Sunday, January 31, 2010

why "Lost" is like the Cheesecake Factory

Back in July, Ezra Klein wrote this lovely column, "Is The Cheesecake Factory Gross?", riffing on someone else's experience of the chain restaurant The Cheesecake Factory.
A week or so ago, the food writer Michael Ruhlman mocked Kelly Alexander for praising The Cheesecake Factory on NPR. In response, Alexander laid down a wager: Ruhlman had to go to The Cheesecake Factory, order the miso salmon that so impressed Alexander, and try it. If Ruhlman could honestly say "it doesn't rock," Alexander would purchase 15 copies of his new book.

Ruhlman lost.

The upshot is that yes, this food is awful for you: 1673 calories for the miso salmon in question, which lines up with the 1200+ calories Mom and I saw for the "light" entree at a rare outing to T.G.I. Friday's some years ago. But of course it tastes good, because it is designed, in the most literal and explicit sense, to be so. My friends and I had a similar argument a couple of years ago in response to an article about a small Midwestern town's excitement over the opening of a new Olive Garden. (I think it's fine for what it is; some friends insist it's gross; we reached consensus on the fact that we're all a bunch of over-educated, over-privileged foodie white people, except for the one or two Asians in the group, who weren't around for the discussion.)

Now, I've been watching Season 1 of Lost, the very popular TV series about people plane-wrecked on Oahu a remote island in the South Pacific. It interrupted my watching Journeyman, which was a harsh transition back and forth because Journeyman is a genuinely good and awesome TV series, with depth and emotion and narrative.

What is Lost, you ask?

Lost is The Cheesecake Factory. It is the television equivalent of food engineered to be immensely appealing, to keep you engaged and above all wanting more, but being ultimately superficial, soulless, lacking any but the most shallow emotional impact. It is masterfully done, as though all the writers and sound designers and film editors and cinematographers got together and decided to weave every cheap trick together into an integrated piece. It's remarkable, really, and a lot of fun. You can just imagine them doing the storyboard.
"Spooky music!"
"Scary music!"
"Mysterious fade-out!"
"French horns warped out of tune!"
"Sudden scene cut to startle the viewer!"
It's a postmodern enterprise, the elaborate construction of suspense for its own sake. Because it's not in the service of a greater story--the story exists as a vehicle for the emotional manipulation of the viewer--all the effects are pretty obvious and they get repetitive (especially the out-of-tune horns leading to a sudden blackout). I'm very excited for more characters to get killed off, because while I realize they're under a lot of stress with having survived a plane crash and being marooned on an island, they're mostly morons with the common sense of a watermelon.

There's a lot of episodes, so while I'm happy enough to have watched it, I'm going to cut it off at Season 1, and maybe someday in the future I'll see the rest. As for anyone who actually has a job...I can't recommend it. It's too much time for too little reward: there's just more mysteries, and if you grab onto it, it's just like any other cycle of endless desire in search of ultimate oh-my-god-this-is-eternal-happiness-for-sure satisfaction (sex, food, money, possessions, experiences).

Journeyman, on the other hand, is a mere thirteen genuinely fantastic episodes, available for free at Hulu. Go watch that instead.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

I might suck at this

This is a brilliant blog post and video by a teacher, about creating a lesson from real-world data about the per-milliliter cost of various liquids. The writing alone is fantastic, and the video is pretty cool too. He does something I learned about in ESL class, which is to create an anomaly that the students can ask a key question about. In this case, he makes the Red Bull be $50, when a single can is about $3, and all he needs is for one student to go "What's up with that?". It's like the old saying that scientific discoveries don't start with someone shouting "Eureka!"; they start with someone saying "Huh, that looks weird."

