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geek
Here's a question that I don't know the answer to: why is it that most blogs require you to give them your email address in order to comment, but apparently do nothing with the address? (I don't post on blogs that will post my email under any conditions, such as if there's no URL.)

It's easy to make up a fake email, and no verification is used on the sites. I don't think spam comments can be stopped this way, for exactly this reason. So what purpose does the email address accomplish? It's not published, and it's not responded to, and it's not verified.

(I should disclose that I normally list an email which is apparently still under my control, but which I certainly don't check. And apparently I don't get spam from these blogs, because that address has no messages, but I still remain reluctant to post my real address in most cases, especially because: why?)
pie!
When I was junior in high school our English class got into a debate about why we read the books we read, i.e. why did we read weird books like The Awakening (Kate Chopin), rather than regular books like Sphere (Michael Crichton)? As a result, we were, in fact, assigned to read Sphere for English class, for the purpose of an assignment called "What is Literature?"

As I recall, I wrote an essay that essentially came to the conclusion that any English teacher would wish for: that yes, there is a difference between fiction and literature, that The Awakening is literature and Sphere is not. I don't know if I believed what I was writing even then (or if I was being a goody-two-shoes), but if I did, I think my understanding was incomplete.

The reason that this came to mind is that I was re-reading a couple of the Harry Potter books recently, and thinking about their theme regarding how what we expect to see make us unable to see what's really there. This theme is played out on many levels, but in a number of cases, Harry and the other young wizards and witches see what's happening more quickly than the adults do because they go in with fewer preconceptions. (Some of the reason for this theme is, I suspect, plot devices to make Our Heroes more successful, but I think a great deal of it is legitimately what might happen in such situations.) Yet then again there are situations where this lack of preconceptions leads them astray.

The scene that first made me think about this is the scene where (and please stop reading now if you have somehow not read Harry Potter yet, but expect to someday, and are trying to avoid spoilers of any kind) Scabbers' true identity is revealed. Harry and Ron see the wrong thing because they have been told Sirius Black is a nefarious murderer, and furthermore, they both think Scabbers is just a rat (Ron more so than Harry). The scene continues with Lupin and then Snape entering, each seeing, at first, only what he expects to see, and Snape continuing to see only what he expects long past the time when the others have changed their viewpoints. I could bring up lots of other examples, but I've never liked writing literary analysis, so I'll leave that for the interested reader.

The point is, Harry Potter not only this theme but quite a number of such themes, any one of which I could easily have written a paper on that is at least as good and as substantive as any paper I wrote when I was in high school or college, on arguably far more 'literary' books, most of which I never want to reread, certainly not as many times as I've re-read most of the Harry Potter books.

But some people will certainly argue that Harry Potter is excellent children's literature and quite sophisticated, and therefore there is still a hard, or at least semi-hard, divide between fiction and literature, it's just that the line is a little farther over than most English teachers want to draw it.

But I can make the same argument, to a lesser extent, about the Baby-Sitters Club books. I used to read them when I was a kid, and I learned a lot from them, not just random facts to impress my parents with (they considered the books fairly devoid of value and so the fact that I learned anything from the books at all was a surprise to them) but also various important things. The books cover things like dealing with a chronic disease or disability, racial prejudice, how to understand and work with young children, sibling rivalry, friendships, romantic relationships, parental divorce and remarriage, and lots of other things. They cover them at a level that a kid can understand -- but so does Harry Potter. What is the difference between these books as far as the 'literature' divide is concerned? It's not wholly clear.

I guess in the end I don't have much evidence to conclude that any book is devoid of all value (though I have my suspicions about Harlequin romances and R.L. Stine books), so drawing an arbitrary line in the sand that divides literature from everything else looks pretty pointless. It seems like much more of a continuum to me, and that's the essay I'd write if I were writing it today.

