Leslie's Latest News

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Hormone found to curb appetite in obesity study
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Wednesday, August 20, 2003

I am no longer updating this page; please visit me at my new weblog.

Addendum: Sorry, the link was wrong when I first set it up. It's fixed now. Sorry.
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Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Boston didn't get hit in the recent blackout, but we did get hit in the big blackout of '65. I was a college student then. I'd gone with a bunch of friends who worked on a student magazine at MIT to visit the printer, which was in one of those old brick buildings just on the other side of the Fort Point Channel from downtown Boston. We were on maybe the 5th floor when the lights went out, and had to work our way down a dark stairwell that that was littered with debris. Driving back through Boston to Cambridge was "interesting", as the street lights were all out, although at some intersections, public-spirited individuals were helping to direct traffic. We all went to a friend's apartment, where the hostess cooked us dinner on a gas stove, and the event turned into a little impromptu candle-lit party. It was hard to completely enjoy myself, though, because I had an exam coming up the next day and was supposed to be studying. Just my luck, the exam did not get postponed (although I don't have the slightest memory of how well I did).
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The tomatoes are really late this year because of all the rain and cloudy weather. They are just starting to ripen, and of course, I'm going away next week, so will miss most of the first crop. (It looks like I am going away, as I've located a pet-sitting service that says they can fit me in. Whew.) Lots of other vegetables have been doing fine, though - I still have some swiss chard, there are carrots, beets, and potatoes that will last until after vacation, a second crop of beans will be ready soon, and I've been picking zucchini and long oriental eggplant. I also see some green peppers that will probably ripen to red while I'm away.

I tried this recipe for eggplant, and it was pretty good:

Slice 1 1/2 pounds oriental eggplant diagonally and steam for 15-20 minutes (recipe said 30 minutes, but that was too much). Heat 1 TBS oil and stir-fry 1 TBS chopped garlic and 1 TBS chopped ginger on low heat for about 30 seconds. Add 3 TBS soy sauce, 2 TBS red wine vinegar, 2 TBS sugar, 1/4 ts salt, 1 TBS sesame oil, and an optional 1 ts chili paste with garlic. Bring to a boil. Stir in steamed eggplant and remove from heat. (I cut both oils and the sugar by half and it was fine.)
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Monday, August 18, 2003

It was a gorgeous day today, but you can tell that summer is starting to wind down. And at the South Pole, the first signs of daylight are appearing. (See the 8/17 post at the P o L a R * c A F e.)
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Here are some cool before and after satillite photos of the blackout.
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I think I'm about ready to switch to my new TypePad weblog. So please bookmark the new page, and let me know if you have any problems viewing it. I'll make entries to both blogs for a few days, but eventually will stop updating this one.
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The last few days have been very busy as I've been running around trying to finish up stuff I need to do before heading off to Toronto. On Friday I had a nice Japanese lunch with an old friend from out of town, and afterward we took a walk through the Garden in the Woods. He drove us in his Toyota Prius hybrid car, which he was quite proud of. It has a computer display that not only calculates trip milage and fuel efficiency, but can also show a diagram of how the power is currently being routed between the gasoline engine, electric motor, generator, and battery. A control system automatically switches between these different systems as appropriate for the conditions, so the car gets really great fuel efficiency. The engine is really quiet, too.

The pet-sitting company I have been using for years has apparently gone out of business because when I called them to arrange for visits while I'm away, I found that their phone had been disconnected. So I desperately need to find a new service. My vet has recommended one that seems to be pretty stable (as I've gotten advertisements from them in the past), but they have not yet responded to my phone call and e-mail inquiries, so I may have to try to find yet another. We'll see - if I don't hear from them today, I will start scrambling.

I finally solved that annoying problem I had with my computer that I couldn't get the system to recognize my monitor's highest display resolution. I had pretty much given up, but the other day in MacWorld magazine I found a mention of a shareware application called SwitchRes that allows you to set monitor resolutions -even to values that the operating system doesn't recognize. I downloaded it and it worked! Cool. I've also been working on setting up new TypePad weblogs for both myself and Noreascon 4.

I made a second call to the electrician with no response, so that will probably have to wait for September. I did some more work on cutting back vines, and found a college kid that might be willing to come tomorrow and help me finish up that job. We'll see if he shows up.

I started reading an interesting book called The Winter Queen, by Boris Akunin. It's a detective story, set in the time of Czarist Russia, written by a modern Russian author and translated into English. The hero, Erast Fandorin, is an appealing character - young, eager, a little bumbling sometimes, but somehow able to extract himself from all sorts of exciting scrapes. The plot, a story of international intrigue, is rather convoluted, with lots of twists and turns. Apparently, Akunin is quite a popular author in Russia, and has written nine other Erast Fandorin novels, so we have a lot to look forward to.

And on top of it all, for some reason I've decided to take up knitting again. I started by picking up a moss-green lacy brushed-yarn scarf that has been sitting half-completed for years, and have been checking out yarn shops and the internet for new patterns to work on. I bought a few skeins of a deep purple wool/mohair blend and plan to try making a hat.

