter would see more death.

Some fish began to speak of the unthinkable, the end of the lake.

Some other fish refused to think that. It was just hard times. Not end times.

Other fish swam up the streams looking for... something that might help them.

Then, a fish fell out of the sky.

It smacked down hard on the surface of the water and began to sink. The sound of it hitting the water could be heard throughout the lake. Most of the fish swam for cover, but a few brave fins went to have a look.

They found the stranger, for though there were many fish in the lakes, everyone knew everyone, but this was no fish anyone had ever seen before.

"Who are you?"

"Where did you come from?"

"Why are you here?"

The fish were curious and ask the stranger many questions. But the strange fish was mortally wounded and could only give short answers. And then he died. The fish that heard his answers argued over what the answers were and finally agreed that the stranger came from another place, another lake, and he was brought to this lake by an "Air Swimmer". But that he had struggled and fell out of the sky as the Air Swimmer was passing this lake.

But what did it mean?

The fish brought this question to the older, wiser fish.

The fish knew of the "Air Swimmers" of course. Flocks of them often stop by to drink from the lake on their way to other places. They had huge pectoral fins which they use to swim through the air, whereas the fish used mainly their caudal fins or tails to swim. Their pectorals were used more for fine steering.

On some occasions, Air Swimmers had scooped fish from the lake. The fish had two theories about why they did this. One theory was that Air Swimmers (or at least some of them) ate fish. Most believed this. But a few believed that the Air Swimmers had scooped up those fish for some other reason. After all, Air Swimmers must be amazingly advanced to be able to break free from the confines of the water and soar in the waterless void. So perhaps they picked fish to be taught the secrets beyond the waters. These fish were called Believers in Air Swimmers as Superior, or B.A.S.S.

When the leader of B.A.S.S. heard about the fish that had fallen from the sky, his faith in the Air Swimmers was strengthened. He was sure that the Fallen fish was a Chosen one who had perhaps failed the Air Swimmer's test and was sent back to the waters.

But more importantly, the news spread quickly among the BASS that the Fallen had came from other Waters and that an Air Swimmer had brought him. Hope rippled through the small group. If there were other waters, perhaps the fish of Little Lake could survive there. All they needed was a way to get there.

"We need to ask the Air Swimmers to take us to the other Waters," intoned the leader of BASS.

The next few days the BASS search for and tried to approach any Air Swimmers they could find. It was not easy. Most of them ignored or did not notice the fish trying to talk to them. Or they were too far away. Or were busy preening themselves.

But finally, on a sunny day around noon, a large Air Swimmer was sunning itself on a large rock when the fishes finally caught his attention.

He was confused for a while because they addressed him as "Noble Air Swimmer". Then he realised that to the fishes, flying was like swimming in the air. They probably thought his wings were very large fins, he thought to himself amusingly.

But he had been raised to be polite, so he kept his amusement and mild annoyance (at having his sunbaathing and afternoon nap interrupted) to himself and asked for the reason for the conversation.

The fish were beside themselves with excitement and floundered over their explanations, until finally the leader of BASS silenced them all and summarised.

"Oh Noble Air Swimmer, we humbly beg your help. Our little lake is shrinking and has been doing so for some time and we fear it is only a matter of time before there is so little water left that the fishes cannot survive."

"Well, I could bring some water in my beak the next time I fly here, but I don't think that would help very much," said the large bird.

"Oh no, we don't mean that at all," said BASS leader. "Noble One, we have heard of other lakes, other waters where fishes might swim and live. Perhaps as the Noble One swims through the air, the Noble One might have seen some of these other lakes."

"Why yes. I have. But how would these other lakes help you?"

"We humbly ask that you help us get there."

"You want me to teach you how to fly?"


"Swim through the air."

"That is called "flying"? Er... Can you teach us how to fly?" They asked hopefully.

"No. You don't have the... 'fins' for it."

The fish explained that all they wanted was for the bird to take them to another lake. The bird would take a few fish in his beak with as much water as he could hold and fly the fish to another lake. If he would do this over several trips, eventually, all the members of BASS would be transferred to their new home.

