What Can Go Wrong? Disaster Recovery

My aging laptop is becoming increasingly finicky and unreliable. Google crashes, audio crashes, the bloody thing freezes without morning for no reason the troubleshooters can find. Even the troubleshooter crashed.

Back up everything in three different locations.

Put together a “Bible” of account numbers, user names and passwords. If your house is trashed by flood or fire, your computer crashes or your cell gets run over you’ll have to authenticate yourself on new devices.



Put together a folder or binder of important information. Is that run over cell covered under your plan or your homeowner’s policy? If you run a home based business and have to evacuate you want to have everything you need to keep it going ready to go.

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Spring Commences lì chūn 立春 3rd

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Caturday Thoughts – Spring Commences lì chūn 立春 Feb 3th

Spring ground just turning greenAs a solar term, Spring Commences had already entered people’s lives in the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). At that time, there were eight solar terms. According to some experts, the 24 solar terms were used for the first time in books during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC-AD 24), when the Start of Spring was set as the Spring Festival. In 1913, the first day of the first month of the lunar year was mandated as the Spring Festival.

People in China began holding a special ceremony on the first day of Spring Commences about 3,000 years ago. They made sacrifices to Gou Mang, the god of Spring, who is in charge of agriculture. By the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), greeting spring had become an important folk activity. In Beijing, government officials welcomed spring in the wild field near the Dongzhimen, the east gate of Beijing. Since spring does not actually come anywhere in China at this time except the extreme south it is curious that this was the time of ceremony.

Plate of Hong Kong style spring rolls with dipping sauce

By Raysonho @ Open Grid Scheduler / Grid Engine

In Chinese tradition it is believed when spring comes, just as the natural world is revitalizing, human bodies also start a new round of growth from this day. People should open the windows more frequently to allow the air to circulate and take more exercise to enhance their immunity. It is also the best time to protect one’s liver with liver tonics, since according to traditional Chinese medicine, spring is the time for raising the liver. Use of traditional Chinese medicine ingredients such as Chinese wolfberry, turmeric root, the root of red-rooted salvia, Corydalis tuber is common. It is recommended to eat foods like Chinese date, fermented soya beans, and spring onion. Garlic, caraway and peanut are also all good choices. To celebrate the actual day, in many parts  of China, people observe the custom of “biting the spring” on Spring Commences. They eat spring pancakes, spring rolls, or at the very least a few mouthfuls of carrots.

In China, it is said that the egg can be set upright on the first day of the Spring Commences, on Spring Equinox day and Autumn Equinox day. It is believed that if someone can make the egg stand on the first day of Spring Commences, he will have good luck in the future. According to astronomers and physicists, setting the egg upright has nothing to do with time, but with mechanics. The most important thing is to shift the egg’s center of gravity to the lowest part of the egg. In this way, the trick is holding the egg until the yolk sinks as much as possible. For this, people should choose an egg about 4 or 5 days old, whose yolk is inclined to sink down.

In Shaanxi province Spring Commences is the occasion of many colorful customs.  The local government hires some skilled artisans and gathers them to build the frame of an ox out of bamboo strips and the legs with wood. Then they paste over the frame with paper and paint it to complete the image. It is said that if more red and yellow paper is used, then there will be a good harvest that year; if black paper is pasted, then the year will be poor. Knowing this, who would paste black paper? When the paper ox is ready, there is a ritual to paint the eyes. In the old days the people would set up an altar for it and worship it. Wearing fabric swallows is a custom in some regions in Shaanxi. Every Start of Spring, people like to wear a swallow made of colorful silk on their chests. The custom originated during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The swallow is a harbinger of spring and a symbol of prosperity and happiness.

Close up of plum blossomsThere are also customs not exclusive to Shaanxi. Posting calligraphy and paintings on one’s door in the spring first appeared during the Tang Dynasty (618-907). People would do so to welcome spring and pray for good luck on the first day of Start of Spring. Plums blossom from the 12th lunar month to the second month of the next year. The plum blossom, as it fights against the cold, is most highly regarded. In China, the plum blossom, orchid, bamboo and chrysanthemum are praised as the four gentlemen of Chinese flowers. Spring is the best season for kite-flying. A traditional folk activity, it has a history of more than 2,000 years. It can help build one’s health and prevent diseases. It also has the effect of promoting blood circulation and speeding up metabolism. A breath of fresh air outside is good makes you feel revitalized and kite flying is fun. But whether kites are flown in China or anywhere depends more on the actual weather than than the day of the solar term.

