Monday, March 31, 2008

Zsweet® review

I found Zsweet® in an 8.8 oz. shaker/spooner plastic canister at Hy-Vee, priced at $9.99 on sale(!) — in essence, granulated (therefore manufactured) erythritol, a naturally fermented sweetener used in Japan since 1990 especially for baking, and here labelled zero calories/carbs.

This is very expensive for diabetics looking for a sugar substitute. Apparently, the base ingredient erythritol (which is a "sugar alcohol" unlike sucralose which is chlorinated glucose) is also sold in bulk in health food stores and online (no links here!)

Although it may not have the customary saccharine-like aftertaste, Zsweet® does have a faint but striking odor which is the first thing out of the container. The scent is vaguely "natural" — maybe a bit like beer or malt, or maybe strawberries, or sweet bean curdish or tofu-ish — which does linger and which wears out its welcome rather quickly. Although, truth to tell, I'm a "taster," so you might not notice anything.

There is also a peculiar sensation that lingers forever, like biting down on a cold spoon straight out of the silverware drawer.

Hope that helps. As a sugar-in-my-tea junkie of 63 years, and a diabetic of less than a week, on my non-objective personal "Saccharine to Sucrose" scale from 1 to 10, I'd give Zsweet® a passable 5.0. It's sweet, and maybe it really is better baked into brownies 'n stuff, but it's not sugar by a country mile.

(On the high end of that scale: Refined white sugar, 10. Brown sugar, 9.5. Honey, all varieties, 9.5 down to 8.5, followed by molasses at 8.0. Refined maltose is about a 7 or less in my book. Splenda® maybe comes in at 4.5, my humble opinion.)


The Hell with Hillary, I'm Entitled!

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Reverend Earl David Craig the Crepuscular of West Smeesborough

Offsite: Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title


Friday, March 28, 2008

Burglars in the Belfry

Easter Monday or Tuesday, here at All Saints Catholic Church in Cedar Rapids, somebody nicked a jar full of $247 in small change and minor coin collected during Lent by our parish 8th graders — money earmarked for our poor and much-deserving sister parish in Haiti. The jar was apparently left unguarded in the church office, on the honor system, and Father Dave is mightily ticked.

Unfortunately for the offender(s), one of our deacons used to be Chief of Police around here for many years. It seems unlikely that the perps will escape his forensic skills, starting with the usual observations about inside jobs, fingerprints on the glass, guilty expressions and pattern recognition — such as similar events in other parishes over the years. I wonder if they left the jar behind, or took it with? I wonder if the Mafia has a contract out on the poltroons (like the Roy Scheider film, Sorceror, remember?)

Ten-to-one, Father Dave has already heard from the perp, and is waiting patiently for closure and restoration. Personally, I think it's either some kid, or somebody who maybe sleeps a bit too close to the belfry and has let in a few fluttering bats to worry between his ears.

Ok, it doesn't really rise to the level of a fullbore Agatha Christie, except for the Mortal Sin bit. And most of this parish could reimburse the damage out of pocket, if asked. But wow, isn't this iconic? You can almost hear the hammer-hard heels of Inspector Javert tearing over a foggy bridge in the night, after Jean Valjean with the bishop's candlesticks in tow...

Bearing no resemblance to Victor Hugo's Javert at all, Deacon K.'s most salient feature is the Long Homily.


Type II Diabetes

I never thought I'd get old this fast...!

If your mouth feels scorched, like the newspaper on the bottom of a birdcage left for weeks in the morning sunlight, and...

You have kidneys like the Rock of Gibralter, meaning whatever you pour on them drains right off, such that you, in fact, are way too acquainted with Polly P. Syndrome, then...

Get your blood glucose checked.

If you're lucky, like me, your Doctor will give you a free blood glucose meter and a hobby for life. You may have Type II Diabetes. Especially if you're round.


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Clinton prefers schism?

