Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Odds, Ends, and Bashes

Hit the blogger bash last night, at One World, and dragged Mr. McGee along with me. David Hendersen has the liveblog. We were a little bit crowded at the table (tables; we kept stealing more so we'd all fit) but we had a very good time.

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Caught the News25 afternoon newscast yesterday (which rarely occurs; I'm usually still working) and the anchor team was a little bit punch-drunk. Two stories caught my attention that I thought were worth mentioning. First, there was a story on a Flat Stanley who got sent to Iraq. I couldn't decide if this story was adorable or deeply disturbing -- Flat Stanley went on multiple patrols and raids and fired a gun. OTOH, everybody adores Flat Stanley, including the unit he was visiting, who took a big group photo in battle rattle with Flat Stanley in the middle.

One of my college roommates had a Flat Stanley visit us, and that thing visited every tourist attraction in South Bend, was routinely stolen from us at bars by people wanting to take pictures dancing or drinking with Flat Stanley, and Stanley got half the football team to pose with him, sometimes miming a tackle. Everybody loves Flat Stanley. When one arrives, everyone's immediately like, "Ooooooooh, where can we take him?" and starts visiting tourist attractions they haven't bothered to go to in years. Best. Project. Ever.

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The other story that caught my eye was the American Diabetes Association's Kiss-a-Pig fundraiser on June 15 at the Paradice. My vet, Dr. Bryan Wulfekuhle, is apparently up as one of the pig-kissers and was on the news promoting the event, as he is himself diabetic. This was notable for my family because when Orange Cat was diagnosed with diabetes, Dr. Wulfekuhle took over and managed his treatment. He told us he was diabetic himself and therefore had always been interested in the disease in animals. He was all-around reassuring and helpful -- and longtime readers will recall that I just about had a nervous breakdown over it, so there was an awful lot of reassuring going on, although it was actually his colleague, Dr. Zygadto, who got to have me have minor hysterics in her office when I had to learn to do the shots. I think the hysteria made an impression on her because whenever I see her at the vet's office in passing, she always asks me if the shots are going okay.

This is probably an excellent time for me to be mentioning my vets flatteringly on my blog anyway (Meadowbrook Vet, on the 150 access road near Cheddar's, you should all go), since it's rabies shot time! And that means Grey Cat has to go to the vet. Orange Cat is well-beloved at the vet's office; they always want to keep him (he has to stay over for a while when he gets his blood sugar checked) because Orange Cat is a sweet-tempered cat even when you're sticking him with things. Grey Cat, on the other hand, has bloodied several vets and vet techs and got banned from his last vet before Meadowbrook (the vets at Meadowbrook use a kitty straight jacket and raptor gloves to handle him). After last year's experience, though, I am making my husband take the cats to the vet this year. Fair is fair.

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Class starts again next week, so today's goal is to finish my syllabus. Back to the textbook!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

I'm Benchin' the Bar, Baby! I'm Benchin' the Bar!

Mr. McGee and I joined a gym. The Peoria County Bar Association inaugurated a "wellness" committee, I think because the bar has decided that as a profession, we are fat. (I kid; the stuff coming out of the wellness committee is actually my favorite PCBA stuff.) Anyway, they got several local gyms to offer discounted enrollment fees or whatever for PCBA members, so we picked one that was convenient for us and had low monthly rates, which turned out to be Cardinal Fitness, which, upon touring, we liked quite a bit. We decided on a gym for a couple of reasons, primarily the wide choice of weight machines that's hard to replicate at home, and my respiratory intolerace for outdoor aerobic activities when there are allergens in the air. Which is, like, always, except when it's too darn cold to be outside at all.

The original idea was that we would go together, but that mostly only happens on weekends, because my husband is one of those people who wakes up happy to be alive and wants to hit the gym at 5:30 a.m., whereas I don't actually want to be sharing the PLANET with anyone else until at least 8 a.m. I prefer to go midday when my brain hits a wall and YouTube starts to look a lot better than working.

Now, we do not have cable at home, so one of the biggest perks for me at Cardinal Fitness is that every treadmill has a personal cable TV. (And, I must point out, our gym membership is cheaper than a cable subscription would be, and then I can only watch cable while actively working out, so it's probably better for me anyway, because the last time I had cable I'd end up hypnotized in front of Animal Planet for hours at a time.) So what I've been doing -- this is absolutely true -- is arranging my workout schedule around Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns on Spike TV. It's currently on season one so Riker has that butt-chin thing going on. Rarely have a man's looks been so improved by a beard.

