Friday, October 31, 2014

Things I've Liked on the Internet Recently

After 9,000 years of selective breeding corn, peaches, and watermelon are practically unrecognizable - and much, much tastier.
Remember Spirograph? You can play with it on the internet now. But even cooler than that is Spirograph pancakes.
A semi-scholarly analysis of the costs of the damage wreaked by Calvin of Calvin and Hobbes on his poor hapless parents*
This is your brain on metaphors
One way to solve the chicken-or-egg problem? Make the egg from scratch.
Fingerprint words - a meditation on the words that make us who we are

Here's a bunch of great music videos:

The iOS Autocomplete Song - no deep meanings here, but it is pretty catchy
Give It Up - a brand new song built from random YouTube videos
99 Red Balloons played with nothing but actual red balloons. (He only used 4 though.)
OK Go has a fun new video that was filmed with a drone in Japan
And from the forthcoming Annie remake, You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile

And finally, a Rube Goldberg machine powered by light:

*Yes, I know this is all in good fun, but I do have a quibble with the methodology. By mixing price estimates in 2014 dollars for given events and explicitly stated costs as given in the comic (in 1985-1996 dollars, depending on the year of the strip), the author underestimates the cost of Calvin at today's prices by failing to account for inflation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014


I have never considered myself to be an adventurous person. I am generally risk-averse. I stay home a lot and do boring things like reading books and watching television. I'm not into extreme sports. I disapprove of motorcycles. I do not have tattoos. I'm very happy to have my steady government job with a steady government paycheck; the thought of trying to make a living freelancing or starting my own business terrifies me. I have a will and a power of attorney and an emergency fund, in case. I make plans and backup plans. I don't really do spontaneity. Not only do I not live on the edge, I don't even live within shouting distance of it, and I like it that way.

But recently I had a conversation with a new acquaintance that made me reassess my claim to a life of dull predictability. We were discussing my fondness for travel and he asked me if there was anywhere really weird I wanted to go. I asked what he meant by "weird", and the example he gave was Iceland. I have actually been to Iceland - it was a lot of fun and I'd love to go back. And while Iceland certainly is a unique place, the thought of visiting another EU country only a few hours away does not seem to me to be a particularly "out there" thing to do. I somewhat frequently get on planes and go, alone, to places where I have never been, may not know anyone, and don't speak the native language. This does not strike me as a big deal, but some people apparently find this shockingly unusual and courageous. Adventurous, if you will.

And then of course there's the whole Foreign Service thing. When I mention having lived in West Africa for a few years most regular, non-globally-nomadic people react as if I said I had been living on Mars. And I suppose, for most people, the two prospects are both so tremendously unlikely that it almost amounts to the same thing. But moving around the world is a thing that I do now, and a thing that a lot of my friends do, so it's started to seem kind of normal. Not when I think about it rationally, but it just feels that way. And this is something that might possibly be considered by a not-insignificant number of sensible, logical people to be kind of an adventure.

And who am I to argue with that? Perhaps I should pay more attention to the adventures I do have and appreciate them for what they are.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Do You Like Me? Circle Yes/No

Bidding. It's almost over, and I can't wait until it is.

Bids are due tomorrow, and after that there's nothing to do but wait and see how it all works out. Until it does all work out one way or another my mental state can perhaps best be compared to that of a wallflower quivering in a corner of a crepe-papered middle school gymnasium, worried that no one will ask her to dance. It'll be another month or so until real job offers start being made, which is a long time to quiver.

In fact this whole procedure has been deeply reminiscent of the awkwardness of middle and high school dating. I have pursued my crushes with (I hope) adequate ardour to convince them of my interest, but (again, I hope) not so much as to seem desperate, because that's never cool. I have done the bureaucratic equivalent of sending my friends over to talk to that cute guy for me, in the form of asking people to weigh in for me with decision-makers they know. I have agonized over polite, functional emails, trying to figure out if Job X likes me, or if maybe they LIKE me like me, but maybe not as much as they like that blonde cheerleader? And every time someone calls or doesn't call, emails or doesn't email, I drive myself nuts asking what does it meeeeeeeean? This is not good for my mental health.

Friends and colleagues have tried to be supportive and reassuring as I (and hundreds of others just like me) go through this painful process, but the reality is that this is a very competitive bidding season. On a purely numerical basis the chances of not being asked to dance - even by that guy with the face full of pimples and two left feet - are higher than usual, and I am deeply concerned about it. I have had some expressions of interest lately that have done wonders for my peace of mind, but I can't really relax until I have an honest-to-god job offer. Just one more month to go.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Vicarious Tourism: Pragislavapest

Yes, I know the combo names are kind of ridiculous but I just can't help myself. Last week I went on vacation (again!) to Prague, Bratislava, and Budapest. I had friends to visit in the latter two, and I had just heard amazing things about Prague and always wanted to go. It was a great trip.

Prague lived up to all the great things I had heard. It really is a singularly beautiful city. Imperial grandeur, fairytale charm, baroque opulence, art nouveau intricacies, gothic heights - it's all there, with a sparkling river and scenic hills to set everything off to best advantage. Just lovely. I went on a marathon 4-hour walking tour, ate an incredible meal at La Degustation, and heard an organ recital in the splendor (and amazing acoustics) of St. Nicholas Cathedral. I also took a day trip to Kutna Hora, a former silver mining town now known mostly for the Sedlec Ossuary, a small chapel elaborately decorated with human bones. Definitely a sight to see.

Bratislava turns out to be a pleasant little place. There's not much in the way of big tourist attractions, but you can see the crown and the cathedral used for the coronation of generations of Hungarian kings and emperors. Bratislava was the capital of the Kingdom of Hungary before it was moved to Budapest and still retained its status as the coronation city. I learned a lot about Slovakia while I was there, though starting from an admittedly low base. Another thing I loved? It's so cheap! I had a delicious and satisfying meal with two half-liter beers for 10 EUR, which wouldn't even have covered the beer in Dublin. Got to love that.

Budapest was my favorite of the cities I visited on this trip, hands down. It's not as charming as Prague but more imposing, with plenty of atmospheric decayed grandeur - something I particularly love. The best thing I did there was to devote several hours to a relaxing soak in the Gellert Baths, a majestic art nouveau bathing house on the Buda side of the river with a domed and colonnaded indoor pool, one of the first ever wave pools, a series of thermal pools in different temperatures, and all kinds of things. I could have stayed all day. The two days I had there was nowhere near enough time so I'll have to go back, one of these days.