Friday, February 27, 2009

Industry standards

Before my meeting with a book printer’s sales rep yesterday, I reviewed a couple of pages I wrote back in 2001 about our manufacturing standards. Many aspects of book production have changed since then. The physical end product is still familiar, though, and I was pleased that none of what I wrote needed to be updated. One explanatory paragraph in particular should never need to be changed:

Are our standards higher than industry standards?

“Industry standards” is a terrible phrase, and seems to be most often used by printers who claim to have “unsurpassed quality” and are then trying to excuse clearly sloppy work. The only standards we care about are our standards and our printer’s standards, both of which must be equally high in order for us to receive books we can use. While we know from experience that some printers and publishers have much lower standards, we also know from our own experience and from conversations with many other publishers that our quality standards are not unusual.
I’ve always hated hearing the argument from any business or institution that they are cutting corners simply because their peers are also. The fact that someone has a lower standard is never a sufficient reason to lower yours. After almost 15 years in my chosen profession, I’m glad I can still do business with people who are not in a race to the bottom.

Ontogeny capitulates again

Paul Spinrad, writing on Boing Boing:

When my friend John started going to the Bronx High School of Science, he was surprised to find that it contained the same cliques that his former, neighborhood school had had—the jocks, the geeks, etc. He figured that because the student body consisted of all the geeks taken from other schools, he would only find geeks there. But no—and when he got to know the school’s Chess Team, the geeks among geeks, he saw that they paralleled the same divisions.

Humans and human groupings always seem to break down into the same archetypes, and this also seems to happen at all levels of granularity, from national character to impulses within an individual.
From id, ego, superego to legislative, executive, judicial, we categorize what we see into our mental models. Never doubt that a single explanatory model can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Tasks all done, let’s have pie

Thank you all for voting and commenting on my to do lists over the past week. I dutifully followed through on the leading tasks, and I’m extremely glad to have them done. The house is safer, my car is safer, my piano will be tuned on Tuesday morning, and the books will be read by new people.

I learned that the comments had more impact on my thinking than the votes, and the simple act of making the lists public spurred me to finish a few tasks immediately. The process of trying to balance various tasks to put in the poll forced me to think through which tasks were feasible and how to break some of them into discrete steps, which the GTD system encourages. I feel like it was a successful experiment.

In celebration, there’s currently a poll on what lemon recipe Lisa should post next.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Don't Forget the Potatoes!

Even before I starting following the Specific Carbohydrate Diet, I didn't cook potatoes very often. Now, I don't eat potatoes at all, but for reasons I can't fully explain, I chose not to add them to the "never" list for our Boston Organics deliveries. So every couple of weeks a potato or two might appear on our porch along with much produce I'm more likely to eat.

We had company coming for dinner, and the existence of potatoes and lemons in my pantry reminded me of an old favorite. I have no idea where I copied this recipe from, but I know that I was introduced to Greek Potatoes by my college friend Marianne who taught me a great deal about cooking flavorful food. So even though I couldn't eat them, digging up this recipe reminded me of fun times in Ann Arbor in my first post-college apartment.

Greek Potatoes

If cooking ever sets off your smoke detectors, this recipe is certain to make your house noisy unless you do whatever is necessary to avoid that. Be sure that you reinstall batteries or uncover them before you sit down to dinner!

6 medium potatoes, peeled, chopped into approximately 1-inch cubes
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2.5 lemons---just make it 3)
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1.5 tsp dried oregano
3 cups hot water
(parsley for garnish, if you're so inclined)

Toss together the potato, lemon, oils, spices and garlic in a deep flat pan. (I used a deep cookie sheet when I used to make this. This time I used a roasting pan, which had a decided advantage in not spilling over the edge.) Add water. Bake uncovered 1.5 hours at 475°. Stir every 20 minutes, adding more water as needed to prevent sticking. Don't let them burn! In the last 15-20 minutes, let the water evaporate. Garnish with parsley.