I was there a couple days ago, lifting weights (you probably wouldn't guess this about me, but I love lifting weights. Hate cardio. Love weight training.), and this dude was kinda checking me out, but then I realized he was spending about 10 times as much time checking HIMSELF out in the mirror as he was spending checking me out, so fortunately no crappy gym pickup lines were in the offing -- no woman could ever compete with his reflection. He was one of those dudes who lovingly watches his muscles contract while doing curls a couple feet from the mirror, the better to admire himself.

Anyway, I've never been a devotee of regular workouts (I'm hoping to do better this time, with cable TV to motivate me!), so I'm pretty wimpy. Midday it's usually me and all the gym junkies. They bench 200 lbs. I bench the bar. And I'm proud.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

WHOI Recap

I didn't post sooner because my neighbors gave me free food and alcohol while they were grilling last night so I sat out there for ages after I got back (did you know you can make pita bread on a grill? I didn't) and then this morning I was banging my brains against some stubborn legal documents.

For those who didn't see it, we talked about Peorians giving directions and a little bit about my garden. (And since the cicadas had been on just a bit before me, my brain was going "CICADAS! CICADAS!" the entire time we were talking about my garden.)

Anyway, I haven't myself seen it on tape, so I don't know if I looked like a dork, but I had fun doing it. I got to sit in on the newscast, which, as I've said before, is always a treat for me. I find the whole process fascinating. And, as I've also said before, I LOVE the weather green screen. (And Ric Kearbey was hysterical in person.) During commercials I chatted with Jen Christensen, who was very personable and easy to talk to, about various charitable endeavors as we each tried to suck each other into our pet projects. Tim McGinnis (also very nice) did a good job walking me through the interview in advance and then helping me hit my "mark" in the studio. (Yes! There's a mark! You have to stand on it!) It was very relaxed and low-key; I felt very comfortable.

(Producer Meghan Fisher was also awesome, but she doesn't have a picture on the web so I can't link to her head.)

WHOI has an automated studio, so there's no dudes behind the cameras. The cameras move on their own, controlled from another room. Very Twilight Zone.

There was only one thing that threw me a little bit, which was that I could very faintly hear my voice in the monitor speaker on the other side of the studio. My problem with this is that in my HEAD, my voice sounds nothing whatever like my sister's. When I hear it on tape? EXACTLY LIKE MY SISTER'S. (Tone, cadence, diction, pitch, etc.) This always throws me for a loop; it's just such a weird little moment of cognitive dissonance.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Nature Abhors a Monoculture

It's true. She does. (I'm told she also abhors vacuums, which would give us something in common. Stupid noisy machines.)

Anyway, this is why your lawn has weeds: Nature rejects monocultures. They're not very biologically productive or efficient, and nature is all about maximizing biological efficiency. (Often in ways totally useless to us as humans, but still.) So the weeds say to themselves, "Hm, nobody's filling MY niche in this 600 square foot patch of land ... I think I'll grow riiiiiiiiight here."

(Oh, right, like you don't anthropomorphize things.)

So you'll recall that over the last couple years we've been reducing our lawn monoculture in two ways: First, by introducing "beds" or "gardens" of various sorts and sizes to reduce the overall "lawn" area, and second, by introducing clover to the lawn itself. We've added a fairly large ornamental bed that draws songbirds and butterflies, and features a lot of native plants like coneflowers and Black-Eyed Susans and milkweed, in addition to more traditional ornamentals like day lilies and mums. We've added a 300-square-foot vegetable garden in raised beds. And so forth.

The time invested in the initial installation of these beds was large, but once they're established, they require far less care than a lawn does. We deal with the songbird bed basically twice a year -- in the spring to see if anything needs fixing and to add mulch if necessary, and at the very end of fall to cut down anything that needs cutting down. Since it's mostly native plants, they don't need watering, even in drought. (I also refuse to coddle plants. If it won't stand up to Central Illinois's weather, I'm really not going to bother, because I am fundamentally lazy.) The veggie garden requires a little more work, picking things and thinning and planting new crops and whatnot, but the payoff involves actual food, so that's okay. I end up with stuff like


These crazy blue potatoes. (We are using the ditch method rather than the hill method with the potatoes. I'm slightly skeptical because in Irish literature they always use the hill method. But I'm not sure great books of the English language are a reliable guide to best gardening practices, so we'll see.)



