Saturday, November 1, 2008

Fixing iTunes 8 Podcast Refresh with AppleScript

I have a problem.[1] I am addicted to podcasts. I blame Leo Laporte whose "netcasts" were some of the first I subscribed to, and who just kept adding more shows to the TWiT network.

But that's not my real problem. My real problem is that Apple added one feature to iTunes 8 when they should have added two, or even three. iTunes 8 let users set the refresh frequency (and other attributes) on a per-podcast basis. This is a reasonable feature as far as it goes, though even daily podcasts tend to be somewhat irregular in their posting time.[2]

The problem is that while I can now tweak the individual podcasts, I can't seem to consistently apply an overall setting for the update frequency. The UI is ambiguous: the "Use Default Settings" checkbox is underneath the "Settings for:" drop down, which has a horizontal rule separating it from the "Check for new episodes:" drop down. Even worse, I can't manually enter a time or date for the update schedule. The whole point of having iTunes update my podcasts automatically is so that I don't have to get up at 5:30 AM and click the damn "Refresh" button myself, not even the first time to get the ball rolling. UI Fail.

Admittedly, a comprehensive UI for configuring various podcast options might end up looking like Cast Away from Wooden Brain Concepts.[2] That might be a bit too much for most users, but the failure of iTunes to include a simple date/time entry box seems pretty stupid.

That said, I did come up with a relatively simple solution using AppleScript and iCal. I did try it first with Automator, but it didn't give me access to podcast updating actions, and recording a "See Me Do" workflow failed because Automator was recording the name of the Podcasts "row" in iTunes and the number of podcasts. So instead of just matching on "Podcasts", it would try to match on "Podcasts (100)", which of course changed every time podcasts were added and deleted. FAIL.

The actual solution was to delve a bit into AppleScript and create the following script:

tell application "iTunes"
end tell

I saved it as an application, then created a new event in iCal which opened this application as an alarm action at 5:35 AM, repeating daily. In theory, I can now create another event to update my iPhone, and this I can do using an Automator workflow.

Now I can sleep soundly at night, knowing that I'll get all my podcast updated before I have to get up for work. At 5:45 AM.

[1] There are many other problems like it, but this one is mine.

[2] And I'm not sure I ever understood the "update hourly" setting for podcasts. Really, you really need to check every hour for something that you might not listen to for days? And if you are listening to something every hour, why isn't it just being streamed? Sounds like some OCD designer/programmed added the option for completeness only.

[3] Playing with Cast Away right now. Lots of interesting features, but nothing obvious for explicitly setting podcast update times.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The Road to Carpathia

I wrote this back in 1999 for PEERS' annual Bal des Vampires. It is actually a sequel to a 1997 skit. If the characters seem weirdly familiar, it's because they are.

The Road to Carpathia

A Skit in One Unnatural Act

By Paul T.S. Lee


The Players

Vladdy Ricardo (Paul Lee): An alter ego of the Count, Vladdy comes from the Little Havana part of the Carpathians. He is a band leader first (Vladdy Ricardo's Latin Orchestra), a vampire second.

Lucy Ricardo (Ruth Chow): A native of California, she met Vladdy while attending Columbia (he worked swing shift at the med school blood bank and bussed tables at the Bat Cave, a vampire club in Spanish Harlem). Lucy knows that Vlad is a vampire, but hopes that modern science might have a cure soon.

Vladdy Ricardo Jr. (LW Boy): Also known as Little Wooden Vlad, Little Vladdy, or just Vladdy Jr. He is about to turn 3. He is not quite a vampire, nor is he entirely human. Neither modern science nor literary criticism theory is able to explain Vladdy Jr.'s existence or status, which is just fine with the Ricardo's.

Ethel Mertz (Jessica): Lucy's best friend and upstairs neighbor. She thinks Lucy's big secret is that Vladdy does not have a green card.

Fred Van Helsing Mertz (Steve George): Ethel's husband and a friend of Vladdy's. He doesn't care that Vladdy doesn't have a green card (Vladdy does), but wonders if the Ricardo's will raise Vladdy Jr. as a Catholic.

