Friday, March 31, 2017

Friday 5: Quarters

The first quarter of 2017 is now behind us. How has it been?

I guess not as awful as it could have been.

How has this past quarter of your life been surprisingly good?

JV spontaneously decided to clean up (and clean out) the apartment.

When did you last drop quarters into a vending machine?

I think I used coins at a vending machine at some point this year, but I can't remember when.

How do you feel about your state’s twenty-five-cent coin? If you’re not in the U.S., which of the coins do you think is especially striking?

I'm originally from Pennsylvania, and our state quarter leaves much to be desired.

There's a Gettysburg quarter that's slightly better:

Our license plates are uninspiring, too. When I was a kid, we had the gold on blue (or blue on gold) "Keystone State"/"You've Got a Friend in Pennsylvania" tags. Now there's no quip or state nickname, just an advertisement for the commonwealth's official tourism web page. Ugly. You can look at them all here, if you want.

Our state slogan was mediocre for a while, too. I still think we should bring "You've got a friend in Pennsylvania" out of retirement, but I'll admit that "Pursue your happiness" (current slogan) beats out "State of independence" (previous slogan).

Google’s corporate headquarters is called the Googleplex. What would be a good name for the corporate headquarters of your life?

The Kitchen. Since that's where I actually do most of my work. Stay humble, never forget your roots, etc.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Friday 5: Food Me Once; Food Me Twice

What do you like on your frozen yogurt?

Jimmies and crumbled Oreos, mostly. I don't actually care for chocolate syrup on frozen yogurt or ice cream. I can't explain what it is, but I don't like it.

When patronizing those frozen yogurt establishments with an overwhelming buffet of possible toppings, I have been known to add Fruity Pebbles. I don't consider that an essential frozen yogurt topping, though.

How do you feel about hot breakfast cereals?

In theory I like them a lot; in practice I can't be bothered with the extra step of warming them up so I never have them. If I need something warm in the morning, I Just have extra tea.

What did you last put brown sugar in or on?

When was the last time I made chocolate chip cookies? Brown sugar is one of those items that I end up (shamefacedly!) wasting a lot of because I need it infrequently, but you can only buy it in relatively large quantities.

What’s a food item you willingly overpay for?

Pre-chopped frozen vegetables. Sure, I know how to cut a bell pepper, but it's worth the time saved to just get them in little pieces already.

I also have an obsession with Celestial Seasonings brand tea. In the US this isn't too much of a problem, but in Stockholm that can get a little ridiculous.

What did you last add vinegar to?

I only use vinegar (balsamic) sparingly on salads. My preferences lean heavily towards the "oil" part of "oil and vinegar."

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Talky Tuesday: A Year of Running

I've been largely absent here, because things have picked up elsewhere. I haven't been reading a lot (a lot that would be of interest here, anyway), I've been slacking on listing new items, and I've been even worse about making new things.

But this is a post about how it's been around one year of running for me.

It hasn't been a proper 12 months; during winter I opted for water aerobics rather than running, because of cold temperatures and icy sidewalks. There were times when the weather was fine but I was ill, or I was just too busy. But overall I have been running (or training for running) for around a year now. This may be my longest stretch of continuous focus on cardio to date. I don't know.

I'm not any less fat, and I'm still frustratingly slow. I could have hacked my regime and made it something a little more aggressive and maybe I'd be faster, I don't know, but I probably still wouldn't be running a year later.

After a year of improvising with the Galloway method (30 seconds of running/30 seconds of walking, or 30 seconds of sprinting with 2 minutes of recovery) I'm giving the Couch to 5K another shot. The big difference is that I'm not shooting for 20 minutes of non-stop jogging in Week 5 or so (20 minutes of 4 minutes of jogging and 35 seconds of walking instead).

The weirdest thing is now that I like it. I like the running in a way that I didn't when I was thinner and faster and fitter. I'll take "Things I'd Never Thought I'd Say" for $500, Alex!

Since I started, I went to a running store and got proper running shoes. They're amazing and I love them, and big ups to Aardvark Running Store in Bethlehem, PA for not side-eyeing me and my fat ass and just . . . selling me some shoes. (Also big ups to them for carrying a variety of shoes in wide sizes.)

