Thursday, December 20, 2007

Happy Holidays

I will probably not be blogging again until the new year, so I wish you a Joyous Winter Whatever and leave you with the image of this most excellent holiday card that Robert's female cousin sent us. Even without adhering to the sure-fire Animal + Snow secular card formula, it is quite brilliant:

Oh, I dare say they are giving each other identical fur hats but lack the proper heads to wear them

(10 bonus points to those of you who recognized the work of Edward Gorey.)

Luscious Lasagna

Joy to the world, the lasagna's done
I was so very pleased with how the lasagna I cooked this morning turned out that I decided not to wait until dinner to eat some - it was a fantastic lunch. It made 8 large servings at about 550 calories each - not diet food, certainly, but nothing like the sort of mega-calorie-and-fat lasagna monstrosity that you would get at a restaurant. I also thought it was yummier and appreciated not feeling ill or waddling to the sofa and falling down on it in a heap afterwards.

I used 1 pound of ground beef, a bunch of crimini* mushrooms Robert bought at the farmers market, and a homemade pesto using the last of my thyme and oregano mixed in with basil from the farmers market (my basil has already died and I know the other herbs will not survive my leaving them for over a week; Leo took one for the team and vacuumed up in a couple of minutes the two handfuls of mint I culled from the plant this afternoon - such a sacrifice). It was supposed to have spinach also, but it had gone sort of funky-smelling so I threw it away.

* Robert just saw this and said, They're crimini, not baby bella? I did an image search and found a picture of crimini mushrooms and indeed, they looked like ours. A further search indicated that baby bella and crimini mushrooms are the same thing.

By the way, seeing the nutritional analysis on those restaurant items, I feel even more smug and self-satisfied by always getting the Simple Salmon with Asparagus at Macaroni Grill (590 calories) than before. I usually eat about half of it, and take the rest home. Of course, I also generally eat about an entire Peasant Bread loaf, coming in at 520 calories, by myself also. Oh, with about a tablespoon of olive oil altogether. Still, I think any absolutely indulgent meal eaten at an Italian restaurant that comes in under 1,000 calories is near-miraculous. It's just a good thing I don't do it very often.

Jane Austen Screw Up

I recently read two Jane Austen novels and got them confused in my mind.

Northanger Abbey was a delight.

Mansfield Park was a moralizing dud.

Perhaps more on this later.

The Domain and Christmas Cards

Last night, RB finally convinced me to go to his current favorite restaurant at the Domain shopping center that Livingdeb has blogged about before. I had the sashimi, which was very good, and from the "mini" dessert menu, the "seasonal fruit buckle," which was a real disappointment (though it was appropriately small - a circular cylinder about 2.5" in diameter and less than 2" tall). It was pear and apple - I am not a big fan of pear - in a dense, heavy, dry cake with a sickeningly oversweetened pear syrup on it and no streusel topping, which is just wrong. The vanilla ice cream was quite bland; I am a huge fan of vanilla ice cream in general, but this tasted like somebody ran to a low-end grocery store and bought the store brand Xtra Kreamy vanilla ice cream in a box (which is to say, not up to the standards of Supr-Cheep-n-Flayvrfull brand). I admit that I have been spoiled by the wonders of Amy's Mexican vanilla ice cream, but this stuff was just not good. Next time, I will try the "butterfinger creme brulee" made with "homemade" butterfinger. The iced tea had a faint lavender flavor, which was delicious, and was quite caffeinated.

The Domain is indeed quite a nice place for walking around, if one is prepared to withstand the merciless onslaught of yuppie conspicuous consumption. I mean, next time I'm in the market for an ostentatious handbag or $300 pair of jeans, this will be an excellent place to shop. It was like a little piece of Dallas right here in Austin. (I admit, I did get to enjoy that feeling of superiority that comes with reverse snobbishness.) It was, as you might expect, whiter than the First Lutheran Church of Duluth, Minnesota's lutefisk dinner; of all the many shoppers I saw as we took a long postprandial stroll, I did eventually see two black women. This bears no resemblance whatsoever to the east or south Austin experience. (Perhaps Amy's Mexican vanilla ice cream would not feel comfortable in such an environment of white privilege or would strike customers as ethnic-in-a-bad-way.)

