Sunday, December 29, 2013


I'm taking care of some friends' cats this week while they're gone for the holidays and am, as always, endlessly amused by their behavior, which in the brief time I see them each day includes but is not limited to:

following me around the apartment but pretending they aren't
sitting with their backs ostentatiously turned toward me
pretending to be afraid of me
watching me intently while I pee
being alarmed by normal noises from the street that they must hear dozens of times a day
staring in concern at the furnace closet when the heat comes on
suddenly rushing off while being petted to do mysterious but clearly urgent cat things in the other room
running around the apartment like crazy things
gazing at the wall
smelling my shoes
sitting in front of doors they know they're not allowed behind
getting offended and refusing to be petted
generally not giving a fuck

In short, they act like cats.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

English Fails, Or, Grumpy Language Curmudgeon

I read a lot of hockey blogs, and while the quality of these blogs is generally reasonably high, it isn't always perfect. I find typos mildly irritating, overuse of exclamation points grating (looking at you,, and simple English errors INFURIATING. Proofread your shit! You know the difference between "to" and "too" and "its" and "it's", I guarantee.

I'm less convinced that people know the difference between "reign" and "rein". Both get used in hockey writing ("reigning champs", "rein in the pests") but I find that "reign" gets used pretty indiscriminately. There's a shocking lack of correct usage of "affect" and "effect", in both directions. "Bear/bare", "tack/tact", and "faze/phase" get misused. Also, it's "intents and purposes", not "intensive purposes" and I feel like there's a couple other common idioms that often get messed up too.

But! I say all this not to be a grumpy language curmudgeon (though I am that) but as a lead up to sharing that rarest of things, the awesome and hilarious English fail. A few weeks ago, a writer on a blog I read (I do not remember which but perhaps lack of attribution in this case is kinder) referred to someone "exercising their demons." Oh the giggles as I imagined the hockey player in question walking his demons in the park, on leashes of course. They would wave their pointy tails and perhaps wear little sweaters and booties to protect their feet from the ice and salt, since it is winter. Isn't that just adorable?

Also, in the same vein, this is an interesting list of common mispronunciations, partly because it's about equal parts things that annoy me deeply and things I think are unimportant/optional/incorrect. I'm not going to start pronouncing the "i" in "parliament", thanks, I'd sound like a pretentious jackass. I did learn a few things though. I'm pretty sure I didn't realize that "ordnance" and "ordinance" were two separate words. Oops.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Four Things I've Learned From History, Or, Why Everyone Needs To Take A Deep Breath And Calm The Fuck Down

1. New Technology X is probably not going to spell the end of all civiliation as we know it. New Technology X is not evil. New Technology X isn't good either. In fact, New Technology X likely possesses no underlying moral identity. New Technology X, used properly, can enrich and improve our lives. New Technlogy X, used improperly, can erode the fabric of society, morality, and human relationships or even harm us directly. People being what they are, some will use New Technlogy X badly and others well. In a few years it won't be so new anymore, civilization will not have collapsed, and the exact same argument will shift to New Technology Y.

2. Every generation thinks the next generation is lazy/ignorant/immoral/disrespectful/possessing of inexplicable taste in music/going to run civilization into the ground. Spoiler: they won't. They'll grow out of being teenagers, have children, and think the exact same thing about them.

3. Every era thinks things are at the absolute worst they've ever been, surely portending some imminent crisis or catastrophe. This seems to come from a combination of lack of historical education, lack of perspective, and the need to sell newspapers. In reality, some things get better, some things get worse, many things stay the same, although we think and write about some of them differently. A lot more of all those things gets put on youtube.

4. The future is vastly, incomprehensibly, terrifyingly unpredictable.

Saturday, December 7, 2013


yes this:

science says stones don't fly through water and souls don't matter if you love your mother...

...all i want is love eternally 

i mean i do think souls matter but i love my mother and i like this song.

Friday, December 6, 2013

The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

I just read this really interesting book on earthquake observation in the 19th century. No, it really was interesting, trust me. Anyway I was struck by a number of passages written in or about the 19th century that reflect ongoing conflicts and struggles in the scientific community. In some ways the idea that we share these issues so closely with our predecessors is worrying - haven't things moved forward? - but in some ways it's comforting - dudes were just like us!

The book: Coen, Deborah R. The Earthquake Observers. The University of Chicago Press, 2012.

What I mean:

On the increasing influence of newspapers in the mid-19th century:
"...concerns grew over the power of the press to sway public opinion...the papers were no longer a voice of reason. Readers grew skeptical of "sensationalism," even as circulations rose. The papers themselves remarked frequently on the machinations of their competitors. According to historians, a widespread sense emerged that "truth" had to be defended against the distortions of wily publishers." (p. 45)

On communication with the public (specifically about the threat of earthquakes, following the prominent case of a man, Rudolf Falb, who claimed to be able to predict earthquakes):
"[Falb's] demagoguery prodded [scientists] to cultivate their own mode of public outreach...[scientists] blamed the press...The Falb debacle made scientists worry 'that public papers, especially those with a political leaning, are not the forum in which to air scientific questions'...Scientists became anxious to gain some control over reports of earthquakes in the popular press...They decided it was best, in some cases, to withhold information. As we will see, this was a dangerous precedent." (p 54-55)

On effective communication with the public:
"Rarely can an idea or act not be expressed in familiar language...If our beautiful science is not to become repulsive, we must avoid deforming it with too many foreign words." (p. 82, directly quoting F.A. Forel, limnologist/ecologist)

On citizen science:
"...we require the participation and cooperation of a borad class of the population. We must therefore make an effort to cultivate the awakening interest of the public; thus we make clear, by publishing the essential contents of the observations recieved and by listing the names of our collaborators, how valuable and important the prompt cooperation of the public is to the fulfillment of our task." (p. 158, directly quoting the director of the Earthquake Commission in Imperial Austria)

