(1) : What Do These Have In Common?:

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(4) : Yay For Our Common Heritage: According to a blog that watches the public domain, as of yesterday lots of works became free for all of us to reprint, remix, and generally be creative with. Depending on the country you're in, the magic year is probably 1937 or 1957 (the date of death of the author). Some of the authors whose works passed into the public domain yesterday:

As a celebration of our love for public domain literature, Leonard and I gave a Christmas gift to a few of his family: the Project Gutenberg best-of DVD. Leonard burned them and I decorated them with the label "Civilization: A DVD Archive."

For a measure of the long tail, check out the top 100 books downloaded from Project Gutenberg over the last 30 days. Half of them I'd never heard of before. Makes me wonder whether Leonard or I will be on that list someday.

It's your past, your cultural heritage, your public domain. Promote it, celebrate it, and use it, or we will lose it.
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: RIP, Bob Watts: Scott Rosenberg and Joan Walsh remember the kind and talented Bob Watts, who died today.

I worked with Bob at Salon. He was in Editorial, which kind of intimidated me. I was more on the technical side if anything, but the rule was that anybody could come to the morning story meeting, so I often did. I liked sitting next to him and seeing him sketch or manage email workflow as we talked, especially because he helped me feel like I had a place at the table (literally). I can attest to the warm, gentle character he always showed. I think he was the first working artist I ever saw producing work day after day, showing me that the visual side of publications as much as the text side is about making great stuff on a deadline. On the walls in that conference room someone had hung inspired pieces of art from Salon pieces and covers past. I wonder how many of those were his.

When I went on the Salon summer retreat in 2003, I hung out with his wife Lori and daughter Cady. We talked about books, of course. It was obvious what nurturing and creative parents Bob and Lori were.

He got the cancer diagnosis the year I started working at Salon, and everybody knew, but from the fact that he kept coming back to work after treatments I assumed he was fighting it off. I'm so sad I was wrong. I'll miss him and I know everyone who worked with him will too. Scott and Joan speak with more eloquence and greater intimacy -- I wish I'd gotten to know him as closely as they did.

(3) : Gems: I post lots of little links in the del.icio.us account that Leonard and I share, and that keeps this blog from just being a mass of commentless links. But every once in a while I wish to celebrate bits of the net with/at you. Here!

If you can't get enough Randall Munroe, his LiveJournal should absorb you for ten to twenty minutes. Munroe's experience of Cryptonomicon and mine concur: "I keep picking it up to glance through and then accidentally reading through to the end." Sadly, Knuth, Stephenson, et al. are probably too busy with their magna opera to enjoy the thrice-weekly distraction of Munroe's work.

The soldiers' truce of 1914 -- I knew about it, but it turns out I didn't know a tenth of the story. Tremendous.

And, in a discovery almost certainly irrelevant to your life and to mine, I think Pseudonymous Kid's mom's dad lives where I used to live.

But the real hot tip of this entry is Yishan Wong's Reddit comments. Wong works at Facebook, his wife just had a baby, and I'd rather read his comments on Reddit than blog posts by jwz or Steve Yegge. Examples:

Abortion clinic bombers are the only terrorists who can accurately be described as "hating us for our freedoms."....

It's not one bad programmer. PHP makes bad programmers worse, but it also forces good programmers to have to be kind of bad just to get things working "okay."

What's remarkable about PHP is that it's the best PHP programmers who are the ones most vocal about how awful it is....

Just for irony's sake, I use [the powerful chip in the Sony PlayStation 3] to crack the encryption on my Blu-Ray discs.....

But the bit I really love, the bit that throws Paul Graham into the water, is Wong's encouragement and HOWTO on learning to work hard.

...One bonus effect is that you learn what smartness really does for you: it's a multiplier. It doesn't give you success for nothing (i.e. 5000 x 0 = 0), but if you apply smarts to a work ethic, your output is multiplied (i.e. 5000 x 10 = 50000). So a smart person who learns to work hard benefits far more than a mediocre person who works hard.

This benefit becomes very addictive: "whoa, by sheer force of will I can essentially call into being wealth for myself!" and that's what keeps you from backsliding....

That's going on my reread-regularly list.

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(1) : Ramayaddayaddayadda: Last night I conversed with Leonard about the humor project that's been in the back of my mind for years: a comedic retelling of the Mahabharata akin to Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Once Leonard drew my attention to the number of essential characters in the story, I realized that the Ramayana is much more manageable as a first attempt, not to mention more plausible in a purely textual form; I can't imagine doing my Mahabharata without sound or pictures. And I actually have ideas for reworking the four major characters, and the whole crazy situation with Rama's moms and dad. (Think Rama as Reginald Perrin, Sita as Cat and Girl's Girl, and Ravana as a cross among the Borg, Dr. Evil, and Indie Rock Pete. And Hanuman as T-Rex played by Michael Cera.) I should probably bang ideas around with Shweta and my sister.

Ashok Banker also did his Ramayana first, with amazingly intricate and extensive worldbuilding and a serious cast of fully realized characters. I bought most of that series, specially ordering the third and fourth books from abroad, because I loved the concept, but I couldn't get past book two and ended up selling even the unread books to the Strand. I ragged on the first few books of his Ramayana retelling in an MC Masala column in 2005, and he found out about it and wrote me an excellent note thanking me for reviewing it! Solid, and exemplary. His purple prose weighed down the story, I'd said, and Rama, Sita, the evil queen, etc. were completely good or bad with no shading. And, now that I think about it, not nearly enough humor.

Now he's working on the Big M. The Mahabharata just naturally has more complex characters and motivations -- Banker chose to stay true to Rama's perfect heroism and sacrificed conflict. But I probably could have dealt with that, if I could stand the voice. The wordy overdescriptive style sadly continues in this excerpt from his upcoming Mahabharata treatment. But at least there's a hint there that the line between good and evil runs down the center of every human heart (to borrow the line from Solzhenitsyn).

I see from other short fics Banker has posted on his site (I enjoyed a fantasy Western with a six-handed Indian woman and an expat pilgrimage story) that he can do vigorous and concise. I guess the grandeur of the epics turns him grandiose, which is a shame. He has a likable voice and he groks Creative Commons, so I am rooting for him personally, but I'll have to turn elsewhere, possibly inward, for mashups of my epics.

Which reminds me. Krishna as a talkative taxi driver who drives around in a chariot/cab/ice cream truck. What do you think?

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: The Hills Have Slopes: I am back in San Francisco and will be here and around till the 15th.

(1) : Back In NYC: I arrived back home today. Much thanks to Michael and Julia, Alexei, Rachel and Jeremy, Zed and Jennifer, Angel, Susan and Daniel, and Claudia and Andrew for putting me up, and thanks to about twenty-one other people for making time to talk with me. I really had a Best-Of compilation experience of the Bay Area this past week, making for my best vacation in a very long time. More travel bits if I think they'll interest you.

(1) : Classes Start Today: Due to a peculiar electives situation this semester in the tech management master's program, my cohort has had to look around the university for classes to take. I'm trying to take a cost-benefit analysis class and a public budgeting class, but this will take some form-wrangling since they're in a different school within Columbia. So, for the next few days: running around and hyperventilating and figuring out what readings are really required.

I graduate in May, yay me.

: Econ Blogs For The Win: Thanks to posts by Daniel Davies that I read five years ago, I sounded like a big old smartypants in the first session of a government budgeting and finance class last night. Advantage: blogosphere!

: Just In Time Idiot?: Great, a new breed of anxiety dream. In this one I basically get told that my lack of coding chops means I have absolutely no right to make judgments in technology matters.

I woke up just before my haranguer told me what "JIT I" meant, and why the insight of that framework was that I sucked. Can't find anything relevant for that on Google.

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(1) : Punchline That Goes With Two [Admittedly Related] Jokes: I discovered the second joke this morning and Leonard demanded I blog it because of its relevance to one of his thousand obsessions.

What did the duck say to the barman? "Just put it on my bill!"

What did Disco Duck say to the cocaine dealer? "Just put it on my bill!" [because that's where the nostrils are]

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: Hoodies Are Enough to Justify ASBOs, Right?: Walking back from dinner, passing the park benches. "Oh good, the ne'er-do-wells are gone."

"There's a couple of guys there."

"Yes, but they're wearing baseball caps, not hoodies."

"You're wearing a hood!"

"I'm wearing a hooded jacket. Ne'er-do-wells wear hooded sweatshirts."

"Look, I don't want to deny your Gift Of Fear, but..."

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: Condolences: My condolences to my LDS family and readers on the death of Gordon B. Hinckley.

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: Clutter-prevention And Decluttering Tips: as I just commented on Rivka's blog (she's going to have another baby and she's moving to a better house, yay!). [Edit three days later: condolences, Rivka.]

If you have a decent digital camera and electronic storage space, or the ability to burn data to a CD or DVD, then taking pictures of things that you kinda-sorta want to keep can enable you to toss them with little regret.

It feels more doable to toss drafts and paper backups when you feel secure in your electronic backups. Set-it-and-forget-it automatic backups help a lot.

BookMooch is helping my husband get rid of books and knowing they'll go to someone who actually wants them.

The best way for me to feel okay about getting rid of semiuseful things, e.g., envelopes losing their gumminess or a folding chair we never use, is to feel rich. I am now confident that we will never feel so poor that we can't afford to buy a new one yet SIMULTANEOUSLY need it immediately or else terrible things would happen.

[I forgot to tell her about Cost-Per-Wear Charts but I think she groks that without me, as does flea from One Good Thing. But family members appreciated it a few years ago so I thought I'd mention it again. And those are fun links.]

The Staples MailMate shredder is a good, durable, stylish-enough cross-cut shredder. And it can swallow junk mail whole, as well as CDs/DVDs and credit cards and paper clips. And it automatically turns off if you pull the shreddings-bin out and expose the sharp bits. Keep it handy.

(8) : New Job: I have just accepted a job offer from Behavior Design as a full-time Project Manager. Behavior has done some awesome work, such as the redesign of The Onion, lots of sites for HBO, and interactive kiosks for New York's MoMA. And they're right on my subway line, where Chelsea and the Flatiron District meet Midtown South.

I start this Thursday, January 31st.

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(2) : Christmas Visit: I've had a great month: Best-of-NorCal visit, negotiating and accepting an offer for a new job, quality time with Leonard and New York and New Haven friends, and beginning to mentor a few students in the first and second semester of the tech management master's program. But the honorary start to Awesome January must be the great Christmas trip we took to Salt Lake City to see Maggie, John, and Susie. I learned a lot.

Leonard's family tends to give gifts to charity for me for Christmas, which is per my wishes. Then I get a bunch of great gifts in addition, especially in the stocking. I'm still figuring all this out. The coolest gifts I gave this Christmas were DVDs of Project Gutenberg best-of collections -- burned by Leonard, decorated by me.

Selected gifts: We got a lot of candy. Susie and John gave to a humanitarian relief fund in my name. Leonard gave me neat slippers and a book about weird book titles and concepts, and a few storytelling games like Nanofictionary. Susie gave me a lovely white button-up shirt with black trim, suitable for work and the like! And they gave us the Apples To Apples party pack, which we will inflict on parties at our place.

But the best gift was meeting my niece Maggie and getting to see baby-raising firsthand. Right now that's rare for me. John and Susanna have spent a lot of time helping raise their younger relatives and so they have a matter-of-fact competence. They assumed rightly that my nervousness about, say, feeding or holding Maggie would go away with a little experience. I liked it and it was calming to remember that humans can in fact raise children. Sometimes I get anxious about what I perceive as prerequisites. I hear that parenthood makes you a better person, but only rarely do I hear more concretely and candidly "I was a screwup and having a child forced me to get it together." Because who wants screwups to have kids? And yet who does not fundamentally think of himself or herself as a screwup?

Susie and John have a giant house. At least, to us rabbit-hutchers it's huge. They've decorated it beautifully, and there's so much quiet and space! Especially since Susie is a decluttering fiend! As you know if you read her articles.

While visiting the exurbs, Leonard and I noted extensively that the lifestyle we like, carless and walkable and close to shops, is rare in the US and requires tradeoffs. Something like 95% of the landmass of the world won't suit us. But constraints free us from the anxiety of choice, so now I think happily about visiting Boston and Portland and Seattle with an eye to livability.

I met members of a big huge extended family on the Chadwicks' side. I'm as related to them as Balki Bartokomous was to Larry Applegate, but I could make conversation fine and enjoyed their company. I used to be terrible at parties; I'd flee to read a book. Reading Dale Carnegie helped me learn small-talk tactics and going to college, where people thought I was interesting, helped me relax. It's like remembering names: I've overcompensated for an early deficiency and now I'm better at it than my median acquaintance. Growing up can be nice.

We sang Christmas carols, Susie accompanying on the piano, and I was surprised at how much theology lives in the later verses of the ones I thought I knew. It's like the Brit-bashing five minutes into "The Star-Spangled Banner." Sometimes the version Leonard pulled up online and the version in Susie's hymnal had schism-driven differences, but only in the lyrics, not the melodies!

We played Apples to Apples, and a "finish this unfamiliar aphorism" game called Wise & Otherwise. "A man is like a tree. A woman is like..." I submitted "a cave" and fooled people into thinking it was the original Japanese ending, since the actual ending, "a wisteria vine," sounded completely bogus botanically and psychologically. Nope! Remember, the more inexplicable it is, the more SYMBOLIC it is. Right? A great game.

Thanks for hosting us, Chadwicks!

(1) : Idiosyncratic Feminist Book Recommendations: Leigh Anne Wilson of the fabulous One Good Thing blog asked for recommendations of feminist books, especially history and fiction, for a college women's resource group's library. I love recommending books! So I made a little list.

Wilson had already recommended Gavin de Becker's The Gift of Fear so Leonard and I can just make oblique references instead. I think I lent my copy to Zack Weinberg five years ago and I don't know where it's gone. And others had already covered Atwood, Butler, Kingston, Tan, Ensler, bell hooks, and other well-known authors. I recommend:

A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, which I think Rachel gave me. Ulrich shows you and explains to you the cryptic diary of a New England farmhouse wife and midwife. Combines the most gripping bits of "Little House" with historical analysis.

Our Bodies, Ourselves. Just essential. The handbook to my body. Every girl should get a copy at puberty. The bits online are not enough -- she's gotta be able to flip through it and browse.

Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives by Dr. Anna Fels. Points out that the childhood or adolescent desire for fame is often a precursor to a more nuanced ambition, combining the urge to master some domain or skill with the desire for the recognition of one's peers or community. She also notes that women, especially, feel the need to hide that wish for fame instead of developing it into a healthy passion to guide our careers. Just blew my mind in the best way, and massively helped me guide my career development.

Children of the River by Linda Crew. A moving young adults' novel about an Asian immigrant teenage girl and her conflicts with family and a suitor. Helped me a lot when I was a young teen.

Anjana Appachana's Incantations and Other Stories are short stories about Indians in India and abroad, stifled by or breaking through class and gender mores. When I was eleven, it gave me a new way to see Indian womanhood. Looking back I think the writing isn't as subtle as I'd like, but it was great for teen me.

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown. The classic lesbian coming-of-age story, messy and sexy and all mixed up with class and race.

The She's Such A Geek anthology. Great mini-memoirs about the intersection of gender politics and a particular field's attractions and annoyances.

Ellen Ullman's work, such as her memoir Close To The Machine and her novel The Bug. Same attraction as above, with reliably deft writing. With "The Bug" it looks like Ullman has the Great American Girl Geek Novel title locked. Excellent, suspenseful, evocative, emotionally accurate.

Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves by Adam Hochschild. A really inspiring tale of the British abolition of the slave trade and slavery. Reminds us that social justice battles are winnable. And reminds us of the historical connection between civil rights and women's rights.

Everything by Diana Abu-Jaber. Frances loved Crescent and I think my sister rereads it every year. One of my better recommendations while working at Cody's.

Asra Nomani's Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman's Struggle For The Heart of Islam, with reservations.

In Code: A Mathematical Journey by Sarah Flannery. An Irish girl discovers math with the help of her dad, and makes international headlines with a discovery about cryptography. A nice memoir partly because there's nearly nothing depressing in it. I wrote when I first read it:

She's the type who can confidently approach a hard task and try at it and try at it and count her failures as learning experiences and live with the humility and keep going until she succeeds, self-esteem intact. I'm the other type. I've met quite a lot of that Sarah Flannery type over the years, and I always envy them, and now, maybe if I can just accept that I'm not like that, my envy won't have to get in the way of being friends with these people.

Now I know that's bollocks and I can indeed attempt and achieve hard tasks. It just took a while to find out what working style works for me, and to recognize my own self-deprecating patterns and stop assuming anything I've done wasn't hard.

Alison Bechdel's Dykes To Watch Out For comic strip collections and Fun Home memoir. DTWOF is a deep and broad look at the left and LGBT culture in America from the last two decades, and a great story. Fun Home is Bechdel's personal history, artful and edifying about queerness. They're clear, funny, and poignant, and they address lots of LGBT/feminist/left ideas in easy-to-read cartoons.

An old Secrets of Loveliness by Kay Thomas or similar girl's manual from the fifties or sixties. The reader gapes at what we used to tell girls, and what we still do. I bring it out to shock guests sometimes.

Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph.D. Puts a name to the pressures American girls face, and does some old-fashioned feminist consciousness-raising. These stories made young women, like me, say "that's me." I read it in high school journalism class. Probably heavy-handed for a lot of women, though, and looking back I wonder about the research.

Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed and Left Hand of Darkness. I taught the latter. Classic feminist/political what-if sci-fi about understanding the other and power structures.

"The Phantom of Kansas" by John Varley. I read this gender-fluid murder mystery set on a lunar colony when I was twelve and it still stays with me as a musing on sex and identity.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan. When you've read all of DTWOF, here's the serialized graphic novel to try out. You can read the first issue for free. The last man on earth tries to figure out why all the men died, and why he's still alive. A Sorkin-esque dystopia. The last issue comes out soon.

The Diamond Age, or A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer by Neal Stephenson. What sort of education could transform any girl into a strong, independent woman? That what-if, among others, underlies this scary, funny, infuriating, and I think overlooked Stephenson.

Find some anthology that includes Connie Willis's short story "Even the Queen." Menstruation sci-fi. Hilarious. I taught that too.

Nancy Kress is a sci-fi author who thinks about genetic engineering and human relationships. Her main characters are often women.

