Thursday, July 31, 2008

Less lucky than some, but more than most

My landlady, her daughter and her son in law all went on vacation together for 10 days. They are the other people who live at my house. J, the guy she hires to do maintenance, came over today to take care of some things. He had a key so I said hello and made a little small talk and then left.

I came home tonight to find that both of the front doors were locked. J had used locks on the doors that we, residents, never use. Locks to which I do not have keys. I suspect that my landlady doesn't have keys to these locks either. I don't understand why he did this. He's worked at the house countless times in the two years that I have lived here. And I have never come home to a situation like this since moving here.

Of course, this being a house in Brooklyn, I can't get into through the back. I can't get into the back. I can't get in through a window (they have bars). I can't climb up to a floor where I could get in through a window. And with all my misspent years, i never learned to pick a lock.

So I am now at the LYM's house for the night for an impromptu sleep over. Meditating on my fears of homelessness, couch surfing.

And tomorrow, I will call a locksmith and wait on the stoop, or in a park or at the library or in a coffee shop until it's time to meet up.


Monday, July 28, 2008

Round round get around, comment on get around

There are obvious things that are different about being in Paris vs. New York. For example, everyone is speaking French and the streets are paved with pastries (in a manner of speaking).

There are surprising differences that, perhaps, should not seem so surprising. The alphabet on a French computer keyboard is laid out differently from a US computer keyboard. The concierge at the hotel I was staying at asked me if he could try something on my laptop when I had trouble accessing the wireless internet. The whole time he kept asking me where the "M" key was. And I didn't understand why. Until I went to an internet cafe later in my trip and found myself asking the exact same question.

Yes, they have buses and we have buses.
Yes, they have cars and we have cars.
Yes, they have the metro and we have the subway.
Yes, they have bikes and we have bikes.

But. They also have the Velolib:


In Paris there are several bike stations at which you can rent a bike with a swipe of your card or a pass. You can ride the bike wherever you want around the city and simply deposit it at another bike station. Like the metro, you can either purchase a pass that allows you to use the bike whenever you want over a set period of days or you can pay as you go. And overall it seems to work. Somehow the bikes get distributed around town.

I very much wanted to try it unfortunately, the stations could not process my US credit card. Damn regional banking! Interestingly, every time I got tired and was not near a bus line or metro stop, there a velolib station would appear. So to my mind, they were excellently placed, at the very least.

They also have the minicar:


Which is indeed a mini car. I tried to get a poodle or a pug to sit still in the shot so that you could get a send of relative scale, but you know how hard it is to get those critters to sit still.

They also have this semi-covered scooter thingy:


I did not see any Pedicabs. But apparently there is a proposal to roll out electric car sharing, the Autolib. I can't wait to go back and see them and have my credit card rejected yet again!

Great deterministic force in history #12

Oh, Michael Lewis, how is it that I keep forgetting how much I love your work.

"Privacy is no longer a right but a wasteful luxury. The Internet has not merely suggested new weapons for the Invasion of Privacy. It has created terrifying economic incentives for people to abandon their charming old attachment to their privacy. Privacy is newly inefficient if the larger social goal is to get the most stuff to the most people at the cheapest prices. And who would deny that the consumer demand for ever more stuff at ever cheaper prices is one of the great deterministic forces in history? Any technology that gives the consumer what he wants, when he wants it, at a better price, is likely to succeed, in spite of a lot of objections from hoary old privacy nuts.

Of course there are cultures on earth famously less enamored of consumer goods and more wedded to privacy than American culture. Too bad for them! Consumerism isn't a luxury; it is the necessary behavior underpinning any successful modern economy. It is one of those horrible American traits that other societies have been adopting because they need to adopt it if they wish to remain competitive."

- Michael Lewis "Next: the future just happened"

Gosh. Who knew?

Just one of those days

The greater half of my brain (my laptop) has decided that the CD burner needs to go on strike and now will not release my most recent reproduction of my album. The disk is trapped in my laptop and today I would trade the sleekness of apple's design for a CD tray and a physical eject button in a heartbeat. I will pay a visit to Tekserve and throw myself at their feet beeing for their help..

I got into work today and promptly knocked over a glass of water, spilling all over my computer keyboard. Lucky thing, I always keep a giant stack of napkins and paper towels at my desk. All of which I used.

My right arm has swollen to the size of a watermelon from two bug bites that I got at a concert at the park on Friday. This has been the summer of insufferable and extreme skin reactions to the bites of bugs. I have thought more about scratching and itching than anything else all summer. The LYM could avert conversations about "us" by asking to see my bug bites and commenting on how itchy they must be.

I lost a library book. For the first time in my life, I lost a book and for the life of me could not find it. And after posting a sign and asking around and looking high and low at the office, I finally went to the main library and confessed to my sin. They entered the book as lost, demanded monetary reparations and slapped me on the wrist. And today, two days later, reception emailed me to let me know that my lost library book was found.

