Reach for the top?

You grow while you sleep.

This saying actually has some truth to it.  So no, it’s not the idea I used to believe.  What I did believe was that I would one day grow taller than my mother.

My brother is taller than my father.  My sister is taller than my mother.  As the youngest, I naturally concluded that I too would eventually be taller than my mother*.  Suffice it to say I was mistaken.

I have always been rather short.  My proudest accomplishment at six was being the second shortest kid in my class, rather than the shortest kid.  In short, I never expected to be tall and I never felt short-changed because of my height.  Punning aside, there are quite a few advantages to it.  I can fit into small spaces.  I never bump my head on things, and when I fall it hurts less on account of the smaller distance.  It is extremely unlikely that I’ll ever date someone shorter than me, or even someone shorter than me while I’m wearing heels.

This cat is reaching for the sky.

I wasn’t reaching for the sky, just the tree next to me.  All I wanted was to be taller than my mother.  I didn’t have far to go; my mother is only 5’3’’.

Alas, I was destined to stop at 5’2.5’’.  I was, and am, the shortest in my family.  I can’t remember any sort of personal crisis arising from this experience, only a vague sense of disappointment.  It’s not like I made an extra effort to grow by drinking milk or whatever other methods the kids use these days.   I just…thought it was the natural order of things.  And it turned out it wasn’t.  As they say, that was that.  I’m not tall, and at this point I never will be.  And there ain’t nothin’ I can do ‘bout it.

*This belief brought up the slight dilemma that if people were continually growing taller than their parents, how has the human race not reached gargantuan heights yet?  I tended to brush this off as something I would, someday, understand.


Indecision never tasted so good

I am way behind on these essays.  That was probably already apparent to you.  I have been held up not by an unwillingness to write, but rather an unwillingness to edit.  But now things have gone too far.  I have five essays (if you include tomorrow’s) to post.  I promise to post one essay a day until I’m caught up.  I am making a commitment here people, a commitment.  It may not be pretty, but it WILL be done.

My gut reaction to this question is Cake.  As I began thinking about this essay, I realized that the best argument I could create was on the pie side of the issue.  Still, my gut would not be denied.  To resolve this most serious of problems I settled on the most logical of options: to hold a Cake vs. Pie taste test.  I baked my favourite cake, and my favourite pie, and pitted them against each other in a no holds barred food tasting contest.  I’d like to thank my two impartial judges* for assisting me in this endeavour.

*aka, my mother and father

The Competitors:

From the Pie category: Banoffee Pie

This competitor boasts a smooth toffee filling encased by a graham cracker crust.  This dreamboat is topped with banana slices and fluffy piles of whipped cream with just a hint of espresso.  Decadent to the last, this pie sports a rustic charm and perfectly proportioned components.

From the Cake category: Chocolate Peanut-butter Triple (double) layer Cake

Sinfully Delicious pretty much describes this competitor.  A rich, moist, sour-cream chocolate cake provides the base for the creamy pb-cream cheese frosting.  It ups the ante by adding a chocolate-pb ganache as the final touch to an already ridiculously rich dessert.

The Results:

Appearance:

Unanimous votes on this one.  I mean really, look at that oozing chocolate.  The pie may have some rustic charm, but it can’t compete with the cool demeanor of the Cake.

Texture:

Contrast is the key to textural delight.  The Pie, with its crunchy crust, smooth caramel, fluffy whipped cream and mooshy** bananas was the clear winner here.  The Cake, so far, isn’t as beautiful on the inside as the out.

**Mooshy is a technical taste-testing term.

Taste:
This last category is the only one on which the judges disagreed.  The majority** agreed that the peanut-butter-chocolatey goodness of cake was a 10 000 on the taste scale.  Pie was the runner-up at 9 985.   I mean really, how can you compete with chocolate?

***A majority consisting of one person whose vote counted for 5 people.

If you’re mathematically inclined*** you may have realized that Cake is our winner here.  The point could be made that I had a confirmation bias going into this test.  You say confirmation bias, I say loyalty.  There’s nothing wrong with loyalty, after all, it’s Ron Weasley’s most touted character trait.  (I guess that makes Pie Malfoy?  Not Voldemort, Lord Voldy is 100% Grade A evil.  Pie, while not as great as cake, still has some redeeming qualities.  You know what, I’m going to go with Justin Flinch-Fletchey here.  Kind of a jerk/pompous at times, yet still a good character at heart.)

