Ecology and Evolutionary Biology:
* Leggy lizards adapt fast (Science News). Experimental evolutionary biology. How cool is that? If you can't read the article above, read the abstract of the source article, Rapid temporal reversal in predator-driven natural selection (Science).
* Brave Old World: The debate over rewilding North America with ancient animals (Science News). Reports on a lively debate about reintroducing animals to North America that have been extinct on the continent for thousands of years. Although it's not available online, many references are, including two interesting pieces from Nature. If you want a copy of the Science News article, just ask.
* Revving up recall while fast asleep (Science News). It sounds like a bad late night infomercial, but scientists demonstrated applying a minor electrical current at a particular point while someone is sleeping can help improve word recall. The abstract of the source article, Boosting slow oscillations during sleep potentiates memory (Nature), is available online. I wouldn't have believed it had it not been published by such an august journal.
Food and Health:
* L'Chaim: Wine compound lengthens mouse lives (Science News). Resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, can counter in mice many of the negative health consequences that come as a result of obesity. But before you go out and drink lots of wine, realize the amount of resveratrol used in the study amounts to the equivalent of 300 glasses a day.
* A Toast to Healthy Hearts: Wine compounds benefit blood vessels (Science News). Scientists identified a heart helping chemical in red wine, traced which wines/production methods/wine growing regions tend to have more of this chemical, and successfully correlated the lifespans of red wine drinkers to the quantity of the chemical as it appears in the local wines. Good science and detective work. The abstract from the source article, Red wine procyanidins and vascular health (Nature), is available online.
* Curry may counter cognitive decline (Science News). A correlation study showed that elderly people who eat curry regularly tend to score better on measures of cognitive function, after taking into account other factors (e.g., health, socioeconomic class). The abstract of the source article, Curry consumption and cognitive function in the elderly (American Journal of Epidemiology), is online.
* Low body heat lengthens mouse lives (Science News). Interesting effect. They're not quite sure why. Because mice on low-calorie diets have lower body temperatures, some researchers think lower body temperatures may be a variable mediating between calorie restriction and increased lifespan. The abstract of the source article, Transgenic mice with a reduced core body temperature have an increased life span (Science), is available online.
* Ticking toward Trouble: Long-term rise in heart rate portends death (Science News). I simply like studies that show one can get significant results from analysis of minor changes in ordinary, easily collected data. The press release from American Heart Association provides the details.
* Crusty Old Computer: New imaging techniques reveal construction of ancient marvel (Science News). Sounds like a Game clue.
Ecology and Evolutionary Biology:
Posted by mark at Monday, December 25, 2006
I recently heard the radio segment "Hear Ye, Hear Ye" (WNYC's On The Media via NPR) about reporting on the Supreme Court, the release of recordings of oral arguments, and the possible entry of cameras into the courtroom.
As part of the segment, they interviewed Nina Totenberg, my favorite reporter on legal issues, and it occurred to me that I never plugged her on this blog.
Nina Totenberg is NPR's Legal Affairs correspondent. Her reporting is great, bringing life to any legal issue however obscure or arcane. I especially enjoy her dramatic reenactments of oral arguments. They portray each justice's humor and wit, putting an individual and human face on persons whose personality and personal lives are rarely in the public eye.
Nina Totenberg's contribution to the radio segment above starts around minute 5:45. The whole piece, however, is only ten minutes long and worthwhile.
Personally, I keep NPR's Legal Affairs bookmarked, though I find myself more often using my direct bookmark to recordings of stories reported by Nina Totenberg.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, December 12, 2006
* Mystery of the Missing Heat: Upper ocean has cooled slightly in recent years, despite warming climate (Science News). "Between 2003 and 2005, the top layers of the world's oceans cooled slightly, but scientists aren't sure where the heat went." It's legitimate articles like this that cause some people to doubt global warming. The abstract of the source article, Recent cooling of the upper ocean (Geophysical Research Letters), is available but doesn't really say much. If you want me to e-mail you a copy of the Science News article -it's interesting-, just ask.
* Things We Know We Know (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). I'm not posting this discussion of Rumsfeld's press briefings for political reasons; rather, I'm posting it because it's one of the most detailed overview of and commentary on someone's speaking habits I've seen. I'd love to see more of these for other public speakers. Also, the link to the Slate piece on the poetry of Rumsfeld is worth following.
* Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly (Applied Cognitive Psychology). An Ig Noble award winner. Reports on a number of experiments/studies that demonstrate use of unnecessarily complex vocabulary ends up sounding bad and reflecting poorly on the writer. Sadly, the full text of the article isn't accessible online without a subscription. If you have a copy of it, please send it to me.
* Blink-free photos, guaranteed (Velocity). An Ig Noble award winner. A physicist models blinking and estimates the probability of taking blink-free pictures. The last paragraph of main article body has a handy rule of thumb.
* Death rates for poor higher in rich neighborhoods (Stanford Report). What an interesting result. One possible message: live within your means.
* Gene pool: new therapy improves memory, learning in stressed rats (Stanford Report). What can I say? Ever since I took Sapolsky's class, I've thought he was awesome. And this is neat research.
* Trimming Down Cancer: Fat could hinder body's fight against disease (Science News). Reports on a study that appears to demonstrate that fat cells themselves contribute to cancer -- this effect isn't simply a consequence of unhealthy eating or a lack of exercise. More details are available in the source article's dense abstract: Stimulatory effect of voluntary exercise or fat removal (partial lipectomy) on apoptosis in the skin of UVB light-irradiated mice (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
* New Advice: Don't Sit Up Straight (LiveScience via Yahoo News). It's always good to investigate common "wisdom."
Reasons to Wash Your Hands:
* Hotel-room surfaces can harbor viruses (Science News). I'm not even going to cite the source article Science News used to write its piece because, frankly, I really don't like how the study was designed. I simply want to point out the conclusion, as represented by the above title.
* Many infections tied to medical settings (Science News). Again, the title says it all. This might also be a reason to be treated/examined somewhere besides a traditional hospital, if possible. The abstarct of the source article, Epidemiology of community and healthcare associated musculoskeletal infections (MSI) in hospitalized patients (Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy), is available.
Posted by mark at Saturday, December 02, 2006
My day, Saturday, November 18th 2006, was ruled by trains.
In the morning when my alarm went off, I disabled it and decided to get as much sleep as I needed. I eventually got up at 10:35am. I'd hoped to take the 10:57am train to get to city before noon. That way, I could stop by the Saturday farmer's market for food before heading to see the 1:30pm movie at the series of screenings of Italian cinema the SF Film Society was showing. (Parking anywhere in those parts of the city really suck. That's why I decided to go by train.)
According to the clock at my local Caltrain station, I made it there at 10:55am. Crossing over to the north-bound side of the platform, I bought a ticket, then noticed the ticket and the clock by the tracks themselves said 11:01am. Had I missed the train? Even if those clocks were right and I missed it, I should've heard it as I walked the two blocks from my apartment building to the train. As I thought, I noticed that signs said that northbound trains were boarding on the southbound side of the platform today, so I crossed back to the other side.
I stood around for ten minutes debating what to do. Had I missed the train? The next train was in an hour. Should I go back to my apartment and get stuff done and take that train? Should I ditch my train plan and drive into the city? Should I keep my train plan and skip the ferry building? I called the transit info number for service announcements. They didn't say anything about train delays. As I thought, my stomach grumbled.
I decided to head to the nearby donut shop to grab breakfast to eat at my apartment. Today, however, there wasn't anything at the shop my heart desired.
As I left the donut shop, I heard the clattering as railroad crossing signs descended. Heading back to the train station, I discovered it was the apparently delayed northbound train and so I boarded. My slowness in deciding what to do kept me barely within hearing distance of the tracks, allowing me to catch my desired train.
While on the train, I read some of the guide to the ferry building farmer's market book a good friend bought me.
Once in the city, since it was such a beautiful day (as usual during these farmer's market trips), I hiked from the Caltrain station to the ferry building.
Since I didn't want to shlep food around with me the rest of the day, I didn't actually buy anything to bring home. But I did buy lunch:
* A very good BBQ beef sandwich from the Golden Gate Meat Company. I'm always skeptical about buying food kept in a hot tray on display under glass. I needn't be. The meat was a nice balance of flavor of the meat itself and the BBQ sauce. It's rare that one doesn't overwhelm the other. And the sandwich roll was soft, sweet-ish, and did an excellent job soaking up the juices.
