Leslie's Latest News

Thursday, February 28, 2002

Okay, I've got to admit to a guilty pleasure. Alex and I have a standing Thursday night date to watch Survivor and (when it starts its second season on March 11) The Amazing Race. It's really a lot of fun to watch these stupid reality shows with a friend, especially when you're watching on Tivo and can pause it to make comments and heckle. If you were only going to watch one of the two, I'd recommend The Amazing Race, for a couple of reasons. First, the competition is more objective, without the politics of Survivor. Second, they travel all around the world, so you get to see a lot of interesting places. (And you get to see the realities of those places. Last season's episode set in India was particularly revealing.) Third, you get to see a lot of interesting interaction between the two people that make up each team.

But Survivor is fun, too. This location goes back to a tropical island with beaches and a lovely waterfall. But they keep making it tougher; this time they did not supply any food or water or fire, so the teams are roughing it a bit more. Right from the start, the blue team seems a lot more together than the dysfunctional yellow team. Gosh, don't these people learn anything from watching previous series? I mean, it is not a smart move to loll around on the raft while everyone else is paddling their arms off. This should be fairly obvious.
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I was feeling sleepy all day today, so I forced myself to go out for a walk in the sun, even though it was kind of cold and there was about a half-inch of crunchy snow on the ground. iPod lyric of the day was Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson.

We'd like to know a little bit about you for our files.
We'd like to help you learn to help yourself.
Look around you. All you see are sympathetic eyes.
Stroll around the grounds until you feel at home...
Interesting choice, as Kathleen Turner is currently appearing in Boston in the stageplay of The Graduate. I have to admit that I feel a lot more sympathy for Mrs. Robinson these days than I did the first time I saw the movie (a long, long time ago...).
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Greenfingers. A formulaic film about a convict who discovers gardening through a prison work program and ends up winning a prize at the Hampton Court flower show and finding salvation, freedom, and love (not necessarily in that order). Graced by the presence of Helen Mirren as the snobby garden writer who takes our hero under her wing. Rather trite, recommended only if you really like gardening. (And even then, it pretty much glosses over what's really involved in designing a garden; the gardens in the film tend to appear full-grown, like magic, overnight.)
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State and Main. A David Mamet comedy about a movie crew's descent onto a small New England village. Quite funny and filled with a number of delicious characters: William H. Macy as the director, who deals with all problems with a cell phone glued to his ear, Alec Baldwin as the star who got them kicked out of the last town due to his prediliction for high-school girls, Sarah Jessica Parker, the starlet who has suddenly gotten shy about revealing herself on camera, David Paymer as the unscrupuous producer, Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the unassuming and underappreciated writer, and Rebecca Pidgeon as the local bookstore owner who befriends him. A lot of fun.
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My friend, Richard Harter, wrote this article, Back In The Saddle Again (in which I am mentioned), about his experiences with horseback riding.
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Wonder Boys. This one was a bit wackier than I was expecting - sort of an adult version of Animal House. I like movies that are based on novels, as this one is, as they tend to have more interesting dialog than the average movie. Taking place in one weekend on a college campus, Michael Douglas plays Grady Tripp (what a great name!), a pot-smoking professor who published one great novel, but who hasn't managed to produce another. His wife has just left him, he's having an affair with the married chancellor (played by Frances McDormand), who has just discovered that she is pregnant, his editor (Robert Downey, Jr.) is coming to visit to find out how his book is going, and he's trying to help out his students who have various problems. Then there's the dead dog in the car trunk, the disappearing jacket which was once owned by Marilyn Monroe, and the transvestite, among other complications. Through it all, Grady (Douglas) wanders in a slightly pot-induced haze, trying to hold things together. And the added plus of Bob Dylan singing Things Have Changed. Not a great movie, but an entertaining one.
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Since starting full-time work last summer, I found that my weight has crept up a bit. Although I've been trying to stick to the lifestyle changes I made that allowed me to lose 60 pounds, a more hectic schedule makes it harder for me to shop and cook for the right foods and has cut down on my ability to exercise consistently. On the other hand, there is no way I'm going to let myself get back to where I was. So I've decided it's time to get back on the program again, whatever it takes, until I am back to where I was a year ago.