All these lettuces and onions. (There was no way to crop this picture that didn't leave it looking canted all crazy. Sorry about that.) These are two of my favorite vegetables to grow because the payoff is soooooo immediate. Lettuce comes up from seed in days, and the onions come up from their little "sets" (bulbs) like a rocket. Lettuce is also one of those vegetables that's dramatically improved by being fresh from the garden instead of 3 days old at the supermarket. (And I eat lettuce like a rabbit, so it keeps my grocery bills down too!)

Side note: This year I am again having no luck with sugar snap peas. They just don't like me.

Back to the lawn-lawn -- we've overseeded it with clover, which is a nitrogen-fixing legume. The grass growing in and near clover patches is definitely greener than the grass that isn't near clover. (The link above will also show you how green my clover-lawn stayed in drought last summer.) The clover also attracts pollinators, which should improve pollination in the rest of our garden as well. And, as I move on to talking about mowing, if you let the clover go completely, it'll top out at about 4 inches, so you can get away with a lot less mowing.

Mr. McGee this year got a new mower. One of the things that's always made me craziest about lawns is that they're biologically useless to begin with, and then you fertilize them to make them grow, and then you cut them repeatedly to make them be shorter. And you do this using a noisy pollution-spewing machine that sucks fossil fuels. To really no good purpose. (And mowers are very, very dirty in the grand scheme of engines.) It's this bizarre Sisyphean task we've all agreed to engage in for the sake of the neighbor's sensibilities (grow the lawn - cut the lawn - grow the lawn - cut the lawn). Except Sisyphus wasn't facing global warming and rising gas costs when he did his task.

So Mr. McGee got a Brill Luxus 38, a top-of-the-line, German-engineered, old-fashioned reel mower. They're better for the grass, they say, because motorized mowers don't cut grass; they tear it. But they're also better for your ears, your lungs, and the planet. You can listen to the birds sing while you cut the lawn. It's a way different chore. Mr. McGee cuts the lawn at the drop of a hat now because he is so in love with this machine.

The kids in the neighborhood have never seen anything like it, and whenever he mows, all these kids come asking him what kind of mower is THAT and is that a new kind of mower and where did he get something like that? (And then go home and tell their parents they saw this crazy new kind of mower and their parents are like, "Yeah, we used those in the 50s.") He is seriously meeting every kid in the neighborhood because they just can't get over the silent, tiny lawnmower.

On a more practical note, to address the problems many recall from the 50s reel mowers: We do have to pick up sticks and other junk from the lawn. If you hit a stick, you punch yourself in the ribs with the handle when the mower stops abruptly and you keep walking. It does take a little muscle power to push it, but certainly no more (and frequently less) than the heavy motorized mower. (And I don't have to friggin' start it. I hate that pull start engine.) The cutting length isn't as wide as most motorized mowers, so you do make more passes.

On the positive side, it's basically silent, so you can carry on a conversation while you mow, or listen to the birds. You can mow at the butt-crack of dawn without worrying about waking the neighbors. It doesn't fling out rocks (as motorized mowers can) or lop off toes unless you really work at it. You can stop whenever you feel like it without worrying about having to start the mower again. It costs nothing to run -- no oil, no gas. The height is adjustable.

It's Me! On TV!

I'm going to be on WHOI this afternoon, the 5 o'clock news.

I am now madly doing laundry in the hopes of having something to wear. Probably I should have thought about clothes sometime sooner than SEVEN HOURS BEFORE THE INTERVIEW, but oh well.

Friday, May 18, 2007

City Mouse, Country Mouse

So lately I've been called several times (once or twice in this blog, but mostly in real life) a sheltered "city girl" or just a "city girl." I found this slightly mystifying because -- hello! -- I'm a sheltered SUBURBAN girl. People who grow up actually in Chicago aren't sheltered. We reserve the North Shore suburbs for that.

But I think that in the same way Chicagoans call everything south of I-80 "Downstate" and vaguely consider it all farmland, those of you south of I-80 seem to call everything north of it "Chicago" or "the city" and vaguely consider it all to be urban. So I think this is why I keep getting accused of being a city girl. (Although it's particularly jarring coming from those of you who have lived within Peoria city limits your entire lives and yet somehow consider yourselves country mice.)

As these things go, however, I'm more of a city mouse than a country mouse. I'm comfortable whipping around downtown Chicago and tackling the Tri-State at speeds I shan't admit to in print. But country roads scare the CRAP out of me.

