Thursday, December 22, 2011

SoCal Snowman

B12 appears to be key to my ability to get things done. I've been sluggish again, but after my B12 shot Tuesday (and 3 allergy shots and my final Hep-A booster wednesday - just call me pincushion girl) my energy levels have recovered a lot. I was productive at work, ran errands, went to the gym, ran more errands and ... built a snowman!

Snowman made of 3 Japanese paper lanterns

I had intended to make a globe snowman ala Emily Henderson on her Secrets from a Stylist holiday special. I was at Cost Plus World Market picking up a couple last minute gifts when I saw 3 globes, very small, that I could use to make an 18" high snowman for about $50. Then I noticed the paper lanterns and a lightbulb went off in my mind. I already had a very large and a rather small Regolit lantern from IKEA (probably $10 for both). For another $7 I picked up a medium sized lantern. I already had a 10' string of no-heat LED lights. The existing outdoor lights on a timer had one more plug location available so I set to work.

The hardest thing was finding the small lanterns that had slipped to the bottom of my hoarder pile in the patio closet rather than being in the box of electrical and lighting supplies. Putting it together required a pair of needlenose pliers to slightly bend the internal frames for better attaching the balls together, and the twist tie that came on the LED lights to secure the attachment points. And one tiny picture hook.

This could be put together more carefully, but I need to finish wrapping gifts and packing. Oh, and sleep. With more time, I would take more care with the connections and use white lights instead of multicolored, leaving none outside the snowman feature. Maybe put on a scarf or something. It would probably be less unwieldy to thread the lights thru the, well, lights with two people working on it, and probably take 10 minutes or less with everything laid out. But this is what I got done in about an hour (including the scavenger hunt) and I'm ridiculously proud of it. Happy Holidays, Enjoy!

Hanging lit up Snowman made of 3 Japanese paper lanterns, slightly lower view direction

Monday, December 19, 2011

il communication

First, Please can we put the crossbars back on capital i's? They aren't serifs, but structural to avoid confusion with a lower case L. My title should read "il communication" with capital I, but looks like "Two communication" that way, so I had to uncapitalize a name. It makes me want to cry.

But not to cry as hard as the Kim Jon-Il mourners I heard on NPR. Two seconds of that and I was wondering if they'd hired paid mourners. That was some over the top wailing. Or perhaps, it's unseemly to be seen dry-eyed there today, and it's a political necessity / safe practice to out weep your neighbors. Possibly, their culture of grieving is much different than what I'm used to, making the tears seem crocodillian. Now who fills the power vacuum? And how soon until they provoke a war?

Well, I need to do laundry, grout some kitchen tile, clear out some bulk on the DVR, and want to read a new Lorelai James novel (extra, extra spicy she is). How well can I multitask?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Serve Myself

The last post had the unintended consequence of my getting a Christmas present of "Serve Yourself", a cookbook for one. I'm really excited to try it, but tonight, I'm going with tried and true, which is to say, pizza.

Homemade pizza got a lot easier once I realized you can make it on nearly any bread. I like making bread, but pizza dough has always been unnecessarily time consuming and complicated for my tastes. Not worth the effort. I've tried other things, cooked and fresh. My mom used to do little pizzalike things on english muffins. While great for little kids it felt like cheating, and not big enough for toppings. Plus, I rarely keep them on hand. I went to a funky little bar and restaurant in Corning NY that served lunch pizzas on a tortilla. This was game changing for me. I prefer a thin crust with many toppings and to realize I could just throw down some stuff on a tortilla (I keep a stash in the freezer, often) meant I could have pizza anytime.

But what to throw down?
I keep a stash of shredded cheese in the freezer, (Usually mozarella, sharp cheddar, Trader Joe's parmesan, and sometimes crumbled feta or a round of goat cheese) so that's taken care of.
I usually have some form of tomato sauce, or pesto, for the base.
Options: Spaghetti sauce (the meatless ones last a very long time in the fridge) or a little tomato paste to which I add stuff if available: Bruschetta spread, or an olive tapenade (more TJs), chopped sundried tomatoes, a spoon of pesto or fresh basil. Any or all of these things will jazz up the sauce.

The top can be anything. I love me a good sausage-mushroom-pine_nut- artichoke pizza, but can also go to town with blanched broccoli, olives, avocado, or ham or bacon (the pre-cooked bacon works great), banana peppers, or whatever happens to be fresh from the farmer's market or in my fridge or freezer. I've been known to top it with a chiffonade of basil or arugula (especially an avocado pizza) after it's removed from the oven. The one I'm finishing now had minced chili pepper from my neighbor, mixed in with sundried tomatoes, olive tapenade and Prego. I topped it with my last two slices of ham and Jarlsberg, which I'd rolled up and cut into wheels, then some mushrooms, because most food is better with mushrooms, IMHO. I topped with 3 more cheeses, and baked it.

Baking temperature is another key. It's almost impossible to bake a pizza at too hot a temperature. I used a 475F oven tonight and it wasn't quite enough given that I cooked it on a thin Al baking sheet. I don't bother with a pizza stone figuring it'll take too long to pre-heat, and I like my cookie sheet pizza sufficiently well. A 500+ pizza oven will cook pretty fast, so watch for it and use protective hot pads and things, but see how much better it is when the temp is cranked up.

I'd show you a picture of my pizza, but it's almost all gone now. Urp.

Because I was also messing around with baking a pumpkin and roasting pumpkin seeds tonight, which killed time between the steps, I made my own dough. I make it up as I go along because, as I said, most bread like substances will work. Tonight I used a couple small scoops (coffee scoop sized) of semolina flour, half a tablespoon of yeast, a splash of water, and enough warm water to make a paste. I let this sit, covered for a few minutes, then mix in in a dash of salt, and bit of sugar and a drizzle of oil and regular flour until it's not sticky. (For some reason, most pizza dough recipes use oil, so I went with it.)

Rising. This is where most pizza dough recipes go off the rails for me. I'm too impatient for my dinner to wait up to 1.5 hours to raise dough. My cooking class even suggests resting the dough for 24 hours or more to get it really stretchy. That would be fine if I made a bunch and stashed it in the freezer, but I was working from a clean bowl here. This month's Cook's Illustrated had a hint for proofing/rising dough in a warm damp place: put the dough bowl in the oven over another dish; pour 3c boiling water into the dish and shut the oven. Well, I had a giant pumpkin headed for my preheated oven, so I improvised. I had a little metal bowl with my dough in it. In the manner of a double boiler, I picked out another bowl that would serve as a base, and poured less than a cup of boiling water into it and covered it with a silicone lid for a while. When the lid gathered up some condensation, I moved the lid to the dough pan, blew across the hot water and made sure it had cooled to a touchable temp, then stuck my covered dough bowl over it. With the breadmaker yeast (couldn't find any other kind in a jar), and this warm environment, my bread raised nearly double in 20 minutes. So roughly 40 minutes after walking in the door, and one hacked up pumpkin later, I was ready to make my pizza. Roughly a half cup of flour(s) gives enough for a thin crust pizza for 1-2 people.

Honestly, I started using the semolina flour when I bought some for another baking experiment, then didn't have masa for a flatbread recipe in "Big Small Plates" that I'd had fun with. That recipe is:
1 c flour
1/2 c masa harina (or semolina...)
1/2 t ground spice (toasted cumin or caraway or...)
1/2 t salt
1/2 t finely ground black pepper
1/2 c + ~2T water, as needed

Mix all the dry ingredients. Start working in the water until dough is moist but not sticky. Let it rest, covered, for 30 minutes. (This relaxes the flour so you can roll it out.) Divide the dough into 8 pieces, and roll out each like a tortilla on a floured surface until quite thin. At 475 F, Bake 1 or 2 at a time for 60-90 seconds on a baking stone, or if using a baking sheet, 2 minutes then flip and cook another 1 minute until they're all made. At this point you can use them for anything, including little pizzas cooked also at 425 for 3-5 minutes.

This recipe was the inspiration for my dough - I top my dough raw, although I'm thinking the center would be better if I precooked it a tad or cooked it hotter or on a stone. I figured adding a little yeast wouldn't hurt things, and if I didn't want to wait for it to fully rise, I'd have a flatbread thincrust pizza and be perfectly happy. And I am perfectly happy with how tonight's pizza turned out.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Three Cheers for Microwave for One

There's an internet fascination this week with "Microwave for One", but I've been giving it some thought, and have wound up being really annoyed by how it is being portrayed.  First, the cover:
S. Allison with puffy curly hair leaning on an old school microwave
Stylistically, there's a lot of mocking potential.  I get where this is coming from. With the image quality and the hard to miss hair and plaid shirt, It's really hard to see if she has a lovely smile or not.  The microwave is seriously Old School.  The production values look a little on the slim side compared to these days where anyone can self publish and make something that looks 10 times the quality. 

The problem is, the derision goes deeper than the surface of a not-quite-hip 80's look and not so subtly reinforces the notion that adult women who don't have a man are sad, pathetic creatures to be pitied. Some non-trivial listmaking group even listed it as "the worst/saddest book of all time".  Which might have been ok had they actually acquired and read a copy, but they admit they did not.  All they had was the poor quality image and snarky Amazon reviews to go by.

But this book is from 1987, people, and that attitude was horseshit then and it's deeper, stinkier horseshit now.  I haven't read the book either, but if real publishers can make horseshit assumptions about an old book and, worse, mock the author, I can make the opposite assumptions with as much validity and give her some props.

