The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Cult Classic Restored


This is an excerpt from an article in the New York Times. To read the full article, click on the title of this post.

A Cult Classic Restored, Again

IT’S been 25 years since the release of “Blade Runner,” Ridley Scott’s science fiction cult film turned classic, but only now has his original vision reached the screen.

“Blade Runner: The Final Cut” — as the definitive director’s cut is titled — was scheduled to play at the New York Film Festival Saturday night, opens at the Ziegfeld in New York and the Landmark in Los Angeles on Friday, and comes out in December in a five-disc set with scads of extra features.

An earlier director’s cut played in theaters 15 years ago to great fanfare and is still available on DVD. But the new one is something different: darker, bleaker, more beautifully immersive.

The film, based on Philip K. Dick’s novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?,” takes place in Los Angeles in 2019. It follows a cop named Deckard (played by Harrison Ford) who hunts down androids — or, in the film’s jargon, replicants— that have escaped from their slave cells on outer-space colonies and are trying to blend in back on Earth.

What’s hypnotic about the film is its seamless portrait of the future, a sleek retro Deco glossed on neon-laced decay: overcrowded cities roamed by hustlers, strugglers and street gangs mumbling a multicultural argot, the sky lit by giant corporate logos and video billboards hyping exotic getaways on other planets, where most English-speaking white people seem to have fled.

Mr. Scott designed this world in minute detail and shot it at night, from oblique angles, mainly on Warner Brothers’ back lot in Burbank, Calif., pumping in smoke and drizzling in rain.

“I’ve never paid quite so much attention to a movie, ever,” Mr. Scott said in a telephone interview from Washington, where he’s shooting a spy thriller. “But we had to create a world that supported the story’s premise, made it believable. Why do you watch a film seven times? Because somebody’s done it right and transported you to its world.”

He created this world from what he saw around him. “I was spending a lot of time in New York,” he said. “The city back then seemed to be dismantling itself. It was marginally out of control. I’d also shot some commercials in Hong Kong. This was before the skyscrapers. The streets seemed medieval. There were 4,000 junks in the harbor, and the harbor was filthy. You wouldn’t want to fall in; you’d never get out alive. I wanted to film ‘Blade Runner’ in Hong Kong, but couldn’t afford to.

When “Blade Runner” came out in June 1982 it received mixed reviews and lost money. The summer’s big hit was “E. T.,” Steven Spielberg’s tale of a cute alien phoning home from the tidy suburbs. Few wanted to watch a movie that implied the world was about to go drastically downhill.

“Here we are 25 years on,” Mr. Scott said, “and we’re seriously discussing the possibility of the end of this world by the end of the century. This is no longer science fiction.”

The special effects that produced this vision were amazing for their day. Created with miniature models, optics and double exposures, they seemed less artificial than many computer effects of a decade later. But like film stock, they faded with time.

For the new director’s cut, the special-effects footage was digitally scanned at 8,000 lines per frame, four times the resolution of most restorations, and then meticulously retouched. The results look almost 3-D.

The film’s theme of dehumanization has also been sharpened. What has been a matter of speculation and debate is now a certainty: Deckard, the replicant-hunting cop, is himself a replicant. Mr. Scott confirmed this: “Yes, he’s a replicant. He was always a replicant.”

This may disappoint some viewers. Deckard is the film’s one person with a conscience. If he’s a replicant, it means that there are no more decent human beings.

“It’s a pretty dark world,” Mr. Scott acknowledged. “How many decent human beings do you meet these days?”

The clue to Deckard’s true nature comes in a scene that was cut from the original release and only recently unearthed by Charles de Lauzirika, Mr. Scott’s assistant and the restoration’s producer, In the film, Deckard falls in love with Rachael (played by Sean Young), a secretary at the Tyrell Corporation, the conglomerate that makes replicants. She discovers that she’s a replicant too. Her memories of childhood were implanted by Tyrell to make her think she’s human.

In the last scene of Mr. Scott’s version, Deckard leads Rachael out of his apartment. He notices an origami figure of a unicorn on the floor. A fellow cop has often left such figures outside replicants’ rooms. In an earlier scene, Deckard was thinking about a unicorn. Looking at the cutout now, he realizes that the authorities know what’s in his mind, that the unicorn is a planted memory, that he’s a replicant and that he and Rachael are both now on the run. They get into the elevator. The door slams. The end.