My general approach to getting started on something like this is to read a book for inspiration. My choice this time was The 9 Truths About Weight Loss : The No- Tricks, No-Nonsense Plan for Lifelong Weight Control, by Daniel S. Krischenbaum, Ph.D. (Note that the hardcover edition is currently available on Amazon really cheap as a remainder.) Although after going through the DPP program and doing a lot of reading on my own, I feel like I know just about all the current scientific thoughts about weight loss, this book did a good job of presenting and explaining them. The author makes the point that there is no halfway approach to losing weight, you either need to be committed to doing what it takes or you will fail. Moderation just doesn't cut it. He also makes an analogy I like, which is to compare losing weight to being an athlete in training. "Clearly athletes, like weight controllers, must battle biological forces to achieve their goals. Pitting brain against biology, athletes resist rest and weight controllers resist fatty foods and sedentary living."

So it's time to get back into training.
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Friends of Doug Hoylman might enjoy this article about crossword-puzzle champions in The New Yorker which mentions him.
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Friends of Moshe Feder might enjoy reading his GoH speech from Corflu 19. It features a rendition of an original filksong, Corflu Fakefan, set to the tune of Broadway Baby.
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I ran across my name in John Rizzo's Magic tournament report. (I'll copy the key paragraphs below.) It's nice to remember that sometimes I actually win at Magic. Of course, in this particular match, I was exceptionally lucky - there was no real play skill involved.

In the last round, I see that I'm facing Leslie Turek. Great; I'm 0-2-1 lifetime vs. females, and this is how I'm gonna go out?

Apparently so. In the first game, I mulligan and stall on three lands whilst Leslie kicks me in the grille with two Elephant Ambushes and a Childhood Horror wearing a Desire.

In game two, Leslie drops a turn 2 Werebear, turn 3 Finkel, turn Ambush, turn 5 Ambush, turn 6 kill your guy, turn 7 Ambush again, and turn 8 Ambush again. I was stuck on three lands again and could only hope to topdeck three lands and a Kirtar's Wrath. Bea. Ting.

I am now 0-3-1 lifetime vs. chyx.

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The F Scale was developed 50 years ago to provide "an estimate of fascist receptivity at the personality level". Give it a try. I rated as a liberal airhead (2.5).
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Wednesday, February 27, 2002

This Human Virus Scanner will tell you if you've been infected by any of several potent memetic viruses. I scored high on the following categories: Linux, Junkfood, UNIX, vi, Politics, Macintosh, Scifi, and Religion.
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Alex and I saw Gosford Park last night and I really enjoyed it. First of all, I love movies that realistically recreate another time and place, and this one puts you in the middle of a country shooting party weekend at a great English country house in the early 1930's. I would have happily watched it just for all the marvelous period details and glimpses into the lives of both the above-stairs and below-stairs characters. But on top of that, it's one of those intricate Robert Altman pieces that interweaves the stories of a zillion characters, all of them with pasts or secrets or relationships that gradually become clear as the story progresses. And it has a cast to die for, including Helen Mirren, Maggie Smith, Derek Jacobi, Kristen Scott-Thomas, and a host of others.

Bitingly funny on the surface, it also clearly shows the almost unthinking cruelty of the British class system, right from the very first scene, where the young lady's maid, Mary, stands out in the pouring rain waiting for her employer, protected by an umbrella carried by the butler, to enter a car before her. I think it went a bit over the top when it introduced the bumbling detective inspector, who was quite a bit less believable as a character than most of the others, but, by gosh, he really was quite funny, so I think I can forgive that one.

One brilliant touch was including a few characters that were outsiders, such as an American film producer, so that the contrasts were made even more obvious. Like when the film producer (who is a vegetarian - a concept the household cook finds hard to grasp) goes along on a pheasant shoot. As the aristocrats conduct their ludicrous carnage, he sits on a log, nervously dodging dead birds falling out of the sky. But the scene I think I'll remember the most is when the visiting movie star entertains the party by singing at the piano. The bored aristocrats hardly pay attention, but outside the drawing room, the servents are creeping up the stairs and down the hallways, listening to the music with dreamy far-away expressions on their faces. Just for a moment, they're able to escape from their constricted lives.
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Got an e-mail message from Jamie Morris of MITSFS, responding to my weblog entry of 2/24, which I had sent to them.

I loved reading the weblog description. You highlighted all the essentials of what SNF was attempting to embody, which is really the best indication there can be of it working.

You're correct that the (pseudo-?) Old English is Cory's; actually almost all the text for that entry was shamelessly stolen from her intro editorial. (In, to my eternal-starting-now shame, TZ # *17*. Got the date right but somewhere between notes and writeup the issue number somehow decremented.) It was a particularly memorable one for me in that a couple TZs later is a responding LoC in which my mother objects to hearing her marriage to my father attributed to said Radcliffe plot. (Dooley (Anne) + Bernie Morris '64.) She never carried out her threatened vengeance of coming back and recataloging everything unfindably... not in her own person; but I came and wrote the software that does Pinkdex etc now, so Bwa ha ha!
(An LoC is a Letter of Comment. The Pinkdex is the MITSFS library catalogue, named after Fuzzy Pink Wisowaty (now Marilyn Niven, wife of Larry Niven), who started it. Of course in those days, there was no software involved, only punch cards and a sorting machine...)

