Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Tabletop gaming

Popgadget linked an Italian luxury games manufacturer, Zontik Games. While there are many items on Zontik's website that I would enjoy owning, this dicetray is the one I wish I'd had during the years when we hosted a weekly RPG night. One particular friend had/has a habit of rolling his dice so forcefully at least one would bounce off the table to land somewhere difficult (the floor? among the books on the shelf? in an open shirt collar?), often cocked or unreadable. At one point I jokingly handed him a clear plastic box containing a few dice, telling him he had to roll those as they'd stay in the box! The poker set also looks especially nice, and although I haven't played much backgammon in years, maybe this luxurious set in blue with mother-of-pearl finish stones would motivate me to play.

Among items I *wouldn't* want to buy are a leather "flying disk" (apparently in spite of a price of $350, they didn't license the name "Frisbee!").

Monday, January 26, 2009


Robot a Day! At which the artist, who is making a robot a day 5 days a week, posts photos of the robots. The robots are structurally quite similar, but color choice and accessories turn them into individuals.

I make knitted robots; there's no way I could do one a day. I might be able to do one a week but only if I did nothing else during my downtime, and I'd rather read, watch a little TV, go for walks on my lunch hour, etc.

Courtesy of Dress a Day.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Differences in willpower

May be genetic.

Gene Expression links and excerpts a study finding a difference in brain chemistry between men and women in controlling the impulse to eat when hungry.

In men, but not in women, food stimulation with inhibition significantly decreased activation in amygdala, hippocampus, insula, orbitofrontal cortex, and striatum, which are regions involved in emotional regulation, conditioning, and motivation. The suppressed activation of the orbitofrontal cortex with inhibition in men was associated with decreases in self-reports of hunger, which corroborates the involvement of this region in processing the conscious awareness of the drive to eat. This finding suggests a mechanism by which cognitive inhibition decreases the desire for food and implicates lower ability to suppress hunger in women as a contributing factor to gender differences in obesity.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Changing the list of things I'm good at...

Two different people complimented me on my whistling today. Apparently at work I whistle quite a bit--I wasn't entirely conscious of it. One cow-orker said she can tell I'm happy when I'm whistling and snapping my fingers. Later another cow-orker praised my whistling well enough that she could identify the song I was whistling.

All I ever notice is when I am flat, just like when I'm singing.

Good advice about political conversations

At Big Hollywood, advice given to the conservatives that works for lots of other people, too:

DON’T pretend you’re being brave when you criticize your government. Not while people in other countries actually, y’know, DIE, when they do that.


DON’T use the phrase “speaking truth to power.” EVER.

DON’T move to Canada.

DON’T say you’re going to move to Canada and then stay here. (I know it’s too late for Stephen Baldwin, but not for the rest of you.)

DON’T apologize to foreigners and say things to them like, “I didn’t vote for Obama,” or “He’s not MY president.”


DON’T automatically think people who disagree with you are stupid or evil. Some of them are, of course. But most of them aren’t, and you might actually learn something if you listen to them.

And finally, DON’T use the fact that many on the left behaved abominably for the past eight years as an excuse to behave the same way. America needs adults. And if it bothered you when they did it, it’s a good sign that you shouldn’t do it.

Works for me.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Politics-Israel: Why it's working

There's been widespread outcry against Israel's recent tactics in Gaza, including protests, attacks on non-Israeli Jews, proposed boycotts. But apparently it's working:

Israel may have reached a deterrent moment in its war in Gaza against Iranian-backed Hamas. I spoke with a senior Arab diplomat last night. He told me that the Arab street is afraid that "the Jews have gone crazy."

Yes, it's true. He noted, "Israel has begun to restore its deterrence" in the Arab world. "Hamas miscalculated," he added. They had thought Israel would not attack, but would merely accede to tougher Hamas demands for an improved "Tahdiya," their version of a temporary calm.

This is perhaps one of the more optimistic assessments I have heard from Arab colleagues recently. There is supporting documentation. Hizbullah's immediate public denial yesterday of the Katusha rocket attack from Southern Lebanon against Israel's North and the reports on Lebanese TV of convoys of Lebanese (read: Hizbullah) vehicles moving north in expectation of a major Israeli reprisal strengthens this sense.

So while the world is screaming that Israel overdid it, Hamas replies "Hey, that's what it took to get our attention--we thought we could bully them because they were wimps, but we were wrong!"

In space, no one can hear you scream.

A fabulous article by Peter Hartlaub on movie tag lines brings back lots of fun memories.

Not all taglines are campy or laughable or just plain bad. Lines such as Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water and They're back remain part of the lexicon decades after everyone has forgotten the bad sequels that spurred them. (New journalism rule: Every time a lazy columnist, blogger or editor in the American media uses a variation of "They're ba-aaack," he or she gets a week's suspension without pay.)

Hat tip Girlhacker.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Why isn't it Jew hatred?

I know it's possible for a particular critique of the government of Israel to not be Jew hatred because I've read and heard them, but why do so many people deny that criticism of that government's actions is most often expressed as Jew hatred? Why are *Jews* around the world attacked verbally and physically, instead of Israelis? Or Israeli embassies?

