Everything You Know Is Wrong

Yes, thank you Al Yankovic.  The more I dig and discover about the world around me, the more I realize that everything we think we know about the world is either downright flat wrong or at the very least, only part of a very large story.

Today, my new song is Everything You Know Is Wrong.  Just forget the words and sing along.

 

 

I’m a New Soul

haruhi22

Do you feel as if you’re an old soul in a young body?  Do you feel as if you’ve been here before and done all that there is to do, and you’re just waiting for your time to go?

Well, that’s just not me.  I feel as if everything is still waiting for me to try out.  And since everything I attempt is new to me, I seriously suck at most things I try to do.  I still suck at trying to relate to people.  Most endeavors I try to start stay unfinished because I am not sure how to finish them.

Even after all these years of constantly trying new things, I still suck at so many of them that I wonder how I’m ever going to be able to get good at anything at all.  How will I ever learn all that I need to learn before I expire?  I make every possible mistake there is to make in my attempts to improve myself and then I look back and think…why oh why did I do that?

For today, here is a song that I dedicate to my brand new soul.

Yanking the Chains

Cuckoo Clock

Some weeks back, I foolishly asked for (and received) a sixty-year-old cuckoo clock because I thought it was whimsical and fun to have around the house.  I quickly found out that I have to yank on its chains every single day just to keep the bird alive.  I didn’t know clocks had chains that had to be pulled on every day.  Every time piece I have ever owned has always been battery-operated.

Foolish me.

A couple of days ago, I forgot to yank its chains and the weights landed haphazardly on the floor, rendering the time piece useless, silencing the bird and its heart.  The house seemed eerily silent save for the low droning hum of the refrigerator and the barely audible hiss of the various computers scattered throughout the house.  Those sounds, however, were electronic by nature.  They seemed metallic and unnatural, a stark digital contrast against that overwhelming analogue cog-and-gear type of mechanical sound that was at once continuously variable, yet at the same time, singularly monotonic.

By introducing the cuckoo clock into my home, I had somehow incorporated that tic-toc sound into the heartbeat of the house, adding to it, yet another layer of life.  Lacking the rhythmic ticking, the house seemed almost…dead.  I had to quickly resuscitate the clock, restoring its time-keeping capability and its comforting rhythmic sound.

Such is the life of a person with a cuckoo clock.  We are constantly yanking on the chains.

The Cost of Staying Alive

readingbook

I just read something the other day which made me burst out laughing.

It was my usual morning routine.  I would make myself a cup of coffee, give my two dogs some breakfast biscuits, and then go upstairs to my office to begin my day.  I normally scan through the headlines on a couple of internet news sites to see how the world has fared through the night as I slept, and then I would scan through business headlines and stock numbers to keep an eye on my various instruments of investments, after which time, I would get down to my normal work routine.

Now, normally, I am fairly self-contained when I read the dailies.  Financials tend to be on the dry boring side, after all.  However, I happened to have seen this graph which I found on the US Inflation Calculator website and just could not contain my hilarity.  I mean…who do they think they’re fooling?

Annual Inflation Rates Chart (2003-2013)

Annual Inflation Rates Chart (2003-2013)

Seriously.

There is no other way to interpret this graph except to surmise that between 2003 and 2013—a span of TEN FULL YEARS—there has been no inflation at all.  The blue bars show us hovering at around 2% inflation, something so ludicrous and reeking of book-cooking that I had to ask myself whose ass it was that these numbers got pulled out of.  I mean, come on.  If you have spent any significant amount of time in the USA, then it should come as no surprise that the cost of everything has been going up-up-up, with no end in sight—certainly none of this plateauing of the bars.  Seriously, do these folks who make up the numbers and the charts think we’re that stupid?

Inflation Rates Graph (2003 to 2013)

Inflation Rates Graph (2003 to 2013)

Well, they must, because here it is, in all its freaking glory.  Two-percent.

