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Comments on the world from Oak Park, Illinois. Politics, social issues, pop culture and weird-o observations run amuck here.

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April 11th, 2009

Doctorow’s Little Brother

Last June, Wil Wheaton posted about a book he shared with his son Nolan called Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow (of Boing Boing).  His entry piqued my interest – a book written for young adults and adults alike on privacy rights and such.  Here’s the gist: It’s current-to-near-future San Francisco; terrorists attack in a major way, and a few teenage hackers get detained and questioned by the Department of Homeland Security.  The experience changes them forever; not only are they broken and disillusioned by their own government, but the changes they see being adopted all around them – tighter surveillance, increased government monitoring and profiling, loss of human rights, etc. – shake them to their core and go against every belief they have.  So they fight back.

I’m only about 100 pages in.  To me, its not the most gripping book I’ve ever read, although its definitely addictive, but its definitely one of the most important.  I’m a big proponent of privacy rights for a few reasons, and what I like about Doctorow’s work here is that he’s making these issues accessible and relevant to the everyman. if I had a teenager, I’d make him/her read this just like Wil passed it to his son, because these are civil rights issues that are playing increasingly large roles in the development of our culture in post-terrorism America.

As you might guess, the title of the book plays off the Big Brother presence in Orwell’s 1984.  The creepiest thing about it, though, is that George was writing about a time decades into the future.  I fall into the habit of thinking Doctorow is doing the same, until he makes some reference that plants me securely in present-day.  And then I pause and think to myself, “Oh god.  This could actually happen.  This isn’t a warning for the future, but a caution for ourselves today.”  Essentially, Little Brother says to readers, “Look, here’s what we’re capable of.  Here is what fear might encourage us all to do.  Make a choice – will you accept it, or not, and what are the consequences of your decision?”

Not that I’m all screw-the-government or whatever.  I’m not, and I make a conscious choice most days to trust government and the people in it.  I figure, they’re the ones with the inside info, so in general I’m not going to disagree with them (mostly…).  I’m not a conspiracy theorist, and I’m not an activist.  But I believe that everyone, included those in power, needs to be kept in check.  This book is a great excuse to explore the hows and whys of that kind of issue.

Read, enjoy, and share with others.  I will be curious to hear your  thoughts once you’ve finished it.

UPDATE: Oh my god, so addicted!!  Read it, read it right now!  Around page 211 I found myself effectively drawn in, but now that I’m even farther, I can’t stop.  The thought of putting this book down to go to work is absolutely next to impossible.  I take it back.  It is gripping.

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April 3rd, 2009

Colophon

I love Wired magazine more than words can express.  Well, that’s not true.  But I love it a lot.   It contains enough information to keep me informed on both technology and current events, but it is never dry.  Invariably, in every issue I read an article that is so captivating I read it as intently as a novel and I end it by saying to myself, “That was the best piece of magazine journalism I’ve ever read.” And it’s true…until the next issue when another article moves me to declare anew my love for Wired.

To me, one of Wired‘s strengths is the fact that it has a clear, developed identity.  I know what to expect on the pages, and yet I am never bored.  Editoral comments are sprinkled throughout the columns with wit and personality.  I love it.  This is most evident in two of my favorite things in the magazine, which I only recently discovered – the letters to the editor and the colophon.  The colophon is the fine print at the end of the magazine that holds all the disclaimers and legal jargon that publishers are required to display in its pages.  What makes Wired so unique is that it also displays a list of things that helped or hindered the production of the issue – like “Mysteries that helped get this issue out,” which includes insignificant events like a writer’s lost socks or something, or “Ironies that helped get this issue out” which included a power outage that occured right as they were developing their essay on the problems with the modern electrical grid.

I have not been blogging lately, but it is not for want of ideas; simply for want of time.  So, I present to you a colophon of my own, titled, “Impediments that helped this blog remain untouched.”  Enjoy?

