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Of record collections and cabinetry

Quotation of the Day for June 30, 2008

“It’s no good pretending that any relationship has a future if your record collections disagree violently or if your favorite films wouldn’t even speak to each other if they met at a party.”

– Nick Hornby

Back a million years ago when my record collection kept to itself, I used to file them in the order I acquired them. This made perfect sense to me — if you want The Smiths, check the shelf of stuff I bought in 1986 — but of course it was utterly impenetrable to anyone else. I think it took several years of cohabitation before I was talked into blending our collections, going with the more conventionally sensible (but soulless!) alphabetic scheme of organization. The collections seem to agree well enough.

Our film choices would definitely speak to each other if they met at a party. “My Tiger Claw beats your Drowning Monkey,” one would say, and the other would say “No! Drowning Monkey is the best kung fu! Die, fool!” and off they’d rumble until Kung Fu Mom stepped in to trounce them both.

I am recording this here as solid evidence that we do, in our house, generally get along, as we contemplate the possibility that if we want our kitchen installed before the middle of August, we may have to do it ourselves. Like, together. Because it’s hard to hang wall cabinets solo. Stupid booked-up Ikea installers…

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Larval kitchen

Kitchens, at least, ours, have a larval form, in which they appear in vast numbers (159, to be exact) of bags and boxes:

Unassembled kitchen - 2

Unassembled kitchen - 1

How long is the larval phase? We shall see.

Countertops have an extra, post-larval delay phase, since they won’t come to make final measurements for those until the cabinets are in place. But fine. At this point, what’s another month?

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Can’t get much shorter than that without LOLspeak

LIT 101 CLASS IN THREE LINES OR LESS.

1984

WINSTON: Don’t tell the Party, but sex is way better than totalitarianism.

EVERYONE: Surprise! We’re the Party.

WINSTON: Oh, rats.

They’re all pretty good — I’ll only quote the one, but The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe and Paradise Lost are also excellent.

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What can evolution tell us about one-night stands?

According to the BBC and a bunch of other coverage of a study published in Human Nature, it tells us that women aren’t as likely as are men to enjoy a one-night stand:

Just under half of women who answered the internet poll, published in the journal “Human Nature”, said they felt it had been a bad idea.

Four out of five men, in contrast, said they were happy with a brief fling.

Note the manipulative presentation of the numbers. In actuality, 54% of women and 80% of men enjoyed their brief romps, but that doesn’t seem as extreme a difference as “just under half” of women regretting it and “four in five” men enjoying it. But however we phrase these results, does this lead us to conclusions about, say, the ability of men to please women the very first time they hop in the sack together? Or perhaps conclusions about people who answer Internet polls about their sex lives? No, of course not. Women’s dissatisfaction must be evolution in action.

“In evolutionary terms women bear the brunt of parental care and it has been generally thought that it was to their advantage to choose their mate carefully and remain faithful to make sure that their mate had no reason to believe he was raising another man’s child.

“Recently, biologists have suggested that females could benefit from mating with many men – it would increase the genetic diversity of their children, and, if a high quality man would not stay with them forever, they might at least get his excellent genes for their child.”

However, she said that if women were designed by evolution for short-term relationships, they would enjoy them more, and the survey suggested this was not the case.

Coming down to earth from those lofty clouds of conjecture, now: what does evolution tell those of us in the reality-based community about behaviour?

Nothing. Really, really nothing. Behaviour is cultural. People’s emotional responses to circumstances — and I’m not talking about basic nervous-system, fight-or-flight-inducing circumstances, but everyday happenings — are culturally driven. You can’t conclude a darn thing from them about evolution.

Of course you can get lots of media attention if you try to do so anyway, particularly if — as in this study — you conclude that there’s something wrong with women.

Salon (Men: Score! Women: Whoops!) is so far the only media coverage of this I’ve seen that even mentions culture:

I’d sooner believe that this study illustrates the familiar stud-slut double standard. Even young women of the hookup generation — and I am one — aren’t immune to culturally commanded sexual shame; greater permissiveness toward one-night stands doesn’t necessarily make it easy for women to feel proud of their sexploits. On the same note, it’s no surprise women report less sexual satisfaction from their hookups: Plenty of women don’t exactly experience sexual shame as an aphrodisiac, and hookup culture doesn’t emphasize female pleasure so much as it does humping like bunny rabbits.

