Monthly Archives: August 2010

If it makes you feel any better…

Remember how, in the board game Life, there was a little card that said something to the effect of “Discover a cure for the common cold! Plus fifty thousand dollars!”? Well, WHY HASN’T ANYONE DONE THIS YET? As a grown-up (ish), I know: viruses mutate, etc. etc. etc. But as a child, which is basically what the common cold reduces me to, my tendency isn’t to suck it up and be stoic and reasonable about it; no, it’s to harp frustratedly at scientists (who fortunately can’t hear me, but while I’m at it: how’s that teleporter coming, hmmm?)

It did not really help to learn that Heather B. Armstrong, a.k.a. Dooce, is also suffering from this all-too-common plague. It never does, really, which brings me to another point: the conversational tic of, “If it makes you feel any better…[insert similar experience here].” I suppose in a schadenfreude way, it might make some people happy to know that others are suffering along with them, but…no, it doesn’t really make me feel better. (“Everything is not okay.”) Though apparently, when I was really young and was sick or got hurt or had to undergo some unpleasant experience like getting a shot at the doctor’s office, I would ask, “Why couldn’t this be happening to someone else?” Now I just wish it wasn’t happening to any of us. Or that we hadn’t domesticated pigs in the first place.

(Huh. I was under the impression that the common cold virus originated from the domestication of pigs, and I’ve been holding on to this notion since high school history class, but a quick and not-at-all thorough search of the internet does not seem to support this. Oh well.)

Anyway, I was thinking recently about the correlation between sickness and sociability. When I’m baseline healthy, I’m happy to be around other people. When I’m really sick – strep, pneumonia, flu, etc. – I also want someone around, though I wouldn’t call this sociability, exactly – more along the lines of “I want my mommy!” However, when I have a cold, I feel lousy, and I don’t want to be around people – partly because I don’t want to get anyone else sick, partly because I’m inclined to whine (which is boring), and partly because I am self-conscious about all the sneezing/coughing/nose-blowing noises and general attendant disgustingness that comes with being sick. I don’t want to inflict those miserable sounds on anyone, so I’d rather just hole up with my tea and soup and tissues and wait till it’s over. (Hats off to those who can just soldier on whilst constantly sneezing and coughing, and operate normally instead of being all pathetic and daydreaming about when they can nap next, and also how they are going to go back in time and dissuade the person who first domesticated pigs from doing so. Which brings us back to: YO SCIENTISTS, ANY PROGRESS ON THAT (time-traveling) TELEPORTER YET?).

A more mathematically inclined person might draw a neat little graph to reflect all this, but I tried, and it didn’t turn out well. Also, I wrote most of this before a minor case of food poisoning (?) struck, so I haven’t had a lot of sleep the past two nights. Third time’s the charm?

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Anyone else notice this?

I just got the new Arcade Fire album, The Suburbs, and have been listening to it a lot over the weekend. I liked it so much right from the first listen that it didn’t even really need to grow on me, but it has anyway – to the point where I like it better than Funeral. (That’s probably sacrilege to anyone who bought and grew attached to each album as it came out, but I acquired them relatively close together in time, and neither is associated with a particular time in my life; they don’t have what I’ll call the “emotional time travel effect,” and therefore I can be more…objective?)

Anyway, something I noticed right away is that there’s a bit of musical phrasing in “Ready to Start” (track two) that is practically identical to a guitar part in Sleater-Kinney’s “Dance Song ’97” from their 1997 album Dig Me Out. If you have both songs, you can hear it most clearly at 1:52 in “Ready to Start” and 0:12 in “Dance Song ’97.”

I’m certainly not up in arms about this – if the Arcade Fire are Sleater-Kinney fans, then I’d guess this was either unconscious or an homage; if they aren’t, and have never heard the song, well…weird coincidence. I doubt it was intentionally lifted, though, and beyond that I can’t really say – I’d be out of my depth trying to write about plagiarism in pop music. (Especially in light of Exhibit A from Axis of Awesome.)