Neither this scene nor any unicorn appeared in the 1982 release. That version ended with Deckard and Rachael escaping, driving through green countryside, Deckard telling us in his Philip Marlowe voice-over — which ran throughout the movie — that he had learned Rachael is a new type of replicant, built to live as long as humans. They smile. The end.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Water



Below is an article from the International Herald Tribune, regarding a looming water shortage in China. For the full article, click on the title of this post.

Though water is drying up, a Chinese metropolis booms
By Jim Yardley
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Click here to find out more!

SHIJIAZHUANG, China: Hundreds of feet below ground, this provincial capital of more than two million people is steadily running out of water. The water table is sinking fast. Municipal wells have already drained two-thirds of the local groundwater.

Above ground, this city in the North China Plain is having a party. Economic growth topped 11 percent last year. Population is rising. One new upscale housing development is advertising waterfront property on lakes filled with pumped groundwater. Another half-built complex, the Arc de Royal, is rising above one of the lowest points in the city's water table.

"People who are buying apartments aren't thinking about whether there will be water in the future," said Zhang Zhongmin, who has tried for the past 20 years to raise public awareness about the city's dire water situation.

For three decades, water has been indispensable in sustaining the rollicking economic expansion that has made China a world power. Now, China's galloping, often wasteful style of economic growth is pushing the country toward a water crisis. Water pollution is rampant nationwide, while water scarcity has worsened severely in north China - even as demand keeps rising everywhere.

China is scouring the world for oil, natural gas and minerals to keep its economic machine humming. But trade deals cannot solve water problems. Water usage in China has quintupled since 1949, and leaders will increasingly face tough political choices as cities, industry and farming compete for a finite and unbalanced water supply.

One example is grain. The Communist Party, leery of depending on imports to feed the country, has long insisted on grain self-sufficiency. But growing so much grain consumes huge amounts of underground water in the North China Plain, which produces half the country's wheat. Some scientists say farming in the rapidly urbanizing region should be restricted to protect endangered aquifers. Yet doing so could threaten the livelihoods of millions of farmers and cause a spike in international grain prices.

For the Communist Party, the immediate challenge is the prosaic task of forcing the world's most dynamic economy to conserve and protect clean water. Water pollution is so widespread that regulators say a major incident occurs every other day. Municipal and industrial dumping has left broad sections of many rivers "unfit for human contact."

Cities like Beijing and Tianjin have shown progress on water conservation, but China's economy continues to emphasize growth. Industry in China uses 3 to 10 times more water, depending on the product, than industries in developed nations.

"We have to now focus on conservation," said Ma Jun, a prominent environmentalist and author of "China's Water Crisis." "We don't have much extra water resources. We have the same resources and much bigger pressures from growth."

In the past, the Communist Party has reflexively turned to engineering projects to address water problems, and now it is reaching back to one of Mao's unrealized schemes: the $62 billion South-to-North Water Transfer Project to funnel 45 billion cubic meters, or 12 trillion gallons, northward every year along three routes from the Yangtze River basin, where water is more abundant. The project, if fully built, would be completed in 2050. The eastern and central lines are already under construction; the western line, the most controversial because of environmental concerns, remains in the planning stages.

The North China Plain undoubtedly needs any water it can get. An economic powerhouse with more than 200 million residents, the region has limited rainfall and depends on groundwater for 60 percent of its water supply. Other countries have aquifers that are being drained to dangerously low levels, like Yemen, India, Mexico and the United States. But scientists say the aquifers below the North China Plain may be drained within 30 years.

"There's no uncertainty," said Richard Evans, a hydrologist who has worked in China for two decades and has served as a consultant to the World Bank and China's Ministry of Water Resources. "The rate of decline is very clear, very well documented. They will run out of groundwater if the current rate continues."

Outside Shijiazhuang, construction crews are working on the transfer project's central line, which will provide the city with infusions of water on the way to the final destination, Beijing. For many of the engineers and workers, the job carries a patriotic gloss.