My response to Jamie:
Hmm, if your parents' marriage was a Radcliffe plot, then would I be responsible for your very existence?

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Tuesday, February 26, 2002

iPod selection of the day:

Maybe you could show me how to let go,
Lower my guard, learn to be free.
-- Anyone Can Whistle,
Stephen Sondheim

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It was warm this morning when I went out to pick up the newspaper, so I did a quick tour of the garden. Found two bits of color - the Christmas Rose (Helleborus niger) had two big white buds about to open, and one branch of the 'Arnold Promise' witch hazel was clothed in bright yellow. Hooray! As far as I'm concerned it's officially spring!
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Monday, February 25, 2002

Erin Brockovich. I'm with Roger Ebert on this one. There's a really interesting story here, but it just wasn't told effectively in this movie. I couldn't quite believe in Julia Roberts as a working class single mother. I'm not sure this was entirely her fault, though; I suspect that a richer script or better editing could have enhanced the texture of her life. (The "extras" on the disc showed a number of scenes that were cut from the film that might have helped with this.) As it stands, though, the movie is just too superficial.
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iPod selection of the day: Luciano Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma from Turandot. It doesn't get any better than that.
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Boys Don't Cry. A well-made movie that was painful and disturbing to watch. The problem was that it was about people that I didn't much enjoy spending time with. My initial sympathy for the Teena Brandon/Brandon Teena character was blunted by not being able to understand his motivation. I'm not talking so much about the sexual identity issues, but about his propensity to do stupid and reckless things that inevitable led him into serious trouble. And the ending was just heartbreaking. More of a movie that one should see, rather than one to enjoy.
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An e-mail message to rentmydvd.com about my shipping problems has brought a positive response, so I'm giving them another chance. In the meantime, here are some notes on the movies I've gotten from them so far.

Proof of Life. Any movie with Russell Crowe in it can't be all bad, and I thought this one was pretty good - more intelligent and interesting than the average thriller, with complex relationships and gorgeous scenery to look at. In addition to Crowe as the hostage negotiator, there were strong performances from Meg Ryan as the wife, David Morse (remember him in St. Elsewhere?) as the kidnapped husband, David Caruso (NYPD Blue) as Crowe's friend and sidekick, and a brief appearance by Pamela Reed as the wife's sister. I loved the prologue, in which scenes of Russell Crowe undertaking a daring hostage rescue in the Balkans were interspersed with him dressed in suit and tie, dryly and impassively reporting on the same rescue to a corporate board in London. ("As transportation options were limited in the region..." cut to Crowe dragging a guy out of a car and commandeering it, etc.) Very amusing.
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Sunday, February 24, 2002

I decided I wanted to have a photograph in my weblog header, so I selected a picture I took last May on a visit to the Merryspring Nature Park in Camden, Maine. This trip was memorable for me because it was my last taste of freedom before going back to working full time with only two weeks of vacation per year (grumble, grumble). I liked this shot because of the undulating curve of the hillside and the many different shades of green in the trees. And looking at it makes me feel like I'm out in the sunshine, feeling the ocean breeze.

While trying to edit my weblog page template, I realized once again that I really don't have a very good understanding of which fonts or font families are safe to use in html pages. For example, I'd like to have the page title appear in a more graceful font. If anyone reading this knows of such a list, please let me know. Thanks!
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Found a great article by Eve Andersson on the rise and fall of ArsDigita. I first became aware of ArsDigita and its founder Phil Greenspun when I went to a free 2-day seminar Phil gave on how to develop web applications while I was taking my sabbatical from the working world back in 1999. From that seminar, I got the impression that ArsDigita was a company built on humanistic principles, quite a unique experiment in the cut-throat world of business. I came home from the seminar inspired with the concept, and almost ready to sign up for their boot camp and go to work for the company (if it weren't for the fact that I was really enjoying my time off from work). I was really saddened to hear a few months ago that the venture capitalists had taken it over and had forced out Phil from his leadership position. Just another sad story of greed triumphing over idealism.
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Yesterday I received a mailing from The MIT Science Fiction Association, an organization I had been a member of in the 60's and early 70's. Yes, I went to Radcliffe/Harvard, but at heart I was basically a geek, and I found that I fit in a lot better with the techie types I found at MIT than the pretentious snobs I found at Harvard. My roommate Cory and I would take the Dudley bus down Mass. Ave each Friday to attend the weekly meetings of the MITSFS which were invariably followed by a group dinner at the House of Roy in Chinatown (a significant site in my personal history, as it's where I first learned to eat with chopsticks).

