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Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Starbucks Aggression 

Maybe it's because I gave up caffeine for Lent, but this story at Salon just boggles my mind: Starbucks unveils aggressive growth plan.
Starbucks is opening coffee shops at the rate of about 3 1/2 a day worldwide, and that figure could increase, chief executive Orin Smith told shareholders at the company's annual meeting Tuesday.

The long-term plan is to have about 25,000 stores worldwide -- more than triple the nearly 8,000 stores the coffee retailer has right now. And even that amount seems a little "light," according to Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz.

To accommodate those plans, the company, which already employs more than 80,000 people, is hiring 250 people a day, the executives told a packed house of thousands of shareholders.
They aren't already aggressive? You can stand in Dupont Circle and be within view of at least four Starbucks. I guess the line that sums it up best is the one that ends the article: "Recounting the changes in his 22 years with the company, [longtime Starbucks employee Tom] Walters said: 'I just can't believe there are so many Starbucks stores.'"

I don't begrudge the chain its success; I've been known to enjoy more than a few skim chai lattes and/or espressos, but they are overreaching a bit in trying to block Star Bock beer [ Language Log | NPR | Ones and Zeros ].

The other question is has Starbucks gone after Dark Star Brewing Co. in England? I get ghits for the company and its pub, The Evening Star, when googling "starbock," but there's no mention of the bock on the Dark Star website and it takes a bit of poking through to the tasting notes page at the pub to find mention of it.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Work-Fried Brain 

Urgh. Two 12+ hour days in a row at the office (and it looks like tomorrow and maybe Thursday will be a bugger, too). Today was the client coming in to look through the preprint pages for the newspaper; despite some little concerns about photos (on our side; the client didn't notice anything amiss) it went well. And because they were working in my office and I had to be handy to answer any questions/concerns, I got a little caught up on editing for my newspaper, which had been being ignored to get this contract publish job done.

Oh, and my managing editor gave three weeks or so notice this morning. I was splitting her with another publication, and I'm not sure if I'm going to get to replace her with someone who is working only on my pubs or if I'll have to share the replacement.

I'm sad to see M--- go. She was a good editor and proofer, but she's so sick of publishing that she's going to start her own business -- a mobile pet grooming service. There's a company, Wag'n Tails, that builds customized mobile pet salon trailer/van mobile grooming, and she already has the model picked out. But, first, there are four-months of pet-grooming school.

Knowing that it was going to be a long day (and because rain is threatened for tonight/tomorrow), I stopped at the Tidal Basin on the way to work this morning to take a quick look at the cherry blossoms. It was a bit surprising how many people were out in 40°F weather at 6:30 a.m. Despite that, the trees were blooming quite nicely, and I got to pet a standard poodle.
Early Morning Cherry Blossoms at the Tidal Basin, 30 March 2004

Monday, March 29, 2004

All By Myself ... 

Well, I have the house to myself for a few days. Yesterday, I drove Evelin up to New Jersey to spend a few days with her sister and our new niece. It was a nice day for a drive (actually, too nice for a drive; it would have been nice to have a hike, instead), and we made it up to Teaneck in time to visit with Evelin's parents before they headed back to Massachusetts.

Evelin's mother spilled the beans to M---, Evelin's sister, about the pregnancy. Originally, we were going to wait until after the amnio before telling too many people, but that's out now, I guess. I had better call my grandmother soon ...

On the plus side, M--- knowing meant she passed along a pile of pregnancy books and maternity clothes to Evelin.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Window Replaced ... Finally 

After nearly three full months months of living with a sheet of plywood as one of the windows in my office, I finally have a piece of glass back in place. (The window blew in back on 30 December.) Of course, the tensionors that would normally hold the window in place -- and it was their absence that led to the window blowing in -- have not been replaced, so we'll see how long the new pane stays whole ...

Lead Tests 

We should hear later today about Evelin's blood lead test, but this morning I gathered the samples for our water lead test. Basically, the pipes had to be still for at least six hours, so no flushing, brushing teeth, washing hands, etc., after 10:00 p.m. last night and I took the first draw when I woke at 5:30 a.m., seven hours later.

Sometime yesterday, WSSC dropped off two plastic bottles at our door. The 1-liter one is the first draw bottle. It gets filled with the water that comes immediately from the pipes without any flushing of the lines.

The 16-ounce bottle is filled after the first sample is collected and the line is flushed for two to three minutes. (Ever obsessive compulsive, I used the kitchen timer to make sure the tap had been open 2 minutes, 30 seconds.) The samples were taken from the kitchen sink; I think that's the tap most likely provide the water we ingest.

Today, I need to call for a pickup of the samples, and then I'm not sure how long it will take for results to get back. I also don't know if the fee is just added to our water bill or what. There was no mention of payment on the instruction sheet.

Other Things

Pregnancy: Today is the last day of the 12th week of the pregnancy. Which means Saturday is the start of the second trimester (unless you count the end of the first trimester as 13 weeks, 3 days, in which case Tuesday starts the second trimester).

Garden/Yard: The first primrose was fully open yesterday, and a few more blossoms have popped on the camellia. Daffodils are also starting to open. And the cherry trees by the Tidal Basin have a dusky sheen to them, which usually means the blossoms will be open within a week or so -- right on schedule.

