Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hiroshima In The Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Not my images

As I normally do when I visit my local library, I first check out the selection of new and recommended books located near the entrance. You can usually find some pretty good ones there.

Three weeks ago I happened upon two that piqued my interest. One was The Number Mysteries (which I recently blogged about), the second was this one – Hiroshima In The Morning by Rahna Reiko Rizzuto.

I have to say, since I took so long to get through the first book I really had to rush to finish the second. The due date was fast approaching and I didn't want to either return it late and pay a fine or return it on time unfinished and take it out later to complete it.

So with a day or so to get through most of it I finished it within an hour or so of closing (after spending the afternoon curled up in a chair at the library). Needless to say it wasn't the leisurely read I was hoping for, nor was the content what I expected.

Having read the description on the back I imagined it would have to do more with the author's trip to Hiroshima to talk with the survivors of the atomic bomb, the Hibakusha, as well as the felling of the Twin Towers in her hometown of New York (which coincidentally happened during her trip). I thought they would be parallel stories that somehow might join in a mysterious twist of fate.

While Ms. Rizzuto did speak with many Hibakusha in the research of her novel and did offer much insight in the time after the bomb dropped, I believe the story was much more about her (the author) and this trip of hers overseas which turned out to be very much a journey of self discovery.

At the time of her trip to Japan Ms. Rizzuto was a young mother of two boys ages 3 and 5. She was married to her college sweetheart, Brian, and lived with her family in New York City. Having been awarded a US/Japan Creative Artist Fellowship in 2001 (funded by the National Endowment for the Arts) she spent eight months in Hiroshima researching her new book. She left not knowing this journey would dramatically change her life.

She had never intended on being a mother when she got married. But at the urging of her husband (who wanted children) she succumbed. And while she loved her children, being alone for the first time in Japan, she realized motherhood was a role she still didn't fit in.

Her relationship with her husband, Brian, was heading towards rocky ground. At the beginning Ms. Rizzuto had self doubts about why she was even there. She was bothered at her lack of progress early on. On top of that there was the pressure from home. During their many phone conversations Brian often voiced his displeasure of her for leaving him alone for so long to fend for himself with their two boys. They began to see things in each other that they resented. It was the beginning of the end.

I have to admit I wasn't all there while reading the book. Part of it had to do with what I felt was a slow start. Another part of it had to do with the fact I was under pressure trying to finish the book at the library before it closed. And the last part probably had to do with the fact the book wasn't exactly what I was expecting.

Nevertheless I have to say, Ms. Rizzuto is an excellent writer. What she did say, was wonderfully stated. I think it's a book that a lot of people would enjoy and would recommend it.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Kung Hei Fat Choy

Daryl, Denise, Virginia, Tom, Christine, ?, Florianne, Nancy, Calvin

Happy Lunar New Year. 2012 is the Year of the Dragon. On Saturday night Tom and Florianne invited us over to their place for dinner. Tom prepared a lot of amazing dishes for everyone. It wasn't Chinese food he made however, but Thai. That's all right it was great nonetheless.

A few others pitched in with dishes of their own. Of course Florianne helped Tom in his preparation. Denise and Daryl made desserts too. It was all really delicious.

It had been around a year since I saw some of the folks there. It was nice to catch up again.

Most people arrived shortly after 7:00. By the time the first guest left it was nearing 2:00 in the morning. Where did the time go? The rest of us filed out soon after. After all Tom and Florianne had been wonderful hosts. We had to let them get to bed.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Books I've Been Reading Lately

Michael Moore; Tracy McMillan; Jaycee Lee Dugard

For some reason I've been reading the memoirs of a number of different people lately. I'm not exactly sure why. I suppose it varies depending on whose book I chose.

In the case of Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life by Michael Moore it's because he's a person I greatly admire and I thought it would be interesting to find out more about him.

