Sunday, July 31, 2005

the big gambol

So, things are getting hectic and stressful as my move to Cambridge is only eleven days away. Insomnia, my reliable companion in tumultuous times, rages. All the while, two questions people keep asking me: How do I feel about going to Cambridge? and Do I think I'll come back here when it's done?

Regarding the second, my immediate gut reaction when someone asks me is: come on, how should I know? I suppose there is no harm in admitting that I had once secretly resolved to myself that I was not returning to Madison if I wasn't convinced that I could have certain things about how I mentally approach my job be different from what they've been. But I'm already confident that I could and would. This has been a quite enjoyable past spring and summer, in fact, and, besides, I can tend toward the melodramatic in my secret-little-resolutions-to-myself.

So, contrary to some circulating rumors, I'm not not coming back. Indeed, I'm planning not only on coming back but on meanwhile seeming like I've not entirely gone. Those of you in Madison will not be able to get rid of me so easily.

That said, you don't exactly have to be a demographer or life course theorist to know that things are pretty unsettled for somebody in my basic situation in their mid-thirties. Who knows what is going to happen over the next couple of years? The great thing about having tenure is that I know at least that I will have the option to return here, and, in that regard, it's a spectacularly fortunate option to have with certainty as one embarks on a two-year fellowship. Don't think I don't realize I'm extremely lucky, here.

As for the first question, about how I feel about going to Cambridge, I have many feelings. The closer it gets, the more I don't want to go. And the more excited I am, too. I hope this will be an adventure. I hope it won't suck. I have no idea what will happen. I like that. I am, ultimately, enthusiastic.

More mysteriously (and, yes, I know this is going to sound really weird): Several times in the past few days, when I've thought about leaving this place and heading off to Cambridge, into my mind has come the ending of a novel I read back in my early days of college. I don't really know why exactly the passage comes to mind, but my suspicion is that the way I'm feeling now is sort of like what I felt as I first read this passage fifteen years ago. Or something. Just now, in the throes of insomnia and thinking about it again, I finally went over to the bookshelves and looked it up.

The passage is from Thomas Pynchon's V. (no relation to the cheesy alien-invasion miniseries). The scene takes place in Valletta (Malta), in 1956. One of the novel's two protagonists, the wandering ex-Navy seaman Benny Profane, is talking to a random American tourist, Brenda Wigglesworth, abroad for the first time, who he met in a bar the evening before. They are standing outside another bar, chatting mundanely about what they have done with their lives to that point. Then Brenda says:
"You've done so much more. Boys do."


"You've had all these fabulous experiences. I wish mine would show me something."


"The experience, the experience. Haven't you learned?"

Profane didn't have to think long. "No," he said, "offhand I'd say I haven't learned a goddamn thing."

They were quiet for a while. She said: "Let's take a walk."

Later, out in the street, near the sea steps she inexplicably took his hand and began to run. The buildings in this part of Valletta, eleven years after war's end, had not been rebuilt. The street, however, was level and clear. Hand in hand with Brenda whom he'd met yesterday, Profane ran down the street. Presenly, sudden and in silence, all illumination in Valletta, houselight and streetlight, was extinguished. Profane and Brenda continued to run through the abruptly absolute night, momentum alone carrying them toward the edge of Malta, and the Mediterranean beyond.
Again, I don't know what this is supposed to signify. But it keeps coming back to mind. I had thought maybe it was that I felt some kind of identification with Profane, but, reading it again now, I think if anything it might be that I identify with Brenda.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

rhymes with crazy*

In the comments on my last post, Rhymes with Scrabble makes a reference to the Rita Mae Brown quote: "The statistics on sanity are that one out of every four Americans are suffering from some form of mental illness. Think of your three best friends. If they're okay, then it's you."

RWS suggests that the assortative forces of friendship make this reasoning misleading; as she says, "a lot of the crazy people hanging out with each other." I would go even farther than this, to conjecture that probably one of the better indicators that one is sane is if one's three best friends are sane. It's also, I suppose, a pretty good indicator that one is boring, and it's definitely a strong indicator that one is not selecting one's best friends from the groves of academe.

Of course, even if there was not this assortative selection, one wouldn't think that The Brown Method was actually a good way of figuring out whether or not they are crazy. If there was no assortative befriending on sanity, having three sane friends would have no implications for one's own probability of being sane (still 1/4). What is interesting would be to imagine the world where the Brown Method did work: one where sane people liked just enough insanity in their lives to want 1 of their three best friends (no more, no less) to have mental problems, while those with mental problems only allowed sane people into their inner circle.

Meanwhile, a person I know who with a long history with antidepressants told me that a similar logic applied to the statistics of side effects. The side effect literature says this drug has a 10% chance of this side effect, another drug has a 10% chance of that side effect, and so on. He said it was mostly the same 10% of people who end up getting side effects no matter what they take and they end up wandering for years from drug to drug searching for one that was going to be tolerated well by their bodies and not be totally inert for the problem for which they were taking the drug in the first place. I have no idea if he was correct about this. I do know that he certainly had the experiences that would seem to qualify him as a charter member of that unlucky One In Ten club.

* By complete coincidence, I had a roommate in college who was not related to me but had my same last name--except his family pronounced it so that it rhymed with crazy. This is less of a transformation of the original German than my preferred rhymes-with-niece, but, as long as you aren't getting the originating pronunciation right anyway, why bother with a pronunciation that no one, anywhere, is going to get right without being instructed? He even has "(Rhymes with Crazy)" between his first and last name in the signature file of his e-mail for his workplace account. Yo, I just googled him, and it's there on his workplace webpage as well. (Note also that his e-mail address on said webpage is to "E-Man." I was the one who started calling him that in college, with a whole By The Power of Grayskull subtext, and, lo, he took it to heart. It's nice to know that I can have that kind of power on username choice even more than a decade later.)

Update, Monday: Mr. Rhymes With Crazy himself responds in the comments.

Friday, July 29, 2005

three pieces of evidence for the counterintuitive hypothesis that I am cooler than you

Exhibit A: Have you ever had anyone make you a meal like this for a party for your birthday?

Exhibit B: Have you ever had anyone make you a meal like this for a going-away party for you just a few months later?

Note the designation "[spoiler on back]" for the chocolate dessert. The spoiler:

(Oh, yes, it really does say "avocado"! Seriously, now, your friends cook anything so edgy up for you? And, further note: extra steps were taken during the preparation of this meal to have various courses be as diet-compatible as possible!)

Exhibit C: Have you ever had your fake spouse make not one, but two, special mix CDs for the same going away party based on a comprehensive survey of your music preferences?

