My Zunivers

31 July 2008

The Complete Tales of the Almost Never Archer

Having stunned my more coordinated friends by earning a Camp Archery Association ranking of Yeoman at age 10, I found this article to be fascinating. (If you don't have an account to read the New York Times, go make one. It is free.)

Back in 1989 and 1990 I went to summer camp. It was fun, but I was always sort of out of place in the athletic competition aspect. My first year I did archery every day as an elective activity. I hit the stinking target twice in a few hundred arrows, scoring one point. The second year I did archery again. My friends had heard how badly I had performed the previous year, so they were shocked. But I showed them. I drilled arrows into the 9 and 10 rings, with one shot breaking an arrow already there. On Thursday the counselor in charge asked me to try for a ranking that afternoon. I wanted to do Bowman but the bales were set at Yeoman distance (half of the distance for Bowman, if I remember correctly) and she and I could not pick up the bales. Rather than bother waiting to get someone-- I wanted to go play in the sand by the lake-- I just shot Yeoman. It was one of my lowest scorecards of the week, but I passed handily. I was the only camper to earn a rank that week.

After that summer of '90 I did not shoot another arrow until I was at camp in 2004. When I did try to shoot again, something was wrong. My form was fine-- good stance, elbows where they belong... despite being three times bigger I remembered all that. I also had the same argument with the person in charge about not needing an arm guard and again won. I don't have a dominant eye, so I just went to righty again because my muscles were better toned for that side. None of that was a problem.

My first tries I was using a recurve bow with too short a draw. When I had the shaftment about in line with my left shoulder, the string started twisting and unseating the arrow from the shelf. I shakily finished my quiver by pressing the nock of the arrow with my thumb. For the next quiver, I switched to a straight bow.

And then my hand refused to release the arrows.

I pointed the stinking thing at the hill behind the targets and told myself "Don't shoot at something, just let go. Come on! Let go of the stupid string!" Every time my hand just would not let go. I relaxed, shook loose, and tried again. A few times. After yelling at myself inside to the point I was worried about cursing aloud in front of the kiddies (who would have been much more amused than the other adults present), I decided to give up.

No arrow flew from my second bow that day. And I was ticked off.

The next spring I passed up the opportunity to do Level 1 instructor certification. To emphasize, I refused to shoot at camp at all that summer.

For some reason the following year I volunteered to go help again at the archery range. I didn't shoot anything, I just helped supervise and lift elbows and bend arms and keep people from cutting their fingers on feathers and that sort of thing. Toward the end of the session, the camp director said "Time for moving targets!" He pulled out the same straight bow I had used two years earlier and handed it to me. "You know you want to," he said. He then passed out long arrows with rubber tips, like a wide, soft hiking pole cap. I had never seen one of those before.

Task one was to shoot a soccer ball tossed into the air. Through several tosses into the air, my hand refused to let go of the arrow. None of the kids hit anything.

Task two was to shoot a soccer ball rolling on the ground. I aimed and followed the ball, but my hand still refused to let go.

Then, after the third roll of the soccer ball, the ball stopped.

And my hand finally let go of the arrow.

And I hit the stupid ball, my rubber tipped arrow bouncing back and clunking one of the young ladies in the head (only girls that age signed up for archery).

The next shot produced the same result. On the final try, I hit the ball while it was moving, but that was only thanks to my arrow being deflected slightly downward by an arrow launched by the young lady I had clunked. Her arrow lost its fletching, mine ended up hitting the soccer ball. The kids looked at me with wonder; none of them had hit anything.

I didn't do as well with the next task, the frisbee. I took a position so that I had the short aspect ratio, letting the kids have better shots. I did graze the thing once.

I haven't had a chance to shoot another arrow since then. I was just happy that my hand started to work again.


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What the Kid Has Been Doing

My kid has ben quite active lately. She's running at the mouth, in a noisy sort of way. I can't speak for my wife, who might hear other things. I've only identified a few short utterances that occur regularly.

"El-oh-da-da!" is something I hear almost every day when I arrive home from work. Saying "Hello!" to her at other times will sometimes produce an "el-oh" but that is rare.

"Ma-ma-ma" is both an inquiry about her mother, when said gently, or a call of complete and total distress, when screamed.

