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On Kenya [Nov. 23rd, 2016|04:03 pm]
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In my continuing quest to experience media from every country, I picked up Michael Burgan's Kenya, another installment of the fabulous Enchantment of the World series (2015). FYI, I'm barely discussing any of the depressing stuff.

Kenya is about the size of Texas, and, like Texas, it has a coast in the east (the Indian Ocean), and some mountains and deserts. But it also has rain forests, waterfalls, and volcanos, and it borders the "world's largest permanent lake located in a desert," Lake Turkana, at the northern end of the Great Rift Valley, created by two tectonic plates moving away from each other. It also borders Lake Victoria as do Uganda and Tanzania.South Suday, Ethiopia, and Somalia are in the north. It's on the equator and so is warm (though cooler at the higher elevations--Mount Kenya sits right on the equator and has ice year-round).

The first humans lived in this part of Africa where Kenya is. Four thousand years ago, migrants speaking Cushitic languages raised goats and farmed. Later, people speaking Bantu and Nilotic languages arrived.

In the 400s, traders from all around the Indian Ocean and as far away as the Middle East and China came to trade and influenced the foods, language, and religion of Kenyans, leading to the Swahili language and culture in the 1000s. Swahilis joined in the trade and Swahili is still an official language and the coastal city Mombasa is still the second-largest city.

In 1498, Vasco Da Gama arrived from Portugal (Malindi still has a stone pillar he erected in friendship). In 1505, Portuguese invaders began looting and killing. By 1729, the Swahilis, with their Arabic allies, had pushed out the Portuguese.

In 1844, the first European missionary arrived and European explorers began mapping the interior. In 1884, the Europeans began dividing up Africa amongst themselves, and decided that the British got most of Kenya and Uganda. Theirs was no benign rule, making people work, kicking them off their land, killing resisters, and making men carry kipande or identity and employment documents with them at all times. They built a railway to help them transport things from Uganda to the coast. This is when the capital and largest city, Nairobi, was created, and English is still an official language.

Kenya gained independence in 1963, but there were conflicts between different ethnic groups. Corruption still runs rampant, and people don't trust the elections.

In 2010, a new constitution and bill of rights were introduced. Unlike the US's bill of rights, Kenya's "also guarantees such things as access to food, housing, and water."

About 3/4 of Kenyans work in agriculture, usually on small plots of land, but there are also large coffee and tea plantations for export. Fishing is also important, mining is growing, and petroleum was discovered in northern Kenya in 2012. They also make "cars, plastic goods, clothing, chemicals and medicines, paper and paper products, and electrical equipment" mostly for domestic use. Sandals made from old tires "last about ten times longer than traditional shoes." And the "largest part of Kenya's economy is the service sector ... [including] banking, education, health care," and sales.

Kenya has the strongest economy in East Africa. Tourism is now a big part of the economy and large parts of the country are preserved as national parks. That includes Mount Kenya and a stretch of coral reefs along the coast. Kenya has all of 'Africa's "Big Five"--the five land mammals said to be the hardest to kill"--the elephant, cape buffalo, rhinoceros, leopard, and lion. In 1977, Kenya banned hunting of all creatures except some birds. So now safaris are just for pictures. In the desert, they have camels, used mostly for milk rather than carrying things.

Internet usage is growing (39% in 2013). "Safaricom, the nation's leading cell service provider, is one of the nation's most successful businesses." And "M-Pesa, the world's leading mobile money system, is used by two-thirds of the adults in Kenya" to deposit paychecks, withdraw cash, pay rent, buy groceries, and transfer money to anyone with an M-Pesa account.

"All together, Kenyans speak about sixty different languages, and most people speak at least three." There are still many different ethnic groups such as the Kikuyu (1/4 of the population) from around Mt. Kenya, the Luhya (near Lake Victoria and Mt. Elgon), the Luo (also near Lake Victoria), the Kalenjin (western Rift Valley), Maasai (grasslands of southern Kenya), the related Samburu (plains north of Mt. Kenya), and the El Molo (the smallest group with less than 1000 members). Only 1% are of non-African descent. "After 1963, most of the whites gradually left the country." Refugees from Somalia and Sudan are settling in refugee camps and Nairobi.

From Swahili:
* hakuna matata = no problem
* simba = lion
* uhuru = freedom
* Kwanzaa is 'from the phrase matunda ya kwanza, which means "first fruits."'

Most Kenyans are Christian (47% Prostestant, 23% Roman Catholic), some (11%) are Muslim. Most Christians were converted by other Africans. "This gave Africans a lot of power in shaping how Christianity was adopted locally. It also led to the creation of many local churches that mixed traditional African beliefs with mainstream Christian faiths."

The literacy rate is 87%! Like every country but the US, they like soccer. They are also famous for having fast runners.
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Review: Finnish Lessons [Nov. 9th, 2016|08:10 pm]
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I just finished Pasi Sahlberg's Finnish Lessons: What can the world learn from educational change in Finland? (the series on school reform) (2010).

