October 31, 2007

When the marathon became lonely and cruel   {Comments: 2}

Here's a piece on the headphone/ipod ban in certain marathons (those associated with USA Track & Field). The materials for the Chicago marathon earlier this month also banned headphones and ipods, but I listened to mine anyway for the first half of the race, and I saw a great many other runners doing the same.

If you're up to the challenge   {Comments: 1}

This Slate piece answers a question I have often wondered about: whether stick shift cars get better gas mileage than cars with automatic transmissions.

If you're lazy about shifting and allow your RPMs to soar unnoticed, then you might actually guzzle more gas than if your car were equipped with a well-engineered slushbox. The federal fuel-economy ratings acknowledge as much, by including an important caveat: "Your vehicle's fuel economy will almost certainly vary from EPA's estimate. It varies significantly based on where you drive, how you drive, and other factors." So, unless you're prepared to be a vigilant, skilled motorist, you're probably not going to save much, if any, fuel by adopting a stick shift.
When we replaced my old stick shift car a year and a half ago, we went with an automatic transmission, mainly because I didn't want to deal with the hassle of shifting in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Eisenhower. But given the way I drove that old car, we probably reduced our emissions at the same time.
October 30, 2007

Close to home   {Comments: 0}

Here's an interesting story from a pro photographer who used flickr to disseminate some of his shots of the California fires -- with a Creative Commons license. It's not exactly groundbreaking stuff for those of us who use Creative Commons every day, but it's nice to see a professional coming to grips with the value of distributing content for free.

One of the sets he shared is here.

October 29, 2007

Sexuality seems a petty matter   {Comments: 0}

More on Dumbledore from Edward Rothstein:

But it is possible that Ms. Rowling may be mistaken about her own character. She may have invented Hogwarts and all the wizards within it, she may have created the most influential fantasy books since J. R. R. Tolkien, and she may have woven her spell over thousands of pages and seven novels, but there seems to be no compelling reason within the books for her after-the-fact assertion. Of course it would not be inconsistent for Dumbledore to be gay, but the books' accounts certainly donít make it necessary. The question is distracting, which is why it never really emerges in the books themselves. Ms. Rowling may think of Dumbledore as gay, but there is no reason why anyone else should.
October 28, 2007

A new socio-economic model   {Comments: 0}

Speaking of the farmers market, I never did mention how the farm share we participated in this year turned out. We got our produce from Sandhill Organics, mainly because they deliver at a little cafe in Oak Park that's about a block away from us, and so it was about as convenient as possible. (They deliver at other locations around Chicago as well.) It was our first time participating in a farm share.

The quality of the produce was very good -- in most cases they had noticeably better flavor and/or texture than what I would have bought at my local Dominick's. The cipollini onions, fresh garlic, heirloom tomatoes, beets, carrots, and squash all come right to mind. The quantity was also good -- I think the cost of the share worked out to something like $25 per week, and I never felt like we were getting less than our money's worth. On the other hand, sometimes there was too little of a given vegetable to really build a dish around, so I either had to be creative enough to put vegetables together, or I had to go and find more of what I needed. This probably wouldn't have been a problem if I'd been cooking with meat, but if I'm cooking a vegetarian dish and I want to highlight a particular vegetable (and given the quality of the produce, this was most of the time) then I need a reasonable quantity. Sometimes simply waiting for the next week's allotment would solve this problem.

Ultimately the reason we won't sign up for a vegetable share next year has nothing to do with the quantity or the cost or the variety of the vegetables we got, but rather with the commitment that a farm share requires. We traveled enough this summer that there were many weeks when we couldn't make use of all our vegetables -- a couple weeks we weren't even able to be there to pick them up! -- and of course there was pressure and guilt associated with that. And as I mentioned yesterday, we ended up going to the farmers market every week in spite of ourselves, and we could have picked up the same produce on a week-to-week basis in quantities that were appropriate for whatever our immediate plans were.

Even more random stuff   {Comments: 0}

This will be obvious if you're reading this, but I've added a random image generator in the sidebar that draws from some of my photographs on flickr. I've been looking for an unobtrusive way to promote my photography a little bit here without making it central (I'll probably stop posting photographs here now unless they are part of a story).