So: +1 points for Salon for addressing the culture aspect. A sharp slap with a wet noodle to Human Nature’s peer reviewers, who should not have published such a flawed study, and a big “boo, hiss” to all the science reporters who covered it without turning on their brains.

Peter Pan



Peter Pan

Originally uploaded by morecoffeeplease.

M’s first dance recital. We were a little nervous, since she hadn’t done such a thing before and only recently ceased bursting into tears at the sight of large crowds, but she did excellently as a “Lost Kid”. Costumes! Makeup (which I had to go buy, as I don’t generally keep blush, bright red lipstick or blue eyeshadow in the house)! Apparently it was all “sweet”.

D, who has not in his life had the joy of experiencing children’s dance shows, was duly initiated. Tap dancing Indians (I think I wore the same costume as Tiger Lily in about 1979)! Hip-hop crocodiles! Tiny fairies, one of whom grinned but didn’t move for the entire dance! Brilliant stuff.

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This is not a drill

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Cool wand!

(via the lovely Melle)

A GenX call to arms against Millenials.

One need look no further than the local newsstand to see the favoritism the Millennials have received. Whereas Generation X was routinely denigrated by the press, the Millennials have been compared to World War II’s Greatest Generation. In Robert Strauss and Neil Howe’s Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation, the authors state authoritatively that “over the next decade, the Millennial Generation will entirely recast the image of youth from downbeat and alienated to upbeat and engaged.”

Sure, Generation X survived AIDS, Reagan, the Cold War, Tipper Gore, and A Flock of Seagulls, but those adversities, suggest Strauss and Howe, pale in comparison to what Millennials face today. Consider the stress of having to juggle a 30-hour work week while simultaneously maintaining Facebook, MySpace, and Flickr accounts. It’s enough to make your head spin! And maybe the Millennials never faced Hitler’s forces on the beaches of Normandy, but had they been around in 1944 (and had the technology existed), you can bet they would have blogged about it.

That’s how the light gets in

I took my dad to the Leonard Cohen concert on Sunday.

Ah, Leonard.

My officemate flew to Halifax a few weeks ago to see him, and before she left the two of us attempted to explain this mild insanity to a Romanian colleague:

Romanian colleague: So this guy’s in his seventies?
Us: Yeah.
RC: And he’s a poet? Who sings?
Us. An excellent poet. But, well, he never did have much of a voice really.
RC: And you’d run off with him?
Us: HELL YEAH. It’s your patriotic duty as a Canadian female, just like Pierre Trudeau (before he died, that is).
RC: If you say so. (Contemplates delaying her citizenship application.) See you next week then.
Me: ….unless you run off with Leonard.
Officemate: Unless I do. But I’ll call from Paris.

But it’s not just women, of course (quote from here):

Correctional officer Vernon Silver, 53, a married father of two stepchildren, will travel from Sault Ste. Marie to see Cohen this June.

Silver has been a fan since he was 17 for this simple reason: “Leonard says the things I wish I could say when I talk to women.”

Fortunately the shows were worth a plane flight. It was as close to perfect as a live show can get — and never mind that the main performer is 73 and never could sing all that well. The instrumentation was brilliant; the arrangements inspired, the sound mixing excellent, the musicians wonderful, the set list well-considered and entirely satisfactory. The only sad things is that it’ll probably be his last tour — it’s likely he wouldn’t have toured again at all, if his financial advisor hadn’t made off with all but a small portion of his money. So I’ll have to join Nancy White:

I was listening to music as I swept the kitchen floor.
I was needing a shampoo and I was pushing 44.
And I had one of those flashes that hits you now and then
About experience manqué and certain sadly missing men.
And I realized in horror as I stroked my double chin,
Leonard Cohen’s never gonna bring my groceries in.

Also, I suppose I shall at last have to give up my vague fantasy about losing half my body weight, getting implants, learning to walk in heels and being one of his backup singers. Oh well. Can’t have everything in life I suppose.

