Sam’s Blog Classic: “To which all good things must come” and “And now for some good news”

These are two posts from my time in Japan. This was around Halloween time in Autumn in 2008, six years ago

“To Which All Good Things Must Come”

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Yesterday marked the bittersweet end of an era. The large, universally beloved dog that once was omnipresent in our household is no more. That’s right, Marmaduke printed its last strip yesterday. Never again will that wacky great dane outwit his shakily-drawn owners. No more will he bark at that stupid mailman. His burying of bones in the neighbor’s yard is at a close. He has chased his last cat, eaten his family’s last dinner, terrified his last lunch guest. Let us all say goodbye to our dear friend Marmaduke.

Whoah, hey, calm down. It’s just a joke. Marmaduke’s fine, geez. Really it’s my large beloved dog Maggie for whom the end has come. She lived a full and happy life, so this isn’t so much a tragedy as a sad inevitability. Nevertheless, my world is now short one wonderful dog, and I was not present to say goodbye. I cannot think of a better descriptor than tragic, although to compare it to real tragedies in recent memory seems at best inconsiderate and egocentric. It is sad. Very, very, very sad. Sad for me. I am sad. Goodbye, Maggie.

Deaths in the family aside, that’s no reason to deprive you nice folks of a big, juicy post replete image collection.

This weekend was hardly a weekend at all. We spent from eight until four manning a rice-krispy treat booth. Profits were $200. $200/16 hours = $12.50 an hour. Not bad wages, if it weren’t split between ten people, making it $1.25 an hour. The work was fun, though, and money is not an issue.

We were part of an international festival at Gandai. Our America booth was, in a demonstration of the planning committee’s poor knowledge of world events, next to France and Vietnam. France’s vegetable soup and ratatouille quickly met a sound defeat against our mighty legion of rice krispy treats. With France as a protective buffer between us and them, Vietnam just spent the whole time singing loudly in Vietnamese. I’m not sure if they came to sell things or just to annoy us. They did turn a burner on once, but they forgot to turn it off again, and the whole tent smelled like kerosene for a while.

We took our $200 and ate at a tex-mex/irish pub style restaurant where I got a mug of water about the size of my head. Yuki tried some of the spicy chicken wings, and then to ease the burning pain took some of Julie’s regular chicken, which, as it turned out, she had put hot sauce on. Yuki then ate Damon’s salad for relief, only to realize he’d put habanero sauce on it. Fortunately Yuki had by this point finally learned her lesson about stealing other people’s food and just drank water until she recovered.

Um, I guess this post wasn’t as big and juicy as I had expected. Well, it is kinda juicy, but not very big. Sorry about that.


  • NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! what, really? Maggie?! I’m somehow so surprised… I really will miss Maggie. I’m sorry for your loss. (And I’m also sorry for my own loss.) You know, I remember that you first told me you were getting a dog at a Potluck Sunday and I was quite surprised. You just didn’t seem like a dog person and I couldn’t understand how you could keep a dog in your house. But Maggie fit in quite well, though I doubt Midnight ever really warmed up to her completely. Also, Maggie helped me learn that black isn’t always the best thing to wear (especially in the Summer, when it is very hot and when dogs shed the most). When I started reading your post, I really had hoped you were talking about Marmaduke; I would much rather let Marm die than Maggie. Anyway, if you hadn’t guessed yet, I’m Jimmy, who loves you and misses you.
  • What I would give to let Marmaduke take the proverbial bullet instead of Maggie.
  • There’s something seriously amiss when it takes Maggie’s death for me to respond to your blog–which I’ve actually been reading “religiously” since you started. I AM sorry; Maggie was a real part of your family. Quite honestly, I just figured out how to put a comment on your blog. I’ve only had a computer for ten months and I’m a slow learner.

    We love getting your stream-of-consciousness reflections on Japan and seeing all your pictures. Love, Grandma (the one in Maine)

  • Midnight has actually reacted very strangely to Maggie’s passing. She has taken to crawling between the sheets on our bed, and we are often surprised to find her there when we climb in. She also is very demanding of affection and will sit in the middle of the newspaper I am reading or scratch on the bedroom door at 4:30 in the morning wanting to be let in. Love, Mom


“And Now for Some Good News”

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For one, I discovered that I had, in fact, not fulfilled my theoretical arts requirement, which means that Julie May’s wacky art class is, rather than nonsensical and infuriating, is delightful and fortuitous. Not to mention, it was not quite as difficult as I first thought. Especially since the questions on her homework assignments have changed from specific, closed ended questions such as “According to Anderson’s definition, is this art?” to open ended questions that I can reasonably spend a page answering, usually not questions at all, just asking me to “discuss” something. I have received full credit on the last three.

