Google mystery

Google rankings are not part of my core expertise. I know a bit about how the system works—enough to know that “Can’t you just call Google and tell them to move us higher?” is a ridiculous thing to say. I like watching the rankings change, from an almost oracular perspective. I like the intellectual/synaptic sensation of trying to derive a law from observations of a complex phenomenon, even though I know I’ll never figure out all the variables from the outside.

Every once in a while, I Google my own name.[1] Partly this is a mildly paranoid due-diligence process; partly it’s to see what my “Google resume” looks like; and partly it’s to try, in a lackadaisical way, to gain some insight into the mysteries of Google itself. (The search-algorithm mysteries, not the mysteries of the greater Google enterprise.) Something changed today. Continue reading Google mystery

QR Codes: Uses and Misuses

QR codes to me are roughly equal parts admirable and irritating. An example of a QR code

Admirable, because they are an elegant way to encode a lot of information in a small visual space. Irritating, because they are showing up all over the place, not always for a good reason.

I don’t hate QR codes. (A lot of people hate them. I can’t work up the energy for that.) Sometimes I even think they are cute (like this Heifer International example). I just wish they would settle down into a sensible standard that people know how to apply. Right now they’re being thrown around all haphazardly, and it makes me crabby.

Here’s my breakdown. There are a lot of other people who have made similar lists, like Terence Eden’s (his is more technical); I’m not claiming to have some kind of last-word genius revelation here. Continue reading QR Codes: Uses and Misuses

Catching up

Wow, a 6-week blogslack. I blame Facebook.

Couple of things:

Macromediocrity: This bit of sophomory goes straight to the heart of why we started this blog in the first place (remember, it was about American culture rewarding the lowest common denominator). The article I link to above is all happy about the possibilities for independent developers making a living from creating applications for the iPhone. I’m happy about that too. I’m just kind of crestfallen that, given a tool with the tremendous capacity for communication and learning that the iPhone has, people want more than anything for it to make rude noises[1].

More things in heaven and earth [2]:
– Frogs eat bugs. It’s the way of the world. But did you know that there are wasps that eat tadpoles?! (Dragonflies eat tadpoles, too. But somehow I found that less surprising.)
World’s smallest chameleon! (For some reason this one is in Tokyo, even though they come from Madagascar.)
Check out the snoutiness! It’s a shrew the size of a rabbit which got discovered last year.

[1] Thanks to Will for the link.
[2] I’ve been watching Life in Cold Blood.

Sidewalk rant

I took it into my head this afternoon to try to walk all the way home from my doctor’s office, it being a beautiful day. I was pretty sure the walk was less than 4 miles, and I got out of my appointment just before 4pm, and I was wearing sturdy shoes. So I set out.
Problem: once you get past the Grosvenor Metro station on southbound Rockville Pike, the sidewalk ends. Sort of. Not definitively. There are bits of sidewalk, enough that I tried going a couple of different ways before I gave up and took the path of least resistance, which was Beach Drive to the Rock Creek trail. I asked a fellow walker if she knew where it let out, and she told me that it hits Cedar Lane. I expressed my dismay that I had been unable to walk to Medical Center from Grosvenor along Rockville Pike, and she expressed sympathetic outrage. “It’s like we’re not supposed to be walking.” So I found Cedar Lane, walked up hill and down, past Stone Ridge to Rockville Pike.
It was a lovely walk, but it was 5.25 miles instead of 3.8 (thanks to the Gmap Pedometer), and I didn’t have any water and I felt a bit panicky not always knowing where I was or how much longer it would take me to get home.
There should be sidewalks. Or there should be big giant signs saying that the sidewalk is ending and to go another way. Or preferably, a sign at the Grosvenor Metro pedestrian access point that says “no thru pedestrians to Medical Center”.

Outrage, skepticism, and joy

Outrage, courtesy of my Chinese doctor[1]: A really interesting BBC television program about modern politics, specifically U.S. Neoconservatives and Islamic Radicals and their insidious mythmaking, called “The Power of Nightmares“. (It’s 3 hours in total; I’m only linking to the first episode.)

Skepticism, thanks to Conall: It’s very sweet, but I’m not sure it’s a hedgehog.

Joy: There’s a foundation for toast!! Well, toasters, actually. People who want to make a museum about toasters. But still, it’s a “Choose Toast” thing.[2] (I read about this in Saveur yesterday.)

[1] He’s not Chinese. He’s Australian-born. But he’s my healthcare provider who uses Chinese herbal treatment, acupuncture, and various kinds of bodywork. It’s his fault that I’m driving myself crazy trying not to cross my ankles (which is my default sitting style but is apparently a big part of why my knees hurt most of the time).

[2] About 5 years ago, some reports came out about carcinogens that get created by various high-heat cooking methods, including roasting, grilling, and toasting. (You can Google it yourself.) I was pretty outraged at the thought of people choosing to avoid the joys of the best foods around, like grilled meat and toasty toast. (I have always prefered toast to bread. Even lousy bread can make OK toast. Good bread makes fabulous toast.) So I wanted a bumpersticker that said “Choose Toast”, because it would confuse other people and express something I hold dear, namely, that fear of death shouldn’t interfere with enjoyment of life.

Not Pandora’s best day.

Tell me, friends:
Are any of these what you would consider Celtic music?

