Genderqueer Robots

August 12th, 2012

Mind hacks brings us news of a study demonstrating that even robots are subject to gender stereotyping:

As predicted, the short-haired male robot was perceived as more agentic than was the long-haired female robot, whereas the female robot was perceived as more communal than was the male counterpart. Analogously, stereotypically male tasks were perceived more suitable for the male robot, relative to the female robot, and vice versa. Taken together, our findings demonstrate that gender stereotypes, which typically bias social perceptions of humans, are even applied to robots.

Sadly, this isn’t a joke.

This is me on drugs

August 10th, 2012

In this collection of self-portraits done while on various drugs, Bryan Lewis Saunders captures what he felt on each drug. Although I fear for Mr. Saunders health, the images are fascinating. I can’t help but wonder how they would be different if he had somehow contrived to blind himself to the substances, although it is hard to imagine how he could have given himself a morphine IV without knowing what it was.

Balanced out

August 9th, 2012

A small collection of reviews of addiction memoirs can be found over on Addiction Inbox.

Recent Longform

August 8th, 2012

As noted previously on the blog, one of the big changes digital readers (such as the Kindle) have brought to my life is a massive increase in the number of longform articles I read. Here’s a run-down of some I have recently enjoyed (by recent, I mean recently read by me, not recently published):

Tom Bissell reviews L.A. Noire, a review I found quite interesting in spite of my status as a non-gamer. Bissell’s discussion of the controversial role of storytelling in video games is fascinating. Also, it helped that I read the L.A. Noire e-book as a kindle freebie — even though it was meant as a teaser for the game, the book contains several excellent noir short stories.

Interactivity sabotages storytelling. There is no longer any use arguing to the contrary. Thus, the story of L.A. Noire can never be good — at least, not in the way it is trying to be. As a story, then, L.A. Noire is not successful. As a game, too, L.A. Noire fails. In a lot of ways, it is a terrible game: frustratingly arbitrary, puzzlingly noncommunicative, and not very fun. But I love L.A. Noire.

Why Johnny Can’t Ride, about school rules against riding a bike to school. I had no idea this was a thing until I tripped over this article. I used to ride my bike to school every day — it was no big thing. After school, I rode my bike all over town to get to various activities (this town was a small city — about 60,000 residents). I refuse to believe the world was a safer place back then.

Maple Avenue Middle School is not unique. Built in 1991 on 50 acres on the northern edge of Saratoga Springs (on property shared by the neighboring towns of Wilton and Greenfield, which also send children there), it’s the only middle school for the entire 110-square-mile Saratoga Springs City School District. This kind of planning is a national trend: As a 2002 report compiled by the National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) explained, over the past several decades communities around the country have abandoned old, centrally located schools in densely populated neighborhoods and built new facilities on bigger properties far from the center of town. For middle schools, the Council of Education Facility Planners recommends at least 20 acres of land plus another acre for every 100 students—a policy that, according to the NTHP, amounts to “the construction of giant educational facilities in remote, middle-of-nowhere locations that rule out the possibility of anyone walking to school.” That last part is supported in detail by the U.S. Department of Transportation. According to its surveys, in 2009 only 13 percent of all children walked or rode to school, whereas in 1969 nearly half (48 percent) did.

Mysterious Circumstances, the true story of the death of a Sherlock Holmes expert. Did he stumbled onto a theft of Sherlockiana? Or was he simply unlucky? The piece never resolves this, but it delves into the work of Richard Lancelyn Green, the worlds “foremost expert on Sherlock Holmes.”

Relying on the stray details sprinkled throughout Conan Doyle’s stories, Green had pieced together a replica of Holmes and Watson’s apartment–one so precise that it occasionally drew Holmes aficionados from other parts of England. One local reporter described the uncanny sensation of climbing the seventeen stairs–the same number specified in the stories–as a tape recording played in the background with the sounds of Victorian London: the rumble of cab wheels, the clopping of horses’ hooves on cobblestones. By then, Green had become the youngest person ever inducted into the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, where members sometimes dressed in period costumes–in high-waisted trousers and top hats.

If you’re interested, the feed for my Instapaper folder is right here.


August 6th, 2012

I’ve always found it amusing that the dirtiest imaginable places — sewer systems — are called “sanitary.”

Sewer History was created by Jon Schladweiler, the Historian of the Arizona Water Association, to document and explore the history of sewer systems. Some of the pictures are truly amazing, such as these photos documenting the building of a sewer system in Columbus, Ohio or these from a sewer system collapse in Tucson, Arizona.

Humans are amazing.

