Nothing new under the sun

January 21st, 2005 § Six comments § permalink

One of the sloppier papers I wrote as an undergraduate, which ostensibly examined Isaiah Berlin’s conception of free will, contained the following passage:

Sartre’s view is like that of the man who decides to prove the old adage, “No two snowflakes are alike.” With great enthusiasm, he travels to New York during a snowy winter and stands outside in the cold, catching as many flakes as he can on specially chilled microscope slides. At the end of a day’s work, he heads into his super-cooled lab with the slides, diligently cataloging and archiving each snowflake. He repeats this process every winter for twenty years.

This week, about five and a half years later, I learned of Wilson Bentley, who spent several decades in the late 19th and early 20th centuries photographing New England’s snowflakes. A newspaper article from 1922 described his methods:

It is indeed a delicate task to “catch” one’s snowflake and get it in position to be photographed. Mr. Bentley has a tray consisting of a board painted black with wire handles on either end, on which he collects the flakes: this he carries carefully by the handles with mittened hands, in order to keep off all animal heat: and to keep his hands warm too, no doubt: into his cold, unheated workroom. With a splint of wood, he painstakingly picks up the snowflake and places it on the slide of his microscope, being particularly careful that it is unbroken and perfectly flat so that all parts reflect the light equally.

(Incidentally, Christie, if the title didn’t make you giggle, try thinking back to our college days and reading it out loud a couple of times.)

Lentil soup

January 9th, 2005 § One comment § permalink

For those of you who have complained about the lack of recipes lately, may I recommend the delicious lentil soup that I fixed a few evenings ago? It’s the tastiest non-Indian lentil dish that I’ve cooked.

My local market doesn’t carry porcini powder, so I just threw some dried porcini mushrooms in the coffee grinder. I imagine you could do the same with the fennel if you can only find the whole seeds.

“Okay,” I “will”

January 5th, 2005 § Comments off § permalink

I love my employer’s human resources department, mostly because a particular employee finds a way to demonstrate inappropriate workplace behavior every time I visit. When I dropped off my direct deposit form a few weeks ago, he made a lewd remark about a female coworker as he showed me into her cubicle. The other day, when I delivered my resignation letter, he was in the middle of a personal call behind the front desk, having a loud argument with his partner about a misunderstanding of some sort. When he got off the phone, talked to me, and discovered that I wasn’t certain what my last day would be, he proceeded to yell at me. Eventually, he realized that he was too worked up to be of any use and asked a colleague to help him out.

The other reason I love my employer’s human resources department is the sign that greets visitors:

“ STOP ”





Like an elephant

December 19th, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

Her: Did you want to take some Co-Q10?
Him: Which one was that?
Her: It increases memory function.
Him: Oh. Yes.

End of the semester

December 14th, 2004 § Six comments § permalink

A friend and I were talking in the computer lab at school, and we agreed that this semester’s defining characteristic was the frequent expenditure of enormous amounts of time and effort to produce consistently disappointing results. Not necessarily bad results, mind you, but nothing that we felt especially excited about or proud of. Ah, well. At least we have a semester left to redeem ourselves.

Besides, we’re having fun with our mediocrity. Here are some excerpts from a conversation that I had today with my partner for a group project:

Partner: We never had data on that.
Me: Yes, we did. We scribbled it down somewhere.
Partner: The thing is, we can recreate that data in five minutes just by thinking about it.

Partner: I’ll do the pedestrian “counts.”
Me: No, those are pretty legitimate. We really counted.

Partner: (about our final report) At least if it sucks, there’ll be a lot of it.

(I should mention that we’re not actually falsifying data—it’s just a somewhat abstract project, and it includes a number of estimates that are labeled as such.)

I’ve also started keeping a list of all the important city planning-related stuff of which I’m wholly ignorant. My hope is that I can correct most of these deficiencies over the next several months, making me eminently employable upon graduation and thus enabling me to pay off the $719 million of student loans I’ve taken out.

Not that school is taking up all my time. In the past few weeks, I’ve visited the Scharffen Berger factory and the Ferry Building Marketplace, seen an Iron & Wine concert, assisted in the preparation of cheese bread and potato gratin, and watched fellow students mock my professors at the department’s holiday party. But it’s mostly been all about finishing this semester.

Just a few more days to go.

Random link roundup

November 23rd, 2004 § One comment § permalink

Here are some links that I’ve been meaning to post for ages. These should keep you all busy for a while:

Hope is on the way

November 22nd, 2004 § Seven comments § permalink

John Kerry’s next career move should be to record an album called In a Blue State. Something Leonard Cohen-esque, perhaps.

Tell a bear’s phase, too

November 22nd, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

Graduate school has fairly flown by. Next semester will be my last, and there are a dozen courses I want to take but can’t. There are so many things I won’t have learned about when I leave. And hanging around for longer than you’re supposed to is strictly verboten, since it reduces the number of slots available for new students. Choosing my fourth course for next semester is proving to be tricky indeed. Should I learn about transportation finance? Environmental factors for building design? Historic preservation? Something else entirely?

I want to take French, too, but language classes really mess up your schedule. Most of them meet five days a week in the morning, which makes it tough to hold down another job (or—let’s be honest—to stay out late on a weeknight). Apparently there are courses that meet less frequently, designed for busy grad students, but they conflict with my other classes. Oh, well. Or, more appropriately, c’est la vie. I can always learn a new language after I get my masters.

Emer’gen-C, how beautiful to be

November 22nd, 2004 § Comments off § permalink

November has kept me hopping like a frog in Calaveras County, as Dan Rather might or might not say. Between the homemade cinnamon rolls, Crooked Jades and Grey De Lisle concerts, silent films, wine-tasting trips, movie-watching parties, farewell dinners, housewarming dinners, phone calls to friends, and, oh yeah, graduate school projects, my life has been wonderfully hectic. I’m about to spend a couple of weeks in the end-of-the-semester meat grinder—also hectic, but in a less wonderful way. I get to see Iron & Wine as I emerge, though, which will be a nice treat.

Collectively, my fellow students have about 23 different contagious diseases right now, and I think I may be coming down with one of them. It’s just a minor cold, though. I’m infusing my body with as much Emer’gen-C as seems reasonable. Maybe I can beat this thing. I hope I can. The end-of-the-semester grinder is not kind to diseased meat.

Information glut

November 6th, 2004 § Three comments § permalink

I have too many sources of information—too many weblogs whose news feeds I track; too many local and national newspapers that I read every week, or day; too many magazines filling my mailbox. As much as I enjoy reading miscellany from around the globe, I’m a graduate student, so my job, almost by definition, is to focus my attention on a relatively narrow area. Right now, my head is so cluttered that it’s tough to focus on anything.

I’ve dropped a few weblogs from the list already, and I’ll probably drop more over the next week. My hope is that this will usher in a new era of hyperproductivity, enabling me to finish my professional report at the speed of light. Failing that, perhaps I’ll have time to learn how to play the borrowed guitar that’s sitting in my living room, taunting me with its mysterious frets.