html xmlns="" xml:lang="en" lang="en"> From the archives: January 2007

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Long AND esoteric? Twice in one day? Just for you, baby.

Ezra Klein pointed me to this article, about a new Bush executive order that made my heart sink. I need to tell you guys why, from the perspective of a civil servant, this is a terrible idea.
In an executive order published last week in the Federal Register, Mr. Bush said that each agency must have a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee, to supervise the development of rules and documents providing guidance to regulated industries. The White House will thus have a gatekeeper in each agency to analyze the costs and the benefits of new rules and to make sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.
Now I surely will not agree with the policies of Bush appointed gatekeepers, but I wouldn’t want a regulatory policy office run by a political appointee under any administration. (Besides, the President appoints the head of the agencies. Isn’t that enough to set the agency on his agenda?) From the perspective of a low level bureaucrat looking up the line, there are two big problems with this, independent of ideology.

The first is simple. I just don’t want to add a single step that adds time to management review. Honestly, you’d be shocked how long it takes for us to get anything through management review. Anything we release to the public, including our non-controversial, small scale documents, must go through six (6) levels of review. We schedule three to four weeks for management review. Yeah. Three days on each desk, if we give them advance notice that our stuff will be coming. If we were doing controversial stuff, it would be longer. If we had to route through one additional back-logged office? If they were far away, and my bossman couldn’t chat with them to prep them for the document, and we were just another insignificant office on the west coast? I can’t even guess.

But the more important reason is that a distant political appointee, even assuming that she is not a partisan hack and that she is interested in the topic and not using the office as a stepping stone, would know exactly the wrong amount. Anyone at a distance from the process can only know enough to be dangerous. When we go to write anything that tells people what they have to do, there is an intricate multi-year negotiation between everyone involved. There are drafts, and comments, and drafts, and workshops, and drafts, and internal meetings, and drafts, and formal written comment, and more drafts. Usually, in the end, you will come down to very awkwardly written compromises that no one will sue you for. They are compromises like “We will shift this item from the list for mandatory implementation by the next contract negotiation to the list for voluntary implementation unless it has a positive CBA, in which case it must be done within three years.”

Every word in there was hard fought. People snorted and sat back at the table with their arms crossed. We changed it until no one threatened to call their congressperson any more. We explained to them why we have to implement the law that way, and caved when we couldn’t get more, or when we were wrong. We brought in someone’s good idea. I know how people laugh at ridiculous regulations, but I swear they didn’t get to be ridiculous because no one was thinking. They’re ridiculous because the topics are complicated, and we have to accommodate widely divergent views, and because there were so many iterations.

Anyway, a political appointee who wasn’t there for the painful years of writing regulations can only disrupt a very precarious balance. She thinks to herself that those two lists are mostly redundant, moves over a column heading, and undoes an eight hour meeting. She crosses out a verification technique and destroys the trust of half our constituents. Unless she was there, she can only make things worse. I don’t want her in the loop.

Now, I think Bush issued this Executive Order the way he does everything, specifically for his anti-science, anti-environment, anti-regulation, anti-public health, anti-everything-I-believe-in purposes. I think it was deliberately intended for his corporate buddies, to delay agency actions that cost them money. I hate to think who he’d appoint to those offices. But if all those things weren’t the case, I would still think it was a terrible plan.

Sorry, guys.

Originally posted: 2/6/7, 8:32 am, moved so the regulation posts could be continuous.

I don't think I can label old posts without publishing them again, and that cues your reader, right? Well, there's 403 old posts, so it'll be a mess for a while. I do want everything organized, at least at the start.

If you live in the area and would like to come over on Tuesday the 13th to participate in a Top Secret Valentine's Day Mission!!!, email me. It'll be a really nice evening of friends and making things.


Special treat for you!

Originally posted 2/5/7, 9:16am. Moved so the regulation posts could be continuous.

I met Mark on Saturday! I went to his super-cool geek-factory workplace, where lots of smart dorky men work. Mark is, like, a bossman, so I figured that he'd make them all line up for me, topless and flexing, so I could choose among them Madeline Kahn-style. Instead he just showed me his cool project. When I asked him about having all the guys show me their vertical leaps, he said something I didn't listen to about "work environment" and "important deadlines". Then he added something about "dignity", which I didn't get at all. Dignity never bothered to show up for my dating life before, so I don't see why it has to start now, with Mark's employees.

Anyway, I was feeling kindof uncertain about my plan to talk about nothing but the policy-making process in bureaucracies for the next six months. I asked Mark what he thought. "Oh, Megan," he said, "I'm sure I can speak for all readers when I say there is nothing we want more." So, look forward to it, guys!!

An interlude.

Originally posted 2/5/7, 12:03am. Moved so the regulation posts could be continuous.

The cognoscenti call center pivot irrigation systems “circular moves”, in contrast to “linear moves”, in which an overhead sprinkler pipe spans the width of the field and rolls straight the length of the field. I was talking to this guy Vince one time, and when I mentioned circular moves, he narrowed his eyes at me and asked me if the word “moves” was indeed a noun in that sentence. I had to admit that it was. Vince was also the only person to give me a good explanation for the song lyrics “And I miss yoooouuuuuu, like the deserts miss the rain.” I’d never thought much about the song, until my sister mentioned that she hated it. “Deserts don’t miss the rain,” she said. “Deserts hate the rain. When deserts get rain, they stop being deserts.” When I told Vince these objections, he suggested that the deserts and rain were missing each other in the sense of passing each other without intersecting paths. He did hand gestures to illustrate.

You don’t see a lot of circular moves in California because circular moves have a fixed delivery rate, and that rate is too fast for our soil intake rates. Circular moves have to cover the whole circle before the soil dries out at the starting point. Every point on the circle will need some amount of water to meet evapotranspiration, say 4-5 inches in the summer. The circular move can put that amount of water out as it passes overhead, but on California soils a lot of that will run off. Some will infiltrate, but not enough to support a crop. If you have a center pivot irrigation system and see your crop wilting, the counterintuitive solution is to slow your circular move. It’ll hurt, because you’ll want to rush your sprinklers over the whole field. But that means that every spot will get not enough water. Slow your sprinkler to match the soil intake rate, and put enough down on most of the circle. Abandon some quadrant; you can rush your sprinklers over that to get back to the portion you can save.

Circular moves are rumored to be wicked hard to design. You want to save weight, so you shrink the pipes as they move outward. It is hard to size the sprinkler nozzles so that sprinklers close to the inside deliver the same amount of water as sprinklers close to the outside, which are traveling at a different speed and are on a different size pipe with different pressures. A4 asked whether the water pressure itself drives the circular move. They used to, but if you have to pressurize the water, you are better off just having motors on the pivot and peripheral wheel, ‘cause of the friction losses down the length of the arm. When I was doing irrigation system evaluations, I did one on an olive orchard right below Shasta Dam. He said he has pressure regulating valves on his main, ‘cause his water gets delivered to him with 90 feet of head. But that is exceptional.


How to conduct yourself in a formal* taekwondo fight.

The ring will be set up with a ref in the center, and judges on at least two corners. There will be a chair just outside the ring on two sides, halfway down the side, facing each other. Before your fight, you may sit in the chair, waiting for the ref to call you in. Your coach will stand beside you.

When the ref calls you in, make sure that you are at the middle of the side of the ring. You should only enter the ring at a perpendicular, and walk straight forward to your starting position. Pause to bow as you cross the line marking the ring. This bow is to the space itself. Bowing to the judges now isn’t wrong, but it is a trifle obsequious. Walk to the spot the ref is pointing to, facing your opponent, with your coach now sitting in the chair behind you.

The ref will direct your next sequence of bows, which may include to the American flag, to the Korean flag, to each judge, to the ref, to your coaches, to your opponent. At the minimum you will bow to the ref and to your opponent. The ref may remind you of the rules (no hands to the face, all strikes above the waist) or check that your finger and toenails are cut short. The ref will give the signal for the fight to start.

As soon as the ref signals for the fight to start, both fighters will immediately switch sides, so that they are looking at their own coach behind the opponent. An experienced coach will be mimicking his fighter’s stance throughout the fight. Fighter has right leg back, coach’s right leg will be behind the left. The coach will be signaling attacks with hand gestures that look like the kicks.

During the fight, it is the fighter’s responsibility to fight according to the rules, but it is the ref’s responsibility to keep the fighters safe. Do not pull your kicks or pause your attack if your opponent looks injured; it is up to the ref to make that decision. Stop instantly on the ref’s command. It is the judge’s responsibility to get out of the way (and take her chair with her), so do not look behind you if the fight is backing you into a judge. The ref may pause the fight and return the fighters to the center at any point.

At the end of the round, the ref will return you to the center, and may or may not have you bow out. Back out of the ring to your chair, bowing as you leave the ring. Your coach will give you the chair and water. She will crouch in front of you, and may prop your legs on her thighs, to massage them while she coaches you on strategy. Next round will be like the first. You probably won’t have a third round unless you are in the semis or the finals.

If the other fighter gets injured during your fight, immediately walk to a point in the ring a few feet in front of your coach (on the line between the center and your chair). Turn your back to the center, kneel, and bow your head. Do not look around. Stay motionless until the ref comes for you, or your coach signals you to stand. In one motion, spring gracefully to your feet. (Just kidding. If you’ve been left in a kneel for too long, your feet will have gone to sleep. Be careful not to fall over as you stand up.)

