Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Goodreads: Outliers

Outliers: The Story of Success Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell


My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars
Even better than Blink and The Tipping Point, and a totally addictive read for me - I've been laboring through 3 or 4 books without finishing one for a couple of months now, and I finished this book (~280 pages) within 24 hours of cracking it open. Not everything here is relevant to decisions I'll need to make, but as a parent, a great deal of it actually is quite on-topic. Goes to the top of my recommended books list.


View all my reviews.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Old Firm and the Napier Test

An interesting thing about being a clueless American living in England is that online news sites (this one came from a CNN link within Gmail) offer dastardly-sounding headlines like:

Celtic seven clear after Old Firm revenge

Sometimes I click on them, thinking (in this case) "Who are the Celtic seven?", "What were they on trial for?", "The Old Firm got its revenge? Is that the mafia or something?" etc. And then, almost inevitably, its about a sports team. The other day there was a really interesting sounding one that didn't even make any sense to me: Gayle hits 197 as Napier Test ends in draw - I thought (probably subconsciously thrown off by "Gayle") it might somehow be about a hurricane - 197 could be a wind speed, but what the devil is a Napier Test? I must know! Oh, right. Cricket. That most incomprehensible of British sports.

Bonus: Crew injured as speed yacht flips off France -those French are very sensitive to gestures made by passing yachts.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

I love wikipedia.

So I gave them some money. Maybe you should too, if you're looking for a place to be charitable this years-end.

Wikipedia Affiliate Button

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Perrenial Christmas Classic!



Oh yeah, I should mention, some parts possibly Not Safe for Work, but not in a lewd way. In kind of a Schindler's List way.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Let's clear things up...


_MG_7433.jpg
Originally uploaded by jason hamacher
"You see, I, Jeff Wills, cannot possibly be the Batman, as so many of you have supposed, because as you can plainly see, here we are, appearing together for the first time. Let all these rumours be put to rest, once and for all..."

Friday, December 12, 2008

About getting spiritual answers

(Read comments to previous post if you're just coming to this discussion)

Knowing Coop and Josh both very well, I understand where they are both coming from. Myself, personally, I am more like Josh here. And speaking 'within the tent' of our own religion as we are here, I feel comfortable saying that although my sentiments agree with Josh, and certainly my understanding of theology is way more like Josh's than like MDH's, my religious practice and faith is likely to remain unaffected.

I have had spiritual experiences that have made it clear to me that I have a stake in and a duty towards the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. That is perhaps not everyone's definition of "testimony", but it's close enough to mine to be operative here.

This means that even though, like Josh, I am more likely to experience these events as a spiritual storm than as a bold confirmation of faith, my faith is that I will weather the storm, and that it will be over soon enough. In that sense, I consider myself fortunate not to be what we might term a 'universalist', for whom all things of faith depend on all other things being infallible. I don't even actually know who MDH is, but I think his or her declarations here but him or her squarely in this category. Maybe he or she would disagree, that's not really the point.

If it isn't fair to use MDH as an example, I'll turn to Coop, who I have had many long discussions on subjects like this with, spanning several decades and many campouts. He and I do not see things the same way, and I accept this about us, treasure it even. (Those of you not of our faith, or not of any faith, just assume for a moment that there are such things as spiritual promptings and personal [bidirectional] communication with the Divine). Coop believes (correct me if I misrepresent, Coop) that 10 times out of 10, if you're in tune with spiritual promptings, you will reach the same answer as everyone else who is in tune with spiritual promptings.

I, quite simply, believe nothing of the kind.I can (indeed, must) separate my belief in God and even my sustainment of the President of the Church from the decisions and day-to-day operations of the Church and from the actions or views of its members. I have to believe that I can pray and receive an answer, and Josh can pray and receive an answer, and Coop and MDH can both pray and receive answers, and each of us can get it heart-and-soul confirmed to us that we're getting the right answer, and all answers can be different. If the other point of view is a theory of Universalist Truth, call this one an idea of Emergent Truth. One is top-down, the other bottom-up.

I'm not sure I'm articulating this very well. Let's just put it out there and see what kind of holes get poked.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Politics and Religion, part 2

So, as I mention in the following chat exchange, I've wondered whether any good can come of further discussing the issue. And I've had additional feedback from emails and facebook messages that I've wanted to address, and I have my own sentiments on the issue, which I haven't even really expressed here. Maybe that will come in time. For now, here's a discussion I had this evening with Rob about it:

Rob: btw, you never gave us all a response to your controversial blog post
me: i know. i am a bad blogger. i've been stewing on it, and debating whether anything good can come of further discussion
Rob: i know what you mean. At the same time, i've had to have proxy arguments with megan in order to satisfy me need for further discussion (with her playing the role of your particular viewpoint)
me: did megan and i win?
Rob: no :)
once she got what i was trying to explain, she agreed with me
on the logical/moral scale as opposed to the legal arguments i was trying to make
me: we kept our tax-free status as a religion that doesn't recognize gay marriage forever even in a state that recognizes gay marriage?
btw, that's not a viewpoint i'm actually interested in defending, just one i was pointing out.
Sent at 10:20 PM on Tuesday
Rob: the main gist of my argument with her was that if you believe that the government should not impose a specific set of moral principles on it's people, then you shouldn't support prop 8...
me: or, in fact, oppose it!
Rob: if you believe the gvnmt should be dictating morallity (a perfectly valid and acceptable viewpoint), then by all means support
me: no, I don't believe they should, and so I can take NEITHER side!
Rob: i mostly took umbrage with the people who said they didn't think the gvnmt should be dictating morality, but supported prop 8
me: because if I oppose it, I am supporting the idea that moral acceptance of homosexuality be taught in public school. Which is also dictating morality.
Rob: no, no, no!
prop 8 was not a referendum to set the curriculum!
me: no, it wasn't. but it's failure to pass would have done so nonetheless.
the curriculum isn't put to referendum.
Rob: it could be, if people's concern was with what is taught in school, than that is what the referendum should have been written to disallow
in my opinion :)
which, by the way, would have been much easier to pass i bet
me: well, you're right, but of course referendums are written by the passionate, not the moderate.
Rob: true
Sent at 10:28 PM on Tuesday
me: besides, (a supporter could argue that) the referendum only legislates the centuries-old legal and cultural precedent, not any particular morality. It was not, after all, a referendum to officially recognize gays as sinners.
Sent at 10:29 PM on Tuesday
Rob: i have to argue that no one is standing up to say that gay marriage should be banned because of precedent
me: what ? that's exactly the argument!
Rob: i doubt that is figuring very prominently in most debates on the issue
me: that the 'definition of marriage' is what's being defended!
Sent at 10:32 PM on Tuesday
Rob: i don't know what you mena by that
i was refferring to precedent as an argument
and saying that is not what most people seem to care about
me: right. perhaps neither do the people defending it. but they claim what they're supporting is keeping the word 'marriage' defined as a union between a man and a woman. Which, I'm saying, is claiming that the precedent of that definition should remain.
Sent at 10:34 PM on Tuesday
Rob: yeas, they're claiming the precedent should remain, but i don't think anyone is arguing the precedent should remain BECAUSE its the precedent
the'yre arguing it based on morality, or the arguments you put forth in the blog post, which i find specious
me: ah, well their reasons for arguing it are, I will admit, not grounded in linguistic conservatism.
Rob: ok, now you're just throwing out words
me: you're the one who drew first blood with specious.