One thing I'm prepared for as I go is that I might be a bad teacher. I don't think I will be, on average: I think I have a lot of patience with and interest in kids, and a lot of willingness to engage with them in whatever place they happen to be, and a real desire to communicate stuff in a way they can understand. Ren assures me that's the biggest part of teaching, and I can learn the lesson-planning stuff that scares me. That all seems true. But I think that some days, I'm going to fail. It's just going to happen. Kids will be fighting or I'll be sick or we'll be doing something hard or whatever, and it's just not going to work, and that has to be okay too. One critical lesson from performing on stage is that we have to be willing to fail, to go try stuff, not just willing to fail, but to fail big. And maybe I do that so regularly that it's worth labeling me a bad teacher. =)

behold, I am still here

Technically, it's my birthday, since I was born in Eastern Standard Time. In order to celebrate my glorious arrival in this world, blessing you all with the infinite grace of my presence, I recommend you send me money. Or donate to your local domestic-violence program. Whatever.

My friend at the library and I are now done with the "flirting" stage of our friendship, since it's now out that I have a permanent-looking girlfriend. (Apparently saying "we're expecting to stay together while I'm gone for a year" has an aura of commitment to it. Who knew?) The floodgates opened, and she wanted to see pictures of Anna and J and hear all about them and what our plans are. I like flirting, but there will be other flirting in the future, and now we get to be normal friends. It's a funny feeling when I let people get to know me.

I spent today accomplishing things: doctor paperwork, passport photos. I have paperwork for individual insurance, but it's really long and requires listing my medical history from memory while desperately trying not to forget anything, on the slim chance that if I actually need the catastrophic coverage, the insurance company's private investigators won't find some forgotten inconsistency they can use to rescind my coverage. Assuming they agree to sell me coverage at all, which is an open question.

Things are coming up quick. Anna and J move in the first weekend in February, and my flight is now confirmed to Miami (thence to Santiago) on March 16th.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

that was awesome

I saw a new chiropractor yesterday, a woman in Oakland that Ann recommended when I mentioned how beat up my hands were. (Both thumbs have been jammed multiple times, and I have a couple of dinged fingers, and some of it has never quite healed, so my grip is pretty weak relative to how strong my arms are.) I haven't read the background on what she does, but the way she described it, it's a chiropractic modality that treats the body as a giant tensegrity structure (which it is), where pushing on one part causes other parts to move. She does some fairly light pressure on one area, and releasing that pressure causes that area to press back like a spring, and sets up a wave of motion in the body that triggers release in some other area.

It was amazing. For a couple hours afterward different stuff would loosen and unravel, and it's still unwinding a bit. She also does bony adjustments when needed, which she did on my right hand, which has been a bit jacked up for months since jamming the middle finger, and on my left thumb, which I think has been wanting to click back into place for several years.

(I know, aikido sounds dangerous, right? But none of my aikido injuries has ever needed a doctor's attention [because doctors are only good for acute problems], which has me comparing favorably with pretty much any other American doing any other physical activity. And in the realm of martial arts, you should hear the stories from the karate and tae kwon do and Krav Maga people. Holy crap. Those people are nuts.)

Luckily, I'm supposed to go back for a follow-up, because of course tonight that middle finger got jammed again. =)

the day in stupid

We're accustomed to hearing this kind of story out of the Big Three of Texas, Florida, and Kansas, as part of their years-long rivalry for the crown of Dumbest State in the Union. But no, this time it's Southern California:
Dictionaries have been removed from classrooms in southern California schools after a parent complained about a child reading the definition for "oral sex".

Merriam Webster's 10th edition, which has been used for the past few years in fourth and fifth grade classrooms (for children aged nine to 10) in Menifee Union school district, has been pulled from shelves over fears that the "sexually graphic" entry is "just not age appropriate", according to the area's local paper.

The dictionary's online definition of the term is "oral stimulation of the genitals". "It's hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we'll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature," district spokeswoman Betti Cadmus told the paper.
Hat tip to jwz, who quoted a relevant passage:
"In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every year fewer and fewer words, and the range of consciousness always a little smaller. There's no reason or excuse for committing thoughtcrime. The Revolution will be complete when the language is perfect."
Wouldn't it be nice if adults, in the process of guiding children, started acting like adults?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

the weekend of busy

On Friday, Anna's temporary storage container arrived, so we could stash her stuff while getting my stuff organized in the garage. It's 7' wide x 12' long x 8' high, made of steel; it's exactly as wide as my driveway, it only rolls in a straight line, and it's not possible to move anything down my driveway without mid-course corrections. The driver was skeptical, but I took one of my 2x4s and by lifting with my legs was able to lever it inches to the side to steer it. (My body is fine, except for my left quad, which will be sore for a while. Imagine doing a bunch of leg presses at some weight beyond what you can actually do leg presses at.)