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Major Cold dà hán 大寒 Jan 20 T

Frost spikes on plant stemsMajor Cold, dàhán in Chinese, daikan in Japanese, daehan in Korean and đại hàn in Vietnamese is the 24th solar term.  It  begins this year on Jan 20 and ends on Feb 2. Major Cold is the last solar term in winter and also the last solar term in the annual lunar calendar. During Major Cold as the cold currents from the north move southward, the weather becomes continuously cold. Although modern meteorological observation shows that the weather during Major Cold is not colder than Minor Cold in all parts of China, the lowest temperatures of the year still occur in the Major Cold period in some coastal areas.

In working with the solar terms and trying to learn more about the pentads, I’ve found only basic information in English. Gradually I have more sources in Chinese but sometimes this leads me to more wondering. The name sayings for the pentads for Major Cold seem to have several versions in Chinese, using different characters. For the first pentad some say hen pheasants are brooding and others it is chickens and some say hatching which is not the same as brooding. Versions of the second pentad refer to the activities of birds of prey; sometimes vultures, sometime eagles and sometimes hawks. And the third pentad is usually some version of streams are all frozen or ice is thickest.

Depp snowdrifts in front of pne treesRegardless of whether it’s the coldest, or merely very cold, during Major Cold, people in Beijing have a custom of eating “dispelling cold cake”, a kind of rice cake. This kind of “dispelling cold cake” contains sticky rice as it’s main ingredient and walnut, longan and red dates, all warming in winter. The homophonic words in Chinese for “dispelling cold cake” sound like “higher year by year” and are symbolic of good luck and continual promotion.

In Anqing of Anhui province, people traditionally eat fried spring rolls during Major Cold. The stuffing inside the spring roll contains meat or vegetables and the flavor can be salty or sweet. In Nanjing of Jiangsu province citizens enjoy stewed soup during Major Cold, which certainly is a warming food. They always stew an aged hen in the soup with ginseng, matrimony vine and black fungus.

Deep snow in mountain ravineMajor Cold always coincides with the end of the year in lunar calendar. In some areas of China, people always fall over each other in eagerness to buy sesame straw during this period because of the old saying, “Rise joint by joint like sesame flowers on the stem.” This saying is used to describe either ever-rising living standards or making steady progress in thought, studies or skills.

There is a saying that goes, “Dripping water freezes during Minor and Major Cold.” In various regions of China, Major Cold is the perfect time for winter sports such as skiing, ice skating and sledding. This is certainly not confined to China, it’s the perfect time for winter sports in many part of the world. And it is a good idea to dress well and get out in the fresh air periodically, since winter is often spent indoors in hot stuffy rooms which are not very healthy and in close contact with many people who also may or may not be healthy. After all, winter is “cold season” in a way not connected to the temperature outside. A little time in winter sports in the fresh air will also raise your appetite for some of those delicious warming winter foods and help keep you healthy fr the New Year.

The approach of Chinese New Year tends to energize me. As it approaches the sun sets later and the sun rises earlier. Somehow Mi Sun pestering me for food in darkness feels unnatural.  Occasionally I will ignore her but then she gets insistent. When I am starting to see light on the horizon as I get up rather than total darkness. So in spite of the calendar saying it is Major Cold and the skies often dark and cloudy, I am not feeling the gloom of deep winter this year.

Twilight on a dirt road

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Aquarius January 20th 9:00AM

Emblem of Aquarius showig man pouring out jug of water Aquarius is a constellation of the zodiac, situated between Capricornus and Pisces. Its name is Latin for “water-carrier” or “cup-carrier”, and its symbol is Aquarius.svg , a representation of water. Aquarius is one of the oldest of the recognized constellations along the zodiac (the Sun’s apparent path).[2] It was one of the 48 constellations listed by the 2nd century astronomer Ptolemy, and it remains one of the 88 modern constellations. It is found in a region often called the Sea due to its profusion of constellations with watery associations such as Cetus the whale, Pisces the fish, and Eridanus the river.

As of 2002, the Sun appears in the constellation Aquarius from 16 February to 11 March. In tropical astrology, the Sun is considered to be in the sign Aquarius from 20 January to 19 February, and in sidereal astrology, from 15 February to 14 March.