So, if I were a bit more conscientious or devoted, you would get more response on this from me in a timely manner. But I rationalize not providing that by saying to myself that it is unlikely to produce, in the end, anything but hurt feelings, as these types of things have a tendency to do when conducted over the internet. I'd love to be wrong about that, but civil internet discussion is a rare and delicate flower. Nevertheless, if you would like to comment further, I am sure you will do so with respect.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Goodreads: His Majesty's Dragon

His Majesty's Dragon (Temeraire, Book 1) His Majesty's Dragon by Naomi Novik


My review


rating: 3 of 5 stars
Although I enjoyed the book, I don't think I'll be picking up the sequels, at least not right away. I did enjoy the juxtaposition of dragon-aviators with the Napoleonic Wars, but the writing isn't all that inspiring and the plot didn't hold any surprises for me. Maybe I'll just stick to Sharpe's and Hornblower for my Napoleonic fiction and D&D for my Draconic inspiration.


View all my reviews.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Politics and Religion

Oh man. Politics and Religion. The two things you should never ever talk about with people you hardly know. And yet here I am, ready to spill some thoughts on both together. Right now I barely have any contact with US News at just about anything less than the presidential election level. So unless I go looking for it (I don't), I end up hearing most of what's going on in America from friends' blogs, Facebook statuses, Google Reader Shared Items, and the like. And so it is with some trepidation and not a little ignorance that I take an outsider's perspective on the recent events surrounding Proposition 8 in California, and the role of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the passing of that proposition during this last electoral cycle. In case you don't know me that well, I pertain to that Church.

First a logical exercise:
- The Proposition passed because a majority of California voters passed for it
- Mormons in California do not make up a majority. Or even 5% of the population
- Therefore "The Mormons" didn't make up the deciding vote to make this resolution pass. It was passed by the electorate.

So there's that. However I do gather that the Church was part of a coalition of churches whose public relations campaign may have changed the minds of many other voters. This has, again I gather, caused considerable ire on the part of those who would have preferred that the Proposition go the other way. I have heard tales of people spitting on old ladies on their way to worship, mailing white powder to temples, and have heard about protest signs with slogans like "Help! There's a Mormon in my bedroom!". Of course this kind of negative attention is hurtful, and of course those providing the attention feel that they have been hurt by the Church's stance on the matter. Many had hoped to have their relationships recognized legally as marriages, and those hopes have been at a minimum postponed indefinitely, and at maximum dashed entirely. The way a particular sign makes me cringe simply does not compare. Much has already been said about who is being 'tolerable' and who is not, with accusations flying from both sides, and I see no need to rehash that here (nor will I 'tolerate' it in the comments, should there be any). Like it or not, both sides of the discussion are 'persecuted minorities', the one being denied rights and the other being a scapegoat for the electorate and a 'legal' target for any amount of mockery.

In fact, the whole business is a little surreal, as far from it as I am. The weekend before Election Day, I was at the wedding of a friend, where after the ceremony was finished I spent most of the evening catching up with and having ponderous conversations with a woman who I consider a dear friend, and who happens to be gay. The same weekend I made the acquaintance of a man who I knew immediately that I valued both for his calming Quaker ways and for his quick wit. He happens to be gay, which I suspected but was never mentioned, but he knew almost from the start about my religious convictions. I wonder what subtext there may have been in our interaction that weekend that I was entirely oblivious to. None, I hope. Anyway, that's by way of saying that on my last visit to America, far more time was spent in conversation with gay friends than was spent at church. So part of the internal discussion I've been having as I hear bits and pieces related to this Proposition and its effects has to do with them, and I must admit the possibility that our friendship may be affected, though I hope not.

I do not represent the Church and do not speak for it except as an individual. But from what I percieve, the Church's stance on the issue has nothing at all to do with trying to ruin people's lives or even tell them how to live them. The Church's position has nothing to do with trying to establish laws that govern people's sexual lives, as I see it. It has everything to do with self-preservation, by which I mean that it looks to me as though the Church's concern is that if the State's definition of marriage includes homosexual relationships, there will be a legal precedent for forcing the Church to perform or recognize these marriages, which would be counter to its principles. The doctrine of the Church holds that "the man is not without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord", and the freedom to act according to this belief (for example, by refusing to perform marriages in the Church or in the Temple for homosexual couples) would be threatened if the State were to recognize and then require religions to recognize an expanded definition of marriage. As I say, I haven't been reading news reports about this, so I don't know how well-covered or how neglected this idea is. I don't even really have any idea as to its truth. But putting myself in the position of the Church, there aren't many reasons to get heavily involved in a potentially unpopular political campaign unless you have something to gain or something to defend from it. I can see nothing at all that the Church stands to gain from its vocalness on the subject. Therefore, in my incomplete logic, it must be defending something. While "the institution of marriage" or "the definition of marriage" are fine things, what the Church has to defend in the matter are its own rights to practice religion as it sees fit. Whether or not you agree that such a thing needs defending in such a manner, my analysis is that is what those who govern Church policy think is at stake.

In many ways I'm glad to be far from the issue. It is a complicated issue, one I can see both sides of and feel empathy for both. I do believe I will stay here while I see how it all plays out. Comment if you will (in fact, please do), but respect those whose convictions do not match your own.

Monday, November 10, 2008

T'beet, or not T'beet; that is the question.



Years ago, when I had time to read lots of cooking blogs, I came across a recipe unlike any I'd seen before. Going back and finding the original entry, I discover this was now more than 4 years ago - every once in a while I'd think about making this, but I never got around to it. This week I bought a chicken with the express purpose of trying it, and MAN was it good. If it sounds good to you, don't wait 4 years like I did before making it. All the ingredients are easy to get, and its a fairly simple recipe, though it does take some planning and a bit of specialized hardware. Some background:

This is T'beet, the traditional Sabbath lunch of Iraqi Jews. Jews are forbidden by religious law from kindling or extinguishing a flame on Saturday, the Jewish day of rest. Accordingly, any meal to be eaten hot on the Sabbath must be set on a fire before sundown the night before. The Jews of Europe have accomodated this imperative with cholent: a slow-cooked stew of meat, beans, and vegetables, which I find utterly revolting. My ancestors relied instead on the middle-eastern staple of rice in composing their Sabbath lunch: a stuffed chicken stewed in tomato sauce and spices and baked into a cake of aromatic basmati rice. After twelve or more hours of cooking, the rice forms a hard, delicious crust on the outside, while the rice surrounding the chicken becomes irresistably tender and absorbs all the flavors in the pot. A rice stuffing within the chicken is the most intense of all: it is heavily spiced and absorbs all the juices of the chicken as it cooks.

As you can see in the above image of T'beet deconstructed, you can have your rice three ways. The rice to the left of the chicken has hardened into a crunchy, nutty shell. At top right, you can see the pillowy rice that surrounds the chicken. At bottom right is the intensely flavored rice from the stuffing. Incidentally, a chicken cooked in this manner emerges from the oven tender enough to cut with a spoon.