A play for Caryl Churchill

Tell her she’s wrong.
Tell her she’s lying to people.
Tell her she doesn’t know our history.
Don’t tell her that.
Don’t pay attention to her. It’s what she wants.
Tell her we’re not paying attention to her.
Don’t tell her that.
Don’t frighten her.
Don’t tell her about the attacks that will happen.
Tell her about the attacks that will happen.
Tell her about the graffiti saying “Kill Jews.”
Tell her that we’ll be assaulted in the streets, in our shops.
Tell her that they’ll set fire to our synagogues.
Tell her it will happen right here in London.
Tell her it’s already happening.
Tell her to look around, to read the news.
Don’t tell her to read the news. She only sees what she wants to see.
Tell her we’ll read the news together.
Tell her this: 250 assaults on Jewish targets in the UK in the past 6 weeks.
Tell her she’s encouraging them.
Don’t tell her that.
Tell her it’s not her fault.
Tell her she’s a special girl.
Tell her she’s famous.
Tell her everyone loves her.
Tell her people hate hearing the truth.
Don’t tell her to think truth, not truth.
Don’t frighten her.
Tell her we don’t want to talk about it.
Tell her we want to talk about it, as long as we talk honestly.
Tell her she has to be honest too.
Tell her she’s not outside history.
Tell her nobody is outside history.
Tell her she has to be honest.
Tell her that words have power.
Tell her that power is not truth.
Tell her that fear is not truth.
Don’t tell her anything.
Tell her anything to make her stop lying.
Tell her that her tongue will fall out.
Tell her that her pants will catch fire.
Tell her that words like hers set fires.
Tell her about the synagogue door.
Tell her we don’t want our synagogues to burn any more.
Tell her we don’t want anything to burn any more.
Tell her we want peace.
Tell her we offered land for peace.
Tell her we offered blood for peace.
Tell her we bleed, we’ve always bled.
Tell her to stop pricking us.
Don’t tell her that.
Don’t tell her about blood.
Tell her. Tell her about the blood that will be on her hands.
Tell her about Jerusalem.
Don’t tell her about Jerusalem. Tell her about London.
Tell her what she’s encouraging in London.
Tell her this is the worst it’s been in London in over 25 years.
Tell her about London. Tell her we’re being attacked in the streets.
Tell her we don’t want to be attacked in the theater too.
Tell her that’s not the way to find peace.
Don’t tell her about peace. She doesn’t want peace.
Don’t tell her anything from us. She doesn’t want to hear anything from us.
Tell her something.
Tell her silence equals death.
Tell her that doesn’t mean that all words are life.
Don’t tell her that.
Don’t frighten her.

Friday, February 20, 2009

GTD progress

The poll wasn’t working for a good bit of yesterday, but installing GFCIs and replacing tires ended up tied. I’ve just finished installing both GFCIs. (I should perhaps clarify that these random tasks are just the optional bits of life that don’t have the same priority level as work or laundry, and the only reason that I haven’t prioritized the tires is that I have another car I could switch to.)

The new task list options: (a) Test surround sound; (b) Schedule a piano tuning; (c) Bake cookies; (d) Clean up back deck.

I’ve long wanted surround sound, and finally have an appropriate receiver and speakers. I need to figure out at some point how that all gets hooked up, so I can order the rights set of cables and wires. The piano tuning involves finding a new piano tuner, since my previous one seems to have retired. The cookies would be for an event that my arts council may be hosting soon (and perhaps for a story reading we’re hosting next week), and cleaning up the back deck is so I can get back to grilling as spring arrives.

Forget about it

If you could take a pill that would permanently reduce the emotional impact of a stressful memory without losing the factual recall, would you want to?

Beta blockers may let you do that: take a pill, deliberately recall the stressful memory, and let the brain rewire the memory a bit to permanently reduce the emotional impact. Repeat as needed, or at least that’s the theory. Researchers are currently testing it with PTSD patients and touting it in the news.

We have natural healing processes that can, when they are working well, help us gradually cope with traumatic experiences. PTSD is typically defined as a set of symptoms that are interfering with a patient’s life more than a year after the initial trauma. Does that mean we should accept being put in a state of fear and anger when recalling a traumatic event for anything up to a year, just because that’s been considered a normal response? Would you rather suppress the fear and anger after a month? After a week? After a couple of hours?

If this became a common treatment, I’m sure people would have widely variable threshholds for treatment just like we do with many other problems, and it seems unlikely to create an affectless society. But before seeking treatment myself, I’d be really concerned what other emotional impacts this might suppress aside from fear and anger. Sit here, take this pill, and for the next several hours try not to think about any of your joyful or spiritually meaningful memories whose emotional impact you don’t want to lose.

For a deeper look, I strongly recommend reading “Better” Memories? The Promise and Perils of Pharmacological Interventions, a 2003 staff working paper from the President’s Council on Bioethics.