Extended Harry Potter metaphors aside, I like most cakes and a fewer percentage of all pies out there.  And in the end, that is the deciding point of this issue for me: I’d rather eat a cake than a pie.

****The requirements of which being the ability to count to three and understand that 2 is greater than 1.


A decidedly unmusical person on music

A couple weekends ago I woke up early to go garage sale-ing.  As always on such mornings, I grabbed my bike, donned a cardigan, put my wallet in my bike basket and away I went*.

I also wore a helmet, so I wouldn't end up like this dummy.

It was a beautiful sunny morning if a bit chilly.  A morning made even better when I found a lovely “vintage” leather briefcase for $2, something I’d wanted for awhile but had not yet found one for the right price**.  As I was gliding down a hill, almost home, this song started playing on my iPod.

It just seemed to fit.  The weather, the day, my mood, even its name ‘Morning Call’.  It felt like I was in a movie, in that scene where the hero/heroine is jauntily strolling down the street to the rhythm of equally upbeat music.

Then my iPod fell out of my pocket and skidded down the road.  (My iPod is ok, *phew*.  Just a little scratched).

‘Morning Call’ is just one of several Korean indie songs*** that I have recently discovered.  My absolute favorite is this one by a band called Standing Egg:

I love how the vocals in these songs are so soft, yet they still somehow manage to be bouncy.  I love the use of whistling as an instrument; unconventional instrumentation makes me happy.  I’m also a huge fan of the ukulele, which, oddly enough, neither of the above songs make use of.  But this number from the main singer of Standing Egg (Solo name: Clover) really lets the ukulele shine:

(Incidentally, I am currently learning to play the ukulele because of how much I like it)

I’m not sure really what else to say.  I could tell you how I wasn’t interested in listening to music until I was 16, and it wasn’t until I was 18 that I listened to music not suggested to me by my brother.  I could also tell you that I’ve never been to a music concert, unless you count coffeehouse-type shindigs.  I’m still woefully uninformed when it comes to most popular music, and unpopular music, and pretty much anything else that isn’t on my iPod (a grand total of 411 songs).  But I really don’t care.  I’m happy with what I have, and occasionally the internet or iTunes introduces me to someone/thing new so I’m always entertained.

*Holy crap.  I sound very hipster-y here.
**Somebody save me, I’m morphing into a hipster.
***Not as random an interest as it sounds.  Here’s the progression of how I became interested in it:

Read Mangas online, watch anime online —-> read forums, realize that such a thing as ‘dramas’ exist which are (in the case of J-dramas) live-action animes—> watch some J-dramas —> discovery of Korean Dramas —> discovery of blogs about K-dramas —> discovery of K-pop and other Korean musicians


The post about movies

Everyone should see at least one Hayao Miyazaki movie.

If anime’s not really your cup of tea, you’ll still like his movies.  Although I suppose its technically anime (provided we are defining anime as an animated feature made in Japan), it bears little resemblance to the stereotypical anime offerings of blue hair, crazy poses, ridiculous situations, weirdly proportioned people etc.  Instead they are engrossing movies with realistic characters, great plot, and all around excellent movies.  (that is not to say that stereotypical anime can’t be excellent, its just that if you dislike these things in anime, they tend to hamper your ability to enjoy more universally liked things)

Movies would be very strange without music, and in HM movies the soundtracks are particularly excellent.  Listen to this piece from Princess Mononoke:

Not only is it beautiful, it’s appropriately creepy as well.  The composer, Joe Hisaishi, also makes good use of silences (e.g. fight sequences).  I love his use of piano, a somewhat underused instrument in movie soundtracks, I think.

I am always impressed that, when most studios are moving to CGI Hayao Miyazaki still hand draws his films (of course, with a team of animators, but the lack of CGI!).  And I must say, although I enjoyed Wall-E, I do miss traditional animation.  Animation which, in Miyazaki’s films, are detailed and a pleasure to look at, such as this image from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind.

