July 31, 2008
Yeah, kilts, but I'm not telling you to wrap nine yards of wool around your waist at the height of summer. That might have been necessary once, but no more. A few years ago, Utilikilts came along. Kilts in your choice of durable, washable fabrics--with snap closures and cargo pockets.
They also come with a stack of Utilikilts business cards. You'll understand why if you get one of these things. I can't overstate the attention they get. Even in Scotland, everyone wanted to talk about the boys' kilts.
There are a few things to know if you want a Utilikilt. You'll need a good, wide belt. The snaps don't go all the way to the top, and even if they did, they're snaps. Without a belt, Utilikilts are very easy access. A standard kilt belt is likely to be too wide, however. Two inches of belt is about right.
They're machine washable, but you want to lay them (at least most of the fabrics) out to dry. The perfect place is an ironing board. Hold the ends of the waistband and shake the wet kilt hard to get the major wrinkles out and the pleats roughly in place. Lay it out on the board with a bit of an arc, so the pleats are just past the point where they fall flat. Starting in the middle, give each pleat a good tug and lay it in place. It's a pain the first time, but it goes pretty quickly once you've practiced.
If you're the kind of guy who worries about looking like you're wearing a dress, don't pair your kilt with a t-shirt of the same color. Dress shirts? Fine. Different color of tee? Sure. But somehow the single-color t-shirt/kilt pair generally looks like a dress.
If you're shy, invest in a kilt pin as wind insurance. There's a foot-plus overlap of fabric in the front, but I've seen wind in which that's not sufficient to keep the color of your underwear a secret. If you're really shy, you can invest in a sporran too, but everyone will know why.
You'll also need a good answer to "What do you wear under there?" Ideally, you'll have two answers--one for the people you don't want to offend. Alan Cumming is still on record as having the best answer (X-2 premiere), but I'm not even linking to it here.
Ask a helpful woman to teach you how to sit down in your kilt, preferrably one who has pleat experience. Think of it as a chance to talk to a former Catholic schoolgirl. The process involves a sweep down the back of the kilt with one or both hands plus a little swish to get the pleats you can't reach. I swear to you, people will be so mesmerized by the kilt, they won't notice the swish. Getting in and out of the car just requires practice.
Finally, follow their sizing instructions very carefully, then order your kilt one size shorter. Utilikilts seems to have something against the male knee, or at least their instructions do. A kilt that covers your knee will, in addition to harming your social standing and looking more like a dress than ever, chafe the back of your calf.
So, guys, as we move into a hot, humid weekend across the States, let the weather be your inspiration. Get yourself into a kilt. And when someone asks, "Are you wearing a skirt?" tell them proudly, "Aye, but it's a man's skirt."
Kelly's got the links over at Wyrdsmiths--definitely worth a read.
July 29, 2008
You are a Social Justice Crusader, also known as a rights activist. You believe in equality, fairness, and preventing neo-Confederate conservative troglodytes from rolling back fifty years of civil rights gains.
Take the quiz at http://www.fightconservatives.com/
Actually, changing to any one of my second choice answers put me squarely among the "liberal elite." Again, very unexpected. But the graphic is cute.
Thanks to Bora and Mike for the pointers. I needed a little fluff today.
He's also apparently the kind of guy who gets banned from Boing Boing. I can't find anything on Boing Boing, much less track a conversation across threads, but Will posted about it at his blog.
It started here, when Will pointed out a problem with a source of information for a post. It was, apparently, pointing out with some insistence on Boing Boing that this problem mattered that got him banned. From there, he was moved to speculate about how to make moderation more open and transparent. Then a note about what gets lost in disemvowelling. A diversion into keeping the web from being edited out of existence. Then he started wondering who really owns our comments?
His latest post on the topic is pretty near and dear to my heart just at the moment. "When the Benefit of the Doubt Goes Wrong" is classic Will. It's all good, solid, gentle advice about living with other people. Everyone in the story but Will comes off as insightful. He's attracted some very smart people to the comments. And he refuses to get angry at any of the people who have banned him largely for trying to keep conversation open (which, honestly, probably drives them nuts).
Will...Will is the kind of person I often wish I wished I were.
July 28, 2008
I read her first two books, Stiff (about the treatment of human cadavers) and Spook (about the search for proof of an afterlife). Stiff was wonderful, but Spook left a bit to be desired. I wasn't sure whether it was sophomore slump, a rush to capitalize on the success of Stiff, or something else. After Bonk, I finally get it.
Roach's trick is to take her readers inside an alien culture, strip away taboos, and expose the humanity that's left. She acknowledges her own limited frame of reference, then uses humor, matter-of-fact reporting and sympathy to get beyond it.
This worked for Stiff, where she introduced us to people who treat the dead with respect but not fear. We got to know and understand morticians and researchers at the body farm. We saw the ups and downs of their jobs. These are scientists and technicians who are like you and me but without the squeamishness. Nice folks. Cool. Glad to meet them.
Then the same thing happened in Spook, only this time it was the ultra-credulous who got the treatment. They were still nice folks and all, but I could never shake the desire to shake them and ask why they weren't turning their talents to something useful. What I had mistaken in Stiff for Roach's respect for reason and rationality was really respect for her subjects.
Luckily, with Bonk, we're back on useful territory. The history of inquiry moves from interesting but bizarre belief to understanding based on reality. We're back in my world.