Grocery Strike: Today's the last day of the contracts for Washington-Baltimore area UFCW members working at Safeway and Giant Foods, and it looks like we may be headed toward a strike (a vote is set for Tuesday unless a contract is signed before then) that could be as nasty as the Southern California ones that just ended a few weeks ago. I noticed in the Sunday papers that Safeway was already advertising for "temporary workers" (read, scabs). Thankfully, with spring starting up, the farmers market is going to have more producers each week, and we can supplement with the food co-op, Whole Foods, small ethnic groceries, and similar sources if the strike does drag on.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Stressed Some More 

It's definitely another one of those days. As I like to think is common in most people's offices, there are a fair number of toys around our office. I have some Lego sets on the bookcase-o-dictionaries™ and an old Pets.com Spokespuppet, there are some Muppet items in other offices, and one person has an impressive Pez collection and an inflatable shark hanging from her ceiling.

Anyway, one item that's laying around is this weird doll with a long skinny neck and a big head topped with a blue mohawk that makes a satisfying warbling sound when shaken. We've always considered it a bit of a stress-release toy: Get frustrated with a PR person, advertiser, client, whoever, and you could just give this thing a shake and it would make you laugh and feel a little better.

After a particularly ... annoying ... call this afternoon, I gave it a shake, and it broke. Not stopped warbling broke, but head dangling at a disturbing angle broke. I felt really bad about this (as is my wont), and immediately started looking on eBay and Amazon.com for a replacement, but no luck.

Thankfully this stage of this project will be over early next week; I'll (hopefully) be done with my regular issue soon thereafter; then the next stage of the project will roll into my francophone magazine followed in close succession by my next issue; and then, maybe I'll get a break.

One less destructive stress release: rathergood.com. When feeling a bit down, tragic tales like "When Biscuits Go Wrong" and "The Wrong Bananas"bring a smile to my lips and a tear to my eyes.

Oh, and don't let anyone tell you otherwise: The Spongmonkeys [ Original | Quiznos ] are tarsiers (Tarsiidae), even if I'm not sure of the exact species.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Stressed 

If I'm going to be that stressed for every OB appointment, I don't know how I'll make it to 40 weeks.

I'm on edge already because of work (something that was exasperated by cutting out yesterday around 1:00 p.m.), but apparently I was acting out on the drive to the doctor's office because Evelin was getting worried about how frustrated I was by other drivers.

Despite my being a wee bit high strung, the appointment went well. Instead of an ultrasound, the doctor used a fetal doppler to check the heartbeat -- 150 bpm. It took a little while to position the doppler correctly, but once the doctor found the heartbeat it was good and strong.

The rest of the appointment was pretty basic. We're still on track to stop the Lovenox injections in another week or so; actually Evelin decided to cut back to one injection a day, thinking it would be better to step down the dosing instead of going cold turkey once we hit week 13.

We also asked about Evelin getting a blood test to check for elevated lead levels; the doctor said okay (and Evelin's going for that test today), but said we should really test our water if we were concerned. And we are. We use a Brita filter on our drinking and cooking water, but who knows ...

The D.C. area has been having lots of lead-related water concerns recently, which is what brought it all to mind. According to our water company (WSSC), its water lines do not interconnect with the D.C. water authority (WASA), but there have been some high lead levels found in tests by WSSC of some schools in the area. But I haven't seen anything about our neighborhood schools. So I filled out the web form requesting a water test; I'm not sure exactly how it's done, but I guess we'll find out.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Script Exhibits 

Sunday, while Evelin went shopping with J---, I headed downtown to catch two new exhibits about Chinese and Japanese script at the Smithsonian.

First up, the International Gallery in the Ripley Center for "Chinese Script from Oracle Bones to Computer Bytes." (The Chinese Embassy has more information about the exhibit than the Ripley Center does on its website.) I'd noticed the banner announcing the exhibit on my drive home from work a week or so ago. Overall, it wasn't the most engaging exhibit. There were a few objects on display (but most of these were replicas), but the many panels that traced the origins of Chinese script and its evolution over time were interesting. A large swath of the panels focused on calligraphy, followed by a few on printing and computing technologies.

One cool original object on exhibit was an early Chinese typewriter. The link is to the National Museum of Science & Industry in London; it's not the exact model of typewriter that is on display at the Ripley Center, but it illustrates the basic style of the device. Quite complex; I wish they had one I could touch because I couldn't figure out from looking through the glass case how it actually worked.

From there, I moved on to the Sackler Gallery for "Faith and Form: Selected Calligraphy and Painting from Japanese Religious Traditions." Unlike "Chinese Script," this was a full exhibition with lots of Buddhist and Shintō poetry, sutras, literature, and painting, and some of the pieces are just astoundingly beautiful.

The exhibition website has an interactive page that lets you examine up-close a baker's dozen of the items in the exhibit or to download a PDF of essays about objects in the exhibit.

I think it'd been a while since I was last in the Sackler, so when I entered the gallery from the Ripley Center (the two are connected underground), I was interested in the first object encountered in the gallery: the bottom of Xu Bing (徐冰)'s "Monkeys Grasp for the Moon." The installation piece stretches four floors from the skylight in the entrance to the Sackler down to a pool at the bottom of the gallery and consists of stylized versions of the word "monkey" in 20 different languages and scripts (ranging from Hebrew and Hindi to German (using Fraktur) and Urdu to Russian, Lao and Braille). A bit of the piece can be seen in the online version of the 2001/2002 exhibit "Word Play: Contemporary Art by Xu Bing."

I also walked through "Return of the Buddha: The Qingzhou Discoveries," which opened on Saturday. The galleries were packed, so I didn't spend as much time as I would have liked in it, but it was really interesting to see the changes in how the Buddha was represented to reflect the political situations of different dynasties.