Here follows my adaptation:

Recipe: T'beet
Total time to make: about 15 hours. Feeds at least 6.

Ingredients

* 1 whole chicken
* 4 tbsp olive oil
* 1 small-med onion, diced
* 1 plum tomato, diced
* 1 29-oz. can crushed tomatoes or tomato sauce
* Iraqi Jewish five-spice powder, or Dave's Experimental Mexican 5-Spice Powder (see below)
* water
* salt and pepper
* 4 cups basmati rice

Iraqi-Jewish Five Spice Powder:
*2 tsp each of ground cardamom, ground cloves, allspice, cinnamon, and turmeric

Dave's Experimental Mexican 5-Spice (untried, but I think it'd be good)
* 2 tsp each of cumin, chili powder or ground chipotle, coriander, garlic powder, and cinnamon. Plus you'll want some jalapenos, black beans, and corn to add to the rice.

Hardware:
* 5 1/2 Quart Nonstick Oven-Safe or Enameled Dutch Oven
* Medium mixing bowl or plastic ziploc to make the 5-spice in
* Tongs for turning chicken during browning
* Big plate, bigger than the top of your Dutch Oven
* Wooden or non-stick-safe spatula, not flimsy

0) Invite some guests over for lunch on the weekend, unless you need lots of leftovers or have a large family. Do this Thursday.

1) The night before you want to eat this, start by making the 5-spice powder of your choosing. Make a stuffing for the chicken from the diced onion and tomato, 3/4 cup of the rice, 3 tsp of the 5-spice, 1/2 tsp salt, and ~2 Tbsp of the tomato sauce. If your chicken came with giblets, you can dice and include the heart and gizzard (not the liver). Mix in a bowl or ziploc bag and refrigerate.

2) Adjust oven rack to lower shelf. Preheat oven to 250 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 125 Celsius. Rinse the chicken inside and out and pat dry with a paper towel. Salt and pepper the outside of the chicken generously. Place the dutch oven over medium-high heat on the stove and heat the olive oil until it shimmers. Add the chicken, breast side up, and brown on each side until golden brown, rotating with tongs every 3-4 minutes. When all sides have been browned, remove the dutch oven from heat and stuff the chicken loosely with the stuffing. It's OK if there's leftover, no need to cram it all in.

3) Put the chicken back in the dutch oven, breast side down, and return to heat. Add the rest of the tomato sauce, and add water to about 3 inches below the top of the pot. Add the rest of the 5-spice and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 15 minutes.

4) Add the remaining rice and any leftover stuffing to the pot, pouring around the sides of the chicken so it doesn't pile up on top. If making the apocryphal Mexican variation, reduce the rice by a cup and add a can of corn, a can of black beans, and some chopped jalapenos and cilantro. Stir in the rice gently to even it out. Place the cover on the dutch oven and put it in the oven. Bake for about 14 hours or so, timing it so it'll be ready as lunch the next day.

5) Bask in the glorious baking aromas all night. In the morning, be sure to go out of your house for some reason for a few minutes so you can smell it all again when you come back in. When it's ready, pull the T'beet out of the oven and rest it on the stovetop for about 10 minutes with the cover removed. Put your big plate over top of it and invert T'beet onto the plate. With luck, most of it, including the delicious outside crusty rice, will go smoothly onto your plate. If not, use your wooden scraper or spatula to get the rest. You may want a second plate on the dinner table anyway for people to put bones on, so for now you can put the rice left in the pot there. Hopefully it looks kinda like this:



6) Serve to your family and guests. You will be able to cut the chicken with a serving spoon. Make sure everyone gets some chicken, and each of the three types of rice: exterior crust, middle rice, and stuffing rice from inside the chicken. Devour.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Goodreads: The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (Modern Library Classics) The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is a quick read; under 200 pages. Very clever and eloquent at times, farcical and dark at others. Recommended for your next plane ride.


View all my reviews.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Goodreads: Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite

Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite Gordon Ramsay's Healthy Appetite by Gordon Ramsay


My review


We've only had a chance to try a few recipes out of here so far, but they've all been excellent and have sparked some new ideas. Looking forward to doing a few more!


View all my reviews.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Goodreads: 10 Bad Dates with De Niro

Ten Bad Dates with De Niro Ten Bad Dates with De Niro by Richard T. Kelly


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
I am naturally a list-reader. I make lists too, when the occasion warrants, but I like reading a good list just as much as making a good list. Not all the movie lists in this book are great, but there are enough lists and enough films covered to make it very enjoyable. And, since there's no plot to follow, there's no guilt in skipping a list that doesn't look interesting, or only reading the paragraphs about movies you've heard of in a list. This may reveal more about my personal habits than I'd like, but I should mention that I read almost all of the parts I read on the toilet. Now you know.



Be forewarned: it is impossible to read this without adding a bunch of movies to your Netflix queue. Seriously, unless you've seen them all, at least add one from the "10 Best Gangster Deaths" list.


View all my reviews.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

front page of the ny times


Uh, North Yorkshire Times, that is...

The real reason I bought "London's Underworld"

When I was looking at the book for the first time, I came across this table of statistics:


Number of disorderly prostitutes taken into Custody during the years 1850-1860, and their trades:

1850 -- 2,502
1851 -- 2,573
1852 -- 3,750
1853 -- 3,386
1854 -- 3,764
1855 -- 3,592
1856 -- 4,303
1857 -- 5,178
1858 -- 4,890
1859 -- 4,282
1860 -- 3,734

After some search I have been enabled to give the trades and occupations of those women.

74 were Hatters and trimmers.
418 were Laundresses.
646 were Milliners, etc.
400 were Servants.
249 were Shoemakers.
58 were Artificial flower-makers.
215 were Tailors.
33 were Brushmakers.
42 were Bookbinders.
8 were Corkcutters.
7 were Dyers.
2 were Fishmongers.
8 were General and marine-store dealers.
24 were Glovers.
18 were Weavers.

The remainder described themselves as having no trade or occupation.


There's just no way for me not be interested in stats like that - I mean, 646 Milliners? I didn't even know what a milliner was (Wikipedia has it as "the profession or business of designing, making, or selling hats, dresses, and hat trim to women." - I guess that's different from hatters in that hatters sell to men?).