And I know now to check the subject before picking up Roach's next book. I'll probably still buy it, whatever the subject, but I'll know whether to expect something enjoyable, or just something interesting.
July 27, 2008
Making this extra peculiar is that I haven't seen Chronicles of Riddick. However, I did hear quite a bit about it after my husband saw it. Seriously, lots. He ranted for days, vaguely at first but zeroing in eventually on what had bothered him.
Finally, he said, "It didn't bother me so much that it wasn't good. I could have just sat back and enjoyed the badness if that were the case. But every time I started to think, 'Okay, this is just going to suck,' they'd introduce something promising and get my hopes up. Then they wouldn't do anything with it."
We all know that kind of bad. It's when you, as an amateur sitting in the audience, have to shout, "No, no no! Turn left, you idiot!" You can see the rails and watch the plot go right off them. It's Stargate Atlantis bad. It's Lost bad. It's Star Wars Episode 3 bad. In my case, it's Nine Inch Nails bad.
I want to like Nine Inch Nails, especially since my husband's a fan. Failing that, I want to ignore it. But it won't let me do either.
I'm big on lyrics, and Reznor's just aren't up to my standards. They're pedestrian where they should be insightful or at least clever. Except for that occasional phrase that catches my attention against my will. Then he goes right back to substituting profanity for provocation. Blah, blah.
The same thing happens with the arrangements, except this time they start out interesting. Good musicians, good hooks, well executed. But rather than stringing the good hooks together or exploring variations on them, they give me repetition. Sometimes, I get repetition with noise. Sometimes, the hook goes away, and I'm left with just the noise. Not that noise is bad. It just isn't music unless you do something with it.
Even more frustrating, I know that they can put it all together and make it work. The one song I like is "Piggy." There's noise. There's interesting musicianship with variations to keep it interesting. There's not a lot in the way of lyrics. But it all works together. It's good.
Then the next song comes on and squanders all the potential again. "Ha, ha," it says, "Made you look. Made you hope."
That kind of bad.
July 25, 2008
Bold are finished. Italics are partially read. Number of asterisks tells you how many body parts I'd give up before reading it again (I added that part myself).
1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell **
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
34 Emma - Jane Austen
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
44 A Prayer for Owen Meany - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding ***
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte's Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adams
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo
I've read other Du Maurier, Nabokov and Atwood and liked them. I just haven't read these. I'll read more Austen and probably Dickens, but I'm not in a hurry. I came to Tolkien too late for him to inspire enough wonder to get me to put up with the prose. I really need to read Dracula, but I was spoiled by reading Saberhagen's take on it first.
Much of the rest of this list just doesn't address why I read fiction. I don't do dystopias. Dostoyevsky is one of the few authors I know of who can write "cautionary" works that are still readable. I don't do the meticulously observed mundane. And I want something like a happy ending.
So let the "Oh, but you must read..." begin.
July 24, 2008
- Mike wants suggestions of good microbreweries. I'd appreciate it if you'd contribute your favorite or two, because I have every intention of using the comments as a checklist.
- Moving from drink to food (sort of), the cracker finally got nailed, and Greg found something very interesting in the remains.
- For yummier food, Steve wrote a song about Alton Brown, "His shoulders, his thighs, His voice and his kosher salt." This is actually the second time I've heard Steve say he wants to have someone's baby, and the second time I agreed with him.
- Will is also writing songs, or at least new lyrics to songs. His don't scan quite as well as Steve's, but they're written in not-French, so I guess it works.
July 23, 2008
The following is an excerpt from Rilla of Ingleside by L. M. Montgomery. The croup they're fighting is diphtheria.
Then, the third night after father and mother went away, Jims suddenly got worse--oh, so much worse--all at once. Susan and I were all alone. Gertrude had been at Lowbridge when the storm began and had never got back. At first we were not much alarmed. Jims has had several bouts of croup and Susan and Morgan and I have always brought him through without much trouble. But it wasn't very long before we were dreadfully alarmed.
'I never saw croup like this before,' said Susan.
As for me, I knew, when it was too late, what kind of croup it was. I knew it was not the ordinary croup--'false croup' as doctors call it-- but the 'true croup'--and I knew that it was a deadly and dangerous thing. And father was away and there was no doctor nearer than Lowbridge--and we could not 'phone and neither horse nor man could get through the drifts that night.
Gallant little Jims put up a good fight for his life. Susan and I tried every remedy we could think of or find in father's books, but he continued to grow worse. It was heart-rending to see and hear him. He gasped so horribly for breath--the poor little soul--and his face turned a dreadful bluish colour and had such an agonized expression, and he kept struggling with his little hands, as if he were appealing to us to help him somehow. I found myself thinking that the boys who had been gassed at the front must have looked like that, and the thought haunted me amid all my dread and misery over Jims. And all the time the fatal membrane in his wee throat grew and thickened and he couldn't get it up.
Oh, I was just wild! I never realized how dear Jims was to me until that moment. And I felt so utterly helpless.
And then Susan gave up. 'We cannot save him! Oh, if your father was here--look at him, the poor little fellow! I know not what to do.'
