Catching up – day 6 #reverb10

Okay, frantic paper-writing is complete (well, the paper isn't what I would consider done, but the time for writing it has ended, and it's submitted), so now that I'm back to frantic exam-studying, I can take a moment to catch up on some of these prompts. (Exam-studying is still frantic, but I can take breaks a little more easily than if I'm trying to finish a paper. Because studying is, by necessity, a somewhat more redundant process than trying to get ideas down on a page.)

Prompt: Make. What was the last thing you made?
What materials did you use?
Is there something you want to make,
but you need to clear some time for it?

How to answer this one? The literally last thing I made was breakfast, about 15 minutes ago (if you can call pouring cereal and milk in a bowl "making").
I made a 36-pp. paper yesterday (well, I made it complete).
I made a mistake on my exam Tuesday (not that I'm sure what it is, but I'm sure there's a mistake in there somewhere).
I made up my mind about what classes to take next semester. (Sort of. I might un-make it and make it up again.)
I made a classmate happy by sending her some information she needed.

But I am going to go with knitting, because that's one of the few things I do (sporadically) that really feels like making something. Okay, baking feels like making something, too, but mostly if it's a big, bravura baking project (I need one of those. I think I may make danish from scratch over break).

So the last thing I made is about 1/2 of the first scarf pictured in this nice blogger's post. I'm doing mine in red, and in a slightly different yarn (but same weight, so all's good). It's a bamboo-merino mix (but not the brand the pattern recommends), so it will be warm, but hopefully not too itchy. (My curse as a knitter is that I can't actually wear wool because it makes me itch.)

I can't remember when exactly I started it – a couple of months ago, I think? – and the project has languished on and off just because I don't always have time to pick up the needles in the evening. But at some point this semester I decided that I needed something to that was a true break from anything work-related. I have a bad habit of sitting in front of the TV with the computer on my lap, idly surfing, not really paying attention to that's on the TV, skimming from here to there to there on the web, never really engaging in anything. Which is fine as far as it goes. But I realized that for me, that wasn't really an effective break from work (school), because I wasn't actually doing anything else, which didn't really take my brain away from school. Plus, I'd often have the computer open intending to start something school-related, really I will, in just a minute, I promise! And a break on which I'm pretending to myself I really am working isn't really a break at all.

What's so great (for me) about knitting is that I have to pay attention to it. I can't just have it open, or on, and glance at it; I can't just react to it. If I want anything to happen with it, I have to do it, myself. And while there are stretches that I can work pretty much automatically (knit, purl, stockinette), I'm not a good enough knitter for that that to happen really often. (A wonderful former mentor of mine who is also a champion knitter often knits at conferences, wonderful complicated sweaters and the like, and pays attention, asking questions while the needles are flashing away. I can't do that!) Plus, I find auto-knitting fairly boring – I want to have to figure it out, and to see the results almost instantly.

I do knit in front of the TV most of the time – so I do multi-task to that extent – but I find the TV more becomes background. I think I tried to knit a little when we were watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, but I had to stop because, of course, the movie is subtitled, so I had to pay attention to the screen! (I think I don't realize how much of my TV watching is really TV listening, much of the time.)

The other great thing about knitting is that I can't pretend that I'm not really knitting and I really will get to my work in a moment; I have to decide that yes, I am not going to work right now, I am going to do something fun. And I think it's good for me to make those decisions consciously, and not just let time slip away from me as I dither and putz.

So, the thing about the scarf: I don't think it's at all hard (but I am a sort of odd knitter in that the second project I did after learning to knit as an adult was a pair of socks. It was a great "beginners' sock" kit, and wasn't hard, but I'm told that's not really very beginner-y. So my standards may be a bit odd). And I have decided that I really like knitting lace (not real lace with teeny-tiny needles – but knitting lace), because I like having to pay attention to which stitch comes next, and the glory of all these strange holes in your work falling into a pretty pattern. But I can't tell you how many rows I had to tink (un-knit) to back up to an error and start over again – I think because I kept picking this up at the end of a long day when I was tired, so I would make stupid mistakes. And while I know there are tricks for fixing mistakes (like dropped stitches) without having to rip everything back, I don't know how to translate them to lace. 

But I duly tinked myself back to the problems, figured them out, and redid everything, so that it all turned out looking nice and right. In fact, I don't think there are any "errors" in it that I can find, so far – there were, but I went back and fixed them all. And I find that immensely satisfactory. I think for me, knitting is a bit like baking – they both promise that if you follow the directions exactly, you will end up with a result which looks like what it's supposed to look like. And I find that immensely satisfactory, too – that if you follow the rules correctly, good things result. (This says volumes about my psyche, I do realize that.) 

The other thing about this scarf, though: I'm cheating. I have never ever figured out my gauge (for non-knitters: figuring out how many stitches to the inch you make on given needles with given yarn, so that you can know that the size of the item you knit on those needles with that yarn is the size it's supposed to be). Because on scarves (at least, the ones I've done), it doesn't really matter if your gauge matches the required gauge – so what, your scarf is bigger than planned! or smaller! It still works as a scarf! And the socks I've knit have been intended more as experiments, and I just went with big sizes on the theory that I could wear them as slipper-socks around the house. So while I've figured out this nifty lace pattern and figured out how to turn a heel, I've never made anything intended actually to fit me (or anyone else).

