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Thursday, February 26, 2015

V is for Vacation Video

We returned from a short vacation today, and it is my intention to write it up and post before midnight, as tomorrow will be quite busy for me.

As the title suggests, I have some video to share with you.  I don't want to spoil it for you, other than to say that occasionally you will have to tilt your head to view it properly:
Now wasn't that nice?  The soundtrack was entirely appropriate for skiing, I thought.  Just not my skiing.  A more appropriate choice for my scenes in the video would be "Grandma Got Run Over By a Reindeer" played at half speed.

Speaking of which, I met one of my modest goals, that of not running over anyone else.  There were times when it was pretty iffy, but I managed to both steer myself and not wipe out.  Which is a good thing, because I probably outweighed any two people on that slope.

My brother-in-law managed to get us a good deal on ski lessons.  The teacher was kind, and I think knowledgeable, but between us we did not have enough language for me to progress very far.  I have had mild hip and knee problems ever since breaking my left leg, and didn't manage to even start to address it until the second day.  That was when I found out that I am left legged.  I can brake with my left leg downhill, but when I try to put my right leg downhill it stalls, leaving me aimed straight down, quickly picking up speed, and going into panic mode.  Fun fact: skis don't have a handbrake!

By the end of my trials, I was getting down the hill faster than Maxine, though her speed improved considerably over the two days we spent skiing. She was faster on the recovery than I.  The first day she did twice as many runs as I did (8:4).  The second day I came to my senses.  On my 3rd run I finished going way faster than I liked, without having a feeling for how exactly I managed to do it without tumbling down the hill.  My lessons covered slowing down using the snow plough method, and using the stop being on a slope method.  I was barely holding my own with the plough, and it was ineffective at high speeds.  Balancing felt like being on a bike with wobbly wheels (and no brakes).  So I gave up.  Did I miss out on a chance to get better?  Maybe so.  But even a minor injury would have made driving back to Busan (just over an hour) very annoying, and a major injury would have made the new semester at the new job next Monday no fun at all.

This is a video that I took of Maxine at the end of a run:

She wondered why I got so tired, so I offered her the following thought experiment:  Imagine a bowling ball and a baseball rolling down a hill.  Which one is easier to stop?   You are the baseball, I am the bowling ball.  On my slow runs, I was putting in a huge amount of work to keep my speed low.  The first day, I finished every run trembling, my whole body feeling wrung out.  That evening I spent an hour in the resort bath house, soothing my sore muscles with hot, hot water. 

In case you are unfamiliar with Korean spas, Conan O'Brien visited one in New York's Korea Town.  Of course, he plays it up for laughs, but one's first visit can be quite shocking.  (I'm not posting this as an embedded video, because it includes pixelated naked men, and of course that's what you see in the video box.  No thanks.)

I didn't get the body scrub, but the water was hot.  102 degrees for the hot tub, 105 degrees for the really hot tub.  I am absolutely sure that more than 30 minutes of soaking in those tubs are what made it possible for me to walk the next day.

On to the last video.  Quinten was not videoed by his instructors, probably because it takes about 97%  of one's focus to lead him through something like this.  So this is the only video I have of Quinten skiing:

The last 10 seconds of his video are more representative of what he enjoyed.  His teachers (he had a different one each day) were impressed, or at least they said they were.  Let's face it, they got paid, Quinten was happy and safe, and he got to learn how to ski.  I think that's the best possible outcome.  Both teachers pushed him hard, made him work for it, and we could see the improvement.  It makes me think that he would really benefit from some sort of regular physical training, whether a martial art like Taekwondo, or some sport.  Something that lets him harness that energy, and forces him to pay attention to instructions.

Finally, I spent a lot of time thinking about one specific piece of ski equipment: the boots.
"Boot to the head" is a whole new level of nasty now.
If you are not familiar with ski boots, they have three main features:  1) They attach your feet to your skis, but release easily when you fall. 2) They protect your feet and ankles from impacts, like the ski on your other foot. 3) They immobilize your ankles.

When I first put them on, it felt like the first step in donning a robot combat suit.  They are heavy and clunky, and you can't walk with your normal gait.  It feels like you could be crushing aliens with every awkward step. You come down hard on your heel, and your foot wants to roll but it can't.  All the bending has to come from your knees, and they just aren't used to it.  You don't get any of the spring that your ankles normally give.