* A hijiki and soybean salad from Delica rf-1. I've had it before and it's not particularly notable. I just wanted a small salad and there aren't many places to get a salad that isn't a meal in itself.
I also bought some stuff for later. I'll mention those as the narrative progresses.
I finished eating at 1:10pm and knew it was time to head off to the movie theater. Located in an outdoor shopping mall spread over four blocks, it was amazingly hard to find. The maps by the mall only showed what was in the mall on that block. And even when I got to the right block, I had trouble finding the theater because the maps made it difficult to find a listing for anything not on the ground floor. It's a wonder the place survives.
I got to the theater within two minutes of it starting. The movie, "... And If Tomorrow," was a pretty good comedy, based off a true story of an odd event in Italy.
By the time the short, the movie, and the Q&A was over, it was 3:50pm. The movie was longer than I expected: it was no longer possible to continue with my plan of catching the 4:00pm train to Redwood City to watch the next movie I wanted to see at 5:30pm.
Still, I hurried to the bus station in hope that it'd magically get me to the Caltrain station in time. There really wasn't any chance; I arrived at 4:10pm and so had to wait until the 5:00pm train. While waiting, I read and also ate a pear from the farmer's market. It was a variety of pear I never heard of before and don't remember the name of but, really, if I didn't know it was a different variety, I'd never have guessed.
The third movie I wanted to see that day was at 7:30pm, also in Redwood City. I debated briefly getting off the Caltrain at home, doing stuff for an hour, then grabbing the next one, likely arriving at Redwood City around 6:45pm. Realizing it was Saturday night and that there was some chance the movie, "Mi Mejor Enemigo / My Best Enemy," one of most awarded movies of the year from Chile/Argentina, might be sold out, I decided to head straight to Redwood City.
The ride to Redwood City was neat. I tried to read but ended up faking it, instead eavesdropping the whole trip on a nearby conversation about one man's quest tracking down countless relatives and experiencing much family drama while trying to figure out why his grandfather left his grandmother. An enthralling story, I could imagine both reading it in a literary short story and seeing it on one of those overdramatized talk shows.
Once in Redwood City, after buying my movie ticket I wandered around downtown. I noshed on a smoked salmon stick I picked up at the farmer's market: basically, the salmon equivalent of beef jerky, high salt content and all. Downtown Redwood City seems like a decent, up and coming place: nice wide sidewalks, a reasonable variety of restaurants, and many coming soon signs. It'll likely be much like Castro Street (although with the benefit of movie theaters) within the next year or two.
After some indecision, I selected Amelia's Salvadoran/Mexican restaurant for a small dinner. I had a huge but boring chicken taco and a decent papusa, though this one tasted more baked than fried. (One nice benefit meant it had less grease than usual.)
Incidentally, the movie was decent and quirky. A little too light on seriousness given the subject (the humanity of men at war). After the movie, I checked the clock, realized I had mere minutes to make it back to the train station lest I be stuck in Redwood City for another hour and a half, and bolted. Yet another train misadventure.
Once home, I ate the last of my farmer's market items: a fuyu persimmon. Although I'm usually fine with persimmons, I didn't like this one; I must've chosen badly. In my defense, I was probably distracted by what the booth helper was telling me: that pale persimmons weren't yet ripe and that one could leave them on the counter for three months (yes, months) and wait for them to ripen.
That is all.
Posted by mark at Friday, November 24, 2006
On Sunday, November 5 2006, still slightly disappointed by the scale of the last two festivals I attended, I decided to go the Dia de Los Muertos Festival, what I was pretty sure would be a full size street fair, in the international district (a.k.a., the Bayfair district) of Oakland. I knew it would be big because the web site said they were sold out of booth space.
I also wanted to go because I've heard much about the international district in Oakland and the quality of its authentic food and wanted to see the area for myself.
It was huge! Ten blocks of booths. At least five stages, most loud enough that some music could be heard constantly. A huge crowd of, according to the Chronicle, tens of thousands of people. I can believe it: it was hard to walk given the constant press of people. The only festival I've been to that might've had a similarly large crowd was the Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival, and that's spread over a larger area. The crowd was so huge and dense it took me two hours to press my way ten blocks from one end of the festival to another. I think the North Berkeley Spice of Life Festival might've sold out of booths as well, but it was only six blocks long and, although crowded, lacked the sheer mass of people.
As I explored, I took some photos, including a few of the many altars, and some movies of various dancing, drumming, and music. The newspaper link above also has a few more photos which, I'm proud to say, are not significantly better than some I took.
I snacked while wandering amid the ruckus and browsing the booths, most of which were pretty boring though a few sold paintings of death, neat shirts, or sculptures of death. I started with a cheese and bean and cheese papusa: both solid examples of the cuisine (including the expected amount of grease). Next came one of the most brilliant snack booths I've ever seen: a booth selling chopped fruit of many types including watermelon, cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, mango, and more. I had some watermelon. I spotted a number of these booths around the fair, all doing good business. Why don't more people on the street sell nice fresh fruit? I later finished my snacking with a taco al pastor topped with onion, cilantro, and both red and green salsa. It was great. (Mixing salsa usually fails. Not this time.)
Anyway, it was a cute excursion.
Posted by mark at Friday, November 24, 2006
* Graveyard Shift: Prostate cancer linked to rotating work schedule (Science News). The title says it all: don't play with your body schedule too much.
Food and Health:
* Seafood not your health foe, studies say (San Jose Mercury News). The health benefits of omega-3s outweigh the risks from mercury and PCBs. Fish should be a regular part of your diet.
Food and Psychology:
* Seduced By Snacks? No, Not You (New York Times). Another article on how psychological and social factors affect how much someone eats.
* Battle of the Hermaphrodites: Sexes clash even when sharing the same body (Science News). Includes many examples of strange, unusual, weird, or just plain disturbing relationships between the sexes in various species.
Politics and Marketing:
* Free candy in every pot (American Public Media's Marketplace). A hilarious parody of campaign ads for state proposition. Listen to it! (Reading it isn't as good.)
* How should organizations handle failures? (Stanford Engineering Newsroom). There are countless good quality articles and books written about success and failure, innovation, and incentives. I'm posting this article simply because it has handy quotes I may later want to reference.
* Start your engines (Science News). A good example of people solving the wrong problem. Engineers have spent years improving catalytic converters. Meanwhile, "up to 95 percent of a vehicle's hydrocarbon emissions occur during the warm-up period." A change to the start-up fuel mixture "decreased the car's hydrocarbon emissions by 81 percent." The abstract of the source article, On-board generation of a highly volatile starting fuel to reduce automobile cold-start emissions (Environmental Science & Technology), is available.
* The Ultimate Influence (New York Times). A pretty poor article about ultimate frisbee and academics. Posted only because it cites some facts that I hadn't previously seen and may want to reference.
Posted by mark at Monday, November 13, 2006
After the Croatian festival, I didn't think there could be a smaller gathering that advertised itself as a festival. I was wrong.
The Festival of India, which I attended on Saturday October 28th 2006, was located in a house near Golden Gate Park. The bottom two floors were devoted to the community center -I forget the name-; the top floor was rented out.
Like the Croatian festival, this was expensive ($10). And also like the Croatian festival, one movie made the trip neat. And I got to talk to someone interesting for a while. (However, the movie and the festival as a whole weren't as fun as their counterparts at the Croatian festival.)
I arrived at noon, intending to use the festival as lunch. This didn't work. The only food they provided was typically boring snacks: carrots and dip, bread, cream cheese, peanut butter, etc. The artichoke cream dip was the only thing that made eating anything worthwhile.
I spent fifteen minutes exploring the festival: the small book scale, a few saris hanging from the walls, and a few other trinkets for sale. Other than that, I mostly sat, read, eavesdropped on the astrologer/fortune teller, and waited for the movies to begin. With the awesomeness of the Croatian movie still fresh in my mind, I wanted to stay and give the showings here a chance.
While waiting, they brought out (surprise!) some real Indian food they brought. I had a tasty and perfect samosa, though perfect may be my exaggerated happiness at finally getting something good, a large potato pancake thing, and a decent though overly minted garbanzo bean stew.
Digression: One surprising feature of the festival was the crowd. It was half-white, mostly typical Californian yoga fanatics and people obsessed with Indian mysticism.