I see Her Royal Majesty Hillary Clinton is now proclaiming that True Political Correctness demands hiking up one's petticoats and storming out in a Royal Huffe whenever one's pastor says aught in the least disagreeable to the Well-Tuned Sensibility.

The irony, of course, is that that's what Henry VIII did, proclaiming himself the head of the Church of England (and Anne Boleyn the head of naught but the Footstoole of hys daughter's Throne, ironically enough.)

That's the charitable view.

The less sporting, but more accurate, view is that Hillary Clinton always unchurches herself when "her" pastor says something challenging — such as supporting the view that the Ugly American is back in spades.

Clinton is a churchwoman of easy conviction, in other words — and a practicing agnostic any hour not bookended between elevensies and high noon of a Sunday morning.



Our Compaq Presario V6010-whatsit bit the dust, after only 1 year on the job. That is disgustingly poor performance. Usually my computers outlive their usefulessness, except for the iBook, which is both obsolete and on its last legs.

We went online at Dell and "built" a nofrills Inspiron 1525 notebook, which should arrive about three days after April 1. No "productivity" software — that's what and Firefox are for. Less than $750 after shipping. There was an option for bulding a Windows XP system, but we went with Vista Home Premium anyway — I like Vista, I just hate to maintain it on "Vista Capable" machines like the Compaq (can you say "class action lawsuit"? Sockito'em!)


Sunday, March 23, 2008

RPG endgames should shift paradigms

There is nothing duller than a level 300 boss, except levelling up your entire party to face her. Instead of Yet Another Tibetan Yeti Elemental Zombie Hive Queen, what about an end game where the party has to solve a puzzle, especially a puzzle they've been working on for the last 500 levels? More Myst, less Bahamut, toward the end?

Ah, don't mind me, I'm just fuming about Gilgamesh, who appears throughout the Final Fantasy franchise, and seems about as annoying as Indalecio ever was.


A skiff of snow for Easter

Snow as parsimonious as a thin Presbyterian lather on an old man's cheek.


Friday, March 21, 2008

Nuclear winter

Well, the snow loitering around here seems to have got about the same half-life as Cobalt 58, more or less.

Look it up. No? Ok, 70.8 days


Monday, March 17, 2008

Samantha Power, You're My Hero

  • I could be a McCain Democrat, except... Halliburton, KGR, TSR goons running corrupt private businesses on guvmint time, torture, Neo-cons, delivering Bush, Cheney and Rice to The Hague. He won't do any of that. I'm not even sure he knows what the problem is.

  • I could be an Obamacan, except... If he can't beat Hillary Clinton's infernal Twister machine, he can't go to Oz, he can't get the Ruby Slippers, and he'll never find Toto in Time. I have a disturbing mental image of him wearing a pink tutu and gauzy fake wings, en pwant.

  • I could still be a Democrat, except... Hillary Clinton actually IS a bitch from Hell who'll say or do anything in true Clinton fashion. The closest to an apology for anything she can come to (oddly like George W. Bush, in this regard) is to talk about her own feelings. I'm with Samantha Power on this one, and now, like the unguided missile I am, I think I'll go fire myself.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Any Democrat is better than any Republican in November

Maybe McCain is a nice guy. But the atmosphere of get-away-with-anything, especially when "national security" is involved — such as Blackwater, Halliburton-KBR or those TSA goons who are running corrupt private shops on guvmint time — has got to go. We can't trust McCain to clean it up. He, like Bush, seems to be disqualified on the face of it, i.e., by nature unable to see the behaviors in front of his eyes.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Terry Pratchett has early-onset Alzheimer's

Terry Pratchett has "rare, early-onset" Alzheimer's, evidently, and has donated a million dollars to the Alzheimer's Research Trust. Diagnosed December, 2007.

Alzheimer's Research Trust
Discworld News

Crap! I just dropped a slim volume of literary criticism.


