Monday, July 28, 2014

Suddenly, Gil Scott-Heron

Wandering down a street in Washington, D.C. today, I came upon this sign, which is part of a walking tour in the Logan Circle neighborhood:

That's Gil Scott-Heron on the left, with Brian Jackson on the right. The photo caption reports that they lived at 1 Logan Circle in the early 1970s. Here's the house now:

Looking around on the interweb, I found out their album, Winter in America (1973) was originally called Supernatural Corner. That's the title of the painting on the cover, and also a reference to the house on Logan Circle, which they thought was haunted.

That was my find for the day.


Here are my past posts that discuss Gil Scott-Heron and his work.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Showing the Hills

I grew up in a place with topography -- hills, valleys, winding roads, and all. But I moved to mostly flat Minnesota almost 30 years ago, and so when I travel I can be surprised when following a map on foot, only to find that it's all up hill (or seems that way).

So I love this idea:

Note that red, green, and blue are used to indicate severity of slope, and that the map also shows the varying quality levels of the walking paths. Very useful for people who are not as sure-footed as others.

Shared on the Twitter account All Things Mapping.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Month of Tabs, Summer 2014

It's been a while since I did a Too Many Tabs post. Not because there haven't been tabs sitting open, unfortunately. Just a lack of time to process them mentally.

Here goes.

Strong Female Protagonist is a web comic by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag. What happens when a teenaged super hero gives up the job and tries to be a regular college student?

New report reveals 'excessive' militarization of U.S. police. From the ACLU, on Mashable. Here's a direct link to the ACLU post about their report.

What happened when we gave our daughter my last name. Predictable comments, I suppose ("Why did your husband let you do that?"), but I found them pretty different from my experience doing the same thing 20 years ago.

One in 10 premature deaths in U.S. is linked to alcohol. By Susan Perry on MinnPost. (Here's a previous post of mine on premature deaths.)

Forget red state, blue state: Is your state "tight" or "loose"? From Mother Jones, more on the cultural aspects of our political divide.

When all the jobs belong to robots, do we still need jobs? Cory Doctorow, writing on Boing Boing, about the "problem" of abundance.

Wall Street as cause and beneficiary of skyrocketing university tuition.

How does IQ relate to personality? Openness to experience was the most strongly related. "Eight [other] dimensions of personality ... were positively related to IQ, including organization, toughness, provocativeness, leadership, self-disclosure, emotional stability, moderation, and happiness– although the correlations were much smaller than with intellectual engagement and mental quickness. IQ was negatively related to orderliness, morality, nurturance, tenderness, and sociability, but again, the negative correlations were much smaller than the relationships among IQ, intellectual engagement, and mental quickness." (Emphasis added.) From Scientific American.

Also from Scientific American, what does introversion really mean?

Should we stop teaching calculus in high school? From Forbes. I've given my thoughts on high school math curriculum before... so this article should come as no surprise.

Red meat isn't very green: Study finds beef pollutes far more than pork, poultry, dairy, eggs. Twice as much, in fact. And note that the study didn't look at the levels for fish or plants, so beef was only being compared to its closest competitors in the pollution/green house gas derby.

Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless. From Vox.

You probably already saw this one, but just in case not: The pitchforks are coming… for us plutocrats. Billionaire Nick Hanauer explains why it may be in the interest of the 1% to share just a bit.

As a follow-up to Hanauer's piece, and in the context of recent news of American corporations merging with European companies to dodge taxes, an IPS journalist wonders whether there a connection between CEOs’ narcissism and corporate tax-dodging.

And this from Matt Bruenig: The totally doable slate of economic reforms that conservatives are losing their minds over. (Universal basic income, land taxes, sovereign wealth funds, and public banks -- from an article in Rolling Stone.) Related to his work on how to cut the poverty rate in half.

After a black woman professor, crossing a street on her college campus, was assaulted by police for jaywalking (despite the fact that lots of white pedestrians did the same thing), For Harriet asks, Should black professors hide their credentials from the police?

Why wars always end up hurting the most vulnerable Americans. "The centennial of World War I is a chance to remember naive predictions about how it and other fights would improve society—and the awful abuses those wars actually enabled." From The Atlantic.

Dos and don’ts to combat online sexism. And this link,, which you can send to anyone who insists that acting against an aspect of oppression is itself a form of oppression.

GMOs, Silver Bullets and the Trap of Reductionist Thinking. "The biggest problem with GMOs isn’t technology. It’s when technology is used as a silver bullet, without considering the broader context within which it operates." Jonathan Foley writing on

How home health-care aides are a microcosm of the jobs crisis. From Demos.

