Saturday, December 30, 2006

Reading list updated

I keep a list of what I've read, what I'm reading and what I'm fixin' to read over on my personal site. The pace has slowed way down now that I'm no longer riding the bus to work, and I let the list get stale this fall, but tonight I've updated all my recent reads and re-filled the queue with my latest Borders and Amazon acquisitions.

The underlying code for that page is a bit spaghettish, but I'm pretty pleased with how I was able to get it to come out. (Refresh the page a few times to see my cool parlor trick.) The list data is maintained as an XML file and the page is built using JSP and templates. Maybe I'll look into Web 2.0ifying it this year.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Remembering Jiji

Five Corners Animal Hospital is the 24-hour emergency clinic where we took Jiji on Christmas Eve (and, this summer, had taken Prissy the ancient Maltese when she was hit by a car on a Sunday). As I've recently discussed, I used to volunteer at a similar after-hours emergency clinic. You really have to admire people who are willing to give up their Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, to make sure that the rest of us have a place to take our pets when they get into the chocolate or the poinsettia, or when we figure out that holding out until Boxing Day was overly optimistic. I euthanized one beloved pet this festive holiday season, but they probably euthanized many more. And, hopefully, saved a few.

VCA Five Corners is a corporate clinic, which I have mixed feelings about. NTEPC is a co-op and I still think their economic model is amazingly cool. But I'm pleased to report that the corporateness doesn't diminish the compassion or professionalism of the staff.

Anyway, on Thursday I got a sympathy card in the mail from Five Corners. That's standard practice and I was pretty much expecting one. What I wasn't expecting was a handmade card inside, decorated all over with hearts and Jiji's name and, in the center, her paw print. Before sending her off to be cremated, they took her paw print. I hardly need to say that I bawled like a baby. I especially loved Jiji's bony little paws, and now I have a life-size memento. I reckon I'll frame the print along with a picture or two of her.

What do you do, I wonder, to say "thanks" to a corporate clinic?

P.S. Thanks, also, to the good friends who gave me a sympathy bouquet today!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Five things meme

I'm not normally the meme type, but I have great respect for Eszter's blog and thus I don't take her tap lightly! Hi Eszter!

I talk so darned much all the time that it's hard for me to imagine any information about me that everybody hasn't already been subjected to, but I'll give it a try. :)

1. My mom is deaf. She speaks almost flawlessly and can lipread most people, but I still functioned as an "interpreter" and handled all the family's phone calls from an early age (five or six). I think it may be similar to how second-generation immigrant children translate for their parents. I suspect this is why I'm so talkative and have always been fairly confident speaking up around my elders. I got in trouble with some adults for correcting Mom's pronunciation in public, but she would always reassure me privately that she wanted me to help her speak perfectly and she welcomed those corrections. I wonder if that's why I'm so contrary now. ;)

I don't sign worth a darn, except for the alphabet and "Silent Night", but I lipread pretty well and I normally watch people's mouths, rather than their eyes, when they talk.

2. For several years in my late 20s, I wanted to be a veterinarian. I volunteered at the North Texas Emergency Pet Clinic¹ in the evenings (after working my day job as a software developer). Chuck and I traveled to Texas A&M University for an open house at their CVM, and I spoke with counselors there and at UW about what it would take for me to pick up remedial science credits before applying to vet school. When we moved back to Seattle, I initially took a job as a clinic receptionist. I ended up abandoning my veterinary aspirations when I got a closer look at the challenging economics of clinic practice and, at the same time, got an offer for an obscenely high-paying job as a software consultant.

I adopted Jiji in part because I figured I could at least put my experience to good use taking care of older pets with special needs.

3. I'm an active member of the Order of the Eastern Star and the proprietor of the only, as far as I know, OES blog on the web.

4. I'm a language geek, although I'm quite terrible at actually speaking languages. I have taken classes in French, Russian and Spanish. Russian was the biggest disappointment; I loved it, but after nearly four years of study, these days I can barely remember two words and one children's song. I do read Cyrillic pretty well, though. I'm a huge fan of modern-traditional Scottish Gaelic music and I've learned phonetic Gaelic so I can sing along (and I've done exactly one a cappella Gaelic gig). I picked up a respectable amount of travelers' German on my trip in 2005 and would like to learn more. I mastered exactly two words in Czech, although I was able to muddle through a few more to fend off a would-be suitor at the Prague train station. I've dabbled in Welsh, Japanese, Danish, Cherokee and Latin. I like to study alphabets and pronunciation so I can handle native people- and place-names even in languages I don't know, such as Polish and Hawai'ian. For no apparent reason, I recently decided to collect the Nicene and/or Apostle's Creed in as many languages as possible, which necessitated installing about a hundred new fonts. I'm considering a new, more useful project to document "excuse me", "thank you" and "please" in as many languages as possible, and maybe "hurry!" in case I ever get cast on "The Amazing Race".

5. I play guitar in a startup quasi-bluegrass band.

Tapping Jana, Jim, Cameron, Siri and LG.

¹ I created their first website and was surprised to find that a lot of the content they're using today was originally written by me!

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"He was delicious."

We knew it'd come in handy eventually.

I always thought this was one of the funniest sketches evar on SNL, and I've quoted it regularly ever since. So when the real news finally broke, I found out by someone quoting it back at ME. Thanks to lafe for tracking down the video... I bow to your superior Google-Video-fu....

Monday, December 25, 2006

James Brown IS Dead

Seriously old-school techno. I've owned this track since it was released, I thought longer ago than 1991, but whatever. In spite of its title/chorus, the lyrics do conclude that James Brown is not actually dead.

There were counter-tracks released by other bands: "James Brown Is Still Alive" and "Who the Fuck is James Brown?" This one had to win the rhetorical argument eventually, though, and on Christmas Day 2006, it finally has.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

RIP Jiji, 1988-2006

We euthanized Jiji this morning, on Christmas Eve.

I would have to say that the many stresses of the windstorm and five-day power outage took their toll on her, but so did the cold winter weather and the passage of time in general.

After three full days in the cold at my power-less house, we both found refuge at my sister's cozy apartment in West Seattle. Jiji seemed her usual self for two more days; don't know if she was masking symptoms, or if something more acute happened while we were not looking. We suspect a seizure or a stroke, brought on by the progression of the kidney disease. In any case, when I brought her home on Wednesday night, she was terribly agitated and in real distress. I couldn't find any way to settle her. She spent all day Thursday, overnight, and most of the day Friday at her vet, where they tested for many things and treated many more... all best guesses, as is so much of veterinary work. Two different doctors mentioned "senility", which turned out to be the key.

When I brought her home again on Friday night, she went right back to the same agitated behavior, and that's when we realized that she truly didn't know where she was (and hadn't on Wednesday, either). Her other ailments weren't the cause of her distress. She was lost, confused and probably scared. She didn't know any of her old favorite places in the house, and she started getting into rooms and climbing on things she had never shown any interest in before. It was like having a different, new cat, and it was hard to accept that she wasn't ever going to sit with me in the same way or share any of my favorite interactions again.

But, we hoped, maybe we could help her re-adjust to her home and build a new relationship. In a way, that worked. She was able to settle in, and in a strange way she still seemed to know us... at least, to know that she could trust us and that we loved her. I imagined that she might be trying to figure out how the heck I knew all her favorite spots to be petted. "You taught me," I told her. She started looking for me in my regular place on the sofa, and would come to me when I sat there. She calmed down. She slept, just in new places.

But she still wasn't feeling well, and couldn't bring herself to eat. Loss of appetite is one of the major signs that the kidneys have failed beyond recovery. I came up with my list of enticements, all the things we would try over the next few days to get her eating again, and we tried all of them. Nothing worked. It wasn't just that they didn't work; it was that whenever we went to the kitchen, she would follow us and meow and wait to be fed. She was hungry, and she knew she needed to eat, but when the food was placed in front of her she just couldn't do it. On Saturday night, I mixed some food with water and managed to get her to swallow 2.5 cc's from a syringe, but her heart wasn't in it.

On Christmas Eve morning she let us know that she was really done. She hadn't touched any food overnight, could barely drink water, lurched and wobbled when she tried to walk, and couldn't hold her head up. I had just finished reading about end-of-life for cats and the telltale head drop. I catalogued all the medicines, treatments and techniques I had available to try on her, and couldn't bring myself to subject her to any of them. It was just enough.

I've never actually had to euthanize a pet before, and the thing I hadn't really figured out was that if the purpose of euthanasia is to prevent a pet from suffering, what that means is, you have to make the decision to euthanize before the pet is clearly suffering, in other words, when the pet still seems to be stable and could be "OK" for some indefinite longer time. I'll never know whether she might have been "OK" through Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, but it was very clear she wasn't going to get any better thereafter, and that meant there wasn't anything left to wait for. Our gift to her was peace, and an end to her disease. At the emergency vet, she nuzzled into the crook of my arm and just seemed so, so tired. It was hard to let her go, but she told us it was time.