Interesting side note: when I first designed locussolus several years ago I intended to rotate the banner background, but I liked the one above so much I never changed it. It's actually a detail from a painting that was given to me by Bloomington artist Steve Snyder, a good friend of the family.

October 27, 2007

Seasons   {Comments: 0}

Today was the last day for the farmers market here in Oak Park. I wrote earlier this year that we probably wouldn't be going much this year because we were doing a CSA vegetable share, but we ended up going almost every week we were in town, because of the donuts. The market is held in the parking lot of Pilgrim Church, and each week the church invites a different community organization to make donuts for the farmers market and keep the profits. The process must be pretty well controlled, because the donuts are the same each week: perfectly light, crumbly cake donuts, usually still warm.

Each week this summer we'd walk the mile or so to the market, stand in a long line of rowdy Oak Park residents, order a sack full of donuts, and eat them on the grass with milk or coffee. My wife and I mostly had the cinnamon sugared ones, and Miriam (who's about to turn one) had plain.

More pictures from the famers market are here.

October 26, 2007

Borges   {Comments: 0}

Old man from the North, immaculate liar,
your iron helmet and the deadened eyes
waken at dawn, and watch red spears take fire
and fade on Danish beaches. You despise
the lazy, learned man moving in gentle
amazement with a cane, who keeps a gold
watch in his coat so he can lose the mental
con game with time. You feel remorse for old
Jorge Luis Borges, outwitting God,
Persians, and the algebra of being. Both of
you hunt madmen for a word. Your love
is hidden, though it burns behind the sword
of Norsemen and the cane. You are a fraud
and friend, a haunting brain and lonely lord.

--Willis Barnstone, from The Secret Reader (see also here)

October 25, 2007

Elegance and wit above all other qualities   {Comments: 2}

I wish the audio quality on the clips was a little better, but this Slate article on the differences between Mozart and Haydn (the author is an unabashed Mozart partisan) was worth reading anyway. I haven't listened to a lot of Haydn, but I've heard enough to know that the differences are indeed quite recognizable.

October 24, 2007

Technical difficulty   {Comments: 1}

Kottke links to this story written only using the words which appear in The Cat in the Hat. I'm fascinated by these kinds of limiting exercizes, but it seems to me that's all they are -- exercizes -- unless there is some kind of layered interaction between the formal constraints and the content itself. In other words: what was the point of this particular constraint?

October 23, 2007

The guise of revolutionary honesty   {Comments: 0}

This little article about the book How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read is great until he actually goes and reads the book. So disappointing!

Size, in the abstract   {Comments: 2}

Ezra Klein has a clarifying post here about charity vs social policy and how they should fit together. A couple things strike me: First of all, I wonder about scope. Are we talking about smallish charitable gifts or the recent billionaire-philanthropy fad? I'm guessing both, but I think we should probably take them as separate phenomena. Billionaire philanthropists who have the power to effect policy on the societal scale can actually crowd out government -- wasn't there was a case recently where congress cut funding for education because that's the domain of the Gates Foudnation?

While it might be commendable on the part of the very rich individual to give one's fortunes back to society, I find it a little disturbing that an individual can hold that kind of sway over policy. Isn't that a bit undemorcatic? It seems to me when billions of dollars are to be spent in a policy context, it should be the elected government that makes the decisions about how.

October 22, 2007

The cynical extreme   {Comments: 0}

I've been meaning to link to this college coaching article for a while. I always find this sort of piece on the system and how to game it (in this case how to game it if you have money) fascinating. I suppose I should read the book, but my daughter is only a year old, and if family history has anything to do with it she'll end up at a state school anyway. From our visit to Indiana University (where both my wife and I -- and both of my parents for that matter -- went to college) last week:

October 21, 2007

Authorial intent   {Comments: 0}

Obviously the big news of the day is that Dumbledore is gay. I guess it's a bit of a shock, but it also makes a lot of sense, given the character's past and the total absence of any information about his love life in a series that goes to great lengths to pair almost everyone else up. The big question now is: what other information is Rowling holding back? Between this revelation and her earlier remarks about what becomes of the various characters after the books, she's sure demonstrated a penchant for the leaky reveal.