So that takes me to the second part of this prompt: I have decided that in 2011, I want to make a sweater. For myself. That actually fits.

There are a few rules involved here. I have to finish the scarf first. (I do have a couple of half-finished projects lying around, but I really don't have the money or time to rack up a lot of them, and I want to get out of the habit of starting something because its new, and then getting bored with it either when it's hard, or when the newness wears off.) I think I can do that over break without a problem, but I am not allowed to buy more yarn until the scarf is done! 

So, okay, that's only one rule, actually, since the rest are kind of issues/questions to be resolved. I'm not sure what kind of yarn to go with – on the one hand, I want it to be yarn that I like and would wear, since there's no point in going through a whole sweater project to end up with a sweater I don't like the feel of so won't wear. On the other hand, I don't feel comfortable starting with something really nice and really expensive, because I've never made a sweater before, and what if I screw it up (as I probably will) and never want to wear it? Plus, there's no way my first sweater is going to be any good, so I feel like I should go with a sort of scrap yarn, just to test the waters and see how it all turns out. I mean, it's been one thing to use lovely, expensive yarn for a scarf, which only needs 1-2 skeins. It's another when you're buying double-digits of skeins for a sweater! That said, I don't want to cheap out entirely, because cheap yarn is nasty.

Then, of course, there is the issue of what to knit. I'm torn between a cardigan and a hoodie (or, of course, I could split the difference and go with a hooded cardigan…). This requires much poring over ravelry. (Which is quite fun in itself.)

If I do take on a sweater, I will definitely need to clear away time for it. I think the idea thing is if I could get the project set up and start working over break, when I will have bigger chunks of free time. Then I might have some momentum to carry me through next semester. If I have a project underway, where all I have to do is pick it up and work on whatever element is needed at that time, it might be easier to say, Right, I am going to knit for half an hour. Then I will have built-in break time, which I need to have anyway.

So that's a lot more than I thought I was going to say, all about knitting.

Because buying something new always makes things better

Does anyone out there share my belief that if I have the proper time management tools (planner and whatnot) I will magically become organized and productive? I definitely think this, however irrationally. Right now, I'm trying to decide if I want a new planner.

For about the last year I have been using my iPod Touch as a PDA. My go-to to-do list is Remember the Milk (free online, but $25/year to be able to sync between your computer and iPod). I really like the way RTM lets you put your tasks on different lists (job applications, Con Law, etc.), but also lets you look at all your tasks at once (Google Tasks lets you divide your to-dos among different lists, and I like the way you can integrate it with Google calendar, but you can't look at all of the tasks at once, so it's not so useful to me). You can also postpone tasks when you don't get them done on the day you'd planned (not that I would know anything about this, of course!), and tag with whatever label you like.

For scheduling, I use Google Calendar, although for most of the semester, my schedule is pretty fixed, so it's not that I have to check where I have to be at a given time; it's more a way to have a record of the things I've been doing, and to plan ahead (for instance, to see how far away finals are. About which I am currently in denial, kthxbai.)

Anyway, I went to these tools because I'm on my computer all. the. time. (since I take notes on my computer, I'm on the computer any time I'm in class, for instance), and the ability to enter something once on the computer and have it show up in my iPod was crucial.

But it's funny how you get bored with your tools, even if they're working (or maybe this is just me?). Because right now, I really hanker after my old paper-based blanner. I used to use this one:


The paper in this planner is nice and smooth and stands up to fountain pens (which I use a lot); I also like that the schedule is broken down by hour and that it's separate from the to-do list section. (I'd always write in my classes for the semester and fill in those blocks of time with different colored highlighters, because I'm OCD like that, but also because then I could glance at any day and see how much free time was left.) And I HAVE to have a page-per-day layout.

I think what I miss most about this planner is physically crossing tasks off my to-do list once I finished them. I really enjoyed crossing-out something I'd finished, and it was always uber-satisfying to look at a day's list and see 3/4 to all the tasks triumphantly struck-out. In Remember the Milk, completing a task merely erases it from the list, which makes sense (having all your completed tasks hanging around would get awfully cluttery, since it's not so date-centered), but just isn't as satisfying, because you always have tasks left staring at you, without any sign of what you have actually accomplished. (You can go back and look at completed tasks, but it's just not the same.) At this time of the semester, when I always have overdue tasks staring accusingly at me, I really miss seeing that I've at least accomplished SOMETHING.

But then, I do go back and forth: when I've been using a paper planner, I miss the slick graphics of the electronic world, where my schedule and tasks look far more elegant and organized than anything I can write on a page, where recurring tasks reappear as if by magic, where I can be a gadget-hipster tapping away with the tip of my finger. When I've been using the electronic planner, I miss the organicness of paper and pen, the way how neatly or messily I've written something tells you about how my day was going, how I could scrawl across the page, coloring outside the lines. I miss the layering of entries, where different inks or different pressure or even different angles of writing show how a day became progressively busier. And flipping back through paper pages is just different from clicking back through computer windows — although paper is much more vulnerable to loss or destruction.

So. That's my latest retail therapy obsession. What about you guys? Are you paper or electronic planner people? Do you, like me, favor a particular planner because it makes you feel especially productive? Do you have other retail therapy obsessions at this point in the semester?