The bird was silent for a long while after the fish made their request. The fish waited quietly. They knew that they were asking for had never been done. In fact, it had never been asked. There was no reason for the bird to agree to their request.

"Are you crazy? He's a fish-eater! He's not going to bring you to a new lake. He will swallow you whole! Why should he bring you to a new home? What's in it for him?"

The loud, angry, frightened voice came from the back of the gathering. It came from one of the elder fish. He was not a member of BASS. Like most of the fish, he believed Air Swimmers are fish-eaters. He had happened to be swimming by when he saw BASS members talking to the Air Swimmer and his curiosity overcame his fear and he listened to the fish make their request to the Air Swimmer. And his fear grew as he heard their request.

"No! He is a Noble Air Swimmer! A supreme being! He knows the secrets beyond the Waters! He knows how to fly! He knows how to live out of Water! He knows things that no fish knows! He can save us if we only but ask! He can save us! We just need to put aside our pride and our fear!"

The furious defence of the Air Swimmer took the elder fish by surprise, and he was shocked into silence by the strength and the depth of the BASS leader's conviction.

Then the Air Swimmer spoke.

"I need to think about what you ask and if I decide to help you, I will need to find a suitable lake. I have noticed that this is not the only lake that has been drying out. If I do decide to help you, it would not do for me to bring you to another lake that is also drying out. I will let you know my decision in two days. Come back here then."

Then he unfolded his wings (what a magnificent sight it was to the fish gathered there! Even the elder fish could not help but be awed), and took off into the air, his wings beating the air into a small windstorm that rippled the waters.

Two days later the members of BASS gathered again by the large rock to await the decision of the Air Swimmer.

They came early even as the sun was just warming up the day. They waited. The sun rose high into the sky. Still they waited. The sun began to drop towards the western mountain ranges. The heat of noon gave way to the cool of late afternoon. Some of the fish had drifted away, their patience deserting them even as they deserted their cause.

The BASS leader wanted to chide them, but he was too anxious and too worried. The absence of the Air Swimmer could well mean that his answer was no. Even if he did show up, he might still say no. Why hold the fish here only to disappoint them. If there were good news, he can tell them later. If there were bad news... well, bad news travels faster than good and they will find out anyway.

Besides the BASS members, the elder fish was also waiting to see what other horrors and stupidity the BASS members could come up with. And perhaps to save them from their stupidity.

Off to a side, were a group of younger fish who were curious about this strange plan with an Air Swimmer. They expected the Air Swimmer to turn up and eat all the BASS members. If they had cameras, you can imagine all of them with cameras and tripods - the fish equivalent of paparazzi. But even without cameras, they could still tell their children and their children's children about the day they were there when an Air Swimmer ate the foolish BASS members. They were there out of morbid curiosity.

So they waited.

The sun had sunk so low it was almost touching the tops of the mountain ranges when they heard the flapping of large wings (or "fins" as some of them still thought of wings), and the Air Swimmer (bird) landed on the rock.

He looked tired. As he looked for the Bass leader. The other fish helped buy drawing away from the leader so that he was alone in a circle of empty space where no fish crowded him. The Air Swimmer assumed that was the BASS leader (all fish looked alike to him).

"I will help you."

The cheer that burst out was so loud that all the fish in the lake heard it and were drawn to the large rock.

The bird explained that he had gone searching for a suitable lake. The other lakes nearby were also drying up and his search had taken him a day and a half. He had almost given up when he finally found a lake almost half a day away as fast as he could fly where the waters were fed not just by streams by by three large rivers. The lake was much larger - almost eight times larger than Little Lake before it started drying up.

He told the BASS leader that he would do a trial run with two fish the next day. He would take the two fish to the lake and let them see the lake for themselves. They could also check that the lake was suitable with enough food for the fish, fresh clean water, and would make a good new home. Or if there were any dangers that he might not have noticed.

