March 2008 Archives

Decoded

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Last night over a post-hanami pizza dinner, a friend of a friend decoded one of my binary necklaces. Tracey was wearing one that she bought from Etsy (thank you!) and when Joe found out it was encoded, he wanted to figure it out.

He made a few false starts as he guessed which bead represented one and which zero but got them backward. He spotted the space right away and that was neat. But then he asked me about the LSB and I had no idea what he was talking about. Once it was explained, (LSB, least significant bit, is the first digit in the sequence) I couldn't tell him whether it was the top or bottom of the dangle - I have done necklaces both ways. I will have to be more consistent.

Despite these challenges, he did eventually decode it correctly to read "smart girl" and we declared him a very smart guy indeed.

Convenience Foods Exposed

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PUNDO 3000 in Germany did an expose on processed foods that compares the package to the product inside. It should be enough to put anyone off commercially prepared foods forever but I am sure that it isn't.

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Is there fish swimming in that creamy sauce? I can't tell. The spinach on the package looks crisp and leafy, but in reality it seems to be soup.

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Does this wrapper say "artist's concept" somewhere? The meat in the real thing looks like regurgitated cafeteria fare, not the bright and shiny red cuts that entice us.

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How exactly did they create the package image? Definitely not from the food as prepared. Holy wishful thinking and food styling.

Orange and Chocolate Granola Candy

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Tod wanted to take granola bars to a hanami picnic, so I made these. As I often do these days, I consulted Mark Bittman's "How to Cook Everything Vegetarian" for the basics, then changed it all around to suit myself. These turned out to be more like candy than granola bars! Packed with energy (85 calories per piece) Tod has declared that he wants to have them on his 60km weekend bike rides.

Orange and Chocolate Granola Candy
makes 48 bite-sized pieces

3 cups (~400 g) organic granola (the kind without dried fruit)
1 cup chopped dried fruits and nuts (raisins, apricots, currents, mango, almonds, pinenuts, etc)
zest of 1 orange, peeled and chopped
50 g unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cardamom
1 tsp ginger
1/2 tsp cloves
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup oil

Mix the granola, fruits, nuts, zest, chocolate and spices. Boil the honey, maple syrup & oil. Drizzle the hot syrup over the granola, mixing well. Press into an ungreased 9x12 pan. Refrigerate until firm. Cut into bars and store in an airtight container. They won't last the four days that Bittman claims they stay good for.

365 Necklaces

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Following on the heels of the 40x365 project (though not too hot on the heels since that one ended nearly a year ago) where I wrote about someone every day for a year, I have begun a new year-long challenge. Since March 18th I have been creating a new necklace daily and will either give them as gifts or post them for sale on Etsy.

These aren't just necklaces, though. They are diary entries, too. Each one is a word or phrase encoded in binary and explained in the item description. Maybe it sums up my day, or reports the weather, reflects my mood, or expresses something on my mind. I also have a few old friends, mathematical constants, in the mix because they are just so beautiful and some random things because sometimes there is nothing to really say in a necklace diary entry.

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sunshine (27 March 2008). It was a lovely sunny day today.

I have tried to make the prices reasonable and any profits will go to environmental and social charities in Japan. I take special requests so if you have a message you want to wear around your neck, contact me through Etsy, please.

You can keep tabs on the project by looking at the "Mini Etsy" in the sidebar of my mediatinker.com or visit mediatinker.etsy.com

Family in the Media

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Earlier this month my mother had 3 1/2 minutes of her fame when she was featured in a short piece on NPR's All Things Considered. She told the story of her "obsolete skill" - folding a nurse's cap. Have a listen. I think she left out the best part: how they teased one another when one of the Ten Pins didn't stay in.

Tod's photo of balloons on Chowpatty Beach is scheduled to be published in the June issue of the Sunday Times Travel magazine.

I heard that Sachiko was in FRAU magazine this month, but I haven't seen the article yet.

Occupation and IQ

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Tod shared a link with me yesterday that got me thinking. It is a chart listing the IQs of people in various professions. I looked at it a good long time and it made me ask myself a lot of questions.

Why are the highest IQs in professions like doctor, lawyer, professor, scientist?
Why aren't there more high-IQ people being janitors and metalworkers?
Which occupations are appealing to a broad range of IQs? Why them and not the others?

It was food for thought while I cut out Morsbags.