After that burst of activity, on Saturday morning we got up really early to go to the Zen program, and then I went pretty much without a break into the First Aid Refresher course, until 5pm. Then I had no energy for anything that wasn't a life-threatening emergency, and got a quick nap before we ate dinner and went to the Houseness cocktail party. Then I was done again.

Today, I drove back to Oakland for brunch with pals and lounging at Houseness, before renting the first season of Lost and mellowing out until bed (which will be soon). I'll have more to say about Lost at some point, which will be culturally irrelevant because I'm watching it 6 years behind the rest of the country.

(I also didn't get an iPod until 2006, and I still don't have a smartphone, and I just got a flat-panel TV a year ago. I am a curious sort of tech guy, indeed.)

Collapsing seems like a lovely idea.

Friday, January 22, 2010

a better day. sort of.

I discovered that most of my crankiness comes from leaving Anna, just as we're moving in together and getting into the swing of things. There's other stuff, of course: I have a lot of packing to do (I hate packing); I have to buy a lot of clothes (I really hate buying clothes). It feels exactly like there is a tremendous amount of stuff to do, and by the time it's all done, I'm lugging some bags to South America to spend 9 months doing something that scares me, in an unknown place in a foreign country, under unknown circumstances.

I feel like that last part, at least, is appropriate to the situation.

Bullet points from the day:
  • Explosion of ants entering the house to get away from the rain. They were wiped up, smooshed, or removed outside.
  • Getting a portable storage unit into my driveway, so we can juggle my and Anna's stuff during packing and moving. The storage unit only rolls in a straight line, and is almost exactly the width of the driveway, so I got to lever it with a 2x4 to move it side-to-side as needed. This amounted to leg presses of many hundreds of pounds, so my legs and hands are sore, but I got to be both clever and manly, so that was fine.
  • My Mac had a stretch of being unusable today, because the battery and my remaining A/C adapter died at the same time. (The previous A/C adapter did some combination of melting and fraying and would no longer adapt A/C.) I didn't need a trip to the Apple Store on top of everything else, but they gave me a free adapter because of the melting, and I got out for the mere $130 of a new battery.
I think I hadn't realized how much I rely on the Mac throughout the day, and a few hours of trying to work with the Asus netbook I bought makes me think it's worth the extra money to buy a "cheap" refurbished MacBook and bring that instead. Windows gives me the rage, and the whole reason I switched to Mac was because I was tired of the constant tinkering needed to make Linux do what I wanted. (The tinkering isn't always necessary. As with so many things, as a computer user I am very particular and maybe a bit difficult.)

At any rate, Anna took good care of me all day, and the rain stopped for a bit while I got to lift something heavy, and then we had some lovely dinner and did aikido. And that's a fine way to end any day.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

turning off the news

I'm speechless with rage at the seemingly unlimited uselessness of the Democratic Party. I had hoped that after the cowardice of the BushCo years, once taking power the Democrats might actually govern. And Obama embodied that hope: I didn't buy into the messianic thing that so many people did, but I did believe very strongly that at least grown-ups with a shred of human decency might finally be in charge.

But no. The spinelessness of Congressional Democrats seems to know no bounds. I had always thought you could at least rely on politicians to want to get re-elected, since it's too much to ask them to care about human beings per se, but they're not even doing that calculus: they seem ready to commit mass political suicide by letting health care die, because...I'm not sure why, exactly. Because they don't have a Senate supermajority? As Jon Stewart points out, President Shrub never had one, and he ran roughshod over everything anyway.