Then he would bring them back so they could tell the other fish what to expect.

The elder fish held his tongue. He had wanted to say that the Air Swimmer could have just eaten the fish and no one would be wiser. But if he was bringing them back to testify to the suitability of the new lake as a new home, his suspicions would be laughed away.

The Air Swimmer asked the fish to choose two fish for the trial run the next day. As the other lake was far away, they will need to leave at dawn if they were to make it back the same day.

The next day, the two young BASS members who had been selected for this mission were ready. They must have been very brave to swim into the gaping beak of the Air Swimmer. On his part the Air Swimmer took as much water as he could before he closed his beak, and without saying goodbye (because he was a well-brought up bird who never spoke with his beak full), spread his wings and lifted up into the brightening sky.

The fish watch him climb up and then peel off northwards as the first rays of the rising sun touched his right wing. They watched him soar above the northern ridge and disappear behind and below it.

The fish that were gathered there slowly drifted away. But the BASS leader stayed there for a long time, sending hopeful thoughts and wishes of good luck to the two pioneers.

The elder fish was there too sending protective thoughts and wishes for courage and strength for the two fish trapped within the beak of the Air Swimmer. He wasn't sure if he would see them again.

For half the morning, the waited, in case the Air Swimmer and his "passengers" returned for whatever reason. If they did returned before noon, the trial run would have been a failure. But when they were not back by mid-morning, the hope was that all was going according to plan. The BASS leader and the elder fish left the large rock at the same time.

"They are very brave," said the elder fish to the BASS leader.

"They are, but they have faith."

"For such endeavours, faith is important."

"Essential even."

The elder fish agreed.

Around mid-afternoon, a small crowd had started to gather at the large rock. They drifted about in small groups, some making small talk. Others tensely silent. Some flitted from group to group seeking gossip or theories or speculation. Others offered words of hope and encouragement.

Some caught themselves speaking or thinking of the two fish as if they were not returning and quickly admonished themselves.

The sun dipped closer to the western ridges, but the northern sky remained empty.

The sun sank lower til it touched the ridge, but there was no sign of the Air Swimmer yet.

The sun was halfway below the ridge when a silhouette sailed across the northern sky! But it was just some other Air Swimmer heading to her nest before dusk.

As the last rays of the sun disappeared behind the mountains, a lonely sob pierced the twilight and was quickly muffled. Perhaps the mother of one of the two fish.

Twilight clung to the rocks and the trees but the darkness of night was patient and inexorable.

No one could be sure when the last bit of twilight was gone, but the moon was full and bright when the fish started to disperse quietly into the night.

Joy is celebrated. Hope lost is lost in the heart. Despair is experienced alone.

BASS leader wanted to say something to keep the hopes alive, but he didn't know what to say.

The elder fish stayed by his side some distance away. A lesser fish might have said, "I told you so", but this was an elder fish and he was a wise fish, and one of the signs of wisdom is the ability to know when nothing is the best thing to say.

Some of the crowd drifted away, but BASS leader felt he had to stay, as did many other members of BASS.

"You were right," he said to elder fish.

"I take no joy in being correct," elder fish replied. "I wish you were right."

BASS leader agreed silently.

It was some time after sunrise, when the fish that were still gathered at large rock heard the beating of huge wings, the rippling of the water from the down wash, and then saw the Air Swimmer land on the large rock, dip his beak into the water and opened it.

The two fish sprang out of his beak, and yelled so loudly that it was heard throughout Little Lake, "We're back!"

There were questions and excitement and pandemonium as the other fish asked, "Tell us! Tell us! Tell us!"

And so the two fish told them their adventure, of how the Air Swimmer soared up the mountains and flew at his fastest speed for half a day to take them to the new lake. It was a ride of blind hope because the fish could not see where they were going. And beaks were not designed for comfort. In fact they were not designed for passengers at all, so the fish were jostled, tossed, and shaken by the time they reached the new lake.

But what a lake!