Mina "Boom-Boom" Harker (Jennie Redwitz): Exotic dancer, occasional dance instructor, and ex-girlfriend of Vladdy. She is managed by her husband, Johnny.

Jonathan "Johnny" Harker (Greg Chow): Former lawyer, now full time manager for Mina. Favorite singer: Frank Sinatra.


The Props

  • LW Boy

  • Basket for Little Vladdy

  • Sign: "Ricardo Residence"

  • Sign: "A While Later"

  • Sign: "Welcome Carpathia High Grads"


    The Script

    Cathleen comes up towards the front of the hall, well before the stage, and speaks to the guests.

    Cathleen: And now, let us imagine a different history for Vlad the Impaler; one in which he was drawn to a different Lucy... a more modern Lucy...


    Act I, scene 1


    ["I Love Lucy" theme begins, enter VLADDY. Music fade out 5 seconds after entrance.]

    VLADDY: Babaloooo! Honey, I'm home!

    Enter LUCY from opposite side.

    LUCY: Hi Vladdy, how was the rehearsal?

    VLADDY: Not so good. The boys are tired of playing the same old tunes, and I just can't seem to find the time to write some new ones.

    LUCY: Poor Vladdy. I think you need a vacation.

    VLADDY: Maybe chou're right. We haven't had one since little Vladdy Jr. came along.

    LUCY: Of course I'm right. You work all night and sleep all day.

    VLADDY: That's not fair, sweetheart. I'm a vampire. I have to work nights.

    LUCY: Wah!

    VLADDY: Oh honey, please don't do that. It gives me such a headache.

    LUCY: [pauses] WAH!!! WAH!!!

    VLADDY: Uh, uh, look honey. Mail from the old country. Maybe I get a chance to take you and the band on the road.

    [Hands one letter to LUCY, opens and reads other.]

    VLADDY: "To Herr Frederich Van Helsing Mertz," Hey, this is for Fred! I didn't know his mother was a Van Helsing. I wonder if he is related to the other one. [Continues reading.]

    "We regret to inform you that your great uncle, Abraham Van Helsing, passed away in his sleep on 1st May." They are related! Ay yai yai. Fred, a Van Helsing.

    LUCY: "From: Carpathia High Class Reunion Committee"
    "To: Count Vladimir José Estephan Hohenzolleren Consuela de Soto Ricardo,"

    It's from your high school, dear. I think it's an invitation.

    VLADDY: "It was Herr Van Helsing's final wish that you should receive the Van Helsing family legacy and some portion of the estate. To expedite matters, we have booked passage by ship and train to Carpathia for you and your wife. We hope to see you soon.

    "Yours sincerely,

    "Hawkins, Seward, Holmwood & Morris, Esquires"

    LUCY: "Dear Count, As part of our special reunion celebration, we would like to invite you and your Latin Orchestra to come and play at the Reunion Ball. We hope that you and the band can come.

    "Yours sincerely,

    "Carpathian High Reunion Committee"

    VLADDY & LUCY: [together] Honey, we have to go to Carpathia

    VLADDY: What? Lucy, you're talking crazy again. This is serious. Fred is a Van Helsing!

    LUCY: What does that have to do with you?

    VLADDY: Van Helsing was a famous vampire hunter. He nearly caught me a couple of times before I decided to come to America.

    LUCY: Do you think that Fred is going to find out who you really are?

    VLADDY: Not if I can help it.

    LUCY: But you can. You and the band just got an invitation to your high school reunion. They want you to play at the ball.

    VLADDY: Really?

    LUCY: What if we go with Fred and Ethel? You can keep them out of trouble and find out what this legacy is, and Fred won't suspect a thing.

    VLADDY: That's a great idea honey. Here, let's seal this letter back up and get it to Fred. Then bring him and Ethel back here. Don't forget to act surprised when I mention that we're going to Carpathia.

    LUCY: OK. [exit LUCY]

    Hold up sign: "A little later...." Enter FRED, followed by ETHEL and LUCY.