Also, as promised, here's the Table of Contents for the 'Thieves and Swindlers' section:

The Sneaks, or Common Thieves


  • Stealing from the Tills
  • Stealing from the Doors and Windows of Shops
  • Stealing from Children
  • Child Stripping
  • Stealing from Drunken Persons
  • Stealing Linen, etc., exposed to dry
  • Robberies from Carts and other Vehicles
  • Stealing Lead from Housetops, Copper from Kitchens, etc.
  • Robberies by False Keys
  • Robberies by Lodgers
  • Robberies from Servants
  • Area and Lobby Sneaks
  • Stealing by Lifting Up Windows or Breaking Glass
  • Attic or Garret Thieves
  • A Visit to the Rookery of St. Giles and its Neighbourhood
  • Narrative of a London Sneak, or Common Thief


Pickpockets and Shoplifters

  • Omnibus Pickpockets
  • Railway Pickpockets
  • Shoplifters
  • A visit to the Thieves' Dens in Spitalfields
  • Narrative of a Pickpocket
Horse and Dog Stealers
Highway Robbers
Housebreakers and Burglars
Felonies on the River Thames
  • The Mudlarks
  • Sweeping Boys
  • Sellers of Small Wares
  • Labourers on Board Ship, etc.
  • Dredgemen and Fishermen
  • Smuggling
  • Felonies by Lightermen
  • The River Pirates
  • Narrative of a Mudlark
Receivers of Stolen Property
  • Dolly Shops
  • Pawnbrokers, etc.
  • Narrative of a Returned Convict
Coining
  • Forgers
  • Bank Notes
  • Cheques
  • Forged Acceptance
  • Forged Wills
Cheats
  • Embezzlers
  • Magsmen or Sharpers
  • The Card Tricks
  • Skittles
  • Thimble and Pea
  • The Lock
  • Swindlers

This section proves to be just as interesting as the last was.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Park Women, or Those Who Frequent The Parks at Night And Other Retired Places

(From the book "London's Underworld", a 19th-century expose on London's seedier side; my current bedside reading)

"Park women, properly so called, are those degraded creatures, utterly lost to all sense of shame, who wander about the paths most frequented after nightfall in the Parks, and consent to any species of humiliation for the sake of acquiring a few shillings. You may meet them in Hyde Park, between the hours of five and ten (till the gates are closed) in winter. In the Green Park, in what is called The Mall, which is a nocturnal thoroughfare, you may see these low wretches walking about sometimes with men, more generally alone, often early in the morning. They are to be seen reclining on the benches placed under the trees, originally intended, no doubt, for a different purpose, occasionally with the head of a drunken man reposing in their lap. These women are well known to give themselves up to disgusting practices, that are alone gratifying to men of morbid and diseased imaginations. They are old, unsound, and by their appearance utterly incapacitated from practising their profession where the gas-lamps would expose the defects in their personal appearance, and the shabbiness of their ancient and dilapidated attire. ... The unfortunate women that form this despicable class have in some cases been well off, and have been reduced to their present condition by a variety of circumstances, among which are intemperance, and the vicissitudes natural to their vocation."

Seriously, the whole book is like that. It's hilarious. Here's part 1 of the table of contents (the portion dealing with prostitution):

Introduction
Foreword
Prostitution in London
General Remarks
Seclusives, or those that live in private houses and apartments
The prostitutes of the Haymarket
Board Lodgers
Those who live in low lodging houses
Sailors' women
Soldiers' women
Thieves' women
Park Women
The Dependents of Prostitutes
Bawds
Followers of Dress Lodgers
Keepers of accommodation houses
Procuresses, Pimps, and Panderrs
Fancy-men
Bullies
Clandestine Prostitutes
Female Operatives
Maid-Servants
Ladies of Intrigue and Houses of Assignation
Cohabitant Prostitutes
Criminal Returns
Traffic in Foreign Women


Next time: Thieves!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

STELLLA!!!! We need a big toy frog!

"Please call Stella. Ask her to bring these things with her from the store: Six spoons of fresh snow peas, five thick slabs of blue cheese, and maybe a snack for her brother Bob. We also need a small plastic snake and a big toy frog for the kids. She can scoop these things into three red bags, and we will go meet her Wednesday at the train station. "

First off, I'm not sure the store sells snow peas by the unit "spoons." Secondly, how thick exactly do you want your slabs? I'm not sure scooping blue cheese into a bag is the best idea. And by Wednesday, it may not be smelling all that great. Plus, by then, won't Bob have gotten his own snack?

These are some of the thoughts that confronted me as I listened to that paragraph over and over at the GMU Speech Accent Archive. You can browse by birth language, region, or native phonetic inventory. But no matter which clip you listen to, it's about Stella, her shopping list, and your upcoming rendez-vous on Wednesday. A few favorites:

* South African
*Northern Australian
*Macon, Mississippi - sounds like Tommy Lee Jones sometimes
*York, UK - this is pretty close to the local accent here
*Viscaya, Spain - requires a little more patience than the others.

If you find a cool one that I missed (which shouldn't be that hard), post it in the comments for me.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Goodreads: another Hellboy and The Arrival

Hellboy Volume 7: The Troll Witch and Other Stories Hellboy Volume 7: The Troll Witch and Other Stories by Mike Mignola


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
As with most compilations, this one is hit-and-miss. I do enjoy the way Mignola will take an old folk tale from someplace like central Africa or Norway or Malaysia and then retell it through Hellboy. Probably my favorite in this collection is "Dr. Carp's Experiment", because of the electric harpoons. But Makoma would be a close second.


View all my reviews.

The Arrival The Arrival by Shaun Tan


My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wordless and beautiful - The story of an immigrant man and his arrival in a new land, where everything is foreign. I think I'll be giving this one as a gift sometime soon; just need to figure out who needs it.


View all my reviews.

Birthday Card from a 5 year old


Here is the text of the birthday card my little girl wrote all by herself for me, sounding out the things she wanted to say (and translation):

DADY
I Lev
Uem

HAPPY
Beta
to
DADY
I HAB
theet
Uem
Wel
HAFU
A
GOD
DAA

Which is of course:
Daddy, I love you.
Happy Birthday to Daddy; I hope that you will have a good day.

What a little sweetie.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Goodreads: Vegetarian Planet

Of course! Cookbooks! I've loads of those I could review!

Vegetarian Planet Vegetarian Planet by Didi Emmons


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
Chock full of deliciousness! Among our faves:



- Creamy tomato soup

- Dirty Rice

- Roasted New Potato Salad

- Masa cakes with salsa verde



And lots more. There are whole sections we still haven't delved into, but I'm sure they're just as good as the stuff we've tried. My sister gave this to us for our wedding as I recall, and it's been serving us well ever since. Whether or not you're vegetarian (we are most definitely NOT), this book is worth picking up and cooking from.


View all my reviews.

Goodreads: Conan and Hellboy

Conan of Cimmeria: The Conquering Sword of Conan (Book 3) Conan of Cimmeria: The Conquering Sword of Conan by Robert E. Howard


My review


rating: 1 of 5 stars
I had no idea going into this book that the original Conan stories were so incredibly rife with racism and misogyny, to the point where even though the plots are interesting and the setting excellent, I can't overcome my disgust every time (and it is EVERY TIME) that Conan has to save a near-naked white girl from the unspeakable horrors that "brown-skinned men" will inflict on her. Ugh. Have to quit this one 3/4 of the way in, I'm afraid.



Typical of pulp fiction for the time, I'm sure, but I'll just have to rely on later authors for my swords-and-sorcery fix.


View all my reviews.

Hellboy Volume 6: Strange Places Hellboy Volume 6: Strange Places by Mike Mignola


My review


rating: 4 of 5 stars
Great art, great stories, great one-liners. Not as epic or memorable as some of the earlier Hellboy tales, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.


View all my reviews.