Wow, there are some weirdos out there

Okay, so I'm in the hell of job searching (I say "hell" mostly because I have no idea what I'm doing), and I was looking up a judge who may or may not want summer interns, and came across the following (names changed, of course):

FOR THE DISTRICT OF [other state],

[a whole lot of judges and counties and stuff],

Motion for Emergency Hearing

Plaintiff, [John Doe], pro se by Necessity, hereby moves the Honorable Court to Grant an Emergency hearing to request a temporary Injunction against above Named Defendants, and as grounds therefore states as follows:

01.) Plaintiff has been unlawfully persecuted and maliciously prosecuted, held without arraignment for over 11 months on excessive bail, subjected to solitary confinement for over 5 months, jailed without charges, imprisoned without due process or bail, threatened, assaulted, harassed and menaced with deadly weapons by [state name] STATE and FEDERAL Agents based upon their characterization of Plaintiff as a "patriot."

02.) Plaintiff has been unlawfully persecuted by [state name] STATE Agents based upon their characterization of Plaintiff as a "Christian Constitutionalist."

03.) Plaintiff has been unlawfully persecuted by [state name] STATE Agents based upon their characterization of Plaintiff as a "Criminal Constitutional Extremist."

04.) Plaintiff has been unlawfully persecuted by [state name] STATE Agents based upon their characterization of Plaintiff as a "Martial Arts Expert."

05.) Such characterizations establish an invidious discriminatory animus against Plaintiff that is not only erroneous, but has lead to Plaintiffs potentially murderous assault by Three S.W.A.T. Teams, imprisonment in X County Jail for almost two years on false, fabricated charges, imprisonment in Y without charges, unlawful extradition and the continuing persecution and prosecution of Plaintiff based upon acts committed solely by [another guy], Esquire while acting in the capacity of "Defense Attorney" paid by the STATE.

06.) It is the official opinion of legal experts and private investigators that [state name] STATE AGENTS are actively attempting to murder Plaintiff.

07.) It is a matter of official court records that [state name] STATE AGENTS named as Defendants in this Constitutional Controversy are attempting to unlawfully imprison Plaintiff in the STATE OF [state name].

08.) Defendant [state name] STATE Actors and their conspiratorial aide, Defendant Z are presently actively endeavoring to lure Plaintiff back into the STATE OF [state name] in order to consummate their evil intentions.

09.) Defendant [state name] STATE Judge Q has ordered Plaintiff to travel in interstate commerce from the State of [another state] to the STATE OF [state name] for a "review" in order to provide opportunity for [state name] STATE Defendants A, B and C to consummate their conspiratorially agreed upon plan to murder or incarcerate Plaintiff.

10.) Plaintiff is in credible, well-documented and verified fear of death or imprisonment.

11.) Plaintiff appeals for Political Asylum within the State of [another state].

12.) Case #—— has been appealed. Defendant [state name] STATE Judge Q does not have jurisdiction of the connected case [number] forming the foundation of the current Constitutional Controversy before this Honorable Court. Judge Q has exhibited a flagrant disregard for the rule of law and Constitutional safeguards and cannot be relied upon to act with any modicum of judicial probity or integrity. Based upon her official record in case [number], Judge Q is most assuredly preparing to act outside of the law and her official power in order to aide and abet STATE DEFENDANT'S plan to murder or imprison Plaintiff so as to prevent this Constitutional Controversy from proceeding to a judicial conclusion.

13.) Defendant [state name] STATE Actors have utilized this exact same tactic many times in the past in order to unlawfully arrest or imprison Plaintiff without cause so that Connected Cases in the –th Federal District could not be prosecuted by Plaintiff.

14.) Today, at 1300 hours, Defendant [state name] Judge Q intends to steal $10,000 from Plaintiff in the form of Bond Revocation and attempt to murder Plaintiff by issuing a nation-wide Fugitive Arrest Warrant for Plaintiff with the caveat that Plaintiff is a "danger to police" whereby it can reasonably be predicted that Extreme Prejudice and Deadly Force will be authorized to create a lifeless corpse of Plaintiff in order to conceal and cover-up the criminal acts of [state name] STATE Defendants and limit the liability of the STATE OF [state name] relative to the charges contained within this action, other litigation pending, and potential [state name] STATE liability not yet revealed.

Wherefore, Plaintiff requests that the Honorable Court grant Asylum within the State of [other state] and an Immediate Emergency Temporary Injunction against the Defendant STATE OF [state name] and all political sub-divisions constraining all named Defendants from luring Plaintiff within the Boundaries of the STATE OF [state name] by threat of revocation of Bond, Issuance of Bench Warrants or any other act or actions that could be utilized to force Plaintiff to leave his Residence in [other state] and journey into hostile Enemy Territory where Plaintiffs Life, Liberty and Property are all in imminent danger and at deathly risk.

Plaintiff also moves the Honorable Court to restrict and prohibit all [state name] STATE and FEDERAL AGENTS, including Agents of the Multi-Jurisdictional JOINT TERRORISM TASK FORCE, operating in collusion and conspiracy with [state name] STATE Defendants in the State of [other state] from murdering, harassing, threatening, menacing, arresting or otherwise or causing physical or economic damages to Plaintiff within the State of [other state]. Plaintiff further requests that the Honorable Court set a date for a hearing in order to make such Injunction Permanent.