Other Things

Pregnancy: I know Evelin's sense of smell, always keen, is getting more acute, but I just heard a news item on MFR that the Tesco grocery chain in the U.K. is looking to hire pregnant women as wine tasters (Ananova version of the story).
Helen [McGinn, a wine taster with Tesco for nine years,] said: "My tastebuds have become more powerful. I find that I can pick up the tiniest difference in taste. I can detect the smallest change in acidity and I am also extremely sensitive to tannin.
"The subtlest tastes and nuances are now as easily detectable, and all four of us all seem to pick up more on acidity or sweetness levels with our palates. The senses are definitely heightened."
The Ananova version doesn't say so, but according to the newsreader on MFR, the women are told to spit the wine out after tasting.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Sedate Saturday 

So far, this weekend's been a mixed bag. I spent a good chunk of Saturday in the office, trying to finish up as much of this contract publishing gig as possible before production starts on Monday, and that evening Evelin stayed home to watch Cast Away while I met a friend for dinner. His wife was out with the girls and we hadn't had a chance to chat in a while, so we met up in Clarendon and ended up at The Boulevard Woodgrill.

The Boulevard had lots of fish and pork on the menu (so I think I need to take Evelin there), but they did have one vegetarian dish: a "stack" of jasmine-cilantro rice topped with asparagus, portabella mushrooms and two onion rings with a tamari-based sauce and served with a side of mac and cheese. The mac and cheese was made with fontina and gruyère and was very tasty.

Skipping back to work, I did have a little panic in the morning. Much like today, I was having trouble sleeping, so I went into the office around 4:00 a.m. On Friday night, I'd been there late waiting for a courier from the client for this contract publishing thing to arrive so that I could get the organization's edits/updates made to the galleys. I then had to make the 8:30 p.m. FedEx drop in D.C. to get CDs of images and text off to the person who is doing layout/production.

She lives in the Virginia exurbs and I needed a Saturday delivery for the package. When I checked the tracking number early on Saturday morning, I was bit surprised to see that FedEx had the package sitting in ... Memphis. I don't know if it just got sorted wrong at Dulles or what, but they did manage by 9:30 a.m. to have the envelope back to Northern Virginia and on a truck for delivery.

Other Things

Garden: The seedlings are doing well. Most of the peppers are popping and about 95% of the tomato seeds look like they're growing well. The squirrels have been in the pea and spinach beds, but we think they're only looking for lost acorns; there's no sign they're going after our seeds.

On the flower side, the camellia seems to have suffered a bit of frost damage this year (lots of burnt leaf edges), but the first of its flowers opened yesterday. The crocuses are dying back, but the tulips are starting to pop up, and there are signs of activity where the hostas and peonies are coming back up. Also, the trees are starting to bud and the forsythia in the neighbor's yard is starting to look good, so ours should be next.

Pregnancy: I'm getting a bit anxious about the OB appointment on Tuesday. No real reason to, but I'm sure that's not helping my sleep. Evelin is feeling well, occasionally queasy and a need to keep something in the stomach all the time, but otherwise doing well. Her sense of smell is getting more acute, so I'm trying to avoid the garlic excesses I usually enjoy (no roasted garlic pizza for me) ...

Friday, March 19, 2004

Sprouts 

Well, the makeshift setup for the seedlings seems to be working. As of last night, most of the tomato seeds had sprouted and grown to 2-inch seedlings and there were signs of life in at least two of the pepper cells. I also got some additional varieties of tomato and pepper seeds from my boss, but we haven’t sown them yet, but it looks like the seedling tray is going to have some empty cells a lot sooner than we realized.

Of course, we also forgot to turn on the light this morning, so they probably won't do much growing today. (I have an in-wall timer that I bought for the porch light a while ago but couldn't install because of the cira-1940 wiring upstairs; now I'm thinking I'll install it in the basement to protect the seedlings against our morning forgetfulness.)

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Sneaking in a Quick Entry 

The panic is starting to set in about this next contract publishing job and my regular issue, the deadlines for both of which are crashing rather loudly all around me.

That said, here are a few interesting reads I ran across while surfing during lunch:

Irish language classes at the University of Montana (from The Montana Kaimin), which started with a visiting professor but have been continued by a group of students who are now studying on their own.
In the beginning, [David] Emmons studied the language because he wanted to read a book by Irish author Mickey McGowan [Micí Mac Gabhann], who lived in the 1800s. He'd read the English translation but felt it was poor. In Irish, the title of the book was "The Great Wheel of Life" [Rotha Mór an tSaoil], which described McGowan's journey to the gold mining country of Montana and back to Ireland again. When Emmons saw the English title of the book was "The Hard Road to Klondike," he wondered what else was lost in translation, he said.
Also interesting in the story is the mention of one student who is blind and who had to take notes and to read Irish materials using Braille. (There also was a brite on WNDU-TV about Notre Dame students learning Irish.)

And, back in Malta, the debate over the new language law continues as The Malta Independent covers Partit Laburista MP Jose Herrera's speech outlining the historical fight to get Maltese recognised as the official language of the nation. Herrera noted that when the Knights ruled the archipelago, Italian was the official language, but in 1813 Sir Thomas Maitland became governor of Malta and
He wanted to introduce the use of English and to do away with Italian and what he believed to be an Arab dialect (the Maltese language).

Sigismondo Savona and Lord Strickland insisted that English should be used, but that Maltese must be given equal importance.