At the end of the fight, the ref will take both your hands, and raise the hand of the winner. She will then bow you out, in the reverse order of whatever bows she required at the beginning. Shake hands with your opponent; this may be informal. If you shake hands with your opponent’s coach, however, remember that she is of higher rank than you. Support your right elbow with your left hand and bow your head to make the handshake more respectful. Walk backwards out of the ring, stopping to bow to it on your way out. Rejoin your coach.

A word on bowing:
Bow slowly, spine straight all the way through the neck, about halfway down to waist level. Do NOT look at your opponent. That is extremely rude, implying that he has no honor and would attack you during a bow. Stay at the bottom of the bow for a beat, long enough to take it completely out of gear, and straighten at the same speed you descended. (Yoga bows, which are a full fold at the waist and wait there for forever, feel like groveling to me. I can’t do them and always straighten first. That makes me the rude one, I guess.)

Also, if you are just practicing or joking around with a blackbelt, it is extremely rude to flinch, as it implies that she doesn’t have the control to slow her kick or not hit you. Take the kick if you have to (rarely happens), but never duck, pull back, wince or block.

*This is probably overkill for most local tournaments. I was trained very formally, and notice that the kids these days weren’t ever taught good manners and are uncouth savages. Still, even the ornate stuff becomes second nature after a while.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Blogger made me switch.

I am very wary, and my eyes are narrowed and hostile. Switching implies CHANGE, and we all know that CHANGE is the first step on the road to DIFFERENT, leading inevitably to BAD.

BAD hasn't struck yet, although I don't like the new fonts. I am waiting, suspicious and resentful.


So far I've heard that the feed is broken. I've been wanting to go through the list of people who read here, since I haven't seen some of them in a while and some aren't still writing their blogs. If you haven't written anything in months, but want to stay on the blogroll, drop me a line, OK? Of course, if you want off, please let me know that as well.

Also, re-labeling everything.

As long as I'm doing maintenance, do you guys have any requests for things I should add?

Update: Did I get the blogroll right? Did I miss any of the regulars? I really want you guys to know each other, since you're interacting. If I left you off, it was an accident I would like to correct.


The intermodal station would be less than two miles from my house.

Schwarzenegger is proposing to shelve high speed rail between SF-Sac-LA . I am inconsolable. (Not really. I could be consoled by a bullet train.) Seriously, high speed rail between northern and southern California would noticeably improve my quality of life. There is the obvious, of course, that high speed rail in California would mean another cool train in the world, and we love trains. But the more serious reason, the reason that it matters intensely to me, is that trains are the only humane way to travel with babies.

You don’t realize, because you accommodate and do unreasonable things all the time, that our current options are deeply flawed, verging on intolerable. My sister and I drove through the night to get to LA for Thanksgiving, so the babies could sleep for the trip. It is not OK. It isn’t OK to have your babies strapped in place for eight hours, where you can’t see them or comfort them. It isn’t OK that a four-day trip requires two long nights of driving. It isn’t OK to fly with them either, in a vehicle that hurts their ears, that confines them and traps them in a small seat with you, that makes other people resent them for being babies. If you accept the fundamental premises that American families live apart, and they will travel to visit, and that young children and parents are important, then we should provide a way to travel that meets their innate needs.

Trains meet the needs of traveling with children. You can see and hold your baby on a train. You can release your children to move (especially on a car designated for children). They love the motion and view, which they can’t get on a plane or in a childseat. They can eat, do things and see you, which they need. A train ride with children can be, simply, gracious.

I want high speed rail for the usual granola reasons, and because travel time to LA would be less for me. It doesn’t strike me as outrageous to spend $10B on convenient intra-California travel when two new runways at LAX are predicted to be $9B, and an additional runway at SFO $3B. I have no love for spending $30B on improving roads in California when roads offer only one type of convenience*, especially one already in wide abundance.

High speed rail can’t come fast enough for me to take my babies to LA for a weekend with their grandparents. But it could be here soon enough for my sister and brother to visit me on the train, and bring their children. It could get here soon enough for me to send my mostly grown kids to visit their grandparents. High speed rail in California would make my life better. I want us to get serious about it now.

*Roads are, for example, only accessible by cars. You can only travel within a narrow range of speeds. It is hard to bring your bike. It is hard to transfer to another mode of travel. You must store your car at your destination. You can’t do other things while you are driving. You must fuel your car in a specific way (one which is likely to become more expensive). You can’t tend your children. Cars have other great flexibilities, but it is more likely that you have adjusted your thoughts and habits to the constraints of a car than it is likely that cars are the only good way to serve your needs.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Almost forgot.

Hey Angelenos,

Want to do something next weekend? Dinner somewhere next Saturday?

Not so amiable.

Years ago, I played regularly in the most casual pick-up game in town. It was one of the highlights of my week; I did not often miss Sunday pick-up. There was a guy who also loved Sunday pick-up, and friends, I am not exaggerating when I tell you that he was fucking annoying.

My primary grievance is that he was a dangerplayer, which is a term I made up by myself. He’d go all out for everything, and he didn’t have the coordination to avoid collisions*. There are people I’ll contest with every time, because I know that they’ll do amazing contortions and grab the disc from over my head but never land on me. But this guy, you’d pull up if you even saw him in your peripheral vision, because he’d run smack into you. He blindsided me once, and I remember this amazing sensation of being bodily displaced, feeling all the momentum transfer. He knocked the breath from me, but at least I wasn’t injured. I saw him in two separate collisions that ended the other person’s knee. He never meant it. He felt terrible. But he constantly caused collisions.

If I’d liked the guy, I would have gone with his intentions and forgiven him what were always accidental collisions. But I couldn’t stand him. He was smarmy, with a scraggly mustache. He hit on new woman players their first day at pick-up, and who knows how many we lost that way. He rode his motorcycle onto the field and always referred to it as his BMW. He would invite the ladies over to hot tub. He was a caricature; only, not funny. My skin crawled when I was near him. I cringed when he showed up, gave the briefest of answers when he talked to me, walked away if he was near. I was always civil, never badmouthed him, didn’t discourage people from inviting him to group events. But when I hosted, he was not invited.

Another woman played with us in those days. I’ve written before about how I watched her do sneaky, self-centered shit until I came to the conclusion that she was without empathy or a belief that rules apply to her. That combination, I decided, made her too unpredictable to spend time with. I stayed away from her after that. But here’s the thing. This woman, whom I assessed to be too dangerous to be around, was well socialized. Mostly pleasant demeanor, good at conversation. I didn’t care if she showed up at parties, never thought I had to supervise or save people from her. But the guy, who never had anything but the sincerest good intentions, who was genuinely nice but all the way tacky, he annoyed me just by existing. I wanted him the fuck out of any space I was in.

It is not fair that I was more willing to be around a woman I thought could be evil** than a nice but profoundly annoying man. It is true though. Annoying people are truly a test of my decency and beliefs. I do not want to live up to my ideals with annoying people. I want them to stop being annoying.

*I think I especially hate dangerplayers because they’re a type, and when I was a kid, my tkd master would always match me against them. He did that because I was coordinated and I didn't get mad when I fought. But they scared the shit out of me, because they mean destroyed joints and broken ribs. Their enthusiasm is sky-high, and they don’t have the control for that. They don’t even realize they’re a hazard. I hated fighting them. Incidentally, if you get to choose, always, always fight someone better than you. A better fighter will beat you, but a worse fighter will injure you.

**Please understand that I never thought she was motivated by malice. But I thought that if malice occurred to her, she had no internal limits.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Moon wisdom.

I am, you know*, chill. I like people, and don’t let things bug me. I look for good things in people. I overlook slights. I never ever assume malice where thoughtlessness is a possible explanation. This attitude doesn’t take effort on my part. It is my cheerful default. If, for example, a friend were consistently late, I would attribute that to my friend living deeply in the moment, make arrangements for it not to inconvenience me, (I can’t invite that friend to movies, we’ll miss the start. But that friend can be included in a group at the bar, where it doesn’t matter if people trickle in late.) and just get along. Most of the time, things truly do not bother me.

Except. Except when my period is due. When my period is due, my emotional reactions are stronger, including ones I don’t generally feel, like annoyance and sadness and anger. You likely wouldn’t notice, unless you caught that I was quieter than usual, because I am holding back stuff like, ‘are you being that annoying on purpose?’. ‘Fucking show up when you say you will.’ ‘Why would you say something so mean?’ My first thought is to let it go, let it go, let it go. My period will come and my mood will lift and I will be glad I didn’t snap at anyone, causing drama.

Except that for a few years now, I’ve been wondering if I should be so quick to dismiss my pre-menstrual feelings as an aberration from my “real” mood, imposed by my body, and soon to pass. I’ve been wondering instead whether they’re like an alarm system, telling me that I am more bothered than I realize by inconsiderate friends, or more hurt by the end of promising flirtations than I admit to myself. Maybe the demands that I struggle against vocalizing when I’m premenstrual are things I really want. If you are in touch with your negative emotions and know when things bug you and can live with intensely wanting things you don’t have, this might seem ridiculous to you. But for me, who walks a determined walk on the sunny side of the street, being pre-menstrual may be a rare access point to a darker side of myself.