Jiji lived nearly nineteen years. Her vet's records (dating back before I adopted her) showed she was born in 1988. She was older than my high school diploma. :) No one I know had ever even heard of a nineteen-year-old cat, much less one so companionable in her eighteenth year, much less one who had been indoor-outdoor for the seventeen years before she came to me! Vets were impressed that she made it seventeen full years before showing any signs of CRF, and that she lasted another full year after the disease emerged (the cat's body compensates so well that by the time symptoms become visible, the kidneys are already 75-80% gone). She was a wonderful cat and a perfect companion. I was so lucky to have her for the year that I did.

Rest in peace, Jiji, wherever you are. I love you.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Unisex baby hell

This is how bad it is. As I was shopping for friends' baby shower this weekend, I mentally applauded them for refusing to know in advance the sex of their baby, especially when I discovered how unbelievably difficult it is to find unisex baby clothes. No matter how many times you tell the relatives you prefer unisex, I thought, they're going to get stereotypically gendered stuff out of desperation because there's nothing else here.

It turns out it's worse than that. These same friends had a similarly-situated expectant friend or relative. Her family decided on their own that it would be a boy, and bought it blue boys' clothes anyway. Hmm... but I'm not sure what it proves that when the baby turned out to be a girl, they decided that the boys' clothes couldn't be used and now they're packed away, waiting for someone else in the family to have a boy. If you decide that your "unisex" girl baby "can't" wear "boys' blue"...?

I ended up going empty-handed to the shower because I hated the only unisex I could find and I wanted to take the time to shop better. Today it's looking like the entire mission is a fool's errand. Witness: >
Apparel & Accessories >
Kids & Baby >
Infant & Toddler >
* Girls
* Boys
* Shoes
Girls, boys, shoes? Surely....
Search >
Infant & Toddler >
"Unisex" >
* "Gerber" Onesie with Matching Cap and Booties (Unisex)
Choose a color:
* Pink
* Blue
I give up. I guess the only way to avoid "gendering" a baby is to let it go naked.

Oh, wait. Hmm. Dammit.

Update: I'm not alone! Rigid lines between boys' things and girls' things removes options

Monday, December 04, 2006

Women's Big Break/LPGA Q School final report

Final standings of Big Break contestants competing at LPGA Q School 2006:

Top 15, earning exempt status:
T10 Sarah Lynn Johnson  BB6  T16  72-73-72-71-70  358  -2
Next 35 and ties, earning non-exempt (conditional) status:
 1  Jeanne Cho          BBV  T19  71-72-72-74-71  360   E
27 Kristina Tucker BBV T50 73-76-71-73-73 366 +6
36 Becky Lucidi BBV T50 77-77-67-72-75 368 +8
37 Ashley Prange BBV T50 69-76-73-75-75 368 +8
Failed to advance to final round:
Ashley Gomes            BB6  CUT  78-76-76-75     305  +17
Also, Big Breakers who failed to advance at Florida Sectional Q School:
Julie Wells             BBV  CUT  80-74           154  +10
Bridget Dwyer BB6 CUT 76-79 155 +11
Dana Lacey BBV CUT 80-76 156 +12
Annie Mallory BB6 DQ 86 86 +14
Nota bene: Kristy McPherson, BB6, already qualified for 2006 exempt status as one of the top 5 finishers on the FUTURES Tour money list.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Women's Big Break/LPGA Q School report

Sort of a "where are they now?" thing.

Big Break contestants competing in LPGA Q School 2006, after 4 rounds:
Sarah Lynn Johnson  BB6  T16  72-73-72-71  288    E
Jeanne Cho BBV T19 71-72-72-74 289 +1
Becky Lucidi BBV T50 77-77-67-72 293 +5
Kristina Tucker BBV T50 73-76-71-73 293 +5
Ashley Prange BBV T50 69-76-73-75 293 +5
Ashley Gomes BB6 CUT 78-76-76-75 305 +17
Final round tomorrow! Exempt cards for the top 15 finishers, non-exempt status for the next 35.

Also, Big Breakers who failed to advance at Florida Sectional Q School:
Julie Wells         BBV  CUT  80-74        154  +10
Bridget Dwyer BB6 CUT 76-79 155 +11
Dana Lacey BBV CUT 80-76 156 +12
Annie Mallory BB6 DQ 86 86 +14
Nota bene: Kristy McPherson, BB6, already qualified for 2006 exempt status as one of the top 5 finishers on the FUTURES Tour money list.

Several other BB competitors have retired from competition, but I'm not sure what's happened to all of them. So far none have earned status on the LPGA. No one from BBIII is represented on the FUTURES Tour 2006 Money List at all and none played in any of the Q School tournaments this year.

Friday, December 01, 2006

w1b a11y, Day 3 and wrapup

A smaller crowd today, and a shorter session.

We got a demo from the blind Ph.D. Google guy of his audio desktop, which is a collection of scripts that run the gamut from API-based extensibility of sites to old-school screen-scraping. Basically, he said, out of necessity, he started doing the stuff Greasemonkey does now, about five years before Greasemonkey started doing it. He showed how direct access to content is vastly superior to parsing through a visually-oriented site using a browser rendered by a screenreader, and there's no doubt to me that he's right about that. The problem, for now, is that he has such a poweruser setup that it really isn't useful to blind folks who aren't Ph.D.s at Google.

After the coffee break, we had a free-for-all session. Several of the attendees had websites that we tested, on the big screen, using the Window-Eyes screenreader. This was useful on several levels. First, coming on the heels of the audio desktop demo, it was further proof that direct content beats the clunky screenreader, hands down, and the poor Window-Eyes vendor's protestations didn't help his case any. It's not that his screenreader is such an awful screenreader, as screenreaders go; it's that screenreaders seem like totally the wrong paradigm. I can't help but think of the difference between Signing Exact English and ASL.

The website testing was a bit of déjà vu for me. One after another, websites created by really passionate people, who believed they had really rigorously followed accessibility standards, flunked out when tested with a real live screenreader. Heck, even one of the organizers of the conference, who does these kinds of standards for a living, was surprised by some of the screenreader's behaviors. The same thing happened to me when I, a really passionate person who believed I had really rigorously followed accessibility standards, took my web app to a beta test with a real live blind user and real live JAWS.

I had a lightbulb moment during today's testing session. It isn't just that the accessibility standards are out-of-date, though they are. We are really dealing with two totally different issues, both of which have their analogues in the sighted web. There's standards-based accessibility, the traditional kind, and then there's accessible usability. If you think about the early web, it's clear that these were different things for the sighted world, too, and that one lagged behind the other.

Standards are pretty concrete. Well, OK, less so these days, but still. The problem is, nobody follows them, and the screenreaders know that nobody follows them, so the screenreaders have no choice but to adopt workarounds, which break the standards. (Déjà vu again? Isn't this what some of the early (sighted) browser wars were about?)

But beyond that, standards are not enough. Just like in the sighted web, a perfectly standards-compliant site may be incomprehensible to users; in the case of accessibility, may be incomprehensible to users with screenreaders. Poor organization, badly-designed widgets, counter-intuitive behaviors are not usable. And if a site isn't usable, it isn't accessible, no matter how "compliant" it is.

I doubt very much that I'm the first person to think of accessible usability. It sounds like some of the other (sighted) attendees at this week's conference figured out something along these lines themselves. Screenreader users probably thought of it a long, long time ago.

The problem is, like sighted usability, accessible usability is bound to be much more abstract, less understood, more widely variable among users, and generally debatable for years to come.

And that's even before we attack the paradigm.

This stuff is hard.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

w1b a11y, Day 2

Well, the most important thing I did this morning was spill coffee on the Ph.D. blind research scientist from Google. You may safely assume that this wasn't how I planned our meeting to go.

After lunch I found a moment to grovel for forgiveness and he was most gracious, so I may survive the rest of the conference.

My appearance as a panelist was fine, uneventful, and thankfully occurred before the coffee incident. We were supposed to be speaking about accessibility management, which is supremely ironic considering that I'm not a manager and that I engaged in legendary power struggles with my previous manager, often about accessibility.

Anyway, I was delighted to be able to work in my counter to yesterday's web zealots:

The question of "how to be accessible" is not difficult. We all already know how to be accessible. It's very simple. Design for Lynx, with no presentation. Use plaintext, semantic tags, maybe an
. Done.