RB surprised me by saying that he had trouble finding Christmas cards recently that did not feature obvious markers of Christianity such as mangers, angels, Santa Clauses, and so forth. Although cards like that are very popular, almost every card I have purchased or received in recent years has been animal themed - birds on a snowy tree, a white bunny covered with snow on the snowy ground (my favorite that I have sent), a cat's profile visible in the window of a country house surrounded by snow, penguins sliding down a snowy hill, polar bears curled up on each other, and such. Snow + Animals = Christmas Card. It's really that simple.

The best RB could do was a card with a Christmas tree on it, which prompted me to remark that I thought the Christmas tree was one of Martin Luther's doings, though I admitted that having been raised as a Protestant, I kind of assume Martin Luther did everything. RB said, but the Christmas tree was originally pagan. I said, OK, yes, let me restate that I think the Christmas tree was popularized as an actual element of Christmas by Martin Luther. Online, I found various sources that say the Christmas tree was a European pagan thing made popular in Germany around the time of Luther, and that Luther has a famous Christmas tree (which is what I have heard before), while others say that it's not European in origin, but Middle Eastern, and the Luther legend is a myth.

But if you look around online, you can find purveyors of Winter Solstice cards (I liked some of these, for instance) to celebrate the season with zero Jesus element.

E.g. Happy Winter Solstice from the Moose:

I wish I had such nice eyelashes
Speaking of old-school, traditional holidays, I enjoyed the vintage Festivus cards available here.

Happy Festivus from a Sly and Stylish Cat:

You can imagine her under the mistletoe

I admit that I'm having trouble getting into the Christmas/Winter Solstice/Festivus spirit today in part because it is currently 77 degrees in my apartment. Even though a white Christmas is quite unnecessary, I hope that Oklahoma can at least offer me an opportunity to wear a jacket this coming week.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Crack Cocaine of Internet Games?

This one is definitely a contender for Most Addictive Timewaster Game. I am extremely glad I didn't come across it during finals. I can already see that for the near future it's going to be my go-to every time I have 15 minutes to 15 hours of time clear for goofing off.

(Via Megan McArdle)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Michael Hurley/Lounge Lizards Concert

Robert and I met RB and Livingdeb to see this concert at the Cactus Cafe on Saturday night. (She writes about it here.) RB camped out at the door to ensure that we got prime seats on the front row.

Some of you may know Michael Hurley from the Have Moicy! album - he wrote "Slurf Song," "Fooey Fooey," "Sweet Lucy," and "Driving Wheel" (according to some website I accidentally lost track of). It was interesting to watch him perform up close. There is an oddness to the lyrics and music - in some way, they don't match, but work together surprisingly well. I don't play guitar, so it is hard for me to judge, but there appeared to me to be an intricacy, and occasionally strange stop-go element, to his playing, which balanced out the roaming quality of the lyrics. My favorites of the songs he performed were his classic "O My Stars" and "Knockando" (which is a scotch whisky that I have never had, but that he pronounces to sing: I have a glass of "no can do"). Youtube has a clip of him performing "Knockando" about a month ago that gives a good feel for this.

The Lizards played two sets, which was one set too many in my opinion. (By the end, I was like, will you goddamn play "Anahuac" already so we can get out of here? "Anahuac" is their signature song. It was nearing midnight by the time they wrapped up. I was quite happy that Robert managed to get a parking spot about 1 block away because I was tired and it was fairly cold.) I did enjoy the first set a lot, though, with its usual silliness and fun. Perhaps the one I liked best was "Hey Little Minivan." The unexpected, um, treat? was the German rap number performed by the young fiddler/mandolin player; I had an amusing progression of recognizing words, grammatical structures, phrases, and finally a few sentences to realize that he was actually rapping in German, and not faking it. I looked him up later and discovered he has a degree in German, lived there for a while, and put together an entire CD of German rap songs.

I thought some of the more recent Lizards songs sounded rather formulaic (I mean, even by their standards) and that someone had used too heavy a hand in adding political content, but apparently, some activist group had commissioned these songs. However, even though I thought the song about immigration was mostly a stupid waste of time, I did like the closing comment about building the wall - that they would have to hire a bunch of Mexicans to build it. Overall, I was pleased with the banjo and fiddle content of the evening, though.