A few weeks ago I took the Princeville-Jubilee Road -- which is a vast improvement in road naming over the last place I lived, Durham, N.C., where they only name roads based on where they're GOING, not where they're coming from, with the result that there were no fewer than five roads in Durham named "Chapel Hill" -- Road! Street! Boulevard! (As one of my law professors said, "It's like they went drilling for words and came up dry.") The roads all also CHANGE NAMES based a) on which direction you're going and b) on how close you are to a particular terminus. For example, if you're on a state highway that runs from Wake Forest to Durham, it'll be called "Wake Forest Road" until you're halfway to Wake Forest, at which point it becomes "Durham Road." Or sometimes northbound is called one thing and southbound another.

The other thing that drove me absolutely nuts about driving in North Carolina was this: If you're getting on 474 and it's telling you you're going east towards PLACE, the place 474 tells you is INDIANAPOLIS. Not Marquette Heights. A very large city everyone has heard of that exists on your mental map of the U.S. so you know exactly which way you're heading even though 474 doesn't go all the way there, just dumps you back on a different road to get there. When you get on I-55 in Chicago, it tells you you're headed for ST. LOUIS, not Kankakee or Pontiac or Chenoa; not even Bloomington-Normal. (There's one spot way up north on I-55 that lets you know if you choose to go south, you're heading for New Orleans, which is possibly a tiny bit excessive.)

When you get on I-40 in North Carolina -- and recall that I-40 is a major interstate that runs from Wilmington, N.C., to Barstow, Calif., -- it offers you options of heading towards places like Mebane (not pronounced like it's spelled), Yadkinville, and Statesville. (Yadkinville is not actually even on I-40, although they make very nice wine there.) North Carolinians -- or at least its highway signers -- exist under the delusion that everyone in the country using this major national interstate has heard of these tiny little towns and is capable of navigating by them.

Anyway, the point of this story was that I was on the Princeville-Jubilee Road, gripping my steering wheel in terror, because where I grew up, roads like that are posted with a speed limit of 30, not FIFTY-FIVE MILES PER HOUR. To add to that, there's never any shoulder to speak of on these country roads, which always have fairly narrow lanes, and there's always a big gaping drainage ditch on the side waiting to eat my car. About half the time the road is so steeply angled for runoff that I feel like I'm in one of those old "need your V-8?" commercials. And those of you who grew up driving country roads are MIGHTY CAVALIER about that double yellow line in the middle that's meant to keep you OUT OF MY LANE and prevent head-on collisions at 55 mph in the middle of nowhere where it'd take the ambulance a really long time to get there.

Friends who cower in fear when we hit 294 or dive into the urban Chicago expressways mock me the entire time we're on country roads. They also constantly goad me to pass, which is something I almost NEVER do on a two-lane highway (which drives my husband crazy). I'm perfectly happy to chug along at 10 miles below the speed limit on a two-lane road stuck behind some slowpoke to avoid having to pass. I hate passing. It's unnatural to drive the wrong way in the other lane with people headed towards you at a high rate of speed. People don't do things like that on purpose. People do that when they're drunk and get on the interstate the wrong way. I have to be stuck behind a combine going 20 mph for a good three miles before I'll give up and pass it, and even then the adrenaline rush lasts me the rest of the day.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

As Requested: Garden Pr0n



Just a couple of picture from April, when the crabapple, now 3 years old and getting tall, was in bloom. Mr. McGee took both these pics. I particularly like the bottom one.

More of the garden is up and in bloom now, but I haven't done much out there because of my back, so I'm mostly just looking, which isn't nearly as much fun. The potatoes, a new plant for us this year, are pretty neat so far. The kale is not working out AT ALL. I've got a little worm thing eating it. The radishes are growing fast enough that the worm attaching the leaves doesn't matter, but the kale can't seem to get going.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Things That Are Up

I opted to do something nasty to my back/neck, which has had me lying around a lot staring at the ceiling/television and has restricted the amount of time I can spend at my computer. Ergo, not so many posts lately. But I've seen a lot of the Oscar movies from 2007! (I reccommend "The Queen.")

I am trying to schedule a party but I am being foiled by two things: First, my back. Second, the cicadas. Or lack thereof. I keep not wanting to schedule it in case they appear this weekend, and then this weekend comes, and they're not here yet, and I'm like, "dang, I should have gone ahead and scheduled my party," but of course then it's too late. The garden is starting to fill in and look pretty, too.

My Mom Hates DRM Part II: Her new cell phone wants her to pay $2.50 every three months to RENT Pachelbel's Canon, which has been her ringtone for, like, ever. She is steaming mad about this. (Part I, for those who don't remember, is that my mom can only update her iPod on one computer.)

