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we begin to get the recognition we deserve

Not us personally, that is—Leah and I have not yet been recognized for our excellent blogging skills, nor for anything else. As a consolation prize, though, today's Globe includes the following sentence in it's story about this guy who flew from Europe with deadly TB:

The disclosure that the patient is a lawyer — and specifically a personal injury lawyer — outraged many people on the Internet and elsewhere.

On the Internet and elsewhere!! Yes, finally a confirmation that the internet is a discrete location, just as I always argued. Now nobody better object when I talk about my friends from the internet.

a cultural gender disparity

We visited the Old Navy clothing repository this evening, and I have one observation to offer: the swimming suits for males are significantly large, in terms of fabric involved, than those for the females. We're talking an order of magnitude here. There must be some cultural significance to the disparity...

audiophilism full circle

It's raining so instead of gardening I'm inside playing on the computer and listening to music. Tough life, eh? In any case, the performance of my sound system prompted an observation I would like to share with my audience here:

If you frequent certain corners of the internet you will have noticed that there is a discussion ongoing about what "bitrate" is acceptable in music that is available for download. For the most part, it seems, any reluctance on the part of audiophiles in regards to music encoded with as few as 128 "kilobits per second" applies only to songs that they would have to pay for; the discussion seems to be a coded explanation of why they are not yet patronizing any of the various music download sites that have been set up by those companies who are actually attempting to carry on a legitimate traffic in musical recordings. As an unimpeachable source notes, at 192 kbits/second (well below the level demanded by the audiophiles), the flaws in quality "can be heard by only a few." We would all, naturally, like to be part of that auditorily gifted few.

In ages past, a similar discussion centered around the transition from records to compact discs. Certain musical enthusiasts presented the opinion that it was possible to hear the difference between the two media, and that records sounded better because, thanks to their analogue encoding, the music recorded on them sounded more alive. The digital cd sound, on the other hand, was cold and dead to them. I am happy to say that my computer speakers, a bargain at Radio Shack three or four years ago, replicate some of that "liveliness" we used to enjoy from our record players. Yes, rather than reproducing the sound coldly in pure digital perfection, they add a whole array of clicks, pops, and hisses that take you right back to the old days of huddling around the Victrola to hear the Fred Fisher's latest. Only now it's in stereo! That is, when one of the speakers doesn't stop working suddenly, leaving me feeling like one ear has been stricken with an unusually rapid wax build-up. Ah, the joys oh digital hi-fi: good thing I encoded at 256 kbit/sec!

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direct democracy

This evening I visited the BHS auditorium for the second time in my life. The last was some years ago when I took in a performance of Meredith Willson's Music Man; tonight's purpose was more serious but just as entertaining. I was there to take place in that paragon of American democracy, the open town meeting, and to vote on a proposal to rezone part of Bedford Center to allow more freedom in creating mixed-use development. This is how our town government works: everyone who shows up at the meetings is part of the legislature. Pretty cool, if you ask me!

And also, a little tedious. Because a very large number of people had to get up on their hind legs and present their own opinions, often couched in the stilted pseudo-parliamentary language so beloved of committee meetings and phrased as a very pointed question to the town officials who supported the proposed changes nearly unanimously. The speeches were divided evenly between the fors and the againsts, which only points to the ultimate pointlessness of all the discussion because the vote was very strongly in favor of going ahead with the changes.

I was with the majority, and the only reason I bothered to go was to do my part to help get the measure passed: the Center is awfully ugly as it is, so almost anything would be an improvement. I have to say, though, the representative for the developer (who is very much in favor of the new zoning, having been unable for many years to come up with a redevelopment plan under the old rules) just about made me change my mind with the blatant threats she trotted out in the two speeches she made. If we didn't vote for the measure, she announced, the property owner would probably end up putting a concrete shopping mall on the parcel or something. Never mind the fact that if he could have gotten that through the current zoning he would have done so long ago, when you have nine tenths of the audience on your side already threats tend to be not the best way to proceed in convincing the remaining holdouts.

Still and all, it was a fun experience, and quite as good as musical theater. Next time I'll bring Leah along.

