Pretty, Pretty Fordite

July 31, 2007

Here is a strange and interesting thing: Fordite.

Fordite Cabochon

A coworker pointed me at the website, and it is fascinating stuff. As their site explains:

Fordite is a unique automotive enamel material, with an interesting history. The original layered automotive paint slag “rough” was made incidentally, years ago, by the now extinct practice of hand spray-painting multiples of production cars in big automotive factories.The oversprayed paint in the painting bays gradually built up on the tracks and skids that the car frames were painted on. Over time, many colorful layers built up there. These layers were hardened repeatedly in the ovens that the car bodies went into to cure the paint. Some of these deeper layers were even baked 100 times. Eventually, the paint build-up would become obstructing, or too thick and heavy, and had to be removed.

As the story goes, some crafty workers with an eye for beauty realized that this unique byproduct was worth salvaging. It was super-cured, patterned like psychedelic agate, and could be cut and polished with relative ease! Wow!

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We, the Hyperwhite

July 30, 2007

Hilary (poetloverrebelspy) pointed me to a NY Times Magazine article yesterday, which clearly needs to be shared with all of you, our readers: Who’s a Nerd, Anyway? The article is reporting on the research of linguist Mary Bucholtz, who specializes in sociocultural and ethnographic linguistics, and in particular, in the study of nerds.

I’m not kidding at all. Hilary and I have heard her speak, when she came to Grinnell as part of the linguistics lecture series. She talked about the linguistic and behavioral characteristics of nerds and geeks, and I for one found myself nodding in agreement throughout, because I certainly fit her profile. Carries books for pleasure reading everywhere? Check. Has used “reading pronunciation” out loud? Check. (How was I supposed to know how to actually pronounce “rhododendron”?) There was a bunch more, but that lecture was, um, 7 years ago. What a frightening thought.

According to the NYT article, Bucholtz has a new term to cover the overall linguistic behavior of self-identified nerds: “hyperwhite.” As the article explains:

As a linguist, Bucholtz understands nerdiness first and foremost as a way of using language. In a 2001 paper, “The Whiteness of Nerds: Superstandard English and Racial Markedness,” and other works, including a book in progress, Bucholtz notes that the “hegemonic” “cool white” kids use a limited amount of African-American vernacular English; they may say “blood” in lieu of “friend,” or drop the “g” in “playing.” But the nerds she has interviewed, mostly white kids, punctiliously adhere to Standard English. They often favor Greco-Latinate words over Germanic ones (“it’s my observation” instead of “I think”), a preference that lends an air of scientific detachment. They’re aware they speak distinctively, and they use language as a badge of membership in their cliques… Nerds are not simply victims of the prevailing social codes about what’s appropriate and what’s cool; they actively shape their own identities and put those codes in question.

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Get Simpsonized!

July 29, 2007

Here at the Buffet, we don’t normally push advertising, but this is just too cool not to pass along. What you would look like had you been born in Springfield.

I've been Simpsonized!You’ll need a color photo of yourself
+ facing forward
+ in .jpg, .jpeg or .png format
+ with a minimum resolution of 640×480 pixels

It requires an email address only if you wish to save your Simpsonized self for posterity on their website. It is possible to download a full-sized image and an avatar without registering.

Even if you’re not a huge fan of the Simpsons, you can try it out to appreciate the face recognition software used to discern features and create personalized images. It’s a fun way to kill 20 minutes, I promise.

The Lost Art of Correspondence

July 29, 2007

Kidsilkhaze makes the point that reading isn’t as dead as everyone claims it to be. But what about good, old-fashioned letter writing? Putting pen to paper and pouring out heart and soul? Waiting days or weeks for missives to arrive and be returned?

Hillary's lettersI have to admit that I’m a sucker for letters and therefore keep a constant stock of correspondence materials at the ready. I also have special pens for letters, though I’ve never crossed the line to wax seals for the envelopes. (The stickers my fellow bloggers send me for my birthday colorfully serve that purpose, so keep ’em coming, friends.) I relish birthdays as an excuse to send cards (even belatedly) via post. Until last year, I had been faithful in mailing Christmas letters to friends and family in my brief stays at home.

So if reading is more alive and well than we think, is postal correspondence healthier than I imagine? Or am I not alone in my fear that email and instant communication have usurped the handwritten missive?

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July 27, 2007

We all know that reading is dying, right? No one reads books anymore and society is degrading into a moldy bowl of jelly because of it, right?

Well, have no fear. Last night, I spent over an hour in line just to briefly talk to an author while he signed my book. Yes, but Jennie, you’re a book professional! Of course you did! Yeah, but… Wednesday night, at DC’s venerable and awesome Politics and Prose bookstore, there were a few hundred people giving up their evenings to listen to Jasper Fforde read from First Among Sequels, his latest wacky adventure of Literary Detective Thursday Next. (Interestingly enough, falling read-rates are a major cause for concern in the plot…) People crammed the first floor of the book store, with more people standing than there were chairs. Afterwards, the line snaked around the store and people stood. And stood. And stood. Just to get a signed copy and chance to chat.

This is less than a week after bookstores and libraries around the country stayed open until midnight to deal with massive crowds waiting for a book. Less than a week after large portions of the world stayed up all night… reading.

