Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Good Thing #43: Chocolate Covered Almonds in Oatmeal

A bowl of hot oatmeal is a great way to start the day. It's cheap and good for you! Unfortunately, it tastes good for you, too. 

So, here's what you do: toss a handful of chocolate covered almonds into your oatmeal. Do it in the bowl after you've dished it up and is cooling, not while it's cooking. The chocolate will melt in lovely, fudgey trails through the oatmeal. A little goes a long way, so you won't totally kill the healthiness of the oatmeal, and you won't need any extra sweetener. You can really do it up and throw in some coconut flakes, too. 

You can thank me later. 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Good Thing #42: Marmite

Marmite is concentrated yeast paste from the UK and it tastes exactly like that. If you took fresh baked bread and captured the smell from it, and did the same from a hundred thousand other loaves, until you had a sticky black sludge that was so intensely flavorful that it hurt to eat, and then mixed it with way too much salt you'd get Marmite. I don't think it's possible to describe it accurately and actually have it sound like a pleasant experience.

The first time I tasted it I hated it. I met some Brits who had come to Portsmouth, NH for summer work and they needed a place to stay for a few days so I put them up. By way of thanks, they shared their Marmite with me. It was disgusting. Maybe the worst thing I ever tasted. I shuddered for hours. Maybe there's something infectious about it because years later I had a craving for it. I hunted down a bottle and spread a thin layer on a toasted bagel with plenty of butter. It was amazing. Like good coffee or fine Scotch, you taste it with your nose as much as your tongue. It awakens the senses and charges the mind.

Try it. You probably won't like it. Some foods are worth the effort, though. Good coffee and fine Scotch taste pretty awful the first time, too, but they can offer a lifetime of enjoyment once you learn to appreciate them. Maybe Marmite will become a food you crave, too?

Good Thing #41: The Terrible Twos

I hope I don't jinx it by talking about it, but so far the terrible twos have been a lot of fun. Incredibly exhausting, but my daughter gets to be more fun every day. Maybe I'm incredibly fortunate to have a relatively mellow and communicative child, or maybe it's my own temperament, or maybe we're just four months into the 2s and are in for unspeakable terrors.

The first year was like a video game from the 80s, where you had to perform arbitrary tasks, and much of the game was spent just trying to figure out what you were supposed to do, and when you did, it really didn't have much to do with the plot. You had to keep doing these repetitive tasks in the right order and when you did it enough you won. The first year the goal of the game was to get the baby to stop crying and your options were "rock gently," "go for a walk with the stroller," "put her in the car seat and drive around," "feed: bottle," "feed: breast," or "random thing you haven't tried yet." Sometimes one would work. Sometimes it would take all of them, several times over, in varying patterns. And then the reward was just an absence of crying instead of something truly enjoyable.

Of course there were all the joys of the "firsts." First laugh, first sitting up by herself, first steps, first words, and all that. Those have been miraculous and fascinating, but it's really all just getting started. In the twos those all come together to form an actual, interactive being.

The twos are like looking after a friend who is having an acid trip. Their reality is constantly changing and you have to keep up with through whatever cues they provide. One moment they're a princess and then they become a superhero a moment later. You might find that you've become a princess too, but then turn into a cat as the story demands. A plastic tube starts as a cup of coffee, then turns into a microphone, then a lollipop. You just have to keep up as reality shifts. Anything can become a source of entertainment and you never know what will suddenly become infinitely fascinating. Last night it was smells. My daughter and I spent an hour opening every bottle and tube in the bathroom to find out what the contents smelled like. Just sniffing things became a source of fun.

The twos are a whole lot more work than the previous years. It's not just infant babble anymore. They're learning to communicate with words and sentences. That means they can argue. And whine. But it also means they can joke and tell stories. We goof around and we crack each other up. It's exhausting and crazy and continually changing, but at the same time, the twos are more fun than any time before. I'm embracing the chaos.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Good Thing #40: Brian May

Let's get this out of the way: Brian May is best known for his work as the guitarist for the band Queen. He's widely considered by people who rank such things as one of the best guitarists of all time. That's certainly impressive, but it's everything else that Brian does that makes him such an inspiration.

