28 August 2011

Back to School Un-Shopping

Junk mail, advertising, email alerts.  Everyone is telling you that you need to go shopping to stock up for school.

But do you really need everything you think you need?

Kids outgrow stuff, it's true.  But you know what? Last winter's clothes still fit The Offsrping, so that's what he'll wear until the next overnight growth spurt.  (I bought the next size up on sale last spring, so worry not: he won't have to go to school in high-waters until I catch up.)  Last year's backpack and lunchbox are still perfectly functional.

And yes, they need school supplies.  We're lucky: our school has a program where all parents are asked to contribute a fixed fee, and the school buys everything in bulk, so we don't have to go schlepping around Staples in August.

They also need supplies to do homework.  The easiest thing would be to go through The Offspring's room and throw away everything to buy new stuff, rather than sorting through broken crayons and dried-out pens and locating the pencil sharpener and the scissors and the ruler.  But I'm going to spend an hour doing it that way.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to need to buy a couple new glue sticks, because I know I used one up making a photo album a couple months ago, and it might be time for a big-kid pair of scissors, as he's going into third grade -- but that's probably it.

The Mate and I are also both on academic schedules, which might imply we need back-to-school wardrobes.  But he's a filmmaker, and teaches his classes in jeans.  I go more formal, but I buy clothing that will last for a long time.  I did make one new purchase: a pair of bike-to-work pants from Betabrand with reflective fabric inside the cuffs and back pockets.

Question for the day, then: Will that item actually get used if you buy it and bring it home?  Corollary question: do you already have something at home that will serve the purpose?

27 August 2011

Hurricane Conditions: Park Closed Today

The East River Park, that is.  It's in Zone A, as is the FDR drive, which runs about 250 feet from my apartment building. 

But I'm a dumb cluck, like so many of my fellow human beings, so I ignored the sign and went into the park anyway.  The rain and the wind were at a lull at the time, plus the dog likes his routine.

Things of note:

It was just past high tide, and the water was very high, and running very fast; faster, I think, than I've ever seen it.  It's not going to take much to push it over the low points in the city's seawalls at tomorrow morning's high tide, after a night of heavy rain and wind.

It's quiet out there.  No subway roaring over the Williamsburg Bridge overhead, no ferries on the water, no buses creaking along the streets. I heard, then saw, one lone truck cross the bridge; otherwise, just a handful of cars.

A bunch of them were police cars, though.  With lights flashing, in a hurry to get someplace.  Wonder what's up.

The construction workers involved in the unending project to renovate the East River Park have loaded a bunch of extra equipment onto Uncle Leo, and parked him four feet or so away from the sea wall.  Somehow, this doesn't seem adequate.  But I have to assume they know what they're doing.

Also: the gulls.  I noticed during the big snowstorms last winter that the gulls would come in astonishing numbers to take refuge in the East River Park ballfields.  This evening, they are circling, circling, low over the water.

The wind picked up, and the rain resumed, and I was glad to be able to go home and get dry.

Disaster Shopping

In the face of worst-case-scenario planning from public officials up and down the eastern seaboard, people are shopping like crazy to stock up in case they run out of power.  And I wonder: how much of that stuff is going to get used?  How much is going to go straight to the landfill after the storm passes?

The mayors and governors aren't wrong: they need to plan for problems.  But do people really need to buy that much stuff to prepare?  Are people's kitchens and refrigerators really completely empty?  Or am I the rarity, in that I have a large kitchen cabinet full of food?

Yes, I'll cook today, in case the power goes out later.  A big pot of soup, maybe some rice, maybe some grits.  An extra pot of coffee, in case the I can't boil water tomorrow morning.  I've already filled several containers with filtered water; I'll fill the tub later after everyone has showered.

We have plenty of candles and matches in the house, and a handful of flashlights of one sort or another ... but it's not far from midsummer, and there's going to be plenty of daylight, too.

Disaster planning should involve making good use of what's already around one's home -- which includes, first and foremost, the brains inside our heads.

26 August 2011

Getting off the Plastic Wagon

I'm a little obsessed with plastic, as I might have mentioned once or twice.

In recent months, I've made some progress at getting plastic out of my life, but there's still work to be done.

On the down side, Tom's of Maine made the switch from an aluminum toothpaste tube to plastic this year, and I've been looking for an alternative. For one thing, the tube is made out of plastic, and for another thing, the fact that it's made out of plastic makes is more difficult to get all the toothpaste out of the tube.

Ideally, I want tooth powder (no need to ship water), and fluoride is important* because I want to keep The Offspring's teeth healthy, and so far I've struck out. I bought a package of toothpaste from Burt's Bees today, in the hopes that it would be aluminum (the box was glued shut, so I couldn't check) but no dice.

On the up side, Burt's makes a deodorant to which I'm now devoted. Powered by sage, so no potentially toxic chemicals; totally works even if I ride my bike around with layers of clothing on; packaged in an aluminum can.** Only the pump mechanism is plastic.