Yet while many scientists agree that the project will provide an important influx of water, they also say it will not be a cure-all. No one knows how much clean water the project will deliver; pollution problems are already arising on the eastern line. Cities and industry will be the beneficiaries of the new water, but the impact on farming is limited. Water deficits are expected to remain.

"Many people are asking the question: What can they do?" said Zheng Chunmiao, a leading international groundwater expert. "They just cannot continue with current practices. They have to find a way to bring the problem under control."
An ecological fall

On a drizzly, polluted morning last April, Wang Baosheng steered his Chinese-made sport utility vehicle out of a shopping center on the west side of Beijing for a three-hour southbound commute that became a tour of the water crisis pressing down on the North China Plain.

Wang travels several times a month to Shijiazhuang, where he is chief engineer overseeing construction of five kilometers, or three miles, of the central line of the water transfer project. A light rain splattered the windshield, and Wang recited a Chinese proverb about the preciousness of spring showers for farmers. He also noticed one dead river after another as his SUV glided over dusty, barren riverbeds: the Yongding, the Yishui, the Xia and, finally, the Hutuo.

"You see all these streams with bridges, but there is no water," Wang said.

A century or so ago, the North China Plain was a healthy ecosystem, scientists say. Farmers digging wells could strike water within two and a half meters, or eight feet. Streams and creeks meandered through the region. Swamps, natural springs and wetlands were common.

Today, the region, comparable in size to New Mexico, is parched. Roughly five-sixths of the wetlands have dried up, according to one study. Scientists say that most natural streams or creeks have disappeared. Several rivers that once were navigable are now mostly dust and brush. The largest natural freshwater lake in northern China, Lake Baiyangdian, is steadily contracting and besieged with pollution.

What happened?

The list includes misguided policies, unintended consequences, a population explosion, climate change and, most of all, relentless economic growth. In 1963, a flood paralyzed the region, prompting Mao to construct a flood control system of dams, reservoirs and concrete spillways. Flood control improved but the ecological balance was altered as the dams began choking off rivers that once flowed eastward into the North China Plain.

The new reservoirs gradually became major water suppliers for growing cities like Shijiazhuang. Farmers, the region's biggest water users, began depending almost exclusively on wells. Rainfall steadily declined in what some scientists now believe is a consequence of climate change.

Before, farmers had compensated for the region's limited annual rainfall by planting only three crops every two years. But underground water seemed limitless and government policies pushed for higher production, so farmers began planting a second annual crop, usually winter wheat, which requires a lot of water.

By the 1970s, studies show, the water table was already falling. Then Mao's death and the introduction of market-driven economic reforms spurred a farming renaissance. Production soared, and rural incomes rose. The water table kept falling, further drying out wetlands and rivers.

Around 1900, Shijiazhuang was a collection of farming villages. By 1950, the population had reached 335,000. This year, the city has roughly 2.3 million people with a metropolitan population of nine million.

More people meant more demand for water, and the city now heavily pumps groundwater. The water table is falling more than a meter a year. Today, some city wells must descend 200 meters to get clean water. In the deepest drilling areas, steep downward funnels have formed in the water table that are known as "cones of depression."

Groundwater quality also has worsened. Wastewater, often untreated, is now routinely dumped into rivers and open channels. Zheng, the water specialist, said studies showed that roughly three-quarters of the region's entire aquifer system is now suffering some level of contamination.

"There will be no sustainable development in the future if there is no groundwater supply," said Liu Changming, a leading Chinese hydrology expert and a senior scholar at the Chinese Academy of Sciences.
Seeking a water miracle

Three decades ago, when Deng Xiaoping shifted China from Maoist ideology and fixated the country on economic growth, a generation of technocrats gradually took power and began rebuilding a country that ideology had almost destroyed. Today, the entire top leadership of the Communist Party - including Hu Jintao, China's president and party chief - were trained as engineers.

Though not members of the political elite, Wang Baosheng, the engineer on the water transfer project, and his colleague Yang Guangjie are of the same background. This spring, at the construction site outside Shijiazhuang, bulldozers clawed at a V-shaped cut in the dirt while teams of workers in blue jumpsuits and orange hard hats smoothed wet concrete over a channel that will be almost as wide as a football field.