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Sunday, August 17, 2003

If you haven't noticed, Google now has a calculator feature. You can type an expression into the regular search box and it will give you the answer. It will also do unit conversions - useful for converting metric recipes, for example: 60 ml in cups.
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Saturday, August 16, 2003

Here's an interesting blackout story about being trapped in a New York subway.
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Wednesday, August 13, 2003

I gave a garden tour at Garden in the Woods this morning - my first in several weeks. As I drove out it was rather gloomy and misty, although driving up the access road to the garden through the fog-enshrouded forest was quite lovely. I was sure no one would show up for the tour, but I was wrong - I got a very nice couple from New York who were very interested, and we had a nice long tour with many questions on their part and (attempted) answers on my part. Many new things in bloom, including water lilies, summersweet, cardinal flower, great blue lobelia near the pond and a good bunch of meadow flowers, including coneflowers, black-eyed susan, blazing star (liatris), and others. Also an amazing crop of mushrooms of all shapes and colors, especially on the Hop Brook trail. I'm going to have to start learning about mushrooms if this weather keeps up. We also saw a number of butterflies. But gosh, it was humid, and by the time we were done, I was dripping with sweat. Please let the jet stream change its course and bring us some dry weather!
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Tuesday, August 12, 2003

When I wrote about my recent visit to Salem, Becky suggested I might want to look into the various literary sites in Concord. And it's really too bad that all the time I've lived in the area, and driven through Concord many times, I've never actually visited any of the sites (except for the Concord bridge, where the first shot of the Revolutionary War was fired). So today, when it continued in the pattern of intermittent torrential downpours that made outside work almost impossible, I decided to drive out to Concord for the afternoon.

I decided to start with the Concord Museum (which used to be called the Concord Antiquarian Society). There I found I could get a ticket for the museum and two of the houses, which would be good for a couple of months. That meant I could concentrate on the museum today and go back for the houses on another visit.

The museum was small but had some interesting stuff. Like one of the actual lanterns that was used to signal to Paul Revere in the steeple of the Old North Church. And an engraving by Paul Revere of the Boston Massacre. And a complete re-creation of Emerson's study, including his favorite rocking chair and the sofa with legs that stuck out in front and tripped visitors.

My favorite room was the one devoted to Thoreau, who has always been my favorite transcendentalist. I actually learned about Thoreau from my father, who loved the quote about "marching to the beat of a different drummer". (By the way, if you Google on that phrase, you'll find interesting variants like "sashay to the beat of a different drummer" and "blogging to the beat of a different drummer". It's definitely a phrase that has entered the common culture.)

The Thoreau room had some of the actual furniture from his cabin at Walden Pond, land surveys drawn in his own hand, first editions of some of his books, and quotes displayed on the walls. I liked this one from Walden:

To be awake is to be alive. I have never yet met a man who was quite awake... We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn.

A copy of Civil Disobedience was open to the page where he talked about the evils of big government. This quote seemed particularly apt:

Witness the present Mexican war, the work of comparatively few individuals using the standing government as their tool; for, in the outset, the people would not have consented to this measure.

After the history galleries, there were a few galleries exhibiting antique furniture, which I found less interesting. But the last few galleries had a fascinating exhibit of historic maps that was on loan from Williamsburg. (They'll be in Concord until mid-October.) There were too many maps to study all of them, but two in particular caught my eye. There was a huge 10-foot square wall map entitled "A Map of the British Empire in America with the French and Spanish Settlements adjacent thereto" by Henry Popple, dated 1733. This map covered eastern North America, Central America and the Carribean, and was incredibly detailed, showing just about every town (I found Stratford, my home town, and "Water Town", my current town, both listed) and many natural features, such as lakes and rivers. West of the Appalachians, it showed the locations of Indian tribes, and in the ocean, it showed shallows like George's Banks. It had little inset maps of all the major harbors. A second map that was quite interesting was a 1770 map of the City of New York. The whole city was concentrated at just the very tip of Manhattan, with the rest of the island depicted as country estates, with streams and ponds and marshes. It's hard to imagine that concrete jungle as actually once having been living, breathing earth. This map also had a nice engraving of the New York "skyline" as seen from Governor's Island.

When I got home, I looked up some Thoreau books. I had been aware that one of his books about plants called Wild Fruits had been recently rediscovered and published, and I thought I'd like to read that in connection with my Garden in the Woods work. Imagine my surprise to find that it's been remaindered and is now available for under $10 at amazon.com.
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Monday, August 11, 2003

It's been scientifically proven - Kansas Is Flatter Than a Pancake.
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After a nice relaxing weekend featuring a number of very pleasant get-togethers with various friends and acquaintances, I suddenly realized that there are only two weeks left until Alex and I will be setting off for this year's World Science Fiction Convention. Which essentially means that there are only two weeks left of summer. And all those things I was planning to try to get done this summer still aren't done. So I am entering panic mode.

