Sunday, July 29, 2007

Wernersville 2007

For the past 10 years or so, a group of former Jesuits have been getting together in the Spring for a three-day reunion. The days consist mostly of loosely structured presentations, discussion groups, one-act play readings (and other artsy things), long two- and three-person conversations, private reflection -- pretty much whatever folks want to do.

The happening takes place at what used to be the Jesuit Novitiate for the Maryland Province, now renamed the Jesuit Center, a conference venue and retreat center. For many us of, though, this was the monastery where we spent the first two (or four) years of our Jesuit lives. It's a little weird to come back to a place you left forty or fifty years ago and find that so little has changed!

At that time, the training program for the Jesuit priesthood took fifteen years, with ordination at the end of the thirteenth. The program involved studying/working at at least five different institutions: Novitiate/Juniorate, Philosophate, some Jesuit High School or College, Theologate and Tertianship. My two years of Novitiate were among the happiest of my life and it's always a bittersweet experience to return there.

While wandering the halls, I saw this on the wall of one of many alcoves:

It is a little hard to read...




Pedro Arrupe was Superior General of the Jesuits during most of the time I spelled my name with an "SJ." I admired him very much.

There are some annotated pictures taken during the 1999 reunion at Since I had intended them primarily for other attendees to view, there are a few inside references. Please feel free to peruse!

Sunday, June 3, 2007


And now Lee Freedman brings us a color alphabet. Idea is: words are represented by blobs (circles, squares, lines...) of different colors, each color corresponding to a letter of the alphabet.
"Kromofons" he calls them.

Some of the applications sound a little silly:
- kids writing to each other in secret code
- painting messages into your toenails
- dancing dots on iPods
- clothes that change colors in different lights, to convey different messages (how about incorporating that into lighting design in theater?)

Then he mentions that he's dyslexic, but doesn't seem to have trouble reading in the Kromofonic alphabet. He may be onto something there. Does that mean that the brain processes colors differently from symbols? There's research that suggests it does.

Some years back there was a process control company that encoded the many statuses of many different machines as colored squares and displayed this squares on an XY display. The managers were then trained to monitor the progress of the processes by recognizing patterns, making it possible for people to keep track of hundreds of variables in real time. Far as I know, it never really caught on.

Then there's synesthesia, a medical condition in which sensory input is perceived in abnormal ways: sounds may have color, tactile textures may have taste and so on. There's some anecdotal evidence that perfect pitch may involve a form of synesthesia in which, say, C is described as "silky" or F# as a "bright turquoise."

I once heard of a synesthetic who could immediately locate the single 5 on a page filled with different digits. 'I just look for the pink one," she said...

Makes you wonder about representing words as colors. With training, could we read more quickly? Do verbal processing more intuitively? What about those WordSearch games?

The article is at

Friday, April 6, 2007

Udon Soup

If miso soup is taking more time to prepare than you have, here's one you can throw together in only a few minutes. I chose udon noodles today, but you can use any noodles that tickle your fancy. I also like somen, ramen, and those long, sticky, translucent rice noodles that absorb a lot of water when they hydrate.

You can buy udon noodles in bulk, but the 1-2 serving size is easier to store

They usually come with an envelope of powdered soup base, but the stock tastes a little weak to me, so I usually add a little extra. You can buy the soup base separately:

So------boil 3 cups of water, throw in some frozen shrimp and frozen seafood medley (the one I'm using today contains "Blanched Peeled Shrimps, Blanched Squid Strips and Tentacles, Blanched Octopus Slices, Fully Cooked Mussel Meat and Imitation Crab Meat") and looks like this:

Add the udon noodles, crumble a dried shiitake mushroom cap into the mélange, some wakame if you like, and when the water is at a rolling boil, add an egg and mix thoroughly.

Let simmer for a minute or so, remove from heat and add the powdered stock. Takes about five minutes if you don't have to search for the ingredients!

So how 'bout your favorite recipe for chicken soup, e*c!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Miso Soup

One of the things that makes a dreary winter morning bearable (and all winter mornings are dreary -- by definition) is a bowl of hot miso soup.

There are a bazillion recipes for miso soup on the web, but I'm going to give you mine anyway. Because it has more pictures.

Start with the dashi. That's essentially a fish stock made from kombu (kelp) and dried bonito flakes. (A bonito is a fish somewhere between a mackerel and a tuna - exactly where I don't know).

Start by soaking about 20 square inches of kombu

in 6 cups of cold water for half an hour or so.

Then start heating the water. Take the kombu out before the water boils -- when the little bubbles at the bottom of the pan start to rise to the surface. [Some people let the water come to a full boil before removing the kelp, but I've read that if you take it out before this, you can reuse the kelp 4 or 5 times. Seems to be true. YMMV.]

Take the water off the heat and add half a cup of katsuobushi.

Let it steep for five minute, then strain out the flakes. I pour the stock through a strainer lined with a folded-over paper towel.

Pour out about a cup of dashi into a mixing bowl and put the rest back on the heat.

To the stock add some tofu cut up into half inch cubes. I prefer soft tofu, but suit yourself.

Let simmer while you break up some wakame seaweed (sorry, I tossed the bag, so no kanji):

and place maybe a tablespoonful into each soup bowl. This stuff really swells up when it hits water, so be sure to break it into small pieces, no bigger than pea-size. Otherwise it looks like algae covering a lake.

Some folks say they add a little nori too (the thin sheets of processed seaweed that wrap rolled sushi), but it just sticks to my chopsticks like glue. Not advised.