Oh, I also wanted to add: It seemed to me that the number of under-40's in the audience (even including the few children there accompanying adults) was less than the number of over-65's. Of course, Hurley and the Lizards players, with the exception of the one "new" guy who has "only" been with them for four years, all appeared to be older than my parents. I loved this one old woman (75 if she was a day) wearing an Austin Lounge Lizards t-shirt underneath her actually quite nice black blazer.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Charitable Contributions: Lagomorph Edition

Since 'tis the season, etc., I thought I would pass on the information about a program I have been supporting since the summer. Goodsearch is a search engine based on Yahoo!'s search program that donates a penny to the charity of your choice for every search you do.

Even if you are a hard-core Google fan, there are a lot of searches you do for which the most sophisticated algorithms are not necessary. I have used Goodsearch a lot, for example, when looking up universities (which I do a fair amount, of course), specific web sites (in fact, after looking up wunderground, my old standby weather site, I followed a paid search link to and discovered that I actually prefer it), specific businesses, and wikipedia listings (e.g. "Cherokee nation wikipedia"). I also use the Goodsearch site to "look up" links that I check out fairly often.

Goodsearch also has a shopping site; if you navigate to one of the store sites from Goodsearch, a portion of your sale will be donated.

My charity of choice is "House Rabbit Resource Network (Austin, TX)" - the awesome group from whom we adopted the delightful Kate & Leopold, who continue to provide good information and support, and who are fighting the good fight for abandoned bunnies. But there are a lot of organizations you can choose from.

If you're shopping Amazon and do not already have an organization you are supporting through their associates program, accessing Amazon through this link, by clicking on any of the listed books, will give the House Rabbit group a percentage of your sale no matter what product you buy.

You can also become a "Bunny Benefactor" by donating money to support a foster bunny and they will name their next rabbit after the human/animal of your choice. A gift for the person or pet who has everything ... except a bunny named in their honor... or a tribute to a departed friend, furry or otherwise.

Current shelter bunnies say: Thank you!

Two of the sweet bunnies kept alive through the generosity of House Rabbit Resource Network volunteers and benefactors

Friday, December 14, 2007

Infinite Pet

Since Leo got sick about a week ago (parasitical infection that he probably picked up at the bunny sitter - which has the same kind of health risks as sending your child to live in close quarters with others at boarding school or something), there has been a tremendous change I would not have thought possible: he will not eat carrot. Smart money is on the hypothesis that he associates carrots with feeling sick and so is avoiding them. (I didn't eat olives for a year after having the flu one time, so it seems plausible to me.) So he has been eating hay and greens and food pellets instead. We tempted his appetite when he got home from the vet with golden raisins, which he went crazy for, but he is off the raisins now.

But he has become, if anything, even more desirous/demanding of long petting sessions. Robert sometimes disappears in Leo's room for 20 minutes or more of full-time petting. Leo loves Robert's attention because Robert has perfected an ear-scratching technique that affects Leo like a Jedi mind trick and because he is willing to let Leo be the unstoppable force of nudging. (By contrast, Leo encounters an immovable object when he tries to nudge me around.)

Leo being willingly manipulated into a trance:

You are feeling very sleepy...

Leo demonstrates his agency by pushing the boy human around:

I am the all-powerful Rex!

(I don't know what the song "The Infinite Pet" by Austin-band Spoon is actually about, of course; my first two guesses are "a girl" or "a drug habit" but that's just applying the probabilities of rock music. I love the sound of it, though - it has a kind of "gumshoe music" feel about it. Ever since I've been thinking of Leo's pursuit of an Infinite Pet, though, it's totally been stuck in my head. Here, you can get it a taste of the song - click "preview all.")

Semester 1 Postmordem

I am feeling quite celebratory today that the semester is over. (This happened Tuesday afternoon, but Wed & Thurs were hectic enough that I did not have time to fully appreciate the sense of relief and closure.)