For boys, moving to a wealthier neighborhood is as traumatic as going to war: Leaving poverty is more complicated than you think. From the New Republic.

The good news of what's happening around the world: Four data visualizations on global violence, prosperity, health, and hunger/food access.

Steven Pinker visited Science Friday a while back to discuss the origins of human violence.

The case against patents, from NPR's Planet Money.

Why poor schools can’t win at standardized testing. The companies that create the most important state and national exams also publish textbooks that contain many of the answers. Unfortunately, low-income school districts can’t afford to buy them. From The Atlantic.

How the sweetener industry sugar-coats science. From Mother Jones.

The progressive case for ending the minimum wage. From The Week.

Small lifestyle changes could have a big impact on Alzheimer's risk, study finds. More from Susan Perry at MinnPost.

Finally, a nice grouping of bike and street design articles:

Friday, July 25, 2014

In Which I Solve the Education Achievement Gap

Teachers and education "reformers" have been battling back and forth in the editorial page and letters of the Star Tribune recently. First, a Strib editorial said everyone needs an effective teacher, and that would solve the achievement gap.

Then teacher Melinda Bennett responded in an op-ed, saying it doesn't matter how effective the teacher is if the kids aren't fed, have moved three times in a year (or are living in a homeless shelter), and are justifiably angry at the world because of all this.

Today, there are two letters in response. One reiterates the point about research proving effective teachers work no matter what. The other, from a reading specialist in the Minneapolis schools, supports Bennett's claim that students can't learn when they're abused, neglected, and hungry. She also, however, says students need their parents involved in their educations, including their homework.

Here's what we know:

What keeps us from doing these types of payments? I would pin it mostly on racism, which underlies the persistent white American attitude about the "deserving" and "undeserving" poor.

There's more to solving the achievement gap. See my earlier post, based largely on Diane Ravitch's great book Reign of Error, for more.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jo Walton's My Real Children

I've just added Jo Walton to my list of all-time favorites. Her newest book, My Real Children, once again reinforces my sense that she's my mental sister (which would make her Daughter Number Five, I suppose). Narcissistic of me, of course, but that's how it feels.

The book explores the idea of the multiverse through the life (lives) of one woman, born in 1926 and spending her last years, present-day, in a nursing home. As she falls further into dementia, Patricia (nicknamed Pat or Trish depending on which life) sees both the lives and doesn't know which was real, or if both were real. The reader is certainly convinced that both are.

Walton's touch is light as she describes two varying 20th centuries that provide the backdrop for Pat's and Trish's existences. The fact that neither one is our 20th century makes for an additional mental challenge.

My only complaint about the book is the U.S. cover (shown above). It makes it look like a 19th century romance. The main character is a thoroughly mid- to late-20th century woman, and in one life is even described as having short hair. Who is this bebunned, retiring girl? It makes me sad to think about book marketers' perception of the U.S. audience.

The U.K. cover is much better:

If you want to read a review that gives away a bit more of the story, check out this one on

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Clever Sign, I Wonder If It Works?

Seen at an ice cream shop:

I didn't even see the distressed ice cream faces until I looked at the photo.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Scenes from the Real America

Illinois, Missouri, Tennessee, North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas... two weeks on the road and then back to Minnesota. Here are a few things seen along the road.

I think these first two were from Illinois:

The red Solo cup may seem like it's just a cup to those of us in the fake America, but in the real America is a symbol of.... something.

Defiance of all the chardonnay-sippers, I think.

Hobby Lobby supplies rolling along the road in southern Illinois or maybe Missouri.

A gigantic Amoco sign in Saint Louis.

This photo from Nashville, a few blocks from the Vanderbilt University campus, looks kind of meaningless, but here's what it shows: That's a seven-lane city street. On the far side is a way-too-long block with a hotel in the middle (the building that's lit by the setting sun). On either side of the hotel, there's construction and the sidewalk is completely closed. Note the crosswalk leading to the closed sidewalk. There is absolutely no legal way to get to that hotel on foot.

Way to make a city for cars instead of people, Nashville!

Hungry pigeons in Nashville.

They don't call it the Bible Belt for nothing. In addition to this one denying evolution, there were lots of billboards about abortion. Though I'm not sure there are more than in Minnesota, they clearly had a more religious message.

While clearly, Asheville (North Carolina) knows its place in Real America.

I did get to see my first Krispy Kreme shop, though, and smell the hot donuts coming off the conveyor belt. People order them by the dozen. When we ordered two donuts they had a hard time believing it was just. Two. Donuts. (Seen in Chattanooga.)

What trip across northern Alabama would be complete without a stop in Scottsboro?