By the end of the first day my ankles were as sore as if they had been working all day, even though the boots were designed to do all of the ankle work.  I was very frustrated with myself, because I knew with my head that I could relax my ankles, but my primitive monkey toes felt the falls coming and wanted to reach out and grasp on to something.  (Of course, they are barely capable of picking up a sock, much less suspending my weight, but they don't seem to realize that.)

So one regular thought through my day was, "Give up! Relax!  You don't need to do anything!"  This thought, directed at my ankles, was in direct opposition to the messages going to the rest of my body and included such classics as, "Get it right or WE DIE!" "I know it feels wrong JUST DO IT!" and "Nononononono! Whew! Nononononono! Whew!"  This last one may have been out loud a few times.

At some point that evening, as I soaked in the hot tub and massaged my needlessly overworked ankles, I made a connection between my ankles and my brain.  I have had stretches of my life in which I felt like I had to DO something, and I struggled to make things happen.  Then I looked back and saw that I had been clamped into my course of action all along.  None of my actions had changed the direction or speed at which life happened to me.  It was all happening just as God wanted it to happen, and all I was doing was wearing myself out, trying to do better than the design which I had been placed in.

This, to me, seemed like some serious wisdom.

Until I thought about biking, and how it's almost the opposite.  I use clip-in shoes and pedals, and have for years.  They insure that my feet are optimally placed to transmit the most power into the gears of my bike.  They also let me use my calf muscles, as well as my other leg muscles.  When I'm doing it right, my ankles are flexing up and down like they would on an old foot-powered sewing machine.
And sew it goes.
On the bike, I have to keep flexing those muscles all the time to build strength and get more power out of my legs.*   This brings to mind the daily disciplines of faith: prayer and reading the Bible.  To be most effective, they need to be automatic.  Now there's some wisdom, right?

It slowly became clear to me, as the hot water carried away the pains of the day, that a big part of wisdom lies in knowing which particular wisdom applies at which time, and properly doing so.

Now that I have committed these thoughts to the page, it occurs to me that there may very well be a level of wisdom above that level, which I am just not yet able to grasp.  And beyond that?  How many levels are there?  Somewhere up there is God, watching me mess about, not even properly understanding my own ankles, and barely communicating a lesson that seemed so clear on the slopes yesterday.

Like skiing, we get better at wisdom the more we practice.  So get to it!

*The other payoff is that my legs look good.  Just ask my wife.

Monday, February 23, 2015

I Gotta P

Prequel:  In 2006, not long after starting the Roblog, I wrote a post about why I started blogging.  It has some good points, but it meanders a lot.  Thank goodness I don't do that anymore.

Ooh!  Look!  Something shiny!

Anyway, I am adding a new Purpose to the Roblog.  No, wait, that sounds funny.

Roblog now has an addendum to her mission.  Ugh.

Roblog is here to kick ass and chew gum, and it's all out of gum and doesn't have legs.  Never mind.

Priorities: I want to improve my writing skills.  About a year ago Horyon and I were at a marriage seminar playing a version of The Dating Game.  The question came up: What is the husband's dream job?  She wrote "Math Teacher".  I've tried it.  I might actually enjoy it under certain circumstances.  (Sorry, Kansas, you are not the circumstances I am looking for.)  I knew instantly that she would not know my answer, but I wrote it anyway.  I want to be a writer.

I've been told that I am good at it.  I like words, and putting them together.  Properties:  I like that they can be squishy and tell lies.  It's the opposite of the way I like numbers, and how they are mostly solid, blocky, and resistant to being messed with.

I love reading.  My friend Mike Colvin turned me on to the Discworld series, by Terry Pratchett.  The setting (after which the series is named) is this:
So why is it called Discworld again?
Cool, but not cool enough to drag me into an ongoing series with 40 books so far.  What did it, in fact, was that he gave me the first three books of the series.  I read one while we were in the states, then I got distracted and wrote a very long paragraph or three about something only tangentially related to the topic at hand.  When I came back, I pointed out that I love Pratchett's writing.  It reminds me of the late Douglas Adams' work, except that Pratchett managed to be consistently Productive.