Anyway, let's get to the movies. They were showing two shorts by Satyajit Ray, a prolific Indian director. They were nicely introduced by a UCSC professor who has dedicated much time to tracking down the prints and restoring them. He told us some interesting stories, including one sad one about a fire in England that destroyed some reels of film. The company holding them was reluctant to reveal the fact that they burned.
* The Inner Eye. A documentary about Binode Bihari Mukherjee, a famous painter who goes blind after a failed cataract operation. Could've been much better. For instance, after he lost his sight, the film pans silently over works he later produced. We don't see his struggles with his lack of vision. We don't know how art critics reacted to his post-transformation work.
* Two. A poignant silent (music and sound effects but no speaking) film about a rich kid with many toys and a poor (and darker-skinned) child that lives nearby in poverty with few toys. Excellent. A tale about envy, schadenfreude, one-up-man-ship, and simplicity.
Besides Two, the festival had only one other redeeming feature: a person I met named Charles. We had a neat conversation in which he mentioned two performance groups I hadn't heard of: a high-quality Balinese orchestra based in El Cerrito (they have music videos online; apparently their performances involve more than just music -- I don't really understand it), and a troupe of shadow puppeteers based in SF (also with videos and pictures online). I should one day go to a performance by one of these groups.
On Saturday, October 21st 2006, I spent the evening at the SF Croatian Festival. Due to a lack of publicity, I knew it would be smaller than all the other festivals. I didn't realize how small.
My first thought upon entering was, "is this all?" The room was no larger than two basketball courts and was filled with perhaps two dozen people. The food counter appeared to have only two trays on it. When I found out the entrance fee was $15/person, I nearly walked out. (Most other festivals are $5/person; a few are free.) But since I had no other evening plans, I decided to stay and see how things turned out. If only for the movie they showed, the decision to pay the fee and stay was correct.
The first event was a panel on "Croatian music yesterday, today, and tomorrow." Two families, both of whom were members of traditional Croatian musical groups, made up the panel. They were clearly fighting hard to keep alive their dying cultural traditions. I felt bad for them, especially because it seemed like the battle has already been lost. I counted less than three dozen people at the festival, the vast majority of whom were over fifty years old. At least one minor benefit of the small audience was that the panel was relaxed to joke with each other. Also, the members of the audience that were related to the panelists felt comfortable enough to heckle them.
Digression: One panelist said she grew up knowing "a cross section of all ethnic cultures: Bulgarian, Macedonian, Polish, Hungarian, ..."! (emphasis added)
During breaks in activities, I read the book I brought and flipped through the tiny festival pamphlet. The schedule made me snicker when I read the room I was in was the "main hall" and there was another place called the "small hall." I investigated. It was indeed a smaller room with a bar, a few tables, and some pictures and plaques on the walls commemorating the founding and history of the Croatian American Cultural Center. During the time I was there, it was mostly used as a warm-up room for musicians.
In early evening, some musicians played traditional Croatian folk music. A main instrument involved is the tamburitza, a stringed instrument similar to a lute. The music, played by groups of about six, sounded like ordinary folk music with a slight Spanish influence. People quickly filled up the dance floor -or as filled as it could get with forty people in attendance and less than half willing to dance- with waltzes and with line dances that reminded me of the ones I saw at Greek festivals.
While listening to the music and watching the dancing, I grabbed food: a sirnica. Much like Greek pastries, the sirnica was a fluffy pastry filled with cheese. Basically a burek but vegetarian. It was decent though would've been better warm. I definitely liked the pastry dough. Unlike most other festivals, they had the food brought in. They said they had the bureks and sirnicas made by Euro Market (980 El Camino Real #100, Santa Clara, CA), a store I can't find much mention of on the web.
I also tried the dessert: a dry walnut cake that resembled a cinnamon swirl. It wasn't worth finishing.
Finally, the star of the evening (to me) arrived: A Wonderful Night in Split. As I wrote in my notes, it's a "brilliant black and white Croatian film covering three overlapping tales of drugs and death. Great recurring musical theme and good music as part of the story as well. Sounds depressing but it's not. By overlapping, I mean stories that take place in the old quarter of Split on the same evening with some of the same characters. By brilliant, I mean the tales are tied together in subtle ways, like the usage of the camera and connections via scenes that originally seem trivial or meaningless."
I headed home after the film ended.
On Saturday, October 14th 2006, I once again headed down to Stanford early in the morning. After stopping by the alumni center to grab breakfast (a dense flavorless muffin, a fine piece of coffeecake, some nasty orange juice from concentrate, and some fresh fruit), I headed over to Maples Pavilion for the morning's panel.
I don't recall ever previously being in Maples Pavilion, the basketball stadium. Upon entering, it seemed vaguely familiar but that could just be from the handful of games I saw on television; I don't know why I'd have been there before. As I waited for the panel to begin, Donald, an old dorm-mate and roommate for a summer, found me, an amazingly feat given the size of the stadium. It's nice to have finally run into a good friend at the reunion.
Anxious Times Panel:
The Anxious Times Panel included an absurd number of big names, including journalist Koppel, president Hennessy, justice Kennedy, and former secretary of defense Perry. It was a fairly neat wide ranging discussion on terrorism, nuclear proliferation, bird flu, and other items commonly used to terrify the populace. I was surprised with the honesty and directness of the participants, especially Koppel (humor, curse words, and all) and Kennedy. At times it felt a little disconnected due to the number of people with opinions and number of topics covered, but the panel did get into depth in some areas. The Stanford Daily has a good article on the event; a complete video is available via iTunes from the first link in this paragraph.
Next came the 2001 class panel, a panel of graduates from my year discussing life after graduation and how they got where they are now. (Actually, it wasn't strictly next; the two panels overlapped a bit so I arrived late.) Although the people on the panel were interesting, I found them slightly disappointing if only because there was no one I knew and there were no scientists or engineers. Still, it was cool to listen to random snippets of life, prompted by questions such as "what's your average tuesday like?"
The moderator asked some provoking questions worth thinking about individually. Where do you think you'll be in life at your fifty year reunion? (Actually, I think the ten year reunion question would be much more interesting.) What do you regret the most about your time at Stanford? (After watching the panel of strangers and attending other reunion events, I'd answer not meeting enough people.)
I made a neat observation while flipping through the schedule of events during the panel. Here are the names of all the class panels happening this weekend, in reverse chronological order. (While some names aren't very good, I think you get my point.)
|2001||Finding Our Way in the (New) Real World|
|1996||The Not-So-Simple Life: Existence Beyond the Farm|
|1991||Shifting Priorities and Finding a Balance|
|1986||Making Sense of It All|
|1981||Choice and Chance: Reelin' In The Years|
|1976||From the bicentennial to bird flu, 30 years of building a stairway to...heaven|
|1971||Dazed and Confused: What Comes Next?|
|1966||Boomers on the Move|
|1961||Our Second Commencement: What Will We Do With the Rest of Our Lives?|
|1956||Back to the Future ... and Beyond!|
The class lunch was similar to the previous day's. Although it was much more crowded, it was still filled with many people I didn't know. I hung out with Donald and he was better at spotting Robleites than I. Oddly, Donald generally spotted many more people that lived in Larkin during our freshman year.
As for lunch, it felt like dorm food: comfortable though not particularly good. Chicken and beef sloppy joes, burgers, caesar salad, watermelon, cookies. The wet napkins for wiping one's hand were named "Awesome Wipes." :) Apparently they're made by Armadillo Willies.
Alumni Film Festival:
The alumni film festival showed a series of shorts produced (surprise!) by alumni. Probably due to the limited pool from which to select, the program was pretty weak: certainly worse than every other real film festival I've attended. That said, two movies were good:
* Kind of a Blur: A quirky, cute comedic short about two ravers who wake
up in a cow pasture and try to determine what happened the previous night.
* Oedipus: A well-done short that tells the story of Oedipus via stop-motion animation of vegetables. Stars a potato, a tomato, and a piece of broccoli. Showed at Sundance. And you can watch it online! (The web page is pretty good, including such goodies as: "True to the spirit of 1950s cinema, we racially profiled our extras. Green olives play soldiers, black olives play slaves, and the citizens are Greek olives." "Few things elicit 'oohs' and 'ahhs' from an audience like a fifteen foot potato." "This movie contains scenes of vegetable sensuality.")