Of course, now I'll end up finding out that that's the essay I wrote back then too, and wonder why I made all this fuss about the issue.
benevolent
I received my cloth bags and Klean Kanteen a few weeks ago. I really love the cloth bags. They can be easily washed and dried (machine gentle cold wash or by hand, drip dry), are soft, hold a lot, are sturdy and don't rip, and are for some reason more likely to be remembered by me when I need them, where the plastic bags weren't.

I like the Klean Kanteen too. It's large and the water tastes clean for several days, though it does gradually get stale. The sports top with extra attached cap doesn't leak and is pretty easy to drink from. However, I do need to buy a new water bottle cage that's coated metal or plastic so I don't get the metal-scraping-on-metal effect, which didn't occur to me before.

And the EvertFresh bags have been keeping a pair of parsnips fresh for a month now. They REALLY WORK. It's amazing.

So, ReusableBags.com FTW.
pleased, grad
In the same general vein as the previous post (alternative transit), I've been thinking about Caltrain lately. I recently wrote them another letter, about the day when Train #226 skipped Menlo Park. Yep, the train skipped the station. I learned from another guy on the platform that there was a new engineer driving and he just messed up.

I wrote them an annoyed but somewhat thoughtful letter expressing my understanding that mistakes happen, but that this one was a particularly bad mistake, and I hoped to know what they planned to do to avoid it in the future. Their letter in response can be summed up as 'Sorry, but mistakes happen."

But see, I wrote to them already having acknowledged that mistakes happen. But there are ways of reducing their frequency, and that's what I wanted to know.

Recently, I got a survey on-board Caltrain, which at the end had a section for comments. I wasn't sure what else to put in the comments, because I've written quite a number of letters to Caltrain, and plus I'm part of two official forums to give input to them. What is there left to say? But I realized that despite all the letters I've written, I've honestly never gotten a satisfactory or even thoughtful response from them, ever.

1. Bikes on Cars: they completely ignored my thoughtful points about their public relations behavior, and furthermore insulted me and Caltrain cyclists in general by implying that we aren't good commuting citizens and our behavior is somehow wanting.
2. Menlo Park bike rack: Still haven't gotten any response other than "This bike rack will be replaced at some point in the future," despite repeatedly requesting time frames. Which means utterly nothing, and they never explained why it was okay to remove it to repave the CAR PARKING lot in the first place.
3. Excessive horn blowing: they stated that blowing the horn is necessary to lower the gates, but didn't explain why some engineers have a light touch and just barely tap the horn, and some BLAAAAAAST it.
4. Train 226: see above.

So I wrote in the form that I thought that Caltrain needed to pay thoughtful attention to all the comments it gets and not ignore them or act like people give input purely to annoy them, and stop producing canned justifications for their behavior that really don't make sense when you get right down to it. I'm sympathetic to their problems (especially given that I know about ten times as much about their problems and the tradeoffs they have to make than the average commuter does) but I still find dealing with them incredibly trying because of this attitude.

If I could change one thing about Caltrain, I think I'd rather change this behavior and attitude than add an 11:00 train. And that's saying something.
zoom, bike, cycle
So, I have a couple different things to write about, but I'm going to stick them in different posts rather than trying to make them fit together.

First, this:

Be a Cycle Hero

I'm not a huge fan of the faux-drama style, but I love that they showcase the diversity of cycling possibilities (roadies, folding bikes, commuters, old-style, and BMX are all featured) and make cycling look fun, fast, and sexy. Which it is.
25-Oct-2007 19:59 - Free snickersnee!
pleased, grad
enshanam mentioned FreeRice today, and I remembered that I should go play it. So I did, and I got up to Vocab Level 49 for a short while, but then went back to around 43-45. I also got two cool words that are related to each other: snickersnee and tantara. I always thought G&S had just made up those words, but I guess not!
20-Oct-2007 09:22 - I SAY NO TO ILLEGAL SPYING
tn, snark
Write to or call your Senators, and tell them to join Chris Dodd in his courageous and firm stand on any FISA bills containing telecom amnesty.

And while you're at it, write again and tell them not to confirm Mukasey.