Ikkun and Machiko made a surprise visit this weekend. I suspect it was only a surprise to me, though. This time Machiko’s husband Kazuya came as well. We went to a fish restaurant where a huge tank full of fish surrounds the eating area, which is shaped like a giant ship. Anyone who wishes may fish in the tank, and staff clean the caught fish and make it into the customer’s order. Ikkun caught a tuna (“Maguro” in Japanese) and, about fifteen minutes after seeing it pitiably gasping for air in the waitress’s net, I was eating tuna sushi under the baleful glare of its ornately carved corpse. Hopefully this is as close as I will ever get to the horror stories I’ve heard about eating live animals in various parts of Asia. I don’t have a picture of it alive, as my camera sometimes likes to pretend it’s out of batteries before it actually is.

I plan to collect a great deal of Japanese manga (comic books) so that I can continue my independent japanese study in the states. Manga is an excellent source of new vocabulary. So far I’ve learned the word for “pirate”(Kaizoku) and four new rude ways to say “You!” (Kimi, Temei, Omae, and Kiisama). I think in the future I’ll keep track of the new words in a notebook or something. Right now I’ve just been looking things up as they come and moving on. This gets me through a book, but it doesn’t result in any long-term learning. Learning Japanese will expediate my reading of manga which will expediate my learning of Japanese. Unfortunately at the moment I’m quite busy, so I haven’t been reading manga much.

Oh yeah, there was a halloween party. Masks were made, candies were eaten, and Bomberman masks were worn. Damon went as a Japanese gangster, and Kevin went as a nerd, which has no equivalent in Japan. Nevertheless, he was funny enough that he won first prize in the costume contest anyway.


Sam, Alice, and Dead

Alice and I took a horse ride today  at Dead Broke Farm. One of the most fun things about this farm is that Google shortens its name in email conversations so that the top of my inbox now reads “conversation between Sam, Alice, and Dead.”

Strangely morbid coincidences aside, our ride at Dead Broke Farms was especially pleasing because of the collection of animals that joined us. Besides the horses, we were treated to a little dog that happily trotted alongside us, occasionally dodging out of the way of an enormous horse hoof just in time, and a deer.


The deer is especially interesting because we did not just see her in passing as one usually sees deer. Instead, this deer stalked us. At first she kept her distance, but as we rode she would bound along after us and get closer and closer. After a while she was within a few yards of me. When I pulled out my phone to take a picture, my horse, Fancy, suddenly started towards the deer and caused her to bound off again. It wasn’t long before she was back, though.


The guide suspects that her little dog was the reason for the deer’s unusual interest in us. The guide said the little dog looked a bit like a coyote, and the deer had recently given birth to some fauns that she may have been feeling protective of. We saw the fauns in question later. You can click on the image to get a better picture of one of the fauns. It looks  a lot like its mother, and is in the same position, but I swear it’s not the same animal.


What this deer was planning to do if for some reason we decided we did want to mess with her fauns was anyone’s guess.

Reverse Weight Priority Voting and The Black Box

As I’m sure is standard in family trips, in Maine we need a means of finding something to do that everyone will enjoy. I don’t know how your families do this, but in my family there are two particular ways – reverse weight priority voting (RWPV) and black box.

Reverse weight priority voting is a traditional open-source method based on mathematically approximating the overall relative group disposition towards each of a set of given activities. The way that RWPV works is each participant nominates a given number of activities, often two. These activities are listed on the left side of a chart, and each participant’s name (or initial) is listed as the heading of a column. Each person gives each option one rating, where lower ratings indicate more desire to perform the activity, hence “reverse weight priority.” Ratings range from 1 to n where n is the number of options. Per person, each rating is unique – that is, I may not assign two activities the same rating. When assigning ratings, the previous person’s ratings are hidden so that ratings reflect as much as possible only the rater’s opinions.IMG_20140720_194909391Once all ratings are in, they are summed, and the lowest total wins! If there is time for multiple activities, participants may proceed from lowest to highest. In the above example Alice and I decided that I would write my blog and she would exercise. We both gave the act of killing a poor score, but Alice indicated she’d rather engage in murder than watch yet another episode of “Flight of the Conchords,” which I thought was harsh. Just kidding, “The Act of Killing” is another movie we’re watching.