Respectfully Submitted,
[John Doe]

Who knew being a "Martial Arts Expert" was so politically risky???

(I mean, this guy may have some legitimate grievances, I have no idea. But…wow. Can you say conspiracy theory?)

You’ve got mail!…maybe

When you were younger, did you get all excited for the mail? I totally used to look forward to checking the mailbox, because anything that arrived for me was pretty much going to be cool – an actual letter or card of some kind, or maybe a package – fun stuff.

By now, however, my physical mailbox is usually filled with bills, junk flyers, and catalogs (which are occasionally fun, but these days I toss them without looking at anything because if I don’t look at the ads, I won’t want what they’re pushing). It’s much less exciting. There are even times of the month where I dread getting the mail because I don’t want to get certain bills.

So e-mail has become my, "oh, goody, something cool!" thing. Because yeah, I get a ton of spam and boring e-mail, but a lot of e-mail is stuff I signed on for, or actual communications from cool people. I’d say I get a lot more "cool" mail via e-mail than via snail-mail by this point.

The problem, of course, is that snail-mail comes once a day – I know once I’ve picked up the mail I don’t have to think about it till the next day. E-mail, on the other hand, arrives willy-nilly, whenever, according to no fixed schedule. Which is part of what makes it fun, but which also means that I can get a little obsessive about checking my (three!) e-mail accounts. Do I have any e-mail now? No. What about now? Nope. Any yet? Nada. Now? Oooh, e-mail – oh, it’s a coupon off pet-food. Well, okay. Maybe there’s something now….

Obviously if I’m actually working – teaching class, cleaning the apartment, cooking dinner, exercising, whatever – something that involves not being in front of the computer screen – I don’t stop every two minutes to check e-mail. (My students might rightfully take offense at me checking e-mail during class. Although, hey! If they check e-mail when I’m not engaging enough, can I check e-mail when they’re not engaging enough?) But if I’m writing or doing class prep or something else that involves computer time? And especially if it’s not
perhaps the world’s most exciting task? I’m an e-mail inbox-clicking machine.

All of which is to say, I think I need to get a life.


You know how I mentioned before that I was 95% certain I’m going to law school here, so that I don’t have to move away from NLLDH? I’m still 95% sure, but I’m going nuts because I still can’t quite pull the trigger. I’m deciding between Here and Away, and I keep going back and forth. I’m supposed to have decided by now, but I asked for extensions from both schools because I can’t quite decide.

It seems like it should be a straightforward decision for Here. They’re pretty comparable schools, with no real edge to one or the other. Both Here and Away offer programs in the legal fields that really interest me. They’re separated by two measly rankings on the all-important US News & World  Report rankings (Here is ranked slightly higher). I’ve visited both, and I very much liked the students and faculty and sense of community at both. Given that, it seems to make more sense that I should attend Here, since one of the reasons to go to law school in the first place is that it’s a (slightly) more portable field than academia or the sort-of-connected-to-academia field in which NLLDH now works, and I’m not willing to live apart from my husband for a job any more. If I go to law school Here, I don’t have to. (Plus, I REALLY like the weather better Here than Away. A lot of people in this country move to Away specifically for the weather, but I like winter, I like snow, and while I could give them up for 75-degrees year-round, it’s the 90+ and 100+ degree days that slay me; I’ll take my bad weather cold.)

But I can’t quite pull the trigger and reject Away, and here’s why: they really want me to go there. I’m a huge sucker for flattery, and Away is good at it. They’ve offered me a generous scholarship. (Cost-wise, the scholarship isn’t a deal-sealer; it doesn’t make Away cheaper than Here, it just makes Away’s cost comparable to Here’s in-state tuition. So financially, the scholarship makes it possible to attend Away over Here, but it doesn’t make it a significantly better deal. Psychologically, however, the scholarship is a big deal.) When I visited Away, the dean of admissions knew who I was instantly and was incredibly welcoming. And I came home today from a message on the machine from the Away admissions dean, checking to see if I’d made a decision and reiterating how much they’d like to see me attend.

Here has been quite a bit more blase about my charms. No money (in theory it’s still a possibility, but nothing has been forthcoming yet). The admissions dean was very pleasant, but didn’t have my application info at her fingertips when I introduced myself and has generally been harder to get hold of and less responsive. I mean, Here has admitted me, I think they’d be happy to have me, but I don’t get this sense that they’d be so! super! excited! to have me attend that Away exudes.

But here’s the thing: one of the things I started wondering today was how much my immersion in academia is skewing my reaction to Away and Here. For instance, it was so drilled into me that you should never attend graduate school without funding that I think the scholarship offer weighs more heavily in my mind that perhaps it should. (Face it, either way I’m going to go into debt; the scholarship just makes Away comparable to Here, not actually less expensive.) In my grad program, there was something of a distinction between those who had funding and those who didn’t; the latter were continually scrambling for it and I think they sometimes felt considered second-class citizens in the department. I don’t think the same situation holds in law school at all. Sure, scholarships are good, it’s nice to feel wanted, but full-rides are rare, and the common assumption is that all will be going into debt together. Funding in my grad program meant that I got TA experience, which was seen as a bonus for future employment; law school funding doesn’t provide any experience that I can’t get if I pay my way. And having a scholarship is certainly no guarantee of landing in the top 10% of my class, nor does not having one mean I can’t.