I don’t know what it would mean, if the feelings that are so often caricatured as bitchy and moody are something I should hold onto. What would I do about that? Write down pre-menstrual tirades, so that I can keep and evaluate them when I am back to my usual self? Let myself express more when I am pre-menstrual, and if people are chastened, well, they can stop doing annoying shit? Keep ignoring it, ‘cause that stuff doesn’t bug me most of the time? For the while, until I have a stronger read on that, I’ll probably just sit with the idea my pre-menstrual perceptions and emotions have some validity. Not dismissing them instantly would be a big step.

*You guys might well not know. I am told that in the blog I come across as intense and rigid. In person, I’m mostly smiley and animated and excited for things. I am, like, amiable.

If life were perfect, there would be a training montage.

I happen to be at the café for the Regional Barista's Competition. There are lots of scruffy people in black behind the bar, being too cool to be nervous. There look to be written rules, and timed events, and judges with glasses of water to clear their palates. I wish they would tell us the rules, which I imagine have lots of jargon. I also wish there were teams in matching tracksuits, shaking out their arms and exhaling, and bringing it in for a huddle and BREAK! I will have to choose a favorite, but I can't tell who the underdog is.

I wonder what the prizes are. I wonder if winning this competition is something one puts on a résumé.

UPDATE: From the comments:
Maybe there could be a followup, "Barista!", about a clumsy, unhip, yet plucky underdog who finally wins the respect of his snobbish fellow employees at the locally owned coffee place.

What if he were totally straightlaced, with t-shirts with no message, and rode a bike with multiple gears!!!! But, during the long training runs, and lifting for strength but dexterity exercises too, they come to respect his dedication and belief in the PERFECT COFFEE DRINK. Maybe he has a gift that they can't deny, like perfect taste, or whatever perfect pitch would be, so they have to put him on the team, despite their doubts!!! BUT!! Maybe, in an accident, or an "accident" arranged by the team from the CORPORATE coffee shop, he burns his mouth! Will he get his gift back in time for the FINALS?? EVERYTHING depends on it!!!!

God. I love that movie.

Friday, January 26, 2007

But you gotta listen close.

My other favorite musical genre, after 'musicians who crack themselves up' and 'anything with a horns section' is 'such a sweet song, such vicious lyrics'. Ali and I have been playing Lily Allen's Alright, Still on repeat. Very catchy, ska-ish stuff.

I believe this is what you call "activism".

Consumer of Baked Goods
Resident of Midtown

Mr. Tim Jordan
Mr. Jason Griest
Old Soul Baking Co.
1716 L St. Rear Alley

January 26th, 2007

Dear Sirs,

I recognized Casey’s muffins as soon as I saw them, and was delighted at their return to Sacramento. Thank you for bringing back one of Sacramento’s most delicious local traditions. Since I remembered them so clearly, and recognized the pumpkin and blueberry bran muffins instantly, you can imagine my profound disappointment when I didn’t see Casey’s apple muffin. Dude! The apple muffins were the best of all of them, with serious chunks of apple. Why, of all the muffins to neglect, did you choose the apple muffin?

Sometimes I imagine that you have reasons for not making the apple muffin. Perhaps you got caught in traffic at Apple Hill, and swore you would never cook with apples again in your life. Maybe the girl you have always loved tripped on an apple, twisting her ankle, and as you cradled her to your chest you decided that you would protect her from such dangerous objects forever. You will have none in your kitchens! Maybe you saw the movie Snow White at an impressionable age, and have forever associated apples with poison and treachery. But whatever your reasons, you must move beyond them! Innocent bystanders are being hurt by your stubbornness; they walk through their empty days, knowing something is missing. It is apple muffins! As long as you hold Casey’s recipes, only you can fix this.

I would also like to call your attention to another matter. On the very rare occasion when I don’t want an apple muffin, I would like a savory baked good. I can’t think of anywhere in Midtown to get a good cheese-y roll, or a spinach-cheese scone, or an onion-mushroom tart. If you made something like that, I would buy it. And have an apple muffin for dessert.

I understand that it will take you some time to perfect your savory baked goods. I will wait in happy anticipation of the day they show up in cafés around town. But I have already been patient on the subject of apple muffins. Please, please, take immediate action to flood this town with tasty apple muffins. I can wait no longer. I should warn you that if I do not see apple muffins soon, my next letter on this subject will be very strongly worded indeed. It might even be regrettably harsh. No one wants that, but only you can prevent it. Good sirs, make amends. And apple muffins.

I thank you for your attention to this matter and look forward to your prompt response.



Thursday, January 25, 2007


Is Randy breaking up with me? Geeks, is he deleting me? From his heart?? I was just sitting here, not hurting anyone. I can't believe I got gratuitously dumped. By a twenty-two- year-old stranger! I may never love again.

Year One.

I didn’t expect much when I started the blog. I knew I was unhappy and wanted a boyfriend, and I made a decision to put myself out in the world more. That was about the extent of my thought. I started with vague intentions, and have been thoroughly surprised by how much From The Archives captured my attention for the year. It is the predominant thing I did in 2006. By and large, it went well, but there are real pros and cons.

Without a doubt, the most annoying thing about having the blog is that now I have to check my email spam. I missed some important emails at the beginning, and I find a real email from you guys every few weeks. That is too much to write off, so now I have to scan the spam box. It is a small but constant nuisance.

I don’t like how the blog pulls my attention from the moment. I’ve compared the blog to a long-distance relationship before, and it has some of the same downsides. I feel like a piece of me has been teased out and spread over the internet; I am not entirely here and present. I wonder what people I’ve never met are doing; I wonder whether people have responded to my posts; I track strangers’ interactions. All of that detracts from my life in the real world.

I got involved in internets drama this year, and I hate drama. In general, I’m thick-skinned and not looking for grievances. To a surprising degree, I’ve found I don’t care about ridiculous misinterpretations of my words, ‘cause if people can read me and be that off-base, fuck ‘em. But I also got mixed up with people I do respect and I hate authentic conflict so much that I question the value of any activity that leads to it.

I haven’t liked being a host for viewpoints I don’t respect. A conspicuous example is the gender-based strategizing for dating; that crap goes against everything I believe about people. I’ve also seen a rather callous disregard for people, especially people in poverty. I don’t like being reminded that real people, with whom I have enough in common that they are attracted to my writings, think that way.

You guys have made my life so much richer. You think and say great things in the comments. When we meet, you tell me about things I would never have learned. You send me drunken emails; you send me real, physical letters. I talk to a couple of you on the phone, often enough that we are really friends. You have been kind and funny and interesting. When I go places, I meet you and you’re even better in person.

The blog has changed the direction of my life. I am certain that I would never have entertained the idea of writing about Los Osos if you guys hadn’t convinced me that people are interested in what I write. Now I’ve got a two or three year obsession. I knew I was stagnant before, and now I’m energized. Being creative about the book has brought all sorts of other projects to mind; I can barely think how I’m going to fit them all in, and I love being so excited to try things.

Having a place to put my thoughts has been a blessing. When I’m with real people, I listen to them half the time, and talk about personal things and play catch. Doing all those things means there isn’t time to go on tirades about floods in Natomas or why complex modeling is flawed. Also, they don’t want to hear as much of it as buzzes round my mind. Putting them here has opened the pressure-relief valve, and I didn’t know how much I needed that until I had it.

Blogging has made me closer with my sister and the Dubins, and with my few friends who read. Lots of my friends politely ask for the URL and then never visit. But some of my friends chose to look through the window to some of my interior life, and they see a good deal of who I am. I like that they know what I’m thinking about. I wouldn’t have told them so much, ‘cause we would have been doing other things.

I am surprised by how greedy I am for attention. I knew I liked attention, but I’ve started to think I need a fixed amount of attention, although it can be delivered in different ways. Periodic focused attention from students, full-time attention from a boyfriend, intermittent attention from friends, diffuse attention from internets strangers. There is an upper limit to the amount of attention I want, but I’ve been wanting more than I’ve been getting.

I have become much less private. I’ve tried telling you guys the things I’ve hidden for a long while, that I am lonelier and sadder than I act in real life. That I am desperately scared that I won’t have kids with a man I love. That I don’t know why I’m not with someone and I constantly fight off the fear that it is because I am broken somehow. That my life is good, but not how I want it. I said those things, out loud, to the world, and nothing bad happened. Other sweet people said that they feel like that too. If there is that much grace in the world when I tell my secrets, there must be grace for less tightly held intimacies. I’ve started opening up to real people sooner and easier.

The blog may be one of the few places in the world where I don’t downplay my intelligence. I check my vocabulary in regular speech; I decided a long time ago that I would rather have friends than good spoken grammar. I don’t show real people the range of my interests or tell them how much school I’ve done. I keep my mouth shut when people tell me stuff and I compare their ideas to other disciplines or critique it or connect it to something I read. People say that want that, but if you speak up, they get quiet and turn away. Here I can talk and analyze freely, and y’all don’t just keep up, you outpace me. It is a gift.

This should be obvious, but it is a painfully learned lesson for me. I’m sure I’ll get a few more repetitions. Not everyone thinks like me! My small homogenous group of friends doesn’t represent the whole world! I say things that are patently clear and people disagree with them! Some of you are wrong-thinking freaks, posing as perfectly ordinary people I like and respect! It probably doesn't reflect well on me that I keep getting surprised by that.

