Monday, March 30, 2009

A Memory of Light - Thoughts on The Final Book of "The Wheel of Time"

Hey all! Some of you might have heard this already, as I know a few of you who are also huge fans of Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time, but It was announced by the publisher, TOR, today that the 12th and final book of The Wheel of Time will be released in three volumes, beginning with the first volume, "The Gathering Storm" this coming November. Here is the press release from TOR, posted at I wanted to first of all, express my excitement over having a general date for the first volume, and then to comment on the method of release. There are a lot of Wheel of Time and Robert Jordan fans who are up in arms right now considering it's been 4 years since the last book came out, and the series is somewhat infamous for growing beyond its original scope and becoming a behemoth of a work. Not to mention that before Jordan passed away in 2007, he initially said he would finish this story in one book if TOR had to invent a new binding system. It would be easy for a reader who's been following the series for the better part of two decades to become somewhat impatient or angry or cynical at the announcement that the author chosen to continue and finish the story has expanded this final volume into three of them, released over the course of two years. Brandon Sanderson has posted an article over on his website explaining a great deal of what led to the three volume, two year release. It's a good long read and well worth it for the doubting fan of the series. Let me tell you why you should not be angry by telling you why I am more excited than I have been previously after this new information. 1. Short and fast would probably mean quick and dirty - There is no way I would prefer to have a single volume that is cranked out as fast as possible. Mr. Sanderson seems to be very concerned about the quality of the story. The more care that is given into the crafting of this final chapter of Wheel of Time, the more gratifying it will be, not only for the author, but for the fans, and for the memory of Robert Jordan. The fans who realize what he was creating, ought to be overjoyed that Brandon is writing so much and is continually stating that he is bound and determined to be sure that the standard of quality is there. Sure he could write a quick summary of what happens at the end and call it the final book, but by book 11, the story is anything but brief. Some people detest it, some people love it. If I may invoke the name of another venerated master of the genre, consider this: J.R.R. Tolkien wrote volumes of information about Middle Earth that were not a part of The Hobbit or Lord of The Rings. Having read those extra volumes enriches and increases the understanding you have of the world surrounding the main story. I, for one, love the richness of the story as much as the climax of the tale. Jordan wrote the same supporting depth around his world, but he included the details within the story itself. Tolkien and Jordan both have their faults as authors, and they write about different details, but that's they just way they do it. It makes them who they are, and who am I to suggest they do it another way. If I want a story written another way, then it's up to me to write it, but Jordan's detail is his way. Brandon Sanderson seems to understand this and is doing his best to see that the story gets the treatment it deserves. 2. I have a long standing personal philosophy that has served me well in keeping a good perspective concerning luxury, entertainment or anything that I do not need to actually live. Anything from video games to restaurants. There are two types of people in this world. There are the "Get what I Wants" and there are the "See What I Gets". The "Get What I Want" is the kind of person who looks at the world around them, and expects everyone to change what they do to please them. The food is not salted enough. The game is not pretty enough. The book is too long, too short, too simple, too complex. This person cannot be pleased by an artist or entertainer because they expect what they want and not what they get. The "See What I Get" is eager to hear, taste or see what the artist, musician or chef has up their sleeve and is willing to try something out to experience the particular creation as the creator intended (And in general believes that the creator was creating their best). In general I am a "See What I Get" and I find that I am able to enjoy things that some people may not, simply because I want to experience what the creative designer has prepared for me. Brandon has made it very clear that he is a fan of Wheel of Time and that he intends to do his dead level best for us. For me, even if he was a terrible author (which is most certainly is not) I would be glad to buy and read this book whenever and in however many volumes it ends up being. I am not only supporting RJ and his family by buying and reading this book. I'm supporting Brandon Sanderson and the fact that I respect his care and work on this series, and want to "See What I Get". 3. Three volumes is not about greed. It's about completion and practicality. If you read TORs press release, you can jump to a conclusion and say that TOR is just trying to get as much as possible out of this book and hang the fans. Brandon's article denies this, as do his frequent blog updates over the course of the past year. He has said from the get-go that this book was huge, and in all likelihood too big for it's "one volume" britches. We've seen it grow gradually and have been kept up to speed as it grew to accommodate all of the loose ends that need tying up. It is also practical and makes perfect sense from a business perspective. It is a less durable book if you push the spine to that thickness, and it is true that smaller books do make better sense for a book store with limited space. Some comments I have read have practically suggested that the idea of producing this book in three volumes is next to criminal. Is it too much to ask that an author who works himself so hard to create the book, and the booksellers and publishers that manage to get them to us make a little money for it? There's nothing wrong with that. If you disagree with paying for three hardbacks, then don't. Wait for the paperback, go to the library, borrow it from a friend, but there's no reason on earth to threaten to tell everyone you know not to buy that book from those tyrannical publishers and money grubbing booksellers. The bottom line is this. We've been waiting a long time, true. Robert Jordan began a story that became greater than he could have imagined. It's a fantastic story in itself. One for the epic fantasy books. The creator's creation grew in scope beyond even his own imagining. He could not finish so someone else was asked to do so. Despite trepidation and nervousness that he could complete such a task, he accepted anyway, and now it seems that not only was he up to the challenge, but he'll complete his quest as a hero while the rest of the world looks on. So I appeal to you. Whether or not you agree with how it is given to us, let's enjoy the finish of this tale to first of all, honor the people who have worked so hard to bring it to us. RJ, Harriet, Brandon, and everyone else involved. Then, to appease our curious minds concerning a group of characters we've followed a very, very long way. Let The Dragon ride again on the winds of time! -J
Good evening! This will be a quick one. I just wanted to drop a quick note to divert your attention over to the left, where the Japanese progress bar now indicates 23%. I am working on lesson 19 on my course of study and just completed my Beginning Hiragana book! It's really unbelieveable, but I'm reading and writing Hiragana fairly smoothly! I'm at nearly a quarter of the way there at the end of the first quarter of 2009! That means Basic Japanese is on track! This has been really fun so far, as I have already said. I have to buy my Beginning Katakana book in the next week or so and begin working on that syllabary. I think I might actually break into Kanji a little bit this year as well. I have also decided that I'm going to use another goal to work on this one. I'm going to strive to write a program in Python that will take a compiled vocabulary list and drill me on it. Like flash cards! Should be a fairly simple program. I'll get started on that next month I think. I'll keep this short, but I've got a couple of commentary blogs coming up concerning one of my favorite books, and one of my favorite bands! Talk to you soon! -J