I, too, want to be Productive.

I want to write things that people enjoy reading.  So far in my life writing has been lost in the triangle formed between hobby, pastime, and communication.  I would like to raise the bar for myself, with the goal of converting these warm, squishy words to cold, hard cash.  I want to join the ranks of productive society, if towers of verbiage count as produce.  I want to move my teaching from rooms full of students to larger venues, with more leg room and fewer grades.

I want to be Published.

Or perhaps gainfully emPloyed as a writer.

Pipe Dream?  Perhaps.  I have rarely demonstrated the kind of resolve that leads to major changes in the past.  But one good thing about the past is that it's all behind you.  It can be overwhelming if you spend all of your time looking back at it, but if you can turn your back on it and start again, the cliches will rise up to meet your feet and at the end of the tunnel you will reach the mountain top.

Whew.  What was in that pipe?

I have not worked out the steps that will take me to my goal, but one is surely required:


And so Roblog is going to be my vehicle for practice.  I am going to Post within a week of the previous post.  Every post will be an attempt on my part to polish my craft. [craft me some word sammiches./ sling some words around./  experiment with words.]  I expect that sometimes I will agonize, and sometimes I will just ramble.  There will be posts with pictures of my kids, to keep their grandparents and Uncle Bob happy, but I will also season them with words.

It will very likely get messy at times.  There may be fragmentary stuff, bits that feel like they fell out of a book that doesn't exist, ideas that you like, or hate, or both.  I'm going to try to tag my posts so that you can tell by looking whether I am attempting to communicate the current state of the Korean Sack Family or exploring the undercurrents of my mind.

I would really appreciate your help.  If you are still reading this, there is very likely something in the Roblog that you enjoy.  And while we have had conversations about it, they have not gone beyond the small talk.  "I enjoyed your post."  "Thanks for writing!"  "More pictures of your kids!"

Now it's time for me to say Please.  Give me a little more of your critical thinking.  I'm not necessarily looking for proof-reading, though I really want to know if I am using a word incorrectly.*  I am hoping that you can help me home in on what I'm doing right and what I'm doing wrong.  When you comment (please comment!) here or on FaceBook, copy and paste anything that you really liked.  My friend Josh replied to my post, The Goodbye, using my sentence:

Every day I saw five years old and 71 years old connect in the way that only happens when each calls the other "Grand."
I wrote that!  I labored over it, but by the time I published it was just part of the post.  When Josh pointed it out, I looked back on it in a new light.  Every sentence I write is a little sculpture.  There are so many of them, and they are all covered with my fingerprints, so they kind of look the same to me.  But some of them are Pretty!  I want to make more diamonds!
Snagged from Batman Online, fun article about Superman III.
But I'm not sure how, because I'm often not aware that I've made them.  When you Point out a diamond to me, I can look at it more closely, and try to do it again.  It doesn't have to be a sentence, and it doesn't have to be perfect.  If you think a little cut will make it sparkle more, let me know!  

On the other hand, I need to know when I've done this:
Did I mention that I also want a career in photoshopping stuff?
Because the most delicious ice cream sundae in the world takes a pretty big drop in value when it's garnished with a dog Poo.  When I am reading an offering from a new author, my poo tolerance is extremely low.  If I am constantly stumbling over the editing, I will give up.  If I see words used incorrectly, I sometimes literally speak out loud to the offending book, startling the people around me who think that "literally" means "figuratively."  And if I find myself rewriting and cutting too much, I stop reading.  

I need you to be more Patient with me than I am when I read.  But don't be afraid of hurting my feelings.  If I'm going to ask people to pay me for me words, I need to get used to hearing criticism.  

So hit me with it.  I can't promise to agree with you**, and I will probably not be revising my posts.  But if you help me out here, I'll try to get your name listed in the credits, some day.  For now, all I can say is Thank You.

The last thing I need to ask is for you to Propagate the Roblog.   Share it with people who you think will enjoy it, even if they don't know me.  I know, it would be easier to do that if it had a more cohesive structure or description.  But you know what we call people who like things that are hard to describe?

No.  Not Packrats.  Not Padawans, Pencil-Necked-Geeks, Paleontologists, or Paranormal investigators.  Not Prudent, Precious or Pensive.  