What I’ve been reading: Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
What I’ve been listening to: The Suburbs, Arcade Fire

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Tangible Content

A recent post from Tongs (“On why I still go to record stores”) got me thinking about the difference between CDs and books. Why was it (relatively) easy for me to make the switch to buying music in digital form, while I’m still resisting e-books? The main difference, I think, is that while I can pick up a CD and handle it – examine the track listing on the back, the art on the cover, and, once I’ve bought it, the lyrics and pictures and acknowledgements in the jacket – I still can’t get to the actual content without putting it in a CD player (or now, in the computer). Whereas with a book, even before I’ve bought it, I can open it, skim the inside flap copy, read the first page, even read the last page; books, in their traditional paper form, are accessible.

Initially, I did have a hard time making the switch to the mp3 format, as opposed to buying CDs and having the tangible objects. However, there are ways around this: first of all, it is easy – if time-consuming – to upload an entire music collection from CDs to an iTunes library. It works in reverse as well: when I buy music online, I can always burn it to a blank CD. Now, too, I can usually look up the all-important lyrics on the internet, instead of hoping to find them in the jacket (it was always disappointing when they weren’t there). And I’ll readily admit that it is much, much easier to carry all my music around in my iPod than it is to lug around a Discman and three zippered volumes of CDs. Finally, if it’s a band I’m really attached to, I can always get the CD in a record store, and sometimes still do.

Why then am I still willing to carry six books with me on five-day trips? Well, for one, there’s no free and easy way to “upload” my entire library to a Kindle or any other kind of e-reader. It’s true that e-reader devices have dropped drastically in price since they first appeared on the market, as well all knew they would, and that their features continue to improve. However, the fact that if I bought an e-reader, and then wanted to re-read a book I already owned in paper form, I’d need to buy it again – that really inspires some resistance. Furthermore, there’s the argument for tangibility, for two reasons: one is the oft-cited sentimental one – many people still love the smell and feel of “real” books. The other is that, as we saw with the Orwell debacle, the books you “own” on the Kindle can still disappear. (Amazon would have a much harder time sneaking into houses and apartments and “recalling” unauthorized copies of paper books they’d sold.)

That said, I am glad that e-readers exist, that people are buying them and using them and maybe even reading them more than they used to. For those with extra disposable income – and the Kindle, at first, was most popular with an older sector of the population, those with cash, leisure time, and at least a little tech savvy – the Kindle, Sony eReader, Nook, etc. is a great device. (And those are just the dedicated reading devices – the iPad, obviously, can also serve as an e-reader, but it’s not a single-purpose device by a long shot.)

As for me, for now I’m happy with a (mostly) digital music collection and a library full of paper books. Until book digitization becomes a lot quicker and easier than this, I’ll continue to read from my “dead tree” collection (though, I ought to point out, I acquire the majority of my books used, which is (A) a form of recycling, and (B) less expensive than buying new – in a bookstore or an e-bookstore).

And of course there are always libraries.

What I’m reading: Little Bird of Heaven, Joyce Carol Oates
What I’m listening to: Funeral and The Suburbs, Arcade Fire; High Fidelity soundtrack; Moon Safari, Air

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Brownies From Scratch

Monday I made these dark chocolate brownies, with only one modification; instead of white chocolate chunks, I threw in a couple handfuls of bittersweet (60% cacao) chocolate chips, and sprinkled some chopped-up Andes Candies mints on top (well, half the top; the roommate belongs to that unfathomable subset of people who stubbornly persist in disliking the mint-and-chocolate combination, and I took this bizarre preference into consideration).

It was cool, gray, and drizzly again, much like Sunday, a little preview of fall weather – and a perfect day to stay in, read, and bake. I remembered that I had several ounces of unsweetened Baker’s chocolate in the cabinet and decided to start with that; I did a quick search on Epicurious and found the recipe above. Then I pulled out my New Best Recipe and read the three (3) pages relating how they produced the perfect brownie through trial-and-error/scientific experimentation, and why you MUST use cake flour instead of all-purpose flour…yada yada yada. Then I went ahead and made the recipe from Epicurious and they turned out just fine.