Joanna Russ's sci-fi usually explores gender and power.

Others, such as my husband, tell me to tell you about Shari Tepper's science fiction, especially The Gate to Women's Country, and Lois McMaster Bujold, A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski, and Elizabeth Bear's Carnival. I haven't read them yet. Nor have I read nearly enough Alice Sheldon nor her celebrated biography, James Tiptree, Jr: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon by Julie Phillips. But people recommend it highly. A bunch of Sheldon's work is available online for free and "The Screwfly Solution" is just indispensable.

Comments are open for you to tell me things, but comment over at One Good Thing too.

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: Sending Creates The Recipient?: Once I start my job at Behavior tomorrow, I'll have a mailing address for packages, one that doesn't depend on Leonard being home during the day and doesn't reveal where I live. Thus, this week I've given out my not-yet-existent address (Sumana Harihareswara c/o Behavior) twice. These packages shipped before the person/address combo existed, but by the time they arrive I'll be there. This says something to me about networking architecture, ephemerality, lazy evaluation, worse is better, and Le Guin's lines from The Dispossessed:

"To break a promise is to deny the reality of the past; therefore it is to deny the hope of a real future. If time and reason are functions of each other, and if we are creatures of time, then we had better know it, and try to make the best of it. To act responsibly."
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: Here We Go: By day two at Behavior I got assigned to a project. Every company advertising a job says that you must be comfortable in a fast-paced environment and this is the first time since Salon I've really felt the truth of that. And Leonard is back! Oh, how I've missed him. Now till May: hectic and full of accomplishment, I predict.

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(3) : Rituals & Security: In May I'll be graduating with a master's. Commencement ceremonies will occur in the evening of Tuesday, May 20th for my program and in the late morning of Wednesday, May 21st for the university-wide hoopla. I haven't yet decided whether to attend just the School of Continuing Education one or both.

This will be about ten years after my high school diploma, and indeed I have been thinking about going back to Lodi and doing the ten-year Tokay reunion. I've even sent off a letter with my new address to the school so the reunion committee can track me down and tell me when it is.

My friend Ron characterized the ten-year reunion as the scoring line on a race: how far can you get in ten years? By the standard measures I've done very well. I've married an awesome guy, graduated (soon) from two prestigious universities, and started earning a very good salary. And that, as much as my emotional growth over the past ten years, is a reason I could go there without a bunch of anxiety.

It's curious. I think of incidents from high school that make my face hot, and then I think, "I'm probably making more than you." And if envy is green, then superiority is cool, blue water. I could drown in it.

(1) : Legal & Investment Advice: For the past few months, when I've had a legal document that I wanted a lawyer to review, I've consulted Danielle Sucher. Riana Pfefferkorn referred me; it's nice to have friends in law school! Ms. Sucher and I have never met. We've done everything over email and the phone, so you can tell she's responsive. She's smart and candid and her prices are reasonable. Recommended. Item 7 here talks about some of her more high-profile and interesting law work.

I guess this means I have a lawyer. I feel adult and responsible. I'd feel more responsible if someone referred Leonard & me to a good financial planner in New York City. Do comment or email to let me know if you can recommend someone.

"Purpose-driven voluntary sector"* small-world note: her sweetie works at the Open Planning Project, like Leonard's friend Ian Bicking and (I presume) Mel Chua!

Other legal bit: In RightsAgent I see a hint of the supplier-side equivalent to the IP clearinghouse I wanted, or wanted to start.

*Thanks to Luis for publicizing the phrase. Did I mention yay law school friends?

: Technologists Needed, Tech Priorities, And Tech Triumphs: My company is hiring web developers and information architects, especially ActionScript, Flash and JavaScript coders. Let me know if you want me to get a resume to the parters.

My sweetie just wrote an amazing essay on what the government space program should be doing.

A talk about priorities is usually a talk about money, so here's a baseline number. NASA's 2008 budget is $17.3 billion. This is not a trivial sum, but since the government always seems able to allocate much larger sums for pointless wars, weapons systems that don't work and/or are strategically useless, etc., I've never bought into the argument that this $17.3 billion is taking off the table money that could be used to solve pressing social problems. (In fact there's a pressing social problem that NASA is in a good position to help with, except that part got taken out of NASA's mission statement.) I prefer to think of NASA's budget as a Strategic Awesomeness Reserve. And over time I've come to the conclusion that manned space exploration is not awesome-effective.

Leonard also has been keeping up the insight and research at The Future: A Retrospective. When I saw his post about the female condom I felt a need to bring up the relevant section of Our Bodies, Ourselves so people could learn about the plethora of birth control methods we currently enjoy. A new IUD, a vaginal ring, spermicidal foams, a patch, low-dose and combination-hormone pills, the implant one-sixth the size of Norplant... and now a contraceptive pill that also stops menstruation. Let's see how many of these Future Stuff predicted!

I got into an argument last week with a sullen, America-bashing Scottish kid at SIPA. Among other things easily refuted by about five minutes of blog-reading research, he charged that Big Pharma Doesn't Make Medicines That Really Help People. Oh really? I can think of about three uncomplimentary reasons why he hasn't been keeping up with the latest in contraceptive tech.

: Question: What is the half-life of leaked data?

: Kale, You Have Betrayed Me!: I am eating a lunch of kale, seaweed, tofu, and brown rice. Somehow it is both huge and not very filling.

: From Work Today: After a very long conference call: "I've lost some acuity. I'm not the same person you hired....That experience was like the opposite of meditation."

"Crazy Bread. So 'crazy' means 'has cheese in it'?..." "Emotionally Disturbed Bread!" "Why does my bread come in a jacket?"

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: But Wait, There's More: It turns out we're hiring for two levels of project manager, information architect, visual design lead and visual designer, design technologist, tech lead, software engineer, and visual design intern to round it out.

: After: Last night was the last weekly Slightly Known People show at Rififi in the Village. They performed some of their best skits, other sketch comedians and groups did bits, and we all sang together at the end. In April they start a regular gig at an Off-Broadway venue, which is great for them, like a graduation, but I'm going to miss the old ritual.

I am getting kind of tired of going to comedy shows alone.

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: Why Skimming Is Lossy: You might have missed the unexpected heat in the next-to-last paragraph. I know I did.

: Tax History Saved For A Future Post: In the last few months, I've seen and read a few things and had opinions on them. Here we go.

I Chose a Parson is a 1956 memoir by Phyllis Stark, an American woman who went to Gustavus Adolphus College, married a seminary student, had two kids, and helped her husband as he rose to a bishopric in the Episcopal Church. I got it for a few bucks at Sam Weller's in Salt Lake City, in the cheapo-books room crowded with out-of-print manuals and histories and children's primers, where the pipe on the ceiling's dripping into a bucket on the floor. Never was there a greater diamond in the muck. Stark writes with the dry eloquence of the Brits and the earthy humor of the Midwest, and every page has a great anecdote. I kept reading stuff to Leonard:

In the original list of repairs new pews had been included, but later that item had been deleted because, as usual, expenses were exceeding the original estimates. I felt very strongly, however, that the new beauty we were seeking to achieve would be completely lost if the crude and wretchedly uncomfortable pews were to remain. With the hope of persuading Leland to press the point, I presented the case to him a good many times, but without success. Then one day I decided to drop my reasoned approach and try instead a more feminine technique.

'Darling,' I said sweetly, 'I've got my heart set on new pews.'

He pulled me up short with the trenchant reply, 'That, my dear, is the only part of your anatomy that will ever set on new pews.'

I'm glad to say, however, that the other members of the committee were more amenable to my importuning, and before the repair work was finished, not only did we have new pews, but also new kneelers upholstered with the best quality surgical foam rubber!

I think Rivka and Rachel would especially like this book. And I have more to quote from it in another entry.

Ratatouille is good. The animation of water is amazing. I got creeped out by all the rats. The critic's flashback is moving.

Juno is not the most comfortable movie to watch with my Mormon in-laws. The banter is great and all the actors were spot-on. I could have done with a less monotonous soundtrack. For the first half of the movie Jason Bateman is basically Michael Bluth, but he and Michael Cera really break out. Ellen Page makes me want to see the upcoming Smart People which is evidently this year's Little Miss Sunshine. Some people find Juno's choice to bear the child unbelievable, but I can see a bunch of reasons, implied strongly or subtly, why she'd do that. However, I do want to find a comedy-drama that is specifically about abortion, just to see if it can be done.

An Affair To Remember: Leonard and I saw the Cary Grant/Deborah Kerr version. All the annoying plot devices of screwball comedy without actual chemistry. That Italy scene takes forever! And the second half is a huge Idiot Plot. From my recollection Sleepless in Seattle is a much better film.

An American In Paris: I had an argument with Will Franken about this movie. I couldn't stand it because the lead, Jerry Mulligan, is a sleazeball stalker. Evidently Will wishes men could be more "romantic" in that manner today and feels castrated by feminism and the need to take a single rejection as a final rejection. I pointed out that I've been the aggressor in every romantic relationship I've ever had, and have been rejected many, many times. And yet somehow I got a husband without stalking him! And lots of men and women find each other without sexually harrassing each other!

Will asked, basically, what if it's love? What if you're in love with someone and they don't love you back? Isn't it just and true to persist in professing your love? The answer is no and it's a contradictory question anyhow. One-way romantic "love" is obsession, infatuation, lust; love is a conversation, two minds meeting as one. And how can you love someone if you don't respect their wishes (namely, "stop asking me out")?

The average Futurama is better sci-fi than the average Star Trek: Voyager.

Scott Westerfeld's Uglies is great, easy-to-read teen-focused sci-fi. The characters make sense while growing and displaying new depths, the worldbuilding is exciting, the action scenes and dialogue are all page-turners, and now I have another trilogy to finish, which I can't afford right now. See you again in May, Westerfeld.

If you can believe it, The Matrix was on American Movie Classics the other day. This is kind of embarrassing for me. I taught The Matrix enthusiastically in my Politics in Modern Sci-Fi class and in my prior Politics of the Midlife Crisis class. I still think the plot and visuals are fun and interesting, but most of the dialogue and acting hasn't held up well for me. I do still like Keanu Reeves's part, though.

The September 11th film anthology was on Sundance and I TiVo'd it mainly to watch Inarritu's segment. It was unbearably evocative and I couldn't watch the whole thing. The whole collection is worthwhile: see it with Brendan and followed by the original Shall We Dance?

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: Superiority Dance: A couple of years ago, I tried to explain to Eric that he had a bad conversational habit. When Person A brings what she thinks is a new item into the conversation, and Person B says "Oh yeah, I already know all about that," Person A feels as though her conversational effort has been rebuffed or she's being called stupid for thinking the item is new or interesting. I used the Gricean maxims, specifically quantity, to explain to Eric why his habit bothered me: he was acting as though I had broken the "be informative" rule.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden is a little more forthright and antagonistic when he sees this habit:

I personally think conversations about the current emergency would be vastly improved by a general moratorium on the "What, You Just Figured That Out, Where Have You Been?" rhetorical gambit. Indeed, what that particular routine indicates most clearly is that the speaker is more interested in striking a pose than in actually forming a useful alliance.


"Charles Dodgson": "I must be a more cynical SOB than Patrick --- I'm not remotely surprised. It's just a fact of human nature that [etc]"

I like your writing and I like you, but this is an online rhetorical gambit on which I call BS.

First, point to where I said I was surprised.

Second, the game of "You're surprised by $ODIOUSBEHAVIOR???" is itself odious. Hello, person who has, by dint of great effort, worked themselves around to agreeing with me! Allow me to point out in the most withering possible terms that I'm more worldly than you, more knowledgeable than you, more sophisticated than you, and boy howdy, are you ever a chump.

I've indulged in this variety of superiority dance myself. Astonishingly, it turns out to not be the most effective imaginable way of acquiring and retaining allies. Human nature is so unpredictable; who could have known?

Last night I saw Eric and a bunch of other folks in my master's cohort at Jen's party. The Swiss guy played the piano and I joked that the hydrazine in that satellite the government's shooting down is just a Xeroxed zine for people who love water -- perfectly harmless! I mentioned how much I love my new job, especially because the people are friendly: more specifically, the founders at the top don't shun human interaction the way Joel and Michael do, and the company culture suits me far better. Sure I'll have moments of conflict with my coworkers, but they'll be about "who's in charge of this task" or "you should have done that more quickly," not a fundamental misapprehension of human nature.
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: Lessons Of The Past Few Weeks: I work better when I keep my inbox to fewer than ten messages on a daily basis. Everything that's not a to-do task goes into one big archive folder that I can search or sort if I need something. Thanks, Gmail, for giving the world the insight that, in a virtual environment without haptic reminders of size and relevance, search engines beat a zillion hierarchical folders hands-down. And IMAP rocks.

I still need to work on keeping my volume down when I'm excited in a conversation.

The art of the cc:, especially when sending out an email documenting what everyone just agreed to in a conference call.

If you provide a critical service that other people depend on, and you can't quickly get them an explanation describing the service with sample inputs and outputs, I throw up my hands in disgust. Bonus points if you change the service without telling anyone and respond to questions with "nothing's changed!" for a day or more.

I need more office pants. Black pantage is de rigeur for business-y women, it seems.

A bug tracker is orders of magnitude better than Basecamp To-Do lists for organizing software development tasks. A bug tracker is a collective memory, a place to prioritize, a wiki for specs and repro cases and screenshots, and an easy collection of nifty, gameable stats on How Many Bugs We Closed Today to wow the client and your manager. Even if the project manager has to spend time each day translating between the bugtracker and emails with clients and colleagues, it's worth it. I knew this before but I'm newly re-grokking it.

I am good at this job. This job is good for me. I am so grateful and proud.

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(2) : Soycake: Leonard read a 1986 edition of Programmers at Work from Microsoft Press. The back cover includes ads for other contemporary books, including Programmer's Guide to the IBM PC with Peter Norton on the cover.

Like one S. Jobs, Norton went to Reed College. And he spent at least a few months, possibly five years (it's hard for me to tell by Googling) in a Buddhist monastery. He started the company when he was nearly twice the age of today's stereotypical startup founder. I like how roundabout his story is.

You've seen pictures of Norton from his books and from the Norton Utilities box (software that's been in development and use for over twenty years, by the way), where he's wearing glasses and his hair has gone lighter. But check out 42-year-old Norton in 1985, who reminds me of Jim Fisher and Leonard of George Frankly from Mathnet, the serial within Square One TV.

His pose is as unreadable as the Mona Lisa's. The nerd look is deliberate and iconic; maybe I'll have to stop using Dilbert as a shorthand for my type of man and start referring to "Peter Norton in the pink shirt photo." He's used to these sorts of helpless predilections.

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: Easy Listening: Today's work soundtrack so far: Michael Masley (whom I suspect my local spa uses for "relax while you wax" music), Weird Al Yankovic, and a conference call I got to leave an hour early because we'd covered the few bugs I was responsible for.

"The Saga Begins," the "American Pie" filk on Running With Scissors, reminds me of good times with my ex. Yes, Weird Al is making me melancholy.

Update: And "Jerry Springer" is a filk of Barenaked Ladies' "One Week," which makes me nostalgic for a different ex. What's next? I don't even know anyone in Albuquerque.

: Bloggers Who Give Me A Glimpse of Another World: include John Rogers on screenwriting and TV/movie production, Derek Lowe on research chemistry, Dara Weinberg on theater direction, Camille Acey on Slovenia, Beatrice Murch on Argentina, and Martin Marks on some kind of weird architectural concrete molding job. You know the hype saying the Net lets you read the gossip and shorthand stories of people in different countries and jobs and situations? It's true!

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: Did You Ever Doubt I Was That Demographic?: I got my first real paycheck from Behavior this past week. Also last week, I stood in line for about 90 minutes at Nintendo World (Rockefeller Center, midtown Manhattan) to buy a Wii. It's my first console ever. I also bought Super Mario Galaxy so I could be Leonard's star bits helper. It's even more fun than Wii Tennis!

Maybe now more friends of mine will come all the way to Astoria to visit. That's the real reason Nintendo's still shipping inadequate supplies of the Wii, fourteen months after launch. I have the cool console, so I'll be popular and people will come to my house after school. I mean work.

(2) : Ribbit: What a difference between "Mike can probably do this today" and "Mike can probably do this toady."

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(4) : Rhythm: My employer's name, "Behavior," has the same syllabic stress pattern as "America." Thus: anthems?

Behavior The Beautiful
God Bless Behavior
(I Want To Work At) Behavior [WebSideStory]
Comin' To Behavior

: The Things You Find: I realize now that Weird Al Yankovic triggered my interest in klezmer, and that he and Dave Barry primed me to appreciate the humor of the over-specific. Also, Yankovic appeared on Square One TV, the show that got me into math and sketch comedy, but that's for another post.

Anyway, a Google search for ["Weird Al" klezmer] led me to this gem:

When you're an accordion player you make mistakes and people who don't really know what they're doing will stop or apologize or make a wincing face. But you should really just keep going and act like you meant to do it. And Stalin is an example of a guy who made a lot of mistakes but he never let them get him down.

: Crime Reporting: According to the Every Block folks, the New York Police Department won't release its incident-level, block-level crime data. That would be a mighty fine dataset to mashup! And the city must already have it, thanks to CompStat. I bet it wouldn't be too hard to release a .csv of 311 calls as well. Sounds like I should write a letter to the city.

(6) : San Antonio?: I've never been to San Antonio, even though much of the Walch clan lives there. I guess the time was never right with school and all. Then today I saw Gordon Atkinson invite me to a Franciscan retreat at his church in San Antonio. Given that I look on with yearning at Rivka's SUUSI reports, this retreat could be a good way to ease myself into the spiritual retreat scene. And it would be an excuse to visit Kristen, Aaron, Lily, Gunnar, Anne, and who knows who else?!

Now I just need for my company to send me to conferences in Salt Lake City, Tallahassee, Seattle, Portland, Portland, Chicago, Bryn Mawr, Boston, Atlanta, London, Cambridge, Charlottesville, Mysore, Buenos Aires, San Francisco, Raleigh-Durham, Radovljica, Baltimore, and I suppose Los Angeles, so I can piggyback all my friends-and-family visits. (Tell me if I missed you.)

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(3) : Wahoo!: Today Leonard and I beat Super Mario Galaxy. And I beat him at a game of Wii Tennis. And I'm chomping some great yummy dark chocolate. I approve.

