GEEKERY  
ADVENTURE  
CONTEMPLATION  

20121231

scrap thoughts for the new year

Sometime in college I bought a decrepit four inch tall leather book with the words Daily Light prettily imprinted in gold on the cover.  It smells of old libraries and used book stores. The book has a page spread for each day in the year with snippets of scripture to read each day--the left side for the morning and the right side for the evening.  While I only read from it occasionally, it lives in my bedside table drawer and it makes me smile to see it.

Inside the cover of this little book, I keep snippets of my own scripture--phrases or sentences that have resonated with me.  So, for the new year, I thought I'd share them.

Be satisfied with what you already own.

Great minds have purposes, others have wishes.  -W. Irving

Beauty consists of its own passing.

Nothing is hidden forever.

This last one may or may not be true in the absolute sense, but it's true enough to inspire me to be kinder and more honest, both in terms of what I actually do and what I keep in my head.

20121220

the things I didn't write about

It's been a while since I posed anything.  I got stuck on my diatribe about digital barbarism, and then a bunch of stuff happened, personal and otherwise.

In the personal arena, I attended NIPS, drowned in coursework, and was elected garden coordinator for our apartment community.

Then there was the hullabaloo about Mormon women wearing pants.  I participated in a cowardly manner by wearing my baggy skirt-like harem/jeanie/Aladdin pants.

Locally, Sandy has still displaced way too many people, and we're still working on gutting homes so mold can be prevented before they start to rebuild.

And then Newton.  I cried several days in a row.  I know that there are worse things abroad and to some degree it's selfish to focus on how terrible it was when other equally bad things get very little attention.  But it felt more personal; it's a two-and-a-half hour drive from where I live and the states are all so close culturally, it felt like it could have been my own town.  An emotional reaction, rather than a logical one, I know, but I'm not a robot.  A lot of people are suffering, in Newtown and elsewhere, and they have my prayers.

20121124

Three Years Late: A Lengthy Review of Mark Helprin's Digital Barbarism, Part 4

This is part 4 of multi-part series; things will make more sense if you start at the first post.

Open Source and Creative Commons

As part of the broad brush, Helprin attacks the Creative Commons and open source code.  It's unsurprising, given that I spent a year of my life developing open source software, that this was the point at which his arguments soured for me.  This was point at which I decided that I needed to write this absurdly detailed review.  (You can stop now, nobody's forcing you to read it.)

Helprin's perspective is that open source, the Creative Commons, and anything free inherently attacks non-free things because it implies that people who want to be paid are greedy.  This is is just blatantly untrue.  While some people may hold this perspective, I believe that the majority do not.

An example will serve us well here.  Take Photoshop: it's a fabulous tool and a lot of engineering effort has gone into it; it deserves to be sold rather than given away.  However, its price is steep and most people can't afford it if they just want to learn a little more about it.  GIMP is an open-source alternative.  People like myself who do not need the full power of Photoshop for professional use can use GIMP to manipulate images in a similar way.  GIMP doesn't take away from Photoshop's revenues because professionals will still buy the cutting edge tool, but people who can't afford or don't professionally need Photoshop still have access to a similar tool.  Nobody loses.

Further, open-source projects are a great venue for teaching; many people become better programmers by contributing to open source code.  Think of open-source and Creative Commons not a substitutes to paid services, but supplements.  They are tools and resources that everyone can use, eliminating some of the barrier to entry into the digital world.  One could even argue that they increase revenue.

It is obvious to me that Helprin has no programming experience.  If he had, he would not be so condemning of open source.  High-end proprietary products use open source code like OpenGL, programming languages themselves are often open source (like Python and PHP), and Helprin's own website uses the open-source Javascript library jQuery.

The idea of technology being free is not now--Steve Wozniak wanted to give away the plans for the original Apple in the 1970s.  Some knowledge should be in the public domain; each car company did not literally reinvent the wheel, nor should they have needed to do so. Open source code allows for developers to spend their time on new ideas.

Supporting the existence of free resources does not imply the condemnation of proprietary products.  In some ways, Helprin needs to take his own advice and slow down before jumping to conclusions.  Admittedly, I have the advantage of having seen the years of progress since this book was written; perhaps I am too harsh on the author, whose perspective is cast from another point in time.

to be continued...

20121123

Three Years Late: A Lengthy Review of Mark Helprin's Digital Barbarism, Part 3

This is part 3 of multi-part series; things will make more sense if you start at the first post.

Intellectual Barbarism

The public reaction to Helprin's article was incredibly negative, with an almost barbaric approach in the comments--hence the title of the book. His discovery of this side of humanity shocked and appalled him, and rightfully so. Unfortunately, I feel that Helprin, in an understandable emotional reaction to such negative feedback, swept far to many people under the label of savages.

Certainly individuals bare their teeth when they are allowed to hide behind a veil on anonymity--we see this all the time.  Online media allows people to speak (or write, really) before thinking, or the occasionally worse: speak without having anything to say.

As Helprin points out, people often don't read things in full (or at all) before responding to them.  There is no time to process the material and form a coherent thought, let alone with proper grammar, lest your place on the comment thread is unfathomably low.  Group thought is also pervasive, and taints opinions before individuals can form their own. These problems relate to the acceleration of life that he discussed at the start--that we need time in order to function as our best selves.

I cannot help but agree that there does exist a kind of intellectual barbarism in online communities, or in Helprin's words "Blogging's anonymity makes it the intellectual twin of road rage." This made me laugh out loud--I have seen this, the intellectual twin of road rage.  However, I do believe that it would be better put, The Internet's anonymity allows for the intellectual twin of road rage. Simply put, this is no more full of rage than is a leisurely Sunday drive.

Setting down the too-broad brush, we can see a more resounding message.  As individuals, communities, and perhaps even as a society at whole, we need to address intellectual barbarism. We need to take the time to attempt to comprehend others and then carefully craft our responses. I want to see more thoughtful questions and fewer accusations.

Continue to Part 4

20121121

Three Years Late: A Lengthy Review of Mark Helprin's Digital Barbarism, Part 2

This is part 2 of multi-part series; things will make more sense if you start at the first post.

Easing into Copyright


The majority of Helprin's book is dedicated to the defense of copyright.  The connections between this topic and the subject of the first post--the acceleration of tranquility--are not obvious at first.

I think that Helprin's own tranquility is disturbed by some modern attitudes toward copyright, namely that more should be accessible to the public.  He appears to be disgusted with the flagrant entitlement and rudeness present in our society, and rightfully so.

Helprin wrote briefly of values in his first chapter, I believe that this work is his attempt to get us to reanalyze our values on the topic of copyright.


The New York Times Article

In 2007, Helprin wrote an op-ed piece for the New York Times arguing that the length of copyright should be extended.  The editors chose the inaccurate title, "A Great Idea Lives Forever: Shouldn't Its Copyright?" and all hell broke loose.

Due to the title, many people misread the article (or didn't read) the article and the comments were soon full of public outrage.  Helprin's real argument was that we should extend copyright, but not infinitely  because the constitution is explicit about copyright being a limited term, which he emphasizes repeatedly.  The thrust of his argument is that if people are able to inherent their grandparent's life work as a company, then why can't they inherent their grandparent's life work as a novel?

The public misunderstanding and backlash inspired him to write this manifesto.

