reading list update

December 2nd, 2009

the evolving self – robert kegan
the river why – david james duncan
the wind’s twelve quarters – ursula k. leguin
east of eden – john steinbeck
the yiddish policeman’s union – michael chabon
[arrival in watsonville]

where that last post left off

December 2nd, 2009


since my last entry in this blog, i have begun using facebook, extensively, and i find that it has in some ways replaced my blogging, because it is good for me to be encouraged to be pithy, and the reward in terms of feeling more connected to so many people in so many different spheres of my life is addictive.

somehow, in the past year, facebook has managed to swallow up so much of the general population that it’s network now includes: the more computer savvy members of my extended family, in both colorado and florida, which means many cousins whom i see once every couple of years, if i’m lucky; most of my friends from highschool and college, including people whom i have not really seen or heard from since, but liked at the time, and now i really appreciate having a window onto where their lives have led; designers and techie people whom i have met and/or worked with since going to grad school, and who are now dispersed; bloomington townies i knew and loved before ever going to IU, and have been anchored by since; and various other people i met while traveling in the UK, living in portland, becoming involved with burning man, and generally circling the western 2/3 of this country for the last two years, while keeping as many tops spinning as possible in order to figure out what the hell to do next.

that’s quite a list, when it comes down to it, and it makes facebook by far the easiest way for me to keep up with the world right now. better than email, better than the phone, better than christmas letters, better than blog posts that i always Wish i could find time to write but then never do…

facebook is like just being able to think of the title of a blog post, and then not actually having to say anything else about it, unless people prompt you, which is a really nice option for my brain. :)

and i do like the freedom to write more than a 140 character twitter update, and attach pictures and links, though as with any new freedom, a learning period wherein we all must learn what it means to be judicious with our powers is part of the deal.

i still like twitter, and i should use it more, but it only includes the hci/techie circle i mentioned above, and celebrities and companies and news sources, which is nice, but not nice enough to win over facebook, when i’m pressed for time.

when i explain twitter to people, i call it a virtual water cooler, and i think that facebook status updates have really grown into the potential of that concept. it’s like a network of water coolers, with one in every building of your life, from which you draw not water, but random sequences of interesting tidbits of news and commentary, from everyone you have ever known.

and friends who don’t know each other – who live in different countries even! – can meet through your comments!

and we are forced to choose which sorts of conversations we WANT to carry on this publicly, and which to have more privately — how much do we talk about what we Really did last weekend? or what we think about our boss? or who we are going to vote for? or what we think about our neighbors?

and what does our willingness or reluctance to be transparent about these things say about us?

it is fascinating.

and i am thrilled to be able to witness it, much less shape it.

it is an example of why i continue to err more on the side of technophilia than technophobia.


find me on facebook if you want, k?

i logged on here because i was reading old blog posts, and realizing how long it has really been since i wrote, and how i do enjoy the record of my life and thoughts that my blog provides me, regardless of whether other people enjoy reading it, so i should do my best to avoid letting the gaps get too large.

and i don’t know about you, but when i have trains of thought like that, i find it best to follow them through, which in this case, meant just hit “write post” and see what happens.

and now it seems that i have written a post about facebook, which is fine.
it really is the best answer to “so, where’ve you been?” when it comes to the part of me that lives in the blogosphere, so it’s as good a place to start as any. :)

it’s characteristically not pithy, however, so i’ll just have to come back later with updates about, you know, the part of me that lives in the real world. ;)

i know i say ‘i’ll say this later’ a lot, but eventually, i might just surprise us all.

one potential benefit of winning nanowrimo this year is that it will make a daily writing habit easier, so i just have to structure my time, and that’s kind of my focus right now with kwerk, so ding! winner!

oh, yeah! i just won nanowrimo! :)

remember two years ago when i first tried it and failed miserably after a week or so of nervous effort, and then went on a trip to florida wherein i barely wrote at all?

don’t worry, i don’t really remember it, either.

but i really did blog more in those days, didn’t i?

anyway, i’m kind of in shock about it this time, because it was too easy, and that means that i really have no excuse to not write a novel…

but that’s another post, too.


