2 3 live&learn&rejoice: February 2011

February 28, 2011

Having fun....and paying for it

In 1985, each 'consumer unit' in the United States spent, on average, $141 on reading materials. That number peaked in 1997 ($164!), but has been headed downward almost uniformly since then. In 2008, it was $116. By age groups, 55 to 64-year olds spent the most on items to read - $157.

Contrast all that with entertainment fees and admissions to entertainment events. The average per consumer unit in 1985? $320. In 2008? $616. And who spent the most? 34 to 44-year olds ($823).

All this brought to you by the US Statistical Abstract - http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/2011/tables/11s1231.pdf.

ode for a monday

from act iii of KING HENRY V

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead.
In peace there's nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour'd rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o'erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O'erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill'd with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath and bend up every spirit
To his full height. On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought
And sheathed their swords for lack of argument:
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call'd fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeoman,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base,
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!'

will i get through all of shakespeare's plays in 2011? time will tell . . .

February 27, 2011


he who lives under the guidance of reason endeavours as much as possible to repay his fellow’s hatred, rage, contempt, etc. with love and nobleness.

all emotions of hatred are bad; and therefore he who lives according to the precepts of reason will endeavour as much as possible to bring it to pass that he is not assailed by emotions of hatred, and consequently he will endeavour to prevent any one else from suffering those emotions. but hatred is increased by reciprocated hatred, and, on the contrary, can be demolished by love in such a way that hatred is transformed into love. therefore he who lives under the guidance of reason will endeavour to repay another’s hatred, etc. with love, that is nobleness.

 he who wishes to revenge injuries by reciprocal hatred will live in misery. but he who endeavours to drive away hatred by means of love, fights with pleasure and confidence: he resists equally one or many men, and scarcely needs at all the help of fortune. (Spinoza, Ethics, p174)

February 26, 2011


The first minimum wage in the US, back in 1938, was $0.25/hour.

The average American uses 168 gallons of water each day.

The average daily commute to work in the US is 20.4 minutes, 9.2 miles.

The female side of the family is called the distaff side; the male side, the spear side.

All from The Book of Answers (Barbara Berliner, Simon & Schuster, 1990)


since my "must see" list is already a mile long, what i did NOT need to learn was new exotic places that i'd love to visit. thanks to boring obligatory training at work this week, i had too much time to mindlessly surf the internet and discover places i absolutely must spend some time:

--live on a houseboat in kerala, india

--Kulala Wilderness Camp, Namibia

--how about mixing a health spa retreat with a safari (sounds perfect)

February 25, 2011

"if loving you is wrong, i don't want to be right..."

so thanks very much mr know-it-all food blogger for the new york times. in 2010, i made the sacrifice of opting for oatmeal instead of other alternatives at mcdonald's and now mr bittman tells me that driving while balancing a cup of oatmeal on my right thigh and grabbing a bite at stop lights was pointless and i could have been eating a snicker's bar all along. jeeze...

mr bittman fails to recognize the "feel good about yourself" factor one has when eating oatmeal. going with oatmeal sets the intention for the day..and you feel purer and more likely to give in to a sudden act of kindness because that's what people who eat oatmeal would do. it's a lifestyle you're buying when you order oatmeal, mr bittman, not just a happy meal.

then there is the quiet admiration from others who wish they had your willpower and discipline. the secret glances from strangers indicating that they know you are somehow a superior being for not being carnivorous first thing in the day.

really, mr. bittman, love cannot be measured by the hours in a day & oatmeal cannot be measured in calories and nutrition counts. some things are spiritual and that's what mcdonald's pr folks should have explained to you. OM . . . .

How to Make Oatmeal . . . Wrong
There’s a feeling of inevitability in writing about McDonald’s latest offering, their “bowl full of wholesome” — also known as oatmeal. The leading fast-food multinational, with sales over $16.5 billion a year (just under the GDP of Afghanistan), represents a great deal of what is wrong with American food today. From a marketing perspective, they can do almost nothing wrong; from a nutritional perspective, they can do almost nothing right, as the oatmeal fiasco demonstrates.

One “positive” often raised about McDonald’s is that it sells calories cheap. But since many of these calories are in forms detrimental rather than beneficial to our health and to the environment, they’re actually quite expensive — the costs aren’t seen at the cash register but in the form of high health care bills and environmental degradation.

Oatmeal is on the other end of the food spectrum. Real oatmeal contains no ingredients; rather, it is an ingredient. As such, it’s a promising lifesaver: oats are easy to grow in almost any non-extreme climate and, minimally processed, they’re profoundly nourishing, inexpensive and ridiculously easy to cook. They can even be eaten raw, but more on that in a moment.

Like so many other venerable foods, oatmeal has been roundly abused by food marketers for more than 40 years. Take, for example, Quaker Strawberries and Cream Instant Oatmeal, which contains no strawberries, no cream, 12 times the sugars of Quaker Old Fashioned Oats and only half of the fiber. At least it’s inexpensive, less than 50 cents a packet on average. (A serving of cooked rolled oats will set you back half that at most, plus the cost of condiments; of course, it’ll be much better in every respect.)