I'm here to stand up and cheer for Sonia Allison.  "Microwave for One" was probably one of the (if not the) first cookbooks aimed at Independent Women With Jobs who were Comfortable With New Technology.  How cool is that?  (Very, in case you were tempted to answer wrongly.)  Back in 1987, women were finally getting into the business world in significant numbers.  Women were getting divorces to get out of awful marriages that they'd have stayed in even a decade earlier.  Women had the option of being less defined by their husband, husband's career, and their children and being defined by what they could do for the world at large, if that's how they wanted to work it. Not to diminish the choice of being a mom and housewife, it's just not everyone's bailiwick and for the first time, large numbers of women could realistically choose to either not be a mom, or put off being a mom and find herself first, and not be considered a total freak.   (Then again, maybe I spoke too soon, because here it is 2011, and people still think an independent woman is a lonely freak.  Hence this blog post.)

But even single women setting the world on fire gotta eat and almost every cookbook in the world is geared toward feeding 4-6 people per recipe or meal.  I know, I've tried to find books just like MFO, and they are not thick on the ground. For an independent young woman, probably living in a tiny city apartment, a 4 course meal for 4 is a waste of time and money.  Few people want the same thing for dinner Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, if  they had the wherewithal to even make a full meal after work on Monday.  If there isn't a cookbook out there, you have to make everything up on your own, and I can tell you from experience that it's a hassle and takes a lot of time and energy to figure out.

(sidebar: The microwave would be handy for reheating dinner 3 times, I suppose. Even today, most people reheat with their microwave rather than cook.  It's another example of a revolutionary advance that everyone can see should be awesome, but we only use it to about 10% of its potential.)

Ms. Allison saw the potential in microwaves and in a growing audience.  Who better than an independent woman with a small place and lots of demands on her time to use a time and space saving kitchen appliance to craft a nifty meal for herself.   If you're going to set the world on fire, you need proper nutrition, and Ms. Allison was there to help you out.

Maybe this touched a nerve because I've been thinking I could write a great cookbook on how to cook for one.  I cook for one because I live independently, not because I'm lonely; I'm betting Ms. Allison was the same.  She put her book out there because she had good ideas for healthy, timesaving meals that young women and men, or the recently divorced could use to chart a course that hadn't been charted before.  The derision behind the mocking is frightening with its persistence and intensity into this day and age. Can't we move past the notion that single women are lonely old spinsters who need to be pitied?  I kind of don't want to think about how much kinder people would have been if her image showed a more classic beauty, either. Pretty please, with sugar on top, let's grow the hell up!  Instead of mocking someone who is probably a lovely woman, if not a beautiful one, let's celebrate the accomplishment of a talented, motivated woman who embraced new technology, figured it out, translated the old patterns into new, and gave the world of independent working women something they/we could use.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

I'm edging up on 40 pretty quickly, and it occurred to me that while my mom has been cooking gourmet meals since she was a teenager, I usually cook for one and don't really know any of the classic family recipes and am not adept at cooking for any sized group. At grandma's house for thanksgiving, I tried to remedy that. It helped that grandma was sidelined by arterial blockage - significantly remediated by the first stent as of this Tuesday. My mom and I cooked the dinner.

I still don't know for sure what she puts in the mashed potatoes. It's a butter and milk mix of some sort. The turkey is easy-ish. Thaw it in a tub of water, clean out the cavity and double check it- this one had a bag of gibblets, a bag with the neck in it on the other end, AND a bag of gravy helper. Next year, it might come with free wi-fi. Put it in a floured baking bag after dumping garlic salt and pepper on it, tie closed, and bake per directions on the turkey wrapper. We stuffed celery and onions in on the bottom this year, and that added good flavors so I recommend that too. This method makes a solid B to B+ turkey. If you want an A to A+ turkey, brine, smoke, fry, or magic your bird however you like, but if you want easy and forgiving, garlic salt and baking bag.

I made the cranberry relish. Having made it almost annually since college, it went smoothly, if sloppily. Sloppy because we used a manual grinder that dripped juice all over (we caught it and it was delicious). The grinder gives the relish a really delightful texture I prefer to a food-processed version, but it's really the taste of the cranberry-orange-celery-pecan mix bound in orange jell-o that's the star. For a really close flavor analog, get the Trader Joe's Cranberry Orange Relish and mince up some celery and pecans to mix into it. Or just eat it plain. Or over ice cream. It cost's more but it's easier and delicious.

Which rather leaves the stuffing. My mom makes GREAT stuffing. If you've eaten it and somehow thought it was vegetarian, you should stop reading now. If you've eaten it and want to know the general gist of how it's done, here 'tis, after the jump.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Pack Rat

It's time to pack for my Thanksgiving trip. I try to pack all carry-on because I don't like to lose my stuff. Interestingly, I just read a friend's blog on packing light and it's not surprising that we're friends - we have similar priorities on what's important to pack, after all! Still, my stuff winds up taking about twice the space hers does, I think.

A few months ago, the family decided to plan a gettogether at thanksgiving. As of a couple weeks ago, this plan hit the skids, but I'd already decided on something else for Christmas, so we're going to make it work, sort of. The plan is a little crazy.

Step 1: Getting There
We all fly into STL sunday afternoon, get 2 rental cars and head to grandma's in southern IL. The 'rents fly standby, so this may or may not go smoothly. I couldn't get a direct flight at all, so mine may or may not go smoothly.

Step 2: Grandma's House
We spend a couple days with grandma and pop. Mom has some notion that we'll cook an early Thanksgiving dinner. I hope we do because my mom is great at that particular meal. I'd say you have no idea, but you probably do if you've met my parents. They like feeding people, and mom can whip up a turkey dinner for 12 on a moment's notice. It's her superpower.

Step 3: Traveling
Dad takes rental car one back to STL, the flies back home to go to work, the thing that lets my parents fly without planning in advance.
The following day, my mom and I head out for Kansas City. If all goes well, we'll stop to see friends of mine in STL, then we'll roadtrip across the state. I'm wondering if we'll be snacking on turkey drumsticks.

These plans aren't set in stone. The options for mom are
  1. fly back early with dad
  2. ride with me to STL and fly back
  3. ride with me to Kansas City and fly back that night
  4. ride with me to Kansas City and fly back the next morning
  5. something unknown to science.
It took rather more planning skills than we usually muster because dad flies standby and cannot miss work on wednesday, I'm flying into STL and out of MCI, mom doesn't want to get stranded somewhere, and we don't want to spend a fortune on rental cars. We don't want my dad to miss out because it's his birthday as well as Thanksgiving. (Do I have a card yet? No.) Fortunately, we figured out that a 2nd rental car would be a trivial cost (1/10th my one-way cost...) so mom and I get more time with grandma. Who sounded more disappointed than I expected that I wouldn't be there on Thanksgiving. Step 4: Thanksgiving! My good friend from high school - she of the children named for Norse gods, as opposed to my good friend from high school whose child is named for a Norse god - invited me for thanksgiving. Her other friend that I stayed with when I went to her wedding will also be there, and we got on well, so I'm looking forward to this. The bonus will be seeing her youngest boy in an awake state, and meeting the 4th boy, who they adopted last year. Mostly I know her oldest boy, who visits grandparents in SoCal. And since I'm more mobile than a family of 6, it feels like the right thing to do. Apparently her husband is good at the Thanksgiving meal too, so that will be nice. Step 5: Return Hopefully this goes smoothly. I turn in the car and get another 2-segment flight back, but get back at a reasonable hour and have a day to decompress before headed back to work. Which brings me back to Step 0: Pack I'm mostly good with the toiletries from my CO trip last month, but am halfway through the laundry (quick pause to rescue delicates from dryer...). Thankfully I just read my friend's packing list for a reminder, and have a good handle on what to take. I even baked cookies using the last of my oats, so I have room for new oats at the cookie party.

The only real trick is that my brain somehow still thinks I have a week before I need to go, but really, I'm headed to LAX at 3am on sunday. In between now and then, the handyman is coming over for 8 hours of project finishing - I will finally put the range hood up! - I'm just not sure how my focus and energy will hold out. I try to remember that if all goes badly, I should keep my charged phone and credit card close to hand and they sell toothpaste where I'm going.

Have a Happy Thanksgiving*, all. Got any good plans?

*(A much belated Canadian Thx.)

Friday, November 11, 2011

I take one, one, one cause

Yay! It's 11/11/11, in both Europe and here.

It is also veterans day, or close to. The Navy SEAL Foundation just got a high efficiency rating; if you're feeling like sharing the wealth they'll use your donation efficiently.

Monday, October 31, 2011

7,000,000,000 700 & 0

In order, the world's population; the number of blog posts I've written (including the precious few unpublished ones); and the number of trick or treaters at my condo. In reverse order, the comments.

[be on the lookout for autocorrect errors, posted from phone.]

My brother and I learned early the efficiency of trick-or-treating in high density housing. It's a safe bet that the house with skull and pumpkin lights will be stocked. I do not understand how people are passing up free candy. Oh well, after a dinner of bloody guts (spaghetti) it was all the Muscato and Reese's for myself. My mom reminisced about the good 'ol days when the adults brought shot glasses along for an adult treat on Halloween night. Good thing I got some costume action this weekend to avoid total disappointment :)

Wow. 700 blog posts! Roughly 160 a year until this year. Lower rate is part no energy, part not blogging as fast from the new phone and using the phone about 10x the amount I used the netbook. But I'm going to try to get back into it. It's not ideas I'm short on. Like the next one.

With the population hitting seven billion, the question of fertility limits keeps being bandied about. Usually on the same day, one can also find an article on insufficient births for replacement rates (Russia, Italy). Overblown populations are problematic, so how do we slow the growth rate? It bothers me that everyone leaps on China's One Child policy as a guide, completely overlooking the multitudes of countries that have birthrates averaging "replacement rate" which is about 2.1 kids per woman.