practicality was never a part of my advertising campaign

July 28th, 2009

so, some of this is liable to have bled through my facebook status updates and such, if you’re one of those people who watches facebook all day, or you’re like, stalking me, but otherwise it’s probably hazy at most, so let me just go ahead and say it straight:

i quit my job in san diego, and i’m moving north to santa cruz.
i’ll most likely be there until the end of the year, but i don’t really know for certain, because i’m not really going to finish planning that part until after burning man.

i know!
you didn’t even know i had a job!
and if you did, it’s probably because you were otherwise privy to some of my first month and a half in san diego, wherein i was agonizing about money, because gainful employment in any capacity was starting to feel dangerously elusive, and i had to admit that picking myself up and moving across the country to a town where i knew only a handful of people and had no plan for survival beyond the promise of some design brainstorming with erik and the horizon of my initial two-month sublease, IN THE MIDDLE OF A RECESSION, was maybe a little bit less than the smartest plan i could have come up with.

[see post title]

but then, just as i was investigating escape routes, i landed a nearly full-time job with a tiny little research chemical supply house, doing what was supposed to be mostly office work with a touch of web design, but ended up being mostly web design with a touch of office work. the pay was not really fair for the work i was doing, and the amount of time it took, particularly when i included the commute, was really making it difficult to continue to work on other projects i actually cared about, so i was feeling wary, like a horse who let herself get saddled because there were apples involved, but now she isn’t so sure she likes the look of this trail…

but i told myself there was no reason to bolt – it was time to knuckle down, and quit whining, and be grateful to have a job at all. i had a lot i wanted to do, but what i needed most was the chance to relax into having a routine for a while, because my nerves were beginning to fray from the uncertainty of being on the road so long, and my health was beginning to suffer.

so i found a neat house with nice artsy folks and a dog and a big yard and a room for rent, and i focused on the positive sides of my new job (the people were friendly, and troubleshooting their website was educational, and the agreement was only until december, so i wasn’t too worried about them expecting me to stay for all time), and i tried to enjoy the summer. i went to the beach, and a padres game, and turned 30, and began making plans to get certified to teach english abroad. a month passed, and over the weekend of the 4th, i traveled north to wine country for an old friend’s wedding.

the wedding gave me the chance to tell the “so, what are you doing?” story about 100 times, and meet some new friends, and spend a few mornings walking along dirt roads in a pine-scented valley that began each day blanketed in fog. it grounded me sufficiently that when i got back, sticking with my job seemed ridiculous and cowardly, and i resolved to just quit before burning man, instead of risking being fired when i asked for the time off, which was my ingenious current plan.

that same weekend, my mother’s partner went into the hospital.
his kidneys have been failing, and this time they found out that he is going to require a whole new level of home care. :(
right now my mom has some time off to be able to get used to the transition, but in the fall it will suck, and if i were to come and help with the cooking and stuff it would be a tremendous help, and i could live rent-free, and look for a part-time job in santa cruz, and have time to work on kwerk, and a kitchen full of food to play with.

and, as a complete bonus, i had been handed a pretty much fault-free way to quit my job, with no need to wait until burning man.
i could just walk away.

it was crazy, and since i know that i am susceptible to looking for excuses to do crazy things sometimes, i wanted to think it over, but it just felt like the right thing to do on a lot of levels, and when i told all of this to erik after he picked me up from the airport, the first thing he said was: funny thing, but this month is going to be crazy with sprout robot, so if you want part-time work during the transition, i could find stuff for you to do, and pay you a fair wage, so that would mean you would have another month of work, really, even if you quit tomorrow.

and that pretty much sealed it.

so here i am.

the last few weeks have been a wild ride, but i still feel good about the decision.

this week, i am trying to spend as much time as i can helping with sprout robot, and also deciding whether i have enough room in my car for the things i had with me plus the things erik has been kindly storing for me since last august, because if i don’t, i need a trailer.

i am leaving town at the end of the week.

as of today, i have one month, exactly, to ensure that all the bits and pieces are in place such that a kitchen will be equipped to feed 50 people for a week in the middle of the nevada desert.

i am frightened at times, but the wind on my back feels good.