    FRED: Vladdy, you home?

    VLADDY: Oh, hi Fred. How are you?

    FRED: You'll never guess what I just got in the mail.

    VLADDY: What's that, Fred?

    FRED: Boat and Train tickets to Carpathia. My great uncle on my mother's side passed away, and I have to go over there to claim my inheritance.

    VLADDY: What a coincidence, Fred. I just got an invitation to my high school reunion in Carpathia.

    [Enter ETHEL and LUCY.]

    ETHEL: Did you say Carpathia?

    VLADDY: Sure did, Ethel. [to Lucy] Honey, we just got an invitation for my high school reunion in Carpathia next month.

    LUCY: Say. I have an idea. Since we're all going to Carpathia, why don't we see if we can travel together?

    ETHEL: That's a wonderful idea. Lucy and I can go shopping while you boys play shuffleboard.

    FRED: Now don't start spending money we don't have yet, Ethel. How about it, Vladdy? Maybe you can show us some of the sights back home.

    VLADDY: Sure Fred. There are lots of sights to see on the Road to Carpathia.

    ETHEL: Come on Lucy, let's go pick out something to wear on the Road to Carpathia.

    ALL TOGETHER: [singing] We're off on the Road to Carpathia We certainly do get around.

    Boom, chica boom, chica boom, chica boom, chica boom, chica boom, etc.

    [Exit all in a conga line as singing fades out]


    Act I, scene 2

    INT. CASTLE W/SIGN "Welcome Carpathian High Grads"

    [MINA is doing warm-up exercises, while Johnny watches. Enter VLADDY, LUCY, FRED, ETHEL, in same conga line from scene 1.]

    VLADDY: Mina, long time no see. You remember my wife Lucy. And these are our friends, Fred and Ethel.

    LUCY: Hello, Mina.

    MINA: Hiya Lucy. Hiya Vladdy. Ethel, Fred, nice to meet you. This is my old man, Johnny.

    JOHNNY: Howya doin'? You folks comin' to see Mina's number at the dance?

    FRED: Actually, I have to be at the lawyer's office. We were suppose to get here before dark, but the sun sets awfully early around here, and I'm afraid I'm running la....

    ETHEL: [Interrupting] Are you the Mina "Boom-Boom" Harker? Arrested in 27 states and Canada?

    MINA: Always glad to meet a fan. That's 28 states now, and Puerto Rico.

    ETHEL: Gosh, I've always wondered what you do in your act. Every time I get to that part in the newspaper, Fred takes it away.

    FRED: [Interrupting] Well, Ethel, obviously Mrs. Harker is quite busy getting ready for her ah, ah, ah....

    MINA: "Performance?"

    FRED: [Relieved] "Performance." We shouldn't disturb her any longer.

    MINA: That's all right, Fred. The girls can stay and watch. You boys will just have to wait 'till the show.

    VLADDY: Come on Fred. Why don't you go see if the lawyers are in. Johnny and I need to check on the band. We'll see you girls back at the hotel.


    LUCY: [To MINA] So. You and Vladdy dated.

    MINA: When I was younger. Anyway that was ages ago. You don't have anything to worry about. Johnny is the man for me.

    LUCY: Well....

    MINA: You probably wouldn't care if I did something else for a living.

    LUCY: No, I guess not.

    MINA: Lucy, honey. You may not believe it, but I have helped keep more couples together than you know.

    ETHEL: How do you do that?

    MINA: Dancing lessons.

    ETHEL & LUCY: Dancing lessons?

    MINA: Girls, every woman can do what I do on stage. It just takes a little professional coaching.

    ETHEL: Really?

    MINA: Sure, hon. Watch.

    [dancing lesson to the song "Hell" by Squirrel Nut Zippers]

    [MINA begins by show some burlesque moves. ETHEL enthusiastically tries steps, pulls LUCY in, who is reluctant at first. As lesson progresses, she gets more into it. Actual dance steps TBD.]