October 20, 2007

The Problem of Anxiety   {Comments: 0}

Fifty years have passed
since I started living in those dark towns
I was telling you about.
Well, not much has changed. I still can't figure out
how to get from the post office to the swings in the park.
Apple trees blossom in the cold, not from conviction,
and my hair is the color of dandelion fuzz.

Suppose this poem were about you -- would you
put in the things I've carefully left out:
descriptions of pain, and sex, and how shiftily
people behave toward each other? Naw, that's
all in some book it seems. For you
I've saved the descriptions of finger sandwiches,
and the glass eye that stares at me in amazement
from the bronze mantel, and will never be appeased.

--John Ashbery, 1997

October 19, 2007

The artists dictators call first   {Comments: 2}

Layer Tennis was incredibly fun to watch in real time today, rooting for the hometown team (Naz). The concept is absurdly brilliant, and the forums and professional commentary really drive it home.

October 18, 2007

Off to check my tiger trap   {Comments: 3}

This site has all the Calvin and Hobbes comics ever published.

Down the ballot   {Comments: 0}

So, what is the story behind this rumor that Hastert would resign being denied after a day? Surely it wasn't a trial balloon or the leak of a real announcement -- wouldn't Hastert or his handlers have foreseen the Blagojevich strategy of lining up a special election with the Democratic primary (aka Obama lovefest)? Weird.

October 17, 2007

When we talk about Carver   {Comments: 2}

Raymond Carver's widow Tess Gallagher is apparently trying to get the original versions of his first stories published. These famous stories are well known to have been heavily edited by Carver's editor, Gordon Lish, but there's never been much information about exactly how extensive the changes were. The Times article has a PDF that lets you see a couple sections from both the published versions and the versions Gallagher is trying to get published.

I guess this is controversial, but apart from the understandable concerns of those closest to Carver, I don't really get why. To me it seems like more information is better, and the exercize of comparing different versions might be productive and instructive, whichever versions we prefer and for whichever reasons. A lot of the information is available in Lish's papers anyway; it's just not currently accessible to the public. Why shouldn't it be?

By the way, the article notes that Lish's papers are held at IU's Lilly Library, and I was just there last week visiting with the director, who was one of my professors when I was in college there. The library has become a real destination because their collection includes (among other things) these kinds of papers.

Noodles, with a little stuff   {Comments: 3}

Here's Mario Batali telling you not to use so much sauce on your pasta. And here's Mark Bittman telling you to flout the pasta police and use more.

October 16, 2007

Presidential politics   {Comments: 0}

1. Matt Yglesias fears a Giuliani presidency because of the makeup of Giuliani's foreign policy team.

2. James Carville seems (?) to think Jeb Bush could unite the GOP.

3. And Stephen Colbert has just announced he'll run for president in the South Carolina primary -- as both a Democrat and a Republican. Wow.

October 15, 2007

The season for harvest and hog slaughter   {Comments: 2}

1. Instructions for how to make a real bacon burger (via apostropher).

2. A nice article on apple cider doughnuts with a recipe at the end (via Kottke).

3. And my sister's ruminations on fall in Italy and a nice hunk of Castelmagno.

Reasons for running   {Comments: 2}

Here's Neil the Ethical Werewolf paraphrasing Ezra's theory on why Gore won't get into the race:

As long as Gore stays out of the race, all the other Democratic candidates know that his blessing would provide a dramatic boost to their campaigns, while his curse could break them. So they'll make sure to do right by him, proposing ambitious plans to fight global warming. But if he gets into the race, there's no gain for the other candidates in being really progressive on environmental issues, because all the environmentalist support will go to Gore anyway. The strategic calculus then favors finding some way to undercut Gore's favored proposals. In the end, the best way for Gore to shape the race is to stay out of it.
This makes sense if Gore sees himself as a one-issue candidate, but while the environment is obviously his passion, I think he's probably considering more than just environmental issues if he's thinking about running for president. And didn't he just write a book demonstrating that larger scope? I don't know if Gore will enter the race or not, but if he's even considering it it's because he has bigger fish to fry.
October 14, 2007

