Thursday, May 31, 2007

A (not so) Quick Sketch Biography of Goldie Katsu

I've been thinking about Chris Brogan's DIY Autobiography Kit, well, since he published it on his blog. I thought I'd join in and write up my Quick (or maybe not so quick) Sketch Biography, so here it goes.

The thing most people know me for is… my smile and my willingness to listen.; alternatively, my ability to get groups of diverse people to work towards a common goal; alternatively, the ability to help people understand viewpoints that are different than their own; or perhaps all of the above.

Depending on the circle I may be known (in addition to the above) for:

  • work for the community
  • computer security knowledge,
  • ability to help them with their computer problems
  • ability to make things work
  • knowledge of Judaism both practical and mystical

The people I associate the most with are…people who want to change the world. This is a broader spectrum of people than one might think at first. Sure it would include movers and shakers who start disruptive movements, but it also includes people who work in education because it makes a difference, or people who are involved in charity works to help improve people's lives, or even people who just want to make their piece of the world a little better.

People who have influenced my life are… my mom and dad. They are both teachers and are incredible listeners and they make huge difference in the lives that they touch.

Another person who is a big influence in my life is the Lubavitcher Rebbe - this influence is in more areas than you might think. Certainly his work to spread Judaism to Jews touched me as I became a baalat teshuva (someone who took on Jewish observance, rather than being raised with it.) But even more so his style of teaching and his view of the world has influenced mine profoundly.

His teaching style is one of looking at something, asking penetrating questions, coming up with answers, seeing the flaws in the answer, and then coming up with stronger answers. If you read any of his sichot (talks) or maimorim (lectures) you will see this pattern again and again. This has influenced my teaching style and also the way I approach my work.

I'll talk about two specific aspects of the Rebbe's view of the world. The first is not accepting limits. So many people have stories of going to the Rebbe and telling him their "great accomplishment" and the Rebbe would say to them "That is a great start". I tend to live my life with the attitude of anything can be done. If I think of a project or idea that inspires me I will go for it and find a way to make it work.
The other aspect of the Rebbe's view of the world is his ability to see value in everyone in the sense that everyone has worth and contribution to give to this world. It is easy to write off people, it is much harder to uplift people, yet the latter is a characteristic of the Rebbe, and one that I attempt to emulate.

One challenge I took on and overcame was…learning how to promote myself. I think this is really the biggest challenge for me. I am very good at doing, and being there for others, but I will often let others take credit for my work. While this isn't bad in all cases there are downsides to this - beyond self interest. If you have something to contribute and you don't let others know about it the value of your ability to contribute is limited to the projects you seek out. When you learn to promote yourself people can (and will) come to you to ask for that special skill you can contribute. Learning to say "I did that" "I can do this" required a shift in perspective to not feel like heel when I said it. Although I can say "I over came this", I'm still learning how to promote myself and let others know what I can contribute.

My early years, before you probably got to know me were…turbulent and chaotic. Ok maybe not quite that, but before I met my husband I had lots of passion and ideas but little faith in myself and little focused direction. I was involved in lots of things: motorcycling, movie making, Rennaisance Faire, posting on news groups, costuming, folk dancing, ballroom dancing, playing clarinet, playing flute, going to geek parties through out the south bay area, bicycling, etc. etc. Lots of great stuff, but I would flit from one to the next never certain of committing to any one thing, or being fully present.

My husband, in addition to helping me see myself has given me the support to help me grow. He is the first person who really believed in me and was not afraid/threatened by my successes but spurred me on to do more. I didn't list him as an influence, as he isn't an influence in my life but a part of my life.

You might not know this, but…I tend to be verbose when writing...oh wait you probably know that already :-) But seriously, I am leaving out some details of my life and accomplishments that might be interesting to you, leaving those to share in a person to person interaction. I'm goldiekatsu on gmail, twitter, flickr, jaiku, etc. (And Goldie Katsu in Second Life. It is true, Katsu is not my real last name, but I'll answer it to it.)

I’m passionate about…people and ideas. I love all of the new technologies, but I tend to view them just as tools. The importance of these technologies to me are how they affect people and help spread ideas. More on that in another post.

In the next year or two, I hope to…have fun and laugh more. Of course, given the above that means being busy with people and ideas.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Loss and Rememberence

In two days it will be the second day of Shavuot (for those of us outside of Israel), and it will be the one year anniversary of the passing of Dovid Weiss. I'd say Dovid was friend of ours, but really the relationship was different, he was more like family, more like a son. We were the number he could call for whatever help, and even though he would run off, confused by the fact that we gave him kindness and not abuse, as his upbringing taught him love was connected with abuse, not kindness, he would come back when he came to terms with it.