The a/c tuneup guy actually came today as scheduled. You know, I think one of the reasons I have so much trouble getting myself to find people to do maintenance work on my house is that I always feel that they are too judgemental and make me feel guilty about my inadequacies as a homeowner. I'm looking for people who want to help me get stuff done, rather than make me feel guilty about the fact that I haven't done it yet.

I thought I was in pretty good shape with the air conditioner, as I'd cleaned the vines away from the outside compressor and had changed the filter recently. But I still couldn't win. The repairman gave a hard time about the remaining vines on my chimney, and made me sign a statement saying that he had warned me of the fire danger. He also told me I needed to get an electrician to replace the outside electrical junction box, which was rusted so much that he couldn't open it. So now I've got a call into an electrician, and I need to get cracking on that ivy. But in the meantime, the lawn needs mowing again from all the rain, and my father wants me to take a quick trip down to Connecticut, and Garden in the Woods would like to have their surveys completed by the end of the month, and I need to get my hair cut, and there's some trip planning to do.... Arggghhh!
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Saturday, August 09, 2003

What's going on in California politics right now is a kind of sad joke. A number of bloggers, including Lawrence Lessig, have pointed out the stupidity of a recall election where someone getting 10% of the vote can take over from a governor getting 49.9% of the vote.

Whether or not you believe in the power to recall, the California provision is insanely stupid. It makes no sense to decide the winner on the basis of a plurality. This is just a badly crafted constitutional provision — a kind of constitutional loophole. It’s the sort of clause which we fail people for writing in constitution-drafting classes. (No, there are not really any constitution drafting classes, but clearly there should have been in California at the beginning of the last century).

My pick of the announced candidates so far is Peter Ueberroth. He won my admiration when he ran the 1984 Olympics so successfully, and I think he'd be a very competent administrator, which is what California seems to need right now.
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Friday, August 08, 2003

Today I took a look at a nature photography exhibit that was on display in a nearby office building. Lots of lovely photos of geese, ducks, swans, cormorants, herons, gulls, dragonflies, frogs, toads, turtles, snakes, rabbits, racoons, and various songbirds, with interesting commentary. The interesting thing was that all of these photos were taken along that one-mile stretch of the Charles River upstream from Watertown Square where I normally do my exercise walking. Very cool. I've seen most of these animals there at one time or another, except some of the rarer duck species (like Wood Ducks).

Last night Alex and I watched the first Patriots pre-season game on TV and it was very encouraging. The new players seem to be doing very well. I hope it will be an exciting season for the team.
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After having been hounded by them for years, I finally gave up last January and sent my fannish biography to the Fan Gallery. I sent them a picture, too, but they chose to use a different one which shows me jet-lagged the day I arrived in England last summer. Then, of course, after hounding me for years, they then took months to actually post the info up on their site. I've been checking every so often, and this is the first time I found myself listed there. Getting all this information together was a lot of work, especially getting the dates. And I'm probably missing stuff. But the important things are there.
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Thursday, August 07, 2003

I found a site the other day that might help cut down on spam a bit - it's called SpamGourmet. It provides a way you can create a temporary address when you need an address to register at some site, but you really don't want them to send you a lot of stuff. You can specify the number of messages you want to receive at that address, and after that many have been forwarded to you, the rest are thrown away. The cool thing is that you register once at SpamGourmet with a particular user name, and then each time you need a temporary address you just make one up of the form [anything].#.[username]@spamgourmet.com. The # is how you specify how many messages you are willing to get. The next time you need a new temp address, you just change the [anything] part. It seems like a good idea; we'll see how it works.
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Wednesday, August 06, 2003

This morning I went to a meeting of the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. We got copies of some of the papers that have been published on the study, and one of the principal investigators was there to fill us in on what's been happening and to answer questions.

Even though the DPP study published its results over a year ago, showing that metformin reduced the development of diabetes by 31% and lifesyle intervention reduced the development of diabetes by 58% in individuals with "pre-diabetes", there hasn't been a lot of change in how primary care physicians manage this situation. The National Diabetes Education Program developed a program for healthcare providers to educate them about the results of the study. The program was titled "Small Steps Big Rewards. Prevent Type 2 Diabetes" and was launched in February. One obstacle getting in the way of its implementation is the fact that many insurers won't pay for the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test required to identify individuals with pre-diabetes who would benefit from the program. A second obstacle is that the FDA has not approved the use of metformin for preventative purposes (apparently because they're afraid of the cost issues, not through any doubt as to its effectiveness). This is very short-sighted, since diabetes leads to 193,140 deaths per year, and the cost of treating diabetes is estimated to be over $132 billion per year, so the cost of prevention would be much less than the cost of treatment.

A second interesting fact was that, as a whole, the lifestyle group, which had succeeded in meeting their 7% weight loss goal during the first year of the study, has slipped back and is now pretty much back to where they started. Another example of how hard it is for normal people to lose weight and keep it off, even when they have strong motivations for doing so.