Lake Michigan was like glass   {Comments: 0}

Frank Shorter, an Olympic gold medalist marathoner, had a piece in the New York Times Friday with suggestions about how to the authorities could have dealt with the heat a little better in last week's race. His last two items:

Make dropping out palatable. Runners, especially first-timers and those running for charity, should be given the option of getting their money back and perhaps a guaranteed entry at a major marathon in the near future. Race directors could easily cooperate on this. Peer-group and self-imposed pressure to follow through on months of training should be alleviated as much as possible. Fund-raising groups should underwrite a second try for those giving so much of themselves for the benefit of others.

If necessary, turn off the clock.

All the runners in last week's race received an email from Carey Pinkowski, the race director, who didn't say much except that feedback was being taken into consideration. It will be interesting to see if they take any kind of immediate action, and what changes are made for next year's race.
October 13, 2007

A kind of mildew blighting the whole world   {Comments: 0}

I didn't have much time this week to follow the coverage of the literature Nobel, but this deftly reconfigured piece in the New York Times alludes to the controversy and reacts nicely. Of Lessing's many works I've only read The Fifth Child, a disturbing little book which she mentions in the Times piece. I would recommend it. And while I don't know enough about her work as a whole to comment on its Nobel-worthiness, Bloom sure sounds like an ass.

October 12, 2007

Talking with Ink   {Comments: 0}

Don't cry
for me.
To be
and die
is what
we are:
a cut,
a scar
of love,
and then
the slow
fade of
pain. Pen,
don't go.

--Willis Barnstone, from The Secret Reader (see also here)

October 11, 2007

Flow   {Comments: 0}

This New York Times article tells you how to make your own sparkling water at home so you can reduce your carbon footprint. Mostly, you have to buy machines and CO2 cartridges.

Along the same lines, I've been making my Gatorade at home instead of buying it (for very low prices) bottled at the store. But I can't help feeling a little ridiculous when I'm doing it (it takes time, and it requires a lot of water to clean the bottles), and the sparkling water piece has a me-tooish consumerism that makes me a little uncomfortable. Why is that?

By the way, there's also this weird claim from an accompanying article about filters and tap water:

Whether you drink it straight or carbonated, water from your tap is more closely regulated for purity than any you buy in a bottle. The Environmental Protection Agencyís standards for public water systems are stricter than the Food and Drug Administrationís for bottled water.
Then why does bottled water taste so much better? The fact is that any perceptible impurities are very closely regulated -- by the market. Who would pay for bottled water that tastes impure? Of course, the market may not be doing much about imperceptible impurities (?), but it's certainly doing more about the perceptible ones than the EPA standards.
October 10, 2007

A freakish event of nature?   {Comments: 2}

Apparently the experts don't think Sunday's marathon fiasco will affect Chicago's 2016 bid for the olympics. And I've seen a number of bloggers come to the same conclusion, either because the marathoners at the Olympic are better trained or because the Chicago Marathon is a private event.

But I don't see how the IOC could not consider this incident. The problems at the marathon this week were about poor planning and organization more than they were about heat, and the Olympics are one of the biggest organizational challenges you could put to a city. And while it is true that the marathon is a private event, it's also probably the highest profile sporting event the city hosts, and level of city cooperation must be very high -- there was a city police officer on every other block. But the city wasn't prepared. The trains were at a standstill and weren't used to move stranded runners. There was insufficient water on hand. And as I mentioned before, the police didn't communicate effectively or consistently.

Here's a disturbing paragraph from the Chicagoist article I linked to the other day:

2007 registration opened in January, when most of us have no clue whether we can spend all summer training. But by May or June, runners can enter with confidence, not on a whim. Organizers cited this year's field at 45,000, bigger than New York's (38,000+) and Londonís (36,000+) -- and those are larger cities with more resources. Offer quality over quantity and cap the field at 30,000.
If Chicago doesn't have enough resources to field a 45,000 person marathon then there's no way it should be hosting the Olympics.
October 9, 2007

The latest   {Comments: 0}

1. On Marla Olmstead, discussed previously here.

2. On Wal-Mart and compact fluorescence, discussed previously here.

3. And a review of Lloyd Suh's "The Children of Vonderly," which has never been discussed in this space. Lloyd was a fixture at IU and wrote a column for me briefly when I was editing the opinion section of the Indiana Daily Student. (Another notable former columnist of mine is Radley Balko.)