The real question is, newer and richer web technologies are always out there, doing that "emerging" thing that they do. We want to learn them, use them, maybe even help create them. Our users want them. Our bosses want us to provide them to our users. "Don't do that" isn't a strategy, for many reasons. And so the reason we're all here is to figure out how to render more interesting things than plaintext, more interestingly, while remaining accessible.

I was delighted that this point went over more or less well with the group.

It was supported by a back-reference to one of yesterday's presenters, the guy from IBM/W3C who talked about how WCAG 2.0 is moving toward technology-independence; rather than banning certain things (like, helpfully, all of Javascript or all tables), the emphasis is on guidelines to providing accessible content with all technologies.

Today's presenters have been wonderfully concrete: a guy from Adobe and a guy from Yahoo!, both describing actual techniques and strategies for actual web development. Exactly what I'm looking for. Plus, the one from Yahoo! used "a11y" in his slides. Rock on!

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

w1b a11y, Day 1

This week I'm attending an invite-only conference on web accessibility. It's sponsored by a UW center, but I still had to apply to get in. I was very pleased to be selected and tomorrow I'm going to be a panelist!

This event is formatted like a workshop/working group, rather than a lecture series (I was going to say "than a conference", but conferring is exactly what we're doing). The purpose of the conference, and the topic of the questions when I applied, involved accessibility for emerging web technologies, rich media, etc.

Our group discussions got off to, in my opinion, a rocky start. Over a "working lunch" (our host explained that the NSF won't pay for meals unless they are "working"), I ended up at a table with two good folks who I can only describe as web religious zealots. I think in my past I've been this kind of zealot, and wow, I must have been incredibly annoying. I deserve to be stuck at a table with people like this occasionally. I have one in my working group, and our table picked up one from another group, and they fed off of each other.

Anyway, he and the other zealot very quickly concluded that the solution to accessibility of rich content is that nobody needs rich content anyway, and if we just stick with the old proven web standards then accessibility is no problem.

Fortunately, the majority of us here don't feel that way, that being why we're here. The discussions the rest of the day were much more productive. Our afternoon presentation covered WCAG 2.0, which I like the sound of even if A List Apart doesn't.

Let me also say the food at Hotel Ändra is superb, even better than the food at Microsoft (which was good). This is my second conference this year, but I haven't managed to get out of western Washington yet. Working on it.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Dear Santa....

Things I don't want this year:
  • Bearistas. I have more than enough. :)
  • Stuffed animals. Ditto.
  • LEGOs.
Relatively inexpensive things I might enjoy:
  • Amazon Wish List items.
    • Amazon gift certificate would work well, since I get free shipping.
  • Junonia gift certificate so I can get PJs.
  • Wine glasses (6) and water goblets (12) in Javit Rain pattern from
Thanks, Santa!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Slovanská epopej Alfonse Muchy

I'm not really a fan of art for art's sake, but I can get pulled into art by a great story. I visited the Mucha Museum in Prague last year kind of just for something to do that day, not because I knew anything about Mucha or felt particularly strongly about art nouveau or anything. So I guess it is not too surprising that among all the advertising posters and the stylized beautiful women, I fell in love with Mucha's "patriotic" period and the Slav Epic.

Of course, these are the works that are hardest to find prints of, books with, or even very much information about. I couldn't get to the museum where the Slav Epic is housed (several hours outside of Prague, v Moravském Krumlově), so I had hoped to see all of the paintings online when I got home, but couldn't find any web galleries of them anywhere!

Today I find that there's a fantastic little site with information about the Slav Epic, and a gallery. I'm also excited, I think, to learn that the Slav Epic is moving back to Prague where it can be seen and appreciated. There's some controversy about the architecture and about whether the new exhibit will be a cheesy tourist trap, but I have trouble imagining the cheesy tourists really flocking to learn about the heart of the Slavic past, especially if they can have their fill of advertising posters at the gift shop right off Na Příkopě.

Still can't find much online about Mucha's Masonic art, pointers welcome. :)

Monday, November 20, 2006

Smith College Fall Social

There are a lot of things about Smith College that make me feel like I'm in over my head. My super-studious first year roommate was one. Social events with Seattle-area alumnae are another.

So I got this invitation to something called a Smith College Fall Social Event. This is anxiety-inducing on so many levels that it practically requires a war plan.

Part 1: the look

What to wear to a Smith College Fall Social Event? In Eastern Star I make it a point to wear a skirt or dress to almost everything. (What I'm trying to convey by doing this is a topic for another post, possibly on another blog.) In any case, Smith feels like exactly the opposite. I want to look successful (trousers and shaped jacket), dressy (no jeans), yet fun (loud orange print top).

I have a bit of time between work and the event, and Madison Park is nearby, so I decide to stop in the Aveda store at U Village to redeem a free sample card (for unrelated hand cream). In the throes of Smith College inadequacy, I decide to check out tinted moisturizer, which is—gasp—makeup, though only just barely. It looks pretty good, though flat, so I try a cream blush. No escaping it now, I'm wearing makeup. It looks great. I feel great. I blame Carmindy.

(It occurs to me later that trying brand-new cosmetics half an hour before a big event is probably not the best idea; fortunately, I don't suffer any surprise allergic reactions this time.)

Part 2: the location

I've been doing a fair amount of work as an admissions representative this year, so my co-workers ask whether this social is being held at my house. Horrors! No way! This is at the home of a 1953 alumna who is also a member of the Board of Trustees. It's in Madison Park, near Broadmoor. Probably some mansion, I say, chuckling. No, I'm kidding, but I'm sure it's a nice place.

OK, it's totally at a mansion.

Not just a mansion, either, but a vaulted concrete creation more like a modern art museum (dropped in the middle of a neighborhood full of mansions). I feel like Fraulein Maria arriving at the Von Trapp house with her battered straw hat and guitar, singing "I Have Confidence" as I drive up but finishing on "oh, help," as I reach the front gate.

Our hostess is petite, dressed in a black ruffled tuxedo shirt and vibrant purple print velvet pants. She looks like one of her own art acquisitions. We hear that she frequently leads her guests on guided art tours, but the crowd's too big this time so we have to explore the pieces on our own.

The entire roof of the house seems to be vaulted glass, and there's at least one elevator. The upstairs bedrooms have views of both the Evergreen Point (520) Floating Bridge and the Lacey V. Murrow (I-90) Floating Bridgeplex (making "panoramic" redundant).

Part 3: the program

Is this one of those parties where you arrive on time, or fashionably late? My Eastern Star training has me suspecting "a program," i.e., at least perhaps a formal greeting by the hostess or a short talk, if not a full agenda. I decide to get there on time. This works excellently for scoring a parking space in the neighborhood, but there does not turn out to be a program. It really is a Fall Social Event and the only item on the agenda is mingling.

Part 4: the generations

One of the reasons I stress out about Smith College social events is that I'm so awkward around my Smith peers. Two problems: one, hardly anybody from the late 1980s/early 1990s era ever attends these things, and two, I find 1990s alumnae difficult to talk to. I'm not sure why, but we wade through the obligatory small talk about our career/family choices, we commiserate about the dining room consolidations, and then things dead-end in the vicinity of the new Campus Center. I wonder if it's because you never know what's going to offend a 1990s Smithie (but you know something will)? Plus, the existence of alumnae after about 1995 makes me feel really, really old (hi Eszter!).

Once it becomes clear that this really is a purely social event, at which mingling is expected, I decide to take some advice from noted anthropologist Rick Steves: choose to be an extrovert; it's the only way you'll have any fun. I dive in. I start barging into small circles of alumnae I don't know.

I get great news from the official Alumnae Admissions Coordinators (who are a lot of fun in spite of being 1990s like me): they've interviewed at least two, possibly three, of my recruits from the south end. Holy cow, my outreach program is working! I express my desire to singlehandedly drain the financial aid pool dry and they agree.

I'm talking to another relatively younger alumna (1980s, I think, who is decidedly introverted and inching her way to the door), when a stately lady from the class of 1943 (clearly also operating on the Rick Steves plan) barges into our small circle and starts up a conversation. My Eastern Star background kicks in and I adore her immediately. We all have a million questions for each other about what Smith was like, and life was like, in our respective eras. It occurs to me that perhaps we 1990s don't find each other as interesting because we aren't different enough and we don't have enough questions to ask.

Later I barge in on some other alumnae, cousins from the late 1940s and early 1950s who actually attended Smith from Seattle, not a very common occurrence. One majored in chemistry! This is why Smith women are so inspiring. Plus, they think I'm "young".

Part 5: the cuisine

Wine and hors d'oeuvres are being passed around on trays by catering staff. Somehow, in my circle-hopping, I manage to be standing with people who all already have wine every time the wine comes around, so I never get offered any. Note for next time: get wine early. (This facilitates the Rick Steves plan, too.)