So here's a situation where we've identified two things that could prevent thousands of cases of diabetes per year. But we can't go the medication route because the insurers won't pay for it, so that leaves it up to the individual to go the lifestyle route on their own, and that turns out to be almost impossible to do. What a depressing situation.
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Those of you who signed up on the National Do-Not-Call list should be aware of this scam designed to get around the list.
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Tuesday, August 05, 2003

There's a very sweet paean to the iPod over at the Canada National Post. All about how people get addicted to it and how it changes people's lives. Cute pictures, too. (Note that the prices given are in Canadian dollars. It's expensive, but not that expensive.)
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I ventured out into the hot, steamy jungle that is my back yard to pick some of the garden vegetables before they matured past their prime. Got a big mess of string beans, plus some zucchini and oriental eggplant. A few tomatoes are just starting to turn pink, but the plants look very unhappy with the wet weather, with some spots of blight starting to show up. The weeds are happy, though, and I'm going to have a real job getting rid of them as soon as the rain stops. (If it ever does - current forecast shows showers through next Saturday, sigh.)
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Monday, August 04, 2003

It's been raining on and off for the past 4 days, and according to the weather reports, it will continue raining for the next 4 days. What a strange year it's been. I've been feeling the lack of exercise, so went down to the river this morning in between showers. The air was thick and humid, with the smell of rotting vegetation, but I managed to jog almost a mile before I gave out, and then walked another mile. (I'm trying to see if I can get in shape to run/jog in the Tufts 10K in October.) Lots of flowers in bloom - I noticed Queen Anne's lace, chicory, and summersweet - and I saw a rabbit and a small group of geese, including a young one that had grown out of its baby down but was still recognizably an adolescent. I am way behind on garden maintenance, but what can you do - you can't pull weeds or mow the lawn when everything is sopping wet.
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Sunday, August 03, 2003

Some excerpts from an interview in Der Spiegel with George Akerlof, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Economics. (via Follow Me Here.)

Akerlof: The government is not really telling the truth to the American people. Past administrations from the time of Alexander Hamilton have on the average run responsible budgetary policies. What we have here is a form of looting.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If so, why's the President still popular?

Akerlof: For some reason the American people does not yet recognize the dire consequences of our government budgets. It's my hope that voters are going to see how irresponsible this policy is and are going to respond in 2004 and we're going to see a reversal.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What if that doesn't happen?

Akerlof: Future generations and even people in ten years are going to face massive public deficits and huge government debt. Then we have a choice. We can be like a very poor country with problems of threatening bankruptcy. Or we're going to have to cut back seriously on Medicare and Social Security. So the money that is going overwhelmingly to the wealthy is going to be paid by cutting services for the elderly. And people depend on those. It's only among the richest 40 percent that you begin to get households who have sizeable fractions of their own retirement income.
Akerlof: I think this is the worst government the US has ever had in its more than 200 years of history. It has engaged in extraordinarily irresponsible policies not only in foreign and economic but also in social and environmental policy. This is not normal government policy. Now is the time for people to engage in civil disobedience.

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The TypePad weblog service is going public on Monday. I am still trying to decide whether I will switch to TypePad. As a beta tester, I've been very impressed by the service. The only hangup for me is that it includes web hosting, but I'm already paying for web hosting of my home page and weblog at another site. So I don't know if I really want to pay to have things in two different places.

I will mention, however, that as a beta tester, I can get a 20% lifetime discount for up to 20 of my friends. Since I don't know very many people who have weblogs, I probably won't use up my quota, so if anyone reading this would like to have one of my discount codes, just let me know. You can learn more at www.typepad.com.
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Saturday, August 02, 2003

Movies seen recently (in brief, because I'm way behind).

Pirates of the Carribbean. This was a silly summer movie, but was some fun. Johnny Depp was quite an amusing character, and the sea battles were very well done. It went on a bit too long, though.

Hollywood Homicide. Another light summer flick that I found mildly amusing. I never get tired of watching Harrison Ford, and this was more of a comedy than a thriller. Harrison Ford plays a Los Angeles detective that moonlights as a real estate broker. The joke is that throughout the movie, as he's solving a murder, he's trying frantically to sell a house (to the extent that he's on the phone trying to close a deal in the middle of a car chase). It's not a movie that you'd go out of your way to see, but it was okay.

Rabbit-Proof Fence (on video). Set in Australia in the 30's, at a time when the Australian government forcibly removed half-breed aboriginal children from their homes and put them in something like concentration camps. The administrator, played by Kenneth Branagh, honestly thought he was doing something beneficial to these children, to help them be absorbed into white society. This movie depicts the true story of three young girls who escaped from the camp and make a long journey home following the line of a rabbit-proof fence across the outback. The story is even more poignant when you see the adult women at the end of the film and learn that when Molly grew up her own children were taken from her as part of the same program. A sensitive movie about a very sad time.