According to some tests (2009 PISA), Finland's students have some of the highest academic achievement among western countries (OECD countries) (only [south] Koreans did better) with some of the smallests differences between schools (only Iceland is better), even though they were quite mediocre in the 1980s.

(US students have slightly above average achievement and significantly below average equality. Korea has pretty good equality; Iceland has slightly above average achievement. Austria and Luxemburg have the worst achievement, and both have below average equity. Belgium has the worst equality?! but better than US achievement. Canada, New Zealand, and Japan are a bit behind Korea and Finland in achievement, with Canada and Japan having very good equality and New Zealand having equality almost as bad as the US. How about my other current favorites? Norway is close to Iceland with a little better achievement but significantly less equality. The Netherlands is just a bit above average on both measures.)

What changed?

1) They made all levels of education accessible to everyone, not just city dwellers.

2) They still don't start school until age 7, but they stay together for nine years rather than four years before splitting into college versus vocational tracks. This means now they all are taught foreign languages. At first there were tracks for lower, medium, and high levels of language learning, but then these were abolished.

3) They changed from the semester system to a 7-week session system. You rarely repeat a whole grade; you just retake the subjects you've failed. In fact, there are no grades 10, 11, or 12, anymore. All students must complete 75 of these 7-week courses including 18 required ones, but they have a lot of choice on what to take and when to take it. Most students study 80 - 90 courses.

4) Career guidance and counseling is mandatory. This helps students pick the best track for them and prepare appropriately.

5) Special education is added as soon as a problem is discovered; about half of all students have special ed at some point during their education, so the stigma is minimal. Usually this is additional instruction in troublesome areas; sometimes this is in separate schools.

6) A masters degree is required for teachers at all levels. This degree also qualifies people for other careers. So teaching has good status--just as good as doctors and lawyers.

7) Teachers are treated as professionals--they write their own curriculum, they teach fewer classes than in the US (4 per day versus 6-7), they are encouraged to help each other out, and there is no standardized testing by which students and teachers are judged. This freedom to do things how they want to (like doctors and lawyers) also makes the job enticing.

8) After the severe recession of the 1990s, the government decided to support diversification into tech and mobile communication (Nokia is a Finnish company) rather than traditional industry such as forestry and metals. So they wanted an educated, thinking populace and started emphasizing experimentation. Also, after the fall of the Soviet Union, they rushed to join the European Union and wanted to improve to European educational standards.

"Surprisingly, Finland, Korea, and Japan--all countries with high-performing and equitable education systems--have had only a modest role in the generation of global change knowledge. Each of the countries has heavily relied on the research and innovation from the United States, England, Australia, and Canada." We do research to discover good teaching methods and then ignore it.

Unfortunately, teachers still only make a slightly above-average salary which implies a low salary for jobs that require a degree just like in the US. But teachers would rather make less than to have less freedom. Not surprisingly, most teachers are women (though the job is considered high-status for men, too). Also, because every school is different there is a lack of consistency between schools; it seems like if you moved a lot like I did, you'd get special education to catch up on the new things at your new school.

For other countries, the author recommends "we should reconsider those education policies that advocate choice [of school, not of subject matter], competition and privatization as the key drivers of sustained educational improvement. None of the best-performing education systems currently rely primarily on them. ... Second, we should reconsider teacher policies by giving teachers government-paid master's degree-level university education, providing better professional support in their work, and making teaching a respected profession. ... Finally, ... The secret of Finnish rapid and sustained educational improvement is due to a smart combination of national tradition and international ideas."

Unfortunately, the global financial crisis of 2008+ hit Finland hard. The government cut expenses by closing down rural schools and temporarily laying off teachers. "Teachers have been sent home without pay for a few days or in some cases, some weeks. While a teacher has been on this forced unpaid leave other teachers have had to take care of her or his classes and students."

The author's recommendation for Finland's future is 1) developing customized learning plans for students, 2) developing more activity-based learning instead of classroom-based learning, to take advantage of technology, 3) developing interpersonal skills and problem solving, and 4) (my personal favorite) focusing on creativity. "If creativity is defined as coming up with original ideas that have value, then creativity should be as important as literacy and treated with the same status."

Other things I learned about Finland: A requirement of high school is that you study two domestic languages and two foreign languages. (Hmm, what languages would I pick?) And what are the domestic languages? Finnish, Swedish, and Sami (the language of the indigenous people). And Finland is the "first country to make a broadband Internet connection a human right for all citizens." Yes, awesome.
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Random Thoughts on the 2016 US Election Results [Nov. 9th, 2016|05:42 pm]

WTF, America?


We just gave the power to declare martial law and to start a "police action" to someone who's most supportive aids do not even trust him with a Twitter account.


Some people wanted someone who was uncorruptable. So they picked a guy who didn't have to be bought because he already believes in everything that decent leaders have to be bribed to do.

They wanted a good businessman so they picked a guy who's gone bankrupt numerous times and can no longer get loans in the US (and has screwed over everyone he's ever worked with).

They wanted someone with family values, so they picked a guy with multiple divorces who thinks sexual harassment is just good fun.