Yang, the project manager. compares the transfer project to the damming of the Colorado River in the western United States and the water diversion system devised for Southern California early in the 20th century.

"I've been to the Hoover Dam, and I really admire the people who built that," Yang said. "At the time, they were making a huge contribution to the development of their country."

"Maybe we are like America in the 1920s and 1930s," Yang added. "We're building the country."

China's disadvantage, compared with the United States, is that it has a smaller water supply yet almost five times as many people. China has about 7 percent of the world's water resources and roughly 20 percent of its population. It also has a severe regional water imbalance, with about four-fifths of the water supply in the south.

Mao's vision of borrowing water from the Yangtze for the north had an almost profound simplicity, but engineers and scientists spent decades debating the project before the government approved it, partly out of desperation, in 2002. Today, demand is far greater in the north, and water quality has badly deteriorated in the south. Roughly 41 percent of China's wastewater is now dumped in the Yangtze, raising concerns that siphoning away clean water northward will exacerbate pollution problems in the south.

The upper reaches of the central line are expected to be finished in time to provide water to Beijing for the Olympic Games next year. Evans, the World Bank consultant, called the complete project "essential" but added that success would depend on avoiding waste and efficiently distributing the water.

Liu, the scholar and hydrologist, said that farming would get none of the new water and that cities and industry must quickly improve wastewater treatment. Otherwise, he said, cities will use the new water to dump more polluted wastewater. Currently, Shijiazhuang dumps untreated wastewater into a canal that local farmers use to irrigate fields.

For years, Chinese officials thought irrigation efficiency was the answer for reversing groundwater declines. Eloise Kendy, a hydrology expert with The Nature Conservancy who has studied the North China Plain, said that farmers had made improvements but that the water table had kept sinking. Kendy said the spilled water previously considered "wasted" had actually soaked into the soil and recharged the aquifer. Efficiency erased that recharge. Farmers also used efficiency gains to irrigate more land.

Kendy said scientists had discovered that the water table was dropping because of water lost by evaporation and transpiration from the soil, plants and leaves. The sum of this lost water, combined with low annual rainfall, is not enough to meet demand.

Farmers have no choice. They drill deeper.

Wu style Taiji Demonstration


I was looking for a video clip I once saw on YouTube, of the Gatekeeper of the Wu style, Eddie Wu, doing the basic stepping exercise, which I mentioned in the previous post. Well, I haven’t been able to find it yet. What I DID find is a preview of a DVD produced by his school.

In the teaching method of the Wu style, a student if first taught the “square form” or “standard form” where the movements are broken down into a segmented step by step fashion. The purpose is to help learn the proper sequence and performance of each movement. This helps keep the quality control up. Afterwards, as a more advanced study, this “square form” becomes the basis of the “round form” which is performed in the flowing manner that comes to mind when we think of taiji.

If you keep an eye on Sifu Wu, you’ll notice how he goes from a fully weighted rear leg to a fully weighted front leg. This is specifically what drilled, along with keeping the rest of the body relaxed, in the basic stepping exercise.



Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Wu style Taiji practice


I received an email from a friend of mine asking how my practice was coming along. My response:

Interesting question. When I began Wu style, I stopped doing every other Internal Martial Arts practice. I wanted to do it their way. I even stopped standing. Standing is a more advanced Wu style exercise, which I'll take up again, their way, when it is introduced in the sequence of learning.

What I do every day (I rarely miss) is Wu style's "Tai chi walking," plus five warm up exercises (reportedly the first five of a 24 exercise set which makes up the neigung exercises), then I work on the form.

From what I know from my previous experience, I think I'm getting to the heart of these exercises a little more quickly than the usual beginner. I'm getting the same feeling I used to from standing (although not as intense as I'm not doing them for the same length of time). I find this very interesting.

When the form is practiced as a group in class, it's performed a bit more quickly than I like to do it on my own. I mentioned that to the teacher, and she said that in class, they have to get through it so they can work on things, but for my own private practice going more slowly is a good idea. There's a difference between our private practice and class practice together.

I like to go more slowly so I can feel and pay attention to what's going on. Am I holding any tension? Is my lower back rounded? Etc.