The oatmeal and McDonald’s story broke late last year, when Mickey D’s, in its ongoing effort to tell us that it’s offering “a selection of balanced choices” (and to keep in step with arch-rival Starbucks) began to sell the cereal. Yet in typical McDonald’s fashion, the company is doing everything it can to turn oatmeal into yet another bad choice. (Not only that, they’ve made it more expensive than a double-cheeseburger: $2.38 per serving in New York.) “Cream” (which contains seven ingredients, two of them actual dairy) is automatically added; brown sugar is ostensibly optional, but it’s also added routinely unless a customer specifically requests otherwise. There are also diced apples, dried cranberries and raisins, the least processed of the ingredients (even the oatmeal contains seven ingredients, including “natural flavor”).

A more accurate description than “100% natural whole-grain oats,” “plump raisins,” “sweet cranberries” and “crisp fresh apples” would be “oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen.”

Since we know there are barely any rules governing promotion of foods, one might wonder how this compares to real oatmeal, besides being 10 times as expensive. Some will say that it tastes better, but that’s because they’re addicted to sickly sweet foods, which is what this bowlful of wholesome is.

Others will argue that the McDonald’s version is more “convenient.” This is nonsense; in the time it takes to go into a McDonald’s, stand in line, order, wait, pay and leave, you could make oatmeal for four while taking your vitamins, brushing your teeth and half-unloading the dishwasher. (If you’re too busy to eat it before you leave the house, you could throw it in a container and microwave it at work. If you prefer so-called instant, flavored oatmeal, see this link, which will describe how to make your own).

If you don’t want to bother with the stove at all, you could put some rolled oats (instant not necessary) in a glass or bowl, along with a teeny pinch of salt, sugar or maple syrup or honey, maybe some dried fruit. Add milk and let stand for a minute (or 10). Eat. Eat while you’re walking around getting dressed. And then talk to me about convenience.

The aspect one cannot argue is nutrition: Incredibly, the McDonald’s product contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.)

The bottom-line question is, “Why?” Why would McDonald’s, which appears every now and then to try to persuade us that it is adding “healthier” foods to its menu, take a venerable ingredient like oatmeal and turn it into expensive junk food? Why create a hideous concoction of 21 ingredients, many of them chemical and/or unnecessary? Why not try, for once, to keep it honest?

I asked them this, via e-mail: “Why could you not make oatmeal with nothing more than real oats and plain water, and offer customers a sweetener or two (honey, the only food on earth that doesn’t spoil, would seem a natural fit for this purpose), a packet of mixed dried fruit, and half-and-half or — even better — skim milk?”

Their answer, via e-mail and through a spokesperson (FMO is “fruit and maple oatmeal”): “Customers can order FMO with or without the light cream, brown sugar and the fruit. Our menu is entirely customizable by request with our ‘Made for You’ platform that has been in place since the late 90s.”

Oh, please. Here’s the thing: McDonald’s wants to get people in the store. Once a day, once a week, once a month, the more the better, of course, but routinely. And if you buy oatmeal, they’re o.k. with that. But they know that, once inside, you’ll probably opt for a sausage biscuit anyway.

And you won’t be much worse off.


tai chi

learning tai chi -- "supreme ultimate boxing" -- during lunch hours these days. the vibe in the class is good despite the objectionable teacher, so trying to appreciate the benefits of the slow deliberate movements. not sure i get it, really, and maybe a class in a staid conference room during a lunch hour is not conducive to the relaxation and meditation required. meeting new people is pleasant, though, and it is convenient so will plug along and add it to my list of learning new things in 2011.

February 24, 2011

Our best friends (of the canine variety)

Archaeologists in Jordan have excavated a burial ground dating back around 16,500 years. One of the graves included, along with a human skeleton, a fox skull.  A second grave included other bones from the same fox.  The archaeologists determined that what probably happened was that the human was originally buried with the complete fox skeleton.   For whatever reason, the human skeleton was later moved to another grave site, with most of the skeleton (but not the skull).  So, was the fox a pet?  Was it something that the human wanted near him in the afterlife?

The accepted wisdom is that dogs were first domesticated in the Middle East around 15,000 years ago.

"Might Pleistocene Fido Have Been a Fox?" http://scienceblogs.com/thoughtfulanimal/2011/02/might_pleistocene_fido_have_be.php?utm_source=nytwidget 

who knew . . .

not my picture but toooo cute not to post
 . . .  a baby giraffe could be so cute?

one fun fact: a giraffe can clean its ears with its tongue

become a giraffologist by completing the reading at http://www.sandiegozoo.org/animalbytes/t-giraffe.html

February 23, 2011

how to learn

10-minute talk about learning that takes a minute to download at http://www.ted.com/talks/diana_laufenberg_3_ways_to_teach.html. good summary of how learning has changed over the generations (and what inspirational teaching can be in a jr and high school level).

and an assortment of interesting talks presented at TED, a website devote to "ideas worth spreading" http://www.ted.com/themes/browse

February 22, 2011

Running to lose weight ... or not ...

Running at any speed only burns about 100 calories / mile*.  No...no...that cannot be......  That's one of those snacks that you get on Southwest.


10 things you can do in 10 minutes

necessity requires that i learn how to make the most of my time these days so here is a list of 10 things you can do when you have just 10 minutes . . .