You heard me.  Just two-percent, which means inflation barely inched up by .1 as compared to 2003.  For those of you who do not live in the USA, let me tell you that this does not jibe with feet-on-the-ground, eyes-on-the-wares experience.  It does not pass even a cursory reality check.  How do I know this?  I use some serious benchmarks—the cost of my weekly groceries—as my fail-safe gauge for rudimentary cost analyses.  Simply put, within the span of the last ten years, I saw packages of food get smaller and smaller, even as their prices began to increase, day-by-day, month-by-month, year-by-year.

groceriesgirl

There is no arguing the fact that eggs used to cost .99 cents/doz.  Now, they are almost $4/doz.  A can of Spam would always go for $1/can.  Now, the cans have gotten much smaller, and most are priced beyond $3/can.   A loaf of bread used to go for $1/loaf.  Today, most are priced between $3 and $4, or the bread loaves have shrunk to almost half the size it was just a decade ago.  Even when products managed to remain approximately the same in cost, their size unfortunately, changed for the worse.  There was a time when the oversized toilet paper could not fit on my roll because the space between the bar and the wall was made for normal-sized toilet paper.  Now, even the self-acclaimed super-size rolls of toilet paper fit just fine.   I can go on and on…from tuna cans to cereal boxes to cookies and candy bars, we are not imagining it.  The shrinking products and the sticker increases are very real.

So what gives with that 2% inflation POS (piece-of-shit) graph?  Why is it that the current Core Consumer Price Index show no sign of increases?

Two words:  Food and Energy.

For those of us who live in the USA and do not drive a car, use electricity, or eat any food, the cost of living has not increased.  Anyone else who must drive around, turn the lights on at night, or heaven forbid, eat anything other than home-grown vegetables will find that the real cost of inflation has gotten way past the 2% mark that is shown on this graph.

Those in the know will tell us that food and energy prices are excluded from the Consumer Price Index because they are considered too volatile.  This graph excludes energy and food, focusing instead on more important key living products such as flat screen tvs and mobile phones.  So, if we compare the cost of flat screen televisions and cell phones, it doesn’t look as if the cost has increased at all.  In fact, it may have gotten cheaper because, well, televisions and cell phones used to cost more ten years ago, and they were nowhere near as technologically advanced.

So what would inflation actually look like if we added in food and energy (not to mention other unmentionables such as health care and college tuition?

CPIcategories

Hmmm.  Where did that two-percent go?

Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào (The Virgin Thơm of the Red Market)

skygirl

The year was 1999.  I was foot-loose and fancy free, traipsing about in northern Vietnam with nothing but my passport and a backpack filled with a few items of clothing and my Canon DSLR.  This was back in the days when I shunned luxurious modes of transportation, wanting instead, to travel with the least amount of riff-raff stuck to me so that I could take off in any direction at my slightest whim.  I took the bus to whatever destination it arrived at and got off if I smelled something good to eat or if the scenery looked interesting enough to warrant a photo or two.

It was at one of these dusty bus depots that I found myself in the province of  Long An, in the village of Mỹ Lệ, where I heard an old man talking about the province’s only claim to fame, a regionally renown rice with a strikingly unique name of Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào.  He told me in his difficult-to-understand local Vietnamese dialect that it was the rice which was grown and served to the kings of Vietnam in ancient times because it was so fragrant and so rare.

Of course, you know, as a curious Taobabe, I absolutely had to try it out.  So I followed the old man to a roadside inn where the kitchen was located outside of the structure because of the smoke coming from the wood cook range.  The rice used here is authentic, he assures me, but I had to ask for it, and I had to pay a lot more than the normal price for the rice.  How much more?  I asked.  A lot more, he said.

Well, ‘a lot more’ meant ten-cents per bowl for Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào, as opposed to five-cents per bowl for the usual run-of-the-mill fragrant white rice found in plentiful supply all over Vietnam—so I said, “Bring it on!”  To add some flavor to the rice, and also because I was hungry, I also ordered a few extra dishes to go with the rice.

foodieLet me tell you, the man was not exaggerating about the rice’s unique properties.  Within minutes, I could smell the strong perfumed aroma of the rice, and even as the smoke from the cooking stove blew into my eyes and caused my vision to blur, through the veil of tears, I could see plates of meats and vegetables placed before me in ever-growing quantities.