I looked at Jims and I thought he was dying. Susan was holding him up in his crib to give him a better chance for breath, but it didn't seem as if he could breathe at all. My little war-baby, with his dear ways and sweet roguish face, was choking to death before my very eyes, and I couldn't help him. I threw down the hot poultice I had ready in despair. Of what use was it? Jims was dying, and it was my fault--I hadn't been careful enough!
Just then--at eleven o'clock at night--the door bell rang. Such a ring --it pealed all over the house above the roar of the storm. Susan couldn't go--she dared not lay Jims down--so I rushed downstairs. In the hall I paused just a minute--I was suddenly overcome by an absurd dread. I thought of a weird story Gertrude had told me once. An aunt of hers was alone in a house one night with her sick husband. She heard a knock at the door. And when she went and opened it there was nothing there--nothing that could be seen, at least. But when she opened the door a deadly cold wind blew in and seemed to sweep past her right up the stairs, although it was a calm, warm summer night outside. Immediately she heard a cry. She ran upstairs--and her husband was dead. And she always believed, so Gertrude said, that when she opened that door she let Death in.
It was so ridiculous of me to feel so frightened. But I was distracted and worn out, and I simply felt for a moment that I dared not open the door--that death was waiting outside. Then I remembered that I had no time to waste--must not be so foolish--I sprang forward and opened the door.
Certainly a cold wind did blow in and filled the hall with a whirl of snow. But there on the threshold stood a form of flesh and blood--Mary Vance, coated from head to foot with snow--and she brought Life, not Death, with her, though I didn't know that then. I just stared at her.
'I haven't been turned out,' grinned Mary, as she stepped in and shut the door. 'I came up to Carter Flagg's two days ago and I've been stormed-stayed there ever since. But old Abbie Flagg got on my nerves at last, and tonight I just made up my mind to come up here. I thought I could wade this far, but I can tell you it was as much as a bargain. Once I thought I was stuck for keeps. Ain't it an awful night?'
I came to myself and knew I must hurry upstairs. I explained as quickly as I could to Mary, and left her trying to brush the snow off. Upstairs I found that Jims was over that paroxysm, but almost as soon as I got back to the room he was in the grip of another. I couldn't do anything but moan and cry--oh, how ashamed I am when I think of it; and yet what could I do--we had tried everything we knew--and then all at once I heard Mary Vance saying loudly behind me, 'Why, that child is dying!'
I whirled around. Didn't I know he was dying--my little Jims! I could have thrown Mary Vance out of the door or the window--anywhere--at that moment. There she stood, cool and composed, looking down at my baby, with those, weird white eyes of hers, as she might look at a choking kitten. I had always disliked Mary Vance--and just then I hated her.
You can read the book to find out what happened to Jims. Wikipedia has more information on the disease, including additional complications, which vaccine prevents it, and the trivia that "diphtheria was cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as 'most resurgent disease.'"
July 22, 2008
Then we grinned at each other. He headed for the basement freezer while I checked the juice pitcher in the fridge.
Every year, when the trees bow under their fruit, the melons drip with ripeness, and you start having to fight the wasps for the raspberries, we collect the sweetest, juiciest fruits we can find and take them home. We don't eat them. Well, we pick at them a bit as we're chopping them up--you would too--but these are destined for the freezer.
Nectarines and plums with their skins on, honeydew and musk mellon, pears, pineapple, raspberries, grapes--all fresh--plus frozen blueberries and cherries and whatever else looks good. All go into the biggest bowl we have and get tossed together. Then we stash them in the freezer in gallon bags. Some will come back out on the hot days before fall settles in. The rest will wait until the next summer, when the weather is oppressive but nothing is ripe yet.
Then, on those days that are too hot for solid food, we chop off hunks of our frozen fruit, throw it in the blender, and cover it with juice. It takes an amazing amount of juice, because none of the fruit liquifies as it blends down. But the end result is a brain-freezing mix of pure, sweet, icy fruit.
Uh, unless we add rum. Rum is good, too, although it gets harder to claim it's dinner then. Either way, they're the best fruit smoothies I've ever had. It makes those hot days something to look forward to.
July 21, 2008
I've tried to learn other languages. I have studied them, but the most that's consistently stuck with me is "Please," "Thank you," and "I speak only a little ______," all said with pretty decent accents. But every time I've tried, especially the year when I was taking French and Spanish at the same time, I've learned more about English and come to love it a little more.
I don't like it because it's any sort of a rational language. Quite the opposite. I love every little quirk and irregularity. I collect idiom. I like that we've stolen words from almost every other language, and that I have to know something about each of them to know how my own words work.
But now, someone, some nefarious, well-meaning clown, is going around trying to make my language tidy. They're taking my beloved irregular verbs and making them regular.
They started with the less common ones, and I'm sure they thought I wouldn't notice. Silly them. When I was a kid, I dove competitively (well, it wasn't terribly compatible with acrophobia, but I tried). Future generations of youngsters will not have had that opportunity. The most they'll be able to say when they're my age is that they dived (although probably better than I did). And while I dreamt of being able to go off the high board without my legs shaking, they will only have dreamed.
And let us not forget the poor campers. I knelt beside coals and burnt my marshmallows, listening as others wove thrilling ghost stories. Today's children will have burned theirs for a lesser cause as they kneeled, their stories merely weaved. When spooky sounds came from the woods, my heart leapt. Theirs will have simply leaped.