It's like all the cards are on the table, and it turns out that
  1. Democrats never wanted to pass health care reform anyway, and this is their excuse to bail on it, and
  2. the only thing the Democrats really want is for Republicans to like them, which is like sucking up to the school bully in the hope he won't punch you and steal your lunch money like he has every day for the past sixteen years.
It's pathetic. The Republicans are grasping amoralists, but at least they have ambition. They want things to happen, badly enough to ignore the rule of law and basic ideas of human rights and welfare. Democrats, it seems, don't want anything. Nothing motivates them; they just stumble around in a moving sea of mediocrity and then squeal like panicked cowards if anything difficult comes up.

The BushCo years were tragic, and that orgy of criminal incompetence made me angry, but this...this is the first time in my life I've ever seriously considered giving up on the American experiment, which I've loved ever since I was a kid and Dad taught me how it worked, in all its glorious insanity. But democracy requires ambition, and better yet, competing ambitions: people who want social justice, more powerful corporations, fundamental civil rights, warrantless wiretapping, all making their arguments, and out of that comes the direction of the nation, for better or worse. Now one party is batshit insane, ruled by fundamentalists insisting the President is secretly a Kenyan Citizen Muslim Fascist Communist Atheist, and the other party is rocking back and forth, curled up in a puddle of its own urine in the corner. Democracy can't function like this.

I've stopped reading political news, because I don't need the heartbreak or the rage, and I have plenty of packing to do and other things to keep me busy before I leave town for a little while. Especially after this week, I could use the time away.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

counting down

My WorldTeach group travels to Santiago on a redeye flight from Miami, leaving the night of March 16th. It's only 10 hours to Santiago, but since I have to get to Miami first, that's going to be a long day.

I went and had my physical today, to get the health form signed for the trip. Last time the doctor talked my ear off about adjusting to his new practice situation; this time, his wife was just in the ER this morning (she's okay, "just" a kidney stone) and they had houseguests from Norway. I'm beginning to think there aren't any doctors around here who aren't kinda nuts, still accepting patients. At least he seems competent, and he's very nice, both unlike the last guy.

At any rate, we were chatting along correcting the many errors in the transcription of my history, and he was asking me a bunch of lifestyle questions again--which are all dead ends, because of my absurdly healthy lifestyle--and finally, after the actual physical examining was done, he asked what I usually have for breakfast.
"Oh, quinoa, it's a grain, and chard."
"Yeah, it's a leafy green vegetable--"
"Yeah, I know what chard is. You eat it for breakfast?"
Then he got the same look on his face that he got last time, which comes across to me like "You're in perfect health and I don't know why you're here or what to do with you," and then he stopped asking me questions and we finished up.

glorious, actual weather

We are being mightily rained upon, by a sequence of storms in quick succession: hours of dark skies, torrential rain, and high winds, interspersed with periods of calm, lightened grayness. It's wonderful to live with real weather, if only for a little while. I've always disliked bright sunlight, so the endless months of it here make me want to build a house with some underground rooms to hide in. Or move somewhere else.

Apparently, Chile has the same weather as here, only backwards and a few degrees colder. I expect it to feel much colder during the winter, since, as already mentioned, there doesn't seem to be much cultural interest in keeping buildings warm. Tassajara will be similar, so maybe in my memoirs I will refer to this as my Cold Year Away From Home.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

cannot stop watching

I'm watching Journeyman, and you should too. It's...astonishing, in its quality. I've been through six episodes and there has not been a single minute less than excellent.

(I think I just started today, though I've lost track of time and I might have started yesterday. It's really good and my time is unstructured.)

You know how in most TV shows, if the main character has a secret power or experience, either they never tell anyone, or no one believes them? Journeyman throws that out the window. The protagonist, Dan, physically travels through time, at moments and for durations completely out of his control; from his wife's perspective, he simply disappears regularly. He quickly convinces her of this, because she's not stupid and, well, he disappears. That raises the question, much more interesting than disbelief would be, of what happens to his relationships with his wife and son, when he might vanish at any moment? (Answer: it's hard. The interpersonal scenes are brutal to watch, because they're so good and it's such an impossible situation to cope with.) And the sci-fi parts of the plot are just as good.