The portrayal of female characters is no less excellent.  Often the hero of the film, they tend to be independent, confident (or become so along the way) young women who, through their own abilities, reach a happy conclusion.  Nausicaa (in the picture above) is such a one.  Although she does have a love interest, he’s a secondary character who has very little bearing on her ultimate fate.

The female main characters also tend to collect an odd assortment of non-human friends along the way, such as: a giant baby that has since been magicked into a mouse, an animate scarecrow (no talking, but does a lot of hopping) and a monster called No Face.

Chihiro (Spirited Away) and her odd friends: three bouncing heads turned into a fly, a giant baby who is now a mouse, and No Face.

There are a billion other little quirks which set Mr. Miyazaki’s movies apart.  Environmentalist themes for one.  From the blatently obvious Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, to the more subtle (i.e., not a central plot point) Spirited Away.  Miyazaki has been exploring man’s relationship with nature before it was really a huge world worry.

I have to mention The Cute as well.  Mei and the Totoros in My Neighbour Totoro, the soot-balls in Spirited Away, Ponyo’s cry of ‘HAAAAAAM!’ whenever that delicious meat is served, they are all amazingly adorable.

But perhaps, despite all this some might worry that the plots might be a little too weird, that they lack the cultural understanding to really love the movies.  I mean just what are Kodamas?

#1: Kodamas are adorable, #2: They appear in Princess Mononoke

I agree, at first these movies do seem a little odd.  I didn’t watch Spirited Away at first because the plot sounded too strange, and I like anime.  Yet, that doesn’t seem to matter.  Perhaps because the translations make allowances for a Western Audience (side note: the dubs for Miyazaki movies are all excellent.  Definitely not your usual tragically-abridged-plus-annoying-voices fare), or perhaps because the core stories tend to be so universal, the lack of cultural understanding doesn’t seem to matter.  In fact I like that the environment is so radically different than anything I’m used to.  It’s much more interesting

Take Howl’s Moving Castle.  As you may know, it was first a book by Diana Wynne Jones (and an excellent one at that).  The book and movie differ substantially, and it’s neither suffers for it.  I find that, after I read a book so many times, it loses a bit of its charm.  I still love it, but I don’t enjoy reading it quite so much as I used to even if it is a favourite.  The difference between the two was thus refreshing, as it is probably the closest I’ll ever get to experiencing the same story twice for the first time.

Above all, I love the general feel of these movies.  Although there is a good deal of action in most of them, the pacing is fairly slow.  Often, there may be a fair bit going on and then you find yourself watching the characters ride a train, looking at the water, and doing nothing really.  The whole movie Whisper of the Heart is entirely these sorts of scenes with little action (no surprise, since it is slice of life genre).  By movie standards, not much happens.  This translates into movies which are just so peaceful.  I am often not on the edge of my seat, and it’s rather lovely.

I’ll leave you with a list of his movies (which I’ve seen, which is most of them), sort of in order of preference, but to be honest this list would probably be ordered differently had I made it yesterday, the day before and yet again the month before:

  • Princess Mononoke (English script written by Neil Gaiman, so you know it’s good)
  • Spirited Away (a bit of a deeper story than it first appears *link*)
  • Ponyo
  • The Cat Returns (Ok, so not actually a Hayao Miyazaki movie, but still Studio Ghibli)
  • Howl’s Moving Castle
  • My Neighbour Totoro (possibly a deeper story than you may think.  Warning: clicking the following link will forever change your view of this movie.  It will no longer be simply cute and joyful, but slightly horrifying and disturbing as well *link*)
  • Whisper of the Heart
  • Porco Rosso
  • Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
  • Laputa: Castle in the Sky

These are a few of my favourite books

I am deliberately not fulfilling the purpose of this essay.  If you’ve read my second essay, you’ll know I had a not so positive experience with liking, or rather definitely not liking, certain ‘classics.’  As such I find myself a tad unwilling to suggest that everyone should read a book based on my own, highly subjective, opinion.  Luckily, the description of the topic indicates that I can instead write about books I “can’t stop talking about.”

With that in mind I went to my bookshelf and chose some books which I have read and re-read countless times.  They aren’t so much deep or sophisticated books so much as books that I devoured the first time, went back to for seconds, then thirds, and casually nibble at when I’m bored.