Continue to Part 3

20121118

Three Years Late: A Lengthy Review of Mark Helprin's Digital Barbarism, Part 1

I rarely read books soon after they are published. Mark Helprin's Digital Barbarism had been sitting on my shelf for at least two years, recommended to me by my mother, before I finally picked it up. Helprin's Winter's Tale was one of the most delicious novels I've ever encountered, mostly because his writing is simply beautiful; thus, I hoped for good things from this manifesto. I did indeed find it to be enlightening in some ways, but in others it disappointed me; I'll attempt to tease apart the facets of my reaction in a series of posts.


The Acceleration of Tranquility

Helprin begins by introducing us to two characters, one living in 2028 and the other in 1908, and asks you to consider which example draws your attraction, which life you would rather live.  This was all a little ironic because I'm also reading Kaku's Physics of the Future, which makes many of the same predictions for the future, but more on that at a later point.

I think that Helprin, knowingly or not, sets the reader up to like the second character and lifestyle with implications of infidelity with the first, among other things.  Setting aside the inherent bias of the setup, I still side with author in his favor for the second, slower life, which is unsurprising given my generally retrogrouch attitude.  He goes on to explore the benefits of each: medicine is an obvious example in favor of the 2028 life, the ease of achieving rest and contemplation for the second.

An aside: if these the ideas sound at least vaguely interesting to you, please read the first chapter of the actual book, which my summary cannot do justice.

His thesis, at least as I perceive it, is that the pace of life is speeding up beyond the pace that is healthy for man, but that we cannot simply throw out technology because it does too much good to be cast away.  To me, the most insightful paragraph of the entire book was his proposition on how to move forward, given knowledge of both ways of life:
Requisite, I believe, for correcting the first paradigm until it approximates the second, and bringing to the second (without jeopardizing it) the excitements and benefits of the first, are the discipline, values, and clarity of vision that tend to flourish as we grapple with necessity and austerity, and tend to disappear when by virtue of our ingenuity we float free of them.
Disciple, values, and clarity of thought.  It's really quite simple: values are the foundational ideas from which we form our lives.  Clarity of thought turn values into blueprints, or unambiguous plans. Disciple allows us to actually build our lives from those blueprints.

While the majority of Helprin's book covers other material, this was its profound point.  The questions this point leads to are: What should our values be?  And then, how do we learn to achieve clarity of thought and discipline?  Knowledge of their necessity helps, but like all virtues, acquiring them is like catching a fish with your bare hands.

Continue to Part 2

20121114

Middlesex

I just finished reading Middlesex, which a very sweet friend of mine thought was about Middlesex the county next to ours.  It is most certainly not.

It was a great read, and I plowed through the end, but I can't put my finger on what held it back from being excellent.  Perhaps it was all of the explicit talk about sexuality.  I can be prudish at times, but that's not what it was.  I think it was that the narrator just talked about it too much, and like any topic that's overdone, it gets old.

I wanted less talk of sex and more talk of gender.  Why did the narrator make the choice she/he did?  I wanted more on what mannerisms were hard and easy in the transition.  What were the harder and easier parts of playing each gender?  I wanted to know more about the struggle of familial acceptance. In the end, I felt like I only knew 3/4 of the narrator. Some intrigue is good, of course, but I was left too hungry.

20121113

six words

Today I read about a writing workshop in which a prompt was to write your own biography in six words.  This could be mine:

Doing everything except what's needed most.

What would yours be?

20121112

laundry and quarters

Our building has a laundry room on the first floor with about 8 washers and 16 dryers. It costs 50¢ to wash and 25¢ per 15 minutes of drying; one load usually takes 45 minutes to dry, so it costs us $1.25 per load of laundry (plus soap).

However, one of the washers has been running for free over the past several weeks, and two of the dryers have also been running for free.  Most other people are hesitant to use them, which I find odd.  Other than not forcing you to put in money to use them, they aren't "broken" in any way.

We produce roughly two loads of laundry a week, between clothes, towels, and cleaning rags.  When we had more clothes, we used to do laundry every two weeks.  Now, we're in a pretty regular habit of doing it once a week, usually on Fridays or Saturdays.

However, when I was cleaning tonight, I ended up with a decent pile of gross wet cleaning rags, and instead of letting them sit in the laundry basket all week, I decided to run down and put them in the free washer, which was empty, despite some other washers being occupied.  After they were done, I was able to use the free dryers too.

Why don't people use the free machines?  This baffles me.  Do they think that they are broken?  I had to explain this to a fellow resident the other day.  He was waiting for me to take out my laundry, but the free washing machine was ready to go. "Why don't you use that one?  It's free," I said. "Yeah, but I don't want to waste quarters on it if it's broken." "But it's free. You just put it in and press the button.  If I'm wrong, all you waste is a little soap." Eventually he got it.

I'm transitioning to rearrange my laundry schedule to optimize use of the free machines, as long as it doesn't get in the way of anything else I need to do.  Other students, who are very bright, no doubt, are avoiding these machines, and continue to postpone doing laundry as long as possible, doing huge batches at once.  I guess I'm optimizing for money and other folks for time?

More generally, why do folks continue to use inferior products or systems?  Mental effort to switch?

The moral of the story: if you have laundry machines at home, enjoy them.

20121108

bing it on challenge

I'm glad that Microsoft for trying to break into the search sphere with Bing.  It's good to keep search competitive so things continue to improve instead of stagnating.

That said, I find the "Bing it on" ads and marketing campaign to be misleading.  I think that their Bing vs. Google test favors Bing (surprise, surprise) for three main reasons.

First is Google's info sidebar that now accompanies search.  Google Obama, for instance, and you get the typical search engine list of blue links and their summaries, but you also get a really helpful side panel with a picture and biographical info.  This side panel is not present at all in the Bing challenge, so you're not using the full experience for the comparison.  Sure, Bing has it's own side panel that it's excluding, but it's social networky, hard to parse, and really uninformative.

Second, my hunch is that the kind of searches people do for these kind of challenges are really generic, like "butterflies," "red dresses," or "sports cars."  These will all result in picture-heavy results, and Bing puts pictures closer to the top than Google does, and people like pictures.  Further, these generic searches don't really represent what people actually search for.  If you do this challenge, try to use something specific that you'd actually look for, like a professional colleague's name, an academic paper or book title, or a food dish that you'd like to cook.

Finally, if you do the challenge on someone else's computer, like for all the commercials and stats they're showing you, you're not signed into Google, and so the challenge isn't showing personalized results.  Doing the challenge at home, this isn't an issue, but the stats and commercials are crucial to the marketing campaign.  Google is really smart about knowing what you like and what's relevant to you, and as far as I can tell, Bing isn't, but I might not have used it enough to pass verdict.  Bing hooks into Facebook, but that's not relevant information for personalizing search.  (It is, however, how they track you from session to session, the way Google does with your Gmail or your Google account.)  What is relevant information is what you've searched for and clicked on in the past, which Google has by the bucketful.

It's possible that Bing is really great.  Lots of people like it for the pretty search page, but I always search by hotkey, so that doesn't matter to me.  It's also entirely possible that Bing can give great personalized results once they build up enough data about you.  But I don't want to waste my time training them, when I already have a trained engine.  I also use a bazillion other Google products: Gmail, Calendar, Drive, Blogger...the list goes on, so I'm going to be signed into Google anyway.  I don't really use Facebook that much, and don't like the idea of my search experience being tied to my Facebook account.  I want the freedom to delete that account without losing quality of search.