Of course, me saying all this is evidence for how cool I am is kinda like in Charlotte's Web when Charlotte weaves the web that says "Some Pig" and a farmer looks at the web in amazement and says, "Yes, I'd reckon that's some pig", but then his wife, more correctly, observes: "Some spider, I'd say." Still, you can't blame me for wanting to brag about some of the wonderful spiders in my life. Of course, whether they are sufficient to prevent me from being killed and eaten after the county fair remains to be seen.

(A few pictures from the evening here, here and here.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


I got the first estimate from movers today. I suppose it is a good thing for one's heart to take a minute's break from beating now and again. This voyage east is turning into less exciting-intellectual-adventure-tale and more like The Rime of the Insolvent Mariner, with the apartment being my financialbatross. I feel like one of those people who makes an income he certainly cannot complain about but has nonetheless overreached and found himself house-poor, only, in my case, without the house.

Meanwhile, the question of what I should do about my car turned out to generate a lot of opinions from people, even spilling over into the comments field of another blog. As I noted, it is interesting that before, people were telling me how I wouldn't need a car in Cambridge so long as I got a place that was close to campus and/or the Red Line. Then, after I commit to spending more than I had planned to have an apartment that is really close to everything, people are telling me that it would be a mistake not to bring my car with me. Those supporting the latter view know how to make a cogent case, emphasizing especially if I were to ever entertain any aspirations of, say, dating anyone in the Cambridge/Boston area, going there without a car would be about as damaging to my prospects as stapling a gnarly-looking rhino horn to my forehead. Fabulous.

Says Ann: "Close-to-Harvard apartment + car = the belt and suspenders of seduction." What does this metaphor mean? I used to own a pair of suspenders, but I have no idea where they are these days. I just wear a belt. Wouldn't that imply that just having an apartment close to Harvard should be enough? Then again, there is a fairly obvious retort to that, I suppose. But aren't the whole point of suspenders that you don't have to wear a belt? Or, is the idea of the metaphor that they complement each other, so you have a pants-altitude-control-solution for every situation?

In any case, all this makes me think that in my recent post on Song Lyrics That Mean A Lot To Me, I should have included "If you don’t have a car and you’re walking--oh yes, son, I’m talking to you" from TLC, "No Scrubs."

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

what if god were one of us? certainly, then, he'd be interested in having me boss him around.

I saw a bumper sticker on my way into work Monday morning:

God Bless Each One of Us
No Exceptions

I won't profess to have a full understanding of how belief works, but: Who orders their God around like that? Don't you dare skip a single person, God, or there will be hell to pay! And, why on a bumper sticker? As if God is going to be in the Honda Element behind you on University Avenue.

Update: A commenter reminds me that God is everywhere, and so is also in that Honda Element. By an interesting coincidence, I had a dream last night that I was in heaven and looking down along the path where I had jogged last evening. There were two sets of footprints. One for me, and one for God. Except in some places, there was just one set of footprints. These corresponded to the uphill sections that were by far the hardest part of my run. "Oh God," I said, "I knew you were carrying me up those hills." God looked a little awkward and replied, "No, um... that was when I didn't want to risk being seen with you because you had started up doing that freaky weird quasi-gangsta-rapping motion with your arms thing again. I may be infinite love, but that was just embarrassing."

Monday, July 25, 2005

putting the lean in boolean since may 2005

True story: an acquaintance of mine in graduate school had a sister who was an upscale prostitute. Somebody once asked at a party how the sister's business was going. "Not so well," my acquaintance replied. "She likes the money, but she's sort of lost the will to sell it."

Meanwhile, with my diet, I like that I'm losing weight, but I'm losing the will to stay within my weekly Weight Watchers points. More distressingly, I've been losing the will to explicitly track my points. My stance has been that, so long as I kept tracking, this diet would keep working. Now, it's turned into something more like a Boolean statement: so long as I keep tracking OR keep running ~> 25 miles a week, this diet will keep working. And I'm less certain of the ultimate validity of that statement, because, of course, exercise only goes so far toward weight loss.

So, anyway, yes, my losing streak continues another week: through 9 weeks, I'm down 24 pounds. But I suspect my comeuppance cometh soon.

disco forever

I remember when I was in junior high or so I saw this report on the news about a guy who was trying to break the world record for most consecutive hours of disco dancing. The segment showed a clip at the guy at the beginning, when he was showing considerable foot-flash-and-flair, and at the time of the broadcast, when he was in something like his 700th hour and was basically just shuffling his feet back and forth with his eyes half open and an occasional spasm-in-slo-mo arm movement. The latter, I suspect, very strongly resembled what I looked like completing my run this evening. Even waiting until 11:30pm to begin, it is really far too hot and humid outside for someone of my mushy physique to be out there sweatin' to the oldies with my iPod shuffle.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

my one-minute mega-master-massively-me-meaningful mix tape

To be honest, my previous report of my non-ruminating while jogging with my iPod shuffle was much exaggerated. Indeed, one thing I thought about was the musical baton that got passed around many blogs earlier this year (see, e.g., here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here) but that I never did despite being a relatively early passee. The question I thought that was most intriguing was to name "Five Songs that Meant a Lot to You". Two things intrigued me about this:
1. However eloquent one may be, one can never really successfully convey why a song that meant a lot to you meant a lot to you, at least by the strong standard of imagining somebody else reading one's description and listening to the song and feeling like really do at some genuinely complete emphathetic level understand the meaning of the song to you.

2. At least my own attention span is sufficiently short that, while I could produce names of "Songs That Meant A Lot To Me", that list would actually be overly macroscopic. Rarely does a whole song from beginning to end mean a lot to me. Instead, "Stanzas and Choruses That Meant A Lot to Me" would be a more authentic list. And, even then, "Lines from Songs That Meant a Lot to Me" might be more authentic still, since it is really some of those that have swirled around my head thousands of times until they have been considered from every possible angle.
Below I provide ten examples that I came up with during my run. Understand, this is completely self-indulgent, me posting this. Even more self-indulgent than this blog in general! Because, it's not like I expect you to understand. Indeed, the whole point is that these are idiosyncratic little intersections of my temperament, my biography, and five seconds of song that happened to hit me in the right way. So, kind of the whole point is that you won't understand. Presumably you have your own special-meaningful-lines that I couldn't really quite be made to understand, either. But, gamely (or, again more accurately, self-indulgently), I will not just list them but provide little pseudoexplanatory annotations as well.

"I'm crazy, but I get the job the done." from Ben Folds Five, "Philosophy" (as far as motivational/affirmational quotes that one can take to heart as their own go, this one is so wildly misleading--the thing being that while I am crazy all of the time, only intermittently do I get the job done.)

"I get knocked down, but I get up again." from Chumbawamba, "Tubthumping" (originally my job market mental slogan, then my finish-the-dissertation mental slogan, and then my first few years as a junior faculty member mental slogan)

"We'll crucify the insincere tonight." from Smashing Pumpkins, "Tonight, Tonight" (I don't really have a violent streak, much less a mass-homicidal one, but for some reason I find something extraordinarily hopeful and uplifting in the idea that Billy Corgan and I just might this evening go out and round up the ranks of the insincere and kill them all in the most painful way possible. Don't ask me to explain, other than that all the insincerity of the world really does wear me down sometimes.)