Tasty treats include tuna tartare (remarkably like Hawaiʻian poke and equally delicious), fingerling potatoes with truffle salt, minced pork on a crisp bruschetta-ish bread, and quince pastries with whipped cream.

After more than an hour of mingling, the formal living/dining room has cleared out and we who remain hypothesize that the party is dying down. I wander toward the door and discover a packed corridor leading to what turns out to be a palatial kitchen overlooking a "casual" dining area for six and a reading/conversation area with (yet another) fireplace. The caterers are working madly at the center island, the footprint of which is larger than many rooms in my house.

Here's where I discover les petites madeleines chocolates, fresh-baked and devoured by alumnae pretty much as soon as a batch emerges from the ovens.

Part 6: the reunions

Around the kitchen, I discover a couple of people I actually know: an early 1990s former neighbor, who looks exactly the same (i.e., gorgeous) as our Smith days; and a real live 1993, whom I sang with in choir and who, it turns out, also goes to St. Mark's (as do all good upper-crust Seattleites, I suspect). The former neighbor used to work for Did you know Maria? we ask, jokingly, referring to the newly-reelected Senator Cantwell, a Reallionaire. "Actually, yeah." I have got to be more careful what I joke about. The choirmate and I exchange email addresses and I get to relate my gossip about the Amherst Regional High School West Side Story debacle.

My boss, a Barnard alumna, asked me to look for a Smithie grad-school friend of hers and I find my target at the "casual" dining table. She works for the city, and we end up deep in conversation about North Highline annexation.

This is one of the best things about being a Smithie: at some random Fall Social Event, one can find someone else who knows the Growth Management Act in detail and is passionate about it (who accurately guesses my lot size from its location) and can meaningfully work through issues of governance, zoning and Detached Accessory Dwelling Units while sipping wine and nibbling tuna tartare in an art gallery mansion.

Can't wait for the next one.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Healthy" processed foods: not so much

New York Times: The Package May Say Healthy, but This Grocer Begs to Differ

Hannafords' ratings expose that most processed foods labelled as "healthy" are misleading at best. I'm surprised the grocers haven't been sued or blacklisted.

I don't think we collectively care, unfortunately.
[S]everal customers said they had heard about Guiding Stars in radio advertisements or seen it in the store, but that it had not influenced their purchasing. Several shoppers said they did not see the point.

"I buy whatever it is on my list," said Karen Wilson, 43. "If my kids want Cheerios, I buy them Cheerios and don't look at the stars."
Wow, quality nutrition and quality parenting there.
LiseAnne Deoul, 34, said she liked the idea of Guiding Stars even though the system had not helped her narrow her choices during a quick stop last week to buy pasta.

"All of it was the same," she said. "They all had two stars."
It does not occur to people that this tells you something useful about pasta?

This is why dishonest food labeling works, and why it'll continue to work regardless of what the stores may do.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tales from the road

Waimānalo Beach: sunriseI keep a travel blog, lately updated with tales from my family vacation to Waimānalo Beach on O'ahu.

I also uploaded zillions of photos to Flickr.

Just before we left, I picked up a fabulous little gadget, the Sony GPS-CS1 to geotag photos. It worked really well and Flickr made a cool map out of the results.

We stayed at the Sea Breeze Beach House, which I highly recommend to all!!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Dear Santa....

Dear Santa,

I would really like an old fashioned silver coffee and tea service to match my family heirloom silver, and I happened to notice that the sets at Replacements, Ltd. cost less than half of what they used to.

PTSWKT 7-Piece Plated Tea Set (w/ Waste, Ktt

would be wonderfully extravagant. Even though it says it is not available, the nice folks at say they would gladly combine their PTSWK + PWTL items to create this set, you just have to let them know.


PTSWT 6-Piece Plated Tea Set (Waste & Tray)

would really be quite sufficient.

If you and your elves could bring them to me someday, I promise to cherish them always and polish them occasionally.

Hope you are enjoying your vacation.

love, me

patterns & practices summit pays off right away

p&p seemed pretty advanced, and I was worried that it would be too far over my head. I even tried to back out at the last minute.

I must say it was well worth it, in terms of entertainment value, to step out of the conference room at our midmorning break, breeze by a long line for the men's room, and stroll right into a vast and completely empty women's room.

Guess I'm not the only devgrrrl who wasn't sure she belonged here.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Politics vs. Lodge: a losing battle?

Those of us who find conservative politics to be repugnant take comfort in the notion that our Chapters and Lodges are meant to be neutral territory, where we can choose to experience what's good in people whether we agree with them on such issues or not.

This could be self-delusion, in many ways.

Perhaps our Orders aren't neutral ground at all, but rather have been overtaken and are dominated by backward thinking, which in turn shapes and governs our institutions and their priorities and directions. (That would explain quite a few things.)

Perhaps it is folly to try to compartmentalize away aspects of ourselves that are part of our passion or our intellect (well, some of us choose to involve our intellects) or our daily lives outside of our Orders, and thus it is no surprise that we do such a poor job at it.

Perhaps a Sister or Brother's conservative views are so repugnant that we shouldn't fraternize with them.

Perhaps in our silence, we are not only naïve, but complicit.

Perhaps our Orders don't do anything worthwhile enough to justify the effort.

In our Lodge-as-neutral-territory worldview, the true and proper fraternal response to a conservative email-bomb is generous use of the Delete key. The problem is, by doing so we never uncover the issues and can never learn the answers to any of the above questions.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Feline Chronic Renal Failure

Back in January, I went looking for an older kitty to adopt and found this sweet 15-year-old feline offered by loving owners who felt she would appreciate a quieter retirement home than they could offer.

The whole quiet retirement home thing went a bit awry when I got hit by a car three days later. My bewildered girl adjusted as well as could be expected to the parade of caregivers and piles of orthopedic supplies in her new home. She even warmed up to me once I got rid of the scary crutches three months later.

Nowadays my stately old girl, rechristened Jiji, follows me around and wants to cuddle more than I expected, but still tolerates my busy work and activity schedules fairly well.

We visited her longtime veterinary clinic this week and confirmed that she has chronic renal failure (CRF), which is very common in cats her age. Her previous owners had described the classic symptoms—drinking lots of water and urinating frequently—but I'm not sure how much they knew about her disease. It is progressive and will eventually be terminal.

The good news is, her bloodwork this week isn't any worse than it was last November. Kidney function is diminished, but the damage isn't progressing. We have no way of knowing how long she's already been on this "plateau", but her life expectancy might still reasonably be measured in years, and that's encouraging. I've found websites dedicated to cats who have survived six to eight years on extremely aggressive treatments that I already know we won't try.

I've switched her to k/d (low protein, low phosphorus), which she seems to love, and I'll start her on Pepcid (for stomach upset) and probably subcutaneous fluids (for dehydration). Howevermany years of retirement she may have left in front of her, I'll make sure they are peaceful, cozy and pampered.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Stealth evangelism on the History Channel International

I sent a "shame on you" to History Channel International, owned by A&E, for the misleading marketing blitz surrounding their debut of "Drive Thru History". Apparently I'm not the only one who got taken in by the ads, which seemed to suggest that they would be using CGI overlays to show what historical sites and buildings would have looked like in their day. It's not that that didn't happen, though it didn't. It turns out the bait and switch was of a much different sort.

I have to say, I didn't hate the 2.5 episodes I watched on DVR. The host was a little much, but I didn't hate him either, just wanted him to dial it back a bit. I guess I'm not sharp enough on my ancient history to catch all the small inaccuracies that the folks on the reader boards are cranky about.

At first, I thought it was pretty cool that the show took a side trip to a (they said) lesser-known monument in Rome, the Arch of Titus, which commemorates the sack of Jerusalem. Then the show got awfully rhapsodic about the history of the Jews and the glories of their temple. OK, I kind of enjoyed getting such a colorful picture of the importance of the temple and how emotionally devastating its loss must have been for the Jews. But it seemed like we were pretty far afield from Rome at that point. And, hmm. Here's what the show had to say about the Dome of the Rock, one of the holiest sites in Islam:
Today, a Muslim mosque, along with another Muslim holy site called the Dome of the Rock, sits on top of the old temple ruins, resulting in Jerusalem becoming a constant hotbed of religious turmoil, warring factions and struggle.
Bwah? Resulting in? Did they just say that all Middle East violence is a building's fault? A Muslim building's fault? But wait, there's more.
In this highly charged climate, some Palestinians and other Muslims have suggested that the Jewish temple was a myth, a political fabrication to give Jews a legitimate claim to the Holy Land. It would appear, however, that the temple and its treasures were as real as the carvings on the Arch of Titus back in Rome. And while there are no easy answers to the seemingly endless conflict, one thing is certain: there can be no just outcome by rewriting history.
Huh? Isn't this a show about Rome? Did we just do a 20-minute segment on an obscure Roman arch just to prove that the Jewish temple really existed and to put the Palestinians on notice?