metaposts, an introduction

July 26th, 2009

the best writing teacher i ever had was a man named andrew hess.
andrew was the grad student who taught my section of the expository writing class that all freshmen at NYU were required to take as a part of the general education sequence. most people hated this class, and, as with many classes that are taught by an assortment of grad students, a lot of them probably had pretty good reason. the odds of me ending up with andrew as an instructor were slim, and even slimmer because his section of the class met at 8:30 in the morning, which would never have been my first choice, but it so happened that it was the only section that fit into my schedule that was also a ‘computer section.’

the whole idea of this is actually kind of baffling now, but this was 1997, and most people didn’t have laptops, and some people didn’t even have a computer at all, so you didn’t always get to turn your papers in digitally. you actually had to, like, print things out, and find a stapler. but my freshman year at NYU they were trying out this new thing by having ‘computer sections’ of writing workshop. we met in a computer lab, and turned in our papers via email. we also did things like chat together in class about something we read.

it was all meant to be very cutting edge, and, in what i suppose was a foreshadowing of my future interest in hci, i thought it was exciting enough that i wanted to sign up for it, even though it meant going to class at 8:30 in the morning. i had just finished going to highschool for four years, after all, and i had to get there at 7:15, so 8:30 sounded quite reasonable. after a full year of staying up until 3 in the morning on a regular basis, and almost never getting more than 6 hours of sleep a night, i changed my tune, but in the narrow window between eras, i signed up for andrew hess’s section of writing workshop, and it changed me. for the first time in my life, i had a teacher who saw right through my bullshit, and tore my writing apart, and challenged me to really think about what i was saying instead of just babbling because it was easy for me to babble, like i’m doing in this blog post.

la la la la.

it was hard, and it scared me a little, and if i ever get my act together and actually write something that makes me proud, it will be partly because of andrew hess, and i will say so in the acknowledgements.

anyway, one of the things that andrew did was ask us to write something that he called a ‘metatext’ after each of our papers. the idea was to give us a place where we could express our thoughts on how the paper went – did we like it? did we leave something out? what hung us up? what did we know was confusing?

this practice raised the caliber of andrew’s editorial comments to a whole new level, because he knew what we already knew, and this experience felt to me like fresh air was finally being let into a room that had grown very stale and stifling, and it made me rather giddy.

one of the things that the metatext helped me with was being comfortable leaving things alone even when i didn’t feel like they were finished yet. i have a very hard time with drafts. i try to make things fit together from the beginning. and i fail. because that’s not how writing works, really. you need to test things. see how they feel. rework them and move them around. i resist this, because my thoughts? they are messy. and it’s hard for me to explain them. and no matter how many times i learn the lesson that it’s faster and more rewarding to just let myself say them a hundred different ways and then pick the ones that work best, i still feel bad about asking other people to sort through my muck, and nervous about going on the record with things that i don’t really mean.

i’m saying all this not because i’m feeling particularly narcissistic this evening, but because it’s a pretty good description of the core of my dilemma with blogging. i was thinking about it as i was writing the last post about kwerk because i kept getting stuck, and it made me nervous, and i remembered andrew hess, and writing workshop, and metatexts, and i thought: maybe i should start writing metaposts? separate places where i let myself ramble about what i think the post did pretty well, and how it compares to the form of the idea that i’m trying to find a way to express, and what i think i might do to make it better.

it seems worth a try, a least.

i can hide the metaposts after the jump, or something. maybe find a plugin that lets me attach notes. then people with interest in such things can read them, and the main posts might get leaner, as a result.

i’ll go write a metapost for the kwerk post now, and try it out.

i thought that this was going to be the metapost, but then i decided to tell stories instead. :)

so andrew, if you ever read this – thank you. i will have you know that you also made me very sensitive to the fact that czechoslovakia no longer exists, and i hope that the past ten years have treated you well. i am trying to focus on kwerk, and finding ways to make money in the meantime, but i am also starting to write a short story – pretty heady sci-fi – and when i finish, i will seek you out, and send you a copy, and if you have the time and interest to tear it apart, it would be a tremendous honor.

kwerk is a game of four colors

July 26th, 2009

kwerk is a game of four colors – green, red, yellow, and blue.

each color corresponds to a different way of looking at the world.