It turns out he's a fascinating person. He had a lot of engaging stories from his life to tell. As well I learned Mr. Moore, from a young age, was very intelligent. He did quite well in school even skipping a grade. That is until his mother, Veronica, called the administrators and told them to put him back because she didn't want him to be the smallest kid in the next grade up.

What I like about Michael Moore is that he's someone who sticks up for the little guy. He fights for social justice and causes he believes in. Sometimes this puts him at odds with various groups. But he has integrity and drive and is willing to push on at times even putting his own personal welfare at risk.

I decided to read I Love You and I’m Leaving You Anyway by Tracy McMillan after I read a short relationship article she wrote posted online. I thought it was informative and funny. Among her credits she's written for television news shows and the Emmy Award–winning AMC series Mad Men.

This book documents her life as a foster child through her many rocky relationships both with boyfriends and ex-husbands whom she often parallels to that with her pimping father, Freddie, who has spent a good deal of his life incarcerated on various offences.

It was a pretty good book. I enjoyed it. I have to admit I don't often read books from the viewpoint of a woman. Especially if they have anything to do with relationships. Sometimes it's interesting to see how the other half thinks.

I suspect I'm curious about certain people's lives and the experiences they've had. Now and then I may even be envious of things they've seen or done. Other times I'm thankful I never ever had to go through some of the things they've endured.

That's the case with the book I'm reading now – A Stolen Life: A Memoir by Jaycee Dugard. In 1991, at age 11, she was abducted while on her way to school by pedophile Phillip Garrido and his wife Nancy. For 18 years she was kept captive in a shack in their backyard all the while being sexually abused by this monster.

When I saw this book on the shelf at the library I was unsure if I should borrow it. I didn't know if I would be able to stomach what was in it. Phillip Garrido is a sick, twisted man.

(note: On June 2nd, 2011 he was convicted of his crimes against Jaycee and sentenced to 431 years to life in jail. For her part in the crime his wife Nancy received 36 years to life.)

This is a story of not only Jaycee's ordeal, but a story of triumph and survival. Still I don't know if it's suitable for everyone.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Dinner with the Knox/OOTC Gang

Last weekend I went to dinner with some of my friends from Knox Presbyterian Church. Last year a few of them volunteered with me at the Out of the Cold program there. This year some of them are busy so they can't make it out.

We met at Aroma (coffee shop) at Bloor and Bathurst then walked over to Korea House on Bloor near Christie subway station. As usual I had bibimbap. It's comprised of vegetables, meat and an egg on top of rice. It's one dish where you can control the amount of spice you put in. They give you a bottle of sauce so you can put on as little or as much as you desire. Since I'm not big on spicy food I normally put on little to none.

After dinner we went across the street to a Korean supermarket where some of my friends bought a few things. Then we walked back to Bloor and Bathurst to go for coffee and dessert. Instead of heading back to Aroma we went to Green Beanery on the southeast corner. It's a nice open concept place with high ceiling.

It was good seeing everyone again under happier circumstances. We had originally planned on meeting earlier, but it was postponed because of the passing of Pattra Sivers who had joined us on occasion at OOTC last winter. She contracted skin cancer last spring and passed away December 19th. Most of us met that time at her memorial service.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Number Mysteries by Marcus du Sautoy

I recently finished a book called The Number Mysteries (A Mathematical Odyssey Through Everyday Life) by Marcus du Sautoy. He's a professor of Mathematics at the University of Oxford among other things. Even though I'm not a big fan of math in general, I found it an interesting read.

In it's five chapters he discusses prime numbers, shapes that occur in the natural world and how they relate to numbers, mathematics in relation to gambling, how math is used in codes, and how math can be used to predict the future.

From his introduction (in the book) I'll give you a brief description of each chapter:

Chapter 1: The Curious Incident of the Never-Ending Primes - It takes, as its theme, the most basic object of mathematics: numbers. Du Sautoy introduces us to primes - the most important numbers in mathematics but also the most enigmatic. As he says, primes are indivisible numbers which are the building blocks of all other numbers - the hydrogen and oxygen of the world of mathematics.