I also have to remind myself that I’m not interviewing for an academic job; while a school’s degree of enthusiasm is important, this isn’t like trying to determine how well I’ll fit in a department of 10 or 12 historians. I am going to be one of many students, and we’ll all be judged by our performance, not by our pre-enrollment reputation among the admissions people. It’s perhaps worth mentioning here that law school courses are all graded on a curve, and law school students are ranked by GPA. There’s no "everyone pretty much gets an A," as in most Ph.D. programs. So however smart I look to admissions people now, it really won’t matter once exams roll around. (I should also add that grades in first year courses are pretty much all determined by one exam at the end of the semester. Doesn’t law school sound fun?) In my grad program, everyone pretty much got As, so funding (or lack thereof) helped create a sense of an academic pecking order among the students. In law school, that academic pecking order is calculated and determined for you explicitly, regardless of how you’re paying for school.

I also find it hard to get out of the academic habit of specialization. As I said, Here and Away both have programs in especially one field that interests me. Away’s program is, I think, undeniably stronger. They have some amazing internationally-known scholars in the field, and they even offer a LLM (masters of law) in the subject. Here’s program is not quite as good. But that said? Here has a program in this area, which sets it apart from probably 90% of law schools. And again, I’m not getting a Ph.D. – I’m getting a J.D. The J.D. is a general degree, in which I need to take courses in a lot of different subjects, not just one field that interests me most. Even within my area of interest, I’m not going to write a dissertation; I just need to take some courses to prepare myself to get a job. Most employers aren’t going to care if I take those courses with Here’s very-slightly-less distinguished scholars rather than Away’s superstars. Moreover, who knows what other areas of law might draw me into their spell? Nonetheless, I keep thinking like an academic – I keep thinking of Away’s program as if I’m going to be looking for a dissertation advisor.

I’m writing this not because I’m looking for advice on where I should go – though feel free to give some if you feel inspired –  but more to articulate these ideas to myself. I think I started to realize today how some of my academic habits are getting in my way. Then again, I’m not in law school yet – I may have this all wrong! But I have to make a final decision soon, and if this makes me feel better about staying Here and rejecting Away, then it serves a purpose. (What I think would be perfect would be to attend both schools, or to have Away and Here change places, since then I could have all the things I like about Away, AND live in the same place as my husband. But unless someone figures out some exciting things about physics, and soon, neither of those is an option.)

Adventures in technology

Something I’d forgotten about, in those three years when I wandered the Dark Side used a Dell computer, was the fun of playing around with new and exciting bits of software. I don’t know why I was never motivated to find things to refine my Dell into the best "me" machine I could, and just stuck with the little bit of tweaking that the basic machine allows you to do, because I used to use quite a few add-ons on my old Apple computers. Then when I moved here, and started using NLLDH’s old MacBook, the machine was elderly enough that I didn’t think much about trying new things. But in fact, it was the machine’s elderliness that led us to buy me this new one, and in the last week or so I’ve been having a ball trying out all the nifty software gadgets that everyone who has a Mac knows about already.

We bought me this machine so that I could try Scrivener, which is writing software intended to let you store and draw upon lots of different kinds of information while you write. You can draft, edit, and outline; you can view your files as index cards on a corkboard; you can do keyword searches. It’s honestly pretty neat, and all I needed to see was a screenshot of a draft document open side-by-side with a PDF file to think I wanted to try this. Because how often have you had to flip back and forth between windows and applications to move from the thing you’re writing to the thing you’re writing about, and vice versa? The pathetic thing is that I haven’t used it very much, because I haven’t been writing anything lately that requires any serious research and thus would allow me to road test it properly (the simple book review isn’t a great test case). If you’d like to read a better review, you can check out what Merlin Mann at 43Folders has to say.

But Scrivener was just the start. I’ve now also joined the large following accumulated by Quicksilver, a little launcher-type application that allows you to do a huge range of things without leaving your keyboard. I’ve never been into launchers prior to this – maybe because they always seemed mouse-dependent, and I eschew the mouse whenever possible? – but the way that Quicksilver allows you to do so much by keyboard has sucked me in. From any window or application, I can open up Gmail in 4 keystrokes (because god forbid I have to wait any longer than that to read my e-mail). I can e-mail text to someone. I can open any document on my hard drive. I can get the definition of a word. For a mouse-hater like me, it’s wonderful. The intro tutorial here gives you a good idea of what Quicksilver can do, and I suspect I’ve only scratched the surface so far.