Now for contrast, the “black box” method involves giving all activities to one person, such as my mother, who then, according to a proprietary algorithm not available to the public, generates a calendar which she places on the refrigerator. The term “black box” originates from computer science indicating any system whose internal workings cannot be investigated. An alternative method known as the “birthday box” method involves the individual who’s birthday it is deciding all activities for everyone.


Sam’s Blog Classic: “The Cemetery”

I’m not feeling particularly inspired this week, so I’m going to start a tradition known as “Sam’s Blog Classic,” where I post an entry from the old version of my blog. In addition to giving me an occasional respite from coming up with new things every week, this will serve as an opportunity for more recent readers of my blog to see the kind of things that I did when the blog and I were younger. I will do my best to use “Sam’s Blog Classic” sparingly so as not to bore my long-time readers.

This particular entry comes from a summer that I stayed at Earlham.

Yesterday the power was out all day. I took a shower in ice-cold water and had to use the light on my camera to navigate a pitch-black bathroom. Evidently someone had gone before me with no such light; the evidence lay in pools on the the tiled floor. Earlham has an odd habit of becoming a madhouse whenever the power goes out. The last time it happened was a Monday and people whooped and hollered and shot fireworks all night. “How can we go to sleep when all the lights are out!?” So, in honor of the occasion I jumped out the window.

It wasn’t a particularly long drop, only two stories. My right foot wasn’t too happy with me for a little while (Trivia junkies, I’ll leave it to you to remember whether or not that was the foot with the famous necrosis). In any case, people were serving free food at the mysterious Norwich Lodge hidden in Earlham back-campus, so I made it my first order of business to limp over there.

Too early! Lunch is being served at twelve, not eleven! So, I simply had to wait it out for an hour in the cabin and (guh) socialize. An eager but underconfident physics student from China, Dee, told me about the heirarchy of CS students, and his secret fear of being judged for his coding ability. I assured him that he didn’t need to worry. As a physics major, he wasn’t even included in the rankings. No one expected him to code well. Cory showed up again and we discussed his cryptonomicon book, then we engaged in such intellectual topics as recounting the latest Family Guy word-for-word. My long unacknowledged ability to perfectly imitate Cleveland Brown’s accent proved invaluable in this stage of the conversation.

Eventually lunch ended, and Cory and I left for home, although I mistakenly led him down the wrong path which we followed for an hour, finding a little-league baseball game but no Earlham College. After backtracking for another hour, we finally made it back to the lodge. Amazingly, I managed to convince Cory to follow me down another path, which (thank goodness) turned out to be the one I had originally intended to take and got us back to Wilson hall quickly and conveniently.

You’d think after that I’d be sick of the woods, but no, not me. Today I wandered in again and found myself in the Earlham cemetery again, which was closed again. I actually edited out the blog entry of my first encounter with the Earlham Cemetery because it ended in an only slightly bloody encounter with a rusty barbed wire fence. It was earlier in the day today, and yesterday I didn’t encounter any resistance, so I thought I’d just leisurely walk along until I might be able to find a nicer exit. A man in a truck pulled up to me and gruffly informed me that the cemetery was closed. I told him I had wandered in through the woods, and he said, with furtive glances at some nearby tombstones “No, no. That won’t do at all. Yeh’d best get outta here, boy. Keep along this road and yeh’ll find an opening in the fence leading to I-40. Hurry, now, ’tis almost sundown!” Indeed there was a flimsy plastic fence rather than rusted steel spikes between the cemetery and I-40, and all I had to do was step over it. I think I’m going to wander in the woods earlier in the day from now on. Somehow repeatedly ticking off the souls of the deceased doesn’t seem like a particularly good idea to me.

I finally found my camera – it was in my coat pocket! Here are some pictures of my room.

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Marinated Tofu

Here’s a picture of the various ingredients that went into my marinated tofu.IMG_20140706_211431404

Unfortunately, I was unable to find in Maine the extra-firm dry-packaged tofu I wanted, so I had to use water-packaged tofu instead.


Then I pressed it and soaked it and made several flavors.


From the top left and continuing left-to-right and top-to-bottom:

  1. General Tso’s donated by my aunt Rebecca.
  2. A1 barbecue sauce
  3. Miso ginger lemon
  4. Teriyaki sauce
  5. Pink Moscato Wine
  6. Bangkok spicy peanut sauce
  7. Bangkok spicy peanut sauce with olive oil
  8. Olive oil and something
  9. Olive oil and sesame ginger sauce
  10. Mustard and lemon
  11. Sweet and sour sauce and lemon


Now they have soaked and I am baking them. Here is the first batch laid out on the pans. These are baking as I type. Here they are partly baked.


