geek

I'm not email@email.com, but your blog doesn't know that

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?)
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pie!

'What is Literature?' redux: The Awakening vs. Sphere, Harry Potter vs. The Baby-Sitters Club

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.
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benevolent

The toe was successfully amputated

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

A form letter does not show that you have applied intelligence to the problem

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

Like a water-saving hero, but better

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.
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pleased, grad

Free snickersnee!

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!
tn, snark

I SAY NO TO ILLEGAL SPYING

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.
magic in the kitchen, cooking

Chickpea noodle soup in front of the computer

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.