China's policy means that couples who are significantly wealthy can leave during childbearing years and have an extra child or two. The remaining women either give up their non-lineage-continuing daughters to orphanages, have abortion forcibly done to them, or go along and have just the one. It's a horrendous invasion. I understand the reasoning, but the reality of it is beyond troubling.

So let's look at the plentiful other examples that dont use forcible coercion. What makes a birth rate trend toward replacement rate? Women with educations and power over their own bodies. They are neither being forced to bear children (arguable with restrictions to abortion) nor forced to give up or abort children, they (we) just choose how many kids to have. Some have a lot, some have none, but when left to make their own choices, most women don't have the 8-10 common a mere 2-3 generations ago.

The other thing that turns the tide is having a reasonable expectation that your children will live to adulthood. That means sanitation, education, vaccination, antibiotics, and clean food and water. It means girls get feminine hygiene products so they aren't barred from being at school for one week/month after puberty. It means women have access to birth control and both the legal and social power to enforce the use of birth control with male partners.

I'm not totally sure how all this plays out when in my own country my ability to control my own reproduction is under constant attack. Here's one clue: abortions don't have rights, women have rights. Or rather should have rights. But that aside, investigations show that on average the more educated a mom is, the healthier her children are. Where they've introduced TV into rural areas of India, wife beating drastically decreases (either because they see other ways of communicating or because they have something to occupy free time has not been determined).

Cultural expectations do play into birth rate. Individual choice most often conforms to cultural norms, so it's not a decision made in isolation, and social/political pressure can raise and lower birthrates. There are cultures still where birth rate is tied strongly to women's status. They may not easily trend the birth rate to 2, but my bet is that 3-5 would be where they settle down. We went from 8 child families to 2 child families in about 2 generations. If we can empower women worldwide, our overpopulation problem will almost certainly cease to grow too fast within 50 years. Fewer children per family will almost certainly reduce the desire to support participating in armed conflicts. Just value women, provide access to birth control, and support our decisions.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lessons Learned

There are a LOT of TV crime, law, and police dramas on TV. I particularly like Bones. Even given that I'm usually rooting for the authorities to find the bad guy, here's what I've learned from watching these shows.

  • Never, ever, ever cooperate with the police prior to legal assistance. Not if you're innocent, not if you're guilty, not anything. Name, rank, serial number, get a lawyer.
  • Be careful about eating or drinking things they give you. Or touching anything, really. OTOH, if they don't give you a bathroom break, just pee in your pants, even if it does give them DNA.
  • If someone shows up at your house citing a bunch of random letters, don't let them in. In fact, don't let the police into your home; don't let them inspect your car. They get a warrant or they don't have access. Period.

I've got some philisophical musings about the level of trust in local police to the level of justice seen as it translates to vigilante justice and sermons on hellfire, but I'll leave that as an exercise for the reader.

What's your favorite cop/law/detecting show and why? I like Bones because they do a pretty good job with the science, the chemistry between the characters is excellent, it consistently holds my attention, they do good layering/mirroring in major/minor plots and character arcs, I like the writing, and I like the characters. I should probably not watch as much of it during dinner as I do, though.

Sunday, October 23, 2011


I've been dithering mightily about the upcoming weekend. There's a Cued Speech Intructors class I want to take as a refresher but I was making up all kinds of excuses. I finally decided, bought tickets, got friday off work, and I guess I'm going. It would have been cheaper if I'd booked everything when I'd first decided to go. Because I'd decided about 90%, and I'm not sure why the last 10% was so hard. So my halloween costume will be mostly about dressing in black and orange, I think.

Three good things from today:
Met up with friends at an OC Oktoberfest and had a good chat. I snuck in some cookies I made yesterday because I wanted a second opinion on them. They didn't work out as expected and my expectations were getting in the way of my judgement, well that and I overcooked nearly all of them. Turns out that they were ok. I may have to try them again.

Was able to make my reservations online for a reasonable price. I've learned that direct flights trump aggravating airport security for me.

Traffic was actually pretty tame today. I was able to maintain cruising speed from home to Alvarado St on the freeway headed out. Even then, it didn't slow much. Coming home, I scooted over to the coast and drove up Malibu. I didn't get a sunset due to the marine layer, but climbing over the mountains into my valley, I got to see the abrupt top of the marine layer nestling into the hills and it was really interesting. I debated stopping for a picture, but I'd just passed 5 cars and it seemed rude to stop. (They were really slow cars going uphill.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Whatever, Nevermind

Today marks the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana's album that launched the grunge Seattle rock scene nationwide. I was sort of a college freshman when that happened. Sort of because I got relentlessly ill my freshman year which led into depression. I can tell you firsthand that MIT is impossible if you're sleeping 13 hours a day. I took that next fall semester off to get medicated and remotivate myself by working at Taco Bell where I made origami out of the wrappers and used them to decorate the drive thru. My freshman advisor Alice was the best advisor ever and got me a third term as a freshman. So when I returned to school in the fall, I still had her as my advisor, I integrated seamlessly into the next year's cohort, and got a third term on pass/no record to use for sorting myself out.

Which is to say it was also a great time to discover Nirvana's signature music. I have a clear image still of the first time I heard it played directly from a CD. It was one of my few trips to visit a friend at college in MN. She had been my best friend in late elementary school and we kept up but not well. The off term gave me a chance to see her at college - now a senior living off campus in southern MN and still cooler than me. I remember the big entertainment center in the living room that housed her stereo as she showed off her new album.

I don't remember if there was anyone else with us. I don't remember if I even liked it right away or if the memory just stuck because I was hanging with my cool friend, feeling like all that for being in on a new thing for once. My other strong memory is also tied to off campus housing, but it was back out in Boston, rocking out to Smells Like Teen Spirit at an older alum's party. That may also have been the time I learned how random and inane the words if the chorus were. SLTS was definitely a song I liked more before I learned the words - which puts it in large and comfortable company - yet I retain a strong attchment to it even today.

I'm not the only one. I hear the web is filling up with remembrances today. The local station KROQ has at least one Nirvana song on rotation every day, from my observations of their playlist. One has to wonder if they'd still be mythic had Kurt Cobain stuck around - or if even more greatness would have come our way. The eternal question from lives cut short. Since I still feel the music mire than hear it, I suspect the latter. It's a good day to reflect on the awe and mourning inherent in the anniversary of Nevermind. Go now, and listen to some music that moves you.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Ask, Tell

The repeal of "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" is today! This means that gay/lesbian members of the military can now legally serve their country as a soldier or sailor, airman, guard, or marine. This is a big damn deal.

Almost 20 years ago, DADT was supposed to help service members because it removed the question of sexuality from the intake forms. Despite the fact that recruiters heavily encourage new recruits to lie on the intake forms for various reasons (primarily because (a) they know how bureaucracies work and (b) they need their numbers) a service member can be dishonorably discharged if those lies are brought to light. So DADT meant that new recruits didn't have to lie outright on a signed statement that could be used against them. Progress, right?

Well... kinda. Because people still got kicked out of the US armed services for being gay - and still got dishonorable discharges for being gay rather than something more dignified that allowed their service records to speak for them. It also meant that they didn't get the pension or other similar benefits provided for years of service to others. The witch hunt was still going on, and going on strong.

It's my hope today that the military brass will realize that this big damn deal for society and justice really isn't a big deal for them. Their soldiers will keep fighting and marching and wearing crisp uniforms with short hair. Where it causes dissention in the ranks, the ranks will get over it. Here's hoping the witch hunt stops, today. We all know that people can be discriminated against in subtle ways, and no doubt that will still happen. But here's hoping that not only will it happen less, but without the legal threats hanging over the gay service members, they will have more legal recourse, more allies, and a fighting chance to ride through the drama and focus on business.

Congratulations to all the gay and lesbian service members who can now serve openly. To all their friends and colleagues, please remember to stand proudly with them. We're all on the same side, it turns out.

[For celebratory reading, Suz Brockmann has a short Navy SEAL love story, available by Ebook, "When Tony met Adam" available for your favorite ereader.]

Monday, August 29, 2011


Happiness post, long overdue.
Previous post was entirely handled from my iPhone. I was able to easily download and use the appropriate apps. And I played with some editing features to mask out the background detritus and punch up some color.

Texas finally sent us some summer heat! Turns out that I'm not slow at entering a pool if I've been basking in the sun for a half hour in 99•F heat. And sunbathing is actually *doing something* even if it is remarkably like napping in the condo. I'm making vitamin D! And after four weekends of basking, my tan areas don't readily burn now. They either tan or freckle. And my freckles make me smile.

Recently renewed my gym training credits. Still cost a lot but not as much as it could have. I should be set for another year. I like not thinking at the gym; so much better for me to show up and do what I'm told. My other gym activity, the dancing, does make me think, but it's different thinking than I'm used to, being primarily about physical learning. This latest dance sequence took me three classes to get all the moves learned, rather than the usual two, but was quite satisfying. And cardio inducing.

Money Money Money

My brother cracks me up. In his current sales job, he has an assistant. He pretty much works all the time on weekdays. A couple weeks ago he wanted to take a day off and asked his assistant to handle everything that day. To avoid being *that boss* who starts taking off for golf and dumping the work on the assistant, he gave her a cash bonus. Then, he went insane.

He explained to me that the payoff had been delayed because the vault wasn't open at the bank. I wondered why he needed vault access - just how big was this one day bonus? Yeah, it is during one of his best quarters ever but c'mon.

