Memory misplaced.

I like to go for long walks.  I like to go for long walks and discover secret things.  Some of the things are secrets of space:  the half-hidden trestle footbridge near the Belmont commuter rail stop, or the rocky and secluded outcrop of pines above a trail at McCormick’s Creek State Park.  Other secret remainders are more portable – the forgotten glove or shoe, a half-inflated dodge ball, the gnarled twists of wood and metal left from an old picnic table or porch swing.  Each secret is a story you will never know the entirety of.  Each place or object is a part of your own secret story, that you choose to disclose or keep hidden from the world.

There can be a sense of loss with these items.  Someone has a lonely glove.  Someone else may have lost the disposable camera that could have kept past memories fresh for them.  Others, with time and change, may lose their favorite space to think, or just to be.  Now however there are internet sites dedicated to the reunification of people and those things they’ve lost.  There’s something unique and inspiring to rediscovering these lost things, even for the discoverer.  Here, at last, is a chance to know a bit about what stories these things might hold.  It is a chance to know a portion of the tale of the lost notebook or the tale of the misplaced monocle.  And it gives the loser the chance to regain some moment of their past, or even possibly some useful part of their current lives.  It is something precious, whether rediscovered or found for the first time.

The Moon, via big balloon.

As a small child, I read quite a few books. Some of them were from the childhood of either parent – the Bobsey twins, the five little Peppers, Johnny Tremain, and Tarzan. One I remember in particular was called Flight to the Mushroom Planet. In this book, two boys build a rocket in their back yard with the help of a little old alien man, and blast with him beyond the moon to his home planet. Fanciful as the pseudo-science of this book might seem (where the weight of gravity can be much more easily overcome by kids, since they are lighter, and a rocket can be built from junk and spare parts), it does have some realistic basis. That’s why Google is starting a race to see what private group can get to the moon first, without putting kids lives at stake.

The idea is something like this – we all love space. It’s the frontier we haven’t conquered. And if people put out big bucks to get their ashes launched out into the ether, just think what they will pay to have remains interred on the Moon. There are a variety of more long-term commercial uses of such transport, as well as more long-term opportunities to tap the natural resources available there. And by encouraging this kind of private development, Google gets a bunch of good press as well as expanding its finance base. The more people live, work, and think about the further reaches of the galaxy, the more basic content there is driving traffic all over the web.

Personally I am highly attracted to the idea of ‘garage band’ groups coming together to build these Moon traveler prototypes. it makes me want to go home and start building something in my own garage. Of course, I would have to learn quite a bit more about the way things work to build a successful prototype. What’s the best wavelength for broadcasting video from the Moon, for instance? What are the best materials to withstand the extreme temperatures of space and re-entry without corruption? What sort of recording equipment is even able to withstand such extremes and still deliver a quality picture? But when Google admits that the costs will be prohibitive, I say balderdash. I’ve got it all worked out – I’ll carry the whole thing via balloon.

Now, I know what you’re thinking – don’t balloons explode in space? Yes, they do. I checked – here’s a nice little video to illustrate:

However, I am not deterred. I just have to find the right totally inexpensive material that will retain its elasticity under extreme pressure. I’m thinking of something like Mythbusters lead balloon, but that would be way too fragile. Even though it’s really cool:

No, what I really need is something like bubble gum. But less tacky when cold? Corn starch? The possibilities are endless. Hey, if two little boys can get all the way to a mushroom planet, a turn of the century science nut can get around the world in 80 days, and a lead balloon can fly (even outside of fiction), then I can certainly win the race to the Moon. I’m smart. I’ve got the passion. What force is strong enough to stop me, other than gravity?

The Case of the Floating Feet

I don’t like horror movies.  It’s not because of the violence, or the rampant gore, or the complete ridiculousness of the plot.  It’s the suspense.  I hate not knowing things, I hate putting off decisions and plans that change 9especially last minute).  I love surprises, but not the kind that scare you.  I’m not sure why, as the suspense of a good mystery I usually find appealing.  Perhaps I just get too worked up and too creeped out.  For example, when I watched the horror movie In the Mouth of Madness recently, it wasn’t any of the weird stuff that happened that had me spooked – it was the little stuff.  That freaky kid riding his bike in the dark with playing cards in the spokes.  El creepo.

But sometimes the creepiest stuff is real.  Take the recent rash of shoes with feet still in them washing up in British Columbia.  I myself am going to the beach tomorrow, and expect to have a grand old time in the sun.  I do NOT expect to discover a foot by itself in the wash.  I mean, a foot is something personal.  It’s almost a hand.  It’s not a random piece of meat that could be anything, nibbled by fishes for who knows how long.  It’s something you don’t just misplace.  And how do you go about finding the owner of a missing foot?  Disturbing, all around.

Out For A Bit

All day conference today and tomorrow, gone for a week to NC on Friday…Don’t expect to hear much in the coming few days.  But after that, updates galore!

Doctor claims “metabo sounds more inclusive than obesity”

Thanks to Cristen for the link.

