I struggle with this often.


It’s that article “1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or underemployed” by Hope Yen of the Associated Press.

Here’s the deal.

One side of me hopes that every college counselor — from Ivies to community college (we’ll not talk about those vampiric for-profit institutions) — strongly advises students there on loans to study something that will lead them to a career that hires and pays. STEM or healthcare (nursing), basically. Sometimes this isn’t possible because STEM and nursing are a lot of work and not always conducive to college-like fun, and sometimes it’s not possible because STEM and nursing requires some decent high school math / science + study skills. Leave the humanities to the rich kids whose parents can support them through years of unpaid internship where they have to doll up every day to enter the lottery, or whose parents can find a friend in industry to get them the career that they want. No no — be an engineer, and then you can do all the creative writing you want in your spare time.

The other side of me recoils at the thought of “leaving the humanities to the rich kids.” No! Everyone deserves to investigate the questions that interest her. This exploration cannot be left to the already-privileged, for if it is, the concepts and creations of humanity will still be crafted by the elite. 

Is that worse than some guy saddled with loans until his 50’s because he chose art school over engineering?

carroty ambrosia

carroty ambrosia

I often think that children say that they don’t like vegetables because they’ve only been served badly cooked vegetables. The boiled pre-frozen industrial carrot pennies I was served at lunch would certainly have turned me into a meat-and-starcher, so I’m really glad my parents found the time to make this at home.

This recipe makes farm fresh carrots really sing with sweetness, and adds brightness to the winter table. It’ll also help you practice your knife skills, since you’ll be slicing a lot of carrots. It’s also not a fussy recipe, and can be good training wheels for those trying to learn to cook without measuring.

Needless to say, I really like this stuff; I think of it as ambrosia because the oil takes on a bright goldenrod color. I would seriously consider this for my last meal. But food of the rich it is not: this is definitely classic northern Chinese peasant food (or maybe my parents made it up).

You will need:

  • Good chef’s knife / Chinese cleaver (sharp! a dull knife is a dangerous knife)
  • Some kind of pan / pot with a lid
  • Two wooden tossing spatulas / spoons. Plastic melts and I find that kind of freaky when that happens in my food.
  • Neutral cooking oil (corn, vegetable, safflower, peanut, ….)
  • A few cloves of garlic (say 4, if you really can’t decide, though it depends on how much you like garlic and how much carrot you can handle)
  • One scallion
  • Carrots (as much as your pot / pan can handle)
  • Mushrooms
  • Shredded meat / stock / meat-flavored bullion / soy sauce
  • Salt

You will do:

A. Prep

1. Peel, wash, and slice carrots into 1/8″ slices. Slice on the diagonal so you have bigger slices. You can do it. It’ll take a little time. Perfection is not required, but even slices mean even cooking. Keep these in a colander and agitate so the carrots are mostly dry.

2. Brush off the mushrooms, and slice them into 1/4″ slices. This should be a piece of cake. Put these in another bowl.

3. Slice garlic — 1/8″ is fine: not too thin. Cut scallion into similar rings. A trick is to cut the scallion in half, then those two in half, and stack the 4 parts on top of each other — you’ve cut your cuts in fourths. You can keep these on the cutting board.

B. Cook

4. Pour oil into dry pan, and turn on stove. Use the largest burner smaller than the pan; electric stoves go all the way up; gas probably needs only 1/2 strength. When cold, the oil should cover 3/4 of the pan. Let the oil warm — it’ll seem thinner and develop a sheen when it’s “warm.”

5. Add your sliced garlic and scallions. This infuses the oil with their flavor. Wait until the garlic barely changes color — make sure nothing burns, or everything will taste like burnt garlic. If it looks like the edges are browning before the centers of slices are even approaching soft / warm, your oil is too hot. Kill the flame, take the oil off to cool a little, and continue, with a lower setting.

6. Add carrots. If you left on too much water, it’ll snap crackle and pop; use the pot lid to defend yourself. When calm, use spatulas to toss the carrots. You’re kind of making a hot salad here, and the oil is the dressing.

7. A step for the brave: stop tossing so the bottom layer can caramelize (burn) a little. Caramelization is proof that god loves us (and I’m an atheist). Scrape them up when there’s been a bit of browning.

8. Add a small amount of liquid, maybe 1/8 of an inch on the pan. If you have stock, put it in here. If you’re going to use bullion, dissolve it in water, and add it now. Put the lid on — the liquid was to allow some steam to form, and you need to keep it in the pot so it can cook your carrots. Think back to CHEM33, heat of fusion, etc. Reduce flame to ‘mellow’ (medium, on electric).