I do not have an escape plan. Oklahoma City is not looking good. And who wants daily earthquakes anyway? My next countries to read up on are going to be Costa Rica and Uruguay.

Even if I do leave, I can't take everyone with me. I can't fix anything.

Not that we even deserve to be accepted into other countries when we don't even want to take war refugees.


Me - I'm too self-centered and selfish to change into a different kind of person.

R - What kind of person?

Me - Bitter. Angry. Disgusted. Helpless.


All of my actions and goals feel pathetic and useless.


I guess I'm not going to wear black for the next four years. I kind of want to, though.


I saw five black people on my walk to and from the craft resale shop. I wanted to give my condolences to each of them. But I didn't.


I'm kind of glad that the next restauranteurs we are going to support are minorities (Hispanic at El Caribe and Vietnamese at Tan My).


I guess I'm relatively safe myself. I'm white. I'm a citizen.

I am female, so I can be grabbed and raped, but they can't make me have the baby (because I'm post-menopausal), so ha! They could make me go to church, but the one down the street looks kind of fun.


We have a democratic republic rather than a democracy so that the electoral college can save us from ourselves. Where are they when we need them? I have heard nothing.


I haven't heard about rioting in the streets and cities burning down, though. So that's good.


Even if Trump stomps his feet and resigns the first time he doesn't get his way, I still think we're in great danger of rolling back protections for so many people who really need them. I used to think no one was worse than Cruz. But both Trump and Pence are.


I don't like the Facebook posts that tell me to be cool about losing. We win some, we lose some. Everything's going to be okay.

You know what? Everything's not always okay even with democratically elected officials. Sometimes things change drastically for the worse.

Lyrics from the song "1917" come to mind, especially: "Old World glory, Old World Fame, the old world's gone, gone up in flames. Nothing will ever be the same. And nothing lasts forever." One could argue that France is actually fine (now). But how long did it take?


In "Idiocracy," they picked the smartest person in the country to be their president. And when a smarter one arrived, they handed over the presidency to him. That would never happen here.


Here are some things I did like on Facebook:

"Congratulations to Donald Trump, and to my friends who supported him, on your victory. I hope he has a successful presidency.

"All Americans of good faith should support our new president when his actions are constructive, dissent when they are not, and resist if necessary." - Mike McGranaghan (conservative and Republican who voted for Clinton)

"This election is like if your friends pick dinner and 3 vote pizza and 2 vote "kill and eat you". Even if pizza wins, there's a big problem." - Andrew Schvartz (total stranger to me)

"I want to clarify previous posts. We need to fight for CIVIL RIGHTS. Those of minorities- LGBT+, Racial, financial.

"Let Trump burn Washington to the ground- there's no doubt it's corrupt. Rural workers are as deserving of a voice as anyone, and if they think his plan will work for them? Give it a fair shot. Four years won't break our economy.

"But do NOT let him break our spirits. Let the builder see what he can build. Fight tooth and claw for anything he tries to TAKE." - Gwen Sanger (lgbtqia community member)


I didn't want to spew venom on Facebook. So I wrote this: "To all those who feel like the whole country hates you, let me assure you that it's not true. I stand with the lgbtqia community. I know that Black lives matter. I stand with ethnic and religious minorities and women. I want the poor to have decent food and health care. I stand with refugees and other immigrants. I stand with people who don't want the sea level rising over their cities. I stand with people who want clean air and water.

"And I promise you, I'm not the only one."

But I don't actually know how to stand with people. I vote and I sign petitions while watching bad things happen anyway. I know my Senators don't care what I think, but I make them read a lot of petitions anyway--does that help at all?

When net neutrality disappears, things will get even worse. The country is already gerrymandered to heck--that's not going to get better. The laws have become more and more pro-big-business profits at the expense of competition, creativity, human beings, and the very earth we live on--that's not going to get better either. Companies are still "too big to fail" and we still don't punish serious white collar criminals. Supposedly we can fire people for not doing their jobs (passing a budget, approving a Supreme Court nominee), but we never do.

How do I stand by people in the face of all this? Like a little ant squeaking, "Hey, you shouldn't do that!"


WTF, America?
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Experimenting with produce: onions, manual food processor [Oct. 24th, 2016|09:57 pm]
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It all started when I saw the Zyliss manual food processor in a Bed Bath and Beyond catalog. I like the idea of using my own power to chop things up but also having it go a lot faster. And this device looked easier to clean than regular food processors. And easier to store because it's small. Here's a YouTube video if you want to see it in action.

So I got one.

The first (and only) thing I've tried so far has been onions. I pull the cord seven times for minced onions. My eyes still water when I take the onions out, but it's probably better than chopping by hand. But most importantly--woosh, woosh, woosh! It's fun. And with a cute tiny rubber spatula, it's not that hard to get most of the onions back out. And then if you get to it right away, it's easy to wash. It's a little scary and dangerous to let the blades dry out in the open (in the dish rack), but so far we have been good.

Besides using a whole onion in beef dishes, I also tried using just a tablespoon or two in omelettes. This is purely because my favorite omelette ever is actually the Denver omelettes we had at Disney World--even though they had green peppers in it, which I don't like.