I like it, and I'm glad I decided to give running a second or third (or fourth?) shot. I finally figured out how to do it in a way that I enjoy, and the motivation to do it for its own sake rather than OMG CALORIES. Maybe this time next year I'll be running in actual races. ;)

Friday, March 17, 2017

Friday 5: Picture This

What’s your favorite monster movie?
Oh, goodness. I've seen a respectable amount of off-brand monster movies, thanks to Mystery Science Theater 3000, RiffTrax, and Cinematic Titanic. Can I pick a favorite? If I had to, I'd say The Horror of Party Beach and The Wasp Woman.
What’s your favorite social issues movie?
I'm not sure what would qualify as a social issues movie? It can be hard to tackle complex social issues elegantly in the space of (more or less) two hours. Off the top of my head, I'd say: P. K. (religious dogma and prejudice), Lilies of the Field (race relations in mid-century America), and Ship of Fools (anti-Semitism in the run-up to World War II).
What’s a movie you dislike in a genre you love?
There are too many bad comedies to name.
What’s a movie you like in a genre you dislike?
There aren't too many film genres I outright dislike. I admit to not liking slasher movies a whole lot, but I didn't mind the House of Wax reboot? remake? that came out a few years ago. (I still prefer the original Vincent Price version, of course.)
What’s a movie everyone else has seen but you have not seen?
Up until a couple of years ago, my first answer to this question was  Bladerunner (extra shameful because my final project in philosophy was on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?). Now, I'm not sure what that would be. The first one that comes to mind is Saving Private Ryan, but I'm sure there are others.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

What I Read: The White Giraffe

In my other life, I'm an EFL teacher. I work with kids with a range of ages, and so that means once in a while I dip my toes into the YA, middle grade, and picture book pool. The White Giraffe is my first middle grade read of 2017.

Image courtesy Dial
It's a book that seems to be popular with its target demographic (the East Sussex Children's Book award is voted on by students, not teachers), but as an adult it left me underwhelmed.

It's clear that St. John knows and cares a lot about animals, including the unique wildlife of sub-Saharan Africa. According to her biography, she grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe with a host of exotic pets, and frankly that's a memoir I would read! It's also clear that her background was a big influence on The White Giraffe. I just wish that her knowledge, passion, and background had faced a little more scrutiny and gone through a few more revisions before they ended up as The White Giraffe, as it falls a little too close to the White Savior narrative structure for me to really get into.

I also admit that as an adult, I'm hardly the middle grade target audience, but a hallmark of good children's writing is that adult readers can enjoy the book as much as younger readers. In The White Giraffe, the writing felt a little flat and some elements of the plot seemed rushed or thrown in for the sake of . . . I'm not sure what. But as I mentioned earlier, it won the East Sussex Children's Book Award, voted on by students, so I guess the target demo likes it well enough!

The White Giraffe is the first in a series that includes (as of this blog post) four other books: Dolphin Song, The Last Leopard, The Elephant's Tale, and Operation Rhino. Hopefully St. John has found her stride and ironed out the above issues in The White Giraffe, as I think her passion for conservation and the natural world is one worth sharing and cultivating in young readers.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Friday 5: Count All the Bees in the Hive

Which of the Winnie-the-Pooh characters do you most relate to?

Rabbit, I suppose? I like to read, I can be bossy, and I find real-life Tiggers to be very trying.

The original Winnie the Pooh toys

Which of the Winnie-the-Pooh characters has qualities you’d find most attractive in a romantic partner?

My own partner is very much a Piglet, if that's any indication!

In what way have you “wandered much further” today than you should?

I'm only answering this in the morning, so the day has hardly begun, really. I'll admit to sleeping in a little, but only a little.

Of Winnie-the-Pooh stories you can remember (from the books, Disney cartoons, or other sources), which is your favorite?

To be honest, I don't remember much from Winnie-the-Pooh. I know I liked the Disney adaptation of "Winnie-the-Pooh and the Blustery Day" when I was younger. I was also quite enamored with the word "blustery" and immediately set about using it in real life.

I also like the Russian animated adaptations. The art is so charming! The crayon backgrounds look just like a child's drawing, which I think is very appropriate for Winnie-the-Pooh. Plus, this version of Piglet is absolutely adorable.