The word “obese”, while not as aggressive and hurtful as ‘fat’, still has very negative connotations. There are associated ideas of a lack of health, a lack of self control, and can even be connected with the obtuseness of an individual. Classifying a person as obese, despite the best intentions of healthcare professionals, is a blow to the self esteem. Telling someone they need to lose pound for their own health is a blow, and not always true. But even worse is demanding a reduction in waistlines across the board, which is what Japan is doing currently.

Of course, with obesity on the rise across the globe, and conditions such as metabolic syndrome (metabo) becoming more frequent, there are definite health risks associated with weight. But putting a definite cap on allowable waistlines is fraught with complications. There has already been one death – a jogger who was part of a group dedicated to avoiding metabo and getting back in shape – due to a heart attack. Was the man pushing himself too hard? Or was it just circumstance? While the new guidelines might give doctors the opportunity to talk more easily about prevention of specific diseases like metabo (rather than about obesity generally), a specific waistline goal doesn’t seem to be realistic. A focus on being healthy is more than a measurement, no matter that the government can’t judge such as focus accurately or quickly. Starting a new healthier lifestyle requires more effort, and will always be more complex.


I walk quite a bit in Boston.  I like the feeling.  I like being outside, even in the rain, striding as if I had an intense purpose even when I don’t.  I like feeling the wind against my skin and observing the little thing – a violet beneath a bush, a thrush on a street sign, the tiny bud of some flowering plant just opening – that I wouldn’t notice in a car or bus.  I like feeling my heart pump even though I am moving relatively slowly to the rest of the world.

There are a variety of people who agree with me: joggers, hikers, runners, dog walkers.  I would guess that all of them feel the same type of draw – the combination of joy in the outside world and reveling in the feeling of their own movement.  It’s a powerful draw – there are some who would use almost any excuse to be outside.  However there is an occasional unintended consequence, a misfortune resulting from such outdoor activity that could not have been predicted.  One would be the death of your leashed dog by street sweeper.
Pedestrians get hit by cars all the time.  Dogs get hit by cars even more often.  I would guess that even street sweepers hit people and cars.  But one of the purposes of a leash is to prevent such mishaps.  A leash ostensibly gives an owner the power to prevent dogs from going where they shouldn’t – whether due to privacy issues and social norms of respect, or for the dog’s own safety.  It’s possible that accidents occur when the owners of such dogs are being less than mindful.  However, there is a question of whether a street sweeper should not even notice something as big as a dog getting tangled in its machinery.  Sure, it was a small dog, and those machines are loud.  But considering that the driver didn’t even notice for two and a half blocks that something was amiss with people chasing him and screaming, it makes me wonder if he would’ve noticed if he’d swept up something more precious.  Like a child.

I won’t stop walking.  I certainly won’t stop getting angry at cars that invade MY sidewalk space, or people who don’t bother to check the sidewalk before edging out into an intersection.  But a little care please, on the part of drivers (especially street cleaners) would be appreciated.

Let’s Be Honest.

I am, by nature, a very honest person.  I prefer the brutal truth to half-lies.  And though I am a fiction writer and admire a certain amount of embellishment, I don’t like cushioning the realities that others need to hear.  Considering others as mature adults capable of using their reason means giving them a complete set of facts, despite the potential to cause pain.  Avoiding a truth does not make that truth go away, it simply makes it more painful when it is finally presented.

Yes, it is difficult to tell someone they are dying.  And there is also something to be said for keeping a positive mental outlook where diseases like cancer are concerned.  After all, being happy can help you stay more healthy.  However, being realistic is another part of the equation.  Considering that one-third of all terminally ill cancer patients don’t discuss end of life care with their doctors, someone isn’t being entirely honest.  No one likes to talk about death, least of all a doctor who devotes his life to healing but can’t save you.  In addition, talking about death is thought to depress the patient (though recent studies show this may not be the case).  But ultimately the doctor is the person who suffers for this discussion by having failed.  If the patient gets honesty, they will be getting the service of planning their last acts with all the facts instead of a false hope.

There are some people who don’t appreciate the truth however.  Some people would prefer to have hope if nothing else.  Some people don’t talk about serious or painful things, closing in on the wounds and bottling things up.  Some people might wish to avoid talking about painful things like death with their loved ones.  But despite all this protection, they will still die.  They will still leave family and friends behind.  And while it might be nice to have a last period of time without fear or sadness, pretending that there is neither will not make that remaining time better.

Welcome to Thing Mart

I am writing this only because Corina challenged me.

As a part of the research interns are doing in my office, a number of up-and-coming international companies are being analyzed.  One of them, a Chinese department store dubbed ‘Wu Mart’ seems a little familiar.  Its slogan?  ‘Every day low price; every way high quality.’  Even its classic sans-serif lettering seems strangely familiar:

As far as I can tell, the characters (Wu Mei) mean ‘Beautiful Stuff’.  So it’s not exactly an exactly Walmart knockoff.  I don’t think the Chinese or anyone else considers the Walmart stuff beautiful.  But it is cheap.  So why is Walmart not as successful as the burgeoning Wumart?