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Bento Blog!

Hey guys! Michelle and I spent a little time in the kitchen tonight packing our lunches for a big day of costuming tomorrow with Mike and Jenn. We decided to pack Bento lunches for ourselves so naturally we took pictures (which are dark and difficult to see) but I will post them anyway just because it has been so long since I've told you what Michelle and I are eating for lunch! Here are the pictures first: There you go! Now, as always, a brief description of exactly what we're looking at here. We are both using the same food, but we each packed our own lunches. The rice contains a soy apple mix that I improvised. I tried one onigiri mixed together entirely, and the other has the mixture in the center. Michelle garnished with apple, snap peas and a small piece of soy egg. I chose to cut out a quick stencil and make cinnamon faces on mine, along with tomato ears on the bottom and a jaunty snap pea hat on top. (My soy eggs ended up looking a little like rabbit ears which kind of gives you the impression of a panda and a rabbit with my onigiri.) As for the soy eggs, these are hard boiled then rolled in soy sauce. Michelle sliced hers to great artistic effect! I, as I said already, ended up making rabbit ears out of mine. Fortunately so. Initially, they kind of looked like a big ole soy egg hiney before the placement with the onigiri. Michelle's eggs ended up looking really good with the tomato and pea garnishes. I think she won the artsy award for this Bento. I would say that my panda and jaunty-hatted rabbit take the "kawaii" award. That would be Japanese for "cute". So, everybody wins. Was I going for cute? Well, not really. I wanted ultra-manly, but accidents happen when you're packing a bento. *shrug* Rounding out the main dishes, Michelle used the remainder of the soy-apples and more snap peas and tomatoes. I also used the veggies, but I threw in some light rye crackers, which are buried under some colby-jack cheese and a short skewer of turkey pepperoni. We both have some rice crackers that Michelle picked up this week in Chicago, and we both have a couple of caramels from the same place as well. You can't see it very well in the picture, but I have added a small piece of dark chocolate with sea salt. If you haven't tried salted chocolate, I HIGHLY recommend it. Think chocolate covered pretzel. It's a great combination. World Market sells it, but I know it has to be around elsewhere. So there you go; Another bento blog! I hope this makes you hungry, because I'm ready to go back in the kitchen and just eat it all right now! Talk to you soon! -J

