Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Recycling frequency: comments

I’m impressed that my community recycles. 20 years ago, I would not have predicted that communities would universally embrace recycling. But our recycling is only picked up once every two weeks, whereas our trash is picked up every week. I wouldn’t want to see those frequencies reversed—having grown up with twice-weekly trash pickup and an easily accessible dump transfer station, 7 days already feels like a very long time to hang onto trash. But we could easily have recycling picked up along with trash every week, or even more frequently. Instead, recycling is clearly treated as a relatively minor consideration, even though it’s close to half of what we put on the curb.

So, a poll, and a place for comments. Do you like how recycling is handled in your town? How would you improve it?

Friday, February 22, 2008

Authors as Theater

Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, authors of Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar, made an appearance at Northeastern’s Snell Library on Wednesday to promote their recent Aristotle and an Aardvark go to Washington. It was definitely a good way to spend my lunch hour. They’re very entertaining, assuming you like narrative humor and don’t mind a little remedial philosophy tossed in. They’ve been friends for 50(+?) years, since they were both philosophy majors in college, and they are clearly having a blast collaborating and making these appearances. They riffed off each other, told bad jokes and good jokes, and shared the spotlight really gracefully for almost an hour. Tom’s more often the straight man of the pair:

TC: We’re working on a new book about death.
DK: [Beat] It’s our last.

but they both have a great sense of timing and a perfectly dry presentation. When I’m their age, I want to be that happy and enjoy that sort of collaboration. Role models, that’s who I met.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Butchering as Theater. No, really.

I wanted to cook lamb chops for dinner on Valentine's Day, but I hadn't shopped on Wednesday and I didn't really want to have to get into the car when I got home from work to go to Whole Foods where I might or might not find what I wanted. So I poked around the web and realized that the butcher in the North End wasn't really very far out of my way on my commute home. I decided to give them a try.

Sulmona on Parmenter Street turned out to be one of those intimidating shops in the North End. I'm easily intimidated by shops. Silly really, but there it is. But really, I looked through the windows down into this butcher shop, and there's NO meat in the cases. None. Not a speck. And no one in sight, although they are clearly open for business.

"Be brave," I told myself. I walked in. There's one man at the back of the storefront butchering a large piece of beef. I recognize a hip joint emerging from the meat, though I couldn't tell you what cuts he was working on. A second, older man emerges from the back. I ask if I can get some lamb chops. He nods, turns, and enters the cooler. He emerges with a rack of about 6 lamb loin chops which he puts on the huge butcher block table to cut.

"How thick?" "That looks good. 4 please."

I wouldn't have thought I could be so fascinated by watching someone cut meat. He scored the fat. Then four quick whacks with his butcher knife separated the chops from the rack. I'm thinking "Cool. What pretty meat." and thinking he'll wrap them for me. But no, not yet. Lamb is fatty, and it's tasty fat, but you don't want too much of it. He switches to a long boning knife and carefully cuts away the tiniest scrap where the rack has been ink-stamped. This goes in the trash. Then he carves away the fat leaving only the perfect amount on the outside of each chop. Lamb loin chops have this funny little bit of meat attached to the chop by the fat (sometimes referred to as the "tail"). He left just enough fat to keep the meat. Then when all that was left was meat and the perfect amount of fat, he wrapped the tails around the chops, lined them up on a sheet of parchment paper, and wrapped them up. The fat he's cut away is all in a neat pile---perhaps destined for some of the sausages soon to be hanging in the window of the cooler?

While he's cutting, someone else has come in behind me. I could just about hear her jaw drop as she watched him, so it wasn't just me.

It was worth $15 just to watch him work. And the lamb chops were fabulous, if I do say so myself. Next time I have to steel myself to ask what's in the sausage.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


Photo by Michael

Monday, February 18, 2008

Cycad as architecture

Photo by Michael

Friday, February 15, 2008

Outdoor studio shot

Photo by Michael

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy Valentine’s Day

Photo by Michael

New growth

Photo by Michael


Photo by Michael

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

At the red light

Stopped at the light in East Cambridge. Driver in the car to my right calls out to me, “Do you know how to get to the Nashua Street jail?”

Sorry, I don’t have any idea. I’ve never even heard of it.

She repeats the question to the driver in the car to her right. Who provides a full set of directions with no hesitation.

So that’s part of what the highest incarceration rate in the world gets you.