After the festival, a panel of two alumni involved with these films and a moderator who works in the film world answered questions. It was more interesting than I expected. Kudos go to the moderator for managing such a small no-name panel well and for asking and answering thoughtful questions. I learned:
* Shorts are always a labor of love. They never make money.
* Shorts usually take only a few days of shooting.
* One major reason people participate in making a short is to get a chance to work with new people, to network, and to get a chance to show off skills not expressed in past films on which one's worked.
* Oedipus takes around a terabyte of disk space.
* Oedipus could not have been made without an insider at Industrial Light & Magic getting approval via its internal creative project process.
* Oedipus had to break the southern California supermarket strike: they needed to replace "actors" as they wilted.
One Bad Apple:
By far the best event of day was the reunion performance of One Bad Apple, a musical written fifteen years ago by some students. It's about religion, belief, ethics, trickery, and relationships (both love and power). It's very witty and has catchy songs.
Even though it was only a staged reading -not much in terms of costumes or set-, the musical and the performance was great. We rightly gave them a standing ovation. It was better than what I thought could be written by students (yes, even Stanford students).
Some of the performers were the original ones that performed this at Stanford fifteen years ago. Some switched roles. They filled in a few missing parts and backup parts with friends and current Stanford choral students. Special commendations go to: the actor playing the Snake, for his ability to squirm and for putting on a tremendous physical performance; the actress playing Gabriel, for her evocation of sheer earnestness; the actress playing God, for her stage presence and singing voice.
A Cappella Concert:
After a short hike across campus, I snuck into the A Cappella concert just before intermission. Only about half of Stanford's groups were represented (including a new south Asian one that didn't exist when I went to school) so each group only got to perform two songs. As expected, it was a mixed bag. The highlights for me were the Mendicants's performance of "You Dumped Me First" and Fleet Street's performance of "Pray to the God of Partial Credit."
Many current students attended the concert to cheer on their favorite groups. It was refreshing to finally see substantially more young faces around.
After the concert, I wandered around in circles for a while. Literally. As I didn't want to get the party for members of my graduation class too early, I walked a very circuitous route after the concert ended to get to the party. Still, I was one of the first dozen people there.
Since it wasn't crowded and I had skipped dinner, it's not surprising the first feature I noticed was the food, which therefore ought to deserve first mention here. It was definitely odd for party food. For one, they had hot dogs with every condiment one might want. That worked well for me for dinner. Also, in addition to the standard assortment of vegetables and dip, crackers and cheese, and alcoholic drinks, they had a coffee stand that could make lattes, cappuccinos, and the like. I don't think I've ever seen one of those at a party either...
Anyway, when I'd entered I'd noticed one of the few people that arrived before me was a senior dorm-mate. I caught up a bit with her as more people showed up, then hung out with Donald when he arrived. He re-introduced me to many people that lived in my freshmen dorm that I'd forgotten about or never met (because the dorm was a big place).
The net result? Since most of the people I knew from school weren't the kind of people to go to a party like this, so I ended up feeling a little lost. After giving it a good hour and a half, I cut out, deciding it was better to leave feeling good than continue looking around the party, hunting for people I know, not finding any, and being sad wondering whether I should've met more people in school.
There was practically nothing scheduled for Sunday, so the party was the last of my reunion activities.
Stanford Five Year Reunion: Friday: Welcome, Developing for the Third World, Legal Fiction, and Taiko
Friday, October 13th 2006, I headed down to Stanford bright and early for the official welcome to reunion weekend given by the president of the university.
Welcome and Opening Panel:
The president's welcome formed an odd contrast with the panel that followed. President Hennessy announced a five-year four-point-something billion dollar campaign to raise money for a variety of initiatives. He spent much of his time exhorting alumni to give money, citing many examples of great things Stanford and its alumni do, then trotted out one of Stanford's new nobel laureates. (This is slightly ironic given the laureate did his award-winning research before coming to Stanford.) The laureate gave a speech in a similar vein: look how great Stanford is; give money. Both especially emphasized annual giving.
The panel that followed these speakers, "Designs that Make a Difference: From the Classroom to the Third World," focused on a particular design school class that makes students design incredibly inexpensive products that improve the quality of life of people leaving in impoverish conditions. The panel included one of the professors who teaches the class and three students who designed neat projects, including a solar-powered LED flashlight to reduce the use of kerosene lamps in India, and a new frame for a foot-powered well (a device that brings water up from a well much faster and easier) that decreases the cost of buying a foot-powered well by fifty percent. Pretty cool stuff and a pretty cool panel. These are good examples of students doing good for the third world and was rightly introduced as look-what-our-students-do.
There's irony here. Think about it: these students are proving how huge an impact one can have with very little money. I bet Stanford didn't think deeply about how this appears next to a speech on the importance of raising a huge amount of money.
Digression: It appears many alumni haven't gone to lectures in a while -- during the first half an hour of the welcome, cell phones kept ringing every three minutes or so. People are out of the habit of turning them off. But they learned relatively quickly; all the other events were relatively unmarred by these disruptions.
With a few minutes to kill after the welcome, I headed down to the Gates building. I'd planned to log in and do some work. I thought despite having my regular school account expired that I'd be able to use my CS account (which is still valid) to log into the pup cluster, a lab of CS machines. Happily or sadly, they'd replaced these machines. They were now configured to require a school login, not a CS one. So instead of working I headed back out to read in the sun for a while.
It was a stunningly beautiful sunny day, even more so than normal for California. I really wished I had my camera, as the glow from the stones in the quad and the sparkle of the fountain by Gates would've made excellent photographs. In fact, many places were photogenic, as Stanford put down new mulch, cut grass, and spiffied everything up in honor of reunion/homecoming. When I was a student I always snickered at these activities. Today I appreciated them.
At lunchtime I picked up one of the box lunches and made my way to the class tent. There were a handful of alumni, perhaps several dozen, scattered among many tables. Sitting with the person I re-met the previous night, I met a few alumni I never knew while a student. They were all cool. We traded stories about where we were in life (political staffer, medical student, computer consultant, business school student). Perhaps the most interesting observation from our lunch discussion was that a bit more than half of us were bored with, disillusioned by, or simply antsy about our current jobs and ready to do something new.
In a later conversation, a friend of mine hypothesized this is a consequence of our school system. We never remain in one place for more than four years. Thus, after four years doing the same thing after graduation, people naturally start to feel antsy.
Anyway, what would a blog post be without the obligatory food description? The boxed lunch consisted of a sad mass of teriyaki chicken breast of precisely uniform texture, a perfunctory salad, and (yay) a fresh strawberry and a tasty brownie.
Oh, I also ran into someone I knew: an ex-roommate's ex-girlfriend. I wonder what he'll say when I tell him I saw her.
Law and Fiction Panel:
After lunch I headed to a discussion of how popular culture views the law system and legal dramas. The panelists included a law professor and novelist, an attorney and novelist, and a television producer, all moderated by an editor of Slate who also writes the Supreme Court Dispatches and Jurisprudence columns. (These are columns I enjoy when I have the patience to sit through Slate's advertisements.) The television producer seemed a bit out of place. His most recent work was 24, which I don't think of as a law show. He did, however, previously work on LA Law.
Everyone agreed the reason legal dramas are so common is because they are engines for stories. It's easy to keep the same characters but get an entirely new situation each week. They also agreed that is why most legal shows focus on the courtroom, not the day-to-day drafting of papers and settling of cases out of court. These latter activities take 90+% of lawyers's time but don't make good stories. None of the panelists minded shows ignoring this boring aspect of law even though it gave viewers an incorrect impression of the discipline.
The moderator brought up a good point: law is like religion in that both involve precise rituals, often seemingly impenetrable to the uninitiated. The moderator tried to take this idea further, claiming lawyers were the priests of our society. None of the panelists bought it. (The moderator bothered me a little. She put forth too many of her own ideas into the conversation. Instead of helping smooth the dialog, it helped make it slightly less coherent.)
(North American) Taiko
I enjoy listening to Taiko and feeling my whole body vibrate to the drums, but I don't often get the opportunity to listen. Hence, I headed to the class on Taiko: a one hour lecture with two performances. I learned some of the history of how taiko get started in Japan and in North America, and how this isn't really an ancient tradition. Aside from beating drums at festivals, taiko (well, kumidaiko) was pretty much invented in the 1950s and soon made inroads in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose before spreading to the rest of the country.