It's really easy to tell if my mind isn't in the right place, and when it is.

She told me that the last instruction given at the end of the form is: "Now feel what it is that you feel." I think those words are very wise.

I have to host my out of town visitors to dinner on Thursday, so I'll miss class. I'll be traveling the week after next, so I'll miss that class as well. My thoughts are to use this time to really solidify what I'm working on right now.

This is the link to the list of movements in the form: http://www.wustyle.com/en/learning/forms.php

I'm at #32. I'm about a third into it. The next sequence has a lot going on, so I really do want to solidify what I'm doing before moving forward in a significant way.

An aspect of the form that I find very interesting is the separation of yin and yang. Frequently the weight is 100% on one leg or the other, mostly shifting back and forth. The blood really gets flowing. I am told that if you're doing it right, you get a good healthy sweat going. I have enough movements to where I'm getting really warm and starting to break a sweat.

I'm glad I stopped doing the Cheng Man Ching short form altogether before starting this. The principles are the same, but the practice is just SO much different.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The Classic of Tea



If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to the Wikipedia article on The Classic of Tea. Enjoy.


Huang Pu Zheng's poem about Lu Yu

Saw Lu Yu off to Pick Tea
Thousand mountains greeted my departing friend
When spring tea blossoming again
With indepth knowledge in picking tea
Through morning mist or crimson evening clouds
His solitary journey is my envy
Rendezvous in a temple of a remote mountain
We enjoyed picnic by a clear pebble fountain
In this silent night
Lit up a candle light
I knocked a marble bell for chime
While deep in thought for old time.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kindred Spirit


The Mininalist, who in habits Taiki Shisei Kempo blog which is listed over to the right, pointed me to the Weakness with a Twist blog. From the selection of articles, the author seems to be a kindred spirit.

You can get there by either clicking on the title of this post, or by following the link over at the right. Please pay a visit

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Who needs fiction: Reality meets the books.


There has been a lot of bizarre news laterly, where real life coincides with popular works of fiction:

Take this story, where a man goes on a murdering spree using a rattlesnake as a weapon:

http://www.newsday.com/news/local/crime/ny-lidevo0914,0,782961.story

and the Sherlock Holmes story, the Case of the Speckled Band:

http://www.amazon.com/Case-Files-Sherlock-Holmes-Speckled/dp/1899562257/ref=sr_1_1/103-1104095-2784624?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1190133486&sr=1-1

Then there is this story out of Peru:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/space/article/0,,2171920,00.html

and The Andromeda Strain:

http://www.amazon.com/Andromeda-Strain-Michael-Crichton/dp/0060541814/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-1104095-2784624?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1190133614&sr=1-1

Then finally, this report of a student being Tazered at a John Kerry event:

http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack/Top_News/2007/09/18/police_taser_student_at_kerry_speech/4703/

and 1984:

http://www.amazon.com/1984-Signet-Classics-George-Orwell/dp/0451524934/ref=pd_bbs_sr_2/103-1104095-2784624?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1190133728&sr=1-2

Friday, September 14, 2007

The Strandbeest


Kinetic sculpture. What an interesting idea. Sculptures that move of their own accord. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to a page that has video links to some demos of this artist's works, as well as to his own web site, etc.

Directory:Theo Jansen:StrandBeest Kinetic Sculptor

From PESWiki


For the past fifteen years, Theo Jansen has been creating/evolving "beach animals", immense multi-legged walking critters designed to roam the Dutch coastline, feeding on gusts of wind. They are made from commonly available tools like plastic tubing, cardboard boxes, plastic bottles, hose, tape, and all sorts of other stuff.

Over the years, successive generations of his creatures have evolved into increasingly complex animals that walk by flapping wings in response to the wind, discerning obstacles in their path through feelers and even hammering themselves into the sand on sensing an approaching storm.

His animals have legs, muscles (pneumatic pistons within the plastic tubing), stomachs (plastic bottles for storing air), and nerves (collections of on/off values that work pretty much like logic gates). [1] (http://www.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2005/01/66356)

Eventualy he wants to put these animals out in herds on the beaches, so they will live their own lives

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Heading into Autumn


Labor Day has come and gone, marking the unofficial end of summer. Autumn is my favorite time of year. As we pass into the fall and the nights begin to become a little cooler, as we’re sitting around the fire pit on the patio listening to the crickets; maybe it’s time to take stock of where I’ve been and make a few plans about where I want to go.