Since the price of each dish ranged between fifty to seventy-five cents apiece, I really didn’t care how much food came out.  I wanted to try everything.  The rice was the last to arrive, it being the guest of honor on my culinary sojourn, and it was the heavenly smell of this grain that made my stomach growl.  Thirty-minutes and three-dollars later, I was convinced of the rice’s wondrous properties.

Before I get into the details of the Scented Virgin, let me assure you that I am quite familiar with most varieties of white rice, both local and imported.  I have been cooking with a wide variety of rice on a daily basis since I was nine or ten so I have a well-rounded working knowledge of the unique flavors and uses of a plethora of rices.  Compared to most rice available on the market, this rice is extra special.

Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào, literally translated, means The Virgin Thơm of the Red Market.  The word Thơm, in the Vietnamese language has two meanings, depending on context.  It can mean pineapple, or it can mean scented.  Since we are talking about a specific rice strain, it makes no sense to assign the meaning of pineapple to the word thơm, therefore, in context, it can only mean scented.  In this case, however, there is an added twist.  Thơm is the name of a girl who was born in ancient times, and her story is what imparted the strikingly memorable name to one of Vietnam’s most famous strain of rice, Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào.

According to local legends, Thơm was a strikingly beautiful girl with breathtaking features, slender curvy body, milky white skin, and long, lustrous raven hair.  She was so beautiful that every man who met her fell in love with her.  This is not as much of a blessing as you would think.  In fact, it is rather a bit of a drag.

waterbeauty

Thơm was not born into wealth.  Her family was poor, but they did own several plots of land in Mỹ Lệ (Picturesque Village) next to a canal named Rạch Đào (Red Groove Canal).  All the men in her village vied for her hand in marriage, but she paid them no attention as she was already in love with her childhood friend, a local boy whose family was just as poor as hers was.  Of the men who thought they might have a chance with her, one was the son of a wealthy landowner.

Using his family’s wealth and power, he managed to confiscate the three small plots of land that her family owned.  His terms were simple.  All she had to do to recover the three plots was to agree to marry him.  Thơm was devastated by this turn of events.  She did not want to marry this man, but her family was poor and there were many mouths to feed.  Thinking about all her hungry sibblings, as well as her hard-working parents who toiled in the rice fields all day long, Thơm agreed to the wealthy man’s terms of engagement.  She tearfully broke up with her long-time sweetheart and went home to prepare for her wedding day.

On the date of her wedding, true to his promise, the deed of the three plots of land was returned to her family, and the wedding was to take place that afternoon.  However, when it was time to pick up the bride, Thơm was nowhere to be found.  Later that day, they found her body in the Rạch Đào (Red Groove Canal), an apparent suicide.  It is also said that before she died, she wished for her family, the best lands in the world, where the rice would grow so well as to become rice fit for a king to eat.  Legend says, it was this dying wish that gave Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào rice its famous scent and taste.

Back in 1999, when I first had a bowl of this rice, it was still fairly obscure to the rest of the country and only widely known throughout the region.  However, by 2006, even though it was an ancient grain, it was finally officially recognized as a separate genetic strain of rice and renamed Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào.  Once it was recognized, everyone wanted to try the rice, but here is where things got tough.

Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào is not your typical rice strain.  It is a fairly difficult rice to cultivate.  It only grows six months out of the year, and only once per planting which means there is only one crop per year from only three rice fields located in Mỹ Lệ Village.  Compare this with  many other rice strains which grow three times per year in all other regions of the rice-growing lands, up and down Vietnam, and it becomes even more apparent how special this rice is.

Unfortunately, not all bags labeled  Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào are legitimate.  Some bags only have a certain percentage of the real deal, with the remaining rice made up of Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào rice grown elsewhere.  The cost is cheaper, and certainly, there is some real Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào rice mixed in with the other non-specific locale variety, but it would not be the same as the real deal.  To get the real rice, one would have to make a trip to that village and find an honest merchant who specializes in that rice.  Hopefully, in future, when there are procedures in place to protect the product, only rice grown in this region from this stock will be given the appropriate label.  Until then, there is no guarantee one will get the real Nàng Thơm Chợ Đào rice without having been there in person to make the purchase.