They are Perfect.

*For example, when I was writing home from Nepal, I told my parents about going to the local bizarre, a weekly farmers' market.  It took three weeks for me to get the feedback that while she was sure it was bizarre in many ways, the word I wanted was bazaar.

**Not even you, Mom.

Sunday, February 15, 2015


Welcome to Quinten Television!

We proudly present Quinten's very first effort to produce a television program.  Before we get into tonight's feature, let's look a little into the live, in-person, non-internet version.
Wasn't that awesome?  I know, a little bit difficult to follow the multiple points of view.  It's also easy to be overwhelmed by the special effects.  And the sound effects were simply amazing.  The first time I watched Quinten perform this little drama, I wasn't sure what I had seen.  I was taking pictures (which you can see below), so that probably distracted me.  I asked him to do it again while I took a video.  This time I was paying close attention.  I still had no idea what had just happened.  The form was so revolutionary that I simply could not process it.  So I asked for his interpretation.

Here is the story, as told to me by Quinten.
"It's an Optimus Prime's foot." (the blue thing)  He is about to go through the Ground Bridge.  (The brown thing is a mistake, which cannot be erased in crayon.)  [The Ground Bridge is a teleportation device used in the t.v. show.]

"It's the Ground Bridge.  That it turned into the space world.  It go in the space world."  [Pretty sure he means an alien planet.]

"Optimus Prime and Ratchet come out of the Ground Bridge."  The big one is Optimus Prime, of course.

"Optimus Prime and Ratchet look at the space world."  They are clearly nonplussed.  Or maybe angry.  Hungry?  Anyway...

"It's the space world, Cybertron."  Home planet of the Transformers, long abandoned after the war to end all wars.

"And they block the wall and then they look something."  I think he means they are hiding behind the wall while spying on someone, or something.  [Incidentally, Quinten is still working on writing the number 6 correctly.  You must admit, it is one of the tougher numbers.]

"And that is the Cybertron.  It's something that it's really really dangerous, that it has Transformer blood."  I could be wrong, but maybe the entire planet becomes a giant, pumpkin-headed robot that is very, very sad.

I think it's safe to say that the Q in QTV stands for "Quality" as much as for "Quinten."  And that is just at the first glance.  When we look a little deeper, we see some remarkable insight into a difficult part of my life with this story.  Let's review:

1)  Optimus and Ratchet represent Bravery and Curiosity, respectively.  The story begins, as did my youth, with bravery dwarfing everything else, including communication with others, represented by the old-fashioned telephone that Quinten claimed was a "mistake".

Watch closely as I deconstruct your life.
2)  The Land Bridge represents opportunity.  It is beautiful but opaque, giving no clue as to where it will end up.  Taking opportunity, like using the Land Bridge, takes energy, or resources.  Leaving my home country cost me relationships and comfort, as well as money.  But it was irresistible.

3)  Optimus and Ratchet step out of the Land Bridge.  Bravery and Curiosity are well paired at this stage of my life, leaving all that was known behind.  The past life is still in the picture, though it has been left behind, like the hum of the engines that echoes in your ears long after disembarking from the plane that has carried you to an exotic new land.
I love a good story!
4)  Now the relationship between the travelling companions changes.  As the alien becomes recognizable, then familiar, the role of Bravery diminishes.  Curiosity grows as he takes in knowledge and understanding.  A new balance is reached.

5)  Eventually the New World begins to show another face.  In the maze of details a pattern begins to emerge.  The continents, mountains, rivers and seas that loom so large as they are crossed, take the form of bones, muscles, sinew and skin.
It's getting a little scary.
6)  Bravery and Curiosity cower, and try to observe from a safe distance.  The emerging countenance does not offer adventure or revelry, and certainly not comfort.  It is hungry, and will devour all of Bravery and Curiosity, only to demand more.