In addition to learning the different types of instruments used and the different ways of hitting them, I learned there isn't a formal written notation for songs. Rather, they are taught orally, much like a rap using the words for the types of beats: don, don, doro, ka, ka, tsu, don, doro, kara, doro, tsu...
Drums ought to be made out of the trunk of a huge tree. Apparently, however, the much less expensive option of using wine barrels tend to work almost as well.
And, like all other classes and panels, I was once again one of the few young people in the audience.
With nothing else I wanted to attend after the taiko class, even though it was late afternoon and I'd taken a vacation day, I decided to head back to work to compensate for not taking a vacation day on Thursday.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Time passes quickly. Before you know it, it's already time for a major reunion.
Thursday, October 12th 2006, was the official start of my five year college reunion. There were few events scheduled for the day, yet since I had selected the registration option that allowed me to get into everything, I decided to drop by campus and go to the ones that sounded interesting. Thus after eating lunch at work, I found myself driving to campus. (Ah, it's so easy when one still lives locally.)
I registered, then flipped through the class book (a book about what each student has been doing since graduation; I hadn't yet received mine in the mail). I also flipped through the class of 56's book, just to see the contrast between where they are in life and where we are.
Although I'd hoped to be on campus in time for the first batch of "classes without quizzes" (i.e., neat lectures by faculty), I had no such luck. Rather than go into a small class quite late, I headed to MemChu for the organ demonstration "class." The class, upstairs by the organ, was full so I settled myself in the chapel itself, planned which events I'd attend over the weekend, and listened to the organ. Pieces of the lecture floated down to me ("the largest pipe organ west of the Mississippi," etc.). Memorial Church is a beautiful place, on par with many of the elaborate churches I saw in Montreal (described in another post), although once again I had to snicker about its "non-denominational" designation. Non-denominational my ass: there were images of christ plastered everywhere.
After class, I headed to my next class: "Gurus, Hired Guns, and Warm Bodies." The speaker, Professor Barley, had given this talk in the east bay a year ago. I had wanted to go to it then but couldn't make it. I'm glad I got a second chance: he's an entertaining speaker. The talk described, with many neat anecdotes, his anthropological research on how consultants live, why some choose that life, and why more have been choosing it in recent years. Like the pipe organ class, most of the other students were much older than me. In this case, this turned the class into a discussion; many of them had jobs as consultants for a time and had thoughtful insights into the subject.
My afternoon classes completed, I headed back to work to get stuff done. In the late evening, I returned to campus to attend the "Death Tour." It was a small group, tilted slightly younger, and led by professor Rick, a man that seemed familiar and I finally placed by realizing that while shopping for classes I sat in Anthro 1 for a week when he was teaching it. Rick is a great storyteller. The best aspect of the tour was not walking by the big red barn, the angel of death, or the mausoleum, but rather the tales Rick wove about the history of Stanford and the land on which it's housed. While some of the talk was the standard death-of-Leland-Jr and the mysterious-death-of-Jane-Stanford, some was stuff I never heard before about the characters (yes, they were characters) who owned the land before Leland-Sr and how Leland-Sr acquired the land at a rate well below market value. The talk also included great stories about the original mausoleum, the original family house, and some other buildings that don't exist anymore.
During the tour, I ran into my first class of 2001 person of the weekend. Surprisingly, it was someone I actually knew: a roommate of a good friend of mine. He'd flown in from Boston and we spent some of the tour catching up. I guess this means the weekend already truly qualifies as a reunion.
Posted by mark at Monday, October 23, 2006
I went to Renaissance Faires several times in junior high and high school but haven't been since then. I'd always wanted to go back. I've known about the Northern California Renaissance Faire for a couple years but hadn't yet made it until on Sunday, October 8th, 2006, I finally did, returning with a friend of mine.
The faire was fun and almost as I remembered it. Many people wore costumes from some era (Middle Ages, Dark Ages, Renaissance, Victorian, etc.). It was difficult to tell who was a paid actor and who was simply an enthusiastic participant. Acting the part, accents and expressions and all, takes practice; the few attempts I had at brief conversations with people playing it up really failed as I my skills weren't up to par.
Most costumes, foods, and shows were European, especially English, Irish, and Scottish, though pretty much anything within a couple thousand miles of the Mediterranean seemed to be fair game. My friend called the atmosphere surreal. The booths were traditional for a renaissance faire: many clothing (including costumes, cloaks, and hats) and knife stores, and an assortment of booths selling pewter figurines, jewelry, puzzle boxes, leather, ceramics, artwork (mostly fantasy), wooden mugs, etc. One booth had quite pretty and very heavy stone drink coasters.
Although these pictures and videos do a fair job of showing my experience at the faire, they're missing some events and observations described below.
We went out of our way to attend Marlowe's Shadowe, a hilarious troupe that presents condensed comedic interpretations of Shakespearian plays, frequently in verse.
With good fortune, we arrived to the show early and got to catch the end of the previous show, a musician named Kenny Klein. The one song we heard "What Do You Do With An Old Dead Gerbil?" cracked me up. Here's part of the chorus:
Hey hey rigor mortis,He sang it in many different styles including reggae, country, and bob dylan, each accurately portrayed. With the constant switching of musical genres, the lyrics never get old.
Hey hey rigor mortis,
Hey hey rigor mortis,
Early in the morning.
We also watched the Albion Schoole of Defense, a fairly decent show full of staged swordplay and historical information about the evolution of fencing. Do you know the difference between the English and Spanish style and the swords they used? And yes, they actually do teach swordplay, though the show was produced by their theatrical unit.
Some Scottish and Irish dancing done by Siamsa le Cheile was neat to watch and guess who was related to whom. (It seemed like it probably was a family dance troupe.) It turns out we were wrong; judging by the biographies, it's not a family troupe.
The final show we saw was a demonstration by an experienced glassblower. He's been blowing glass for multiple decades and it was obvious this was his life's passion. I had forgotten blowing glass actually meant literally blowing air into glass. Both watching glass expand as one blows and watching the molten glass simply change shape under gravity were cool. He made a large glass bowl (unexpectedly, as one couldn't tell what it would be until it was nearly done) and made and demonstrated the properties of a Rupert's Drop, a cool phenomenon with which I was already familiar. (Go read about it if you don't know what it is.)
I had what my memory of renaissance faire food is: a turkey leg. I ordered a small turkey leg which turned out to be huge -turkeys have big legs!- and dry -blah-. My friend has fish and chips and I tried the chips (fries) and they were definitely good. Other than that, the faire had a wide assortment of food from the expected regions, much of it offered on a stick/skewer/bone/whatever, including frozen chocolate covered bananas and the amusingly named sin on a stick (chocolate-covered cheesecake).
For dessert, we had a orange frozen ice, actually served in half an orange peel. It was so frozen it took half an hour to soften in the sun before it was easily spooned.
My t-shirt which says "wear art not advertising" in a fancy celtic script got three compliments, including one girl who said she wears her art on her and showed me a tattoo on her shoulder, and one guy that hassled me in friendly way, claiming that my shirt was an advertisement for art itself, but still gave me one of those chocolate coins with a gold wrapper.
The boundaries of the faire were demarcated by drapes (as seen in this photo). It's neat, because as one sees employees enter and exit, it's easy to imagine there are countless secret passageways leading who knows where.
We observed many costumed women in dresses with low bustlines and wondered if these were culturally appropriate during the renaissance or any similar age. After failing to find the answer on the web, I asked my knowledgeable ex-roommate. She said that yes indeed in some periods dresses with such low cuts were culturally acceptable and provided some examples: a low-cut a dress from the 1740s, a very low-cut dress from the 1630s (painted by Reuben) (zoom in to see what I mean), and even Mona Lisa's dress.
Getting to the faire was neat as well. We got to see the sprawling full service series of businesses that is Casa de Fruta. We witnessed countless quite artistic rusting discarded old farming equipment on the side of the road. And we got a odiferous drive through Gilroy.
Posted by mark at Saturday, October 21, 2006
On Saturday, October 7th 2006, I spent late afternoon and evening at the Hayward Greek Festival, a festival I attended last year. Participating was comfortable as everything looked identical to the previous festival: same foods, same layout, same booths selling books, jewelry, and clothes, the same dance floor and largely the same dances, and even a similar booklet (though with more typos this year) with advertisements for Greek-owned businesses, cooking recipes and advice, and Greek words and phrases. One neat new item for sale was a homemade cookbook with the recipes for every dish they cook at the festival. (I decided not to buy it.) The only other cookbook for sale was right next to it, labeled Hellenic cooking. I can't figure out what the difference between Greek and Hellenic is...