The two fish told of the depth of the lake, the breadth of the lake, the variations of the water, with fast flowing waters near streams and rivers, and warm slow languid waters that would be good for the fry, and water plants and food and insects.

They were so excited that they took a little too long to explore and left for the return journey a little too late.

The Air Swimmer flew as fast as he could with the two fish in his beak, but night fell before he could reach Little Lake, so he landed by a small pond and where the two fish could rest.

The next morning as soon as it was bright enough, they took off and headed back.

And there they were!

The fish cheered again and started a spontaneous parade with the two fish at the head of it.

BASS leader swam up to the large rock, where the Air Swimmer was resting. There was a look of satisfaction on his face and BASS leader was gratified and grateful.

"Thank you, Noble One. We have hope. We have a plan. We have your great and immeasurable kindness. I am humbled and deeply grateful."

"Your gratitude moves me, but this is only just the beginning. The two on this trip are young and strong and to be honest, they could have died. The trip may be too long for older fish such as yourself."

"If you can save the young ones, I am content. I have lived a long time. To end my days here is not a great tragedy."

"Do not be so prepared to die, old one. On the way back, we stopped because of nightfall, and the two spent the night in a small pond. It is entirely possible for the journey there to be made in several small legs with stops in between. It may well be that even an old one like yourself would be able to survive the trip. Moreover, with several small stops, I do not need to carry so much water in my beak. With less water, I can fly lighter and not be so tired."

"Oh Noble One, you are incredibly wise and thoughtful. That you would think of my welfare and how I might survive..." If fish could cry, BASS leader would shed buckets then. He sobbed, and said, "I am most unworthy!"

The Air Swimmer was most discomfited by this outburst and did not know what to say. Finally, he tried.

"Please compose yourself. It would not be much of a plan if we saved only some of the fish. A good plan should save everyone. And if any fish deserved to be saved it would be you, for your leadership, your strength, and your belief in me. I find you most worthy. Now, I shall go take my rest, and tomorrow, we will start moving your fish. We will keep to two fish each trip and see how that goes over time. I will see you at dawn tomorrow."

And the Air Swimmer left (partly because he was embarrassed by the gratitude of BASS leader).

BASS Leader called a meeting and declared the plan a success, and that the BASS members can start moving to their new home two by two. He told the members of Air Swimmer's suggestions to make the trip more survivable, and the two pioneers agreed that a few rest stops in between would make the journey more tolerable and survivable.

As the details of the transfer were still being worked out, BASS leader said that the next few trips would still be by volunteers only. But this time he had no shortage of volunteers. He scheduled all the volunteers and they took all the spots for the next 10 trips.

That night there was a celebration of sorts as the friends and families of the two who were scheduled to leave the next morning said their farewells, and joked about leaving Little Lake, and what they think they might find in Large Lake. The two pioneer fish were still in the limelight being asked for tips and observations for flying in the beak of an Air Swimmer.

The next morning at dawn, they were gathered at Large Rock. A cheer rang out as Air Swimmer landed. He waved to the fish, opened his beak and the two fish swam in. He closed his beak and took off, without much ado.

Air Swimmer returned late that afternoon, and told BASS leader that the two had made it safely to Large Lake. And because breaking the long trip into a series of short trips, Air Swimmer did not need to carry as much water, he could probably try 3 fish the next trip.

BASS leader reshuffled the schedule and arrange for 3 fish for each trip.

That night, there were again goodbyes, mixed feelings of hope, and anxiety, and separation, but then hope to be reunited some time in the future. One of the fish who would be leaving in the morning came before BASS leader and waited to be noticed.

"What is it, son?" asked BASS leader. The conversation around BASS leader died down.

"Elder One, I want to thank you for leading us and giving us this chance for a new life in a new home. In the morning when Air Swimmer comes, we would not have time to say goodbyes and thank yous. So let me say mine now. Thank you."

The other two fish that would be travelling the next morning also came forward.

"We thank you, Elder One for your leadership and your faith! We thank you for giving us a chance at new life!"