First put oil and onions in the pan while it's warming up. Then pour in the egg. Flip when it's mostly cooked. Add fillings (okay, just cheese), fold, and serve. Yum. I like this better than plain cheese omelets. The omelette is more likely to tear up than when it's just egg, but I'm not creating a masterpiece of art. It still tastes good.

So then I tried storing the rest of the onion in the freezer. I put it in a sandwich bag that I closed with a twist-tie. The resulting giant blob of onion required an ice pick (okay, I used a fork) to loosen pieces for future use.

So then I tried putting it in a sandwich bag and then flattening it before folding the ends closed. This worked much better. I can easily break off a piece or two and drop it into the pan. Then as it warms up, I can easily break it up with my spatula.

So now whenever I make an omelette, it has a little bit of onion in it. This does not count as a very big portion of a serving of produce, but it's still a good idea. I recommend it!
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Trying a New Word Processor: LyX [Oct. 19th, 2016|01:36 pm]
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For various reasons, I deliberately do not use any Microsoft products at home. This is no hardship for me (except for Excel).

Unfortunately, the open-source Linux word processors I've tried, Open Office and Libre Office, are both Word clones.

What I want is something that takes all the best ideas from previously developed word processors, which for some reason Microsoft refuses to do. [Though I will admit that I do like that Microsoft does use mouses (or touchpads or whatever) and also still has short-cut keys so you don't have to take your hands off the keyboard for quickly doing things you've done a million times before.]

Reveal codes

I miss reveal codes from WordPerfect 5.1, for example. You know how whenever you delete something wrong or copy and paste something from another source, your computer sometimes decides you want some wacky font instead of the one you're using for everything else? With reveal codes, you can find that wacky-font command and then delete it. Without it, you have to select everything, and maybe some extra just to make sure, and then try to change it all back to match, remembering your font, your font size, un-bolding it, or whatever.


I also miss the way Macs do equations. You can easily do wacky things like subscripts of subscripts (instead of just making them a smaller font than the main subscript and hoping that's good enough). Or fractions inside of fractions.


I also miss the easy way to make tildes and other modifications to letters on Macs. For a tilde, you just type Ctrl-n, then the letter you want the tilde on top of, usually an n. In some applications, no matter how much I scroll around through their options of weird characters, I can't find an x-bar. Grr.

Mostly I don't care. I'm no longer typing for zoology professors, so I don't have to do tricky things anymore. Unless I'm typing Spanish or other foreign languages, and I found typeit.org for that.

But finally I decided to try something new (to me). I've read good things about LaTeX, but it has a steep learning curve. And so I'm first trying LyX, which is a wysiwyg-ish version.


Under the help tab in the software is an introduction and a tutorial, both of which I've now read over the last three days.

Graphic design versus going with the flow

Okay, there are two ways to go about designing documents. One is to specify exactly how everything should look, down to individual pixels. This is what we try to do on paper and with typewriters and is important for things like brochures which, after you fold them, need to have certain things on each panel on both sides.

However, this does not work well on the Internet where you have no idea what size window people will have open let alone how big a screen they will have, etc. Some people resist this and try to make everything look just how they want and try to force everyone to have their windows big or it just won't work.

But the best practice is considered to be to use a design that can work in many situations. So, for example, instead of saying you want the title to be in 18 point boldfaced font, you just say you want it to be in "Title" font, which is big and bold. You can specify the defaults you want, but the viewer can change these.

So, when you're coding html, it's best to designate the function of everything as you go and then separately specify the style of those things. So everything is a title or a paragraph or an equation, and you make make up your own styles for other things.

LyX is more like html than like Word. First you decide what you're writing (such as a letter, a book, or an article). That determines what styles are available (such as signature, title, or bibliography).

So the advantage is that you're thinking in terms of function instead of in terms of typesetting. You don't have to remember what size you decided to make subtitles, you just remember that you're using subtitles.

Even if you like this idea, the bad part is that you are relying on someone else to figure out all the styles you need. For example, on letters, I still can't figure out how to include my title under my name in the signature block. Surely that's possible--I didn't check the documentation or google anything yet. But I don't actually know, and there's definitely an avenue for frustration here.

Still, there is no sudden changing of fonts that you don't understand--everything of the same function is the same style as each other.

Equations and characters

Equations and characters are a lot like on Macs. Woot!

And you have automatic numbering of things like footnotes and equations so you can stick one in the middle without having to find all the other ones. And you can make automatic tables of contents. And you can go directly to specific sections rather than having to scroll or find the right search terms.


You can't export it to Word, so if that's required for a job application or other sharing, this is no good. However, you can export it to PDF.


I'm going to try using LyX for NaNoWriMo.
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On Fine, Curly Hair [Oct. 18th, 2016|10:43 pm]

I've been noticing that my hair's been looking rattier lately.

I did some research and apparently if you have hard water, you should use detergent, not soap, to wash your hair. So I switched from Dr. Bronner's back to shampoo. There's been no obvious improvement, but this may be a gradual thing.