"Why do good things never wanna stay? Some things you lose, some things you give away." from Sleater-Kinney, "Good Things" (in my mind, this entire song, and especially these lines, is actually about my mind, its travels, and the extent to which I let piddling things colonize it)

"Call me when you wake her up." from R.E.M., "The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight" (NOT the other ninety times this line is sung in this song, but the time near the end when he giggles through the first couple of words. I was a serious R.E.M. fan, back in the day, and I think this is the second-best three seconds in their entire oeuvre--that's how much I admire the effect of it. But then I wonder: Did he intend that? How does someone recognize that it would be a warm and clever effect if they giggled the next line? Is it even giggling, or am I imposing giggling on a weird vocal quirk? I've lain awake trying to work this out-- don't think I'm kidding.)

"You were a-wandering out on the hills of Iowa, and you were not thinking of me" and "She said: Love, where did it get me? Whoever thought of love is no friend of mine." from Dar Williams, "Iowa," (a break up)

"I thought you were special. I thought you should know." from Garbage, "Special" (another break up)

"He says well this will eat up a year of my life. And then there's all that weight to be lost." from Paul Simon, "Crazy Love, Vol. II" (I will actually say 'and then there's all that weight to be lost' to myself when I am feeling overwhelmed with work- or other-people-related projects. I think what I take as meaningful is the idea of just causally offhandly saying a major undertaking like it is one more thing on a to-do list that you can casually get around to and be able to check off whenever.)

"Well, it's the biggest thing in my life, I guess." from The Replacements, "Talent Show" (You want to depress people in their late twenties or thirties? Or at least childless people who aren't in the middle of planning a wedding or finishing their dissertations? Ask them, as innocuous-sounding as possible, "So what's the biggest thing in your life right now?" It's like watching the air come out of a balloon as you can see people's disappointment with the possible answers that they weigh giving. I suspect a comely person with a sadistic streak could psychologically destroy a string of people at a speed-dating event by using this as her/his opening question.)

"Leave tonight or live and die this way." from Tracy Chapman, "Fast Car" (yes, that's right, I have appropriated a line from a song about a young black woman's desperation to escape her bleak urban life, and I mentally invoke it in moments like, for example, when I'm in the middle of some interminable conversation at a party. I use it as a mental prompt that gets me to be assertive about bolting, as I think, if I just stand here, it's one more example of me letting other people run over me and waste my life being bored to death.)

"He stepped on his dreams so many times he wore out the path he needed to take to find the life he thought would just happen to him, like the changing of the seasons" from Huffamoose, "James" (in theory, this line would prompt me to be wary about getting so incessantly caught up in small practicalities that I continually compromise larger aspirations, etc., that I might have. In practice, it's more that I use the line to berate myself for doing exactly that.)

I guess that makes eleven. Since I was being openly self-indulgent, you didn't really expect me to stop at ten, did you? And besides, I didn't even get to "Being small is hard and no one ever tells you how" from Jeff Lewis, "Back When I Was 4." Or to "But I somehow, some way, keep coming up with funky ass shit like every single day" from Snoop Dogg, "Gin N Juice." Or to...

Saturday, July 23, 2005

see lola run. run, lola, run!

I jogged 7.5 miles last night.* I was propelled along by the music loaded up on my new iPod shuffle. Uptempo and non-sappy-uplifting songs, not surprisingly, appear to have a more invigorating effect than other songs. Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car," despite ostensibly being about the intersection of speed and hope, turned out to not be very good at goading me up a hill, while Bratmobile's "Gimme Brains" and the New Pornographers' "Mass Romantic", neither of which have any lyrical relevance to jogging, worked wonderfully. There is the strange consequence where my arm motion while running sometimes switches from the orthodox to a weird, wheeling, dancing, quasi-gangsta-rapping motion that has to make me look like a total freak to the cars that pass by. Good thing I run at night.

So now I'm revising the content of my iPod shuffle to remove downtempo songs I like and replace them with peppier songs. So long, Luka! I even--and I can't believe I'm confessing this to the world via weblog--bought "Eye of the Tiger" and the theme from Chariots of Fire from iTunes this morning. Anyway, if you have any suggestions, let me know. Remember that I'm a child of the 80's and 90's with not particularly refined but also not parochial tastes.

Either the iPod shuffle or an exercise partner protect me from one of my principal enemies while running--my own ruminations. It's not like I have deep intellectual thoughts about academic matters while I am jogging. Sometimes I devolve just into chanting little things to myself to keep me pushing forward. These range from the inspirational ("You. Can. Do. It. You! Can! Do! It!") to the reassuring ("This. Will. Get. Easier. This! Will! Get! Easier!) to the rankly self-loathing ("You. Suck. You! Suck!) to the more mildly self-flagellating (lately: N. O. T. O. N! O! T! O!, a reference to New Orleans Take Out, whose opening of a new location right below my old apartment was, as much as anything, responsible for kicking off The Great Weight Gain of 2003 that put me in this mess).

* Katy says that what I'm calling jogging is really running, but I suspect she's being charitable--at least regarding my pace when I'm running by myself and not with her--although perhaps junning or rogging would be a more appropriate term.

Friday, July 22, 2005

tegan & sara @ the annex 7/26 time tba

Dorotha has put me in charge of "coordinating." I don't know exactly what that means. I don't even know who I am supposed to be coordinating, or if they read my blog. It's pretty sketchy to charge someone so chronically uncoordinated with the task of coordinating anything. Still, though, I told her I would. You should consider yourself a potential coordinee, I suppose, if you are interested. I can handle the task of buying tickets if you are good for paying me back. What more coordination could you possibly need? Tickets are $15 in advance, a $3 savings over the door price. Let me know.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

jeremy, reviewer of soft drinks

All of a sudden they've added Diet Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper to the vending machines downstairs. And, since the Diet Pepsi machine has lately taken to eating dollars, I decided to throw caffeinated caution to the wind and try it. I've been curious about DCVDP because, at least to my possibly-peculiar palate, Dr. Pepper already has at least a bit of cherry and vanilla flavor to it. And, lo: DCVDP tastes sort of like Diet Dr. Pepper that has been left sitting open on a counter for a day and then is re-carbonated. It's also for some reason the color of transmission fluid. Verdict: Thumbs down.