I know there are good reasons to simplify our language. It's replaced French as the language of commerce and diplomacy, and holding tight to these words create barriers for others who must learn it. But I can't do it. I can't embrace this rational, streamlined, beige version of my love. I have no choice but to fight it.
It isn't for me, you see. It's for the children.
July 20, 2008
But what does it mean to be offended? What does it mean to be an offender? Who gets to be either and why? Is offense ever a good thing? What follows here is my attempt to synthesize my observations and conversations on the topic over the last couple of weeks.
Offense is, obviously, a social transaction. A person in social isolation can neither offend nor be offended (without resorting to anthropomorphism). One person can intend to offend or not. Another can accept offense, reject offense or claim offense.
More than that, offense is a power transaction. Historically in Western civilization, offense has been the purview first of gods, then of kings as the representatives of gods, then of kings in their own right, then of those elites who were recognized to have honor that could be offended. Beyond that, the "right" to be offended is still in flux. Being offended is a privilege. Offense is made against and measured by the (local) status quo, and those outside the status quo are not permitted to take or claim offense. Instead, they are perceived to be merely angry.
Limiting the right to take offense is important and contentious because the difference between anger and offense is obligation. Offense implies an obligation of the offender to the offended to "fix" the offense. Again historically, this obligation is paid in blood--on the altar, battlefield, chopping block or dueling ground. These days, when blood is a less acceptable form of payment, fixing the offense is frequently impossible, leaving the offender permanently in a position of obligation.
So being offended confers a certain benefit, if the offended can have their claim recognized. Why would one offend? The obvious reason is that the offense is unintentional. The offender may not know their audience well enough to gauge their expectations. The offended may not know the offender well enough to interpret their behavior. Or either may enter a social space with a different status quo than they are used to.
Offending deliberately can, counter-intuitively, have advantages. It can declare one to be outside the status quo or declare affiliation with a group with a differing status quo. It can provide an opportunity to declare that the offended does not have the status required to claim offense. It can easily provoke an opponent to anger, since the status quo is rarely observed or dissected objectively. And it can, in the right hands, provide a "teachable moment" about the nature of the status quo.
So those are the wherefores of offense as I've been pondering them lately. This is a bit more dense than what I usually post here, so it won't surprise me if no one feels up to commenting after reading it. But if you do have a comment or question, please share. The issue is hardly likely to go away, and now that I've noticed it properly, I'll keep thinking about it. I'd love the opportunity to refine my thinking some more.
July 18, 2008
Here's the thing about being an artist.
- You have to communicate to do art.
- Communication requires someone on the other end.
- You require feedback to know whether you're communicating.
- Critique requires time, thought and investment in your art by someone else.
- Art (and all communication) is subjective, so not all your critiquers will agree. Some will strongly disagree.
- Sorting through widely divergent critiques is not a comfortable process for the artist.
- While some may be more useful than others, none of the critiques are wrong.
It took me forever. I didn't want to keep reading or to pick it up again after putting it down. It left me feeling icky and cheated. I hated it. (Sorry, dude.)
I usually like his stuff, so I spent some serious time breaking down which parts of the book were causing this reaction. I spent a couple of hours on just one email to articulate my overall problems with it and plenty more on the usual line edits. I scoped out continuity glitches and pointed to places where characters fell flat. I spent extra time with this book that creeped me out to be fair and give him what I normally give him from a critique.
I then spent a few hours talking to him mostly about other stuff but with the conversation frequently circling back to the book. By the end of the day, he said he'd figured it out. The book was deliberately manipulative. I dislike being manipulated. Therefore, I didn't like the book.
I was immediately upset, but it took me until I got home to realize the full extent what had just happened. After all that work, I had just watched myself being categorized and filed away. I'd been explained. To my face. Needless to say, I kicked his ass for it. He took it quite well, since he really does understand the whole critique thing. The wide difference of opinion had just briefly overwhelmed his judgment.
Filmmaker Randy Olson has just done the same thing on a larger scale, soliciting reviews of his new film from 50 bloggers, then releasing a memo classifying the positive and negative reviews by the character of the reviewer the day after the reviews came out. Abbie at erv, quite rightly and beautifully, starts the ass kicking.
Randy, you say you're listening. I hope you do it better this time, because you've got a few things to learn on this particular subject.
July 16, 2008
Once upon a time...uh, sorry.
Many, many (many) years ago, I was getting ready to graduate from college. I was coming up on the five-year mark, which wasn't bad for having switched majors and transferred schools. I had just about finished my degree in psychology, with a bunch of classes but no official minor in Russian language and literature, when someone noticed my grades and asked whether I wanted to enter the honors program.
I wanted to do some sort of counseling, although I hadn't focused on specifics yet. Since this meant grad school, and honors would only help me get accepted, I said yes. And immediately discovered that three of my classes, statistics and a couple of subjects that had just sounded interesting, would still count. Every other class required for my honors psychology major would be new.
Most of my new classes were graduate-level. I met a bunch of PhD students in the new classes, including one I dated for two years, but I actually fell in love with research methodology. Yes, I'm totally a geek.
I took my classes and worked as an RA, lying to intro psych students about what they were about to do and classifying their responses. I got right up to the point of finishing my senior research paper, data collected and analyzed but the introduction and conclusions not written, when my new love caused me no end of problems. I could no longer hide from the fact that psychological counseling had almost no support in the literature. I was planning to go to grad school to study something useless.