As I've gotten older, I've not been able to grow my hair as long. It's now getting to the point where gravity is no longer straightening my hair into mere waves. So I've done some research on how to treat curly hair.

My hair is also fine--a lot of advice for fine hair is intended to make it look bigger, but mine is already too Bozo-the-clown-ish for my tastes, so I'm trying to ignore that advice. There's still plenty of bizarre advice out there.

Never brush your hair.

Um, what? How could that possibly help?

Apparently that hundred-strokes-a-day thing only works for people with straight hair. The hair is all smooth, and the oils get brushed down the hair shaft, so you have nice, shiny hair. But curly hair is that way because the hairs are all lumpy, and so the oil doesn't go down the shaft, and you just have oily hair at the top and dry hair at the bottom no matter what you do. Plus fine hair is delicate like lace, so you should be super gentle with it.

So how do you get the rat's nests out?

Comb your hair only when it's wet.

Dripping wet. Preferably while still in the shower.

Okay, combs do not like to go through my hair. I could decorate my hair by sticking combs in it in random places, combing it from there to 1/2 - 2 inches that it will go, and just leaving it there. (I don't quite have Marge Simpson holding power, though.)

Brushes go through much more easily, at least the boar-bristle brushes that I use.

It's true that it does become possible to get a comb through my hair while it's wet, after conditioning it. But I've read that your hair is weaker when it's wet. So, I brush before I get in the shower, then brush it again after I get out, then comb it to get the last tangles out. I don't see changing this strategy.

Let your hair drip dry.

Basically, when your hair is wet, it can clump into ringlets. If you blow-dry it or brush it after it's dry, it goes all Roseanne Roseannadanna.

Interestingly, if I put my hair up in a ponytail after a morning shower, it can still be wet in the evening where the ponytail holder is. That can't be good.

Cut it off.

Curly, fine hair is just too fragile to grow long. So don't even try.

This is actually the strategy that R. and my mom use. My mom actually tells the stylist, "Cut my hair as short as you can without making me look weird." Occasionally, it comes out a little short for her taste and she wears big earrings and bright red lipstick for a while.

I have a tiny little head, plus I love long hair, so I will not be doing this either. Obviously, if my hair can only grow to be two inches long when I'm 85, then sure. But meanwhile, no thanks.

Sleep on silk.

I'm surprised they don't say to sleep standing up. Cotton pillow cases will damage your hair! So get silk pillowcases. Or silk hairnet thingies. Sexy!

I read somewhere earlier that putting your hair up in a ponytail while you sleep will damage it. So you should either leave it down (where the ceiling fan blows it all over my face making me itchy so I can't sleep) or put it in braids. Heh, braids. Those are another recipe for giganto-hair!

Do you have any advice for curly hair? Do you have any odd-sounding strategies for your hair care?
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Different can be good [Oct. 11th, 2016|07:52 pm]
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Instead of wondering to ourselves why someone can't be more like us in some way, I wish we would try harder to wonder how different someone can be and have it still be okay. Can we make it okay for people to be super different?

There's an old song (1965), "Johhny Half Breed," about how a town has made it clear that that "half-breeds ain't welcome." Until the mayor's daughter disappeared and they couldn't find her. As a last resort (after helicopters, even), they sent the man they called Johnny Half Breed after her and he found her.

"He was hero for a day.
They asked him to remain.
They said they learned their lesson:
All people are the same."

Um, no, all people are not the same. They called him because he was different and he succeeded because he was different. He had tracking skills that the townspeople lacked. And he had those skills because he lead a different lifestyle than they did. The lesson to learn is that people are different and that this can be good.

I'm also reminded of a seminar I took where all the participants were divided into four personality types: detail-oriented people, curiosity/logic-oriented people, people persons, and creatives/thrill seekers. Everyone agreed that without any single one of these groups of people, the world would be a worse place. They also agreed that they were really glad that they didn't have to do the yucky things that the people in the other groups enjoyed doing.

Much as I think I would enjoy having an identical twin sister around, and I do think I would, it's getting really old, not to mention tragic and horrifying, to hear so many stories about people who want everyone to be the same such as, just off the top of my head:
* religious people who want everyone to be the same religion as them
* those who want everyone to be the same political party as them
* straight people who want everyone else to be straight
* people who never wanted an abortion for themselves or loved ones who want to outlaw all abortions for everyone
* body shamers
* bullies
* misogynists, racists, and homophobes
* people who say immigrants should "just learn English" (like it's so easy and they're just being stubborn)
* evil/intolerant homeowner association members
* sorority sisters who fine you for going out of your room with "bed head"

Are there any exceptions? Yes. I admit to wanting to "fix" psychotics, anorexics, addicts, and other people who cause harm to themselves or others. And if it's not possible to fix them, I want there to be protections, even if that means, say, the death penalty for serial killers. So I am not immune to this kind of thinking.

But overall, I'd rather ask, "can we make it okay for a person to be different from me?" than "how can we make people be more like me?"

We can start with asking "why are they different and what are the advantages?" (yea for learning!). And it could also help to remember something my mom said that I really like: "Everyone is always doing the best they can."