In 1926 the Compact was signed between the Labour Party and the Constitutional Party insisting that Maltese and English should have the same rights. The Nationalist Party, on the other hand, insisted that English and Italian should have equal importance. The August 1927 election saw the Compact parties win.
Back in the States, the Native American Times has a brief article about a New Mexico anthropologist who is creating a festival to showcase First Nations writing and languages:
"I can't teach people to teach a language to their kids," [Gordon] Bronitsky said. "Navajo weavers know they will make money from the work they do-but writers don’t have that. I wanted to create a festival to promote them and help them get paid. Maybe some kid on some reservation will see this and say 'Wow. Someone got paid for speaking my grandmother's language'".
Up in Canada, Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit Katimajiit, the group charged with incorporating Inuit culture and values into the government of Nunavut wants to change its name (from CBC North). The name means "the traditional knowledge council," but Council Vice Chair Kananginak Pootoogook said "the term Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is misleading since traditional knowledge doesn't easily fit into today's more modern times, and the name is not up-to-date."

And, finally, the BBC is reporting that researchers at Université Bordeaux are identifying small marks on animal bones from between 1.4 million and 1.2 million years ago as evidence of symbolic thought among an early Homo species, possibly Homo erectus.
"These lines were not from butchering; in this place (on the animal) there is nothing to cut. It can't be anything else than symbolism," Dr. Jean-Luc Guadelli, of the University of Bordeaux, France, told BBC News Online.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Jekk jogħġbok ikteb il-kelma.* 

The Kamra tad-Deputati of the Maltese parliament is considering a bill [PDF, English follows Maltese] that would establish a Kunsill Nazzjonali ta' l-Ilsien Malti (National Council for the Maltese Language) to "promote the national language and to provide the necessary means to achieve this aim."

In the debate during the second reading of the bill today, Partit Laburista MP Joe Brincat suggested that one of the goals of the new council could be to "modernize" Maltese orthography, according to an artilcle in The Malta Independent.
He [Brincat] explained that this unique way of writing the Maltese language, the Maltese orthography, was the result of an effort earlier last century, to distinguish the Maltese language from the Italian language. The dots over the g, for instance, were introduced to distinguish the soft g from the hard ġ and to use only one letter where our forefathers used to write gi- or gie-. And as for the għajn, għ, the corresponding Arab sound is translated as kh. [diacritical marks added to original]
Brincat goes on to say that Maltese orthography makes it difficult to use "modern means of communication," such as e-mail and that "no Maltese fonts [are] available." That complaint is mostly a case of legacy usage ISO 8859-3 ASCII fonts, such as Tornado (which replace some punctuation marks and accented letters in the standard Latin ASCII range in favor of the Maltese Ċ, ċ, Ġ, ġ, Ħ, ħ, Ż, and ż) or of people simply giving up and dropping the diacritical marks altogether, as the quoted Independent story does. Unicode provides full support for Maltese and drivers for Maltese keyboards are available, too.

Brincat went on to argue that the council could help promote the language and to "defend the best use of Maltese especially in broadcasting." Which raises the question of The Independent's description of .

It's always been my understanding that is, for the most purposes effectively silent, serving primarily to lengthen the vowel when it appears with an a, e, or o. For example, the name of the letter ( is treated as a single letter), għajn is pronounced a:yn. At the end of a word, on the other hand, and h (which otherwise is silent severing only to lengthen a preceding or following vowel) are both pronounced like the h in hot. ħ is always pronounced that way. Based on The Independent's description, I'm guessing that h should be more guttural than I'd realized, more like the Arabic ح (ḥá’, h) or خ (khá’, kh).

Even if the orthography is a bit obtuse in places, I'm not sure getting rid of and ż will really address the other concerns in the debate, such as hybridizing Maltese with English (á la Denglish or Spanglish) or slang expressions:
Dr. Brincat also complained on the kind of language used by young people especially when they use expression which mean the opposite of their literal meaning, such as tal-genn!.
Tal-genn! literally means "madness" or "insanity," but it has been appropriated by Maltese youth to mean "cool" or "whazzup!" Of course, "mental," "insane," “crazy," “wild," and a number of other words act as synonyms for “cool" or "neat" in various segments of English youth culture, so I'm guessing this is a personal bugaboo for Brincat.

*Maltese for "Please write the word down."

Pea Supports 

I forgot to mention how we're growing the peas. We have three beds sown with snap peas; each has a different trellis system.

Last year, we used bamboo poles and jute twine to create a trellis against the retaining wall that separates the pond from the garden. It worked okay, but the angle of the sun wasn't the best and we didn't get a very steady or heavy crop.

This year, we're using the beds (figuring that the peas will be done by the time we need them for tomatoes and peppers), which should ensure more sun but there's no ready-made wall to brace things against. So we had to take a different approach.

In one bed, we're using the wire grid we tried growing squash up last year (mixed results on the squash growing, but the peas should work. basically it is an open V-shaped wire panel that fits along two edges of the triangular bed. The grid is a 2-inch by 4-inch or so rectangle.

In the second bed (last year's tomato bed), we have some new plastic anti-rabbit fencing with a 2-centimeter square grid. Using tomato stakes, the fencing is making a big rectangle in the center of the bed with the peas being planted around the outside edge. Hopefully the majority of peas will grow on the outside of the square as expected; otherwise, it's going to be difficult to harvest them, I think.

The third bed (last year's peppers and cucumbers) is being done old school. When we visited Monticello a few years ago, the garden had sweat peas growing on branches that had been pruned from the peach orchard. Using pruned branches in itself isn't unheard of, but instead of building a cone from long, relatively straight branches, these prunings were more spread out, for lack of a better way to describe it.

Basically, there was one central bit to the pruning and smaller twigs and branches sticking out from that central bit. The central piece would be set into the garden and the peas would grow up spreading among the twigs and branches to fill out the pruning like a little piece of pea-covered topiary. (I'm not sure this image is working for me, but I'm stumped as to how else to describe it -- I probably should just take a picture.)