green is the color of foundation and structure – of plans, logistics, and routines; the rhythm of physical existence.
red is the color of action – of work, economics, and ‘progress’; the creation of material things that didn’t previously exist.
yellow is the color of reason – of science, logic, and formal language; the development and articulation of ideas.
blue is the color of intuition – of memory, emotion, and art; the sense of connection to something beyond the self.

i am happiest when swimming in blue, comfortable with yellow for sport, alarmingly reluctant to devote time to red until the last possible minute, and nearly totally oblivious to green when it is not being actively enforced by other people.

if that makes sense, you actually know quite a bit about me now.

there are four colors for the same basic reason that there are four elements, and four suits in a deck of cards, and four continuums of the myers-briggs personality survey; fourness just seems to keep popping up when people go about trying to subdivide the human experience into meaningful chunks. there are lots of theories about why, and i am devoting a good amount of yellow time to studying them, but that is not the focus of this post. on the whole, the crosscultural persistence of the meme is enough to capture my attention, and when it comes to the initial decisions about how to structure kwerk, i am inclined to respect my elders.

playing kwerk is about learning to think in four colors, as if your life is one of those video games where your character has different health bars, and you go around collecting items or playing minigames or talking to tree sprites in order to build up the different bars. thus, you prepare yourself for the different sorts of challenges that present themselves as the story unfolds, and you improve your chances for success.

to get started in kwerk, you color code your actions and your goals, and then you log what you spend your time doing. over time, you get a color distribution of your life that is increasingly informative. it’s kind of like using quicken to keep track of how you spend your money in order to help you figure out your budget, except it’s keeping track of how you spend your time in order to help you figure out your dreams.

kwerk is a game that i am inventing for myself, to incentivize red and green activity that i tend to procrastinate or ignore completely, and to reward myself for blue and yellow activity that i tend to dismiss as easy and therefore undervalue.

on the whole, kwerk is a tool for cultivating balance.
and it’s a game because i see no reason that such pursuits should not be fun.

right now, kwerk exists mostly in my mind, but bit by bit, conversation by conversation, it is taking root in more minds and sending out fragile little shoots that we can see and touch and nurture and name.

it’s kind of exciting. :)

so… an online version is the goal.
hopefully by the end of the year.
who wants to play?

more broadly, i suppose, who’s still reading this blog?

and what should i talk about next?

metapost, after the jump, for the intrepid amongst ye…
Read the rest of this entry »

other stuff i read but didn’t succeed in posting at the time

July 14th, 2009

in roughly reverse chronological order, stepping back to where i left off on my reading list:

cryptonomicon – neal stephenson
a wild sheep chase – haruki marukami
legends of the fall – jim harrison
hell’s angels – hunter s. thompson
the tortilla curtain – t.c. boyle
[san diego]

son of a witch – gregory maguire
wicked – gregory maguire

plains of passage – jean m auel
tihkal – alexander and jane shulgin
[colorado for the holidays]

servant of the bones – anne rice
dreams of my father – barack obama
the kite runner – khaled hosseini
[reconnecting with bloomington]

sometimes a great notion – ken kesey
[lingering in oregon]

border crossing

April 27th, 2009

last summer, i set out for southern california with the intention of setting down some semi-permanent roots in the san diego area by september. instead, i spent all my money on running a kitchen at burning man, and ran my energy bar down into the blinking red along the way.

the adventure was worth the risk, but i needed to recover, so i returned east to search for powerups, play some old mini-games i had already figured out pretty well, and develop my strategy a bit better. i learned a lot, and had a lot of fun, and felt very grateful for my friends.

i also thought quite a bit about the potential benefit of using games as a metaphor for life, and that may impact how i write for a while, so… fair warning.

last wednesday i arrived in san diego with a carload of assorted possessions, a two-month sublease on a room that is two blocks from the ocean, and a relatively well-defined concept for a web project that erik has agreed to work on with me for a while.

these are all very good things, and i’ve spent this weekend taking many deep breaths while looking out the window at the palm trees, listening to the birds, and trying to just let my new surroundings sink in.

i love california, but right now, bouncing back and forth between time zones as much as i am, i can’t help but marvel at how different it feels from the rest of the country when it comes to the simple mechanics of daily life.

when abundance can be taken as a given in life, strategies change.