Turns out he was looking for $500. In ones.
5 packs of 100 dollar bills

Then he labeled up a lunchbox.
lunch box with MONEY in marker on the side

Hrm... How to arrange?
hello Kitty lunchbox on pile of money

First arrangement is the classic flat stacks.
Two piles facing up in box

But my favorite is vertically stacked bills all in one row.
Lunchbox filled with ones stacked on edge

He says his assistant both loved and hated it - rightfully so because it is a little evil to give out 500 dollars in ones. But it's also hilarious. And the FedEx guy keeps asking if she's got her moneybox with her because he perpetually needs the change. I'm willing to bet this isn't a bonus she's ever likely to forget.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Trader Joe's Pasta Recipe

This tastes amazingly delicious for very little effort. Buy a hard avocado once a week, and 3-9 days later, you'll have a perfectly ripe avocado and a new hard avocado. Aside from that, everything else in this recipe can live nearly forever in your pantry or fridge. Asterisks are for notes at the end for my helpful hints.

Trader Joe's Pasta Recipe (all ingredients available at or speciality of TJ's)
Serves 1***, from the kitchen of Cranky Otter

TJ's Lemon Pepper Pappardelle - 1/4 package, boiled in salted water to desired doneness.
TJ's Grapeseed oil - 1 glug (t to T as desired)
TJ's Olive Tapenade, 1T. or Marinated Artichokes, 2-3 segments, chopped
Dorot frozen garlic cube
Avocado, 1/3*, chopped
TJ's pine nuts, 1-2T
TJ's shredded parmesan cheese**, small handful
salt and pepper to taste

Can be made in the pasta pot after boiling if one pot cooking is desired. Otherwise, while pasta is cooking, put a glug of oil in a shallow pan. Add the pine nuts and coat with oil. Add frozen garlic cube and stir to unfreeze. Add in the avocado and olive tapenade (or chopped artichoke). Stir until heated through and pasta is done. Drain pasta and toss with warm ingredients in pan. It's ok if some of the pasta water gets transferred - just cook until it boils off.

Transfer to plate and sprinkle with shredded parmesan**. Enjoy!

*Note 1:
To get 1/3 of an avocado, slice it like a mango: put the stem end up, place a finger over the stem, then slice down at the edge of the finger.
This leaves an easily refrigeratable portion with seed still in place. Doing this on either side slices off about a third on either side and leaves about a third surrounding the seed. Instead of having to whack at the seed with a butcher knife to remove it, after slicing off either side which exposes a little of the seed, merely slice out the stem with a shallow v cut, peel the middle section, and slice or peel it off the seed.

**Note 2:
Keep shredded cheese in the freezer; when needed for topping, it's then always at the ready. To have very hot food, add frozen cheese before removing from pan and keep covered for about 30 sec to heat it up. To make freshly cooked food the ideal temperature for immediate eating, toss the frozen cheese right on the serving. As it gets stirred in, the food cools to edible temperature as the cheese melts. I also use this trick with frozen peas or corn - but only one is left unheated if using all the options.

***Note 3
Easily scale this dish up to 4 servings (whole package of pasta) by roughly doubling the oil and nuts, tripling the olives or artichokes, using the whole avocado, and more handsfuls of cheese.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Cheap Shot

I finally got my giant flat-screen LCD HD TV hung up on the pivoting bracket. Switching TVs necessitated a new cable box and I decided to spend the $5/month extra fee to get the DVR capability. Now, like TiVo, I can record shows and watch them later, while fast forwarding through the boring bits. I've found that I'm more willing to try unknown shows if I can record them and check them out later. (Latest excuse for not blogging...)

In such a manner, I recorded the second episode of "Top Shot", which pits sharpshooters against each other (but not on opposite sides of the barrel) in various shooting contests: sharpshooting, speed shooting, varied weaponry, etc... It looked like an interesting way to see some entertaining "Old West Exhibition" style shooting and get an overview of modern weaponry. It turned out to be not only a lot of bullshit, but a lot of sexist bullshit. You want an example of how women are drummed out of boys-club experiences? Watch Top Shot. Scratch that; I can't recommend it.

Admittedly, I didn't see the first episode, I just know that it ended with one of the two women going home. I caught the second episode that ended with the second of the two women going home. If pressed, the producers could hardly have picked an elimination exercise more likely to get women kicked off. Apparently in the first episode, they did individual shooting and the top 8 got on "team blue" and the bottom 8 got on "team red". Then they pitted the teams against each other. The loosing team, individually votes in front of everyone who they want to kick off. The top two vote getters are pitted against each other in a shoot off. On the surface, it's fair. In practice? Anything but.

When you have 7 guys against 1 woman who are asked to pick their team, and BOTH teams give the lame "I don't think she's strong enough" excuse, that's blatant sexist bullshit. The lady I saw was deadly accurate when she shot, and was no faster or slower than any of the guys when doing the paltry obstacle course. You're not carrying 100 pounds through miles of quicksand folks, you're running 20 yards through dirt. Anyone, man, woman, girl, boy, in any reasonable shape would be "strong enough" to be competitive in these challenges.

I also have to admit I don't like elimination challenges that start by joining competitors into "teams", forcing a false dependence and comraderie that will have to be shattered as soon as the bonds are formed. I find it cruel rather than entertaining. I find that the people perceived as strangest are kicked off first independent of talent, then the strongest are drummed off when their threat level starts getting up, then the winner is the most conniving of those with the mediocre skills. I can tolerate the pair challenges in Project Runway or Design Star because the pairings only last one challenge and part of what they're screening for is the ability to work with difficult divas. Here, they're just looking for ways to torture the contestants and get off easy in setting up challenges.

Back to my complaints about Top Shot specifically. Admittedly, I didn't listen to most of the bullshit blather when the "team" discussed who they were going to kick off. But from watching the team interaction during the practices and challenges, I wouldn't have picked either of the ones they chose to drum off. For one, the woman was a SWAT instructor, current police sargeant, and former deployed Army. She has shot things, things that matter. They kept playing up how one of the guys was a former SEAL, but had she been a man, she'd have been ranked second. But being a woman, they majority good ol boys voted her off from the first shot. Frankly, I was stunned. Although, I could kind of see why they picked the guy - he was self taught and had no official shooting credentials, has awkward form and isn't particularly precise. He's an enthusiastic puppy who likes to shoot shit in the yard.

Now for the single and only reason that she's a woman, they've picked off as "weakest link" someone who would have been *celebrated* as among the most valuable had she been a man. And it was allowed. Because they didn't need to give good reasons, logical reasons, or fair reasons, they just had to have enough boys that thought women couldn't hack it and it only took 3. Not even a majority.

I wish I could say she blew through the competition and came out victorious but she did muck up the elimination challenge. In practice, she was at or near every bullseye, and clearly excelled in accuracy. She was informed that it would be a speed competition and given some pointers for being speedier. When it came down to it, she didn't take to the pointers and she didn't shoot fast enough. But looking into that specific challenge, I can see why. The challenge was a "friend/foe" shooting gallery, and she's spent the last 15+ years of her life learning that it's better not to shoot a foe than to shoot a friend. The point calculus due to her background is between "shoot any friend and you lose" and "a friend shot is 10X as bad as a foe shot". Given a choice between a bad shot and no shot, she won't shoot.

The shooting setup was blue and red lightbulbs on a rotating rack. There was 10 seconds for each of 6 rows of bulbs, and the contestants had to shoot as many red bulbs as possible, and they probably put in around 30. The scoring, however, was red=+1, blue= -1. I'm almost certain that her training made her so reluctant to shoot foes that she undershot significantly for fear of the -1, which wasn't that big a deal. To call in another TV analogy, in the charming "Suits", an excellent test taker is counseling a testing-phobic co-worker on test taking strategy. "You're so worried about the trick questions that you overthink the easy questions. Even if you miss all the trick questions, there aren't so many that losing them would cause you to do worse than you're doing now by overthinking the easy ones." It was exactly the same situation here. She was so concerned about not hitting the blue lights that she didn't hit the red ones either because she didn't shoot fast enough. It was painful. The only reason I think the contest in itself was fair is because the light bulbs were small enough to demand accuracy, and they were really at the limit of what quick-draw-boy was capable of, based on his practice sessions. But he was more flexible, focused on speed, and didn't let the fact that he hit "friend" targets slow him down.

It makes me wonder what the score would have been if "friend" targets were -10? With the scores from above, he still would have won. But if he had known that blue lights were -10 instead of -1, would have have made the same number of red shots? If she had had more time to digest the fact that "-1 for foe", the last instruction given before starting, is not a flat out lose, would she have shot faster? In the end, she choked and got eliminated, but by damn, she didn't hit any friendly blue lights. But had she been a man with the same qualifications, she never would have been in that elimination round to begin with.

Now how would this contest be less sexist? First, until women have about 30% representation, they're seen as "generic woman representing all women" rather than as individuals. I don't expect male dominated endeavors to solicit 50/50 men/women for shows like this, but I do expect them to make more than a token effort at recruiting enough women that they'll get a good selection for the final cut. They needed 5-6 women, at least, for the 16 final numbers to reduce the chance that all the women will be cut before they can make themselves known. Because the guys who voted the ladies off? Did not distinguish themselves in any way. Just by virtue of being a boy they were "proven" and not subjected to excess, skewed, unwarranted scrutiny and bullshit assumptions. Having at least 5-6 women means that at least one woman will make it to the top 50% - because all these shooters are good enough that the wins and loses are nothing more than a weighted random number generator and therefore mostly probabilistic - and by the third show, some guys are going to piss off some other guys sufficiently to overcome the "she doesn't have a dick" factor.