Friday, March 14, 2008

Eternal Sphere

Many questions, starting with what platform this is intended for? Apparently, all of the remakes are intended for PSP only ... which seems sort of braindead from a marketing perspective. Also, has the remake of the original improved the tedium of the final couple of chapters? Star Ocean One for the Super NES was excrutiatingly dull toward the end.

Also, check out the Japanese language Eternal Sphere Portal Site, which mentions Star Ocean 4 (while providing zero details!) Caution: None of these retooled games have an English language version yet, so far as I know. The English on the website is purely decorative, according to Japanese tastes.

My third observation is this: The new character art is guaranteed to lose fan interest. The figures are drawn flat, insipid and adolescent — more like fan art than what you'd expect from TriAce. This looks like pure marketing gorgonzola, and does not bode well for the franchise. Unless gameplay is something truly extraordinary by RPG standards (and Star Ocean: Second Story set the bar extremely high!), nothing I've seen on the new Eternal Sphere portal will convince me to consider blowing $150 on three refurbished games I've already played, plus $50 on some unknown commodity — plus $300 bucks for that pimped out Eternal Sphere PSP!

My final observation: Star Ocean 3 had what seemed like miles of dead ends and truncated story space — ladders you couldn't climb, stairways blocked by feeble "treasure chests," characters who suggested sidestories that went nowhere (the worst was Dilly the Unexplained Lousyd of Surferio, who offered to teach you how to swim underwater, thereby allowing you to explore the vast underwater ruin — a story slashed so hard and fast it almost bleeds). Star Ocean 4, one knows instinctively, will suffer alike — and the vast realms the PSP is capable of encompassing will come far short of realization. Let's hope the story line they do come up with is worth it! Who is the directorial talent, and who is producing this box of cockroach-eating golden marmosets?
see Raymond L. Ditmars, Strange Animals I Have Known

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Thursday, March 13, 2008


If you stop to think about it, isn't God more likely to invent a subtle thing like DNA, rather than commonplace pottery, as a tool suitable for turning atoms into apes into Homo sapiens? Although, I'll grant you, pottery is more accessible to average human sensibility. Still, when God dumbs it down, He's usually talking about behavior, not science. And, O Scholar, weren't the details of Creation considered proof of the existence of God? Those who have brains to think, let them think.

Note the use of the word "Theory" in:
  • Theory of Gravity (Sir Isaac Newton)

  • Theory of Relativity (Albert Einstein)

  • Theory of Evolution (Charles Darwin)
In a nutshell, a) Things come together, b) In a dimension of Space and Time you're not familiar with, c) In a world of process and commotion that produces cosmic, or possibly merely comic, irony: Adam made Nouns, where God made Verbs. Adam found only black & white, where God made night and daylight, filled with millions of colors.

I have a hard time understanding the concept of "worship," frankly. Is it a full kowtow on a prayer rug, and a life of self-abasement and dedication to service at a soup kitchen? Just that? And nothing more? Nonsense. Not even Islam is that iconoclastic! When your heart leaps up toward beauty, Worship is Ecstatic. It is the unbidden ovation, pure Applause. C. S. Lewis said as much, referring to God as Artist, in Mere Christianity, if memory serves.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Nihon Ki-in's Own!

From the March 10th AGA E-Journal, volume 9, #12, a review by Justin Carmical 14k:
"Umezawa Yukari no Yasashii Igo" (Yukari Umezawa's Easy Go) is, as far as I know, the first licensed Nihon Ki'in Igo/Go game for the Nintendo DS. The impressive point about this fine little piece of software is that after you play a certain mode it will rank you and then give you a password to apply for an official Nihon Ki'in rank from 10 kyu to Shodan.

Too often, computer go games are just that... computer-looking. Dull. But this one begins with a small caricature of Yukari Umezawa (consultant for the Hikaru no Go series). This inclusion of a professional player is very nice, as well as her actual voice saying "Good luck" and "Thank you for the game".