Yep. Reading is defintely dead. We’re all going to hell in a reality show-handbasket.

This is not to say there aren’t real literacy issues out there. But this week? I’m not buying it. 🙂

Today is Systems Administrator Appreciation Day

July 27, 2007

Happy Systems Administrator Appreciation Day. This holiday is celebrated each year on the last Friday in July. The holiday was inaugurated in the year 2000, making today the 8th annual celebration of the day.

Take a moment to reflect on the wonderful technological services available to you, and to direct your appreciation to the people who make all that possible. It might even be considered in keeping with the spirit of the day to get something nice for your SysAdmin. Flowers, cards, and fruit baskets are all nice, but sports cars and envelopes full of cash are even better.

You might also take a moment to review these helpful guidelines for employees on the proper use of the System Administrator’s valuable time. Your local SysAdmin will be sure to appreciate it.

Pride and Prejudice Overanalysis, Part 2: This little character has autism, this little character does not

July 26, 2007

In an amusing coincidence, right after Ann and I did our Hollywood vs. Bollywood P&P movie extravaganza, my bookstore got its review copy of a new book, So Odd a Mixture: Along the Autistic Spectrum in ‘Pride and Prejudice’, which, as you might gather from the title analyzes the characters in Pride and Prejudice for characteristics of autism spectrum disorders.

Now, I do admit, I thought this was a pretty, um, shall we say “niche” thing to write about, but I figured what the hey, I’d evaluate it seriously anyway, because we might as well carry it if it was good. And just to make sure I was evaluating it as well as I could, I read the original book version of Pride and Prejudice over the weekend. I had already read the intro to So Odd a Mixture, so I knew which characters the author was going to “diagnose,” and was therefore paying attention to the possible signs she might have found.

When I got back to work, I dove into the main chapters of her argument, where she analyzes, character by character, the following: Mr. Collins, Lydia, Mary, Mr. Bennet, Mrs. Bennet, Mr. Darcy, Anne de Bourgh, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. (I think that was everyone.) If you’ve read P&P, take a moment to consider which of these characters you might consider possible candidates.

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Rooftop Garden Part Deux

July 24, 2007

The same day that BBaron harvested her first tomato was the day that I returned from a long research trip to discover my neighbors had been calling the police on my rooftop garden. Someone had reported seeing children playing on the roof, which though untrue lead to an all-out ban on roof access. And wouldn’t I be so kind to remove everything from the roof before they had me arrested? That day would be best, naturally.

This spelled the end of any enjoyment of sunshine and summer breezes in my chaise, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about my vegetables. I pulled in all my flowers — most of them never made it to blooming anyway, and the rest cooked to death in our overheated stairwell — but the veggies called for more space and sunshine that the roof still offered. So I fit everything on a 1m by .5 m rectangle of fake grass in front of the window and have yet to receive another “cease and desist, you tomato fiend” letter. Keep your fingers crossed, though, since you never know when the neighbors might go green with bean envy.

And while my harvest can in no way compare to that of gardeners with ample space, healthy dirt and early summer sun, I have been able to harvest to-date one healthy-sized cucumber, a green pepper and a handful of beans. My little golden tomato — the first one which had moved to a stage of ripeness — fell off the vine while I was fussing with the boxes, so I included it in the picture as well. I fully expect more beans, cukes, and maybe three dozen tomatoes before the growing season is over. Here are a couple photos of the goodies.

My first cukeSecond harvest

Tunnel Vision

July 22, 2007

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about how people categorize information. This all started in preparation for writing here on Geek Buffet about a topic of particular interest to me. I’ve not yet reached the point where I feel I’ve gathered my thoughts enough to write that post, but I do feel like I should take a moment to share my point of view on categories.

The short version of my opinion of categories is that I worry about their misapplication. I see them as useful, even necessary tools, but like any powerful tool, one that can be used in ways that do more harm than good. What’s worse is that many of the ways that this tool can be used for ill seem like a great thing until you really sit down and think about them.

Perhaps the most obvious example of what I mean is in the news. More and more people are turning away from newspapers and even television, and using on-line news publications as their primary source of information about what’s going on in the world around them. In some ways, this is a fantastic thing. A higher level of faster access to information has the power to change the world for the better. At the same time, the easy access to tools to quickly categorize the information those publications present threatens to drastically reduce the amount of information we actually have available to us. What’s worse is that the tools set us up to do this to ourselves.

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Scooters that stay where you put them

July 21, 2007

As an addendum to Kevin’s appraisal of the Scooter Libby commutation, I heard this short story on NPR’s All Things Considered yesterday: Quiz Show Draws US Attorney. Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, the man who actually prosecuted Scooter Libby and had him convicted, will be appearing on the NPR news quiz show, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! He will be answering questions for the “Not My Job” segment, on the subject of… scooters.

My favorite part? They gave him a present for being on the show, (which they don’t normally do.) A child’s kick scooter, engraved with the words, “To Patrick Fitzgerald, USA: This one will stay where you put it.”

Listen to the segment, because there are several other amusing anecdotes. Or even better, try to catch the full show this afternoon.

-posted by Dana