Since it's primarily a food festival, exploring the booths was pretty fast (as there were few and I'd generally seen them before), so I spent my couple hours there reading, waiting in line for food, eating, watching dancing, reading, getting more food, watching a slide show on modern Athens, reading, drinking, listening to a lecture about the design of an eastern orthodox church, eating more, and so on (in some order). The slide show was better than what one expects when watching one man's vacation slides. And the talk about the architecture, decor, and iconography of an eastern orthodox church was fairly neat too. Did you know that every church altar when consecrated gets sealed inside it a fragment of bone or cloth or something similar from a saint? If the church moves, the altar must go with it because it's not allowed to be destroyed.
As is traditional for festivals, I stuffed myself:
* a greek salad. exactly right.
* metaxa (a kind of brandy). I had it on the rocks and thought it was a solid brandy, liking it as much as I like many brandies (which actually isn't much).
* spanakopita (Greek spinach pie). decent, though a little greasy.
* mixed veggies (zucchini, squash, eggplant, mushrooms, potatoes, carrots, tomato paste). nothing too exciting: veggies in a light, slightly sweet tomato sauce. I could probably make this pretty easily.
* gyro - great, as usual. Lamb, onions, tomato, tzatziki, and that wonderfully tasty, thick, and chewy pita bread that I don't get anywhere besides these festivals.
* karidopita (honey walnut cake). a sweet, moist, and quite tasty dessert. I liked it enough that I found a recipe on the web and made it a few days later with fairly similar success.
* melomarorona (honey cookies) - good. similar to the karidopita but with more of a orange zest undertone and practically no walnut flavor.
* koulourakia (like a butter cookie in softness and taste though in the shape of a bread twist) - decent.
Posted by mark at Saturday, October 21, 2006
* High-protein diets boost hunger-taming hormone (Science News). In short, a causal study links increasing a percentage of ones calories coming from protein to higher levels of a hormone related to feelings of satiety. The source article, Critical role for peptide YY in protein-mediated satiation and body-weight regulation (Cell Metabolism), is online.
* Radiant plasma may combat cavities (Science News). Amazing: not only the ability to create a plasma in a hand-held tool at room temperature, but using such a tool to clean teeth. For details on the technology, see some of the listed references.
* Sperm in frozen animals still viable years later (Science News). A la Jurassic park. The source article, Spermatozoa and spermatids retrieved from frozen reproductive organs or frozen whole bodies of male mice can produce normal offspring (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), is available online.
* Problem Paternity: Older men seem more apt to have autistic kids (Science News). Another article (see the last interesting articles post), again non-causal, relating some feature about men to the health of the babies they father. The title basically says it all but if you want more, the abstract of the source article, Advancing paternal age and autism (Archives of General Psychiatry), is online.
* Faker... and Harder (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). (Scroll down for the story.) Reports on a study (that could have been better designed) finding The Daily Show has the same quantity of hard news as network news broadcasts. The press release, It's no joke: IU study finds The Daily Show with Jon Stewart to be as substantive as network news (Indiana University Press Release), is online; I haven't yet located the scientific paper on the topic. (Maybe it's still unpublished?)
Posted by mark at Monday, October 16, 2006
After the play, I headed south to the Armenian food festival. Last year, I had a good experience at an Armenian festival in Oakland. Although the festival was supposed to close at 8:00pm, when I arrived at 6:00pm it was already mostly shut down. I wandered among the few booths still open and grabbed one of the two types of hot dishes remaining: an Armenian sausage (soujook) sandwich. When I ordered they grabbed one of these aluminum-wrapped sandwiches out of a steamer and handed it to me. It consisted of slices of sausage, red pepper, pickle, and possibly mustard on a hoagie roll; the sausage itself was chewy, quite red, spicy, and definitely screamed "this is meat." It satisfied.
While I ate I watched some Armenian folk/line dancing. About a dozen women clasped hands and danced in a semi-circle, kicking and stepping in synch. They were clearly having fun and it made everyone at the festival watch. A handful of men formed their own square and dance in a different style with arms outstretched at shoulder height and with much more foot movement. When the music increased right before the festival really ended, more women joined the women's line. It really was a festival.
And one can tell the festival was authentic since all the announcements were made in Armenian. Some, though not all, were repeated in English.
Before I left, I grabbed two cheese filled pastries, one that looked like a turnover and one that looked like baklava except with cheese instead of nuts. (I didn't realize they were both cheese when I bought them.) Reheating them later that evening in the oven along with some vegetables, they completed my dinner. Incidentally, as I bought them, the woman in the pastry section were trying to figure out why they were closing early. Some hypothesized it might be because, aside for them, the festival was effectively out of food. I suppose that's what happens when one goes to a festival in the evening of the last day.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, September 19, 2006
On Sunday, September 17th 2006, I spend the afternoon watching the play The Tempest at the SF Shakespeare Festival's series of free performances in the park. In this case, the park was in the Presidio. I'd forgotten how nice some of the roads into the Presidio are, full of tall, clean, smooth, airy trees, leading to a feeling of being in a wide open forest.
I arrived about a third of the way into the first half but since I'd printed out some play summarizes I quickly caught up to speed. It was a decent performance. I'd never seen The Tempest before and enjoyed the morally ambiguous story. There were two notable features of this particular performance. One, the actress playing the "airy magical spirit" Ariel clearly had training as a dancer and her movements alone evoked this description. Two, both the stage hands and the background of the set were an identical blue, allowing the stage hands to blend in on the stage. They actually participated in scenes, handing our swords, acting as a wardrobe, and even fighting. Their appearance and actions, along with the magical buffet and wedding celebration, emphasized appropriately the magical and unearthly nature of the island on which the play was set.
Posted by mark at Tuesday, September 19, 2006
* Can parking tickets measure corruption? (American Public Media's Marketplace). In short, yes. If the short radio story intrigued you (as it did me), the full length academic paper linked to from that page is a worthwhile browse. Plus, it makes one realize the large quantity of publicly available data out there.
* Comma quirk irks Rogers (Globe and Mail). In short, bad punctuation can cost you. In this case, 2.1 million dollars.
* U.S. Rice Supply Contaminated: Genetically Altered Variety Is Found in Long-Grain Rice (Washington Post). News you may have missed but probably should know.
* Qapla! (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). A thoughtful retrospective on Star Trek, its fans, its changing popularity, and its view of humanity. Nothing amazing but still a neat listen especially given the apropos vignettes dotting the piece. (The story is the last one on the page.)
* Microbial Mug Shots: Telltale patterns finger bad bacteria (Science News). Another application of AI to other fields: shine a laser at a cell and have a computer analyze the resulting diffraction image to identify the cell type. The abstract of the source article, Feature extraction from light-scatter patterns of Listeria colonies for identification and classification (Journal of Biomedical Optics), is online.
* Blood clot protein is stretchiest natural fiber ever found (Science News). Evolution can produce pretty amazing pieces of engineering. The abstract of the source article, Fibrin fibers have extraordinary extensibility and elasticity (Science), is online.
* Rogue alga routed (Science News). One of the rare pieces of a successful defense against an invasion from a dangerously aggressive non-native species. A news release, Caulerpa Taxifolia Eradication: Officials Proclaim Victory Over "Killer Algae" But Remain Vigilant to New Sightings, contains a similar summary as the article.
* Holy Smoke: Burning incense, candles pollute air in churches (Science News). Candles may be hazardous to your health, more hazardous than emissions from vehicle engines.
* Sauna use among dads linked to tumors in children (Science News). One usually hears about activities an expecting mother should avoid while pregnant because of possible negative effects on her child. This study turns the table a little and finds men's sauna use in the months before conception is correlated with tumors in the children later conceived. Admittedly it's not a causal study but the idea that a baby's health could be influenced by the health of the sperm used to conceive it is intriguing. The abstract of the source article, Parental heat exposure and risk of childhood brain tumor: A Children's Oncology Group study (American Journal of Epidemiology), is online.
* Bad Vibrations? Ultrasound disturbs mouse brains (Science News). Be careful with unnecessary medical procedures.