Well, I figured maybe I was overreacting. And the rest of the show was quite entertaining and not particularly weird. So I watched the next one, which was mostly about Nero and particularly the great fire, which the show pretty strongly indicates (complete with a stay-tuned cliffhanger) was set intentionally by Nero so that he could blame it on Christians. Then, after a rather detailed digression about the persecution of Christians, including Saints Peter and Paul, we get this:
Christian tradition holds that, except for John, all of Jesus' apostles were executed for their faith. For many Christians, this is a strong argument for the truth of their claims. The apostles, because they were eyewitnesses, knew for certain whether Jesus' resurrection was true or false. This set them apart. History is full of people willing to die for what they believed, but it's difficult to find any sane person who will give their life for a cause they know to be fraudulent. Those who defend the Christian faith ask this question: how likely was it that a man would choose torture and death if all he had to do was simply deny a myth?

The second half of the show visits the Pantheon, and gives lots of illustration and detail about its architecture and engineering, which is way cool, and also a perfectly reasonable overview of the Roman and Greek, well, pantheon. In comparing the Pantheon's dome to other domed structures, we get another mention of the Dome of the Rock, with a conspicuous reminder that it "sits over the site of the former Jewish temple in Jerusalem". They digress again about the persecution of Christians for refusing to worship Cæsar. And then, the big finish: a celebration of how the Pantheon was later consecrated as a Christian church.
And, in the course of a few centuries, Christianity had overtaken the Roman Empire, establishing itself as a fundamental foundation of Western civilization. This upheaval has done nothing less than shape our world as we know it today. The architectural marvel that once stood for the glory of the Roman gods now stands as a monument to their insignificance, and the triumph of a Galilean carpenter who professed himself to be God.

I guess I'm a slow learner, though, because I coasted through the digression into the Acts of the Apostles from the Oracle at Delphi in the third episode. It wasn't until halfway through, after they used the Olympic Games as a hook to show a lengthy quotation (with dramatic reading and graphics) from I Corinthians about the Christian "crown that will last forever" that it occurred to me to Google this show and try to figure out WTF was going on.

Well, well, well.

Turns out Drive Thru History was produced by ColdWater Media, an evangelical studio. DTH's editor and host, Dave Stotts, is described as a seminary student with twelve years' experience in "Christian media production". Christian bookstores stock the DVD sets, and it originally ran on the Trinity Broadcasting Network in June before being picked up and run as-is on History International.

Wow. Let me emphasize again that this show was marketed as if it were neutral, secular, scientific and fact-based programming. Some critics on the HCI message boards are also pretty upset about what they say are historical inaccuracies. The small debatable stuff doesn't bother me nearly as much as the Trojan Horse (pun intended): a deliberate framing and interpretation of history to emphasize Christian supremacy, Christianity as Truth, the inevitability of the rise of Christian dominance. Dismissing and denigrating Muslims bothered me, and they haven't even gotten to Turkey yet. And then, identifying Christianity as "a fundamental foundation of Western civilization" (I'm not sure why they bothered to say "a", but they did, I checked) can really only have one purpose: the fundamentalists' favorite, the claim that America is a "Christian nation" founded on "Christian principles". That's provably false, but provable falsehoods never stopped these people before.

Oh, look. Here's what Focus on the Family has to say about an upcoming episode: "Then it's on to Washington, D.C. to see how Greek, Roman and Christian influences shaped the foundation of America."

I don't dispute the History Channel's "right" to evangelize if that's what they really want to do, but stealth evangelism is creepy and uncool.

If you should happen to also be disturbed by this, you could send feedback to HCI/A&E via their contact page and let them know that you'd like their TBN evangelism content to be properly identified as such in their ad campaigns. Alternately, if you love this show and want to see lots more like it, it'd be swell if you'd contact them and ask them to identify it prominently in their ads so you'll know when to watch it....

In the meantime, History Channel International, which I added to my satellite "favorites" just because I thought this show looked cool, is back off of the list. I'll be viewing the other A&E networks warily as well. Back to Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" and "Mythbusters", which haven't let me down yet.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fat in Paradise

Several weeks ago now, I saw a special on TLC set at the Freedom Paradise "size-friendly" resort. It seemed to be some sort of "fat acceptance" workshop or retreat, not just vacations. Interesting, because I thought the FA movement was kinda over in the 1990s, but there it was on everybody's favorite cable lifestyle channel.

The insight that I had while watching the show was that there are (potentially) two totally different levels of FA.

One is more like a fat-pride movement. Fat is fabulous. Fat people shouldn't ever change. This leads to some predictable stuff that I think is lame (fat isn't my fault, weight loss is impossible), delusional (lots of fat people eat right and exercise vigorously and are still fat), and/or dangerous (fat is a safe and healthy lifestyle choice). It can get downright weird (everyone should find fat attractive and sexy). Emphasis on discrimination. Everything would be OK if only the MSM would show fat in a positive light. Fat celebrities who lose weight viewed as turncoats. Not much left of this one these days. I think it pretty much lost the war with science.

Someone on the TLC show said something about how nice it was, as a fat person at a fat resort, to be able to go back to the buffet again and again without anyone being judgmental. That's old-school FA for me in a nutshell. Delusions and coverups notwithstanding, it's pretty much Gluttony Acceptance, and that's just sad.

On the other hand, I don't think it's helpful to vilify fat people, to moo at them out of passing cars, or for department stores to cram the fat women's clothing section in a dark corner of the basement and fill it with polyester and muumuus. Fat is so locked up with self-esteem and self-worth that ironically, it's necessary to think well of yourself in order to sustain the motivation and discipline needed to lose the weight!

It's a dilemma and I don't really know whether it's possible to balance meeting fat people's basic needs against trying not to enable fat and make it so comfortable that it really does become yet another alternative lifestyle. I like the idea that fat people can have a normal and relaxed vacation on a beautiful beach with respectful staff and sturdy beds and chairs. On the other hand, being pinched in an airline seat serves as a helpful reminder that my size is not normal and what I'm doing is not OK in the long term. It encourages me to straighten up and fly right, as it were.

I figure regardless of what should or should not be, the marketing niche will win out and fat will be accommodated because fat money is worth just as much as the skinny kind (and there's increasingly more of it). And yet, since the TLC show was filmed, Freedom Paradise has abandoned their size-friendly theme and don't market themselves as such any more. I don't know if that means there isn't support for the niche, or they need to partner with a size-friendly airline to make it work. Maybe it means that all resorts catering to Americans are becoming size-friendly anyway and it isn't a niche any more!

Testing Blogger tags

Here we are testing whether I can really get categories working in Blogger.

Yet another reason to love the mainline

If I believed in a God, I'd wonder this week if s/he were trying to tell me something.

CNN: Woman elected to lead American Episcopalians

NY Times: Woman Is Named Episcopal Leader (very cool photo)

(Take that, Diocese of Fort Worth.)

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mainline Protestantism... or....

Rabbi Shmuley takes the dVC as a starting point and takes it to another, more interesting place.

A More Human Jesus?

He summarizes, practically verbatim, stuff I've said about why the dVC (and Last Temptation) theology is so appealing to me.

I don't think there's any power in God becoming human if God does not actually become human. I found it frustrating that Christians don't seem to understand or care about that point, but Rabbi Shmuley offers a really great explanation as to why that may be. I think mainliners are less likely to fall victim to the super-hero mentality, which I find pretty childish; thus, I find yet another reason to feel satisfied with being mainline.

But, it's worthy of note that many of the things I find appealing about urban Episcopalianism can also be found in certain branches of Judaism. It doesn't really matter which one(s), if any, I choose to follow as a personal path. That's too much like shopping anyway. What's more broadly important is the social benefits a positive, progressive faith community can bring. There's lots of room in that definition for lots of different personal paths to exist, co-exist and co-operate.

Sunday, June 18, 2006


I really like this take on it (though not the headline).

Seattle Times: Debunking "The Code"

I'm not normally a fan of SPU's theology and politics, but their president writes this in his article:
Here's the problem. We have trouble in our time distinguishing between fact and fiction. Christians, informed by good scholarship, consider the "facts" of the novel to be ludicrous, dangerous if taken seriously, and pure fiction. On the other hand, Brown and those outside the Christian tradition may consider our whole story nothing but fiction. And so how do we have meaningful discussion between fiction and fiction? If that is really what we are talking about, who would care?
Wow, cool. A Christian apologetic that acknowledges postmodernism instead of assaulting it, and invites non-Christians into the debate instead of shunning them.