Rabbi Marvin Hier's opinion piece at the Wall Street Journal makes the point:

Just look at the spate of attacks this week on Jews and Jewish institutions around the world: a car ramming into a synagogue in France; a Chabad menorah and Jewish-owned shops sprayed with swastikas in Belgium; a banner at an Australian rally demanding "clean the earth from dirty Zionists!"; demonstrators in the Netherlands chanting "Gas the Jews"; and in Florida, protestors demanding Jews "Go back to the ovens!"

Notice that's attacks against Jews just in the last week. Jews who aren't even in Israel; Jews who are never asked, "Do you support the actions of the State of Israel in Gaza?" before they are attacked; Jews who are attacked for the crime of being Jews.

How else can we explain the double-standard that is applied to the Gaza conflict, if not for a more insidious bias against the Jewish state?

At the U.N., no surprise, this double-standard is in full force. In response to Israel's attack on Hamas, the Security Council immediately pulled an all-night emergency meeting to consider yet another resolution condemning Israel. Have there been any all-night Security Council sessions held during the seven months when Hamas fired 3,000 rockets at half a million innocent civilians in southern Israel? You can be certain that during those seven months, no midnight oil was burning at the U.N. headquarters over resolutions condemning terrorist organizations like Hamas. But put condemnation of Israel on the agenda and, rain or shine, it's sure to be a full house.

There's a lot of evidence for a strong undercurrent of Jew hatred in Western culture; much like sexism and racism, some people would deny and others not even recognize it, but I believe it's there. And like racism and sexism, the first step is acknowledging it, but the important thing is the second step: be mindful of the possible Jew hatred in your reactions, in your judgments, in your choices.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


I had all my kids with me last weekend and we had fun playing with wooden trains (Brio and Thomas the Tank Engine). Here's my grandson in his engineer's overalls.

And here he is on his grandpa's lap:

Politics-Israel, more

Courtesy of Joel Rosenberg, one man's opinion. He begins with the story of his aunt and mother, who were at Belsen with Anne Frank--they had been schoolmates before.

The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.


A year or so back I met a teacher while I was on holiday and fell to talking with him about Israel. He was a nice man and all he wanted was for fighting to stop and to end the suffering of children. And he had a question for me.

Why, he asked, doesn't Israel offer to give back the West Bank and Gaza? Why doesn't it just let the Palestinians have a state there? If the Palestinians turned it down, he said, then at least liberal opinion would be on Israel's side and would rally to its assistance.

So I patiently explained to this kind, good man that Israel had, at Camp David in 2000, made precisely this offer and that it had been rejected out of hand by Yassir Arafat, not even used as the basis for negotiation. I told him that Israel was no longer in Gaza, having withdrawn unilaterally and taken the settlers with it. The Palestinians had greeted this movement with suicide bombs and rockets. Yet the teacher, with all his compassion, wasn't even aware of all this.

Some links for education and entertainment

Nicola Griffith (a favorite author of mine) is starting an alternative publishing exercise:

Four weeks ago, I rather quixotically launched a co-operative publishing initiative. Lots of people have since been drinking the Kool-Aid *g*.

Girlhacker points to a family business that upgrades cheap Chinese pianos into something worth buying but not beyond your price range:

At the two ends of the piano-industry extreme, buyers can choose from high-end European builders who can charge $60,000 for a grand piano, or Asian companies mass-producing grands that can be had for about $10,000. Fandrich, 66, is shooting for the low middle. Starting with a new piano from China, he replaces parts and refines them by hand, selling grand pianos starting at $16,560.

Girlhacker again with a story about the success of a wildlife underpass that's helping as many as 800 deer a week survive crossing a freeway:

Herbin said the key to the project's success was the placement and design of the underpasses themselves.

"You've got to place them where the animals actually do cross so they don't have to learn a new migration route, but you also have to design them in such a way that they're not afraid of them," Herbin said.

Data from the first underpass installed in 2001 showed that the tunnel cut the number of deer killed at milepost 30 by more than half during its first year of operation.

"They did a lot of experimenting with the first underpass moving partitions around to get the proper size, height and width," Herbin said.

"And one thing they figured out was that if the deer cannot see open space on the other end, they're not going to use the underpass," she said.

Compromises make for success in Greg Hlatky's story of being laid off and finding a new job:

While still with my former company, some of the others whose jobs were to be eliminated were asked to stay on until the end of the year. This was more than a little annoying, since I myself would have liked to do the same. Yet it was a blessing in disguise that I left when I did. Of all those at my site to be cut, I'm the only one to land another job. And that was because I: 1) took a job well outside my primary experience and industry; 2) took a pay cut to do so, and; 3) was willing to relocate. With our delightful economy, God only knows what would have happened had I not been able to focus my energies on job-hunting!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Politics-Israel again

Steven Den Beste nails it again:

All the internationalist condemnations right now of Israel for its "disproportionate response" are really attempts to get the Israelis to fight at a level low enough to be logistically sustainable for Hamas.


Signs that the tide might be turning for Hamas? Residents of a Gaza neighborhood are confirming Israel's claim that Hamas militants had opened fire from the cover of a U.N. school where hundreds of Palestinians had sought refuge.

Slow seeing

The Common Room links a terrific photo of a landmark, taken with a pinhole camera and the exposure open for six months.