What ways are you different from how other people would like? Here are some of mine:
* yankee imperialist pig
* materialist and global warmer
* omnivore
* living in sin (unmarried partner)
* godless (atheist-leaning agnostic)
* don't have kids
* don't even want kids
* don't even want pets
* buck teeth (won't get braces)
* female who likes to think and be financially independent
* different career than my parents'
* cold all the time
* don't want to take mind-altering substances
* early retiree
* think "too much," don't like meditation
* clothes are not in style, especially shoes!

Obviously I don't like some of those, at least in some ways, but most of them I really, really do like.
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Experimenting with produce: blueberries [Oct. 3rd, 2016|10:22 pm]
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There's a coupon at HEB right now. If you buy Thomas's English muffins you get free HEB brand pancake mix. There are several kinds but they are something I would never buy because they are all made from white flour. But the thought of a lot of free pancakes brought me to the pancake mix aisle to investigate.

They had two mixes that require adding just water: regular and buttermilk, so I got the buttermilk. I've read that just-add-water mixes don't taste any worse than the kinds where you add oil and eggs, but people feel too much like they're cheating or something. I am not one of those people. If the eggs and oil are included for the same price, why not get that? Plus, then you can make any amount of pancakes without having to figure out how to use fractions of eggs.

So, I tried a batch. As expected, it was not as good as my favorite pancake recipe, but it was okay and better than Bisquick pancakes.

I tried adding chocolate chips; they did not help. Then I thought that blueberries might really go well. (I know, finally we get to the blueberries!)

On my next batch, I tried adding dehydrated blueberries. Robin has recommended these as much better than regular blueberries for pancakes (the latter are too wet to work properly). However, I didn't like them. They were a little crunchy and also got lost in the batter.

Then I bought some frozen blueberries, let some sit out to thaw, and added them to my next batch. Yum. Yes, they turn the batter blue and there is a bit of a moisture problem, especially involving sticking to the pan a little, but they feel like success to me!

I have to say that it is quite nice to just mix up a small batch of blueberry pancakes instead of doing all the work it takes to make my double batch of banana chocolate chip pancakes. I have been feeling kind of gleeful doing it. And it doesn't wreck my diet, either, by which I mean that I don't automatically weigh more the next day every time I eat some.

But how much of a serving of blueberries am I eating? I like to make half a batch of pancakes, which means 1/2 cup of mix and 3/8 cup of water (I just fill the half-cup measuring cup about 3/4 of the way full). Then I added 3/8 cup of blueberries, and that seemed about right, and like a lot. But that turns out to be 1.5 servings of pancakes and 1/2 a serving of blueberries. So, this is not a nice, easy way to get a serving of fruit. So sad. However, it is a nice, easy way to get a half serving of fruit! Yum!

My next step is to try the smaller wild blueberries for sale at Trader Joe's. I also checked Trader Joe's for just-add-water pancake mix and they do have one but it's also made with white flour. (And coconut, interesting.)

When I run out of this mix, I may try making my own with whole wheat pastry flour. But how easy is it to find powdered eggs and powdered buttermilk or whatever? I checked the ingredients list and noticed that there are no eggs at all in my mix. Weird.

I actually found two recipes online. They do have some weird ingredients.

* The one from Anastasia's Palace just has powdered milk.

* The one from My Food Storage Cookbook involves egg powder, butter powder, powdered buttermilk, powdered milk, and malted milk powder.
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NaNoWriMo event: authors discuss how to get started with a new book [Oct. 3rd, 2016|03:36 pm]
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NaNoWriMo got off to a bizarrely early start with an author panel on October 2. I already know that different authors use different strategies (except they all say that you must make time for writing if you want to write), so it's good that they had a panel of five authors. Plus a few more in the audience, not to mention the half of the audience that had already participated before.

Some of the authors even did talk about the subject of getting started on a new book.


To outline, or not to outline; that is the question. The general consensus is that new writers generally do not outline but just jump right in. The technical term for this style is "pantser" (aka "pantster") or one who goes by the seat of one's pants.


But outlines can be handy. They can speed up the writing. And one person said she tends to re-write the first third of her book whenever she doesn't start with an outline.

Outlines can also greatly reduce the editing process afterwards. In fact, several people agreed, you can pre-write more or re-write more. And most people think pre-writing is more fun. (I might not think that. I think it's also nice to see the writing get better as you fix it up.)

And outlines can help you work with co-authors.


However, sometimes outlines can take away the magic--if you've already written the outline, then sometimes adding in the details feels like drudgery instead of fun. One author recommends minimal outlining--just list some things that need to happen and some motivations the characters have.

And sometimes outlines can lead you astray--you can't be afraid to trash it if you later decide that's not where your story should go.

My take

I always assumed you'd need an outline or something if you were publishing episodes as you finished them. If you wait to figure out who the murderer is until you're halfway through the book, then it's too late to add the clues you'd want your readers to have.