One thing that marks the change of the seasons is how much reading I get done. During the spring and summer, as the days get longer and there’s just more to do outside, I get less reading done. I used to struggle with this, until I realized that it was a part of the change in seasons.

Under the heading of “Reading” I count my Japanese language study as well as my recreational reading. With a special effort in June and July I read all of the Harry Potter books anticipating the release of the last one in the series. I thoroughly enjoyed the books, however reading them threw a monkey wrench into my Japanese study, and after reading a foot high stack of books, I was frankly sick of the written page for a while.

I’m back on course now. The latest issues of the Smithsonian and National Geographic have come and gone.

http://www2.smithsonianmag.si.edu/

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/index.html

I’ve started digging back into my Japanese study.

Looking ahead, I expect to do some traveling for work in October. That means long airplane rides, as well as layovers. It means I’ll get some reading done.

I’ve always enjoyed reading Dracula by Bram Stoker in the days leading up to Halloween,

http://www.amazon.com/Dracula-Signet-Classics-Bram-Stoker/dp/0451523377/ref=pd_bbs_2/103-1104095-2784624?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1188933126&sr=1-2

as well as taking in as many of my favorite vampire movies as I can catch: Dracula with Bela Lugosi; Bram Stoker’s Dracula, with Anthony Hopkins, Gary Oldman, and Winona Ryder; Dead and Loving It, with Leslie Nielsen; and of course that instant dopey classic Van Helsing.

http://www.answers.com/topic/dracula-1931-film?cat=entertainment

http://www.answers.com/topic/bram-stoker-s-dracula

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula:_Dead_and_Loving_It

http://www.answers.com/topic/van-helsing-film

At a sale table, I picked up The Historian, by Elizabeth Kostova. This is a fairly new novel inspired by, and thoroughly wrapped around Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

http://www.amazon.com/Historian-Elizabeth-Kostova/dp/B000EGF0OG/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-1104095-2784624?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1188934109&sr=1-1

I’m also thinking of trying to fit in a vampire novel that I haven’t read in over 20 years, but might be ripe for a revisit. This would be Interview with the Vampire by Ann Rice. This was the novel that made her famous. I tried to read a couple of her later books (I remember reading the Vampire Lestat), but they never appealed to me as much as did this first novel, and I never went back. I caught the movie version on cable a couple of times and I’d been thinking of reading it again. Maybe this year I’ll do it.

http://www.amazon.com/Interview-With-The-Vampire/dp/B000EZ3300/ref=sr_1_6/103-1104095-2784624?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1188934282&sr=1-6


That should take care of October. For November, if I’m not sick of reading for a while, I’m thinking of revisiting one of my favorite works: The Baroque Cycle by Neal Stephenson. Historical fiction set in the Baroque period. Newton, Libenitz, Blackbeard, the Siege of Vienna, the Barbary Pirates, Alchemy, the Royal Society, Turkish Harems, the Financial Instruments of the Dutch Republic, the Sun King, Tourettes Syndrome, Gold … there’s something in there for everyone who enjoys a rollicking story that spans the globe (several times as I recall) and generations. Who can’t help but root for Jack Shaftoe, or fall in love with Eliza?

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_b/103-1104095-2784624?initialSearch=1&url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=The+baroque+cycle&Go.x=0&Go.y=0&Go=Go

With my youngest daughter driving herself around, I find that I have more time on my hands. Wanting to put this extra time to good use, I’ve started a few new things. I’ve gone back to regular martial arts training with the Wu style of Taijiquan (Tai chi chuan). I go there once a week, pick up new material as it’s offered, try to absorb refinements as they’re presented and practice regularly.

http://www.wustyle-annarbor.com/

Something about martial arts, especially so called “internal” martial arts, tends to attract people who are … off the beaten path (for better or worse). I find that this group is the more “normal” yet diverse set of people with whom I’ve ever trained.