Aquarius is also associated with the Age of Aquarius, a concept popular in 1960s counterculture. Despite this prominence, the Age of Aquarius will not dawn until the year 2597, as an astrological age does not begin until the Sun is in a particular constellation on the vernal equinox.

Aquarius is identified as GU.LA “The Great One” in the Babylonian star catalogues and represents the god Ea himself, who is commonly depicted holding an overflowing vase. The Babylonian star-figure appears on entitlement stones and cylinder seals from the second millennium. It contained the winter solstice in the Early Bronze Age.[4] In Old Babylonian astronomy, Ea was the ruler of the southernmost quarter of the Sun’s path, the “Way of Ea”, corresponding to the period of 45 days on either side of winter solstice. Aquarius was also associated with the destructive floods that the Babylonians regularly experienced, and thus was negatively connoted.[3] In Ancient Egypt astronomy, Aquarius was associated with the annual flood of the Nile; the banks were said to flood when Aquarius put his jar into the river, beginning spring.[5]

In the Greek tradition, the constellation came to be represented simply as a single vase from which a stream poured down to Piscis Austrinus. The name in the Hindu zodiac is likewise kumbha “water-pitcher”.[2]

In Greek mythology, Aquarius is sometimes associated with Deucalion, the son of Prometheus who built a ship with his wife Pyrrha to survive an imminent flood. They sailed for nine days before washing ashore on Mount Parnassus.

In Chinese astronomy, the stream of water flowing from the Water Jar was depicted as the “Army of Yu-Lin” (Yu-lin-kiun or Yulinjun). The name “Yu-lin” means “feathers and forests”, referring to the numerous light-footed soldiers from the northern reaches of the empire represented by these faint stars.[10][6] The constellation’s stars were the most numerous of any Chinese constellation, numbering 45, the majority of which were located in modern Aquarius. The celestial army was protected by the wall Leibizhen, which counted Iota, Lambda, Phi, and Sigma Aquarii among its 12 stars.[6] 88, 89, and 98 Aquarii represent Fou-youe, the axes used as weapons and for hostage executions. Also in Aquarius is Loui-pi-tchin, the ramparts that stretch from 29 and 27 Piscium and 33 and 30 Aquarii through Phi, Lambda, Sigma, and Iota Aquarii to Delta, Gamma, Kappa, and Epsilon Capricorni.[5]

Near the border with Cetus, the axe Fuyue was represented by three stars; its position is disputed and may have instead been located in Sculptor. Tienliecheng also has a disputed position; the 13-star castle replete with ramparts may have possessed Nu and Xi Aquarii but may instead have been located south in Piscis Austrinus. The Water Jar asterism was seen to the ancient Chinese as the tomb, Fenmu. Nearby, the emperors’ mausoleum Xiuliang stood, demarcated by Kappa Aquarii and three other collinear stars. Ku (“crying”) and Qi (“weeping”), each composed of two stars, were located in the same region.[6]

Three of the Chinese lunar mansions shared their name with constellations. Nu, also the name for the 10th lunar mansion, was a handmaiden represented by Epsilon, Mu, 3, and 4 Aquarii. The 11th lunar mansion shared its name with the constellation Xu (“emptiness”), formed by Beta Aquarii and Alpha Equulei; it represented a bleak place associated with death and funerals. Wei, the rooftop and 12th lunar mansion, was a V-shaped constellation formed by Alpha Aquarii, Theta Pegasi, and Epsilon Pegasi; it shared its name with two other Chinese constellations, in modern-day Scorpius and Aries.[6]

Aquaius star chart and illustration from Urania's Mirror by Sidney Hall 1825

The water carrier (the water carrier is a daughter of Poseidon) represented by the zodiacal constellation Aquarius is Ganymede, a beautiful Phrygian youth. Ganymede was the son of Tros, king of Troy (according to Lucian, he was also the son of Dardanus). While tending to his father’s flocks on Mount Ida, Ganymede was spotted by Zeus. The king of gods fell in love with him and flew down to the mountain in the form of a large bird, whisking Ganymede away to the heavens. Ever since, the boy has served as cupbearer to the gods. Ovid has Orpheus sing the tale.

The Aquarius myth follows the story of Ganymede, a young prince, and supposedly the most beautiful young man of Troy.