This is good in a way, though, because the entertainment industry mostly thinks it's people under 30 who are snarked about Digital Rights Management, and that we're all pirates anyway. (I'm not.) But when Baby Boomers get mad about DRM, they pay attention.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

I Think I'm Cheating

So I'm preparing for summer semester, and every time I sit down to read my textbooks and prepare lectures, I have this guilty feeling that I'm slacking off. I mean, I'M READING for work.

I just cannot believe that people are willing to pay me to read interesting stuff, listen to myself talk at length, and criticize others. I LITERALLY CANNOT IMAGINE A BETTER JOB.

I used to think I wanted to be, like, a radio talk show host, because then I could talk a lot and criticize people, but professoring is MUCH BETTER because of the reading part.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Who Does Your Hair?

"Did you get your hair cut since the last time I saw you?"

"I did, I had my husband do it."

"Your husband?"

"I'm sure not paying $30 to have it cut in a straight line."

"I don't think I'd trust my husband to cut my hair."

"Well, it curls, so you can't really tell if it ends up uneven. I used to do it myself, but it's easier to make him do it. Then I get mad at him for doing it wrong, and then he swears he's never going to cut my hair again, and then he forgets, and then I make him cut it again."

".... well, it's very cute."

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

I Gots An Integer

Just so you all know. Now I, like AACS-LA, own an encryption number.

51 29 7F 3C 44 F4 3F E9 58 8D 90 90 7D 6B 63 0F
You too can abuse the legal system -- or try to screw AACS-LA out of doing so -- by getting your very own integer here: http://www.freedom-to-tinker.com/?p=1155

Once all 2^218 integers have been claimed, AACS-LA won't be able to use any other encryption codes without infringing on people's claims and getting a DCMA smackdown. At least, that's AACS-LA's legal theory.

If you have no idea what I'm talking about, try reading here. And remember: Due to AACS-LA's ham-handed attempts to get the number OFF the net, they drew so much publicity that more people now know how to hack HD-DVD players than OWN them.

Here's an idea: How about instead of wasting all this time and money chasing down hackers, who will continue to hack regardless of what you do, and creating roadblocks for law-abiding media consumers, who will become annoyed, you sell us some media without sucky DRM on it? Even my mother is now annoyed about DRM because she can only update her iPod shuffle on one computer.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Most. Annoying. Train. Ever.

Okay, so this morning at 4:45 a.m. I started hearing a train whistle. I heard it EVERY THIRTY SECONDS, quite regularly, from 4:45 until 4:56. (Damn thing woke me up and I was staring at my clock.) Getting louder. At 4:56 the whistle intervals got more sporadic, between 45 seconds and 3 minutes, and that lasted until 5:07, which is about when the whistle started getting quieter. Then a whistle at 5:10, 5:23, and 5:31 (which is now).

And now 5:33.
And now 5:42.
And now 5:53.
5:54.
5:55.
5:56 and getting louder again.
5:57.
5:57 a second time.
6:00 a.m. on the dot.
6:01.
6:02. IS HE JUST SITTING THERE BLOWING HIS WHISTLE????
6:02 again.
6:05.
6:05 again.
6:05 ... random spare whistle. (Not in normal group of 3.)
6:05 AGAIN!
6:06.
6:07. The sun is pretty well up now. Thanks train! I was just dying to see a sunrise! /sarcasm.
6:08. Quieter.
6:09.
6:12. I'm going to have train-whistle nightmares now. I can tell.

First of all, I can't live that close to train tracks or I'd be able to hear the train, not just the whistle.

But WHAT. THE. HELL???? I grew up about 1/3 of a mile from the Chicago and North Western line and it was NEVER this friggin' noisy, certainly not AT NIGHT. I've never heard a train blow its whistle so many times in such a short period. Sirens going by four blocks away aren't as loud as this was.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but is there not a state or federal law prohibiting train whistles within municipal limits overnight? Or giving the power to municipalities to enact such limits?

And does anyone know what line or train this was so I can write a strongly-worded letter complaining? Nearly two dozen whistles in 10 minutes is RIDICULOUS by any standard.

I don't mind a train whistle or two, even at night (trains are sort-of a cozy nighttime sound, I think), but to keep blowing like that so I couldn't get back to sleep ... ugh. And that thing must have woken up half the city if it was loud enough to wake me up this far away from whatever tracks it was on. If I had a baby or a toddler, I'd be pissed. (Well, I'm pissed now. But I'd be way more pissed then.)