The buttons are large and the typeface is easy to read (well, for those who read Japanese). The touch controls are superb in that to place a stone onto the digital Goban, you need to touch that place twice. This makes for fewer mistakes, and is also a great learning feature as the first touch places a red dot.

What really made this title shine for me, however, was the ability for the computer to resign. A good chunk into my first 19x19 game (about 180-190 stones in) the computer took its time accessing the board and resigned. This was a first for me for computer go games as usually the computer will play to the very end no matter the situation.

It also boasts a study area with over 1300 life and death, joseki, and fuseki problems of varying difficulty levels to keep you occupied and discussing with friends for quite some time.

It's always nicer to play against a human opponent, but while humans may miss a crucial mistake, a computer opponent most will likely not. This ruthlessness aids beginners and novices in their play, allowing for learning and growth, which is the sole purpose of "Umezawa Yukari no Yasashii Igo." For a Nintendo DS game to take with you on the go, this is a wonderful little title to add to your collection.

Now I really want it!
[Update 2008/3/14 - Ordered March 13 from I'll keep you posted.]
[Update 2008/3/20 - Shipped (& Invoiced) March 20 from]
[Update 2008/4/1 - Got mine! Arrived from Hong Kong via U.S.P.S., air mail bubble pack as advertised.]

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Monday, March 10, 2008

Are we over the rainbow yet?

The Democratic primary race between Obama and Clinton is still undecided? Fine, the question is, why hasn't one or the other broken clear? My guess is, it's not an embarassment of riches, a choice between the last two truffles in the gold Godiva box you got last February 14th.

No, mostly likely it's a prickly choice between two negatives: Hillary is ... well ... the Wicked Witch of the West comes unbidden to mind. While Obama seems to be wearing the Ruby Slippers: "There's no place like 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. There's no place like 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue." Words ain't gonna do it, neither will Hillary's penchant for ear-biting and hiding behind the media's skirts.

Don't you wish you could write in Joe Biden, right now? Can't wait for Denver.
Meanwhile, back in Ivalice... Your protagonist has just completed Chapter 8, has all the Espers (+Famfrit), plus the Starfruit, and is taking a little time to smell the roses.


Sunday, March 09, 2008

Hogfather, The DVD

Terry Pratchett wrote the book. The book was funny. In places, the book even passeth for Wisdom These Days — such as the observation that belief in Santa Claus is like training wheels for even greater items taken on faith, like Justice or Mercy.

But the sorry truth is, you don't actually want to know the plot, but because of it, this made-for-British-television (2006) two-parter could have been an hour shorter, the acting could have been a notch or two above the church Christmas pageant level, and the wizards could have worn name tags so we could have told 'em apart.

The movie stuck religiously to the book, every item of dialogue straight from the hallowed pages as though scriven there in red ink. It's been my impression that Pratchett has been rather a stuffy old goombah for some time, just going through the motions because of contracts with publishers, but this movie — which bears someone's heavy hand — feels as though it has a relentlessly iron-clad creative control clause.

Two stars, out of five at best. It's a good thing Pratchett saved a few small items for auctions later, because odds are long against this dog making money.
The Auditors place a contract with the Assassin's Guild to do away with The Hogfather, who resembles Father Christmas but ain't. Death, noticing that Something Is Up, decides to keep Belief alive by donning the Red Robes and sailing from chimney to chimney in the log sleigh drawn by four flying boars. Death's granddaughter, Susan, however, does all the heavy lifting by discovering that the Assassins have captured the Tooth Fairy's castle and are now using the harvested teeth of a billion childhoods as Unsympathetic Magick to destroy belief in the Hogfather, aforementioned. After Much Ado, all is set right, and that's that. Death dispatches the Auditors with a point well-made, draws the moral about small and large Beliefs, and the Assassin, after three good endings wasted, is Finally Done In.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

Depends what you mean by "monster," I guess

Not sure I understand how this works... Samantha Power says Hillary is a "monster" who'll do anything to win, and for that Obama fires her? Jeez, what happened to Hillary's self-deprecating humor? Anyway, I hope Power stays available, because Obama's gonna need all the help he can get. He's playing a scientific game by Marquis of Queensbury rules, but Clinton's playing Mom-he-touched-me-AGAIN. Girls fight dirty. And, yes, she's a monster. A bad seed, obviously.