All 13 episodes are available on Hulu, or you can torrent it if you're set up for that. It might eat your brain, but it's completely worth it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

the history of everything-stan

Yesterday I was reminded that it wasn't very long ago that I learned that the moonscape satellite Soviet republics (Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, etc.) were literally, for quite a long time, the hub of human civilization. Just a few years ago, as I was watching the Alias rebroadcasts all the way through, the main character (a spy) talks about a cover story of going to university in Baku, a large city in Central Asia, and thinking, "Where the hell is Baku?". It's the capital of Azerbaijan, which itself is probably meaningless unless you look at a map and look east to see Bukhara, Tashkent, and Samarqand, and then maybe look at a different map and see Balkh, just northwest of modern Mazar-e-Sharif; like most of Afghanistan, Balkh doesn't seem to be doing so well at the moment, but it was a flourishing city founded 4000 years ago.

Then I learned about Greco-Buddhist art, and the history of Zoroastrianism, and more about the millennia of cultural exchanges across Eurasia and North Africa.

This is why the Internet can make it difficult to get work done, and why your local library kicks ass.

Anyway, history is awesome. Take some time (it's long) and go read the essay, which ends on a sort of weak pro-free-trade argument but is 97% about the Golden Age of Central Asia and how it got to its current state, where a Golden Age is almost unimaginable.

Friday, January 15, 2010

changes imminent

In the current plan, Anna will move into this apartment during the first week of February. This is not a small project, and has a pair of features, deceptively simple, yet weighty:
  1. I need to have my stuff organized and packed/ready to pack for storage in the garage in the next two weeks, and
  2. Prior to leaving for nine months in Chile, I'll be living with my girlfriend and (half time) her 5-year old son.
It's true, that's a big thing to add late to the mix. On the other hand, I'm spending the year in South America on a full-time volunteer job teaching, which has all sorts of nerve-wracking emotional baggage for me. Given what I'm jumping into, does it really make any sense to pretend to play it safe before I leave? There's nothing permanent to grab onto, no shelter to be had. My only hope is moving with things as they happen, creating a response moment by moment according to what's needed, and I might as well start now.

(Plus I get to see my girl more often, which is really why this seems like a good idea.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

I bet he doesn't kick puppies, either

Back home again with the girl, so naturally I'm reading the news. Thanks to Talking Points Memo, here's a gem of an interview with Harold Ford, who's considering a primary challenge to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who was appointed to fill Hillary Clinton's Senate seat. Ford appears to be a Joe Lieberman sort of Democrat (which is to say, one who disagrees with everything the Democratic Party stands for and would like to accomplish), and the whole interview is meandering and Palin-esque in places, but this is the real money quote (emphasis added):

Q. Guns. Let's talk about this issue.

A: I never got an A rating, like my opponent -- would-be opponent -- has enjoyed. I don't own them. I do shoot them, and I shoot them at things that can't shoot back. And will continue to do that. And by that, I want to be clear, I don't mean children. I have done a little bird hunting in my day.

To be honest, it hadn't occurred to me that a candidate for Senate might shoot children on his days off, but now that he brings it up, I guess it's...reassuring? Or something.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

it'd be creepy if it weren't so awesome

The usual way to get to Loomis Chaffee from the north is to get off I-91 and take Route 159 along the river into downtown Windsor. Just as it starts to follow the river, there's a small spur called River Road, which I mostly remember because cops will set up speed traps there, but this time driving past I noticed there were houses down there. There were always houses, of course, but normally I never noticed or thought about it, and this time it struck me that they're on land that gets regularly flooded by the river, just about every year. I turned off to see if they were elevated above the flood level or what.

(They're not, particularly. There's about six houses, with fairly typical foundations, and the first floors are all about 3-4 feet off the ground, no more than you see in other well-built houses that aren't on a flood plain.)