1. spritz houseplants (they love it)
2. pet your dog (they love it)
3. from your collection of fun postcards, dash off a note and put it in the mail so someone gets a little surprise (they love it)
4. floss your teeth (they love it)
5. clean out your car (you'll love it)
6. drink eight ounces of water (your body will love it)
7. dance alone in your living room to a favorite song (you'll love it)
8. look through an art book that you brought home from the library (you'll love it)
9. do 50 sit-ups (you'll love it)
10. lie down on the floor in corpse pose and think nice thoughts (you'll love it)

February 21, 2011

Running .... or not (and, yes, we must)

"It is not chronological age that determines the runner's age; rather it is the years of heavy training."*

So, for those of us, who have never - ever - trained heavily, we are very young - nay, infantile - runners indeed.  And, if we continue - wisely - not to train heavily, but continue to run, we maintain our (running) youthfulness.

*Tim Noakes, Lore of Running, 4th ed. (Oxford University Press, 2003) at p. 668.


rather delinquently, just learning now about mudras, stylized hand gestures in buddhism that reflect particular inner states. with practice and intent, a mudra can trigger an inner state. in fact, mudra in sanskrit means "sign" or "seal".

nice website with explanation and pictures, http://www.onmarkproductions.com/html/mudra-japan.shtml

February 20, 2011

400th anniversary celebratory project

  • a law unto themselves
  • a man after his own heart
  • a stumbling block
  • a thief in the night
  • a thorn in the flesh
  • all these things must come to pass
  • all things to all men
  • and the word was made flesh
  • at their wit's end
  • be fruitful and multiply
  • born again
  • bottomless pit
  • by their fruits ye shall know them
  • charity shall cover the multitude of sins
  • crumbs which fall from ... table
  • death, where is thy sting
  • den of thieves
  • dreamer of dreams
  • eat, drink and be merry
  • eye for an eye
  • fallen from grace
  • fatted calf
  • fell by the way side
  • fell flat on his face
  • fell on stony ground
  • fight the good fight . . .
all these phrases (and more!) stem from king james version of the bible, celebratings its 400th year in 2011 . . .  (http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/feb/18/phrases-king-james-bible)

 if you want to add to the list, email the phrase(s) to books@guardian.co.uk

February 19, 2011

dutch treat

let it load (it's worth the quick wait) & then mouse over the blue cup to see very clever advertising . . . and be prepared to marvel . . .

February 18, 2011

women artists

why are there so few women artists represented in mainstream museums? (not a rhetorical question nor a particularly original one . . .)

i learned that the whitney museum did a retrospective of georgia o'keefe in 1970 (http://www.okeeffemuseum.org/american-modernism.html) and lots of museums have a mary cassatt or two (http://www.ibiblio.org/wm/paint/auth/cassatt) & helen frankenthaler's paintings get hung in museums (http://www.artcyclopedia.com/artists/frankenthaler_helen.html) as do those of joan mitchell http://www.artchive.com/artchive/M/mitchell.html  . . . and frida kahlo has been popularized in recent years (http://www.fridakahlo.com/) and no other women painters really come to mind.


so introducing a few women artists that are new to me...

Pamela Masik (Canadian, contemporary): http://missingwomen.blogspot.com/2011/01/ubc-museum-cancels-offensive-painting.html

Fanny Fleury (French, 1848-1920): http://beardedroman.com/?tag=women-artists

Dorothea Rockburne (another Canadian, contemporary):

Lynda Benglis (American, contemporary): http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/13/arts/design/13benglis.html?ref=arts

February 17, 2011

Refusals and test-taking

Jean-Paul Sartre refused the Nobel Prize in 1964. He died in 1980. Sartre also refused to accept the Legion of Honor.

Sartre passed his second aggregation exam in philosophy in 1929. His was the top score out of 76 exam takers. She who scored the second highest? Simone de Beauvoir, at 21, three years younger than Sartre.

"If Sartre already showed great intelligence and a solid, if at times inexact, culture, everybody agreed that, of the two, she was the real philosopher."

Annie Cohen-Solal, Sartre: A Life, Anna Cancogni, translator (Pantheon / Random House 1987)

hanson crockett gregory

marfa donut

The doughnut didn’t always have a hole! These round, flat, fried cakes were once filled, with soggy centers. At least, that’s the way they were eaten when early Dutch settlers brought them to Colonial America.

Then in 1847, a 15-year-old boy, Hanson Crockett Gregory, was in the kitchen of his Rockport, Maine, home watching his mother make these fried cakes. When he asked her why the centers were so soggy and uncooked that they gave him indigestion, she didn’t have the answer for him.

So Hanson took some of the uncooked cakes and poked out the centers with a fork. This time when his mother fried them, they were delicious, for the hole let the dough cook more thoroughly, making the cakes much easier to digest.

Today, doughnut makers put their dough into special machines that punch out the centers. The dough is then cooked in a vat of boiling oil until it is a puffy, crisp doughnut.

And the house in Rockport, Maine, where Hanson Crockett Gregory was born, bears a plaque commemorating the day that a boy invented a hole!

broadway boogie woogie donut

February 16, 2011


Two things today....

1.  Although one's blog post - with images - looks good - everything works - when one previews that post, it is altogether possible - if not likely - that the actual post will appear sans images.  Very disappointing.