Here's a couple panels from that Hellboy comic that had me cracking up:

Monday, September 29, 2008

Goodreads review: Queen and Country Vol 8

So, I'm trying out Goodreads after realizing Librarything wasn't doing anything interesting for me. So far, it's been good - I've added several books to my 'to-read' lists based on seeing friends' reviews of them, and I always think its interesting to hear what friends think of the books they read. If you're on there, look for me. I also got a lot of books for my birthday and am technically in the process of reading at least 5 books, so I'm thinking I'll sometimes post my reviews here. This one is for Vol 8 of Queen and Country, a comic/graphic novel about the Special Section of MI6. I recommend watching The Sandbaggers first, which is dated (filmed 1979-ish) and has the low production values of the time, but is some of the best spy-drama I've ever seen; every bit as good as any of the Le Carre adaptations.

Queen & Country, Vol.8: Operation: Red Panda Queen & Country, Vol.8: Operation: Red Panda by Greg Rucka


My review


rating: 5 of 5 stars
Wow. This one was near-perfect. I realized, after reading it all in one sitting, that I finally felt as though Queen and Country had surpassed The Sandbaggers, its own inspiration. Well done Greg Rucka.


View all my reviews.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Fantastic Contraption

Jeff Wills shared a link in google reader to Fantastic Contraption, which is a totally addictive game that actually makes me glad I don't have internet at work right now - this would be a monster distraction.

Here's my favorite solution I've done so far:

Mission to Mars

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

On parenting and support networks; a theory

So, I have this thing I keep thinking about, because I had a little inkling about it once upon a time and then I kept seeing situations that reminded me of it. Over time it's matured into a theory, but there are probably aspects of it that I'm not considering. Maybe you'll point them out to me in the comments. The gist of the theory is this:

Presently, our society is set up in such a way that most [American] families are living with one set of parents (or just one parent) in a household raising their kid(s) essentially by themselves. Contrast this with at least millenia (all of recorded history, and conceivably much further back) where households were usually multi-family or multi-generational, and where raising children was of necessity a more communal affair. It is only in the last couple of centuries that any sizeable proportion of households anywhere ended up in a situation where a mother (or a mother and father, or a father) ends up being the only adult spending time with their little kids for most of the day, most days. And frankly, I don't think we're built for it.

In particular, I've watched my sisters and other women I know and care about struggle with the challenge of having multiple preschoolers or infants at the house during the day with them. They find it difficult to make time for themselves, or to have their own friends or social contacts. The price of our privacy and personal domain is that a caretaker left with the children faces isolation and sometimes depression. Even so, it is a price many are still willing to pay (or risk paying). Society expects that if you have the means to do so, you will live in a dwelling with just your family during childrearing years except in unusual circumstances.

In the past, many families wealthy enough to have their very own households would also have been wealthy enough to have servants or other help to see to the raising of children or the affairs of running a house. Most farms (again, my supposition; feel free to dispute) have been multi-family or multi-generational, and until the advent of the automobile towns and cities were places where everyone walked everywhere, meaning you encountered the people you lived next to and a household member who 'went to work' didn't go all that far. Contrast that with a society where people commute to work alone in their cars, while young children stay at home with just one parent, or (like our kids) go to a care facility where they may get the chance to socialize with other children and to a certain extent adults, but not in a home and not with a member of their family or household.

For the next six weeks, Michelle and I will have a third child in our own two-adult household. A friend of ours who is a single mother has to return to the States for some military training until November, and may not bring her 5 year old daughter (Isabel - expect pics soon). So since she goes to the same school as our daughter and the same before-and-after care, we decided to volunteer as possible guardians for the time being (other options involved her being out of school and travelling to the states to stay with family). Tonight is the first night she's spending in our house. As a realist, I know there will be hard moments for her, for our kids learning to share with her, for her mom while she's away, and for Michelle and I. But of course I also know that it will often be a lot of fun, and she's a sweet kid that we are looking forward to spending more time with. Other friends have stepped up too, offering to help transport her to or from school if her bus pass situation doesn't pan out like we hope it will, or having her over for a few nights. It all makes me think about this same thing; the necessity for community in childrearing. Nobody ought to try it all alone - we're just not wired that way. You need family, or a village, or a supportive church or playgroup, or good friends, or something to make it work and let you keep your sanity and expand the kids' horizons.

I am by no means advocating a return to multi-family or multi-generational housing. I very much like having the privacy and space that living in a single family home provides. But when I see a woman struggling to raise children by herself for hours out of every day, and see the strain that produces for even the most sane and well-balanced people, I think about this idea and wonder how different it would have been only a few hundred years ago. Not that the women of the 1500s or whenever had lots of, y'know, freedom to go have book clubs or opportunities to advance themselves or whatever, but they at least had other women to talk to and probably didn't have too much trouble finding someone to watch the little ones for an hour or two while they ran a few errands at the market. Or, going back millenia to when humans settled exclusively in family/tribal groups, you have to imagine that prettymuch everyone in the village takes responsibility for raising the little ones in one way or another. I think we're still programmed that way (and so are the kids).

Sorry to go all "It takes a village..." on you. Let's hear your thoughts on the matter.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Feeling Connected



A while back, I shared an item which was in turn about an article from the NYT Magazine about how facebook, twitter, and other social web stuff leads to "ambient awareness", a kind of internet-powered ESP about your friends. Excerpt:

In essence, Facebook users didn’t think they wanted constant, up-to-the-minute updates on what other people are doing. Yet when they experienced this sort of omnipresent knowledge, they found it intriguing and addictive. Why?

Social scientists have a name for this sort of incessant online contact. They call it “ambient awareness.” It is, they say, very much like being physically near someone and picking up on his mood through the little things he does — body language, sighs, stray comments — out of the corner of your eye. Facebook is no longer alone in offering this sort of interaction online. In the last year, there has been a boom in tools for “microblogging”: posting frequent tiny updates on what you’re doing. The phenomenon is quite different from what we normally think of as blogging, because a blog post is usually a written piece, sometimes quite long: a statement of opinion, a story, an analysis. But these new updates are something different. They’re far shorter, far more frequent and less carefully considered. ...

...Each day, Haley logged on to his account, and his friends’ updates would appear as a long page of one- or two-line notes. He would check and recheck the account several times a day, or even several times an hour. The updates were indeed pretty banal. One friend would post about starting to feel sick; one posted random thoughts like “I really hate it when people clip their nails on the bus”; another Twittered whenever she made a sandwich — and she made a sandwich every day. Each so-called tweet was so brief as to be virtually meaningless.

But as the days went by, something changed. Haley discovered that he was beginning to sense the rhythms of his friends’ lives in a way he never had before. When one friend got sick with a virulent fever, he could tell by her Twitter updates when she was getting worse and the instant she finally turned the corner. He could see when friends were heading into hellish days at work or when they’d scored a big success. Even the daily catalog of sandwiches became oddly mesmerizing, a sort of metronomic click that he grew accustomed to seeing pop up in the middle of each day.

This is the paradox of ambient awareness. Each little update — each individual bit of social information — is insignificant on its own, even supremely mundane. But taken together, over time, the little snippets coalesce into a surprisingly sophisticated portrait of your friends’ and family members’ lives, like thousands of dots making a pointillist painting. This was never before possible, because in the real world, no friend would bother to call you up and detail the sandwiches she was eating. The ambient information becomes like “a type of E.S.P.,” as Haley described it to me, an invisible dimension floating over everyday life.

