Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Why there are Christmas trees

Christmas is a messy holiday. I'm sure there are zillions of blogs about the paper waste it produces. But before it's waste, it's presents. And if you don't have a tree, then your place is just full of presents, for yourself, for others, just piled around. It looks like you left a bunch of stuff on your floor. If you have a tree, you have a place on the floor where it's legitimate to stash them.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

I see stand-up in his future

The setting: a three-year-old is climbing into his carseat. He reaches into the seat and pulls out a crumb.

"Look, Lisa! It's my sprinkle!

"A sprinkle from my doughnut!

"I don't know which doughnut...."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Is Mercury retrograde?

Today I struggled with technology.

  • I changed the message of the day on our intranet. After I did, the front page changed entirely -- to a warped version of the page I last saw three years ago in beta and that we never implemented.
  • I tried to get on a Google group. I was told I was part of it. I couldn't find it and got lost within that part of the Google universe.
  • I was directed by a colleague in very specific terms to a particular website about our travel policy. I just could not find it.
  • When I got to the gym, there was only one elliptical machine open. I was at this point absolutely certain it was broken. It wasn't ... yet.
  • While working out, I went to play a podcast on my iPod, and it crashed. Big time. Normally I can reset my iPod when this happens, but no luck. I worked out to the nearby spin class' music and hoped the iPod would wake up. Fifteen minutes later, I managed to reset it.
  • After my workout, I waited for the "workout summary" data to show up on the little display on the elliptical. I find it satisfying to see how ... uh, little or much ... work I've done. Instead of showing me the details, it just said, "workout summary ... workout summary ... workout summary...." No data.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Which makes Sophie crazier: Madonna or the window?

My cat, Sophie, spent yesterday afternoon and evening near the top of the stairs where the first floor ceiling crosses the stairs so she could "hide." She stared out the window (mostly the one near the kitchen) intently. She would not come downstairs. She was definitely hallucinating something. When I tried to pet her, she scooted up a stair and poked her head under the ceiling so she could keep an eye on her hallucination.

I tried to figure out what had sparked this. When had it begun? I think it was while I was putting together my Ikea furniture. Was it the drill? But I'd used it the day before. I'd put Madonna on my iPod stereo to lighten up the Ikea construction process. Could dislike of Madonna's music have driven Sophie upstairs? This was seriously my theory for a while.

My latest theory is that she was having a reaction to my opening the window. I was warm, so I had briefly opened the casement window near the kitchen and stood in it. Until I have screens put in, I have to keep the windows shut because I can't prevent Sophie from jumping or falling out of one (and I can't count on her judgment). Sophie has already demonstrated confusion when I open a window. I briefly opened the one behind the sofa one day, and after I closed it she jumped on the back of the sofa to examine the situation. You could almost see smoke coming out of her ears as her tiny brain tried to interpret the acoustic event she'd experienced in that vicinity.

Friday night I briefly opened a different window. After I shut it she once again came over and looked out, trying to figure out what happened.

So my theory is that opening a window yesterday freaked her out. I'm counting on her little brain to forget this happened.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Arguing with lawyers

I found a new cool Emeryville spot, spending the evening at a wine tasting at my local winery (walking distance!).  Met a guy there and we chatted, debated, argued.  I found out early on that he's a lawyer, so I debated with him the way it happens with my lawyer friends.  He thought I was really neat.  Sigh.  I know because he called me a lot of names (socialist, naive), believing I could take it.  I could, but now I'm really tired and don't want to be called names.  I want to watch "Gilmore Girls." I think he doesn't understand that the first half hour of such discussion is fun because it's playful, but beyond that it's just taking things too seriously (45 minutes of discussion of how it's important to be able to defend yourself with a gun if someone breaks into your home?).   Laughter is good, too, and it's just as impressive as intelligence.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fly wrangling

I got home to find a lot of flies in my apartment. I'm not a bug squisher, so I wanted to eliminate the flies without handling them. Hoping they would kill themselves in my halogen torchiere was a bit too passive, and my cat had tired of chasing them around. So, of course, I went online.

I found a great discussion of home remedies for houseflies. I decided it was too late for the water-and-a-penny solution, so I went for the milk-vinegar-and-corn-oil solution. They warn that it shouldn't coagulate, and mine did. And the flies ignored it.

Then two thoughts occurred to me:

  1. Take off the (faulty) window screens and let them fly free, and
  2. Use that information you might have learned if you paid attention to that article about how flies anticipate being swatted. 
The result is my own, personal, patent pending new home remedy for houseflies:
  1. Make sure there are no flies in your bedroom.
  2. Put the cat in the bedroom and shut the door. (This is to make sure the cat doesn't follow a fly out of a window and to try to preserve any last bits of respect your cat may have for you.)
  3. Open all your windows wide.
  4. Pick a window with a fly on it and pop the screen out, being careful not to allow the screens to fall three stories to the ground.
  5. If the fly(ies) decide not to fly out the window, use swatting knowledge to guide them there.
  6. Repeat until you or the flies surrender.
  7. Replace the screens, which will inevitably be on the western side of the room, enabling you to be blinded as you try to fit them into the frame.
So I spent about a half hour running around my apartment waving my arms trying to guide flies out windows. It's actually rather satisfying: they look so right and graceful and innocent zooming in an s-curve off into the open air. And you can think, "Ah, one less fly!" For me, at least.
Food for all those spiders I capture and put on the fire escape.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

It's a decision!

Liveblog from the debate:

John McCain said that abortion is a difficult decision for a woman. Decison! Barack, call him on it!

Damn, he didn't. Oh, such a missed opportunity.

I'm going to throw up at this discussion.

That's Emery-village to you

Writing from Oakland Airport. I walked by a newstand, the standard fare with piles of t-shirts in front, and saw one that said, “Oakland, est. 1850.” Cool: Oakland asserts its history. I felt that tug of acquisitiveness. “Mine,” I thought.

And then reality pulled me back. Oakland isn’t going to be mine any more.

I’ve been a devout Oaklander for 15 years. When I was (joyfully) unemployed before my current job, I watched Oakland city council TV. I like the city’s big messiness. It reminds me of Cleveland, where I grew up: some great old neighborhoods that outsiders aren’t aware of; a decent stab at culture; and a large, troubled African-American population. To me it is undervalued, an underdog, a place where good is just dying to happen and lives are ready to be changed, and I wanted to be part of turning it around.

In defining my condo search, Oakland was the only place I wanted to live. In fact, I wanted to live specifically in the downtown or uptown areas of Oakland, where there is lots of new construction and definite evidence of an evolving neighborhood. I didn’t mind being a pioneer: I knew that commerce would follow. Single professional women are a target market for these areas.

When I didn’t find anything I liked, another area I found was Temescal. Just blocks from my current neighborhood, Temescal is supposed to be The Next Rockridge. Since I’d love to live in Rockridge, why not be in the next one?

I read all of Temescal’s and Macarthur BART’s development plans. I contacted Jane Brunner, the city councilmember for the area (also my current councilmember), who was, predictably, entirely unresponsive.

(I had really been hoping to move out of her district anyway. My alternative was to put myself on course to run against her for her seat.)

Another red flag: the development plans are dated 2005. I could be an optimist who thinks that they’re due, that the time is about to come to execute them; or I could listen to my friend, J., who says that even if Oakland begins to execute these plans, they’ll screw something up. Certainly Jane Brunner’s unresponsiveness made me feel like I wouldn’t be a part of the success of even this neighborhood.

I made an offer on a place in lower Temescal, a condo that my father and stepmother and niece and brother and his girlfriend all visited. On the one day that month two people in California were buying condos, and I was outbid.

An unexpected swing of emotions. And when my great broker contacted me to go back out to see condos the following weekend, I was uninterested, but I indulged her. Grumpy. The last place she showed me was in Emeryville, and it was great. On Hollis, which is one of my favorite streets there. After a very traumatic detour into almost buying another place in Temescal, I bought the condo in Emeryville.