So far, the good sides of the blog have vastly outweighed the downsides. The only thing that would make it better is meeting more of you more often. And if you pimped me to the hot single guys you know (hot = funny, tech-y guys who do things, mid-thirties). And if you libertarians read my words, saw the light and became bleedingheart granola-type liberal devout environmentalists. That would be better.

On to Year Two.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


This is Slate's State of the Union picture of Bush. Do the trick where you cover each side of his face in sequence. Our left side is moderately pleasant and professional, nothing special. But oooooh, our right side. Bush is unhappy and PISSED to be there. I wonder how much longer he can hold it together.

ADDED: 8/29/7
Bjorn Lomborg, from a Salon article about his book.

More and more I believe that when the two sides of someone's face don't match, you are looking at someone who is compartmentalizing very, very hard.

ADDED 9/24: Fred Thompson. I wonder why he is so sad.

Added 10/6/7: Mr. Rushmore and Ms. Kim are ambivalent about their home remodel, no matter what they tell themselves.



I got nothing.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

All me, all the time.

Things I’ve noticed myself doing recently that I like a lot:
1. With Ali and the funnier Megan around, I’m cooking lots of dinners. I’ve been craving vegetables in a ridiculously intense way for a few months. I’m reverting to the interesting cook I can be when my fridge is stocked and I have eaters.
2. I’ve been asking for help with Los Osos. It is so easy. I am almost paralyzed by asking for help for my personal life, but I’ll email a friend at the drop of a hat to ask whether a "going concern problem" is big talk for an accountant. Kind people have offered big help, and I happily say 'Yes!'.
3. I am no longer afraid to leave phone messages. Don’t have to plan them out, either. I call, get voicemail and leave a coherent message. I think that is a sign of growing up.
4. I am knitting. Every year I go to the State Fair and every year I walk away thinking, why don’t I make beautiful things? My knitting is not inspired, but it creates something I wear. I will make a few more things, and then I will try something fancier.
5. I’m meeting a lot of strangers. Meeting strangers has gone so well for me since the blog started that the ease seems to have generalized. It was never very difficult, but now it is even easier.

Things I used to like to do, but haven’t recently:
1. Get up early. I think of myself as a morning person, but I haven’t gotten up any earlier than 7:30 in a long time. I used to love very early mornings, and always think “This week, I’ll go for a walk at sunrise every day.”, or “I should do sun salutations as the sun rises.”. But I keep not.
2. Garden. Last year’s garden was a bust, except for the Armenian cucumbers. I rarely got over there. This year the funnier Megan says she’ll garden with me. She’ll do it, too. But I haven’t felt the want to garden. I haven’t been fantasizing over the new beds in front of my house even, although I have started collecting cuttings from around town again.
3. Read fiction. I started on your recommendations to me, and enjoyed Gavriel Kay. But I feel like if I’m good and get through all those, I can reward myself with Sidewalk and The Last Stand.
4. Play Ultimate. So much sprinting! It hurts to catch when it is cold! I don’t know all the new people and they never hold the force at pick-up. Maybe when Spring League starts…

Things I want to do but never have:
1. Write paper letters to friends, maybe illustrated, although I don’t draw. What if I drew things? Ali even paints things.
2. Sing with other people.
3. Read things out loud. Like maybe some of my blog entries at an open mic somewhere. Or other people’s poems.
4. Repair things. For my birthday I asked the funnier Megan to help me replace my garbage disposal and Margie to help me replace my leaking toilet. They have skills and tools both. You know what I really want? I want a red toilet. If they can make gorgeous red porcelainized stoves, they can make porcelainized anything. I want a deep red clawfoot tub, and a red toilet to match. If I can’t have that, you know what I’ve wanted for years? My clawfoot is boring white inside, with a painted exterior. If the exterior is just paint, I want to paint it some strong color, and then put FLAMES on it. Only not flames like a cauldron, but flames like FAST!! Then, I want to switch out the two handled faucet for a steering wheel, and have the FASTEST TUB IN SACRAMENTO! I haven’t thought through all the details, like silvery ghost flames or brightly colored red/orange/yellow flames. But it is fucking weak sauce that I’ve had this idea all these years and never done anything about it.

Dennis is purely awesome.

I had a fairly involved dream last night that I was taking my kid sister and brother to the airport. There was a nice bit on horseback, but the rest was nearly missed connections and an unpleasant haul. Fortunately, we'd left early, so they just barely made their flight. Can I tell you how little I want mundane dreams about regular chores? I once dreamed I inherited a stamp collection and spent the last fifteen minutes of the dream alphabetizing them. Boooo!

I want to be like Dennis. He used to dream that he could levitate, until he designed wings for himself and had them tattooed on his back. Now he soars through his dreams.

Monday, January 22, 2007

I caught two sunsets.

This whole weekend, for the entire time, I hung out with real people. Karen made this incredible onion and fennel dish that I will copy shamelessly, except I think I’m going to serve it over polenta and maybe with some bitter greens. Then we went to the gathering and at three in the morning, when a few of us were all lying on each other’s stomachs and laps and talking quietly, I was completely centered and warm and known and accepted. The next day’s drive back to the East Bay wasn’t even long enough for me to tell Chris every last detail about Los Osos. My nephews were perfect in a sweet and cheerful way, instead of perfect in a tired and fussy way. For the baby’s first birthday, my sister’s friends built a bonfire and burned no fewer than twenty-three dried Christmas trees.

A childhood friend came over in the morning and we all played at the playground. Lunch was grilled cheese sandwiches; I need to make more of those. The train ride home was beautiful. Last night, a couple friends came over for dinner, and I didn’t even have to hassle with inviting them first. I love that.

The entire weekend, I didn’t care what strangers on the internets thought of me. Except for the ones who are actually my friends, I didn’t wonder what strangers were doing. I could have checked, but there was a naked little boy stealing my shoes and that was far more relevant. All of me was in the physical world, not bookmarking things to tell imaginary people about later. It felt like a vacation. I used to feel like that all the time.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Bikers beware. The hippies are coming.

The man who shows us how is calling our people together this weekend.
You are encouraged to come to my charming cabin outside of [place] this weekend for some foolishness. As I am trained in the way of Geisha, you are guaranteed to have fun. Marvel at the effortlessness with which I make conversation. Let this plus-sized lady walk on that aching back. Listen to me giggle shyly as you direct drunken ethnic slurs at me and ridicule my small hands and feet. My pleasure is only in serving you, my guests.

No, seriously, come over! [Place] is AWESOME, way away from it all, and totally pretty. Ever hear of [something I've never heard of]? Next door, baby. How about a biker bar that will poo if we all show up? Check. Neighbors that traffic in large amounts of opium and mescaline? Num num. Plus, I'd like to give all you cool folks a chance to meet each other in the context of many redwoods and liquor.
I can't wait.

P.S. Thelonius_Nick! It is very likely I will take light rail to Amtrak to BART before meeting up with my friends this evening. THREE TRAINS!!

No polyester curtains.

Fortuna sent me over to this incredible tableau. I love the dedication. It reminded me that I used to go to an annual gingerbread house decorating party, where we used graham crackers instead of gingerbread and candies for ornament. The first year, our gingerbread double-wide was very well received, likely for the attached redwood deck, the floss clothesline with clothes, the gingerbread truck up on blocks in the yard, with licorice black gummy tires stacked to the side.

The next year, we did a tragic re-creation of the sinking of the oil tanker Prestige off the coast of Spain. Blue icing for the waters, green and brown for the rugged coast, a precariously balanced gingerbread half tanker, gummy fish, sharks and eels floating belly-up, and finally, a coating of chocolate syrup. Claudia and Brian's jailhouse, with different vignettes in each cell, including one that was not appropriate for young viewers, got more attention that evening. Everyone said it was sooooo amazing, but I say that if you are going to use power tools at the gingerbread house decorating party, you better make something amazing.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Try not to weep from jealousy.

Just today, I found where the Central Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board has posted PDFs of the historical groundwater quality reports for Los Osos. There are hundreds of pages of descriptions of aquifers, soils, infiltration rates, nature of pollutants and more; they're all from the 60's and 70's, so you know those bad boys are in Courier all the way through. You wish you were me.

Like Hide and Seek.

I know you guys think Anand isn't really co-blogging here, that he won't be back. But I can tell he's around because of this little game we play. He doesn't post or anything, but he sneaks into my posts and puts typos in there. He's the only other person with access, so it must be him. Then, when I go back through my old posts and see those typos, I know that he is still involved and paying attention. I change them back, so he knows that I know. It is subtle, but when you've been friends for so long, you come to these unspoken understandings. You don't have to spel everything out.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Enough with the "slippery" and "lick".

I read Mark Morford’s columns, although I don’t often get much from them. I am in the choir, and he mostly writes the things I thought but not so thoroughly. I’m totally down with his emphasis on fun sexuality, but watching him apply that lens to most analysis gets old and a little of his sexualized prose goes a long way. Still, every now and then, he completely nails it.