(2) : Olfactory Equity: Today I splashed a little of Leonard's aftershave on my wrist so I can sniff it and think of him. He warned me that I might seem mannish! I replied, "So what? I'll get a raise?"

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: Marching Down To Washingtown: I'm off for a short weekend in Washington, D.C. to see my sister. She has an MBA so she can help me understand the microeconomics in my cost-benefit analysis class. (Formal economics has the flavor to me of a religion, one of the Pythagorean sects.) And we'll make a jaunt to Silver Spring to see John Stange in The Cripple of Inishmaan.

My sister convinced me to treat myself to Amtrak rather than succumb to the cheap temptations of the bus. By the time I bought the train ticket, the Acela wasn't that much costlier than a regular "coach" seat. Power outlets at every seat! Entry to the special Acela waiting area at Penn Station! Costumed dancers to fan me and bring me drinks! I can't wait.

: Should I Be On Twitter For This?: My cab ride home from Penn Station included an intelligent discussion with the cabbie as to whether Microsoft's bids for dominance in online apps and advertising would truly challenge Google, and Microsoft's often overlooked (by me) Outlook base.

Why should I move back to San Francisco if I can get this here? Oh yeah: friends, fresh local produce year-round, and bookstore/cafe culture. And (way more) people actually doing innovative tech, not just talking about it.

: Getting Rid of Gimmicks and Hand Markers in Dance Dance Revolution: Here's a tip on making DDR for the Wii much more fun.

By default, the game adds all these "gimmicks" (exploding arrows, bouncing and swiveling arrows, etc.) and makes you shake the nunchuck or Wii remote (Wiimote?) to hit certain markers. But the gimmicks just clutter up the dancing, and the Wii doesn't register those nunchuk and Wiimote shakes or button hits consistently. I got really frustrated.

So: at the song selection step, go to Options and turn off Gimmicks and Hand Markers. You'd think this would be in the general Options in the main menu, but it's not. And you have to do it anew for each DDR-playing session (every time you turn on the game, basically). But it makes the game feel much more like the arcade experience.

(1) : Said At Work: "So it turns out I coulda bought Bear Stearns."

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: Who's Afraid of Castle Wolfenstein?: Zack and Pam stayed with us for a few days just now. I was mentioning something that Leonard's not great at -- boring repetitive tasks, or something.

Leonard (entering): Wait, what's my alleged flaw?
Sumana: You're incapable of love!
Leonard: Don't talk about our son, Martha!
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(4) : A Random Walk: My sister is visiting me this weekend and we're going to try to walk the length of Manhattan this Saturday.

We are tantalizingly close to the end of our trek and elated to find ourselves in front of 2 Broadway. We rush toward the dimly glowing storefront that we think must be One. What could be at One Broadway? What treasures could it hold? Apparently: tortilla chips and guacamole. It's a Chipotle. One Broadway is a Chipotle.

It should take ten to twelve hours. It should also be pretty awesome, and about the length of a half-marathon, and thus good practice for any future charity walks we do.

(1) : Done: Manhattan has been walked. I kind of can't believe we did it. More later.

: Mallory: "Mallory," a near-future sci-fi tale by my husband Leonard, is published at Futurismic. I absolutely love it and hope you do too.

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: Huh: I just saw stick-figure whiteboard diagrams and thought for a moment that they were an xkcd.

(6) : 19th Century Slang Help Request: I'm reading Trollope's autobiography and need help understanding this passage:

The [clerical] critic, however, had been driven to wrath by my saying that Deans of the Church of England loved to revisit the glimpses of the metropolitan moon.

What's a "metropolitan moon"? Ever since I heard that you can anagram "subtext" to "butt sex" I feel slightly more foolish for assuming things I don't understand are about sex, but -- is this about sex?

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(2) : Words Flagged As Misspelled: in an email I just sent:

DTs, SEs, Meetup, WebGrrrls [actually WebGrrls], LinkedIn, WTF, hackathon, Twitteriffic [actually Twitterrific], miniconference, nametags, MoMA, PMing.

I wonder if you can deduce what the email was about.

(2) : Trivia, Drugs, And Profit: Yesterday, in the back of the M60 bus coming back home from Columbia, I overheard a group of people discussing hair, phones, cable companies, the wireless auction, etc. I offered a factlet about rotary dial phones and how area codes got assigned initially, and before I knew it they were asking me whether I freelance. This reminds me of two other stories.


An acquaintance of mine was at a party. She met someone and started talking. "Do you freelance?" he asked. "Sometimes," she replied. He pulled out some cocaine and offered to share it with her.

So now "freelance" is a back-formed analog of "freebase"?

She said, "no, I meant websites," and basically begged off with "thank you, you're too kind, I couldn't possibly."


One spring day at UC Berkeley, I went to an engineering career/internship fair in Pauley Ballroom, in the MLK student union, just upstairs from the Open Computing Facility. I got professionally branded swag from the professionally staffed booths with the professionally made banners -- Intel, Microsoft, and companies that are huge or defunct now, all blurred together in my memory. Then I saw a space that looked empty, except for the fact that two people were sitting there, and index cards were taped to the front edge of their table.

The cards had tech acronyms and abbreviations on them: VoIP, DNS, HTTP, and so on... and RTFM.

I looked up from decoding them all and said, "RTFM?!"

One of them said, "You're the first one who's noticed."

And that's how I got a tech writing internship that summer.

(1) : Escapism: I can't wait to be done with school so I can travel, see friends, get back into How To Design Programs, and generally relax and catch up. Near-future plans of this type include:

I would rather plan funtimes than think about cost-benefit analysis. Evidently I would also rather take constitutionals with my husband in the lovely weather, watch Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, and Arrested Development, start putting together a slideshow from the Broadway walk, and read Trollope and Lem. Maybe I can use my revealed preferences as an example in the term paper.

: Quarter-Baked Ideas: Leonard's daily conference call just now sounded like You Look Nice Today. Thus, I thought of an idea for another comedy podcast: a parody of a daily or weekly conference call. Think The Office.

Also last night I thought the five Pandava brothers would make a good boy band.

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: Transfoooooorm!: I now grok feedback I've been getting from my superiors for weeks. I need to improve my listening skills and help other people feel comfortable in difficult discussions. Time to reread Carnegie!

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(1) : Last One: Fictional Celebrity Jeopardy?: If you miss Spamusement, then spamuse yourself by guessing the subject lines that led to these comics.

Speaking of trivia quizzes, Leonard and I played this periodic table quiz and some other quizzes from that site last night. We missed embarrassingly many elements, no planets, no states, several countries in Europe, and just a few early Presidents. How could we forget Monroe!? He had a Doctrine and a great campaign song!

: Stretching: During yesterday's class, as part of a puzzle-solving team, I wrote a Python program and a comic skit. That was really nice.

: Anti-Grumpiness Tips: Peppy music (e.g., Barcelona, certain campaign/labor/war songs), handball in the morning breeze, getting documents written and sent, working outdoors on a beautiful spring day.

: Questionnaire For Vendors: We got a demo of a fancy new web-based software tool -- project management, task tracking, bug tracking, collaboration, Agile, Extreme Programming, a singing, dancing, iterating revue. I know a little something about the tradeoffs that creators of collaboration tools have to make. So I could ask pesky questions like:

I don't think the vendor liked that I was asking these questions. I got the nervous-laughter/"That's a very good question" combo twice. Good sign.

I can come up with more such questions for vendors in case anyone feels like lengthening their checklists. Share yours in the comments.

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: Cleaning the Lint Screen: Twelve inches does not seem very long, and yet a twelve-inch sandwich is pretty big.

My marching band CD is helping me work and keep my mood up. I wonder why I find marches less annoying than techno.

Today's Starslip Crisis was hot enough to warm my cheeks, which surprised me! So if the lack of eros is all that's stopped you from reading it, you should start. If you liked Firefly then you'll like Starslip.

My classmate's wife just had a baby girl. He came to class and showed off a picture, and people congratulated him. No one said, "too bad, maybe it'll be a boy next time," or anything like that. I wish every new daughter in the world got that treatment.

: Acting As If: As a matter of course I wish to direct you to http://del.icio.us/leonardr/sumana for random links I run across while dallying on the Web. Example: the hilarious "I consume, but then analyze!" which is by the alternate universe Sumana who got into makeup as a teen. A few additional notes:

Leonard and I and everyone else I know who's gone have superlatively enjoyed MoMA's "Design and the Elastic Mind" exhibit, which closes in two weeks. Go if you can! I especially liked the phone handset, the oxygen generators and air purifiers, and the paper alarm clock, and the instant furniture video and artifact blew me away.

Yesterday I put on the new suit and visited the client for the first time as their project manager. The cubicles, corridors, and cafeteria sent me back to Silicon Valley during the first boom, specifically my tech writing internships at Exodus. After I got home, when I was changing into sleep attire and folding my business pants over a chair, I remembered folding my dad's gray and navy pants over hangers in Mom & Dad's tiny walk-in closet in Stockton, all those years that he worked at Caltrans on PERT analyses. For once bumping into the past was comforting. This isn't new. My dad did it and I can too.

I'm thinking of adding myself to this list of women who welcome invitations to speak at conferences. I'm ruminating on an eminently conference-y IT analogy right now: software development is more like agriculture than it is like manufacturing.

Now, to work on cost-benefit analysis, then watch the original Bedazzled for free on Hulu.

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(2) : This is Ridiculous: MyDomain, a.k.a. 000Domains, treats my domain, brainwane.net, differently because I registered it more than five years ago. So now I have to call them up or suchlike to renew the thing. Blah. What registrar are reasonable people using these days?

: Designed For Me: The Crooked Timber folks talking about the skill of management.

One point in that discussion: communication of academic concepts to non-academics requires serious empathy. Gotta work on that. In fact, gotta work on my presentation in defense of my master's thesis, which is this Saturday around 11 am.

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: Musings: On a colleague sitting alone in a conference room with low lighting, sternly focused on his laptop screen: "He looks so hard-core in there. Like he's checking checkboxes in a web app to decide who to kill."

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(1) : Sportswomanship: Just the facts, mostly; more facts and story. There's a parable here, along the lines of the story of walking with Jesus and leaving footsteps on the sand.

: Litmus Quest: "But is it art?"

"Well, it must be art, because it has an obnoxious Flash interface."

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(2) : Elegance: I figured it out. I woke up and thought about it and invented an opening and closing for my presentation today that's aesthetically satisfying and that uses meaningful, non-cliched analogy to get the crux of my idea across to the judges. Now to practice to ensure I can deploy it well at 10:55.

This is great. This is the heart of yes. I've been reading a lot by my role models recently, especially Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Rachel 'goop' (techwriter) Chalmers, and Dr. Rivka. And even though I know they have their moments of despair and weakness, I couldn't help thinking, "This is how they feel all the time!"

(2) : Done(ish): Thesis: defended! Poker faces of judges: studied.

Now, two more finals, then DONE.

(4) : Tips, Modesty, and The Magic Word (Julie Andrews): My sisters-in-law have started putting longer essays and tipsheets on Associated Content (Susie, Rachel) . Susie writes mostly tips for domestic productivity and happiness. I especially like Susie's tips on beginner sewing projects using scrap fabric and reusing old, worn-out clothes, and her lists of tips on useful things to keep in the car, starting a meal swap group (a.k.a. once-a-month megapotluck), housewarming gift ideas, and setting up and maintaining a cleaning schedule. Now I just have to follow through!

Rachel's living in London, which led Susie to write up tips for reducing an expatriate's loneliness. Rachel mostly writes expat- and traveler-themed articles, like tips on planning a backpacking trip, a pros-and-cons piece on using guidebooks, and gift guides for expats and itinerants. This November, I'd like to use Rachel's tips for succeeding at NaNoWriMo. And it was neat and exciting to read her citizen reporting from the Democrats Abroad presidential primary.

Sadly, not all the stuff on Associated Content is as useful and cool as my family's work. Women have posted creepy Bible-related comments on an article on the history of pants in women's fashion. I never understood why skirts were more "modest" than pants until I read these comments. I'd figured: it's easier to have sex while wearing a skirt! Wouldn't pants, which would need to be removed, be more modest? But no, these women inform me: the lines of the leg-tubes draw the male gaze right to the forbidden area! They know where it is! They can't help but think about it! But wait, isn't mystery sexier? Wouldn't men actually obsess more over the invisible, unknowable skirt-covered crotch? Ridiculous.

If these women want me to wear skirts, they should turn their energies towards convincing mainstream America that God gave all his children leg hair and never meant for half of them to constantly battle it.

As long as I'm talking about my sisters-in-law, I should mention that Rachel recently recommended Lying About Hitler by Richard Evans and saw a stage production of The Sound of Music. Rachel, I saw a home-taped video of the film a zillion times when I was a kid, and I must have always fallen asleep around the wedding. When I was a teen, I then actually saw the ending with the escape and was like, "Oh! So it was all about Nazis!"

Also, when I was five, my mom took me to try out for a local stage production of The Sound of Music as Gretl, the tiny daughter. I said the lines Gretl had said in the movie instead of the lines they were giving me for the play. I didn't get the part.

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(1) : RIP, Mildred Loving: Mildred Loving, freedom-to-marry activist, has passed away. Forty-one years ago, Mildred and Richard Loving and the ACLU paved the way for my marriage to be recognized everywhere in the United States. Thank you, Mrs. Loving. In commemmoration, a repeat link to a related column of mine.

: Montreal: Looks like I'm going to be in Montreal eight days from now, the night of Saturday, May 17th. Anyone want to put me up or have a late dinner?

: The Last Mile: One final down, one to go. Tidbit from studying: 1961 was the last year that defense comprised half or more of US federal spending.

Yesterday in a brainstorming meeting I mentioned Oregon Trail and a bunch of us squeed. Sharing pop culture touchstones is hardly a substitute for living one's entire childhood in a single social and geographical milieu, but it's what I have so that's where my nostalgia goes. One of the company's owners and a 24-year-old colleague didn't know about Oregon Trail. I must have played it for a hundred hours, after school at Sorrento Springs Elementary near St. Louis. Was that the second or third school I'd been to in two years? It was fourth or fifth grade, so it had been at least a year since we moved from Pennsylvania. Had I already slowed down on the whole making-friends endeavor? No, no, that wasn't yet, I only really got socially bewildered after moving to California. Maybe I should have taken more oxen.

(2) : Done?: I think I'm done with finals. This is assuming that I did well enough on my cost-benefit analysis exam, and/or that my classmates did poorly enough. I am a little stunned and don't quite believe it. I wish constant elasticity had been on there; at least that's mathematically elegant. And I knew how to do it.

: No Way!: An A- in cost-benefit analysis?! Other people must have done much worse on that final exam than I! Awesome! Now I know I'm actually graduating on Tuesday! Off to Montreal with a net-positive song in my heart.

(12) : Finished With Commencement: Tonight my husband and sister and mom watched me cross the stage to the tune of the worst mispronunciation of my name in all my graduations ever. Who cares! Then, the ritziest freaking reception ever, with live music and a risotto bar. The difference between an Ivy and a state school, apparently.

I'm done, I'm done, now I just have to actually believe it and get back on my Python lessons, AltLaw work, Miro testing, exercise, internal improvement, writing portfolio collection and upkeep, correspondence, and all the other stuff I've been putting off till May 21st, 2008.

: New Word: Angst + maelstrom = angstrom.

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: Media Experience Revue: Since my mom is in town, I actually bought full-price Broadway tickets for once in my life. Tonight's showing of Curtains will star David Hyde Pierce and hundreds of dollars of my money in the form of fedoras and whatnot.

Zed and Jen: Leonard and I have bought and begun to watch Black Books, basically because you sold me on it by showing me the pilot when I stayed with you in January. It's like a sitcom, only good!

I've been binging on decades-old Nancy Kress (most famous for the awesome Beggars in Spain novella) from the Columbia library. She loves writing about lawyers, journalists, wives, genetic engineering and gene therapy, reincarnation, class, and upstate New York. I'm not enamored of her endgames in her novels, but nearly everything else is good.

Now I'm indulging in my friend Susan McCarthy's Becoming a Tiger: How Baby Animals Learn to Live in the Wild. Susan was a neighbor and confidant of mine in SF and I miss her! But now she has a smart and funny blog about animal behavior that will remind me to call her more often. The book is chock-full of retellable anecdotes and sounds like her, making me smile on every page.

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(1) : Disoriented: Curtains! and The Counterfeiters are both very good, but I got a kind of whiplash from seeing them a day apart.

I walked out of Curtains! with a huge relaxed smile on my face, gloating that my mom and sister had enjoyed it and a Circle Line cruise that day. (A successful New Yorker must be able to recommend appropriate tourist activities to visiting friends. Thus I get chagrined when I try to bring friends to Roosevelt Island and Southpoint Park is locked up.) David Hyde Pierce is hilarious and adorable, the whole production moves superfast and the sets and costumes are tremendous.

I walked out of The Counterfeiters with my entire body tense, and had anxious Holocaust dreams. I'd seen the movie partly because Cory Doctorow described it as a prisoners' dilemma exploration. It's that, and engrossing, and horrifying. I now want to re-view the "Chain of Command" episode of Star Trek: TNG and a few episodes of Star Trek: DS9 (Duet emphatically included) to better understand what aspects of the Cardassians have Nazi analogues. But I also just want to sit and cry.

(1) : Bookishness: I have now inhaled Scott Westerfeld's Uglies trilogy, complete with a night where I stayed up till 1:30 reading in bed while Leonard slept, just to finish Specials. Now I'm reading the companion novel, Extras, which makes me laugh out loud and wince at how familiar the attention economy feels. And this weekend, Leonard and I acquired huge stacks of cheap used books in Brooklyn. It's so nice to have more time to read fiction!

Speaking of nominally young-adult fiction, my friend Sabrina Banes has a new blog about YA fiction matters. I'm hoping to cause her to love Gordon Korman.

Also, Sabrina connived Leonard and me into going with her to the Little Brother signing this evening, starring Cory Doctorow and co-starring the Nielsen Haydens. Speaking of the attention economy. I'll be meeting people who have higher Technorati rankings than I do! I'll be wearing my oldest Electronic Frontier Foundation tee shirt, for cred.

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: I Laugh At Caffeine: Every day that I experience a thin sheen of capsaicin-induced sweat on my face is a better day, ceteris paribus.