So, in the third bed we're trying the Jeffersonian pea thing. We saved some branches the last time we pruned the Bradford pear and panted the peas in a circle around the base of each pruning.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Somebody Slap Me 

This is sad. I've just spent way too much time obsessing over a one paragraph in a story:
Recent advances in data delivery speeds and infrastructure mean the thimbleful of content delivered at tortoise speed only a few years ago has transformed into a swimming pool of data delivered at warp 9.
The thing that kept me so busy? Trying to figure out if warp should be warp, Warp, or WARP and whether nine should be spelled out or not.

For a moment, I thought I would able to justify keeping a copy of The Klingon Dictionary and Klingon for the Galactic Traveler on the bookcase-o-dictionaries™ in my office (wedged alphabetically between Un livret d'phrâses en Jèrrriais and NTC's Compact Korean & English Dictionary), but they only had PIVGHOR pIvghor (warp drive) and PIVLOB pIvlob (warp factor) in the dictionary section, and scanning the commands and a few other chapters didn't yield any examples.

[ADDENDUM: In blogging this, I tired googling "pIvlob Hut" (PIVLOB HUT, Klingon for "warp factor 9"), which yielding a few pages indicating that that would be Klingon construction, but nothing indicating what capitalization/numeralization should be used.]

In the end, I'm going with warp (lowercase) and 9 (number) because even though I can't find a style guide on the Simon & Schuster Star Trek novels site or on STARTREK.COM (which seems to be plagued with server errors), the lowercase warp is what's used in the Klingon dictionary and in the technology library on STARTREK.COM. I went with 9 instead of nine because it is a measurement and with AP Style I'd write "9 meters" or "6 rack units" (as opposed to "nine puppies" or "six Ethernet cables").

And, just to complete the geek-out over this, according to Wikipedia's warp drive entry, warp factor can be converted to velocity using the formula s=w(10÷3)c where w is the warp factor, c is the speed of light, yielding s or speed in kilometers per second. A number of other formulas (with slight to major differences) are floating around out on the Web, but this one looked reasonable.

Gardening and Bollywood 

Saturday, Evelin and I finally got the garden started. We cleaned dead leaves and other remnants of winter from the beds, added some good Canadian soil to last year's carrot bed, and planted edible-pod snap peas in three of the beds and spinach in the fourth. (The fifth bed is home to our garlic until at least July, I think.)

We also filled up the seed tray with our tomatoes and peppers. I also bought two aquarium/plant lights for the fixture I lowered in the basement. The seeds have a warming pad below and a good-spectrum light above, so hopefully they'll turn into a bunch of solid seedlings.

In ameliorating the soil in the spinach (née carrot) bed, we discovered that the fig had been sending little tap roots up into the bed.

After pulling up a bunch of little hairy roots from the soil with the rake, I sawed though the earth about half a meter outside the box to cut through any bits of the fig that wanted to get into the good garden soil.

Elsewhere in the garden, there are signs of life on the raspberry canes and the strawberries are coming back out front. The garlic looks like it made it through the winter without any trouble, as did the rosemary and lavender.

Other signs of life are evident: crocuses are everywhere; tulips, daylilies, irises, alliums, and other bulbs/tubers are poking up new shoots; the primroses and pansies have signs of life again; and the trees are budding. Soon, spring will literally flower ... and then well be swimming in pollen and cicadas.

That evening, we rented Kuch Kuch Hota Hai (कुछ कुछ होता है, Something Happens) [ IMDB | Official Site ], which I've been wanting to see for a while, but it hadn't piqued Evelin's interest. This time, she picked The Awful Truth (which costars Cary Grant, Irene Dunne, and Asta, the dog from The Thin Man series) and then made the mistake of saying that she didn't care what movie I picked ...

Kuch Kuch Hota Hai ran a bit long in some segments (particularly the flashback to college that ran for most of the first hour of the film), but overall it was great and we both enjoyed it. I can see why it swept the Filmfare Awards in 1998 (best film, director, actor, actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, screenplay and art direction).

Now if I can just convince Evelin that she'd enjoy Aśoka ...

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Happy π Day! 

It's 26 seconds past 1:59 (p.m.) on 14 March, which makes it the perfect time to wish everybody a happy π Day, because π @ 3.14159265358979323846 ...

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Inner Food Snob 

Despite both of us being a bit overtired, Evelin and went to a Pampered Chef party last night. A friend from work guilted me into going, which is okay except that the party was way, way out in suburban Northern Virginia. (I tease her that she commutes in from Ohio.)

The focus was desserts and the Pampered Chef consultant (I think I have the terminology right) made two quick pies. One didn't really appeal to either of us, but the other was tasty.

There are some nice looking products in the Pampered Chef line, but some things didn't look as sturdy as I'd like and others are geared too much toward quick-and-easy cooking for my tastes. (Although that could have been the focus of the consultant, more than something endemic to the product line.)

I know, I'm a food snob who likes complicated recipes, most of which simply can't be cooked after work if we want to eat before 9:00 p.m. It's a bad tendency -- and we do end up eating lots of quick-and-easy dishes -- but I recognize it and try to indulge my inner foodie on weekends and holidays.

Friday, March 12, 2004

Back to the Farm 

It's definitely looking like a bad next couple of weeks, which, of course, makes me long for a more pastoral existence.

In lieu of actually running off to a frontier farm (which I am sure is lot more idyllic in my fantasy than it would be in real life), Evelin and I are considering buying a share at the Clagett Farm, our local community supported agriculture (CSA) outlet. The bargain is we would prepay for the season and in return each week (mid-May through mid-November) we could pick up a bag or two of fresh fruits, legumes and veggies. We'd also get pick-your-own rights to of a couple of crops.