Pretty quickly my eye is drawn to this:

a little odd

Oooookay, that's an 80s Ford station wagon that used to belong to the Torrington Police Department. Something about the interior looks weird, so I try to see past the glare.

wait, what?

There's a lot of glare, and the interior is dark, and the reality is...counterintuitive.


Ladies and gentlemen, I give you:
  • an 80s Ford station wagon from the Torrington Police Department,
  • parked on the banks of the Connecticut River across from somebody's house,
  • with a casket in the back.
And I wasn't done giggling from the old Italian guys.

Friday, January 8, 2010

like seeing a carrier pigeon

After Dad picked me up at the airport and I dropped him off at work, I decided it would be fun to get some coffee and navigate my way back to the old neighborhood, see what might have changed, and look at the old house. The coffee part was important, coming off a red-eye flight.

I wandered steadily out of downtown, ideas and directions softly floating up from dusty corners of memory. I think Tony the barber used to be here, and there's the sporting goods store I don't remember going to, and...hmm, that place. I knew I'd never been in there, but some dim recollection told me it was run by real Italians, and it said "CAFFE" in neon, so that seemed hopeful. I pulled over and realized that I'd never, ever walked in this part of the South End. Never had a reason: when I was a kid, it was an Italian area slowly shifting to be Puerto Rican, and we felt something a little unsavory about the area. It's not a super-shiny area, it's got serious problems, and last year there was a mob hit outside the nearby Mount Carmel Society, "founded by our Italian forefathers on March 14th, 1897".

I walked in, and there were a couple elderly gentlemen, neatly dressed, with straight, brushed-back white hair. I thought,
"Well, they look like old Italian guys, but who knows. Time has wiped out all the European ethnic enclaves in the U.S."
Then I notice the guys are all drinking single shots of espresso with a packet of Equal mixed in, all in one gulp. And then they start chattering back and forth in Italian. And then some more came in, and they all knew each other, and a few more stood outside on the curb.

I started giggling inside, knowing that in 2010, there was a still an Italian coffee house somewhere in America, full of old Italian guys, downing espresso shots and hassling each other. Not only that, but I found it here in my hometown, just by being willing to go someplace I'd never been.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

before I even get on the plane

Yesterday afternoon, Orbitz tells me my flight this afternoon from Chicago to Hartford is canceled. I've never heard of anyone canceling a flight on 24 hours' notice. And why didn't United email me? They have my address, they sent me mail about online checkin and other stuff for this flight.

I called United. This was really my only mistake in the process. I talked to a very polite, mostly intelligible woman in Southeast Asia, whose language skills were fine but whose comprehension was dim. She didn't see that the flight was canceled. Then, in another screen, she did. She couldn't seem to understand that I didn't care how I got from San Francisco to Hartford, as long as it happened by the end of today. Eventually she seemed to say she'd reserved a spot for me on a 7:55am itinerary (instead of my 8:47am), and I just needed to show up in person at the counter and get the ticket changed.

That rang wrong for me (really? she couldn't actually change the ticket herself?) and since ticket agents can be either busy or nonexistent in the mornings, I drove to SFO to make sure things were sorted out. There, I encountered a very polite young man who tried to help me, but fixated on my having said "The woman on the phone said she did...", as though the woman on the phone were reliable. No!, I said. She could easily be crazy! I trust you. Forget I ever mentioned the woman on the phone, and let's work with the options we have right in front of us, yes?

(He, also, could not initially see the flight was canceled. But there it was, in the other screen.)

He summoned a more senior agent, a middle-aged Asian woman. She, too, could not initially see that the flight was canceled, and then fixated on what the woman on the phone might have done. With the calm, patient demeanor that comes with years of experience, she was every bit as befuddled and useless as her younger co-worker.

Finally she seemed to understand that I would like to re-book my itinerary. (My stating "I would like to re-book my itinerary" didn't get through the first five times.) She said, "Okay, there's a flight leaving at 10 tonight. You want it?" My watch says 7:15, I'm not quite packed, I'm 20 minutes from home, I have no reasonable way to get to the airport.