: Science-y Storytelling Tomorrow Night: I can't attend much of the World Science Festival because I'll be in Washington, DC this weekend visiting family. I'll be missing Alan Alda, "Seeds, Survival, Stalin," and a bunch of neat dance.

However, I am intensely interested in "Toil and Trouble... Stories of Experiments Gone Wrong." That's tomorrow night at Peter Norton Symphony Space, a pretty utilitarian venue (wah wah wah). I'll be buying that ticket later today, so call or email me by around 1pm ET if you want to come with.

Update at 1:30: It'll just be me and Leonard. Unless you ambush us!

: Work Quip: "Tuesdays With Morrie? Didn't that turn out to be fabricated?"

"He didn't really meet those five people in heaven."

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(2) : Quick Reviews: Paddleboating in the Jefferson Memorial basin: harder than I'd thought. Iron Man: extremely fun. The fake Wired cover near the start stakes the claim that Tony Stark has the most badass gadgets EVER. Which he does. Silas Marner: I'm two-fifths through it and need to finish it to make sure Dunsey Cass gets his comeuppance. And nineteenth-century British lit always makes me incredibly grateful for the Internet and the Greyhound bus.

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(1) : Weird Things: Hulu now features the first two seasons of Babylon 5. Since Leonard and I enjoy Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, we've started on Bab5, which features (I am promised) big old arc-y epic alien wars and political intrigue and tragedy and character development. Fans often apologize to newcomers for the first season, and I am understanding why; as a scifi writer, Leonard the other night took personal offense to some clanking exposition. "There are so many better ways to get that across in one sentence!" he exclaimed. Specifically, in "Born to the Purple":

Mollari: I've already made a reservation at Fresh Air.
Adira: Fresh Air? That's the finest restaurant on Babylon 5!

Leonard instantly came up with three better lines for Adira:

[Astonished face]
Fresh Air?!
I thought they were full up months in advance!

But since Battlestar Galactica is emerging at the stately pace of one episode per week, we have no choice (read that in a William Adama voice) but to watch its precursor instead.

Also: If Sarah Peters weren't in Mali right now I'd assume that she had made this video.

(2) : Aside: I'll be offline for much of this weekend at a retreat in San Antonio. It looks like my 10-year high school reunion, scheduled for next weekend, is cancelled for want of RSVPs. I'm managing three to five projects right now, double the number I had last month at this time. Dance Dance Revolution seems to be getting harder, probably because I've raised the difficulty level to Difficult. I want to talk with my California friends sometime soon. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin is thoughtful and funny and helps me understand artistic innovation. I've been reading Making Light comments by Abi Sutherland, especially for insights about software testing and motherhood. And Susan McCarthy's Becoming a Tiger is refreshing my love of life -- not just my life, but of rambunctious, smart fauna in general.

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(1) : I Am Never Going To Meet My Lawyer: Kevan and Holly are here. Evidently it IS possible for me to keep up with them in conversation, but only if they're severely jetlagged. I'll take what I can get.

This weekend they're doing Come Out and Play NYC (weird games fest) and possibly MoCCA. And they'll also be eating with (or by?) Danielle Sucher, our lawyer, whom I still haven't met (everything's been phone & email). Riana (thank you for doing law intern anthropology for us, Riana) introduced me to Danielle. The business development woman at work is going to eat one of Danielle's dinners. Will I ever meet her? Yes, when Leonard and I do up our wills soon (no way to not make that sound creepy). So the title of this entry is a lie.

: Brick To The Back Of The Head: Zack Weinberg once told me that a relative of his had predicted a change in Zack. Zack was about to move to New York City to start at Columbia, and the relative predicted that, after two weeks, it would be as though a brick had hit him in the back of the head, and Zack would start walking faster. Evidently this was accurate.

I went to the retreat last weekend and stayed with Kristen and Aaron and Anne and Ben, and I need to write about that sometime soon. Then I came to work and went from managing 1.5 projects to 3.5. Today I brunched with Evan and Leonard at the soon-to-close Florent, caught up a little on project work, got new library books, went to a members' reception at MoMA, and met Ze Frank.

Maybe next week a brick will hit me in the back of the head and I'll manage all my projects with the tip of a single finger. Today it's all hands on deck.

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(1) : In Which I Am Suddenly Michael Lopp: World of Warcraft is the new golf. Battlestar Galactica is the new baseball.

(1) : Summy-Come-Lately Nitpicks B5: Babylon 5 has enraptured the Harihareswara-Richardson household; we're up to 4 or 5 episodes a week. Quick review, halfway through the first season: I love the political intrigue and much of the dialogue, but Sinclair can be incredibly wooden, almost as wooden as the cheesy set for the B5 equivalent of the Promenade.

I've been reading the Lurker's Guide to B5 after each episode to grok them better. The creator, J. Michael Straczynski, communicated with fans on the net as the episodes first aired in the 1990s, and the lurker's guide collects and displays these notes as well. Some episodes, and some of JMS's posts, have aged better than others. For example, the guide for "Believers" has JMS chortling that the ending is completely unexpected. Leonard and I called it twenty minutes in, but we're watching it 14 years later. JMS also notes in that message that "TV-SF is generally 20-30 years behind print SF," and Leonard agrees. Maybe Leonard and I are used to the plot twists of print.

We just saw "Signs and Portents," which I keep calling "Shadows and Portents" because freaking every other episode has "shadows," "dark," "twilight," or "night" in the title.

And now the question for Riana, John, and other B5 fans who are 14 years ahead of me:

As Sinclair and Garibaldi left the lavatory, another person entered. From the person's appearance, it seemed to be a woman, even though they were leaving the men's room (the "Male" symbol was clearly visible on the wall outside.)
Is this a hint to some huge arc later? Or a nod to the existence of trans people on B5? Or just a continuity error? Leonard and I have seriously spent twenty minutes trying to figure this out. Please leave insights in the comments so Leonard and I can start talking about Shadows.

: Semifinal Thoughts: Zed wrote me several weeks ago with some research on Trollope and the "metropolitan moon". He gave me permission to post it so here goes:

The context was a spat between Trollope and the Anglican church over
Trollope criticizing how badly rural curates (or deans) were paid. As
Leonard notes, a metropolitan is an Anglican archbishop. So it's just
a reference to curates being envious of archbishops' riches. Holly, in
your comments, quotes the relevant passage, but missed that a dean is
the lowly underpaid figure.

Also, the phrase alludes to Hamlet.

Hamlet, Act I, Scene 4 (Hamlet addressing the ghost of his father).

Angels and ministers of grace defend us!
Be thou a spirit of health or goblin damn'd,
Bring with thee airs from heaven or blasts from hell,
Be thy intents wicked or charitable,
Thou comest in such a questionable shape
That I will speak to thee: I'll call thee Hamlet,
King, father, royal Dane: O, answer me!
Let me not burst in ignorance; but tell
Why thy canonized bones, hearsed in death,
Have burst their cerements; why the sepulchre,
Wherein we saw thee quietly inurn'd,
Hath oped his ponderous and marble jaws,
To cast thee up again. What may this mean,
That thou, dead corpse, again in complete steel
Revisit'st thus the glimpses of the moon,
Making night hideous; and we fools of nature
So horridly to shake our disposition
With thoughts beyond the reaches of our souls?
Say, why is this? wherefore? what should we do?

What he meant by alluding to Hamlet, and why it should be profane
(simply because he's suggesting the deans are violating the
commandment against coveting their neighbor's ox?) still escape me.

But at this point, I think it was totally not a sex thing.
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(1) : Zurek Tip: If you want sourdough soup in New York City, use the MenuPages find-a-food search and search for "white borsch," "white borscht," and "zurek" in Brooklyn, the East Village, and the Lower East Side.

In general, HopStop, MenuPages, "Find businesses" in Google Maps, and WorldCat are great resources for New Yorkers and visitors. They aggregate information and make it easier to use, so I use more public transit, eat out more, and borrow more books.

(3) : Goodbye, Cody's: Cody's Books is closing. As in, all their stores. Forever. I am sad and angry. The Cody's that I loved, the location at Haste and Telegraph (where I worked for ten months just after college), closed last year. But this is the final death, the final vanishing. Here's hoping Moe's is doing well.

: The Invalid Coughs Piteously: Am siiiiiiick. Leonard characterizes my amount of whining as "not more than is seemly" and has been providing very homemade chicken noodle soup (seriously, made noodles from scratch and turned a whole dead chicken into soup) as well as tea and whatnot. Napped extensively, reread Zodiac: The Eco-Thriller and watched some over-the-top Psych. I should construct a Grand Unified Theory of Easy-To-Digest Media For The Sumana Sickbed. Criteria include: funny, not too original, happy ending.

Funny typo in my incoming email: "Sumana: Thanks for conforming." I'm assuming he meant "confirming" but why risk finding out what he really thinks of me?

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(1) : Between Achoo And A Missed Deadline: Is it worth it to go back to work when you're still recovering from a cold and not functioning at 100%? My sources say blah.

: Friday Night Blights: Yesterday: woke for an hour ear-li in the mornin' thanks to Leonard's incoming illness and a foolhardy attempt to start sleeping an hour early. This morning: wrong number woke me at 4 and I couldn't get back to sleep. Insomniacs take note: Hulu is adding a bunch of new shows and movies this summer, and now carries The Daily Show and The Colbert Report.

I've just read The Puttermesser Papers (disappointing), The Fire Inside: Firefighters Talk About Their Lives (quick and moving), and the third trade collection of Action Philosophers! (funny; requires attention and serious reading comprehension). Am now on Peter Falk's autobiography -- yes, the Columbo guy. It's hilarious. Less autobiography than compilation of two-page anecdotes.

I worked probably ten hours today, yet still have an hour of work to do before I can call the week finished. At least I have a nice relaxing stint of jury duty soon. I got summoned for a grand jury; if I'm picked for the 23-person panel, I might serve for two weeks to several months.

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(4) : HPPY TDA: What the heck is up with the letters on these pieces of cake? Forget the depressing news story; Leonard and I came up with multiple explanations for the stock photo accompanying it.

  1. The letters are the first-name initials of the children; to indicate which piece goes to which child. Would work well on cupcakes.
  2. Something in a foreign language got written on the cake. What words can you spell with DYHTPPA?
  3. The cake got cut up, "Happy Birthday" got written on the cake with one letter per cake square, and we're now only seeing seven slices.
  4. Aha! "Happy Birthday" got written on the cake before it got sliced up; note the T, D, and A from "Birthday" with frosting on the bottom edge, and the P from "Happy" with frosting on the top edge. The most likely explanation.
Unless you have others.

: Spoiler! I'm Numb And Sad: Just read Y: The Last Man, final trade paperback collection of the monthly issues. Why does tragedy still shock me? I had to hunt around on the web to find people as sad as I am to help me process my grief.

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: Existence and Uniqueness (with apologies to Seth): Trying to think of unique things I've done since the last time I catalogued them. But some of the interesting things about me aren't so much things I've done as things that happened to me or my family. Yesterday's conversation with Stuart and Molly gave me a good euphemism for those oddball secrets and trivia: "my land in Colorado."

Per the rules of the game, I should ask my readers whether any of you have done the things I thought were unique within my circle, and then come up with a replacement for any duplicates. Go at it.

And as long as I'm doing blog memes: Rachel, a response to this one is coming soon.

: Two Recent Requests: Leonard's Amazon wishlist (since his birthday is a week away), and the RSS feed for this blog. Thanks for the reminders, Mirabai!

: Note To Self: Write web quiz: "Highlander episode title, Star Trek episode title, or both?"

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(2) : One Peace At A Time: In school the teachers said, the real world isn't so forgiving, you won't be able to get extensions on your papers, you'll get worse consequences than bad grades if you do a poor job. And indeed, in my working world, the challenges don't end, I have to seek out feedback from my superiors, and I don't get summers off. Yet I find that I experience greater motivation and less procrastination and anxiety at my current job than I did in college. Why?

I remembered those bad old habits when I read some old blog entries about procrastination and avoidance in Ph.D. dissertation work. I found it reassuring to read those, and to see that I wasn't alone in my master's thesis experiences. My biggest problem was shame-related avoidance as a turbo maximizer on procrastination. And the gimmick that worked best for me: injecting a trusted third party. When I could talk to a friend about my problems, I often found out that I wasn't doing terribly, or at least that in the light of day my situation looked more manageable. When I made a first-draft pact with a friend, I had new motivation to start the project and gain momentum. Otherwise it was just me versus or with The System, possibly embodied in a teacher.

Talking and working with peers helps me set expectations (how original does this solution have to be? what's a reasonable amount of time to spend on this?) and break down big goals into sequences of little tasks. Socially I was a late bloomer, and it seemed to take me the vast majority of my academic life to grok that I work better this way.

I like working with people -- and for people. Aaron Swartz touches on this motivation in the Fog Creek Copilot documentary when he suggests that work is more interesting than institutional education -- why spend your time doing something fake when you could be doing something real? One inherent problem with academic make-work was that nothing except my own grades depended on it. I thought I was unmotivated, I had no idea how much responsibility I could handle, and I refused to consider a career in medicine because I didn't think I could handle being responsible for human lives. In retrospect, that was stupid, because basically all adults have to handle huge responsibilities with babies, money, driving cars, etc. and risk ruining and ending people's lives.

Then I moved up in the working world. Every time I gained real responsibilities, and saw my work serving others, I started working harder, valuing myself more, using my time more wisely, and attacking problems with greater energy. The experience of responsibility, not merely of earning money, nurtured my ambition.

A few weeks ago, Leonard and I ate at the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, and we happened to talk to a trio of recent high school grads who were behind me in line. I think they were on a road trip, then off to freshman year at college. They asked us for advice, and Leonard said: start a business. Just find some random need that you can fill, part-time from your dorm room. There's a bunch of reasons why that's a good idea. You get pocket money. You get entrepreneurial experience while risk is cheap and your brain's more malleable. But the reason that strikes me hottest right now: you'll get people depending on you. If you find that tremendously motivating, that's a sign.

And if part of independence is disobedience, another, less frequently articulated part is the capacity for responsibility, not just for yourself but for your dependents. (From stuffed animals to computers to pets to clients to children? How will my staircase go?)

In school the teachers sounded like Morpheus from The Matrix: "Welcome to the desert of the real." But what grows in a sandbox?

Happy Independence Day, and Happy Interdependence Day.

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(2) : My Husband: Leonard likes the quiche and the Mexican-style hot chocolate at Tea Spot (MacDougal and West 3rd Street).

Leonard likes harmonizing with recorded music that he's listening to, or filking it or mashing it up, instead of just listening passively.

Leonard likes to rub his knuckles or his fingernails against each other when he's thinking, or making a witty point.

Leonard likes it when people invent things. He argues that Peter Frampton should get to use the vocoder because he was so inventive with it, but that others should have to get a black belt in vocoder to use it.

Leonard does not like being forced to do things.

: On Being A Manager: Man, I need to read my self-help books again.

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(1) : New Slang: I'm updating my very out-of-date slang dictionary; if I have turns of speech that call out for noting or explanation, comment away. Newest entry: "Birthday."

(3) : "It is what it is. Namely, it.": I called last night's Babylon 5 "Married to a Mob."

Today: cleaning, brunch, and an "adult party" (in that I don't have to keep my guests from eating paint).

Leonard likes to give books away via BookMooch. While cleaning and making room on our bookshelves for new comics and thrift-store finds (yesterday I snagged a Thurber anthology), he coaxes me into giving away less beloved books, like the Jim's Journal anthologies and random kids' books that I treat as popcorn. My sister participates in the similar Paperback Swap service and also reports positive results. It's a warm-and-fuzzy way to declutter.

: Photos Galore: I organized a few birthday celebrations for Leonard last week, specifically a fancy dinner and a ceramics-painting fest.

: Service: For jurors and cops, the job erratically swings between moments of tremendous responsibility and stretches of consuming boredom. Thurber is a fine antidote to the boredom; I finished 356 pages of his short stories and essays today while getting processed into a grand jury and commuting an hour each way.

Last summer I spent two weeks doing physical labor and this summer I'll spend a month doing intellectual labor: evaluating evidence, critical thinking, all that buzz. I may diagram arguments in my juror notes the same way I did in high school debate.

The initial processing room had several bookshelves full of paperbacks, complete with two copies of The Fountainhead.

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(2) : Learned This Week: Josh Fruhlinger appears on Jeopardy! in an episode playing this coming Tuesday. Come over to my place if you want to watch it!

The text prediction on my phone thinks that "leopardy" is a word.

Josh, as a science/tech writer, is also the plot-device/worldbuilding uncle from Asimov's story The Dead Past.

Some people wet a toothbrush before putting toothpaste on it, and some don't.

Even good people can't resist making an obvious joke about Governor Paterson's blindness.

I was reminded that one incident can lead to multiple legal charges. Prosecutors can slice ten seconds' worth of actions into infringements of several laws in different degrees.

I have an easier time reviewing written notes than memories of purely oral instructions. If I won't have the safety net of any written instructions, I have to take notes on the oral instructions or repeat them back to the teller, especially if there are steps that seem like duplicates. This is a repeat lesson from my time on the farm last year.

Witnesses often have to give approximate times, durations, or addresses. Numbers in general are hard to remember.

I give people the impression that I am smart and read a lot of books, and am possibly a doctor or lawyer.

The 1928 version of the NPR-listening vegetarian body-piercing liberal was "card playing, cocktail drinking, poodle dogs, divorces, novels, stuffy rooms, dancing, evolution, Clarence Darrow, overeating, nude art, prize fighting, actors, greyhound racing, and modernism."

Some people would rather sit around and do nothing, and complain of being bored, than read.

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(1) : Creak: I accidentally brought home the NYT crossword puzzle on Wednesday and Leonard and I solved it together. We repeated the endeavor yesterday and today. I've begun reading the paper during my commute, including the obituaries. (Interesting fact: St. Louis's Gateway Arch was designed by Eero Saarinen, which makes sense now that I know it.) Leonard fears we have instantly aged 15 years.

: Check The Contrast: I am Cinderella!

: Waiter Rant Book Signing: Who wants to come with me to Tuesday's book signing by the author of Waiter Rant?

: If Only: Leonard reported seeing a guy with an Open Planning Project tee moving into our building. I garbed myself in my oldest EFF tee and went to welcome him. Turned out he was just helping a friend move out. Blah!

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: Service, Cont.: Jury duty continues. Yesterday I called myself a prude and was called a prune. It all works out.