(And, yes, I know I shouldn't be drinking so much soda. Only those who go through some kind of religious or religious-like conversion can throw off all their vices at once, and so the soda vice is on hold while the my Weight Watchers offensive remains underway.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

still unresolved

I have no idea what I am going to do with my car. I don't want to take it with me to Cambridge. I bought it 17 months ago on a 0% 36-month loan with no money down. Which means I'm about halfway done paying for it. I have no idea how much I could sell it for now. If somebody wanted to rent it while I was gone, I have no idea what would be a fair price to ask. I don't know what options I might have for storing it. I don't even know how exactly to go about figuring out answering these questions. Sometimes I feel like I am forever Not Ready For Prime Time, at least in terms of the basic demands of acumen required in This Modern World. Or at least like the sort of person who begins to feel overwhelmed by circumstances that normal people wouldn't even find whelming at all.

I need one of those WWJD bracelets, only instead of being a bracelet it would look like a watch, and instead of the "J" it would have different initials at different locations on the dial for which friend would be the best choice to try to channel in a particular situation. Here, I suspect, I would have it set to What Would Tom Bozzo Do?

if not a prisoner of azkaban, then at least of this rather longer than anticipated post

After having some time to reflect, I think I've decided that the newest Harry Potter book is not necessarily the best one since the first, but it is definitely better than the last and a very worthy addition to the series.

Why is Harry Potter so popular among adults? So ask various adults in the blogosphere and elsewhere, some of whom have even tried reading one or two of the books but don't get what the fuss is about. I'm not sure how much genuine interest there is in understanding the matter, but, to take the question seriously, I think one has to break the matter into understanding (a) why the first books came to be popular and (b) why the latter books continue to be as (or even more) popular. The answer to the latter is simpler, I think, insofar as once you get to read people to read three books in a series for which there is an ongoing storyline, it's a lot easier to get them to read the rest, regardless of age. Even so, I think Rowling was very smart in making plain from the outset that this was going to be a seven-book series, so that people feel they really are following a genuine dramatic arc that will culminate, as opposed to some open-ended series where either it feels like there is no end or each book is written like it might, or might not, be the last.

As for why the first books are popular, I have to admit to some annoyance when people say that the Harry Potter books are just a swirling knocking of A, B, C, D, and E, where the cited sources vary but are usually a hodgepodge of boys adventure stories. If you want to understand why the first three Harry Potter books are popular among adults, I think you have to appreciate that, while they have adventure story elements, they are really more mystery stories. I mean, however much Rowling might lift from whoever, whoever, whoever, whoever, she also develops a interesting little whodunit and adapts various classic devices from the suspense-mystery format to the world of the books.

Wherever she draws her inspiration from, the first books also draw a world with all kinds of clever little touches and continually imbued with this sense of wonder and fun. Frankly, compared with certain other writers in the children's/young-adult fantasy genre, part of the appeal of the Potter books is that it's full of cleverness but doesn't start taking its world too seriously--you don't get the image of some creepy male author sitting in an attic typing out page after page of the fantasy world that he had first started conjuring as an adolescent as a way of coping with what a pimply loner freakazoid he was.

More precisely, I think, the appeal of the series to adults is really to be explained most importantly by the first book, which starts out with this cute and uplifting story about a downtrodden boy getting introduced to this fascinating new world but then, before you quite realize what has happened, turns also into this compelling little page-turner with an ending clever enough that you feel gratified by it even though you are an adult. The second and third books were good follow-ups in the sense of providing both creative enough elaborations on the world she had created and, again, a suspense/mystery plotline that was engaging enough to keep you reading and then which had an ending Clever Enough For Adults.

After that, I mean, this is why all careerist mystery novels try to start series: once you get readers hooked into a series, you've got it made.

As far as their character as mystery novels goes, I think Rowling is helped greatly in hoodwinking her adult readers by their knowing that they are reading a book whose primary audience is children. When I'm reading an adult mystery novel, I have a pretty good sense of calibration for clues and plot twists and whatever--along the lines of thinking that while it would not be entirely obvious that X is the culprit, it would still be a little bit too obvious, so instead it must be Y. With several of the Harry Potter books now, I have thought that I could see ahead to how the ending was going to turn out--that would be clever enough for an eleven-year-old reader--only to realize that I had been fooled, and in a way where, indeed, in retrospect the clues did stack up nicely toward her solution.*

* FOOTNOTED SPOILER! In the most recent book, notice how she sets up the question of "Who is the half-blood prince?" and then also has there be a long series of discussions of a primary character who is a half-blood--although that phrase is not explicitly used--and seemingly just the sort of person who would be scribbling down sinister turns on spells in a textbook. Too obvious, right? But, never anywhere do any of the characters ever suspect that this character might be the Half-Blood Prince. If not in a children's book, I think I still would have thought it too obvious. Instead, though, I took for granted that this is who the HBP would turn out to be, as a plot twist that was Good Enough For The Kids. And, lo, I was fooled. In this case, however, it was too bad that the revelation of the HBP doesn't really have much import for the rest of the story.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

"but, um, you know, if (x+y)/2=z, then y=2z-x" "shut up! don't think you are going to math your way out of this one!"

A couple people commented to me about how yesterday I started including my actual weight in my update about my diet, as opposed to whiting it out before posting (e.g., here). Why? For one thing, it felt a little silly posting these updates about my weekly weight change for anyone in the world to see and yet keep my weight itself some secret. More importantly, since the last post was about having lost 10% of my original weight, it felt especially silly to post the amount of weight I had lost and that I was down 10% and then pretend that one could not deduce what my starting weight approximately was.

Irresistible related anecdote: When I was a junior in high school, I dated a woman from an even smaller school in a nearby town. Unfortunately and unexpectedly, she got a 10 on her ACT and was sufficiently embarrassed about this that she didn't tell any of her friends to know and made me swear I wouldn't tell anyone. She did, however, tell some of her friends what my ACT score was, and she also told somebody what the average of our two scores was. Then, she got very angry with me because suddenly everybody knew she had gotten a 10, and, since she hadn't told anyone, it had to have been me.

Addendum to irresistible related anecdote: Actually, I would be doing this Woman From My Past wrong if I didn't note that she really was a good deal smarter than what one might infer from either the anecdote or her ACT score. I've wondered what happened to her, but I haven't been able to find out from other sources and she has a Googleproof name. Another thing about her, though: her father owned a bank. I hadn't known that somebody could do that, just one person, own a whole bank, even just a small-town bank.

Monday, July 18, 2005


I'm nine-tenths the man I used to be. Through 8 weeks, I'm down 23 pounds and over 10% of my starting weight.

So, now, in addition to continuing their ominous warnings about the rate of my weight loss for a third week in a row, OWW tells me that I should start to focus on my goal weight. I don't know what exactly their advice is for setting a goal weight, but default setting for their program sets you with a dismayingly low weight. In my own case, OWW's default goal weight was 139 pounds, which I haven't weighed since one week after the end of my high school wrestling days, and which I have no ambition to ever weigh again.