Probably it has something to do with quality.  Probably also it has something to do with the flexibility of the smaller Wumart to adapt to the local market.  Department store giants like Walmart and Carrefour aren’t willing to do so.  But another part has to do with nation-building and pride.  Just as we like to buy American to support local business, the Chinese are proud of their growing industries.  They want to buy Chinese.  They want to support a local commercial venture that regards a part of its mission as ‘establishing an everlasting retail chain that Chinese people love patronizing, and that mingles with their daily lives’.  With that kind of personal and national appeal, there’s no reason Wumart wouldn’t grow, if they continue to provide a quality product.

At the end of the day however, I am torn.  China may be learning from the West too fast.  While I support the growth of the economy and the rise of the standard of living, I worry about the commercialization of China’s values.  I’m not sure nation-building should be accomplished in support of a department store.  I’m worried that reasonable pride and a national feeling are clouding the potential for needless spending.  Economic growth should not necessarily be reflected as an increase in commercialism.  I hope that the growth of Wumart continues to be a growth of pride, one of buying what you need from a company that supports your values.

Salem, in Kenya.

One of the early black marks of colonists in the US are the Salem with trials.  A few adolescent girls accused powerful and upstanding members of the community of witchcraft.  Instead of reacting with sense, the community reacted with fear and envy, basically tearing the tightly-woven community apart.  Why did it happen?  Why, in some cases, can small communities deal with petty rivalries and power in the hands of a few, but in others demand retribution for every imagined crime?  Why do some situations allow for this dysfunction, and others root it out, tree and branch?  If such a small community can tear itself apart, what hope is there for any nation attempting to function as a united whole?

When people live together in close proximity, those people need certain outlets for the accumulated stress of living.  The criminal justice system, the civil courts, the right to assemble and speak and protest, unions, campaigns, boycotts, and lobbying are all modern outlets that we use to vent our grievances against our fellow man and living with him in a society.  Other societies have other means, including ritual, religion, tradition, exorcism, shamanic practices, and even witchcraft.  These different means are not necessarily better or worse than our own.  Sometimes, they fail – murderers we cannot catch, the criminally insane, an angry mob that kills suspected witches because of envy, greed, and malice rather than evidence.  But I do not think such failures render the system invalid.

For the most part, it seems that members of the community in Western Kenya recognize a crime has been committed.  They recognize that these accused and killed ‘witches’ were most likely nothing of the sort.  They realize that there are vendettas being carried out in the name of witch hunts.  But they are not willing to give up on the system as faulty quite yet.  One of the families of a victim continues to play by the rules in abandoning the home of the accused witch though they know she had done nothing wrong.  It remains a bad luck sort of place, and they are willing to let that go to maintain order in the community.  A nearby shaman also has encouraged others to speak to him of suspected witches, so that they can be dealt with appropriately.  Hopefully there will be a societal push to deal with some of the underlying vendetta, striking to the core of struggles over increasing poverty, a lack of land, and the general struggle to survive.  If not, this community may tear itself apart as well.

Drink it RAW

I don’t like milk.  Sure, it occasionally tastes good – a cold glass cutting across the remains of lemon meringue pie, or used for dunking Oreos – but for the most part, I find it gross.  It causes your body to produce more mucus, it slimes the inside of your throat, and generally does not appeal to me.  I mean, its so full of stuff you can’t even see through it.  Would you drink particle-ridden water?  Plus there are all kinds of questions regarding whether or not growth hormone, pasteurization, and other modern processes are really adding to or detracting from the health benefits of milk.

Enter raw milk.  It’s only sellable in about half the states, you can’t transport it across state lines, and there are cases of suspected salmonella and E. coli poisoning from its consumption.  The FDA doesn’t like it.  The FDA doesn’t want you to drink it.  And certain families who’ve had bad experiences are suing raw milk producers for harming their children.  The producers do test the milk for harmful bacteria before selling it, however pasteurization is probably a better guarantee of killing everything.  And there are advocates who swear for the natural benefits of raw milk straight from the cow.

Personally the idea of raw milk is faintly nauseating to me, but that’s probably more because it’s milk than because it’s raw.  But there are other beverages that cannot be sold raw in Massachusetts that I love, namely, apple cider.  I want my own apple press where I can smoosh juice and gritty pulp out with weight and brute force.  I want cider that has real apple bits in it, still crunchy and fresh, instead of that mushy applesauce floating around in pasteurized ‘cider’.  I want fresh pressings, not boiled juice.

Honestly I’m not sure I could even drink real cider anymore.  I’m allergic to apples due to the pollen still contained within the fruit, which cooking (or pasteurization) denatures.  So perhaps it’s best that I don’t have direct access to that lovely tang of fresh-pressed cider, as it’s probably a temptation I could not resist.  And honestly, bacteria could grow just as easily in my murky pressings of choice as the murkiness of milk.  But I have no natural health benefits to tout for raw cider as opposed to the pasteurized kind.  It just tastes better.

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