Yes, I actually do believe it's a fight between fiction and fiction. So why care? Because which fiction our mainstream readers prefer tells us something about where our society is headed, and who's defending which fiction and why tells us something about how they're trying to influence that direction.

It's suspicious that Dan Brown so vigorously denies having an agenda and that the book's defenders try so hard to pass it off as innocent entertainment.

I think Dan Brown believes, like many idealistic philosophers before him, that stripping power from authoritarian structures and returning it to the people will make theology and society better. The problem is, he's only half right. If he succeeds in undermining respect for traditional institutions, populism isn't going to restore freedom of thought, gender equity or the sacred feminine (nor eradicate corruption and greed!). It's just going to drive mainstream pulp fiction readers into the feel-good rock-band megachurches or out of church entirely.

And it's working. See also Bowling Alone. Expect more of the same when he secularizes (sort of) this process in The Solomon Key...?

I guess that's why I favor mainline Protestantism... it's the right mix of an organized, but not oppressive, institutional structure to get things done, and a progressive theology to pick the right things to try to get done.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Fishy about Zarqawi

I'm sure I'm not the first or only person to notice this, but at least I don't think I'm late to the party this time.

On June 9, the day after the airstrike, Army Maj. Gen. William Caldwell said this on CNN:

The first people on the scene were the Iraqi police. They had found him and put him into some kind of gurney/stretcher kind of thing, and then American coalition forces arrived immediately thereafter on-site. They immediately went to the person in the stretcher, were able to start identifying by some distinguishing marks on his body. They had some kind of visual facial recognition.

According to the person on the ground, Zarqawi attempted to, sort of, turn away off the stretcher. Everybody resecured him back onto the stretcher, but he died almost immediately thereafter from the wounds he'd received from this airstrike.

[CNN transcript, emphasis added]

You can't tell by reading a transcript, but I heard the excerpt several times on the radio, and the way he says that last bit is really strange. It sounds to me like he initially meant to end the sentence ("died almost immediately thereafter") and then there's a slight pause and he tacks on the end bit ("from the wounds...") as an afterthought.

The very first time I heard it I thought the whole thing sounded fishy. Not acknowledging until Day 2 that Zarqawi was found alive, and then doing so in an odd and strained manner, by someone who felt the need to disclaim specifically that Zarqawi died of airstrike injuries. As opposed to what, and why make the disclaimer so awkwardly and so early?

Or, to look at it another way, why sound so certain about his cause of death before the autopsy is performed? We don't know that the villagers of Hibhib didn't come in and finish the job before Americans arrived; we don't know that he didn't have a cyanide tooth.

Now there are claims bubbling up about whether Zarqawi was beaten by the Americans when they arrived (specifically, struck with a rifle butt) and the unsurprising counterclaims by Gen. Caldwell and others that such accusations are "baloney" and "propaganda". I almost think those are a noisy distraction from what still seems unusual about the case.

The autopsy report today describes Zarqawi's cause of death as crushing internal injuries, which is perfectly reasonable and makes sense given that two 500-ton bombs were dropped on him. And yet, one of the Army spokesmen (I'm not sure if it was Gen. Caldwell or medical officer Steve Jones or someone else) said something in the report about how therefore, it is understandable that Zarqawi would have no outward signs of serious injury even while his lungs and other organs were fatally damaged. Medically, I suppose that's plausible, but once again I hadn't heard anybody questioning Zarqawi's outward appearance until the Army brought it up. So why bring it up? What do they think they're pre-empting? What other causes of a pristine outward appearance are there that the Army really doesn't want us to think of or ask about?

There are quite a few possibilities, not just ominous conspiratorial ones. I think the most likely would be:
  • Perhaps the Iraqi police did something to Zarqawi before the Americans arrived on-scene, which would be a political disaster regardless of whether Iraqis or Americans end up being blamed for it.
  • Perhaps the Army is so paranoid about media coverage that they will tend to make this worse for themselves by trying to pre-emptively CYA against fanciful things no one else had even thought of yet, leading everyone to wonder why they thought of them.
I figure the MSM will be distracted by the pedestrian "beating" arguments or else will ignore the whole thing, while the blogosphere will run off on a hundred different loony conspiracy theories, so perhaps we'll never really know.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Blogwagon report: Stole both elections?

I assume I'm jumping on a pretty big blogwagon here, but I just don't see how I could not do it.

Rolling Stone: Was the 2004 election stolen?

I was just listening this morning to NPR's "To the Point" on which progressives were arguing about what's wrong with the Democratic Party, why the people don't seem to be on board with their candidates or their messages, and what they need to do to change.

But what if there isn't anything wrong with the Democratic Party from an electability standpoint and never was?

What if there was never anything wrong with Al Gore or John Kerry? What if the American people liked both of them perfectly well enough?

Seriously, what if we really never elected W., only inaugurated him twice?

Is "To the Point" missing the point?

On the one hand I'd have a lot more hope and optimism about Americans as a people.

On the other hand, unless this Rolling Stone article sparks a massive investigation, the MSM dogpile on the story, and Congress is forced to enact a flood of real new reforms, I don't see a fix in sight. When you don't like the way an elected elections official criminally rigs elections, how exactly do you go about electing someone else?

It doesn't bode well for the November 2006 elections, that's for sure.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Das Gläserngürteltier

They've built a spectacular new Hauptbahnhof in Berlin. As a non-local, I'm not required to care if the cost and inconvenience of construction approached Big Dig proportions, or if Berliners think of its architecture the way Seattleites think of our EMP*+. I just love it.

But, I realized, I'm extremely lucky to have experienced both Berlin Zoo and Ostbahnhof stations when they were still in use. Starting this week, visitors to Berlin won't have any idea what those vestiges of West and East were like.

It was quite amazing that even in 2005, Deutsche Bahn schedules showed our train from Hamburg arriving at Berlin Zoo and our train to Prague departing from the Ostbahnhof. Even though they're only a few stations apart on the same tracks, we weren't totally confident that the train to or from one station would stop at the other one, and even if it did, the schedules were loath to tell us at what time such an event might occur. (I was travelling with a West German, though not a Berliner, and it wasn't clear to her, either.) Since we weren't making that connection on the same day, we never did find out whether a single transfer could have been done at one station or the other. We just got on and off at the DB-prescribed stations.

Definitely not an Iron Curtain, but you do get a feeling of separation from it. Kind of an Iron Sheer. Now replaced by glass. It's a great moment, really.

* I don't know whether Berliners actually feel this way, I'm just saying I don't have to care if they do.
+ I actually like Seattle's EMP.

Edit: Ostbahnhof != Alexanderplatz.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Glad I'm not a thoroughbred

Horses cannot convalesce; their internal organs shut down if they're kept off their feet for any significant length of time. Veterinary surgical techniques may produce state-of-the-art repairs, but the horse is so unlikely to survive the non-weight-bearing period of recovery that euthanasia is still the most humane option.

I, on the other hand, hit golf balls and bowled this weekend on my bionic knee. Life is good.

Saturday, April 29, 2006


I'm now the only person I know to have gotten through all of Neal Stephenson's Baroque Cycle.

Actually, I'm the only person I know to have gotten past the first 100 pages of Quicksilver.

It was worth it.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

There are two ways to keep politics and religion out of Lodge

One is to insist that every Brother completely neutralize himself and erase all hints as to his personal beliefs, lest the rest of us learn what those beliefs are and think less of him for having them. Along the lines of, I don't want to know what church you attend or who you voted for, and I'm not convinced it's appropriate for you to park your car outside the Temple with those bumper stickers on it.

Another would be for a Brother's beliefs and opinions to be held discreetly, but acknowledged when appropriate, and for the rest of us to challenge ourselves to extend Brotherly Love and even respect to him whether we agree with him or not.

One of those approaches would seem to be more in line with the character-building goals of Freemasonry than the other....

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Where it's at

Huffington Post: Jane Smiley: Notes for Converts

A quibble: "Anti-Bush from Day 1" very most certainly is not the day after the 2000 election. Let's talk about sometime in 1993, when W. announced his candidacy for Governor of Texas and it was painfully obvious to everyone, including his supporters, that the mansion in Austin held no appeal other than as a stair-step to the one in Washington. There are probably people smarter than me for whom Day 1 was even earlier than that.

Thanks to a smart guy for the pointer. He thinks point #6 is worth special notice, but I favor point #4.

The greatest thing about democracy is that the people always get exactly the government they deserve. Unfortunately, he and I also get exactly the government they deserve.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

This is a conservative?!