  • Something accordion-heavy called Chicago Cajun Aces
  • A fingerpicked guitar piece called Resolucion. The cover of the album has our guitarist standing in front of the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • A bluegrass version of the Moody Blues’ In Your Wildest Dreams (really, I couldn’t make this up).

Me neither.
I need direct access to the algorithms…


Two things:
(1) Three cups of raw shredded cabbage takes a really, really long time to eat. It has yummy dijon vinaigrette on it, but it’s just a lot to chew through.
(2) I think Mead has discontinued my preferred notebook for journaling. My needs are very specific: non-snaggy double wire spiral binding, cardboard or fabric cover, 3 subjects, at least 100 pages, 9×6 not 8.5×11, and pocket dividers. I’ve been journaling for twenty-eight years (!) and I know what I want in a notebook. Snaggy bindings piss me off. Journals that you can’t fold completely in half piss me off. The backing has to be sturdy enough to write on. The pockets are necessary for corralling random notes and letters and pertinent emails and rough drafts of poems. I have looked in every office supply/school supply store around (ooh, except Bruce Variety, I should check there…) and I can’t find what I want. I am tempted to order a lifetime supply online, but I’m waiting to find out from Mead if the notebooks in question are made in China, because that pisses me off too. (It’s an outgrowth of the whole ecoguilt thing, plus the whole human rights thing. I know it’s very hard to avoid Chinese products, but the little I’ve read about untraceable organ transplants makes my “Boycott now!” upbringing rear its head.)

HFCS rant.

Here’s my contribution to the massive blogospheric response to the “Sweet Surprise” pro-high fructose corn syrup ads. HFCS is not a food choice I would make. I think that “food” should be “something you can figure out how to make yourself, in a normal kitchen, starting from pieces of plants and/or animals.” (Admittedly, I don’t know how to make baking soda, but then, I use it mostly as a cleaning product.)

I also feel strongly that food should be artisanal, not industrial. I was waiting for a freight train to pass at the intersection of Seminary Road and Capital View, and I was watching the cars go by, and I got a bit alarmed at one point by the progression of petroleum product-petroleum product-some kinda sulfate-some kinda sulfate-petroleum product-corn syrup-corn syrup. Just kinda freaked me out.

This is a “best of all possible worlds” rant. I’m not naive. I know I’m privileged beyond the dreams of most humans ever in history in terms of the options available to me in choosing food. I don’t think everyone in the world (or even everyone in my neighborhood) has regular, affordable access to fresh fruit and vegetables and protein sources; I just think they should. I’d rather see social changes to encourage that than corporate profit-driven monoculture schemes to feed the burgeoning masses as cheaply as possible, and the stockholders as richly as possible. It’s a giant weird Malthusian/Hieronymus Bosch nightmare to me, the way economics and agriculture have twisted around each other.

The ads say it’s “made from corn”.
Well, yes, in a way.
But it’s not made from corn in the same way as, for example, maple syrup is made from maple trees.
Maple Syrup:
Step 1- Tap tree.
Step 2- Boil sap.

Corn Syrup:
Step 1- Mix dried corn kernels with water and sulfur dioxide for a day or two.
Step 2- Grind up the corn.
Step 3- Separate the germ (oily part) from the pulp (starchy/protein/fiber part) using a centrifuge.
Step 4- Filter off the fiber with some more milling and screening.
Step 5- Centrifuge the remainder, to separate the gluten from the starch.
Step 6- Keep diluting and centrifuging the starch mixture up to 14 times to make sure you’ve got just starch. (I’m pretty sure I could handle this recipe myself up to this point, but I don’t have the right screens and I don’t know where to get sulfur dioxide.)
Step 7- Get some bacteria (Bacillus sp., but I don’t know what the sp. stands for) to make some alpha amylase (that’s an enzyme that occurs naturally in saliva and pancreatic juices).
Step 8- Mix the alpha amylase with the starch. This breaks it down into polysaccharides. I guess if you were trying to do this at home, you could spit in it.
Step 9- Get some aspergillus fungi to make you someglucoamylase.
Step 10- Mix the glucoamylase with the polysaccharide solution. This gets you glucose.
Step 11- Get some D-xylose isomerase. (I don’t know where you get this, or how it’s made.)
Step 12- Mix the D-xylose isomerase with the glucose. This gets you a mixture of about 42 percent fructose and 50-52 percent glucose (and some other sugars).
Step 13- Using liquid chromatography, get your fructose level up to 90%. (I don’t think you can get a liquid chromatograph setup for the home kitchen. Not even at Sur La Table.)
Step 14- Blend some of your 90% fructose with the 42% fructose/52% glucose so you have a 55% fructose solution. (SAT mixture problems, anyone?)

So, corn syrup is sort of made from corn. But I’d argue that it’s made from corn even less than Velveeta is made from milk. (Acknowledged: Beer and cheese are produced in multi-stage processes involving bacteria and/or fungus, too. Also acknowledged: I don’t know what liquid chromatography is, and it probably isn’t scary.)

And it makes rats’ hearts get really big. (I couldn’t find a proper scientific study that actually says their hearts exploded, but this study says “fructose feeding induced significant increases in…left ventricular weight.”)

Ecoguilt parameters, continued

Eating local good; eating veggies better.
This article from Science News discusses the various sources of greenhouse emissions in the farm-to-table chain.
Sadly, the online version does not include the fab pie chart from the print version, but you’ll get the idea: eating less beef and dairy does more to reduce your ecoguilt total than only buying local.
I guess it’s time to start phasing out the lattes…