Thursday, February 28, 2008

wings and wheat

New Experience 1: "Trivia Night" (TM) at a Hooter's in New Jersey. I went with my improv team last night. Verdict? Excellent. Daystallion came in a proud third place! (against a crowd of 99% frat boys on their home "turf", mind you.) Most common categories of questions? "Sports", "Comics", "Music", "TV", and "Entertainment". What is "entertainment" if not "sports, comics, music, or TV", you ask? I don't know, either.

(For you raw enthusiasts, take note, you can get an entire plate of celery at Hooter's for 69 cents!)

Lest I leave you, dear readers, out of the fun: What were the first four flavors of absolut vodka? Where do the Mets go for Spring Training? What city is hosting the Final Four next year? I am now the proud owner of answers to all of those questions. Test yourselves!

New Experience 2: Wheatgrass shot. Verdict? Completely vile. Even though I expected it to be not that great, it was still a shock how vicious it was. I'll probably have another tomorrow. (Self-challenges are the secret to my success!)

Truth For The Day: Standing in a shower where the drain is blocked so the tub fills up a little feels a lot more disgusting than it really rationally should.

Finally, I ended up watching When Dinosaurs Roamed America the other night. It was disappointing at best, and pretty much portrayed evolution as magic.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Measure this.

Measuring essay lengths in terms of numbers of words is about as helpful to me as measuring plane cruising altitudes in feet. How long is 7,000 words? How high is 35,000 feet? I know the answer to neither of those questions.

Choices

Walking with Dinosaurs vs. When Dinosaurs Roamed America?
BBC vs. Discovery Channel
UK vs. US

What will I pick? I even rotten tomato-ed them both. Walking has three "fresh" reviews, one of which accuses the whole thing of being fake. I often fail to understand quite where the line gets drawn between fresh and rotten on that thing.

RT has never even heard of Roamed.

Now that I think about it, what is with the dinosaurs - as - unhurried - pedestrians attitude in both of these documentaries? Why not Running For Your Life with Dinosaurs or Get The Hell Out Of My Way I'm Chasing A Dinosaur? I'd watch either of those before these two I've got here. (Or, I guess I just described Jurassic Park.)

maladroit

New Experience of the Day 1: I'm in a syllabus!! Page 7, friends.

Granted, it is an unpublished manuscript. Hell if I know how those unlucky undergraduates will get ahold of that. Short of using Google, that is.

I went to see one of my favorite improvisers do stand-up today. I had every intention of standing anonymously in the back and disappearing right away afterward so that I wouldn't look like a groupie. Alas, as luck would have it I was one of approximately four others in the audience. Needless to say, a 1-to-1 comedian-to-audience member ratio means no standing in the back and no anonymity. That's all well and good, and it ended up being lovely, but the trick of it is that the only way I could have known about the stand-up event at all was by reading his blog. That day.

In my defense, your Honor, I am a graduate student. My job is to read things on the internet.

Later I went to Harold Night at UCB for the first time since October, thus making this the first Tuesday I have been in New York for 4 months. That is perhaps the least impressive statistic in the world right now.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

There's (always) more to it

Recently I posted suggesting we improve the foods available in poorer neighborhoods. Apparently, there's more involved than just making it available. In fact, the introduction of produce stands in a bunch of neighborhoods with obesity problems has been met with lots of (understandable) uproar.

I am endlessly fascinated by how the complexity of our societies makes change difficult -- or even just makes things difficult to undo.

Besting

Top news: I've had more disappointing oranges in a row recently than I care to count. First new experience award for the day: Man on subway standing directly below the sign that said "6 Uptown" asked me if this was the place to wait for the 6 Uptown. Second new experience award for the day: Quinoa Gold. Verdict? (1) An acquired taste. (1a) If you grit your teeth. (2) In retrospect, probably not raw. Those tricky liquids get me every time.

Fascinating slice of real truth 1: "There's a Doctor" = Best song on the Tommy album.
Fascinating slice of real truth 2: The Dashboard, first introduced on OSX Tiger two years ago, by all accounts should have revolutionized modern computing.