MITSFS was (and is) the strangest organization. In spite of being at a technical university that you would expect to be in the forefront of everything new and different, MITSFS had a tendency to establish traditions that just never went away. It was amazingly nostalgic to read the missive they sent out to alumni members. Nothing has changed. The style of humor, the catch phrases, the naming of committees in 1984-style newspeak (Jourcomm for the publications committee, Chronicomm for the historian), and the proud boast, "We're not fans, we just read the stuff". (In fact, the title of the zine they sent out was Still Not Fans...)

I even rated a mention in the club chronology (which starts off with a description of the Big Bang). The entry for April 13, 1966 reads:

TZ (Twilight Zine) #16 co-Jourcomms Leslie Turek and Cory Seidman (now Panshin) of Radcliffe complete their plot to overthrow the reigning female power bloc from Boston University and find themselves in complete control of the TZ, of which it has been said, "Hwa Tir-Sigel weardath, worold rixath," who holds TZ rules the world.
The latter comment was probably a contribution from Cory, a linguistics major who had studied old English or Anglo-Saxon or one of those ancient languages.

It was great to hear from them - I'll have to try to drop into a meeting sometime.

In another related note, someone at Boskone mentioned to me that he'd read my story of Goldilocks written in Fortran, which had been published in TZ. This had come about because back in those days I didn't think I could write, and Cory got stuck with doing all the editorials. At one point she convinced me that if I couldn't write in English, I should try writing in a computer language, and so I got together with my friend Dave Vanderwerf and produced Goldilocks written in compilable Fortran (SUBROUTINE STORY(GOLDIE)). (We were going to follow it up with IF (IHAD (AHAMMER)), but never quite got around to it.) Imagine my surprise when a few years ago I did a web search for my name and found that someone had actually archived the story on a web site of computer humor. (They got the title of the zine wrong, though, it was the Twilight Zine, not the Twilight Zone.)
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From: Quote of the day editor at yahoo.ca

After 12 years of unwanted monthly visits from Jehovah's Witnesses,
Jane White of Peacehaven, East Sussex, knocked on the door of their
Kingdom Hall during a Sunday service and asked them if they wanted
any free magazines.

"It's not the religion I object to," the 35-year-old mother of three
explained, "it is just the intrusion into my privacy which I find
annoying." Although some celebrants laughed at the intrusion,
congregation leaders told her she was being a nuisance and they
called police.

- reported in the Wednesday, January 30, 2002 Globe and Mail, Page
A22. [We hope that this is not just an urban legend. -eds.]

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I Am A: Neutral Good Elf Bard Ranger

Neutral Good characters believe in the power of good above all else. They will work to make the world a better place, and will do whatever is necessary to bring that about, whether it goes for or against whatever is considered 'normal'.

Elves are the eldest of all races, although they are generally a bit smaller than humans. They are generally well-cultured, artistic, easy-going, and because of their long lives, unconcerned with day-to-day activities that other races frequently conccern themselves with. Elves are, effectively, immortal, although they can be killed. After a thousand years or so, they simply pass on to the next plane of existance.

Primary Class:
Bards are the entertainers. They sing, dance, and play instruments to make other people happy, and, frequently, make money. They also tend to dabble in magic a bit.

Secondary Class:
Rangers are the defenders of nature and the elements. They are in tune with the Earth, and work to keep it safe and healthy.

Find out What D&D Character Are You?, courtesy ofNeppyMan (e-mail)

Detailed Results:

Lawful Good ----- XXXX (4)
Neutral Good ---- XXXXXXX (7)
Chaotic Good ---- XXXX (4)
Lawful Neutral -- (-1)
True Neutral ---- (-2)
Chaotic Neutral - (-3)
Lawful Evil ----- (-1)
Neutral Evil ---- X (1)
Chaotic Evil ---- (0)

Human ---- (0)
Half-Elf - XXXXXX (6)
Elf ------ XXXXXX (6)
Halfling - XXXX (4)
Dwarf ---- (-11)

Fighter - (-3)
Ranger -- XX (2)
Paladin - (-2)
Cleric -- (-1)
Mage ---- (0)
Druid --- XX (2)
Thief --- (-4)
Bard ---- XXXXXXXX (8)

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Saturday, February 23, 2002

Ah - a free weekend! What a wonderful concept! It should happen more often.