Some interesting prime number facts - 1) The odds of having a 7-digit, prime number phone number is 1 in 15. The odds of having a 10-digit, prime number phone number is 1 in 22. You can enter your number here and see if you like. 2) At the time of printing, the largest prime number discovered was 12,978,189 digits. It was discovered by Edson Smith at UCLA on August 23rd, 2008. On offer is a prize of $150,000 if you can find a prime number with more than 100 million digits. $200,000 goes to the person who can find a prime number with more than a billion digits.

Chapter 2: The Story of the Elusive Shape - This chapter presents the A to Z of nature's wierd and wonderful shapes: from the six-pointed snowflake to the spiral of DNA, from the radial symmetry of a diamond to the complex shape of a leaf. Why are bubbles spherical? How does the body make such hugely complex shapes like the human lung? What shape is our universe? Math is at the heart of understanding how and why nature makes such a variety of shapes, and it gives us the power to create new shapes, as well as the ability to say where there are no more shapes to be discovered.

Why are bubbles spherical? Du Sautoy writes, take a piece of wire and bend it into the shape of a square. Dip it in bubble mixture and blow. Why isn't it a cube shaped bubble that comes out the other side? It's because nature is lazy and a sphere is nature's easiest shape. The bubble tries to find the shape that uses the least amount of energy, and that energy is proportional to the surface area.

Chapter 3: The Secret of the Winning Streak - Du Sautoy shows you how the mathematics of logic and probability can give you the edge when it comes to playing games. Whether you like playing with Monopoly money or gambling with real cash, mathematics is often the secret to coming out on top.

How math can help you win at Monopoly - Monopoly appears to be a pretty random game, but do you know what the most visited square on the board is? It's Jail. Why? Well, you could just throw the dice and find yourself visiting, or you might find that the dice takes you to the square directly opposite, where a policeman tells you to go to jail. You might even be unlucky enough to pick up one of the Chance or Community Chest cards that send you there. As a result players find themselves visiting the Jail square about three times more often than most other squares on the board.

Now that won't be much help to you because you can't "buy" jail. But, which squares do players end up on next most often? The answer would be Community Chest which is seven squares from Jail. The odds of rolling a seven are 6 in 36 of rolling a combination of 7 with two dice. Since you can't buy Community Chest either, the next two properties you can purchase are the two oranges ones (Tennessee Avenue and St. James Place) to either side. There's a 5 in 36 chance of rolling a total of 6. The same goes with rolling a total of 8. So those are the properties to buy and load up with hotels if you're lucky enough to get the chance to do so.

Chapter 4: The Case of the Uncrackable Code - Ever since people first learned to communicate they've been finding ever more fiendish ways to hide messages from their enemies. But codes aren't only for keeping things secret: they also make sure that information is communicated without errors. We can use mathematics to create ingenious ways to guarantee that the message that is received is the same as the message that was sent - which is vitally important in this age of electronic transactions.

I was going to talk a bit about secure transactions over the internet, but it's a bit too complicated to break down. Let's just say there's nothing to worry about transmitting sensitive information over the net. Part of cracking the code involves finding the two prime factors (numbers) for extremely huge numbers - in the hundreds of digits range. So confident were the mathematicians who invented the code that for many years they offered a $200,000 prize for the person who could find the two prime factors of a 617 digit number (which I won't bother typing out). If you tried cracking the code one prime number at a time, you'd need to work through more numbers than there are atoms in the universe before you got to them. Needless to say, the prize was never claimed and the offer eventually withdrawn.

Chapter 5: The Quest to Predict the Future - In this chapter du Sautoy explains how the equations of mathematics are the best fortune-tellers. They predict eclipses, explain why boomerangs come back, and ultimately tell us what the future holds for our planet.