I’ve also become fascinated by various planner kinds of applications. Most of them are organized more or less around David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) (which, if you’ve heard of, you know has attained near cult status, and if you haven’t heard of it, some of these comments won’t make sense, but the Wikipedia entry might be helpful). I am not really a true believer, but some of the system works for me, and some of it I leave (e.g.: I really appreciate the idea that what you write down on a to-d0 list needs to involve verbs, not nouns, and that you need to break your projects down into their smallest component parts. Therefore, don’t write on your to-do list something like "prescriptions," but instead, "pick up prescriptions at Walgreens," and if your project is "paint the backyard fence," don’t write "paint backyard fence" – you need to write stuff like, "check paint prices online," "go to hardware store to choose paint," "buy paint, primer, rollers, and gloves," and "prime fence" before you can write "paint fence." The context thing is not especially helpful for me – Allen emphasizes dividing up your tasks by where you need to be to do them – at home, in the office, at the computer, etc – which is doubtless helpful for lots of people, but most of my tasks don’t require very different contexts. I’m not calling people a lot, so I don’t need a "@phone" list, that kind of thing. And Allen also advocates a "waiting on" list, where you put tasks you’ve delegated to someone else and can’t do anything about until you hear back from them, which again, isn’t really relevant to my life.)

Given my ambivalence, the programs that follow GTD really closely haven’t been that appealing to me. For instance, Midnight Inbox is very very pretty, but it really screams GTD (and, not surprisingly, the business world) to me, and so there was too much of it I didn’t want to deal with. Things, however, while still basically a GTD application, feels less restrictive (it also feels a little incomplete, as it’s not yet officially available for purchase; you can download a free preview for the moment). I haven’t worked out all the ways to get around it by keystroke yet, though, and as my fondness for Quicksilver suggests, that’s a big thing for me. Even more promising is OmniFocus, brought to you by the people who created OmniOutliner (and OmniOutliner Pro), one of the best outliners out there (also something I’ve been playing around with). OmniFocus is fast, clean, pretty, and very negotiable by keyboard.

What is really intriguing me about these planner programs is that in conjunction with Quicksilver (and the Services that Apple makes available in Leopard), I can send new to-dos to my Things or OmniFocus inbox with a few keystrokes, from any application or window, whether or not Things or Omnifocus are up and running. I can also e-mail myself to-dos.

The downside to both Things and OmniFocus is that they cost money. I wouldn’t say they’re expensive (the full release of Things will be available for $39 if you sign up before the launch date and $49 after; OmniFocus costs $49.95 with educational discount, $79.95 without), but you know, money is money, and there are a lot of neat free web-based services out there. Lately I’ve been enjoying Remember the Milk, which allows you to create to-do lists, organize them by project or due date, and give them tags. What’s really spiffy about Remember the Milk is that again, you can rig it to work with Quicksilver, so you can send yourself tasks even when you’re not on the Remember the Milk site (you do need to be connected to the internet though, of course). And even spiffier (at least, if you’re someone like me who has her Gmail inbox open just about all the time) is that you can arrange for Remember the Milk to display your to-do list next to the messages in your inbox. You can also arrange for your to-do list to get sent to Google Calendar or iCal or Microsoft Outlook, where they appear either in traditional to-do list format or, if they have due dates, as events on the calendar itself – so you can integrate online to-dos with online (or offline) calendars.

Personally, I haven’t decided yet if I want to make the shift to organizing my life electronically. At the moment, I have a paper planner that I really love, and it’s one of my last refuges from the digital world. I like writing by hand, and I love pens, and it turns out that besides grading papers, organizing my life in my paper planner is one of the few occasions I have actually to use all my nifty pens to write things by hand. There’s something really satisfying about crossing out by hand a task that I’ve completed – it’s much more tactile than clicking in a check-box and seeing strikethrough text appear. I like the way each page of my life is physically separate in my paper planner, rather than running together on the screen. I find it more revealing to flip back through my paper planner to see what I had scheduled when, and what I got done when (and how many days in a row I had to write down a task before I completed it), than to scroll through screens on the computer.

The only problem is that I have to make sure to open up the paper planner and write things down, and check it to see what it is I’m trying to accomplish on a given day, and I’m not always very good at that (I go through very organized phases and very unorganized phases – the latter are usually when I’m either too busy to look at the planner, or when I have so little scheduled – like over winter break – that I can’t be bothered to look at it). I’m not sure I’d be any better about this with an electronic planner, but given how much I love my new laptop, and how often it’s open and I’m staring at the screen, the change is worth considering.

Anyway. I realize I’m probably the last person to discover these different applications (and I know I’ve read about some of them on people’s blogs anyway), but it’s been fun fiddling around with my computer again.

Martha Stewart I am not

Hotprocess2Adventures in soap-making continue: the stuff I already made has cured enough to use, and it’s really nice! Well, texture/feel/lather-wise, anyway – I am still working on the aesthetics. The plain and simple cold process batch I made came out beautifully hard and creamy (which sounds rather obscene…) but it’s in all sorts of odd shapes, because I used a round Tupperware tub for a mold and then had to cut it up into bars, so I have little half-crescent pieces, which do not satisfy my strict sense of bath aesthetics at all.

After that, I made two batches using the hot process method, because I am impatient – cold process soaps need to cure for 4-6 weeks before you can use them, to ensure that the saponification process is complete and all the lye is gone, but the hot process method cooks all the lye out at once, so that as soon as your soap is has hardened in its molds, it’s ready to use (although waiting a couple of weeks to let it dry/harden a bit more is probably a good idea).