Quote from CNN, 'Let the prisoners pick the fruits':
King analyzed the issue in class terms.

"The elite class in America is becoming a ruling class and they've made enough money by hiring cheap illegal labor that they think they also have some kind of a right to cheap servants to manicure their nails and their lawn, for example.

"So this ruling class, this new ruling class of America, is expanding a servant class in America at the expense of the middle class of America, the blue collar of America that used to be able to punch a time clock, buy a modest house and raise their families.... Those young people are cut out of this process."
Had not really thought of this particular issue in those particular terms. This is a conservative?!

So the question is, when we say "these are jobs native-born Americans won't do", do we mean at all or just for pissant wages?

If the latter, then is the problem who's willing to do the work for peanuts or is the problem that we refuse to pay more than peanuts? Like, why shouldn't a manicure or a housecleaning or restaurant service be worth 4-5 times the wage they are now, and why shouldn't we wealthiest people on earth pay luxury prices for luxury services?

I've previously criticized Americans' fanatical desire for Wal-Mart prices on everything and how that strengthens the whole downward spiral: wage depression, outsourcing and offshoring, etc. Bottom line, we can either demand the lower prices or we can demonize the illegals (and offshorers) who make those prices possible but not both?

I've heard it said that any job is intrinsically "worth" whatever people are willing to accept for doing it. But that only works if the entire globe is a level playing field and wage workers have real choices. It isn't, and they don't. So wages are already unnatural, and the richest corporate executives stockpile the benefits of that. I wonder why we wouldn't want a democratic government to set unnatural wages to benefit the rest of us, instead. Seems to me that's the only way it'd make any sense to crack down on illegal immigration.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

New linguistic peeve

The use of "so" to end a sentence, as if it were punctuation.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Another reason to give women's colleges a look?

NYT: To All the Girls I've Rejected

(Women find higher hurdles at college is identical; NYT doesn't always expire their op-eds, but just in case.)

To sum up: at many competitive co-ed colleges, female applicants outnumber male ones, but the colleges want to maintain gender parity in the classes they admit. The result is pretty simple math: well-qualified girls will be rejected to make room for less-qualified boys.

This is a challenge. I'm an alumna of a women's college and I have been working to encourage high school students in my area to consider not only my alma mater, but highly competitive colleges in general and women's colleges in particular. On the one hand, if female applicants are at a demographic disadvantage at co-ed colleges, that's a rock-solid argument for them to look at women's colleges instead. On the other hand, it's hard to brag about a college being easier to get into, at least among the caliber of students I'm trying to attract.

"Be surrounded by all the girls who were almost good enough to get into Kenyon"?

But, wait. That's only half the story. What about going to Kenyon and being surrounded by all those even less qualified boys?

Now which campus is looking more competitive?

It's interesting, because Smith takes a big hit in the U.S. News rankings for having too high an acceptance rate. (I don't think that's the only reason Smith has been slipping for the last many years, but that's the most glaring difference between itself and its peers.) Smith loses that one on two fronts, because its applicant pool is half the size of its co-ed counterparts', but its incoming class is twice the size of its single-sex competitors! I'd love to see us back in the top five again, but I think I'd rather brag about the wealth of opportunities we offer to a truly diverse pool of amazingly talented women and girls.

In any case, I shall be curious to see what effect the demographic shift has on Smith and women's and co-ed colleges alike, in the coming years. Maybe female-dominated campuses will be the wave of the future for all of us. ;)

Monday, March 20, 2006

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Gemini vs. Taurus

Like I was saying about what one can and can't count on.

On January 23, before dawn, I was crossing at a reasonably well-lit intersection, in the crosswalk, with the signal, when a royal blue Ford Taurus turning left failed to stop and hit me. The bumper struck my left knee and I rolled up onto the hood before rolling off onto the pavement. Screaming my fool head off the entire way.

If we accept the basic premise of being hit by a car, then after that I'm about as lucky as it gets. As soon as I landed I realized [1] not dead, which is good, and [2] pain in the left leg but nothing else. Everything was basically functioning, even the injured leg, and nothing else hurt. I was conscious for the entire ride and remembered every excruciating detail.

It seemed like a big crowd gathered around pretty quickly, perhaps attributable to my singer's lungs. Folks helped me get comfortable, directed traffic around me, called 911, and talked amongst themselves about the license number of the car because, indeed, the miscreant drove off.

Seattle police, fire and paramedics are really second to none in the quality of their response. I got treated to a ride, with lights and siren, to the Level 1 trauma center at Harborview Medical Center, where I also can't say enough good things about the entire staff of the ER, radiology, CT, and whatever other departments I passed through. Especially the one with the morphine.

The thoroughness of a Level 1 trauma center is also impressive. They weren't going to take my word for any of my injuries, so I had at least 100 radiographs taken of my entire spine, both legs, and my left wrist, as well as multiple CT scans of my abdomen (including one with the funky dye in the IV that makes your blood vessels glow on the scan) and also CTs of my injured leg to get a closer look at what turned out to be a grade V tibial plateau fracture. Funny how things hurt more when you know they're broken than they did when you were thinking soft-tissue injury....

I had surgery the next day to repair the fracture with a whole mess of titanium plates and screws and composite bone graft material and whatever it is they fix a torn meniscus with. Fortunately, because I have plenty of "tissue" (read: fat) around my knees, they were able to take care of everything with a single immediate surgery, rather than the medieval external fixator which involves rods and screws through the skin and into the bone while waiting for the swelling to diminish.

I spent the next two days relaxing in the orthopedic trauma ward while decidedly foul dark goopy stuff drained out of a tube inserted into my knee. Apparently it's better to have the goop sucked out than to leave it where it is. Once the drain came out (imagine a 6-inch tube being pulled out of your insides, eeew), the atmosphere changed from spa-like and heavily medicated to plenty more work, and physical therapy began. I slacked at first, but it's amazing how the threat of a roommate (public hospital, you know) can motivate one to haul oneself to a real bathroom with a door that closes.

Now I'm home, and the parts of the house that I can get to look like a medical supply store. I've got a continuous passive motion (CPM) machine on the sofa, which I can lie in all day having my knee bent and stretched for me (strangely, this is not torture at all and is in fact quite comfy). I've got a thigh-to-ankle brace that I wear most of the time, except in the CPM. I've got a walker, crutches, a shower chair, and of course an orthopedic potty seat. Mom picked up barstools for the kitchen and the bathroom, which make it possible for me to brush my teeth at the sink instead of into a bowl in bed.

One regains one's dignity slowly, one hygienic function at a time.

There's a diminishing but stubborn list of things I can't do for myself at home, which so far has meant babysitters every day, evening, and overnight. It kinda comes down to not being able to carry anything while walking with crutches or a walker: cooking, feeding the cat, and general fetching just don't work. We think with some advance planning I'll be able to manage this well enough to fly solo during the day starting next week.

Work has been great and accommodating so far.

The cops located the miscreant registered owner of the Taurus, but he denies being the driver. It's pretty obvious he's lying and has enlisted some friends to lie for him, but without a solid witness placing him behind the wheel, there won't be enough proof to prosecute. Liability? Uninsured, of course. Lawsuit? Sufficiently lower standard of proof, but probably more expensive to pursue than any award I'd ever hope to see. Looks like there will be co-pays and deductibles in my future, but still investigating options there.

I think my at-home PT exercises are going well, and I like my range of motion already, but I suspect there'll be a rude awakening when I start the formal PT sessions next week.

Three weeks down, nine to go until I'm weight-bearing and stick-shift-driving again.

If there was something else I was planning on doing in late winter and early spring 2006, I sure can't remember now what it was.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Diet revolution, part IV

Amber Waves, June 2005: Obesity Policy and the Law of Unintended Consequences

Amber Waves is a publication of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service, whose job is not to look out for your health. The USDA supports agriculture; they're dedicated to making sure that US food producers can sell things.

And thus, I'm not sure whether this journal article is just an appalling piece of agricorporate propaganda*†‡, or an accurate reflection of the futility of trying to change gluttonous habits, or both.

Either way, it's some serious obfuscation of the role aggressive marketing plays in the fattening of America.

* Suspicious:
Numerous studies, though ongoing, largely conclude that aggregate cigarette advertising has a small or negligible impact on overall cigarette smoking.
† Highly suspect:
The American Dietetic Association says that each additional 3,500 calories a person consumes results in an additional pound of body weight. That implies that a person who gave up 100 calories (equivalent to a piece of toast) each day for a year would end up approximately 10 pounds lighter at year's end.
‡ Coincidence? The biggest processed food companies are owned by tobacco companies....