Signs (on video). This movie was a little too creepy for me, although in retrospect, nothing much actually happened. But it did have me on the edge of my seat, and therefore a little distracted from the message of the movie, such as it was.

Frailty (on video). I was very impressed by this movie. I normally wouldn't pick up a movie with this subject matter (it's basically about a religiously-obsessed axe murderer), but Roger Ebert had given it a favorable review, so I thought I'd try it. I found it very compelling. It starts out showing a father and his two sons living a completely normal life, until one day the father gets a vision from God telling him to start killing demons (who look like perfectly normal people). The younger son goes along with this, but the older son is appalled and tries to put a stop to it. Then there are a series of twists that change everything. The subject matter is violent, but the camera doesn't dwell on the violence, and the story line and acting are very good. It was the kind of movie that stayed with me for days after I saw it.

Lilo and Stitch (on video). This is a heart-warming animated feature, about an alien monster who escapes to Earth and gets adopted by a young Hawaiian girl who thinks he's just a very strange dog. There is nice stuff about the relationship between the orphan girl and her older sister/guardian, some offbeat humor, and the Hawaiian setting adds a lot to the story. This is definitely a film that I would take children to see.

Seabiscuit. I'm not exactly an unbiased observer here, as I love horses, so I really liked this movie. It was a pretty honest adaptation of the book, leaving out a lot of details, as all movies must do, but getting the main themes right. Three damaged men and a damaged horse come together and find that together they can accomplish great things.

About a Boy (on video). A very sweet little movie. Hugh Grant plays a shallow rich loner who pretends to be a single father in order to pick up women. In the process, he starts to form a relationship with a troubled boy. This book was based on a novel, which probably explains why the characters are more interesting than in the standard Hollywood concept movie, and Hugh Grant is quite good.
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Friday, August 01, 2003

Here's a picture of a Lovelane session from yesterday. From left to right, that's me in the red top, Gypsy, Jeff (waving to his mother), Katie (the instructor's daughter), and Terry (the instructor). We alternate jobs; here I'm acting as a side-walker, helping to steady the rider's leg, other times I lead the horse. Trotting is fun, as we get to jog along with the horse. Gypsy is an older horse, very calm and placid, which is great for this program.

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I've recently wondered what it was like for the people living in Germany just before the start of WW II. There seemed to be parallels with our current situation. I guess I'm not the only one thinking this way: see Is America Becoming Fascist?

Nazism never had the support of the majority of Germans; at best about a third fully supported it. About a third of Americans today are certifiably fascist; another 20 percent or so can be swayed around to particular causes with smart propaganda. The basic paradigm remains more or less intact.

Capitalism today is different, so are the means of propaganda, and so are the technological tools of suppression. But that is only a matter of variation, not opposition. With all of Germany’s cultural strength, brutality won out; the same analysis can apply to America. Hitler never won clear majorities (his ascent to power was facilitated by the political elites), and yet once he was in power, he crushed all dissent; consider the parallels to the fateful, hair-splitting election of 2000 and its aftermath. Hitler took advantage of the Reichstag fire – the burning of the German parliament, which was blamed on communist arson – to totally reshape German institutions and culture; think of 9/11 as a close parallel. Hitler was careful to give the impression of always operating under legal cover; note again the similarity of a pseudo-legal shield for the actions of the American fascists, who stretch the Geneva Conventions by redefining prisoners of war as “unlawful.” One can go on and on in this vein.

My slogan for the 2004 election: "Vote Bush out - while you still can".
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Wednesday's shrub walk was pretty interesting, although rather long and filled with a lot of detail about botany and identification. Some of the shrubs we discussed were things I was already familiar with, but a number were new to me. Mountain Holly has lovely deep red velvety berries that Thoreau called the most beautiful of fruits. Sweet Gale is a relative of bayberry that lives at the edge of the pond and has seeds that are adapted to float on the water. I was also interested to see an example of Poison Sumac - something I definitely want to know how to identify. It's almost always found in wetlands, the fruits are white (other sumacs are red), and the leaves are smooth-edged (other sumacs are toothed). The Sweet Pepperbush (also known as Clethra or Summersweet) was in bloom and smelled amazing - its also been called Sailor's Delight because its smell can waft far out over the ocean. It also is called Indian Soap, and the guide leader demonstrated how you can actually produce a lather by rubbing its leaves with some water.

Other things blooming in the garden now include the sunny yellow St. John's Wort and the Sourwood tree (Oxydendron). The Cardinal Flower is just starting to open around the pond, and Blazing Star, Coneflower, and Bee Balm are blooming in the meadow.
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Salem Visit, Part 2. Next we strolled down Derby Street a few blocks (stopping at a homemade ice cream shop on the way) to the House of the Seven Gables. This large wooden frame house was built in 1668 and was the inspiration for the Nathaniel Hawthorne novel of the same name. A cousin of Hawthorne's actually lived in the house and he visited there often. It's an interesting house to tour, with a fascinating narrow staircase that winds up to the attic between two chimneys. It also featured a block model that showed the different additions that were made over the years. The newest addition has much higher ceilings that the older part and some lovely large rooms with views of the ocean. The site also contains Hawthorne's birthplace, which was originally several blocks away, and some lovely gardens.