Glass houses and Chinese walls

Kathleen Richards has written a long behind-the-scenes look for East Bay Express at the apparent manipulation of Yelp reviews by Yelp’s advertising sales department. Suppose you’re running a restaurant with a mix of mostly positive reviews on Yelp. Then a couple of negative reviews (sometimes written by Yelp) appear at the top, and Yelp promptly calls you to tell you that for $300/month, they can move the negative reviews lower or even make them disappear. You refuse, and positive reviews start disappearing. It’s hard to imagine a business not giving in.

Becoming the dominant destination for user reviews is a huge advantage: it’s the reason I shop on Amazon and look for hotels on TripAdvisor. But there are plenty of reasons not to trust those reviews even if the site is not manipulating the reviews themselves. Businesses write positive reviews for themselves and negative reviews for their competitors. People can boost their favorite business or tear down a business they’re unhappy with, and they can do so more effectively with exaggerations or outright lies. And it’s hard to know what approach a site takes with its reviews: Costco removes most negative product reviews while Amazon leaves up reviews that are demonstrably self-promoting, but how is the casual consumer supposed to figure that out?

The approach that Yelp takes is very familiar from my experience trying to get computer products reviewed 15 years ago in computer magazines. Want the editorial side to briefly announce your product? Buy an ad. Want a positive review? Buy more ads. The ad department at one prominent computer magazine called me up to let me know that the editorial side was going to run a long and very positive review next month, and did I want to buy some ad space in the issue? When I hesitated, they said they might not be able to find the space to run the review either. The outward claim was that there was a Chinese wall between editorial and advertising, but anyone marketing computer products quickly found out otherwise.

The difference on the web is that review sites are equally reviewable. Check out Amazon on Yelp Boston, and you’ll read that “a lot of reviews are bullshit.” Useful (5). Ironic (6).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Bringing democracy to GTD

Would you rather be able to vote for multiple tasks, or only be able to vote for one? I’m only committing to tackling the task that gets the most votes, though yesterday was surprisingly productive. (And a new set of tasks is up.)

Wednesday results

Remove junk from basement (0 votes): Yeah, this was my least favorite too. Maybe when the weather is warmer.

Get new switchplate cover from Lowes (2 votes): Ok, that step is done. We have two electrical double boxes over the bookcase by the front door, and each double box has outlets and a light switch. This seemed like a good idea, except for the part where you come in from the rain or snow and are hitting the light switch with a wet hand right next to the outlets. Code requires GFCIs in kitchens and bathrooms because those are wet environments, so I think it makes sense to replace these outlets by the front door with GFCIs. Which means replacing the switchplate covers, since GFCIs need a rectangular opening rather than the usual double plug opening.

Collect tax documents (2 votes): Ok, all 1099s and W2s are now accounted for and entered into the tax software. I’m using both TurboTax and TaxCut this year, to see if one is easier than the other or if there’s any areas where they disagree. Entering tax information into both programs hasn’t taken a lot of extra time. The biggest difference so far is that TurboTax downloads an endless stream of updates and refuses to install them in the background. Advantage TaxCut.

Find destination for books we’re discarding (3 votes): A surprise winner in the voting! I love the idea of the Wellesley recycling center book exchange, where Wellesley residents can take and leave books. When I called and asked whether they accept books from non-residents, they said it would be ok to drop off books in boxes at their office. That’s this afternoon’s task. (Update: tomorrow’s task, since I need to confirm tonight that these are in fact the books we intend to discard.)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Not getting enough done

Thought of the Day, courtesy of farwing:

[My room] plans to secede from the rest of the house and insist on being called “The Free Republic of Ow! Fuck! What Did I Just Step On?”
Since that resonated with me a little too deeply, I’m going to try a GTD experiment. Please vote in the new poll!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Along with Boston Ballet’s Black and White, I’ve gone to three performances in the past few weeks: ASP’s The Duchess of Malfi, New Rep’s Cabaret, and New Voices @ New Rep’s staged reading of Meron Langsner’s The Devil’s Own Game. I’m trying to take advantage of my proximity to a cultural center.

The plays each feature a refreshingly strong female lead character, and hinge on her pursuit of personal fulfillment. The widowed duchess of 1508 secretly chooses a new husband, and not one of whom her brothers approve. Sally Bowles of 1930 rejects becoming a wife and mother, deciding instead to resume her career and a carefree social life. Johanna in The Devil’s Own Game is a modern solitary scientist who decides that her dream of a better world is worth repeated sparring with Faustus and Mephistopheles. There’s a real sense of progress both in the choices that these characters make and in how they are treated for making those choices: the duchess is killed, Sally Bowles is making her way in a deteriorating Berlin, and Johanna’s future is bright.