Originally, I had set my goal weight in the system as being 180 pounds, believing in the importance of reasonable goals and thinking that if I lost 32 pounds that would be, you know, a lot. Then, however, I realized that if I did manage to reach 180, I would still be "overweight" according to the CDC's BMI standards.* It seemed a little strange and unambitious to go to all this work of dieting and have my goal be something that was still overweight. So, I lowered my goal weight to 170, which was the highest 5-pound increment that would put me in the "normal" range. I did have a friend tell me this weekend that she didn't think 170 was a "realistic" goal, but, well, 170 (or a little less) was what I weighed before the Great Weight Gain of 2003.

That said, frankly, I'm still going to be pretty happy if I make it to 180. For that matter, I'm happy now, but, still, determined to keep with it, although my willpower regarding food did show significant cracks this weekend.

* There are important caveats to using BMI to determine whether one is overweight, but, I don't think I could honestly use any of those caveats to argue that a "normal" BMI for me is higher than the CDC standards.

harry potter and the half-blood artist formerly known as...

Other people are weighing in on the new Harry Potter book, but, so far as I know, I am the first blogger to offer an assessment based entirely on listening to the audiobook version on an iPod shuffle. In short:
Three cheers for J.K. Rowling! The new Harry Potter book is better than any since the first. I am extremely pleased with how the book ends--almost exactly right, it seems to me. And, for reasons known only to a select few, I'm also particularly pleased with the ultimate romantic developments for the protagonist.

Three boos for J. Freese! He buys the book on CD and then spends 19 out of the next 50 hours contriving errands, etc., that will allow him to listen to it. Maybe there is some Potion of Audiobook Restraint out there.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

(quiz feature!) how did jeremy spend $189 this morning?

But at least he will have something other than his own ruminations to focus on the next ten or so times he goes jogging by himself.

I have not read any of the previous Harry Potter books--instead, I listened to all of them on tape. One consequence of this is that I don't know how anything is spelled. Another is that, for the last book, I ended up getting wrapped up in it and listening to the last twelve hours in a row, staying up until 4am one night (it's not easy to skim or skip ahead in an audiobook). I didn't really like the last book--for reasons more nicely articulated by Kieran Healy than I ever could--but I am optimistic that this one will be better. Something I did like about the last couple books was that it was so plain that Rowling has become so incredibly bored writing about Quidditch that she has to come up with ways of injuring or otherwise taking Harry out of action so she doesn't have to write those scenes (but, what are you going to do, when you have to follow the entire adolescent sports career of someone who is already the best in their school at the age of 11?).

Incidentally, the JFW Department of Discontinuity notes that this week will mark probably the biggest one-week spike in time spent book-reading in human history. I was wondering if there would be any observable secondary effects on time or stuff consumption, such as a decline in the aggregate number of hits to blogs as a result of people making time from Harry.

in which you were doubting the fact that truth is sicker than fiction

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A T-ball coach allegedly paid one of his players $25 to hurt an 8-year-old mentally disabled teammate so he wouldn't have to put the boy in the game, police said Friday.

Mark R. Downs Jr., 27, of Dunbar, is accused of offering one of his players the money to hit the boy in the head with a baseball, police said. Witnesses told police Downs didn't want the boy to play in the game because of his disability.

Police said the boy was hit in the head and in the groin with a baseball just before a game, and didn't play, police said.

"The coach was very competitive," state police Trooper Thomas B. Broadwater said. "He wanted to win."

Friday, July 15, 2005

a corker

"Why did you bring me a bottle of wine? And why have you already opened it?"
"It's not a gift. I need to dump this out in your sink."
"Why do you have an open bottle of wine that you need to dump out?"
"You're smart, you tell me."
"You started swilling it on the way over and didn't like it?"
"Interacting with you would probably be easier if I did have a few drinks beforehand. But no."
"The bottle is warm."
"Hey, there's a clue."
"It's been in your car."
"You're on a roll."
"You brought an almost full bottle of wine home with you from a party, but then you left it in your car."
"No, I bought two bottles of wine for a party, but only took one in with me and forgot about the other."
"And then you left it in your car and it got spoiled."
"Nice hypothesis, but it doesn't account for all the observed data."
"Yeah, why did you open it?"
"I didn't open it. You think I carry a corkscrew around in my car?"
"Someone else opened it."
"Come on, get your science on."
"You left it in your car and it got so warm that the cork popped off?"
"Ding! Ding! Ding! If this were a carnival, you'd get to choose a prize from the top row."
"Did wine spill all over your car?"
"No, thank God, it was sitting upright. But it is the case that my car now has a bouquet."

Thursday, July 14, 2005

sorry, i know we were supposed to talk about your dissertation at 2pm, but...

...apparently, I'm getting married then. And changing my last name to Frito.* Ah, if only I had been able to spend the last week touring the wine country of California with my failed-writer friend instead of having to go to Boston to search for housing. (Incidentally, my best pal Julia has apparently flown into town and I'm worried she might launch some man-stealing hijinks in an effort to keep me from my afternoon date with destiny.)

It will be fun having a Bastille Day anniversary. Maybe I should wear a beret to the courthouse. I hope Tonya wears one of those fetching little scarves like French women do. (Don't worry, I won't go into some longer disquisition on French women--or, as I guess we are still supposed to call them, Freedom women--but let me say that I left Paris being very pro-scarf.)

Incidentally, speaking of marriage, the other night I watched the movie Bride & Prejudice, which got two thumbs up from Ebert & Roeper, as final, conclusive proof that those guys can be bribed. The device of having a title that is a play on another title is of course common, especially when the new work is based on/related to the new work, and then the pun usually indicates what is distinct about the new work relative to the old. G.I. Jane, you know, is going to have a female in the supersoldier role; Fahrenheit 911 might play about themes of freedom and government manipulation but be about 9/11. Meanwhile, Bride & Prejudice: it's like Pride and Prejudice, only it's about finding a husband!

* DreamWorks has already purchased the rights to Meet the Fritos, a uproarious romp where my bride and I are the wacky, karaoke-loving neighbors of Ben Stiller and Teri Polo who are called into the rescue the couple when a infant-liberation commando operation led by Robert DiNiro goes hilariously awry.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

the plan

The thing about having found an apartment is that it finally makes the fact that I am moving real to me in a way that before it was not.

I will be sending all my stuff off in a truck on August 11th. The next day, I will fly to the ASA meetings in Philadelphia. On August 16th, I will travel from Philadelphia to Cambridge, where hopefully I won't have to wait long for my stuff to arrive. My hope is that the period of "settling in" that follows will not be marked by soulcrushing lonesomeness, the way my first weeks--no, let's be honest, months--in Madison were. (I am, it should be said, optimistic on this front, as I think I will be in a better position to be proactive than when I was a new professor teaching two classes amidst one of the snowier winters of the past decade in Madison.)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

the corrections

Through 7 weeks, I'm down 20 pounds on my diet. If you recall, two weeks ago, OWW told me I had lost sufficient weight that I needed to cut my consumption by another 100 calories daily in order to keep with their plan. Last week, OWW told me I was losing weight too fast and needed to increase consumption so that I was losing less than two pounds per week. This week, I lose less than two pounds and OWW tells me even more sternly that I need to lose less than two pounds per week.