Were I to do this show, I would, as stated, do better recruiting of women so that the final field had enough women to be representative. Then, I would change how the eliminations were handled. Even keeping the team situation, I would make sure that no woman wound up alone against 7 guy "teammates". Further, the first 2-4 elimination challenges would be random draw - only the team could vote for one person with immunity to the draw. That way, the top vote getter would *not* be eliminated rather than the reverse. Either that, or have some way of scoring individuals within the team events and taking the lowest two scorers, and make sure those scores can be fairly obtained by both sexes. (Holding a rifle at arms length for several minutes, for instance, would not be a fair screen. Using a gun too small for one's hand might be...) After those first couple of eliminations, then they could switch to some other method, like voting for who goes, but not until they have a chance to assess the other people through enough actual challenges so that there's a chance that the /voters will be assessing skill and risk to themselves rather than on surface differences. I would make the first two challenges less physical, more about mental and shooting acuity, so that the assumption that women "won't be strong enough for the team" doesn't get a foothold in the thinking. Lastly, I'd spend a lot more time talking about guns, targets, ammo, and shots, and spend a lot less time on all the bullshit playground/MTV "reality" show bullying and pop psychology. These people are there to shoot, let them shoot. If I hadn't DVR'd this show, I'd never have even made it to the competition, it was that awful.

Interestingly, there weren't that many men of color, and one was the former Navy SEAL (now football coach) installed himself as "leader" of the blue "team". It pissed me off that he voted to shuffle off the woman, but he's a man's man all the way, so it's not surprising. I do kind of wonder how the black men will fare now that the women are gone. The excuse to get rid of this guy will be that he's an overbearing ass, which will be true, but he's game, into winning, and as good a shot as the rest, and I think he'll either be ousted because he's good and therefore a threat or because he's black and therefore different, but the underlying reason won't be deconfoundable. If one of the black guys makes it to the top 4, I'll be convinced that their color wasn't a factor. But since I'm never watching the show again, I'll never know.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

I Have a College Pal

Another reason for not blogging, which should be a reason *for* blogging is an absolute embarrassment of visiting friends.

A couple weekends ago, a friend flew through LAX on his way between South Korea and Boston. Being a good friend, I hauled his jet-lagged ass over to the open street vendor section of the X-Games and made him wander around in the heat. It was worth it for the "Shark Week" foam had and 3 samples of Loctite, along with my awesome record. Yes, I have and X-Games record. Ok, it's made of vinyl and has dripped paint spun on it, but I love it. In my defense, I bought him wine and food afterward.

The next day, other friends were in town. I'd flow to their wedding but haven't seen them since around the existence of their oldest child. She's now 5 (or maybe near 6) and has a younger brother. Cripes! We had a fun, low key time hanging out in Pasadena, his old stomping grounds from back before the urban renewal efforts. I hadn't noticed the pawn shop and adult store a ways down Colorado as being anything odd until he pointed out that they're the last of a dying breed in that part of town. Huh. Their kids were well behaved at dinner despite having a long day and being 3 hours time shifted, so we also had a good time. And wine. It was good wine, and it was good to see them doing their thing.

This last weekend, I spent a couple days up at Yosemite. It took about 3 hours longer to drive there than I'd expected, but I went anyway and was glad of it. I met up with a friend whose wedding I was actually in (chorus), but had only kept track of via her/their christmas updates to mutual friends. But she's on Facebook and now lives not far from my parents, so I saw them briefly in March and they invited me to hang with them at a cabin in Yosemite. Excuse me. The Cabin. It was an awesome Cabin. It had a spare cabin. Between The Cabin and the bunkhouse there were 5 bedrooms and two bunk areas and enough space in the common area. And enough space was needed because there were about a dozen adults and half again as many offspring. My friend and her hubby have 4.

I managed to squeak in just after midnight on thursday and bunk in the loft. We got up early on friday and rented rafts for cruising down the Merced river and seeing the big sights. (I need a less cumbersome way to upload pictures, or there would be some here.) The great thing about having kids along is that I can say "we swam in the river" without actually having to get in over my knees, myself. Because that is one frigid river. But it was great fun to raft it and get pictures of us kicking around in front of internationally beloved scenery.

To top that off, we spent a couple hours swimming in a nearby lake (in this case, I was full in the warmer water) and jumping on and off the bouncy diving rafts provided. The we cooked s'mores, took in the stars, played games, and generally had a very fine time. I tagged along the next day to see Bridal Veil Falls and the Tunnel View, then we split ways - them to the San Fran area and me to the Glacier Point overlook and Giant Sequoia grove before heading back to LA. I'm so glad I got to hang out with my friends and their gigantic extended family and have such a pleasant time.

And that I got to drive mostly in the dark when most of the traffic has gone home so I can cruise at my desired pace without someone blocking my way for no good reason. Yet again I made it up the grapevine without hardly any encouragement to my car at all. It's favorite thing to do is cruise fast up hill apparently. Even after I'd treated it to about 5 hours of switchbacks next to cliffs and wildfires and campers.

Next up I need to visit my grandma, and I've been trying to see a friend in Oregon but the air fares are kinda pricey. I'd also like to kick back over to Boston, but didn't get to go for work, so have to make other plans. Anyone coming to LA sometime soon, sing out. I have couch space (with real sheets) and like excuses to show my friends around.

[Title is the start of a Moxy Fruvous song, known to all Fruheads. Imagine I used two umlauts.]

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

I Shimmer on Horizons

Still working on the Thailand update, no longer willing to put it on the critical path to getting other blog entries out. It's been almost a month since my last drink post and I'm full of excuses. I'm feeling much better, but that means I'm doing other stuff. But not enough other stuff that shouldn't be tossing up blog posts especially since I've composed about 40 in my head.

This one is about gold. I just heard on the news that gold hit $1800/t.oz. They did mention that back in the early '80s, the then high $800 price would inflation adjust to $2400, so it's not an all time high as such, but it's damn close. It was around $300/t.oz when I started paying attention. It didn't do much for a while, but did trend steadily up. Shortly into Bush's second term, it angled up fairly sharply. Prices fell again after Obama's election, but then took off even more steeply than before. Last week, I think the slope up is higher than it has ever been.

People buy gold when they think their reserve currency isn't going to hold value. The US$ is the reserve currency of choice. Many countries also peg their currency to the dollar - their exchange rate changes as ours does. Only the fact that there doesn't seem to be a strong contender for runner up reserve currency (yet) makes me think we'll be able to stick it out and squeak through the rest of the recession without falling from the top of the heap. We've toppled lots already, it's just that we've taken everyone else out with us, for the most part, so the relative positions aren't that different. So what the high gold price says to me is that people are dumping dollars for bars. This is not good news. Anyone holding gold will be able to jump into a different currency.

Another point in our favor is that we're currently "too big to fail". The countries with money pegged to our currency would prefer we don't fail. At this time, China doesn't want the top currency slot as it makes their goods too expensive (and for a million reasons I don't know). But people buying up gold, and perhaps deciding not to track our currency is bad news for us.

I'm still not totally clear on the ramifications of countries "defaulting". Iceland's banking economy crashed, but people still live there, in houses, and go to work like they always did so how is that different from any other place with high unemployment in this economy? I can't quite wrap my mind around it. But what is clear to me is that when the US economy tanks, there's significant collateral damage. And we have bullies in congress willing to throw our economy in the toilet to avoid asking people with money to part with some of it. It's a line that I don't think has ever been crossed before - willing to risk default at all, regardless of the stakes or conditions. And it's a batshit crazy thing to do.

By proving that we've got batshit crazy folks holding our economy hostage, especially to avoid taxing wealthy folks, we may have hit the tipping point in whether or not people are willing to ride this bad economy out with us to the "not so much" side of the equation. But lacking better options, they buy gold and hope someone grows up and starts talking sense. We can argue all day about what wealthy is or isn't, but for me it's someone who has a steady income that is substantially more than they need, and enough to get through several minor and a few major disasters. If you're one car accident or bad cold away from financial ruin, you're not wealthy. And given the lack of health care coverage, even for many "covered" folks, more of us are in that situation than not so probably some people reading this are thinking "I would really rather not pay more taxes right now" and I'm thinking you're not who I'd be taxing.

As I understand it, most known civilizations fall when they've either consumed all their protective resources (trees on Easter Island and Haiti) or the rich get so rich that they no longer give a damn what the peasants think. The strongest civilizations have a middle class that is educated and economically well off (although everyone can't be "wealthy") and enough resources to care for the truly poor and unfortunate. What I didn't even really ponder much until recently is that with the size and relatively recent mining of resources, the US isn't "great" just because we're "free". It's because we have so many natural resources that we haven't destroyed all our options yet and had to pare back. Surely the democracy thing isn't nothing, but we can't keep treating mining the country and expecting more to be around the next corner. Mining isn't like harvesting. Some stuff won't grow back.

And this ramble has gone a bit off topic because I'm out of practice with blogging coherently. At any rate, I look at the gold price and I'm pretty afraid of what it says. The only thing that keeps that fear in check is that we're too big to fail right now. That and burying my head in romance novels. Which is where my head is going right now. Feel free to school me in the comments. To quote a favored blogger, Ta-Nahisi Coates, talk to me like I'm stupid.

[Quote from Shimmer by The Throwing Muses which includes a line about being dressed in shiny gold. I can listen to that song as often as 3 year olds can watch The Lion King video.]

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Carmageddon that wasn't

The 405 is back open almost a full day ahead of schedule, and the LA freeways were almost never this clear. However they're doing this shutdown again in about a year. What I hope people remember is that it wasn't Carmageddon because the publicity for this event was aces. Everyone knew, everyone tried to plan around it where possible, and people stayed the heck out of the way.

Humans have a problem processing non-events as successes. So I expect next year, someone will say "well, it wasn't such a big deal last year, so why should we spend all this money and time putting up extra freeway signs in LA AND San Fran for a month ahead of time?" And next time will be the Carmageddon this year wasn't. Because this year was successful and someone with signatory power will only remember that this year wasn't as bad as it could have been and forget all the work it took to make sure it wasn't as bad as it could have been. As someone who has spent 45 minutes on a saturday afternoon traversing that 10 mile long closed section of freeway, I can attest that it is a highly popular route.