It's a great idea, and I've been wanting to participate since I first read about CSAs last year, but the problem is the pickup times don't look like they'd work out well for us. The only pickups on weekday nights are located in places that would be difficult for either of us to get to before closing time, and the weekend pickup times are smack in the middle of the day on Saturday.

I don't want that to be an obstacle -- and truth be told we may not be doing many day-long hikes this summer, what with the pregnancy and all -- but if the pickups could be on Sunday (when we already have time carved out for the farmers market and pandas) it would be much less disruptive. What to do? What to do?

Last night, I got us a few inches closer to getting the seedlings started for the garden. Sorry, Dan, no greenhouse (as cool as that would be); instead, I lowered one set of fluorescent lights in the basement and moved a shop rack directly under it and cleared off the top shelf. Now, with the warming pad below and the lights above, the seedling tray should give the seeds a good start. Now we just have to actually plant things ... and get the peas into the ground ... and start fixing the soil in the raised beds ... and ... and ... and ...

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

N'Awlins, or not? 

Along with some Alice Whitehead cookies, some Camellia red beans and some Zatarain's Creole mustard, my mom brought up a copy of Lolis Eric Elie's column from The Times-Picayune.

In the column, Elie starts off with something I can identify with:
I don't sound like I'm from New Orleans.

I am certain of this because I have the testimony of experts.

Whenever I travel, people ask me where I'm from. When I tell them I was born and raised in New Orleans, they look at me as if I have just told a lie of epic proportions.

"No, you're not!" they exclaim. "You don't even pronounce it right! It's Noo Awlins."

Then they repeat their pronunciation slowly as if I were reading their lips: "Noo Awlins."

How should I respond to this?

Sometimes I articulate all three syllables: "Or-lay-ons," sort of in the French style. Sometimes I say "Awlins," but apparently not to the satisfaction of a new convert to the Creole-Cajun-Mardi Gras-Bourbon Street religion.

So I sometimes give in. "You're right," I'm tempted to say. "I'm really from Tokyo."
Elie goes on to pick out several pronuciations common on the streets and airwaves of New Orleans -- New Awlins, New Or-lay-ons, New Awleens, New Oy-ins -- and that doesn't even get to the much maligned Yat variation that clips away most of the first word: N’Awlins. (Note: Orléans (as in French) is the name of the parish, never the name of the city except when being forced into a rhyme, such as "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans” which was written by Eddie De Lange, a New Yorker, so it's still wrong.)

[ASIDE:The Southern Yat Hysterical Society's "Bonics (Yat dialect) page is a bit overly broad in claiming some general New Orleans terms as being Yat, but it did remind me of a few terms I hadn't heard in a decade, such as: "shoot da shoot (v): What you do when you go down the covered slide at the park. Also refers to the slide itself, which resembles a sort of covered wagon with a long silver tongue. It is not recommended that anyone wearing shorts use the slides."]

I'm not from New Orleans, but my mother is from there and my father is from just across the parish line in Metairie, and I spent most of childhood from age 5 onwards on the North Shore of Lake Pontichartrain with plenty of visits to "The City" (as if there could be any city other than New Orleans). My mother tends to pronounce New Orleans primarily as nu: 'ɔɪɛ̃s (New Oy-ins), although it can vary depending upon the the sentance it's being used in. For the most part I retain a bit of the r and the l, pronouncing things more closely to nu: 'ɔ:rlɛ̃s (New Or-lins).

The funny thing is that the next-door neighbor who pointed the column out to my mother always knew my mom pronuced The City's name differently from how she did, but until seeing the Elie's column, she couldn't figure out how to spell my mother's pronunciation.

To go back to the column:
I point out these varying pronunciations primarily for the benefit of the good people visiting our city from the far corners of the American republic.

We New Orleanians are a varied race. We come in a variety of hues, inclinations and pronunciations.

We intend to nurture those things that make us different from you Americans, and even from one another, for years to come.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Home & Garden 

While my folks were in town, besides seeing some sites and other family members, we did get a little puttering around the house done. Between the fertility issues and work and general inertia, more than a few things around the house have been put off for too long and the winter has made things to do in the garden fall way behind on the to do list.

As soon as he got into the house, my father homed in on the rickety banister on the stairs. I've played with shims some to try to help stabilize it over the years, but my father called for the big guns: four-inch screws at various angles. It's at least 98% better (there's a little give at the curve, but nothing like it used to be), but I need to patch the holes in the post where the screws are going in and the gaps around the shims are a little obvious from certain angles, so I may have to fill the gap with some sort of plastic wood, assuming I can find one that will stain correctly.

Actually, what I need to do is to inventory all the little things that need doing (fix the plaster in the guest room and then paint, etc.) and to get them done, instead of being overwhelmed by the big things that need doing (redoing the kitchen, retiling the upstairs bathroom, replace all the windows, etc.).

We also took advantage of the nice weather on Sunday to do some quick things in the yard. Evelin put out the Adirondack chairs and cobbled together a little table between them from an old flower pot and a stray piece of slate, and I finally dug out the rest of the carrots we planted last spring.

I was surprise that only one was severely frostbitten and gross. The others were mostly on the small side and more than a few were oddly shaped, but they are nice and sweet and taking up a small bag in the fridge, available for snacking.

Now if we could just get our seedlings started for the coming year. Our last frost date isn't until 15 April or 1 May (depending upon which nursery you ask), so we have a little time, but the beds need some prep work and I'm sure a million other things need doing, too.

Monday, March 08, 2004

A Heartbeat and Itty Bitty Feets 

After getting my parents on their way back south, Evelin and I had our first meeting with the perinatologist. After a bit of talking about why we needed to see a high-risk OB/GYN and our concerns about possible chromosomal problems with this pregnancy based upon how genetically bad almost all the embryos were during our (failed) IVF/PGD cycle were, she got down to business and fired up the ultrasound machine.