I'm obviously a Google loyalist, but I think Bing is a great search engine and I'm glad people can pick.  I'm not objecting to Bing, but to the marketing for it.

20121107

circle tile patterns

I like the traditional quilting pattern of overlapping circles, often called "wedding rings," but I've found that I like it best when the rings are thin; in other words, I like it everywhere except in actual quilts.

Today I was thinking that it would be very easy to use as a floor or wall tile, so I started digging around trying to find tiles that were essentially this pattern. Here's what I've found, vaguely in increasing order of favoritism.


Granada Tile's Athens-875Cannes-934 and Torino-937
(colors are customizable)





20121106

oodles of apples

The weekend before the storm, I went to a pick-your-own orchard with a friend.  There, I experienced the inexplicable urge to pick all of the apples.  Was it that I knew most of the remaining apples would go to waste due to the storm?  Was it my fruit-picking experiences as a child, where all you had to pay was effort?  Was it the hope of canning a year's supply of applesauce?  We'll never know.  What I do know, though, is that I came home with over 60 pounds of apples.  When N saw them, he just kind of stared.  Then when I told my brother, he said, "Have you ever considered being an agricultural laborer?  Given your interests..." Gimme an orchard one day, baby.


Since then, I've canned about 4 gallons of applesauce, with a great deal of help from my friends--5 quarts the day they were picked, 6 quarts the day after.  Then the final batch this past weekend.  There are "recipes" for applesauce, and I referenced my copy of Canning for a New Generation, but it's really absurdly simple, if time consuming.  I've listed what at did at the bottom of this post.

We picked three varieties of apple: Granny Smith, Pink Lady, and Cameo.  I had never heard of Cameo before, but it became a favorite.  The fruit were huge, a boon for applesauce because it means less peeling and coring.  They are also very sweet and crisp, and so eating nibbles while you peel is delightful.  Or just eating the apple all by itself, which we did plenty of when without power.  Cameo also gets very mushy when baked, making it perfect for applesauce, though not ideal for other baking.  There were three crisps made in the course of using all the apples, and the Cameos didn't keep their form well.


The apples are all gone now, the majority turned into applesauce.  I savored the last one (a Cameo) two nights ago after finishing the final round of canning.  Then last night, I enjoyed applesauce with a dash of cinnamon for dessert.  The age of applesauce has begun.

applesauce
1 cup water per 4 lbs of apples
Peel and core apples then cook with water until soft.  Use an immersion blender to give the concoction the right texture.  Clean and sterilize jars and lids.  Put applesauce in jars and boil filled jars for 20 min for quart jars.  Let jars cool until sealed.  Magic.



20121101

Sandy, part 3

See the first two parts here and there.  I'm making this my last post on Sandy; anything else I'll just append as updates to the end of this post.

We're going on 70 hours without power at home.  The university is back on PSE&G instead of its cogeneration plant.  We took hot showers at a friend's place last night, and then ate with family who have a gas stove.  I've got to put Hurricane Sandy up there with the Northridge earthquake in terms of crazy natural disasters I've lived through, and Sandy probably comes in at the top spot.

PSE&G estimates it'll be 7-10 days before everyone has power again.  I saw a fleet of their trucks near our place this afternoon, so I'm hopeful, but I've been hopeful since Monday.  N had the idea to leave the iPad on at home and turn on the "find my iPad" feature so we'll get notified when power goes back up and it connects to the internet.  Meanwhile, we're still camped out in our offices.

11/1 update: 72 hrs w/o power
The PSE&G fleet is gone and we're still powerless.  Most of our neighbors, including one building in our complex, have power.  Patience is a virtue.

11/2 update: 88 hrs w/o power
We've been getting creative with meal solutions.  Yesterday, we bought pre-made pot pies and cooked them in one of the coffee room microwaves.  Today, we took the rice cooker into work to cook dinner in that--tex mex rice and beans.  We'll see how that goes.

11/2 update: 96 hrs w/o power
The university finally contacts us specifically about our building. The one sentence summary: PSE&G is actively working to restore the power in your area.  No estimates, though the PSE&G estimates I've seen online place the expected restoration time as 3 days from now.

11/2 update: power is back!
After over 97 hours without power, we got an email from Apple saying that our iPad had been "found."  N's brilliant plan worked, and we headed home to hot showers.  Tomorrow I get to clean out the fridge, but for now, we're reveling in it.

20121031

storm followup

So remember when I said we'd be without power for about 24 hours?  We're over 40 hours without power, and I wouldn't be surprised if it took until the end of the week to get everything up and running again.  I've heard rumor that the university's generators only last for 3 days or so, so if they run out, we won't be able to work, charge our phones, etc.  I'll need to stop using my department's fridge for our four-pack of Italian sausage.

It's just a waiting game for us, and we're lucky that we don't personally need power for anything medical (monitoring devices, refrigerating medicine).  The university powers academic buildings because there is scientific equipment that needs to maintain power, or so I've been told.  Makes me feel guilty for using that electricity to blog.

Local restaurants are open, as is our main grocery store, but our stove is electric, so I can't cook.  We ran out for candles last night, and half the world was dark--big shopping centers completely empty.  The only candles we found cost and arm and a leg, and were Christmasy. I avoided the glittery ones, opting for self-contained tri-color three-pack containing a "Berry Merry Christmas" scent.  Heaven help us all.

I'm investing in a set of emergency beeswax candles when this is over.  The upshot of the power-less-ness is that candle-powered nights are really quite lovely, and I wouldn't mind having them more often (though preferable not all in a row).  Last night, I spent a while turning old clothes into rags by candlelight, which was very soothing.  Reading would be a strain, though.

Again, electricity is the only real limitation; it impacts light, refrigeration, computer and internet access.  I'm itching to get it back at home, but trying to enjoy the experience.

20121030

remnants of Sandy

The crazy storm that hit our area this weekend is almost past.  We don't have power at home and haven't since we sat down to dinner last night--the timing was spectacular.  But, the university is magical and never seems to lose power, so we're on campus today. (In reality, they just have generators.)

Lots of trees are down, leaves and branches are everywhere, and lots of people are cleaning things up surprisingly quickly.  If this is what the worst storm in the recorded history of this area looks like, then life is pretty darn awesome.  I mean, all we have to worry about is not having electricity for maybe 24 hours.  Talk about cushy.


20121025

they don't have that much power

It's pretty obvious that that the issue people care most about right now is the economy.  And Obama and Romney have spent a lot of time talking about it--for the first two debates, they spent about 74 minutes on the economy and about 84 minutes on everything else (source).

The thing is, they just don't have that much control over the economy.  I wish we could measure, or even estimate, the potential impact of a president with each issue.  (I feel that given the breadth of political science, something like this should exists--I just haven't found it.)  That way, people could judge candidates based on potential impact over all their issues of interest, instead of weighing a beast like the economy equally against things they have more control over, like healthcare and taxes.

An op-ed and video by Megan McArdle on presidents and the economy:

20121023

even smaller things

Apple released both the iPad Mini and the 13" Retina MacBook Pro today--both smaller versions of existing products.