Quick note: The Harry Potter books, Lord of the Rings and Terry Pratchett’s Books all deserve to be here.  I excluded these because I figured you’d already know enough about the first two, and I find it very difficult to choose just one of Terry Pratchett’s books.

Reader Beware: [very minor] spoilers ahead.  There will be further warnings.


Title: Flipped
Author: Wendelin Van Draanen
Age I was when I first read it: 13

At first glance, the plot of this book is underwhelming.  Bryce and Juli meet at the age of seven when he moves into her neighbourhood.  For her, it’s the start of a years-long crush, for him it’s the beginning of “six years of strategic avoidance and social discomfort.”

What I really love about this story is the way it’s told.  It’s literally a he said/she said book; events are related first by Bryce and then re-told by Juli.  As expected, they often interpret events in completely different ways.  What makes this book work so well is Juli and Bryce.  They are relatable, sympathetic, and perhaps most importantly, are voiced realistically and distinct from one another.  It’s an elegant demonstration of how one can completely misinterpret someone’s actions and character despite ‘knowing’ them.  Hence the title of the book: as Bryce begins to realize that Juli might actually be pretty cool, she starts to wonder whether his pretty boy face hides a rotten interior.

To this day, this book has one of my favourite endings ever, both in plot and actual writing.  I won’t spoil it though, so go read it if you want to know!


Title: Airborn Trilogy (Airborn, Skybreaker, Starclimber)
Author: Kenneth Oppel
Age I first read it: 14

Pirates! Airships! Romance that Defies Class Distinctions!  Need I say more?  Ok, I will.  Space Travel! Lost Treasure! Being Stranded on an Uninhabited Island!

These books are set in some Victorian-esque period but with differences (hello, steampunk).  In this world there exists the mango-scented element Hydrium, which has all the lift of hydrogen and none of the explosiveness.  This convenient property allows balloon airships to dominate the skies.  The heroine of the books, Kate de Vries, is rich, pretty, intelligent, and extremely stubborn.  In short: a believable and likable character.  But it’s really the hero and narrator, Matt Cruse, that steals the show.  In Airborn, he is the youngest crew member and cabin boy of the airship Aurora.  He’s honest, hard-working, quick-thinking and a wee bit prone to jealousy.  To be honest I like him so much I kind of wish he were real.  So I could date him.  Possibly marry him.  And maybe even have his babies.  That sort of thing.  Alas, it is not to be, for he lives in the fictional world and I in this thing called reality.  (Jasper Fforde, this is where you come in!)

Action-y books such as these work best when the writing doesn’t get in the way of the action.  That is generally the case with Kenneth Oppel, but when you do notice the writing, it’s because it’s really good.  Especially the endings.  The man knows how to end a book.  If his books were a present, and the final words a ribbon, that package would sport a very fine bow, a very fine bow indeed.

Title: Howl’s Moving Castle
Author: Diana Wynne Jones (RIP)
Age I first read it: not sure…high school sometime…maybe 15?

This book is the only book I have ever read that I wanted to read all over again immediately after I finished it.  But I didn’t.  I waited as long as I could so that the book could retain that first-read charm for as long as possible.  I lasted a month.

There are two things I love most about DWJ books: the characters and the magic.  Magic in her books is not of the Harry Potter wand and spell variety.  It’s a little of the symbols and incantations type, but mostly its just unpredictable and a bit incomprehensible.  It’s not consistent from person to person or book to book, and she rarely bothers to totally explain it. (In her book Fire and Hemlock I still don’t understand the ending.  I’m pretty sure it was a happy ending, but as to how they got there…Interestingly enough, this has no bearing on my enjoyment of the book: it was excellent and I plan to read it again someday).  *minor spoiler (the text is white, so highlight if you want to read it)* For instance, Sophie’s magical ability in this book is channeled through verbal encouragement.  Only Sophie’s brand of encouragement isn’t gentle, it’s more abrupt and forceful.  It’s kind of like good-natured bullying, if that makes any sense. *spoiler over*

Which brings us to Sophie.  The story starts rolling when she accidentally offends the Witch of the Waste, who then turns Sophie into a 90-year-old woman.  As a young woman Sophie is timid and shy.  As an old woman she’s cranky, opinionated, stubborn and just generally awesome.  A perfect match to Howl, who is irresponsible, lazy, immature and a wuss.  Add to that a sarcastic fire demon, parallel worlds, and castle that actually does move, and you’ve got a recipe for a delightful book.