Also on the up side, I've gotten more in the habit of putting food leftovers in glass instead of plastic containers. I looked at some lovely stainless steel lunch containers at Whole Foods, but the price put me off. Maybe next year on those.

I'm washing dishes with bar soap, specifically Dr. Bronner's citrus-flavored one. I keep it next to the sink in a metal soap dish. Nice soapy water collects under the drain section, and this is handy, though I can also just rub the bar of soap on a sponge or directly on a dirty dish, if I need more power.

I haven't yet persuaded The Mate to make the switch from liquid soap packaged in a plastic bottle; I'll keep working at that one. Maybe when we run out of the liquid he'll give it a try.

* I know, I know, there are those who think fluoride is irrelevant, harmful, or a liberal conspiracy. I would welcome comments, however, from anyone who knows where I can get toothbrushing powder.

** In case you're wondering, here's the full list of ingredients: alcohol, sage extract, lavender oil, lemon oil. Yes, that's it. Full stop.

25 August 2011

The Kindle Update You've Been Waiting For...

... with bated breath.

I've been using Kindle quite a bit; I've uploaded numerous books for The Mate, The Offspring, and myself, including some essays for an academic article I'm currently writing and a couple of things that might be helpful in teaching and advisement.

I find reading the "digital ink" screen very soothing to my eyes, and I like being able to customize the type size and line spacing so I can cram quite a bit of text onto a single page. (I read fast. Very fast. Having to turn the pages really really fast in the "page-turner" section of Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves was a cute little joke, but it also got kind of annoying.)

But I'm also still buying hard copies of books.

Yesterday I biked over to The Strand to pick up some half-price books. On for The Offspring, two for The Mate, and one for me: a pre-release copy of Laurie R. King's newest book, The Pirate King. Most of the rest of the world has to wait until September 6 to get it in hardcover or on Kindle, but I started reading my copy last night.

Right now, a box containing most of the books in the Redwall series arrived from Better World Books. The Offspring will tear into it the minute he gets home.

Why Kindle? Why "real" book?

It depends on two things: availability and price. Redwall, the first book in that series, came out in 1986, and you can't get it on Kindle. The series is being reissued in a fancier paperback version, but I got the backlist used at $3 a pop. Given the speed with which The Offspring reads, price is not insignificant.

The article I'm writing is about blogging and academic identities. I'm reading a lot on my computer for this project, as usual with academic writing, though I've downloaded a few reports from Harvard on identity and new media to Kindle. Oddly enough, the book Uses of Blogs: Digital Formations is available only in hard copy. It came out in 2006, though, which in blogging history is pretty much light-years away.

It is theoretically possible to download pdf's to Kindle. I haven't tried it yet; I usually just use the computer screen for those. I assume the Kindle software must reconfigure pdf's for their screen, but I just keep imagining tiny, tiny pages.

The other issue is annotations. I've tried the annotation feature on Kindle, but the keyboard is, well, there's that word "tiny" again. Also, when I read articles while working on an academic project, I have a couple windows open at a time so I can take notes in one while reading in another. I'm going to have to take notes off these articles in Kindle soon, but I anticipate it's going to be awkward.

The other issue is cost of documents. It seems utterly reasonable to me that as backlist gets more distant from publication date, the cost of the eBook should drop with the cost of paper copies. But (so far anyway) that doesn't seem to be the case.

That said, there's plenty to read for free or cheap. Amazon offers links to gazillions of free "classics" (running the gamut from Jane Austen to Zane Grey, Aristotle to War and Peace). I could go the rest of my life reading just books I can download for free.

24 August 2011

Don't Blame The Bikers

Some obstacles I encountered in the bike lanes on an outing this evening:
  • a double-parked car
  • a taxi taking on a passenger
  • numerous jay-walkers going various directions, variously multi-tasking
  • a jogger, going the wrong way
  • several bikers, ditto
  • another double-parked car, this one with a bike rack on the back
  • a Prius making a left turn on red (!)
  • a young fellow on a skateboard, also going the wrong way
  • another taxi, another passenger
  • a man sitting on a milk crate
  • half of a mini-van trying to get out of a tight parking spot
  • a big puddle and some even bigger potholes
  • another double-parked car
  • taxi number three
Yes, I was once run down by a cyclist going the wrong way on a one-way street. Far more frequently, while cycling or walking, I've narrowly avoided being hit by cars. I've had run-ins with pedestrians not paying attention, with pushers of strollers and Halal carts, with rollerbladers and skateboarders, and other near misses beyond memory.

This is a busy, crowded city; everyone (except maybe the occasional tourist or toddler) is trying to get there (wherever "there" is) as fast as possible.

Unfortunately, there's a culture of blaming the biker. All I'm asking: remember the chaos that is this city's glory and its grit, and negotiate it lightly, recognizing the varying elements that contribute.