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: Group Dynamics Were Never My Strong Suit: Bought today at the hardware store: new construction-grade earplugs (with baffles) and earmuffs. Together they should reduce incoming sound by 45 decibels. Will that keep me from hearing Adam Sandler movies and loud vulgar conversations so I can concentrate on my book? I'll find out tomorrow!

The loud, talkative juror's voice cuts clear through my old earplugs, and my attempt today to ask her to curb talk of sex a bit mightily failed to achieve its objectives (despite my carefully-laid groundwork). So, for several more working days, I'll be trapped in a jury room with a loud, verbose, repetitive person who has a bone to pick with me. Thus, new noise-reduction gear.

At times like this I remember the adage, Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

: Further Reports: My jury seems to have settled into watching Adam Sandler movies while waiting for Assistant District Attorneys to show up and occupy our time. Better Sandler movies, which merely confirm existing prejudices, than vigilante/rogue cop movies. We've gone from Anger Management (wincertainment, in case The Office is too highbrow for you) to I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry (why are Buscemi and Akroyd in this again?) to Reign Over Me (Cheadle pulling Sandler into respectable territory). I've threatened to bring in Punch-Drunk Love, which Roger Ebert called the key to all Sandler films.

Also watched: Charlie Wilson's War, aforementioned crime/cop stuff, and Hitch. One ADA immediately won my good graces by coming in, recognizing the freeze-frame of Hitch, and imitating a signature dance ("This is where you live").

Some ADAs are smoother than others. Some interview witnesses and have the knack of hinting and leading them along the right track. Others let jargon get in the way of asking questions in a way non-attorneys can understand. ADAs get into the habit of saying, "What, if anything, did you observe?" or "Would [piece of evidence] refresh your recollection?" We've heard those so often that they take on the flavor of religious ritual and infect our speech. "What, if anything, did you have for lunch?"

Grand juries have to watch out for fishing expeditions, vendettas, and mistakes.

Interpersonal stuff is still dicey, and I am really glad my jury does not run on a reputation economy or I'd starve. But I haven't been burned as a witch or anything. The earplugs and earmuffs help. When we're not on a case, I can listen to my ears ringing and read my Neal Stephenson.

: Noooo: Today we watched I Now Pronounce You Chuck And Larry again, because people tried and disliked Perfume and the original Night of the Living Dead. My Connie Willis novel, Lincoln's Dreams, disappointed mightily; it would have been fine as fifteen pages instead of two hundred. I desperately skimmed issues of O: The Oprah Magazine, Family Circle, National Geographic Adventure, the AARP magazine, the magazine for US radiologic technicians, and Antiques. Thank God for the Mad I bought on the way in.

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: Log: L. Sprague de Camp's entertaining Lest Darkness Fall moves really fast. This is probably true even if you haven't just read a 900-page Neal Stephenson novel. I nearly mentioned Lest Darkness Fall in my brain candy recommendations to danah boyd, but fear it's not trashy enough.

William Ball's A Sense of Direction is fantastic and as soon as I return it to the library you should check it out. As I suspected, it has a mix of great inside baseball on directing plays (e.g., three pages on how to structure and practice curtain calls so that actors don't get their egos in a twist) and transferable advice on managing creative folk.

We learn in threes. The first step of learning is discovering; the second step of learning is testing; and the third step of learning is pattern-setting.

The actor will learn to relinquish his fear when he sees that the director never causes another actor to be frightened.

...a question from an actor is not a question. A question from an actor is an innocent bid to draw the director's attention to something unresolved. When the actor asks a question, a wise director doesn't answer the question. The answer to the question is not in the director; the answer to the question is in the actor. Answer the question by asking another question. Allow the actor to resolve the difficulty. He already has the best answer in mind before he asks the question.

Always begin rehearsal on time. There are some directors who like to gossip and joke and waste the first ten or twelve minutes. This awakens a sense of sloppiness in the actor and gives him the feeling that the work is not important.

For future reference, I'm also a fan of advice on pp 58-59, 66, 102-104, and 108 of the 1984 edition.

This weekend (among other activities) I went to a fun party, watched a lot of Babylon 5, saw a friend's wife and new baby, read the de Camp, ate Leonard's excellent sour cherry cobbler, walked around a lot, filed a bug or two on Miro, and rented movies to foist on my fellow jurors this last week of grand jury duty. All this and I still spent hours dinking around on the Web. So there, anxieties!

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(2) : A Salt And Buttery: It's odd, trying to decompress from a month spent in involuntary government service. In its most asinine moments it was like the stereotypical nerd-stuck-in-high-school social boredom/drama. You're trapped, with people you didn't choose, and others dictate when and whether you have anything interesting to do as a group. But we got to help free innocent people and punish wrongdoers, and the hours were far shorter than at my real job. I wonder how disorientation will present tomorrow at work. It will be nice to be in a room full of people who can make interesting conversation.

I discovered a few years ago that I can be friends with with someone who doesn't share my beliefs as long as they demonstrate integrity and a work ethic. I've further discovered this month that respect for details is somehow tied into those criteria, and that the jurors who used the phrase "Who cares?" lost my respect pretty permanently.

Another very full weekend followed. I cleaned a bit, watched several more episodes of Babylon 5 (we're now well into Season 4), hung out extensively with at least two friends, read gobs of sci-fi (including a wonderful new story by Leonard), got back into my self-paced programming course, saw a play, tried out the new sushi place on Broadway, etc.

The news from Eastern Europe is just bewildering. Not to mention other shocking or saddening events of recent days (the church shooting in Tennessee and Bangalore bombings, for example). But Tblisi is in my thoughts.

(1) : Pi Con: 3Pi-Con, a week and a half from now in western Massachusetts, seems very cool. Do I know anyone who's going?

(1) : Screenpay to Screenplay: Last night's dream included a Make/Shawshank Redemption crossover, a visit to Rivka's gigantic historic landmark house (it had Wings), and tomatoes growing near my bed -- providing, as Leonard pointed out later, nightshade.

Also invented in my dream: a Japanese restaurant where the low tatami couch covers could be removed to reveal -- a bathtub! You could lounge in the tub while eating your sushi off a little shelf. Once New Yorkers get tired of egg creams again we should try this. First customer: George Bluth.

In other news, Condi Rice finally gets to exercise her base skillset by going to the former USSR to oppose Russian hegemony. Next: bin Laden challenges Bush to a drinking contest.

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: *Toot*: Happy birthday, India and Pakistan!

(2) : Make The Eagle Bigger: You may have heard about information architect Sean Tevis running for state office in Kansas. He worked on the campaign logo himself. If you're looking for silly stories about the campaign trail, there you are.

After our oldest, first female, or first nonwhite president, maybe we'll be ready to elect a president with a deep understanding of human interface design. This "Archident" would make sure the Presidential Daily Briefings clearly highlighted imminent threats and critical information, and would give US residents single-payer healthcare just as an act of user interface mercy. Any post hoc changes to federal websites or the Congressional Record would be recorded in a Subversion-like record management system for ease in search and retrieval, and to discourage Orwellian history erasures. The State of the Union would include Steve Jobs-esque Keynote accompaniment, a far cry from Ross Perot's posterboard charts or the school-project volcano dioramas that grace the floor of the House today.

Also s/he would have a blog. And constantly be redesigning it. With a White House IT team on call 24/7. And I'd probably be the poor PM dealing with the constant random enhancement requests. So maybe we should wait on a PresIAdent.

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(2) : Commemorating The Memorable: I wish a happy birthday weekend to my sister, who has been having multiple melas to celebrate. Nandini's birthday and that of India itself nearly coincide. Coincidence? Semantically, sorta!

Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, but probably not Nandini because she will be out with friends, Nandini will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance. It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the friendship of Nandini and her people and to the still larger cause of Nandinanity.

I saw an Indian Independence Day parade today on Madison Avenue. It was so Indian that the NYPD opening of the parade (guys on horses, South Asian contingent of NYPD walking & waving) preceded the community-run floats and processions by a full ten minutes. It was so Indian that the Federation of Indian Associations of NJ and NY marchers were sort of milling around at an average speed of one foot per second, "Guest of Honor" sashes barely visible, families and Important Community Leaders blocking the visibility of the banner or keeping lagging marchers stationary in the intersection for one more photo. The one-off PVC cordon, held by leaders on either side of the FIA procession, was supposed to keep the rear at the same pace as the head. It broke.

I love my countries.

A New York City parade has marchers and floats who are in some way relevant to the day being celebrated, as well as hangers-on who get in on that parade action. Marching bands? Break dancers? Sure, why not. We cheered for politicians, Western Union, banks, temples, airlines, calling card sellers, aid organizations, satellite TV networks, and the feminist, casteless, antipoverty legacy of B.R. Ambedkar, India's Madison. The banner read "ARCHITECT OF THE CONSTITUTION OF INDIA" and listed his many degrees between two portraits of him, in a move sure to please his mother. A fellow Columbia grad!

I got a little Indian flag and waved the heck out of it. Yay for the best of India! Democracy, Gandhi, hiphop mashups, rice with buttermilk and pickled lemon, yoga, Ganesha, Buddha, Birbal, Amar Chitra Katha, the Mahabharata, Chamundi Hill in Mysore, an energetic press, infinite diversity in infinite combinations. And my family, of course.

Maybe the Pakistan Independence Day parade was in Brooklyn.

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(2) : Diary of Happy Summer Weekends: Finished Thomas Lynch's moving, dense The Undertaking: Life Stories from the Dismal Trade and was going to recommend it to Rachel Chalmers until I saw she already loved it. Leonard summed up some of our thoughts on Anathem and I'll share more when it comes out in a few weeks. Best moment may have been on page 3 when I cried with happiness that an author I so completely trusted was about to ravish me anew. I'm currently reading the short and insightful In The Blink of an Eye: A Perspective on Film Editing by Walter Murch, which among other things addresses a Leonard-Brendan conversation from five years ago.

I got a bit more How to Design Programs work in and watched a wrenching Bab5 with Leonard. Egg creams are not all that. Yay for getting to see Adi, Caroline, Evan, Stuart, and Mollie; Mirabai, get well soon!

Sometime soon I need to visit the beach, or the summer will have passed with zero real wave-entrancing. Evan took Leonard & me west of the Westside Highway and we just gaped at seeing a single powerful wave cross from New Jersey towards us. Leonard, are you thinking of writing up some of our boat-related conversation with Evan?

Adi and Caroline have me completely beat on "Indian parents aren't so hot on the kid's white significant other" stories. Falling-down laughing at these tales was even better because we got to hear them in the Shakespeare terraces of Central Park, where my wedding proceeded many seasons ago, blessed by all relevant parental units. By crazy random happenstance, the very first evening I met Adi I also met the story's antagonist.

Mollie, who works in an emergency room, informed me that around two percent of the kids she sees with really bad injuries had parents who Did Everything Right -- no neglect, no abuse, just unavoidable. As I consider possible childbearing, that's just enough to let me keep worrying. Also I just read The Undertaking.

Filed under:

: The Scene: I'm probably heading to the KGB bar sci-fi/fantasy reading night tomorrow. Join me?

: Pretty Things To Click On: I helped lead the team that built MoMA's online exhibition for "Kirchner and the Berlin Street". Enjoy!

: Constructive Criticism or Dickishness? Yes!: Just because someone's a jerk doesn't mean they're wrong. But just because someone's right doesn't make them not a jerk! Both/and thinking to the rescue!

: Time To Reread Aronson: I dreamt this sociology principle and wonder whether I'd read it somewhere before:

The urge to conform to the behavior of others in your group and the merging of your sense of self with the mission of the group are orthogonal. Those whose identities include group membership or mission, yet who don't fear the penalties for superficial nonconformity, turn into gadflies.

(2) : He's My Friend, And Some Crackers And Cups: You may be able to sing along:

Denver! The last dinosaur;
He's my friend, and a whole lot more!

Leonard always wonders what "more" entails. Participant in zany schemes? Does that fall under the friendship umbrella? Denver may also be a vehicle, or a teacher of paleontology. That's "more." What are your suspicions or conjectures? And do any of them overlap with the "More" in "Beverages & More"?

(2) : Sarah Haskins: Possibly the best link from The Morning News in the last year was Ms. Gallagher's recommendation of Sarah Haskins's "Target: Women" humor videos. I especially recommend the analytical Chick Flicks, the spot-on absurdist Yogurt, and the seriously deadpan Birth Control.

How can a great Chicago comedian not have a website? What am I missing? Sarah Haskins, in case you egosurf, I hope you play in NYC soon so I can babble praise at you in person.

Filed under:

: Slice-N-Dice: If only Saved By The Bell had produced a Lifetime movie. Maybe once Project Runway moves to Lifetime they'll get rid of Klum and Gunn and replace them with Rosie O'Donnell and Screech.

Filed under:

: Noooo: Terrible dream: I got robbed at gunpoint at an ATM, and the thief somehow took both cash and the PVR Leonard built.

(1) : Republican Women: I posted at Making Light about Republican women, in light of McCain's recent choice of Sarah Palin as his vice president.

(2) : What The...: Associated Press, do not tell me there is a 2-minute YouTube video of random sitcoms using "frak" and then forget to provide the link! YouTube's search evidently thinks I'm misspelling "freak," possibly because I am seventies disco band Chic inventing "Le Freak".

(2) : And They Never Returned, No, They Never Returned: This weekend Leonard and I will be visiting Boston and seeing Moss, Julia, Mel, Mako, Mika, Aaron, Kirk, and the fair city. We are a little too timid to write Ned Batchelder to ask to say hi. I think that basically covers it for Boston-area friends; if you are such a person, and we have misremembered where you live and forgotten to email you, please let us know!

Despite the title of this entry we intend to return to New York on Sunday.

: Join Us [Me]: Anecdotally, it looks like a hot market for project managers, a.k.a. producers. Behavior, Alexei's firm PlayFirst, and Brendan's firm inDelible are looking.

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(5) : Cobbles Without Quibbles: I am still on cloud nine from our visit to Boston. Not only did I reconnect with Mel, Mika, Mako, Aaron, and general relaxation. Not only did Julia and Moss spend quality and quantity time with us, and introduce us to the classic hidden-gem Prose restaurant in Arlington, and drive us around. Moss and Julia also conspired with Leonard and two of their area friends to throw a surprise birthday picnic for me in the Boston Common Garden! Either I'm really gullible or they're good at kind deception. I'm definitely lucky to have such kind and sneaky friends.

They also got a few of Leonard's blog friends to come and picnic with us, including the Twittering Kirk Israel (interesting story about his last name) and the handsome and utterly charming Ned Batchelder. OMG squee! Photos to come soon in case you don't believe me. [Update: believe!]

We'd been meaning to visit Boston for years. This was perfect. Thank you all.

: Less Humor Content Than One Chainsawsuit: Upon the suggestion that Leonard's daily Skype status meeting would be mistaken for a radio call-in show:

"Hi, I have an '89 Miata and the XML just doesn't work right. I've tried flushing my carburetor and my cache and it still makes a sound like 'Eurrrrrrrrrghgagaga.'"

"That sounds like the sound my brother makes when you hit him with a sharp object!"

Filed under:

: Border Patrol On The Shore: A colleague is having a bunch of trouble involving government documents - passport, social security card, driver's license, and recursive dependencies among them.

"You sound like Jason Bourne."

"I feel like Joseph K."

Filed under:

: For Your Next Deadline: I'm happy to provide quotes to reporters and speak publicly about geeky things, so today I joined GeekSpeakr and If I Can Help A Reporter Out. Off the top of my head, I think Rachel, Mel, and Fureigh are great candidates for joining GeekSpeakr and getting asked to give talks at conferences. One of my long-term goals is to regularly send proposals for talks to conferences.

Speaking of being a source, I got quoted extensively in a college newspaper story about politics in Star Trek a while back and forgot to link to it till now. I believe the reporter paraphrased and quoted me accurately until the end, where she has me saying that cyberlibertarians choose the candidate with the most sensible platform. I said that they'd choose the candidate whose platform seemed most rational. I think those are different things.

(1) : Bleh: Today was the kind of day where I cumulatively spent 30-45 minutes mentally rehearsing come-backs and insults to my major irritant.

However, at least I didn't lose my job. 25K layoffs at HP?! I know several people at HP, including (according to am ambiguous LinkedIn entry) my ex. Hope you're fine, guys.

: Choices You Didn't Know You Were Making: There is some serious path dependence in nonconformism. First it's because you want to, then it's because you wouldn't know how not to.

: Boss Speech: One of my bosses, Chris Fahey, is giving a talk at the Web 2.0 Expo tomorrow on "The Seduction of the Interface: Merchandising in Interactive Product Design." If you're choosing among talks to see tomorrow, I suggest his.

: Buffet: While updating my list of books to read I came across some snatches I'd meant to blog:

The DVD for The Matrix should include a deleted scene where Morpheus, who has shipped a cell phone to Neo, keeps reloading the FedEx tracking page so he can call as soon as Neo signs for it.

If you travel the elevated trains in Queens, like the N, W, or 7, you can hit Refresh on your list of available WiFi networks over and over to see what people name them. Best so far: Bob Loblaw.

The Boston science museum apparently collects ships in a bottle by accident, because people think they collect them. Leonard's late grandmother Rosalie had the same problem with frogs.

I signed up for Tor.com, which now offers lots of free short fiction, and tasted a bunch of their ebooks during jury duty. I've learned that they publish a lot of stuff I don't like, and some that unexpectedly grabs me.

"The airlines, on the other hand, said they were simply following a list provided by TSA."

See? A list, not THE list. This guy's just on the "[expletive] you" list, not the "we actually think you're a terrorist" list.
And another quote I've been saving:

He feels isolated in the midst of friends. He feels what a convenience it would be, if there were any single person to whom he could speak simply and openly, without pulling the string upon himself of this shower-bath of silly hopes and encouragements...
-Nightingale, "Notes on Nursing"
And an extremely vague recipe for mango ice cream that I believe I got from my mother:

If you try it, let me know how it goes. Actually, let Leonard know, since he can do something with the info.

Filed under:

: Haze Outside, Malaise Inside: Seeing old friends makes me feel homesick. Going to more free culture events here may help. Also, distractions! Like HOWTO/memoir books about other professions!