I am not yet concerned with how quickly I have been losing weight. To be honest, though, I was quite surprised that I had lost 1.4 pounds, because I had a run of bad diet days on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and was considerably over my point allotment for the week. Then again, broadly speaking, there are two types of dietary lapses. Type I Lapses occur when one is either still eating healthy stuff, just is too large a quantity, or one eats something unhealthy, but in a socially understandable context (like someone who crumbles when confronted with cookies over the holidays). Type II Lapses are the lapses where one is shoving 3/4 of a lasagna or an entire chocolate cake (or both) into one's face in some complete sublimation of executive control to the primal feeding imperative of appetites gone amok. I am, most assuredly, familiar with both kinds of lapses, but during this diet I've had only Type I lapses and fairly innocuous ones at that. Last night, for instance, I went on a weird Raisin Bran binge while simultaneously re-watching and re-reading American Splendor.

Anyway, the most pleasing development of the last few weeks is that I've been doing pretty well with exercising. I jogged another five miles again last night. I've gotten over the hurdle where jogging stops being an ordeal of physical pain and psychological torment and starts actually being enjoyable and providing me with a warm glow of generalized enthusiasm when I finish. (Yes, really, that was me who just typed "warm glow of generalized enthusiasm"--and about myself to boot!)

Monday, July 11, 2005

how close i came to being thrown in a warsaw prison

(See post on NinaNet.) Imagine having a foreign visitor to the US who smiles and sprightly says "With crack!" after ordering his meal in a restaurant. "With crack, please!" Apparently, this is essentially what I was doing the entire time I was in Poland.

am i the only one who sees that katie couric does not look like an actual human being, much less a 'cute' and 'spunky' one?

(Picture from story today on

Saturday, July 09, 2005

where i'll be

My apartment is located in the building marked with red in the upper right of the map above. I took a couple photos from the outside, but they didn't turn out. The photos I took from the inside, meanwhile, are not very interesting or informative, except perhaps about my subpar photographic skills.

Perhaps the proximity to the Divinity School will have salutary effects on my soul.

the difference between living in the middle of nowhere and the middle of somewhere

Okay, so I've recovered from my feelings of distress about having spent too much on my apartment, and my enthusiasm for moving to Boston/Cambridge is renewed. However, as a note about the geographic variability in housing prices, I will note that back in my small Iowa hometown, I have a sister who recently moved into an apartment that is approximately 2/3 the space of what I rented yesterday. For what I will be paying as one month's rent next year*, I could have paid the rent on her apartment for (slightly more than) 13 months.

(It's been strange when I go back to my hometown comparing the situation there to the real estate froth/bubble/geyser going on other places. In a nutshell, where I come there have long been higher mortality and outmigration rates than fertility and inmigration, with the result that there are more houses than people who want to be householders. Excess supply is a cruel thing. I suspect that if and when the time ever comes to sell my parents' property, it will be discovered that their house actually has negative value--that is, the property would be worth more if it was just the land without a house on it.)

* I found my place through a realty agency for which the fee was equivalent to a month's rent, which I'm factoring into the cost of the one-year lease.

Friday, July 08, 2005

academic discipline, or multilevel marketing scam? you decide!

From an e-mailed announcement:
From now until August 30, the American Sociological Association challenges ASA members to encourage their colleagues, students, and others interested in the discipline of sociology to join ASA for 2005, our centennial year. Each current member who sponsors a new member is eligible for special recognition and 2006 rewards.

[...] Any current member who successfully sponsors a new member will be listed
in a special article of recognition to be published in the
September/October issue of Footnotes.

[...] In addition, for every new non-student member you sponsor, you will
receive a $10 discount off your 2006 membership dues.

If you sponsor at least one new member (including new student members)
by August 30, you will be entered into the grand prize drawing to
receive a $500 gift certificate.


Today is my two-year bloggerversary. Woo freaking hoo. I still feeling sufficiently morose and annoyed with myself about the housing search that I am in no mood for celebratory or commemorative prose.

if the early bird catches the worm, what happens to the bird who oversleeps? (he suffers and feels sorry for himself, that's what)

I found a great place here in Cambridge. I looked at it at 6:30 last night. The rent was on the high side, and so I wasn't sure if I should take it. Around 9:30pm, I decided that I really should take the apartment. But then, since it was owner-occupied and the owner had a small child, it seemed a little late to call, so I decided I would call in the morning. Besides, I decided it was important for me to walk by it again and also to walk from the place to Porter Square to see how far that would be.

Then I overslept. I got up and set out for the apartment. I verified that the neighborhood did seem great and that it was a reasonably short walk to Porter Square. I called. This was like 10am. The owners had received a call "not a half hour before" making a verbal committment to rent the place. (They had also listed the place with an agency, which they hadn't mentioned to me when I looked at it, and which if they had I probably would have called last night.)

A friend of mine, who is not unemotional but is the steady type you imagine would be good at the helm of a ship in a storm, said that searching for housing in the Boston/Cambridge area had once reduced him to tears. I was impressed with myself that I did not start crying. I did, however, walk around woozy in the rain for a half hour feeling like I had been punched in the stomach.

And, then, despite all my mental rules about never making a decision involving a lot of money when in the throes of panic or any other strong emotion, just went and opted for the most promising of the five other places I looked at yesterday. I am paying even more for rent than I would have been paying with the other place. The principal virtues of this place are that it is very close to where my office will be and it is roomy enough that I can move all my stuff out here rather than have to pay for a storage facility in Madison.

In truth, the great place did have a kitchen that was too large for what I needed, and there wasn't really enough closet space, and the basement area with the washer/dryer was a little skanky. So, really, I shouldn't overstate the difference here. I feel worse about the way that I lost the place I wanted and then took the place that I did than I feel like I'm getting a particularly bad deal compared to whatever else I was going to find. Although, eek, I am paying a lot of money.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

update from boston

I have landed in Boston and established my beachhead at the Harvard Square Hotel. Now, to the attack! (Well, first, probably a stop for a small salad at Au Bon Pain, but, then: to the attack!) An adequate apartment for me is out there and I will not be denied it!