The town of Corinth, Mississippi, in the northwest corner of the state, had some nice ghost signs, including this one for a drink I've never heard of. I especially like the phrase "at founts."

Monday, July 21, 2014

What a Waste

An incredible visualization of the waste that is the automobile:

Just 2.6 percent of a car's life is spent driving. In a way that's good, since it means less fuel use and carbon put into the atmosphere. But the resources that went into making the car are largely wasted, not to mention the money we car owners spend on the vehicle, insurance, and space to put it. Clearly an argument for car-sharing, if not mass transit.

The graphic on the right is even more eye-opening, if that's possible. Only a tiny part of the energy created by the engine is used to move the car (person in the car) forward. Like the national electric grid, much of the energy is lost before it ever can be used.

And yet we drive and drive and can't think of a better way to carry out the lives we've built.

I just returned from a two-week driving trip. It's hard to imagine how it could have been done without a car, and so my mind focuses on that and doesn't think of all the ways life would be different if our whole environment wasn't built around personally owned transportation. Our not-so-smart monkey brains fall for confirmation bias and all the other ways we're wired wrong.


Posted by Jennifer Keesmaat, chief planner for the city of Toronto. Via Richard Florida. The graphic is from a McKinsey report called The Recipe for Tenfold Resource Productivity Improvement.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Thermostat of My Dreams

You know how people say, "It's not rocket science"? After years of working in commercial buildings where the temperature is either too hot or too cold, I became fond of saying, "HVAC* is rocket science." It must be, since it never seems to be done correctly.

While traveling recently, though, I saw one element of HVAC that's finally being done right. Here's one of the hotel thermostats I had to use:

Note how simple it is. You press the red up arrow to make it warmer, the blue down arrow to make it colder. You can turn the fan off and on. You can change it to Celsius if you are so inclined. And you can turn it off all together.

That's it. I love this thing in a hotel setting, where users will have no time or interest in becoming familiar with the interface and have no need to program it for temperature changes during the day and evening.


* Heating, ventilation, and air conditioning.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Microwaved Kale

I keep hearing how great kale chips are, so I tried to make some last year during kale season (which lasts for about six months around my house). Scorched leaves is what I got. Next time, I thought, I'll watch the timing more carefully.

The season is approaching again and I just saw this in a friend's Facebook post. Sounds like it's worth a try:

Microwaved Kale

  • Wash and dry the kale leaves. 
  • Remove the large stems and tear the leaves into bite-sized pieces. 
  • Toss with a small amount of oil and seasonings. 
  • Arrange on a microwave-safe plate. 
  • Microwave for 3 minutes. 
  • If not crispy enough, microwave for 30 seconds more.
This sounds a lot easier than heating up the oven, and the chance of incinernating the kale should be a lot less. I'll try it as soon as the kale becomes plentiful and post the results.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Visit to the International Crane Foundation

After more than a dozen trips to Wisconsin Dells, I've finally visited one of its best attractions. I can't say it's the best, since it's an apples-and-oranges comparison with Dr. Evermore's Forevertron and other sculptures, but the International Crane Foundation is a place I'll want to return to again.

The rules when you visit are simple: Don't imitate the birds' sounds back to them. Don't copy them if they dance. Don't speak to them or try to engage them. If you do, they may try to attack through the fences that enclose them, and damage their bills.

A wattled crane, native to sub-Saharan Africa.

The birds -- the largest representation of cranes from around the world all in one place -- are located in a restored prairie full of flowering native plants and tall grasses that were just hitting their summer stride when I visited.

Yellow coneflower and blue vervain in full bloom.

The foundation isn't just a zoo for cranes. They've managed to restore the whooping crane to the wilds of Wisconsin and work with people around the world in areas where the different species come from to preserve habitat without ignoring economic development for the people.

A native Wisconsin whooping crane as it walks through a wetland area.

A bumblebee visits a white prairie clover plant.

A 6-week-old hooded crane (left), Native to southeastern Siberia and northern China, with its mother.

A gray-crowned crane, native to central Africa. We got to see them do a dance.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

The Grave of Mother Jones

A quick, surprise stop along the way during a recent trip: Mount Olive, Illinois, site of the grave and memorial to Mother Jones (Mary Harris Jones).

It's at the edge of a cemetery full of graves with Eastern European names, mostly miners.

The monument is to her as well as "her boys," union miners who died in a gun battle with thugs hired by the mine owners.

Mother Jones surrounded by her boys. She didn't die in Illinois, but had requested to buried with the miners.

Union members leave their cards behind at the site.

And a bulletin board holds union information and stickers from various locals.

On the back of the bulletin board, this bit of truth: "right to work" means right work for less.