"Da-da-da-da" (often four times) has two meanings. One is daddy. The other is poopy diaper. Far be it form me to know why she thinks me and a load of poop have the same name. Probably some reinforcement on my part. Or maybe I really should find out more about what her mother is telling her? Also, I think she is coming to realize that poopy parts lead to sore parts. I've been noting that she is more insistent about getting the poop cleaned. Sadly, I tend to miss the signs. Even if she does say "da-da-da" it is usually in the context of being generally fussy, which could mean any of a number of things including "Clean my bits!"

"Na-na-na" means banana. It also means Cheerios. Other than breast milk, those are the only two things she will eat in bulk. After the Pea Incident of July 2008, food was sniffed carefully for a few days to make sure it was "na-na-na." Offering other foods or putting her in her booster seat and ignoring her now leads to pleas of "Na-na-na? Na-na-na?"

"Nu-nu-nu," in contrast, means nurse. This usually only heard in times of distress. When she says it I know that I need to find her mother. If the meltdown hasn't already started, it is about to begin.

"I-luf-oo-da-da" has been an occasional response to me saying "I love you." This has only happened three or four times, so I hesitate to include it. Frankly, all this baby babble is in a sort of limbo between not being able to speak and being able to speak. That confuses me because the words imply a first order transition but describe a second order transition. My apologies for you non-fans of statistical physics.

The kid has also been doing things.

Among her doings, she is interested in some no-nos like playing with wires and smacking me in the face. This is the sort of thing that should be punished, but we can't exactly do that because the cognition isn't quite there. The fact that she's the size of a two year old makes it a pain, though (quite literally in the case of face slapping). The consequences now are that she is removed from the situation. I think that's the best we can do.

The isometric muscular development is starting to expand into real movement. The kid has no interest in crawling. She is interested in pulling herself aright and walking around while holding on to anything stable. (Rumor has it that there is a single word for this nowadays, but I refuse to use it.) After falling out of bed once, and then soon after taking a tumble from the sofa under my supervision (but propelled by her own motion), the kid is interested in getting down from heights safely. In the past week she has learned how to climb off my lap and onto the floor safely. My leg hair doesn't enjoy the attempts to reverse the process.

Sharing is now fun. If you hold out your hand, the kid will give you a toy she is holding. She would like it to be returned, usually, so it's best to look at it, maybe chew on it (there is no dignity in parenting-- none) and then hand it back. She'll even be happy to put it into your mouth for you, if you lean over and open wide. If the toy fits completely into your mouth, you can expect that. Otherwise you get to nibble. You can also trade toys with the kid. Asking to trade usually gets a trade, but just holding out a new toy gets it taken from your hand with nothing returned. For months now, when the kid is bored with a toy she puts it behind her. If you trade a toy from that pile for one she is holding, she puts the boring toy behind her again and wants you to return what she gave you.

The kid is ticklish on her upper tummy, her armpits, her neck, and her feet. She likes "This Little Piggy" but only ocne or twice. I usually do the regular version and then the scrapple version.

A few weeks of trying to get the kid to hold her hands above her head finally succeed today. I don't know if my singing "Da Moose" provided motivation or my explanation of the importance of proprioception was taken seriously. I didn't use the word proprioception, so maybe she understood? Anyway, we were putting our hands over our heads, one at a time and then both. If this sinks in overnight, we'll be able to keep doing it.

In the past couple of days the kid has started pointing with a finger instead of a hand. She has also spent a lot of time with an ear on the coffee table listening to the sounds of patting and rubbing the table in various ways. For some reason I think this is completely adorable.

The kid continues to help me have conversations with chicks in the 4-13 and 40+ age groups.

Bath times continue to delight the kid, who likes to splash and downright loves having water poured all over her head and face. Weird, but I'll take it.

On a completely unrelated note, my officemate introduced me to a cookie made of sesame seeds and honey. I have no idea why Americans do not consume these things by the pound. They're great.

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30 July 2008

But Some Things Never Change

Now that my new work e-mail is running, there still seems to be a bit of a circus to get it working. We have multiple mail servers that do not play nicely with one another for the first few hours after your account is created. After that, it will settle down. So I'm told.