So, it's 3 A.M. Who do you want to have a finger on The Button?
  1. John McCain. He survived 5½ years of torture in the Hanoi Hilton, then lead the effort in 1990 to normalize relations with Vietnam. A warrior, in other words, who can make peace with his enemies. Given the nuclear football, he can be trusted not to use it, but you know he could.

  2. Barak Obama. Hmmm... Gotta revise my stereotypes a bit. He grew up in Hawaii and Jakarta (Indonesia), then got his B.A. degree in poli-sci and international relations at Columbia? J.D. from Harvard Law, magna cum laude? Had to write a book to make sense of his own mixed heritages? If he's played basketball and knows what to do with his elbows, now... Maybe this guy can be trusted with the nuclear football, unless "trust" implies actually using it in a difficult situation. Maybe he'd rather save half the world than see it blown entirely to Kingdom Come.

  3. Hillary Clinton. Aside from running the Old Girls gauntlet at Wellesley, it's hard to see how this narcissistic child of privilege has been seriously tested by anything but Whitewater and her own abysmally failed attempts to socialize medicine in America. So far, her main claims to foreign policy fame seem to be a well-chaperoned junket to Kosovo, and lunch once with Gerry Adams, from Sinn Fein. Probably knew Tip O'Neill, too, back when. Has this unstable hysteric got the satchel to push The Button?
Your call.


Friday, March 07, 2008

Revenant Wings comes back from the dead

Just when I thought the plot had swooned into an unending round of sickening encores, Final Fantasy XII Revenant Wings (DS) rediscovers its storyboard, launches Chapter 8 and returns to life. Back to Giza Plains, back to the Paramina Rift, back to Dalmasca! And it turns out that the Judge of Wings (no spoiler here, we already know she's a viera) is one of the last of The Hidden, a despised group of outcaste viera. What makes this turn of events socially fascinating is Japan's long ostracism of its own burakumin, or "Hamlet People" — has this taboo subject been broached in a videogame? Probably overanalyzing a simple game... Right?

Speaking of coming back from the dead, here's a New York Times article about the revenant Mrs. Clinton's early years.


Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Tinderbox Divided

To my jaundiced eye, Hillary Clinton's campaign looks like it's going down to victory in flames.

The internal backdraft is about strident (but stifled) feminist Worker Bees losing minor catfights among each other as they jostle for nearness to the Queen Bee, while simultaneouly presenting a united front against the Old Boy drones who are genuinely, if dolefully, trying to help Hillary.

And now Barak Obama, The Great Hope Lite, is poised to bring up the issue of Hillary hiding her tax returns. Can you say Roxanne Conlin, Democratic candidate for Iowa Governor, 1982? Same thing in microcosm.

If she survives that kind of firestorm, she'll get it again in spades from John McCain in October, a guy who does know how to throw a punch.


Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Gary Gygax (July 27, 1938 – March 4, 2008)

He made Dungeons & Dragons in 1974, so important he even had a walk-on role on Futurama, along with Al Gore, Stephen Hawking and Nichelle Nichols. Heckuva legacy.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Another False Dawn of Hope

What can bring Hillary Clinton to her senses? It's like having a relative you can't stand, but gotta make nice to every fourth Thursday in November. Where's Harry Potter and his Aunt Marge spell when you need him?


Monday, March 03, 2008

How does your gurgle grow?