  1. Wired magazine (I was behind by 4 issues and had to catch up.)
  2. Wired blogs
  3. Brookfield Zoo
  4. Historical novels about Tudor England (see right side of blog)
  5. A new guinea pig cage
  6. The Field Museum
  7. The Spicy
  8. My birthday (and its associated belated birthday dinners)
  9. Sad events
  10. Falling asleep on the couch while Grant watches Good Eats
  11. A new-found addiction to House Hunters on HGTV
  12. Google Reader Shared Items
  13. Fuzzy animals on YouTube (always an uphill battle for me)
  14. Garfield Minus Garfield
  15. TiVo
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March 27th, 2009

Stupid People Are Funny

Sorry for going MIA for awhile.  I kind of did a no-internets-thing for a couple weeks, ignoring my RSS feeds and my blog.  It was glorious at first, and I got a lot of chores done!  Then…I missed my creature comforts and felt disconnected.  I’m not sure which is a sadder comment on modern society – that we must make a conscious effort to pare down on technology usage in order to do RL things, or that it haunts you after enough time away.  The Internet is like cigarettes!  I think?  I’ve never smoked before…..

Anyway, now, I’m bouncing back in to the Internets full speed and have an exciting afternoon of blogging and blog-reading and rss-feed-subscribing ahead of me.  Although I also need to do dishes.  Who will win in this ultimate battle of good vs. gooder?  (I leave you to decide which is which.)  For now, enjoy a few examples of Stupid-People-Are-Funny, and thanks to Vvicked for getting me started on this path in the first place today.  Damn google shared items…..

20 Most Ridiculous Complaints by UK Tourists

Most Awesome if Strange Complaint Letter

10 Bad Habits of Geek Spouses (funnily enough, Grant displays half of these, and I display the other half.   Two sides of the same coin? Perhaps.  Lame? Undoubtedly)

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February 22nd, 2009

The Faux Oscars

OK, where are my Academy Awards?  You know the ones I mean – where everything is red and gold and glam, where I laugh, cry and exclaim, “Grant, we have to see that movie!” Where I glue myself to the speeches from beginning to end and just soak in the elegance? WHERE DID THEY GO?

As you might have picked up on, this years Oscars really frosted my cookies, for the following main complaints:

  1. First, I just miss having a comedian host the Academy Awards.  The pithy remarks, the off-the-cuff comments on people’s speeches, dresses or attitudes.
  2. There’s a lot of blue and black all around….
  3. Tiny stage?  I think so.
  4. High School Musical stars presenting and performing?  Seriously, Oscar?
  5. What is up with the all the film montages sprinkled throughout the awards?  “Romance was in the air in the films of 2008.”  Yeah, well, name me a year where romance didn’t play a role in movies.
  6. AND NOW BEYONCE AND HUGH JACKMAN ARE DOING A LARGE MUSICAL NUMBER?  WHY??  IS THIS MELODY NOMINATED FOR AN AWARD? NO?  THEN BACK THE F DOWN.  OH GOD DAMMIT, THERE ARE THOSE HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL KIDS AGAIN…

My biggest complaint is that the camera did not center in on the In Memoriam montage and instead panned back and forth from the theatre’s large screen to Queen Latifah singing.  Now, I think the singing bit was good, but I couldn’t see a large portion of the montage.  I don’t mean to be morbid, but that is one of my favorite parts of Oscar night.  I really appreciate the chance to honor those who have passed, and I was pissed that I couldn’t properly engage (oh, and see).  I was disappointed and angered.

I think they did a few things right.  I really like how the actors and actresses who won previous Oscars introduced the current nominees.  What Shirley McClaine said about/to Anne Hathaway was almost as good, if not better than an Oscar.  On the flip side, I think we can all agree Halle Berry did not see the film she spoke of.

So yeah, what’s up Academy?  Did you just try to “modernize”?  Is this the new, hip Oscar?  Let’s reevaluate.  Some things can stick around, but go through it with a fine-toothed comb.

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February 22nd, 2009

Yummy Lead Books!!!

Books printed before 1985 might contain lead.  That does not surprise me.  So now the U.S. government wants to ban the distribution of any pre-1985 book just in case it’s harmful.  That, also, does not surprise me.  Because it’s idiotic.   Especially because you’d have to actually eat the books to even run the risk of poisoning yourself.  As the blog post linked above put it:

Now, you might object that a child would have to eat a great many copies of the Partridge Family Special 1972 before enough lead was in his or her bloodstream to do any damage. And you’d be right, as there has never been a case of a child killed, wounded or mentally impaired by exposure to a browning reproduction of David Cassidy’s face. However, mere facts rarely have much force against the juggernaut of ill-thought-out laws rushed through in a blur of media hype.