And then my car was broken into in front of my Oakland apartment. A sign?

Every change brings loss. Changing my identity from being an Oaklander to an Emeryvillager is going to take some practice. Changing from a city whose symbol is an oak (and I’ve wanted one of those oak pins that city councilmembers wear) to one whose symbol is … Ikea? … Best Buy? … Bay Street? … the Powell Street onramp? is not something I can get excited about.

I am excited about living in a well-run city, an aspirational city that executes is plans. Emeryville knows what it wants to be, and it’s not hesitating in heading there. And if it strays I only have to work with 8,000 people to help return it to success.

Turning over a new leaf

Today, in Seattle, I pity people who grew up in California. At least, my part of California and south. And other places that don’t have autumn.

Like with snow, you can visit it, but being surrounded by it on a daily, routine basis is an entirely different experience.

I looked out of the cab window and saw the beautiful density and variety of trees – you can’t see individual trees – it’s just mounds of trees. With spashes of color. You get an almost tactile feeling of a paintbrush having swatted at them.

Do people who grow up without mounds of deciduous trees even know the expression “The leaves are starting to turn”? I said it to the cab driver, and it was like an ancient, familiar phrase in my mouth. Like the name of a best friend you haven’t talked about in many years.

Someone from California, someone who hasn’t lived through fall afer fall, might think these splashes of gold and red and orange among the rich green is what fall colors are. Even as a midwesterner I used to celebrate the arrival of the colors, thinking fall is here. Forgetting it’s just the beginning. It’s not when leaves are splashed with color: it’s when leaves are doused in color, bright golds and flaming reds completely replacing most of the green, that fall is at its most awesome.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Master of non-improvisation

One of my favorite videos of this woman from one of my favorite websites, 23/6.

Get the latest news satire and funny videos at

Ordinary people suddenly get good deals on mortgages

I'm a first time homebuyer, and the ride is a blast. It's an adventure, an exploration, a learning experience.

I locked in my mortgage rate today, and I am feeling so proud of myself. And, since this is such a tiny bit of good news in the economic disaster we're living in, I haven't seen headlines of "Ordinary people suddenly get good deals on mortgages." So you heard it hear first.

I'm no economist -- I'm more of an intuitionist -- and I've never paid much attention to the details of how financial systems work (despite the evidence of my education). So the mastery of the art of mortgage prediction I gained over the past week has me feeling really smug.

This is what makes mortgage rates go down: bad news. I'm sorry to say that when the terrible jobless rate came out last week I jumped up and down. Heartless of me, I know. But I work in career services, so maybe I can atone for that one.

When the stock market fell I nodded in sympathy with others and then ran to my computer to see if mortgage rates had budged.

But the rates didn't drop. In fact, last Tuesday they went up and then didn't move. Banks still weren't lending money. No credit action, no mortgage rate change. So I waited until the House signed the bailout package. That could improve confidence and increase liquidity ... but it didn't. With my own good credit, I could get a decent rate on Friday, and I was tempted to take it, allowing me to take another step to closing on my new home ... and then I decided to wait.

When I saw the news that California was going to have to ask for a government bailout because of its inability to get short term credit, I knew that the end (to my mortgage rate wait) was near. Something had to move. And this morning the stock market crashed again, and the Federal Reserve indicated that it would considering using its new powers (from the bailout bill) to relieve the credit crunch. And Bank of America indicated it would find a way out of the Countrywide mess for people who were going to lose their homes, so someone was going to get mortgage relief.

I checked the mortgage rates practically hourly, and then, bam! at 9:30 AM PT today they dropped. A lot. I called my mortgage broker. I couldn't get through for hours because apparently he had five clients move to lock in rates today. But I did it! I didn't even take the lowest rate I could get (because of the fun and funky incentives I'm being offered by Pulte Homes). And rates fell a fraction after I locked. But I got a good one, a doozy, lower than I ever thought I could get on Friday.

I feel lonely. Despite my lack of interest in economics and finance, I love spreadsheets, and I've built all sorts of models over the last several months to help my decision-making and keep myself fact-based. Today it all came together, and I can't really share the great news, the great numbers. I know people who've bought in the past several months, and I know my rate is lower than theirs, so I can't celebrate with them. And people who are deep into homeownership aren't going to think it's so cool. But it's my first time, and I think I did a damn good job of it.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Is there any way we can just get Tina Fey to do it?

(#1 from David Letterman's Top 10 Things Overheard at Palin Debate Camp)

And here's Tina Fey in the debate:

The Biden parts are fantastic, especially the Scranton section. And Palin's Israel comment made my day.

I love Israel so much, bless its heart. There's a special place for Israel in heaven. And I know that some people are gonna say I'm only sayin' that to pander to Florida voters, but from a very young age my two greatest loves were always Jews and Cuban food.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Joe Biden's restraint

The context: tonight's debate, when Biden and Palin were discussing Israel.

BIDEN: Gwen, no one in the United States Senate has been a better friend to Israel than Joe Biden....

PALIN: ... But I'm so encouraged to know that we both love Israel, and I think that is a good thing to get to agree on, Senator Biden. I respect your position on that.

(What he should have said:)
BIDEN: Governor, my position is not yours to respect. I have been working for my entire political career to support and protect Israel, and that means I've been doing this since you were eight years old. You can say you are a friend to Israel, but that's like saying you're a friend to the author of your favorite bedtime story. You've never been to Israel, you've never worked on policy related to Israel, you've never acted to ensure Israel receives United States support. I have actually impacted the existence of Israel. Your respect is an insult.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Why I like games

I love my job, and I think that most of the time it brings out the best of me, but it's been wearing me down.

During September and October, I have to be more of a manager than a leader. Leadership is my comfort zone: I'm good at listening, bringing people together, solving problems, breaking down siloes, working with ideas, helping people connect to things that are bigger than their day-to-day jobs. Being a leader is such a big part of who I am that I tend to walk around on that same skin at other times, including in my social life.

But in September and October each year, I have to be more of a manager because there is no time for the bigger ideas: it's about execution.  So the past few weeks have been really hard.  As a manager in this period of high stress, the team has to rely on each other.  In terms of any measure of personality type, I have one of the most diverse groups you can find.  But they're the same in that everyone is a perfectionist.  There is very little room for forgiveness, and at this time of year we forget to forgive.  So I have to behave myself and hide my own frustration with individuals or dynamics; I have to mediate disputes and take in complaints with as straight a face as I can, not encouraging second-guessing or whining, when I just want to scream with the same frustration as everyone else.

Playing games with friends is the antidote to this.

Some people use alcohol to unwind and take off their psychological business suits.  And, yes, it does unwind me, too.  But put me around a table with good friends -- or even strangers! -- and let me play a game of poker or a board game or anything where it's me against them, and I become my true self.  I can be competitive, creative, resentful, playful, silly.  I don't have to contribute ideas, I don't have to listen, I don't have to solve other people's disputes with each other, because the cards do that.  I might second guess myself on a hand, but because a game of poker has hand after hand or a board game has round after round, I revel in the learning curve.  (OK, I will still remember the two kings I folded, still thinking about the size of the pot, so I'm not perfect there.)  But I do love playing again and again, always trying anew.  (I guess I'll blog separately about how poker is like baseball.)

Helping people and community and team always do better is why I love my work. Being a part of a group of people playing cards, an impromptu community, but not having to lead it, is the best way for me to unwind.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I'll be talking about Obama now

I went to hear Jon Carroll interview Anne Lamott this evening, and she read to us her just-published Salon article.

It's a nice way to think about how to get out through this and to focus again on solutions.

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Palin Hypocrisy List

I'll be adding to this as I come across more. Not meant to be comprehensive. I can't expect to document them all, there are so many.

Emphases are all mine.