March 20

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Paying my respects to my father on the anniversary of his death.

Ambulances & Emergencies

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A few months back there were several news reports about ambulances in Osaka having so much trouble finding an ER to take their patients that the patients died before seeing a doctor. This week a survey by the Fire and Disaster Management Agency reported that nationwide in 2007, 24,089 ambulance patients were rejected by hospitals more than three times before being admitted somewhere. In 2006, a different agency reported only 667 such cases.

That is not good. But why is this happening and how can it be resolved?

Partly because hospitals are facing budget and staff crises and closing or cutting back their ER facilities. That seems to be a perennial, or perhaps cyclical, problem with hospitals.

Partly because hospitals rotate ER days. Not all ERs are open 24/7/365. The ambulances know the schedule and call ahead to confirm that there is a bed for the patient. If one ER is busy, or doesn't have the right kind of doctor on staff, they reject the request.

Partly because many ambulance crews are not trained in medicine. Some have training beyond basic first aid, but it is not a requirement.

So how can this problem be fixed? From my armchair vantage point, I see a few obvious things that would improve the situation right away:

  1. Staff paramedics and other medically trained people in the ambulances. This would give the patient timely triage and accurate reporting of the situation to the hospital.
  2. More hospitals on rotation in the ER schedule. This is a challenge due to budgets and staffing, but it is certainly the most immediate fix. No more ER holidays.
  3. Establish local "urgent care" centers for non-traumatic emergencies, like earaches and food poisoning. Right now, you have to find an off-hours clinic or go to the ER (in an ambulance). This would free up the hospitals to handle trauma and more complicated issues.

I am sure that people in power are thinking along these lines, and in Osaka earlier this year, this issue was at the heart of the gubernatorial campaign.. I just hope it gets fixed before I need to go to the hospital in a rush.

Should you stay?

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Rob & I have had many late night discussions about the merits of going home and sleeping in bed vs crashing out on the floor of the office. We have come up with the following points:

  • Sleeping in your own bed is more restful than the floor.
  • An ideal night is 7 hours or more; an acceptable night is 5 hours. Less than 3 hours is bad news.
  • Commuting cuts about 120 minutes out of the sleep window, including ablutions and breakfast.

So if work begins at 10 am, you must leave the office by 1 am to get 7 hours sleep. 3 am is the cusp. Leaving much after 3 am is generally not wise, unless you have run out of underwear and socks at the office. If the sun is coming up, brew coffee.

I can survive a week of five hour nights, and a few days on less than three hours of sleep, but if the short nights add up, I go crazy. So the nearer a project is to deadline, the more likely I am to sleep at the office. Like tonight. When my render finishes in 10 minutes, I am going to have a kip in my sleeping bag.

How Busy is Work?

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Yesterday, Rob asked me how many videos I was working on. I was a little bit surprised to answer nine. Eight of them have to be shown to the client on Friday. One was completed yesterday. I completed a tenth one the day before yesterday, and the numbers add up the further back I go.

Here is a description of the projects I am currently working on:

  • 1 awards ceremony video featuring footage of the award winner
  • 4 photo montages set to music - the other award winners at the ceremony above
  • 1 high-energy, yet inspiring and aspirational, sports-themed video to open a conference
  • 1 consumer style video to define a target market for summer sales
  • 1 product launch video to be shown in supermarkets

The one I finished yesterday was subtitling some Japanese news clips; the day before I completed a converting a 7 minute video to English using reworked telops and a new script and narrators.

Work is fun but frantic. Most of these videos are for a conference on the 18th; I hope things will slow down after that.

A riddle

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A little word of doubtful number,
A foe to rest and peaceful slumber.
If you add an "s" to this,
Great is the metamorphosis.
Plural is plural now no more,
And sweet what bitter was before.
What am I?

I think old riddles are neat. This is one of my favorites.

More desired than less than 20%

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I have a Facebook account and sometimes it sends me mail. Today I received a doozy of an ego-buster.

Subject: Kristen, you are more desired than less than 20% of all people.

In total, you were reviewed for dating 11 times and no people expressed interest in you.
You are more desirable than less than 20% of 23,330,840 people.

Last week you were viewed 6 times and no people expressed interested in you

I guess I already knew that. Thanks a bunch, Facebook, for reminding me.