Brian May dropped out of college in 1974 to devote to Queen full-time. In 2006 he returned to college in 2006 and successfully defended his thesis, A Survey of Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud in Sept 2007, gaining his PhD 37 years after he started. Colleges often hand out honorary degrees to the rich and famous just because they're rich and famous, but Doctor May really worked for his, and has continued to prove it. He's already co-authored two astronomy textbooks, Bang! and The Cosmic Tourist.

While in Queen he would give free tickets and backstage passes to dealers who would meet him backstage. Not drug dealers but antique dealers who would bring him Victorian stereo views. Over the years he's amassed a collection of unique and rare stereo views. It's not that unusual for the rich and famous to buy expensive things, but Brian May has been doing something great with his collection. He's published three books so far using stereo views from his collection, A Village Lost and Found, Diableries, and The Poor Man's Picture Gallery. These books are gorgeous coffee table books that feature stereo views painstakingly restored to their former glory. They include a stereo viewer of Dr. May's own design. Given the quality and price of these books, I find it hard to believe anyone made any money from them. They are a labor of love that Dr. May made possible. These aren't the first books on stereo views to be published, but over the past 50 years or so, 3D photography has generally been treated like a novelty item. May's books prove that stereo photography is a serious art form, deserving of scholarship and critical attention. He's also making things that are rarely seen by anyone but private collectors and making them available for all to enjoy. 

He really inspires me. He shows that no matter who you are, you can continue to grow and explore, and share what you discover with the world.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Good Thing Continues

I realized this week I need to resume my Good Thing posts. The depression returned this winter with a twist. Depression is nothing new for me, but it's always been mostly feeling nothing, with handfuls of anxiety, paranoia and hopelessness thrown in to add a little challenge to the day and keep things interesting. If you've never lived with depression this sounds pretty bad, and it is, but you learn to deal with it. It helps to have things in your life that are more important than the depression. My wife and daughter, for starters. Some days I feel like I can't face the day for my own sake, but I can do it for them.

This fall/winter it got worse, though. This time I turned toxic.

In spite of the depression, I've always been able to resist the random ambient badnesses of the world and deal with them as just facts that are out there to be engaged with intellectually or not. I'm usually really good at focusing my energies on the things I can change, that actually directly impact me or people I personally know and care about. I'm not sure what made this fall so different. Maybe it was just a bunch of things happening at the same time without anything to balance them:

LePage getting reelected. Not just the fact that we've got four more years of the worst governor in Maine's history, but that he's painfully, obviously bad. that it makes me despair for the state that I love. What hope does it have economically and socially if its own citizens vote against their own interests? It makes me wonder if this is really where I want to raise a family and start a business.

Ferguson, and everywhere else cops have killed unarmed blacks and gotten away with it. I don't really need to explain this one, do I?

Budget shortfalls at the University of Maine. This one should be obvious, but unfortunately people aren't informed enough to be outraged by it. There are a lot of very well paid administrators at the University of Maine, most of whom are making six-figure salaries. They're paid to understand things like the fact that the obvious, well documented decades-long decline in Maine's youth population will result in lower enrollment and subsequent budget shortfalls. UMaine's budget problems are the result of the administration's bad choices, and their solution is to give themselves raises, increase the number of administrators and get rid of faculty, classes and programs. The University of Maine should be playing a vital role in creating a positive future for Maine. Instead we've got an administration that is incompetent at best and self-serving at worst. This hits me at many levels. As an adjunct faculty member it effects my livelihood. As a parent, I want my daughter to have good options no matter what she chooses. I want the University of Maine to be a good choice for her future, not an academically gutted parody of what higher learning should be. As a Maine resident I'm paying taxes for this.