I’ve trained various martial arts, on and off, since I was about 16. There have been numerous and sometimes quite lengthy interruptions in my practice, but it’s always something that I’ve wanted to come back to. Well, I’m ready to give it another go.

This school is directly connected to the “gatekeeper” of this style of taiji. This is the webpage for his school:

http://www.wustyle.com/

Besides Taiji, I’ve always liked to exercise. Last fall, I got into the habit of walking the dog with my wife every evening. While it was nice to go for a walk with her, I really needed something more vigorous. She still takes the dog, we spend time together making a fire on our patio, and I’ve taken to walking pretty vigorously on a treadmill, carrying a couple of dumbbells with me. My feet and joints can only take so much wear and tear, and I’ve pretty quickly found what is my limit.

I’ve also ordered a knock off of the Bow Flex (called a Band Flex, about 1/3 of the Bow Flex cost). I’m expecting to have that assembled in my basement by the end of the week. At my age, my plan is to lift weights that are challenging, but I’m not going to put myself under any undue strain. My daughter can make use of it as well for her volleyball training.

“At my age.” Ha! Next month, I’ll turn 50. Several of my friends have already turned 50. I usually look at birthdays as just another day. None of them has really had an impact on my thinking (OMG, I’m 30!). I can’t help but think that at 50, I ought to be looking back as well as looking forward.

For my first 50 years, I’d say that I’ve had a good run. When my mother was in Hospice care, the Hospice counselor who was looking after my well being asked me if I would have changed anything in how I had looked after her for all those years. The answer is the same as I look back on my first 50 years. No. Nothing of any significance. Maybe I’d be tempted to fiddle with a little something around the edges, but I can’t think of a single thing I would want to change in my life.

Where I am right now – my oldest is in her last year at the University. She’s had a very good internship this summer working for the Detroit Tigers Baseball Team. She worked in promotions as an intern. She’d work in the office during the day, and all of the home games in the evening. It’s a great addition to her resume. She’s got quite a few stories to tell.

My two favorite are these: one of her jobs was to take the celebrity who would be throwing out the first pitch out onto the field. Sometimes, the celebrity would cancel at the last minute due to whatever reason. One time this happened with just minutes to go, and her boss told her to get somebody. She picked out a 10 year old boy, who will remember that day for the rest of his life.

Another promotion was to pick “the fan of the game.” She’d go find a family of four sitting in not so great seats, and move them to very good seats behind home plate. One family she moved was especially thankful. It turned out that one of the kids had cancer and was to begin chemo the following Monday. This was the last family big outing before his chemo began. I think God guided her hand in picking that family.

My youngest is a junior in high school. The volleyball team is the defending state champion, so this season should be a lot of fun. She’s also been selected to be a Peer Conflict Moderator, which is a pretty good leadership position, which I think will pay off for her as she applies to colleges.

My wife and I have had our ups and downs over the years, but no more so than anyone else I think. Looking back the best times we had was when we first started out, and we had nothing but each other. With the kids perched on the launching pad, I can see us coming full circle and in a way I’m looking forward to it.

The job has it’s issues, but so does every job. What I’m doing right now is what I enjoy the most. Having spent many years as a contract employee, I tend to see a very sharp axe hiding behind every dark cloud as well as every silver lining, so at least I’m always prepared. We’re kicking up a lot of dust. We’re having a good run.

Looking forward, well that’s a little tricky.

The 64th verse of the Dao De Jing says:

64a. Care at the Beginning

What lies still is easy to grasp;
What lies far off is easy to anticipate;
What is brittle is easy to shatter;
What is small is easy to disperse.

Yet a tree broader than a man can embrace is born of a tiny shoot;
A dam greater than a river can overflow starts with a clod of earth;
A journey of a thousand miles begins at the spot under one's feet.

Therefore deal with things before they happen;
Create order before there is confusion.

The Daoist, in my mind, is above all pragmatic. He looks at the world as it is, where he wants to go, and plots his course accordingly.

One of my favorite books, which has really influenced my thinking, is Fooled by Randomness by Nassim Taleb.

http://www.amazon.com/Fooled-Randomness-Hidden-Chance-Markets/dp/0812975219/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/103-1104095-2784624?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1188936078&sr=1-1

Taleb is a mathematician, philosopher, and hedgefund manager. Among the high points of his thesis is something shared in the timeless advice from the I Ching, the classical Chinese oracle: lay low, accumulate small gains, know when to stop when a big gain comes along, and do everything you can to avoid the “big blowup.”