Another 5-10 minutes to re-book the flight. The clock runs down. I call a couple of friends to ask for a ride, race home, pack, jump in the car...zoom through baggage check and security in 15 minutes, and arrive at the gate an hour before the 40-minute boarding period starts.

Beats spending a night or two stranded in Chicago.

Monday, January 4, 2010

in which I visit Turkish people

Among my girlfriend's vast and twisty travels, she spent at least a summer teaching English in Turkey, so she has Turkish friends and lots of stories about Turkish people. Her friend Cem (pronounced somewhere between "Jem" and "Chem") ultimately moved near the dojo, and since his mother is staying with him for three months (I think they're sorting out some of their family experience of the past few years), Anna and J and I went to visit them today.

After a few minutes, Cem informed us that we'd be eating. We were surprised, it being a bit before 4 P.M., but Cem's mom doesn't speak English and it was clear we were involved in a Turkish hospitality thing, so we sat down in the living room with our plates of amazing tasty homemade fancy Turkish guest food, and tiny little tea glasses. I don't know the names for the things I ate: a zucchini fritter, something savory made of "phyllo dough, only thinner", a coconut cookie, a sesame cookie, and a piece of some kind of cake soaked in sugar/honey syrup. All profoundly bad for me, but who knows when another Turkish mother will feed a full spread of stuff.

Actually, Cem's mother might: the hospitality remained not-quite-fulfilled, because we couldn't stay for the main course(!) and coffee. And this was Turkish custom moderated by an Americanized guy my age; I can't imagine how different--how insistent--it must be in Turkey itself.

oh, *that's* what that was

I called the mechanic and asked if he'd checked the car out yet.
"Yeah, so I went out to the car this morning, I got in the car, and it started right up. Started up six or seven times."


"Then just now I went out there and, uh, now it wouldn't start. So that's the good news."
He called later to report that with the car up on the lift and refusing to start, he "poked the starter with a screwdriver and it started, so that's definitely it, it needs a new starter". A mere $300 for parts and labor.

(I love my mechanic. Autoquest in Redwood City. They're awesome.)

As soon as I started it today, I remembered that the sound of the starter has been bugging me for months, like it took a half-second too long to get the engine running, with a vague wheezing to it. With the new starter, it was instantaneous, without the noise that was bugging me.

So the car did warn me something was wrong, but since it continued functioning flawlessly, I wasn't willing to waste time/effort/money having the mechanic chasing ghosts. I wonder if I would weigh that choice differently if sudden carlessness were a serious problem: if I had kids, or an unforgiving job, and planning carlessness was worth the risk that nothing was wrong. As it is, oh no! I had to ride my bicycle to the dojo and to my errands around the neighborhood. I think I survived okay.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

the car, it does nothing

That's not strictly true. It does everything except start, but that is sort of a car's raison d'etre.

I left the dojo and stopped at the motorcycle dealership down the street to drool on motorcycles, and when I came out, the ignition wouldn't turn over. The battery's fine, all the electrical stuff works, no blown fuses, and even pressing the dead-switch in the clutch by hand, it wouldn't turn over. That indicates that either something related to the starter motor died catastrophically with no warning, or the dead-switch broke. I'd actually incline to the latter, but I won't know until Monday anyway.

Anna and I tried out Skype last night, and it worked really well, so I'll give that a shot for Chile. The video chat works extremely well (at least over American broadband), so I recommend it if you feel like, um, trying video chat. We'll see how well it works in a Chilean internet cafe, if at all.

Along those lines, tonight I bought an Asus Eee 1005HA netbook for the trip. I was all set to buy an HP Mini-110, but changed my mind capriciously when a friend pointed me to the Asus. I may return the Asus for the HP, or for the Eee with a matte screen instead of glossy (actually, I'm considering changing the order: I usually loathe glossy screens). Either way, I should have the thing set up in plenty of time for departure.

Friday, January 1, 2010

gadget lust

There are some things, like a KitchenAid mixer, that will wait until I'm back from traveling and re-employed.

However, if you'd like to get me a birthday present, I would happily accept one of these.