Thankfully for me, all my traveling was done last week: Trips to LAX and San Diego via that section of freeway, and SanFran via Burbank.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


I'm home from my grand Thailand adventure with my friend and am editing the photos. I'm also somewhat narcoleptic from jet lag.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Yay Cathay!

Still not in Bangkok. Delta flight yesterday couldn't retract the landing gear, so we took a scenic tour of the local valleys and channel islands while testing it then dumping fuel to land. The pilot and crew handled everything quite well, but the rebooking was a clusterfuck. Got booked onto a special make up flight today and it too was canceled. Thanks to mobile phone technology I could wait in line while checking my options. Turns out I could get a Cathay Pacific flight to get in a half hour behind the only delta flight, and since I hadn't moved in line in 2 hours, I booked the alternate. There was a small kerfuffle trying to get American, the booking company, to give CP my flight number but Hee Kim was super sweet and helped me out and I am at the bar near the gate sipping (gulping) my gin and tonic. No guarantees but I'm hoping for both better results and better on plane entertainment options. If all goes well I'll make my BKK connection to Chaing Mai after a bit of a nap.

I'm out one vacation day, one night in Bangkok, and the extra shuttle money but have some pictures of the local landscape, and talked with any number of nice folks yesterday, and found that taking anti-motionsick meds helps my tolerance of imperfect plane comfort. And people talked up Chiang Mai left and right, so I have modest but good hopes for the rest of the trip. Even if I wind up needing a dewormer.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Memories, frontside

I'm going to Thailand, Thailand; Bangkok and Chiang Mai, I'm going to Thailand. (to tune of "Graceland" by P. Simon)

I've been distracted by facebook, medical issues, and re-reading books about Navy SEALs. The health stuff seems mostly to center around having a very persistent UTI and no vitamin D or B12 in my system to speak of. Everything else is pretty much fine, so my fears of wearing slowly away to nothing appear to be both fixable and unfounded.

For the last couple days I've been in a packing frenzy (see sidebar for twitter link to prelim layout of clothes to take). I managed to, ahem, only pack 6 pairs of pants, 3 dresses, 1 skirt, and roughly 2 dozen shirts (selection of sleeve less, short sleeved, and long sleeved, some of which layer), some sandals and appropriate undergarments. For a 9 day trip. Yep. Fortunately these are all the thinnest pieces of clothing I own so they don't weigh a lot or take up space. If I took that many things to Minnesota midwinter they couldn't get the plane off the ground.

The trickiest part is packing all my meds. My regular stuff is straightforward and no different from the last 3 times I packed it. But now I am on one antibiotic for the infection that the doc *finally* found and which seems to be helping somewhat. I have another antibiotic for just in case I get sick. I also have prescription vitamin D in 50,000 IU size, prescription anti-motion-sick meds, prescription sleep aids.... I asked my friend if I should be worried about traveling with this stuff to Thailand but she reminded me that Thailand is where you go to GET all the illegal stuff so not to worry about taking normal stuff in. Oh, right. D'oh. At any rate I had to pack the emergency purse stash, the carry on stash and the check through stash (like tylenol) and sorting that out was kind of a pain.

My clothes, shoes, toiletries are all done though. All I have left is to finish charging my electronics, pack the cords, figure out if I'm taking any other stuff for entertainment, then make sure I have my comfort items and food and I'm done. the flight is at 1 but the shuttle comes at 8am, god help me. I think the key for the food is to not overpack, but I'm not sure I can manage that; I've hit my decision making capacity for the week.

I'm ready to sleep now. This is one thing where I can just keep plugging away until it's done because now I think everything is just a random task to do. Hope you all have a safe and pleasing Memorial holiday. My favorite was still picnicking at the Old North Bridge with some sandwiches Martha Stewart explained how to make and watermelon and a batch of friends. One of whom is going to Thailand with me. Yay! Thanks for letting me tag along on your visit!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Women in History

Been running into oddball "women are screwed over by history" stories this week.

XKCD on female mathematcians you've probably never heard of (I hadn't heard about one of them in the comic until a friend tweeted recently that she was his favorite and I checked her out on Wikipedia. Crazy.)

There's a paper where men can't handle the idea of powerful women, so they edited out Secretary of State Hillary Clinton from the recent situation room photo. Seriously, this shit happened in 2011.

Lastly, if you think 72 female virgins are awaiting you in the afterlife, my mom asks that you question pretty hard their motivation for waiting for you to martyr yourself. Surely you're not their idea of heaven.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Worse Before Better

I'll post some pictures soon, but one of my good things for this week was (finally) putting up the closet system across my bedroom wall. My organizer helped me start it out and get through all the tings that needed two people - plus she's great at cutting in, so we even got the painting done. It was very chaotic looking room for a while though, with all my stuff strewn everywhere, boxes being emptied, and whatnot. Whew! It's pretty impressive though. I'm also happy with the paint color I chose. It looks like suede. Thanks again to the customer at the checkout counter for letting me run off with her paint chip.

I managed to fly up to San Jose and back for a vendor audit without having to go through a mugging machine at the airport. I did get a swipe test for explosives - and passed - which made me wonder what would happen if I had been doing some target practice. But the travel was totally incident free, no stress at all, and our hotel was nice.

I spoke to both my mom and grandma today and had good conversations with both. Apparently my grandma's brother-in-law is only 6 months younger than her and they have an unofficial contest to see who lasts the longest. She claims that him being Italian gives him an edge, but I think that at age 94, it's even odds. It's probably more tied to the lifespan of their spouses at this point. Hopefully Pop will continue to do well enough with regular "oil changes" (aka, a pint transfusion every couple weeks).

That makes three. I'm going to try and do some more of these happiness posts, interspersed with the topical posts. Upcoming are grandma's peanut brittle, my dining room furniture, and the closet install.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

High Speed Speed Bumps

Switching to more quotidian trials, I'm a little perplexed by the method CalTrans is using to "improve" the freeway I commute on. Each night, they tear up a small patch of freeway and replace it with a concrete patch/repair that is slightly lumpy and dragged with traction lines so squiggly, I'm just waiting for them to take out an unwary motorcyclist. They're only working on one lane at a time, which I get - they're leaving the others open for the lighter night traffic. What I don't get is why they're doing non-consecutive patches. These patches are roughly the length of half a car to to 3 cars, with similarly sized unpatched areas in between. If the patches were a little smoother and didn't jiggle my treads sideways, I would still be curious, but I might not be as concerned. As it stands, I find this process concerning.

freeway striped in the wrong direction

See what I mean? That's odd, no?

I'm not given any indication that they plan to fix the shoulder where it has literally crumbled into rubble. Certainly the shoulder isn't the priority, but there are places where it's pretty bad. Perhaps they will do that last? One can only hope. Given that they fixed the end of the nearby offramp that *didn't* cause my visiting friend to clutch the side of the car in terror and scream "Oh my god, It's not even a road!" when we exited there, I'm thinking my hope could be misplaced.

repairs next to decayed shoulder

Doubling back on the access road, one can see the patchwork effect in the far lane, no patches in lanes 2,3 and the patches in lanes 4,5 hidden by the hill. Crazy, though, right?

patchwork repairs as seen from above

The only time I've ever driven over something similar was when the U of M was testing road paints near the VoTech. I'm impatiently waiting for the whole plan to be revealed - will they eventually also fix the shoulder? Will they pave over the whole shooting match? Will they fill in the gaps? Will they resurface it? I have no idea. But there are several dozen people employed to do this every night for the forseeable future, and they finally got to the really bad spot in the #3 lane this week so who knows what the endgame is? But for now, I'm going to have to tag this CalTransFail.


Only related because it includes a partial picture of my car, my odometer hit a fun number this weekend after my post carwash spin up Mullholland. It was chance that the trip odometer corresponded.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Better Stuff to Do

What a day of conflicting emotions. I woke to the news that Obama had ordered the takedown of Osama bin Laden, who took a double tap to the noggin. I both felt satisfaction in a job well done and sensed that I wouldn't be feeling giddy. (That said, go watch the Daily Show from today.) I have to admit to being pleased that the Navy SEALs were the team to do it - having the most affection for that group of the JSOC, despite being acquainted with a few of them. (My new emotion is surprise that Google dictionary does not yet recognize "takedown", "Osama", "SEALs" or "JSOC" despite nearly total coverage of those things today. I suppose I am also relieved that it finally knows "Obama".)

There's pride in knowing that the entire operation was (1) kept quiet - no one leaked critical information that could have endangered our guys or tipped off the targets, (2) well planned, and (3) successfully executed. And that the target was a man that these guys who "live for the suck, not for the glory" could actually get some credit for killing. It's what we have them for, and I can't tell you how relieved I am that our current president knows how and when to use special forces. It makes be believe that he also knows when NOT to use them, which might be more important. In the case of Osama, I think his death was inextricably linked to our narrative of success. My stance on his demise is along the lines of "don't bait the bear".

If I'd had any energy at all on saturday, I'd have blogged about the Wedding. I still might, but suffice it to say, it was the feast day of a generation and people need these occasional spectacles. It's good for the mental health. I did spend a few minutes this weekend wondering what manner of newsworthy items would be buried under the deluge of the Royal Wedding newscaster-distract-o-tron-2011. Usually, corporations and countries take these opportunities to announce unpopular things so the news gets buried under the fold, as long as it's less marketable than the flashy event. In this case, I think Obama used the distraction strategically to reduce the risk of press leakage of this operation. Because even if it did get leaked, how could it compete with such a stunning dress? Or those crazy hats? Unless someone knew the whole story, such a rumor wouldn't be sufficiently newsworthy to overcome The Spectacle, and even then it might not fly. I was pretty impressed that someone finally used the media lull to accomplish something impressive. (Despite thinking it was the necessary thing to do, somewhat like an emergency C-section, I can't call it a good deed as such.)