I walked away without finishing my paper. Everything but that was done, but I wasn't going to do it. Okay, I could have just gotten my degree, then said I wasn't going to grad school, but this made it a sure thing. It was a form of digging in my heels.
I can be a bit stubborn sometimes.
I think it was somewhere around this time where I had the discussion with my mother about how she could choose whether to keep telling me how to run my life or to have me answer her calls. My friends were a little more circumspect. There was the one guy, about a year or so after I should have graduated, who told me he would buy me champagne if I'd just finish the paper. That is, it was champagne at that point, but the longer I waited, the less the value of the bribe. I think the final offer, if I didn't get off my ass in a year or so, was warm Pepsi. I didn't get the Pepsi either.
Eventually, the issue just sort of evaporated. People gave up and stopped asking.
Then, about eight years after my presumed graduation date, I took a job as, essentially, a customer service lead. I knew, and my new boss knew, that this job and I were not an ideal fit. But it kept me and my knowledge at the company, helped out a friend, and involved a decent raise. The biggest hitch, aside from having to be a lead again (I hadn't liked it much the first time), was that it required a one-year commitment.
Six months in, I was ready to chew my leg off. But I'd committed. On the upside, I had plenty of time to look for the next job. My resume, when I was done, was a work of art. It was still only going to help me so much. I had a bunch of weird experience and assorted proficiencies at this point, but in order to make the most of them, I was going to need that degree.
I called the U to ask what I needed to graduate now. First thing I needed was to go to campus in person, since they couldn't give me any information over the phone. Of course. The news got better from there, though. Since I'd applied for graduation before my dreaded realization, all my requirements were locked into place. All I had to do was resolve my one incomplete.
That, in itself, was a little delicate. I'd originally chosen my advisor based on the fact that I wanted to replicate a piece of his research in a non-student population. So I did that. Then I blew him off for nine years. Ahem.
There was only one way to go about this. First, I checked that he was still at the U. Then I wrote the paper. I pulled out my old file. I redid my literature search to make sure I hadn't missed anything relevant the first time. I didn't gloss over the weak spots in the research. I organized, wrote and polished until I had the best paper I could manage.
That was when I sent him the note asking whether he'd still be willing to grade it, now that it was done. He said, "Sure," and about a week later sent back a grade of A with a couple nice compliments. Then he copied me on his email having the grade entered. Boom. Done.
I still had months to go before I could look for a job. If I'd known it would have been that easy...oh, wait. I had. That was why I'd walked away.
July 15, 2008
This blog started as a place to be me on the internet, not just the bits of me that come out when I'm a guest at someone else's site. And I wanted to do it without resorting to this-is-what-I-did-today posts. Not that there's anything wrong with them. I'm just convinced I live a boring life, which is fine by me. As I've mentioned before, drama is less fun for the protagonist than for the reader.
For quite a while, I didn't go back into my own archives. As much as I wanted someplace to be me, I'm a pretty private person. In order to start myself blogging, I had to pretend that no one was ever going to read any of it and that I was writing disposable words. This probably explains why I hardly ever wrote anything.
Then, 40-50 posts in, I stopped and reread everything. I don't know that I'd say there were any diamonds in the bunch, but what I was writing wasn't disposable. It also wasn't all of me, or even as much of me as I'm willing to be in public. Pretending the blog was disposable was keeping me from doing what I set out to do. And now that I had that much blogging behind me, I couldn't really pretend anymore.
So I started writing more kinds of things more often, and so far at least, it seems to be working. Blog friends, RSS feeds, guest blogging, lurkers, trolls, blogrolls--this place is turning into a real blog. Thanks to all of you for joining the party. I didn't imagine this when I started, but it's pretty cool. I can't wait to see what I do in the next 100 posts.
Heck, I can't wait for 101. It's looking to be a doozy.
July 14, 2008
A fellow here at work says he went to the SEC online to look at who owns Caribou and it turns out the holding company is majority owned by people who say they are helping pay for jihad. It's an Islamic militant organization and it says right on the Security and Exchange Commission web pages who they are.
Just thought you'd like to start making your own coffee at home....
I'd thought we were over this years ago, but my husband hadn't heard anything about it before, so he went to the SEC website. Of course, he couldn't find anything like what the email suggested, so he tried Google instead.
He immediately hit the Snopes page, where the short version of the story is that Caribou once had a consultant who said some objectionable things and worked for a Palestinian relief organization. They haven't worked with the consultant since 2002 and have gone to some trouble to make sure that the charities the company supports are not groups that the U.S. has identified as troublesome.
So he sent the information back, only to get another email.
[He] says that if you go to the SEC website and look at the "10K", whatever that is, that's where it says it supports the Islamic militants. He also scoffed at snopes because it is a wiki site.
The 10-K? Really? I've put together information to go into 10-Ks. I've read big chunks of far too many 10-Ks for research projects. They're the company's year-end financial statements for investors and potential investors. They're written by the company. The last thing a 10-K is going to say is, "We support terrorists."
My darling husband went one step further than scoffing at the idea, though. He found the 10-K and sent back all the sections that deal with Islam. They paint a slightly different picture than the email would suggest.
Arcapita has substantial control over us, and could limit other shareholders’ ability to influence the outcome of matters requiring shareholder approval and may support corporate actions that conflict with other shareholders’ interests.