Boom, there the little tadpole was on the screen, looking a bit curled up and the heart was fluttering away. The doctor turned on the speakers and we got to actually hear the heartbeat -- 173 bpm -- for the first time. It was amazingly loud and strong sounding, and the doctor said it was right where it should be.

She then did crown-to-rump measurements, and things were measuring right on track: 10 weeks, 3 (or 4) days, which keeps the estimated due date around 30 September/1 October.

Next up, the doctor took looks at different angles (and we got to see the legs stretch out, arms do a little shadow boxing, and a few whole body wiggles) and did the nuchal translucency scan. This is the first test we could do; it measures fluid levels in the folds of skin along the neck of the fetus to determine the possible risk of a chromosomal abnormality.

The danger point is fluid levels of >3 millimeters; all three measurements the doctor took were <2 millimeters, which is a relief. We still are going to have an amniocentesis sometime around 15 weeks, but this was a good first indicator (well that and the fact that this pregnancy has stuck around a lot longer than any previous one ...).

Big smiles today. Very big smiles.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Cousins and Canals 

Day two of the parental visit was equally as fun as the first. We had a very nice visit with my cousin in Georgetown in the morning; we really need to see more of her and her husband, but I find myself being swamped with work and then things that need doing around the house, plus I want to go here or there, that we end up not bothering to visit with friends and/or relatives in the area. It's bad of me, I know, but I'm sure it's one of my worse antisocial tendencies ...

After Georgetown, we headed out to Great Falls, which was quite crowded, but tons of people with dogs walking along the C&O Canal towpath. The Potomac was quite high and water was rushing quite vigorously through most of the channels around/through Olmstead Island.

For dinner, my folks took us out to Samantha's, and the food was even better this time than when we went with K--- and the singing priests were there.

Now everyone is overfull and in bed. I'm trying to stay up late enough to make sure that I don't wake up in the middle of the night (I'm still having insomnia as part of my couvades symptoms) but it's not even 10:00 p.m. and I'm feeling drowsy ...

Oh, and despite a disappointing a bad inning or two causing the BoSox to fall to the Hated Yankees in a Spring Training game, Bronson Arroyo had a fantastic outing allowing only one hit in four innings. This year is the year.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Trading (Air and) Space Museums 

My folks are in town this weekend, which means we got to visit the new National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center out near Washington Dulles International Airport. My father is a big airplane buff, so we've been putting off visiting the new museum until he came to town.

It is HUGE and packed full of planes, ranging from a few World War I era planes up through the space shuttle and a lot of World War II era planes from all combatants.

In a lot of ways, it's easy to be overwhelmed by all these planes crammed into one space, but it also is amazing to look down into the cockpit of the Enola Gay or up into the engines of an SR-71A Blackbird.

At the same time, there are so many planes crammed into all the available space, that it is hard to appreciate any one individual plane. Plus looking up into so many of these machines from ground level gives such a limited perspective on them that it's easy to get lost in little details -- the curves of the wings, details of the landing gear, decals or nose art, etc.

We only spent about two hours there before Evelin and my mom were feeling a bit tired and hungry (and the only on-site food service was boxed lunches from Subway), so we headed out for the day, but I'm sure I could spend a good bit more time there, especially once they finish restoration of Space Shuttle Enterprise and can open up the entire Space Age room/wing. (Hopefully that will also let them free up a little more space in the main hanger, either adding more planes or giving some of them a little less tight of spacing ...)

Thursday, March 04, 2004

I am ... 




You're the United Nations!

Most people think you're ineffective, but you are trying to completely save the world from itself, so there's always going to be a long way to go.  You're always the one trying to get friends to talk to each other, enemies to talk to each other, anyone who can to just talk instead of beating each other about the head and torso.

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, and you get very schizophrenic as a result.  But your heart is in the right place, and sometimes also in New York.


Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid

I'm not sure what to make of this; some of it fits, other parts not so much so (especially the bit about New York; the state has a lot of beautiful places, but I just don't get the appeal of New York City ... and don't get me started on the Hated Yankees). Oddly enough, according to the cumulative results page, most people who take the quiz are the United Nations while the least common result is Bhutan. Quiz found at Blog Over Troubled Water.

[MEA CULPA: Sorry for the cop out of an entry, but I plead work overload ...]

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Politricks 

Sometimes I think to myself
Should I vote red for my class or green for our children?
But whatever choice I make
I will not forsake
*
It's Super Tuesday and while I was standing in line to vote this morning, I kept going back and forth in my mind about what I would do. I supported Howard Dean's campaign and my plan has been to vote for him so long as he was on the ballot.

But as the election neared, I've been thinking more tactically about my vote. As it stands Dean is not going to win the primary, but I do want the DNC to remember that he is the one who brought the party back to life after the fiasco that was the 2002 mid-term elections. For that reason, I voted for the seven Dean-pledged delegates on the ballot. I want Dean's voice heard loudly and clearly in Boston.

However, on the line that will be reported in the media tonight and tomorrow, I voted for John Edwards.

This was a tactical decision. I can support John Kerry in the autumn, and I will gladly assuming he wins the nomination. The same is true of Edwards. Both of them are solid candidates, and either would be phenomenally better for the country than the current occupant of the White House. That said, if I were to choose between the two, I think Edwards is the better campaigner but my thinking lines up more with Kerry.

So why did I vote for Edwards? In the end, I think the continuation of the primary process is better for the country and for the candidates. Even though Kerry has been turning more and more of his attention to Bush, seems to do better as a candidate when someone is pushing at him.