2.  A flea can jump 38 times as far / high as the length of its body.  (NY Times, February 15 2011).  If I could do that, I'd land more than 200 feet from where I took off.  That could come in handy.

another poem

i think this poem is cool because i happen to know that king henry viii's older brother's heart is buried at ludlow castle (i bet you thought i was going to say wounded knee!)

by Willa Cather

THROUGH halls of vanished pleasure,
And hold of vanished power,

And crypt of faith forgotten,
A came to Ludlow tower.
A-top of arch and stairway,
Of crypt and donjan cell,
Of council hall, and chamber,
Of wall, and ditch, and well,

High over grated turrets
Where clinging ivies run,
A thousand scarlet poppies
Enticed the rising sun,

Upon the topmost turret,
With death and damp below,--
Three hundred years of spoilage,--
The crimson poppies grow.

This hall it was that bred him,
These hills that knew him brave,
The gentlest English singer
That fills an English grave.

How have they heart to blossom
So cruel and gay and red,
When beauty so hath perished
And valour so hath sped?

When knights so fair are rotten,
And captains true asleep,
And singing lips are dust-stopped
Six English earth-feet deep?

When ages old remind me
How much hath gone for naught,
What wretched ghost remaineth
Of all that flesh hath wrought;

Of love and song and warring,
Of adventure and play,
Of art and comely building,
Of faith and form and fray--

I'll mind the flowers of pleasure,
Of short-lived youth and sleep,
That drunk the sunny weather
A-top of Ludlow keep.

a poem

true confession: i'm not into poetry, never got it
BUT tis the year of learning so perhaps if i make an effort to read more poetry, i'll find some i like...so here goes from goethe...


once in the forest
i strolled content,
to look for nothing
my sole intent.

i saw a flower,
shaded and shy,
shining like starlight,
bright as an eye.

i went to pluck it;
gently it said:
must i be broken,
wilt and be dead?

then whole i dug it
out of the loam
and to my garden
carried it home,

there to replant it
where no wind blows.
more bright than ever
it blooms and grows.

February 15, 2011


The world's largest building is part of the Dubai airport.  It's 370 acres big, with, among other things, 157 elevators.

And, the Burj Khalifa, reputedly the tallest building in the world, more than twice as tall as the Empire State Building with more than 160 stories, is also in Dubai.  Construction of the Burj Khalifa began at the beginning of 2004, and the building was completed in late 2009.  More than 12,000 workers were employed at one time during the construction of the BK.


is it possible to be happy about feeling blue?

Sometimes, happiness is for bozos

Behavioral sciences writer Bruce Bower imagines a famed clown's psychotherapy session to explain why the pursuit of happiness isn’t always a good thing.
By Bruce Bower
Web edition : Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

SAN ANTONIO— In a midtown-Manhattan psychotherapist’s office, a new client adjusts his floppy, glow-in-the-dark shoes and nervously tugs at his multicolored shock of hair before starting to talk.

You might recognize me, doc. I’m Bozo. Bozo the Clown.

The circus is in town? How’d you get here today — cannon shot?

Spare me, doc. This is serious. I’ve lost my happiness. I’ve still got my pensiveness. But who wants to see a pensive clown? I need to be happy — make that slap happy.

You have a painted red smile plastered on your pasty face. You look menacing, not happy. No one smiles that much. You look like Bozo the Serial Killer.

That’s harsh, doc. Put yourself in my size 150s. Happiness is a job requirement for me. I can’t do my job when I’m having nightmares about kids asking me to make balloon animals for them.

Don’t you do that all the time?

In my nightmares, all the little buggers want porcupines.

You feel inadequate, I get it. But let’s deal with your happiness fetish. Happiness has its upside, of course. On average, happy people are healthy and satisfied. In real life, though, happiness isn’t appropriate in all situations and fits some people better than others. It’s even possible to have too much happiness. Psychologists presented the latest evidence on the perils of happiness in January at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology in San Antonio.

You’re freaking me out. Do you have any Prozac? Cotton candy?

No. And I’m fresh out of Gummi Bears. Gnaw on this: Too much emotional zest can go seriously wrong, according to Yale University’s June Gruber. She studies people with bipolar disorder, who go through manic periods of such intense joy and abandon that they clean out their bank accounts in frivolous spending sprees and otherwise go wild. When not in a depressed phase, people with this condition are always — often inappropriately — primed for happiness. Their hearts race and their bodies generally rev up not just while watching inspiring videos but while viewing neutral or even upsetting scenes, Gruber finds. They cackle with delight when shown videos of their own tortured song renditions on a karaoke machine — the kind of thing that makes most tune-challenged crooners hide their faces in embarrassment.

Unless they’re contestants on American Idol. (Bozo guffaws and squeezes his big, red nose to make a rude beeping noise.)

Context is king, Bozo. Throw a bucketful of confetti into a circus crowd and the audience squeals with delight. Do that in the New York City subway and you’re dead meat. Maya Tamir of Hebrew University in Jerusalem finds that college students who prefer to be happy in situations that call for confrontation do worse in school and feel less satisfied with themselves than their peers who embrace anger when it’s necessary.

I’m Bozo the Clown. Gray skies are gonna clear up, put on a happy face. Brush off the clouds and cheer up, put on a happy face.