From a statement issued on Monday Sarah and Todd Palin:

“We’re proud of Bristol’s decision to have her baby...."
Bristol can make this choice even with legalized abortion.

Rick Scarborough, a pastor and the founder of the conservative advocacy group Vision America:“From what I see this family is dealing with it honorably. They are going to carry this baby to a full term as a further testimony of their commitment to life.” NYT 9/1/08. If abortion were illegal, they would not have the choice to be "honorable" and "testify" to their "commitment to life."

James C. Dobson, the founder of Focus on the Family ... commended her for “not just talking about their pro-life and pro-family values, but living them out even in the midst of trying circumstances.” NYT 9/1/08. So candidates should do more than just talk about their values: they should demonstrate them by having family members get pregnant and not have abortions?

Palin's Daughter Pregnant, Campaign Announces

"Bristol Palin made the decision on her own to keep the baby, McCain aides said. ..."

Embedded in this is that this 17-year-old had a decision. McCain/Palin oppose allowing women to make decisions for themselves about their pregnancies -- and, I'm sure, oppose choice for minors. They express pride that Bristol Palin made the decision they approve of ... but they don't want other girls to show the same courage by making that choice themselves.

Sarah Palin's choice to continue her pregnancy after she found out her child would have Down's syndrome is also touted as an act of courage. It was the first thing many of us learned about her. However, once again, she is being praised for the courage to make a decision she doesn't want others to make. The Republicans have to decide: are Bristol and Sarah Palin courageous women for the choices they make? If so, they should support the right of all women -- and girls -- to make the same choice.
About Sarah Palin
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

Friday, August 29, 2008

Word of the day

Inspired by Sarah Palin:

Runners up:
Exploitative of her Downs Syndrome infant
Same number of electoral votes as Delaware!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Water that makes you forget?

I bought some Trader Joe's "brand" "vitamin" "water," "Dragonfruit" "flavor" (is there anything about this that is authentic?) because I was in TJs and I was thirsty and they don't sell anything normal to drink. It's the first time I've tasted any kind of "vitamin" "water." How on earth did this stuff become popular?

The evolution on its "flavor" on your tongue goes from worse to bad. My first reaction was to spit it out, and then it developed a horrible aftertaste, like the taste of metal and sweat. It's kind of like Gatorade with a metallic additive and without personality. I wanted desperately to get the "flavor" off of my tongue. Then, a few seconds later, I conveniently forgot how awful it tasted and felt so thirsty that I craved and took another swig. Phthhh, pththhh. After four rounds of this, I wondered what kind of odd control this drink had over me. Is there something in it that makes me so thirsty and amnesiac that it makes me want more?

Monday, July 28, 2008

The account saga continues ...

Only in a recommendation: if someone buys iTunes gift certificates on your credit card, just redeem them back to yourself!

Apple support suggested I open a new iTunes store account, said that I could keep it from being associated with a credit card by buying myself a gift certificate.

And then I thought: what a shame: to buy another gift certificate after punkyusa bought five on my credit card. In fact, I had already built a spreadsheet with the recipients' names and email addresses. Which I got off iTunes when I examined the electronic copies of the gift certificates. Duh!

I changed the recipient email address on the five gift certificates to my own and resent them to myself. (Although the automatically-generated email says that they were from Albert McNutt.) Thanks, Apple for the "resend" feature! Three of punkyusa's friends had not redeemed theirs yet (and now they never will, bwah-hahahahaha). Punkyusa and deathemperor had. I have called my bank (which already refunded my money) to tell them I got $200 back on my own.

I figure I can spend the $200 on gift certificates for people I know, since I don't think I'll ever spend it all on myself.

Mr. McNutt, check your credit card!

A few days ago, I checked my iTunes account again. I found that my account payment source had been changed to that of Mr. Albert L. McNutt in Columbus, TX, and that $23 more had been spent. The last four digits of the credit card listed were not mine, and my bank account showed no payments, so Albert McNutt was being defrauded this time.

I removed his credit card information from my account.

Then I looked up Albert McNutt in Columbus, TX, on and called him. I left a message explaining that he should check his credit card statement for a $23 charge. I also suggested to Apple that they contact him, but they said they didn't know how to.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Phished or cracked?

The scary part is that I just received a personal email from the person who took over my accounts last night and from whom I finally retrieved them just now.

Very Good, Lisa! You have try to get your protection, but that's useless. Anyway, this account is your property then I don't wanna have it. I just make a astonished and will make up a loss to you.
Ominous. Hannibal Lecter, anyone?

Last night I received a note from iTunes thanking me for my purchase. But I hadn't made one. So I went to the iTunes store and discovered that there had been $546 worth of purchases from my iTunes account in the past week. The first $500 was in the form of some very hefty gift certificates. I checked my bank account, and indeed there had been purchases, so I called my bank and reported it. And I reported it to Apple and changed my password.

I made a spreadsheet of the people who received the gift certificates, since I had their names and email addresses from my iTunes account record. One went by Deathemperor. Punkyusa was the one who received the biggest gift certificate, $200.

Somehow, I thought I should check my Yahoo account. Things became a blur here because they happened so quickly and confusingly. It was an unreal experience. I figured out that punkyusa was actually online and in my accounts, since I was receiving email notifications of my own account settings changing even as I logged into them myself. I found that punkyusa had made him/herself an alternate email address for my Yahoo account -- and that, for some reason, I couldn't delete that. It meant that punkyusa would receive notifications of my own password and account changes. I suspected that I hadn't received a note from iTunes for the first $500 in purchases because punkyusa was going into my account and deleting those emails.

And suddenly my Google account was no longer available to me. That was the freakiest part (well, until tonight's note). One minute I was reading an email from an ex-boyfriend, and the next I was trying to log in and couldn't get in. Punkyusa had changed my password. I imagine it was in retaliation for my, just prior to that, changing the Yahoo password and locking him/her out. It would have been a very dramatic movie with a soundtrack and quick cutting between me and punky.

My brother was on the phone, also using my logins to see how far we could get -- dividing and conquering. You'd think this whole experience would have taken like five minutes, but when you don't know what is happening it takes longer. ("Is my caps lock on? Do I know my password?") I spent a lot of time interrupting myself trying to figure out what was happening (like putting together a spreadsheet) rather than how to stop it. My natural inclination: gather more information. I googled Deathemperor and found some 2005 discussion groups where he's looking for discarded website domains on the cheap. I was up for hours.

Punkyusa has laid down his/her arms. Well, except for offering me a link to a free laptop "just for me." So not really laying down arms. But I'm not done. I know these email addresses are probably quickly used and discarded, and no one is really going to want to hunt these people down, but I am still going to report them to their domain hosts and to my bank. Punkyusa is "domain keys verified" on gmail and has sent me an actual email. Shouldn't that be enough of a trail?

Friday, July 18, 2008

Resistance is futile.

I've been handsfree on my phones for a jillion years. It just hasn't made sense to me that our ability to type or wash dishes or clean our offices should be impaired by a silly phone handset. But for most of that time I was landline handsfree. Cellular phone handsfree is an different animal: you're out there in public. I remember the first time I saw someone walking in San Francisco on a handfree hookup to his cellphone. On Market Street, passing the homeless people, I saw a well-dressed man talking to himself. The convergence of mental illnesses.

I'm so into handsfree that I can't wait until they implant something in our heads that allows us to connect with people. I believe this will happen in my lifetime.

I'm somewhat suspicious of California's handsfree cellphone law. The state is trying to be business-friendly, and, instead of doing it by changing the business tax structure or something, it's just forcing everyone to buy handsfree kits. Bluetooth headsets abound.

I arrived at a dreaded meeting called by someone who is rather arrogant and certainly interpersonally tone-deaf. He arrived with a Jawbone on his ear. A Jawbone is the one of the flashiest and most expensive of the bluetooth headsets. And he doesn't have much hair, so it wasn't at all subtle.