His stories of his childhood were really an eye opener to the kind of abuse a mother can dump on their children. I regret that he never wrote his stories, the collection that he was going to title "Where the Switches Grow". One story he told was that his older sister would create a contest where the siblings would see how long they could hold their breath under the water in the sink as preparation. Preparation for what? In case his mother actually followed through on the threat she would make walks when they would walk over the bridge and say to the children "I should just throw you in the river". Perhaps if they could stay under long enough they could come up after their mother thought they had drowned.

Dovid, in spite of the abuse he suffered and the anger he carried, was an amazing person. He would try to inspire others, he was intensely creative, he was a real character, and his stories always brought response. Dovid was truly a memorable character, bigger than life in many ways. Towards the end of his life he was finally getting, and accepting, the help that he needed, and learning that love can be shown with kindness.

He had seemed to be getting genuinely healthy. But then a week before his death his cancer came back with a vengeance. Erev Shavuot my husband went over to see him, and try to talk him into going to the hospital as the bleeding and the inability to keep food and drink down was dehydrating him. He chose to stay home, and on the second day of Shavuot, the 7th of Sivan, he passed away.

Dovid's funeral was the first one that we had to arrange. It was the first one of a person close to me that I attended. It is hard to hear the dirt hit the coffin of one who you watched struggle and grow and that you hoped would achieve and learn from what you tried to impart in your words and actions. But in the end his life was lived at full intensity. Those that knew him were touched by him, and in the end that is all that we leave behind. Life is left to the living.

So on the anniversary of his death we remember him, and remember his intensity and learn from the amazing spark of life that had.

Dovid Tzvi Aaron ben Shoshana you are remembered.

Dovid Weiss

Monday, May 21, 2007

Kings and Queens - or Kabbalah On One Foot

In a discussion on twitter about whether or not conversation is King I made a bit of a flippant comment "but a King is always best with a Queen, perhaps content is queen (although kabbalistically conversation is queen. I digress)". To elaborate on this comment would take more than 140 characters, so I thought I would blog about it.

One of the central concepts of kabbalah (however you want to spell it) is the tree of life. I often think of it as being a bit like a fractal design. If you've ever played with fractal programs you can look at a pattern and zoom into a part and find the pattern repeating itself. The pattern of the tree of life is used from the beginning of creation - with the shattering of the vessels of Tohu (chaos) (think big bang) - all the way down until we see the pattern in our own body.

Leaving Keter/the Crown aside for the moment we have:

Wisdom and Understanding being the two hemispheres of the brain.
Kindness and severity being the two arms (one pushing away (severity - the left arm/the weaker arm) one drawing close (kindness - the right arm)
Beauty or harmony - the torso (- think of classic Greek beauty - it was the definition of the torso that reflected it and how the lines of the arms drew the focus into the core of the body.)
Victory and Appreciation - the legs
Foundation - the base of the torso or "The organ of procreation"
And Malchut/Royalty - often translated as Kingship - is the womb....or the mouth.

Although Malchut is translated as kingship it is a feminine aspect within the tree. (No duh Goldie - you said it was the womb.) So what do the womb and the mouth have to do with each other?

One aspect of the womb is that it conceals something yet at the same time it is the place where gestation occurs and it gives forth a new being. It reveals and conceals. It takes something internal and intimate and creates something which is separate. If you think of the nature of speech - or communication - it takes an idea that a person had and through a process of development (taking it from thought to communication) those thoughts become words, which are expressed by the mouth and then becomes separate. Some aspects of the original thoughts are concealed - but it also reveals an idea that was hidden before.

Now where did all of these ideas come from that are suddenly revealed - did it just spring forth from the mouth fully formed? Of course not - it came from the mind, from the emotions from the weighing of how to best say something and choosing ones words, and then with the mouth we speak. The content comes first, and then based on the content produced by that process the words have value, or lack thereof.

If we go back to the tree of life above the nearest source for the content, that which coalesces the ideas before they reach Malchut - is a masculine aspect - the King who joins with the Queen.

Thus we have Content is King, and Communication is Queen. But content without communication isn't nearly as powerful as the two combined. (And the reverse is also true.)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Valley of the Fallen - Valle de los Caidos

Over on Kyte TV I uploaded some pictures of the Valley of the Fallen, which is located in Spain, to the North West of Madrid.

I first visited Spain when I was 7 and that was when I first went to see the Valley of the Fallen. If you look at the pictures you can see the incredible scale of the building and the sculptures. The reference person in some of those pictures is me at my current height of 5' 4". It is meant to be an emotionally impressive place and it is.

So what is the Valley of the Fallen? After Francisco Franco won the Spanish Civil war he decided he wanted a monument and thus he had the Valley of the Fallen built. He used the captured prisoners from the war to build this massive building. How is it built? It is built into a mountain side. The interior shape is in the shape of a cross. In the center is a chapel area and in the floor of the center is where Francisco Franco is buried. To the sides of the cross are crypts with the "fallen" of Franco's soldiers.