On uncertainty when scientists are asked to make judgements that contribute to public policy:
"Nature, however, which has so unqually distributed its gifts, cannot be made other than it is - we can only observe how it is, and use it according to its possibilities. Much of the how is hidden and only within certain limits to be discovered, so that much uncertainty still attends our judgement and our foresight." (p. 79, directly quoting Albert Heim, geologist)

On Californians/Americans being dumb (and assuming other cultures are superior: I mean, really, Willis, the Spanish colonists? I guess apart from all the genocide they were pretty urbane):
"Willis painted a bucolic image of Santa Barbara back in Spanish colonial times: a place of 'stateliness, license, piety, and poetic romance.' The city's subsequent history was, on his telling, typically American. It had become a playground for the wealthy, where 'wonderfully landscaped estates...bore forbidding "No Trespassing" signs.' The town had lost a sesne of community...'where wealth is spent freely, lavishly, it is inevitably exploited, and the cohesion of socity is weakened by the domination of self-interest.' Its civic leaders were 'thoroughly American, gifted with the American capacity for organization and engineering, but limited, as too many Americans are, in appreciation of history, art, and architecture.'" (p. 248; OUCH)

Bonus amusing paragraph about being amazed at super modern card catalog technology(!), which apparently was giving all the scientists hardons in the 19th century:
"'Cards of a uniform size, on which standardized data were transcribed, housed physically in card drawers and related furniture, and organized conceptually by classification schemes of various kinds, in effect epitomized a new 'modernist' technology'...the card catalog promised a new path to the nineteenth-century ideal of complete knowledge, guided by the internationalist values of efficiency and commensurability. It was the quintessential modernist solution to the globalization of knowledge." (p. 175)

Thursday, December 5, 2013

It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year!

It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, I mean when the Toronto Maple Leafs epically collapse and everyone sort of nods knowingly and shakes their heads except Toronto Maple Leafs fans who are shocked and heartbroken and immediately become as angsty and existential as a teenager in 2002 who has just discovered Dashboard Confessional (topical reference, Laura!). SERIOUSLY TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS FANS, THE LEAFS DID NOT BREAK ADVANCED STATS. REALITY IS JUST STREAKY. WE'RE SORRY. KIND OF.

It's the most wonderful time of the year! No, I mean it's time to change the batteries in my smoke alarm.  Two problems: first, it's a universal law of nature that the smoke alarm will always start beeping to tell you it's that time in the middle of the night. Second, my ceilings are really high so that when I stand on a chair I'm still 6-8 inches away, and I don't own a ladder. 2 am solution: Step one: Get some books. Harry Potter 4-7 are good to start with. Put one under each chair leg, then add 2-3 thick novels to each stack and also maybe the collected works of Ezra Pound. Step two: Add folded cleaning rags to each stack to prevent divots in the covers (always respect your books, even when using them as a stepstool at 2 am!) and climb up. Still find you're an inch away. Step three: Add a pillow to the chair. Find you can now reach smoke alarm with fingers but not thumb, which is necessary to twist smoke alarm off mount. Add second pillow. PROTIP: SUPER IMPORTANT. It would be emabarassing to have to explain to neighbors/EMTs/everyone else exactly how you fell and broke everything, so DON'T FALL. Thankfully, at this point I was able to recover my smoke alarm without killing myself. I then spent ten minutes trying to find where I put my batteries, only (of course) to discover I didn't have any 9V. So I put all the books and pillows away, then spent the next twenty minutes worrying about what would happen if there were a fire in my building in the next seven hours. Finally, I convinced myself I would hear my neighbors' smoke alarm and went back to sleep. 

It's the most wonderful time of the year! Yes, that one! The department holiday party was on Monday. I went with one goal: do not get wasted. It pretty much goes without saying that I failed more or less completely. At this party there is always a copious amount of Jello shots, and I had convinced myself, somehow, that if I didn't do any Jello shots I would be impervious to drunkeness. Buuuuuut, it turns out that other types of alcohol will also get you pretty drunk. Here's the sad part: this is not the first year I have gone through EXACTLY THE SAME THOUGHT PROCESS WITH EXACTLY THE SAME RESULTS.

It's the most wonderful time of the year! For capitalists! Today I took the day off and went Christmas shopping, because I hate fighting my way through crowds of tourists and suburbanites on Michigan Avenue on December weekends. Here are some things I noticed:

Why do Bandaid boxes always look like they've been delivered by helicopter airdrop? Seriously, no matter where I shop, the Bandaid boxes look postively mangled. Meanwhile, three aisles over the soap and toothpaste boxes are pristine. (NOTE: No, I wasn't buying Bandaids for a Christmas present. I was at Target and I needed some bandaids, ok? Also some 9V batteries, obviously.)

The clearance section at the Art Institute is the epitome of clearance sections. You walk in and it's IMMEDIATELY evident why everything there is on clearance: it's horrifically ugly. 

I went to Anthropologie. Sometimes I go in there and wander around and then I'm like "ok" and I leave. Some days I go there and am like "I WANT ALL THE THINGS." Today was one of the latter so I had to get out rather quickly before I broke the "don't buy things for yourself in December" thing. 

Trader Joe's speculoos cookies are my New Favorite Thing.

Endnote: Oh yes, when I told my parents the smoke alarm story they immediately told me to go buy a ladder and put it on their credit card. Apparently they were less "impressed" and more "alarmed" by my 2 am resourcefulness (or else just appalled by my treatment of my books..I did make sure it was the back covers facing up and my least favorite book on top of each stack, I mean, come on).