    MINA: So you see, girls, with some imaginative costuming and a few of these moves, you can keep your man interested for a long time.

    ETHEL: Gee, thanks Mina.

    MINA: Anything for Vladdy's friends.

    LUCY: Yeah, thanks Mina. Gosh, Ethel, we should get back to the hotel and change for the dance. See you after your show, Mina.

    MINA: See you later, girls. And keep practicing those steps.

    [Exit LUCY & ETHEL to side room, giggling.]


    Act I, scene 3

    INT. Same as before. Enter VLADDY & Johnny.

    JOHNNY: Hi honey. How did the lesson go?

    MINA: Just fine. Say, Vladdy, that Lucy of your can really dance.

    VLADDY: Thanks Mina. Listen, you two. I need your help. My friend Fred is a relative of Van Helsing.

    JOHNNY: Not the Vampire Hunter?!

    VLADDY: Yes. And the family lawyers have told him that there might be vampires at the reunion tonight, so he's coming to stake us out.

    MINA: How do you know about all this.

    VLADDY: The lawyers told me. Professional courtesy.

    JOHNNY: We can't let him find out anythin'.

    VLADDY: That's where I need your help. Could you two keep him occupied when I'm leading the band.

    MINA: Sure thing, hon.

    VLADDY: Thanks. [Looks at watch] Gotta go do the last sound check. Mina, I'll cue your entrance as soon as the second set is over. [Exits]

    JOHNNY: Eh, Mina, I have an idea.

    MINA: Really?

    JOHNNY: Yeah, and it'll take care of this situation, permanently. Here's what you're gonna do.

    [Exits whispering to each other.]


    Act I, scene 4

    [At the ball, backstage. Entry music the last 10 seconds of "Hell".

    Enter VLADDY and MINA.]

    MINA: Thank you, thank you. You are all too kind.

    VLADDY: Let's have another round of applause for our very own Mina "Boom-Boom" Harker. [pauses] And now, some more music from the islands. [to Mina] Nice show, Mina.

    MINA: Thanks, doll. A lot of familiar faces out there we haven't seen in decades.

    VLADDY: Centuries. I told the committee that if they made it a costume ball, people will come. You know how many of us like to live in the past.

    MINA: Not me, honey. Every night's a new night for me. You taught me that.

    [Enter JOHNNY, escorting LUCY.]

    JOHNNY: 'Nother great show, Mina. Hey, Vladdy, she dance, or can she dance!

    Enter FRED and ETHEL.

    ETHEL: Great show, Mina.

    MINA: Thanks, hon. You're doing pretty good yourself out there.

    FRED: Yeah, Mina. I don't know what you taught Ethel, but I haven't had this much fun on the dance floor in years.

    MINA: Well, Fred, you ain't seen nuthin' yet. [to ETHEL] Can I borrow him for a spin?

    ETHEL: If Lucy doesn't mind me borrowing Vladdy for a dance.

    JOHNNY: Bada-boom, bada-bang. And Lucy can dance with me.

    FRED: [to MINA] Mind if we stop by the buffet first? I could sure use a bite.

    MINA: What a coincidence! That's just I was thinking. [Holds out hand to FRED. FRED leads MINA off stage.]

    [Other couples begin to dance. Jokes go back and forth.]

    LUCY/VLADDY: What's a Vampire's favorite cocktail?

    A: Bloody Marys.

    JOHNNY/LUCY: What's black and white and red all over?

    A: A vampire at dinner time.

    ETHEL/VLADDY: How many vampire hunter does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    A: Three: one to drive in the stake, one to cut the base off, and one to stuff garlic in the socket.

    VLADDY/JOHNNY: What's a Vampire's favorite cut of meat?

    A: A steak.

    LUCY/ETHEL: What does a Vampire love with his morning croissant?

    A: Coffin-au-lait

    ETHEL/JOHNNY: Why aren't there any Jewish vampires?

    A: Because blood isn't kosher.

    LUCY: Hey Johnny, how did you and Mina meet?

    JOHNNY: It was love at first bite.