And then all the BASS members gather said it together, "We thank you, Elder One, for your Leadership and your Faith! We thank you for giving us new life!"

And just as he had discomfited Air Swimmer, it was Bass leader's turn to be discomfited. But he was moved. All those times when the rest of the fish thought the BASS members to be crazy, confused, and unbalanced, when even he doubted if what he believed was real or true, all that was worth it to see the fish here so full of hope and faith.

"Our faith sustained us in the dark times, and now it will deliver us in our darkest hour. Remember this and we will never lack for strength, for faith, or for hope."

And the fish cheered.

Over the next few days, the transfers and the preparations for the transfers became almost like a sacred ritual, the celebration the night before as the fish said their goodbyes and gave their best wishes. The jubilant mornings when the fish were lifted to the sky and winged away to their new home.

When BASS leader called the next meeting, the group was considerably larger. BASS had new members who wanted a chance at the new home and a new life there.

He took on the task of welcoming the new members to BASS and to explain the philosophy and understanding of Air Swimmers and why they were superior beings. He felt he needed the new members to properly understand and appreciate what it meant to be a member of BASS.

Some of the original members were not so happy. Some of these new members, they felt, were opportunists who chose to be BASS simply for the chance for new life, not because they believed.

But BASS leader silenced these critics. It is not important, he said, how they arrived, but once they arrived, they will know the truth. And the truth will prevail.

Still, the new members created a scheduling problem, so BASS leader had to learn to delegate. He set up a council to schedule the transfers. He had no shortage of volunteers for the job.

Elder fish watch all this with growing dread, but he did not know of a solution.

"Elder one, would you join us?" asked BASS leader kindly.

"I thank you for the offer, but I do not believe," said elder fish.

"That is alright. My brothers tell me that they suspect many of the new members also do not believe."

"That is probably true. But if they have no faith, they at least have hope. And perhaps hope is the sister of faith."

"That may be. You are indeed wise."

"And yet wisdom prevents me from believing, no?"

"Faith transcends wisdom. Might I humbly suggest that perhaps pride prevents you from abandoning wisdom to embrace faith?"

"That would seem like a step backwards."

"But your wisdom has brought you to an empty cave."

"If the cave is empty, perhaps it is best to see an empty cave."


And so the transfers went on, all through spring and summer and into autumn. The waters continued to recede. Streams ran dry. The water became murkier, muddier, and harder to live in. Little Lake was dying.

Finally, there was only BASS leader and elder fish. Air Swimmer would be coming the next morning. BASS leader tried to persuade elder fish to come with him.

"Will you come with me?"

"Thank you old friend, but I think my memories and my life is here."

"But there is no one here anymore. Memories, you can take with you. This," he said indicating the dying lake, "is not what you want to remember."

"Perhaps. But it is what it is."

"Your friends, you family are at the new lake. Come with us."

"I don't think so."

"Very well then, I will stay with you."

"I can neither ask you to go or to stay, but please do not stay on my account."

"You still believe that Air Swimmers are fish eaters?"


"But you would let me swim into his mouth. Are you letting me be eaten without an argument?"

"If I told you that you would be eaten, would you believe me?"


"Life is too short to argue beliefs," he said with a gentle smile. "Especially now."

"But it doesn't have to be! That's the point. You can have a new life, a new home."

"That is what you believe."

"But it is true!"

"Have you heard from any of the fish that are over there?"

"The two that went first, they came back and told us what they saw with their own eyes. That's a fact!"

"And since then?"

BASS leader wanted to say that they had sent messages through the Air Swimmer, but he knew elder fish meant a message that could be independently verified.

"Elder fish, let's say you're right and Air Swimmers are fish eaters. Then we are lost. There is no hope. Little Lake is drying up and when it does, and probably before it does, we would be dead. If you are right, then Air Swimmer eats us and we are also dead. But what if I'm right and Air Swimmer is bringing us to a new home? If I am right, we could live. Your beliefs provide no hope. Mine does! And in these times of helplessness, don't you think we need hope?"