So now I am going to call the library and see if they will accept the book and give me back the money. If it were me I'd say: "Too late for that Solo." But we will see what their take on it is.

Yes, today is a cheese sandwich post kind of day.


Friday, July 25, 2008


Say it loud and say it proud.

Quote from the NYTimes today July 25, 2008:
Although boys in high school performed better than girls in math 20 years ago, the researchers found, that is no longer the case. The reason, they said, is simple: Girls used to take fewer advanced math courses than boys, but now they are taking just as many.

“Now that enrollment in advanced math courses is equalized, we don’t see gender differences in test performance,” said Marcia C. Linn of the University of California, Berkeley, a co-author of the study. “But people are surprised by these findings, which suggests to me that the stereotypes are still there.”

"Math Scores Show No Gap for Girls, Study Finds" By Tamar Lewin

I could sit here and type out (or cut and paste) the entire NYTimes article but hey, why don't I just give you the link.

And now I'm going to go do the "Yes Ma'am, Girls can do math" dance, all over the room.

Yes we can!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ganked from Poetryslam

I am breaking the embedding barrier for this one. Hee hee.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

I'll gladly pay you tuesday ...

I've been reading a bit of pop-economics lately. It's probably "a sign of my declining mind" and shriveling soul. But since money does make the world go round, it might be worth taking a crack at understanding it.

Thanks to the reportage on NPR, a few articles in the NYTimes, conversations with friends, and reading Charles Wheelan's book "Naked Economics," I've been thinking about credit.

Credit is about the future. You borrow money now for things that you can't afford at this moment but believe that you will be able to afford in the future.

1. You may believe this to be true because you are planning to spend the money on something that will help you be more productive and earn more money. Like money to go to college, or to train in a new profession, or buy a new interview suit that will help you make the right impression, or buy a new tool or machine that will increase your productivity - say, a new laptop or another hard drive.

2. You may believe this is true because you have a steady source of income and know that you can, over time, pay off the thing that you are currently purchasing. You could wait and save the money to buy or you could borrow now and have it.

3. You may have hit some tough times and you borrow to tide you over now knowing that these times will pass and you will recover and then thrive.

These are all the forward thinking reasons to borrow.

4. You might also borrow because people keep offering you loans. The money is there, so why not spend it. In the end you pay the piper, but maybe you'll have a little fun while it lasts. If you end up in deep debt, the bank might take away your things. Your house, your car, your boat, whatever it can get its hands on. The bank might garnish your wages, hound you and your loved ones on the phone and through the mail, endlessly which may or may not cause you stress.

Back in 18th century Britain, they might have thrown you in jail for being unable to pay off your debts. I did not know until I read the Australia chapter of Jared Diamond's book "Collapse" that a portion of the convicts were sent to Australia for being in debt. I somehow always imagined that all the convicts sent to Australia were murderers, pirates, highwaymen and seditionists. It's the romantic in me.

But I digress.

The irony of all of this, is that of the motivations that I have listed here for borrowing money, the one that I am least familiar with, the one that has only recently occurred to me is the first.

The greater irony of this is that the first motivation is pretty much what makes many aspects of the economy keep on trucking. Borrowing money on the premise that the loan will enable you to get wealthy and make the lender wealthy as well.

Why is growth so important? It's important for a lot of reasons. But among them, as an individual or entity in debt, you need to keep growing and making more money so that you can pay the people who work for you, pay the people who supply you, pay the people who invest in you, maintaining your business, invest towards the future, pay your debts, and attract more loans.

Credit in itself is not a bad thing. It can be destructive, it can also be a powerfully good thing. The whole microfinance movement is built around the idea that small small amounts of credit can do enormous good for some of the poorest people in this world. Having access to credit is a powerful means by which they can improve their living situation and their livelihood.

And so I sit here after all of this and ponder what debts are worth taking on. Which ones lead to the creation of wealth and which ones lead to greater consumption and future deprivation.

Perhaps, too casual for business?

During a meeting today I looked down and realized that I had put my pants on inside out. They are black linen, with a draw string, no tag, no pockets, and no lining. Kinda like fancy pajamas. I am hoping that no one else caught it.

I take comfort in knowing that I have certainly worn worse to work.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dr. Horrible

"I hold a PhD in horribleness" - Dr. H

You need to see this. There's not a lot of time. It won't be available for free for very long. Go now.

Industry and Intentions

G sent me a postcard from Saipan. Snail mail. I love snail mail.

Most of what I get by snail mail is bills, sale circulars, catalogues, and credit card offers. But every once in while even a poor correspondent like me gets a treat.