Zac Unger's Working Fire, about a guy who basically leaves academe to become a firefighter, is short, switching between journalist-clear and memoirist-thoughtful. My ex's dad was a firefighter in Stockton, probably still is. When I try to remember what he looked like, I think of my old boss Leonard Pollara of Upper Meadows Farm. I once had Thanksgiving dinner in a firehouse with his family and remember feeling very nervous and out of place. Unger had the same fears but got over them, partly through competence, partly by adapting his social self and making friends.

I'm nearly done with Jane Addams's Twenty Years at Hull House, which chronicle the doubt, missteps, victories, and idealism of the young and middle-aged Chicago community organizer from the turn of the century. I was reassured when Addams talked about her long, hazy post-college period before starting Hull House. I haven't come up with my Big Project yet -- I'm not just waiting to be struck by certainty, I'm searching for what my unique value even is -- and every day I feel like the clock is running out.

Filed under:

: YoubenTuben: On the occasion of the end of his TV show, Roger Ebert links to semi-embarrassing YouTube clips and garners poignant appreciation from his fans. One crucial point comes up over and over again in the comments: Siskel & Ebert showed millions of kids how to intelligently think and disagree about movies, and, implicitly, how to approach all art and ideas with a critical eye.

Speaking of YouTube, a few months ago I made a few fake YouTube logos as clues of a puzzle competition. Feel free to reuse them, make new ones using my template, or solve the puzzle(s) in the comments.



(2) : If The Election Debates Were Like High School Debate:

Filed under:

: Happiness At Work: I really like writing technical specifications and recruiting. Today I did both!

: Subjects And Objects In Geek Careers: I love reading Derek Lowe's In The Pipeline to glimpse the shape of the biochem industry: what's inherently hard, what's common, and what's revolutionary. The grammar is familiar if the nouns aren't. This came through quite clearly in his recent post, "Hard Times: A Manifesto".

The more I think about all the research layoffs that have been going on for the last year or two around the industry, the more I think that we really are seeing a change in the way drug discovery is being done....

Everyone knows - including the people in Shanghai and Hyderabad - that the difficult, high-level research is still not being done there. That'll change, as the human and physical infrastructure improves, but the bulk of the outsourced chemistry is methyl-ethyl-butyl-futile stuff. It's "Hey, make me a library based on this scaffold structure" or "Hey, make me fifty grams of this intermediate"....

So improve your skills. Learn new techniques, especially the ones that are just coming out and haven't percolated down to the crank-it-out shops in the low-wage countries. Stay on top of the latest stuff, take on tough assignments. Keeping your head down in times like these will move you into the crowd that looks like it can be safely let go.

The comment thread includes much sniping at US firms that hire immigrants. According to protectionists, there is some static number of jobs available for research chemists, forever, and the only effects of "allowing" a US-based organization to hire a chemist who was not born in the US are to drive down wages and deprive a native-born US citizen of that job. They also hold that long-term benefits to the industry and country from immigrants are a myth, unnecessary, slight, or past.

I find these sorts of attitudes astonishing, not just because they're angry and incoherent, but because in a software developer they would betray a complete lack of initiative. There is no way to simultaneously hold these views and to conduct one's career with the attitude of an entrepreneur. Analyzing opportunities, targeting positions and markets, networking, and generally taking initiative means viewing situations as dynamic, not static. What's growing? What's dying? How can I ride that wave? And if someone is thinking that way, then naturally she recognizes the likelihood that an immigrant's discovery or shoestring startup will create a new and profitable micro-industry, and that US universities gain tremendous value from being world capitals of science research.

I'm interested in constructing a software equivalent of srp's list of biochemistry dogmas ripe for profitable questioning:

1) Rational drug design is the best way to find good treatments. We should try to target precisely one receptor with one molecule.
2) We need to understand the mechanism of action of a drug in order for it to be successful.
3) Drugs that are safe and effective in humans are likely to also be safe and effective in animal models. (We know that the converse is false, which is why we use rigorous human testing.)
4) The incentives of the FDA and patients are very well aligned.
5) The discovery of new therapeutic regimes using combinations of existing off-patent drugs does not deserve to be rewarded.
Filed under:

: Thank You, Eliza Mulcahy: If there is one thing I have learned from Obama Pics Daily it is that the candidates have to eat in public, a lot, and they often look silly while doing so. Barack Obama is capable of immensely enjoying ice cream and milkshakes. I found Obama Pics Daily via the aww-inducing YES WE CAN (HOLD BABIES).

I do not know who curates Obama Pics Daily! whatsgood is the username, to which question I respond: Obama Pics Daily is good.

(1) : Meetup Roundup: The monthly New York Tech Meetup continues to put on a good show. It used to be free to get in but now you have to prepay $10 on the Meetup site to RSVP, since they have to rent spaces that can hold 400 people. It's worth it for the demos and the hobnobbing, although I fear students and shoestring startup types will come less now that there's a price.

This month's demos and talks featured six neat ideas and one fizzler.

  1. I'm In Like With You does social/casual multiplayer games like Hamster Battle. They've created an open API for networked games creation so developers can leverage existing "highscores, matchmaking, user-registration, stats, social features, and multiplayer server management" features. This could be a superlatively useful platform for indie and newbie games creators.

    The site is also open sourcing all their games past, present and future. However, when Fred Benenson asked what license they're using to open source their games, Charles Forman responded that they haven't chosen one. That's just asking for trouble, and I wouldn't hack on anything I cared about under an unspecified license.

  2. rmbrME, or Remember Me, does contact exchange via SMS & a really standards-compliant vCard. This sidesteps all the poxy interchange barriers among PDAs and carriers; every phone can do SMS and every contacts program can read a vCard. Founder Gabe Zichermann points out that paper business cards are like paper checks. rmbrME sounds great for sales folks and mega-networkers.

  3. Change.org has specialized blogs by paid writers to post about important issues and point people to ways they can donate/help out with causes (e.g. criminal justice issues). They had a wide-open period to find out what causes people cared about, but then culled the dozen most popular causes and chose to focus on them. Note that there is an editorial process; it's not all bottom-up.

  4. Family Builder helps you look for living relatives using social network sites -- they've built versions for Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, Hi5, etc. that can all talk to each other. My LDS friends will be interested to know that you can import your existing genealogical data from other services, such as Ancestry.com, using a standard format. Family Builder is also selling kits to do DNA testing. Since you're just using this DNA to track down ancestors, and not finding out whether you're at risk for Parkinson's, your state health department will probably be fine with it.

  5. TheLadders, a premium jobs site, decided to make an iPhone app basically for fun. An internal competition ensued and several teams formed to write apps. The winning app leveraged preinstalled components on iPhones (Safari and SQLite; I bet the latter is there for Mail), stored data in SQLite, and then used jQuery & AJAX to make the app quick & responsive.

  6. Speaking of iPhone apps, the developer of Aqua Hoops (a casual iPhone game costing 99 cents) gave a humorous presentation on his inspiration, lessons learned, and profits. E.J. Mablekos advises that, if you're thinking of selling an iPhone app, you should get the 1-week seller approval process over with right away so it doesn't slow you down when you're ready to release. As funny NYTM talks go, Mablekos wasn't in the same league as Will Carlough's February 2006 Double Feature Finder demo, but it's hard to top that (video).

  7. CollabFinder is a social network where awesome designers can find awesome software developers, and vice versa, to collaborate on noncommercial personal projects, and that's it. Sahadeva Hammari, the presenter, has made strong design choices and has a great name that reminds me of home. He also likes to say "awesome." These things remind me of Ryan North and Project Wonderful and make me happy.

  8. The makers of Adarky (an ad-replacer that lets you choose what ads to see) could learn something from Project Wonderful. Anyone who goes to the effort to install the Adarky plugin is a perfect candidate to simply install an adblocker, which is less work. The hand-wavy boil-the-ocean strategy for getting ads and making money off the whole thing got the worst reception of the night.

    Urbis, a prior project by the same folks, seems much more interesting. It's akin to the fan fiction sites, except that it's meant for commercially publishable fiction. I hope all the opportunities are legit; Making Light has taught me to be cautious of agents who seek out new writers.

TheLadders sponsored a cocktail hour, I exchanged business cards for resumes, IAC let us watch the second Presidential debate on their huge screens, and those who drank every time McCain said "My friends" got in over their heads. A good meetup.

(3) : Notable: If there's one iota of wisdom I remember from Reader's Digest's "Quotable Quotes," it's that good stories feature ordinary people doing extraordinary things or extraordinary people doing ordinary things. This model explains to me why superhero comics get so boring -- if everything's extraordinary, then nothing is -- and yet another reason why plotless character studies written after Jackson/Hemingway/Fitzgerald get on my nerves (more complaining here).

Fortunately, real life comes chock full of the ordinary/extraordinary reversals. And there's never been a better time to capture them. We mundanes document ourselves with blogs and cameras, strip-mining our lives for something memorable. And paparazzi hunt down the ordinary moments of celebrated characters so we can watch them get the paper or carry a garment bag from a car to a hotel.

By the way, I saw those Obama photos and remembered Leonard of five years ago:

My doomed attempt at a photo op to create a surge of populism for my gubernatorial campaign.

If Obama Pics Daily is any measure, Leonard just needed a better photographer (viz., someone other than me). (For more recontextualization foto fun, compare Kris's silly alterations to their sources. Or just make a macro of scary finger-wiggling Obama.)

The reason that Quotable Quote's been in my mind is because of John's hilarious account of his trip to a megarich client on a private jet, and our conversation about it last night. He said it was surreal and completely outside the realm of any experience he'd ever had before; he found himself asking, "Is this really happening?" And indeed, whenever I've heard truly joyous or terrible news, or undergone a remarkable experience, the biggest surprise is that it's taking place in the same context as the rest of my boring life. No soundtrack, no paparazzi, no preface, just time ticking by at one second per second the same as anywhere and anywhen else.

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(1) : We Make The Subtext - The Text!*: Last night Hal [happy returns of the day, Hal!] told me a tale of a job-hunting workshop he attended wherein the leader told him, without irony, that he needed to pump more buzzwords into his resume. Yes, she said the word "buzzwords." She specifically recommended "proactive" and "think outside the box."

I cringed, not just because that's horrible, but because I can talk like that without thinking about it. And I'm glad it helps clients and bosses understand me, but I don't want to turn into a duckspeaker. So it's good to examine my shorthand and write it out in longhand once in a while.

One fraught word with several confusing meanings is "political," as in, "There's a lot of politics here" or "this is a very political situation." We hear stories about "political" workplaces where the term is a dis, but these last weeks of the US Presidential election make for a lesson, polished and cut, in why "politics" becomes a dirty word.

People don't use "political" to mean that we have to make decisions to allocate scarce resources. Or rather, if that's true but it's a decision that doesn't get bound up with anyone's allegiance or values, we say it's "strategic." "Political" means "emotional" or "touchy" or "dangerous, not to our goal but to people we'll need to support that goal."

At its worst, "politics" doesn't just mean that people don't like to look bad. It means that people let their obsession with status and chain of command get in the way of getting things done, and will in fact sabotage useful progress (consciously or not). And it limits the discourse to things that won't offend anyone, which -- when the truth is offensive -- means constant lies of omission.

"Politics" means that, instead of discussing disagreements like adults, people either throw tantrums like babies, or whisper and deceive and manipulate and sublimate conflicts like bullying schoolgirls.

"Politics" means that you have to humor and tiptoe around everyone like they're my dad.

"Politics" means that there are important things, things crucial to the success of the nation, that you're not allowed to say.

This means a politician must slow way the hell down every time she sends an email or takes on a task. Because she needs to calibrate herself. How do I phrase this as delicately as possible? Which audience do I select? Since too much information "confuses" some people, how do I minimize the payload of each of my messages? And so on, calibrating, hewing to "appropriate" talking points until they becomes second nature, then first.

I'd like this dance more if I thought it was a cooperative one where everyone got something out of it. As it is I'd prefer frankness. And I think adults in the citizenry, and workplace, generally should prefer that, and they're wusses if they prefer the truckling manipulation that they're calling tact.

Transparency, trust, boldness, and long-term investment and empowerment of non-bosses doesn't sound like politics as usual. In fact, if "politics" equals dysfunction, it doesn't sound like politics at all. But it is. It's politics -- the allocation of scarce resources -- with an entrepreneurial, dynamic mindset, instead of a tired zero-sum blame game.

"Entrepreneur" sounds nice, doesn't it? In a sense, the buzzwords "Business," "businesslike," "enterprise," and "professional" are the opposite of "entrepreneur," and show up in the kinds of arguments that don't acknowledge that they're arguments. The subtext for "businesslike/professional" goes like this:

The business's aim is to make money, so it must maintain profitable, long-term relationships with clients and employees. Ergo, the customers must trust the business to perform its duties competently, so as to continue their patronage and recommend services to others. Customers use certain measures of demeanor and register as proxies for trustworthiness. Thus, the business's employees must meet the customer's expectations, both in demeanor and register.

Which ends up as special "client-facing" codewords, a taboo on salary transparency, and dress codes. Speaking of dress, I'm guessing every feminist has a bone to pick with "feminine" or "modest". By definition anything I do is feminine. "Modest" and "feminine" crossed with "business" (especially "business casual") give me headaches: exactly what fabrics am I allowed to wear, and what about the inch of skin under my collarbone, and are unshaven legs or inch-long buzzcuts going to be a problem? I end up looking like a male engineer from 1950, matching two out of three desired buzzwords.

A larger question: how do you open up the pre-sealed bag of salad greens that is a buzzword and see if anything's rotted? Sometimes, when I make conversation partners stop to unpack our assumptions, we all come away with insights, as in a PSA for the value of diversity. Sometimes I just feel misunderstood or sense that I'm a pain in the ass. My third-rate Socrates impression, otherwise known as passive aggression, runs the risk of annoying friends and lowering my status with every question at work ("I haven't seen any women at that client, so would this outfit count as business casual to them?"). But speaking the subtext gets the frown; of course the reason it's subtext is that it's so tense and possibly unjustifiable. How political.

* to the tune of "Shave and a Haircut"

Filed under:

: Quote Of The Day: "The American story is one of redemption and hope. That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

(2) : California Voters: Californians: today's your last day to register to vote for this year's election. And you can vote early to avoid lines and broken machines, and free up your election day for volunteering and get-out-the-vote work.

I wish I could vote against California's Proposition 8.

(2) : We Are The That Ones We Have Been Waiting For: Barack Obama's campaign's momentum (or Omentum if you will) causes me as a manager to marvel at the fusion of inspiration and discipline his organization manifests. Hmm, whodathunk a community organizer would know how to organize self-sustaining political communities?! I've touched on this topic briefly, earlier this month, but it deserves close attention.

Remember, people used to think the Clinton machine was the best there was. But with the right tools, investment in time, and leadership, a networked/egalitarian group will beat a linear, top-down group. Interestingly, when Hillary Clinton wrote her senior thesis on Alinsky, she recognized the limits of his top-down model:

Another [criticism] she laid charitably to an Alinsky character trait: "One of the primary problems of the Alinsky model is that the removal of Alinsky dramatically alters its composition," she wrote. "Alinsky is a born organizer who is not easily duplicated, but, in addition to his skill, he is a man of exceptional charm."
By the way, here is where she and Obama turn onto different roads:

Her options after graduation were attending law school at Harvard or Yale, traveling to India on a Fulbright scholarship, or taking the job with Alinsky's new training institute...
Imagine if she'd gone to India! She might have turned into Sonia Gandhi!

Obama built on Howard Dean's "50-state strategy," a long-term investment that is paying off right now in national, state, and local races. But more than that, inside the Obama campaign they recursively build leadership. They recruit and train leaders to recruit and train leaders to recruit and train leaders. The revolutionary technology includes software and three-ring binders telling you how to go recursive. It would be a pyramid scheme if the leaders were just going to reap profit and scurry away when the workers weren't looking, which has happened in previous attempts at this model. But if the organization can devise compelling new goals, as compelling as replacing Bush with Obama, then it will be a force to watch even after November 4th. Can it?

Speaking of technology, I'd be interested to see a comprehensive roundup of all campaigns' use of tech in this election cycle. MoveOn.org created a tool to let you customize the text in a video on their server, Sean Tevis used xkcd to springboard his run, and Obama '08 released an iPhone app that tells you to call swing state residents in your address book. And of course there are zillions of YouTube videos. Those are cool examples, but what were the breakthroughs and what's the new baseline for American political tech?

The Zack Exley report from inside the campaign details the risks of Obama's infrastructure investment, and what dividends it's paying. "Rather than say we have X leadership roles to fill, we're creating leadership roles for as many leaders as we have. So we have people in charge of whatever they ARE," says Patrick Frank, volunteer-turned-field organizer. (This is the Punch Bowl Czar done right!) I am amused to learn that the rules from the top include "no drama". Does empowering volunteers and staffers help them let off steam, staving off frustration, low morale, and drama in general?

A few months ago, after Obama won the primaries and caucuses he needed to become the nominee, Leonard and I watched a speech he gave to his headquarters staff [partial transcript]. (Leonard, who poured his heart into the Wesley Clark campaign last go-round, said, "So that's the speech you get if you win.") Commenters on the video say, "I wish that was my boss." But Obama doesn't just want to be that kind of leader -- he wants to make you that kind of leader.

Three years ago, the headlines made me want to "become a manager, a good one." I looked at Katrina and said, "For God's sake, we have to do better than that. And I could do better!" I wanted, and still want, to reduce the net amount of mismanagement in the world. We owe ourselves competence. But Obama's campaign has a higher aspiration yet. How will it change its people, and our expectations?

neighborhood team leader Jennifer Robinson, speaking as her seven-year-old daughter sits beside her

The last image from Exley's report is a photo of neighborhood team leader Jennifer Robinson, speaking as her seven-year-old daughter sits beside her. She stands as though swearing the oath of office. We dedicate ourselves to each other.

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(2) : Nandini, This Trailer Isn't On Apple's Site Yet: Given that most people who read my site have broadband, I'm experimenting with actually including graphics, video, etc. Basically stuff you couldn't do with a telegraph in 1872.

In that spirit: My sister and I often relax by watching the Apple movie trailers site. We're not alone. Alyson & Dave and Susie & John use trailers for a cheap date. So I got all taste-test when I saw Hulu's new trailers page. Here's an ad for The Other End of the Line, a cross between One Night @ The Call Center and Bride and Prejudice.

The last joke is the funniest.

Filed under:

: Whither: Online video is now a commodity, like content management systems. I'm managing a project right now where we're customizing WordPress for a CMS and using YouTube for nearly all the video. Just as site creators reached the "why don't you just" moment last year with WordPress, we can now use ubiquitous embeddable video from free services rather than write/reuse custom players for everything, thank God.