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Cook's Kitchen: Beef Jerky

Well, I've got some beef in a marinade right now. I'm making some beef jerky in order to try out a new vacuum sealer we picked up at the store. I thought I'd take a few minutes to post about my beef jerky. Odd? Maybe, but I think you'll find that beef jerky is underrated and worthy of a little examination. "Why are you writing about beef jerky?" You may ask. Well here's why: Jerky is actually a very old food. The word "jerky" actually comes from "charqui" (Pronounced CHAR-KEE) which is a Quechua word used in the 1500's in South America. This from a few minutes of research on the web. Isn't the internet cool? :) Anyway, the idea of being able to keep meat for long periods without it spoiling is extremely useful. It is a great food for hikers. Beef is a powerful food for a person who will be packing heavy weight for long distances. Why? Beef is a powerhouse of Protein and Iron and the curing process packs it with Sodium. In a nutshell, Protein to repair the muscles, Iron for efficient oxygen intake, and sodium for balancing fluid and keeping the neurons a-firin'. That on top of the fact that it's a light food to carry. I'm not a nutritionist. One of my readers is though, and so I hope he doesn't shoot me down here for my amateur evaluation. :) So now you're saying, "Ok, Jon, I'm sold. How do I come by this 'jerky' of yours." Well, I'll tell you. You need a few things to make Jon C. Cook's Killer Beef Jerky. Here is my list. 1. A food dehydrator, lovingly provided by the Coopers for your wedding. (Any food dehydrator will work of course, but a nice one with heat and convection will get you there faster) 2. Real soy sauce. (Kikkoman is a good brand), Worcestershire Sauce and Liquid Smoke. Buy large containers if you plan to make more than one batch in order to lower your costs overall. 3. Good beef. I say good beef because there are definitely "beeves" that don't make good jerky. I use thin sliced (about 1/4 inch) eye of round steaks, cut across the grain. The cross cut is vital for my recipe. First of all it is much easier to eat. You won't yank your teeth out trying to tear a piece off. Secondly, the cross cut allows the marinade to really soak in and flavor your jerky in a short amount of time. I'd like to also note that ground beef pressed through a caulking gun and mixed with spices is not jerky. It's a dog treat. Here at the Jon C. Cook School of Jerky, we don't pre-chew our beef, and we certainly don't squirt it out of a caulking gun like Taco-Bell sour cream. :) That's it. That's all. Here's how it goes together. 1. Mix your marinade. Use a 1 to 1 ratio for the soy and Worcestershire. I use about 1.5 to 2.5 tablespoons of liquid smoke, but you can really be flexible with it. You can also experiment with other flavors added to this base marinade. Try anything that sounds interesting! I made a batch with a plum spread once that turned out pretty tasty. 2. Trim your beef. Make sure and remove as much fat as possible from the slices. The fat will not dry completely and can go bad much more quickly than the lean meat. The more you remove the better your jerky will keep. I just use kitchen shears. 3. Put your beef in the marinade and let it sit for at least 6 hours. The longer you leave it, the more flavorful the jerky will be. I usually prepare the marinade in the evening and the next morning it's ready. It's a good idea to agitate the beef at some point to make sure everything gets covered. Generally, 3 to 4 hours in, I just flip the top pieces that may be sticking out of the marinade at all. (Cover and refrigerate) 4. Once the marinade is finished, it's time to dry it out. Turn your dehydrator on and make sure to set it to the correct temperature for meat. All you have to do is put the beef on the trays and let it go. The actual time will depend on your dehydrator. Mine usually does the job in 12-15 hours. You can let it dry until it's crispy if you like. Consistency is largely a personal taste, but make sure it's dry enough that it'll keep. 5. Remove from the dehydrator, let it cool, and bag it up! If you're going to use it on a hike or something then you're good to go, but if you want to keep it longer than a week or three, vacuum seal it and refrigerate it to be on the safe side. Chances are that it will not last nearly as long as it'll actually keep. :) There you go! Now you can enjoy beef jerky for a snack, or as a trail food, the Jon C. Cook way! Enjoy!! -J