How do you react to that kind of thing? Was he expecting to receive a phone call in the middle of our meeting? -- How disrespectful! Was he just wearing it to show it off?

As the initial chitchat progressed, I said, "Hey, are you expecting a phone call?" He said no, he wasn't, and kept going. Didn't even take it off. So at this point it's just so he can feel important. To himself, because I've expressed through my question that it's not impressing me.

Yesterday my own bluetooth headset arrived from Amazon ($30 cheaper than Best Buy). I decided that, while I'm happy with my corded handsfree, a wireless headset would get me closer to the brain implant solution. It's tiny, a Motorola M680. (Motorola even makes a women's version of this with pretty vine squiggles!) It's so small that it's not really visible in my hair. (It is also the perfect cat toy: small and shiny with a sproingy plastic curved piece reaching out to goad.) My goal is never to be like this guy in the meeting, wearing a headset because I'm about to talk to someone more important than you.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

That's why they call it playing

I may end up regretting this, but at this moment I really like Terry Francona. The Red Sox' manager, managing the American League team in the All-Star game, burst into a huge, joyous, kidlike grin when xxx was called safe at home, winning the game for the AL. He was so spontaneous, hugging Jim Leyland and genuinely seeming to enjoy the moment. I'm not used to seeing that in professional athletes and their managers. Yes, smiling at winning, but not grinning at how fun it was.

(Separately, has an article entitled, "Boss' makes visit to Yankee Stadium." I thought, "Wow, I didn't know Springsteen was a baseball fan." It's about ... Steinbrenner...?)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Woe is me

I started exploring Facebook today, setting up an account and all that.

I love how warmly I was welcomed:

A commentary on how isolated modern society can feel?

Monday, June 30, 2008

To the political cynics

I saw a movie tonight that is incredibly poorly named but incredibly well done. Amazing Grace -- you'd mix it up with Saving Grace, the story of a widow in an English village who grows hydroponic pot to make money.

It's a political thriller. Amazing Grace refers to the song, apparently written by a slave trader in the eighteenth century. It's the story of William Wilberforce and one of his many achievements in Parliament: the abolition of the slave trade.

It's a true story:

William Wilberforce led the abolition of the slave trade in England; he established the SPCA, the first free education movement, prison reform, child labor protection, and the first national gallery of art. At a time when the English Parliament represented only a tiny fraction of society, the landed fraction, and most seats were not contested.

I would suggest to anyone who is cynical about the power of our elected officials to do good that within any system a person with conviction can succeed. It takes a lot of work. Complaining is not being part of the problem. Working for whatever issues you believe in is the solution.

There's good and bad in all people, and that's why it's important to pay attention to the good in people.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Strawberry season

Today's snacks:

  • Strawberry Special K bar for breakfast
  • Strawberry yogurt-covered pretzels
  • Fresh strawberries (on their own)
  • Strawberry yogurt
  • Fresh strawberries (in a fruit salad)

I do love strawberries.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Framing the discussion

I have so many Hillary topics, but I wanted to write them as analytical, not elegiac. So some brief thoughts before her speech today.

I think, and hope, that Democratic Obama-supporters will finally believe what I have believed, that Hillary is not a vicious, self-interested party-splitter. In the March 17 issue of Time, David Plouffe of the Obama campaign said, "The Clinton campaign strategy is simply going to be to try to run a scorched-earth campaign, which would be catastrophic for the party." I will honor how smart this was: Obama's team demonized Hillary by addressing process rather than content (or by nitpicking). They hoped in fact that the fear of dividing the party would cause voters to choose Obama (because he wasn't the party-divider, Hillary was). And I'm sure in many ways it worked. Certainly this idea was parroted by pundits in the media and in coffee shops.

Once again: I think this was clever. And ironic. In a year when the Democratic candidates rewrote the history books not just on gender and race but on process, Obama's campaign, a campaign whose content invoked hope, figured out how to get the dimension of fear into voter's minds. We Democrats feared that this particular break in process would cause Democrats to lose in November. Even very intelligent Democrats were so frightened that they didn't see the hope embedded in the dual campaign.

Hillary's process has not feared having two candidates who command powerful loyalty. As far as I know, she never accused Obama of splitting the party. (Ironically, and to her detriment, she in fact invoked fear in more traditional ways.) We should never sell her short: Hillary can and will take the loyalty she commands and use it for good. (And I have no doubt, had results gone the other way, that Obama would have used it for good as well.)

I'm sad that Democrats who repeated this fear began to write off Hillary. Listening to her speech to AIPAC on June 4 (in tears), I was reminded that she is a powerful and effective speaker who will absolutely support the party. And, once we hear her speech today (in tears), I look forward to Obama finding another way to run an inspiring campaign on hope and still find any way possible, including fear, to win in November.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Hillary's other problem: her bio

"In a place called Hope"

An essential part of a candidate's campaign is his or her biography. The romanticization of how he or she got to the present, what had to be overcome, the "This is Your Life" quality of that story, has been used to woo voters, to frame the discussion about the personal qualities of a candidate.

Imagine Hillary Clinton at the Democratic Convention, the nominee of the party. Then the video montage of her life comes on. What is in it? Can you imagine a video montage which includes anything from the Bill Clinton White House?

Does she include that, although extraordinarily talented, she put much of her career on hold for her husband? Oops, back to the Bill Clinton White House.

The montage takes candidates to their roots. And Hillary's roots are ... in the state that Obama represents. Hillary is a Chicagoan. She pumped up the AFL-CIO members last August in the Chicago debate by saying, "My late father was a fanatic Bears fan, so the idea that any of his children would be on the 10 yard line at Soldier Field is a tremendous accomplishment." Being from a rust belt city is an asset to her.

If she had been elected to the Senate from a state other than New York, it might have been different. But she's had to take off her Cubs hat to don a Yankees hat because you have to be a Yankees fan to win New York. Undying loyalty to any other team means you're not a real New Yorker.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Hillary Clinton, Part 1: She can do it.

A proud confession: I am a Hillary Clinton supporter. Which doesn't mean I'm anti-Barack Obama: I adore him. But I think Hillary is an extraordinarily talented and admirable woman. I'm proud that she didn't sit down and shut up in this campaign. I think she would make an incredible president -- and I still think she would be a better one than Barack.

The reason I think this is not because of her campaign, which undeniably has had many flaws. Beginning not with anything that came out of her mouth (or out of Bill's) but with her assumption about how to manage a campaign: she was blindsided by the creativity of Obama, by how he reached out to new voters for votes and for funds. Get with the program, Hillary: (1) The internet is nothing new, and we are living in a digital world, and (2) We've lost the past two presidential elections doing things the old way and need to think out of the box, make the pie bigger, to win this one. And she hasn't -- she's tried campaign the old way, only more perfectly -- which I have found disappointing.

The reason I put campaign blunders aside and support Hillary is that she is a superb politician. "Politician" in its uncharged sense, as someone who is adept at navigating politics. She entered the Senate and immediately became effective. She overcame resistence based on the perceptions of her (just a wife, just a carpetbagger, pushy, frankly partisan) to become someone who could work collegially with anyone on either side of the aisle. She has in fact not been frankly partisan: she is someone who knows how to work relationships and how to compromise to get things done.

Barack may be able to free us from partisanship through his vision and how he expresses it, but Hillary has shown she can do it through her actions.

Which is, I think, one of the two major flaws in her ability to become president: you can't run for a party nomination by showing how effective you are at working with the other party. All the Republican Senators who appreciate and respect Hillary are campaigning for the other party. So she has had to draw on her experiences as a former First Lady. To me this is not as persuasive as what she's accomplished as an elected official.

The bipartisanship argument is something to observe with John McCain, who wants to convince Democratic voters that his bipartisanship earns him their vote. What if Clinton and McCain ran against each other: would they debate who was more bipartisan? That's where actual values come in.