I will not even attempt to be snarky about this issue because the blog I linked above does it so brilliantly well, while complexifying the issue with ease.  It’s not just about the blanket “thou shalt not” quality of this law, but rather the wave of implications this law will pose for secondhand shops (secondhand bookshops most harshly), charity centers and libraries.  It’s astonishing when you actually think about the ramifications of this law.  Making it illegal to distribute books printed 20 years ago potentially cuts off the public from a large portion of literature, while also threatening to put hundreds out of business, and/or at a severe disadvantage.

Vedict: Stop being stupid, U.S. government.

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February 14th, 2009

Truly the Quintessential Meet n’ Greet

This weekend is the annual meeting for the American Association for the Advancement of Science. It’s in Chicago, so naturally I am in attendance. Fortunately for me, my work with AWIS qualifies me as a member of the press, and thus I attend for free.  Its basically a chance to listen to scientists talk about cool stuff.  As we all know, I’m all about that.

In addition to being a meeting of minds, it’s also a meeting of people, and there are various mixers, breakfasts and other social events for people to meet and network.  This evening was no different – downtown at the Aon Club, a gathering was held for science writers to mix, mingle and chat.  There was food, drinks, and even a band and dancefloor.  I went, hoping to meet some people from the biggies (Wired, Time, Science) or some of the specialty publications like Space.com, or locals like Chicago Tribune or even some tiny little publications.  I figured I could meet some friendly faces and maybe make some good contacts to get freelance work, or hell, maybe even a foot in the door for a job.

However, when i got there, the place was full of so many people it was intimidating, and the music was so loud you couldn’t get a read on what people were discussing.  Normally, I’d pass by and listen to a snipet of what people in a cluster were saying to figure out if they were friends or coworkers (and thus, keep walking) or strangers conversing (and thus potentially join in).  So, with that option out the window, and with the event much larger than I had expected, I panicked a bit.   Here is how the night went.

8:05: Arrive at networking event fashionably late.  (Oh god, there are a lot of people here.  Nice bathroom!  Complementary mouthwash.  Swanky…)

8:07: Crap, everyone is already paired and grouped up. Go to the bar.  “Gin and tonic, lemon no lime, please.”

8:10: Good good, drink in hand. Now, circulate and find a group to join or person to meet.

8:12: Huh.

8:14: Circulate!  Oh god, FIND someone. Recall the part of the movie Bridget Jones Diary when she’s at a book launch party and keeps telling herself to circulate throughout the room, oozing intelligence.

8:20: Found a woman by herself.  She was short and old, which made her not intimidating.  Turns out she is a Wilmette native who wrote a book about natural places to visit in Chicago – parks, lakefront, prairies, etc.  The book was written 10 years ago, though, and although I ask her a lot about herself, she asks very little about me.  The conversation is essentially rather boring, so I excuse myself.  Bust.

8:25: Not sure what to do next, so I decide to station myself next to a window. Look out the window, over Millennium Park.  Realize this is right next to a building where my friend rented a condo for a couple months.

8:28: Text to Carrie from School: “I’m right by your Chicago condo complex. :)”

8:30: Circulate throughout the room, oozing intelligence.

8:31: Circulate throughout the room, oozing intelligence.

8:32: Circulate throughout the room, oozing intelligence.

8:33: Circulate throughout the room, oozing intelligence.

8:34: Circulate throughout the room, oozing OH GOD, I am Bridget Jones.  OK, this has to stop. Text to Carrie: “Dear God.  How do you mingle w strangers?”

8:35: Forward message to Carrie to several other people who might have advice or consolation for me.  Genuine fear has set in. Station self near another window.  Look comfortable and at ease, dude. Text from Carrie: “Well, you ask them about themselves.  Most people love talking about themselves.” Write back to tell her its the approach I’m finding hard.

8:38: Woman comes up to me -YAY! Begin to feel excited and confident that my standing still by a window paid off until she says, “Hi.  You looked alone and pretty unsure of what to do while you nursed your drink, so I thought I should come over and talk to you!” Oh god, I suck. It makes me feel about 2 inches tall, but at least she means well.  Conversation is rather pedantic and consists mainly of awkward inconsequential small talk.  She’s not a journalist, but is here with her husband.  We have nothing in common.  I excuse myself, inventing an exit line. “Thanks for coming over and chatting; I’m going to make a call to see if my friend from the Tribune is still planning to come by. Nice to meet you.”  (Note: there is no friend from the Tribune – I made him up.)  “Thanks again for chatting.” Stop thanking her!  She came over because you looked pathetic.  Now you sound pathetic too!  Get away!