I should be asleep. My flight leaves tomorrow at 7:20am, and I have the first of potentially three big days of apartment hunting tomorrow, with a stop at the Harvard Housing Office followed by appointments with brokers at 4 and 6:30. Everything would be easier--esp. my decision-making faculties being less cloudy and cranky--if I got a good night's sleep tonight. Instead, I'm awake at 3am dialing into the University computer from my laptop so I can type a freaking inane and diaristic blog post. This is a regular thing, me having trouble sleeping the night before I have to travel somewhere. Or, more generally, an inverse relationship between the seeming importance of getting a good night's sleep and the amount of sleep I actually get.

I do have some promising appointments scheduled and am resolute, so I'm optimistic that I will find some kind of appropriate housing. Frankly, one of the best things about having a bit of disposable income (and, since my salary is a matter of public record, you can see what I mean by bit) is that one is allowed the comfort of confronting certain problems with the knowledge that, if worse comes to worst, one can just throw money at it and get a workable solution.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

the admiral and me

I learned just now via that Admiral James Stockdale has died. The memory which sprung immediately to mind:
"...and hopefully, I'll answer the two incisive questions that Admiral James Stockdale posed at the beginning of the 1992 Vice Presidential Debate: Who am I? And why am I here?" --Jeremy Freese, job talk for position of Assistant Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison, September 1999
Update, 11:30am: A colleague e-mailed me the Stockdale obit with the message: "You referred to him, as I recall, in your job talk -- and very humorously. May he rest in peace!"

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

causality bites, scotus edition

From NYT:
Headline: O'Connor Leap Moved Women Up the Bench

"You would be very hard pressed to find anyone in the history of the court who was elevated from that role," said Kermit L. Hall, the president of the State University of New York at Albany and the editor of "The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States." "It speaks volumes to the presence of women on the bench at that time. O'Connor really opened up a set of opportunities that really would not have existed without her."

Eleanor Smeal, who was the president of the National Organization for Women in 1981, said the O'Connor nomination was a turning point. "At that time women were a very teeny percentage of judges," Ms. Smeal said. "We were begging male judges to give us our rights, and we wanted someone on the inside."
I could be convinced to the contrary, especially since I was all of 10 years old when O'Connor was nominated, but this seems a classic example of mistaking a consequence for a cause. O'Connor's nomination was part of the larger sea change in the position of women in society; a change that was not some inevitability but the result of real work and agitation by a very large number of people, but not so much O'Connor, and certainly not Ronald Reagan. Whether O'Connor's nomination had any genuinely independent effect on its own would seem much less clear. That is, had Reagan nominated a male instead of O'Connor, do we really think women would have substantially fewer or more inferior judicial appointments than they do now? Would there even be any difference at all? In any case, if O'Connor hadn't been nominated, presumably there would have been increasing sentiment/pressure to nominate a woman with each successive vacancy. I understand that when someone retires/dies there is all this impetus to lavish credit on their legacy, but I don't like giving Reagan and O'Connor causal credit for achievements of the women's movement generally.

Monday, July 04, 2005

scylla and charybdis, if scylla was a repulsively fat sea monster and charybdis a completely bald whirlpool

Today is the start of Week 7 of my diet. So far, so good, or at least so I thought. After today's weigh-in, I was chastised by the virtual police at Online Weight Watchers:

And then, just to show OWW knows how to hit an insecure guy where it hurts, I clicked on the link about the effects of rapid weight loss:

There has been speculation among less kind Jeremy Freese observers regarding whether my much-departed hair makes my resolute dieting this summer more imperative or more pointless. (You know who you are.) Now I learn that I may be hastening my baldness through my dieting.* Ugh.

Granted, he leading indicators of my hairline were already well into recession by the time I graduated from high school. My mother's brothers, those best genetic harbingers of a man's hair horizon, have been cueballs my whole life. So, to be honest, in large respect I have been pleasantly surprised to have had as much hair as I have had for as long as I have had.

But this doesn't mean that I don't want to keep as much of my hair for as long as I can. The image that I have is of the remaining hairs bravely fighting to keep their position amidst a relentlessly attacking genetic enemy. I still remember the very raw sense of betrayal I felt when I was a senior in college and was spun around by my hair stylist to see the back of my head and learned for the first time that my baldness had established a rear base and that my remaining hair would henceforth be fighting a two-front war.

Anyway, am I losing weight too fast? It's not like I'm starving myself. I'm following their freaking system! And, although I did manage to jog five miles last night due to the Beatrice-like guidance and encouragement of Katy--best exercise partner ever--it's not like I've turned into anything even remotely like a workout fiend. I've been attributing the fact that I've been losing weight at a rapid clip due to (a) my having a nontrivial amount of weight to lose and (b) to my being male and men losing weight faster than women--isn't this supposed to be one of the Four Major Advantages to Being Male?** In any case, OWW can try to scare me with threats of accelerated baldness all they want, I am going to stay the course and not be discouraged.

* As an aside, I have become convinced that summer brings out especial contempt for the bald. I am convinced of this being a correct empirical statement even though I have no idea why it would be so. I don't know what it would be about summer that would cause people to take new notice of the follicularly challenged, or to have greater antipathy toward baldness, or to feel a greater compunction to make their antipathies known. Perhaps it is provoked by the extra-bright reflection of sun off scalp in the summer. Perhaps there is a rising premium of youth that makes people annoyed at those who display a cardinal symbol of unsuccessful aging.

** The others being (1) ruling the world, (2) not being pressured to wear high heels/mascara/certain feminine hygiene products, (3) being able to a joke and have it get more laughs--from men and women like--than if a woman told exactly the same joke.*** (The intra- and inter-society variability of the Four Major Advantages, as well as assessments of their reversibility, is left as an exercise for the reader.)

*** Dorotha insists this is true, and I'm inclined to agree. Actually, I've been trying for over two years now to get her to collaborate with me on a study to actually attempt to document and elaborate this.

i can't help it! it's like there are these twee pop supertwins inside me just clawing to get out!

I deny all assertions that I am tone-deaf. I have, however, admitted to the possibility that I may be tone-hearing-impaired. This, if true, makes the fact that I pulled off a master's thesis (and subsequent publication) on prosody all the more impressive. Whatever the real capacities of my ear, it's a plain fact that I can't really sing. I have a five-note range, can only actually hit four of the notes within this range, and none of these reliably.

None of which means that I don't enjoy singing, but I have learned to avoid the ridicule that comes with subjecting to melodic stylings.* So I belt it out in the private spaces of my world, such as the especially acoustically pleasing environment of the shower. The elevator also provides a nice acoustic environment, and you would think on the weekends singing in the privacy of the elevator would be safe. I've been listening to Tegan and Sara obsessively the past week, and, when the elevator doors re-opened on the fourth floor yesterday, the line I was singing a bit too loudly was from the chorus of one of their best songs: "Look me in the eye and tell me you don't find me attractive." The person who happened to be standing outside the elevator had that kind of bemused look that gives away that apparently voices carry through elevator doors. At least, I suppose, he didn't look at me and say "You're not attractive."