Started the day by meeting Alex and going into Chinatown for dim sum at Chau Chow City. This is the place for dim sum in Boston -- the real old-fashioned kind where the food comes around on carts and you get all sorts of weird stuff like chicken feet and tripe. I tend to avoid those choices and stick to things like the crystal shrimp steamed dumplings, roast pork buns, stuffed green peppers and eggplant, shu mai, etc. One outstanding item they offer is steamed lobster dumplings. They cost a bit more than the shrimp dumplings, but they are really good. For dessert, I like the sweet rolls that have a bit of custard inside and a crispy eggy coating on top. Chau Chow City is always crowded, but weekdays and Saturdays are better than Sundays, when the line goes out the door (unless you can get there earlier than I can usually make it).

After dim sum, we got to work on reconciling all the paperwork from Boskone registration. With two heads going at it, it went surprisingly quickly, with very few problems. We did find one charge that we had apparently failed to run through, but since it was an advance membership for next year's convention, we'll have plenty of time to correct it. I showed Alex how to build a spreadsheet to capture all the data (much to my amazement, this technically saavy person had never had a need to use a spreadsheet before), and left him tweaking the formatting to his heart's content. A nice feeling of accomplishment when it was all done and all the numbers matched.
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This online dvd rental thing, which seemed like a great idea on paper, hasn't been working out very well for me. Maybe it's just the service I picked, which was one of the cheaper ones (rentmydvd.com). The problem is that discs get delayed or lost in the mail, and that clogs up the whole system. In January, I was sent a total of 5 discs, which was fine for the monthly fee of $14. But one of the discs they sent never appeared on my doorstep. They still have that one listed as being out to me, so even though I have reported it lost, I am not getting replacements for it. In addition, two of the discs I sent back took about 2 weeks to get registered as being returned. Don't know if it was mail delays or their inefficiency, but that slowed things down, too. So far in February, I've only been shipped 2 discs - not enough to make the service worth it. So I may cancel and try a different site.
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Friday, February 22, 2002

I went out for my exercise walk later than usual today, and got to the Prospect Hill overlook just as the sun was setting behind me and reflecting off the distant towers of Boston. It was quite a lovely duotone study with highlights of salmon pink and shadows of misty blue-gray. Wish I'd had a camera with me. My iPod contributed this appropriate lyric from the Moulin Rouge soundtrack...

Never knew I could feel like this
Like I've never seen the sky before...

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Wow! I stayed up to watch the women's figure skating finals, and what an exciting and bittersweet night it was. Sadly, Michelle Kwan did not win the gold medal, due to tripping and falling on a triple jump. She continued on after the mistake, and the rest of her performance was excellent, but the deduction for the fall made all the difference. As much as I was rooting for her, I'd had a feeling all along that this was not going to be her year, and sadly I was right.

To a lesser extent, I was also sorry for Sasha Cohen, an exquisite young skater who also made a few small mistakes and could not hang onto her third-place position. But Sasha is young (this was her first international competition!) and unlike Michelle, she will have another chance.

But the big excitement was Sarah Hughes, 4th after the short program, who gave the performance of her life and captured the gold medal! According to the current scoring system, the only way Sarah could win the gold was if she won the long program and someone else (in this case Irina Slutskaya) were to beat Michelle. And that's exactly what happened.

The decision between Irina and Michelle was a close one, since Irina had a few problems with her program, also. She didn't actually fall, and her program was technically stronger, but Michelle had more artistry. I suspect, though, that after the previous judging scandal, there was no way the judges were going to place someone who had fallen above someone at a similar technical level who had not. If Michelle had been placed ahead of Irina, even if both were behind Sarah, Michelle would have won over-all.

But Sarah deserved the gold and I'm glad she got it.
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Thursday, February 21, 2002

Today I had a medical test at Mt. Auburn Hospital. (No big deal, I hope - I'll find out for sure next week.) But that's not what I wanted to write about.

When I was checking in, I noticed that the clerk who was taking all my information (insurance, next of kin, etc.) had some photographs of her cat posted in her cubicle. So I asked her about the cat, and we chatted a bit - nothing special. But as I was leaving she said, "You know, I'm working a 12-hour shift today, and you're the most pleasant person I've met all day." I said, well, people were naturally a little tense when they came to a hospital. But, she said, it wasn't just that, it was that they yelled at her for asking the questions she had to ask, and so forth.

