Archive for May, 2009

Tom Fisher Sighting

May 28, 2009

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I was listening to MPR streaming on my laptop while at work – a serendipitous happening on several levels. On my commute I heard a plug for piece on new digital media and how it will affect our relationship to older forms on Midmorning at 10:00 and made a point to plug in my earphones in time. Then about halfway through the segment the host announced that the guest expert after the break would be Tom Fisher of the UMN College of Design. YAY. Just hearing his voice threw me back four and a half years to that first intro theory course in the MAarch program and how fun it was go get a little dose of Fisher philosophy first thing every Tuesday and Thursday morning. Always one for the apt quote, Tom pulled out Harry Reese: “every new technology turns the old technology into an art form.” He also proposed (how much do I love this right now?) that our new electronics might allow us to move back to a more hunter gatherer mentality – permit us to carry everything we really need with us as we wander from place to place. One of the callers described himself as a proto-nomad (read business traveler) and the term really appeals to me even though the idea of an existence so completely rootless is alarming to my homebody soul. I guess the bottom line for me is that I’m not going to be divesting myself of my books any time soon. The other bottom line is that Tom Fisher is a delight and I wish I had more connections with his insight in my life.

“Bother,” said Edmund, “I’ve left my new torch in Narnia.”

May 27, 2009

Book Report: Prince Caspian
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I picked up my copy of Prince Caspian over the weekend. This is no small feat as the copy I have is the silly movie edition hardcover with all the books bound into one – it was a present. I needed to answer a question raised in conversation. What is the order in which the Pevensie sibs buy into Lucy’s claim that Aslan has been spotted and wants them to go the other way? I saw the film again a couple weeks ago and wanted to compare. Susan and the DLF are no brainers – he holds out because he doesn’t believe and she does because she’s a lazy whiner grump (who’d be an older sister?). But which of the boys comes around first?
My guess was Peter. Lewis isn’t all that nuanced in his characterizations so the two boys usually keep to their stated roles: High King Peter, the magnificent, and King Edmund, the just … not quite as magnificent as Peter. The film version tried, very admirably, to introduce individual motivations for each character so they had played up Peter’s angry teen potential which causes a lot of useful conflict in the plot both in his relationship to Caspian and generally in all his plans for how to deal with the situation. Plus the movie team knows that they have to sell us on the idea of Edmund (with Lucy and Caspian) heading up a third installment so they want to make sure we like him. So in the film we get Edmund very sensibly reminding us that Lucy is usually right about everything in Narnia so how about they all follow her advice. As it turns out it works that way in the book too. He votes with Lucy to go uphill and Peter breaks the tie (not so magnificent at that moment) based on the logic that “sorry Lucy, but we had to go one way or the other.” Nice one, Peter.
Anyway, having answered my question I kept reading. I loved the Chronicles of Narnia well into young adult hood but at a certain point the religious imagery started to bang me over the head a bit too hard. All of a sudden the narrative voice seemed preachy and condescending and almost overnight I couldnt’ stand to hear that voice. The plots were still fun but the story was ruined. Which was why the two films have struck me as so totally delightful – all of the adventure and fun with the same beloved characters and none of CS Lewis looking over his glasses and saying “Now, children, as I’m sure you know …” I rather wrote the books off. But there’s been another change in my perceptions. As I started going through it I was hardly troubled by the storytelling and totally delighted by some of the language. Here are a few examples that struck me as so delightful I wrote them down. For the time being I’m going to choose to believe that Lewis knew what an obnoxious tone he was striking and was doing it on purpose. Its a send up. Can I get any takers for this idea? Meanwhile its a delightful source of British English, a form of which I never tire.
“Take two order marks for talking nonsense.”
He’s been a brick.
“I am very much at his service – with my sword – whenever he has leisure.”
They were certainly at it hammer and tongs now.
“Now I am a dotard as well as a dastard?”
Full battle was joined.
“Bother,” said Edmund, “Ive left my new torch in Narnia.”

Build Green Now

May 26, 2009

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Check out this great article about the importance of green building and why now is the perfect time to get into it posted on LamiDesign. Architect Gregory La Vardera makes some great points about the fact that the housing crisis could present a major silver lining in opening the way for green design to become more mainstream. During the bubble it was easy for most developers, contractors and lenders to scoff at the idea of spending extra money to build something differently or source more expensive materials. Now that the bottom has dropped out of the ticky tacky housing market, however, most of those people are struggling to keep their doors open and are therefore much more open minded about new ideas. I think we can all agree that the current housing model has some holes in it. Lets give some new ideas a chance shall we?
“I know everybody is worried about the future, security, their jobs. But this is a self fulfilling prophecy, and it can just as easily have a self fulfilling solution. If we build modern green homes in numbers it will help the recovery, and money flowing in home building spreads to all other corners of the economy. If you are passionate about these issues and want to see change, not just lip service, its time to stick your neck out. The more who do it, the less risk each of us will take.”