Arcapita beneficially owns 11,672,245 shares, or approximately 60.6%, of the outstanding shares of our common stock as of January 1, 2006. Arcapita’s ownership of shares of our common stock could have the effect of delaying or preventing a change of control of us, could discourage a potential acquirer from obtaining control of us, even if the acquisition or merger would be in the best interest of our shareholders, or could otherwise affect our business because of our compliance with Shari’ah principles as described below. This could have an adverse effect on the market price for shares of our common stock. Arcapita is also able to control the election of directors to our board. Two of the six members of our board of directors are representatives of Arcapita.
Our compliance with Shari’ah principles may make it difficult for us to obtain financing and may limit the products we sell.
Our majority shareholder operates its business and makes its investments in a manner consistent with the body of Islamic principles known as Shari’ah. Consequently, we operate our business in a manner that is consistent with Shari’ah principles and will continue to do so for so long as Arcapita is a significant shareholder. Shari’ah principles regarding the lending and borrowing of money are complicated, requiring application of qualitative and quantitative standards. The negotiation and documentation of financing that is compliant with these principles are generally complex and time consuming. As such, if we have immediate liquidity needs, we may not be able to obtain financing that is compliant with Shari’ah principles on a timely basis. A Shari’ah-compliant company is prohibited from engaging in derivative hedging transactions such as interest rate swaps or futures, forward options or other instruments designed to hedge against changes in interest rates or the price of commodities we purchase. Also, a Shari’ah compliant company is prohibited from dealing in the areas of alcohol, gambling, pornography, pork and pork-related products.
We may be subject to adverse publicity resulting from statements about Arcapita or complaints or questions from our customers arising from such adverse publicity.
Arcapita, our majority shareholder, could be the subject of allegations that could adversely affect our reputation in the eyes of our customers or investors due to the fact that it has offices in Bahrain and that its investors are located in the Middle East. During 2002, we were subject to adverse publicity due to attempts to connect Arcapita with inflammatory and controversial statements made by one of its former outside advisors, in his individual capacity, regarding a variety of subjects, including events in the Middle East. We may be subject to additional adverse publicity in the future due to the ownership of our common stock by Arcapita. Even if unfounded, such adverse publicity could divert our management’s time and attention and adversely affect the way our customers perceive us, our net sales or results of operations, in the aggregate or at individual coffeehouses, or the market price for shares of our common stock.
Oh, yeah. That's damning. Well, it is, but not for Caribou. Just for the guy at work who can't tell the difference between practicing a religion and supporting militants. And who won't read Snopes because someone told him it was a wiki. (It's not.) Listen to Rush much, dude?
Look, if you really want to get upset with Caribou, complain that they're installing automatic espresso machines in some of their stores. Coffee made with those always tastes a little stale. Just like this rumor.
July 13, 2008
The unit in Belgium had a poor reputation for readiness and morale and John was one of a number of officers and enlisted personnel transferred in to deal with this. When transferred in he was promoted to First Sergeant. It was at this time that John had a frightening brush with death.
When he first arrived in Liege, Belgium he went into a four story barracks to find bunk space. On the top (4th) floor he found a nice room that was unoccupied and started to drop his gear. He went back out to the truck to pick up the balance of his gear and carry it up the four flights of stairs. As he approached the truck his new commanding officer (CO), a Captain, was standing by the truck. Suddenly the sound of a German V-1 Buzz Bomb was loud and close. Both John and the CO dove under the truck.
My grandfather's story is up as part of the Minnesota's Greatest Generation project at the Minnesota Historical Society. He tells these things much better in person, but I'm glad it was captured and posted while he's still around to hear it. I'd say see it, but even if he trusted computers, he can't read anything off the screen anymore. But my mom read it to him.
July 11, 2008
Thanks, therefore, to Sean C. Green for making it easy for me to quickly weigh in on the Helix "sheet head" fiasco. Here's my rejection letter:
Thank you for submitting "Unwinding" to Strange Horizons, but we've decided not to accept it for publication. There was some really nice writing in this piece, but overall I'm afraid the core plot just didn't click for me.
We appreciate your interest in our magazine.
See? That was easy. Professional, helpful, pleasant. Totally cool.
What Sanders did was racist and uncool. That the author who posted his letter has been forthcoming about details of his story and correspondence, so everyone could see what bits of the letter came straight from Sanders' seedy little brain, is very cool.
And to S. F. Murphy: if Toby and Tempest are "PC Nazis," then I hope I get to be a PC Nazi when I grow up. Tempest has been one of my heroes since I met her, and everything I've seen from Toby has earned nothing but my respect. You? Also uncool.
July 10, 2008
Hopkins horror: 90-year-old was slain
The woman was found dead in her apartment Monday, the city's first murder case in nine years. Neighbors and police want answers.
I read this article yesterday morning. It immediately pissed me off, but I thought I'd give myself some time before talking about it. It's still pissing me off.
Meanwhile, concerned neighbors at the normally safe and quiet Hopkins Plaza Apartments flocked Tuesday evening to City Hall in search of answers from police.
Those in the well-kept apartment complex, where wind chimes and flowerpots adorn patios, said the woman...
I'm so tired of the assumption that living in the suburbs, in a "nice" place, can (and should) keep you safe. I've lived in the hood for more than fifteen years now. The closest I've ever been to a murder was when I was a kid living in deep, prosperous exurbia. One of the neighbors whose yard abutted ours was shot by her husband.