The last straw was Kim Kardashian's butt. It's a little thing. Well, not that little, but in comparison to anything else in the world that could be bumming me out, it's completely irrelevant, right? I don't care about the Kardashians. I know that Kim Kardashian exists, and that she's famous for being famous, and she appears to be a completely uninteresting waste of a human being. I automatically think less of anyone who actually cares about her in any way who isn't related to, or employed by her. I know this, and I choose to avoid anything to do with Kim Kardashian, just like I avoid eating turnip. Kim Kardashian never enters into my thoughts. And suddenly I'm seeing Kim Kardashian's naked ass. Or something Photoshopped to look like it. I want to turn away, but I can't. I literally can't stop thinking about it. Wondering how much of what I'm seeing is natural, how much is medically sculpted, how much is computer generated. Finding it very unattractive and wondering why, when I like big butts (I cannot lie) I find Kim Kardashian's butt revolting. Wondering if I'm shallow or sexist for objectifying that butt and judging it. Feeling angry that Kim Kardashian's butt is news simply for the fact that it is Kim Kardashian's butt, feeling angry that anyone would care when pretty much EVERYTHING THAT ISN'T KIM KARDASHIAN'S BUTT is more important, becoming increasingly angry that I'm Kim Kardashian's butt mindshare. Look! It's happening again!

Something about the combination of things made me toxic. I've become unhappy and cynical. This may sound strange to someone who hasn't dealt with depression, but I'm actually a very optimistic person. When confronted with a bad situation, my first reaction isn't just to wallow in the facts of the badness. It's to try to figure out what I can personally do to make the situation better. I can usually find the positive in even the worst situations, see the best in people even when they're being shitty, and work for a better future. I lost all that. I've spent the past few months feeling hopeless and angry, feeling contempt for people I don't know and generally being someone I don't really recognize or like.

I'm done. This is no way to live. It's time to recalibrate. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative, don't mess with Mr. In Between. Time to start writing about one good thing every day, even if that one good thing seems trivial.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Good Thing #38: Dishwashers

I lived for more than 40 years without a dishwasher. I was actually hostile to the idea. For a computer guy, I can actually be fairly reactionary towards newfangled technologies. So many of them, like microwave ovens and MP3 players, trade convenience for quality. When you go down that path you wind up with a life of easy mediocrity.

I always assumed that dishwashers fell into that category. Now I don't know what I was fighting against. There is little joy in washing a dish by hand. Modern dishwashers are more water and energy efficient so they're actually better for the environment than hand washing. They do as good a job or better vs hand washing at getting the dishes clean. They reduce marital strife by reducing the amount of time needing to be spent doing something nobody wants to do.

I don't know how I survived this long without one!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Good Thing #39: 8-Track Tapes

8-track tapes are a much maligned and misunderstood format. True, sound-quality wise, they were pretty awful. They were big and clunky. They couldn't be fast-forwarded or rewound the way that the cassette tapes that replaced them could. Focusing on these issues is missing the point, however. 8-Track Tapes were designed by a consortium that included Ford Motors and Lear Jet. It was the first truly portable audio format. It let people take their music on the road with them and decide what album they would listen to, when they wanted. That was amazing in and of itself. Look at the "issues" of the format from the standpoint of it being a format for music on the road (or in the air). "Features" of media are all things that actually make driving more dangerous. If you're fast-forwarding or reversing music (or changing songs as with CD and MP3 players) you're not paying attention to the road. The size of the 8-track tapes meant less fumbling to find the slot to fit it into. The cartridge itself had physical cues to indicate which way to orient the cartridge without needing to look at it. Sound quality may not have been great, but it wasn't really designed for home use. It was meant for the road. In this sense it was a design masterpiece and something that modern designers should learn from. How many lives are lost due to bad design? People typically chalk it up to driver error when a car crashes due to a distracted driver. However, with every piece of technology in that car, a design choice was made. That choice could have been to make it safer for the driver, easier to work without taking eyes off the road, or less distracting. 8-tracks put driving first. If more designers followed that direction, the roads would be much safer.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Good Thing # Infinity: Gwen

One of my favorite things in the world was to get up early, long before my day had to start, so I could be alone in morning as the sun rose while I drank good coffee and listened to classical music while easing into the day. No matter how the day went after that, at least I had that perfect moment and the whole day was better for it.

Later, even after Jess and I started living together, I'd still wake up an hour or two before she did to start my day the same way. Only now our two cats would follow me out of bed and curl up on me or near me, and it was an even better way to start the day.

Now Gwen has been out in the world for two months. She and I wake up long before her mother does. I make my coffee and she wiggles on the floor. We listen to classical music together. She prefers Bach and Beethoven. I'm partial to Mozart. I read her nursery rhymes and fairy tales. She makes noises that will be words one day. I never thought I'd be sharing my perfect moment with my own daughter. I had no idea how perfect that moment could be!