Poor Old Clothilde

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A sad note from my mother tonight:

"I came home from the Playhouse last evening to find Clothilde on the floor, very still. She wasn't dead but not able to meow, although she tried. At the moment, I am holding her and talking to her about chasing string. She doesn't seem to be in any pain so I'm hoping she'll die in comfort. When she dies, Henry will bury her in his 'back forty'."

Tod & I brought Clothilde home from the farm in 1993. Clot was tiny but she was fearsome. She got her name when she bit me through the cat carrier on the drive from Claysville to Pittsburgh. Fortunately, her temper only surfaced in transit.

She loved playing with string, getting crazy on catnip. Every morning she would sleep curled up on my chest until it was time to wake me up by headbutting me in the face. I can still feel the hair from her tufty ears poking up my nose.

She and our other cat, Eliot, were fast friends; she was the only other cat Eliot ever liked. They raced each other around the house and delighted in sleeping curled up together on sunny spots.

Clot-head was sweet, but not a beautiful cat. Her long grey fur was constantly in a state of felted lumps that peeled off seasonally leaving her with weird blank patches. Her stunted back legs prevented her from leaping gracefully and she was never fond of being held but somehow my mother, who took her and Eliot in when we left the US, was able to hold Clothilde and brush her at the same time. Mom's got a way with the cats.

For the last year Clot has been blind and living in my mother's kitchen - contentedly sleeping in a cat carrier and meowing for treats every afternoon. She's had a good long life, most of it spent far away from me, but I will miss her.

A hospital visit

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A friend of ours is in the hospital recovering from an operation on his back. After ten days of rest Akira looks fit and needed only a little more than the usual effort to sit up and enjoy the conversation with all the friends that descended on his room on Sunday.

Hanako called me to let me know she was going to see Akira, but I didn't think I could go. I was scheduled to be working on Sunday. I gave my excuses and hoped to fit in a visit sometime later in the week. But when Akira's wife, Kimie, called me my plans changed. How do you say no to a woman who remembers all the things you have done together and who writes you letters in a language you struggle to understand? You can not say no.

So I blew off work and went to the hospital in Gotanda with Tod on Sunday. Hanako was there, along with three of her friends, a video camera, a digital still camera and two tripods. Akira and Kimie's daughter and granddaughter turned up at the same time. All together we filled Akira's room.

So that Akira could rest a bit after everyone had wished him well, Kimie led us all outside to the garden for a photo facing his hospital window and then fed us a snack. We laughed as she pulled out treat after treat and handed them around. First there were some sake cakes and sasa dango from Matsudai, then an assortment of manju, then oranges. You cannot escape eating too much with Kimie around; she is the classic grandmother.

I am glad that I visited Akira and Kimie rather than going to work. Sometimes I forget that people and relationship take priority but I never regret making them so.

Fruited Tea Cake

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Here is another recipe to use up some leftovers - in this case the too strong dregs of the teapot and some odds and ends of dried fruit.

Fruited Tea Cake
makes 2 small loaves

2 cups strong brewed tea
400 g dried fruit (raisins, figs, prunes, dates coconut, etc)
1/2 cup nuts
250 g white flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp quatre epices (or cinnamon, etc)
200 g brown sugar
1 egg, beaten

Soak the fruit and nuts in the tea for two hours or as long as overnight. Mix together the flour, sugar, spices and baking powder then add the egg, along with the soaked fruit, nuts, and tea. Pour into two greased and floured loaf pans (or line your pan with baking paper) and bake at 150C for about 45 minutes. The cake is done when a pick is inserted and comes out clean.

Eggplant with Pomegranate Molasses

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This eggplant spread received raves at a dinner gathering last night and the bowl was scraped clean, so I thought I'd better write the recipe out so I don't forget it. I decided to add some pomegranate molasses, which I only seem to use for muhammara, and that was the key to deliciousness.

Eggplant with Pomegranate Molasses
serves 4

10 small eggplants (maybe 2-3 big American ones?)
1 large onion
olive oil
1 Tbsp pomegranate molasses
salt and pepper to taste

Pierce the eggplants with a knife. Roast them whole in the oven at 180-200C for about an hour. Allow to cool. Scrape the flesh from the skin. You should have about 2 cups of eggplant flesh. You will wish you had more.

Chop the onion. Carmelise the onion in olive oil. Add the eggplant and stir together until soft and smushy. Add the pomegrante molasses and season with salt and pepper.

Serve warm or room temperature as a spread or sandwich filling.

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