It's either completely deterministic or a flat out free-for-all. Today I lean toward the latter. Regardless, I think we can all agree that the frequentists are in denial.

Monday, February 25, 2008

In sum

Here is the summary of my life for pretty much the past 500 days:

I have a bunch of shit to do that I don't want to do, and no real deadline by which I need to do it. I should stop wondering why I never get anything done, even though I spend 15 hours a day in front of my filthy laptop.

In brighter news, I am happy to report installment 1 of ... Andrea's New Experience of The Day:

Inca Golden Berries.

Verdict? Highly recommended. Go forth, friends!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Precious little time

Here is what happens when I read the news:

Step 1: Open the news online

Step 2: Read a few of the headlines, mentally dividing them into "should read" (Fidel Castro steps down!) and "actually will probably read at some point" (midlife suicide rates have gone up?), and then click on some article in neither of those categories (the Carpetbagger's "why we watch the Oscars").

Step 3: While the new page loads, open a new tab to something else I decide I have to look up that very second, such as the weather or my credit card statement or how many different kinds of Larabar flavors there actually are

Step 4: While those are loading, in another tab, google how many laundromats are nearby.

Step 5: While that's loading, go back to the news tab. Read half the article, at which point do one of the following:
  • Get distracted by a movie review/ad/piece of small business advice in the columns. Follow those links until it's already almost dark outside.* Realize, alas, life has not been reinvented despite the promises that American Express makes everything easier, that free-shipping shoes are only a click away, and that all one needs to know to be healthy is one's BMI.
  • Decide the article is crap and go back to the front page, which takes awhile to load, so open additional separate tabs to compare airfares to New York and to look up synonyms for "abundance". While those load, reread an email recently sent to someone important, then re-watch "Susan and Her Instruments" on YouTube.
  • Decide the article is extremely excellent, save it before I even finish reading it, at which point the Times will tell me that people who saved this article also saved the following three unspeakably fascinating articles. Embark on a quest to save all articles saved by people who saved those articles.
  • Actually read the article in its entirety (AND the graphics in a separate window) and make it my new manifesto for the day. Google everything I can related to it. Bother people I know by sending it to them with an annoying personal message that says something like "See?" or "What have I been saying!?"
Step 6: Realize I know nothing of what's going on. Go back to the news front page. Click on something about urban policy and open that in one tab. In another tab open health tips for gentlemen.

Step 7: While those load, write blog entry. Idly consider showering and/or once and for all sitting down and figuring out how I'm going to finish grad school.

Step 8: Get up to slice a cantaloupe. Read half an issue of Esquire.

*In my defense, this is winter news reading. Please!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Subcritical Hopf Bifurcation

I just now randomly ended up watching a music video on YouTube.  It's not important how I got there -- and even less important (read: more embarrassing) what music video it was (so I won't confess it) -- but what is important was how startling the entire experience was.

I can't remember the last time I watched a music video!

Granted, I don't have a TV.  However, I like to think that I am, as the kids say, "in touch" with what's going on.  I'm up on Season 4 of LOST.  I rented all of Heroes once.  Hell, I've even tried to get into Grey's Anatomy (which I directly blame for missing my noon meeting today, for the record.  In my defense, it was the one where she first meets her half-sister!).

All of that said, it was surprising to me what a different world it felt like just sitting there watching this random girl walk around among expensive shoes and sing about self respect, if you can call it that.  (Ok, now I'm giving too much away).  Anyway, I'm not sure if it's more that I haven't thought about the kinds of issues about which this girl was singing in awhile, or if I more just haven't appreciated that sometimes you can actually just sit there and be entertained by something completely lame.  Regardless, it was semi troubling that it was a foreign experience to me.  I'm officially losing all touch with reality out here in Ann Arbor.

In related news, it occurred to me last night (during Grey's -- it was the part where she saves the deer.  La-ame!) that this semester in Ann Arbor I almost never speak to anyone except the cashiers at Whole Foods, where I go almost every day (The Ride makes me feel civilized).  Each time I go through the registers I end up making the lamest jokes in the world.  Today it was about how I already had a plastic bag with me.  Yesterday it was about how the cashier didn't know that the spelling of her name is common in Japan.