Then chop one or two scallions into quarter inch rounds and add to the soup bowl(s).

Into the mixing bowl with the reserved dashi add four tablespoons of miso. Miso is a paste of fermented soy beans and rice or barley. There are a number of different kinds of miso, but the main two are white (shiro) and red (aka). I like them both. [Quick article on miso here.] Here's the white miso:

Blend the miso into the dashi until there are no clumps.

Take the dashi off the heat and let it cool a bit. Miso afficionados say that if you add miso to boiling liquid, it destroys a lot of its health benefits and changes the taste. I'll take their word for it.

Add the miso/dashi to the pan and mix well. Pour into soup bowl(s) and mix to blend the scallions and wakame.


I find that dashi keeps well in the refrigerator for about a week. So you can make a large batch ahead of time.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Holy Ghosts

I saw the Spooky Action Theater's production of Romulus Linney's Holy Ghosts today. Fifteen actors all onstage at the same time can be a stage action disaster or a visual feast. This one's a feast. I really liked it.

Set in a makeshift church in Appalachia, the play explores the interactions of Pentecostal church members among themselves and a non-believer who has come to reclaim his wife. One by one, we come to know each character as they "speak their truth." Each has taken that fateful step over the cliff in the blind faith that s/he won't be killed by the fall and in fact will (à la Amazing Grace) finally be found. Linney was born and raised in Appalachian Tennessee and seems to know his characters well. He presents them sympathetically and without stereotype. Don't want to give away too much of the plot; it takes a few twists and turns before what was, for me, a satisfying resolution.

I particularly like the way the guitarist reflected (or maybe directed!) the energy of the stage action, bringing together an otherwise difficult set of transitions. There was definitely a tension, though, as his generally upbeat playing clashed with the emotional pain of the action. Haven't quite figured that out. It did make a positive contribution to the play's effectiveness, but I can't articulate it.

There are four more performances. Details at The show runs about 1:45 without intermission. Venue is the Black Box at Montgomery College's Takoma Park Campus. It's a small black box and provides the intimacy this play needs. Open seating - you watch the play and then contribute what you think it's worth. Now is that honesty in theater or what?

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Bump Keys

Fine. As if we didn't already have enough to worry about, now it may hardly pay to lock our doors!

Seems some Danish locksmiths discovered the technique of lock bumping back in the 70's, but it's only within the last couple of years that the bump key and its application to opening easily most simple pin tumblers has been become widely known.

There are a number of videos on the net about how to make and use a bump key. Essentially, you just have to get a key that fits the lock you want to open and file it down a little, so it looks like this.

Of course, if you don't want to make these keys yourself, you can buy them ready made through the web.

Good article here:

I guess it's time to get a Doberman.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Zamenhofa Bankedo

A few weeks ago, local folks who have an interest (and usually some fluency) in the International Language Esperanto got together at an annual dinner to celebrate the birthday of the language's creator, L.L. Zamenhof.

The language was one of several developed in Europe around the turn of the 20th century, amidst many intellectuals' desire to unite the world into one global community. Some of the strengths of Esperanto over its competitors were its syntactic consistency, lack of unnecessary inflections, rich system of infixes, and semantic roots in Europe's linguistic families: Romance, Germanic and Slavic. The language became reasonably popular throughout Europe during the first half of the 20th century and even gained Hitler's attention - unfavorably.

There are a bunch of interesting articles on Esperanto -- all easily Googlable. One short one is at


One thing that fascinates me about Esperanto is the way you can agglutinate its infixes (no, that's not as painful as it sounds...) and economize words. For example, take the sentence "Duopigxu." There are four parts in this word:

Du- The number two. As in "unu, du, tri, kvar, kvin" -- "one, two, three, four, five"

-op- "in groups of". Since all nouns end in "o" and all adjectives end in "a", we get words like
duopo - a pair, and duopa - paired, occurring in pairs. Similarly triopo, a trio and so on.

-igx- This turns an active verb into a passive one, and when used with nouns or verbs, has the idea of "becoming." Thus, rugxa - red; regxigxa - blushing. So Duopigx- has the idea of becoming pairs.

-u The imperative form of a verb. Infinitives always end in -i, so we have legi - to read and Legu! - Read!

Putting it all together, that one word means "Form up into groups of two." (Ah, the memories of first grade!) One word instead of six. I think that's neat!

There's also an extensive literature in Esperanto, both translations and original works. And there are folks for whom Esperanto is a first language (denaskaj Esperantistoj). These are the children of parents who don't speak each other's language and therefore communicate in Esperanto. I'm not making this up! I knew such a couple a few years ago.

I attended a week-long immersion course in Esperanto one summer at the University of Hartford. Fascinating. Students came from several countries including Estonia and Thailand. My Estonian is about as good as my Thai (which is to say, nonexistent). Their English wasn't much better, but we all had a great time.

At a time when the Internet is truly shrinking the world and many people, believe it or not, don't speak English, Esperanto may yet come into its own. There are even social networks - check out (from amikumi - to make friends). The site uses proper Esperanto orthography, which includes letters with little hats over them: c, g, h, j, and s and a u-breve. When writing on fonts that don't include these letters, many folks (like me) add an "x" to the letter. Here's a translation of the homepage's opening lines. I'll bet you don't need it!

"Welcome to Amikumu
Would you like to find interesting Esperantists among you? ...or see the world through other eyes? Now you can do this through the first get-together website in Esperanto - Amikumu! In picture and writing express yourself and influence the world, the only limit is your imagination. We now have 1029 members in 78 countries and 2166 pictures. Come and make friends with us. Here's more information."