While there has been a lot of hype about the iPad Mini, and it seems like an excellent product, I feel like the 13" Retina is the one I was looking forward to, and it got very little press.  The reason for the lack of press on the 13" MacBook Pro is that the use cases for it are almost identical to the 15", whereas the iPad Mini is physically held and used differently than its bigger brother, making it more distinct.

Apple emphasizes the one-handed-ness of the Mini design, although I think most people will still use two hands for most interactive tasks.  Typing may or may not be harder.  My hunch is that people will simply prefer one or the other, not having one of each for different purposes.  I'll have stave off judgment on my personal preference until I can actually hold one, since the feel of interaction is the major distinction.

Shiny.

20121020

just on belief (a follow up)

I was talking about belief with some of my friends this week (if you think you were one of them, you probably were), touching on some of the things in my last post, but mostly covering a lot of ground on the topic of belief generally.

One friend questioned my assertion that belief was a choice, saying something to the effect that even if you want to believe, sometimes you just can't.  That resonated with me and I've been mulling it over for the past few days.

I think belief is akin to an emotion--it's something we feel, not that we logically come to.  A position or stance, we come to by logic, but usually basing some of that logic on a belief, e.g.: given that I believe X, I can conclude that the government should do Y.  There are some things that most of us believe to be true, like that killing is bad.  But sometimes our beliefs change and warp because they're emotionally based.  Someone can believe that killing is bad, but then kill someone in a rage, defending the honor of a member of their family.

I think that we can consciously train our emotions to some extent (more here), but I had never really thought of applying that to beliefs.  My sense is that beliefs are like gut reactions we don't want to train, or shouldn't train, otherwise we end up with situations where people are manipulated.

At the same time, beliefs are manipulated by political parties, religious denominations, and social groups.  We teach each other what's acceptable, mostly in terms of social behavior, but expressing certain beliefs is a social behavior.  If I said I believed the moon was made of cheese, I would be mocked until I didn't believe that any more.

So we also come to beliefs based on evidence.  They are, in part, a summary of our understanding of the world.  I believe sun will rise because it has done so repeatedly.  Some of that evidence is enforced socially (like people making fun of me if I believe the moon is made of cheese), but some of it is based on evidence (the moon kind of looks like cheese, but other things look like cheese and aren't).

There are feedback loops for belief as well. Attending church could make people believe more (or less) in a religion. Socializing with Democrats could make you more liberal.  You often use your belief to determine you actions, but then your belief is reinforced by the results of your action.

In the end, do we make the choice to believe or not?  It might be deterministic given the evidence and our emotions, but I don't know.  Is the moon made of cheese? Does God exist? Does the sun rise each day? Some questions are easier than others.

20121018

on belief and expressing ideas

I am annoyed by atheism.  It annoys me because people are out there declaring that there obviously is no God with the same kind of certainty that was held by those who believed the earth was flat.

Agnosticism and skepticism I respect and encourage, but when it come to matters of that which is inherently beyond our understanding by its very definition, I don't think that we can have any semblance of certainty in either direction.

To be sure, ardent believers also annoy me with their unwavering faith--perhaps I simply cannot see the perspective from shoes that are not my own, even when they were once mine.  I was once an arrogant believer, so convinced of the truthiness of my particular denomination.  Now I want to believe and disbelieve all at once, but can do neither.

There's just no evidence to prove or disprove the notion of deity, and so the scientist in me decides to sit square in the middle, on top of a fencepost, huffing and puffing all the while about those running about in either field.  Fenceposts aren't very comfortable, you should know, but they can provide spectacular views.

You see, no matter where you are, it's a matter of choice. Some people choose to believe. Some people choose to not believe. Some people choose make chancy chairs out of pillars of wood.  It's a personal choice and we've got to respect each other, not scoffing at believers, not attempting to convert anyone that floats into your sphere, and not getting upset when people aren't as angsty about the whole dilemma as you are.  (Doesn't mean I listen to my own advice.)

I've been reading Religion for Atheists, which is inspring this rant.  Botton outlines a series of points about how religion improves communities and provides individual consolation; his objective is to illuminate how secular society can use many traditionally religion mechanisms to make itself better.  He is very thoughtful and his points are enlightening, but his tone is grating because it continually emphasizes the obviousness of atheism.

So I suppose it's not atheism that annoys me, its the arrogance of presuming the position of your audience.  I don't like it when people presume I'm either a Democrat or a Republican.  I don't like it when people presume I believe blindly or that I am constantly critical of my church.  I don't like it when people presume that I believe whatever thought they're selling me at the given moment.  Part of the reason I don't like it is because the people making these assumptions don't bother to justify statements that I think are in dire need of justification.

Refining an idea within a sympathetic community is a good first step, but it is not the end. The title makes it obvious who the intended audience of Religion for Atheists is, but that's just a cop-out--the work would have been stronger if it had anticipated a wider audience. 

If ideas are truly good, be they political ideas, social ideas, or ideas related to belief or the lack thereof, they can and should be expressed without relying on the crutch of targeting a sympathetic audience or presuming your audience is sympathetic.

20121016

craftiganza!

Sometime this summer I decided that I had accumulated too much in the way of crafty supplies.  They have the tendency to collect, being easier to buy (or otherwise collect...I'm a obsessive ribbon-salvager) them than to use them.  Currently, I have a large toolkit full of miscellaneous things, plus a basket of yarn, a basket of fabric, and six full-to-bursting cardboard boxes, each one with its own associated project.  And then there's my sewing machine, which is no dainty fairy.

So I decided to declare a craftiganza!  The rules are:
  1. no more starting new projects until my current projects are done
  2. no buying more stuff, unless I need it to finish an already established project
  3. all of my current ten projects must be finished by January 2014
The idea is that when I'm done, I'll have my sewing machine, my sewing/craft box, a basket for a single handcraft (knitting, needlepoint, etc.), and a basket for single a sewing-machine project (dresses, quilt), giving me no more than two active projects at any given time.  I'll still have the capacity for plenty of stuff, but at least there'll be a good pipeline for using it up.

When this is complete, the next step is to do the same for my art supplies.  Until then, we'll see how this plan goes.

20121014

Guatemala and Belize

In August, N and I went to Belize and Guatemala.  Well, first we went to California for my Grandma's 90th birthday party, which was awesome.  My family is full of so many great people, whom I got to hang out and catch up with, but Grandma especially is a hero of mine (that's a water gun at a wedding, gracias a Rachael).

Anyway, so we flew out from California after the fam-tastic party.  Immediately after we got off the plane, we got in a taxi (which was some guy's old van with a tag hanging from the rearview mirror), and then to the bus station, where we boarded a minute after we got there and a minute before it left.  It was as if everything had been planned to the T, but really there was absolutely no scheduling involved. Bussed inland to San Ignacio.

The next day, we went to Actun Tunichil Muknal, which is an incredible cave.  To get inside, you have to swim through water with skin-nibbling fish, then it's 3 miles alternating between swimming, squeezing through narrow passages, and ogling at huge crystal-covered caverns.  Then there are ceramic artifacts and mayan skeletons.  You have to go barefoot for the very back part, where a cave-crystal covered skeleton called the "crystal maiden" resides.