    [While jokes are happening, FRED gets "bitten". Wait for scream cue from FRED.]

    ETHEL: That sounded like Fred. [Rushes to FRED] Oh my God. Somebody help. He's white as a sheet.

    VLADDY: Oh, oh.

    LUCY: Vladdy, do something.

    VLADDY: It's too late, honey. [to Fred] Fred, Fred. Can you hear me?

    FRED: [Fred channels Bela Lagosi] I can hear everything. Do you hear them out there.

    [Sound cue for wolf howls] The Children of the Night. Such music.

    VLADDY: Cut it out Fred. You lost blood. That doesn't give you an accent.

    FRED: Oh.

    ETHEL: What happened, Fred?

    FRED: I went to the buffet with Mina, and then she bit me.

    MINA: Oh, oh. I think we used the wrong plan, Johnny.

    JOHNNY: [to FRED] Hey there, big guy. No offense, we were just trying to help Vladdy and keep you out of trouble.

    VLADDY: Well, it's too late now.

    ETHEL: What do you mean, too late? He's walking and talking. Really pale, but walking and talking.

    VLADDY: Ethel, your husband is now a Vampire. He will need fresh blood every two or three days. Unless someone puts a stake through his heart, cut his head off, and stuff his mouth full of garlic, he will live forever.

    ETHEL: Wah!

    LUCY: Don't cry, Ethel. You'll get use to it. After all, Vladdy is one of them.

    ETHEL: Really? I don't see him going hunting every night.

    VLADDY: No, no. Too much work. I'm part owner of a blood bank. Twice a week, I drop by for a transfusion. When I travel, I carry it in powder form. [pulls out zip lock bag, begin commercial section]

    Tired of hunting down your meals when far from home? Try Vladdy's "Hemo-Quik[tm]". Just add water. One little box can last you a week.

    LUCY: [Pulls out bottle] And when you're feeling run down, try Vita-veta-vegamin. [takes a swig] That's Vita-veta-vegamin. [Another swig; staggers]

    VLADDY: Ok, honey. That's enough.

    ETHEL: So everything will be alright?

    LUCY: It takes a little getting use to.

    MINA: But you will get to buy him a whole new wardrobe.

    ETHEL: Oh, shopping!

    MEN TOGETHER: Girls....

    LUCY: Oh hush. We'll be getting a few things for ourselves too. Dancing costumes.

    JOHNNY: Bada-boom, bada-bing. If you know what I mean.

    FRED: Well, if I'm going to stay up all night, let's dance!

    VLADDY: That's the spirit, Fred. Hit it boys. Conga line!!!

    [Exeunt Omnes Congus]


    Copyright 1999, 2008 by Paul T.S. Lee

    Creative Commons License
    This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.

    Thursday, September 25, 2008

    Intermittent Quality

    Who programs rain-sensing intermittent wipers? Have they actually driven in the rain? In traffic? In a car with a windshield?

    I've driven two cars with rain-sensing wiper systems. Two is a poor sample rate, but since I drive/drove them all the time, and one of them in a place where rain is not seasonal, my sample rate of their performance is very high. And I have zombie Richard Feynman on my side.

    Our Toyota Corolla Verso[1] has four levels of "rain" sensitivity, as well as two, fixed speed settings. To me, this implies a speed spectrum like this:

    0 - 0.2 - 0.4 - 0.6 - 0.8 - 1 - 2

    This was certainly the case in all the cars I've driven that had variable speed wipers that were directly controlled by the driver.

    However the actual spectrum I get on the Verso is:

    0 - WTF! - 1 - 2

    Changing the variable setting doesn't seem to affect the sensitivity of the system. What's more, the lowest sensitivity setting will cycle the wipers as fast as the highest setting. What??!!

    This is not rocket science, people. Regardless of how much the "rain sensor" is a technical black box, the data it outputs should be some normalized value which reflects how "wet" the windshield is, which is compared against a trigger value that's associated with what the driver has set.