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_ss_b/103-1104095-2784624?initialSearch=1&url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=I+ching&Go.x=0&Go.y=0&Go=Go

The “Big Blowup” is when a stock trader’s multi million dollar fortune evaporates in one day of bad trading, for example. If you know anyone who is one paycheck away from living in a box, they are begging for the big blow up to happen. I know someone in that situation. His future is not something he likes to think about.

At 50, it’s not a bad idea to look at one’s retirement plans. Are you saving enough money? Are you hedging against the big blowup? Do you even have a plan? When you’re younger, you can recover if something doesn’t turn out well. When you’re older it’s much harder.

My wife works at a credit union, and they’ve added a new service. They now have a financial planner on the staff. As an introduction, all the staff members were given a free consultation with him. So we gathered all of our financial figures, which was an exercise far beyond what you normally do for your taxes, and sat down with him. That exercise in itself was mind opening.

We handed over a stack of papers, and began talking about what were our concerns and goals. Having to articulate one’s goals forces you to really think about them. He made notes. A couple of weeks later, he had an inch thick binder for us, with recommendations about all sorts of things. This binder has been the source of a LOT of discussion between the two of us. It’s forcing us to take a look at some aspects of aging and retirement that perhaps we’ve each given thought to, but we’ve never really hashed out. It’s good to be on the same page.

We’re putting away enough for retirement, but you can always put away more. For the most part, we’re doing well with the funds in my 401k, but for the others, there are such things as funds of funds you can invest in. This is something to be considered. If your employer offers any matching funds for a 401k, and you’re not taking advantage of it to at least that extent, you’re missing out on free money.

So much for that. It’s some other intangibles that need some consideration. Do you have life insurance? What are the goals for the coverage you have? Have you really ever thought about it? Life insurance is the relatively easy one. The next two become a bit harder to think about.

We all kind of intellectually grasp that we’re going to die. What we never really think about is that we might get disabled, or really sick, for a long period of time before we die. A major illness or disability can wipe out your assets, and become the big blow up in no time. Do you have disability insurance? How much do you get, and for how long? Given where you are right now, if you were to live on your disability insurance, where would that leave you? You really have to think this one out.

The other is Long Term Care insurance. I know from first hand experience that if you have to go into a nursing home, or assisted living, or have help come in, it can be an arm and a leg. For Medicaid to cover your care, you have to run your assets down to under $2000. Then if you can get a Medicaid bed in a nursing home, you sign over your monthly income over to the nursing home, while the state picks up the rest. It’s heart wrenching to see people who have worked all of their lives having only allowed to them what fits in a closet and nightstand. This is something you might want to avoid.

So part of the protection against the big blowup is to carry LTC insurance, and the other is to strategize how to put your assets into a column that isn’t used in reckoning that $2000 if it comes to that, if you want to pass anything on to your loved ones. I’m beginning to do research on the later, and the policy I’m considering for the former comes to a little over $100 a month for each of us. Just for piece of mind, it may well be worth the price.

What are you going to do with yourself when you’re retired? I remember the father of a friend of mine. He didn’t have anything to do when he was retired. He had a stroke a year after he retired, and died a year after that. Some friends of ours said they were working on a list of at least ten things they either wanted to do while sliding into retirement, or begin once they were there. I came up with a list in about three seconds flat:

1) be fluent enough in Japanese to work as a translator/consultant (ongoing language study at any rate)
2) live on a lake (located between wherever my kids settle, to draw them back to me)

3) build a proper garden in which to relax (a garden is never finished)

4) practice a martial art on a regular basis

5) read

6) walk a lot

7) weight training

8) renew my interest in classical music

9) History/Discovery/Animal Planet/National Geographic channels

10) golf?

11) games - chess, go, etc.

12) movies

This list is likely to evolve.

That about sums things up. I’ve had a pretty good life so far for these first 50 years, and I’m looking forward to seeing the next 50 turns out. You can’t guarantee outcomes, you can only do the work.