"Of course we do. That is why beyond the first few times I tried to warn the fish about trusting the Air Swimmer, I have held my tongue. I have nothing to offer. Not hope. Only truth. And truth is a harsh mistress."

"But what you believe is just a belief. There is no facts to support your belief to make it true."

"There is, if you but see."

"Show me."

"It's the little things. First, his eyes. They face forward like a predator. He catches and eats things. Second, noticed the Air Swimmer has put on quite a bit of weight. Third, look at his beak. It is for catching fish. And if he doesn't eat fish, what has he been eating to put on so much weight? He is supposedly flying to a lake half a day away, so he needs a full day to fly there and back. He's been making a trip everyday. When does he have time to feed himself?"

"He is a supreme being. Maybe he doesn't eat like we do. Maybe he gets energy from the sun, or from the wind, or from helping us, or from our good wishes. I've always asked the fish to always have good thoughts of him and to wish him well for helping us in our time of need. Perhaps that is all he needs!"

"And that is my other point. Why is he helping us? What does he gain from it all?"

"He is an Air Swimmer, a supreme being. He may have his own reasons. Reasons we fish would never understand just as how we cannot understand how he swims through the air, or live outside water. Or he does not need a reason. He is not like us."

"Don't you see? All your answers begin with 'He is a supreme being'. And this comes from your belief that he is a supreme being. Your answers support your belief, and your belief supports your answers. It is all tied together."

"And that is a bad thing."

"It is if you are trying to find the truth."

"Sometimes, truth cannot be found with reason, but with faith."

"Perhaps. Perhaps old friend, you are right. But I am too old to change."

"You are a stubborn old fish!" But this was said, almost as a compliment. BASS leader added, "Very well, I will go to the lake, see for myself that our fish are safe in their new home, and then I will return and take you with me."

Elder fish smiled wistfully. It was good to have such strong faith. It gave you hope when there is none.

He watched as the Air Swimmer (bird, he told himself), landed on the same Large Rock, took his old friend into his beak, and took off. He knew he would never see his friend again.

Autumn was coming to an end. The days were getting colder. Soon the water would freeze and maybe this time all the water in what was now just a pond, would freeze through.

In the murky waters, elder fish was alone. It had been many days since BASS leader left. Then he saw the Air Swimmer resting on Large Rock.

"Hey bird," he called.

The bird looked around and saw the fish. "Hello. Do you want to go to the large lake?"

"Where is the last fish you took from this lake?"

"The leader of the fish? It was unfortunate. He was rather old and I was worried for him. I tried to fly as gently as I could, and to make as many stops as I could so the stress of the journey would not take too much of a toil on him. But, he was too old, too weak. But at least he held on long enough to make it to the lake. Because of the many rest stops, it took us the whole day to make the trip. We arrived as the sun was setting. It's rays striking the rippling waters of the lake, little gems of light bouncing off --"

"Oh cut the crap! You ate him didn't you? Just like you ate all the others, you fat lying murdering hypocrite!"

The bird looked at him for a very long time. And elder fish returned the gaze with his right eye. (Like many fish, his eyes were on either side of his head so he can't really return a gaze with both eyes. On the other hand he had no eyelids so he couldn't blink. Instead the bird blinked first which in most staring contest means he lost!)

"It would be pointless for me to argue with you," said the bird. "Why don't I take you to them so you can see for yourself. Seeing is believing."

"I must say, you are consistent and persistent. Just tell me the truth. There is no one else here to hear you. It will be our little secret. Just you and me."

"But you already know the truth. Or think you know the truth. If I say, the fish are alive in their new home, would you believe me? Or would you only believe me if I tell you, as you want me to, that I have eaten them all? Would only this answer satisfy you?"

Elder fish did not answer.

"Very well, I will tell you what you want to hear -- I ate them all." And with those words, the bird flew away.

And elder fish found that he wanted to believe that the bird had taken his friends to a safe place, that somewhere out there in another lake, his friends were alive and happy.