No one can promise you safety in the 'burbs. That won't stop them from trying, but you've got no business listening. If you pay any attention at all to who dies violently, you'll know that if it happens to you, it'll be someone you know. If you live in the 'burbs, that just means it'll be someone from the 'burbs.
Random violence does happen sometimes, but it's not particularly more likely to be a stray shot in the city than it is to be freeway congestion road rage or a drunken hunter.
So Hopkins has had it's first murder in a while. Yes, that's news. That people in the area are shocked? That's just stupid. 'Cause you know, when it happens in the city, none of us less-than-nice people give a damn.
July 09, 2008
Isn't it adorable? Just needs that pink little tongue sticking out to be irresistible.
Okay, I find them irresistible already. Every time we go to the pet store for cat stuff, I make my husband stop by the reptile cages so I can ooh and ah over the sweet little ball pythons. I can't have one while we still have cats (hopefully for a good, long while), but I can coo. (Yes, I can. You can't stop me.) They're at their cutest when curled into balls under their logs.
Last time we went to the pet store, however, they had sold their last ball python. We're about to go again, so I'm collecting the cute in an accessible place just in case.
If it's all getting to you and you think you might want a little ball of joy of your own (your own personal neck massager?), there are a few things to keep in mind, like the fact that this snake is an escape artist and benefits from quite a bit of handling. Here's some good background to help you decide whether you're going to be the next person to take a ball python from the store before I get a chance to talk baby talk at it.
The cute, in order: Ghost Ball Python and Spider Ball by Alex Butler, reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic license. gussy4 by quantumdell, reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.
July 08, 2008
We were at the Irish Well. The band was taking a break, but it was still loud. I wasn't sure I'd heard him right. "How many tons of steel in the station?"
He told me again.
I was skeptical.
"And how fast does it rotate?"
"One full rotation a day. Earth gravity. Earth day."
"That can't be right, can it?"
We looked at each other. I grabbed a napkin. He borrowed a pen from the waitress, explaining what we wanted it for. She said to let her know the answer.
I wrote down a formula. Looked at it funny. It didn't look right, and I didn't think it was just the Guinness. I closed my eyes and tried to see the page from my textbook. No luck.
The band was starting again when I tried to call my ex-boyfriend. If he was home, he'd look it up. He wasn't, but his new girlfriend wanted to know the answer too, once she could hear me over the music. She gave me the formula. I'd been close but not quite there. I promised we'd tell the ex what we found the next time we saw him.
I converted all the numbers to reasonable units and did the math. Really? I checked my work. Oops. One error here, one there. I was drinking Guinness, after all. But they cancelled each other out. The answer was still the same.
We looked at each other again and laughed. "You're not getting me on that space station."
"Half-millimeter steel hull? Huh-uh. Me neither."
Then we went back to the band and the Guinness.
And if that's not geeky enough for you, I can remember the results of the calculation, but I'm really not sure which fictional space station we were talking about.
July 07, 2008
Twenty-two years ago, they released Luxo Jr. and set the standard for animating the inanimate. Luxo Jr. is the desk lamp in Pixar's logo. It's a great logo, but in the original animation, he's even more playful, squirmier and demonstrably young. Sure, he's beautifully rendered, but that's almost beside the point. It's all about his personality.
Wall-E is the culmination of what Pixar started with Luxo. The robots in this movie, almost entirely without speech and using just their own inflexible mechanical parts (no bumper mouths and headlight eyes), are so personable that even Greg might be enchanted by them. (Or terrified. I'm not making bets either way.) There are humans here, but they're almost reduced to a running joke.
It isn't just the animation that makes this a great film, either. The voicework is impressive, especially considering limitations of vocabulary. There's none of the all-too-typical basing characters on the stars who voice them. One of the voices is even provided by Macintalk, which I didn't realize until the credits.
There are a couple of Macintosh moments that made me giggle but could annoy others. The story is going to have some people screaming that it's too political, but it's well within the normal bounds of science fiction extrapolation. For a film about robots, it's very human positive. The script is far more mature than those for the Toy Story movies or for Finding Nemo. It gets harder to rely on pop culture and throwaway lines when you have so little dialog. As far as I'm concerned, that's a very good thing. I haven't a clue whether kids are going to like the film, but it's perfect for adults.
And for us old Pixar fans. I'll be getting this one on BluRay. While I'm at it, I think I'll pick up that disk of Pixar shorts I saw recently. Now I remember why I loved them so much.
July 05, 2008
I haven't heard any such thing, and I immediately hit the local news sites. Nothing. Front page at the U. Nothing. Google's local feed. Nothing. I shoot an email back asking for details. I haven't heard from anyone who works in the building, which is a good sign, right? Nobody expects me to have heard anything they need to reassure me about. Or so I'm hoping. Either way, if they have work to do, I don't want to interrupt.
I try to do a little work myself, but between sending and checking email and the news, not much is getting accomplished. Apparently the person who sent me the original email has abandoned their computer--or they want me to suffer, but I'm trying to be generous, knowing I'm a wee bit overwrought. Everyone else has evaporated. Still nothing.
Finally, I give in and call my husband. "So, what's this about a fire at WBOB?"