Next comes some trepidation. I've been staunch anti-war-on-the-tactic-of-terrorism from the get go. Honestly, I would have been fine with going in, taking out Osama, and calling it a day. (I'm actually ok with black ops, when used IN MODERATION, by someone I trust to make an adult decision, when they know they could be called to account for what gets done, and feel it's necessary to do them anyway.) After 9/11, I could see limited engagement in Afghanistan. But Iraq? Clusterfuck from start to finish residual troops who may one day leave.

What I had hoped for then, was that we'd become even MORE American - more free, banding together, not being scared, willing to take a risk here and there rather than give up our hard won freedoms. Instead, I got a government spewing fearmongering nonsense for nearly a decade, and a media utterly and absolutely complicit in spreading the the fear. Instead of taking a statement from the White House and giving it in context, and making some sort of reasoned comment on it, especially with regards to how much bullshit it contained, I was being fed a steady stream of "the White house says this" soundbytes. Even from NPR, that "liberal" bastion of broadcasting. These preposterous soundbytes like "The Healthy Forests initiative is good for trees" would land in my ear and wake me up shaking with rage nearly every morning. (I only get one station in the electrical dead zone where my alarm clock lives, and it was the least worst option.) The rage was at the combination of flat out lies given out from our government echoed back, without question, comment, or analysis, by the journalists who are supposed to be critical to the point of irrationality. Since Obama got elected, the rage making is less, but now it's mostly about things that are commonly agreed to be false. At least someone points out the nekkid guy in the parade once in a while these days.

I've got a long and involved rant against the way we handle the security theater around flying and travel generally, which I'll forgo for now. But has anyone compared how difficult it is to fly these days with what we all condemned about the soviet government control on the flow of people? You can still drive around the country, but flying, or even taking the train requires an Official Government ID. Really? How many years will it be before they're making movies about the goodhearted rebels in America who require underground suppliers of forged documents to travel around the country, or smuggle deserving folks over the wall to safety, without being targeted for destruction? I'm not real thrilled with the average citizen being required to produce supplemental, official ID on demand all the time, for routine transactions. Reminds me too much of Escape from East Berlin docudramas.

So my hope for the future is that the GWOT will ramp down (and with it, can I hope that the GWOD, or global war on drugs will similarly be rescinded) the travel restrictions will ease to something less ridiculous and more effective, that we won't condone past or future torture of anyone in the name of America. That we can make decisions based on facts, not lies. That we can eject the people who keep trying to make us scared and call them out for working against the interests of the country. The biggest boogeyman of all has been removed and tossed overboard. Can we all agree that however scary the next boogeyman is, that he or she is not scarier than what we'll allow to be done in our names? Can we all agree that they are not scarier than giving up liberties for marginal illusions of safety? Can we all agree that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself?

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Vitamin D and BKK

My energy levels have tanked recently. I seem to have enough energy to read, but not enough for much else. A friend mentioned taking vitamin D for hand weakness, which I've started to have, and I know that if I make vitamin D via tanning I feel a lot better, so I started taking some this weekend and I've had much better daytime alertness and evening tiredness, from just a couple days of taking it.

I saw a rheumatologist this morning who actually seems interested in helping me figure out what's going on. He took a really comprehensive history and asked some very good questions. Right now, he's trying to research to figure out what tests to do. in the meantime, I'm not sure how much vitamin D I should take, but we'll see.

In the meantime, I'm really hoping I'll feel better soon because I invited myself along with my friend to Thailand. If you have any advice on which airlines are better for transpacific flights, sing out. I need to book my flight to Bangkok ASAP.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Campsite Rule

I've had several things to say recently that leave a better taste in the mouth than my last bitter ranting, but am having a patch where I'm feeling a tad overwhelmed. I'm trying to remember that not every post needs to be a major production.

Tonight's update is inspired by the SWE seminar I attended. A local entrepreneur (4 'e's in that word!) gave a talk on how to network and it's the first helpful seminar on that topic I've been to. It also reminded me how important it is to keep up with the people I already have in my web and like to talk to and that would be my loyal readers here.

What I learned tonight:

Getting Started
Allow myself time and space to assess a room before joining a group. Walk around (with a small plate of food or cup of courage) and just assess what's going on. See who looks fun or interesting to talk to; see if there's a group of 2 or 3 whose body language is open and/or engaging. Don't be worried about looking like a single freak walking around by myself - and I won't now because I'll be on my assessment mission, not just going around in a 'pleasesomeoneloveme' panic.

Breaking the Ice, solo
With a group of 2, one can always ask to "cut in". It's funny and pleasant and allows them the option of saying "maybe later" if it's not a great time.
Other recommended lines that I like: "what's your all time favorite ethnic food?" "What trends do you see coming in your business?" "What do you find exciting/rewarding in your line of work?" "What got you interested in [your area of expertise]"?

Breaking the Ice, partnered
Another strategy is to attend a place with a partner, but split up for 15 or 20 minutes. You each work the room singing the praises of the other person, then get back together and approach the people again as a pair, where they're already predisposed to like you and know something about you and whom your friend has already found to be pleasant conversationalists.

Exit Strategy
Instead of running for the bar or bathroom, use the "Campsite Rule" of "Leave 'em feeling better than when you found 'em." When the time is up - and leave them wanting more, not wanting to shuck you - politely say "thank you for sharing your [experience, expertise, opinion, story], [you're a great storyteller, that was fascinating] and I really enjoyed speaking with you". And move on gracefully.

The seminar advice dovetails with something I learned from Tina Fey's interview with Terry Gross on rules of improv. "When do you join in a scene?"
"When they need you."

I really could have used this advice a month ago at the all-engineer's engineering society dinner when I couldn't seem to find anyone to speak to and felt like a freak hovering near people to see if I could break in. Now I have "permission" of sorts to hover to see if there's a place for me in someone's conversation, rather than trying to force my way in somewhere uncomfortable. Even if the first minute is uncomfortable, a few general-but-specific open questions at the tip of my tongue will help.

So what's your favorite ethnic food of all time?
Or rather, what's your favorite way of keeping up with long distance friends?

Friday, April 1, 2011

Taxes and Deadlines

Got the Roth funded for 2010! Thanks again to my friend for letting me know about the income cap workaround. Because by the time I can spare enough funds for a Roth, over paycheck to paycheck, I've hit the income limits. Yeah, yeah, poor baby. But I find it pretty frustrating that after buying one of the ten cheapest condos in my county (which is now worth half of what I paid for it) I have to supplement my income with stock options to get unrestricted disposable income. (Restricted disposable income going to food and gas.)

When I check against national statistics, my income puts me in the top 20% of earners and possibly in the top 20% of households. Granted, this is national, not local, and I have always contributed to my pre-tax retirement savings, but I seriously can't imagine trying to live comfortably on half of what I make. I'd have to downgrade from my condo (rated as 'affordable housing' in the area) to the mobile homes next door or rent a room in someone's house. I'm sorry, but a single person in her late thirties, with an established carreer, with a technical degree from one of the country's top universities earning in the top 20% of earners shouldn't be feeling as lower middle class as I have. In the last year, I've started to feel more regular middle class given that I was able to hire maids and an organizer and a trainer at the gym, but that was because my company's stock skyrocketed and I sold some options and all of that money was unrestricted disposable income.

Maybe my perception is off, but shouldn't I at least feel like I *could* by a car worth more than $20K, like I *could* afford a home on my own that's bigger than my 720 sq foot 1 bedroom condo? Like I *could* hire gardeners if I bought a bigger place? I don't so much have a problem with living within my means as being upset that my objectively considerable means don't get me enough margin to save without pain, or shop in moderation without worry.

This year is different. It's the third year of my adult (whole?) life that I've had freely disposable income. I'm inclined to dispose of most of it given that my retirement savings, diversely invested in the recommended "smart" options would have done better had I shoved cash under a mattress or bought scratch lottery tickets. Playing by the rules doesn't seem to have gotten me where the rulemakers promised and I'm feeling a little bitter about that.

But at least for 2010 I was able to save money in a Roth by making a post-tax contribution to an IRA then rolling it over into the Roth, thereby utilizing the legal loophole on earnings limits. And I can afford someone else to do my taxes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

This is why I'll never be an Adult

For the last 9 months or so, any piece of paper I couldn't deal with right away, for whatever reason, got stuffed into a cabinet, or a bin under the cabinet. The intention was to go through it every 3-4 weeks, get everything settled and move on. It has recently spilled elsewhere. One reason I needed a weekend to deal with taxes is digging the relevant stuff out of this stash. I think I've got most of it, and the rest I can print off the computer at work tomorrow.

Of course, now my living room looks like this:
stacks of paper on everything, labeled by stack
(TBI= to be installed, aka in a box on the porch because I have enough projects to last a month of sundays.)

Fortunately, I only had a couple of late payments and they didn't lead to significant charges. One reason I could deal with the pile fairly quickly is thanks to the wisdom in "Taming the Paper Tiger" about not bringing crap into the house in the first place. I drive to my mailboxes, and strip out all the filler paper (unwanted ads, extra pages, unwanted checks, useless envelopes) and just keep the truly necessary stuff. Since most of my important stuff is set up on autopay or goes to my UPS mailbox, I open it at lunch and pay it right away if I can. Probably 90% of the delivered bulk goes straight in the trash. And 70% of it is unsolicited so "going paperless" wouldn't help much and only let me miss more deadlines at this point.