The great Democratic plan

For everyone who is frustrated with the Democratic primaries, who is worried that the party is damaging itself by having two candidates to continue to duke it out, keep in mind the following:

  1. Americans love a competition. By taking the campaign to all 50 states, the Democrats are taking the motivation to participate to all 50 states. 
  2. If the Democrats get out the vote, they win. There are more Democrats in this country than Republicans. In Texas, on March 4, almost three million Democrats turned out to vote, to the Republicans' 1.4 million. And this was when it was still a race: Mike Huckabee did not drop out of the race until that evening. 
  3. The longer we have a Democratic competition, the more likely we are to have Democratic voter turnout in the red states of Mississippi, North Carolina, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Idaho, and, if this keeps going, Puerto Rico, Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska; as well as in the perceived battleground states of Pennsylvania, Oregon, and New Mexico. 
  4. If people vote in primaries, they are more likely to vote in the general election.
  5. The rhetoric between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama reflects that they know this, and that in this home stretch they are going to work for party unity as they continue to compete.
  6. Airing Democratic candidates' dirty laundry early enables the clothesline to be clear in time to focus on McCain's dirty laundry in the general election.
  7. Enlisting new Democratic voters for this election could have effects that reach far beyond 2008.
I am very excited that the Democratic candidates continue to campaign, and I am optimistic about the process and the results.

Phoenix Mars redux

Back in college, I took planetary geology from Peter Schultz. Peter is a crater man. We spent something like the first three weeks (two or three days per week) talking about impact craters. He was also a researcher at JPL/Ames, and he told us all about all the things he would shoot through the Ames Gun into a special bowl of whatever at whatever angle at whatever speed. Like: shooting an egg into sand at a ninety-degree angle verses a forty-five degree angle and examining the splatter. At that stage of my life, empirical research meant nothing to me: I was a historian who looked at people and political theory to see how ideas connected, almost like the study of intellectual gossip, and I didn't yet look at tangible objects and wonder how they got that way. And certainly the nuances of crater splatter were boring to me. I wanted to study the volcanos on Io (and did). I was interested in Mars and the possibility of water and weather. I wanted to learn more about the present before asking how it got that way.

Now it all seems so obvious, and perhaps I needed three weeks of crater study to get it: planets are made of things mashed together, and craters are the evidence of that. Duh. Just as when you look at light that comes from very distant objects, which takes many millions of light years to get here, you are actually looking back in time, unpeeling impact craters is also a way to look back in time.

Peter also taught me to turn the picture upside down if a crater in a photo looked like a bump to me.

Much as I found all that crater stuff somewhat irrelevant, the time was exactly right to be studying it, and to be studying it with Peter, and I'd like to believe I knew that. In 1980, Alvarez and Alvarez published the theory that the extinction of the dinosaurs was caused by a meteor impact. So impact crater theory was really hot stuff in the scheme of things. And this theory was very much in play. I thought it was a good one (having been raised on the theory of Nuclear Winter) and decided for myself that the meteor was what created Hudson Bay. What a privilege, a unique life experience, to study a theory before it became widely accepted. (The search since 1990 has been for the crater or crater patterns which caused the K-T Event. Hudson Bay is not in consideration.)

How many people remember an exam question from 25 years ago? I think the only one I remember was on Peter's final exam. He asked us how we would determine if Mars has or had water on it. I'm sure there were people in the class who wanted to use mass spectrometry or something to determine this from a distance, but my solution was to send a probe to one of the poles and reach out an arm or something and poke it. I suggested there might not be surface water, but there might be evidence of water below the surface.

So the Phoenix Mars project is particularly exciting to me.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A day at Tomales Bay

Today my favorite place in California is Tomales Bay.

A classmate has a long term rental of a great house there and invited a bunch of us to a day at the beach. Potluck. With a vague idea of when to show up, knowing this was potluck but not sure how many hours we'd be there, with a forecast of cold, overcast, and rainy, we left in a caravan, grumpy.

Instead, the day was sunny and warm. Duck Cove turned out to involve seven hours of hanging out, throwing rocks into the water, boating, hot tub, and lots of eating. J brought sangria, which we slurped and munched; I brought enough snacks to ruin our appetites for real food, which included tri tip, grilled asparagus and other vegetables, sausages, and hamburgers.

The boating was kicked off by seven children and three adults piling into our host's tiny Boston Whaler to go across the bay for oysters. As they returned, we on the shore thought they looked like refugees, absolutely packed into the boat.  Either that or the scene from "The Sound of Music" when the von Trapps kids joyfully swamp their boat as they greet their father.

Fresh oysters on the grill -- even the kids were eating them.

I have a thing about water.  Whenever I am near it, I must go in.  J and I were reminiscing about a trip we took up the coast years ago with a crowd of classmates.  We stopped at a rocky beach, the kind with huge eruptions of surf as the waves hit the rocks.  I got closer and closer, loving the smell and the spray.  Dragged J with me, and one of the waves totally soaked us.  (I really believe someone has a picture of this moment.  We must dig it up.)  I was wearing jeans and learned that getting wet in jeans is no fun; since that day, I bring a change of clothes if I think I will be anywhere near water.

Until today.  Today I sat by the picnic tables and hung out and had random sangria-filled conversations and took pictures, working up the nerve to ask our host if I could be next in the sea kayak.  I know how to canoe, but I'd never sea kayaked.  I'm a convert!  It's a hull of plastic like you'd buy at Toys R Us, and you just fly with little effort.  Much easier than a canoe.  I anticipated being so lame at kayaking that I said I'd just toodle around near the shore, but once I figured out how spectacularly simple it is to kayak I was off and running.  Not even noticing that I was dripping water all over myself as I paddled out into the bay.  It was like flying, like dancing.  Others of our party were out there in a pedal kayak, and I hung out with them on the water, sprinting off, moving in all directions, letting myself drift in the sun.

By the time I got out, which involved grounding the kayak on the shore and then kind of falling out into the water (not the most graceful landing), I was definitely soggy.  And in jeans.

Nothing drinking more sangria, sitting in a hot tub overlooking the bay (as the fog rolled in), and eating oysters off the grill (throwing the shells off the cliff), and having more great conversation can't fix.  Today we ate 100 oysters.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Why does everything taste better with yogurt?

Lentils. Chris has the greatest recipe, although it’s not really a recipe because he just made it up. Craving Chris' lentils, I bought the core ingredient: microwavable lentils from Trader Joe’s. Started with my automatic base of garlic and red pepper flakes. I didn’t have ham, which I know Chris used, so I used roasted turkey (with Italian spices), and I don’t like sundried tomatoes, which Chris used, so I used a fresh tomato.

It did not come out tasting like Chris’ lentils.

And then I thought of yogurt. I’m always looking for opportunities to use yogurt as a condiment. So I threw some on top. And it was great! Why is that? I could put yogurt on everything.

Then I realized I had tortilla chips. So I scooped the concoction up with that. How did I start with a ham and lentil recipe and end up with nachos?

Day two: I fully transformed the leftover lentils into Mexican food by putting them in a quesadilla.  The idea was great, and the flavor was great, but lentils don't stick to tortillas.  So when I went to flip the quesadilla it was like a lentil celebration: lentil confetti everywhere.

Couscous injury

I have had a band-aid on the ball of my right thumb for several days. You can kind of see the blood seeping through the gauze. I’ve been waiting for someone to ask me what I did. Then I can tell them that I injured it on couscous.

To my credit, it was Israeli couscous, which is bigger and more substantial than regular couscous.

I was trying to pop some dried couscous out of a bowl, and that last piece stuck. I raked my thumb across it, drawing blood. The world's first couscous injury.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Adventures in fragrance

I'm wearing Hermes' Un Jardin en Mediterranee on my right arm, Un Jardin en Nil on my left, Dior's Miss Dior Cherie on my right hand, and Chanel No. 5 on my left.  The first two are because I needed to know what Jardin en Nil was like: when last week I fell in love with J. en Mediterranee, I felt like I'd picked the wrong one.  Karen, the Nordstrom fragrance consultant, told me that a book had been written about Nil, that everyone loved it.  I breezed right by it to Med, bought Acqua di Parma's Arancia di Capri (still my top choice) instead, and second guessed myself on the Hermes.  