I love the notion that our most important choices have predictable, comprehensible, or even knowable consequences. Theater presents a world where that’s true, because compelling stories generally involve choices and consequences. The duchess, Sally Bowles, and Johanna all live within that narrative conceit, and for 2-3 hours at a time, so can I.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Better than U-Haul is not a standard

Valentine’s Day is tough for restaurants. The restaurant is probably full, and is frequently unable to accommodate hopeful patrons who don’t have reservations. In this environment, restaurants understandably don’t want to hold tables for people who don’t show up on time (for some reasonable value of on time).

So the Elephant Walk, where Lisa and I have celebrated every Valentine’s Day since our first date (which was on Valentine’s Day), has decided to call everyone with reservations for tonight and leave messages reminding us that we have a reservation and letting us know that our reservation will be cancelled if we are more than 15 minutes late. It doesn’t bode well that they couldn’t be bothered to include something like “We’re looking forward to seeing you this evening.” This would never have flown when Tony ran the show at the Elephant Walk, back in the long-ago days of phenomenal service. And it’s a good thing that our destination this evening wasn’t a surprise to one of us, since we do still have a quaint shared landline instead of individual cell phones.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

From untitled to unattributed; or, the rapid decline of the ICA

Shepard Fairey has been much in the news, between the AP pointing out that he took the image of Obama for his Obama Hope poster from an AP photograph, his inexplicable solo show at the ICA in Boston, the overwhelming volume of promotion for his ICA show, and his arrest by the Boston Police because of his past (alleged/admitted/celebrated) tagging around Boston. The AP flap has gotten people all confused again about the difference between copyright infringement and plagiarism. Here’s one way to think about it: art may involve copyright infringement, but art should never involve plagiarism.

As hard as it is to define art, we should all agree that art has to include some originality. Plagiarism—the passing off of someone else’s idea as your own—does not preclude originality, but it deceives the audience as to what that originality includes. For that reason, plagiarism is simply incompatible with art. Shepard Fairey knows that he plagiarizes. The ICA apparently doesn’t know, or doesn’t care. Out of all the fawning and foaming that Shepard Fairey has induced around Boston of late, it’s the acceptance of plagiarism by our Institute of Contemporary Art which truly reflects poorly on our fair city.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Why bridge fails

What makes a game fun? Steven Johnson and commenters at BoingBoing offered up a lot of great opinions on that question a couple of weeks ago. Different people have different notions of fun, of course.

I like a game that involves a balance of social interaction and some strategy or puzzle to figure out. That’s why I often don’t want to learn a new complicated game: having to focus on learning new rules and figuring out a strategy cuts too deeply into the social interaction. The conversation and problem-solving can be tied together in a cooperative way as in Pandemic, or tied together in a competitive way as in the trading in Settlers, or disconnected as in pretty much any familiar game that doesn’t require constant attention. Any of those options work well for me.

Bridge may seem like it involves social interaction. Players work in teams, play strategy is described as involving communication between hands, and bidding is a stylized conversation. But none of that is really social interaction. The social interaction while playing bridge happens when the game is more in the background, when players can chat about other things, yet I’ve rarely found a bridge group that can sufficiently shift the game to the background. Getting comfortable with bidding conventions can take a long time, and even play strategy often requires a level of focus that isn’t amenable to free conversation if you’re concerned about making mistakes. Bridge contains interesting puzzles and frustrations for perfectionists, and I know a lot of perfectionists. And because bridge is a partnership game, there’s the added fear of disappointing a partner. This leads to a pretty tight focus on the puzzle-solving of bridge. At its best, even though both bidding and play involve cooperative puzzle-solving with your partner, true social interaction is not designed into bridge. If you want social interaction to be part of the game, you need to learn bridge well enough to not focus on it (and have everyone else at the table also willing to not focus on it).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

When Life Gives You Vodka

Limoncello is a good next recipe, because it requires a lot of lemon peel but no lemon juice. Sort of the opposite of a lot a lemon recipes.

On our honeymoon, Michael and I were steered to a marvelous restaurant in Rockland. And over many visits to Primo, we always tried to sit at one of Bill's tables. We only saw Bill once or twice a year (and if it was twice, it was twice in one week), but he always remembered us. He made us feel welcome and special and in for the best meal ever. Even though he worked in a restaurant 4 hours away, he knew more about Boston restaurants than we did and always had gossip about the hottest new places.

