Category Archives: not quite about books

treehouses and beer bottles

I want one of these houses, but they are only for poor people.  $300 a month?!!! Can I please be poor?

After some poking around, I have determined that in addition to building gorgeous, recycled, non-kitsch houses out of corks and bottle caps, the guy behind Pheonix Commotion:

– incorporates efficiency goodies like on-demand hot water heaters
– has a 6-person construction crew whom he hires as minimum-wage workers, trains, and sends onward to higher-paying jobs at other companies
– has a doctorate in dance
– gives lectures that indicate some serious theoretical work on consumerism and use
– has charming, informative, and highly grammatical monographs as free PDF files (on topics such as how to lay tile, frame a house, wash dishes, or take a shower)
– has put together financing, owner participation, and charitable support to create 7-year mortgages of $300/month
– has a daughter (patent attorney in Chicago) and a son (F-16 fighter pilot)
– is an upstanding human being (one of those useless liberal arts majors)

Is it Texas?  In the Northwest these houses would be for trust-fund hippies.  In the Southwest it’d be an artist colony.  In New York it just wouldn’t be.  In Texas, however, people are equally likely to declare, "I am the messiah–join my cult" or "I guess I’ll just have to fix low-income housing myself." 

Photos: treehouse, bottle-bottom door, wood-burning stove, cattle bones (a renewable resource in Texas)


radical philanthropy

Does the New York Times offer a German-language edition?  Well, Der Spiegel runs an English-language edition, and it carried an intriguing report on radical aid to Africa.  The idea is to simply give every man, woman, and child 9 euros a month, no strings attached.  Everybody gets it — rich or poor, black or white — so it’s not welfare.  Hillary Clinton proposed something along these lines for the US when she said that every newborn US child should start with a $5000 government contribution to its college fund, left to swell untouched until age 18.

Some German churches and aid groups have funded a trial village in Namibia, and 9 euros a month has been enough to create a game-changing stimulus package.  Nobody was told how to spend their money, but for the most part people fed their families, sent the kids to school, and invested the precious leftovers.  By “invest” I mean buying chickens to breed, flour to start a bakery, or a bus ticket to town to buy scraps of fabric for dressmaking.  It’s like micro-finance for all (and consequently much easier to administer).  My only skeptical eyebrow on this glowing report is that all the case studies are, predictably, about women doing the right thing.  Read more here.

At Der Spiegel, you can also see the weirdly normal watercolors of Adolf Hitler.  So. Quaint.

internet, food, and soap

Whilst tramping about the internet lands today, I have learned that:

1. Mercury has been discovered in about half of all high fructose corn syrup. A study last January found mercury in about a third of brand-name products like Coke, Hershey’s chocolate syrup, Smuckers jam, Hunts ketchup. Oh, and guess what, neither the industry nor the FDA is taking any particular action, so have fun playing Mercury Roulette.

2. I have a strong desire to make soap. I have all these vanilla beans that so badly want to get inside a batch of luxuriously rich soap.

3. Hand pollination of vanilla orchids was discovered by a 12-year-old slave boy named Edmond Albius. His method, which is still used today, enabled the entire vanilla industry outside of its native Mexico, but Albius lived and died in poverty. Vanilla orchids only bloom for one day, so each plant must be inspected daily. Later, they are inspected daily in order to catch a similarly narrow window for hand-harvesting. Historically, vanilla beans have sold wholesale at $20/kilo, but in 2004 a typhoon drove the price up to $500/kilo. The price has settled back to about $40/kilo now. I paid $5 for about 12 pods in Bali because Indonesia is a big producer.

4. Cooks Illustrated tested imitation vanilla versus the real thing and was horrified to discover that people couldn’t tell the difference in baked goods.

5. To make ice cream, all you need is a small container that fits in a big container, plus salt, ice, and motion. For example, you can put all the ice cream ingredients in a small coffee can, seal it, pack a large coffee can with ice and salt, and throw the contraption around at a picnic for 20 minutes. I love magic.