And Edwards has been a good, relatively positive campaigner. I think part of what hurt Dean was how negative he and Gephardt got with each other the week before Iowa. So long as Edwards keeps things cordial -- and both he and Kerry keep reminding the people that the problem is Bush -- then it can only help.

The other thing is that so long as the primaries are considered competitive, there will be regular coverage of the candidates, the debates, the process, the issues, etc. That helps keep Kerry and Edwards in the news, countering the advantage of incumbency.

During the 2000 election, there was a small-scale tactical voting effort with Nader voters in close states being urged to vote Gore in return for Gore voters in safe (or lost) states voting for Nader. There were some complaints that such vote swapping violated the spirit of the electoral process if not actually violating the law, but considering how the electoral college works, I can't think of a better way to ensure that one's vote is effective.

As happened in New Hampshire and Florida in 2000, it is possible for a Green Party candidate and a Democratic candidate to split the moderate to liberal to progressive vote allowing a (far) right-of-center candidate to win.

Over the past few elections in the U.K., Labour, LimDems, and other parties have been using tactical voting to help ensure that the Tories don't win in constituencies where they may have the support of a plurality but not of a majority.

I can see how some would think such voting efforts are contrary to how the system should work, but when you have things like gerrymandering of Congressional distracts for partisan gain, including redrawing districts more frequently than once per census period, coordinating efforts between individuals and parties in different constituencies to ensure the best-possible outcome sounds like a good idea to me.

I also think such efforts could be the best way for third parties to get a foothold in our current system. If the Green Party could tactically conspire with the Democratic Party about what races are contested by who in which districts, it could strengthen both parties. In some elections, the Greens and Dems could be rivals -- witness the 2003 San Francisco mayoral race -- but in others they could be partners, the same way the Conservative Party in New York partners with the state Republican Party some times.

* Lyrics from "From Red to Blue" by Billy Bragg. The use of red and blue in the song doesn't match up with the U.S. context where red is used for the Republicans and blue for the Democrats, but the sentiment still fits.
I hate the compromises that life forces us to make
We must all bend a little if we are not to break
But the ideals you've opted out of,
I still hold them to be true

Monday, March 01, 2004

Evergreens and Shark Teeth 

It looks like it's going to be one of those weeks at work, so I may miss an entry or two this week.

Over the weekend, Evelin I had a fairly sedate time. On Saturday, we both spent a bit of time on work: Evelin grading papers and me editing some things. In the afternoon, however, we headed out to the National Arboretum.

Of course, the last weekend in February isn't the most exciting weekend to go to a plant zoo, but the weather was quite nice and it was fairly crowded. Most of the trees, grasses, ferns, etc., were still in full winter mode, but we did see some cornelian cherry dogwood trees (Cornus mas) whose buds were starting to pop and the conifer collection had a lot of neat looking trees.

Since we got there so late, we only had a little time to walk around the evergreens comparing different types of pinecones before an Arboretum security car drove past letting everyone know the place was going to close in five minutes, cutting short our trying to figure out whether or not we could nick a few seeds and then get the same sort of tree to grow in our yard.

On Sunday, we headed out in the morning for southern Maryland.

We took some of the longer side trails down to the bay and back at Calvert Cliffs State Park. Instead of taking the main trail straight to the cliffs, we looped along the nature trail and over to another trail that connected us back with the cliff trail about a mile or so later.

Heading past the beaver-caused lake and swamp, we got to the cliffs and found absolutely no fossils. To be fair, we didn't really dig through the sand much and the water was too cold to head into to sift out anything of interest from among the rocks, bits of broken shell and lumps of clay.

After taking the longer loop back to the parking lot, we headed down to the Calvert Marine Museum.

A few months ago, the museum put on display the lower jaw of a Miocene-epoch whale that was found in the cliffs. It is the first thing one sees when entering the museum and mostly looks like a big mess swathed in plaster and burlap with stray shells and bits of mud surrounding the bone. Still, it's amazing that this bit of bone was swimming around Maryland a few million years ago.

The rest of the museum is divided into natural history and social history. The natural history part is centered on a recreation of a megatooth white shark skeleton, one of only two in the world. Megatooth (Carcharodon megalodon) was giant precursor of the great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias)and the skeleton is huge (12 meters). To create the skeleton, museum staff from the Calvert Marine Museum and the South African Museum in Cape Town used the teeth and other fossil remnants found in the Chesapeake as well as information extrapolated from studies and dissections of great whites.

After the fossil section, the museum has several aquariums highlighting different aquatic ecosystems in Calvert County -- mostly fish, but a few crabs, seahorses, jellyfish, too -- and, heading outside, a great river otter enclosure. The two otters (Lutra canadensis) are just a bundle of energy, tumbling in and out of the water, wrestling, and swimming every which way. There are a lot of Kongs and other toys in the enclosure to keep them occupied, and it seems to work. I didn't see any signs of stereotypy common to a lot of animals in captivity.

We then moved into the human history of the region and took a tour of the Drum Point lighthouse, which was decommissioned in 1962 and eventually moved to the museum, which restored it to its circa 1900 condition. A screwpile, cottage-type lighthouse, it has a pretty good amount of living space, including a great deck below the main body of the house. It would probably be less than fun in a hurricane, but I could image living in one of these.

After the museum, we tried to get something to eat in Solomons Island, but the town was doing "A Taste of Solomons," and every place was packed. (Instead of having a central area with each restaurant having a stand where you could sample things, the samples were being given out at each restaurant, which made things a bit crowded.) Instead, we stopped at an ice-cream parlor for a cone and headed home.

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