8:45: Check text messages.  From Lizzy: “What? Where are you? Small talk is brutal.” (Respond: “Ugh, Meet n greet.”) From VoW: “Find the geeks. Stare down the boring and creepy ones.” (Respond: “Yes! Hmmmm.”) From Carrie: “Well, pick a group, not too small, not too big. Find something to notice about them…necklace, shoes, book.  Introduce and ask about them.  You’re in!” (Respond: “Compliment!  OK.”) From Jason, and others: “I hate mingling.” From Grant: “You’re asking the wrong person.  Going OK in general?” (Respond: “50/50.  But tortuous.”)

8:52: Look for geeks.  Realize that I’m surrounded by science writers and everyone is a geek, but since they are all already in conversations and have real science writing jobs, they are all cooler than me at this moment.  I tapped out of the weak members of the herd when I talked to the old lady.

8:55: See a girl with a purse that is cute.  Bonus: she’s all alone and roughly my age.  Stalk her (literally, followed her around until I could “bump” into her). “Excuse me, but that clutch is really cute!” Turns out she got it at Old Navy.  Have a lovely conversation and it is clear that we both have no idea what we’re doing and are greatful for conversation.

9:12: Conversation naturally peters out.  I excuse myself by saying I’m going to check in with my (still fake) friend at the Tribune, and I go off in search of more purses to compliment.

9:20: Alright, that was yet another lap around the room.  Go get a coke from the bar.

9:22: Standing in line for the drink ticket lady, I happen to look back over my shoulder and recognize the man standing behind me is Jeremy, a longtime acquaintence of mine from the Chicago Tribune who has just arrived! (Do you see the irony here?) Recognize him, he recognizes me and introduces me to his wife.  Turns out he left the Trib and now works elsewhere.  We discuss a bit before getting interrupted by the drink ticket lady.  I want to reestablish the conversation, but it is obvious he intends to speak to another gentleman standing with him and talking to his wife.  Give him my card and ask him to contact me regarding his current work, leave gracefully, though nonetheless disappointed that I can’t even have a conversation with the one person in the room I legitimately know.

9: 35: Ponder the irony of the situation.  Try to engage a guy in conversation, but no bite. He’s on his way out the door.

9:37: Sit down outside to read newest text message from Carrie congratulating me on having at least one good conversation when am interrupted by 40-something guy:

Guy: Hey, have you seen this view?!

Me: Um, well, yeah, uh (follow the guy to the window).

Guy: Great stuff.  Hey have you eaten here yet?

Me: Oh no, I didn’t eat here, I ate earlier.

Guy: Oh, so you haven’t had dinner yet?

Me: No, I did.  Just earlier. (Do not yet realize he’s hitting on me.)

Guy: Oh well, I was hoping to get out on the town, hear some music, grab a bite…

Me: Yeah, that sounds nice! (That’s right dear friends. I am so starved for conversation and un-aloneness that I still do not realize what is happening here.)

Guy: OK, well then let’s go. (Michevous wink.)

Me: (Oh crap.  I am an idiot.) Um, no thanks.

Guy: C’mon, let’s go…

Me: (Ew.) Thanks, but I’m declining.

Continue awkward conversation with guy-who-wants-hook-up so that flat out refusing him doesn’t feel so mean.  Eventually he leaves, no doubt to find someone else to hit on.

9:45: Consider that this might be a sign from God that it is time to leave.  Decide to circulate the room once more.

9:47: Ick, boring and awkward. Leave event.

The rest of the night was an adventure in trying to find my car, but that’s a different post for a different day.

Now, as I blog this, I have determined that the combination of people I did meet and talk to essentially represents the stereotypical meet and greet.  I met a boring person, had an awkward chat, met a nice person, reconnected with an old acquaintence, and got hit on.  All in all, the standard professional mixer, I should think.

I count my five “encounters,” if you will, as neutral-loss-win-win-loss.  I guess its not bad for being a total fish out of water, but it could have been better.  Later this week is an event for AWIS that I’ll probably attend, and I am guaranteed to know the most important person in the room there and for many other people to know of me and/or my work, so that promises to be a better time overall.

In sum, that was a rather tortuous event.  Glad to be home.

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February 5th, 2009

High Little Kid Post-Dentist

OK, this is fantastic.  This kid is still on his meds after undergoing oral surgery.  I love the moment when he looks about to say something profound, and then he pauses, and says, “I have two fingers.”