Happy retirement, Leonard. Just call if you ever need company in Paris.

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Ow, my brain

Antimatter: does it fall up or down?

Fascinating to think about, and now they’ve designed an experiment (download the PDF) which will, with luck, provide an answer. But reading the paper made something in my brain seize up, I think.

(h/t to Slashdot)

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New glasses



New glasses

Originally uploaded by morecoffeeplease.

Woo, I can see again! Although I’m still in that new-glasses phase where the ground isn’t quite where you expect it to be.

I love the Internet, pt. 7 billion and 2

GraphJam: pop culture in graph form = much geeky happiness.

song chart memes

song chart memes

song chart memes

Book a Month Challenge #5: Mother

(http://bamchallenge.wordpress.com/2008/05/01/challenge-5-mother)

I cheerfully tossed Andrea Buchanan’s Mother shock : loving every (other) minute of it and (perhaps less cheerfully) Susan Wicklund’s This common secret : my journey as an abortion doctor on my library hold list, intending to review one or the other. Neither of them has yet turned up, but coincidentally the library coughed up Identical Strangers: A memoir of twins separated and reunited instead and it is certainly a book that approaches the concept of “mother” from many angles.

Identical StrangersElyse Schein and Paula Bernstein were given up at birth and were adopted into separate families, possibly because the adoption clinic’s consulting psychiatrist believed it was better for twins to be separated and possibly for the much less altruistic reason that she wanted to study certain aspects of heritability. The families were never told the children were twins, and it isn’t discovered until Elyse — in her 30s — embarks on a search for her birth mother.

You can imagine the issues of identity of self, of the family in which you were raised, of the family you’re now raising, of how to negotiate the new relationship with your twin, that would arise if out of the blue in your 30s it arose that not only did you have an identical twin, but the two of you may have been part of a bizarrely unethical scientific experiment.

Both twins write with amazing honesty (they alternate passages, so their individual voices remain distinct) about their experiences — I’m impressed that they were willing to put so much openness into their writing. It makes the book one part ruminations about self, family, and motherhood and one part mystery — why were they separated? Who was their mother anyway? It would be hard to say more without tossing in spoilers, so I’ll leave it at that. Recommended.

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Europe’s Best

Ah yes, Europe’s Best, purveyor of frozen veggie blends.

Europe's Best - Product of China

Europe apparently extends further east than I previously suspected:

Europe's Best - Product of China

Plush roadkill

(hat tip to Boing Boing)

Plush roadkill

…to go with your plush guts and plush microbes, of course.

Book a Month Challenge #4: Beauty

(http://bamchallenge.wordpress.com/2008/04/01/challenge-4-beauty/)

Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery
by Alex Kuczynski

Beauty JunkiesThe initial tone of this book is wildly uncritical — she skims quickly past the notions that half the American population isn’t comfortable with their looks and are subjected to a constant barrage of images of surgically-sculpted perfection and gets right into the how-to without a backward glance at the deeper issues. Kuczynski is a journalist, not a scientist or an investigator, and she clearly goes for sensationalism over depth or meaning. For example, she leaves uncommented this interview with Dr. Suzanne Lepine, a Manhattan specialist in cosmetic surgery for, of all things, feet:

We live in a fifteen-second culture,” she said. “That’s how long it takes, I believe, for a man to look at you and decide if he will be in love with you. That is it. And if you’re wearing stiletto sandals and your feet look like hell, he’s not even going to give you the time of day.”

A man won’t love you, Levine reasons, or even give himself the chance of falling in love with you, if you have a bunion peeping out of your $500 evening sandal. Tough town, I said.

“Tough town, that’s for sure,” she said. “It sets its own standards. People overreact. I had one woman come in who wanted me to do liposuction of the toe. I mean, that’s even over the top for me.”

What happened to the patient?

“I told her to go see a shrink instead,” Levine said.

When I left, Levine asked me if I knew any good single men.

