Tuesday, July 29, 2003
Twice so far this week, we've been talking with people when the subject of caffeine in hot drinks has come up in conversation. Both times, the caffeine in a latte or cappuccino was the focus, and both times, we ended up discussing how espresso-based beverages have less than do their brewed counterparts. But finding proof of this always was a little tricky.

That is, until I remembered where I'd seen the original paper that contained this counter-intuitive information. It comes from the (much abused as 'no fun') Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a fantastic organisation that does the difficult work of trying to counteract food marketing spin. Thanks to them, you can find a great table that compares dozens of drinks here.

My favourite comparison is that a grande latte has five times less caffeine than a grande coffee. Ouch.

Tuesday, July 22, 2003
I've got a new hero in the form of Augusten Burroughs. I think I'm a little late to the party on this one, but 'Running With Scissors' and 'Dry' have to be two of the most entertaining reads I've had the pleasure of experiencing recently. Yes, they're utterly loaded with craziness, enough to make you think something has to have gone wrong in your childhood and young adulthood if you didn't sing a capella in an mental hospital or amass a collection of 300 empty Dewar's bottles in your apartment... but they're also infused with real warmth, something that Burroughs has a gift for; he's got a way of telling a story that keeps even the most insane situation tethered to a kernel of humanity.

Both books would be ideal beach books, if I could envision a beach in my future.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003
Is there really much use in creating a super-variable like 'literacy' so that you can rank cities by it? Really, calling a city 'a literate metropolis' isn't terribly meaningful. It's certainly not metonymic with 'an intellectual metropolis', since intellectual capital is an even fuzzier concept than literacy is.

What this study does is, in the final analysis, rank cities by what should rightly be called 'Local Uptake of (Mostly Local) Print Media'. Is that the same as literacy? I'm not really sure. But I'm also not really sure that it matters at all.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003
As much of a sucker as I am for this kind of story (letting loose a message to drift around randomly in the world until it's found), it is a bit of a let-down that after 19 years, the message travelled a grand total of about 10 miles...

Monday, July 14, 2003
By the way, Blogger has been keeping my posts and not publishing them recently. No idea why...

Sunday, July 13, 2003
Speaking of Harry Potter, has anyone else noticed the difference in length between the 766-page UK version of 'Order of the Phoenix' and the 870-page US version?

I realise that the editors of the US book change jokes that don't work because of British slang and usage, but could that really account for 104 pages? Is the font size different? Is there a mini-novel included in the US version where Harry goes in search of Umbridge's weapons of mass destruction?

Wednesday, July 09, 2003
There's breakfast, and then there's 'Myocardial Infarction-in-a-Box'.

I can understand being famished and resorting to McDonald's in utter desperation. I can even empathise with a quick and greasy English Breakfast, when the situation (read: hangover) warrants. But that full pound of food scares me. It would take 6 of my regular breakfasts to equal one of these (plus with 6 of mine, you'd end up with 613% of your daily fibre, and most likely, a wickedly impacted colon to boot).

A.S. Byatt's New York Times op-ed on the Harry Potter phenomenon made me more angry than I've been in a long time. Of course, she's allowed her opinions about the books and their relevance. I'm stunned though, that she crafts such a rickety argument, built so heavily on a (atavistic?) Freudian analysis of the book's family structure, coupled with a hollow invocation of Rudolf Otto and his idea of the 'numinous'.

Can she really not see that the books aren't simply about people who want to harm or help Harry, himself? Yes, Harry is the object of Valdemort's ire, as he should be. But what's really at stake in the stories is a much more complete routing of all things benevolent. Everyone who represents goodness in the story is in danger at some point (Sirius, the Weasleys, Dumbledore, Hagrid, &c.). It might seem that Harry focusses on his own situation too much, but isn't that part of being a child/adolescent/teen? The larger battle of good versus evil isn't anything new to literature, but it's certainly ubiquitous in all five of the books.

And as for the charge that there's nothing of the god-like in Harry or the stories, that's a matter of interpretation. I think J.K. Rowling has done a really spectacular job not invoking religion, precisely so the books can retain their meaning across cultures. Does it really matter that there's no implicit or explicit reference anywhere to a higher power? That's not the point. We have C.S. Lewis and Philip Pullman for that.

I'll venture a little further out onto this limb and suggest that Rowling actually does depict the numinous in the books, in the guise of good and evil spectral ancestors who watch over Harry and his friends-- ghosts and graphic representations of the dead whose very presence implies an afterlife, a connection between the physical world and the spiritual one, and the eternal nature of the soul.

Monday, July 07, 2003
Martina giving me her best 'Are you looking at me?!' glare. Click the picture for a full-sized version. I'm back from a quick trip to the US that involved: (1) raking my roof (no, not raising my roof) to remove 2 years worth of old leaves, (2) scraping my hands up while perching on roof, (3) cleaning out gutters that have been colonised by weeds and ants, and (4) being isolated from most media (save NPR) for 5 full days.

Strangely, I found myself thinking that I couldn't wait to be 'home' again, while lying on the futon in the living room of my own house. See what renting out your home can do?

In other news, I realised that our annual visit to Wimbledon 2003 once again gave us the chance to see two eventual champions in action-- Ai Sugiyama (who is half of the winning Women's Doubles team) and Martina Navratilova (half of the winning Mixed Doubles team). At 14 ($23) for an all-day Grounds Pass, it's the best purchase I've made in the past month. (Including a new washer and a new dryer for the House of Pain...)

PS- Yes, I really did take that picture of Martina. I swear.

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