For school assignments, whenever an outline was required, I always wrote the whole paper first and then created the outline from that. I never knew ahead of time what I would be writing because it all depended on what I found out from the books available to me. I did use note cards, and I suppose I could have written an outline from the note cards rather than writing a paper from the note cards and then an outline from the paper, but at the time, outlining just seemed like a waste of time.

I guess that for the "book" I did last time, I had a bare-bones plot, a couple of characters, and a scene or two that I really wanted. All that happened, but didn't use very many pages. To me it's just as hard to think of an outline as to be a pantser--you have to think up the ideas somehow. Once that's done, it's all fun.

Also I learned that if I couldn't write because I was, say, stuck at a bus stop with no bench, that pre-thinking was a big help. I was always afraid I'd forget my best ideas, though, and would end up repeating them over and over in my head so that I wouldn't.

For this year's non-fiction book, I have made an outline. It's not a full outline, but every time I get another idea I think I might like, I find a place for it in my outline.


Reading other people's writing can be good prep work for your writing.


One person likes to read poetry before each writing session. It's like running scales when you're playing an instrument. It gets her warmed up and in the right head space.

One person has several go-to books he re-reads a lot, and he has different ones he uses for different needs. For example, if the language needs to be sparse, he'll read Hemingway, preferably a hunting story. If it needs to be epic, he reads Tolstoy. If it needs to be visual, he likes Jack Finney's About Time: 12 Short Stories.

But another author prefers music for that. She'll listen to opera or something to put herself in the right emotional frame of mind.

When attempting a new genre, you can try reverse engineering. For example, one person writing her first romance wondered how many times it was appropriate to mention someone's scent. So she counted it in a book where the scent was an important plot point, and it had been mentioned 23 times. So when it's not an important plot point, you need to mention it much fewer times!


Some people feel they need to cleanse themselves of reading. When they read, that other book is hogging a lot of space in their head. That space should be full of their own book instead!

Some people get burned out reading other books in their own genre. (Tragic!)

My take

I know that when I write something while another book has really captured me, I find myself copying their style. Which is super fun (assuming I liked their style).


That's pretty much it for the topic at hand. They did talk about several other topics as well, though.

Writing linearly

Someone asked whether they write linearly or jump back and forth. The consensus seems to be that people write linearly unless they really get stuck. Then they might jump ahead to a scene they know has to happen, just so they can keep writing.

One person said that writing from beginning to end helps reduce inconsistencies. One said if emotional development was important, it's really hard to write out of order.

Some people write all the dialog first and then go back and write the other parts.

My take

Heh, my writing is full of inconsistencies even writing linearly. I don't know how that happens, but it does. Then I have to go root them out because I despise inconsistencies! I definitely did that thing where I wrote linearly until I got stuck and then I jumped ahead to the good parts that I had already thought up. But I ran out of those pretty quickly!


You can really get lost in research and never do any writing--it can become an excuse. So how do you know how much research to do? One person summarized the answer this way: If you're winging it and you know you're cheating, do research. If you're doing research and you know you're cheating, get back to writing.

Research usually won't get you out of a fix. And there's usually no need to stop your writing when you aren't sure of something. Like if you're wondering about clothing in during your era, because you need to know if he can un-do buttons or has to do something else, just leave a marker. One person likes brackets: "He tweaked her [buttons?]." Another always uses "XXX" to help find these spots later.

The consensus was that no matter how perfect your research is, experts will say that you're wrong. So, don't try to convince experts, just worry about convincing the lay reader. This advice sounds terrible to me, but one person was writing about an autistic person, based on her autistic son, and someone who knew another autistic person (who of course was different) said she'd gotten some details wrong.

Getting unstuck

I've heard before that if you get writer's block, just write anything. "And now [character] is having breakfast. It's scrambled eggs, toast..." Or as the moderator said, "I don't know what this character should do next. She's tough, but ..."

But there were some other ideas. One person said to get some people you can brainstorm with. Many people like having a novel-writing group where people read each other's chapters and give advice. I'm feeling a little like Daryl Zero in "The Zero Effect." "Talking? To people?" I never expected that book writing (without co-authors) would be such a social undertaking. It seems wrong!

Read how-to books.

Google "the snowflake method." So I did. It's a way to outline your story. First you start with a one-sentence description. Then make a one-paragraph description. Then make a one-sentence description for each character. Add more and more details until you have a lot. The term was apparently coined by Randy Ingermanson who explains it in The Snowflake Method for Designing a Novel.


Do a creative writing exercise. Ask yourself, what is the goal, motivation, and conflict--for you as the writer? Why does this matter? If you don't write, what won't you get?

For the conflict, troubleshoot. Figure out in advance what's likely to come up and get in the way. For example, during NaNoWriMo, Thanksgiving! Or you don't feel like it.

Many people recommended finding good spaces to write in, with few distractions. Write-in's at coffee shops are a common NaNoWriMo event. (People just come and sit (mostly) quietly typing away.) One guy moves into a hotel when he needs to do a lot of writing fast. One with no distractions, "not one of the nice ones with gyms."

Or withhold things that you like until you've done enough.