Losing touch, friends!! 



Friday, February 15, 2008

Feeding the Fires of Our Own Destruction

The more I read about it, the more it seems to me that food and water will be the more important issues facing humanity in coming decades.  Certainly the environment is up there, too, and in fact is naturally intricately linked with the nutrition problem, as what we eat and how we grow it have everything to do with how we treat the earth.

Just today this article in the Health Section of the NYTimes writes about findings that being overweight is associated with increased cancer risks.  To that I'll add what I've read in The China Study about high consumption of animal proteins also being linked with cancer and heart disease.  Finally, our general high consumption in the west of processed, refined foods means that we're overall getting tons of fat, protein, and simple carbohydrates, and few vitamins and minerals that we need, which come largely from plants.

Now contrast that with malnourished and starving people around the world -- where in many places they depend on food aid from the US and other countries, which, at least from the US, is all more of the highly processed, corn and potato based foods that aren't even feeding Americans properly.  Couple that with the fact that farmers in other countries who grow cash crops can't even independently feed themselves if they wanted to, and there you have a double-edged sword where all the food going in is barely better than the foods/crops going out.  

So, in rich countries we're not taking care of ourselves so we are getting degenerative diseases, while people in poor countries are starving and trying to live off of measly donations from the rich countries in the form of the same nutritionally-poor foods with which we are stuffing our faces.  We get tons of calories, they get none.  We get cancer and heart disease.  They are weak for life.

All of this is so far related just to physical health.  Now, consider that proper nutrition is also linked to mental development, alertness, brainpower, and mood.  How we feel and think has everything to do with what we eat.  When we're hungry we're in a bad mood.  Even when we're full but are deprived nutritionally we can be in bad moods.  Admittedly, my comments in this paragraph really need to be held off until I look some more stuff up, but I think my intuitions are at least reasonable.  Think about it -- the poorest neighborhoods in the US tend also to be the ones with the highest crime rates.  Certainly desperation for resources, lack of education, having young adults with no job or school to go to all contribute greatly to that violence.  

But, consider also that these are the communities who are the worst fed in the country (if you don't believe me, go to a grocery store in Manhattan and then go to one just over the river in Brooklyn, where everything is suddenly bright white and packaged and what little fruit there is is waxy and unappealing).  Maybe, just maybe, the poor nutrition has something to do with the tensions and quick tempers that spur on violent behavior.  Again, so far it's just a suspicion I have, but I bet that if we tweaked the diets of Americans, especially in our poorest communities, we'd see better behaved kids in school, more patient parents, and fewer angry teens.  I suppose the problem is that changes in diet have subtle background effects on people's lives (hell, that's why dieting is hard for people -- no immediate results!!), so it would be hard to convince, say, the Government to sponsor such a program.  And it would be hard, even if they did sponsor it, to keep it going, because the results might take a long time coming in -- which would only increase opportunities for the interference of other variables.

(For the record, I have read here and there about the effects of food on mood and cognition -- that part's less speculative -- it's more that I have no idea what kinds of effects community-wide dietary tweaking might have on our many society-wide challenges.)

Finally, the environment.  Ah, the environment, how we destroy you with our factories and terrible land-destroying farming practices.  Grow more fruits and vegetables properly (without genetic modification, without pesticides, and with a focus on keeping our soil rich), and watch a lot of our environmental problems go away.  Oh, and, I suppose, stop flying all these planes, driving cars everywhere, and pumping out crazy chemicals from non-food factories ... uh, ok ... baby steps!  

Well, that's enough of my tirade for today.  Sorry to dampen the mood.  Just don't say I didn't warn you.

P.S. No, I did not make it to my noon appointment today.  I have another one at 3 that I, frankly, have no choice but to go to.  Also there's the added advantage that I'm already awake, so all signs point to actually making one commitment this week.  Stay tuned, friends!