One day Ganymede was off tending to his father’s sheep in a grassy area on Mount Ida when he was spotted by Zeus (Greek mythology).

Now, you have to remember that back in ancient Greece, it was the social norm for an older man to take a “young boy” (anywhere from 12 to 19) as a lover. In Ganymede’s case, he was probably around 15 or so when the considerably older Zeus found him irresistibly beautiful and decided that he wanted him for himself.

Zeus transformed himself into the shape of a giant eagle and swooped down from Mount Olympus to Mount Ida. He grabbed Ganymede in his talons and carried him back to Mount Olympus to be his young lover / servant. Now, normally in these kinds of relationships the older man would serve as a sort of mentor to the younger one, but this was Zeus, and he pretty much gets whatever he wants. So Zeus decides that Ganymede will become his personal cup-bearer, basically bringing him drinks whenever he pleases.

Since Ganymede is now essentially Zeus’s slave, Zeus offers Ganymede’s father a herd of the finest horses in the land as compensation for taking his son away. This apparently appeases the father, though it’s doubtful that he had much of a say in the matter either way.

One day Ganymede has had enough, and he decides to pour out all of the wine, ambrosia, and water of the gods, refusing to stay Zeus’s cup bearer any longer. The legend goes that the water all fell to Earth, causing inundating rains for days upon days, which created a massive flood that flooded the entire world.

At first Zeus wants to punish Ganymede, but in a rare moment of self-reflection, Zeus realizes that he has been a bit unkind to the boy, so he makes him immortal as the constellation representing the Aquarius myth.

Aquarius Archetype

Aquarius is the fixed air sign, the thought that stayed and became how we define ourselves and our world. It’s the contemplation that we find time for during long and cold nights. Time for reflection. It’s the archetype of the Teacher, who makes sure that we cherish the conclusions of our predecessors and pass them on to posterity. It’s the profundity that makes us dare to call our species Homo Sapiens, the Wise Man. It may not make us cheerful, but it helps us come to peace with the terms of life.



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Major Cold dà hán 大寒 Jan 20

January 2oth will begin the period of Major or Greater Cold. It is supposed to be the coldest time of the year. In fact we had extremely cold weather a few weeks earlier and now we are having what might be termed “normal” colder weather interspersed with actual warm spells. On the bright side it means I’ll be paying lower utility bills.

79794d1abf36723b5ca6783aae5ba4ddIt also means I can get out to cut up some of the firewood to replace what was burned when the wind chills took us below zero measured in Fahrenheit. If the weather continues to yo-yo in this way I want to be ready for the next dip. Since the floors get so cold and the house stays cold even after it starts to warm up outside I’m not really complaining about the warm spells. It’s getting close to the Chinese New Year, the one I like to celebrate and make a big production out of. The warm weather means I can get out to shop and open the doors and windows for cleaning without making the house feel like the arctic.

Potrait of the Chinese Kitchen GodThis year the 20th is also the day of the Kitchen God Festival. According to tradition the evening of this day he and his wife will return to heaven to report to the jade emperor on the management of the house hold. Offerings are made (some say bribes) so they will make a good report and the Jade Emperor will shower fortune on the family. Honey is dabbed on to the lips of the couple o the paper portrait put above the stove. This is also to ensure that the report is “sweet” although some suspicious types say it’s to seal the lips and keep them silent, instead of giving a bad report. Late in the evening the old picture comes down and is burned. It is replaced with a new one on New Year’s Day. My kitchen god and his wife are pasted on a cabinet door over the stove. He also used to be called the stove god and mine is pasted above my stove on a cabinet door and serves a special purpose. The electrics in this house are so dubious I am really concerned about fires and he serves to remind me to be careful around the stove and to be fire safety conscious.

Chinese New Year also cheers me up in another way. As it approaches the sun sets later and the sun rises earlier. Mi Sun is better than an alarm clock. Except when we have time changes she is meowing in my ear at precisely 6:30 AM every morning. Occasionally I will ignore her until seven but then she gets insistent. I am starting to see light on the horizon when I get up rather than total darkness. So in spite of the calendar saying it is Major Cold and the skies often dark and cloudy, I am not feeling the gloom of deep winter this year.





