I went away thinking that it's really too bad that people can't just be decent to each other on a personal basis. We all get so tired of dealing with faceless bureaucracies and impersonal organizations that we start to treat other people as if they were automatons. It's just so easy to be nice, and it pays off, too, because when you are asking someone to help you out, they're a lot more likely to respond if you've asked them nicely rather than yelling at them. This just seems so very basic. I think it's a sad commentary that just asking a lady about her cat was the nicest thing that happened to her in all of her working day.
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Machinka was up on the roof again when I got home tonight. What is going on with her?
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Jenifer Tidwell, a co-worker of mine at InConcert several years ago, recently took a 3-week trek in the Himalayas, and has put up a lovely web site with stories and photographs of her trip.
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Here's a nice way to waste time - a game called Take It Easy. My average score has been around 150 (if I play without thinking too hard). I'm sure you can do better.

[Addendum: I haven't been able to get this to work on my Mac at home, using either Netscape or MS Explorer. It seems to only run on my PC at work. If you're a Mac user, be warned.]
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Another springdamp morning -- all deep loamy browns and rich forest greens.
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One of the panels that I didn't get to at Boskone was a panel on Tolkien that was later praised by Fred Lerner as one of the best panels he's ever seen at any convention. Even just reading the precis (written by program planner extraordinaire Priscilla Olson) was enlightening. It went like this:

Images of Loss in "Lord of the Rings"
After Frodo has returned, still not entirely healed, to the Shire, he tells Sam, "It must often be so, Sam, when things are in danger: someone has to give them up, lose them, so that others may keep them." Much of the power of The Lord of the Rings comes from the deep sense of loss that fills it: The Elves' loss of Middle Earth, Men's loss of life, the Ents' loss of forest and the Entwives, Frodo's loss of the Shire, Arwen's loss of immortality, Elrond's loss of Arwen -- and then there are many others, even Gollum's loss of the Ring. Bittersweet images all. Are these essential to the enduring strength of Tolkien's universe? Would we love it as much without the final image of the magic leaving Middle Earth, as the elves (and ringbearers) take the straight path across the sea to the West...?
As I've said before, next year I've just got to actually attend Boskone instead of just work on it.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2002

I got home late this evening, and found Machinka on the roof again. I don't know what is going on. Maybe a dog is chasing her up there or something.
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Today's iPod contribution:

Sometimes it is spring
Sometimes it is not anything
A poet can sing
Sometimes we try
Yes we always try
-- from Sisotowbell Lane, by Joni Mitchell
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Machinka didn't come home last night, which didn't worry me a lot because she does that now and then. This morning, when I went out front to pick up the newspaper, I heard her calling and discovered that she'd somehow gotten onto the roof of my house and didn't seem to know how to get down. I went up to the attic and opened the dormer window and she came right in. She's now enjoying a very late dinner.
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Tuesday, February 19, 2002

There's a new Olympic sport: "Women's Two-Man Bobsled". Did I hear that correctly?
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Monday, February 18, 2002

Spent the weekend at our local science fiction convention (Boskone). Didn't get to see much of the convention, unfortunately, as I'd agreed to help run registration and that took up a lot of my time. Guest of Honor was Neil Gaiman, who was very popular and drew in a lot of new members. Neil Gaiman is best known for his comics series, Sandman, and for his recent book, American Gods, which is likely to be nominated for a Hugo award this year. Neil was a great guest - a good speaker and willing to sit and autograph books for hours. Artist guest was Stephen Hickman, and I did get a chance to take a quick walk through the art show and see his wonderful paintings.

Next year, Boskone moves back to downtown Boston and will have David Brin as Guest of Honor. I'm going to try not to not take on any responsibilities so I'll have a chance to actually attend the convention next time.
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So the skating issue was politics after all. There's a good discussion of what went on in Time magazine.
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Sunday, February 17, 2002

You are most like Basil, assaulted by bears!

Created by Thren.
Which Gashlycrumb Tiny are you?

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Friday, February 15, 2002

I was helping out this evening unloading trucks and numbering books for the Boskone science fiction convention, when I noticed that someone had brought a graph plotting, for all 39 Boskones, which had been run by men, which by women, and which by couples. Women lagged behind men, but they're catching up fast, as no single man has run a Boskone for the past 9 years (only men as part of couples). Interesting.

I also noticed that I was the first woman to run a Boskone (Boskone 6 in 1969). That got me to thinking of what, if any, other "first woman" I could be credited for. The only other one I could think of was "First woman to run a refreshment booth at Harvard Stadium". Before me, all the booth managers were men and all the booth workers were women. Needless to say, managers made a lot more money. After being a booth worker for 2 years, and knowing the job inside and out, I finally convinced them to let me manage a booth. (This was a surprising thing for me to do, as I was rather shy and unassuming in my youth.)