“It’s like I can distantly read everyone’s mind,” Haley went on to say. “I love that. I feel like I’m getting to something raw about my friends. It’s like I’ve got this heads-up display for them.” It can also lead to more real-life contact, because when one member of Haley’s group decides to go out to a bar or see a band and Twitters about his plans, the others see it, and some decide to drop by — ad hoc, self-organizing socializing. And when they do socialize face to face, it feels oddly as if they’ve never actually been apart. They don’t need to ask, “So, what have you been up to?” because they already know. Instead, they’ll begin discussing something that one of the friends Twittered that afternoon, as if picking up a conversation in the middle.

...

As I interviewed some of the most aggressively social people online — people who follow hundreds or even thousands of others — it became clear that the picture was a little more complex than this question would suggest. Many maintained that their circle of true intimates, their very close friends and family, had not become bigger. Constant online contact had made those ties immeasurably richer, but it hadn’t actually increased the number of them; deep relationships are still predicated on face time, and there are only so many hours in the day for that.

But where their sociality had truly exploded was in their “weak ties” — loose acquaintances, people they knew less well. It might be someone they met at a conference, or someone from high school who recently “friended” them on Facebook, or somebody from last year’s holiday party. In their pre-Internet lives, these sorts of acquaintances would have quickly faded from their attention. But when one of these far-flung people suddenly posts a personal note to your feed, it is essentially a reminder that they exist. I have noticed this effect myself. In the last few months, dozens of old work colleagues I knew from 10 years ago in Toronto have friended me on Facebook, such that I’m now suddenly reading their stray comments and updates and falling into oblique, funny conversations with them. My overall Dunbar number is thus 301: Facebook (254) + Twitter (47), double what it would be without technology. Yet only 20 are family or people I’d consider close friends. The rest are weak ties — maintained via technology.

This rapid growth of weak ties can be a very good thing. Sociologists have long found that “weak ties” greatly expand your ability to solve problems. For example, if you’re looking for a job and ask your friends, they won’t be much help; they’re too similar to you, and thus probably won’t have any leads that you don’t already have yourself.


I'm in the middle of experiencing this phenomenon lately, primarily through the explosion of people I used to know being connected on Facebook. Almost all the people who were active in my High School drama dept. are suddenly there, updating and adding photos of us all when we were younger, or just commenting about their lives. I had completely lost touch with most of them, and now, suddenly, I have these newly re-established 'weak ties' that lead to funny conversations about photos, or trying to guess who wrote a given comment from a yearbook, or just this sense of ambient awareness.

In practice, the Facebook News Feed catches lots of interesting status updates, but I prefer to get all the status updates in Google Reader, both because it doesn't skip any, and because that's where I do all the rest of my catching up on blogs, flickr updates, news, trends, friends' shared items, etc. Plus, since I don't usually have internet access during the day, I need to cram in as much efficiency into my online time as I can.

Here's an example of this ambient awareness from today: my friend John and I were driving this morning to pick up a big mahogany dresser I bought at auction yesterday, and John says "I wonder when Ty (another mutual friend of ours) is getting back [from vacation]". I knew from Ty's last status update that he'd be driving to SW France today, so I told John and then it hit me that normally there's no way I'd be that up to date on a casual friend's whereabouts on vacation, you know? I presently have 165 'friends' on facebook and I probably have picked up on things about each of them, even my own sisters and wife, that I wouldn't have otherwise. For a 'facts curator' personality type like me, that sort of information flow can be fairly addictive.


And then there's the weak ties thing - like the other day I mentioned in my Facebook status that I'd be visiting America around Halloween. People that I haven't seen in years started talking to me about it, and I'm planning on getting a bunch of people together for a meal while I'm there to see each other and catch up. We'll probably take pictures and post them on Facebook and tag ourselves in them so the rest of our weak ties can see who was there and what was going on and what they missed out on. They'll comment, there will be witty banter where there would have been only lost connections.

Just something I'm thinking about; enjoying.

Monday, August 25, 2008

London for the weekend


Nice Knockers!
Originally uploaded by Foucalt
We left the kids with a friend and went down to London for the weekend to meet up with M's sister and brother-in-law. I took lots of pics of the British Museum, us around london (that pic is of me at a BBC building), and some Parkour traceurs practicing their stairwell jumps and flips. We walked a ton but had a lot of fun, ending with dinner in Chinatown, where I unexpectedly saw a restaurant I recognized from the song "Werewolves of London". Good times all around.

* British Museum pics
* Around the City
*Parkour on the South Bank

Friday, August 22, 2008

Chillin' with Constantine.


Chillin' with Constantine.
Originally uploaded by Foucalt
We went to York for the day; had lots of fun.

Here's me with Constantine, who was in York when he became Emperor

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

H Lost Tooth 1


H Lost Tooth 1
Originally uploaded by Foucalt
Congrats to H on her very first lost tooth! It happened while she was eating and they never found the tooth, so we assume it got swallowed. When I told her that the tooth fairy might not be able to give her any money if there wasn't a tooth to be collected, she didn't miss a beat - "Daddy, mommy took PICTURES. So the tooth fairy will KNOW I'm missing a tooth from the PICTURES". Then she went to bed really early because "You have to be asleep when the tooth fairy comes so I'm going upstairs to go to sleep!" All this in spite of the fact that she knows the tooth fairy is really mom & dad anyway. So she got 2 1£ coins (about $4), and today she bought a new princess activity book with it.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Monday, July 21, 2008

Music Blogs Part 2: L-Z

For me, a good music blog posts mostly .mp3s, not too many videos, and groups posts into logical collections. Here's my L-Z and 0-9:

Lost in the 80's Unlike Born Again 80s, this is mostly songs I've never heard of - rarities and lesser hits of the decade.

Music for Kids Who Can't Read Good - He just posted his wedding mix, full of good lovesongs. I just subscribed this week, but it looks very promising.

Pimps of Gore - I've almost unsubscribed a few times, but then something good gets posted, so it's stayed on so far.

Pretty Much Amazing! - new this week; on probation. we'll see.

Retro Music Snob - very prolific, linking to other blogs where the actual songs reside, but that's OK; this has been how I've discovered several of the other blogs.

snuhthing/anything - Takes a theme and then posts a bunch of songs that go with it. I can handle that. Like it, even.

Star Maker Machine a group blog by several of the authors of other blogs on the list. Usually has a theme for the week, and posts songs throughout. Two weeks ago was Hell Week, last week was Heaven Week, this week is Sun Week. I wonder if Moon Week is next week? New, but already off probation and onto the keepers list.

The Lost Turntable purports to be "The Imported Out-of-Print 12" Extended Remix B-Side of MP3 Blogs". Sometimes vulgar, as in today's post, but once in while there's music I'm interested in there.

Who Needs Radio? new, on probation, but the 'London, Brighton, Rome, Paris' post a while back was an indicator that it's capable of excellent things.

17 Seconds new, on probation. But a ton of covers by Arcade Fire the other day is a good sign.

Note: I used to be subscribed to Stereogum but it was too prolific with news items and too "here's the new indie sound!" for me. For people with more patience, it might be another good source.