This column, which should have started in the sixth paragraph, far as I’m concerned, made me catch my breath and think about the times when I forsake my body to live in my mind and how unhappy I was during those periods. It made me try to understand people whose bodies are not a source of pleasant sensations like stretching and breathing and sweating and walking in rhythm with your companion and drinking cold water, but instead traitors that constantly hurt them and make them feel ugly and make other people think less of them. If their bodies have turned on them, hurt them and don’t carry them on springy legs, they’ve probably stopped looking for the subtle good things your body sends you. Maybe they still get the big sensations, like eating and sex, but they probably don’t turn to their bodies for small joys, like lying on warm rocks with a breeze on your bare feet. I bet they do their best to ignore their bodies altogether, which may be the smart decision if they’re getting more bad than good from their bodies, but makes me really sad. Maybe they know that the way it is, being obese and distracted and ashamed, is a bad way, but they don’t know what would be like to be friends with their bodies and it can’t possibly be worth experiencing the misery of being back in their neglected bodies for as long as it would take to change it. What a vicious trap.

Also, I liked today’s column, for some well done righteousness. I don’t really like birds, because I think they are creepy dinosaurs that would eat you soon as look at you, but I don’t want them falling out of the sky, dying by the thousands. I liked the flocks of crows that flew over my house at dusk three years ago, before West Nile.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Will he call me?

I know people who want a boy to call. Since I do not, today, happen to be one of them, it is completely obvious what she must do. Since I have, on many other days, been one of them, I know how freakin’ hard this will be. But, my girlfriends who are waiting on a call or an email or a text, who just need to know, who want him to call so bad, my sisters, you must stand up and do something that has nothing to do with him.

My pretty friend, you have given him too much power over your happiness. You, because you are a person, have the responsibility for your own mood and your own mind and your own happiness*. Fortunately, you also have the ability to change those, and right now, while you are wishing he would call, you must use your strengths and abilities.

Sugar, wrest your thoughts away from him. Impossible, you say! I have to know!!! It is all I can think about right now!! But that isn’t true. If you got a phone call from your best friend, saying that she is picking you up in half an hour to tell you great news, your mind would switch to her great news. If you heard that your parents were in a car crash, you wouldn’t care if he called. His calling is not the only thing in the world. So you need to think of other things, things that are interesting enough to distract you. This is great permission for you! Go see a movie, eat at a fancy restaurant, go dress shopping with a friend, check out that tourist trap, make homemade ice cream, play catch in the park, look at kittens at the pet store, do whatever thing you have always wanted to do. You practically have to! Leave your phone behind, so it won’t be nagging you. He can’t reach you anyway, so you might as well pay attention to what you’re doing. If you can’t think of anything to do, stand up and walk out of your house. Places can get saturated with the thoughts you have, until all you can do in that place is think the same things. Just switching to a new place will help, ‘cause you are moving and you are not in the place where you usually mope. Find a friend and pay attention to her.

I understand that it is not fair. He could make you so happy, so easily, just by calling! That’s not even hard for him! Just dialing and telling you what you need to hear! So easy! It will be so much work for you to make yourself not-even-as-happy. Where’s the use of that, when he could just call!!! I know. But there are a few uses. First, maybe he will call in an hour or a day or a week. But you, my friend, are alive during that time. You might as well make it better and not wait around agonizing. Second, you will be a different person when he does or doesn’t call. You will not be a boring person who depends on him. You will be an interesting person who does her own interesting things, and is worthy of his attention. If he calls, you will have a story and neat things to say, not angst-y recriminations about not calling. Third and hardest, no matter whether he calls, you will need these skills one day when you are single. When you are single it will be glaringly conspicuous that you are the person who needs to make you happy, because there is no one else to do it. (When you are in a couple, you should make yourself happy, because it is too heavy a burden to assign completely to another person.) So you must learn to do it. Start now, hon. It will get easier with practice.

*If you aren’t well, if your body is betraying your mind and self with depression or illness, you and people who love you and professionals who can help you are all jointly responsible for your mood and happiness. If you are well, sack up and go back to the paragraph.

Monday, January 15, 2007

All my respect, Dr. King.

I spent a summer setting traffic counters in dirt roads for an air quality study. We placed counters all over California. It was a lot of driving; I learned early to listen to books on tape. One day I left Sacramento before 4:00am. I had to collect a counter in the lower Sierras, cross at Kennedy Meadows, drive up the 395, plant a counter west of Mono Lake and cross back on the 80. I got home at 10:00pm, wrung out, shaking and crying.

That day, I’d chosen to listen to a biography of Martin Luther King, Jr. It was as beautiful as you’d expect, with long excerpts from his speeches. It was fourteen hours, moving towards his assassination. I’d read pieces of his most famous speeches, of course; I knew I’d be moved by those. I hadn’t known how prescient he was. In the last years of his life he was turning his attention towards urban poverty in the north; we lost so damn much when he was killed early.

I’d never driven Kennedy Meadows, which were green and open and gorgeous in July. But much more than that, the 395 tore me open. High deserts are the landscapes that own me. With the high, stark Sierras on my left, I stopped at Manzanar, because I had never been and I wanted to see our shame. I left feeling even guiltier, because for all that I knew the Japanese suffered during their internment, I thought it might be one of the most painfully beautiful places I’d ever seen. It would be a mixed sentence to confine me to Manzanar for years. I stopped at a fish hatchery, to see the WPA stone buildings and ponds, and wonder why we don’t spend the labor to make our useful things unreasonably balanced and graceful anymore. I saw the Owens Valley, an even more personal responsibility for a water girl from LA, emptied, dusty and poisonous. I saw Mono Lake, whose heavy water does reflect the mountains and the sunset in deeper colors than other lakes. Mono Lake is proof that hope and work based in well-documented science will make bureaucracies change course. I set my counter in the last of the light, on a dirt road I couldn’t find now, near cattle grazing in the type of meadow valley that would trap the people living there. That much beauty must be addictive, but ranching is a hard, hard way to pay for it. A black bear crossed in front of my car.

Any of those things would have been the emotional event of a week, but they happened on one day, as Dr. King spoke bravely and truly for hours, until they killed him for it. I was a wreck. It took me several days to recover. I did though, got back to my usual cheerful self. One thing changed though. After that day, I was always deeply and fiercely proud that I went to a law school named King Hall. I never thought that was hokey again.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Last night, his ex thought of him for the first time in ages.

So I was looking through Bay Area Craigslist the other night and in the midst of the standard stuff, there was this ad! It was about a topic and not about the guy, although it still managed to convey things I liked about the guy. The topic was interesting! It was totally easy to write him about the topic and imply things about me. I guess he liked that, ‘cause he wrote me back and said smart things and just asked me, straight up, if he should ask me to coffee or if he should send me further amusing emails. Yes! He should! Only not boring coffee, ‘cause we can do better. He liked that too, and suggested a museum. Not some dumb art museum either, but a real museum, with science!

By this point I knew his name, so I stalked him good and proper. I found lots of good things! And no bad things! Math AND physics! He builds hippy techie things, sometimes with other people. There was a picture, of him doing fun things with lots of people in a neat place. He has another hobby, for a different side of him. He isn’t a registered sex offender!

I was getting pretty excited about all this, but I totally played it cool. I didn’t send him an anagram of his name proclaiming our joint destiny. I told myself not to get my hopes up. I told myself my hopes weren’t up, and it was pure coincidence that my music was even louder than usual and I was all singing along. That could happen to anyone. I wrote him saying I thought the museum sounded great, and ‘fessing up that I would have to come down from Sacramento to go to the museum.

I got back:
I would definitely be up for hanging out, but should add that this weekend won't work and I'm probably not up for dating someone that lives so far away. Let me know if some time next weekend might work if you're still interested, no problem if not...
That’s when I found out that I’d gotten my hopes up. An interesting ad and three well-done emails is so fucking meager, and so incredibly better than I usually get. I can’t believe I’ve been demoted to hanging out; it is not like there is a scarcity of hanging out in my life. I completely understand his attitude, and I really respect that he would be so straightforward about it. But.

I’m gonna take him up on the museum next weekend, but now it is all messed up. If we don’t hit it off, that’s actually the easiest. I’ll just relax and enjoy the museum and whomever he turns out to be. But if I do like him, I won’t be able to trust my read. I’ll be all: It seems like this is going well, but is it going well enough that I’m worth dating from Sacramento? Could I be funnier, prettier, wittier, better? If I work harder, could I qualify for his “probably” exception? When will I find out? Will he tell me today? Do I have to wait three days, until I don't get called? Will I ruin it if I ask?

I keep thinking that sometime, please let it be next time, there will be some grace and ease and the good emails won’t suddenly stop. I hate that dating has gone wrong for me in so many unexpected ways that I can’t get calibrated, so minor things trigger all the doubt and confusion of the other times when it ended without warning or explanation. It makes it hard to try, and it makes it hard to trust, and I want to be someone who tries and trusts. Another bid, and I'm getting scared of the landings. You can't play like that.

You guys know that you won't hear the rest of this, right? He's been very nice and straight up, and I expect him to be very nice and straight up some more, so he doesn't deserve to have people make up stories about him here. If things are medium, there'll be nothing to tell. If things did go great, I wouldn't want to risk it by discussing it in public.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Because cold is the opposite of hot.

Sacramento cooks in the summer. It gets hot, which we start to notice at about 105°. I love the heat. I love the way it loosens my muscles and I feel all melty. I love to sweat, so I love that in that heat, your first sweat breaks instantly. I love feeling the difference between shade and light; I love that a few degrees makes deep shade into a cool oasis. I love that you take three liters of ice water to pick-up and each drink is about half a liter. Water pours down your throat and chest, but it is dry by the next point. I love that when you run in the heat you get a line of salt crystals to show how far your sweat advanced, and you drink another liter of water when you get home. I love the heat.