9. Check back in 5 minutes or so. Take out a representative slice and give it a taste. Yeah? It’s only going to get better, because you’re going to add salt to taste. This means adding salt, stirring, etc. until satisfied — you want this to land on the saltier edge of your taste because you’re going to dilute the mixture with your mushrooms. Add shredded meat if you’re into meat.

10. Turn up the stove a bit. Add mushroom slices, and mix well with carrots. Lid goes back on for a minute or two.

11. Check. Taste a mushroom. Not cooked? Put the lid back on and let it cook; check back. Is it flavorful? Taste the carrots. Good? Move on No? Add salt to taste (see step 9). If the carrot and the mushroom mismatch in flavor, you need to stir more.

And you’re done!

Serve with starch of choice. The oil is a nice color, as all the fat-soluble beta carotene from the carrots has moved into it, so you might consider a lighter whole-grain bread (toasted, of course; cf. step 7). I personally like brown rice.

A note on ‘shredded meat’: I don’t mean pulled pork or that barbecue business. Just like, some part of animal, preferably pork or beef, that has been cooked with a soy profile, more or less. It’s just a vehicle for “savory” flavor, namely, hydrolyzed protein. The mushrooms are doing a big part in providing this, but meat is just another dose of it. You’ve heard of MSG — that’s the factory-artificial-copout version of what you’re adding here.


Add mu’er (wood ears) before sticking the lid on the first time. You’ll need to soak those, as mu’er is usually sold dried (and sometimes vastly condensed — try your best to decipher the package instructions).

Dr. Joseph Chen on Joseph Needham / The Man Who Loved China (Simon Winchester)

Remember when I read Two Books, one of which was The Man Who Loved China, by Simon Winchester?

I read the book to take part in a book discussion. This book discussion actually followed a lecture by Dr. Joseph Chen (UCSD), an expert on Joseph Needham (the protag). These two events, joined by a pizza and salad dinner, comprised another Year of China event.

Dr. Chen’s talk was really interesting. It actually didn’t talk about Joseph Needham, the person, but actually further explored some of the topics Needham was interested in, namely astronomy and acoustics, and updated Needham’s findings with recent archaeological discoveries.

I was initially horrified that his talk was entirely his reading off his slides, word for word, mispronouncing some. It made me lament again at why Chinese men seemed to be so much worse than their female counterparts at learning English, etc. — but then I realized that this might be a characteristic of old academics, compounded by a difficult-to-learn language: I’ve certainly had professors who taught their seminars as lectures where they read off ancient typewritten pages.

Enough about the lecturing itself — the lecture, once more, was a reinvestigation of some astronomy findings. I remember no proper nouns (language hammer hits me as well), but there is an astronomical text that reports about the alignment of constellations on equinoxes. From this, scholars have been able to determine that the most plausible time for that alignment to have happened — and the document to have been written — was 2400 BC. This was evidence that the human beings in China were doing astronomy in 2400 BC.

But then, when esteem in China hit lows in 19th century Europe, people (in fact, Japanese scholars // knee-jerk prejudice check — ask me about this if you don’t know what I mean) decided to say that if you took the time of observation to be 7pm instead of 6pm, it could have been much earlier (7th century BC?) — and thus the document would no longer be evidence that Chinese civilization was around in an organized, science-performing way, and in fact, the astronomy itself could have been a Babylonian derivative.

…but then someone unearthed a bunch of bells — and a big wooden chest. These were easy to date; they were really old (2400 BC) and the chest had a carving that matched up with the first document.

Now the bells. These were bona-fide chromatic bells, man, crafted in shapes so that they would not resonate for as long, and would not require the musician to dampen it.

The chromaticism of the bells (woah, let’s sing that instead of Carol of the Bells) confused me because Chinese music is thought of as so so so firmly pentatonic. [insert kid from street who pulls up corners of eyes and, in an inplausibly in-tune way, sings “A A-A G G E E G”]

I couldn’t figure out why Chinese music was holding out on me — why hadn’t I heard this chromatic music of the motherland yet? Was there some Imperial council that decided that oh, 12 tones were not conducive to the empire’s stability and we should go back to only 5, a la Council of Trent (polyphony, piousness, Palestrina)?