Don’t ever sing in my presence again. Some people don’t get jazzed by happiness. Consider individuals who score high on a personality trait called neuroticism. They specialize in negative feelings, so they’re on close terms with anxiety, guilt and sadness. If you tell them to look for the good side of a bad personal experience, they feel no better, says Weiting Ng of SIM University in Singapore. Other positive-thinking strategies also do nothing for high-neuroticism folks, she finds. They may not put a premium on happiness the way that the power-of-positive-thinking crowd does, Ng suggests.

I’m not like that, doc. I need my happiness. It’s my gift to the world. I’ll go c-c-c-cuckoo if I don’t find it. [He blows a tiny bugle hanging off his baggy outfit.]

Whew. Well, you and Thomas Jefferson may not like it, but the unrelenting pursuit of happiness can make people miserable. The happier you think you should be, the more likely you are to be disappointed, says Iris Mauss of the University of Denver. She finds that, when daily stresses are low, women who value happiness a lot report feeling worse than women who aren’t out to find their bliss. In another Mauss study, women shown a news report about the health benefits of happiness, which temporarily boosts their desire to be happy, get no emotional lift from watching a joyful film clip, unlike women not given the news story.

So I should be miserable? Misery breeds happiness? Ouch, my head hurts.

No. Do what you enjoy. Happiness will take care of itself. Don’t be surprised if it takes a vacation every now and then. I never thought I’d say this, but you’re thinking too much, Bozo.

Wow, thanks doc. I feel better — no, I mean worse — already.

My work is done. You can pay on the way out. No rubber checks.

"Nothing can bring you happiness but yourself."
Ralph Waldo Emerson

February 14, 2011

qíngrénjié kuàilè / ystävänpäivä / happy valentine's day

obligatory tribute to february 14 . . .

 valentine's day in china courtesy of http://www.echineselearning.com/saint-valentines-day-in-china.html:

Most young people in China are also keen of Saint Valentine's Day. Actually, in China we have a similar holiday dedicated for love, as in the west. In Chinese, it's called "七夕节(qīxī jié) The Seventh Eve."It is also known as "中国情人节(zhōngguó qíngrén jié) Chinese Valentine's Day"and "女儿节(nǚér jié) The Daughter's Day." It occurs on the seventh day of the seventh month on the Chinese lunar calendar. This day was originated from a beautiful love story. The seventh daughter of the Goddess of Heaven, 织女(zhīnǚ) Zhi Nv, fell in love with a cowherd called 牛郎(niúláng) Niu Lang. Regardless of the taboo that an immortal could not marry a mortal, she decided to marry Niu Lang. They lived happily for several years. Eventually, however, the Goddess of Heaven became fed up with her daughter's absence, and ordered her to return to heaven. However, the mother took pity on the couple and allowed them to reunite once a year. Legend has it that on the seventh night of the seventh moon, magpies form a bridge with their wings for Zhi Nv to cross to meet her husband.

In ancient times, various activities were held to celebrate the festival in different places, but young people nowadays like to release the "孔明灯(kŏngmíngdēng) Hung Ming lanterns"on the Chinese Valentine's Day, which was invented by Zhuge Kongming at the time of Three Kingdoms. In the evening, lovers make good wishes together and light Hung Ming lanterns with full blessings of faithful love between them, just like the love between Niu Lang and Zhi Nv.

valentine's day in finland courtesy of . . . http://www.finnguide.fi/calendar/calendarevents.asp?month=2&p=9

In Finland this celebration arrived rather late, and was officially listed in the almanac in 1987. In Finland Valentines Day is called "Ystävänpäivä", which means "Friend's Day". Unlike many other countries where Valentines Day is mainly a day of "Romance", in Finland it is also the day when close friends send cards and gifts to each other, although it is a popular day to get married and engaged on.

Even though Valentines Day came to Finland from the United States, its roots are visible in European folklore and in Catholic legends. The tradition of celebrating St. Valentines Day on 14th of February, dates back to ancient Rome, when Romans were celebrating Juno, the protector of matrimony and maternity.

The name Valentine comes from saint Valentinus, the martyr, who's commemorative day has been celebrated on 14th of February, since the 350's. According to legend, Valentinus was conducting marriage ceremonies for soldiers, who were not allowed to get married, and was therefore acting against the orders of the military commanders. As a result Valentinus was arrested, and to show their gratitude, wives of the soldiers sent gifts, cards and flowers to Valentinus. He was executed on the 14th of February (Valentine's Day).

and valentine's day tribute to my spousal unit in the us of a:

February 13, 2011


In Sevres, France sits a kilogram of platinum.  In fact, it is the kilogram, the standard for all kilograms.  But, as a standard, it is slipping.  Its weight has decreased since it was designated the standard (in 1889) - a decrease of 50 micrograms, "equal to the mass of a smallish grain of sand."  Apparently it is the only unit of measurement - at least in the metric system - that continues to be defined in terms of a physical object.  By way of contrast, a meter is defined as "the length of the path traveled by light in a vacuum during a time interval of 1 / 299,792,458 of a second."  Scientists are now struggling to similarly define the kilogram, perhaps basing it on Planck's Constant (which is hard to define with any certainty).

Only three people have the key to the platinum kilogram in Sevres.  What will happen to it when it's replaced?