Pottery Update

Hi kids! Guess what time it is? That's right! It's time for you to see pictures of my pottery! My latest batch came out of the kiln just this evening and I have a few pictures to show you! I'm not going to post them in the text here, but I'll give you a link: Jon C. Cook's Photo Gallery I'm trying not to post a lot of pictures in my text because Blogger seems to be doing some strange things to spacing and stuff. Rather than wrestle with it, I'll just send you over to my website! Have a look and tell me what you think! Better late than never eh? -J

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Appalachian Trail Update

Hey gang! Just filling you all in on our AT plans, and such. This past weekend was a good trip. Michelle and I went a little crazy at Little River Trading Company in Maryville, Tennessee in preparation for the hike. We grabbed a few last things that we needed. Water purification, good insoles, clearance Columbia mid-layer fleece (total score), socks, sock liners, gaiters, a water carrier for know. All the things that you may need when walking a long way and camping without the modern conveniences. As I said before, once I get everything together and arranged, I'll be posting my complete gear list for you. Weights and all. I figure it will be a good idea so I can then compare after the hike and figure out what I really needed and didn't need. (I'm thinking it'll be a good comparison for all of you out there if you decide to try this at some point.) We are pretty much ready to go with the exception of food at this point, and we mostly have that figured out, so the prep is essentially over. That is of course, excepting the physical conditioning, which is ongoing. So now we just train, and wait for it. And read and try to learn as much as we can to be ready. I figure there's only so much head knowledge you can accumulate for this kind of thing. At some point you just have to put one foot in front of the other and do it. We're ready I think. Is there trepidation? Are we a little nervous? Yeah a little, but the excitement and anticipation are there in equal parts if not greater. This is going to be real adventure. The kind you can write books about! :) So I was doing a little reading about Thru-Hiking. Hiking the whole trail in one go. And the guy was talking about what happens to you on the trail. I know we're only doing a week and only 75-80 miles at that, but I hope that this trip has an impact on me. The guy who wrote this article, put it this way (paraphrased): Most people who attempt a thru-hike and succeed find that they are a different person at the end. In a good way. On the trail, there are three examinations that happen in order. First, you examine your body. You wonder if you can really pull it off. If you're physically capable. Then you start to examine your gear. Do I need this? Do I really need it? I can definitely get by without this or that. Many people start to leave their unneeded gear behind. (Sometime if you get the chance, stop in at the Happy Hiker in Gatlinburg in peak thru-hike season and take a look at the boxes of discarded gear left by hikers. They leave it in case another hikers needs it.) Finally, you start to examine yourself mentally and spiritually. (End paraphrase) Michelle and I call it "resetting your meter" and that's the part I hope I get to in my short week on the trail. The point at which you start to see what you're fortunate to have in a different way. When you start to appreciate what you have more fully, and when you start to see how much it really is that you're blessed with. That's really the biggest part of what this trip is about for me. Perspective. There's a lot of fun in seeing how simply you can live, and in seeing how far you can travel on foot and all that, but truth be told, if I can gain just a little more appreciation for creation, and the things I have, then the trip is worth it. In short, my expectations for this little walk in the woods are as follows: I expect to-
  1. Have a lot of fun with Michelle, Dad and any friends we may make along the way. (By fun I mean walking really far, hurting a lot, and smelling bad. On purpose!)
  2. Do something mentally and physically daunting that I never imagined I'd do.
  3. Spend some time while I have a perfect opportunity to pray and meet with God in the mountains.
  4. Search my pack and leave behind any gear that I don't need. Figuratively speaking
So, that's that. And THAT was going to be a quick update, but it seems to have turned into a discourse. :) Anyway, that's what I hope to do on this hike. Won't be too long on that gear list I mentioned. Thanks for reading! -J

Friday, March 13, 2009

Brandon Sanderson Made Me Famous!