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fat people are the new nazis, it's okay to make fun

Leah: "Look, someone's throwing out a loveseat."
Dan: "Actually it's more of a couch. Well, that or a loveseat for fat people."
Leah: "Fat people don't fall in love. They only love food."
Dan: "Of course they fall in love! Are they not human? If you prick them, do they not ooze syrup?"

of bugs and balance

We're kind of plagued by mosquitoes over here, thanks to the very wet spring. On account of their buzzing and biting we hear people talking about spraying and whatnot; all kinds of schemes for mosquito genocide (insecticide!). Now, I hate mosquitoes as much as the next person, but I can't help but think that spraying chemicals all over the place can't be good in the long run. Even if we assume that mosquitoes can be safely dispensed with as a species, doesn't the poison have kind of a deleterious effect on all sorts of other, less annoying and more necessary, bugs? Even worse, mosquitoes do serve a function: they provide food for other beasties like my favorite insect the dragonfly.

It's all part and parcel of what we see on the weather report. Even in the middle of a drought they announce a forecast of rain like its the end of the world, but happily reassure us that "the nice weather will be back tomorrow!" Clear skies are not nice when it hasn't rained in too long, and a bug-free world isn't nice when plants need pollinating and frogs need food. I, for one, do not look forward to a future when every single aspect of our lives is controlled by humans and designed for maximum immediate pleasure. Too boring!

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catering to our every whim

The other day Leah was watching a show on the tv about housewives in Orange County, and one of the housewives threw a barbecue for which she hired a number of cooks and waitstaff. "How'd you like to go to a catered barbecue?" I asked Leah. She said she'd enjoy it, but I wasn't a fan. Who knew I'd have, in the next week, two opportunities to try it out myself! I went to two graduation parties, one for a high school student and one for Leah's brother Jake, who just graduated from MIT, and both were catered by companies that also provided attentive and helpful servers (who also made the rounds collecting trash: very handy!).

Is this a new cultural phenomenon? I'd never before been to a party at someone's home where all the food was made an served by professionals. Maybe I've just been going to the wrong kind of parties!

ripe strawberries ripe

The first harvest of strawberries is in, and my delight with them is all out of proportion to the monetary value of the crop. I would provide a photograph of the dozen or so fine berries, but I didn't think to take one until after the sun had set, and they need natural light to do justice to their transcendent beauty.

I put in the little plants last spring, I think, and last year they gave us a few scattered berries here and there; for the most part, however, they—with my blessing—devoted their energies to spreading and colonizing other sections of the gardens. I put up with that behavior, and in return they produced this year a wonderful crop, with at least a half dozen berries to each cluster of leaves. Even assuming that only one of each half dozen will survive birds, chipmunks, and rot to reach harvesting stage, the yield is something thrilling. We might even get enough berries to make the operation worthwhile monetarily: how many berries can you get at the store for the $4.99 I paid for the plants initially? Of course, these ones taste way better. I assume, that is; I haven't actually tried one yet.

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healthy glow

I have a love-hate relationship with tanning: I'd love to get a proper tan, and I hate that I can never manage it. The problem isn't that my skin doesn't tan, but that by the time it's warm enough to go all-out and sun myself properly Zonker-style, I've already developed a classic "farmer's tan" with color on my neck and forearms and my traditional pasty-white winter complexion elsewhere. That rules out any hunky strutting on the beach, naturally. Luckily—considering we will be forced to take some beach time over the coming months—I'm not doing much lately, so I can devote a few hours a day to toasting myself in the sun's health-giving rays.

(Parents and other persons concerned about my possible skin cancer risks should be advised that none of the preceding paragraph is to be taken particularly seriously.)

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My reason for everything!

a picture (sorry, that's all we got for now)

toxicodendron radicans

Did you know that a poison ivy rash doesn't itch when you get it on your face? On the other hand, it itches very much when you get it on your feet and/or legs. At least, such are my observations so far this year. The dreaded weed seems to be more widespread than ever before; clearly the climate this spring suited it. It's too bad about the itching and the terrible blisters, because otherwise poison ivy would make a very attractive (and maintenance-free!) ground cover.

Why have I got it three or four times already this year? I have to defend myself against the charge of simple incompetence: I can recognize the leaves of three as well as anyone, I believe. Rather, the problem is the dog. Specifically, as he is completely immune to p. ivy's effects, he charges through the stuff every which way, and picks up the poisonous residue on his fur and leash. Furthermore, I must note that even when you very strongly suspect you've touched poison ivy at least with your fingertips (where it doesn't seem to have any effect—another point that I should have included above) it is very difficult to refrain from scratching your face, especially when you're being 100% plagued with mosquitoes. Those blisters are healing nicely now, though.

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diurnal

Because we don't go to bed until 11 or 11:30 most weeknights (hey, that's late for the suburbs!) we're taking this Friday-night opportunity to grab some early sleep. Bedtime before nautical twilight? Awesome!

please sir, can I have some mower?