What I don’t love is people who are new to the heat, and must inform you that they are hot. “I’m hot.” say Bay Area people. “Jesus, it’s hot out.” “Man, this heat is something else.” I don’t know why they say that. There is no new information in that sentence. We are standing together, both equally immersed in the same heat. I know about the heat. I am right here, in the heat. If I were unaware of the heat, mentioning it would only bring my awareness to what they consider an unpleasant state. I could not be unaware of the heat. Why say it? I don’t want to encourage these people by responding to this behavior, so I don’t react to any statements about the heat. It doesn’t matter, though; on the 90 seconds comes “It is so hot.” I patiently, stoically, heroically endure.

What is fascinating, though, is information that I am cold. I have been to agonizingly cold places, where Nature cruelly demands more than a longsleeve t-shirt and a hoodie. The cold was astonishing and interesting and manifested in all sorts of ways, which I do not describe in detail to my friends, but merely sum up by informing them that I am still cold. And yes, again now, still cold.

They are predicting a cold snap for Sacramento, with predicted temperatures of 21°! You read that correctly, below freezing! And not just a frost of a degree or two! Twenty-one degrees! As far as I am concerned, this is just like that movie about the ocean currents reversing from global warming, causing massive hurricanes that sucked the cold of outer space down onto New York and people froze as they inhaled. I will be sheltering in place, and actually turning on the heat tonight. We will be picking the citrus off our trees, to save what we can of the harvest. It is extremely dire and extreme. If I survive the night, I’ll write you tomorrow to tell you that it was really, really cold.

UPDATE: We survived Day One, despite actual ice on the sidewalk this morning. If Spring comes early this year, we may yet live through this brutal winter.
UPDATE: The situation is touch and go, although I cling to hope. Today we must venture out for food; I have no leeks and thus cannot make a lifegiving soup. I will put on several oppressive layers of clothing and string up a clothesline to follow back from the Farmers' Market. I read that is what one does in blizzards, lest one lose one's way in the blinding gusts and featureless drifts, and freeze to death right outside the pleasant coffeehouse.
UPDATE: Day Three. When the Shadow of Death blocks out the sun and warmth and casts a freeze upon the land, the things that are important stand out in stark relief. When temperatures in the twenties trap you in your house for days, there is a lot of time for introspection, time to reassess what you want to do with your life, time to decide if you would be content if the wolves got you now, because you had lived your life true to yourself and your conscience. Lies stand out like beacons in this lifeless, Arctic landscape. There is no hiding from them.
Friends, I did not use the leeks in a lifegiving soup. Instead I sautéed them, mixed up a cheesy sauce and poured it over steamed potatoes and cauliflower. I topped it with panko and baked it. It was very yummy, but I think it was also a message. I think I have been living a lie. I thought I meant it when I picked bread pudding for my New Year's Resolution. But when I listen to the voice in my soul, I hear about gratins. Last night's was not enough; I wonder now about using greens, or carrots, or sweet potatoes. I will make one bread pudding, to pay homage to a path I will not choose. But, if the thaw comes, if we are granted life in 2007, it will be gratins from here on out.

Thursday, January 11, 2007


Algebra or geometry?

Physics or chemistry?

Visual or auditory?

Loved algebra, geometry was fine.
Really liked physics, hated chemistry with every inch of my body.
Profoundly auditory. I remember most of what I hear. I eavesdrop constantly and must know the lyrics to a song. But I can't do those tests where you fold up the squares and predict which side of the cube the mark will be on. Even with hand gestures, those are impossible for me.

Special Bonus Question:

Which part of calculus was The Part that you loved more than the rest?

I don't think I have much intuition for math. But, I'm not scared of it and I follow the rules and line up my equals signs and it looks so pretty. Calculus was fine for me, except! I loved trigonometric substitutions. Those were like languages and secret codes and a special treat on an ordinary day. My sister says she can revolve any curve you like around the axis of your choice. That wasn't my thing. My thing was trigonometric substitutions.

You know, I should take calculus again at the local community college. I would have to work really hard to do anything but take a derivative now. It has been fifteen years since I took calculus.

Not scour.

On the eastern side of the Central Valley, the water is snowmelt, freshly run off granite outcroppings. It is so pure and sediment-starved that it sucks the cement out of concrete, leaving the aggregate in place. This is a terrible picture, but you are looking straight down a bridge pier, with smooth concrete at the top, some erosion at the high flow line, and inch deep erosion at the water line. It is only a couple feet down to the water. The structure is about sixty years old.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Maybe he changed his name from RANSCATTO.

Dearest Randy,

As I was sitting in a meeting, not listening to the speaker, I fear, but instead idly pondering color schemes, flowers and seating arrangements, I couldn’t help but notice that the letters in RANDALL MUNROE had appeared on the paper in front of me. After that, it was nothing, not even a thought, to see that:

R A N D A L L M U N R O E when mostly rearranged, spells:

R U N _ O _ A _ R A M E N _ _

I know that someone who is barred from cryptography conferences can decipher that as easily as you found the key that unlocks my heart. There are no coincidences, Randy. There is only fate and two souls reaching for each other through this vast cold Internet. I'm here, baby. Reach for me.

UPDATE: Do not reach for me. You are too young, and I apologize for all the impure thoughts I had about you today. Sorry 'bout that. Your name doesn't really spell anything important for our future. I do think your comics are very funny, though.


To my readers:
If you knew about Randall Munroe and you didn’t tell me, you are fired and we are not friends and I am talking about someone else when I say my readers are gorgeous and smart and the best ever. He is PERFECT. A physicist! And bitingly funny! And so smart and dreamy and PERFECT! He understands me like no one ever has. We were meant to be all along and YOU DIDN’T TELL ME!

Worse than that, now he’s all talking about some date with some girl and you KNOW I don’t poach, so I’ll just have to wait around until he hears the voice inside his soul, telling him that his destiny waits for him in Sacramento, in the shape of some girl WHOSE NAME HE ALREADY KNOWS! Seriously readers! Why the hell haven’t you been arranging this? No one has dropped him a discreet email, mentioning a pretty engineer in Sacramento who covets hot physicists? Come ON! I am so disappointed in you. Mark gets some partial credit, but I can’t believe I had to find Randy all by myself. I hate you.

Dear Randy,

Hi. I’m sorry you had to hear all that. It might give you the wrong impression of me. When we finally meet, you will never hear unpleasant shouting in all caps. Instead you will hear gentle murmurs in your ear and low wicked chuckles and the heartfelt words “I do.”

I know this is sudden for you, but it is obviously our density. You’re the one, with your math jokes, some of which I get and some of which I need a big strong man like you to explain to me as we rest, naked and sweaty after soul-shaking sex. You’re the one, with your ‘fucked your Mom’ jokes, which will not scandalize me and which I will escalate when you do not expect it. You’re the one, with your tender Valentines that will make me swoon and want to make out forever. Oh Randy, you’re the one.

I don’t know how to convince you of what my heart tells me so strongly, that we were meant for each other. Words aren’t enough and I can’t draw the way you do. I can only say this, and mean it to the depths of my being:
I would stand between you and a velociraptor to give you a few extra seconds of life.

Yours - passionately, helplessly, eternally,


P.S. I would know it was Pressure Drop Under Pressure not Vanilla Ice.

Sunrise? That would be freakishly backwards.

Via Mark Nau. Oh Megan, remember this. You want to be the standing person.

I would like to see these practices become widespread.

The different café last night posted all the Craiglist Missed Connections that mentioned the café by the register. Of course! Good thinking. What a considerate service for your patrons. The different café did not have flocks of hot med students, so I will be returning to the first café. But props to the different café for helping with hook-ups. This is the sort of forward-thinking, willingness-to-get-involved that knits our community together and gets people laid.


When Anand (he’ll be back any minute) and his friends pay the restaurant bill with cards, on the bottom of the bill they write the last four digits of the cards next to the amount to be charged to that card. I like that. Bills don’t have to be split evenly between cards and it seems helpful to write out the amounts to bill to which card, so the server doesn’t have to remember. Anand says it is a common practice in Dallas; I wish it were common here too.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Let no one say I shirk my penance.

I went to the café last night to work on my book. I do that, you know. Lots of people do that. You know, author-type people. I thought the laptop would be enough to make me a sophisticated, eloquent writer, but now I’m thinking I might also need glasses. Considering that I got eye surgery so I wouldn’t have to wear glasses anymore, it seems a little silly to get frames with clear glass now, but I will make whatever sacrifices my muse demands.

Last night, however, I was grateful for my perfect vision. Right across from me, there were four med students studying. They looked young and dedicated, so it was wrong of me to notice that all four of them were entirely hot, graceful with lots of cheekbones and dark hair. I’m sure that each and every one of them wants to be respected for the effort he is putting into learning medicine and his need to heal people. I feel bad that in my mind’s eye I reduced each one to an object, an object of desire and not for his mind. I feel worse that I did it again later, but in different combinations. I don’t know how I’ll be able to face them again the next time I’m at the café, considering how I disrespected their thoughts and feelings, their very personages. I disrespected them in ways they are probably too young and studious to know; they would be horrified if they knew what wanton, shameless roles they played in my reveries. Tonight I will reach for a purer focus, focusing my mind on my work and not on the way these young scholars wore their jeans. I will make it up to them by imagining their diligent concentration rewarded by a thorough understanding of medicine and excellent grades. I will have to sit across from them again, to get the details just right.