One organization that definitely cares about the long run is the casino. Their profit depends on long-term probabilities. For every throw of the dice or spin of the roulette wheel, they rely on your failing to predict how the dice or ball will land. Well, in March of 2004 one Hungarian woman and two Serbian men used mathematics to make a killing in the London Ritz casino. Using a laser scanner hidden inside a mobile phone linked to a computer, they recorded the spin of the roulette wheel relative to the ball over two rotations. The computer worked out a region of six numbers within which it predicted the ball would fall. During the third rotation of the wheel, the gamblers placed their bets, thus increasing their chances of winning from 37:1 to 6:1. The first night they netted £100,000, the second £1.2 million. Despite being arrested they were eventually released. Legal teams determined they had done nothing to tamper with the wheel.

I have to say, I rather enjoyed the book. Though some of the mathematics discussed was beyond my ability of comprehension I found it a fascinating read. 2:1 says you will too.

Monday, January 9, 2012

The Perfect Day (Tuesdays with Morrie)

Morrie Schwartz with Mitch Albom

What would you do if you had one day perfectly healthy? What would you do?

"Let's see... I'd get get up in the morning, do my exercises, have a lovely breakfast of sweet rolls and tea, go for a swim, then have my friends come over for a nice lunch. I'd have them come one or two at a time so we could talk about their families, their issues, talk about how much we mean to each other.

"Then I'd like to go for a walk, in a garden with some trees, watch their colors, watch the birds, take in the nature that I haven't seen in so long now.

"In the evening, we'd all go together to a restaurant with some great pasta, maybe some duck – I love duck – and them we'd dance the rest of the night. I'd dance with all the wonderful dance partners out there, until I was exhausted. And then I'd go home and have a deep, wonderful sleep."

That's it?

"That's it."

This was a question posed by Mitch Albom to his friend and mentor Morrie Schwartz his college professor who was dying of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), also referred to as Lou Gehrig's disease in his book, Tuesdays with Morrie. ALS is a rapidly progressive, invariably fatal neurological disease that attacks the nerve cells (neurons) responsible for controlling voluntary muscles.

In ALS, both the upper motor neurons and the lower motor neurons degenerate or die, ceasing to send messages to muscles. Unable to function, the muscles gradually weaken, waste away (atrophy), and twitch (fasciculations). Eventually, all muscles under voluntary control are affected, and patients lose their strength and the ability to move their arms, legs, and body. When muscles in the diaphragm and chest wall fail, patients lose the ability to breathe without ventilatory support. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure.

And so it was... such a simple, average answer to his question. But, to someone who was stuck in a shell of a body, who could no longer walk or even sit up on his own. Who had to rely on the kindness of others to do the simplest of tasks for him... this was his wish – To be "normal" once again. To be what he was before ALS ravaged his body.

Sometimes I think we run around like chickens with our heads cut off. We bump into things and get angry and frustrated. Often we don't even realize what we're doing. We're stuck in the hamster wheel of life that goes round and round, but, in the end, gets us nowhere.

In the book I think Morrie suggests we get off that hamster wheel and re-evaluate our priorities. Slow down and breathe – exhale. Take the time to develop meaningful relationships with those we care about (and who care for us). Stop and smell the roses. Truly appreciate what you have. Give to those who don't have as much. Compassion given has a way of returning whence it came. Besides blessing the recipient, it will make you feel whole.

So, if you had one day left on earth... what would you do?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

New Year's Eve at Dickie's

Photo taken by Dickie

Once again, Dickie was gracious enough to host a New Year's Eve gathering at his place. Perry took care of arranging the food (again as well). He made salmon and arranged for some of his other friends to bring stuff too. Dickie's mom made her wonderful noodles that I like so much.

Now this gathering wasn't unlike ones we've had in the past. Perry brought his Rock Band game for the Xbox again. Even though I've sung many of the songs over and over again, I still enjoy it. And it's fun to try the drums which I think are the hardest "instrument" to play. I've only recently gotten used to them and in easy mode have started to score relatively well.