YouTube has everyone else beat on user base, so the other services thrive to the extent that they capture some niche and provide affordances/user experience uniquely suited to that niche.

Some have clear positioning. Hulu's for commercial entertainment. Vimeo's for artists. Google Video is for academic lectures (since it doesn't have YouTube's ten-minute limit). GoFish is for kids and their parents. FunnyOrDie, CollegeHumor, the new MTV music video site, and so on are obvious.

But what of Revver, Eyespot, Veoh, blip.tv, Metacafe, and the twenty I don't even know about? Each of them started for a reason, but what's the reason now?

I'm remembering the woman from Wordplay and Orson Scott Card's advice on writing: every story you write should have two orthogonal premises. Constraints make things interesting, in business and art. Cage as skeleton.

(6) : Election Day: Sumana near a polling place sign I just pulled the lever for Obama, literally [photos]. Leonard suggested we get up by 6 so we could avoid the lines, but we ended up in line for about half an hour. Still a good idea.

Sumana: Don't forget to bring money for the poll tax.
Leonard: Yeah, let me make sure I can read.

I feel obligated to repost this regarding California's Proposition 8: Post this on your blog if you're in an opposite-sex marriage and you don't want it to be "protected" by the bigots who think that gay marriage cheapens or hurts it somehow.

Yes, I have been for same-sex marriage for some time and still am.

I say to those opponents of same-sex marriage: If you care about the stability and happiness of the American family, then work to subsidize daycare, lengthen paternal and maternal leave and move us to single-payer healthcare. If you care about the sanctity of marriage, then work to institute a federal waiting period and separate the civil contract of marriage from your religion's requirements and ceremonies. Widows, grandparents, uncles, nannies, foster children, step-parents and same-sex partners all contribute to and sustain households everywhere.

How decadent, how arrogant, how unloving, how wasteful we are to act as though we have enough loving partnerships and families! As though we can afford to spurn aspirants. How long should they wait?

My in-laws might especially be interested in Mormons for Marriage and a pro-life Mormon for Obama.

In a circumstance beating our previous record of three, we have been invited to four different parties on the same night celebrating the same event, not to mention the Making Light virtual party.

Now, to try to work.

: How They Did "How He Did It": The Newsweek behind-the-scenes reports are indeed awesome, and I, like the Broadsheet women, have been using them as methadone post-election-season. However they raise troubling questions.

What tidbits would campaigners share with the long-term reporters but not the regular reporters? What were the criteria?

What are the things that interested parties wouldn't share even with the long-term reporters, or that the reporters still declined to publish? What will never come out, or only when someone dies or an administration ends?

Did the campaigners and other reporters start treating the long-term reporters as priests for confessional, or plant gossip with them as you might place artifacts in a time capsule?

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(5) : On Getting People Mad And Winning Anyway: The Obama 2008 campaign did many nontraditional things: running a black man, getting more of money and work out of volunteers, etc. The nontraditional refusals are intriguing. Obama's campaign did not splurge on tons of lawn signs or on "walking-around money" for canvassers in the black community.

Nate Silver awakened me to, and ridiculed, the lawn signs obsession.

Signs can cost a campaign a little less than $1 apiece, so a $100,000 investment would be enough to give Obama a significant presence on Virginia's lawns. -the Washington Post
Newsweek details on refusing to pay canvassers:
In South Carolina [primaries], the Obama campaign refused to indulge in the time-honored, if slightly disreputable, practice of dispensing "walking-around money" to activists and preachers in the black community. The Clintons, by contrast, continued to hand out the usual favors and cash. Obama not only won the black vote overwhelmingly, he also won the state of South Carolina by 30 points.


"I think we should do it," the Obama aide told a NEWSWEEK reporter. "It's just part of the culture here, and what will it cost? A couple of hundred grand? ... For a lot of people, if they don't get it, they just flat-out won't engage." (The Obama campaign ultimately refused to provide any walking-around money, though as Politico reported, some was provided by local sources.)

In each case we see a tradition of campaigning, one whose results cannot be measured or audited, that involves spending money. And Obama refused to do it, despite warnings and complaints from the traditional recipients of swag. And he won.

In this way the Obama campaign was like Google. The rules: be untraditional, don't do things if they're not provably, auditably productive, and use distributed communications/database tech. The strategy: get tons of unpaid workers to substitute for paid personnel, and reward them with good feelings.

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(1) : Kickoff, With Elaboration Later: Next week I visit Portland and Seattle, to visit friends and to interview for jobs. I'm interested in startups there and in Boston, the SF Bay Area, and New York City. I want to help make technology that delights people, and right now I care about equity and responsibility more than salary. Do let me know of any relevant opportunities.

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(3) : Voices In The News [The Non-NPR Weekend Edition Version]: Overheard at the office: "iconic design" mis-spoken as "iconoclastic design."

Directly heard at the office: the praise from one of my bosses that I've been waiting all year to hear.

Seen at the Indian consulate's outsourced visa processing center: absurdly limited pick-up hours, and Monsoon Wedding silently playing to anesthetize queuegoers. Best line I saw: "That'll be 50,000 rupees." "What?! I'm not an NRI!"

Serendipitously seen around NYU on Sunday: Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Santiago. I wonder if Gladwell, like Weird Al, just has a 'fro wig that he wears when he wants to be recognized, but can take off to wander about incognito.

Deliberately seen in the same area on Sunday: the 500 hats slides of Bartholomew Cubbins Lawrence Lessig, Larry Lessig himself, Sita Sings the Blues, and Nina Paley. I recommend Sita Sings the Blues to everyone who has ever loved mythology. It is beautiful, funny, clever, and touching. Showing next week at MoMA!

Media also enjoyed immensely this week: a half-hour mashup of sounds of the twentieth century.

: Subconscious Homophone: The other day someone said the phrase "Edge Case" and I thought he'd said my name.

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(1) : Rachel Chalmers, Will This Make You Laugh As It Made Me?: I had not considered the necessity of gathering ammunition to use against your own children.

[Indra Nooyi on working motherhood - YouTube video]

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(2) : Coast Shift: I have arrived in Portland and am staying in Brendan's flat for a few days. First stop tomorrow: Powell's, the City of Books. I've never made hajj before.

I just missed Ignite Portland, one of the big tech events here, but Dawn Foster was kind enough to invite me to another and point me to Calagator. I'll have to check out CubeSpace, and may visit Net Tuesday. Sadly I'll be off to Seattle Thursday morning, before WordIgniteBarCampCampCampCampPalooza... PDX.

: Wish Me Luck: Am now attempting to go to Seattle MindCamp without an actual ticket. Hope to present on "Three Ways to Look At Power: A Political Science Lens On Your Organization."

Update: Got in! Thanks, Beth!

Second update: I've actually proposed three additional talks: Powerpoint Karaoke, "You, Yes You, Can Do Standup," and insta-debates (spar, for those who know high school forensics events).

: Yay For HOWTOs: Am running You, Yes You, Can Do Standup Comedy. Going well! Then at 8 I run spar, then at 9 the political science talk. Which means Keynote time somewhere in the next 7 hours.

I feel like Mel Chua, which makes sense since I ran into a mutual friend of hers here.

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: Some images, tweets, and documentation from Seattle MindCamp 2008: Please link to other relevant stuff in the comments!

I learned about MindCamp sometime Friday, Nov. 20th, and devised the idea for my talk in about 5 minutes late Friday night while going to sleep and talking with my incredibly patient host, Riana. This was the first talk I proposed and the last session I ended up leading: basic first-year political science concepts, boiled down for use by people who want to understand and change their organizations.

I eventually realized that tickets were sold out, but was determined to go anyway. So I made the 20-minute walk over and threw myself on the mercy of the front desk. Beth Goza gave me her extra registration and refused to let me give any money in return. In hindsight, maybe this is why I was determined to give extra value as a camper.

I filled out a proposal form and put it up. Andru encouraged me to propose as many as I wanted. So I did another for a standup comedy HOWTO, then another to ensure that there would be Powerpoint Karaoke (I was surprised no one else had proposed it yet), and then another to suggest the mini-debate session. I expected that about a hundred proposals would go up and that about half, including 1 or 2 of mine, would get "funded."

Me early in the day, before I became utterly bedraggled. After posting my session proposals, I got up [literally] before the group [tweet] to convince people to vote for my proposals with their happy face stickers.

Then, during lunch, I discovered that there had been fewer proposals than I'd expected, and that almost all the proposed sessions would be scheduled, so I'd be leading 4 sessions. Eventually, after I swapped a few spots with people, my schedule was:

  1. 2pm: Powerpoint Karaoke
  2. 11pm: You, Yes You, Can Do Standup
  3. 8am: Zany Insta-Debates
  4. 9am: Three Models of Power: A Political Science Lens On Your Organization

I found out that Powerpoint Karaoke would be in the first session slot [2pm] at 1:55. Much thanks to David Whitlock and other troubleshooters for arranging the projector ASAP. It attracted attention, some approval, and chickens.

Anthony Stevens's liveblog touches on how awesome Tom Music's self-help parody session "Winners Never Lose" became. Like spontaneous experimental theater, jazz meets sketch comedy.

After more sessions, dinner, and conversing, I went back to Riana's to enjoy her birthday party, but ended up fleeing after it got crowded. And they say I'm an extrovert.

You, Yes You, Can Do Standup Comedy - 11pm, specifically placed outside the regular session schedule by Andru to ensure everyone could come and the time limit wouldn't apply. David and about five other participants did these exercises, inspired by my Dec 2005 posts. I loved helping people develop skills in such a short time, walking in possibly scared of public speaking, walking out with some tools and something to work on.

Ride home, passed out for a few hours, woke up around 7 to hoof it back to the Synapse building for my 8am mini-debates activity. (Riana later noted that my marketing-speak in the proposal included "zany" and "quickly and reliably goes off the rails.") I was surprised that people got more into the serious topics -- censorship of profanity on broadcast TV, Prop 8 -- than the light starter on the color of Pepto-Bismol. I also learned that many participants and viewers wanted scrupulous consistency in the rules, liked having people argue a side they didn't believe in, preferred logic to eloquence, and deducted "points" if a debater did not at least try to refute his opponent's arguments.

My last session: Three Models of Power: A Political Science Lens on Your Organization. Completed the night before, despite the interruptions of the drunk guy who had to get kicked out. (You may notice that the slideshow is very heavy on the photos, which allowed me to leave my speaking parts less polished.) We started late, and only had 30 minutes and 4 participants, but I think people got some ideas out of it. The most resume-friendly talk title, but the session I feel least satisfied with. I intend to rework it for a future conference.

Much thanks to David Whitlock for running the projector at PPT Karaoke and the poli sci session. Iin the middle of all this, got rides from Nikhil & Leif -- thanks. Beth Goza and Andru Edwards let me in and started the show, respectively, so my thanks to them. And thanks to all the campers who encouraged me, participated in my sessions, and put on cool stuff.

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: Thanks to Riana, Brendan and Kara for putting me up during my trip to the Pacific Northwest. I have vivid memories that I now must shake out of my head to catalog.

: Hope and Sadness: My thoughts are in Mumbai.

: World AIDS Day: I miss you, Frances. I wish I could have met you, Roy.

: Mysore: Mysore's university has a museum of Karnatakan/Kannadiga craft, art, literature, and folklore in general. I had the pleasure today of getting a two-hour guided tour from its founding curator, a friend of my parents. It was a crying shame that I had the run of the place. It's in a century-old palace, built in a climate where heating bills would never be an issue.

I think every time I come back from now on, I'll revisit this museum, just as I make it a tradition to climb the thousand stone steps of Chamundeshwari Hill (a.k.a. Chamundi Beta).

On the plane back home in a few hours, with a full notebook.

(2) : Passed Through Customs: Back in my own bed, with superfast internet and my sweetie. I now own copies of 80-90% of the extant English-language Amar Chitra Katha titles.

There's an 80% likelihood that I'm going to She's Geeky this weekend. Thanks for the reminder, Mel.

(4) : On Family, Career, and Skill: On the plane from Heathrow's infinite Terminal 5 to JFK, I saw bits of It's a Wonderful Life and The Dark Knight, and all of Mamma Mia!. I pay a different kind of emotional attention to films on planes; cruel irony, that I cry more while more dehydrated.

There have been a billion riffs on It's a Wonderful Life since 1946, but none quite like the "what would Gotham be like without Batman?" question mused and forced by the Joker in Dark Knight. More particularly, the prisoner's dilemma the Joker forces on his captives was prefigured in the bank run Potter forces and George Bailey staves off at the Building & Loan. However, since Nash wasn't publishing his game theory work till the fifties, Capra probably wasn't shouting him out specifically. The Nolans, in this decade, might have. Potter is lawful evil; the Joker considers himself true neutral, though chaotic evil is a better match.

I watched Mamma Mia! perhaps as methadone for my withdrawal from the land of Bollywood musicals. It's frothy amusement, but as Meryl Streep helped her daughter dress for her wedding, I sobbed, because I basically eloped and didn't give my mother the chance to make that memory with me. I took that, I stole that from her.

How could I not have felt that before?

Some stuff is just domain knowledge. A sufficiently intelligent person with a working memory can learn it from a book. Some is mastery, skill. Programming, sex, living somewhere, writing, traveling, enjoying a party. A skill gets better with deliberate practice -- 10,000 hours is the figure going around (note that 11 months of 40-hour workweeks gives you 12,320 hours). Skill mastery demands patience. You can't just be a whiz, the way memorization made me a whiz at a domain like English spelling.

It turns out that getting along with my family, really showing loving kindness and empathy and learning about them as people, is a skill I hadn't known I needed. Getting better at general social skills helped. And making the choice to get better helped. I chose to go to India for Thanksgiving mainly to try out choosing to go, not being asked, for the first time. Sometimes constraints liberate me, but only if I forge my own chains. I'm somewhere in the first fraction of my 10,000 hours, despite having lived with my mother, father, and sister for years, because only deliberate practice helps.

Given my age and predicted lifespan, I have more than twenty 10,000-hour chunks left to go. What will I choose to master? How much time have I really put in to learning to be a good spouse? I've gotten to travel, change jobs, make choices that George Bailey felt he couldn't, but what monument am I shaping? Will I make something of my life that's worthy of my time, that could draw tears from a stranger in an airplane, that's commensurate to our new President's call to action?

Yes. In my search for a new venture to join or start, for profit or non, I'm making a positive, tangible choice. I could get just another project manager job, but I'm going for something equal to my energies and talents. I'm looking for someplace where I can bring my leadership, writing, public speaking, rolodexing, and investigative skills to bear, along with the secretarial and technical basics. I will work with people I can learn from, emotionally and intellectually. I will help make services, sites, or products that delight people. I will make something, and make people happy.

Including myself.

As a kid I didn't quite get why "The Inner Light" was so moving. The last time I saw it was in 1994. Zach Putman, the other Trek geek from my eighth-grade class, came over to my place and we watched the whole marathon -- "Relics," "The Inner Light," "Yesterday's Enterprise," "The Best of Both Worlds," a documentary, and the last episode of Next Generation -- in my living room. It was good and all, but top five?

Tonight I happened to hear that flute theme again, and grokked it. Envy for the other life Picard got to live in twenty minutes -- the life so short, the craft so long to learn. A childless, solitary man given a community and a family. Regret that he'll never see that family or world again. Angels from the stars place the protagonist in a fable, a new life where everyone knows him: It's a Wonderful Life inverted.

(1) : Heisting It Forward: Blogging, and reading blogs, got me my husband, a job at Fog Creek (and thus my move to New York), and friends such as Brendan, Gordon, Andrew, Claudia, and Zed. Watching John Rogers's new TNT heist dramedy Leverage is the least I could do for the blogosphere. I like it. It panders to my political and technological biases.

: That's The Story I Heard: All our music -- ripped CDs, Creative Commons stuff, ripped tapes, and Amazon MP3 purchases -- now lives in the MythTV media center that Leonard built, making for about 3 days of music. I recently used the MythMusic documentation to create playlists and install pretty visualizations. Our party soundtrack now leaves out Patton Oswalt, Steve Martin, and Frank Zappa.

The most insane stuff in there might be something by Frank Zappa or PDQ Bach or Barcelona or Weird Al or They Might Be Giants or Lawsuit or Dengue Fever or Moxy Früvous, or the odder bits from Hank Williams or Johnny Cash, or Steven Schultz's rock opera Stalin Claus Superstar, or Van Morrison's contractual obligation album, or video game music, or wizard rock, or A Prairie Home Companion joke show segments, or songs by Leonard's friends Jake Berendes, Jeremy Bruce, et al. But the most insane song on that drive is actually Cab Calloway's song about chicken.

It was the dish for old Caesar
Also King Henry the Third
But Columbus was smart
Said you can't fool me
A chicken ain't nothin' but a bird
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(6) : You may be aware that Indians, like so many others, have an expansive sense of hospitality. Admire one of your host's items of property out loud at your own peril; s/he may give you it, or a similar object. In my parents' circle, a visit isn't complete until the guests have taken some colored powder -- turmeric and kumkum -- and anointed their heads.

And of course there's the food thing.

Another Indian-American woman I once met described a meal at an aunty's as like one of the legendary battles at Kurukshetra -- a plate a foot wide and an inch deep, piled with food, and refilled as soon as she made any headway.

My mother and I visited a sort of grandmother a few weeks ago. She insisted that we have a single dosa -- it happened to be lying around, already prepared, she claimed. We laughingly demurred, then cheerfully agreed to split it. She gave us each a dosa, then went into the kitchen, then gave me another dosa while I was eating my first. We cracked up.

When Leonard visited India, I taught him a few Kannada words. Hesaru, name. Santosh, happy. Thoomba, very. Snana, bath. And jasthe, saku, beda: too much, enough, don't want. But it is as though Kannada doesn't even have those words; people go ahead and ladle rice and broth onto your plate as though the sounds you've made have no meaning.

But it's all with a smile, because it's all about demonstrating love and prosperity.

On my recent trip to Mysore, as a visitor from afar, I sometimes visited four or five homes in the course of a day. This led me to decline food even more desperately, in the interest of my own safety. And it led me to grasp some troubling game-theoretic implications of this custom.

If I plan on visiting other hosts the same day, I need to refuse food even if I am hungry, to ensure that I have enough appetite to eat later. Thus, a host who wants to feed me has an interest in keeping me from visiting the next house on my schedule.