Stay tuned.

[all from "Missing Micrograms Set a Standard on Edge," New York Times, February 13, 2011, A12.

a meme in action

like bloggers all over internet-empire, i picked up on the [alleged] bbc book challenge that spread like wild fire on fb:
how many of the books on this list have you read?

1 Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2 The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3 Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4 Harry Potter series - JK Rowling**
5 To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6 The Bible **
7 Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9 His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10 Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11 Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12 Tess of the D’Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13 Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
14 Complete Works of Shakespeare**
15 Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16 The Hobbit - JRR Tolkien
17 Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18 Catcher in the Rye – JD Salinger
19 The Time Traveler’s Wife
20 Middlemarch - George Eliot
21 Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22 The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23 Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24 War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25 The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26 Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28 Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29 Alice in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30 The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31 Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32 David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33 Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis
35 Persuasion - Jane Austen
36 The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho
37 The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
38 Captain Corelli’s Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39 Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40 Winnie the Pooh - AA Milne
41 Animal Farm - George Orwell
42 The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43 One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez **
44 A Prayer for Owen Meaney - John Irving
45 The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46 Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47 Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48 The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
49 Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50 Atonement - Ian McEwan
51 Life of Pi - Yann Martel
52 Dune - Frank Herbert
53 Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54 Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55 A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56 The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
57 A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58 Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59 The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night - Mark Haddon
60 Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61 Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck **
62 Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63 The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64 The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65 Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66 On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67 Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68 Bridget Jones’s Diary - Helen Fielding
69 Midnight’s Children - Salman Rushdie
70 Moby Dick - Herman Melville **
71 Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72 Dracula - Bram Stoker
73 The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74 Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75 Ulysses - James Joyce
76 The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77 Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78 Germinal - Emile Zola
79 Vanity Fair - Thackeray
80 Possession - AS Byatt
81 A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82 Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83 The Color Purple - Alice Walker
84 The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85 Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86 A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87 Charlotte’s Web - EB White
88 The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Alborn
89 Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90 The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91 Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad  **
92 The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93 The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94 Watership Down - Richard Adam
95 A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96 A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97 The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98 A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess
99 Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100 Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

** either books i started but couldn't get into and quit reading, or books i've read part of the series but not the entire series. okay, this list includes a lot of my favorite authors (if not my favorite works) and it got me wondering why these selections on the list and makes me think some of the obviously great works aren't included, how could that be...but before quibbling with the list, you have to understand what's the point of the list (i haven't a clue)? (why is the list fun even when you don't know the point? i don't know, but there you have it, it's fun) but a little research and we learn a lot about this list from somebody out in cyberspace...is it true or not?...who knows...it's still interesting...

in a nutshell:

-author suggests this is NOT a bbc-sponsored book list

-author explains this is a meme on the internet & her explanation is good so here it is

A “meme” is a little chain-letter-like game that people send around the internet. You may have heard of Facebook’s latest meme “25 Things” (that was started by users, not the Facebook staff).

-this meme has components that make it viral such as fostering competitiveness among friends (i've read 25 books, how many have you read?); it's elitist and snobby so people will enjoy reacting to that (get the anti-bbc folks voicing their egalitarian opinions); it's a "milestone" number, 100, which seems significant at first glance (though really nothing is so magical about 100 books, it's a round number and that draws attn); it's quick to do (just count up the number of books you've read, takes less than a  minute)


implications for social media folks, marketing, pr . . . plenty

February 12, 2011


To be alive does not necessarily mean to be conscious....or at least what we as humans understand as consciousness.

If not consciousness, maybe metabolism characterizes life.

"A singular characteristic of life is that at two moments in time that are sufficiently far apart, its matter cannot be the same; this means, conversely, if the material content is indeed identical at two different moments in time, then we are dealing with an organism that has stopped living and is dead."

But if the essence of what is life is defined as a process of change, so might other phenomena come under the definition...like, a wave.

But a wave is not really alive.  So what is it that makes something alive?

"the point of life itself"?

...maybe "its...self-centered individuality, being for itself and in contraposition to all the rest of the world, with an essential boundary dividing 'inside' and 'outside.'"

All from John Stewart, Olivier Gapenne and Ezequiel A. Di Paolo, Enaction: Toward a New Paradigm for Cognotive Science (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2010).


[fiz-ee-og-nuh-mee, -on-uh-mee]
–noun, plural -mies.

1. the face or countenance, especially when considered as an index to the character: a fierce physiognomy.
2. Also called anthroposcopy. the art of determining character or personal characteristics from the form or features of the body, especially of the face.
3. the outward appearance of anything, taken as offering some insight into its character: the physiognomy of a nation.
Okay, so now that physiognomy is understood, consider The Physiognomic Scrutinizer . . . . http://www.we-make-money-not-art.com/archives/2010/11/the-physiognomic-scrutinizer.php

February 11, 2011


"Personality ... is a Shakespearean invention, and is not only Shakespeare's greatest originality but also the authentic cause of his perpetual pervasiveness."

"For Hamlet, the self is an abyss, the chaos of virtual nothingness.  For Falstaff, the self is everything."