Bill introduced me to limoncello, and this was the perfect drink for me. Intensely lemon. Not too sweet. Icy cold.

Melissa Kelly, the owner/chef, wrote a book about Mediterranean diets which included many recipes. One of them was Primo's recipe for limoncello. I made it a few years ago, but the thought of peeling dozens of lemons, as well as the cost of organic lemons, kept me from making it again.

Enter Jed's lemon tree!

It turns out that Meyer lemons are pretty easy to peel. So the first step of every recipe has become: peel the lemon and add the peel to the container in the freezer waiting for there to be enough to make limoncello.

Primo limoncello
1.25 cups lemon peel
2 cups vodka
1 cup sugar
1 cup water

In a saucepan, pour vodka over 1 cup lemon peel. (Freeze the rest of the peel.) Heat over low heat until just warm. Remove from heat and place in a sterile jar. Cover and store in a cool, dark place for 1 week.

After one week, combine sugar, water, and remaining lemon peel in a saucepan. Bring to a boil, cook until sugar is dissolved.

Strain the lemon peel out of the vodka. Strain the lemon out of the sugar syrup. Mix the vodka and syrup. Pour into a clean glass bottle. Store in the freezer.

Serve very cold. Perhaps in a glass that's also been in the freezer.


My worker’s comp audit was this afternoon, where the nice gentleman from the insurance company shows up to review our records to determine the previous year’s premium and make sure that we’re not hiding any workers.

He really just needs last year’s total payroll so he can multiply that by a small number. The result is so small that our premium would be exactly the same if we had 5 times the payroll. However, it’s still important to explain to me that if we were hiding workers, then he’d see that in our bank records if he examined our bank records. But he’s going to do me a favor and not look at our bank records. And if we were hiding workers, then he’d see that in our tax return if he examined our tax return. But he’s going to do me a favor and not look at our tax return. And if he decided that we really had a warehouse, then he’d have to rerate the premium for warehouse workers instead of the catch-all clerical category. But he doesn’t think he needs to do that. Not because he believes that I’m providing all of the relevant records, or because he believes that I’ve given correct and complete information to him and to my insurance agent, or because he believes that I’m intent on following Massachusetts and federal law. No, it’s because he’s a nice guy, and he’s happy to have an easy audit, and there’s no reason to be picky.

I’d rather he actually accuse me of something, so I could actually defend myself.

Waiting to inhale

I’ve been paying more attention to air quality over the past week, since listening to a commuter rail abutter describe the health problems she attributes to 10 years of exposure to diesel particulates. Here’s a bit of good news: the right mix of plants (and enough of them) can make our indoor air much healthier.

Call for recipes

Lemon recipes will continue soon with limoncello and lemon-flavored olive oil. Want to know how your favorite lemon recipe will turn out with Meyer lemons? Send us the recipe and we’ll try it out!

If you find yourself in the Santa Clara Valley with too many lemons and Lisa is not available to help, consider Village Harvest. Or just mail the lemons to us.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When Life Gives You Lemons...

Photo by Lisa

Before I knew anything about blogs, I spent a lot of time reading TableTalk at Salon. My favorite forums were the cooking discussions. That's where I first learned about Meyer lemons. People talked about them as if they were so far above and beyond a normal lemon as to be unbearable. I ran across a few items that claimed to be flavored with Meyer lemons, but the lemons proper never appear in my New England grocery stores.

So, when Jed said, quite casually, that his tree was a Meyer lemon tree, I pounced. And Meyer lemons are very nice indeed, with a headier scent than a grocery store lemon, a thinner skin, and juicier too.

The first thing I did was make lemonade. And lemonade is the the easiest and the hardest lemon recipe to write. Lemon juice, sugar or honey, water, ice: what could be simpler? But it's all about balancing the tartness of *this* lemon with just the amount of sweet your mouth is currently craving, so the "correct" proportions are fleeting.

Meyer Lemonade

1) Steal a lemon or two from Jed's tree.
2) Squeeze the juice into a tall glass.
3) Add A LOT of sugar or honey. Mix until dissolved.
4) Add cold water and ice to fill the glass.
5) Enjoy!