When I send a postcard there is only room to express one idea. Sometimes an idea and a half and then I am writing cramped illegible chicken scratches in places that post offices stamp and sticker. But G, so lovely and talented can legibly do much more with the space alloted. From her card, I share the following:
"The garment factories shut down by the likes of Corporate Watch have unleashed a host of Chinese laborers who have since turned to prostitution. I think liberals should know that."

I think we should too. It would appear that good intentions can lead to unfortunate and unintended consequences. I recently read something similar in Charles Wheelan's book "Naked Economics."

He quotes Paul Krugman:

"In 1993, child workers in Bangladesh were found to be producing clothing for Wal-Mart and Senator Tom Harkin proposed legislation banning imports from countries employing underage workers. the direct result was that Bangladeshi textile factories stopped employing children. But did the children go back to school? Did they return to happy homes? Not according to Oxfam, which found that the displaced child workers ended up in even worse jobs, or on the streets -- and that a significant number were forced into prostitution."

In his own words Wheelan says:
"There is nothing pretty about people willing to work long hours in bad conditions for several dollars a day, but let's not confuse cause and effect. Sweatshops do not cause low wages in poor countries, rather they pay low wages because those countries offer workers so few other alternatives."

I am not convinced that all of this means that we should write odes to the sweatshop or celebrate their horrible work conditions. But economists in their dismal abstracted and brutal way of thinking will point out that one works in a sweatshop when it is the best alternative available. It may be exploitation. But if workers had nothing to gain, they wouldn't do it. And boycotts lead to a further reduction in alternatives. A bad situation can certainly get worse.

What if people could build their own alternatives, more alternatives, in a scalable way? What kind of investment and return would that offer?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Deadhead sticker on a cadillac

The LYM and I were having a conversation about bands that are big now that we haven't heard and probably wouldn't like, which for whatever reason led to the Ataris, who are not to be confused with Atari Teenage Riot.

He doesn't like the Ataris but he does like their cover of the Don Henley song "The Boys of Summer."

After some conversation we agreed that the Ataris' cover is good and DJ Sammy's cover is too.

But neither cover can touch the original.

It's entirely possible that a pig with an inner tube could do a good cover of that song. It's that good.

I am trying to think of something in life as foolproof as covering "The Boys of Summer" - a man in uniform, a little black dress, free beer, complimenting a girl on her shoes. These things are pretty solid but compared to that song, I waver and wonder. Today, it's Death, Taxes, and "The Boys of Summer."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Who says that learning is not fun

There is a species of fish called the Oriental Sweetlips. I don't know about you, but if anyone were to call me that I would blush, slap them and then laugh.

There are a lot of tiny, little, swimmy things that live in the ponds at Central Park. In light of this, I would not advise drinking or bathing in them.

Coral mate through a mass timed release of eggs and sperm into the water.
We could call that the oceanic equivalent of group in vitro fertilization or a collective coral spankfest.

There is a species of fish in which a school will have one male amongst many females. In the event that this lone male dies - is lost - gets sick - eaten - the largest and most dominant female will undergo a gender transformation and become the male of the school.

Bugs are arthropods. Crustaceans are also arthropods. When Jimmy dares you to eat that worm beetle, think of it as shrimp sushi. (edit with humble thanks to Kat E)

The Blue Whale is 23 feet long at birth. They grow up to be about 2-3 school buses long.

Chocolate is a food brought to us by the fermentation of the Cacoa bean. Another great food enabled by microbial beings.

These facts are brought to you by a visit to the American Museum of Natural History.

The LYM and I went to the Museum of Natural History to look at bones. I have been there twice. Once with ZS and her friends and another time with BBFK, Noel and Lever.

It's kind of a strange place. It's not a science museum. It's not an anthropology museum. It's not an art museum. It's not a zoo. And yet, it's all of those things (except for the having living animals on display part).

Most of the time, I run straight up to the dinosaur section. Which is awesome. Being up there and seeing them bones up close is a humbling experience. Some of them creatures have jaws large enough to snap me up in two quick bites. Humbling.

But this time the LYM and I came in through the subway entrance which brings you in on a lower level and went to the Whale room.

The Whale room is incredible. It's dark and blue and enormous. The ceiling has "windows" on which are shifting patterns of colored light. Most importantly, there's a giant model of a blue whale suspended in the air. I'm not sure that it's 2-3 school buses long but hugantic nontheless.

On the walls on two levels there are displays about oceans and ocean creatures and what not. Walking around and looking at all of it, I realized that impressive as Cai Guo-Qiang's Guggenheim exhibit was, he is not the first to do such things. He is just a more fanciful practitioner of the art.

They even had a room devoted to meteorites. All this time I thought that we had no plan in the event that a giant meteorite was spotted on a collision course with our fair planet. Fear not friends, a few solutions have been proposed. One of them is to paint the meteorite white and have light from the sun deflect it from its course. White paint will save the universe!