So. I pretty much have what I need to get my taxes done, submit my last $400 from my health care account to be reimbursed, and make the recipe I made up for the Trader Joe's lemon pepper pasta that I've looked for twice so far. (Boil LP pasta, toss over medium heat with 1T TJ's olive tepanade, glug of favorite cooking oil, diced 1/3 avocado, 1 Dorot frozen garlic cube, & salt until heated through.)

But it's not pretty. And this is why I'm not living up to my potential. Hopefully once I get my cabinets in place and have file drawers that aren't hidden behind a sofa, things will improve. Stay tuned but don't be holding your breath.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Last Minute Tax Advice

It turns out that in 2010, one can get around income limits on ROTH donations by converting a regular IRA to a ROTH. If it's pre-tax money, you get 2 years to pay the taxes on it. A good friend clued me into this, I just have to remember to do it tomorrow... She also told me about the trick of creating an IRA with after tax money then converting it to the ROTH. So if you had a good year this year and didn't fund a ROTH yet, or think you're going to hit income limits, try this trick before March 31st.

What I don't know is if there's a $5000 limit on the Roth conversion. I assume there is, but my brother is hoping that he can convert a whole IRA account. Anyone know?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Regularly Scheduled

The last two months have been a blur of visitors, visiting, Angry Birds, and reading. Most of the reading has been in the last two weeks because all the book from authors from my recent post became available. I interrupted the quite enthralling Pale Demon to read my Suz Brockmann when it showed up, then read that furiously, stopping only to go to work, nap, and have one session with my new trainer. I enjoyed the book and after a brief stint last night to finally get three stars on the pesky levels 10-8 and 10-10, meaning I've hit 3 stars on the first 13 angry birds levels, I was able to get back to the demon book.

I've said it before but it bears repeating, I really like characters who march to the tune of their own drummer, then pull other people/beings in with their drumbeat, crafting a community for themselves. The stories that are most satisfying to me have this happen, and I also think that's one of the draws of a series. Not just seeing the main character, but see who they charm, protect, draw in, or otherwise gather into the fold and how this ragtag band of misfits manages to defeat the reigning power who has grown out of control, growing up and growing together while they're at it.

I'm still cobbling my own community together here in SoCal and having some of my older friends come visit was good for the soul. Even back in MN, I managed to hook up with a college pal, braving the wrath of the almighty to hang out at their catholic church for a trivia event. (We won.) We calculated it had been 11 years since we'd seen each other, and she's up to 4 kids from the 1 I'd met. (They're whip smart too and have good manners.) My mom actually left MN before I did, having a birthday invitation to join friends at a time share in Cancun. Seeing as she left behind a couple feet of snow for Chichen Itza and the beach, I can't say I blame her!

Sometime sooon - maybe next weekend, it looks like I should go see my grandmother. Her husband is having some trouble, and we're all worried for them both. My brother found a flight for this weekend but I couldn't swing it. Plus I *really* need a weekend to get my house in order - turn in my tax paperwork, and everything else I can get done after weeks off duty. Part of me worries that Pop won't hold out and that I'll think it was crazy to prioritize tax paperwork and a very expensive, awkwardly timed flight over a visit, but I'm holding out some hope that something can be done to make him feel better. At 91 they're reluctant to do more surgery, but he was pretty vital until this latest issue, so it's not like throwing good money after bad if his quality of life will recover.

In the interim, I also have my short story from Suz, which will likely suck all of my attention until I finish. So if I can keep away from the Angry Birds, put the book down once in a while and get my taxes and projects done, it will be a good weekend.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Plugging away

Apparently 'tis the season for authors I like to publish books. If you have any interest in reading stuff I recommend,

Breaking the Rules by Suzanne Brockmann is Izzy's book. I love Izzy. He sings a lot and he's irreverent and competent at his job but still kind of not fully grown up in his personal life. I've been waiting for this one. You can order a signed copy from the author if you do it by Friday. It comes with a bonus "short" story of 20,000 words. If you have the borg connection, the facebook page apparently works better for the pre-book countdown updates, but I'm still in denial about posting fb links here.

I bought and read River Marked by Patricia Briggs. I enjoyed it, it was well done (maybe too short) but the biggest news that one of the characters was wearing a Dresden Dolls T-shirt. A local dancer taught a funky dance at the evening hip hop class maybe two months ago. It went to a song that sounded like Cibo Matto meets Laurie Anderson, but until I heard the song and even sometime after that, I thought we were going to be dancing to . . . and I couldn't for the life of me remember the song. All I had was "I think it was about a marionette and it was popular in Boston when I lived there and it's sung by a woman." After paging through my visiting friend's ipod, it jogged my memory and I asked her about it and she got as far as "I think it's "something something boy" and the singer has tattooed eyebrows". "yes! That's it!' (aka I'm not crazy! but I still don't know the song). I spent a while surfing Teegan and Sarah songs not finding it. Then the day after that conversation I started reading "River Marked" and the instant I read "Dresden Dolls", put down the book and found my current grail: Coin-Operated Boy. And I'm right, the weird dance would totally go to this song.

Thank you Patricia Briggs and Dresden Dolls.

I also picked up the latest Kim Harrison Pale Demon. I read the first half dozen in the series from the library but picked this one up on the kindle and the "Hotter than Hell" anthology from the Borders closing sale. You can read excerpts from this site.

For completeness, both Catherine Mann and Virginia Kantra have new books out now or soon, respectively.

Aside from now trying to get 3 stars on my Angry Birds - NOT as obsessively as before since there's no star at stake, just, well let's call it practicing finishing things. I've been playing scrabble and surfing from the iPhone. Really, I should be sorting out my tax papers to turn in before the last minute, since I will be traveling this weekend. Maybe tomorrow. But it's early bedtime now.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Put a Bird on it

My visiting friend clued me into a bit from the new show Portlandia called "Put a Bird on it" where the characters rampage through a store putting birds or bird motifs on everything to make them trendy. Like so

It was great because we went up to Santa Barbara to hang out and look at art and shops and found a lot of birds on things. We almost laughed ourselves completely out of Anthropologie which was bird-tastic. We hit total BINGO win squared when the store "Rooms & Gardens" had ACTUAL BIRDS: three chickens live in the garden behind the store! Here's one of them. They were all rather good looking chickens.

chicken with reddish-tan feathers

We were able to retire from browsing after that major success. We'd had the bird scavenger hunt while we killed a couple hours waiting for my current favorite place, elements on Anapamu, to open for happy hour at 4pm. I started to panic that it wouldn't be worth the wait, but they came through. We started with cocktails like "satsuma lime mojito" and "farmer's market bellini" and noshed on a triple cheese plate that came with nuts, honey in a honeycomb and crostini along with excellent olives and pistachios. We stayed long enough to get the dinner menu and thoroughly enjoyed that and the fried apple pie dessert before heading back.

Another fine weekend day in Santa Barbara.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Airplanes as Shooting Stars

My last post on wishes reminded me of the song lyric "Can we pretend that airplanes in the night sky are like shooting stars? I could really use a wish right now." If you haven't heard the song, the chorus is sung by a female vocalist and the verses are performed by a male rapper. It plays on hip-hop stations (and possibly on pop stations but since I don't have one of those I don't know for sure) and I like it a lot. Or at least I think the chorus is hauntingly beautiful.

I listen to hip hop for 2 main reasons: of the 3 radio stations with good reception in my town, 1 is NPR 2 of them are hip hop; I like hip-hop dance. The genre has grown on me - I listened to very little of it in Boston where I had good access to alt rock stations so I only got the crossover songs.

(But don't you live in LA? Well, no. I live *near* LA in an electrical signal Bermuda Triangle. I get some sort of broadcast to nearly every frequency but almost none strong enough to overcome the static. I couldn't get TV without cable even before the digital crossover. To be fair, there's also a spanish language station that comes in fairly well. But I have to drive a couple valleys over to get the main LA area programming, or listen through my computer which was not a good option until I got wifi, and I have yet to set it up to make it workable and I'm insufficiently motivated to search it out most of the time. Plus, the station that convinced me I could find "my" music in LA folded in the recession.)

But Cranky Otter, you're a super-feminist. Why would you listen to hip hop? Isn't it all misogynistic hate crap? Well, no. There still is a lot of that kind of thing, but the times, they are achanging. Well, that and if I can't make out the lyrics, they can't bother me, can they? And sometimes, they're so overthetop I can't take offense. I like "Golddigger" as much as the next fan.

This year in particular, however, there have been multitudes of hip hop and pop stars who have hooked up in male-female pairings to create some songs that have broader appeal. Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg, Emininem and Rihanna, "B.o.B" and Haley someone (who sound to me like E & R...), and I think there are others. Have you noticed other stars joining forces this year?

(side rant - I'm now forced to use my google login for youtube. I don't want to use my google login for youtube. And google? I don't want to watch a 15-30 second commercial before I go to a video that I only want to watch maybe 15 seconds of to screen to see if it's what I'm looking for. Overlay ads are tolerable, delay ads will make me stop using your product whenever I can get away with not using it. When your product is snippets of 10 second to 4 minute things that people may or may not watch all the way through, 30 second commercials can absorb more than 50% of the time alotted to that websurfing and completely derail me from my path. Plus, it will make me hate that ad. Ads several minutes into a show, meaning after I've committed to something like a full 22-44 minute episode on Hulu, are perfectly acceptable. When I'm just trying to find something in the first place? They will stop me cold and not achieve any of the goals of watching either the clip or the commercial. And that's why I haven't linked any youtube clips to this post- it was too annoying to vet them. /rant)