Better than fine, in fact. Yum. I think this may have been the first time I’ve made brownies from scratch; despite the fact that I bake everything else from scratch, I just didn’t bake brownies growing up, and ever since I discovered the Ghiradelli brownie mix, well…that seemed pretty unbeatable. (It’s still a pretty good option, if you don’t want to go through the steps of melting chocolate and butter, whisking the egg and sugar, etc. But really, these were pretty easy!)

What I’m reading: Little Bird of Heaven, Joyce Carol Oates
What I’m listening to: Clarity, Jimmy Eat World

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1 and 2

BUDA tournament, Day Two: 1 and 2, so 5 and 2 overall.

These pictures are from our second game on Saturday; on Sunday it rained, so I didn’t have the camera out.

#4, fierce on defense.

Sunday results aren’t all officially up yet, but here are the scores of the first three games of pool play on Saturday, before the re-seed (we’re OTP, a.k.a. One Trick Pony, except now we’re actually called Flight School because there’s another One Trick Pony in St. Louis or someplace):

Sunday was drizzly and we lost our first game, won our second, and lost our third (to a team we’d beaten in our first game on Saturday). Consolation prize: showers, clean dry clothes, pizza and beer. A good end to a good weekend…and Sectionals is coming up in three weeks!

What I’m reading: About A Boy, Nick Hornby
What I’m listening to: Doolittle, the Pixies

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4 and 0

BUDA tournament, Day One: 4 and 0!

That is all.

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Science for Hungry People

It’s really no good preparing posts ahead of schedule if you then forget to post them when you meant to. And yes, I know I can schedule them to go up whenever I want, but I didn’t do that this time. Anyway, here’s a belated post about some of the food I made while I was in California. Oh wait, now I remember why I didn’t put it up, I was waiting for the pizza and cookie pictures (not the same thing. But…pizza cookie? Hmm…).

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“Baking is wonderful! It’s like science for hungry people!” -Hannelore (QC)

I didn’t spend all my vacation time reading; I cooked and baked a lot too. (Wait, this sounds an awful lot like my regular life. I guess that’s a good thing…?)

Philly Soft Pretzels, again upon request:

And a peach crisp, because I couldn’t remember the cobbler recipe off the top of my head, and a crisp/crumble topping is always easy to throw together:

It was good. But oh, I urge you, I implore you…make the cobbler. [Insert unintelligible too-delicious-for-speech sounds here.]

Pizza from scratch, also upon request:

Provolone and mozzarella (try putting the cheese on the bottom! Rearranging the order of things really shouldn’t have an effect on the taste, but somehow it does).

Okay, the sauce was not from scratch, it was marinara from a jar. But I added Italian herbs.

Pizza #1 had sauce on bottom and cheese on top like a normal pizza; toppings included black olives, mushrooms, red bell pepper, and basil. Pizza #2 had cheese on bottom, sauce on top, and had olives, peppers, basil, and possibly something else I’m forgetting. This is a great dinner if you plan ahead (dough needs to rise for about 2 hours). It goes in the oven for only about 10 minutes or so (at 500 F). If you’re using fresh basil, add it when there’s only a minute or two left to go in the oven.

Finally, peanut butter chip cookies:

Because I saw peanut butter chips in the pantry. I just used the usual Tollhouse recipe for chocolate chip cookies, which I happen to have memorized. Adding a tablespoon or two of peanut butter would have improved them, but I didn’t think of it till after.

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And that concludes yet another post about food. Now I’m back in Massachusetts, the greatest Commonwealth in the union, and excited to play a two-day ultimate frisbee tournament this weekend…where food will consist of bagels, bananas, and gallons of Gatorade.

What I’ve been reading: Traffic, Tom Vanderbilt; The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman; Sharp Objects, Gillian Flynn
What I’ve been listening to: The Smiths and Louder Than Bombs, The Smiths; Goldfly, Guster; Joy Division and New Order

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