That's prettymuch it for me. Are you following any that I'm not, dear readers?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Music Blogs! Part 1: A-K

I love music. Not as much as some people. And not with a lot of pretension. Well, some I guess. Anyway, I'm in a finding mode where I've come across a bunch of new blogs that go in my "music" folder in Google Reader. Here's a selection:

*Benn loxo du taccu This world-music blog used to be exclusively African music, but lately there have been posts dealing with China, Syria, Argentina, Turkey, and so on. I don't download very much from here but I'm glad its there, and sometimes I like it.

Battle of the Midwestern Housewives - just found this one today, but it looks like a nice punk&ska source.

Born Again '80s - mostly remixes and 12" of old 80s songs. But that means sometimes a version I've never heard of a song I already know I like.

Copy, Right? - sadly defunct now; but Lobstar/Liza had some great posts, and her Blog Roll is worth mining for other music blogs you might like.

Cover Freak - A decent little cover blog. My only complaint is that only the summary shows in Google Reader, so I have to actually go there if I think it might be interesting. I know, poor Dave, he has to click once in a while... - No complaints! Steve hooked me up in the comments!

Cover Lay Down - a good folk covers blog; you've probably seen me sharing items from here. I download anything that looks halfway decent or that I've heard of before.

Covering the Mouse a covers blog (detecting a theme?) devoted entirely to Disney songs. Sadly, no links to download the songs, but a little digging through the "View Source" will get you there, if you need to.

Fong Songs - Another covers blog I share a lot from; this week was Muppet Week.

Good Rockin' Tonight - Fairly new to my Reader list, but proving productive so far.

I AM FUEL, YOU ARE FRIENDS - Added last week, but seems like a keeper. Still in probation though.

i rock i roll - just added today; still on probation.

That's all for part 1. In part 2: L-Z!

Friday, July 18, 2008

Five Word Movie Reviews

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Fresh Veg!


Today a flier came in the mail from Abel and Cole, which is apparently a seasonal/organic grocer that makes home deliveries of all sorts of yummy things. I signed right up for the Mixed organic box, which will commence delivery weekly starting next week. Yum!

Random Links

Taking half a day off today to get a few things done; blogging may as well be one of them:

Quick reminder: those of you not watching My Shared Items are missing most of my pithy (or perhaps obnoxious, according to taste) commentary on things I encounter on the web.

A few new blogs I'm reading:

  • With Words Unsaid and Thoughts Unallowed; Cousine Celeste's freshly minted take on the world. She's witty, pretty, and can make salvadoran pupusas - line up fellas.

  • SpyTalk - Despite the name, its surprising what passes for news coverage of 'intelligence' - this one's pretty good so far.

  • Amagi Games - Levi Kornelson is energetic, creative, and giving away lots of handy ideas, techniques, and templates for role-playing games.



Finally, this video I ran across - next time you want to play H-O-R-S-E, try it up against these girls:

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Auction House Finds & Rock Clambering

So on the 4th of July we went to the local auction held every Friday - lots of people had recommended it and I'd browsed their offerings once or twice online and seen a few cool things. I looked at what would be up for auction and saw a few things I wanted to see in person. Here's what I ended up with:

Mahogany Leather-topped Library Table & Half-moon Mahogany Stool


Close-up of one of several Decanters that came together with some other junk


Prices were pretty decent - I spent less than I expected to - and the auction process itself was pretty fun; I expect I'll be checking it from time to time to pick up some cool furniture and other odds & ends.

Then after H got out of school, we went to nearby Brimham Rocks to clamber around & take pics.

Family @ Brimham Rocks

flickr set is here.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Padme

If you've seen Juno, you should see Padme. If you haven't, you should see both.

Conundrum - Abulafia Random Generators

I made a random generator tonight to help jumpstart fictional situations like short stories or imaginary TV pilots I make up in my head. It poses the main question facing a protagonist.

Conundrum - Abulafia Random Generators:

"When it comes down to it, the choice is between preserving a shred of dignity and keeping your family together, isn't it?

Is it possible to overcome mental illness and still end up forgiving someone?

When a family secret interferes with a solemn promise, which will you follow?"

Work in progress, but I like it so far

Project Rooftop




I don't count myself a Superman fan, but some of these costume redesigns are pretty neat.
Project Rooftop: "Superman: Man of Style Finalists!"

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Great Bed Race


Bed Racers 11
Originally uploaded by Foucalt
Today we went to the Great Knaresborough Bed Race one town over. We walked into the town center, had lunch and went to the train station to grab a train for about 10 minutes. Read all about it over on Shells and the Gang, or just look at the pretty pictures

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Sunday Drive



Going through all the stuff I have to move into my new office at home, I came across this shot of the little guy taken by a ride at Chuck E Cheese's before we left Virginia. I just love his expression; just out for a carefree drive through the country with a giant mouse.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Spofforth Castle


This morning's excursion was to Spofforth Castle ( 53.95481, -1.452384 for you Google Earth folks out there). Afterwards we had a picnic in the car (too windy on the field). Flickr set is here.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Thomas and Friends



Today we went a couple of towns over to see Thomas the Tank engine, Percy, and others. The big bouncy Thomas moon bounce (or Bouncy Castle as they're all called here, whether or not they're castles) was a big hit, as you'll see in the flickr set (I love my new camera!)

More details over on M's blog.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

New Hotness!!


Week of new things!

- New Nephew! Congrats to the Mechams!
- New Camera! Michelle surprised me with a Canon digital SLR - I LOVE IT! flickr set is here
- New Knives! I got a couple of Calphalon Katana series knives to see if I want more. Guess what: I like them!
- New TV! We don't have our furniture yet, but we got a new TV since we couldn't ship our old one!

I cheated.

I wanted to be Lizzy, and cheated on question 7 to help my cause.

I am Elizabeth Bennet!


Take the Quiz here!



(via Cousine Marie)

Friday, May 16, 2008

Five word movie reviews

Pleasantville - Interesting idea gone horribly preachy!

Confessions of a Dangerous Mind - Too much Sam Rockwell butt.

A River Runs Through It - Pretty; plodding. Like fly fishing.

District B13 - Best French Parkour movie, EVER!

One Fine Day - Arguing is not romantic comedy.

Spirited Away - Original, yes, but also overrated.

Transformers - HOT DAMN that was fun!

Key Largo - Hey Bogey: Grow a pair!

The Darjeeling Limited - I could watch this again.

White - Some Europeans cannot be understood.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Yay Vonage!

Those of you who know our old Virginia phone number can now use it to call us! Like, for example, those of you about to have a baby! Best time is ~2-3pm EST if you want to talk to the kiddos, up till maybe 5pm EST if it's M you're after, and maybe until 7 EST if you need to talk to yours truly.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Like the Desert Island Disk question, but real...