We had a brief spell of warm yesterday, which prompted the local glacier to send meltwater into the streets, along the curbs and down the storm drains.

Except in front of our house, where that doesn't happen. Instead, the meltwater babbles like a small brook down the middle of the street, then gurgles into a crack where four pavement blocks meet, and continues merrily on its way UNDERGROUND.

Hmmm. A sink hole in the bud. Better nip that.

I freaked and called 911. They told me not to freak out. To their credit, the cops sent out a black and white, and we stood in the street listening to the water gurgle along out of sight. Then shrugged, agreed we'd each done our civic duty and returned to busy lives.

Grikdog's Law: The more you know, the less they care.


Saturday, March 01, 2008

Playing Go on the Nintendo DS

A note on playing strength For all practical purposes, these Nintendo DS offerings probably achieve no more than 10 kyu, if that — on the amateur martial arts scale from 1 to 30 kyu, where 1 kyu is great (for an amateur) and 30 kyu is absolute novice. On the other hand, maybe the availability of programs such as these are what helps Japanese kids achieve single-digit levels quickly!

CAUTION! All of these game cartridges are in Japanese language ONLY.

Translator's note Igo, written as two characters, is the Japanese word for Go, the ancient 19x19 board game played with black & white stones. I try to use Igo in Japanese contexts, and Go in English.

Umezawa Yukari's Easy Go
Umezawa-san, a 5-dan professional, is well-known for her beginner's Go lessons at the end of Hikaru no Go episodes.
Unfortunately, this game seems to be popular in a pirate edition. Some dual screen caps (a password dialog, some Go problems) may be found here.

Cho Chikun's Go Problems
Simple for Everybody
Technically, tsumego means "life & death problems" although the term is not used exclusively. Most American Go players simply adopt the word into English. I say they're Go problems. Aimed at the mid-kyu amateur, too easy for strong players.
Another link.

Play Go Anytime, Anywhere
Sensei's Library asserts AI Igo is based on David Fotland's Many Faces of Go. One presumes any comparison between Fotland's ginormous (and venerable) old Windows XP program and its Nintendo DS derivative would be a bit like Horton Hears A Who. Note that the title is not "Dekiru Igo," which means (Someone) can (play) Go. The stuff in front of dekiru Igo is a subordinate clause: Anytime, anywhere. You unwind Japanese sentences and clauses in proper SOV order, newbie.

Ginsei Igo
Get strong at Go with Ginsei Igo!! Ginsei means "Silver Star"; you may see both or either listed by vendors or reviewers. The Japanese home page is here — if your web browser supports the Flash demo, check out the neat Go clock this thing can turn into!

Gensen Table Game DS
Wi-Fi Ready
Deeply discounted at
Sorry, I don't know much about this one, except that it's an anthology of board games, one of which is Go. And Sensei's Library found the gameplay a bit braindead, "regularly adding useless stones to dead groups, failing to respond well to ko fights, and making unreasonable attacks."

Ultimate Brain Games DS
Judging by box art, this DS version of the old GBA anthology seems to include some sort of Go, but details are sketchy. It hasn't been released yet, and the product description posted at was just copied verbatim from the GBA puff — it doesn't mention Go at all!

Please note I don't necessarily endorse or recommend as the sole vendor of these games in North America. I plead ignorance, and would personally welcome learning where else to buy these and similar Go games for the Nintendo DS — cheaper, if possible.


Ambient beryllium exposure in 1969 or so?

If you worked for the Ames Lab at Iowa State University back in 1969, or thereabouts, you should call Jill Welch at the UI Former Workers Program about a free (to you) medical screening to determine if you might have been exposed to toxic levels of ambient beryllium in your workplace.

Jill K. Welch, MPH
Project Coordinator UI-FWP
College of Public Health, The University of Iowa
2214 Westlawn
Iowa City, IA 52242-1102

On the plus side, it's St. David's Day, the very day I got my official B.S. from ISU in 1969!