What has became evident with my hot process soaps, though, was that I cooked them a little too long, and parts of the soap dried out, so that these bars, although they work beautifully, look a bit like they’re suffering from the heartbreak of psoriasis or something, mottled with some dry and flaky patches. (That’s one of them, up there at the beginning of this post – doesn’t it look sort of motley? Not that using Photo Booth to photograph it helps the poor thing. Oh, and I put coconut milk in it, which the lye cooks and carmelizes the sugar in, which is why it’s that sort of unappealing tan color.)

So yesterday I thought I would try the cold process again, and I made what looks like it will be a beautiful batch of creamy soap marbled with cocoa powder (I scented the soap with peppermint so they will be Thin Mint soaps!) – that is, assuming I can ever get it out of the mold (AKA my pyrex loaf pan). (I should give it a few more days before I start worrying about getting it out of the mold, though.) It turned out so nicely that I decided I would make some more soap today. I would make a slightly bigger batch! I would make an even better swirl!

Well, it turned out that my "bigger" batch still wasn’t big enough for the plastic box I was using as a mold, so if this batch works, it will consist of very flat little bars. And I had some tangerine essential oil, so I decided that to go with the citrus theme, I would make a nice sunshine-y yellow swirl using turmeric to color the swirled bits (it’s recommended as a natural colorant). But I didn’t really measure and I used WAY too much turmeric. So instead of a nice bright yellow, I got a dark pumpkin. And I colored way more of the soap than I really needed to swirl, so I ended up with huge glops of dark pumpkin instead of nice swooping swirls. And when I was cleaning up, the turmeric got onto EVERYTHING, the smallest amount turning everything it touched pumpkin-colored. So I now suspect that once this soap is cured, it will produce pumpkin lather. I was kind of hoping to make stuff I could give to my mom and my sister, but this may end up as another batch that only a mother could love. (We’ll have ugly soap coming out our ears! But we’ll be very clean. Even if we turn pumpkin.)

In which I go on at surprising length about not much

NLLDH and I went out yesterday and explored an outlet mall in the suburbs of this fair city. It’s kind of like a transplanted version of an outlet mall I visited occasionally from Former College City (it was a few hours away),  because they’re done by the same people, and walking in was an odd blast from the past – I said to NLLDH, "I feel like I’m in [City X]!" He reminded me that we’d always had fun in City X, unlike Former College City, which helped me regain my equanimity.

Afterward, though, we agreed that it was a slightly sad kind of place. Maybe it’s just the time of the shopping year – well after the holidays and the greedy post-holiday sale binges, but not yet quite time for spring shopping – but the place felt a little empty and desperate. It’s always a bummer when you try to wallow in consumerism for a fun distraction and find yourself confronted with its fundamental emptiness.

Which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy some good shopping – it’s just that our fortunes were a bit mixed. I’ve been wanting new sunglasses forever, and we found a Sunglass Hut staffed by an actual FEMALE EMPLOYEE. Since one of our shared pet peeves is the usual fraternity-jock-stereotype guys who populate sunglasses stores, this seemed like a great opportunity, and it was even more encouraging to discover that instead of having to ask the salesperson to open each and every case for you as in the regular stores, the outlet store had all the cases open, so you could try on anything and everything without having to deal with the salesperson (I don’t really like help when I shop – good salespeople are wonderful, and scarcer than hen’s teeth; I prefer to be left alone than to deal with non-wonderful salespeople. Since this woman didn’t seem inclined to leave her seat, we were good). Unfortunately I did try on what felt like every pair in the store and found none that floated my boat. They all seemed to be the same shape, too big and rectangular for me. Plus, NLLDH was really bonking from an early-morning run, and sunglasses are really one of those things where you need someone with you who can say, maybe/those are good/DEFINITELY NOT, and he wasn’t quite up to the task at that point. And it’s stupid, but something about that was really disappointing. In fact, I’m all bummed again, writing about it today. I am such a little kid.

But I did end up getting a new pair of chocolate brown ankle boots (a staple of my wardrobe, and my current pair is terribly scuffed), and a pair of pants and a blouse from (yes, wait for it) Brooks Brothers. NLLDH and the saleswoman raved over the blouse on me, and I bought the pants because I already have three pairs in other colors, although once home I was forced to acknowledge that they’ve changed the cut slightly and they’re the tiniest bit tight in the waist. Sigh. The salespeople at Brooks Brothers, even the outlet, are actually always really good and helpful – this woman was honest about how the pants were fitting on me, so I guess I can trust her about the blouse – but again, I like to be left alone to shop. I was in the dressing room changing back into my own clothes and NLLDH was talking to the saleswoman about me, which was making me nuts (I kept thinking, "Stop talking so she’ll leave and I can come out of the dressing room already!"). Anyway, he told her where I worked and all, and when I came out she was very pleasant but of course started trying to sell me more stuff (I mean, it is her job), and in an effort to push their khakis, she said, "Now, I don’t know – are you allowed to wear chinos to work?" That was pretty funny, I have to confess.

So, it was a fun day in some ways, and in other ways it was sort of disappointing. This is what one gets when one attempts to acquire happiness along with material stuff, I suppose, although myself, I’m still pretty fond of material stuff. Now I’m sitting here trying to figure out how best to organize my day, and I think the first order is acquiring more stuff – but food this time. If I don’t go get more cat food I think they’ll end up eating me pretty soon. And then it will be time to start prepping for the weekly grind all over again.