The breakdown:

Marketing - course grade = 98%. The final indeed did turn out to be much easier than the other tests and I got a 100% on it. I studied for the final more than was strictly necessary to receive a 100%, let alone a grade sufficient to secure an A in the course, but I have the material from the book down pretty much cold at this point. (My fundamental position on my classes this semester was that the opportunity costs of additional study are minimal, so I might as well do enough to achieve complete mastery of the material and not merely an A in the course, and that I should get in the habit of putting a lot of time and effort into school so later, when the demands get greater, I do not have to experience as drastic a ratcheting-up.)

I really noticed how much I had learned yesterday when I was reading the book Consumer Psychology for Marketing and had immediate intimate familiarity with the marketing concepts, models, and terms in the book. I had started reading this book before taking the marketing class but I wasn't getting very much out of it at that time. (This is one of the books I checked out from the UT library quite a while back.)

Calculus 2 - I am confident that my final exam score is going to be 100 minus any stupid calculation errors. One of the series questions was sort of baffling for a while, but after attempting multiple lines of attack, I realized that I could apply the "partial fractions" technique we learned in integration to rewrite the nth term (a-sub-n); kind of sneaky. So my course grade should be in the neighborhood of 100% (so I get to feel all cheated about the lack of A+'s).

Psychology (Attitude change) - I just checked and I got a 100% for my course grade. On Tuesday, I did my performance of the Cherokee nutrition presentation I have been putting together (and dreading) and I have to admit, I basically enjoyed it. I hated it at various stages, and was pulling my hair out about it and put in a ton of work into it, but ultimately, I thought it was actually pretty decent even by "real project" (as opposed to academic exercise) standards. My professor said she was "seriously very impressed" by it, and I was particularly gratified when she asked me where I found the children's Rabbit story that I told and I got to say, "Oh, I wrote it." (An additional reason for wanting to excel spectacularly in this class is that I am planning on having the professor write me a recommendation.)

Writing the Rabbit story was the most fun element of the whole project (and even though it took me only an hour to do it, I had been thinking from the conception of the project that I wanted to find a way to sneak Rabbit - the Cherokee trickster hero who in the traditional stories is frequently taught lessons after making mistakes - into it; in the end, I transformed him slightly into a Rabbit-as-Kid character who was tricked by a witch) and it was an effective form of self-persuasion, since I have several times since then thought twice about a food choice after realizing that this was the kind of behavior that screwed Rabbit up. Despite this being what theory and past research would suggest, I was still surprised that preparing and presenting this information actually worked in changing my attitude and behavior.

The psychology class was tremendously valuable to me, not only as good preparation for marketing grad school, but in terms of the applicability of the ideas and techniques to life in general. Is there any aspect of life in which being more effective in persuading other people (or oneself, really) is not useful?

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the teaching in my classes and the thought that the professors put into setting up the course assignments, grading, and other such elements. One of the benefits of attending a teaching-oriented, rather than research-oriented, university is that the professors do view teaching as their primary job. Of course, I may have just gotten lucky this semester (and I am sure this is the case where my math professor is concerned - he is truly outstanding in a way that I cannot hope will be matched by others in his department) and will have a lot more to grumble about next semester.

One example of thoughtful design: my psychology course had a lot of reading (par for the course for graduate psych classes) that we needed to do prior to the class meeting or the discussion would be terrible. (It was a seminar format and had four students). To ensure that we actually did the reading at a sufficiently attentive level, the professor assigned "short papers" to be due on every set of readings, which included summarization of key points, our evaluation/criticisms, and further research we would like to see. Although writing these papers was a time-consuming pain in the ass, it made me read and evaluate them more thoroughly, prepared me for the class discussions, and served as a good starting point for studying for the exams.

And for those keeping score at home, our continually late marketing professor did indeed show up for the final at 8:10 rather than 8:00. There was much grumbling notice of this fact amongst the throng of students assembled outside the locked classroom door. A girl said to me, "You'd think he could be on time for the final exam at least," and I responded, "Well, he is demonstrating consistency, for whatever that's worth." Another girl tried to find a way to excuse him for his tardiness - "Well, maybe driving all the way from Austin is tough." Someone else said, "Half this class drove in from Austin this morning and we all managed to be here on time." The guy had zero credibility on the "professional behavior" front by the end, which was unfortunate, because his basic message about the importance of it was sound and quite valuable for people approaching the transition point from student to working adult. I do give him credit for his sustained attempts to emphasize to us how vital things like knowing our strengths and weaknesses, trying to improve those weaknesses, having a plan, behaving professionally, and so forth are in getting a good job and having a successful career, even if he did sort of undermine his own message with some of his behavior. (Perhaps this was a subtle attempt to demonstrate what not to do? Ahem.)