Then it was off to Guatemala the next day to see Tikal.  All the while we had been seeing interesting birds and other critters, but Tikal had an excellent assortment, including a toucan! There were also some huge trees, crazy mushrooms, and brightly colored insects that flew a little to close to my face for comfort. These things, however, is not what Tikal is known for.  No, Tikal is one of the largest archeological sites of the Mayan civilization. There were dozens of structures we were allowed to climb, a handful of hugely scary ones we were not, and a plaza with a bunch of school children playing like it was central park. When we were there, a thunderstorm rolled in, putting on quite a display as the backdrop of these ancient temples, making my mysticism-loving self very happy. We also got very wet.



Tikal was used as a filming site in Star Wars IV--this is the famous angle.



After Tikal, we stayed at Flores, a touristy island in the middle of a lake.  There, I had my first experience with a tuk-tuk, which I insisted were really just three-wheeled lawn-mowers without the cutting blades.  The next day we made it down to Finca Ixobel, where we went horseback riding up in the mountains, and lounged in hammocks.

The finca has a really interesting history involving drug wars, American spies for the CIA, and gunning down the owner at the entrance to the finca.  We talked to the horseback riding guide, who was only a kid when it all happened, but it was a crazy story with the moral that places like this in Central America are really safe, but are struggling financially because of the drug war reputation.  Before and after the trip, everyone was asking about how safe it was, which felt strange to me.  I felt more safe in Guatemala than I did in Greece, and no one asked about my safety for that trip.

After our time at the finca, we took a bus down to Rio Dulce, where we got on a boat ride to Livingston, the only moderately sketchy place in our journey.  The boat ride was stunning, as we rode through a gorge with crazy amounts of green on each side.  It was obviously intended for tourists, though, as the boat driver stopped at all the right places to let us get pictures.



Livingston was a dump.  We were harangued by Belizians as soon as we got off the boat--Livingston is still in Guatemala, but it's a common stop on the way to Belize.  Not wanting to stay the night, we got something to eat, got the immigration paperwork taken care of (also very sketch), and waited for our boat.

When we got on the boat, we went south for one more stop in Guatemala before heading to Belize.  The boat driver told us what time to be back at the boat while he went off for a bit. So we waited.  And waited.  And waited.  About an hour after he was supposed to be back, the two kids who helped with the boat starting getting antsy--there would be a fine for getting into port after curfew.

One of the ministers for Livingston was in our boat, and N chatted with him about tourism. We speculated about the driver having a girlfriend, watching the soccer game that was on in the bar next door, etc.  When he finally got back, he explained that he had been trying to sell his chicken frier.  N turned to the minister and said, "If you really want to improve tourism, don't let things like this happen."

The driver then proceeded to take our tiny little speed boat and take the shortest path possible to Belize, cutting through open water with a thunderstorm on our tail.  It was like Disneyland, with bigger and more frequent drops than the Indiana Jones ride.  But for a half-hour straight and no seat-belts.  Our rumps were really sore afterward.

We spent the night at Punta Gorda, and took a bus back up to Belize City, were we caught a water taxi out to Caye Caulker, the most beach-bummy place I've ever been.  There, we loafed about the white-sand beaches, ate very fresh fish, and made friends with some crabs.

We spent a day snorkeling, seeing a sea turtle, a moray eel, a barracuda, a spotted eagle ray, and petting small sharks and rays at (unsuprisingly) "Shark Ray Alley."  There was one dude who grabbed a shark for a photo, which was appalling.  On the other end of the spectrum, a woman from New Zealnd didn't touch the animals out of respect, which I found admirable.

It was beautiful and exciting, but when the time came, we were both ready to go home.



20121012

thank you, garden

It's looking like tonight will be the first hard frost, so I need to say thank you to my garden and harvest everything that's left of my peppers, which are really the only thing still producing right now.  It's a shame because there are still several tiny peppers that will never make it to full size.  I'll have to start them sooner indoors next year.

I haven't really posted much about the fall harvesting season.  We got under 2 dozen ears of corn of varying sizes, two tiny butternut squash, several heads of sunflowers, coriander seed, lots of basil, tomatillos, and a good supply of peppers.  It was certainly another learning year, though.  Mostly, I need to have a better schedule, so that I know when I'm planning to harvest things (not just when to plant them).  Then I can plan for second season crops--I could have easily had fall beets and lettuce.  I also need to do a better job keeping the bottom of the fence buried, since rabbits are really, really persistent.

I'm doing the best I can for now, but I really, really want a decent piece of land.  That way, I can build a proper fence, have a greenhouse, and start long-term plants like artichokes, asparagus, fruit trees and berry bushes.  In time.

I also finished planting and mulching the elephant garlic this week.  I might keep an eye on it for the next few weeks and then just let it rest over the winter.  With any luck, I'll have a good crop in the spring.

20121008

the pace of change

For those of you who aren't LDS or otherwise haven't heard, this Saturday the church president a policy change: men can now serve missions starting at age 18 (used to be 19), and women can now serve missions starting at 19 (used to be 21).

Everyone's buzzing about it.  Young women are super stoked about the possibilities, some older women are excited but a little bitter that the change was only made recently.  I'm personally excited to see the next generations of girls, possibly even my own daughters, grow up thinking that a mission is a serious possibility, not just something to be done if you don't get married in college and don't know what to do with your life.  (I'm not saying that was the actual reason for most women missionaries, but it was a common perception.)

I think this is a great step toward equalizing men and women in the church.  While it isn't perfect equal (women can still only serve 18 months as opposed to men's 24, and there's still the 18/19 discrepancy), it's a much, much better policy.

It's got me think about the pace of change, though.  At the press conference after the announcement, when asked why weren't the ages set to be equal for men and women, Elder Holland responded "one miracle at a time." N pointed out the quote from Winterbuzz on FMH, that sums up the skeptical view pretty well (which I share):
While I am happy that this change makes so many people happy, I can’t help but wonder that if this is the most we can expect from modern day prophets in the way of revelation, that’s sort of depressing, isn’t it? We must be so spiritually hungry that even the smallest shift in policy seems heaven sent.
Each generation experiences the church's policies and politics differently.  My parents experienced the policy change that African descendants could receive the priesthood, but also the anti-ERA push.  The next generation, like Joanna Brooks, experienced the September Six in the heat of their coming into real adulthood.  My generation experienced Prop 8 in that same heat, and now we have this policy change to add to the list of experiences.

Just looking at the list, it seems like we're focusing on smaller and smaller changes or policies.  This makes sense, because--never mind, I'm not going to go into detail on the parallels between policy changes and simulated annealing.  You can make them yourself, if you care enough.

Anyway, I hope to see more equalizing progress.  That's all.

20120927

a hoot!

There's been an owl hooting outside our window for the past fifteen minutes or so.  I took a quick look at the list of owls in New Jersey.  Of these, only a few hoot.  Listening to the typical calls of these, we identified our friend as a Great Horned Owl.

This is what I have to blog about when all I do is work all day.  At least I have a friendly neighborhood owl.

20120926

bits and pieces

Just taking joy in the small things...

I learned that the flowers I always call "cockscomb" are also called "celosia."

I saw two groundhogs today on the walk to school.  One was albino, with perfectly white fur and red eyes.  They looked so cute together that I wish I had had my camera on me.  I might carry it around the next week or so to see if they make another appearance.

I also saw my first 2012 penny--pretty late in the year, too!

20120921

roll away your stone

N and I almost always listen to the radio in the car.  Occasionally I listen to CDs, and even more rarely my iPod via a local radio transmitter--I know, I know, don't make fun.  I've noticed I'm much more in tune with pop music now, especially as compared to my now-long-ago pre-driving days.