As of this morning, a taste test of lemon-mustard has proved successful. My aunt Kate, my sister and my parents seemed to like it. Alice and I liked it, too. There was another one that only Alice and I tried that seemed to be egg flavored. I don’t recall making any egg-marinades…

The final product took two gigantic plates to display.



Folks liked the tofu all right, but it seemed like opinions were divided along liking tofu lines. This tofu unfortunately was unable to break the tofu barrier. If we had been able to find the dry-packaged tofu it may have been different, or it may not have. Our pre-packaged sauces didn’t all seem to take like we would have liked, so maybe making our own sauces would have worked better. In any case, I will try and have another tofu-based feast sometime in the future when I have all the proper materials and see if I can win some converts

Greetings from Sunny Baltimore!

IMG_20140619_202434894_HDRI took a trip this week. It started with SAYMA in the mountains, as described in my previous post. Then I drove (with help from Alice) back to Raleigh, slept one night and drove two hours alone to the other side of North Carolina, the beach where my friend Jimmy was visiting from Baltimore.IMG_20140624_150744638

Down on the boardwalk of the beach we were treated to an image of a more-psychotic-than-usual Spongebob Squarepants, an anemic Patrick Star, and what appears to be a cross between the cat-in-the-hat and Lord Voldemort. After one day at the beach, I returned to Raleigh and slept one night, waking up at 6:00 AM for a flight to Baltimore.


That’s right, I flew away from my friend Jimmy visiting my home state to his normal place of residence. I went to attend Building Educational Applications and present a poster, but while I was there I sent a Baltimore postcard to Jimmy’s address, stating “Wish you were here!”

The Other YAF



This weekend I went to SAYMA – Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting Association – a four-day Quaker yearly meeting in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. There are several different groups within SAYMA, mainly separated based on age and walk of life. I currently belong to the young adult Friends (YAF), where “Friend” is another term for “quaker” , who are famous for disorganization and a group dynamic that might be accurately described as “Heisenbergian.” There seems to really be no way to know how many people are in YAF at any given time.

This year in particular brought that dynamic into stark relief. Five YAFs including myself were regular attenders of our business meetings, but based on chance encounters in the dorms it seemed like there must be at least twice that number of young adults wandering around. I even got a few of them to freely admit to being YAFs and promise to come to business meeting, but they never showed.

These YAFs consisted primarily of Friends who had not been in the middle and high school groups, Southern Appalachian Young Friends (SAYF), during their respective youths, and who were therefore largely unknown to the YAF core, those of us who had been around for the long haul. Until very recently I assumed these YAFs to be non-YAF YAFs, that is, young adults who lived in the dorm provided for young adults but had no interest in any YAF activities, and instead spent most of their time distributed among the older adults. As clerk (Quaker term for head organizer) of YAF, I was responsible for them in some technical and abstract way, but if they didn’t want to be part of the community, I didn’t see any good in forcing them.

That was until Saturday night. Saturday night is special at SAYMA. It is the night when the SAYF and YAF communities celebrate the transition of senior SAYFers from SAYF to YAF. Because this is a two-part process, the first of which, saying goodbye to SAYF, begins at ten and ends between midnight and one in the morning, the “welcome to YAF” bit generally involves staying up past my bedtime. There’s some free time between supper and welcoming new YAFs, so I was upstairs working on my recursive autoencoders. Eventually I decided I need a break, and I came downstairs to see something happening on the dorm’s deck.

On the deck, I saw the people I had passed in the halls. They were sitting around a table drinking beer and wine, playing cards and making bawdy jokes. A cell-phone sat in the center of the table playing 20’s-era jazz. I stood for a moment in shocked un-worshipful silence (Quaker reference), and the evident head of the party, who looked a bit like Vince Vaughn and had broken his promise to come to business meeting that very morning,  said “oh, hello there. Welcome to YAF.”

Fortunately, with my clerkly powers I managed to convince a majority of these people to actually join us in our late-night celebration of graduating SAYFers. Later they explained that they couldn’t come to our business meeting because it conflicts with the general business meeting. I hope to bring these concerns to next year’s planning committee, and maybe we can bring some healing to the fractured YAF community.

It's about whatever I say it's about