    And this is probably one of the easiest features in a car to test. You don't need a track, you don't even need most of the car. A correctly configured windshield and wipers and a couple of spray bottles will iron out 80% of the bugs in the system. The other 20% will require misters and a shower head.

    Get on this, people. And fix my system while you're at it.


    [1] The Verso is something like a Sienna squished into the wheelbase of a Rav4. I wanted an actual mini-van, but neither Honda nor Toyota sold theirs in Europe.

    I never meta post I didn't like

    I started writing this entry some nine months before its posting date. Typical.

    While re-reading A.S. Byatt's Possession for the umpteenth time, I realized that one of her themes is totally why I've waited as long as I have (three-four years) to start a blog: For whom am I writing? In the Romance (not a Novel, especially when borrowing its preface from Hawthorn's preface to House of the Seven Gables), there are writings for Publication, private Correspondences and personal Journals. Byatt meditates on all three, through the thoughts of the characters as well as via the narrative voice. As one character puts it:

    Letters [...] exclude not only the reader as co-writer, or predictor, or guesser, but they exclude the reader as reader; they are written, if they are true letters, for a reader.

    Possession, Ch. 8

    Now, I did spend the better part of a year writing weekly newsletters, which were eventually distributed to something like 200+ people during its year-and-a-half of active life. I admit that part of the reason the newsletters stopped was that I'd come back to California with the family, and so a majority of people who got updated on my life via the newsletter could just come visit or phone without have to deal with trans-Atlantic time zone differences and international toll costs.

    Also, I'd be less than forthcoming if I didn't mention that it was hard work trying to put the events of the week into some sort of context, or at least come up with a framing device that could transform the snippets from social gatherings, family anecdotes, personal observations and baby pictures into a sort of Narrative. And the pictures were a pain as I felt this drive to organize them by event or time frame, tag them so that the file names would include the names of all the people in them (there really should be a standard for adding meta data, such as tags, to images, like id3 for audio files). This was partly due to a mild tendency to OCD on my part, but it also made it easier to track down specific images when the inevitable requests come in for the full resolution originals.

    At some point, I hit the wall on the pictures and the newsletters, which is why there are 11000+ photos from the last three-and-a-half years in my iPhoto library (if I could get my act together, I'd only keep about two months' of pictures in iPhoto, with the rest exported out to folders ordered by event and date) and the most recent newsletter dates from early 2005.

    So for a while now I've been thinking: a blog, that's the ticket, that'll help me to clear out iPhoto and finally let people know about our summer vacations, the Balls my wife and I have attended and the continuing adventures of my son. This urge has gotten stronger as I see more and more of my friends blog, though of course it doesn't help that they are also all over the place in terms of Voice and Audience. Many of them using their blogs as a primary source for their families (read: Grandparent types) to keep up with their children. Just as many blog mostly about current events, their non-familial interests and/or their jobs. A much smaller percentage will mix these two, though sometimes they will try to avoid this conflation of Narratives by having different blogs for different people. (Disclosure, I'm doing this as well, or rather, I plan on doing this as I also have another blog which will carry on the tradition from my original newsletters to share family updates. Just as soon as I can get some pictures tagged.)

    Well, as you can see, it's still slow going. Wish me luck in keeping this and the other blog updated.

    Sunday, August 17, 2008

    David Pogue: Eat Your Heart Out

    So I've been known to write lyrics now and then, particularly for the fine people of PEERS. The following were written in 1997 and 2003, respectively. The first was for an Arthurian themed event called "La Belle Daunce Sans Merci" and the second for for a Greek mythology event that was never produced. The choice of appropriate music is left as an exercise to the reader.

    A Song about some Orkney Lads

    Gee Mordred, what do you want to do tonight?
    The same thing we do every night, Robin:
    Try to take over the throne!

    They're Robin and Mordred
    Yes, Robin and Mordred
    One is a Bastard
    The other's brain-dead
    They're of the Orkney Clan, and
    Morgana's evil plan
    They're comin',
    They're Robin and Mordred, Dred, Dred, Dred
    Dred, Dred, Dred, Dred, DRED.