Harold Bloom, Shakespeare: The Invention of the Human (New York: Riverhead Books / Penguin, 1998)

austin city hall

though i've worked down the street from city hall for years, only recently did i venture inside and wow, what a building it is. limestone on the outside (516 tons worth) and designed to capture the spirit of the hill country, ultra-cool on the inside with something like 66,000 square feet of copper lining the ceilings. things are done at slants and angles to minimize right angles and the theme throughout is transparency in government so lots of windows and glass walls. architect was antoine predock, http://www.predock.com/.

on fridays from spring through fall, live music plays during lunchtime and the stairway doubles as seating across from the built-in outdoor stage. inside yearround is "the people's gallery" -- a selection of 100 pieces of art from central texas artists on display throughout the building and members of the public are welcome to wander through offices discovering each piece. this collection rotates each january so worth repeat visits. lots of other nice finishes touches, just very nicely done.

and if that is not enough, this building is a role model of sustainability and won a gold rating for leadership in energy and environmental design.

please note previous blog and know that it has a distinctive "cantilevered" point that extends almost 50 feet from the building over second street -- meant to be ? an armadillo tail? a point north? a stinger? i'm not sure i understand or appreciate this feature of the building quite yet, but one day perhaps it will inspire me.

austinites should be very proud.

February 10, 2011

a tongue twister for a thursday

el vino vino, pero el vino no vino vino. el vino vino vinagre.

February 9, 2011

lepisma saccharina

friend or foe? (clue: not friend)
silverfish lurking in your house? if you've noticed stained books, fabrics, food, and wallpaper, yep, these little flattened carrot-shaped insects formally known as lepisma saccharina could be living rent-free in your baseboards.

i learned about silverfish by chancing upon a neighborhood newsletter, but you can learn all about these little creeps at http://www.urban-ipm.blogspot.com/ ... or by googling "silverfish"

good, good, something new to worry about. that's just what i needed. (keeps you from realizing there are real things you should be neurotic about!)

February 8, 2011

We can or cantilever

To cantilever - to support by a long projecting beam that is anchored only at one end (bridges are cantilevered (?)).  Per the online OED.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater is constructed with three kinds of cantilever (the beam anchored at one end) -
1.  "extension from an anchorage (as in the iron arm suspending a kettle" over the fire)
2.  "counterbalancing (like simple scales)"
3.  "loaded extension that permits limited anchorage" (the way a Russian dancer squats and extends his legs slightly above the floor)
Edgar Kaufmann, Jr., Fallingwater: A Frank Lloyd Wright Country House (New York: Abbeville Press, 1986).

word of the day

today's word of the day courtesy of dictionary.com is too appropriate to neglect: PHILOMATH, a lover of learning; a scholar

a confession

i find martha stewart household tips extremely useful . . . tackling badly burned pots on today's agenda:

fill badly burned pots without nonstick coatings with cold water and 2 or 3 tablespoons salt. let soak overnight. slowly bring the water to a boil; the burn marks should disappear. (you may need to repeat a few times.) then wash as you normally would.

. . .

and leave it to martha to have the text below automatically appear when you cut & paste from her web site...that martha thinks of everything....
Read more at Marthastewart.com: Cleaning Tips – Martha Stewart

February 7, 2011

Never mind....

All from Guy Deutscher, Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages (New York: Henry Holt 2010).....

Charles V preferred to speak "Spanish to God, Italian to women, French to men, and German to my horse."

If he wanted to talk about what we think of as the mind, though, he would be in a bit of a pickle.  Neither the French nor the German language has a word that represents what we English speakers think of as the 'mind.'  And, English has no single word that conveys what the French mean when they refer to 'esprit.'


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February 6, 2011

abstain, avoid, cease, check, curb, desist, eschew, forbear, forgo, give up, halt, leave off, quit, refrain, renounce, resist, restrain, stop DISAGREEING or CORRECTING or ARGUING

i denied myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering i began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but that in the present case there "appeared" or "seemed to me" some difference, etc. the conversation i engaged in went on more pleasantly; the modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction; i had less mortification when i was found to be in the wrong, and i more easily prevailed with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when i happened to be in the right.

the above quote attributed to benjamin franklin in the civility solution, and it is my goal for this year to live by the spirit of that quote.
other goals along those lines for the year include:
--keep a positive attitude
--respect others and grant them plenty of validation
--disagree graciously and refrain from arguing
--ask, don't tell

and i learn this morning that the civility solution falls under the umbrella of "courtesy literature" that has quite a long history with origins designed to educate the whole person not just give a veneer of politeness. there is a huge difference between gentle and sincere courtesy and paying lip service to rituals like please and thank you....this year i plan to evolve more to the old fashioned notions of manners.

The folly of crowds

Crowd disasters.......think WalMart and Black Friday, the bridge in Cambodia, pilgrimages at Mecca, soccer stadium catastrophes......Most occur as people surge toward something, rather than fleeing from it.  And, while you might think that the greatest danger is being flattened beneath the feet of the crowd, "you're just as likely to die on your feet.....squashed by the pressure of bodies smashing into you."  "Investigators collecting evidence in the aftermath of crowd disasters have found steel guardrails capable of withstanding a thousand pounds of pressure bent by crowd force."

All this from an article in the February 7 2011 issue of The New Yorker - John Seabrook, "Crush Point."