Let me start by saying I have very little knowledge about the workings of internal combustion engines. It's shameful, really, but beyond changing the battery (which I did wearing garden gloves over rubber gloves, just in case) I haven't done any work on my own car; to say nothing of the poor little engine toiling away in the lawnmower I bought last year. So when it failed to start the other day when I pulled its string, I had no idea about how to proceed. That is to say, I had no idea how to proceed constructively. What I though to do, and what I did do, was whine to Leah that I needed to get in touch with a particular friend of ours who Knows Such Things as lawnmower engines.

Unfortunately, he was busy for a while and in the interim the grass grew to some considerable height. This was of course a bad blow to my reputation among the neighbors, and it caused me no little concern; the worry didn't reach the point of invading my dreams, but I'm sure it came close. Yesterday I finally got a chance to consult with the master, and he of course diagnosed the problem in under 30 seconds: the spark plug was flooded with oil and so wouldn't light. Oh, and also I should have changed the air filter long ago. Air filter? Spark plug? Who knew such things formed part of my lawnmower? That's why, of course, I didn't want to take the thing to a professional: I don't mind looking dumb in front of friends. It was a learning experience!

So everything is all fixed up now, and the lawn is mowed. Phew. And next time, I'll know two things I can check right away when something goes wrong!

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the decline of a proud agricultural tradition

Speaking of lawns, we were biking in Concord yesterday and happened to notice two distinct styles of landscaping in evidence. In some of the houses the owners were true to the agricultural roots of their community and featured meadows, stone walls, and roses and daylilies. Things like that. Overseers of other estates, on the other hand, didn't get the memo, and despite their vast acreages decided to go with the traditional suburban look: manicured lawns and foundation plantings, with maybe a perennial bed clustered around a rock off in the corner. I'm sorry to tell you, that looks weak enough around a new McMansion on a quarter acre; never mind on a property the size of a city block. When you can barely see your house from the road thanks to the curvature of the Earth's surface, you do not need to fill all the intervening space with a lawn that you need to irrigate and mow weekly. Unless you want to put in a hole and some bunkers. And some of these folks could have, too.

No complaints from me, however, if your lawn is mowed entirely by ruminants. Come on, you're supposed to be pretending you have a country estate! The suburban look is for wimps. Or people who actually live in the suburbs, of course.

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from the 'duh' department

Breaking news: Scientific American is reporting that throwing antibiotics into just about everything might not be so healthy.

[L]ately consumers are getting the message that washing with regular soap is insufficient. Antibacterial products have never been so popular. Body soaps, household cleaners, sponges, even mattresses and lip glosses are now packing bacteria-killing ingredients, and scientists question what place, if any, these chemicals have in the daily routines of healthy people.

Though really, that's not really breaking news for a couple of reasons. First, the SciAm (do they call it that? they should) article is from June 7, and it's probably reporting on research done long before that; it's just that the matter has only now come to my attention thanks to the bloggers at Boing Boing. Second, we already knew that.

Obviously, when you spray antibiotics all over the place you're going to increase the chances that a resistant strain develops, and obviously pouring streams of antibacterial soaps down the drains every day will provide an environment for those resistant strains to develop places beyond your own kitchen counters and bathroom floor. Something I hadn't thought of, though, is how far particular antibiotic compounds reach into the food chain:

Triclosan has also been found in human breast milk, although not in concentrations considered dangerous to babies, as well as in human blood plasma. There is no evidence showing that current concentrations of triclosan in the human body are harmful, but recent studies suggest that it acts as an endocrine disrupter in bullfrogs and rats.

Great, huh? Good thing we're good hippies here, and put up with shea butter and vitamin E and who knows what else in our hand soap to avoid having to buy the antibacterial kind.

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the cares of parenting

I was out for the evening this evening, as was Leah, so when it started to thunder and lightning and rain with some vigor, I was quite concerned for poor little Rascal left all alone at home. Not that he's terrified of thunder normally—not like some dogs—but he's at least quietly apprehensive about it. And it was all dark in the house, and of course he didn't have any idea when either of us was going to get home (despite my clear efforts to tell him).

Happily, all was well when I got home; he was as happy to see me as always, and nothing had been destroyed in a panicked frenzy. Oh, what we parents have to worry about!

Matthew 6:20

D: "We could use a grappling hook. We could make it out of a coat hanger and string."

L: "No, the coat hanger would bend and the string would break."

D: "Hmm... we need to make a grappling hook in heaven, where the coat hanger will not bend and the string will not break."

L: *riotous laughter*

Are we the only ones who find this much amusement in the Bible?