whenever i’m here i feel like i’ve just been dealt a really great hand of cards, and at first it’s really fun to play it out and get a lot of points, but after a while it starts to get boring, and i start to wonder if maybe someone forgot to shuffle the deck…

for now, here i am, and my hand excites me.
i am good, but tired, and there are many stories to tell.
over the next few weeks i will try to figure out where to begin.

wordpress hackery for the day – automatically generate category rss links for category archive pages

January 29th, 2009

i’m helping my dad set up a blog for his law office, and he’s decided to focus on a few main category areas and build up audiences for each.

i told him that we could use the category archives that wordpress generates to filter the posts. then we could link to these pages and style them however we want as we design the site as a whole, and people can subscribe to the rss feeds for only the categories they want.

i was not lying, but today when i actually set about to ask the category feeds to play nice with my dad’s theme, it was a little bit harder than it should have been, and i decided to blog about my solution.

the theme has a big friendly “subcribe to our feed!” link, that i like very much, and it uses a file that it calls ‘subscribe.php’ to generate the link, which i also like. for those of you playing along at home, that means that you can just include ‘subscribe.php’ anywhere you want an rss link to show up, and if you ever want to change the way the link works, you only have to update one file. hurray!

for my purposes, however, a different rss link needs to be generated when you are on a category page, and it has to be the right one. one way of doing this would be to make a custom category template for each page, which wordpress lets you do by making pages like ‘category-17.php’ in your theme folder. but that would be annoying, and it would take away the benefit of having only one piece of code to change, which would be even more annoying, not to mention bad practice.

the better way is to add a condition to the ‘subscribe.php’ file that checks to see if the page you are on is a category archive, and then generates the appropriate rss link. that should be easy enough, but i couldn’t find a function that automatically retrieves category-specific rss feeds, and the otherwise convenient fact that there are several different ways to refer to rss feeds (but only one way to refer to a category-specific feed), was giving me trouble.


i spent a while searching the wordpress codex to see if someone had already written the code or a plugin for me, because it seems like the kind of thing that would be a relatively common desire. sure enough, i found lots of people who wanted to do this, but only one who seemed to have succeeded, and his solution seemed really wonky to me and i wasn’t sure it would even work in the new version of wordpress.

in many ways, the strength of the wordpress community spoils me for times like this. i can almost always find answers to my codex questions in less than five minutes, so when i can’t, i just assume the answer isn’t out there, which probably isn’t true. in any case, if i can’t find the answer before i get tired of looking, other people probably can’t either, so it seemed like a good opportunity to increase the number of answers in the pool. :)

after a few frustrations with brackets and such that are par for the course, i made it work!

‘subscribe.php’ now uses the following code to generate the RSS link:

" title="Subscribe to this Feed via RSS">Subscribe via RSS

that’s a lot of babbling so i won’t say more unless there are questions.
good night and good luck!

15 minutes: Why you need something other than a non-stick pan

January 27th, 2009

OK, so, continuing with the “write for 15 minutes and then post” game that began yesterday (that’s what the “15 minutes:” at the beginning of the title means. I will try to stop commenting on it in the future unless I need ways to kill time. :), today I remembered a little rant that I had the other day that I thought it would be good to blog at some point.

Initially, I wanted to title the post “How non-stick pans are ruining a generation of home chefs”, but that seemed a bit harsh, so now I will just say this: if you ever want to make sauce or gravy – and really, if you are cooking with meat or onions on a regular basis and you don’t want to make sauce or gravy… why not? – please don’t use a non-stick pan.

The science behind this plea is quite simple, and I will let Wikipedia summarize it for me:

Deglazing is a cooking technique for removing bits of food from a pan in order to make a sauce with them. When a piece of meat is roasted, pan fried or prepared in a pan with another form of dry heat, a fond, or deposit is left at the bottom of the pan with any rendered fat. Usually, the meat is removed from the cooking vessel, the majority of the oil is poured off, leaving a small amount with the dried and caramelized meat juices. The pan is returned to the heat, and a liquid is added to act as a solvent. This liquid can be plain water, vegetable or meat stock, a spirit, some wine, verjuice or any other liquid. This allows the cook to scrape the dark spots from the bottom of the pan, and dissolve them creating a rich sauce. [1]

This method is the cornerstone of many well known sauces and gravies. The resulting liquid can be seasoned and served on its own (sometimes called a jus), or with the addition of aromatic vegetables such as onions or shallots. The sauce can also be thickened with a starch such as flour, cornstarch, or arrowroot, or reduced with a steady heat forming a richer concentrated sauce.