Social schedules change often in my parents' India. So I have little confidence in my own knowledge of whether I am visiting more houses later. Since food is available at home but appetite is, in the short run, a nonrenewable resource, the more dangerous scenario is the one where I have eaten my fill and suddenly must confront a new host, an aunty or uncle hungry to feed. Thus, the safer course for me is to always refuse food as vociferously as I can -- again, even if I am hungry.

Sometimes hosts offer tea instead. Don't be fooled! Black Indian tea with milk and sugar will arrive, accompanied by a sweet or salty snack that is barely optional. And jet lag requires carefully titrated doses of caffeine to treat; hundreds of milligrams at unpredictable intervals wouldn't help.

A Russian textbook once advised me that the only sure way to get Russians to stop peer-pressuring booze upon you was to say, "I am an alcoholic." I worry that telling Indians "I am a binge eater" would only result in getting adopted.

(6) : Logistics Query: What's your rule of thumb for sending December holiday cards and parcels? Do you try to get them out by, let's say, 5 business days prior to the 25th? Do you assume it'll take 3 working days to get to major cities on your coast and 5 to get elsewhere in your country, and 8 to get to other countries? I know this is the sort of thing hip people ask on Twitter.

: Happy Holidays from My Favorite Cause:

Learn more about this video and support EFF!

(1) : How I hesitated / Now I wonder why: Wally Holland's commentary on Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog, which is one of my top media memories of 2008.

(6) : Gig-Hunting & Travel: My luck has turned. Last year around this time, my job search sputtered. Now, I've been consistently impressing possible bosses -- and, more excitingly, possible partners for cofound-y relationships. I have four strong leads in New York City alone.

What's different? I have a master's in tech management, a year of experience with the title Project Manager, a stronger network, and more confidence.

On a macro scale, my timing coincides with a terrible economic slowdown, but that means the competitive field will clear and good labor will be cheap. There will always be money for good ideas, whether from angels or customers. Even in New York City, hit hard by the Wall Street crunch, I'm finding lots of entrepreneurs excited because their nimble operations will be able to undercut lumbering giants.

I find the NYC tech scene surprisingly lively, given that so many presentations and launches one sees are just dumb boil-the-ocean ad crap. Still, innovative work is happening elsewhere in stronger hacking ecosystems. I'd gone on my Portland/Seattle trip assuming that I'd have an easier time finding a startup job there than in New York, but the strength of my connections here are leading me to opportunities that I couldn't have found in one whirlwind week in the Northwest.

More worrisome to me is my week-to-week timing. I'd been meaning to visit Boston and San Francisco in December to grow opportunities there, but jet lag and New York appointments have kept me in New York till the end of this week, and people's availability declines so precipitously in the second half of December that it's not worth it to go before January. Bleh.

Still, now is the time for me to plan big chunks of travel, so I can block out those weeks and plan potential work around them. So I'm going to try to avoid making any commitments here till I can visit San Francisco and Boston in January. Predictions I put down now so I can be embarrassed when I have to correct them: I expect the startup opportunities I discover there will include more revolutionary/elegant technology, more social benefit, and a longer time to profitability.

People who live in the Bay Area and Boston metro area: What are good weeks in January for me to visit you?

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(2) : Cynical Aha: I was discussing social media, social networking apps, and what have you in a job interview*, and mentioned that I don't really see the immediate value. Sure, you might be able to build tenuous community or brand approval, but it's the rare Facebook app whose popularity or usefulness will actually convert to value for its sponsor. You can precisely track clickthrough, but not the fuzzy connection between enjoying the app and caring about who paid for it.

While discussing this with Michael R. today, I realized: that's the point. Marketers and ad agencies must LOVE that they can spend and charge to build Facebook apps, and BS about brand recognition when asked whether it's effective. They get to import the conversion uncertainty from the analog world into the digital world.

* Incidentally, it bothers me to call these things "job interviews" when they're discussions that might lead to cofounding a nonprofit or being a CEO in a subsidiary/shell corporation. A pithy replacement is solicited.

: On Reporting: How do reporters manufacture the news? I don't mean the investigative stories, but the other 95% of the content in magazines, newspapers, TV, radio, & newsish websites. When I was a kid, I thought that reporters somehow just kept up with current events by keeping in touch with important and interesting people, and thereby found stories to write about. These days I see that sort of story and think My 3 friends = trend piece.

Reporting carries sheer epistemological challenges. Part-time or newbie writers haven't built their networks or domain knowledge yet. All reporters face a world of six billion people and tight deadlines. To help reporters find sources, Peter Shankman founded HARO. For a few months this fall, I received the Help A Reporter Out email thrice daily, and saw instances of several models of reportage. In HARO I also saw writers at all the stages of network development, and of story development.

Primarily, I saw writers who already had a topic in mind, whether assigned by an editor or chosen on their own, and asked for sources who know a lot about it. Some sent out a survey-style set of questions right away instead of getting the source's contact information and then starting a conversation. So they had somehow observed enough to come up with a general idea for a story, some incongruity or trend to explain, and simply needed to flesh it out.

I also saw writers who asked for press releases and pitches. They specifically ask publicists for that sort of "news," including low-res photos of the advertised products. Some writers say they want anti-procrastination tips, tips for simplifying the holidays, diet tips -- filler that anyone could find in two minutes using Google. Instead of planting a seed and growing a story, they want plastic pellets to drop into their injection molding rigs. Roald Dahl's automatic grammatisator would put them out of work.

I take my cues on news industry critique from Scott Rosenberg and his crowd. Scott, do you have any particular opinion of HARO? And do any of my other readers have tales of being contacted by reporters who obviously had or had not done their homework on the stories they were reporting?

: On Shyness And Parties: Thanks to Tor for hosting a holiday party last week! Leonard, some friends and I went. I met people so notable that they have Wikipedia pages! Indeed, how can anything be more star-studded than that. In case you want proof we were there, we can provide photographic proof.

We had a good time, and that helped me articulate some tips for helping a shy person be comfortable at a party:

  1. Ensure that he has a few friends there he can talk to.
  2. Start conversations on your own to find interesting people. Then, if you find someone interesting, get the conversation onto a topic you know your shy friend will like, and introduce him.
  3. If the party's at a bar, take care of logistics: getting drinks from a bartender, finding the party in the back room, etc.
  4. Look for quieter and less crowded areas and let your shy friend know about them so he can move there.
  5. Be ready to leave the moment he is.

Sometimes people come to parties I'm visiting and I see that they aren't talking to anyone and look unhappy. In such cases I often go over and introduce myself and start a conversation. I'm assuming that such people wish to be in conversations but fear to start them. Anyone have insight to share?

: Movies, TV, Music, And More! Well, Actually, That's It: Previous entry aside, Leonard and I have been staying in from the cold and experiencing media.

Music: Dar Williams's latest CD, Promised Land, has a song about the Milgram Experiment! Timely. And I'm on my way to filking Cab Calloway:

You can stop listening to Weezer
Claim Star Wars memories are blurred
But you still can't hide all those smarts inside
A geek ain't nothing but a nerd

Movies: The original The Day The Earth Stood Still from 1951 starts off looking enough like every other 1950s sci-fi movie that I expected to be bored. But it's not a B-movie, it's an A-movie, and it confronts the profound Otherness of the alien. It also reveals the profound Otherness of an era when a single mother might possibly be okay with the mysterious guy who just moved into her boarding house taking care of her son for a day. Resemblance note: Leonard thought the professor looked like Malcolm Gladwell.

I had to leave the house to watch Quantum of Solace, which was a quite adequate sequel to Casino Royale but not as shattering. How nice to see a really expensive globe-spanning action movie where Bond didn't sleep with every single woman he met. Casino Royale's opening music video made the argument that death is a matter of chance, and that becoming a spy might make you think you can put your hands on the wheel of fate and turn it to your will, but you're wrong and your actions will have disastrous and unforeseen consequences. The music video in Quantum of Solace had an all-flesh-is-grass theme transmuted into shifting sands: all your foundations will disappear beneath your feet. Such stylish cynicism.

TV: Last night we finished Babylon 5. Well, except that now we're going to watch the TV movies and whatnot. Bab5 is a tremendous accomplishment and I only wish stupid real-world obstacles hadn't gotten in the way of its realization. How great could it have been if they'd known all along that they'd have five seasons? Or if Claudia Christian had stayed on as Ivanova for the last year, instead of leaving because of contract confusion? I now agree with everyone who said that seasons two, three, and four are strongest, and would argue that the show's strongest when it is creepiest.

Now Leonard and I have to have the discussion where we seriously compare Bab5 and DS9. Hoo boy.

We've been watching Sarah Haskins's Target: Women religiously (2:12 to 2:30 reliably makes Leonard belly laugh) but I've also gotten him into Ben Ehrlich's Viral Video Film School. These are both segments on infoMania from Current, so we tried the most recent episode of the whole show and liked it fairly well. The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are about pinpointing the ridiculous and meditating upon it, while infoMania only does that kind of media critique in its genre-specific segments. Conor Knighton, the host, is more about snarky drive-bys. In that, infoMania is more like a video-enabled Suck than anything else.

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(2) : Merry Christmas: ... from a household of boxes and cookies. In stock!  Two-day shipping is available for this item.

: Yay Bay: I'll be visiting San Francisco, the East Bay, Silicon Valley, and related areas January 13-23rd of next year. And I'll make sallies towards Boston in early and late January; yay Greyhound. Barrages of planning emails begin now.

: After "Sleeping in Light": Some assorted thoughts on Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine, collected from household discussion over the past seven months. Contains spoilers.

Past by-the-ways: a nitpick, another nitpick of first season writing, and Vorlon silliness, and another J. Michael Straczynski-Trek connection. We also won't go over the constant Sagan quotes or the possibility that Paramount lifted the idea for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine from JMS. I don't know how credible that rumor is but I can see why people think that.

A few character notes: we took to calling Zack Allan "Earth's Londo." At one moment in season 2, we imagined Garibaldi musing, "I need a smarter henchman." And G'Kar went through more change in a single season than Worf went through in ten years.

Earth in Star Trek never seriously flirted with xenophobia, although a few isolationists show up here and there. In Bab5 Earth's government turns hella xenophobe fascist. Earth's government spirals into fascism in "Point of No Return" and it made me feel physically sick. "Illusion of Truth" too. Despite Eddington's arguments and the events of In the Pale Moonlight, the Federation as depicted in DS9 does not have a dark core and good nearly always wins. As JMS points out again and again in his contemporaneous Usenet posts, Bab5 is It Can't Happen Here. If I'd seen B5 before teaching Politics in Modern Scifi I'd feel torn about using it; it would be unfair to force undergrads to watch it all in one semester, but I wouldn't want to spoil it for them.

As with Arrested Development, Leonard and I enjoyed the series thoroughly but yearn for what might have been.

Thanks to all the folk who nagged me for years to see Babylon 5, thanks to the Lurker's Guide maintainers, and thanks to Hulu for putting the first two seasons online so I could get into it. Could The Wire be next?

(1) : Ludemes: It turns out that the big splurgy Christmas gift Leonard and I are giving each other is a dinner tonight at Per Se, a fancy-dancy restaurant here in New York City. It's run by the same folks who run the French Laundry in Yountville, California. I share his hopes:

Given what happened to Ed Levine when he ate at Per Se after comparing its cost on his weblog to Grey's Papaya (follow-up), I can only hope that I'll be presented with a genius dish based on Pac-Man, or a Beautiful Soup-themed soup. I'll take pictures.

My bit of wisdom: it pays to systematically check OpenTable the week between Christmas & New Year's, especially if there's been a huge economic meltdown causing formerly rich people to cancel their reservations.

In the interim, I've been trying Nintendo Wii games that Leonard got us: World of Goo and Wii Music. No Now You Don't (Player Two), but fun.

Wii Music is like Dance Dance Revolution with virtual instruments and some freeform improvisation. We can accompany "Do Re Mi" with vibraphone, trumpet, jazz drums, and a barking dog suit and somehow the game makes it sound nice; the player just controls when an instrument plays a note, not what note it plays. And we can save a video and watch our Miis nod sagely at each other during their jams. If you think Rock Band is too game-y and doesn't provide enough instruments, try Wii Music.

I enjoy the games and lessons but find them a little frustrating. In the "Pitch Perfect" game, for example, distracting background music makes it a little harder to discern which Mii is playing a wrong note, or which three notes would combine into a certain chord. The last task of each level involves moving players around on a sort of drum machine-style timeline to make them match a certain melody and rhythm, but you don't get any instructions on manipulating the Miis. The handbells game doesn't come with instructions, either. Leonard and I have come to use the word "ludic" as a derogatory epithet for these sorts of frustrations. No instructions? Ten songs are locked until you complete a lesson? It's ludic!

World of Goo is hella ludic. I've now stopped playing twice in frustration, and will probably do so once per island till I finish. You move little balls around to form structures -- bridges, towers, ropes, etc. Was Lemmings like this? Like Tetris or DDR, it gets into your daydreams. I think I woke up this morning thinking about how to shore up a wobbly bridge. Or about my dream that Salon laid me off.

World of Goo is only ten bucks and basically two guys made it. Amazing! Game experts: this is this year's Portal, right?

(1) : Square One TV Paean: If you ask geeks what influenced them in their formative years, the responses cluster around some well-known loci: Star Trek, great science teachers and permissive school computer labs, a particular BBS, LEGO, authority figures who let them obsess.

If you ask fans of sketch comedy how they got to love it so much, you hear about Monty Python, SNL, skits with siblings and friends from the same block, camcorders, Mel Brooks, and stuff I'm too much of a philistine to know about.

It turns out a single TV show got to me on both those counts. Square One TV.

When I was in elementary school in Pennsylvania - so I couldn't have been eight yet -- I remember turning on the TV and seeing a girl explaining to detectives that their radius was all wrong. The gorilla could have traveled 30 miles an hour, yes, but only for a few minutes at a time. For longer durations, he only could have gone five miles an hour. She took their compass and drew a new circle on the map, a smaller one, one they could brute-force search or narrow down further with heuristics.

They didn't say it like that, of course. Mathnet (a Dragnet filk with detectives who made heavy use of geometry, algebra, probability, and pattern-matching) explained whatever it needed to, but never with grownup jargon.

I realized that when I found Square One TV clips on YouTube, years after I gave up Square One so I could watch Star Trek: The Next Generation just as religiously. [Obligatory ephemeral links to S1TV clips.] I wince a little watching those old low-budget sketches -- think fake 24 pilot from 1994. But the songs and Mathnet hold up well.

Watching all these old skits reminds me: Others describe S1TV as a sketch comedy show about math. It is! And I didn't realize it until last year because I didn't think about the sketches as much as I thought about Mathnet.

S1TV's sketches were inventive and wacky, with big old filks and parodies and off-the-wall references in every episode. "Angle Dance" parodies a slew of new-wave pop; comedy sketches include an offhand Gettysburg Address quote and an actor suggesting, "I could internalize more." Mathnet was more superficially staid, with its Dragnet procedural plots and dialogue, but check out the over-the-top snobs in Monterey Bay.

My favorite Mathnet story arc, starring ingenue actress Eve Addams in a production of "Anything Went," ended with a five-minute song-and-dance version of the classic parlor scene. My sister and I memorized that song. Audio available here; video seemingly vanished. Listening now, Leonard says the rhymes are ridiculously bad ("rally by/alibi") even by the standards of Broadway musical. So be warned.

Square One TV was wacky. And sometimes it broke the fourth wall, as in asking: "45% of this show is over now. What percentage of it is left to go?" Zany and referential in a way I didn't notice in Sesame Street, because I was too young to catch it. Square One prepped me for Animaniacs.

Sometimes Square One TV was mean, meaner than I expected or expect from a kids' show, which raised the stakes and drew me in. The Mathman segments include a lot of sad endings: Mathman just not thinking long enough before saying yes, or Mathman ranting so much about math use that he ran out of time and got eaten. The sketch "Common Multiple Man" isn't very kind to its title character, and the songs "Less Than Zero" and "Ghost of a Chance" aren't about the loser winning in the end. As a kid, I found "Ghost of a Chance" haunting (ha), partly because I'd expected all along that the pizza delivery guy would triumph.

Happy Dog the Happy Dog would be pleased.

Sometimes the math was hard or uncomfortable! No one explains in the "Oops!" on fractions how you should actually add fractions with dissimilar denominators; the character just demonstrates a mistake and then fixes it. There's a similar moment when someone figures out the area of a triangle. And some questions, like about the percentage of the show remaining, an announcer asks you and doesn't answer.

Most profoundly, sometimes the lesson wasn't just about math, but about assumptions and problem-solving. Mathcourt skits review how people get real-world statistics wrong. In every episode, the Mathnet detectives fail, get stuck, backtrack, estimate, revise (as in the gorilla speed scene). They often play "What Do We Know" to systematically review their situation and come up with new leads. Change Your Point Of View is exemplary in this respect.

It's nice that the show depicted black men and women as architects, Archimedes, a Roman sax player, science teacher Ms. Snodgrass, head of computing Debbie, and so on, although police chief James Earl Jones was probably a no-brainer. And Kate Monday is the female cop providing the missing link between Cagney/Lacey and Dana Scully. She's a sensible, tough but sensitive detective who keeps her kooky partner grounded. Monday's also the reason I want to wear ties with my suits.

I learned about math as a means to an end, about problem-solving as a fluid process, about what kinds of humor I liked, about recursion and breaking the fourth wall. And I learned math too. So awesome. I wish it were all on Hulu or DVD so I could foist it on people, and so Nandini and I could watch it together again.

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: Filters: The criminal justice system is like a system of filters or sieves. Each step carries a higher burden of proof. But each additional step carries a risk of social-proof inertia: "if it got to me, it must be okay/if I pass something I shouldn't, the next guy'll catch it."

A great thrift store sits on Ditmars near the terminal N/W subway stop. Queens-boosting: Astoria's thrift shops are way cheaper and offer more variety than the picked-over hotspots in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Yet you can easily access this magical cheapistan via subway! Examples include the nearly-new pair of Columbia-brand hiking/farmwork boots I got for $20 at Goodness Gracious on 30th Ave. last summer.

If you are installing an application on Linux, and you can't get it via a package manager, you will end up looking for hints on a PHPmyBB forum.

(1) : New Year's Inspiration:

40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes.

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