passport photo ripoffs

I've taken a couple of passport and visa photos over the past few months for N, my brother, and now for me. I have a pretty good pipeline down: take the photo against the white bathroom door, crop it in iPhoto or Preview, scale two copies to size and align them in Inkscape, export them as a 4x6 jpeg, load it to a usb, and print it for 42 cents at the local Fedex office store (this last bit takes all of 3 minutes with their auto-serve booths). This is both the cheapest and the fastest way I've found to get passport-type photos--about a 1 hour turnaround (mostly for transit to and from the store) for 42 cents.

In comparison, I feel like most other places are ripping you off. Walgreens does the whole thing for $10, as does CVS, though they're both running coupon promotionals to take it down $1-2. If you take the photo yourself, this site has a "pro" service for $7.99, that basically confirms you took and cropped a decent photo, and mails prints to you. They alternatively point you to shutterfly, where you can order free prints if you're a first-time user, but I've already used up my free prints and I don't want to wait for the mail.

The upside of the epassports website is that you can upload your photo and check its dimensions as if you were going to print it through them. Then, if you avoid their "pro" marketing by hitting the minuscule "skip" or "no thanks" at the bottom of various screens, you can download a jpeg (for free) with 4 properly scaled images to print either with Shutterfly or Fedex or wherever. This bypasses what I've been doing with iPhoto and Inkscape. Next time, I'll be using this; it would chop off 15 minutes from the turnaround time.


little moment of compulsion #4

I just finished washing my hands.  It's not a particularly odd occurrence for most of us (and it isn't for me either).  Usually we wash our hands after hitting the restroom, before preparing or eating food, or when you've been touching something like dirt, paint, or grease.  I can be a little more obsessive than that: I'll wash my hands after touching a stair bannister, working on a public computer, or after being outside.  Not all the time, mind you, it comes in waves.  And today was a wave.

I think today's hand washings were related to the weather--it's warm and a little humid and my hands just felt grosser than usual.  It doesn't really matter, until, of course, it becomes imperative that I wash my hands.



Consider going a day without gadgets: a day of unplugging.  I'm in.*

Thinking about unplugging, I'm kind of sad that I don't do it more often.  Perhaps I should incorporate it more regularly, perhaps not 24 hours at a time, but at least set aside some regular non-computer time--perhaps something like sunrise to sunset on Sundays.  (Which would allow for family gchatting in the evenings.)

The whole point of this is to become more aware of the non-digital world.  There is so much beauty and complexity that surrounds me, but I spend the majority of my waking time staring at one two-dimensional thing: a computer screen.

* My rules for the day of unplugging: cell phone, laptop, and office computer all off for the sunset to sunset time period.


t minus 4

Growing up, folks tended to think that I was younger than I was.  I was tiny, in part due to a back brace, so this kind of made sense.  When I was a senior in high school, a parent mistook me for a middle schooler.  That's a four year gap, ladies and gentlemen.

Today, the four year gap hit me again.  A visiting postdoc thought I was a senior.  When I told her that I was a first year grad student, she didn't realize how far off she was, since I didn't bother to explain that I took three years off to work/play in between college and grad school.

I used to be flattered by this kind of mistake, but today it kind of irked me.  I try not to think about what others think of me, but I do care about having a professional demeanor.  Do I just look young or am I acting or dressing immaturely?  Do I seem inexperienced?  Is it a confidence issue?

At this point, I'm no longer reading into interaction I had today, but trying to determine how to assess my demeanor.  There are so many factors, how does one test which ones might be problematic, let alone improve?


first sprouts: cabbage

This morning, N spotted the first sprouts.  Unsurprisingly, they were cabbage.  It's amazing to think that these tiny little guys will one day be 3-4 lb cabbages.  I mean, they're no redwoods, but it's still pretty incredible.   Now that I have a good idea how to deal with rabbits, I have the feeling that the pest-of-the-year award might go to flea beetles or cabbage worms.  There are other candidates, but I'm hoping that most of the little buggers will keep off.


day done

The big task of this past weekend: editing an eight page paper down to four pages for ICWSM (due this evening).  But now it's all done and submitted for publishing, providing I didn't violate some obscure formatting rule.  Now for the fun part: logistics for a trip to Ireland!  I really should work on other things, but all I really want to do is eat Trader Joe’s Cocoa Almond Spread, watch Star Trek TNG, and stalk, so that's what I'm going to do.  By the way, the almond spread is quite a find; it's similar to Nutella, but I'm an almond junkie, so I think it's better.  I like it on untoasted bread topped with pecan pieces.  Ah, the life.


So it begins...

Remember last year's garden saga?  (refresher)  Well, here I go again.

This year N is taking a more active role.  For starters, he was throughly disappointed that we didn't grow anything tall last year, so this year he wanted his own plot (there were plenty to spare last year) to grow sunflowers and corn.  Have at it, mi amor.  But, I decided that as long as we're growing tall things, we might as well go for pole beans.  And then once we have corn and beans, we might as well get all three-sisters-y and add some squash.  But as long as we're doing mounds, we might as well do melon.