You see, something really cool happens when you heat up sugar, and it is what we call caramelization. You know, like caramel. Caramel is sugar that has been cooked at a high enough temperature that it turns brown, which gives it that characteristic nutty sweet caramelly taste. If you just heat up sugar alone and then add butter and milk in appropriate proportions, you get caramel, or butterscotch, and you have a happy day before you.

When you heat up other foods that have sugar inside of them, however (and a lot of foods have sugar in them somewhere – yay energy!), those sugars start to caramelize after a while too, and the way the food tastes changes. Caramelized onions, as the most famous example, are just onions that have been cooked for a long time. No caramel is added. It comes out of the onion like magic and bunnies. Cooking is chemistry, people, and chemistry is fun. :)

If you use a nonstick pan, however, you miss out on a lot of this fun. The sugars brown best when they get to stick to something for a while and get crispy, but nonstick pans are built around the notion that sticking is terrible, and we want to avoid it at all costs. That makes home chefs who aren’t used to browning action freak out a bit when they start cooking something and the sugars begin to caramelize, and the innate reaction is to stir and scrape and curse at what suddenly seems like a pan that will be really hard to wash.

As wikipedia explains above, however, you should just chill. Wait a few minutes. And add water. Or brandy! The process of ‘deglazing’ is an entry level concept for sauciers everywhere, and I think it’s a shame that people might not be able to learn it just because they got tricked into thinking that non-stick coatings are the best thing to happen to home cooking since the microwave.

I’m a couple minutes over, so now I leave.
I might come back later or post again with pictures.
In the meantime, have fun! Deglaze something! Trust me! :)

15 minutes: ADHD, evolution, and me

January 26th, 2009

i’ve been thinking a fair bit about ADHD lately. a good friend of mine has a son who was recently diagnosed and has begun medication, and in my own quest to understand my own scattered behaviors and bouts with anxiety and depression, i have started to humor the idea that i could probably pretty thoroughly convince myself, and at least one health care professional, that i ‘suffer’ from the adult version that is currently making the rounds in the popular psychology press. this is a touchy subject and i have resisted writing about it in the past because i want to respect the people who sincerely believe that the recent trend towards medication in our culture has really helped them and/or the people they love. i will never, and i mean NEVER, deign to judge anyone for their personal decisions regarding self-medication, prescription or otherwise. there are a lot of weights to bear in this world, and very little that is known for certain about how to make them lighter. it is up to each of us to evaluate the evidence that we are given and make the best decisions that we can. that said, it is up to me to undertake that sort of evaluation for myself, and talking about what i see and feel seems like it could help others in their own quest for understanding, so i am trying to find the courage to be open and honest while still retaining a fundamental respect for others’ ability to do the same. so.
enough preface, eh?
what am i thinking?
as i see it, the rise in ADHD and other neurological diagnoses, both in our children and adults, can be explained in one of three ways:
1) we have always been crazy, but we didn’t have the tools to diagnose it until recently, so people either just died or found a way to deal, even though that often meant living with a great deal of pain;
2) we are being driven crazy by our society – too many lights, too many preservatives, too much reinforcement of predatory behavior in the media – and we need to change our lifestyles or drug ourselves in order to cope;
3) we are evolving – technology in our society is enabling us to think in new ways, work in new ways, relate to one another in new ways, and by and large this is a positive development, but there will be growing pains as our cultural structures evolve with us in ways that support our development rather than hold it back.

this last option is not one that has a great deal of support in the current medical literature, and less in the media that seeks to explain that literature to the rest of us.
but it is the option that resonates the most with me, and i am not alone, and i think it’s about time for me to start exploring the idea more publicly so that i can start figuring out what it means.

i wrote this post as part of a new experiment with my friend erik, and the experiment is: write about something you’re thinking about for 15 minutes and then post it. no looking back. so that’s all i have time for. here goes! :)