    Before our tale is done
    Their treach'ry will be shown
    By the dawning of the sun
    They'll take over the throne

    They're Robin and Mordred
    Yes, Robin and Mordred
    All the blood they've shed
    Is upon Morgana's head
    To prove their mother's bile
    They'll desecrate the Grail
    They're comin',
    They're Robin and Mordred, Dred, Dred, Dred
    Dred, Dred, Dred, Dred, NARF.

    (NB That's "Sir" Robin to you.)

    I Am The Strongest Man

    Oh better far to live and die
    Under the sword and shield I ply,
    Than play a Hera-crossed stepson's part
    With a crazy head and a strongman's heart.
    Away to the Hellenic world go me,
    Where Heroes fight with gymnastic glee
    But I'll be true to the Delphic Plan
    And live and die the Strongest Man.
        For I am the Strongest Man!
    And it is, it is the Delphic Plan
    To be the Strongest Man!
        For I am the Strongest Man!

            You are!
    Hurrah for the Strongest Man!

    And it is, it is the Delphic Plan
    To be the Strongest Man!

            It is!
    Hurrah for the Strongest Man!
    Hurrah for the Strongest Man!

    When I sally forth to seek my preys
    My royal master blocks my ways.
    I kill a few more beasts, it's true,
    Then King Eurystheus tells me to;
    And suddenly he is o'er keen
    To have his stables very clean,
    And manages to get me to
    More dirty work than e're I do,
        For I am the Strongest Man!
    And it is, it is the Delphic Plan
    To be the Strongest Man!
        For I am the Strongest Man!

            You are!
    Hurrah for the Strongest Man!

    And it is, it is the Delphic Plan
    To be the Strongest Man!

            It is!
    Hurrah for the Strongest Man!
    Hurrah for the Strongest Man!

    When lion, snakes, and birds I kill,
    It is a sign of my martial skill.
    Stag, boar, bull, mares, and cattle too
    Apples, Cerberus, a Girdle?
    Twelve years of labors have I done
    Can I go home to raise my son?
    And back in Thebes they say "You're Great!
    "But Herc, there's a Centaur at the gate.
        "For you, the Strongest Man!"
    And it is, it is the Delphic Plan
    To die the Strongest Man!
        For I am the Strongest Man!

            You are!
    Hurrah for the Strongest Man!

    And it is, it is the Delphic Plan
    To die the Strongest Man!

            It is!
    Hurrah for the Strongest Man!
    Hurrah for the Strongest Man!

    Hum at your own risk.

    Monday, March 10, 2008

    Ching-Shan Lee 1927?-2008

    As some of you already know, my father passed away on Tuesday, February 26. Unlike my mother's death, his was not unexpected. Dad's physical health had been in decline since before my mother's death and had done so rather precipitously after his fall at the end of 2006. This was further accelerated after falling a second time, as well as breaking his hip, in late 2007. Of course, if you had asked him, he would have said that he didn't expect to survive into the 21st century, and this from the early 90s, as my mother had told me at the time (and continued to tell me throughout the 90s). I last saw him just after Christmas last year, when he got a chance to see pictures of Tobias playing in the snow.


    My father was a survivor, an intellectual who was forced to work more often with his hands than with his mind. He survived the Japanese occupation of Manchuria (the family village is near Harbin). His personal convictions caused him to leave Beijing in early 1949, one step ahead of the Communists, and survived the trek to Taiwan, via Hong Kong and a stint in the Taiwanese Army (a journey which, incidentally took five years off his age). Those same convictions kept him from working as an acupuncturist in the US, as the licensing board was affiliated with Mainland China. Those convictions kept us from re-contacting his family in Beijing for years, and delayed our trip there until 1994, 45 years after he'd left it. But his other convictions, about personal honesty and importance of his children, my brother Eugene and I, led him and us into new lives. His losing a religious debate to a Jesuit at university caused him to convert to Catholicism. His personal disappointment at the Taiwanese government, as well as both our parents' desire to give us children better opportunities than the twin options of rote cramming our way into a place at university or a stint in the Taiwanese Army brought our entire family to the United States. A second exodus for both our parents (my mother was born and raised in Vietnam) and we were all strangers in a strange land.