Light in August

It was pretty out there the other night.
I wasn't the only one snapping away with my cell phone.
Are they ever going to finish rebuilding the park?
This barge (named "Uncle Leo," though you can't tell that from this photo) has been floating at one point or other in the East River water for years, while the contractors do a little work here, then a little there, all the while putting off repaving the road, which is growing dangerously pot-holed.
The anticipated completion date keeps getting put off. Last I checked, it was Fall 2011. It does not look at this time as though that is a reality, unless by "Fall" they mean "December 19."

23 August 2011

Thinking About Words

To "expire" is to breathe out, but also to breathe out one's last; i. e., to die.

To "inspire" is to breathe in, or to strike with an intellectual or artistic or emotional idea.

Inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale.

Most of us, most of the time, take inhalation and exhalation for granted. I'm having a little trouble with them today; a lingering cold has left deposits of gunk* in my lungs, and getting air around it has caused a couple of head-exploding coughing fits today.


Is "invalid" the opposite of "valid"? If you haven't already, put the stress on the first syllable. I hate that word.

I spent the better part of a day in a wheelchair, about a month ago, in transit in two airports. I was felled by Lyme disease, and the airline wanted $2200 to postpone our flights, so we traveled anyway, and I nearly collapsed at JFK.

In New York, there was hollering. "Wheelchairs don't belong here. I've been telling you all day, no wheelchairs in this line." The hollerer was mysteriously removed, and I proceeded through the line.

In New York, there were also starers. Most of the children were well beyond toddler age, and should (I opined to myself) have been taught better. What can I say about the adults?

In London, there were no starers, adult or child.

But the wheelchair to which I was assigned for the duration of my six-hour stay at Heathrow operated on the same principle as a luggage cart, with an automatic brake accessible only from the rear, making it impossible for the person occupying the chair to move the thing.

Making the attempts of the user to move the chair invalid.


*Yeah, that's a technical term.

Claiming a Token, or Tokening a Claim?

I've been asked to write an article for an academic audience about blogging. Usually it's the other way around: I blog here about issues in which I have academic interest, because I can be more explicitly political than I can either in the classroom or in a peer-reviewed journal.

I started researching blogging, because that's what we academic types do when it's time to write an article, and learned my blog should be listed among Technorati's 1,277,952 other blogs, to claim my space in statistical analyses of blogging or maybe drum up some more traffic, or something like that.

In order to verify that I actually exist, I have to put a particular code (sorry "claim token") in a blog post. So here you go, Technorati: 9PP5HZ4QHU9C.

Faithful readers, have you any idea what this means? I feel a bit as though I'm making a blind leap off a dock into some very muddy water of unknown temperature and filled with who knows what manner of physical obstacles or biting creatures. Who is (or are) technorati, really?

18 August 2011

Birth Defects, Anyone?

If you're in the East River Park, you'll be warned against smoking...
... and against littering, in three different languages each.
But if you don't read English, you won't find out that the city recommends against pregnant women and children eating the fish.
I made a phone call to the parks department some months ago to point out that the majority of those fishing the East River are speakers of Chinese or Spanish, and that they ought to add signs in those languages warning about the dangers of eating the fish.

No reaction.

Today, I spoke to a couple of parks employees; one of them saw the point and said she'd talk to the superintendent. Do you think they'll do anything about it?

16 August 2011

Why Biking Is Better

The discomforts of riding a bike are physical, and somehow more tangible than the discomforts of driving a car, but the car-driving discomforts are real just the same.

This morning: set off on the bike, got wet, dried out on the train, got wet again, dried out in my office.

This afternoon: flat tire (fixed it with kit The Mate left in the trunk). No rain, not too hot, got the car far enough off the road not to worry about getting run over.

The discomforts came later. Tailgaters, aggressive lane-changers, stop-at-green-lighters that made me irritable, and then irritable enough to honk, and then even more irritable, enough to make regrettable gestures out the car window.

This morning, the wet stuff dried out within half an hour or so. The afternoon's irritations, on the other hand, persist: somehow, I'm still irritated at all those aggressive and just plain lousy drivers.

This is the important part to remember: the physical discomforts seem more important in the anticipation, but in fact they fade rapidly, while the emotional discomforts linger.

Multi-tasking: on the train, I got some work done on a syllabus; on the drive home, I got to talk to my folks. Beneficial adjunct activities both. But there's always work, and if I drive several hours a week, I run out of people to talk to.

15 August 2011

Office Stash

Middle drawer on the right side of the desk. Here's what's in it:

a four-pound bag of almonds, a little more than half eaten
a bag of Walgreens menthol cough drops
a few Lipton black tea bags
"personal supplies"
menus for two Chinese restaurants that deliver
shoe polish
but no toothbrush
forks, knives, spoons, chopsticks, napkins
a bowl

What's in your desk? Link in the comments if you wanna play.