Thursday, April 30, 2009

Naming Species After Unrelated People

Most common animals have the luxury of being given common names such as "Least Weasel," "Red Fox," "Snowy Owl," or even "Giant Forest Hog." These names are related to how these animals look or where they live, and are thus easy to remember.

Unfortunately, a lot of rare animals discovered by science fairly late are given obscure and irrelevant names like "Przewalski's Horse," "Baird's Beaked Whale," and "Dice's Cottontail." Although it may seem that these animals were named after the scientists who discovered them, this is not the case - most often, they are named after famous people (often biologists) chosen by the discoverers. These names may be meaningful to the biologists who named them, but they aren't very descriptive of the animals that they describe. Even worse, this rather meaningless trend continues as scientists discover new animals and try to select appellations of a similar note.

Luckily, it seems that, at least in some groups, these sorts of names are falling out of favor; at any rate, sometimes we have other options to use when talking about these animals. For example, the Prezewalksi's Horse is sometimes called the "Asian Wild Horse" or "Mongolian Wild Horse;" in older days it was sometimes known as the "True Tarpan" or "Mongolian Tarpan." The Baird's Beaked Whale is sometimes grouped together with the very similar "Arnoux's Beaked Whale" and called the "Giant Beaked Whale." These latter names are much better and more interesting.

On another note, when including such animals in a CRPG (such as Dungeon Craft), these more descriptive common names can be useful, as it would make little or no sense to have your adventurers encounter a "Baird's Beaked Whale" or "Prezewalski's Horse."

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Liang Style Baguazhang Seminars in NYC

Tom Bisio, a respected teacher and practitioner of Chinese martial arts and traditional medicine based in New York City, is holding a series of (mostly) Liang style baguazhang seminars in the Big Apple itself! Details can be found here:

The seminars appear to be concentrating on Liang style as passed down through Guo Gumin's (郭古民) disciple Gao Ziying (高子英) and then his son Gao Jiwu (高繼武), taught in monthly chunks of material, from foundational calisthenics, walking circles, the old eight palms, basic palms, elbows, kicks, locks, and throws, linear palms, linked palms, and even weapons. At $150 per seminar, this looks like a great opportunity for New Yorkers to learn substantial parts of the Liang baguazhang system, which is in general somewhat conservative and closed-door. (A bit of material from other styles is mixed in, notably the Tiangan (天干) exercises which come from Gao Yisheng (高義盛) style, as well as a few exercises from other styles, like crane stepping, which comes from Yin style.) Of particular interest are the weapon seminars, like the Bagua 64 Saber (六十四刀), which is normally quite hard to get teachers to teach you...

If people are hesitant to sign up for ALL the seminars (there are 20 planned altogether), I would recommend at least the following six, which cover core Liang style material:

Seminar 2: Fixed Posture Palms (定式八掌) - circle walking, of primary importance in baguazhang.
Seminar 6 and 7: Old Eight Palms (老八掌) - technical basis of baguazhang
Seminar 17 and 18: Bagua 64 Saber (六十四刀) - oversized saber, one of the representative weapons of baguazhang
Seminar 19: Bagua Rooster Claw Yin Yang Knife (鷄爪陰陽鴛鴦鋭) - unique weapon of baguazhang, said to be Dong Haichuan's (董海川) favorite weapon

In addition, the following six would be very nice as well:

Seminar 10: Elbow Methods - various elbow forms
Seminar 11: Throwing Methods
Seminar 12 and 13: 64 Hands (六十四手) - linear forms created by Liu Dekuan (劉德寬)
Seminar 15 and 16: Linking Palms (連環掌) - linking form, advanced version of old 8 palms

Of course, all courses would be even better, but...

There is of course additional material in Liang style baguazhang (such as swordplay, additional techniques, training methods, forms, etc.) - perhaps one could join Tom's regular class for some of that...

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Combating Hay Fever in Japan

Years ago, after World War II, the Japanese decided to plant hordes of cedar trees, since they would eventually hopefully become a useful source of lumber (and money). The combination of this rather foolish idea with the legendary Japanese work ethic resulted in cedar forests covering a whopping 12 percent of the Japanese archipelago today, a considerable (yet ultimately foolish) accomplishment. Today, Japan woefully does not make use of these anticipated lumber sources, using cheaper trees from Southeast Asia instead, resulting in these cedar forests becoming a source of not lumber, but vast (and sometimes visible) amounts of allergy-causing pollen.

As Japan is a rather clean country, Japan's population has steadily been succumbing to cedar allergies, while the government seems to do nothing about it at all. As a result, Japan's allergy sufferers have been quietly buying up antihistamines, surgical masks (to block the pollen), noseplugs, lozenges, and other products advertised as alleviating allergy symptoms. This is good for companies producing such products, but for most people, the cedar pollen season (from around Valentine's Day to May or so - not short by any standard!) is mostly a horrible time of running noses, difficulty sleeping (due to stuffed noses), and fatigue.

I personally have tried a number of methods to alleviate symptoms, while avoiding antihistamines (because I generally dislike medicine), and have found varying results:

  1. Baguazhang Walking: the prime training method of baguazhang, i.e. walking in circles, seems to have a rather strong effect in alleviating allergy symptoms. Walking in circles for 20 minutes in the morning usually alleviates the majority of my symptoms for a whole day; walking 10 minutes or so is less effective, but is still much better than not walking at all. In general, I can also sleep quite normally (I don't have to wake up in the middle of the night), so it seems that the effect lasts for a rather long time.
  2. Yogurt with Active Cultures: yogurt with active cultures seems to act as a mild antihistamine; imbibing the stuff works quickly with almost instant reduced symptoms (although they do not disappear). The effect seems to last for 5 hours or so, so it may be necessary to eat the stuff several times a day if one is depending on yogurt only. Yogurt substitutes that contain active cultures, such as Yakult drinks, seem to have a similar (if weaker) effect. This year, active culture yogurt with fruit added is being sold, which is nice; before, they only sold plain active culture yogurt, which is a bit too sour for my tastes.
  3. Showers and Baths: taking a shower or bath after getting home wipes the body clean of pollens picked up while walking around outside, giving one a welcome respite from the sniffles at least until one has to go out again. This often helps one to sleep soundly as well (make sure that you change into clean, pollen-less clothes)! Some people additionally vacuum their clothes and hair when entering the house to enhance the effect, or buy air purifiers to use at home.
  4. Lozenges: various lozenges purported to contain yogurt, pollen, and other ingredients that alleviate allergy symptoms are for sale in Japan, but they only seem to have a minor effect, if any. Mostly, I found that they seem to clear the nose (much like other minty lozenges), but only if one has but minor allergy symptoms.
  5. Shiso and Shiso Drinks: shiso (a kind of leaf) is often purported as a good remedy for allergies in Japan, resulting in various shiso juice drinks being sold during the allergy season. Although they taste okay, they did not seem to have much of an effect on my allergies (I tried chewing on a shiso leaf as well, but that did not work, either; perhaps red shiso leaves work better, but they are not available during the cedar pollen season).

By far, solution #1 worked best for me with the longest duration of effect; nowadays I depend on it, with some of solution #2 as well for good measure (I like yogurt, anyway) or for when I wake up too late in the morning.