Meanwhile, I bought Perfumes: The Guide, which has been a great way to learn more about what fragrance is really about.  Before heading to Nordstrom today, learned how to say "chypre" so I could ask for a fragrance that had it; I studied the guide's top fragrances and researched which I'd be able to find there.  Ten days ago I barely had a vocabulary, and all the names I knew were Chanel No. 5 and Obsession, Poison, White Diamonds -- things that remind me of Elizabeth Taylor.  Now I know the top fragrances, the top chemists/designers and perfume houses -- particularly, thanks to the guide, in a historical context.

So I went to Nordstrom with bare arms and the dual purpose of resolving my conflict about the two Hermes fragrances and of trying Chanel No. 5 (apparently one of the greatest fragrances of all time) and perhaps a Dior or Guerlain.  

The woman who sprayed my forearm with Nil raved about it, said it was her favorite.  As soon as Med hit my skin I knew I liked it better.  When I went back later to ask to try No. 5, she must have thought I was nuts.  On the way out the door I spritzed Miss Dior Cherie, which the guide gave four out of five stars.

The verdict: Miss Dior Cherie doesn't deserve as many as four stars.  It's strawberry and patchouli, mostly strawberry from beginning to middle to end.  

As for No. 5, I would have fled from it if it wasn't so important to get to know it.  The saleswoman pointed out to me that (as I had read in the guide), it was the first aldehydic fragrance.  The guide defines this as, "Characterized by the smell of the straight-chain alephatic aldehydes C10, C11, and C12, first used prominently in Chanel No. 5."  Reminding us that fragrance can really only be expressed clearly through analogy (fruity, spicy).  Suggesting that No. 5 would be over my head.

It was.  My initial reaction to it was that it didn't smell like anything I knew: I had no language to describe it, so I figured I was experiencing the aldehydes.  I certainly didn't like it.  I supposed that the marvel of that fragrance -- which was created in 1921 -- was that it did smell so abstract.  If Arancia is Renoir and Med is Matisse (and I think that's right), No. 5 is Pollack.  I look at a Pollack and I understand that something is going on, but I am not sure why I'm looking at it.  (OK, bad analogy: in Pollack you can immediately see passion; I didn't even get that far with No. 5.)

Unlike a painting, we're dealing with something that evolves.  The No. 5 on my hand has gone through many scent stages, which has kept me interested.  It eventually softened into something I could at least identify as "feminine," floral, and became more consciously pleasurable to me;  and six hours later is still around (probably another way it is marvelous) as a faint, sweet powder.  I can understand at least that this is intriguing.  

I now understand how complex a drydown phase can be.  I think the bit of Nil I can still smell is actually wonderful.  My right hand smells like old towel, which is either a really bad drydown from the Cherie or because I've been doing dishes.  Sadly, I think it's the Cherie.  

The salesperson gave me a sample of No. 5, and I'm going to continue to try to get to know this fragrance, to teach myself what aldehydic means.  Then on to the other classic, reference fragrances.  Next stop: Guerlain's Mitsouko, which is indeed a chypre.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

View from Philadelphia

An email from a good friend who lives in Pennsylvania, commenting on the intensity of campaigning leading up to today's primary. Names changed to protect the (very) innocent. The candidates' names have not been changed.

Even Joe & Julie [ages 9 and 7] did not react after the 20th time I said, "Anybody want to listen to the new phone message from Obama/Clinton?"

Miriam [age 4] has figured out how to get Joe's goat: she keeps saying, "I'm voting for John McCain!"

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Krazy Kat

I know it's been forever since my last post.  The free-roaming part of my brain has been consumed with taking care of my cat, Sophie.  Roaming to possibilities, to concerns, calling vets, wondering what my cat is thinking, and now to the Adventure of the Food.  Really, my creativity has been put to good use.

Sophie developed what we now know was a calcium oxalate stone in her ureter, as we found out when the test results came back from the lab in Minnesota on Wednesday.  Last month, she had five days of fluid therapy in the hospital (bank translation: vacation to Hawaii, staying at the Four Seasons), trying to get her into UC Davis (translation: penthouse), followed by surgery (not at Davis but at the wonderful BAVS) when the stone didn't come out on its own (translation: flying first class).
Vets are awesome people, and she ultimately came through with flying colors.

By my count, she's used at least three lives.  (1) Because Hopalong and I agree she wouldn't have made it on the street, or even just as an outdoor cat, (2) because if the stone hadn't been addressed she would have died, and (3) because she's a head case and seems to have forgotten how important eating is and would not have made it if I hadn't followed her into Crazyland.

That's what brings us to today.

Calcium oxalate stones are "highly recurring" (with no definition of that), which means that Sophie could end up consuming another trip to Hawaii.  Many more trips, in fact.  Oxalates can't be prevented by all those prepared, canned cat urinary tract health diets -- that would be struvites, much easier to control.  No, my Sophie, predictably, produced the more difficult of the two kinds of stones.  The only way to even possibly prevent an oxalate stone is to somehow convince your cat to drink more water.  Dilute the urine, that's our only hope.

On the way home from the appointment when I learned all this, I stopped at the store and bought her a kitty fountain (translation: cab ride to the airport).

Sophie's a dry food cat who is under orders never to have dry food again. But she doesn't perceive wet food -- a major source of water -- as food. She licks the sauce a bit and walks away.

I've learned that cats can have food aversions. They (apparently easily) develop associations with food which makes them stop eating it. Sophie's aversing started with stone pain/hospitalization/surgery, and she came home thinking food was bad. She's on mirtazapine, an appetite stimulant (separately: the Pill Adventure), which is supposed to get her through this, but she's figured out how to resist its effect, resist me, resist her hunger pangs. In the face of all this expensive and smelly wet food! At the same time she's perfectly frisky and playful, acting as if being super cute and loving is all that matters. I end up seeming like the only crazy one here.

I document what I feed her and what she eats.  This way, I won't end up panicking that she hasn't eaten in five days when she might have actually eaten recently.  But it turns out her food aversion extends to bowls and locations, so I have to keep switching things up.  The log from the past two days goes:

Wellness turkey (in BR w/water in orange bowl)
Wellness turkey (in BR near window on plate)
Moved ducken to table
Chicken/grave on table in cruet
Wellness turkey in corner
Chicken/gravy in BR
SO on table while I eat and work on computer
SO with 5 pieces of dry
fresh chicken
fresh chicken

She didn't eat most of this, which means it's all in the garbage.  She will eat the fresh chicken, but only if it's cut into little cubes -- she can't seem to understand it's the same food if it's in shreds.  The vet said I could serve her diluted chicken broth, and that's helping ... so now she has me cooking and cutting chicken, making plain, unseasoned broth, and serving it in a variety of bowls in varying locations.  I have five options in the living room (including two on tables), two in the bedroom, and one in the kitchen.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Getting rid of a sofa

Room & Board has called to say my new sofa is ready.  Now, how do I get rid of my old sofa?

1.  Rumor has it that furniture deliverers will, if provided with a generous tip, take away the old sofa.  I called R&B to ask, and of course they officially said no.  How do I find out what the unofficial answer is?  I put a question on Yahoo questions ("Will Room & Board delivery take my old sofa?") and received one answer: Give it to the Salvation Army.

2.  The Salvation Army is a pickup machine.  You dial an 800 number to schedule a pickup.  However, they don't do stairs, and I'm on the third floor.  (Goodwill doesn't do sofas at all.)

3.  Find someone to take my sofa downstairs so the Salvation Army will take it away.  The problem is, who?  I don't want to impose on my friends.  Pick up a couple of day laborers and only give them 10 minutes of work?