6. I’ve been fridge-brewing jasmine tea to beat the heat, and it’s a gateway drug. Next I must make fridge-brewed iced tea concentrate, fruit cordials, and iced coffee.

What fruits pair well with vanilla?

partial eclipse of the sun

Today, I saw 69% of an eclipse.  Finding protective eye gear was a total fail.  Instead, we used a digital camera to track the moon’s progress (via the LCD display, not the viewfinder).  Fortunately, a nice fat cloud passed over the moon/sun combo near the peak, so we got a direct look.

The sun looks very small.

What I want is a total eclipse — when the sun slams shut and the whole world goes dark, and the grasses are silver and your friends might be dead.  To witness one, Wikipedia says that all I have to do is show up.  These particular miracles are stage-managed down to the last second.  Unfortunately, life on the surface is more difficult to forecast than passing rain.  On July 11, 2010 at 7:34pm GMT, the eclipse will be at the south end of Chile and Argentina, but where will I be?

Total Eclipse Tour Schedule

July 11, 2010 Chile and Argentina.
November 13, 2012 Australia and New Zealand — summer in the Southern Hemisphere!
November 3, 2013 Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia.  Will any of these countries not suck in the next 4 years?
March 20, 2015 North Pole — really too damn hard.
August 21, 2017 United States.  Better not miss this one, even though it only passes through flyover country.
July 2, 2019 Chile and Argentina again.  Sure hope I have a house by 2019.
December 14, 2020 Chile and Argentina again?  Perhaps the eclipse has a soulmate.
December 4, 2021 Antarctica, hmmmm.
April 20, 2023 Indonesia, Australia, Papua New Guinea.  Maybe I’ll have 2 houses?  I’m migratory.
April 8, 2024 Mexico, central US, eastern Canada.  Totality will be visible from Austin!
August 12, 2026 Greenland, Iceland, Spain.  How melty will Greenland be?
August 2, 2027 Morocco, Spain, Egypt.  Will I still rock the casbah when I’m nearing 50?
July 22, 2028 Australia and New Zealand.  Will I still have all my teeth?
November 25, 2030 Botswana, South Africa, Australia.  Will there be a cure for AIDS yet?
November 14, 2031 Panama and the Pacific.
March 30, 2033 Eastern Russia and Alaska.  I hope we aren’t in nuclear winter by then.
March 20, 2034 Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China.  Will the hipsters all backpack in Iran and be annoying about how Persia really “opened their minds”?
September 2, 2035 China, Korea, Japan.
July 13, 2037 Australia and New Zealand.  Will they be remaking the LOTR movies?
December 26, 2038 Australia and New Zealand again.
December 15, 2039 Antarctica.
April 30, 2041 Angola, Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Somalia.  By 2041, will there be a fancy lakeside resort in the Congo for my retired self?  I sure hope so.
April 20, 2042 Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines.
April 9, 2043 Northeastern Russia.
August 23, 2044 Greenland, northern Canada, Montana, and North Dakota.  I hope I’m not decrepit.
August 12, 2045 Southern United States, Brazil, Venezuela.
August 2, 2046 Brazil, Botswana, South Africa.  Will we have reached Mars yet?
December 5, 2048 Chile, Argentina, Namibia, Botswana.  Dick Cheney better be dead.
November 25, 2049 Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Malaysia, Indonesia.
March 30, 2052 United States and Mexico.  Earth will be 4.5×10^9 years old, and I will have had my threescore and ten.  Hemlock time?
September 12, 2053 Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Indonesia.  Hold the hemlock, I have to rock the casbah!
January 5, 2057 Atlantic and Indian oceans.  Not really worth staying alive for.  Better organize my papers.
December 26, 2057 Antarctica, hmmmm. 5*

The books I’ve read lately have been mildly crappy and not at all famous, so I haven’t bothered reporting on them.  However, a little website called is fucking hilarious.  Not only are the little micro-stories genuinely funny, but their pithiness makes me optimistic about the worth of humanity.  Or at least someone still understands the art of editing.  Either way, it makes me happy.  And my parents aren’t half bad compared to what some poor saps are saddled with.