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History and Mystery – Marshall Guarnaccia

Cover for A Corpse in the Koryo by James ChurchI was perusing the mystery section in the library while waiting for a tutoring student when I found Inspector O. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of a North Korean policeman as the protagonist of a mystery. The author, James Church, was identified on the back cover as “a former Western intelligence officer with decades of experience in Asia”. This made the prospect more intriguing still. So I took out Bamboo and Blood and was far from disappointed.

It was out of sequence, so I later went back and read the series in order. There are only six in total. Church was already in retirement when he began writing and by what I can gather, over sixty. It wasn’t just myself that was impressed. A Korea Society panel praised the first book in the series for its realism and its ability to convey “the suffocating atmosphere of a totalitarian state”. I have never been to North Korea but I have been in the DMZ at Panmunjom and just that brief example of the North Korean mindset made the details of the books ring true.

Cover of Bamboo and Blood by James ChurchThere are some changes to and of the cast of characters over the years covered by the books, so while they stand by themselves, if read out of order t can be a little disconcerting. The pseudonymous Church first turned to fiction in A Corpse in the Koryo (2006). In A Corpse in the Koryo, O’s odd assignment is to take a photograph of a certain car, on a certain road. This seemingly straightforward task turns out to be anything but as it embroils him in a murder plot, government smuggling, and the legacy of North Korea’s infamous abductions of Japanese citizens in the 1970s and ’80s. Then in succession came Hidden Moon (2007) and Bamboo and Blood (2008). In Hidden Moon O returns from a foreign assignment to a new boss and an actual case of bank robbery to investigate, something that should be impossible in North Korea. Is this bizarre occurrence really connected to a possible assassination and coup?

The plot of “Bamboo and Blood,” revolves around an Israeli effort to persuade North Korea to stop selling missiles to Arab countries in return for economic assistance and and the murder of a diplomat’s wife in Pakistan. This story returns to O during the extremes of winter and the famine that gripped the country in the mid-nineties that some experts estimate left almost 1 million dead. O must deal with his growling stomach as he investigates foreign arms deals. These three novels all feature the internecine struggles between O’s Ministry of Public Security (the police) and competing political directorates and the ubiquitous presence of Kim Jong-Il, the second leader of North Korea, who took over from his father in 1994. He is never mentioned by name, but his influence as “the central” is everywhere.

Cover of The man with the Baltic Stare by James ChurchThe fourth volume, The Man with the Baltic Stare came out two years later in 2010 and the fifth, A Drop of Chinese Blood, in 2012. The final book came out in 2016, The Gentleman from Japan. As the series goes on the plots get more convoluted, perhaps mirroring the labyrinthine international political maneuvering that never makes the headlines.  The ambiguity and complexity are not to the taste of many readers.

Church’s real gift, however, lies in showing O and others around him as real people who still manage to maintain some humanity in a rigid and uncompromising system. Somewhat protected by being the grandson of a famous  grandfather, anointed a “hero of the republic” for his service in the Korean War and as an anti-Japanese guerilla, his minor rebellions are chastised but tolerated. He is able to travel out of the country and consistently returns, rather than defect. In The Man With the Baltic Stare, through O Church sheds light on the puzzling mix of motives that lurk in the North Korean who stays put. His reasons are nuanced, and often illogical. In spite of his disillusionment with the North Korean “central,” O hates what others stand for even more, and his overseas trips have shown him plenty to condemn. His political skepticism is balanced by a Spartan North Korean taste for simple living.  He especially despises South Korea’s surge into Western culture and cherishes a love for woodworking and the aphorisms passed on to him by his famous grandfather.

The fifth book introduces Inspector O’s nephew, Major Bing, the long-suffering chief of the Chinese Ministry of State Security operations on the border with North Korea.By this time, many years have gone by and O, knowing where too many skeletons are buried, is more comfortable in the People’s Republic of China, albeit in a town on the border with North Korea.  Now he assists his nephew in navigating the pitfalls inherent in his own mysterious assignment as he does again in the sixth and last novel.

North Korean stockade house in the demilitarized zoneThe history is more modern and the mysteries reflect this. Church’s books and Inspector O’s life experiences are fiction, but a fiction rooted deeply in reality. This may be the best way to get some insight into what is behind the posturing and rhetoric splashed across the headlines. This insight applies not just to North Korea but also to the countries and governments that have dealings with the North Korean regime, both overt and clandestine. At the same time you get plenty of mystery and a view of a country which you are unlikely to visit, even if you could get a visa.



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