Memorial Day Awsome

May 26, 2009

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The stats on a great weekend:
Over memorial day weekend (which I extend to include the Friday before on account of it felt really fun like a weekend) KJ and I accomplished quite a lot. We used our powers for good and for awesome.
We finished four books: Jane Austen Guide to Dating, The Invisible Sex, The Economic Naturalist and Animal Vegetable Miracle
We manufactured from scratch and ate with gusto: matter paneer, spinach ravioli, green olive and red pepper pizza and strawberry rhubarb crumble.
We watched 7 summer blockbuster movies: Jurassic Park, Star Trek, Star Trek Generations, Star Trek First Contact, Indiana Jones The Last Crusade, Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull and Tomb Raider.
We went for two hikes at hixon forest.
We knit six hexagons for a new scarf (actually that was just me)
We ran eleven miles in both rain and shine. (KJ ran more of them than I did)
And we consumed two and a quarter cups of yogurt covered raisins.
All in all … a fabulous weekend. I’m all for doing it again soon.

Book Report: The Economic Naturalist

May 25, 2009

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Frankly not nearly as interesting as I had hoped it would be based on an excellent introduction and the precedent set by Tim Harford’s Undercover Economist (XXXX). The book consists mainly of writing assignment prompts that the author, Robert H. Frank, gave to his intro econ classes at Cornell. It asks a number of moderately interesting questions – Why is it more expensive to transfer funds between banks electronically than send a check through the mail? If we have a Blockbuster Video why don’t we have a Blockbuster Book? Why might an appliance retailer hammer dents into the sides of its stoves and refrigerators? – but answers them only in brief. In fact its not entirely clear if Frank is using his student’s proposed questions and then answering them himself or if the entire book is a patchwork of his student’s essays answering their own questions. In either case they aren’t answered with nearly the rigor or detail that they really seem to deserve. Damn, because armchair economics has the potential to be so interesting.
By far the best part of the book is the introduction, which begins with a grammar joke:
“A woman lands at Logan Airport, grabs her luggage, jumps into a cab, hungry for a good New England seafood dinner. “Take me to a place where I can get scrod,” she tells the diver. Eyebrow arched, the cabbie turns and says, “That’s the first time I’ve heard anyone say that in the pluperfect subjunctive.”
Frank then goes on to explain that the joke only really works because most people don’t know exactly what the pluperfect subjunctive is (I didn’t). But then also that it doesn’t matter. He extends this into a criticism of traditional language courses. “If learning to speak a new language is your goal, the time and effort required to learn the explicit technical details of this tense would be far better spent in other ways. Courses that focus most of their energy on such details are no fun for students, and they’re also astonishingly ineffective.” He compares his experience in high school and college language courses to the stripped down and more effective crash course he was given in Nepalese before being sent out by the Peace Corps. The analogy – linguistics to economics – is that it’s much more important to understand a few basic principles and illustrate them with useful examples then to focus all your study on abstruse and obscure technical details.
Frank, Robert. 2007. The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas. New York: Basic Books.

Stair Porn

May 24, 2009

This blog just made it to the top of my favorites list. It is cool on any number of levels. First of all the name is funny. And then it is really good quality stair porn – just for feasting the eyes on. And finally its got some good ideas in it. So, architect friends … feast your eyes. And I’ll be expecting an improvement in the level of stair way design in all future buildings.
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Book Report: The Invisible Sex

May 22, 2009

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I read an amazing thing while walking to work in a coffee shop (I love town work days) on Thursday morning and reading The Invisible Sex as I went. The book covers the vast topic of the role of women and females in prehistory and serves largely as a prodding debunker to point out blind spots or inaccuracies in previous assumptions made by the largely male archeological community about how early humans lived and worked. Its an interesting overall read with easy journalistic prose moving smoothly from one rather heavy weather science topic to another.