So the plan: corn, sunflowers, beans, squash, and melon in one plot.  The other plot: tomatoes, peppers, tomatillos, eggplant, peas, basil, cilantro, parsley, lettuce, cabbage, and swiss chard.  Whew!  I opted not to do root veggies since none of them turned out well last year, not even before the rabbits ate off their tops--they were all really tiny.  Oh, and this year I bought my seeds from the Seed Savers Exchange, which means that if I want to save my seeds, I can.  (We'll see how things go.)

Around here, mothers' day is gardener's benchmark for last day of frost.  So, today I planted my seeds that should be sewn 8 weeks before the last day of frost.  This included the eggplant, bell peppers, poblano peppers, and cabbage.  Technically, the cabbage should be started 6-8 weeks before the last frost, but I'm anticipating a warm spring because we had a mild winter.  In another two weeks, I'll start my 6-week-ers (the tomatoes).

Now, you might ask: where are you going to keep these seedling now that you're in a much smaller apartment than you were last year?  And then, if you've ever been in our new apartment, you might also ask, how are your poor seedlings going to get enough light given your two tiny north facing windows?  Never fear!  Compact florence is here!  It's not the most eco-friendly option, but at least it's pocketbook friendly since electricity is included in our rent.  I rigged up the lights under our dining table, so now we have this strange glow in our living room.

I'm also using proper seed starting trays and seed starting soil this year.  The trays were super cheap--about two dollars for both the tray and the 72-division insert.  Seed starting soil is a lot lighter than either potting soil or typical gardening mulch.  The guy at the garden center was telling me all about the differences (I asked), and what makes soils a certain way.  I wish I had my notebook out because he was throwing out all sorts terms that were alien to me.  I'd like to mix my own soil one day, so maybe I'll go pick his brains again.  Or maybe I'll just use the internet.  Anyway, seed starting soil is lighter so the roots have room to develop.  It's really nice to work with too; I was able to just dump a bunch of it on top of the starting trays and brush it into the holes quite easily.

The 8-week-ers took three trays, and the 6-week-ers should take another three trays, so it'll be busy under our table for a while.  Here's to hoping it'll be a good year!



This Tuesday N and I saw Time for Three in concert; they're a band with two violins and a double bass that play amazing music.  They're all classically trained, but what comes out is part classical, part folk, and part jazz.  I wanted to dance throughout the whole concert.  They write and arrange their own stuff, doing some covers of modern songs.  A university choral group joined them last minute for Imogen Heap's Hide and Seek; it was so impressive that one of the violinists hopped up and down afterward.  Did I mention that they have a great stage presence?  I mean, hopping violinists, who could want more?


little moment of compulsion #3

I have a mild obsession with discrete foods: rice, beans, pasta, nuts, and most recently chia seeds (specifically, used this way).  In general, I like to clear my plate, but with discrete food, I like that I can eat every single piece.  It bothers me when a grain of rice gets split in half, or a piece of nut gets chipped off (unless I'm intentionally crushing them), because then it reminds me that they aren't actually discrete.

As I child, Twizzlers Pull-n-peel was one of my favorite candies.  I would carefully separate each string and divy it up between my Beanie Babies (I'm starting to feel the old).  And then I'd get all 7-years-of-plenty and 7-years-of-famine on them (yes, those are now a verbs), and devour everything in a systematic fashion, roleplaying various food-storing scenarios.  Ah, childhood.

Now, I just eat all my rice.  This new chia seed nonsense is particularly satisfying because the seeds don't really get split up or broken--I haven't seen any instances of it yet, at least.  Perhaps I've found my (near) perfectly discrete food.


peanut ginger noodles

I've been playing with asian dishes for a while, and on Friday I finally hit on a combination that works well: peanut ginger noodles. There are two tricks involved: first, I rely on soy sauce for saltiness only (as opposed to using it as a main flavor), and second, I add water along the way to prevent the dish from sticking to the pan.

Peanut Ginger Noodles
10 oz dry egg noodles
2-3 T sesame oil (to taste)
1 medium onion, chopped1/2 head garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
3.5 oz peeled ginger, finely chopped
2-3 T peanut butter (to taste)
1 tablespoon vinegar (white or rice)
2 teaspoons rooster chili sauce (or to taste)
soy sauce to taste, for saltiness (~1 T for me)
several tablespoons water, as needed
1 lb baby bok choy, halved or quartered
1 bell pepper, cut in strips
2-3 T sesame seeds
1/3 cup peanuts, unsalted
8 oz bean sprouts

Start by putting water on to boil for the noodles; when ready, cook them to taste and strain. In the meanwhile, heat a wok with sesame oil and sauté the onion. When it starts to soften, add in the garlic and ginger. When this starts to brown, add the peanut butter, vinegar, rooster sauce, and soy sauce, mixing until the peanut butter is evenly distributed. If at any point hereafter, the misture starts to stick, add just enough water to loosen it up. Adjust flavor to taste. Add the bok choy and bell pepper and cook until beginning to soften. Add the bean sprouts and sesame seeds, and cook until the sprouts are no longer crispy. Mix in the noodles and the peanuts. Serve! (This also keeps excellently for the following day.)


buyer's itch

Every few months, I itch to own a house.  I'll look at places online, intentionally walk through neighborhoods with for-sale signs, or have long chats with my mom, real estate lawyer extraordinaire.   We aren't actually buying a place any time soon, but I like to dream.  So, I'm glad the NYT made a buy or rent calculator.  It's like a soothing cream for my itch.  (I just hope they keep it online for a long time.)