1) Steal a lemon from Jed's tree. Maybe two if they are small. The big huge ones are extra juicy, but they might have soft spots, which maybe won't taste as good.
2) Slice the lemon(s) in half and squeeze the juice into a tall glass. If you hold the sliced side up when you squeeze, you can avoid getting seeds in your glass without using a strainer. Or use a strainer. Or plan to drink around the seeds.
3) Add about twice as much sugar or honey as you think you should. Stir the juice and sugar until the sugar dissolves. You can add a bit of hot water to help with this, but I find the acid in the lemon juice works pretty well on its own.
4) Add cold water to nearly fill the glass. Stir some more. Taste. Adjust the sweetness if necessary by adding more sugar or lemon. Once you've got a nice strong flavor, add ice or more water as desired.
5) Find a sunny spot to sit and sip. Maybe in Jed's back yard. Maybe on a deck in Cambria. Maybe staring out into your snowbound back yard. Enjoy.

Future news

In a little over an hour, the Executive Office of Transportation is going to release their recommendation to extend the Green Line out to a Route 16 terminus (with no parking structure).


The Lutron Maestro dimmer with IR remote that we installed in our bedroom has worked so well, we decided to install a similar dimmer with remote for our front porch light. We had planned to simply install a second switch near the porch door, but running the extra wire was looking expensive (and it kept dropping off the electrician’s to-do list). Because of the location, it also would have required mounting a surface box instead of the usual flush installation where the electrical box is inside the wall. Fortunately, Lutron makes an RF remote that can be mounted on the wall.

The RF remote works the same way as a wireless doorbell, which we’ve had terrible luck with. We always seemed to be at the very edge of the doorbell’s range, even when it was just 20 feet from the chime. I replaced the doorbell and chime any number of times, and never found a set that worked reliably. Part of the issue may have been that the receiver in the chime was always battery-powered rather than line-powered. The receiver in the Lutron dimmer is line-powered, so that won’t be an issue. In any case, the actual range of the Lutron remote is great: it worked from 90 feet away (on the street in front of our neighbor’s driveway). It’s now mounted just inside our porch door, so we can turn the porch light on and off without going inside the house. A small victory, but I like these improvements that we can make ourselves. Adding the second overhead light on our porch will have to wait for the electrician, though. Once there are two overhead lights, the dimming capability should become more useful.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

My, what a big laptop you have!

My first at-length encounter with the TSA’s behavior detection officers occurred at Logan Airport on our outbound flight last month. It was a surreal experience.

When Lisa and I are going through security, we have one of us go through the metal detector before our belongings go through the x-ray machine, and the other one waits until our belongings have cleared the x-ray machine. This is what numerous television programs have advised is the best way to prevent thefts at security, which is a far too common problem at airports. And apparently being careful with our laptop and cameras, or my exhaustion from not having slept much the two previous nights, or simple boredom on the part of the BDO, made the BDO identify me as a subject.

So I’m standing at the conveyor, trying to watch a line of 8-10 bins of our belongings before they enter the x-ray machine, when this TSA officer walks over and starts asking me about my laptop as if he’s never seen one before. He starts touching it, then fondling it, then opens it up, all the while carefully watching me rather than the supposed object of his interest. This is not remotely normal behavior on his part, but it doesn’t seem prudent to point that out or object. More worrisome is that this is a severe distraction from my job, which is to watch all of our bins until they enter the x-ray machine (and go far enough in that they won’t be backed out). I’m pretty sure the guy isn’t playing “distract the mark,” since he’s wearing a TSA uniform, but I’m very aware that I’m being played. And worst, I can’t figure out what he will consider a normal response, since I’m quite sure he’s not well trained. Should I (1) play along as if I have nothing to hide, since I have nothing to hide? Should I (2) ask him to come talk to me on the other side since I’m busy trying to keep an eye on our belongings? Should I (3) object in some way to his grabbing my laptop since I care about my laptop? Should I (4) avoid at all costs giving him any reason to accuse me of being non-compliant with his non-requests? I go with (1) and (4), even though I know I’m risking seeming overly passive if his training is better than I think it is.

At one point, he asks me how my laptop works. Where should I begin? The user input/output experience of keyboard and screen? The various layers of software that we label as operating system and applications? Logic gates? A description of the components soldered onto the logic board? I know that Logan Airport truly hates geeks (cf. Star Simpson), so I don’t want to suggest that I know more than whatever he thinks I should. And he’s still barely glancing at my laptop.

Eventually he stops staring at me, puts my laptop back, and leaves me alone to go through the real security that believes 10 3-ounce bottles of liquids is safer than a single 16-ounce bottle. But you can’t challenge someone’s faith, whether he believes that harmful liquids are rendered safe by being placed in a series of smaller containers or whether he believes that he can divine your thoughts by seeing how you respond to the brightly-colored half of a distraction theft team.

Or maybe he was just hitting on me.