I had to start in a little temporary booth with only one worker, but I did okay, so finally got to run a full-scale booth with about 6 workers for the rest of the season. And the following year, other women were given the chance to do it. So I was very proud of my little blow for women's equality.

And I can say that I attended every home football game for all the years I was in college without having seen more than 5 minutes of actual play.
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The diabetes prevention study I've been in for the last 3 1/2 years has finally had its first publication in The New England Journal of Medicine 2002; 346:393-403. I can't link to the full text (you need an NEJM subscription for that), but here's a link to the public abstract,
Reduction in the Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes with Lifestyle Intervention or Metformin

Yup, they sure intervened in my lifestyle (and a good thing, too).
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Thursday, February 14, 2002

Slate has an interesting proposal for a WTC Memorial.
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Okay, maybe I overreacted a bit to the skating issue in the emotion of the moment. But in any case, it does seem pretty clear that the judging is affected by the judges' perceptions of who ought to win, rather than who gave the best performance on a particular night.
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Wednesday, February 13, 2002

Found on the web log Electrolyte:
"We act as though comfort and luxury were the chief requirements of life, when all that we need to make us happy is something to be enthusiastic about."
(--Charles Kingsley)
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The good news is that I beat Rob Dougherty in a Magic tournament tonight. This is noteworthy because Rob is one of the highest-ranked players in the country. What a thrill! (I didn't win the tournament, though - lost out in the last round.)
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Just watched the Olympics ice skating pairs final, and I don't know what to say. The Russians win yet again, even though they did not give the best performance. It's really distressing that figure skating still hasn't managed to get the politics out of the judging. I can't imagine what it's like to work so hard for so long, and then be on the receiving end of such unfairness. I read in an article in Sports Illustrated that David Pelletier is so fed up that he's talking about quitting skating. It's really a shame.
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Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Last month I signed up for one of the web-based DVD rental services, rentmydvd.com (more about how this works below). With the last disk I received, I got a really amusing customer survey. In among the normal demographic questions, there were simple questions like "What is your favorite color?" and really hard questions like "What is the air speed velocity of an unladen swallow?" (What is that from???) And it also included a Haiku contest (winner gets a free year's subscription). My contribution was:

   What was that movie
   You said I shouldn't miss? Quick --
   Add it to The List!

These web-based DVD services (another popular one is netflix.com) work like this. Your subscription entitles you to have a certain number of DVDs out at a time. Plans range from about $15/month for 2 DVDs up to something like $40/month for 10 DVDs. (I'm starting with the cheapest plan.) You can keep the disks as long as you want, but each time you return one, they promptly send you out another. The disks they send you are selected from a wishlist that you set up, which is arranged in a priority order. So they will send you the first movie available that is on your list. When you're done, you put the disk in the prepaid mailer and drop it in any mailbox. The beauty of the whole concept is referred to in my haiku; that whenever you think of something you want to see, you just add it to your list and then don't really have to worry about it any more - eventually you will get it. Ultimate convenience.
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In an article in PC Magazine, The Blog Phenomenon, John Dvorak wonders why people blog and who reads all this stuff anyway. I think it's obvious that blogging fulfills a deep human need to communicate. When we write to a blog, we are writing to that person who cares what we think about things. The fact that this person may not actually exist doesn't really matter all that much.
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Monday, February 11, 2002

Last year a friend recommended the works of Nevil Shute, a British/Australian novelist who wrote in the 40's and 50's, probably best known for the ultimate post-atomic-war story, On the Beach. I, like just about everyone who came of age in the 60's, had read On the Beach in high school, and it's hard to describe the effect it had on me. Set in the future (1964), It was a very moving tale of ordinary, decent people living out the last few months of their lives after most of the world has been wiped out by a nuclear war. A horror story without any overt horror except the basic fact of what is happening.

The next time I ran into Nevil Shute was when his book, A Town Like Alice, was produced as an excellent PBS miniseries with Bryan Brown, Gordon Jackson, and Helen Morse. The story begins with a young English woman captured during the sudden Japanese occupation of Malaya during World War II, and the hardships she suffered. And then becomes a love story about the Australian man she meets during the war and encounters again in peacetime. But it also has some interesting stuff about how she transforms a small Australian outback town to become a place where she would be happy to live (to make it "a town like Alice [Springs]").

So after re-reading both of these, I went on to try to track down more of Nevil Shute's books. Which is not easy because they're mostly out of print. I've gotten some from the library, picked up others on half.com (a great place to buy and sell used books cheap!), and I recently discovered that the fans of Nevil Shute operate a lending library, so I may use that to get the ones I haven't been able to find elsewhere. I like his books because they are all about basically decent, competant people who find themselves in extraordinary situations but manage to deal with them. They also are products of their time, so they really show how the world and people's attitudes have changed in the past 50 years.