Psychology and Medicine:
* In Health Care, Consumer Theory Falls Flat (Wall Street Journal). Reports on a study that shows no correlation between the actual quality of care a patient received and how good the patient thought the quality of care received was.
Posted by mark at Monday, September 18, 2006
On Sunday September 3rd 2006, a friend and I headed to the Belmont Greek Festival around dinner time.
The festival was nearly identical to last year's: much space devoted to food and drinks, some space devoted to music and dancing, and a little space devoted to items for sale. And, like last year, as the night wore on, the crowd got younger in age until I was (or felt) older than most people there.
I wish I'd remembered how good the gyros were last year. These were the last things we had this year and they were excellent, clearly heads above everything else. Simply thinly sliced grilled meat served wrapped a terrific circular piece of bread (puffy and so vaguely naan-like but with a moister and less oily texture).
Before the gyros we tried a number of merely okay or decent items: fasolatha (thick hearty tomato-based soup), pilaf, souvlakia (grilled skewers of lamb), tiropita (baked filo dough filled with cheese), moussakka (eggplant and beef lasagna - this was huge and I always find it too meaty). Nothing we'd especially endorse.
We also tried three desserts. As expected, the loukoumades, deep fried honey balls dipped in honey, were definitely the best and worth the wait in the long line that sells them (and doesn't sell anything else). As for the other desserts, kataife, a exotic-looking version of baklava, was okay. It didn't have enough "content" -- too much air around the shredded pastry. (Look at the dessert pictures to see what I mean.) The other dessert, galactoboureko, was decent: filo dough filled with custard and topped with -you guessed it- honey. There is a theme in Greek desserts. :>
It was a nice way to spend two and a half hours. It didn't feel that long because we were always wandering around and looking at things or relaxedly waiting in some food line or another. And I learned one neat fact from the brochure: the independent market across the street from my apartment building is Greek.
Posted by mark at Monday, September 18, 2006
Today I headed up to the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building, partially because I wanted to sit on a train and read. The Caltrain was packed on the way up because of a Giants game, so the usual crowd at the Saturday farmer's market seemed pale by comparison. Another beautiful day and a plenitude of fresh foods.
I grabbed a potato croquette from Delica rf-1, a Japanese-inspired fusion joint. Take potato croquette was like a large, thick potato pancake, so thick the center is mashed potato goodness and the outside is actually slightly breaded. I enjoyed it.
I also sampled a lot and either ate or came back with three different types of figs -I was going to do a taste test and write up the results but the figs are at different stages of ripeness so it's hard to tell what flavor differences are caused by the ripeness and what by the variety-, an artic pride nectarine, a few flavor king pluots, a bunch of grapes, a piece of sweet and spicy chicken from Delica rf-1, and a chocolate chip cookie from Scharffen-Berger.
Posted by mark at Saturday, August 26, 2006
To get a feel for my new town, I drove by the San Mateo Farmer's Market last Saturday. It's a small affair, a few factors bigger than the North Berkeley one but nowhere near the size of the Ferry Building's. A nice amount of crowds and friendly local farmers.
I went hungry and ended up picking up a bunch of items for later. While there I had a tamale (okay) and a peach for lunch. I came home with, however,
* a piroshki, made by an immigrant (still has the accent) and sold out of a cooler. A pastry filled with chicken and flavored with a bit of onions, it was bland like Eastern European food tends to be. I definitely liked whatever type of dough he used. Decent.
* a Top Nosh pastry filled with butternut squash, cheese, and other stuff. I sampled it at the market and had it later as part of dinner; quite tasty. I'll have to try more of their productions.
* a bunch of okra. Having never cooked okra, I figured this was a rare chance to buy some organic okra and to just experiment with it later.
* snap peas, for an analogous reason that I haven't cooked them in ages.
* tomatillos. I go through tomatillos fairly fast due to my current Mexican cooking kick.
Posted by mark at Saturday, August 26, 2006
Food & Health:
* Mad cow disease might linger longer (Science News). In short, the only other known prion disease in people has a long incubation period, suggesting that possibly mad cow disease has a similar length one. Scary. Details available in the source article: Kuru in the 21st century: an acquired human prion disease with very long incubation periods (Lancet).
* In utero factors shape responses to stress, sugar (Science News). In short, eat healthy, balanced meals. In long, children of women who ate a high-meat, low-carb diet while pregnant can, even now that the children a middle aged, be distinguished in terms of stress response from women that ate balanced diets while pregnant. Details in the source article: Maternal consumption of a high-meat, low-carbohydrate diet in late human pregnancy programmes cortisol responses to stress testing in adulthood (Endocrine Society).
* For portion control, look to the container (CNN). It's not new news, but still a fun warning piece nonetheless. The ending section is the most interesting.
* Statins might lower risk of cataracts (Science News). Sometimes drugs have unknown benefits. Posted for the readers of this blog that take a statin.
* Letters (Science News, login required - no alternative). Some follow-up to the mighty mouse article from this previous past.
* Chaotic Chomp: The mathematics of crystal growth sheds light on a tantalizing game (Science News). Solely posted because it's about combinatorial games. I'm surprised to see this in such a prominent news magazine; I saw a preliminary version of it presented at a conference and it got a fairly lukewarm reception. In short, they don't have many results other than some pretty pictures and some "probabilistic" results that says certain things are likely true. Nothing very rigorous.
* Out of Sight: Physicists get serious about invisibility shields (Science News). Very cool.
* Why people punish (Science News). In short, punishment people mete out usually depend on retribution, not deterrence. Details in the source article: The roles of retribution and utility in determining punishment (Journal of Experimental Social Psychology).
* Pornucopia (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). On how the food network is like porn. The audio has some segments (excerpts from shows) that aren't in the transcript; I'd advise listening to the program rather than reading the transcript.
Posted by mark at Monday, August 14, 2006
Posted by mark at Tuesday, August 01, 2006
[Blog post filled in and pictures uploaded many months after the event.]
On Sunday, July 30, 2006, I went into the city once again for opera. This time, rather than a full opera, some opera singers were performing in Stern Grove. It's nice living near a city with so many free artistic shows.
For some reason I'd always thought Stern Grove was part of Golden Gate Park. I was wrong. It's pretty far south from Golden Gate Park, nestled in a secluded valley and protected by many tall eucalyptus and redwood trees.
The grove itself was so crowded security had roped it off to prevent more people from sitting in it. I hiked off into the trees to find a seat.
Soon after I sat, the show started. I opened my take-out box of sushi from a Berkeley sushi joint and started eating. Somehow sushi and opera seemed to go together.
Anyway, it was a nice excursion. I've uploaded the few pictures I took during this trip, including one of the Berkeley kite festival, which I spotted en route to San Francisco.
Posted by mark at Sunday, July 30, 2006
The smattering of worthwhile news articles I've collected over the last month, despite not reading the New York Times.
Posted by mark at Sunday, July 23, 2006
On Saturday, July 8th 2006, I headed back to city for another ferry building visit and more hunting for housing. My ferry trip was nice: I had a fairly good soft-shell crab sandwich (I've never seen that before) at the San Francisco Fish Company, though it had too much mayo & mustard that together somewhat overpowered the crab. I also bought a doughnut peach (I don't think I've consciously seen those before either, but it didn't taste much different from an ordinary peach) and a plum.
Normally I wouldn't bother posting such mundane details on my blog. But this time I took a panoramic photograph from the place I ate near the Ferry Building (full size). Now you can see one reason why I previously proclaimed my last Saturday wonderful. It really is a stunning view and pleasant setting.
After eating, I spent the afternoon hiking (seven or so miles) around the city looking at apartments.
Posted by mark at Saturday, July 08, 2006
I woke up once again wanting to travel, despite my feelings to the contrary after the wonderful day yesterday. Hence, I spent some time researching places to go, finding things to do, and locating plane ticket fares and comparing them against going in a few weeks. By the end of the morning, I'd convinced myself that there was no cost advantage to waiting and I should have lunch, go biking, and when I return in the evening I should book my plane tickets for tomorrow.
For lunch, I biked once again the short 1.5 miles to the Thai Temple. Despite being overcast, it was even more packed than usual, probably due to the holiday weekend. I grabbed a three item combo:
* Panang curry (with beef). Quite good.
* Pad thai (with chicken and tofu). Okay. I swear I tasted ketchup or at least something else that made it sweeter than it should be. And where were the peanuts?