I like that I can find music and artists that I would not otherwise.  Today, for instance, I heard Roll Away Your Stone by Mumford and Sons for the first time.  I'm glad I chose to go to the grocery store when I did.

20120919

today's xkcd: click and drag

Today's xkcd is awesome, but this variant is even better.  That's all--carry on with your day.

20120918

Hello, September

And goodbye, September!  The semester has been starting out pretty well, but I'm up to my ears in busy.  We've have something biggish basically every weekend since mid-August, and a few more to go before the month's out.  Plus, you know, school's started.

But I don't need to itemize my obligations, since I'm sure you could trump them.  I'm really just made to sit in a hammock, make lists and come up with ideas.  Anyone hiring for that? I'd be awesome at it.

Until that position opens up, I guess I'll keep at this school thing.  If I ever get tenure anywhere, I swear I'm going to ask if I can hang up a hammock in my office.  Or maybe I'll sign up with those hedge fund recruiters; condition: hammock.  Buying my as of yet nonexistent startup?  Hammock.  It's a symbol of grace and power.

20120816

20120813

seeing change, or fruit and dirt

The LDS "bloggernacle" is full of common complaints, like with any community.  I sympathize with most issues raised, but reading them rehashed over over again is exhausting.  Many approaches are very negative, and I decided to find some semblance of progress, to add to the positive (but still problem-acknowledging) voices.

Except I couldn't really find any.  I wanted to scour the young women's manuals to find something that had changed since I went through the program, but I don't think the manuals have been majorly updated since then.  I wanted to point out that the perpetuation of the feeling of being "dirty" was cultural to the point of not being in the manuals.  And then I looked at my sharing time lesson for the week and laughed.

The title was I should read, listen to, and look at things that are pleasing to Heavenly Father.  Not so bad, though I would have preferred an approach like I should read, listen to, and look at things that are uplifting, with the approach that we should seek for a good spirit in our lives.  It's not that I inherently object to using Heavenly Father in this way, but I think we shouldn't be teaching the appreciation of beauty and personal growth from an obedience perspective.

Anyway, I looked at the lesson and saw a big bowl of fruit and big bowl of (absurdly clean-looking) dirt.  The corresponding text: Show the children a bowl filled with fruit and a bowl filled with dirt. Ask the children which would be good to eat and why. Explain that Heavenly Father wants us to fill our minds with things that are good for us rather than things that are harmful.  Hm.

I don't like dirt metaphors.  They imply that if someone makes a choice that is contrary to Church teachings, they are dirty and should feel guilty.  While I feel that certain social pressures can be good for societies, helping to maintain order, some are not healthy.  While personal change and improvement is good, as are some level of social standards, excess guilt can drive people away from communities and prevent much-needed personal or community change.  This metaphor was better than others, seeing as it was about eating dirt rather than being dirty, but it still didn't work for me.

I also don't like the black-and-white aspect of the fruit-vs.-dirt metaphor.  As is, the kids might come away feeling like they need to read scriptures and near nothing else, which obviously wasn't the intent of the lesson.  (The obvious intention was to prep kids for anti-pornography and anti-R-rated-movies lessons in their teenage years.  Okay, there was more to it than that, but I couldn't help feeling that it was laying that foundation.  I mean, what kind of "dirt" can six year olds read?)

So I went for a "balanced diet" metaphor instead.  I brought in a bunch of food, and I also brought a book of fairy tales, a robotics textbook, a cookbook, and a book on Jesus Christ.  I brought a picture of family, the sacred grove, and an impressionistic painting.  We talked about how each of these was good in their own way, and that how Heavenly Father wanted us to fill our bodies, minds, and spaces with things that are good and uplifting. (And what I mean by uplifting isn't makes-you-feel-happy.  You can be "uplifted" by a really sad movie because it helps you understand the world better.  Is there a better word for this?  Enlightening?)  We talked about listening to the spirit, how you can get sick if you eat too much candy, and how everyone will have a different diet, literally and metaphorically.  Instead of focusing on the dirt, we focused on the fruit.

I don't want to be blind to problems, but I think that we need more fruit-focus in our lives, in the traditional church setting, in the bloggernacle, and in all areas of life.  Even when we're trying to change things, we need to acknowledge the changes that have already been made, and work towards a better community.  People don't like to be unhappy; if we reframe some desired changes into the good that can come of it, rather then the bad things that are happening now, more people will stick with it because it builds them up.  And then change might actually happen.

20120810

bigger than our apartment

This summer, I've been playing a game called "find things that are bigger than our apartment."  Our apartment is about 530 square feet, so the rules are to find things with equal or bigger square footage than that.  Maybe one day I'll upgrade the three dimensions, but I like working in two for now.  These are my three personal favorites thus far:

  • Train cars: about 800 sq ft
  • Any given intersection in NYC (or at least most of them), excluding crosswalks: (4 lanes w/ room for parking on both sides = 50 ft) x (two lanes w/ one lane of parking = 25) = 1250 sq ft
  • Those HUGE American flags you see occasionally: 30 ft x 50 ft = 1500 sq ft (which incidentally cost more than our monthly rent)

20120808

garlic, sort-of

I got permission from the coordinator of our community garden to plant garlic this year. Permission is required because they usually rototill the entire garden in spring, but garlic needs to overwinter and be harvested in the spring.  Thus, it needs to be in a spot that won't be rototilled.

I wanted to do a soft-neck garlic, so I can make braids and hang them, but I was drooling over the various hard neck varieties at SSE as well.  But then, as I plotted and ployed, I read a notification on SSE that midwestern garlics had been effected by a blight and that, while there would be heads of garlic for sale, their number would be greatly reduced.  There is also no guarantee that the garlic you bought wouldn't be infected without showing symptoms.

My imagination concocted the following scenario: I beat back five-foot tall weeds, till a small area in the corner of the garden, lovingly plant various species of heirloom garlic, and protect them with a substantial layer of compost.  They sprout their fall shoots, and everything's going well.  Then, in spring, they sprout and whither as expected.  After much anticipation, I dig them up to find decaying heads of garlic unfit for consumption or replanting in the fall, resulting in about an hour of crying.

New Plan!  I've ordered only elephant garlic this year.  It's technically a kind of leek, so it wasn't effected by the blight.  As far as I can tell, they have soft necks, so they're braidable. If all goes well, I can replant from the harvested heads and will never need to buy garlic again!  (Hint: "all goes well" never happens.)  I'm hoping that I'll at least have enough left over to replant some of them, and then I can buy species of real garlic as my skills, time, and access to land permit.

Edit: After looking into it a little bit more, my hunch is that elephant garlic is not braidable. And it's probably for the best: they're huge.  One clove can be as big as a whole head of regular garlic.  Huge.

20120804

some more daydreams

Growing up, dad was always drawing floor-plans--It's possible he still does that, but I'm just not at home to witness it.  Anyway, he taught me to dream about interior spaces, and I'd thought I'd highlight some architecture and interior design-type stuff that's inspiring to me. First, I really like this porch:


And then here are some clever staircase ideas:


A space for four, providing each with a bit of privacy and ownership.

Can you tell I like maximizing the use of a given space?  Everything should have a place.  But then, there shouldn't be too many things in the first place.  Part of the architectural design game for me is balancing luxury and minimalism: you want to get exactly what you need to be comfortable, but no more, and certainly not enough to make upkeep a chore.

