Hiroo Onoda and the Six Million Dollar man: what does it mean to know how to die or live?

A news article just came my way that fascinated me: “Hiroo Onoda, Japanese soldier who hid in Philippine jungle for 29 years, dies at 91”.

Of course, I had long heard of “stragglers” who did not realize that a war or persecution was over and kept fighting or fleeing, away from “civilization”, unaware of how the rest of the world was changing. The most recent case of that I read about was a really moving story, astonishing and sad, about an Old Believer Russian family that hid out for forty years.

But in the case of this Japanese soldier, although I had not earlier read about his particular story, I instantly remembered an old TV episode I watched as a young child that was an astoundingly memorable episode, whose details are etched in my mind. This was “The Last Kamikaze”, an episode of “The Six Million Dollar Man” TV series that I watched religiously back in the day. This episode was about a Japanese straggler from World War II. It changed my life forever.

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A system for quitting eating cookies?

I decided last night, after eating too many cookies at the Steel City Ukuleles meetup, that I have to stop eating cookies. I cannot justify them on the grounds of health (and how crappy I sometimes feel after eating them). Steel City Ukuleles after new year party My “creative” idea that I shared with Abby: I will never eat a cookie again in my life unless I take a photo of it. Read On →

The Chess Improver: What if your opponent just gives you twelve free moves?

For The Chess Improver, I wrote “What if your opponent just gives you twelve free moves?”.

The Chess Improver: The subtleties of time-consuming knight maneuvers

For The Chess Improver, I wrote “The subtleties of time-consuming knight maneuvers”.

Happy New Year with a Boyce-Mayview Park hike: wetlands, creeks, beavers, woodpeckers, waterfalls...

Happy New Year 2014!

Abby and I started off this new year with a lovely hike with the Pittsburgh hiking meetup group, led by Gary Byrdman. It was in Boyce-Mayview Park, a park we’d never been to before in Upper St. Clair.

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Beechview urban hike: funky steps, Canton Avenue climb, delicious pizza at Slice on Broadway

Abby and I wanted to go out on a hike together, but the trails tend not to be so much to hike on these winter days, so we decided to do an exploratory urban hike.

I randomly chose for us to explore Beechview, which is actually still part of the city of Pittsburgh even though it is south, across the Monongahela River. We’d never been to this neighborhood before.

Actually, the choice wasn’t quite random.

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Are you familiar with the Nutcracker story? Check out ETA Hoffmann's other creepy tales!

It’s the season when many of us either watch for the first time a production of the ballet “The Nutcracker”, or remember having seen it at some point, or remember some non-ballet production of the story (I personally still remember seeing some children’s adaptation of it when I was young).

But how many of you have actually read the original story by the German Romantic ETA Hoffmann, “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King”?

Tales of ETA Hoffmann

ETA Hoffmann, a forgotten writer?

I was reminded of the creepy tales of Hoffmann when this article about him came my way. It suggested that people don’t know about him any more. I don’t know how true that is, but because he is one of my all-time favorite writers, I decided to do my part to help promote the work of this fascinating 19th century writer. He wrote not only amazing fiction, but also wrote on philosophy and music: in particular, as this article notes, he was one of the first critics who welcomed the strange figure of Ludwig van Beethoven when Beethoven came on the scene and freaked everyone out with his revolutionary new music.

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Watching "Hable con ella" ("Talk to her") (2002): thoughts on art, crime, and ethics

Talk to her

After a decade of putting it off, I finally watched Pedro Almodóvar’s 2002 film, “Hable con ella” (“Talk to her”). I was actually on the verge of going to a local movie theater to watch it a decade ago when circumstances in my life changed and I put it on hold. But Abby and I just watched it together, partially because Almodóvar has been on my mind since I re-listened to some music sung by La Lupe a couple of days ago.

It turned out to be a fantastic film, totally gripping and moving, no slow or pointless moments, really tight. One of my favorite films of all time, surely.

It was also disturbing on many levels, as great art often is. Abby and I had some conversations about some of the issues, but there was even more still on my mind, so I decided to share them here.

Note: there are some serious spoilers in this post, so if you haven’t watched the film yet, please stop reading now and go watch it first. In any case, I am skipping important plot elements in order to focus on particular themes.

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The Chess Improver: Imagining how a game position arose

For The Chess Improver, I wrote “Imagining how a game position arose”.

A favorite poem to share as 2013 comes to an end

Immortal Poems of the English Language

For a party last night, hostess Gina announced some weeks ahead of time that we were to bring “a favorite quote, poem, lyric or inspired thought to share as we look forward to 2014 with gratitude”.

I thought this was a really good theme for an end-of-year holiday party. At first I thought maybe I should write a new poem of my own, for the occasion. But I got cold feet and bailed out of that plan. Maybe for another party next year.

After thinking for a while, I decided I would return to an old favorite: the poetry of William Blake. I picked one of my (favorite) poems by him, and planned to recite it and say a few words at the party about what it means to me and how it applies in particular to my thoughts as 2013 comes to an end.

It turned out that we were all having too much fun at the party just eating and meeting people and talking and then some of us going off to play music together, and “forgot” about the quote/poem/lyric/thought thing for a while. But it was getting late and Abby and I had to get going at some point, so I reminded Gina about the theme, and she got everyone together and started off herself with a quote from Kafka. That led to some discussion, and then someone else offered a provocative thought, a question to the younger people present. It turned out that this question led to a lot of lively debate, which was great, but also meant that since I didn’t want to interrupt it, Abby and I had to quietly excuse ourselves and leave the party. I told Gina I would share my thought later on her party page.

Originally I was only going to say a few words, but as long as I’m not limited by keeping things very brief, I decided I might as well write a full-fledged post about it.

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