Hey all! I normally am not given to posting blogs in the morning, but this couldn't wait! Last night I sent Brandon Sanderson a quick e-mail after finding a reference to one of his books in the popular Internet meme known as a Lolcat. I sent him the link to said lolcat, fully expecting that he'd probably seen it a hundred times by now. As it turns out, he referenced the link in his blog this morning, also mentioning one of his vigilant readers by name! 'Scuse me if I go a little fanboy on you here. :) Check out his blog (And my 15 minutes of fame) here! I've written about Brandon before in a blog or two. Here's the one about our trip to Dayton for his book signing. I didn't mention it at the time, but another book to check out, which is a rarity in the fantasy world is Elantris. It is a rarity because it is a compelling fantasy novel with an epic feel, yet all contained in one normal sized single volume. :) Alright, I have to get to work now. I'll post again soon. Michelle and I are making our trip to Tennessee to finish our outfitting this weekend! More to come.... -J

Monday, March 9, 2009

General Update

I have just a quick update on a few things for those of you following along. It's a big week in the general goings on leading up to the crazy (I mean AWESOME) summer of 2009! 1. Fitness: In the world of fitness, things are now underway. Today I bought a new pair of Saucony running shoes and Michelle and I rebooted our runner's training with Couch to 5k. I linked it way back in 2008 when we started for the first time. This time we're going to try and repeat the program with a couple of differences. This time we're in pretty decent shape to begin with, and also we're doing it faster with a goal of running the Memorial Day 5k in Ironton and posting a much better time. It shouldn't be too hard to beat last year's time of over 37 minutes, but I'd like to beat the Jingle Bell Run time of under 29 as well. More on this as it develops. 2. The AT 2009 Expedition: The planning has begun. Our long anticipated week long hike on the Appalachian Trail looks like it'll be taking place the first week of June, barring any scheduling trouble or unforeseen circumstances. Michelle and I are heading down to Tennessee this weekend not only to see my grandparents who are up from Florida, but also to make a quick trip to a couple of good outdoor/backpacking stores for a little outfitting. We're going to get the rest of our footwear (socks and liners and such) and also our cookware. I have my stove, but I need a little better mess kit. We're planning on scouting out some of our food as well. There are various other essentials that Michelle has on a list that is pretty long, but hopefully not all that heavy once they're loaded on our backs. :) I'm thinking I'll probably post my complete gear list once I have everything together in one place. After the hike we'll do a comparison and I'll see what I can eliminate for future hikes. 3. Ninja Skills: Beginning the first week of April, Michelle and I will be joining our friends Mike and Jenn in a Kung Fu/Self Defense class in Huntington. We have never taken any kind of martial art, and thought it would be fun to try, not to mention a good thing to help with fitness and protection. Who knows, I might have to wrestle a bear in June! Michelle has expressed some interest in Bo Staff. I for one think it would be the coolest thing on earth if Michelle could just go nuts with a Bo. Just like Donatello!! 4. Japanese: I have finished lesson 11 of 30 on my Japanese I course. I did a quick review of lessons 1-10 just to make sure I had a grasp of most of the material, and I feel like I am definitely improving. Slowly but surely this course is increasing my flexibility with the language. Also, I picked up a used copy of "My Japanese Coach" for Nintendo DS this weekend and I've been working on my vocabulary with it. It's a neat little program that teaches with word games. There is a good dose of Education about Japan itself. The program is actually designed not only to teach you the language but to be a travel tool as well. It includes a fairly large dictionary and phrase book, as well as a sketch pad in case you jut have to draw something to get your point across. There you go. I know there were other things I was going to update, but I can't remember. I should write them down somewhere. I've been thinking about getting a Moleskine notebook for that purpose. Blog ideas, random thoughts and such. They're so nice in that display at Borders. So earthy and Bohemian. I think I need one. Alright. I'll get one soon, and then you won't have to feel so cheated when I can't remember all of the details that I meant to impart. :) Later! -J

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Japanese Update: Method to the Madness