It turns out fireball is more accurate. A transformer outside the building took itself out most spectacularly. Everybody is fine, and he's working from a remote location to keep the most essential systems up. He's busy. Has to go.
Okay. That's not too bad. They have contingency plans for just this sort of thing. I go back to work. Then, finally, people start forwarding me the information I'd been asking for--emails sent to U students and staff.
From 11:30 a.m.: "At approximately 11:00 a.m. today (July 1), a power line was accidentally cut in the construction zone outside the West Bank Office Building (WBOB), causing a fire. By noon today, the Office of Information Technology will be shutting down the servers in the WBOB location to prevent damage...Access to e-mail is not affected."
From 12:30 p.m. "Due to a power outage at the West Bank Office Building several services have been shut down by OIT. Our connections to the internet, e-mail and calendar systems remains functional."
By 2:30 p.m. we find out that "Some E-Mail users" are affected. I'm guessing the users already knew that and that the message wasn't going to do them much good. The best part of this message, though, is "The new Enterprise Financial System was not affected by the power
outage and was not the cause."
Uh, duh. EFS is a PeopleSoft app. That may make it evil (just sayin', PeopleSoft), but it's not going to give it the power to take out a transformer. Hmm. Sounds like there's some pretty heavy pressure from above to make sure absolutely nothing goes the littlest bit wrong with the EFS implementation, doesn't it?
But I'm all set now, I can kick back and relax and wait for details from my husband. Who doesn't call. Poor thing, I think, I hope he doesn't have to work so late he can't make it to class. Of course, what I don't know is that he got off work early and fell asleep under a tree on campus while listening to his Science Friday podcast. I love him dearly, but....
I found all that out the next morning, when I finally saw him, along with a bunch of details that don't belong in a public blog post. I promise: it's boring technical stuff about how the U's systems work together. I can't share, but unless you're a complete geek, you're not missing much. Instead, I'll leave you a bit from another email I got later on Wednesday, this time from someone who does work in WBOB.
"See that thing in the photo? That's the transformer outside my building. It fucking exploded yesterday, caught fire. This was some truly biblical shit - in my office, the ground done _quaketh_. "
"The fire looks small, doesn't it? That's because the top piece of the transformer got bent upwards by about 45 degrees in the explosion, sort of hiding some of the flames. When I made it down to ground level, and walked by the transformer, the flames were about 12 to 18 inches high. The transformer is oil-cooled, so it had some fuel to burn."
It does look tiny, doesn't it? Awfully small for such a big boom.
July 04, 2008
I've always, as long as I've understood the words, empathized with the soldiers who dreaded the rockets but looked to them to know the flag they fought for still survived. How desperate does their need to know have to be to make it worth looking up instead of covering their heads? How much of a relief must dawn be, and how great their fear of bad news that they have to ask instead of looking for themselves?
I can't answer those questions, but even asking them makes me cry.
In recent years, though, my attention has been a bit distracted by the rockets--the trials and dangers that briefly illuminate our long night. I've been watching them fly overhead, hearing them explode all too nearby. I've been peering through the darkness to see what they can tell me about the state of our flag. I haven't seen much that I can be sure of, but I've made myself look.
But now, with a light on the horizon, I find myself understanding the soldiers better than ever. There should be a flag there, battered though it may be. Not everyone has put their heads down. Many kept fighting despite the rockets. When the sun finally rises, we should see the flag.
Will we? And how many of us will even be able to look?
July 03, 2008
These were supposed to be finished months ago. In fact, they've been finished several times, so when I see one again, it's like looking at a zombie. Now, I didn't sign up to work with zombies. Nobody said there'd be zombies. And I can't even take a shotgun to these zombies. No, I have to treat them just like any regular project.
So it's time for a deep breath and to remind myself why I'm in this job in the first place.
- Variety. I can't see it when I'm staring at a zombie, but very few people have jobs with as much variety as mine. I have my own research project, my own administrative project. I crunch numbers, write client materials, edit client materials. I'm an IT backup, on a data security team, and a "guru" for most of the applications we use locally. That can be a lot of interruptions, but it doesn't get stale.
- Impact. I make a difference at work. My administration work is a chance to smooth the path for people going through tough times. My research project puts me in communication with decision-makers in the company and was recently disseminated outside as well. I can make someone's day a little easier by helping make their computers do what they've been trying to do. What I do matters.
- Challenge. Most of the projects I get come as goals. "The client wants to do this." or "The client wants to know this." Sure, we repeat some work, and I'm not on my own to figure out how to get it done, but I get to do it because the client couldn't do it themselves.
- People. Since this is the kind of work we do, and since we do it successfully, you know I have to work with a pretty sharp bunch. What you don't know is that they're also hired for their people skills. Friendly, funny, smart, minimal gossip, no backstabbing--what more could I ask for?
- Authority. I don't have a boss. I don't have anyone reporting to me. I have things that have to get done, people who work with me on them, and a coach who is also a coworker. I have effectively sidestepped the chain of power, and the arrangement couldn't suit me better if it had been made for me.
- Compensation. This isn't why I do anything, since I'm mostly internally motivated. However, it's hard to feel under-appreciated when someone apologizes to you over a pay increase that is above most companies' top of the merit range.
There are more reasons to stay and love my job, but those are the highlights. Besides, it's time to go see whether I can finally lay those zombies to rest.