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Fuzzy Vest Convert

Stylin'Last Christmas (prior to Operation Cheap Ass), I went shopping with my mom and could not resist purchasing this fuzzy vest, even though it seemed an impractical choice for Austin. (Am I wearing a vest with a nightgown in this photo? Why yes, I am.) Wearing it last winter, and part of this one, I have found it sort of surprising, actually, how warm you can be just by keeping your trunk covered up. (I guess 4.8 million Coloradans can't be wrong on this.)

It's an amazingly useful thing to wear for staying warm (indoors) while not adding more bulky sleeves. Favorite situations to date for the fuzzy vest: eating, cooking, typing, playing cards. It does not seem like a promising garment for sleeping, however.

Mine has a smooth exterior and a fuzzy lining. Fleece vests are also incredibly popular and easily available (and do not have to suck if you can get fleece that is pet-fur resistant).

So if you have a tendency to get chilled, but have doubted the warming power of a cover-up that doesn't even have sleeves, I recommend you give a zip-up vest another look. But please note that I cannot condone wearing an argyle sweater vest under the vast majority of cases. Exception: you are playing golf at St Andrews and are also wearing knickers and argyle knee socks.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

State of Emergency

My parents are among the 75% of Tulsa area residents to be without power following the ice storm that has resulted in Bush declaring a state of emergency for the state of Oklahoma today. Across the state, over 600,000 homes and businesses have no electricity. My parents' neighbor managed to talk to an actual human being at the electric company, who said that their neighborhood will have their power back on, "by latest Tuesday, December 18."

Fortunately, my grandmother has an old-fashioned gas oven that she can turn on for heat, so my parents are staying with her.

My mom called me yesterday from my parents' house, where they went back to check on the cat (who was totally freaked out - the neighbor reported that ice-covered branches kept crashing down loudly throughout the night) and they found that the maple tree in the front yard had lost all of its branches across the driveway, totally blocking them both by car and by foot. My dad's car (his new Civic), which had been parked outside, had a thick layer of ice such that there was no way to get into it; it had also narrowly escaped being smashed by the fallen tree branches. Our conversation was cut short when my dad reported that it was starting to rain again in the below freezing conditions and they needed to get back to my grandmother's house while the roads were still reasonably safe.

Today, I missed my mom's call from the brief visit to check the cat because I was at my last final at school, but she left a message that my grandmother is now without telephone service due to a fallen tree taking out the line and that she will not be available by cell as the companies are requesting they be used for emergencies only. So we're on a no-news-is-good-news policy right now. I hope the primary problem over the next week is one of absolute tedium as they wait this thing out. (Being stuck in one's mother-in-law's house without even the diversions afforded by daytime TV has to suck. And by diversions, I mean diverting the attention of my grandmother who will, in the absence of compelling distraction, talk to you forever no matter how obviously you are trying to read your book. This presents a problem for a fundamentally polite person like my mother.)

It feels very strange to be cut off from contact in this way, to have received this message and have no way of responding.

From what she said on Monday, the casino where my dad works was open (I believe they have their own back-up generators). They tend to get a lot of customers when the weather is bad, even when the majority of people and businesses in the area aren't without electricity. No word yet on whether my dad has made it into the office or how absolutely swamped they must be with otherwise bored, cold people looking for something to do and someplace heated to do it in. (There is only so much sex a person can have, after all, and it's not so fun to take your clothes off when the temperatures is in the 40s in your house.)

The Tulsa World has a slide show here; I recommend it with the captions on.

Here are some good shots of icy trees from the Norman (near Oklahoma City) area.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The Sound of Many Hands Clapping

Congratulations to my mom for receiving an Applause Award from the library where she is currently working part-time, officially as one of the world's most over-qualified bookshelvers, but in truth as an all-around kick-ass answer to the local librarian's prayers. Way to go!

