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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Voter Guide

The DC voter guide arrived last week.

A bit more whimsical than I expected.

Not to quibble, but we don't complete the pencil, we only complete the ballot. Sorry, happy pencil -- it wasn't meant to be.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Nostril Notoriety

Looking at the webstats for my blog, I noticed that there was a meaningful uptick in visits this past week. In particular, a lot of views of this page featuring the jack-o-lantern I made last year. Sure enough, if you do a Google image search for jack-o-lantern nostrils, it's the first hit; if you search pumpkin nostrils, it's the third hit. If only I could monetize my nostril authority...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Perfumed prose

I was idly scrolling down the New York Times homepage when I should be going to bed, and the words "Perfume Review" in an article title caught my eye. Huh?

Yes, as part of the T Magazine fashion supplement, there's a review of a couple $250 perfumes. Sounds like a tricky task, to translate smell into words.
Manakara smells like a color-saturated contemporary painting, as if Barnett Newman’s 1966 “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?” somehow exuded scent from its glaring acrylic surface.

Rêve is a delectable, edible, light-infused leather that is instantly legible, deliciously impossible, as if an Hermès belt had been candied and baked by a patissier.

I can smell it right now.

Admittedly, those might be the silliest parts. But the whole thing is snicker-inducing -- the author takes his vapidness very seriously.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sudden Awareness

Perhaps you've noticed this on your local public radio station, too: Here in DC, one of the main October NPR sponsors has been "Medtronic, in recognition of Sudden Cardiac Awareness Month"

To me, this sounds like you might be walking down the street sometime during October and a man (from Medtronic?) will jump out from behind a shrubbery and scream "YOU HAVE A HEART!" at you through a bullhorn. Which would be doubly effective, because in addition to his statement, it would also cause your heart to pound, making you palpably (and suddenly!) aware of its existence.

However, in the last week or so, the sponsor script has changed to "Medtronic, in recognition of Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month." Ah, I see.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Facebook, as you are probably aware, allows users to post a "status" -- basically a brief note about what you're currently doing or thinking. (It's like an internal version of Twitter.) The Facebook program for the iPhone defaults to a list of recent status updates by your friends, so checking it has become an easy way for me to zap any random moment of boredom in my day.

I have about 250 friends on Facebook. I know them from lots of different settings, and am in touch with them in the real world to wildly varying degrees. There are people I see all the time, and people from high school who I didn't really know that well back then and haven't talked to since. Yet I have what-I'm-doing-right-now updates from the cross-section of friends who post status updates.

It's quite fascinating to get (sort of) reacquainted with people via bulletins about the minutiae of their daily lives. If I were to run into someone in the grocery store while visiting home, the conversation would run along the lines of where they're living now, where they work, etc. On Facebook, I know that they've got the flu, had Chinese food for dinner, are driving to Boston, or whatever. (Basic biographic data is available, too, but I don't look at profiles on a daily basis.) Normally, when you have this sort of information about a person, you know them pretty well and have the broader context of their life to fit it into, but on Facebook you may only have these bits. It's a strange way to know someone, though a surprising amount can be gleaned by what they're doing, what they choose to post about, and how they say things. It's also interesting to see how my range of acquaintances react to the same things, like the stock market plummeting (once day three different people made reference to putting money in their mattresses) or the presidential campaign.

Anyway, I've got jury duty tomorrow, during which I'll certainly have plenty of time to check Facebook status updates...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bike trip

Aron and I took advantage of the long weekend (for those not lucky enough to get this lame holiday off, today was Columbus Day) and biked to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It was a great trip, and certainly the farthest I've ever ridden. Our route was over 150 miles -- 70 or so in one day on the way out, and the rest over two days on the way back. There's something very satisfying about starting a vacation by rolling your bike out the front door, and finishing it by rolling it back in.

We took the Washington & Old Dominion rail trail out through Virginia, then cut north to catch the C&O Canal. The country roads in Virginia were a highlight of the trip. I'd never been to Harpers Ferry before. It's a very attractive little town at the intersection of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers; much of it is a National Park due to its Civil War history. We camped at a hostel near town.

We headed back on the C&O towpath, which offers many great camping sites along the Potomac. About half of them (including the one we used) can't be reached by car, which is really nice.

A great way to spend a long weekend, some lingering aches notwithstanding. (More pictures can be seen on Flickr.) It's possible to bike from DC to Pittsburgh without using a road, and I'd like to work up to doing that at some point.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Prescient Mouse

When I posted about good reporting on the financial crisis, I forgot to mention This American Life's use of Modest Mouse's "Bankrupt on Selling" in Another Frightening Show About the Economy:
so all of the businessers are in unlimited hell
where they buy and they sell and they sell all their trash to each other
but they're sick of it all and they're bankrupt on selling

Really quite apropos. There are a few different songs on that album that offer a critique relevant to the moment we find ourselves in (I've posted about them before).

Anyway, I'm off on a bike camping trip (w/ Aron) to Harpers Ferry, WV tomorrow morning, taking advantage of the long weekend (for the government, anyway). At about 60 miles, it's a bit farther than I've ever ridden in one day, so wish me luck.

Monday, October 06, 2008


Depending on what kind of task I'm doing, I'll often listen to my iPod at work. With my old iPod earbuds, I would hear a crackling in the earpieces from static electricity when rearranging myself in my chair. The new earbuds that came with my iPhone are comfier, and also do not have any audible crackle from static. But I have found that every once in a while, I'll move in my chair and simultaneously get a shock in my ear. It's not a big shock, but since it's in my ear it makes me wince. What I assume is going on is that the new earbuds don't conduct static charges away from me as well as the old ones. Apparently the conducting part is just close enough to my skin that when I build up a large enough charge, a spark flies and I get zapped in the ear...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Recommended reading, listening and viewing

Today was a classic Sunday for me...brunch with IPS folks in the morning, a visit to the very cool Smithsonian Jim Henson exhibition on its final day, some time reading in the Smithsonian garden, as well as the typical grocery shopping.

Then I spent most of my evening attempting to get up to speed on the financial crisis. In talking to my normally well-informed peers over the last week or so, none of us has much of an idea of what to think. Not surprising, since there are a lot of moving parts in both the problem and the potential solutions, some of which are contained inside black boxes. But I do feel like my evening of browsing gave me a better sense of things, so I share the following recommendations:

  • First, be glad we aren't in as tight a spot as Iceland, which faces similar root problems but has much less room to maneuver.  Also, who knew that the housing bubble in Britain was even bigger than the one here? (Not I, in any case.)  That means they're facing big problems in the UK, too.

  • You really should take the time to check out the widely-recommended This American Life piece from last May entitled The Giant Pool of Money, which brings their formidable storytelling skills to bear on the causes of the subprime mortgage crisis and why it has had such a broad impact. The follow-up on more recent developments, entitled (ahem) Another Frightening Show About the Economy, is also extremely helpful in clarifying what exactly we're talking about, and in scaring the bejeezus out of you.

  • You should follow those up with this soothing Charlie Rose interview with Warren Buffet from last Wednesday. (In which he repeats his admirable demand that we increase his low tax rate.)

A side note: These are high times for metaphors. The stuff we're being asked to think about is so intangible and beyond our detailed comprehension that everyone is resorting to metaphor and simile to try to explain it. I've been thinking that I should start a blog, titled something to the effect of "Citizens for the Responsible Use of Metaphor," which would point out/discuss particularly effective or ineffective examples of figurative language. If you have any ideas for how to make such a blog not be as boring as watching paint dry, let me know...