Meaningful explanations   {Comments: 0}

Dayna Bateman links to a story about the changing flavor of fortune cookies (or at least the fortunes they contain), and it reminds me of an oddly self-referential fortune I encountered a few months ago at Lao Sze Chuan:

Turns out there are many cool fortune cookie shots on flickr.

October 8, 2007

More marathon links   {Comments: 0}

1. This New York Times story corrects some of the inaccuracies I posted yesterday.

2. WBEZ has an interview with the race director.

3. Chicagoist suggests some changes. Personally I think limiting the field would be a big mistake; one of the best things about the Chicago Marathon is that it's big and open to beginners -- because the course is so flat and there's such a big crowd it's become the race of choice for qualifiers and newbies.

4. And David Schalliol over at Gapers Block directs us to the organizers' flickr group, where they are collecting shots that show the "will, spirit, and determination" of the runners. Too bad I didn't take my camera along.

October 7, 2007

Contingencies   {Comments: 0}

I ran in the Chicago Marathon today -- my first marathon, and a crazy one. The race was canceled part of the way through, so that slower runners (such as myself) were divided into those who were asked to walk the rest of the way and those weren't permitted to finish at all. I got to finish, fortunately, though I walked a big chunk of the race.

Photo by xetark

I don't have any problem with the decision to cancel, given the insane heat and the 300 or so people who had to be hospitalized because of it. I do however have a problem with the disorganization that I experienced. I was told many conflicting and in some cases not very sensible things by the police officers along the way (they seemed to be the only people in charge) -- that times would be recorded; that no times would be recorded; that the race had been called and the course had been closed; that it was OK for us to continue to walk the rest of the course; that "thousands" of runners were down; that the city had run out of ambulances. There were helicopters hovering overhead shouting down instructions over loudspeakers that couldn't be heard over the sound of the helicopter blades. After I (and hundreds of other runners around me) had been told to continue walking the rest of the course, one of the water stations along the way was completely closed down, and others were running out of water.

I'm particularly upset about the confusion about whether official times would be given. The idea that one could receive an official time paired with the request that one walk the remainder of the course presented a difficult choice for those who actually cared about their times. How could they call the race and then still time those who continued to run? I guess this lack of comprehension about runners' motivations goes along with the following statement I heard, which makes it sound as though runners were somehow being compelled to run against their will:

At around 12:10 p.m., near the 20-mile marker at Halsted Street and Cermak Avenues, a Chicago firefighter announced over a public address system: "Attention runners, the marathon has been canceled. You can stop running, now."
At any rate, I just wanted to write a little of this down, since from my vantage point it was very badly handled, despite the way it's been covered in the media.
October 6, 2007

Crude modes of expression   {Comments: 2}

Mark Liberman has a great post over at Language Log (which for some reason I've been neglecting) about people's resistance to learning about statistics.

Until about a hundred years ago, our language and culture lacked the words and ideas needed to deal with the evaluation and comparison of sampled properties of groups. Even today, only a minuscule proportion of the U.S. population understands even the simplest form of these concepts and terms. Out of the roughly 300 million Americans, I doubt that as many as 500 thousand grasp these ideas to any practical extent, and 50,000 might be a better estimate. The rest of the population is surprisingly uninterested in learning, and even actively resists the intermittent attempts to teach them, despite the fact that in their frequent dealings with social and biomedical scientists they have a practical need to evaluate and compare the numerical properties of representative samples.
I'm no statistician, but I've often marveled at journalists' inaccuracy when translating (?) statistical data for public consumption -- how are people supposed to gain a statistical sense when the information is presented inaccurately to begin with? Statistics should probably be taught in high school.
October 5, 2007

Theology   {Comments: 0}

No, the serpent did not
Seduce Eve to the apple.
All that's simply
Corruption of the facts.