When I got home, I followed up a link that Teresa Nielsen-Hayden had posted a while back, to a diary called Bits of Gossip by Rebecca Harding Davis, published in 1904. In it, there's a chapter called Boston in the Sixties where she writes about visiting the writer's community in Concord in the 1860's.

We were in the little parlor of the Wayside, Mr. Hawthorne's house in Concord. Mr. Alcott stood in front of the fireplace, his long gray hair streaming over his collar, his pale eyes turning quickly from one listener to another to hold them quiet, his hands waving to keep time with the orotund sentences which had a stale, familiar ring as if often repeated before. Mr. Emerson stood listening, his head sunk on his breast, with profound submissive attention, but Hawthorne sat astride of a chair, his arms folded on the back, his chin dropped on them, and his laughing, sagacious eyes watching us, full of mockery.

She writes of Hawthorne:

Hawthorne was in the Boston fraternity but not of it. He was an alien among these men, not of their kind. He belonged to no tribe. I am sure that wherever he went during his whole life, from the grassy streets of Salem to the docks of Liverpool, on Parisian boulevards or in the olive groves of Bellosguardo, he was always a foreigner, different from his neighbors. He probably never knew that he was different. He knew and cared little about Nathaniel Hawthorne, or indeed about the people around him. The man next door interested him no more than the man in Mozambique. He walked through life, talking and thinking to himself in a language which we do not understand.

Personally he was a rather short, powerfully built man, gentle and low voiced, with a sly, elusive humor gleaming sometimes in his watchful gray eyes. The portrait with which we all are familiar - a curled barbershop head - gives no idea of the singular melancholy charm of his face. There was a mysterious power in it which I never have seen elsewhere in picture, statue, or human being.

Later she tells a story of how his house had a tower to which he could escape when he needed to get away from visitors. His wife would collude in this; when she saw he was trapped in conversation with some annoying woman, she would come over to tell him he was needed eslewhere. It's fascinating to read a diary of a person who was actually there and met these historic literary figures. (The rest of her diary is pretty interesting, too.)
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Thursday, July 31, 2003

Salem Visit, Part 1. Salem, Massachusetts, a coastal city 16 miles north of Boston, may be best known for the Salem Witch Trials. They play this up to attract tourists, with a Witch Museum and a Witch House, among other things. But Salem has a lot of interesting history that is unrelated to the witch trials, including a Maritime Historic Site and houses connected to famous son Nathaniel Hawthorne. We went out there on a gorgeous day, so it was great just to be on the waterfront enjoying the sun and the sea breezes. We had a nice seafood lunch at a restaurant called the Dry Dock, which featured a second-level outdoor deck overlooking the harbor before starting to walk around.

Although it's a small city now, in the 18th century, Salem was a booming seaport. Its merchants made a killing during the Revolutionary War by operating privateer ships that captured British trading vessels. Shipowner Elias Hasket Derby (1739-1799) made his fortune this way and was probably America's first millionaire. After the war, Salem turned its ships to long-distance trading with the far east. During its heyday, Salem was the 6th-largest city in the country, and its customs duties accounted for 25% of the total revenue of the U.S. government.

The Maritime National Historic Site addresses this part of Salem's history. For a nominal admission fee, you can tour the Friendship, which is a replica of an "East Indiaman" merchant ship originally built in 1797. (The original was captured by the British during the War of 1812.) You can also visit the Custom House, an imposing brick building that stands at the foot of the docks, and the West India Goods Store, both of which show examples of the types of good that were imported by these trade ships. We also signed up for a short guided tour of two houses in the area.

The Derby House is a large brick mansion facing the harbor just a few doors down from the Custom House. This was build in 1762 for Elias Derby, and is the oldest brick house in Salem. We also visited the Narbonne-Hale House, which was an earlier 17th century house that was continuously occupied by various middle-class craftsmen and tradesmen right up to the 20th century. This house had been added to several times over the centuries, and contained a scale model that allowed the tour guide to show us the various transformations it had gone through.
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Wednesday, July 30, 2003

The weather has been great lately, so Alex and I took a quick day trip out to Salem yesterday. We visited the Salem Maritime National Historic Site and the House of Seven Gables. Then in the evening we went to see Seabiscuit. It was a great day, and I'll write more about it later, but in the meantime, here are some pictures. (Today I'm going to a guide training walk on shrubs at Garden in the Woods, so I don't have much time to blog.)
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Monday, July 28, 2003