7)  Loneliness on a planetary scale.  Every question, every stare, every careless collision as you walk down the street is a scream in my face, "Alone!"  Every attempt at love is like biting into a beautiful, perfect dinner roll and getting a mouthful of sweet, sticky, red bean paste.  Everyone who really knew me, everyone with the same blood in their veins, everyone that made me comfortable just by being there, all far, far away.  A distance that I foolishly chose for myself when Bravery and Curiosity stepped into Adventure.
See how empty your life was before me?  Like a paper television set.
Of course, I was rescued from Planet Lonely when I met Horyon.*  But this time left a big impression on me, perhaps enough for a genetic memory to manifest itself in Quinten's latest project.  Or maybe Quinten tapped into a story template so universal that we can all find bits of our life in it if we look hard enough.  It might even be a piece of The Truth, with two capital Ts.

Maybe I'm reading too much into this.  Maybe I'm having too much fun.  Maybe some day Quinten will read this and say, "Dad, you're a goofball."

I can live with that.  On a side note, Quinten did construct a 3D model for the guys over in CGI to use when they produce his show for the network.
"I'm not drunk.  I'm just holding this bar up."
 And a paper ice cream cone stand.
Maxine taught him the ice cream stuff from one of her books, and he latched right on to it.

*She can't turn into a car, or any other vehicle, and in fact doesn't even really like to drive.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

L is for Laughter

Today I was looking for a tune to entertain Maxine, and I came across Dead Puppies, by Ogden Edsel.  If you are not familiar with this song, please follow my link.  Don't worry, it's not a proper video, just scrolling lyrics.

And this is how Maxine reacted as she listened.  I wish that I could have recorded her laughing, but I can't record video and play music at the same time.

A few observations:

1)  I love my daughter.  Watching her enjoy the heck out of anything is fun for me, and this made her laugh deep.  She would stop and listen, cover her face, and hoot with laughter.  Pure joy.  As soon as it finished she asked me to play it again, so I did.

2)  It is so much fun to appreciate a familiar piece of art through new eyes.  Dead Puppies is a funny song, though not to everyone's taste.  But no matter how funny something is, enough repetition will render it humorless.  And I have not yet found a song that I could listen to over and over without growing weary of it.  Both humor and songs can come alive again given sufficient hibernation; that's why I have 6227 music tracks on my phone, so nothing can wear out its welcome!  But kids can shortcut that process and make something old new again.  Thank you, Maxine!

3)  She was not one bit shy about laughing in front of me and her friend (who doesn't know English well enough to appreciate the little miracle that is Dead Puppies).  By the time they are in college, Korean girls have all learned to cover their mouths and laugh demurely.  Loud laughter is seen as somewhat low class, like having a tan.  Most adults that I know, of all nationalities, don't lose control of themselves in front of others, even in laughter.  This is a sad development.  The world would be a better place if more people could just share a good laugh without having to get drunk first.

4)  "Weird" Al Yankovic's song, "Your Horoscope for Today" still makes me laugh 16 years after its release on "Running With Scissors".  It also has a bit of fantastic advice which I will close with today:  "Laughter is the very best medicine.  Remember that when your appendix bursts next week."

Thursday, February 05, 2015

The Other "N" Words

This post isn't about what you think it's about if you didn't pay close attention.  It is totally not about THE "N" word, so if that's what you're looking for, move along.  This isn't the post you're looking for, move along.

Instead, it's about trying to make an acronym.  Horyon asked me to come up with an acronym for her school, Dongsung High School.  These were the best I could do (with my alternates in parentheses):

D edicated
O ngoing
N ever  (Neat)
G ive up (Great/Giving)
S trong
U nstoppable (Ultimate)
N onesuch 
G enerous

Which letters are the trouble makers?  I'm sure you can see it just looking at what I've done.  Go ahead and think about some positive words that start with N.  I'm willing to bet right now that you can only come up with two, and they are not stand-up-and-cheer positive.

Go on.  Think about it.  Adjectives starting with N that mean good things.

You probably came up with one that means well organized, or not sloppy.  Isn't that neat?  The other is such a hazy word that it is barely a step up from "good" itself, the fall-back for when we really don't have a sincere compliment ready to go.  It's right there in one of my favorite lyrics from the musical Into The Woods: (the song is "Last Midnight")

You're so nice.
You're not good,
you're not bad,
you're just nice.
I'm not good,
I'm not nice,
I'm just right.

"You're not good, you're not bad, you're just the chorus.  Now stay back there while I sing."
I don't want to go all hipster on you, but I haven't seen the movie yet.  These lyrics have been in my head since seeing a stage production starring Bernadette Peters around 1992.  Asked my girlfriend to buy the Broadway Cast recording for me for Christmas.  So yeah, I was a fan before it was cool.  It is cool now, isn't it?  If not, it should be, and I despise you for not loving it intensely.