4.  Give it for free to someone in my building.  No takers.  (I also asked for volunteers to carry the thing down the stairs so the Salvation Army could take it.)

5.  My neighbor's housekeeper takes used household goods.  However, she didn't want a whole sofa.

6.  My neighbor's Little Sister needed a new sofa.  Once again, not this one at this time.

7.  A colleague is planning to move into her own apartment.  However, that's not for a few more months, and there's nowhere to store it.

8.  Put it on craigslist "free items."

9.  Put it on

Those last two didn't pan out, but in the process I saw "moving/labor" on craigslist.  Found a dude who said he could do same day pickup and hauling, would charge me $50.  At this point, I'm desperate, so I tell him I'll call him when I get home.
And then I get home and craigslist has paid off (or maybe it was freecycle).  A guy named William had just left me an email about the sofa, proactively pointing out that he has a truck (per the ad, I did require that they bring one). He said he and a buddy would be over in an hour.  A sweet young guy.  It turns out he has a loft in Jack London Square and is throwing a big party; he want somewhere for people to sit and/or sleep.  That's a perfect use for this indestructible but not the most attractive sofa.  He and his buddy were super-pro at negotiating and navigating how to get an enormous sofa out my door and down two flights of stairs.  I complimented him on his comfort with the whole thing, and he said he used to have a band, that he could pack and lift and load anything.  My sofa has the perfect new home.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Snapshots from Miami

You know you're at a good conference when, after the evening reception, one of your hosts quietly suggests that she'd rather order pizza delivery than find a place to go to dinner; an hour later finds 25 colleagues sitting on the veranda in a row, staring up above the palm trees at the lunar eclipse as it weaves in and out of the cloud cover ("Is it gone?"  "No, it's just behind a cloud.").  We ordered the pizza from a local place at 9:15, chatted joyfully, relaxed, as friendly colleagues and collegial friends.  The pizza arrived at 10:30.  Aside from being really hungry, we didn't even notice the time.

My hotel has a bathroom the size of a postage stamp, but they don't hold back on the towels.  In addition to the towels hanging on the rack, they provide is a stack of three (bath towel, hand towel, and washcloth) on the shelf behind the toilet.   Since I need every surface I can get, when I arrived I took this lovely stack and moved it to the wireframe shelf in the closet.

The next afternoon I returned to my room to find that housekeeping had restocked me -- towel rack, plus a bath towel, hand towel, and washcloth nicely stacked on the shelf behind the toilet.  I took this lovely stack and moved it to the wireframe shelf in the closet next to the first stack.

That evening I returned to my room to find that housekeeping had restocked me again -- I hadn't touched the towel rack, but they gave me a bath towel, hand towel, and washcloth nicely stacked on the shelf behind the toilet.  I took this lovely stack and moved it to the wireframe shelf in the closet, placing it next to the first two stacks.  What did housekeeping think I was doing with all these towels?  I wrote a note and put it on the shelf behind the toilet: "No more towels, please.  (I put them in the closet.)"  I figured that even a Spanish-speaking person would understand "No more towels, please."  

Today I returned to my room at lunchtime to find that housekeeping had restocked me again.  They'd place the stack (not so pretty today) right on top of my note.  So I took this fourth stack and put it in the closet on a new shelf, since the first shelf was full.  I used babelfish to translate my note, and I made it into a little tent so it would be more obvious: "No mas de toalles, por favor. Estan en al armario."  We'll see what happens tomorrow.

Miami Herald headline today: Castro Resigns: WHAT NEXT?"  And the teaser above the masthead: "State board approves teaching of evolution."  A big day for Florida.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Manual typewriter music

Walking through Rockridge, I heard the lovely tap tap of a manual typewriter. A portable manual typewriter. They have a softer sound than a nonportable. It did not strike me immediately that this nondigitized, nonplastic tap tap is not a sound one hears nowadays. It sent me back, viscerally, or manually, to the specific sensation, kinetics, smell, sound, of having my own portable manual. It made me want to buy one just to have it again.

I wondered what the people who have never had to write 30-page papers on a typewriter thought of this sound. I take it for granted, the way they take things like wireless connectivity for granted.

The guy was selling poems outside of Pegasus Books. As I shopped inside I could still hear him typing away. It was like music. When I walked out, I commented on the lovely sound. I had a dollar in my pocket that wasn't mine -- it was found -- and I had decided already to give it away to a stranger. Here was my stranger.

He offered to write me a poem and asked me for a topic. While I mulled over this, he pointed out that many people were walking by with pillows and considered it was perhaps some weird California College for the Arts thing. "Maybe they're having some sort of sleep-in for Valentine's Day," I said. Aha, he shouted. It was for the pillow fight in San Francisco. He packed up his typewriter in an instant. "Do you want one of the poems I already wrote?" he asked, riffling through the scraps of paper he had been writing poems on. Someone shouted for him to hurry, it was almost 6:00, almost time for the pillow fight. "Do you want my best one? It's about this person who had balloons. Here, take it, and just email it to me, it's my best one."

I gave him the dollar, telling him I wanted to make sure he could call himself a professional writer. We exchanged names; his is Zach.

I didn't want to retype his text into an email -- it's so different to see it with the formatting and the dropped a's. So I scanned it and emailed it to him. And here it is.

Losing my mind (well, one-third of it)

I have a lot of ideas, and when I want to express them I create verbal lists, even in everyday conversation. I often say things like, "I have a few thoughts on this. One, I think blah blah.... Two.... Three...." On the way to lunch with a new colleague, I said, "I only know three restaurants in this area: an Indian restaurant, Jupiter, and ..." and it was gone. "... I guess I only know two restaurants in this area." My new colleague cracked up, thinking me a comedian. And it was funny, until later in our lunch I tried to run through another list of three and could only come up with two, which I covered more subtly. And it happened again later.

Sunday I went to the store to get three things. On the way there, I recited them to myself. Except I could only think of two. Thought hard, thought hard ... and remembered the third. And forgot one of the other two. It took me most of the way to the store to get all three to stay in one place in my mind. It was like herding mental cats. Or mentally herding cats.

Where did that third go? Did I learn something that took the brain storage that I needed to remember the third item in a list?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Report from Westminster

On the final night of the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show.

I always like the sporting group: retrievers, setters, spaniels. Tonight my dog-dar was off, though: I was sure one of the retrievers or setters would win. The black flat-coated retriever, in fact (pictured here). But that dog didn't make it: It was the (admittedly, gorgeous) Weimaraner. The judge was interesting, not bland. His best line, at the end, when he was lining up the final four in order: "I want the pointer bitch." She came in second.
I've TiVoed the rest of it; don't tell me who won.

(Who wants to bet that Jon Stewart makes a joke comparing the dog show with the Potomac primaries?)

Good morning

Made my peanut butter toast, carefully spreading the peanut butter to cover the entire piece, a bit thickly this morning. As I reached to grab the Skippy jar to put it away, I snagged the plate, and (insert whirlybird noise here) the plate and toast went spinning through the air towards the floor. In slow motion, I swear. Maybe the peanut butter has a lot of air resistance. Broken (but not shattered) plate, and of course the perfect peanut butter toast landed peanut butter down.

Actually, it made it easier to clean up, since the smaller shards of plate stuck to the peanut butter as I started wiping it up. Next time I break something (which could be any second), perhaps I'll throw some peanut butter into the mix. I meant that as humorous, but it is actually really good at getting those little pieces that old brooms might miss.

Popped another piece of toast into the toaster ... and burned it. Third time was the charm.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The new Pilates: use your cat

Cats are good for the abs.  Anyone who has done core strengthening knows that it involves focused movement: holding your core still while moving a leg or lifting your head or torso or something.  When I was rehabbing from something hockey related (SI joint), I had to crouch on my hands and knees with a three-foot PVC pole balanced across my shoulders and then lift my arms and legs one (and then two) at a time without the pole falling.  I never succeeded.