Of course, now that I have two new addresses and one new alias (all forwarding to the same server), I will continue to use my previous three accounts (with two aliases). You, dear readers, need not make any changes to what you are doing.

In other news, I need a bike, but it's raining horribly. No trip to the bike shop today, unless my wife packs up the baby and drags me there.

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27 July 2008

I Hate the Magic Jack

I"m about ready to throw this darnfangled MagicJack out the window. For those of you not in the know, the MagicJack is a "use the internet for our phone service and save money" plan that I've not been favoring since the day I heard it.

Why don't I like it? The stupid thing hijacks the computer's sound. The point of this is so that a computer microphone or headset can be used to make phone calls. What does that mean for me? It means that I need to screw around with logging in and out of various user accounts until I can get my computer to do things like play music through the speakers instead of through the telephone.

Frankly, I don't think it's worth the trouble. I'd rather pay $30 a month for a hard wired phone and be able to play five minutes of music, or anything else with sound like games, without ten minutes of playing with the computer.

If you are a total cheapskate and you use your computer for teh e-mails and teh word processor and teh kitty pictures, and you don't care about having your home phone perpetually sound like a cell phone on one bar (in a powered USB 2.0 port, yes, before you ask), the MagicJack is for you. Otherwise, have fun trying to make your computer behave normally.

I talk on the phone twice a week if it's a bad week and less if life is good. I use my computer all the time. And I want my comptuer back.

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23 July 2008

Car Commercial Nonsense

I'm annoyed at the way car companies are trying to sell their inefficient vehicles. I first saw GM commercials doing it, and last night I saw a Ford commercial doing it. What are they doing? They start by talking about high gas costs, but then they try to sell vehicles based on the number of miles one can drive on a single a tank of gas.

My first problem is that those two things are not related directly. If I'm driving my car on a highway at night or in low traffic, I can go 480 miles from full tank to fumes (and then deal with a clogged fuel filter). This happens independently of the price of gas. If I use half a tank and then half a tank, I went to the gas station twice to buy the same amount of gas in 480 miles. Money has nothing to do with it. In contrast, the total amount of money I spend on gas relies on how much I actually use, not how often I need to refill my tank. Similarly, the wholesale and retail pricing of gas, although complicated, relies on supply and demand, which are words we use for the amounts of gas available and wanted. Supply and demand have nothing to do with the amount of miles any or all vehicles can go between times they need to be refilled. The prices change based on how much gas we collectively have and use (which is why the "Don't buy gas on Friday" schemes do nothing to lower gas prices.)

My second problem is that the commercials ignore the relationship that does connect the two concepts of money and distance between filling up the tank. It's called the gas mileage, showing how many miles a vehicle travels per gallon of gas.* Knowing the miles per gallon turns the distance in miles to the number of gallons of gas used, which can directly be turned into an amount of money spent on gas per mile. If you would like, factor in the gas tank size, and then you can price a tank of gas.

Why would GM and Ford want to leave out miles per gallon? Because they are hoping to appeal to people's ignorance. "Wow, that gas guzzler goes 500 miles between fill-ups! That's so much better than that car that goes 400 miles between fill-ups!" Don't bother considering that the guzzler takes three times as much gas, and therefore three times as much money, to go the same 400 miles. Just buy it. You buy gas less often that way, and less often is easy to confuse for less.

Of course, the sad thing is that in attempting to play off ignorance, not a single lie is told. The vehicles shown really can get up to the quoted number of miles between fill-ups. Any mistakes are left to the consumer, and the car companies in question are probably hoping for that. You can't really tell for sure what anyone is hoping for, can you? Unless they straight out tell you, and you know for certain it's true, you can only make guesses like the one I'm making.

Honestly, as much as I think people often make mistakes, I have trouble believing there are enough people dumb enough to make this one. Of course, I can also be wrong.

[* Any relationship of gas amount to distances, like the Canadian (and many other places) measure showing liters per 100 kilometers, will work. Just remember that in Canada (and many other places), to save money on gas you want the number to be lower (less gas for a fixed amount of distance, in this case 100 km) rather than higher (more distance per fixed amount of gas, in the US one gallon).]