This is not a small deal. We are talking about a bill that grants immunity to companies who helped the Bush administration illegally spy on Americans, and furthermore contains unprecedented expansion of power to spy on Americans. Which is going to be passed by a Democrat-controlled Senate. And we're talking about a guy who won't say he doesn't believe in the indefinite detention of Americans without charges, and won't say whether anything in particular constitutes torture, who also appears likely to be confirmed as head of the Justice Department by this same Senate. It's ridiculous, it's cowardly, it's tragic, it's disgusting.

If either of these things happen, the Democrats as a party are pretty fucking useless. I've always resisted the tendency that many have to claim that there's no significant difference between Democrats and Republicans, because there are huge differences, but the differences are not worth much without the requisite spine to stand up for them. The level of my anger on this issue and related issues is making it difficult for me not to want to start a whole entire new party. On the other hand, maybe I should just forget Edwards and vote for Chris Dodd. I can't even find anything on Edwards' page about the FISA stuff. I really like Edwards' positions, but we're not going to have much rule of law to work with on his issues if this stuff doesn't get sorted out.
silly, amused
I'd forgotten how funny Engrish.com is. This is my favorite:

They devote entire rooms to it?

So much WTF, so much "Oh boy, that really doesn't translate", so much bad spelling and confusing phrasing. So much awesome.
silly, amused
Okay, I'll admit to being totally inconsistent. This is way less well-known, and way more likely to confuse people, than "embiggen", but I love it.



I don't remember LJ having such a funny 404 before, so this must be new.
magic in the kitchen, cooking
All ye who are vegetarian (and any of ye who are not, but like chickpeas), go forth and make Chickpea Noodle Soup.

It is great and tasty. My variation has parsnips instead of mushrooms, parsely instead of greens, a little less miso, and I had to add way more water to get the right amount of broth. But the basic recipe: awesome.

On another subject entirely, I found How to Quit Facebook from Wiki-How to be a helpful description of how to quit anything online. I don't have a Facebook issue (thank goodness, since I hear it's an awful timesuck) but I have online time-wasters of my own. It seems like most of the advice can be directly adapted from Facebook to whatever. I don't think the "how to stop spending too much time online" one is quite as good because it lacks some excellent ideas that the Facebook one does have:

"Keep track of what you actually do" is something that I noticed was helpful once when I was trying to figure out roughly how much I needed to eat. I was having trouble bringing enough food to work, and ended up eating the free crap that's available. So I just documented everything I ate, and figured out that I wasn't eating enough breakfast (breakfast was tiny compared to lunch and dinner) and needed an afternoon snack, whether it was something out of my lunch I didn't eat, or fruit or a clif bar or something else.

"Make goals" and "think of other things you could be accomplishing in your wasted time" seem like they somewhat go together. The point is, your time should be used for things that accomplish something for you. If you're using Facebook to do something you wanted to do, that time's not wasted, so stopping it would be counterproductive. If you're using it to waste time, well, we all have a mental or physical list of other things we're supposed to be, or allegedly want to be, accomplishing.

I also like the tip to find another default activity that's portable and not demanding of long spans of time. That's exactly what I need -- something to do to fill in brief periods at work while I'm waiting for something to download, and something to turn to at home when I get bored and start homing in on the computer like a little pigeon.

The Break a WoW addiction also has a good tip: "Find ways to make reality more interesting, that will help." The online world is interesting in an easy way -- just click and there's something new. If there's nothing new, keep clicking -- maybe there will be something in a minute.

Making life interesting can be more challenging, which is why I think it's so easy to end up with online timewasters.
pie!
I never really wrote about enshanam's visit back in August, which was utterly delightful and regrettably short. I've thought of it several times recently. Last week, M asked me what recipe from Vegan with a Vengeance is my favorite. Hard question, but ultimately I picked Chickpea Spinach Curry, which I last made during enshanam's visit. It's my favorite because while it's not the most revolutionary recipe I've learned from the book, being already mostly in the vein of stuff I already make, it's absolutely top-notch, yet not at all complicated except for the long list of spices -- standard Indian practice, so I have most of them anyway. It's so comforting, with both all the familiar flavors and a dose of intriguing complexity. And I love chickpeas and spinach, so anything that involves both wins.