Read the rest of this entry »

New Blog

May 21, 2009

I just wanted to take a sec to point anyone who reads this to my mother’s new blog, Digging in the Driftless. The topic is the 44 acres of land that my sister and I consider to be our parents’ third child. Mom and Dad have been shedding sweat, blood and the occational tear over it for the last five years in their continuing mission to seek out new work and new responsibilities for land stewardship. Now they are getting serious about building a house on it (designed AGAP or as green as possible by yours truly with a great deal of advice and oversight from Whole Trees). So the blog is to be the record of that building process as well as the countless land management tasks and trials they set for themselves out there.
Mom is having a bit of a rocky transition from her experience of print journalism to the more casual and of-the-moment blogosphere.* My sister helped her set up the site and get it customized with a photo at the top and a color scheme selected from options. Mom, however, is still not quite clear on how to actually post. I’m sure she’ll have it all figured out in no time – at least the main path through the woods but isn’t quite clear on the concept yet. Its been amusing to watch her diligently edit and rewrite her posts, to call refer to individual posts as blogs and to continually want to format the whole thing like a book with chapters and a lengthy introduction. However, she’s a gifted writer** with a topic that inspires her and I’d probably follow the blog even if I wasn’t related to her. So … yay for teaching new tricks to anybody, old or not and good luck to it.
*I kind of hate that word
**With nearly thirty years experience as a print journalist and a book under her belt you wouldn’t think she’d find a blog post all that intimidating.

Baby Chicks by Mail

May 20, 2009

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I went to the post office yesterday morning to drop off Roshni’s birthday present. The group of people in front of me in the line caught my attention as being the quintessential old Wisconsin farming couple, both weather beaten and a little dumpy but with good nature writ large on their faces. They had along a four year old tow headed boy – grandson or perhaps great grandson. When he got tired and his grandpa picked him up I noticed that both their hands were covered with dried dirt showing they’d been out at work already that day, though it was 8:30 and the PO had just opened. The grandpa’s name was Buck, I kid you not. Just then the postman at the end of the counter asked if anyone was just picking up and they stepped out of line to go to him. Then I heard a wild peeping noise and looked over to see him handing them a small cardboard box with numerous holes punched in the top. It was filled with baby birds!
I knew you could mail order chicks from reading Animal Vegetable Miracle but … I never really expected to see any. Just another quirk of living in small town America right now. Boxes of baby birds at the PO.
I didn’t actually get to see the baby chicks inside (on account of I was late for work and running back to my car as fast as I could go) but this is what the internet tells me it would have looked like inside if I had stopped and talked to the proud new owners.

(Very New) Laptop Features

May 18, 2009

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Not that this laptop actually comes with the internet but … I NOW HAVE THE INTERNET. I bit the bullet and got myself a Verison Wireless plan. Its actually cost comparable to either Charter or Comcast which I could have gotten in my apartment but doesn’t require me to also sign up for (and pay extra for) Cable TV and a landline phone. And if I need to move away within my term of service I can take this internet with me rather than having to cancel and pay a penalty. Actually I can take it with me before I move. Since its wireless the little device works everywhere my cell phone does. As evinced by the fact that the first time I successfully used it I was parked by the side of the road with my laptop balanced on the steering wheel (Kids do not try this at home … mostly because its awkward to type that way).
The road side I was parked by was the turn off of I-90 to Eyota, MN (about an hour drive from my apartment in La Crosse) and I was there for no other purpose than to use said internet on a Monday night after work. The reason for this silly trip off the beaten path is that while La Crosse is covered by Extended Network it is not actually inside Verison’s system. You can use your phone or internet device here but, as I should have remembered from getting KJ’s old phone last summer, you can’t activate it here. So I had to drive west along 90 until I entered the Verison Digital Netowrk and then I could sign on, activate the device and then turn around and drive back. Rather a ridiculous waste of fosile fuel and time but … it’s a one time deal and now as afore mentioned I HAVE THE INTERNET! In fact my home connection is how I will now post this blog. How exciting is that?

(Not so) New Laptop

May 18, 2009

Its here. Its happened. Its finally up and running. My new laptop, purchased in JANUARY has finally passed all the hurdles of getting workplace appropriate software up and running and is functional. I am celebrating this momentous and long anticipated day by tediously re-creating all my i-tunes playlists today. If anyone knows of a way to do this automatically I’d appreciate it if you could time travel back a few days and let Former-Self know about it because this is rather a pain. However its all worth it because I have finally reversed the scales and have a laptop with more memory than my ipod again. And it can hold all my old back up files, all my music and audio books and all my photos as well as my work files AT THE SAME TIME. With room to spare.
To celebrate, here is a link to Strongbad replacing his old computer except I didn’t throw mine off the table. But this certainly is “a spectacle of graphics and sound”.
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Unrealistically Green

May 15, 2009

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To misquote from Carousel: May is bustin’ out all over. And its really blowing my mind. I’m realizing that what with being in school every spring for the last 20 years of my life I haven’t done justice to the magic of the changing seasons. Its incredible. At this point the leaves are out and fully formed but still the number of shades of green everywhere is just kind of unrealistic. It looks like someone new to Photoshop got a little over-enthusiastic with the levels tool. I don’t know quite what to make of it except to enjoy the glorious weather and keep soaking up all the green. It certainly is beautiful.