Perry also brought a DVD Cowboys and Aliens. It was a fun movie. Kind of silly, but nevertheless entertaining. What more could you expect from a movie with a name like that?

Close to midnight we switched over to Citytv to watch the countdown from Toronto City Hall. Nathan Philips Square was packed with people. They were lucky. The weather this year was actually quite nice. I believe it was near freezing (which is slightly warmer than normal). And there wasn't any precipitation of any kind. In previous (as well as subsequent) days we had a mix of snow and rain. So the people down there were blessed in that way.

Even though we didn't have as many people over as in previous years it was still nice to have a few friends to hang out with. It made ringing in the New Year a bit more special.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Day with Kerry

Kerry and Reggie

I had lunch with Kerry like I normally do after church a few Sundays ago. Sometimes Tony and Iris and whoever else happened to be at church on that particular Sunday would come too. This week Tony and Iris were away at International Student Christmas Camp. So it was just Kerry and I.

When we got there we saw Reggie. He attends the Baptist church nearby. Normally when he comes he comes much later, so we were surprised to see him at this time.

I always enjoy lunch at Rol Jui. I think the food is great. And it's a good deal. Lately I've been rotating between two dishes I like to have - the assorted meat chow mein and beef on rice noodles. I can't remember exactly what it's called. It's $6 for a big plate; tax and tip included.

After this particular meal I asked Kerry and Reggie if I could take a picture of them. I happened to have my camera with me because in the afternoon I wanted to take some shots around the city. I only have one shot of Reggie with his sister, Renu, and one other friend. I took that another time they were here having lunch. I'm not sure if I have a picture of Kerry or not. I think it's something I should have. I need keepsakes of all my friends. Memories shape me.

Originally I had intended only on going to Nathan Philips Square and the Eaton Centre to take some shots after lunch. But, Lillian Mizutani mentioned a Christmas market they had going on in the Distillery District. So I thought I'd head over there too.

Kerry and I took the long way. He wanted to show me the redevelopment they were doing along Dundas in Regent Park. They knocked down a lot of the older buildings there and where putting new ones up for the residents. Coincidentally I saw Patricia Elkerton leading a group of young people on a Sandwich Run while we were out. They were on their way back to the Salvation Army building at Shuter and River Streets where they started.

The Distillery District was cool. Even though we arrived quite late in the day things well still hopping. In fact it was really crowded. We had trouble squeezing through the mass of visitors there. It was a great photo op for me. You can check out my photos here.

Afterwards I wanted to go over to Nathan Philips Square and the Eaton Centre. Again we took the long way. We walked down to the waterfront to see the new port lands development. They're redeveloping a huge swath of land down there. I'm estimating its northern boundary is around King Street and it goes to the waterfront. The east west boundaries are the Don River out to around Jarvis Street. It's both ambitious and impressive.

The Eaton Centre was neat. They set up these large, lit deer sculpture throughout the mall. I spent about half an hour there taking shots.

Next was City Hall. We were there for about 20 minutes while I took shots of the skaters on the rink and all the Christmas lights that were set up around Nathan Philips Square.

We ended the evening off at Korean Grill House at Yonge and Dundas. They have a late night all-you-can-eat special for $8.99. I thought it started at 9:00 p.m., but I was incorrect. Unfortunately we had to wait until 10:00 for it to take effect (which we did by going to the Atrium on the Bay to hang out for half an hour to kill the time).

Upon our return we ordered 7 dishes of raw meat to BBQ. I think Kerry's eyes were far bigger than his stomach. Either that or he underestimated how much meat was on each dish. Because he ordered four more dishes each for us (2-beef, 2-pork, 2-chicken and 2-fish). That was an insane amount of food which, of course, he couldn't finish. So it was up to me to try. Fortunately they kicked us out because they were closing so I was lucky (kind of).