One person heard that Susan Brockman said that when you have a good writing session, pick something physical to do (like rubbing your knuckles) to train your body that doing that thing means you're ready to work.

The NaNoWriMo strategy

"Magic happens when you concentrate your writing." One guy wrote a novella in a weekend. Several of the authors felt that this was a good idea even for them, though one is not participating because with kids, etc., she can write only three times a week, and another is just "going to party, not trying to win."

Who knew that real authors would like this? Weird.

How long it takes to write a book

The survey of these authors on their first book yielded these results:
* two years, 17 drafts
* one year, 3-4 major drafts (first published book); five years (first book)
* eighteen years, 20 drafts (first book), 60 days (second book)
* five months (writing 20 pages each, 3 days per week)
* four months (first book, nonfiction), five months (first fiction)


Many of these people were co-authors and apparently a very common way to do that is to pass the story back and forth. You can be kind of mean to each other, too, such as by leaving your co-author with a situation you know they will have trouble with (but think they could use the practice with).

Two people said an outline was important for co-writing; one said only when working with new co-writers.

On re-write requests from publishers

One gal says that whenever she gets a re-write request, she gets bratty for a while. Then she deconstructs their request and re-writes the request herself. She finds that publishers are good at noticing real problems, but their solutions are often terrible.

Other authors said that the good publishers just point out the problems and don't try to tell you how to fix them.
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On Compound Words in Spanish [Sep. 20th, 2016|01:36 am]
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I think compound verbs are fun. Why, yes, I did enjoy studying German (where the word for glove is handschuh = hand-shoe), except when trying to read sociology articles (yikes, those were some very long words).

Spanish has some compound words, too. Many follow the pattern of combining the third-person singular of a verb with the plural of a noun. For example, cortalápices, the word for pencil sharpener, literally means "it sharpens pencils."

These words are generally masculine, even if the nouns they include are feminine (which I learned from About.com's Colorful Combinations, which also has a list of common and interesting compound words that follow this pattern). And the singular and plural forms are the same.

Here are some words from our book that follow this pattern:
* el cumpleaños = the birthday (lit. it fulfills years)
* el lavaplatos = the dishwasher (it washes dishes)
* el parabrisas = the windshield (it stops breezes; I always thought this was from "para" = for, not from "parar" = to stop)
* el paraguas = the umbrella (it stops water--it lost an "a" in there)
* el tocadiscos = the record player (it plays records)

Other useful ones:
* el abrelatas = the can opener
* el cascanueces = the nutcracker
* el cortacuitos = the circuit breaker
* el cuentakilómetros = the speedometer, odometer (it counts kilometers)
* el cuentapasos = the pedometer (it counts steps)
* el cuidaniños = the babysitter (he/she cares for children)
* el escurreplatos = the dish rack (it drains dishes)
* el guardarropas = the clothes closet (it keeps clothing; extra r for extra fun)
* el limpiaparabrisas = the windshield wiper (it cleans windshields; it cleans that which stops breezes)
* el matafuegos = the fire extinguisher (it kills fires)
* el matamoscas = the fly swatter (it kills flies)
* el matarratas = the rat poison (it kills rats)
* el matasellos = the postmark (it kills stamps, though we learned stamp as la estampilla)
* el pagaimpuestos = the taxpayer
* el parachoques = the bumper (it stops crashes)

Other fun ones from that list that I really like:
* el calientalibros = the bookworm (he/she warms books) (though SpanishDict says it's el ratón de biblioteca)
* el paracaídas = the parachute (it stops falls)
* el rompecabezas = the puzzle (it breaks heads)

This DuoLingo comment lists many kinds of compound words. Here are more from our book (and my guess at what the component words are):
* anteayer = the day before yesterday (ante = before, ayer = yesterday)
* la autopista = the highway (el auto = the car, la pista = the path)
* el baloncesto = the basketball (el balón = ball--though we learned la pelota, el cesto = basket)
* bienestar = well-being (bien = well, estar = to be)
* bienvenido = welcome (venido = come)
* el crucigrama = the crossword puzzle (cruzar = to cross, I don't understand the other half)
* la entrevista = the interview (entre = between, la vista = the view--that makes about as much sense as the English version)
* el girasol = the sunflower (girar = to turn, sol = sun; I thought all plants turned toward the sun, but English is similar)
* la medianoche = the midnight (I don't find that medio/a means mid, but it can mean median, noche = night)
* el mediodía = the noon (I always assumed this meant midday)
* la motocicleta = the motorcycle, motorbike (el motor = the motor, el ciclo = the cycle)
* nosotros, nosotras = we (nos = us, otros/otras = others)
* el pasaporte = the passport (pasar = to pass; I don't understand the other part)
* el pasatiempo = the hobby (pasar = to pass, tiempo = time)
* pelirrojo/a = red-haired (pelo = hair, rojo/a = red; wow, what happened to the spelling?)
* el terremoto = the earthquake (la tierra = land, earth; motor = motor; this looks like a pretty big spelling change, too)
* vosotros, vosotras = y'all (vos = you, thou; otros/as = others)

Spanish with Judith also has a nice list of Compound Words.
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