Friday, February 8, 2008

The ogonek and the anti-cedilla

In Polish orthography, some letters have small hooks below them that are called ogoneks or Polish hooks. Adam Twardoch has a marvelously thorough discussion of how they should appear in font design, and how they are often drawn badly. Phonetic transcription sometimes uses ogoneks under vowels to indicate nasality, so the ogonek gets used as a diacritic in linguistics even though in Polish it’s no more a diacritic than the extra hump that differentiates an m from an n. Unicode prefers the term ogonek, while Pullum and Ladusaw’s Phonetic Symbol Guide uses the term Polish hook. And in real-world phonetic transcription, the various hooks and curves that can appear below letters are often muddled together even in professional publications.

I’ve recently been trying to sort out the common names for these hooks and curves and tails along with their platonic shapes. The whole idea behind phonetic transcription is precisely describing details of pronunciation, but the actual practice of typesetting transcriptions is inconsistent and imprecise. Authors and publishers use the tools available to them, so a curved hook below a letter that’s open to the right might appear as an ogonek (a curve without a serif or ball), a tail (a vertical line that then curves to the right and ends in a ball), a reversed cedilla (a small vertical line that abruptly turns left and then curves around to the right), a reversed comma (a ball with a curving line below it), a half-ring (the left half of a true circle), or a hand-drawn approximation of any of these. And any of these might appear connected to the letter or not. At typical small print sizes, to tell the difference you need perfect printing and perfect eyesight. This is the pinnacle of human communication about human communication.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Neighborhood amenities: comments

At a public meeting last night, someone suggested tearing down the only remaining neighborhood grocery store in our area in order to expand public transit options. And the planning firm unveiled a map showing what they considered a wonderful addition to our neighborhood: a large parking lot.

Plenty of residential areas include nothing but residences, and because of that they don’t tend to feel like communities. A community needs gathering spots, places for chance encounters, reasons to venture outside your home short of driving to work or to the mall. I grew up on a residential street in a small village, just two blocks from the village center. Thinking back on it, except for grad school I’ve always lived close to shopping areas, and I usually take that sort of experience for granted. I’m still addicted to my car, and cannot imagine life without it. But there’s my level of addiction, and then there’s the level of addiction that allows someone to suggest that a parking lot is actually more useful in a neighborhood than a grocery store.

At the public meeting before this one discussing a light rail line, an audience member tried to point out that it was important to consider access at the other stops of the rail line as well, because the reason to take the rail line involved getting off somewhere else. The planning firm doesn’t seem to agree, and tends to treat the train as the destination. I want transit options because I like to venture beyond my neighborhood, but not if the cost is no longer having a community.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Change is a slogan for the status quo

Change is not specific. Change is not even an illusion of specificity, except in a binary oppositional context. And the binary oppositional context is what most troubles me about contemporary politics, about contemporary media coverage, about contemporary thinking.

Free will is not a choice between A and B. Free will is a choice between a million letters, and beyond that a choice between a million alphabets including ones we can create ourselves. Change makes sense as a slogan if you believe problems only have two answers, or if you believe we are currently in the worst of all possible worlds.

I’ll be voting for a specific hope tomorrow, a hope that we can transcend the perpetual binary opposition, a hope that we can join together in seeking new solutions and new ways forward, a hope that we can free our hearts and free our minds and thereby free ourselves. I’ll be voting for a changed world where change is not a slogan. I hope you will too.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Gravely disappointed

The thing is, it hasn’t felt like the same team since week 9. The first 8 games, we won by 17 points or more every week. It was a joyful romp. I knew that I had never seen such a dominant football team, and never would again. And while we ended the season without a loss, 4 of the 8 games in the second half of the season were won by 3 or 4 points. There were still some lopsided games (including a masterful performance against Pittsburgh), but it was clear that 19-0 was hardly inevitable. It could happen, and with even a very small change or two last night it might have, but that impossible destiny would have to be earned and was not entirely in our hands.

I’m baffled and traumatized. I was a Buffalo fan for the four years they were my local team, and all four years they went to the Super Bowl and lost. Then I moved to New England and watched the Patriots lose the Super Bowl. I should find this all familiar emotional territory. But those teams weren’t anything like this team, and those seasons weren’t anything like this season.

Partly I knew that this may be my final season watching football, and it would have been an extraordinary conclusion to a well-nursed habit. After many years watching football alone or with strangers, I’ve had a wonderful companion for watching games with since the 2000 season. And I could not ask for a better team during that time or any time than the New England Patriots. They have had many moments of brilliant play and brilliant coaching, enduring stretches of proving the value of teamwork and hard work and follow-through, and a consistent image of caring about each other and caring about good sportsmanship. And they have had an amazing run, which has no reason to end now. The Giants won the Super Bowl, and they have earned the trophy and the parade. But if any year will see the losing team in the Super Bowl remembered better than the winning team, this was such a year.

Sic transit gloria mundi. This was such a season.