But with a cat....  My cat, Sophie, is curled up next to me, leaning against me.  She's not a jello-cat: if I move, she moves.  And I needed a Kleenex, which was a foot beyond my regular arm reach.  The challenge: grab a Kleenex without disturbing the cat.  Move the upper body and torso a foot closer to the Kleenex box without moving the hips or legs.

She did stir, but I managed to do it.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Chris Matthews is prerecorded

One of the few political gabfest shows I watch (TiVo) is Chris Matthews. Turning it on today, the main topic was about how Bill Clinton's attacks on Barack Obama seem to be working, that Clinton has gotten into Barack's head. I double checked to see that I was watching the right week's show, and I was. Sadly, it's prerecorded. It's like looking two days into the past: how much things have changed after yesterday's rout of Clinton and Edwards in South Carolina.  I'm disappointed: I wanted to see Matthews gnaw on Barack's win.  

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Goodbye, old friend

Today at work, where I have a PC, I lost a friend.  I was upgraded to Office 2007.  I launched Outlook, and my dog was gone.

I am probably one of the few people who liked the office assistant.  Most people take one look at the leering paperclip and want to kill it.  I turned it into a dog and have had it as my desktop companion for eight years.

I'm used to seeing the dog put its feet on my desk while I'm typing; using a flame thrower on paper when I delete something; and tossing a sheet of paper when I print.  It would bark at me if I made an error or if it needed my attention.  It has often stood annoyingly in front of exactly the button or menu I needed.  It was always happy, patient, and fun.
When I would open an Office application, the dog would come through an arch, and when I would exit it would create that arch and exit through it.  It's made its final exit, and I didn't get to say goodbye.

Going online to find a picture of my dog, I discovered it had a name, Rocky.  I found a few pictures, but I'm still looking for one with the flame thrower and one with the arch.  If you happen to find those pictures, please send them my way.

My hope (am I in the denial phase?) is that someone will resurrect the dog in a non-servile app that will allow it to run free on our desktops.  Please resurrect him into Mac land!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Bhutto and the Tiger

Another post that I've been meaning to write for a while.

Two deaths that really touched me: Benazir Bhutto and Tatiana the Tiger. Juxtaposing the two seems to trivialize the human death, but the connection for me is on a much more visceral level.

When my radio woke me up on December 27 with Steve Inskeep of NPR stating, as breaking news, "Benazir Bhutto has been killed," I gasped out loud and was immediately awake. It didn't surprise me, but it shocked me.

I have been a Benazir Bhutto fan for a long time. Not from any deep knowledge, because in fact that would probably diminish my respect for her, but just because she was a beautiful, strong woman who was elected president of a country. I was awed by Margaret Thatcher for her election as well, not knowing the politics, just struck by the fact of that a woman was chosen to lead a country. In the case of Bhutto, once again I wish I could say that I was impressed that she was elected president of a Muslim country, but even that slid by me. I didn't notice that Bhutto had several presidencies as well as major corruption scandals. I just saw a stunning, articulate, courageous woman.

With the tiger attack at the San Francisco Zoo, the last thing the news reported was tiger itself and her fate. As I heard the story on the radio on December 26, it naturally focused on the killed and injured humans. The early reports did not name or describe the cat. I didn't even think that the cat had specificity: it was just a big, wild cat. I had to go online to find out what happened to the tiger, that she (was a she) and that she wasn't recaptured, she was shot.

While I understand the circumstances behind the decision to shoot her, it is sad to kill a big cat just because she was acting as naturally as she was. She wasn't acting viciously: that's a human term for the amoral violent act of a big cat using her claws. It would be like killing a housecat for jumping on a bug. It's what cats do.

It think it disturbed me more because she was an amazing product of nature: Siberian cats are the largest of the big cats, and they are critically endangered, with only about 500 worldwide now. She's a loss to the world for that reason, but also for the emotional reason: like Bhutto, she had a combination of power and beauty that went beyond facts and data.

I am still troubed about these deaths in a way that puzzles me a bit. Why do they linger? I didn't know much about Benazir Bhutto, and I didn't even know that specific tiger existed. Perhaps it's about two beautiful, unusual creatures exerting power. And that put them up against forces against which they couldn't survive.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Merry Christmas!

I know it's a little late, what with New Year's already past, but I have to chime in with a Christmas blog.

I love Christmas.  I think I love it more than people who grew up with it: being Jewish, I have almost no baggage for the holiday, so I can pick the good parts.  I know people whose Christmases are intense with family emotion and dynamics -- how many films have been made about this? -- but I don't have that.  It makes it very easy to love.

My favorite parts:

* The smell of a Christmas tree.  Walking into a home that has one is like smelling winter and warmth at the same time.  This year, I was tempted to buy a table wreath for myself just for the smell, but it still seemed wrong.  So I spent 15 minutes at Trader Joe's trying to find the most woodsily aromatic bouquet of flowers, hoping the pine greens used as filler would give me some of that Christmas tree smell.

* Saying "Merry Christmas."  This "Happy Holidays" thing irritates me to no end.  My holiday ended on December 12; after that there's no reason to be generic.  Christmas has a spirit, and I'm glad to invoke that.  I want to tell the more than 90% of the U.S. population that I truly hope their Christmas will be merry (including thinking: free of family drama), and I don't want to have to be vague about it.  I went to a party on Christmas day, and one of the guests gave everyone a hug and said, distinctly, "Merry Christmas!"  Both upon arrival and departure.  I gave her an extra warm hug and returned the wish.  On Christmas day it absolutely makes sense to use the holiday's specific name.

(In fact, compared to Rosh Hashanah, Chanukah is a minor holiday.  Shouldn't we Jews feel more oppressed at being wished "Happy New Year" on January 1?)

* Giving.  Receiving is fun because you get to open presents, and I certainly don't want to cut that part off, but I think giving is more fun.  I have a (Jewish) friend who complained about the obligation of gift giving.  I envied her: I am still beginning to recognize all the opportunities I have to give, and I'd be happy if I had more of them.

My first real Christmas was with an English family in Canada.  They assumed that I understood all the process and code of the holiday, that it was all so obvious, and I was utterly miserable: I couldn't figure out when to change out of my jammies, when to open presents, how to interpret the food, in fact (it being my first Christmas) even that we were supposed to have presents.  I hadn't had a Christmas morning since I believed in Santa Claus, and I didn't exactly bring presents back then (because Santa did, silly!).  That is not a good feeling.

The following year, I went to snowy Cleveland to be with my father and Christmas-celebrating stepmother.  Since I knew it would be a real Christmas and I'd already been burned on gift-giving, I woke up first thing on December 24 and ran to the mall to shop.  I rapidly reviewed the whole place and then bought all of my gifts at Origins.  A successful strategy I continue to employ: pick one specific store and decide what would be most appropriate for each giftee.  Most importantly, the Grinch's heart grew three sizes that day.  Not that I was a Grinch, but I did feel that great, warming feeling -- I was surrounded by people who were buying and giving gifts, I'd completed my shopping and had something for everyone, and I had, in effect, become Santa Claus.  I was struck with the Christmas spirit.  

Writer's block (encouragement requested)

So, it's been a long time since I've written.... I have a whole list of ideas, things that inspire me, but they haven't come out of my fingers. Perhaps it's that I've had some visitors and suddenly I'm self-conscious about writing for my own joy; I'm risking judgment. Google analytics says that I've had visitors from (servers from) three continents:

  • Boston, Chicago, Las Vegas, Berkeley, Emeryville, Alameda, Dallas, Lexington, KY, Renton and Tacoma, WA, and Eden Prairie, MN
  • London, England, and Bo'ness, Scotland
  • Barranquilla, Colombia, and Porto Alegre, Brazil
Of course, since I just checked again, mulling over data in Google analytics, I could stop short again.... Visitors from around the world (or around the block), feel free to drop a note of encouragement!