20120803

LOTR lego

I just saw an ad for the new LOTR lego sets (warning, there's sound), and I'm furious. Well, as furious as I can be about Legos. Lego bends over backwards to say it wants to attract more girls, and the result is the grossly overfeminine Friends sets. But now, when they have a easy way to create something that everyone would love, they totally miss it.

How? No Galadriel. No Arwen. No Rivendell. No Lothorian. No Shire. No Grey Havens. Nothing remotely green. Instead of bringing in beautiful architecture and lush settings, they opt to focus on the war bits. Remind me, why is middle earth worth saving? Oh right. Because it's beautiful.

Recall Sam's quotes in the ROTK movie: Do you remember the Shire, Mr. Frodo? It'll be spring soon. And the orchards will be in blossom. And the birds will be nesting in the hazel thicket. And they'll be sowing the summer barley in the lower fields... and eating the first of the strawberries with cream. Do you remember the taste of strawberries?

And TTT:
Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?
Sam: That there's some good in this world, Mr. Frodo... and it's worth fighting for.

So why don't they reflect that in their sets? Is it because it's hard?  C'mon Lego.  Give us a huge Lothlorian with buildings in trees and fountains.  You could make a whole series out of that alone.

20120802

how (and when) to start a startup?

Over the past year or so, I've had about five startup ideas, with lots of spinoff and sub-ideas. I dutifully log them, mentally putting them in an "ideas for later" bin.  I want to finish my graduate program, since several of the ideas are related to my research, and my advisor has said that founding a startup wouldn't be totally incompatible with graduate school.  I'm lucky that I have that kind of flexibility.  At the same time, though, that seems like a tricky line to walk, and my program is destined to take about another four years.

So it becomes a game of risk evaluation.  What are the best ways to go about founding startups?  What are the greatest risks and most common mistakes?  How do you find good, dedicated, and trustworthy teammates?  How do you evaluate your ideas?  (I love you Mom, but you think that almost everything I come up with is a good idea.)  How likely is it for a given idea to succeed?  How do you decide when the time is right?  How far do you jump in?

20120801

a thought

We shouldn't be asking if we, women or otherwise, can have it all.  Instead, we should be asking: do we have enough?

tall corn

The corn, it is tall.

20120726

retina displays and serif fonts

Currently, it's accepted that serif fonts are better for print and sans-serif are better for screens.  Will retina-type displays shift font preference on computers to serif fonts?

20120725

transgenderism

As a preface, I respect transgender and transexual folks.  It's a rough world, and it takes guts to redefine yourself like that.

But I don't like the term "transgender."  Identifying as transgender means you are accepting gender roles.  Men are one way, and women are another.  It means that if you are one sex, you identify with the roles associated with the other.  The thing is, I don't believe people should feel like something is wrong because they don't associate with their accepted gender roles.  (By that logic, I would totally be bigender.)  Instead, I think that gender roles should be eliminated or adapted to be made more inclusive.  People shouldn't feel broken for being themselves.

Identifying as transexual, on the other hand, is more of a physical matter.  You feel like you're in the wrong body.  I can't speak to that, and this post isn't really covering it, though the two are obviously closely intertwined.

The reason I bring this up is this post on growing up transgender in the LDS church.  I identified with lots of the gender issues the author covered.  Gender roles are huge in the LDS church.  Women and men are separated by the clothes they wear, the domestic and familial roles they're supposed to perform, and their roles in ordinances and other community endeavors.  When you're eight, boys get a blue book and girls get a pink/brown book.  Then, as soon as you're twelve, you're expected to spend an hour (Sunday services) or more (weeknight activities) each week in classes specifically for your gender.  Boys get the priesthood and girls don't.  Missions, callings, Temple.  Gender, gender, gender.

As a kid, I came home upset or crying many-a-time because I was too boyish.  Mostly, I wanted to do well in school (especially math) and have a career eventually (heaven forbid).  But, I also wanted to climb trees and play with plastic dinosaurs.  I didn't want to have my eyebrows plucked by other teenagers, plan my wedding, or babysit.  The thought crossed my mind that I should have been a boy, but I pushed it aside.  I like who I am, I told myself, I'm not the one that needs to change.  They need to change their expectations.

Gender roles should not make people feel broken.  They should not make them feel sad or limited.  So before I propose a genderless society, why is gender useful?  Are there instances where gender roles improve people or societies?  If so, I want to know.

20120724

garden days

N loves to tease me by saying "It's garden day!"  But, of course, almost every day is a garden day right now.  The corn is twice as tall as I am--no joke, pictures soon.  Then the weeds are constantly growing anywhere they can, and tomatos are rolling in like crazy.

I let the cilantro go to seed ages ago (right); we'll see if I'm capable of harvesting coriander.  Zucchinis were prolific for a while, but they've settled down.  I'm thinking of doing a second season of beans and maybe lettuce since those are done.  The few beans we had were delicious, but a mouse (I think) kept eating straight through the base of their stalks leaving us with long, withering stems with half-formed beans wrapped around our corn.  Something also attacked our eggplant, but I don't know what.  We've only had one blossom, and then it was silently gone.

A few lessons for next year: I want a tomato that's good for drying (I adore oil-soaked sun-dried tomatoes), and currant tomatoes are too tiny.  Yellow pear tomatoes are fun, but I think we'd be better off with a good red cherry tomato.  The Halliday's beefsteak tomatoes are a keeper, though.  Delicious, easy, and I'm betting that they're good for salsas and canning because they are relatively low on seeds.  The are kind of pinkish, though, but I think most good tomatoes are.

Below: one day's harvest.  Then below that: a harvest of tomatoes the very next day.




20120708

on uniforms and shirty-shirts

My wardrobe desperately needs an update. My newest pieces of clothes have all been gifts. The last items of clothing I bought were jeans, and that was sometime last year. I don't have any non-t-shirt summer shirts, and my two summer dresses fit awkwardly because they plunge too deeply and I have to do gymnastics in order to get them pinned up in a way that doesn't look terrible. My go-to-summer staple of tank top and cardigan is getting really, really old, especially in the current heat, where the last thing I want to be wearing is a cardigan. Need established: summer dresses or tops.

So now I look at my restrictions: they need to cover the shoulder for religious reasons, they need to not look terrible for aesthetic reasons, they need to be comfortable (including not deathly hot) and easy to wear for practical reasons, they need to be inexpensive for economic reasons, and they need to not require hours of in-person shopping for I-have-no-free-time-when-shops-are-open reasons. I'm doomed.

Being grumpy about all this, I've been making observations about men's clothing, at least in western culture--I'll be ignoring the anomalous instances of clothing brought in from other cultures. So let's just narrow the scope down to men's shirts. Men have three options: the button-down, the polo, and the t-shirt. You could argue that they also have the henley and the tank-top, but the henley is just a hybrid between the polo and the t-shirt, and the tank top is just a t-shirt without sleeves. Regardless of whether you call them three options or five, there are still a finite number of categories.

Admittedly, the button-down is versatile; it ranges from formal with frills to casual plaid camping shirts, but it's all the same construction. It uses a woven fabric, and just varies sleeve length and cut for the gradations of formality. It can come with or without pockets, have slightly different placements of buttons, have a graphic painted on the back, or could require cuff links. Again, there are lots of variations, but in the end, it's still a button-down shirt. The same applies to the others, but with fewer options. The western man pretty much has a uniform.