Although the raspberries are a bust this year (as I mentioned previously), the rest of the veggie garden is doing pretty well. I'm picking lots of green beans, swiss chard, zuchini, and carrots, and the tomatoes, eggplant and peppers are forming fruits. I've been able to keep up with the weeding, and everything looks pretty healthy. I picked some basil and made myself pesto for lunch today.
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Machinka came back home this morning and is now safely re-collared and sleeping off her adventures.
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Sunday, July 27, 2003

Alex and I went to a small Magic tournament today at Your Move Games, designed to be a low-key tournament to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Magic and the new card redesign coming out with the 8th edition. It was fun, although much too hot. (Thank goodness Your Move is moving to a new location with better air conditioning soon.) Alex and I both won our first matches, respectively, then got paired up against each other. Alex smashed me, but I was happy for him because he hasn't played for a long time and it was good to see him do well. He ended up playing the final match at the top table, lost to a really strong deck, and finished up 7th with a 4-2 record. I ended up 14th (out of 40) with a 3-3 record. We both won a few packs and got a commemorative foil card. We had a nice dinner afterward at Out of the Blue, where we asked them for a pitcher of ice water to help compensate for the dehydration.
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Saturday, July 26, 2003

I just got the results back from my annual glucose test with the Diabetes Prevention Program. The 2-hour glucose levels were the lowest they've been since I've started the study. This is encouraging, as the level was rather high in last year's test (163, putting me back in the "impaired glucose tolerance" range), but now I'm back to a normal value (107, where "normal" for the 2-hour measurement is anything less than 140). (I was at 186 when I was tested at the start of the study.) Since I was around 130 in years two and three, I'm thinking that last year's measurement was just some sort of sampling error. My fasting glucose level hasn't changed as dramatically; it was 96 when I started the study, went down to 86 after 2 1/2 years, and was 92 in the latest test. ("Normal" for the fasting measurement is under 110.)
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Here's a good NYT article on how the availability and price of food influences how much people eat - The Gorge-Yourself Environment.
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Whew, it was hot this morning! I did the 5k Lovelane Charity Run/Walk this morning, and came home really dehydrated (in spite of drinking tons of water). Luckily, the walk was in Weston, and there was a lot of shade, but it was still hot. I hooked up with another volunteer, Carrie, and her husband, which was nicer than doing it alone. Carrie was about my speed - happy to walk on the uphills and jog slowly on the flats and downhills. We took an embarrassing 54 minutes to go the 5k, but it was fast enough for me. I've been home for hours now, and I still feel zonked. I'd brough my camera to take pictures, but it failed to function. I hope it just needs new batteries.

Machinka is away again, and this time she's managed to shed her collar. Some kind neighbor left it attached to my front door and I found it this morning. The expansion elastic section had broken. I hate knowing she's out there without any id - I've always felt more relaxed about her escapades knowing that she is carrying my phone number on her. I have a spare collar ready to go the next time she shows up and I can get it onto her.
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Friday, July 25, 2003

The weather has been rainy and humid this week, and my first crop of raspberries are just rotting on the vine, but otherwise it was a pretty good week. I finished Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, which was excellent, and did the usual Garden and the Woods and Lovelane volunteer work. A few contributions came in, so I can do the Lovelane charity walk tomorrow without feeling too embarrassed. Alex had two job interviews, and we had a nice dinner at Legal Seafoods to celebrate things picking up and the promise of better times to come. My weight loss efforts are still on track; I'm down 8 1/2 pounds from April 1 with just a few more pounds to go.
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Thursday, July 24, 2003

One of the things about being out of work is that you start to notice how many ways other people have found to separate you from your money without actually providing you with any benefit in return. I usually don't go for service contracts, but my air conditioning system is getting old and hasn't been tuned up for a while, so when I got an ad from Keyspan advertising a service contract that included a free tuneup, I took the bait. Now I knew that what would probably happen is that they would come and find all sorts of things wrong and use it as an excuse to bill me for various parts, but the labor was supposed to be free and I figured it was worth it. According to the add, you could schedule an annual tune-up 2 weeks after the contract was in effect. So today I got my service contract confirmation and called to schedule my tune-up. The first response I got was that there were no more slots available this season and I would have to wait until next year. I responded that in that case I'd like them to refund my money and cancel the contract. Well, then she managed to find a way to "squeeze me in" in mid-August. How much do you want to bet that I stay home all day on the morning of August 11 and they never show up? Or am I being too paranoid? Stay tuned...
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Ya gotta be rooting for these guys.
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Now that I'm not working, I decided that it would be good to start using the public library again, rather than buying books. I used to be frustrated with using the library because usually the books I wanted weren't found on the shelves. This is still the case, but new technology reduces the frustration level a lot. My local library is part of the Minuteman Library Network, a consortium of several dozen town libraries. I can access the catalogs and place a book request all on the web. When the book is available, it gets transferred over to my local library and they give me a call to come pick it up. Yes, there's still a long wait for popular books, but at least I know that eventually I'll get them. (It's a little like Netflix that way.) I'm curious to see just how long it takes to get to Krakatoa, by Simon Winchester (70 holds) and Kate Remembered, by A. Scott Berg (126 holds). It shouldn't be quite as bad as it sounds because multiple copies are in circulation throughout the system. In addition, I can get science fiction and fantasy (like the latest Harry Potter) from the New England Science Fiction Association library. And there's always the old standby, borrowing from friends. When I do buy books, my first try is always half.com and then overstock.com, where I often find prices lower than amazon.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Now there's another cheap, easy-to-use weblog service, called Sparkpod. It offers a 60-day free trial and then costs only $25/year complete with hosting. Pluses are that it has a very simple user interface that looks like the weblog page you are editing. It also offers comments and RSS feed. Minuses are that it doesn't give very many options for the page appearance. Here's my sample blog on Sparkpod.
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Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Say goodbye to bananas....