(My runner-up favorites for Most Revolutionary are Lemon-Corn Waffles with Blueberry Sauce and Sweet Potato Crepes with Cilantro-Tamarind Sauce; runner-up favorite for YUMMY! is Ginger-Macademia-Coconut Carrot Cake. Yes, I love that book inordinately, why do you ask?)

Today, watching the ducks as I walked over the bridge, I was remembering her telling me about going rafting in Oregon as we walked over the bridge together.

But of course, the ultimate triumph of the visit, in food terms, was the use of that most important product of Oregon: fresh, straight-from-the-fields-via-PDX blueberries. We discussed many things that might be done with the blueberries. Muffins? Coffeecake? Pancakes? Lemon-Corn Waffles with Blueberry Sauce? But ultimately we settled on blueberry pie.

The eponymous pie, of course, appears in my icon. It was a great success in most ways, except that when we cut it, all the juices came rushing out and soaked the bottom of the dish. As far as I could tell, that was either because it was still too warm for the arrowroot to set properly, or we didn't use enough arrowroot, even though we used the amount stated in a recipe I found. But it affected the taste not at all, nor the delightful flakiness of the top crust. I was generous with the pie and gave quite a bit of it away (of course, mostly to enshanam, but also to others) but I could easily have eaten the whole darn thing over a couple sittings, it was that good.

There was enshanam. And there was PIE. And all was good.
30-Sep-2007 10:19 - Cute license revoked
geek

Embiggen?
Embiggen?
Because there isn't already a word for making things bigger...hmmm....like "enlarge" perhaps?
Flickr tries to be cute, but sometimes it's just kind of dumb.

pie, happy
Writing about something in public can be so motivating! Today I ordered a bunch of cotton bags and a few Evert-Fresh bags from ReusableBags.com, along with a Klean Kanteen. I'm generally a user of reusable bottles already, but there's been a lot going around about Bisphenol A. I'm not generally into getting too worried about that sort of thing, but it's a pollutant as well as a potential endocrine disruptor, so I thought I'd try out the steel bottles, anyway. I shun bottled water generally, since it's bad for the environment and we have extremely safe drinking water here, which, if not tasty, can be filtered at the source.

On plastic bags, one factoid that I love but often forget is that after Ireland introducted a 15-eurocent charge for plasic bags, use dropped 90%. That's a huge amount! Plastic bags are already imposing that cost on the world (and probably more); being asked to actually pony up for some of the cost can dramatically change people's behavior. I wish they would do that here. Offering a bag credit is not nearly as visual as charging for bags, even though it has the same effect, and the bag credits are usually only 5-10 cents, which is a little low.

Also, I found this neat little Walk Score app from the Carfree mailing list. It tells you an approximation of how walkable your neighborhood is based on what services are within reach. My home address scores 65 and my work address scores 52. Interestingly, both are in the "good, but some routine errands still require a bike" range. This really is a good case study showing the limitations of their algorithm. Because of the lack of interconnections between streets, large throughways, and streets lacking sidewalks in the area of my work, it's much less friendly than home for walking around. Still, it does show that it's not so bad -- there are parks, coffee shops, restaurants, and grocery stores nearby. (Yet somehow the majority of my work colleagues drive to get lunch...)

The scores also show some funny categories for places. A church is listed under "library", and "H&R Block" is listed under "Schools". (I guess they offer classes?)

It's also interesting to me that while Menlo Park downtown is rated 100, I'm still only rated 65. Considering the trip to downtown takes me only 10 minutes by foot, I can easily take full advantage of downtown amenities, so I think the score for my address should be higher. (Plus, I'm in walking distance of Palo Alto downtown from where I am too.)