Why am I going on and on about rice?  Short answer is:  genetic variance and diversity.  Turns out, there has been much breakthrough in the science of rice genetics.  The lineage of rice follows the same pattern of human migration, and it is towards this exciting topic that I will focus my next posting around.

Crystal Memories

skull

I have a fake crystal skull sitting on my desk.  Barely 4″ X 4″ X 6″, it is certainly anatomically correct—if that person were to be 3 feet tall.  I know that my skull is not a real crystal skull however, because at the base of the skull there is an imprint, a logo mark of a local manufacturing company, signifying that it is made of some type of hard acrylic that looks and feels like crystal, but is definitely not crystal.

I bring this up because back in 2002, I had read about the strange story of the Mitchell-Hedges Crystal Skull and had asked a good friend who was working in the semiconductor industry if it was possible to store information within a crystalline structure.  At the time, the only widely known methods of storage was silicon wafers and CDs (digital optical disc) among other things.  Since silicon is an organic rock material, I figured crystal might also work as an alternative method of information storage.  My friend thought it might work but also said we were quite a ways from having a working prototype.

Well, the future is here (so to speak).  A group of scientists at the University of South Hampton is working on a 5D super crystal made from nanostructured glass appropriately named Superman Memory Crystal which could record and retrieve five dimensional digital data by femtosecond laser writing.   They used self-assembled nanostructures to create a type of fused quartz and the data is recorded as a result of the process of creating this fused quartz.  The nano-created quartz can store vast quantities of data (about 360 TB/disc data capacity) and can last for over a million years.  That’s an amazing feat considering the fact that, as of this writing, the largest storage device we have can only hold 3 terrabytes and will probably only last a little more than a decade before degenerating to the point where the data will be lost.  It blows my mind away to think that information recorded using this nanostructured fused quartz can outlast humanity’s collective life span. [1]

My first impression of this was—-whaaaa?  I honestly wasn’t sure what they meant when they said the quartz crystal was 5 dimensions.  Heck, I can barely grasp 3D, but from what I understand, it has something to do with the size and orientation of the data, as well as the garden-variety three dimensional position of these nanostructures.

Which brings me back to crystal skulls.

crystalskull

I had read about how crystal skulls were used as ancient storage devices [2], and my first thought was that it was all a big bunk.  But then my second thought was that it might be a computer of some type.  After all, I use my computer to store all kinds of things, so maybe this is some sort of ancient computer.

Fast-forward ten years and I now realize that is probably not the case either.  These crystal skulls (if they indeed have information contained within their crystaline structures) would be more like modern data storage devices.  After all, I carry my entire extensive music collection on a little stick that has been manufactured into the shape of Hello Kitty, and if someone asked me what it was, I would tell them that it contains all the music that I love to listen to (over a hundred CDs worth of music).  That’s not too fantastic an assertion at this time in history, but if I said that to someone fifty years ago, I would be laughed out of town (or burned at the stake for being a witch).

hellokitty

This Hello Kitty stick is the actual memory device I carry around with me on my keychain because I like to listen to music in my car.  Since my car does not have any internal music device, I have to port it in via my USB stick which I insert into my car’s USB port, and voila, music comes out of the speakers, controlled by my dashboard screen and the fun buttons on my steering wheel.

I don’t think such a device has been created to be able to read data from ancient skulls.  Of course, I could be wrong, and the information may have already been extracted by some hypothetical genius scientists working for some hypothetical shadow government, but assuming that it hasn’t yet been uncovered, there would have to be a way to do so.  To read the information encrypted within them, I am guessing that we would have to figure out how the nanostructures were created and then create a corresponding optical microscope and a polariser which could decrypt the information.

It would be cool to find out what has been stored all this time in those skulls.  I just hope it’s not somebody’s ancient dusty music collection that they listen to while jet-setting around the universe.

1.  5D ‘Superman memory’ crystal could lead to unlimited lifetime data storage

2.  The Mitchell-Hedges Skull