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22 July 2008

Bicycle Decisions

I've been bike shopping. One of my main concerns is all of these bikes with floppy wheels and chintzy aluminum frames. We have four bike shops in our area (minus the BMX and skate shop and the recumbent shop). I've been to two before today. One sells high end stuff. The other sells the lower and mid level brand name stuff.

Don't get me wrong. The low and middle brand name stuff is fine for most people. I'm a little bit bigger than most people. I want a bike with big wheels, and that means they need to be beefy. I want a bike with a nice, heavy, flexible frame with strong joints. I don't really care about cushioning out bumps, I just want the bike to be able to survive them. And I need to be able to afford it.

Today I stopped by the bike shop that will probably be my place. They emphasize sturdy bikes. Some of them are new bikes. These are name brands that sit on the fringes, mostly because they are neither hip nor mass produced, and they use okay level components on the frames. Their wares include touring bikes, built to haul a person and a load, and large wheeled mountain bikes. And I heard something about bicycle recycling, so I just had to visit.

One thing that struck me immediately when I entered was that this place is a bike shop, not a bike store. The clue was all the bike parts scattered all over the place. There are some new bikes around, mostly the cross-country type bikes, touring bikes, and mountain bikes with minimum suspension. On one wall and in a rear alcove, there are racks of wheels, forks, and frames, mostly used. This is the source material for the recycled bikes.

I talked to a really nice guy there who seemed quite interested in telling me about the range of products, asking me questions as he went along to make sure I understood, rather than asking me a few questions about riding and price and then steering me in one or two very specific products. And when we did talk about price ranges, he told me that if they build one they will need to pimp it out pretty far to make it cost as much as I have to spend. (I think my wife just bought another piece of furniture in her mind).

So, I think I now know where I'll be buying a bike. I only need to decide whether to get a new bike or to have an old lugged steel touring frame turned into a new machine.

21 July 2008

Comparative Grocery Shopping

On this fine evening, around the time most of the traffic lights in the suburbs of the sleepy town went to blink mode*, I decided to venture to the two grocery stores that are open 24 hours but that are not owned by a large evil corporate retail chain. I'm glad I did.

Wegmans was to be my source of tea. The tea selection there sucked utterly. It probably sucked utterly because the place has the typical Wegmans "split stuff of the same type and put them in different parts of the store" mystique going on. I probably found only a third of the tea. If this store has a large international section like the Wegmans store I previously frequented once a year or so for international foods, I couldn't find it. And the prices for meat, what little they had, were not impressive. I think if they took out that huge selection of kitchenware and actually sold groceries, they could improve their store. A lot. As it stands, they are a great source of cheese and take-it-home yourself catering, two things I don't need.

Giant was the next stop. Strangely, the prices at Giant were a lot like the Giant at home. In other words, they were a bit more than Wal-Mart and burning a hole in my bank account compared to Redners (which we don't have here). The selection compared to Wal-Mart was also like at home. In other words, Wal-Mart doesn't have two thirds of the stuff I want to buy but Giant has all of it. The meat department was quite impressive compared to Wal-Mart and Wegmans. That's really no surprise, because the stereotypical Wal-Mart foodie can't afford meat and the yuppies who like Wegmans want to think they're too socially conscious to eat meat, or at least cook it on their own. (These same people tend to like tea and international foods, however, which takes me back to wondering where the heck in the store Wegmans keeps that stuff.) Giant had a large selection of tea in one place, in fact everything I wanted. But watch out! I did notice one or two bigger sized boxes of tea that were more expensive at Giant than at Wegmans (and not on sale at either). And the meat was little more than I wanted to pay for it, but it wasn't much off par with recent price increases for non-discounted meat.

So, do we have a winner? Yes. I will be spending more time at Giant and less at those other places.

[*
When was the last time any of you nearly urbanites saw that? I think it gives us mad cool redneck cred. The only cooler thing would be to take out the lights entirely. But the sheer number of traffic lights adds some urban chic to our redneck cred. I think we have it all here. Wegmans doesn't, but we do.]

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18 July 2008

When Life Was Fun

An ode to the old fashioned playground.

People think I suck because I let my kid fall over onto the carpet. I figure it'll make a normal human being out of her.