Monday, January 08, 2007

In our lifetimes.

This Chron article about the effects of climate change on California is exactly what I expect.

We will not grow rich or smart enough fast enough to head this off. Our best efforts now could barely cushion this. And this is just the water story, not the fire-forest story, which I barely know but suspect is nearly as crippling. We will live in the 1930's again before we die, and I am the only person here who jokes about liking this.

Do not, you blind motherfuckers, tell me that "the science is not certain" or that "maybe it won't be so bad" or that "we'll adjust, with science!, and there will be new beachfront property!". Do not, you selfish, shortsighted, ignorant donkeys, laugh about your gas mileage and using all the oil up fast. Rate matters, jackasses. Instead, as an experiment, think to yourself: if I were certain of this prediction, what would I do now to make it not happen? Would I change my habits today? Then hear me, because the most impressive people I know have said for two decades that this is coming. The only thing surprising them now is that it is happening faster than they thought. You pissant selfish shits, you will drag me down with you. You will take my state out before you go, and you will do that because you like to drive and you like the taste of meat and you don't want to wear a sweater in your house. Today I am scared and pissed; if you aren't, you are willfully ignorant. When the drought comes, or the rising water, it will not care what your ideological agenda was. Climate change is a mechanistic function of physical limits. Accept limits, accept responsibility and change your behavior.

Older than 34, I'd say.

I wonder how old you have to be before you stop believing that something has to happen just because you want it so much.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

A peasant husband might be a good match.

Some more thoughts on work that I can’t seem to tie together well:

• Anonymouse said...
I must not be the only one who finds this a little bizarre. Chores are necessary evils, they're not something to order your time around. And I certainly wouldn't judge a friend or partner by their capacity to do chores for hours on end. What you're describing is a peasant husband with a plow horse and a drinking problem.
I have certainly heard this attitude in people who don’t like work, who think I’m fetishizing drudgery. I may be, but if so, that horse is clean gone and the barn door banging wide. Just as I can’t change what’s part of me now, I’ve accepted that people who don’t like chores never will; those people will always be doing me/the relationship a favor with each chore they do. I believe you have to do real work as a child1,2 to feel fluid and comforted doing chores as an adult.
• Labor involves three processes; seeing undone work, believing that the existence of undone work in your presence makes it your responsibility3, doing the work. People who haven’t internalized a pro-labor ethic get halted at different steps, or all of them.
• I’ve noticed that children of some immigrant groups were particularly flustered by labor when they got to college, which I attributed to two sources. In one group, the parents believed they had immigrated to give their children a life of the mind, and done all the chores that their kids could study more. That worked well for getting them into a good school, but they literally had to be shown how to clear their plates from the table4. Those kids did fine; they were willing, but unfamiliar with labor. The other source I liked less; that was the kids who came from a maid/driver/gardener culture. They believed that labor was something you paid other (shorter, browner) people to do, as soon as you could. I never did like their perception that labor is something you shed when you can afford to.
• Along the same lines, if someone fundamentally doesn’t respect labor, how can that person respect the people who do labor?
• When I talk about all this stuff, I’m sure I sound all intense, like I’m living up to the task driver inside me. I don’t at all. Why, there was twenty minutes yesterday when I took a break. Kidding. I really don’t drive myself that hard anymore; my life is ordered enough that I don’t have to, there’s lots of sitting and reading and friends and walking and playing. I’m thinking that ethic will get reactivated when the kids come. In the meantime, I want to learn to work better, like I don’t pay.

1I don’t know how much work at what age, but I’ll go with my theory that puberty sets who you are. I have no research but observation, but I’ve come to believe that you must play a sport during puberty to be an elite athlete in that sport, and that the country you go through puberty in will always be your native country. I’ll just tack comfort-with-work onto that theory.

2Kids younger than nine or ten love work, incidentally. They want to wash dishes in the soapy water, sweep anything, stack wood, wash cars, prune bushes, make food. They'll do any chore along side of you, especially boys shadowing fathers. They're as happy in work as they are in play, as long as their grown-up is doing it too. With tools, materials and freedom, kids will do an astonishing amount of work building forts, drawing maps, clearing paths, making things.

3I am the oldest kid in my family. When I was five or six, I walked through the kitchen; my father had been unloading groceries and gone out to the car for another load. A potato had rolled out of the bag. I picked it up and put it on the counter. Few minutes later, my Dad came to find me. “Did you pick up this potato?” he asked. “Yes.” He got a strange look on his face. “This,” he said, holding up the potato, “is the first indication I have ever gotten that you will turn into a person.”

4Indians whose Moms stayed home, I’m looking at you. My impression is that your moms decided that she didn’t want you spending the time to make full Indian meals, and anything less wasn’t cooking, so why bother showing you and did you get an A on that test? Very successful, the lot of you, but maybe not so handy in the kitchen.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Not free yet.

My father works. It is what he does. He works professionally until he gets tired, then does yardwork. A few hours of yardwork, then housework until it is time to make dinner. After dinner, he works. I’m not sure where that came from. My Mom claims his Puritan work ethic is a remnant of growing up in New England. My Dad says that ceaseless toil is our heritage as Russian peasants, required by the eternal threats of winter, wolves and Cossacks.

My father didn’t want to work alone, so as kids, we worked. Not like farm kids or anything, but lots more than most urban kids. I’m mostly grateful for that. I am glad that I know how to settle into the rhythms of a chore and like the dirt and physicality of it. It would be twice as hard to do work if I resented it. I’m glad I can put a lot of effort into something and then live in a world that shows the results of my efforts. In sad or lonely times, I’ve turned to work as a friend who will never vary or leave me.

On the other hand, it is not so fun to have internalized a tireless driver who believes I should be working for every instant that I haven’t chosen to do something else. There’s a reason my New Year’s resolutions are for things I’d enjoy; a self-flagellating belief that I should be working harder is my default state, not an annual exception. Not working is a conscious choice for me; the chore list only goes away when I am fully engaged in fun.

A side effect of the belief that I should always be at work is that I never count the work involved in a project. If you should be working all the time, there is no cost for new work. It is simply time diverted from other work. It might even be funner work. So I dismiss almost all considerations of work. I dread emotionally laden work, like moving from an apartment after a break-up, and I’m scared of work I don’t know how to do, like handy-work around the house. But if those components aren’t there, if it is just planning, labor and doing, I’ll do any amount of work to get the fun.

Please don't be scared off, potential guy. I'm better now.

Oh yeah this work ethic is a problem in relationships. There is the standard problem of division of housework; my willingness to do housework falls in with traditional gender roles (although, I will add that I got it from my Dad (and should say that my Mom is no slouch either)). On one hand, a guy who dates me gets some benefit of my willingness to work; the first hour of chores is just background noise to me. I won’t notice it isn’t even until it is pretty skewed. But even allowing for that lag, the amount of work I expect us to do is outside most people’s tolerances.

One of the consistent problems in my last relationship was quantity of work. In the end, we did a lot of setting expectations. I’d wake up and if we didn’t have plans, assume we would do some project. He’d assume we would lounge. I like lounging, when I know that is what we’re going to do. We learned to make our choice of work or lounging explicit, which helped a lot. I also learned that I couldn’t take on projects that required work from both of us without consulting him. Turns out not everyone dismisses all considerations of quantity of work. Weird. But I learned to adjust to the person I’m with, and I learned to appreciate not working.

I don’t count capacity for work as one of the ways I’ll evaluate the man I’m looking for. There’s a lot of good in being with someone who will help me ease off. But, I think I would also like being with someone who matched that side of me. The day after a huge party, some guy I once played a sport with, whose pretty, pretty arms and shoulders I barely remember, who might have had hops, but who thinks about such things, helped clean in the morning (No. He slept on the couch.). For three hours we cranked hard. We didn’t work side by side, but knowing there was someone helping me, that we would get to a clean house twice as fast, that every bottle he picked up was one I didn’t have to get later, that he didn’t resent me for that labor because he loves work too (raised on a farm), that we were pulling equally hard in the traces, oh, that felt great. It felt like home and love and realized potential and help. Then he went home and I cleaned for another five hours by myself.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

How to make friends.

This has come up in a couple different contexts recently, so I’m going to write up my thoughts. I feel strange about parsing something so basic, but also sure that I can make and keep friends. I’m writing this specifically for you, introverted bright person on the internets. You can do this, and it will lead to making real friends that you do things with in person. I’ve already told you how to sleep with them once you get to that point.

First, pre-filter the group from which you’ll be making friends. Look, I’m an extrovert who is delighted by what people do, but even I don’t think that I’ll be friends with all sorts of people. In groups of people from another class or worldview, I get awkward and eventually clam up and feel miserable or bored. But, like people cluster; finding a good cluster will serve you in two ways. As a rule, Ultimate players are educated and good-natured and make exercise a priority. Hey! Me too. It is very rare that I do not like an Ultimate player. By using Ultimate as a screen, I have found a rich vein of people who are likely to be friends, but more importantly, I approach players already inclined to like them. People can tell that I like them from the get-go; things are off to a good start.