On Repetition

Tomorrow I once again am supposed to be somewhere at noon.  Will I make it this time????  Dear readers, hold your suspense, only time will tell!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Detrimentus

Today I set my alarm clock for 8:00 AM.  Then I snoozed until 8:45 AM, at which point the alarm clock must have reset itself, because the next thing I knew it was 11:56 AM.  I was supposed to be somewhere at noon and decided I didn't feel like rushing around, so, naturally, I did not go.  Now it is almost 4:30 PM.  I'm not entirely sure what happened during the past 4 hours.  I know I took a shower and bought some coffee.  Then I glared at some loud people here in the computer lab.  Now I'm doing this.  I think I'm supposed to be writing something, somewhere.  Certainly not this, here.  Adios!

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The Good and the Bad

Good coffee can be nothing short of divine. Less than good coffee can pretty much ruin an otherwise fine day. Take note!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

With Respect to the Former

Lesson of the day: Overuse of the expression given in the title of this post has two consequences: (1) the author will sound like a pompous jerk, and (2) the author will sound like a moron. Those things are bad alone, but combined they are almost as bad as being boring and annoying (author's note: I thank Dejan for pointing out those two unsavory characteristics a person might have). I'm allowed to say all of this because I am the guilty party! About the overuse of "latter". Not about being boring or annoying. Obviously! Jeez.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

That Which is Taken for Granted

As a newly proven expert in blogging (see below), I feel like there is a tacit rule in the blogging community that one doesn't post more than once in one's own blog in the span of a single day. Or, if one must, one sees to it that the second posting is substantially shorter than the first. This post certainly breaks the former rule, but not yet the latter. And it won't because, at last, I am le tired.

Answers You Never Wanted

I swore up and down I'd never do it. I puzzled over why other people would ever bother to do it. But now I know there are two types of people who create (and actively update) blogs: people who really want to avoid what they have to do in real life, and people who are really interested in themselves. I'm afraid I might be both of those types of people. Perhaps I should have two blogs?
Blog v.1: Andrea Hates Her Real Life:
I'm so sick of my dissertation I could shoot myself sometimes. You wouldn't believe the things I've done (and regularly do) to avoid working on it.
Blog v.2: Andrea Is Intensely Interested in Herself:
Had a show today for my improv class. It was rough! Now am in a hotel in Queens that I explicitly chose because its website offered a complimentary shuttle to JFK. Then I got here and the receptionist had no idea what I was talking about. Like I'm the crazy one! Whatever?!

Well. Now I feel bad. Actually, the real reason I finally decided to start a blog was because I realized that there are actually some excellent blogs out there. I guess it just took me awhile to get truly sick enough of my work to the point where I spend days in front of my computer without so much as touching said work so that I could find them. And then read them all. And their backlogs. Anyway, now I really like them, so I'm obviously starting this blog so I can be JUST LIKE THEM. Ah, inspiration, you magical and elusive thing.

Anyway, I believe in the scientific enterprise, so that means I also believe in citations. And, if nothing else, your reward for getting this far is that now you know which blogs you should actually be reading:
  • Satisfy your curiosity for everything raw (try not to let the naked man sleeping on a bed of grass put you off): http://welikeitraw.com
  • Here is where you can read about things you actually already have wondered about before. And you can take surveys about procrastination! That's amazing the way looking into a mirror that faces a mirror is amazing: http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com
  • If you count the amount I like this page, it may not belong here. If you count the frequency with which I read it, however, it definitely belongs here (plus the title of a recent post is "Child or Caveman?" You can't beat that): http://well.blogs.nytimes.com
  • This is a blog I discovered just now by the author of my favorite book but haven't actually read yet, but am sure is very, very good. The fact that now I'm searching for blogs to post on here means I've pretty much run out. Frankly, for all my talk about discovering all these excellent blogs, I'd say my list here is pretty pathetically short. One big hypocrite, that's me (file this last comment under Blog v.2): http://areasofmyexpertise.blogspot.com
Also, I am intensely thirsty. Thus, we wrap up full circle. Not bad!