Anyway, it's cool to check out areas that way. It's something I thought about a lot in deciding where I wanted to live, and I think it's something that I think is really worth thinking about. I hear a lot of people say that they can't use transit to get to work, and sometimes that has to do with where work is, but often it has to do with where home is, which is something we do have a lot of control over.
naive, young, formal
I've been thinking lately about a goal I wish I had put on my 101: think about and implement ways to reduce my consumption of resources. Most notably, what I keep thinking about is how much I throw away, and how society seems to be organized so that everything comes with too much packaging and is meant to be disposable.

I already try to reduce my use of plastic and paper bags from the grocery store, so that's one area where I'm doing well. I also buy in bulk a lot (saves cans and plastic packaging), and re-use containers. I make my lunch instead of buying it in a container or package. (Speaking of which, Mr. Bento made the Cool Tools blog! Mine is still going strong almost a year after I bought it, with only slight cosmetic nicks, and is my constant lunch companion, so I wholly agree that it is a cool tool.) But I still throw a lot of stuff away and when I do think it through, I often realize that I could avoid disposing of the thing by choosing to do something different, though in many cases it would be significant departure from 'normal' behavior.

Plastic vegetable bags or containers are a good example. I do use a lot fewer of these than most people because I try not to get them every time I go to the store or farmer's market, and I try to dry and reuse them and remember to bring the ones I already have when I'm shopping. But I often fail to remember to bring them, and furthermore, eventually the bags get nasty and can't be re-used anymore, and I throw them away. I've looked into cloth vegetable/staple bags (like these or these) and I know they're the answer, but I haven't bought any yet. (These look good too, considering that throwing away food because I don't get to it in time is also wasteful!) And I'm still stymied on what to do about flour. It would just sift out of the cloth bags, but I've never tried to buy it in a container at Rainbow because I don't know how they would weigh it. Apparently it is allowed, because you get a 5-cent credit for bringing recycled bags or containers. (Rainbow FTW also for using "poring" correctly.)

Aside from bags, there's also the containers that I end up picking up, mostly at Trader Joe's. The obvious answer to this is "Don't buy vegetables from Trader Joe's." Which is pretty good as an idea, but then it's Saturday and I suddenly realize I need parsely to make tabbouleh for ariiadne's party, or it's Wednesday and I realize that I don't have enough carrots to make two cups of grated carrots for work's carrot cake birthday treat. Apparently the answer to this is "Plan better." Sigh. But that's hard!

There are a lot of things besides that. Like using rags instead of paper towels to clean up messes. I try to do that but sometimes the mess is really icky, and I don't like to waste laundry space laundering rags either, because our washer and dryer suck. There's turning things off when I'm not using them (which I fail to do with the computer and often lights), getting a dish tub or sink plug wide enough to plug up my disposal to wash dishes so that I don't waste so much water while washing dishes (a serious matter since water reserves are low here). Instead of accumulating or throwing away bread bags, I could make my own bread. And so on.

I already do a lot of major resource conserving things, notably not owning a car, not eating meat or much in the way of animal products, trying to eat local where feasible, using reusable containers, and reusing and recycling containers and packaging. And other big ones I'm not going to do anytime soon, like not having a single-person household. So sometimes I do wonder if it's worthwhile to work on these other things which are something of a drop in the bucket. But I think it's always worthwhile to take a stab at it. After all, if we all save a drop in the bucket every day, then every day we collectively save a bucket!
pleased, grad
Help me out here, my Southern or Texan readers: what do you know about "be done [Past Verb]", as in "I'll be done drove there by 3:00".

I can make sense of the basic construction, even though it's absolutely foreign to my dialect, but some of the sentences at the bottom just don't make any sense to me, particularly #20:
"I'm gonna be done hafta went back and finished in eight years."

That's a future (gonna) plus the "be done", plus "have to", plus the past verb (went). Even knowing it's a very different dialect of English from my own, my instinct is "That's just one of those word strings like 'The man the the in went green outside' that they use as examples that are never grammatical in English." But someone really produced it so it must mean something!

Personal experience? Or are you as baffled as I am?
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