    Embarrassed about his accent, he felt uncomfortable speaking English in front of native speakers, though he could understand them well enough (and he could "read" a person with amazing accuracy). So while my mother could still work at nursing related jobs while trying for her US license, my father ended up working as a stevedore of sorts, loading numbered cages at a food service distribution warehouse, and he would end his working life as cook at a Chinese fast food stand in a mall, six days a week. Those of you who've eaten my father's cooking (for it was my father who was the Chef of the house, mom was always sous-chef if they were both in the kitchen) will find it hard to reconcile the amazing dishes he made at home (often looking just like the pictures in recipe books) with the endless servings of "egg fu young" and "mu shu gai pan" from the food court. (Though I admit that my friends and I at Rice welcomed visits from Dad on Fridays nights, where dozens of egg rolls and a half pan of sweet and sour pork were eagerly wolfed down by always hungry college students.) Unwilling to take advantage of his culinary skills (he and mom attended cooking school with Fu Pei Mei in Taipei, and his technique is the reason I curl my thumb in at the cutting board), we passed up opportunities to run our own restaurants.

    Though he curbed his own ambitions, he expected much from Eugene and I. He had little knowledge of Rice University when I first entered, though eventually he'd clearly heard of its reputation from our Chinese friends, and was more than happy to tell people that I attended that "rice pot" school. And of course, Eugene was the one to actually get the first college degree in the family, while I left school and Texas for a journey of my own, which has brought me to my own strange land, thus completing some sort of cosmic, family loop. And if I have any regrets at all, it is that Tobias will not have any direct impressions of his Chinese grandparents, his Yehyeh and Nainai.


    As with my mother's passing in 2001, we will not have a full funeral ceremony, but will hold a viewing on March 19th, from 10 AM to 7 PM.

    Winford Funeral Home
    8514 Tybor Dr
    Houston, TX 77074
    (713) 771-9999

    (Tybor is off Gessner, one block South of Highway 59.)

    Eugene and I will be available to visitors at the viewing.

    In keeping with Chinese tradition, we will be handing out "red bags"--with candy and a coin inside--at the viewing. We ask that you eat the candy in remembrance of my father's cooking; and spend the coin for pleasure, in memory of the pleasure of my father's company.

    We also ask that you refrain from bringing flowers to the viewing or sending them to my parents' home, not for reasons of tradition, but ones of practicality: we simply have no space for them. Cards, however, would be most welcomed, and should be sent to:

    The Lee Family
    16922 Macleish Drive
    Houston, TX 77084

    We already have a memorial fund in my mother's name at Katy Hospital. If you are so inclined you can donate time, money or other resources (blood and plasma) to the Memorial Hermann Hospital System either in my mother's name (Chin-Ling Lee) or my father's. For more information about donating, go to:

    It was my father's wish to be interred with my mother. Eugene and I have decided that after cremating Dad's remains, we will eventually inter both their ashes with the remains of my maternal grandmother, who is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Los Angeles. This might take place as early as this summer, but we'll give advanced notice once we've gotten things organized.


    I will be in California from this coming Thursday, the 13th, to the 23rd (Easter Sunday) and will be in Houston from the 18th to the 20th. You can contact me via my US cell: 650-440-2270, though please be aware that Central European Time is five hours ahead of Eastern and eight hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time, so the ringer might be off depending on when you call.

    I hope to see some of you in the Bay Area and others in Houston.

    For future updates on this and other family related stuff (like long dormant Newsletter), please go to my other blog.

    Tuesday, January 15, 2008

    Long Distance Meta

    From nine time zones away, I'm keeping up with the Steve Jobs keynote at MacWorld 2008 via Engadget and TUAW. I was also trying to read Fake Steve's liveblog, but the app he's using seems to think that both Safari and Firefox are outdated. Maybe I need to be running in Leopard? Sigh.