And that’s it.  I probably could have written much, much more about each of these books.  But I won’t.  Read them yourself!  Or, you know, don’t.  Whatever strikes your fancy, floats your boat etc.

NB: I’ve noticed in the past few months that I rarely use similes or metaphors in my writing.  If you feel there is an excess of imagery in this post, it is because I am experimenting with them at the moment.


Not an Essay Post, or an Excuse Post, Merely a ‘This is Interesting and I Wanted to Share’ post

I am a huge Hayao Miyazaki/Studio Ghibli fan.  I especially love the soundtracks of those movies, especially the piano.  Apparently they’ve been re-imagined into heavy metal versions.

Album trailer:

And here’s one of the songs in its entirety (from Laputa: Castle in the Sky):

I’ve listened to some of the songs and so far actually kind of like them.  This is coming from someone who is not, nor has ever, been a fan of heavy metal.  Here is a review of the album, which gives a bit more info than I’ve said here.

The real test is whether I still like the album after I’ve listened to it 20+ times.

Also: essay 5 should be up some time this weekend.


“Eustace Clarence Scrubb, or as we like to call him: Useless Clarence Scrubb”

click to go to the tumblr where I found this image

I used to think I was the only one who did this.

I almost always smell a book before reading it.  Old books, new books, shiny-paged books: you can tell them apart by their scent.  Really old books contain more than just that familiar old book smell though; the fungi that grow on such books are likely a source of hallucinogens.  So crazy old academics?  Maybe they’ve just spent a little too much time in the library.

I’m not entirely sure where I first heard the above (the link is just from a quick google search to make sure I hadn’t made the fact up).  When I first began thinking about writing this essay, I realized I wasn’t sure exactly what I would define as ‘useless’ knowledge.  Isn’t all knowledge valuable in some way?  Isn’t it always useful?  After all, the fact above is interesting and affords me some sense of pleasure in knowing and relating the information.  This is still a use, if not a particularly great one.  Therein lies the key to my dilemma.

According to certain youtube sources one can define knowledge as either informational or educational.  The former is a collection of facts that may give you an understanding of a very small aspect of some broader subject.  While it would take a lifetime and more to understand any subject completely, educational – or ‘useful’ – knowledge provides the context for that information such that one can comprehend a the subject complexly.  Maybe this is obvious to you, but at first it wasn’t to me.

For instance, my recent obsession with Korean dramas means that I know (roughly) how to say ‘I’m sorry’ or ‘I love you’ in Korean, but lacking an understanding of pronunciation, grammar or any other vocabulary I can’t actually use that knowledge to speak to a Korean.  It’s useless in a real-world setting.

This is a from a drama called 1st Shop of Coffee Prince (weirdly translated), and one of the best I've seen.

Korean dramas fulfill my desire for cheesy romance founded on extremely unlikely yet hilarious (and sometimes, ok pretty much always, really angsty) plotlines.

As I said before, useless knowledge often offers hints to the whole.  I know that the word ‘evil’ used to mean ‘uppity’ and ‘nice’ meant ‘mean’.  If I knew nothing else about historical linguistics, I would understand from this fact that language changes over time.  I wouldn’t understand how it changes, why it changes, or why this is significant, but perhaps simply being interested in this fact would prompt me to seek out its background.  Even if it doesn’t, I know more about language than I did before.

I was in Tech I this past semester.  I loved it.  Especially the Newton project.  A lot of the things I learned about Newton during the project would be categorized as useless knowledge.  It’s not really important to know that he and Hooke disliked each other, or that he was not very nice to Leibnitz.  But Newton seems less like a historical figure and more like an actual person to me now.  Consequently, his discoveries and work hold more interest (for me).

I think the danger of informational knowledge is that you may begin to think you understand something totally when you really only know a very little bit about that subject.  The internet is rife with examples of such people.  And, in writing this essay, I think I’m beginning understand the idea that the more you know the less you actually know…maybe.

NB: The name of this post is a quotation from some children I know.  It has to do with The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.  It doesn’t totally make sense for this post, but I don’t really care.