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Diet revolution, part III

It's a simple plan. It, like anything else in life, is not guaranteed. Here it is anyway.
  • Count calories.
This is unglamorous, but it's physics. Fewer calories in and more calories out is all there is. Gather data, determine basic calorie needs to maintain current weight, then set a reasonable daily caloric target to achieve a reasonable pace of weight loss.

Never, ever, ever substitute marketing claims ("low fat!" "low carb!" "healthy whole grains!" "wholesome!" "vitamin-enriched!") for calorie count.
  • Measure.
We got into this mess in part because our idea of portion sizes is so far out of line. We need to take our brains back from the restaurants and marketers and learn how to perceive the food correctly.
  • Trust the math.
Realize, accept, and make peace with mathematically-determined portion sizes. That is the amount of food we need, even if our bad habits tell us otherwise.

Rely on the numbers and use them to learn new and better habits.
  • Make conscious choices.
There are no "forbidden foods", only trade-offs we make to achieve our daily caloric target. Instead of feeling deprived and resentful, we are empowered to make these choices. We need to pay attention to the real consequences of each choice, and be aware of which decisions support our weight-loss goals and which ones sabotage us.
  • Question "convenience".
Things marketed to us as convenience often aren't. The time it takes to stop at a restaurant or a drive-thru or to assemble a processed food from a kit often are not meaningful savings over the time it would take to put together our own real food at home.
  • Be wary of processed and restaurant foods, even in small doses.
Make sure that the additives and artificial flavors aren't stimulating cravings or reinforcing bad habits.
  • Learn to love whole, natural foods.
One of the scariest things about artificial marketed foods is that they teach us the wrong things about what food is "supposed" to taste like. We then reject reality because it doesn't taste fake enough.

Reclaim the flavors of grape, orange, cherry, cheese and meat! Say no to the Kool-Aid- and Cheeto-ization of our everyday diet!
  • Learn, get angry, stay angry.
Practically everything about the American diet has been engineered by corporations. The urge to eat harmful foods, the gimmicky diets that don't work (and the deliberate undermining of confidence in simple calorie-counting), the reluctance to exercise, the frantic drive toward elusive convenience, the fallback onto artificial supplements for ourselves and our children, and much, much, much more, are all dreamed up in marketing departments and inflicted on us for nothing more, nothing less than profit... with our enthusiastic participation. Recognize it and reject it.

Monday, January 16, 2006

ICU psychosis 101

ICU psychosis is a disorder in which patients in an intensive care unit (ICU) or a similar setting experience anxiety, hear voices, see things that are not there, and become paranoid, severely disoriented in time and place, very agitated, or even violent, etc. In short, patients become temporarily psychotic. — et al.
Causes of ICU psychosis (partial list):
  • Sleep deprivation, exhaustion
  • Disruption of day/night schedule
  • Constant interruptions
  • Unfamiliar surroundings
  • Disruption of regular routine & activities
  • Sensory deprivation
    • Windowless rooms
    • Little human contact
  • Sensory overload
    • Hallway and neighbor noise
    • TV
    • Flashing monitors
    • Beeping alarms
  • Loss of control over surroundings
    • Lights on/off
    • Windows open/closed
    • Door open/closed
    • Access to food, drink, belongings, lip balm, etc.
  • Pain
    • From medical condition
    • Post-surgical
    • Needle sticks, injection with stinging medications
  • Discomfort
    • Furniture
    • Sleeping positions
    • Room temperature
    • Tubes & wires
  • Hunger, thirst
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Poor caregiver communication
    • Slow response to call button
    • Failure to explain procedures
    • Refusal or inability of caregivers to honor requests
    • Nurses' need for doctors' approval, and slow response thereof
  • Inability to communicate
    • Due to medical condition or breathing apparatus
    • Due to declining mental state
  • Medication problems
    • Disruption of regular medications
    • Especially psych medications
    • Reactions and side effects of new medications
    • Interactions of old and/or new medications
  • Powerlessness
  • Immobility
    • Due to medical condition
    • Due to monitors, IVs, other tubes
    • Due to fatigue or atrophy
  • Lack of personal privacy
  • Indignities
    • Exposure
    • Detailed monitoring and measuring of bodily functions
    • Requiring assistance with bodily functions
    • Loss of control of bodily functions
    • Catheters, etc.
  • Fear, anxiety, depression
    • About medical condition
    • About ongoing or upcoming procedures/treatments
    • About anything/everything on this list
    • Exacerbated by disruption of psych medications
  • Compounding confusion, agitation
    • Caregiver frustration
    • Self-injury or interference with needed treatments
    • Possible physical restraints
    • Family and friends "siding" with caregivers "against" patient
Compound all this by the patient being disabled: say, blind.

Disclaimer: health professionals are generally great and try their best, but most do not have adequate staff time to handle ICU psychosis, nor will they necessarily have an arsenal of valuable techniques for dealing with it.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Paying for college, or more to the point, getting college to pay for you

This weekend I attended a workshop for students and parents, put on by a member of the Federal Way school board, on the subject of small, private, competitive and generous liberal arts colleges.

Most of these institutions are located "back East" and most folks in the Northwest have never heard of them. But they're excellent schools, and they've got lots of money to spend and infinite flexibility in how they will choose to spend it. For a low-income student, this translates into a good chance at a free ride if they work hard in school and know the right places to apply.

Many schools now emphasize need-based financial aid, but one school's idea of "need" can be very different from another's. Public schools are required to adhere to the federal and state definitions of "need", which can be severe ("after your parents take out their third and fourth mortgages, the remainder that you'll 'need' is..."). But private schools can do whatever they want. Some private schools come up with their own extremely generous definitions of "need"; others offer huge merit scholarships to the students who really impress them (see also this article). Some do both.

Parents and students often have no idea, and assume they are stuck with the federal assessment. It pains me how many families don't even try, because they don't know.

The workshop teaches families how to find these colleges, and students how to make themselves into attractive candidates.

The basics:

Get the best possible grades, but more importantly, take the most challenging classes available. All that stuff about being a well-rounded student is only true if you have already demonstrated that you can handle the college's curriculum.

But don't give up if you don't have a 4.0... a B student with a tough high school course load is usually very attractive, and that's where the well-roundedness comes into play as well.

Refer to Barron's Profiles of American Colleges and or Guide to the Most Competitive Colleges, both available on Amazon.

Start with the lists of most competitive and highly competitive colleges, throw out all the public schools (they don't have any money), and build a list of ~20 schools of potential interest (overall, not just financially).

Big, famous schools that everybody has heard of will have huge pools of applicants competing with you for admission and money. Look for lesser-known but highly-rated gems where you'll be a bigger fish.

Look beyond tuition. Barron's has information about endowment, average grant/aid award, and percent of students receiving aid. This can be helpful in figuring out which schools on the list are potential best buys and cash cows.

Finally, open up a correspondence early on with any school you feel passionate about. Ask intelligent questions, and generally make yourself known to admissions officers, alumnae, even faculty. (The workshop leader related the tale of a young woman who started writing to her chosen college and meeting with its alumnae as a 9th grader; by the fall of her sophomore year they accepted her to the class starting 2 years hence... with a full scholarship and without her ever submitting an application!) Passion counts for a lot. Even a need-based program will probably happen to find a few extra dollars for a really compelling candidate.

Most importantly, don't assume you can't, and don't give up!

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Diet revolution, part II

It's a little creepy to me how much the media looove gastric bypass surgery.

I got curious; I looked it up. Gastric bypass is normally described as something like "stomach stapling" (which has been around for years), where the stomach's capacity is reduced. I didn't realize that it also includes partial removal or bypass of the intestines, which causes "malabsorption". If the patient overeats beyond the stomach's capacity, the intestines' ability to digest is also reduced and excess food passes undigested. In other words, diarrhea. (I assume this is the "dumping syndrome" that is sometimes cryptically mentioned by the media; they don't describe it or explain its cause.)

What I'm wondering is how this is any different from a bulimic who uses laxatives to purge after a binge.

On the other hand, desperate times call for desperate measures.

I'm thinking there's some math that goes into a weight loss surgery decision. Diet and exercise takes time. If a person has serious weight-related health problems, it's possible that the time it would take to lose the weight the "right" way may be greater than the time they may have. Those people probably need surgery. But even in our obese society, those folks are still outliers.

Nobody targets a major advertising and media blitz at just a few outliers.

Pretty recently, I had hopes that weight loss surgery might rescue me from this problem of not having my head in the right place to lose it the right way. Just fix it once and for all. I was annoyed, but also relieved, to learn two things: one, surgery doesn't work unless you also get your head in the right place (hence the 50% failure rate), and two, I don't qualify. Yet.