My current filters are Ultimate and this blog (I’ve yet to meet a reader I didn’t like; new acquaintances from the blog get all the benefit of your fellow readers’ coolness.). I suspect that I would also like rowers, but haven’t tried. If you’re in college, the college itself is a filter, although maybe not a sufficiently fine one. Maybe bluegrass affiliation is a good one, or gardening. Bike people can go either way, as can martial artists. There must be one for you. Find and trust that filter.

Second, you will have to do things in the presence of other people. I know, internets people. I know. But I mean both parts of that. Doing things is very important, because it takes the pressure off your direct interactions and gives you information about each other. I met Ali at beginners’ clinic. Throwing to each other meant we didn’t have to stammer through small talk; her every move showed that she is game to try stuff and enthusiastic and fun. It doesn’t have to be sports. Cooking, gaming, stuffing envelopes, anything. Doing opens the door to talking.

I also believe that even you, internet shut-in, want physical friends. I know as well as any of you the affection you can develop for pixilated representations of people, but do not fuck around with that indefinitely. Meet those people, watch and attend and interact with them. Do it a few times; enjoy the richness of voice and mannerisms and expressions and quick exchange. I truly understand how you can get just enough through a monitor to keep you almost satisfied. It is just enough to put off paying the upfront costs of meeting real people. But it is not enough to feed your need for physical friends. I now believe that socializing predominately through the internets is a slow starvation.

Third, you have to offer something of yourself to people you meet. Yes, of course, attentive listening to other people, be interested in who they are, you don’t want to give offense. But honestly, small talk is like sliding down a cliff of sheetglass, desperately reaching for a crag or niche to grab. Give the other person some purchase, an opinion to disagree with, a piece of gossip, some critical thought to evaluate, an emotion to share. Offer something genuine, with some heft. (Coalminer is spectacular at finding conversation and putting people at ease; she told me that she has learned to swear and drink early on, says it relaxes people. She is also fearless about dropping hard truths. I couldn’t pull it off as well as she does.) Listen for and respond to their offerings.

I so hope this is useless advice for you; that you have people you call and meet for fun. But if you have been wanting friends, this is how you make them. Find your filter, so you are meeting people you are predisposed to like. Do things, in the presence of people. Offer something real to them. You can do this. I know you can.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Naturally. What else?

I'm reading the Los Osos forums in the SLO Tribune. I am up-to-speed enough that most of the abreviations don't slow me down. WWTF? Wastewater Treatment Facility. PZ? Prohibition Zone. TW? Taxpayers' Watch.

But T&F? What was that? It keeps coming up, about the different boards of directors. They aren't initials... not the name of a report... not a government agency. Was it used as a verb... AHA! Tarred and feathered. Love it.

(A very interesting feature of the forums is that readers can vote (1-5 stars) on each comment. You see the number of votes every comment received. It gives a measure of the degree of lurker support for each sentiment, which I haven't seen done elsewhere. Things aren't true because lots of people agreed, but I quite like the constant gauge of imaginary support.)

Soup and cornbread. Cookies for after.

A couple I know is having trouble. They’ve each told me a little, and it is clear they are both deeply unhappy. I ache for them, because that feeling, that things went wrong and it hurts so much and the person whose happiness and pain is your own is also hurting and maybe this is real and irrevocable and it won’t magically be alright again, that is an awful feeling. I hate knowing that people I care about are deep in those woods. But I think it is very clear that the important person in this situation is me.

I have a very strong and sensible rule about not getting involved in couple’s affairs. Couples in pain are beyond my skills; I just don’t believe I can make them right, especially not in a few conversations. I have so little to offer, and there’s a small but real chance that having an opinion in any direction can cost me a friendship. Criticizing the partner might trigger protectiveness; not criticizing the partner might be insufficiently supportive; criticizing the partner I’m talking to might be more than they’re up for during rough times. There are a million pitfalls, and I am simply not that nimble.

Except, what if I really believe my friends could work something out? What if I’m convinced of each partner’s love and regard for the other person? What if I’ve heard thoughts from each that they are sure is the inviolate truth of their situation, and I think is just a result of engrained patterns of thought and arbitrary framing and a made-up obstacle? If I believe my friends’ pain isn’t necessary, do I take a deep breath and start throwing around all the wisdom that has lead me to my current happy relationship?

I don’t, of course. I am an avoider. I offer what I can, concern and loving listening if they’ll take it. I murmur that I think a real counselor, who could work with them over time, might be a good idea. I wish they weren’t in this. I wish they were happy and whole, separately or better, together. If they were close, I would make them food. I am confident in my ability to offer food.

Monday, January 01, 2007

The blog worked.

0. Greg: Greg is as funny in person as he is on GeeseAplenty. He took me to pizza and root beer, which is ridiculous, 'cause I asked him out. I still owe him a dinner, I guess. I owe him a lot more than that, because he told me that he likes blogs that are written with intent, and that was how I knew to never write a 'State of the Meggie' post.

1. Ed: Took me out for sushi and told me how they brew the best beer in Sacramento.

2. Mike: Handsome CalTech student who took me to Afghani food and explained to me how they measure gravity. After our date, he sent me one of the sweetest emails I got all year.

3. Ogged: Ogged’s throws got accurate quickly, but hurt to catch. Nice guy, though. I’m sure he could pick up some touch if he wanted to.

4. Mitch: Mitch naturally has good hands, and didn’t realize how fast his catches and throws got good. When are you going to tell us your secret blog address?

5. Adam: Adam is a rocket scientist for real, and he told me about a rocket science convention in town. Dave and I walked over and looked at all the cool rocket things, which Adam explained to me later over drinks. That was a nice evening.

6. Jess: Showed me his cool eye patch.

7. Robby: Plays disc at lunch and if I played in his game, I would totally change shirts just to be on his team.

8. Tom: Tom is my people. We’d have been friends however we met.

9. Dave from NY: It is a good thing Dave is sweet inside, ‘cause he sees everything. When we email, he is dead-on about stuff I didn’t know I said.

10. Dave from DC: When Dave says a report or article is interesting, he’s right.

11. Telnar: Has a pretty good explanation for a lot of things.

12. Claiborne: Took me to ice cream and told me how money works and about Santa Fe.

13. UnderwearNinja: UN and I see eye to eye. He gets everything I say, including the slang I make up. We hang, but not often enough.

14. Pete: Pete has beautiful, beautiful throws. He picked up backgammon faster than anyone I’ve seen and was brave enough to dance with strangers that same night.

15. Helen: We’re from the same place! She’s fair and pretty (although I’d like to see her carry her shoulders back) and smart and interesting and we went for walks all the time and talked non-stop. She's awesome, Ilya. You shoulda been serious about her from the start.

16. Becks: So damn nice, and thoughtful and friendly.

17. Ezra: He was gracious when I was tactless, which is a really useful trait in the people around me.

18. Kriston: Was all sophisticated, smoking on the stoop.

19. Tyler: Has a tremendously kind gaze, and goes straight for the interesting parts. We didn’t get to talk enough.

20. Robin: Reminded me acutely of my friend Paul, and got the benefit of all my affection for Paul. I really liked talking to him.

21. Megan: My favorite exchange this year was with her. Within seconds of being introduced, she said “I don’t really like other Megans.” I said “Me neither”, and then we walked away with no close and didn’t try to talk again. It was fabulous and I enjoy it again every time I think of it.

22. Thelonius_Nick: His dining room table and chairs are as great as he said, and his baby is even cuter. I don’t think we talked about trains, but the conversation didn’t falter, even as we ate all that good food.

23. Ben: Ben doesn’t know what to talk about until you start giving him shit. Then he relaxes and becomes charming.

24. DaggerAleph: I kissed her cheek for hello, which is unusual for me. Turns out that it was only a few hours early, because by the time we got off BART, we were fond enough that cheek kisses were appropriate.

25. Ennis: Ennis knows everything about everything, and figures out the rest. He’s so easy to talk to that I overlook the puns.

26. Justin: Justin is as pure in person as he is in the comments.

27. Abby: We were already friends by the time we met; all that was left was to make tea so we could tell each other the important stories.

28 and 29: Nina and Kwindla: Nina and Kwindla put an enormous picnic table on a gorgeous patio. Then they filled it with food and surrounded it with fascinating people who make things and do things. It was like Sunset magazine, only smarter and funnier. Tom and I agreed that we got to get ourselves invited back.

30. Susan: I knew Tom’s lady would be amazing, but I liked her even better than I expected.

31. Marcus: Marcus is super smart and insightful, and he patronizes me in person, too. I don’t get that often, and it cracks me up. Chris and I talked about it; we agreed that it is good for me, in small doses.

32. John: Has been unreasonably nice to me, for no good reason that I can tell. I suspect he is just that kind. He’s thinking really hard about what blogging should be in Sacramento.

33 and 34. Phillip and Kara: Came to my party and talked to everyone, and were entirely charming and pleasant. He sent me Didion’s essay on the state water project and he was right; it took my breath away.

I just missed Nicole in Philadelphia and PandaX in the Bay Area, and I am disappointed about that. I want to meet lots more of you in 2007. Bay Area, let’s hang out. If you come through my town, let me know. East Coast, maybe Anand and I will do a reunion tour.