I am relieved. It's good to know that someone is on this problem.

A buh buh buh buh

I came home today to a letter. A letter from the very popular paid online dating site (VPPODS) that I did time on a few months back.

They have changed. They have made changes and improvements. They have added new features. And they want me back.

I am touched beyond words.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Compelling reason #65 for going into scientific research

My friend JP sent me a link to this video in response my emailing him the Bio-Rad video.

I sent the link to CK which precipitated the following chat:

Me: if only science were really like this
CK: oh my god
Me: I know.
Me: I would have 10 phd's by now or have died of laughter. literally.
CK: Oh. My. God.
CK: oh my god. I LOVE it!!!!!!! you wouldn't have 10 phD by now you'd still be working on your first one
CK: you'd never leave grad school and about now, AM and I would be joining you

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

When you need to recombine ...

I was going to leave a cranky nasty post here but instead I offer up this beautiful song about DNA amplification. Sent to me by the lovely and talented RM.

Let's all hold hands and sing along.

Monday, July 07, 2008

If I had 600 dollars ...

I got a letter from the IRS today. Says that the government is going to send me a check some time between July 11th and September 5th. Yee Haw.

So what do I do with it?

Years and years ago, I used to run. I ran a little and miserably, mostly to keep BBFK company. Mostly, I thought about how much it hurt, and how much the flesh on my face was jiggling, and wondering how many laps I had left before I could keel over. Sometimes, while I ran I would meditate on the question: "What would I do with a million dollars?"

Give it away? Give how much of it away? Give it to who?

Buy a truck? Buy a house? Buy a condo? Buy a horse? Buy a hybrid? Buy audio and studio equipment? Buy a rickenbocker guitar and a Marshall half stack?

Start a business? Philosophy shop? Poetry nook? Curio store?

Take classes? Intensive martial arts? Pottery? French cooking? Spanish language immersion? Dance? Yoga teacher training?

That's a million. $600 is a different story altogether.

It's enough money that I think twice about spending it on a nice meal and some clunky shoes. But not enough that I feel like I want squirrel it into a Roth IRA or an S&P 500 Index Fund. Which is probably why I am not rich.

Okay - $600.

I could ...

- go see 5 Broadway shows. I haven't seen Spring Awakening, Wicked, Passing Strange, Avenue Q, and ... one more.

- get a 3 day pass to see All Points West and have money left for beer, food and merch.

- go to Madison, Wisconsin for the National Poetry Slam 2008.

- buy a really, really nice acoustic guitar.

- hang out at a fancy spa day and refuse to leave until they make me look like Gong Li.

- see $600 worth of movies or buy $600 worth of music.

- take a lot of yoga classes.

- fly home to see my parents and chill with them.

- donate it to a worthy cause.

- buy someone a heifer.

So many options. Especially for an event junkie like me.

I'll have to mediate on this.

What are you going to do?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

so long rest stops, good bye gas station snacks, farewell truck stop souvenirs

The price of gas affects everything. Even indie rock.

At least according to this npr piece.

With the high cost of gas, fewer bands are taking their show on the road. Makes sense. It's a big country and much mileage must be covered to get from show to show. Most bands need a big vehicle to lug all that gear around. Not to mention the merch, the merch girl, the costumes, the grumpy band mates, the fanboy who is tagging along because he "just loves you guys" and has always wanted to see Omaha and other random memorabilia picked up along the way.

As a show goer, this is tragic. But I understand. I know that I'd be breaking out in hives right now if I was planning a tour. Might as well burn money on the street and play songs while skipping around it, this summer. It would cost less.

Since the Mystechs are taking a break, none of this effects me. I don't have to sleep on the floor in the homes of kind strangers. I can sleep on my own floor this summer. But as I sit here, mired in drama of office wage slavery, I feel this urge to put on a costume and run around shoving people while screeching like a demon.

Might have to try out for the roller derby. After I learn to rollerskate.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

New Favorite Website

It's a website where you can search for a song or artist and then get a list of tracks that you can play right there on the site. Instant gratification.

Now, you can't download the song, they don't have everything and the sound quality is not always so hot But you browse and listen to as much or as little of a song as you want. And you can play the songs for free.

I'm sure that there's more to it, but that's what's got me all happy.

New Jugs?

This the second day I've seen media coverage on these new milk jugs. Big big news. They are apparently, weird but superior in every way imaginable except that people don't like the way they pour.

Here's what I don't get. They already put all that effort into the redesign. Why can't they go through one more design iteration so that the milk is easier to pour in the ways that people are accustomed to pouring it? They could add a lip or a spout to the opening or they could put "chop" the corner opposite the handle and add one of those round spouts that they now have for the juice cartons. I don't see why they can't add ergonomics to the list of great things about this new jug. Someone please explain.