There are only three, but they're all freely available on YouTube. Here is the first Винни Пух adaptation: В которой мы знакомимся с Винни-Пухом и несколькими подозрительными пчелами. (In which we meet Winnie the Pooh and a few suspicious bees.)

Which quote from the Winnie-the-Pooh stories would be good for the epigraph in the book about your life?

"I've got a sort of idea, but I don't suppose it's a very good one."

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

What I Read: Native Son

This is another off of my TIME Top 100 / Classics Club list. Just four left after this one! 2017 will be the year I finish this long-standing project.

Image courtesy HarperCollins

Woof, y'all. I have really complicated feelings about this book. Technically, I DNF'd it: after getting swept up in the beginning and getting to know Bigger, about halfway through the book I found myself putting off reading it.

Why? That was the important question. The quality of Wright's writing hadn't changed. And the story was some gripping Crime and Punishment "will he make it?" nail-bitery. But there was a resistance in my gut and I kept on noticing all of the other books I have on my current reading list: The Origins of Totalitarianism, Kris, some books I had grabbed from a friend's "give away" pile, more free books I had received through my local study circle . . .  why didn't I want to finish this one?

Studies show that spoilers actually increase your enjoyment of a story. I still avoid deliberately spoiling timely or serious things, because just because "studies show" something doesn't mean I need to be deliberate asshole to other people, especially with something as trivial as spoilers. But I will absolutely use that as an excuse to look up a plot summary on Wikipedia when I'm not really feeling a book to see if I want to continue.

In this case, I decided not to. I don't think it's my place, as a white reader, to bring up questions about stereotypes in the novel -- James Baldwin did that already, in "Many Thousands Gone." But I absolutely can decide that I'm not in the mood to read stories where brutality against women is an offhand plot point to further a male character's redemption arc (in as much as Bigger ever redeems himself; YMMV on that one). Justice for Bessie!

Maybe another version of me, at another point in time, can finish Native Son. But right now it's not for me.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Sciart Monday: Tweetstorm!

If you follow me on Twitter, then you already know we're in the middle of the third annual #sciart Tweetstorm.

The idea is simple: sciart artists (sciartists?) flood Twitter with their sciart and with others ("Share 3, Tweet 5" being the official/unofficial rule). It's a great chance to promote your own stuff and to find new artists as well. Here are some new favorites of mine, with just (sadly) one day left to go.

1. Entomological playing cards & brain cell cartoons from Dr. Immy Smith

So Smith actually put together a KS sometime last year? Two years ago? to fund the design and printing of the Cryptic deck which is better explained through pictures than with words:

Cryptic Cards from DrImmySmithArt

I couldn't really afford to back the KS project at the time but now that I have more room in my budget and they're available on Etsy, I just might splurge. I like to collect card decks, and the more unusual, the better!

2. The cover of this issue of Toxicology Research, put out by the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Here's a closeup on the illustration by Junyi Zhang:

And an excerpt from the artist's statement:
After I read the paper, I started to think about the concept of ZIP8 portrayed as a dragon, chasing and picking up the fireballs – that is, zinc and other metal ions – and breathing the fireballs towards earth, just like the process of active metal ion transport. The two figures carrying fireballs represent the transcription factors MTF1 and NF-kappaB.

3. This isometric interpretation of pi by Jason H. Moore, PhD, is relevant to my interests.

I appreciate that squares of the same value are the same color as well as the same size. Incidentally, the colors and the right angles remind me a lot of bismuth:

Image courtesy Heinrich Pniok

4. And finally, this year's Tweetstorm coincides with the brand new home of Symbiartic, the sciart blog from Scientific American that now has its own stand-alone web presence. Give them a follow in your RSS feed or on Twitter (or both!), won't you?

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Friday 5 on Saturday: Something's Astir

What did you last use a spatula for?


One of my Swedish friends here was an exchange student in the US when he was younger, and somehow the question of kitchen implements came up often. It turned out that his host family didn't really know what to call anything, either, so any unknown kitchen implement was just immediately labeled "spatula."

What did you last use your can opener for?

We don't even have a can opener!

What did you last pick up with a pair of tongs?

I don't think we even have tongs? So probably a baked good at the store or Pressbyran.

What did you last use a ladle for?

Chili, I think.

What did you last stir with a wooden spoon?

Some boiling pasta, to get it to settle down a little.