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February 3rd, 2009

Angst

The downside of living inside your own life 100 percent of the time is the fact that you forget that everyone else around you is facing the same kind of bullshit that you are.

The theme of this post is Angst.

I don’t know when everyone suddenly got so emo, myself included. I think maybe it was when we graduated from college and found that life wasn’t nearly all it was cracked up to be, or at least was far different than what we had been told. Perhaps this is oversimplification here, or perhaps its the headcold, but I feel like my entire childhood and teenage years were filled with adults telling me that I could be anything I wanted to be, which equated in my head, “you willbe anything you want to be.” Like all I had to do was decide. Isn’t that weird? No one ever told me it was going to be easy, and yet that was the expectation I had. Now, years later, I find I still cannot fully separate what I want from what I think I’m supposed to have. Or do. Or say. Whatever. Angst.

What’s interesting to me, and the reason for writing this post in the first place, is the realization that I am not alone. I’ve read dozens of blogs and comments and listened to more than enough NPR to know that people my age are malcontented, frustrated, disillusioned and lost these days.   We’re all chasing some idealized version of our lives without knowing whether we should be in the first place.  Should we be shooting for more, should we expect more out of life, or are we simply pre-conditioned to expect a grandiose life-purpose, thanks to the baby-boomer generation and too many episodes of Full House? Angst.

They say that extreme economic recessions are good in the long run, because it is only in the toughest times that the greatest inventions are made.  Fine, I accept that.  But does the logic extend?  Does that mean that out of the blurry confusion that is your 20s, you will somehow emerge with a more complete sense of self and purpose?

If the early teens are physical puberty, I submit that the mid-20s are one’s emotional puberty, and I hope to god that sooner or later we’ll all emerge on the other side saying “Whew! Glad that’s over. Now I understand.”  With any luck, I’ll come out of it just like i did that last time: with more clarity, self-awareness, and slightly bigger boobs.  Here’s hoping.

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January 30th, 2009

A Good Day for a Basketball Game

My friends showed me this video. I think it’s pretty fantastic. Too often we overlook people who have special needs, or assume what they can and can’t do. Also, I think the sense of community rallying at the end is pretty great.

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January 30th, 2009

25 Things

There’s a thing going around on Facebook where you write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, you tag people in the hopes they’ll do this thingy too. I only broke down and did one after receiving about 5 of these. And then I decided to post it to my blog because I haven’t blogged in a few days. It’s kind of cheating, but eh. So here you go, 25 random things about me.

1. I am addicted to TV, but not really addicted to many specific television shows. It’s weird.

2. However, I own three TV series on DVD: Star Trek The Next Generation, Firefly and She-Ra. I hope to own Designing Women sometime soon. That probably tells you a lot about me.

3. I find round things cute. Especially round animals, like guinea pigs, fat finches, wombats and harbor seals.

4. I love all things Nintendo.

5. I love to-do lists, both the act of making them and crossing things off them. Our apartment is cluttered with them.

6. My boyfriend Grant is my best friend.

7. I wish I could be a permanent student. I am not done learning.

8. I love marine mammals, but I hate beach vacations.

9. Sometimes I get too busy or too stressed out to appreciate what I’m actually doing.

10. My vices include coffee, Thai food and Flash games online.

11. Although I value my drive and initiative, I am often too independent for my own good.

12. I miss Spain – not every day, but certainly every week.

13. When I was a baby, I was going to be on national TV with Fred Willard, but I pooped my diaper in a major way five minutes before air time and missed my shot.

14. I know myself better now than I knew myself eight months ago.

15. I have no problem handling Madagascar Hissing Cockroaches at the zoo. If I walk by a ‘wild’ cockroach in the street, though, I panic, scream, and leap away for a solid minute or two. (as evidenced by the blog post a few days ago)

16. I have a blog, which I try to update fairly regularly. (duh)

17. If someone told me I could fly in space, but there’d be a 50/50 chance of death, I’d still consider it.

18. I am a chronic daydreamer and imaginer.

19. I love procrastination.

20. I actually don’t really care for Facebook.

21. I was at Virginia Tech during the shootings in 2007. It took about a year before I’d talk about it, even though I wasn’t near the building. Not sure how I would have handled it if I had been involved.

22. I love improvisational comedy – doing it and seeing it.

23. I am politically-minded, but could never be a politician.

24. I grew up down the street from the guy who wrote Eye of the Tiger.

25. I fear living a small life.

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