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Apple is making a phone? Really?

Apples iPhone is coming out in a couple of days, and people can't seem to stop talking about it. News media people, that is: they seem to think it's a pretty big deal and want to catch some of that magic for themselves, I guess. However, since nobody knows anything about the phone and they ran out of cheery speculation they're now on to pronouncements of doom. Anything to keep the story on the front page (of the business section, at least). Did you know that the phone's slick exterior means there users will be at significant risk of dropping it? It'll kill kids, too. Really! Read the article!

we're just naturally cool

It puzzles me, on these hot summer nights, why people in New England rely on air conditioning to the extent that they do. Sure, it gets warm here, but more often than not the nights are cool enough that a couple fans can supply a reasonably-sized house with enough temperate air to last through the succeeding day. Of course, for that to work you've got to open the windows. You don't need to turn on the AC when it's ten degrees cooler outside than in! All told, I bet there are fewer than ten days here where AC is even remotely necessary. How on earth can anyone justify central air?!

The answer to that is easy, of course: they want to make sure their living environment is always at a constant temperature. 71° F all the way, baby! If that means the AC has to go on the day after the heat goes off, so be it.

We're tougher than that here at the squibix household: we don't mind the cold, and now we don't mind the heat either. As long as we don't go upstairs in the afternoon, that is. And as long as some of us head over to school a little early to do some reading in the air conditioned library. But we don't need AC at home, no sir! And if we do run the AC, it will be only for the dog's sake. He gets awful hot, the poor little guy.

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living = easy

Summer temps are here, but they can't bother me! Ample compensation was provided by my truly awesome slate of activities today, to wit, going swimming at the pond, taking the dog swimming at the river (they don't let him in at the pond, the meanies), picking up some greens and strawberries at the farmers' market, and taking in a concert at the bandstand. Now that's a summer schedule! Unfortunately Leah couldn't join me in the latter two activities because her summer is thus far still tainted by school, but soon enough she too will be free... I guess then we'll paint the house.

what can we write about besides the heat?

It's all summer weather all the time here at the squibix family blog! Today I have a good excuse for writing about the heat—two, actually. First, it largely prevented us from doing anything besides going swimming and sitting in front of the fan. Second, its deleterious effect on my brain function means that all thoughts of clever posts that I had this morning—when the temperature was still bearable—have long been driven from my head. We entertained some discussion about how people survive in places where it actually gets hot (such as Greece, which saw 115° temps yesterday, according to the Globe); we decided it was due to the adaptations our limbic systems have made for the cold weather our region more frequently experiences. So we never complain about it being too cold, right?

fantastic

Leah has only survived the past couple days thanks to the large fan we've set up in the living room, which has been very effective in creating a small zone of comfortable air. Rascal enjoys it too, when he can. Which leads me to wonder: how does the electricity usage of a fan running just about all day compare with that of an aged window unit air conditioner? The AC wouldn't have to run constantly, I imagine, though its efforts to cool the house would certainly be hampered by the general porousness of our dwelling here. Our actual temperature control efforts are hampered by something else, namely the lack of functioning windows on the ground floor. We can get a great cross breeze with the three doors open, but we obviously can't have open doors at night, which is the only time we want the outside air coming in. We have no objection to leaving windows open, but sadly only four out of eight (which I'm told is 50% of the total) can actually open. Then, too, in the daytime only three of those windows have shades, but since I have extra shades that I haven't bothered to install I can't really complain about that.

It's supposed to be much cooler tomorrow. Whatever will I write about then?!

lawn gone

Back in the prehistoric days of computer games, I recall playing one that simulated the competition for survival among unicellular organisms. Something like that. I thought of it this morning when I was walking the dog, as I noticed that you can see similar patterns on lawns that are beginning to return to, ahem, a natural state. All the best weeds spread via rhizomes or stolons or what have you, so they tend to try and expand from a few well-established bases. Where two weed patches come in contact with one another, there is naturally a struggle to see which one will prevail, nature being "red in tooth and claw" and all.

And what of the poor grass? Ironically, it seems that it gets along better if the lawn hasn't been mowed for some time: if left alone, domestic grass reaches about one foot in height, allowing it to easily overtop competition from things like violets and most types of clover. When mowing is the only care a lawn sees, grass is cruelly overshadowed by faster-growing plants and those that need less water to thrive. That said, when there is sufficient water available even the weediest lawn can look remarkably decent with a good even mowing—or, even better, with the dedicated chomping of a flock of sheep or goats. Maybe we should get some!

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