The banana is about to disappear from store shelves around the globe. Experts say the world's favourite fruit will pass into oblivion within a decade. No more fresh bananas. No more banana bread. No more banana muffins or banana cream pie.

Why? Because the banana is the victim of centuries of genetic tampering. Scientists say they will be unable to prevent the extirpation of the banana as an edible commercial crop. And its demise may be one more powerful argument in the hands of those who are concerned about genetic modification of foods.

The banana's main problem is that it has become sterile and seedless as a result of 10,000 years of selective breeding. It has, over time, become a plant with unvarying genetic sameness. The genetic diversity needed to cope with environmental stresses, such as diseases and crop pests, has long ago been bred out of the banana. Consequently, the banana plantations of the world are completely vulnerable to devastating environmental pressures.

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Greetings, Earthlings is a weblog from space, complete with pictures, written by Ed Liu aboard the International Space Station. Interesting stuff. I just read his article on "Working Out", where he explains the various problems and benefits of working out on the space station. Some quotes:

The treadmill is a 900-pound monster that resides in the Service Module (unfortunately right next to our dinner table). The treadmill is so big because it isn't bolted to the floor, but rather is loosely suspended inside a pit in the floor and has a big gyroscope inside that stabilizes it while you run. This is to isolate the vibrations from your footsteps so they don't shake the Station around. In effect, you are running on a floating treadmill. It might seem strange to think that a person running could shake a 200-ton Space Station, but in fact it can. On my first space mission we visited the Russian Mir Space Station, and I remember watching a crew member run on the treadmill there (which was hard-mounted to the floor). As they ran, you could feel the oscillations reverberate through the Mir, and in fact you could actually look outside and see the big solar arrays actually move up and down. For those of you who know what resonant frequencies are, that was what was going on. To prevent this, the elaborate treadmill system was developed and is used on ISS. It is kind of interesting running on the treadmill because the "floor" underneath your feet moves around a bit, like running on the deck of a small boat.

You might be wondering how we can actually run since we are weightless - the answer is we wear a harness (that fits like a backpack harness) that is connected to the treadmill with bungee straps. There is, however, an important difference between running here while being strapped to the treadmill and running on Earth. If you load up the bungees so they pull down with a force equal to your body weight, all that force is transferred by the harness to the contact points on your shoulders and hips, which can get pretty sore after running for a while. The fit of the harness depends on your body shape, and I've been trying various adjustments of the straps to improve the fit while the engineers on the ground work on a better design.

We also have two stationary bicycles... The great part about the bicycles is that they are mounted facing the two largest windows on the Space Station, so while you ride the bike you can look out the window and watch the world go by. If you ride the bike for 90 minutes, you can ride all the way around the world - so Lance Armstrong eat your heart out!

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Sunday, July 20, 2003

During my last tour at Garden in the Woods, someone asked how old the canopy trees were. The answer (80-90 years) got us into a discussion of how little old-growth forest remains in New England. During the agricultural boom of the 19th century, about three-quarters of New England was cleared for farmland or pasture, and the remaining forest was often cut for lumber. (At Garden in the Woods, for example, you can see a lot of multi-trunked oak trees. These result from the trees resprouting from the stumps after having been cut for lumber.) When the Midwest began to be settled and farmed at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries, farming in New England became less economically viable, and much of the old farmland was allowed to revert to forest. There is actually more forest in New England now than there was a hundred years ago, but very little of this is original old-growth forest.

I made this assertion during the tour, but couldn't really give much more information, so decided to do a little research. I've since learned that there are only 1500 acres of documented old-growth forest remnants in Massachusetts, representing just .05% of all the forested areas in the state. Most of these are in small patches of 7 to 60 acres in size, and most are located in the mountains of western Massachusetts. The only patch of old-growth forest east of the Connecticut River is on Mount Wachusett, disturbingly close to a commercial ski area. In fact, there was an editorial in the Globe this morning, deploring the fact that the state has approved a project to expand the ski area by clear-cutting twelve acres of the buffer between the ski area and the old growth forest.
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Dismayed by U.S. policies, some Americans contemplating move to Canada. Now there's a thought. Universal health care, social liberalism, all in one fell swoop.
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