* Stir-fry of chicken thigh meat, baby corn, and a few other vegetables. Decent. The ingredients made it feel very Chinese, and the taste didn't contradict that.
After lunch, I figured biking around in the sun and exploring a new place would fulfill my desire for travel. Hence, I decided to bike around Alameda. The pictures and accompanying commentary document this exploration. Check it out; I ran into some neat things. Throughout, I was repeatedly ambivalent about traveling. Exploring was nice but didn't feel revolutionary or eye-opening. If traveling elsewhere would be only as good as this Alameda trip, why bother? On the other hand, if I can only get only this quantity of excitement from local traveling, why stay here? By the time I got home, I slightly leaning toward traveling. Why not?
After returning home, I headed toward a local bookstore to pick up a travel guide to my intended travel destination. I figured I should pick one up to read on the plane tomorrow. But they didn't have any. I took this as a sign from fate that I shouldn't go.
But I'd somewhat forgotten this sign from fate by the time I got home. And although I was quite tired from being in the sun so long and biking so much (24 miles or so) and didn't really feel as if I had the energy to book plane tickets, I tried to convince myself to do so anyway.
Before beginning that process, I had to start laundry. I'd done a bit of laundry the previous night but still didn't have enough clean clothes to go on a trip. Yet, when I went to start my laundry, the machine had a pizza box on it with a label that said it was broken and not to use it. I'm still amazed the machine broke within the last twenty-four hours. But, this was yet another sign I shouldn't go traveling this holiday. A third and final one. Now I'm convinced, and will put this foolish notion out of my mind for a time.
Posted by mark at Monday, July 03, 2006
Friday (yesterday) I'd been anxiously debating if and where I should travel during this holiday weekend (likely extended with vacation time). I'd felt like going somewhere far away to see new sights.
But now, after realizing what a pleasant and relaxing day I could have right here, I'm not in such a hurry.
I hadn't originally planned about writing about today, Saturday, July 1st 2006, but now I feel like I should.
After a late start, I headed to the Ferry Building for lunch, where I've been once before. This time, I knew my way around. After wandering around the farmers' market, I grabbed my first lunch items at the Japanese deli Delica rf-1: a hijiki (a type of seaweed) and soybean salad and spicy burdock and lotus root salad. They both turned out to be good and unique, and I could taste the freshness.
I ate them on a pier while viewing the bay bridge and the bay. It was beautiful and peaceful. The air was clear. The sun was warm. A few puffy clouds cantered across the sky.
Second for lunch was a fish taco from Mijita Cocina Mexicana. This was excellent: a heavily-battered deep-fried mahi mahi served in a soft corn tortilla with cabbage and an invisible but present lime-cilantro sauce. The batter, not greasy, on the fish was good and, surprisingly, the fish had a strong enough flavor on its own that it could stand up to it. The corn tortilla was clearly freshly made and top-notch. And the sauce really did tie it all together.
Wandering the farmers' market more, I sampled and bought a golden nugget peach, then, without sampling, brought a basket of berries that looked like raspberries but were really a hybrid between them and something else. When I tried them later that afternoon I regretted not sampling them because they were simultaneously too tart and too sweet for my taste.
Still slightly hungry, I stopped by one of the Mexican booths in the far back of the market and ordered a tamale. This is probably the best tamale I've ever eaten. This may not be saying much since at some point a while ago I decided most tamales are bad and not worth eating and since then have generally avoided them, so my sample size may be small. But this was great. Presented to me already removed from the corn husks and placed on top of them, the corn meal had flavor and was moist without being mushy (a rarity) and the chicken was moist (another rarity, as tamales tend to be steamed for so long the meat often dries out) and the whole thing was doused with some tasty sweet, almost barbecue-y chile sauce. Even without the sauce, the first two factors would make this better than any tamale I can remember eating.
One reason I went to the city for lunch was to later hit the SF Opera in the park. I'd gone to and enjoyed the one in Golden Gate Park last year. Already late, I grabbed a BART and arrived two-thirds of the way through the first half. I found a nice place in the sun, took off my shoes and socks, put on some sunglasses, and lay on my back looking at the sky, zoning out and contemplating the music. Many people (photo) did the same.
Although the show was a series of selections with no narrative, I found this much more enjoyable than when I watched video projection of Madam Butterfly in the Civic Center Plaza one evening in May. While Madame Butterfly was enjoyable, I felt like I needed to sit up the whole time (which I did) so I could read the subtitles, and sitting up for so long isn't that fun. And Madame Butterfly showed in the evening, when it was dark and somewhat cold, and in Civic Center Plaza, which has a small rectangle of grass that was rather uncomfortably packed with people. Dolores Park, where I was today, is spacious.
After the concert, reading for half an hour, spotting an unusual fountain (photo), and eavesdropping on some people's conversations, I decided to head home. The long way. Since I've been thinking about moving to the city, I spent an hour and half walking from Mission to the Embarcadero (about five miles). Mostly I saw neighborhoods I now know I don't want to live in, but I jotted down a few names of apartments in nicer areas and, more importantly, picked up a number of free advertising-based looking-for-housing booklets that have already proved quite useful.
At day's end, what have I accomplished? Ate some great food. Laid in the sun. Through music, got cultured. This was a pretty perfect day, and if I can do this right here near home, I don't see any reason to travel.
Posted by mark at Saturday, July 01, 2006
I've been trying (and so far succeeding) in spending less time on activities that don't really matter in the grand scheme of things, like reading the New York Times. Hence, these interesting articles postings will be much briefer in the future (as long as my resolve holds).
Plain water was most effective, removing 96 percent of Norwalk virus. Antibacterial soap was close behind, reducing viral counts by 88 percent. The alcohol-based hand gels reduced the virus by only about half.
-from Hand gels falter (Science News)
Although one supplement degraded all the oxalate [a mineral most kidney stones are composed of], the others degraded negligible amounts.
-from Can supplements nix kidney stones? (Science News)
In short, some products with purported health benefits do effectively nothing.
The study suggests that the calories that people and other animals take from foods could be directly related to which microbes have colonized their guts.
If the scientists' reasoning is correct, then manipulating intestinal flora might eventually be used to treat obesity, notes microbiologist Jeremy Nicholson of Imperial College London.
More details on the study that inspired this claim are available in the Science News article or in the source article: A humanized gnotobiotic mouse model of host-archaeal-bacterial mutualism (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
Posted by mark at Thursday, June 29, 2006
I spent Friday, June 16th 2006 to Sunday, June 18th 2006 in Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival as part of a trip I organized for some friends and I.
The whole trip was great! I saw two plays and both were very well done. And I got to eat at a few decent places and two surprisingly good ones; these reviews are recorded elsewhere.
The Merry Wives of Windsor, a fun play I saw on Friday night and one of Shakespeare's verbally witty and slapsticky comedies, had a very obvious theme: don't mess with women. My only disappointment with the performance was a very surreal ending scene. (I'm also a little disappointed by the bumpiness of the plot, but I'll take that up with Shakespeare.)
On Saturday night I saw Cyrano de Bergerac, written in 1897 by Edmond Rostand. It was an excellent, emotionally exhausting romantic tragedy set in the seventeenth century. I was tired just watching it; I'm amazed at the energy had by the actor playing Cyrano. He was great and appropriately received a standing ovation. Superficially the theme dealt with the difference between inner and outer beauty. After deeper thought, one realizes it's more about the difference between visual beauty (i.e., physical beauty) and oral beauty (i.e., verbal eloquence).
Sadly, I had to skip a third play to participate in an online puzzle competition I do every year, and I think I did as well as I usually do. Not great, not bad, but I'm happy with it. A few people on the trip asked about the puzzles I was so devoted to that I skipped on performance. I showed them and they went over really well -- some people got addicted and spent a couple of hours working on these.
As for Ashland itself, it's a cute town that very much reminds me of Banff (Canada). Both towns are cozy and small, surrounded by verdant hills, and filled with neat little independent stores and boutiques (targeting the upper-class tourists that visit both places). Although expensive to purchase anything, they're fun for window shopping and have a wide variety of restaurants.
Even the five to six hour ride to Ashland was pretty pleasant, with nice views of Mount Shasta and Black Butte for long portions of the drive.
And the two people that I didn't know well before the trip I clicked with fairly well during the trip -a pleasant surprise-.
All in all, good clean fun.
Posted by mark at Thursday, June 29, 2006