My Superpower

Your Superpower Should Be Manipulating Electricity

You're highly reactive, energetic, and super charged.
If the occasion calls for it, you can go from 0 to 60 in a split second.
But you don't harness your energy unless you truly need to.
And because of this, people are often surprised by what you are capable of.

Why you would be a good superhero: You have the stamina to fight enemies for days

Your biggest problem as a superhero: As with your normal life, people would continue to underestimate you

Amusingly, I actually do have some weird abilities where electricity is concerned. The best quote came from a 17 year old, future-engineer friend who protested, "But that's not even scientifically possible!" Yeah, tell me about it.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Growth Mind-Set

Check out this interesting article, "The Secret to Raising Smart Kids," from Scientific American (via the Marginal Revolution blog). The author is well-known psychologist (now at Stanford) Carol Dweck, who has written a lot on topics related to self-conceptions and their effects on motivation and behavior.

One question this raises for me: Is it ever too late to start cultivating a growth mind-set?

The study with managers she mentions suggests that it is possible for people to change their implict person theory regarding personal attributes from one that assumes that traits are innate and fixed to one that believes that the attributes can be changed and that this can have behavioral consequences. (In this case, managers who believed that personality and ability could be changed were more likely to coach their employees.) That study used a workshop focusing on self-persuasion techniques ("parallel counter-attitudinal idea generation, counter-attitudinal reflection, counter-attitudinal advocacy, and dissonance induction components") to increase the belief that people can change.

There's one hell of a self-help book/workshop series to be gotten from all of this.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Idiotic Marketing Book Figures

I'm reviewing for my marketing exam tomorrow morning at 8:00 and once again came across this particularly useless and aesthetically displeasing figure in the book. (I apologize for the bad photo; my scanner isn't set up so I had to take a snapshot and had trouble keeping my hands steady enough for the print to be readable.) I have complained before about how I spent the first 75% or so of the course basically ignoring most of the drawings, graphs, and figures in the margins of the book, and this figure is a good illustration of why.

Opposite of an optical illusion

The text right above this figure reads: "As suggested by Figure 16-4, a supply chain manager's key task is to balance these four customer service factors [just given in previous sentence] against total logistics cost factors [described a couple paragraphs above]." It is hard to see what this figure adds to anyone's understanding of this process; it is just a rather mind-bogglingly literal representation of the text with extremely poor execution. It does not even qualify as "cartoon-like" despite the fantasy physics that underlies the universe of this figure, and it is almost unbelievably ugly. It's like somebody has taken a pyramid drawing featured in a children's comic book version of the Time Life Books "Mysteries of the Unknown" series and slapped it into a bad 3-D graph produced in 10 year out-of-date software using the default settings.

It's amusing that the two sides do not, actually, appear to be in balance in this drawing anyway. And they have rendered the various factors so that they give the mistaken impression of being completely independent, while the book has already told us that "many of these costs are interrelated so that changes in one will impact the others."

Overall, this figure is so bad, it's kind of impressive.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Christmas Party Garb

I'm too sexy for this sexy and better

I went to the Ralph Lauren website to find out how much this red sweater, featured on youlookfab, cost, and the hideousness of it crashed my browser. So FYI, for $225 plus shipping, this sweater can be yours. It will definitely draw attention at your next Christmas bash and perhaps draw a comparison to Colin Firth's famous sweater in Bridget Jones's Diary. And what man would not like to be favorably compared to romantic lead Colin Firth?

Drinking away all knowledge of this sweater

One thing you are buying for your $225 is a design that draws the eye up to your pecs instead of focusing all attention on your pot belly. (If you do not already have a pot belly, the reindeer sweater generously gives you the illusion of having one.)

It is a bit difficult for me to understand how one can interpret the statement that the model "gets away" with the look other than to acknowledge that on a being as superhumanly concurrently broad and narrow as a Ralph Lauren model, nothing can make you forget you are viewing an amazing specimen. I agree with the commenter's husband who observed that getting a normal man to wear that outfit "would be like trying to put a sweater on a cat."