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After a light dusting of snow this morning, the afternoon turned bright and cold, so I decided it was time to get back to my daily walks (which had been suspended for 2 weeks while I was sick). It was great to get out into the woods, and I felt pretty good, except a little tired when climbing the hill. I brought along my iPod, which seemed to be on a 60's kick today. In addition to The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and Judy Collins singing Leonard Cohen, shuffle play served up 60's folksinger Phil Ochs singing Cops of the World, a deeply cynical view of the arrogance of US foreign policy that is particularly thought-provoking in view of the events of Sept. 11.
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Sunday, February 10, 2002

Had a really nice brunch with Alex over at the S&S in Inman Square. Totally blew my diet on the Eggs Oscar (poached eggs on potato pancakes with crabmeat, asparagus, and bernaise sauce, served with a toasted sesame bagel and an assortment of fresh fruit). Yum! The only saving grace is that it totally satisfied me for most of the day - I am only starting to feel a little bit hungry again and it's 11pm.

After brunch, we picked up Steven Lee and went over to the NESFA clubhouse to help with the Boskone work session. I worked on laminating badges, and mostly managed to get them right side up. Boskone is this coming weekend, so between getting ready for that and trying to watch the ice skating at the Olympics, I will be pretty busy.

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Woke up early today, happened to look at my Visor calendar, and noticed there was a Magic tournament just a few miles away in Brighton. (I'd kindof lost track of the schedule after having been sick and semi-sick for two whole weeks.) Since it was sealed deck format with the new Torment expansion, I decided to go over and give it a try. Built a two-color blue/black deck with some bombs, but it was a little slow. First match was against real good player Josh Smith playing black/blue/green (a combination of colors I saw a lot of today). I won the first game with a Cabal Patriarch and a lot of big flyers. Lost the second game to an early pro-black guy that I just couldn't find an answer for. Third game I drew all my expensive stuff, and he got off to a very fast start, so I just couldn't stabilize in time, so I lost the match. Second match was against a less experienced player playing blue/green. He won one game by getting out a lot of fast green guys, but I won the other two. Third match was against Matty Evans, who is the judge at the regular Tuesday night tournaments at Your Move Games. He was also playing black/green/blue. I won the first game, which was long and complicated. The second game ran out of time with me at 1 life and Matty at 4 life. I think Matty would have won it if there had been more time, but I got the match win due to winning the first game. Fourth match was against another deck with a lot of fast green guys, and I just couldn't keep up and lost both games. With my record 2-2, thus no chance to get in the finals, and feeling a little tired (still getting over my cold), I decided to drop at that point. After getting home, I worked over my deck and decided that it might have been better if I'd gone to three colors and played some of my green cards as well. But it's hard to tell for sure which would have been better. There's a lot to be said for the mana consistency you get with two colors. Ah well... next time.
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Friday, February 08, 2002

A few days ago I went in for my semi-annual mammogram. (I've been going in for follow-up every 6 months since I was treated for DCIS last year.) I go to a doctor who is very thorough, so I was there for an hour and half, got called back in 4 times for a total of a dozen different views at various angles and magnifications. The nice thing is that Dr. Mendel always meets with you and shows you what he's looking at and why he's asking for the additional views, and by the time you're done, you know you can be pretty sure that you've been completely checked out. So the good news is, there is no evidence of any recurrance and I am safe for another six months. Whew!
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Monday, February 04, 2002

The New England Patriots won the Super Bowl! And what a thrilling game it was! This morning I replayed that last scoring drive, and even knowing that they would make it, it was hard to see how they could pull it off. Amazing. Bill Belichick is just such a smart guy, and a great leader and team builder. He should have been named coach of the year.
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Fans of The Lord of the Rings might enjoy the Grey Book, Ian McKellen's journal of his experiences while working on the film
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Wouldn't you know it - I discover weblogs just about a week before they turn up in an article in Time magazine. I think I am the perfect measure of when something is about to become mainstream. Market research companies should pay me for this insight. :-)
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Friday, February 01, 2002

I was awakened at 4am this morning by a cat fight inside my house. Apparently the neighbor's cat had gotten in through the cat door in the basement. I never actually saw it, but Katisha's wailing, growling, and spitting left no doubt that there was an invader in the house. When I heard the cat door being used and spotted the gray cat outside, I quickly set the door so that it would swing out but not in. That will be too bad for Machinka, who may get stuck outside longer than she'd like, but I have to discourage the gray cat from coming in.
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