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Happiness Is...

Sitting down at the iMac in my cold office with a full tummy and playing Beethoven's Fifth Piano concerto while reading the GROMACS manual.

I like science.

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17 July 2008

How Foot Friendly Is Your Town?

My new town's central area* is very pedestrian friendly. How can I tell?

1) Crosswalks are wide, well ramped, and well marked.

2) Crosswalks are plentiful.

3) Functioning buttons for walk signals.

4) Pedestrian signals light a second or two before the street signals.

Item 4 is new to me, but it's pure genius. Many of the streets do not allow turns on red (both left and right; there are a good number of one way streets) so the early pedestrian lights allow people to start walking before drivers have a chance to decide to fail to yield. In some places pushing the button provides this effect. In high pedestrian areas, the pedestrian signals always work this way.

This is not Atlanta.

[*Technically I work in a different town and live a bit outside both towns, but that's just details.]

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15 July 2008

Spiritual Disciplines

Brian Jones is planning to blog about something dear to my heart-- frustrations and reflections on concepts of "spiritual disciplines" and not being good enough.

I have my own reason for disliking these sorts of books he mentions in teh first post of the series. I think they miss a lot of reality. They point us to how to be perfect Christians, which we can't be. They are a good way to scare people away from Christianity by muddling the essentials of what must be done now with what is good to do and should develop on its own over time. They all seem to be written by people who are of the organized and "with it" sort, offering no help to the scatterbrained half of the population. The books, as Brian points out, also can make people feel more guilty than motivated. I won't even get into the people I know who "learned so much" from these books only to demonstrate that the "so much" happens to contradict itself, let alone real life in a real culture in an imperfect world.

I look forward to what Brian is going to say, and you should too.

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Why I Don't Like The "Word" Staycation

When I was a kid my working class family had its share of free time. Dad's job at the steel mill gave him a few weeks off every year. He used some of that time for single days off and some of it for longer stretches. Money was tight, so when we did leave home we often spent a few hours visiting the really fun places close to home. In less than 90 minutes we could be in Hershey, Valley Forge, the wilds of Lancaster County, and so on. Three hours in the car got us to Washington DC, Gettysburg, and such.

For along time going somewhere overnight was usually out of the question. A tank of gas cost next to nothing compared to a hotel room. I don't remember an out of state overnight trip before 1991? 1992? We stayed with some relatives in North Carolina, and a year or two later in Georgia, avoiding the hotels. As a kid it was fun to get to know the eccentric Southern relatives. Eventually we did take a few trips that had overnight stays, but that was only after my dad's pay had gone up from working class level to the bottom end of the middle class. Steelworking doesn't pay what it did forty years ago, but it remains one of the most prestigious blue collar jobs for a reason. After a few years it pays well enough to allow a family to take some overnight trips with only mild hardship, which is better than a lot of jobs.

I have fond memories of a lot of these trips. I remember standing on the battlefields in Gettysburg contemplating Pickett's charge, standing in a cabin in Valley Forge wondering how the heck those guys fit into the bunks, wandering around in search of horses and buggies, and things like that. I remember with amusement the time that mom and dad got so mad arguing over how to get home from Washington DC that they stopped the car in the street and spent some time outside the car yelling at each other (I got confused driving in that same place 20 years later). Once we went to Cape May, New Jersey. It was late fall and we couldn't swim, but it was the first time that I saw the Atlantic Ocean. Mom wanted me to stay out of the water, but I hiked my trousers and took off my shoes and waded in anyway, dad and my sister and I all taking turns pointing out to mom the little sandpapers wandering the driftwood (yes, I meant it like it's written; it's a family joke). I also recall a car camping trip that was a little less than ideal. We didn't need to fly to Rio, or even Disney World, to have a good vacation. We could take a whole week and wander to one or two places, spending most of our days at home and having the time of our lives in the process.

My point is that we had vacations, and good ones at that.