If you look at panorama outside photo you can see the hint of the sculpture that is above the door. It is a sculpture of the scene of Mary holding Jesus after his removal from the cross. If you could look up (and it was snowing slightly less), above this incredible place built into the mountain is a cross, 3 football fields high and 2 football fields wide. At the base of the standing cross are yet more impossibly huge sculptures.

The work that went into the building is amazing. That it was forced "free" labor adds more to the impact and more to the meaning - a civil war, who's outcome is etched into the mountainside writ large.

My view of Spain as an American is no doubt one of an outsider, but as I grew up staying for short periods of time with families I always feel a close connection to the country. I was there while it was under the last years of Franco. I was there as the struggles ensued as power was transferred to King Juan Carlos. And I remember coming back to a quite transformed Spain which had seemed to in 4-5 years to have gone from a reserved somber country seemingly in a 1940's/50's time frame to the present which at the time was the mid 1980's. I often wonder what Spaniards think of the Valley of the Fallen with its brutal past and austere physical beauty.

Biscotti - A cooking post

A lot of people seem to think that Biscotti are some exotic thing to make. In our house it is actually one of the more frequently baked goods. I thought I would share my recipe and provide some pointers for those less comfortable in the kitchen. This recipe is based on the one provided over on Espresso, My Espresso


2 eggs
1c (240ml) sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tsp (5ml) vanilla
2 tsp (10ml) baking powder
pinch of salt
2 cups (480ml) flour
1 cup (240ml) of nuts, chocolate chips or whatever sounds good to add to a biscotti

Preheat the oven to 375f (190c)
Cream the eggs and the sugar.
Add the oil and whisk until smooth.
Add vanilla, baking powder & salt and whisk in.
Stir in 2 cups of flour
Add in nuts/chocolate chips or whatever your add in is. The dough should sticky but not so much that you get large globs of dough stuck to you. If it is overly sticky put a light dusting of flour on the dough and mix it in and see if it is now just sticky (a little dough sticking to your hands.)

Oil a cookie sheet or use parchment paper.
On the prepared cookie sheet make 3 loaves. Squish them down to be as wide as you want your biscotti long.

Bake for 20 minutes. When they come out they should be lightly golden brown.
Let the loaves cool for a few minutes until they are touchable.
Turn the oven down to 325f (163c)

Slice the loaves into individual cookies (about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in width - thinner cookies are crunchier, wider makes for chewier insides.) and put the cookies on their side (cut side down) Put them back in the oven and cook 15 minutes. Remove and allow to cool.


If you went and looked at the recipe this was taken from you'll see they cream the oil and then add the eggs. This also works, it make a coarser biscotti. I like the biscotti a little lighter and by combining the sugar with the eggs you get a lighter biscotti.

Now with olive oil it is important to note that there is a great variation in the taste of olive oil. Before you add the olive oil give it a smell. That smell will come out (in much subtler form) as a taste in the biscotti. Depending on what olive oil we have in the house I may actually do a 50/50 blend of olive oil with canola oil to lighten the taste. Feel free to experiment with the oil used.

I know a lot of recipes talk about the importance of sifting the flour before using it. I used to meticulously sift and measure flour for each recipe that I made. I have since discovered that this meticulous precision is not required. Sifting flour does not make a significant difference, so don't sweat it.

As for the tools used in making the recipe, I use a whisk and spoon. The whisk is nice because it mixes the ingredients well. As a general note, if you are making a recipe that has you combine dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately a whisk is great for mixing the dry ingredients. (Just be sure the whisk is dry if you are using it in dry ingredients.) For the biscotti I whisk in all the ingredients that I can (everything before the flour) and then I switch to a spoon for adding the last ingredients as you are making a cookie dough and it will get too thick for the whisk.

For the add ins, you really can use anything you like. Sometimes I'll use rolled oats as an add in for a more substantial cookie, but other add ins that I've used include candied ginger, chocolate chips, dried cranberries, various nuts. So feel free to experiment.


Friday, May 4, 2007

Video Recording

Now I've recorded a bit of a video greeting on ustream and also embedded it on the page. It was amusing. I found recording a video hello as challenging as recording my outgoing message on an answering machine/voicemail box. For someone who was quite the dramatist as a child it is interesting finding myself a bit on the shy side.

In the mean time I was pondering podcasting my Chassidus class some Sunday morning, I wonder if I would be too self conscious and if it would work well in the first place. I suppose I could always try it once.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Welcome to My Blog

With all these great tools and portals and new thangs out there it seemed time to add a blog to the mix to tie in the twitters and the and the whatnot else. Maybe I'll even have something to say. Right now this is more of a test platform to try out stuff but maybe it will become something more. You never know.