Now let's look at women's tops. Just searching on Amazon a few days ago, "Clothing & Accessories › Women › Tops & Tees › Timeless," I got the following oddities on the first page (of 48 tops, note that they update frequently so you'll probably get different ones). As the number one, I got a motley piece with a buttonless collar down to mid-chest, baggy fit, and sleeves that get pined up halfway up the forearm with snap-strips. (Colors: white left sleeve and collar, bronze left wrist and right hip, off-center bright pink in the middle, and bright orange on the right sleeve and as trim on the left side.) Not timeless, and certainly not easily classified.

Then we have a more respectable twisted top. I've seen several variants of these, but the twist is always different: shoulder, between the breasts, under breasts, natural waist, back, etc.. We also have a "rouched tie shoulder blouse" and a ruffled neckline fitted top. These are all very strange to me. Not only would I never wear them, I can't even begin to classify them. You wear them on the top of your body, that's all I can conclude. Women's tops don't have an easy classification system like men's tops do. Women can wear button-downs, t-shirts, and polos, like men, but women's clothing sellers also make liberal use of the very vague words "blouse," "shirt," and "top."

Back in college, a certain individual commented to my roommate, who was wearing a lovely blouse, saying the following: "Your shirt...it's not very shirt-y." That is the quintessential problem with women's clothes: they don't know what they're supposed to be doing. I want to look feminine, but I hate all the hoops. Why can't clothes just be easy? I want to look nice without needing to spend time and energy on this problem. Aren't we civilized enough to have solved it already?

up for air: a beautiful, but messy, life

The are too many adjectives for this summer so far; so many that they end up contradicting each other and ending up saying not much at all.  (Kinda like the line about the new macbook pro at WWDC12 that cracked me up: "It's incredibly powerful, and yet remarkably portable."  Too many modifiers.)  Anyway, I'll try to spare you the adjectives and adverbs as best I can, lest this post read like a wordle.

Here's what's been going on, in roughly chronological order:

I've been back to work at hunch, playing with (messy and massive) eBay data.  I'm reading a lot on the commute: 84 Charing Cross Rd and sequel, Growing up AmishNudge, a fairy tale book.  I'm working on Cryptonomicon and The Blind Assassin right now.  I don't have a lot of time in the day--it's almost 12 hours from the time I leave until the time I get home, but I've learned scalacascading, and hadoop, not to mention delving deeper into probabilistic modeling.

N went for a 10-day research-ish trip to Kenya (Drought Monitor installation, etc.).  I missed him, of course, but I got to make the house extra nice for his return, which was fun.  I'm trying to keep it nice too, but that's a bigger challenge.  I've yet to find the perfect balance between anal-retentive and slovenly.

I went to a wedding of two dear friends from college; it was a perfect day and a beautiful wedding.  I also liked seeing so many of my college friends.  I'm working on a wedding quilt for them, but at this point it'll be more like a 1-year-anniversary quilt.  I've got another wedding this month--thankfully it's a low year for weddings.

I caught a baby bunny.  It was much like last year, except the bunny was even smaller (and more stupid) and had a sibling the same size.  It was running in circles in the common garden area and it tired itself out; all I needed to do was bend over and pick it up.  And it ended up outside the community garden this time.  A week later I saw them again, and boy were they a lot faster in running away.

I harvested my first zucchini--10" long.  And then a slew more of them.  And then I made five and a half pints of zucchini relish, my great aunt Elva's recipe.  I tried canning once before--unless you count freezer jam, in which I've done it twice.  Anyway, I tried making pickles, but I was too afraid to eat them, so I just threw them out, even if they were probably alright.  This time, I was obsessive, and I'm sure the relish turned out non-lethal, but I'll have to wait a few months to find out.

I stopped having headaches from my concussion.  And then got a handful more, spaced out.  I think they had more to do with my commute and not eating as regularly those days than the concussion.  At this point I'm pretty much 100% back; even the scar on my cheek is starting to fade nicely.

I learned that lisianthus are called lisianthus.  I've liked these flowers for a while, but I never knew what to call them, and I bought a bouquet of them a flower wholesaler in NYC that's on my way to/from work.  They didn't last cut as long as other flowers have, but that might have been due to my lugging them about NY and on the train, all in hot weather.  I might get some flower seeds for my garden next year, lisianthus or otherwise.

My sister-in-law had her second child, so I have a niece!  I'll get to see their whole family in about two months, so I'm excited for that.

Productivity-wise, I've been playing with a bunch of new things: ActiveInbox and Timing, both of which have free variants that don't expire.  I've also played with Delicious Library 2 to organize and catalog my books.

As I said, lots of stuff going on.  And we've got over half the summer to go...

20120604

recovering, understanding, and honeydew

I've been recovering nicely from my concussion, and conditional on my doctor's permission, I'll be going back to work this week.  Lots and lots of folks have been incredibly nice to me with well-wishes and even gifts; I'm very grateful for everyone's thoughts and prayers.

Before this accident, and even when I first came to, I didn't really have a good understanding of how severe concussions can be.  Once I was able to remember the things N was telling me, I was like, A few hours ago, I used to think it was 2011.  How silly of me--I'm so glad I'm better now.  Lots of people get concussions, especially kids; almost everyone I've talked to has either had one or someone close to them had had one at some point.  Like anything, though, there are different degrees, and I came to realize that my accident was on the medium-to-severe part of the spectrum.

It's like comparing a freshly sharpened knife to an old dull blade; I had no idea a week of recovery would make this much difference.  All I did the first few days was watch mind-numbing TV shows--America's Got Talent and Gilmore Girls--and was completely enthralled.  N and I watched Star Trek First Contact one night, and I got so excited by the scene where they put on space suits that he had to turn it off.

I'm still overwhelmed by some things, especially crowds of people, which aren't exactly my forte when I'm well.  I'm also more sensitive to my migraine triggers.  But all in all, I'm feeling much closer to normal than I was a week ago.

One of the things this experience taught me was a better understanding for people with certain mental challenges: either those with low IQ or those with mild mental disorders.  A short experience obviously cannot compare to a lifetime of struggle, but it gave me a glimpse into the frustration of knowing that you're limited or not being in total control of your mind.  All I can say is that I respect people with mental challenges so much more now.

I've been trying to ease back into things.  The progression has gone from TV to video games to reading.  A few days ago, I decided to test my scripting skills.  What I needed was a way of sending reminders to N of the various things that he needs to get done.  This was especially important for this summer, when I see N less because of my internship, and doubly important now that I don't feel like I can trust my memory as much, at least for a few more weeks.  Someone once called this kind of spouse-to-spouse list a "honeydew" list, and that name stuck for this mini project.

I use OmniFocus to keep track pretty much everything in my life, so I wrote an applescript based on this one to grab all incomplete tasks from OmniFocus with the context of things assigned to N.  Then, I used python's smtplib to send an email if there are any incomplete tasks.  Glue it together with a bash script and tell cron to run it every day at 10am and 4pm, and you get an auto-reminder for the honeydew list.  There may be better ways to do something like this, but this is what was easiest for me.

After putting that together, both of us craved honeydew, so we got one and downed the whole thing in a half hour.  Life is beautiful.