Fast forward to this decade. Air travel sucks, gas is expensive, food costs more, people have more debt, and as a result fewer people can live in the lap of luxury and take vacations of the sort that they were taking before. "Haul the family to the Grand Canyon? Not again this year. We can have gas to get there or money to eat. Or we can stay at home. But that's just not a vacation. It's boring." In a rather pompous move, these people have started making themselves feel a bit better by doing something different. If they can't go on a vacation, they'll stay home and have a staycation! Coining a new word for this activity is a brilliant move by spoiled people to make themselves feel good about how far they must bend into the realms of the less than wealthy (realms that their balance sheets might show them to already be in, if they paid attention). It also feels like a slap in the face for those of us who did the exact same thing for our vacations, especially those of us who have had people treat us with amusement when we talk about how little hoity-toity travel we do or have done.

It comes down to a reality check. Before you make a new word for something, or before you use an established word like "poor" or "oppressed," put what you are doing in perspective. You don't need to focus your energies on the other side of the world (agrarian people in Africa don't take vacations) or the distant past (in the middle ages, some people lived their whole lives within a mile from home) and only feel sorry when your life is worse. Going that way you'll be washing your used plastic baggies and eating crumbs off your floor because there are kids starving in China. But you do need to pay attention to your own society. After you recognize that you don't need to travel across the country again for this year's fun time, you could also recognize the millions of people who haven't gone across the country once. Even though you are scaling back, you don't need some special word to describe what others would be glad to simply call a vacation.


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Things You Learn in Rhode Island

Connecticut does not border the Atlantic Ocean. Contrary to common wisdom, Rhode Island and New York share a water border starting within Block Island Sound and continuing out to the Atlantic Ocean. Connecticut doesn't have a chance. While it does have bays and ports and such, they all open into one of the sounds, not the Atlantic Ocean proper. To get to the Atlantic from there, one must cross water belonging to New York or Rhode Island.

What I would like to know next is why almost everyone I know includes Connecticut in their list of states on the Atlantic Ocean (which even I did until recently) and then misses New Hampshire, which most definitely has some prime oceanfront real estate.

14 July 2008

Why My Wife Makes Fun of Where We've Moved

News stories like this.

In other news, the Nittany Lion has apparently been getting busy with Bucky Badger.

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12 July 2008

The Trips

Moving up here was wild. I apologize to those who lacked perspective while we were moving and thought I wasn't doing anything except goofing off when we were packing and loading the truck. I did drive the truck for a few hours, cramming my legs under the dash in ways I wouldn't have been able to do with tired muscles. Also, our unloading crew was on the order of half the hauling capacity of the loading crew, and to unload we had to carry everything twice the distance. Thanks to all of you on the front who did help us load up. We needed it. Special thanks are in order for my dad. He did about three times more truck loading than anyone in the Friday crowd, and he's earned himself some pizza when he gets his butt up here to visit us.

The first week on my new job I went to a minor nerd gathering in Rhode Island. It was enjoyable. I found a few people who were interested in things other than jabbering about science all day and all night, including my new officemate, and the week was fun. While my wife and her mother held down the new fort, I ate lots of high quality liberal arts college cafeteria food and went to the beach every afternoon. Yes, Rhode Island has the beaches, all three of them or something like that. I took pictures of the ocean and stuff, and I actually have about five that are worth some salt. That's a high number for me. No, I'm not posting them here. You'll need to visit me to see them.

At the conference I met some very nice people from other places. One was a person who works in "liquids," which I have found to be the best buzzword to tell that crowd what I have been researching for the past few years. If I say I studied proteins, they immediately think I did protein folding, which I didn't do and don't particularly care to do. Anyway, that guy helped me put some of the theoretical techniques I have used into perspective. I met two liberal arts college professors and talked to them about strategies to get into that crowd. They were a good bit more helpful than my non-retired, still-alive undergrad profs who are basically refusing to talk to me about their profession. My old school is planning to hire next year and they don't want to give me an inside line, but given how helpful they have been about everything else I've ever asked them, and how I don't particularly want to work there, it's kind of annoying. I also met the chaplain of the college we were visiting, and had a nice conversation with him. The chaplains... they always find me.... I must look Christian.


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11 July 2008

I'm Alive

I'm alive. I'm connected to the world. At work anyway. With an iMac. Home might or might not be connected. It should be connected soon. And with that, my coffee break (without coffee) ends, and I return to reading journal articles.

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