* Karaoke doesn't count! As anyone who has seen my renditions of "Goodbye Earl," "Take Me to the River," or "Stacy's Mom"** knows, I don't sing at karaoke so much as perform. But, verily, I can actually sing a little better than what I've shared with the masses at karaoke.

** And, yes, I admit, shouting "Yeah, well, your Mom is next!" to hecklers in the crowd was going a little too far, especially given my professional position, etc..

Sunday, July 03, 2005


Okay, I'm not spieling around anymore. The casual skirmishing to find housing in Boston is over, and now I am declaring an all-out-housing-search war. I'm going to devote some quality time to Craigslist Boston, I'm going to talk to brokers, I'm going to formulate a strategy, and then I'm going to attack. My motto for the week: Carpe Apartment! Let me know if you've got any ideas, tips, or war paint.

the bendy straws of polska

Oskar recently posted ten observations from his recent trip to Poland. This reminded me that, on my own recent trip, I had made of list that ten small delights that Poland makes much better use of than the United States (this is not to say that there aren't larger delights that one could also mention). Anyway, I never posted the list, but I pulled out my trusty travel notebook and here it is:

1. The color yellow in exteriors and interiors of buildings.
2. Mushrooms.
3. Snails.
4. Bendy straws.
5. Train travel.
6. Accordians.
7. Smaller, more formal servings of soda.
8. Small cars.
9. Cute, classy glassware.
10. As Nina taught me, the ability to order anything by simply making a buzzing sound and then saying the name of the product. So, to order a Coke, you just have to say "zzzzCoca!"

I had also made a list of ten things I didn't like so much about Poland, which included (a) its obsession with cabbage, (b) dubious claims about the availability of WiFi, (c) weird doorknobs that make the door, in the words of the hotel staff, "locked for an American", and (d) how if you (or, say hypothetically, Nina) spill a full drink in what one could say was just as much the server's fault (or, again hypothetically, wholly and obviously Nina's fault), the restaurant expects you to pay for it. But all those things are so outweighed by the positive memories that it would seem petty and distorting to list completley.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

woo-hah! i got you all in czech*

Sometimes here at my desk, I get to feel like a superhero. Because you never know when a Stata Emergency is going to strike in some part of the world, and there are Stata Emergencies that I am the Only One Who Can Solve.

What heinous things can cause a Stata Emergency? Well, in Stata, if you want to create a new macro named -this- that is equal to an existing macro named -that-, the obvious syntax is:
    local this = "`that'"
instead, however, you really want to use:
    local this "`that'"
Amazing, isn't it, these mad Stata skillz I have? Even more remarkable is that the problem caused by using the first expression instead of the second only arises when -that- is longer than 244 characters, and even then it doesn't generate a explicit error in itself but instead just causes often-mysterious problems many lines later in your program.

Remembering to omit an equals sign where intuitively there should be one is kind of like the programming equivalent of one of those ambient party-drinking games where you are supposed to remember to make some particular gesture whenever you say another person's name. It's easy to forget.

Often, the error exists in a problem but only makes a difference when someone wants to use a particular program with an exceptionally long list of variables, a rare enough circumstance that the problem can lurk for months in a program that has circulated widely before somebody encounters the problem and sends the e-mail that causes me to spring into action.**

For some reason I don't quite understand, there seems to be a particular proclivity for long variable lists in the countries of Eastern Europe, places like Poland and Hungary and the Czech Republic. These users are very polite, friendly, and good at providing documenting a programming problem precisely enough so as to make it much easier to figure out and solve. When you are already envisioning yourself a Stata Superhero, it's all the more glamorous to be fighting statistical crimes in Eastern Europe, especially since I can often fix a bug and send a new version of the program in less time than it would take Superman even to fly his faster-than-a-locomotive ass there.

Even so, it's not so easy to work with a file where all the comments are all in Czech. And, since certain languages arrange their consonants and vowels in ways that sometimes seem random from an English-speaking standpoint, I am constantly making errors where I switch around the letters in the variable names and have to look back at each one three times before I get it right. But, of course, the work of a superhero should have its complications.

* Speaking of which, whatever did happen to Busta Rhymes? Your life remains incomplete if you've never heard Dorotha do her Busta impersonation on this song.

** Another issue is that there are a subset of users so trusting and naive as to always believe that a program is correct even when it gives bizarro output; these users cause me occasionally to lie awake at night and wonder what possibly insane ends programs I've written could be being put to at that very moment.

speedbumps on the road to parenthood

A couple days ago, I noted that my enthusiasm for having and raising a child of my own has gone from being practically zero a decade ago to something where now, while I remain far from baby-crazy, I could at least be considered baby-eccentric or, better, baby-disturbed. Backstage here at JFW, the post provoked a polyperson e-mail conversation on the pros and cons of childbearing that included two friends of mine who are "partners for life" but have not yet embarked on the near-anagram project of being "parents for life." Their stances:

She: I'm about at 60% too (assuming your chart is a true reflection of where you are.). More of me wants one than doesn't. He absolutely does not want one. So, there's really no debate to be had. But, I keep thinking he may change his mind...

He: I actually have changed my mind about having a child. I used to want one. Maybe I'll change my mind again. As of now, I would be okay with you having a child (with my sperm, even, but with no legal responsibility) as long as it was your hobby (like watering the plants), and I didn't have to live in the same permanent residence with it. I suppose, though, that you would want to live with it and do all those "living with your children" type of things that parents oftentimes do...

Friday, July 01, 2005

well, ralph, i hope you were right...

...was my first thought upon reading the news of Sandra O'Connor's impending resignation. As a virtual walk down memory lane, here's Ralph during the 2000 election campaign (source):
Nader said he did not think there would be much difference between the justices Gore would choose and those Bush would appoint. After all, Democrats had helped confirm Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, hadn’t they? Besides, “You can’t really predict how Supreme Court justices will behave.” And he called the possibility that a court packed with Republican appointees could overturn Roe v. Wade a “scare tactic.” Nader said that even if Roe v. Wade was overturned, the issue “would just revert to the states.“... [Nader] described the party’s opposition to abortion as just for show, ”just for Pat Robertson.(source) “
And, just to continue the stroll, here's Michael Moore writing on the eve of the 2000 election:
This is their mantra: "IF BUSH IS ELECTED, HE WILL APPOINT JUSTICES TO THE SUPREME COURT AND THEY WILL DECLARE ABORTION ILLEGAL!" Well, I've fallen for this before and I ain't fallin' for it again. In fact, I will go so far as to say that George W. Bush, if for some reason he is magically elected, will NEVER do ANYTHING to make abortion illegal.
(I know, I know, I should really just let this go, given that it was two elections ago and all. I know this. It's not like I don't know this. Plus, it's not like I didn't rant about Nader enough before the last election--here and even more annoyedly here. I know, I know.)