Turns out; no. I asked Dr. Chen after the talk, and it was rather that the chromatic tones allowed musicians to move between various pentatonic mode/scales. [This reminds me of that footnote in Joseph Fux’s Dr. Gradus ad Parnassum that talks about the hard and soft hexachords, or whatever] In other words, chromatic tones were for modulatory purpose only, not for staying in. (how people knew, I will not ask)

Shame; I was so hoping for this big trove of late-Romantic –> 20c. works to be unearthed from China’s musical history, just waiting to be brought to light (modernity, westernity, whatnot), just as Needham …shipped (nicer-sounding than ‘stole,’ right?) a bunch of cool scientific widgets from China’s scientific history and put them in boxes in his Cambridge office-manor.

Oh! One final really cool thing / bit of nonsense:

Apparently the word for ‘pitch’ in the old days was lv4, the same as the second character in ‘law’, and the word that usually means ‘rate.’  I’m sure this was a retrofitting, but look! the physics of sound is so transparent in the language! I hadn’t been that excited since learning that ‘function’ was literally ‘envelope number.’ f sends members of Z/pZ to the complex numbers — via first class mail.

love her!

Yuja Wang: Talented, Eye-Catching, Unapologetic

“Music criticism should be to musicians what ornithology is to birds,” she wrote recently on her Twitter feed.

“She will play as a soloist but also as an accompanist when important things are happening in the orchestra. That is an unusual quality for a card-carrying virtuoso.” (quote: Michael Tilson Thomas, SFO conductor)

“I love saunas. That’s my way of relaxing.” She added, laughing: “I’m so lazy. People ask me, ‘What sports do you do?’ None. I love to read, and I have a Kindle now.”

Ms. Wang’s attire has generated lively discussions about what is appropriate for classical artists to wear. The orange minidress she wore for a performance of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 3 with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl in August set off debate in newspapers and blogs.

Ms. Wang said she was initially both “weirded out” and amused by the reaction, noting that she had already worn the same dress without fanfare in Santa Fe, N.M.; at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam; and at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland. “Europe loved it,” she said, so she hadn’t thought it would be a big deal to wear it in Los Angeles.

“They were paying attention to this rather than the music,” she said. “Which makes sense, as L.A. is kind of superficial and more visual. But they have rules about what classical musicians should be wearing, which I think is stupid.”

Yet she acknowledged that the publicity might have helped her Carnegie debut in October sell out. For the first half of that concert, she “looked like a nun,” she said, in a long black dress.

“I wanted to do the shock value,” she added. “I can wear long and black too. I like being versatile.”

In the Dark

I went to Boston Tea Party at the start of Spring Break — really fantastic.

I was making comparisons all over the place between it and ballroom competitions, and a good way to sum it up may be via four factors: instruction, competition, social dance, glitter.

I’m not saying this is a fair comparison at all, nor do I even want to decide which is better, but it’s kind of fun to do. I also had this crackpot WCS : Lindy : Balboa :: American : International : Argentine, but I certainly don’t think there is any deep meaning.

Ballroom Competition Swing Convention
Instruction  None, really, except from other team members when you suddenly forget how to do a such and such.  4 hours a day, world-class instructors. I often found it hard to decide which lesson to go to.
Competition  This is the primary purpose! You dance for 90 seconds with your preassigned partner (unless you danced TBA); may not dance again.  “Jack and Jills” – I think it’s slightly longer. Randomized partnerings; you pair up and a die is tossed to determine how many partners you move down. I think everyone gets at least 2 shots (music of varying tempos, etc)
Social Dance  Fun dance! Um, sometimes there may be a random social dance thrown in, on the order of one or two songs.  12-6am. This is where I learned that I have a lot lot lot lot lot of work to do on WCS and even more on Lindy.
Glitter  Glitter, spray-tan, hairspray. Baby polar bears from the 1970s cry.  Not very much! There is some hair-whipping and red lips. Men are fairly pasty.

But I wanted to repost an entry (previously posted privately, more or less) from about this time last year. Some things have changed, but most things have not.

title: it’s a Dev song. [“on my waist, through my hair,” not “optimize last”]

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you lousy licker of rotting barrels where muskrats of ill breeding have made their merry

I keep having these ridiculous thoughts / questions on Chinese characters, and they’re precipitating themselves into a new tumblr.

They’re ridiculous to the native learner/reader: Whereas normal use language for useful things, I just have visitation rights to the characters, so I see them in isolation, every other Saturday, then get carried away with taking them to the amusement park, feeding them lollies, and commit grand acts of story-interpretation.

For example: ‘sand’ (沙): sand, from a desert, where there is a paucity (少) of water (水)? They are things that I am pretty sure are false (少 just gives the sound, and we all know that sand requires water to abrade stone), but are silly and fun to me.

The name?

Illegitimate Puns (http://illegitimatepuns.tumblr.com/).