Today, I went to my first strip club for my friends birthday. I also found out what my girlfriend does for a living. FML

Today, I got accepted to Yale University. My parents response: “We never expected you to get into college. We spent all of our savings on sending your brother to school.” FML

Today, I came home to find a sock I previously used to whack off on my bed with googly eyes and a mouth drawn on it with a note that read “because you can’t find a real girl I made your current one prettier, Love Mom.” FML

Today, I have to choose between one eyebrow or none because I’m a heavy sleeper and my brother is a moron. FML

Today, I saw an elderly man fall in a crosswalk, so I jumped off my bike to help. As I helped him across, the light turned green. At that point I noticed my phone had fallen out of my pocket in the street and was run over by several cars. I then watched across a 6 lane street as someone stole my bike. FML

Today, I was getting sick of listening to the guy in the next room over getting nasty with some girl, so I called my girlfriend to see if she wanted to go get some food. Then I heard her phone ring. Through the wall. FML

Today, my boss requested that I re-organize every file in the office, because she wanted the filing cabinets alphabetized right to left, not left to right. To thank me, she came into my office to give me one uncooked ear of corn. I think my boss has mistaken me for some kind of farm animal. FML

intercontinental movie binge

Friends, do not fly Virgin Atlantic.  I never thought my petite meatspace avatar could be cramped, but Virgin’s seats are intended for carnies (skinny ones only).  The only way I got even 15 winks was to curl up into a frustrated little ball and hook my feet over the tray table.  I swear I’m not normally that weird, but I’m also not normally caged like a veal calf at 35,000 feet.

So between Asia and London I watched:

Twilight.  Damn, not nearly as bad as I thought.  Really kind of…good?  Probably only good because I was on the plane?  The dry recycled air facilitated an emotional bond between me and Kristen Stewart’s pale, nuanced acting.  Oh, young love.  I also really liked the blue-toned colors of the movie.  The little town of Forks, up there in the Pacific Northwest, is a little Twin Peaks with moss, fog, pick-up trucks, and creepy music.

I may have to watch this over and over again with alcohol, because it’s cheesily awesome.  Edward’s bouffant hairdo doesn’t even look like it’s part of him.  If you watch the trailer, you can see the best part, where Edward magically throws Bella on his back and flies.  It makes me crack up every time.  Plus, the vampires all have flour caked onto their faces!  You’d think a franchise of this screaming magnitude could afford real make-up.  Hilarious!

The Spirit.  10 minutes was all I could take.  The people behind Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and Sin City must be so fucking embarrassed that this loser is taking up space in their genre.

The Day the Earth Stood Still.  I managed about 30 minutes before realizing with relief that dry recycled air doesn’t short-circuit my brain into liking everything.

How to Lose Friends and Alienate People.  Pretty funny, but also pretty forgettable.  I had to think hard for days to remember the third movie I saw on that flight.

Choke.  Thumbs up.  It’s funny, it’s weird, it’s got Kelly MacDonald.  Why, why isn’t she more famous?

Ovovore Sundays

I am an artist, and my chosen medium is eggs.

Yesterday I made a nice little omelette with spinach, garlic, and salsa.

Today I sauteed a cut-up jalapeno pepper, a handful of pine nuts, and a large shallot while I cracked and scrambled 3 eggs in a cup with some garlic salt.  When I put them together, they instantly became wonderful savory spicy scrambled eggs.  Mmmmm.

Tomorrow I may make an okra and pine nut frittata.  Eggs, so versatile and satisfying and damned good for you.  My other favorite eggs (in case you want to get me eggs for my birthday) are over medium (with salt and pepper, Tabasco sauce optional), hard-boiled with a soft orange center not the yucky sulphur ring (sprinkled with chili pepper and salt, or oyster sauce), scrambled and dropped into soups, thrown into fried rice as a thickener, scrambled with fillings for toasty warm sandwiches…. The whole thing makes me want to keep hippie chickens.