Yikes. Talk about the need for a psychiatrist and a smack upside the head with a book on feminist theory. To be clear: if a man rejects you on the basis of fifteen seconds’ worth of gazing at your unpedicured, unsculpted toes, your foot should be applied swiftly to his ass as you boot him out the door, not taken to a surgeon. (But I digress.)

In later chapters Kuczynski does a reasonable job at covering the risks of surgery and gives a fairly impassioned schpeel on the need for potential clients to check the qualifications of their putative surgeons; she doesn’t skip discussion of the risks at all. Still, she doesn’t ever really address anything beyond the who, what, how, and how much money of plastic surgery — the background societal issues remain unexamined. Which, to be fair, is probably beyond what might reasonably be expected from this book: Kuczynski set out to explore the world of plastic surgery, and given that parameter she’s done a fine job. It’s a very decent factual piece which would make a respectable accompaniment to some deeper analysis.

Yeah that.

No! Not more primaries!

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Upward!

Last year she was juuust a bit too short to climb this tree at the park. No longer! She’s about eight feet up off the ground here:

M climbing a tree at the park

M climbing a tree at the park

I like the colours — spring drabness broken by the bright-yellow forsythia and M’s fuschia dress (which she insisted on wearing for her tree-climbing exploits).

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Sometimes the blog posts, they write themselves.

Me: It’s time to go inside. We need to make some dinner.

M: Can I watch a movie?

Me: No, it’s not the weekend yet. Why don’t you play with your Webkinz on the computer?

M: Nooooo. I want to just sit and watch a movie.

D: Hey, I know. Why don’t you come upstairs and play with your Nintendo?

M: Noooo! Nintendo’s too active!

Falafels and process

Just down the street from my office, and around the corner from D.’s old office, there was a falafel place with much promise. The area is high on all varieties of Asian but decent shawarma is a little thin on the ground.

I went there a couple of times and each time I had a terrible time getting my order. They’d take my order, nod confidently, do twenty-seven other things seemingly randomly, deliver orders to people before and after me also quite randomly, then eventually deliver me something close to but not quite exactly what I’d ordered and charge me a random amount of money for it. They had no process. It was like an extreme version of Starbucks’ tendency to produce drinks for three people who ordered after I did before finally coughing up something vaguely resembling my drink five minutes later.

The food at the falafel place was good but I quit going there: apparently I am too anal for that sort of free-for-all and it made me tense. It seems I need a visible and knowable process in my lunch preparations. The roti place, for example. You come in and line up in one clearly indicated line to order and pay. Then you switch to another clearly indicated line and wait for your food, which is prepared in order. It’s all very transparent and obvious. You know how long it’ll be before yours is ready, and then when it’s your turn you can watch and make sure you’re getting what you asked for plus extra hot sauce and no bag thanks. It’s all very pleasing and efficient.

D., however, ate at the falafel place regularly. Perhaps it’s all the time he spent in the Middle East but the place never gave him the same case of (admittedly mockable) nerves. Eventually, he said, a new guy started there and he had A System.

And so I went back, with high hopes.

This time they forgot my order entirely, although (as it was 2pm) I was one of only three people in the place and there were three people behind the counter.

We figured I was jinxed and perhaps D. needed to accompany me. But then D.’s office moved and the falafel place closed. Another mystery never to be solved.

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Neil Gaiman on Douglas Adams

From an introduction to a biography:

After he died, I was interviewed a lot, asked about Douglas. I said that I didn’t think that he had ever been a novelist, not really, despite having been an internationally best-selling novelist who had written several books which are, a quarter of a century later, becoming seen as classics. Writing novels was a profession he had backed into, or stumbled over, or sat down on very suddenly and broken.

I think that perhaps what Douglas was was probably something we don’t even have a word for yet. A Futurologist, or an Explainer, or something. That one day they’ll realise that the most important job out there is for someone who can explain the world to itself in ways that the world won’t forget. Who can dramatise the plight of endangered species as easily (or at least, as astonishingly well, for nothing Douglas did was ever exactly easy) as he can explain to an analog race what it means to find yourself going digital. Someone whose dreams and ideas, practical or impractical, are always the size of a planet, and who is going to keep going forward, and taking the rest of us with him.