Anyway, I have been guilty in the past of overusing the word "nice".  When I visited England for Andy and Sarah's wedding I was so overwhelmed by how good the beer tasted that I gave up trying to find new adjectives, and settled for "nice."  Oh, frivolous youth.  If I knew then what I know now I'd know more in the new now than I now know in this now.  I think.

Back to my assignment: I found that the other letters were relatively easy.  "O" was a bit tough, but not as bad as having two "N"s to deal with.  I mean, look at the words that come to mind:

Nay.  (which actually means "okay" in Korean, so double confusion)

And a host of "non-" words, from nonentity to nonpareil.  Which on the one hand means unrivaled, but on the other means the little round chocolate candies with sprinkles on top.  Those used to be my favorites at weddings and church dinners.  An excess of chocolate colors, though almost never brown, brightly colored sprinkles that now suggest to me an excess of artificial coloring, and minimal parental supervision, allowing the consumption of a no doubt unhealthy excess of the tasty little circles.  They were like the secret love child of a Hershey's Kiss and a bag of Skittles.  I couldn't take a chance that my wife's school would forever be associated with this!
Our school is sweet and diverse, but it melts in the summer.

I know.  I know.  The fault very likely lies more within my imagination than with the word itself.

I tried in vain to flip through my Kindle dictionary (the first time I have wished for a paper book in some time, and I am embarrassed to admit that I haven't had a paper dictionary in my home since we moved back to Korea in 2011!).  Then I tried browsing through online dictionaries.  They are mostly not conducive to browsing. though I did eventually find a browsable dictionary (don't get mad, bro, but it's Your Dictionary!).  Of course, I had already completed my assignment, but by now you can tell that I was not ready to let go of this one.  So I hit the Ns.

I kept finding words that were either negative or nonsensical.  Of course, positive was nonnegotiable.  I could have gone with Nonogonal, but I'm not convinced that their school actually has nine sides.
I have nine sides, and it ain't so bad!
I also decided that if I had to come up with nine metaphorical sides for the school that the potential complexity of this acronym would end up well beyond my pay grade.

Which, in case you were wondering, is zero.  I am not getting paid for this, other than appreciation from my wife, which is simultaneously priceless and lacking purchasing power.

I would have gone with Nether, but I didn't want to let them down.  I could have used Nautiloid, but didn't want to be shellfish.  In hindsight, I should have used Ninja: they never would have seen that coming.

I thought about Newtonian, but quickly realized that I knew exactly what reaction I would get.  I considered Neighborly, but that reminded me that Fred Rogers in no longer with us.  I changed my shoes, put on a cardigan, and had a good cry.  (Seriously, don't Google the man unless you have time for a little mourning, though you will come out the other side feeling uplifted.)

They are too big for Nano, too small for National, too cool for Nervous, and too awake for Narcoleptic.

Nauseous?  Don't make me sick.

Nihilistic?  Fine, let's throw the whole thing out.

Noteworthy?  Hmm... let me write that down.

Nobody?  Well, your Nobody called today.  She hung up when I asked her name.

Noisy?  She wanted positive, not accurate.

You can see my dilemma.  I actually found a useful site that collects positive personality traits.  I highly recommend it if you are having trouble describing someone.  I sent this link to Horyon along with my suggestion, and she ended up using that resource to go in a completely different direction.

Good for her, and for Dongsung High School.  May they Never Need 'Nother Nagging acronym!

For me it was a fun exercise.  It exposed me to some fun words, and cemented "Nonesuch" into my vocabulary.  It means a person who is regarded as perfect.  I know, I know, how could this word not have entered my vocabulary before this time?

I'll let you know the next time Horyon gives me homework.  She will no doubt be thrilled to see how much work I put into it.  And this post.

Never mind.

A Brief Introduction

Roblog is my writing lab. It is my goal to not let seven days pass without a new post. I welcome your criticism, as I cannot improve on my own.

Here is a link to my cung post, which remains the only word which I have ever invented, and which has not, as far as I know, caught on. Yet.