Here's a hypothetical situation to place yourself in:

You like music, but a few years ago you put all your discs into mp3s and gave alway all but about 10 of your CDs to a few lucky friends. Then, you start working at a place that allows only CD players - no ipods, and only commercial discs - no mix CDs. So now your music selection consists of:

- A few Beautiful South CDs you couldn't part with
- Jesus Christ Superstar 2-disc edition (I know, random, right?)
- OMD - Liberator
- Social Distortion - Social Distortion
- Johnny Cash - American IV
- Music for Holy Week - Cambridge Kings College Choir
- Pennywise - Unknown Road
- Radiohead - The Bends
- The New Pornographers - Challengers

And maybe a few more you'll find when you get all your earthly possessions in a few weeks. But that's basically all your commercial music CD collection consists of. You like to listen to music while you work. You've gotten used to buying individual songs that you like on iTunes, so you're willing to buy a few CDs, but only if they're chock full of listening goodness - and listening goodness that's good to work to (unlike Music for Holy Week, which puts you to sleep).

Tell me the next 3 CDs you buy, and why.

Criteria:
- Must be in print and commercially available
- Should be "whole-album" good.
- Should hold up under lots of repeated listening
- I should like it the very first time I hear it

I'll post albums I'm already considering in the comments

Monday, May 12, 2008

Camp Nerdly 02

Well, Camp Nerdly happened without me this year, but a good time was had by all. Friend Jason was thoughtful enough to get some friends together for this little video

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Fountains Abbey trip


Today we went to Fountains Abbey, and it was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G!




Pics on my Flickr page.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Your Guide to the British Bathroom

Lots of things are different here, some better, some decidedly worse, some just different. Bathrooms are one place where it seems American ingenuity hasn't quite made the passage yet.

The Loo



Key Features:
  • Lever seems to require about three pumps before it actually decides to flush
  • Square shape impedes water from swirling
  • Seat has sharpish inside lip that hurts to sit on and (one imagines) leaves quite a mark


The Sink



Key Features:

  • Separate freezing and scalding water spigots to make washing hands in warm water impossible without filling the sink
  • Extra wide basin to keep separate spigots as far from eachother as possible, lest you be tempted to try mixing the water in your hands
  • Low flow helps you conserve water!


The Shower









Key Features:

  • Red switch outside the bathroom controls whether or not the shower is capable of providing hot water - great for getting back at housemates!
  • Shower apparatus requires you to push a start button, at which point cold water will immediately shoot forth onto you, becoming hotter in a few moments.
  • Multiple ways to end up with a cold shower: adjust any dial for a most refreshing frigidity
  • Or, adjust it to WAY TOO HOT!
  • Yes, you're seeing that bottom pic right - there is a shower wall only halfway out along the tub on one side. Note that this makes it impossible to bend over to pick up your shampoo without water splashing off your back and all over the room.
  • Half wall swings out of the way at the slightest touch, allowing for more chances to get your dry clothes wet
  • As with the sink, there are separate spigots for freezing and scalding water, making it risky to put a kid in the bath while still filling it without some chance they will get burned.


Also, as I am planning to do lots of "Britain is Different: Good" and "Britain is Different: Bad" type posts; I need a name for these. Shall I steal "A little Brit different" from BBC America, or can you give me a better name?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Our sister, er, uxoral blog

Those of you anxious for news and views of our family should head over to the just-launched

http://shellsandthegang.blogspot.com

Saturday, April 12, 2008

We're Here!

We made it to Britain. We are safe, sound, and starting to get used to the time change. Right now we're staying in a 2-bedroom flat while we look for a home. More to follow.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Camping out at home

The movers took everything that's going to England today, which means we're sleeping on air mattresses and borrowing towels to dry ourselves with. The end is near, even at the very doors.


In other news, David Mamet has an interesting change of heart.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Decision Tree: NYT Diagram

Here's more from the NYT, this time regarding Gygax and his influence. Snarky, but appropriate in its way:


Here's my path(s):

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Are chemicals that enhance brain power 'wrong'?

Interesting piece from the New York Times about the implications of using prescription drugs that allow for better attention or studying. What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

I know.

I'm sorry. It won't be the last time I neglect this blog; it hasn't been the first. Those of you still here, thanks. Its now less than a month until we get on a plane and go to England. We're excited and stressed.

Our house got listed for renters today. Pics in the "Virtual Tour". I find it amazing that houses still get sold or rented when basically all real estate sites have such appallingly poor web design, but so it goes.

I went to England for a couple of weeks, during which I worked about 150 hours, but I still found a little time to go look at houses and eat at some pretty decent pubs and curry houses. I think we're going to like it there. I originally had my heart set on some kind of stone barn conversion out in the country, but after driving through thick fog on twisty narrow roads, and after seeing what town has to offer, the idea of living in town is growing on me. It's a small town, anyway. But it has nice parks and Victorian townhomes, and its pretty. There's still a chance we'll end up in some little village surrounded by sheep, but town is probably where we'll end up. We won't actually find the place until after we're there, but it was nice to have a look around and see what's where.

Now begins the difficult task of sorting through all our stuff; deciding what goes to storage, what goes with us, and what simply goes away. I am fortunate to be married to someone who is a natural organizer, which makes many things about this easier for me - I am not very good at this sort of thing on my own.

On to media reviews:

The England Mix is done - thanks for contributions, you probably will get your copy shortly if you're on my list. If you think you should be on my list but didn't contribute, leave me a little note below telling me what you've done for me lately and get me your address (email to dave dot younce at gmail dot com, don't go posting it in comments) and I'll see what I can do.

Spice, History of a Temptation , by Jack Turner. 3.5 stars out of 5. It's fascinating for people like me, who want to know just how pepper came to be used as a common rent payment, or why the phoenix was said to smell of cinnamon, but its tone is rather academic (I suspect it's Jack Turner's dissertation turned into a book). There are some rather tawdry portions where spices as aphrodisiacs are concerned, but mostly it's about how spices came to have such value that the quest for them fueled the age of discovery. I liked it, but then, I was stuck on planes for hours and hours.

Michael Clayton: I watched this on the plane on my way over to the UK, and liked it quite a lot. Clooney is excellent, as is Swindon. 4.5 stars.

Big Love - Season 2: Oh fine, I admit it - I watched this show despite the many ill-informed email chain letters I got from LDS friends warning me about it's evil depictions of the Church. Actually, the LDS church is rarely mentioned, and when it is, it's usually treated with respect. Mostly I came away from Season 1 saying "Man, I'm glad that's not us". But Season 2 is just too hard to make myself want to watch - the show is really, really good at drama. But watching this family held together by threads is just too much for me anymore. So I'm moving on, but amiably. It was interesting, but I've no time for it anymore. 3 stars.

30 Rock, on the other hand, just gets better and better. We're only about halfway into the first disc of the first season, but it's a keeper. 4 stars.

To Have and Have Not: There's definitely chemistry between Bogart and Bacall, and it's pretty good - if I'd never seen Casablanca I'd have thought this was excellent. I have, though, and Casablanca's the better film. Their stories are similar enough that I think you'll see the connection too. 3.5 stars.

Something the Lord Made: Alan Rickman and Mos Def as pioneering heart surgeons in the mid-20th century. Both are excellent, but the combination of racial tensions and medical suspense makes it harrowing to watch. Excellent, and recommended, but I am unlikely to watch it again. Oh yeah, and its a true story. 4 stars.