February 5, 2011

big announcement coming soon

news to me, but not new news, the City of Austin has joined umpteen other cities nationwide in submitting a bid to be google's test city for "google fiber," which promises to bring Internet connections more than 100 times faster than the current norm in the US of A.

impossible to imagine 100 times faster ... google would have to anticipate my desires and bring up web sites before I even realized I wanted them. will computers have to have brain scanners attached to activate this technology?

seems google intended to announce the chosen city by the end of 2010, but no word as yet so we all wait with baited breath for the (presumably?) pending announcement

attn google:
choose austin, texas
(all the cool kids do)


February 4, 2011


Again, from Resnick and Halliday on physics for science and engineering students....

"Any phenomenon whatever that repeats itself can be used as a measure of time."

So, when we talk about seconds and minutes and hours, what is it that's actually repeating itself (other than time)?

Something to think about on Super Bowl weekend

Newton’s three laws of motion ...
(quoted from Robert Resnick and David Halliday, Physics for Students of Science and Engineering, Part I (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1962)

  • Every body persists in its state of rest or of uniform motion in a straight line unless it is compelled to change that state by forces acted upon it.

  • The acceleration caused by one or many forces acting on a body is proportional in magnitude to the resultant of the forces, and parallel to it in direction, and is inversely proportional to the mass of the body.

  • To every action there is always opposed an equal reaction.
  • design at the turn of the century

    here's what was going on w/design in ad1 in thailand...

    and in Peru at the same time . . .

    February 3, 2011

    how cool is google?

    museums of the world brought to your computer monitor courtesy of google, http://www.googleartproject.com/

    how cool is that?

    some things never change

    the uncertainty and unpredictability of life hit us all pretty hard when "they" declared that pluto was not a planet. if pluto is not a planet, what other stuff did you learn as a kid that really wasn't true? maybe george washington really didn't cut down the cherry tree and it was the first presidential cover-up? maybe my whole life is nothing but a stack of lies?

    it made me feel better to learn this morning that the speed of light was fixed in 1983 and that it can never be changed--finally something stable to hold onto that will be true even when most of your generation has alzheimer's. so just memorize this once and you can be the elevator genius forever: speed of light = 299,792,458 meters per second.

    and it's not just a fact to show off your vast knowledge --though certainly it could be used that way!-- you never know when seeming trivia could get you out of a tough scrape. imagine a hostage situation and the bad guy says: "i'll let anyone who knows the speed of light go free" or maybe if you inadvertently get embroiled in a CIA plot while on vacation in an exotic resort and the password for all the true agents is the speed of light...really this information could be life saving.

    if you're just memorizing it to impress others no one would blame you, but consider taking it even a step further and question aloud whether it is true that all photons must move at the speed of light (per Einstein's theory of relativity)....read details and see cool pictures at http://www.dailygalaxy.com/my_weblog/2008/03/magic-rays-may.html#more

    February 2, 2011

    Rumor has it ...

    ..... that there really was a Mother Goose.  Elizabeth Goose adopted 10 children, then had 6 of her own, and in her spare time wrote rhymes, which were later published (in 1719?) by the spouse of one of her many children.  But since no copy of the purported rhyme book has ever turned up, many doubt the story.  Instead, some point to Charles Perrault, author of fairy tales and also of the Tales of My Mother Goose (1697), as the true originator of the avian character.

    Per Barbara Berliner, The Book of Answers (Simon & Schuster, 1990)

    truth is stranger than fiction

    "The truth of the matter is, I think I fell in love with him the first time I saw him. I know it's nuts and everything, but I couldn't help it; it was just one of those things."

    usual cupid-struck-his-bow comment? not quite.

    this quote comes from Cindy Haden, a juror on a panel that voted unanimously to convict serial killer Richard Ramirez on 14 counts of murder (plus an assortment of assaults, rapes, and robberies.)

    the woman eventually moved so she could visit him more frequently while he was in San Quentin. She would wait 10-12 hours to have the chance to talk with him across plexiglass for half an hour.

    And if that isn't bizarre enough, she is but one of any number of women who devoted themselves to prison visits and passionate letter writing. He even married one of them while awaiting execution on death row.

    ...of all the things you could do with your life and of all the causes you could take up and of all the risks you could take, how many women every year choose to attach themselves to a convicted murderer on death row? people are weird.

    all is told in the 500+-page true crime book:  http://www.amazon.com/Night-Stalker-Pinnacle-True-Crime/dp/0786018100/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1296644316&sr=8-3

    February 1, 2011


    = football attention neurosis.  Individuals who suffer from this malady 'catastrophize' (i.e., see the world's continued existence and their own well-being as dependent upon the outcome of a game played by their chosen team).

    NY Times, February 1 2011, p. D5,7.

    if you were born today....

    ...astrologers characterize you as a forthright nonconformist given to speaking your mind boldly and convincingly. ..."although you sometimes appear to be totally wrapped up in your own ideas, your enthusiastic, pioneering spirit fuels your humanitarian ideals and projects them outward to the world at large," etc etc.*

    --can there be any truth to astrology? [rhetorical question, the answer is no]

    given that:
    --how can there be so many books on astrology?
    --how did it become customary for astrological charts to appear in daily newspapers?
    --how does astrology survive from generation to generation, why doesn't it just die out like other fads?

    *excerpt from what your birthday reveals about you by phyllis vega