Books to movies, or, why I liked The Golden Compass

I saw The Golden Compass this weekend, which – in case you’ve been under a rock recently, media-wise – is the big-screen adaptation of The Golden Compass (published in Britain as The Northern Lights), the first volume in children’s author (and atheist) Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. While there’s been a fair amount of criticism of the movie, I have to say that I loved it.

In saying that I loved it, however, I’m not going to claim it’s a brilliant movie. A lot of the criticism that I’ve seen has focused on pacing – that it’s slow and sort of didactic at the beginning, and then that it races at a breakneck pace to the end. And I can understand that criticism. Nonetheless, I adored the movie, which got me thinking about the difference between something being good and enjoying it all the same.

One of the reviews I saw somewhere suggested that viewers would enjoy the movie more if they hadn’t read the book, and I actually disagree. I think this goes back to central problem of translating a book to film – how can you do so in a way that preserves the book’s essence and adequately represents it? A common response is that people will enjoy a film if they don’t know the book, if they don’t know what the film really "should" be like and don’t know what they’re missing. Now, I’m so not a film scholar (or a literature scholar, for that matter), so this is all a layperson’s opinion and not a scholarly argument. That said, I can kind of get behind the idea that a movie is never going to be able to transplant a book to the screen – that the very process of changing genres creates something new. You cannot expect a movie simply to transfer a book to the screen, in the same way that writing isn’t just about transferring ideas from your brain to the page – in both cases, the very process of transfer creates something new and at least slightly different. And it seems to me that the more a movie is "just like" the book, the less it’s likely to be a very good movie (unless of course the book was very movie-like to being with, which is possible). So The Golden Compass can’t (nor should it be) simply the book transliterated – it has to be something different. Of course, the problem is that frequently people who know the book from which a movie is taken will measure the "truth" of that movie based on how much it’s like the book, and the less it’s like the book, the less happy will be the books’ fans.

Anyway, what I loved about The Golden Compass was that it created a (beautiful) visual space in which I could relive the books, in a way that was largely dependent on my own knowledge of those books. In that respect, it probably isn’t the best movie, because my enjoyment of it depended on something outside of the movie itself. Here the pacing criticism is probably a legitimate one. For instance, there’s a point in the movie when Lyra, the protagonist, rides Iorek Byrnison, the ice bear (also known as an armored bear, also known as one of the panserbjorne – and my absolute favorite invention of Pullman’s, apart from the very concept of people’s souls walking around outside their bodies as animal companions called daemons), across a snowy expanse to a house, where she makes a gruesome discovery. The ride is visually absolutely beautiful. The discovery, however, is made fairly quickly, and the horror that it should inspire in the viewer is probably therefore minimized. Because I’d read the book, however, and because I knew what they were going to find in the house, I experienced the ride as a dreadful moment of suspense, and I responded to the moment of discovery not so much as to what was being portrayed on the screen, but as to how I know it’s described in the book. Because I had been horrified when I read that section in the book, I was equally horrified when I saw that part of the movie, even though the movie on its own did not succeed in creating that degree of horror.

It’s almost as if I enjoyed the movie so much simply because it reminded me of what happened in the book.

This is not to say that the movie has nothing going for it. It’s visually beautiful (though it’s probably not for you if you a hard-core minimalist, because it’s fairly ornate and elaborate). The special effects are incredibly well done – I nearly swooned when Lyra walks into the palace of the ice bears and becomes the focus of a circle of massive polar bears in armor. (Yeah, I have a thing for the bears.) The performances are wonderful – Nicole Kidman is a spectacular icy evil stepmother, and Dakota Blue Richards does a great job at being an ordinary, obstinate, occasionally bratty girl. (Daniel Craig is also wonderful, though sadly not on-screen very much – I’ve seen a review call him criminally underused, but dude, he’s just not in the book very much!) And while the movie does minimize any direct connection between the evil power-hungry Magisterium and the Christian church, I don’t think it particularly butchers the story.

But really, I loved the movie because I love the book, and somehow the movie makers created a world that allowed me to map my own understandings of the book onto their visuals, and that succeeded for me more because of that understanding than despite it.

I should add that this hasn’t been the case for other fantasy book-to-movie experiences I’ve had. I actually think that the more the Harry Potter movies mess with the books – editing, streamlining – the better the movies are; in the case of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, I felt like the movie improved on the book, making it into something stronger and cleaner, and I’m happy to expend with some of the book’s original details to end up with that result. And in the case of the Lord of the Rings movies, even though there were changes I disagreed with and that jarred me while watching (especially the portrayals of Faramir at the end of The Two Towers and Denethor in The Return of the King, both of which inspired those moments of "What?? Why did they change that? That makes no sense!" that interrupt your immersion in the story), overall the director’s vision of that world was strong enough and compelling enough to override mine. I don’t think the makers of The Golden Compass were able to accomplish either of those things – to improve upon the book, or to create a vision of the book that stands independently from it – but in conjunction with my own knowledge of the books, they did give me an extremely enjoyable movie-going experience.

(Full disclosure, in case this helps you better understand my comments here: I cried almost every time Iorek Byrnison was on-screen. I was a wreck during the fateful almost-intercision. I am a sentimental fool over this book.)