Hi gang! As my faithful readers, I feel I owe it to you to clarify one of my 2009 goals as I ascertain the method by which I will judge its completion. As such, I have figured out what will constitute the definition of "Basic Japanese" and figured out the way I will update the progress bar. Thus: The Japanese course I have chosen to study has a total of 90 lessons, each 30 minutes long. Henceforth I will consider the completion of each lesson to be 1% of my goal. These, as anyone can probably see, will add up to 90%. I will consider "completion" to mean that I can progress through the lesson with an estimated 80% accuracy of responses. This is the recommended percentage according to the program. So far, I have completed 10 of these lessons and I'll be setting my progress meter accordingly. I need the remaining 10% from somewhere, and since I have decided to be able to read and write as well as speak Japanese, then the remaining number will come from a solid basic understanding of the two basic Japanese syllabaries. Hiragana and Katakana. This year I'll be learning to read and write both of them, and will consider competence to be the ability to sound out and read words in either or both. (As well as to write a word I hear) without the aid of a reference. The completion of each syllabary will earn 5% on my meter. Two sets of symbols totalling 10% FYI- I have been working on my Hiragana and at present have learned to recognize and write 35 of the 46 basic symbols. So: Pimsleur Japanese I, II, III - 90 Lessons = 90% Hiragana Syllabary = 5% Katakana Syllabary = 5% ------ 100% Basic Japanese As for the Kanji; The 2000 or so borrowed and commonly used Chinese symbols; Well, I think I'll tackle those in 2010. Maybe I'll start casually working on them when I finish Hiragana and Katakana. As it stands, I'm thinking I might try to have a single Kanji learned for every day of 2010. 365 out of 2000 is a pretty fair start. :) Talk to you soon! -J

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Japanese Update!

Konichiwa! I just wanted to update on my pursuit of the Japanese language! It's been a good week with my studies. The audio lessons are definitely the way I pick it up the best. I have to recommend the Pimsleur series for anyone who learns by listening and doing. You get right into speaking in lesson one and you learn the grammar as you go. I would also recommend the series if you have a long commute. I've been able to progress pretty quickly being that I drive so much. I am working on lesson 7 of 10 out of the basic set right now. I'm going to have to either buy or borrow the comprehensive set if I'm to really get going with it. The bad thing is that to progress through all three levels it can be pretty expensive. The comprehensive set has the same first 10 lessons, and then 20 more on top of that. Alright, so I have to tell you that I did not expect to enjoy learning a language this much. I expected it to be worthwhile, and I expected to enjoy it, but I am really having a great time with this! I have a theory that I'm loving it so much because I'm getting to use my brain in a way that I really haven't used it since I was very young. I did take a lot of Spanish in high school and college, but for some reason it wasn't the same. I can't really figure out why, except that maybe it is so close to English in so many ways, that it's not really like truly learning to communicate for the first time. The romance languages are that way. Similar sounds, alphabets, words etc. The trickiest part is the grammar and verb conjugation. Japanese is like learning to communicate all over again to me. The pronunciation and words are very foreign. It isn't what I'd call difficult, but it is different. It seems to actually be a pretty efficient spoken language so far. That doesn't even enter into the alphabet. If you take all of the Kana and Kanji into account, there are more than 2000 that every Japanese child is supposed to know by the 9th grade or so. Everything is new. Like learning to speak your first language as a child. I did decide around lesson 5 that I needed to learn to read and write Japanese as well. By all accounts, reading Japanese improves your pronunciation and your basic concept of the words themselves. Knowing the Kana (the letter systems) you can more easily grasp the words themselves as opposed to the Romaji (or the romanized Japanese words using roman letters to spell the Japanese sounds). So I went to Borders and picked up my workbook to learn the first 46 Basic Hiragana. I can recognize and write the first 12 so far. In Romaji: a-i-u-e-o-ka-ki-ku-ke-ko-sa-shi. So here I am, a 31 year old guy practicing my letters on a workbook sheet and saying them as I write them over and over. Using a mnemonic device for each one to remember them when I see them and learning to speak by listening to other people. This brings me back to why I think I'm enjoying it so much. I think maybe my brain remembers learning to speak and is having a wonderful time doing it again! As I said, I'm thinking in a way that I haven't since I was a small child. This is getting a little long winded for a blog that's supposed to just tell you, I'm progressing with speaking Japanese, I am now learning to read and write it as well, and I am having a blast with it! I'm raising my progress bar for Basic Japanese to 5%, but I have to confess that I really don't know what encompasses basic Japanese, so I'm guessing blindly. Anyway, I'm being as conservative as I can until I'm more certain about my progress and my destination. Thanks for visiting! Talk to you soon! -J