Adam ate the apple.
Eve ate Adam.
The serpent ate Eve.
This is the dark intestine.

The serpent, meanwhile,
Sleeps his meal off in Paradise --
Smiling to hear
God's querulous calling.

--Ted Hughes, 1967

October 4, 2007

Hoping to buy good will   {Comments: 2}

The New York Times has delicious article about grilled cheese sandwiches out in Los Angeles, complete with a recipe for grilled taleggio with apricots and capers. I hadn't thought of the apricots and capers (or of putting it on raisin bread!), but I did made a sandwich with taleggio recently.

If I remember correctly, these are taleggio with sliced tomato, gorgonzola with caramelized shallot, and brie with prosciutto, all on baguette slices. They were all delicious. But the grilled cheese I've been making most often recently, which unfortunately I don't have a picture of, is sharp white cheddar and aged swiss with sliced tomatoes (we've been getting these from our garden) and caramelized onion on whole grain bread. I found this simple but perfect combination at the Cafe Soliel downstairs from L'Etoile in Madison.

October 3, 2007

So go ahead...   {Comments: 0}

1. A reader passes along this alarming article about the shenanigans at Madison Square Garden. I wish it identified the other three guys in the photo at the top. TrueHoop has more, naturally.

2. Here's a video of Glenn Gould's fugue on the subject "So you want to write a fugue." Old, yes, but good. While I'm at it, here's Gould playing the last four of the Goldberg Variations.

3. This piece about the internet and (collective) memory holds some interesting observations about the need to forget things. I especially liked the notion that our abilities to permanently archive information and to search effectively for that information might be growing at different rates. But I think the whole issue seems somewhat bizarre from an individual's standpoint, where forgetting has become so much less dangerous now that we've discovered the remedy.

4. And finally Barrett links to this crazy story about somebody's chilli sauce setting off a terror alert in London. Note the (British?) spelling of chilli.

October 2, 2007

We're too busy sayin' yeah!   {Comments: 1}

Percy Julian Middle School, just up the street from us, has banned hugs. Nothing in the article about what the penalty is though.

UPDATE: More here.

October 1, 2007

A front-and-center protagonist   {Comments: 0}

I may have said that I was better off without some of the formerly sequestered Times columnists, but I wasn't speaking of Stanley Fish, whose columns I have always found be provocative. Here he is scolding Lee Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, for his introduction of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week:

Leave the geopolitical pronouncements to the politicians whose job it is to make them and follow them up with actions. Remember always what a university is for -- the transmission of knowledge and the conferring of analytical skills -- and resist the temptation to inflate the importance of what goes on its precincts.
Isn't a university also for the creation of knowledge? It seems to me that research is a pretty fundamental function of the university, that seeking the truth (whatever you take this to mean) is well within its mission -- and certainly one could make a case that Bollinger's challenges fit within that mission. Or maybe I'm just inflating the importance of what goes on in the Academy?
In a much gentler fashion   {Comments: 1}

A friend with a keen interest in juggling visited over the weekend, and we ended up at the Oak Street Beach with a bunch of jugglers.

From the Wikipedia entry for the Oak Street Beach:

Up until the late 1800s the Lake Shore sloped from Oak Street to the Chicago river in a much gentler fashion. However the construction of a shipping pier at the river led to a build up of sand and silt just to the north. As the land rose up out of the water squatters began to take residence, leading to disputes with lakefront property owners.

The biggest series of clashes surrounded a man named George Streeter in 1886. Streeter's boat, with passengers and cargo, became stranded on the sandbar created by the pier. As he unloaded waste and cargo, he created a small island. Eventually he persuaded people to dump more there, and claimed a sizable island. However the city would not stand for it, and after legal battles (some of which included gun fights) Streeter was evicted and the land, which was eventually filled in, became part of Chicago and became known as Streeterville.

MORE: Two other photographs in this sequence appeared today (10/2) on Gapers Block and Chicago Public Radio (which unfortunately doesn't have permalinks -- though there is an RSS feed).