Oregon Coast

August 3rd, 2012

We recently spent a few days on the Oregon coast. A few notes on what we did and where we ate:

  • Lone Pine Farms, where you can pet goats or feed them in their overhead goat walk
  • Ocean Blue Seafood, in Newport Oregon. The crab hush puppies and house-smoked salmon were amazing. The chowder was pretty good too.
  • Breach the Moon Gallery, a store that appealed to me for obvious reasons. It had beautiful local art and jewelry.
  • Nye Beach, one of the few beaches on the coast where you do not have to hump over a dune to get to the water. It was a rare, beautiful sunny day when we were there.
  • Tidal Raves restaurant, where we had house-smoked shrimp, scallops and rock fish. The preparation was lovely.
  • Channel House B&B, where we stayed for 2 nights. Just lovely.
  • Pacific City, a great little town that’s home to one of Oregon’s two haystack rocks and a giant dune that you can climb.
  • Heart in Oregon a logo created by an Oregon artist. I bought a window cling for my car.
  • Pelican Bay Brewery, a brewery in Pacific City that serves a mean IPA called “India Pelican Ale” with great flavor
  • Ninkasi Brewing Company, my brother’s favorite beer is their “Total Domination” IPA
  • Kin, an absolutely fantastic Portland restaurant, where we had steamed buns with Chinese style pork belly (so amazing), pork tenderloin, and Chinese long beans
  • Yaquina Lighthouse, a lovely lighthouse near Newport.
  • Conde McCullough’s bridges at Depoe Bay, Rocky Creek, and Yaquina Bay are beautiful

A common ritual

August 2nd, 2012

My husband and I have been enjoying a lot of theater lately. This is new to me — I’ve never attended plays with any regularity, and I just assumed that modern theater would be too weird for my tastes. I was wrong. I’ve learned a lot about the world, both inside and outside my head, through plays.  I think this quote, from an article about Mike Daisey’s remount of The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at Woolly Mammoth theater, captures something of what I get out of the experience:

Theater’s not an obligation; it’s a ritual that we experience together.

That’s a reason to watch a play instead of a movie.

Too much zucchini!

July 8th, 2012

It happens every summer. All of a sudden, there’s too much zucchini. Some years, I grow zucchini and end up with too much, but this year, I got too much from my CSA. I didn’t mind, because I have a fantastic recipe for zucchini quiche — and it freezes very well.

Zucchini quiche“>

It’s more important to slice the zucchini thinly than uniformly. I aim for slices about 1/8 inch thick, but I don’t sweat it too much if some are thicker. Measure the zucchini carefully — you want a scant 4 cups, or else you will overflow your pastry crust. I use store-bought, frozen deep dish crusts. In this recipe, dried spices are better than fresh because of the long, wet cooking time.

To freeze, you will need to double the recipe. Prepare the zucchini, onion, eggs, cheese and seasonings as indicated. Let the filling cool before putting it in the crust. Carefully spread the mustard on the pastry shell — use extra if you need to. The mustard creates a moisture barrier between the shell and the filling, which is particularly important for a frozen quiche. Wrap the quiche with two layers of plastic wrap and one of aluminum foil. To bake, take the quiche out of the freezer in the morning, let it thaw while you’re at work, then bake in the oven for about 10 extra minutes.

Zucchini Quiche
1 quiche

4 scant cups thinly sliced zucchini or summer squash
2-1/2 cups chopped onion
3 tablespoons butter
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon each garlic powder, dried basil and oregano
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese
2 teaspoons prepared mustard
1 pastry shell (9 inches)

In a large skillet, sauté the zucchini and onion in butter until tender, drain very well.  I got out the colander for this job.   In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, salt, garlic powder, basil, oregano and pepper. Stir in cheese and zucchini mixture. Spread mustard over pastry shell; add filling.

Bake, uncovered, at 400F for 35-40 minutes or until a knife inserted near the center comes out clean and crust is golden brown (cover loosely with foil after 25 minutes if needed to prevent over browning). Let stand for 5 minutes before cutting.

Options: You can add other veggies, but don’t use more than 4 cups of veggies total. Sauté the veggies until they are soft. Other veggies to try: mushrooms, carrots, green tomatoes (completely seeded), sturdy greens (like collards or kale), leeks, garlic scapes, kohlrabi, or broccoli stems. You can also use other cheeses. Firm cheeses like cheddar or parmesan work fine. Soft cheeses like feta make a mess.

MeFi Chicken

July 6th, 2012

I often browse Ask MetaFilter while I eat lunch — I particularly like the cooking questions. I found this recipe as a response to one of those questions. I haven’t been able to find the thread again, so I apologize to the cook who posted it.

You can’t really call this a recipe. It’s more like a method. It can be as simple or as complicated as you want, and you can fuss over it as much or as little as you like. I think this dish requires potatoes, onions and chicken (I use skinless, boneless chicken thighs, you may prefer breasts). Everything else is optional. I’ve made it twice. The first time, I added cooked and crumbled bacon, garlic, and cherry tomatoes. Tonight I just added mushrooms. Both times it was delicious.

MeFi Chicken

Required Ingredients
Chicken (however many pieces you need to serve your crowd — I use 4-6 ounces per serving, which is on the modest side)
Potatoes, scrubbed and sliced (however many you need to make a nice bed 1/2-inch deep under your chicken)
Chopped onions (about 1/2 as many, by volume, as potatoes)

Optional items
Cherry tomatoes
Chopped herbs
Garlic scapes

Preheat the oven to 350F. Put the chicken in a lightly oiled baking pan on top of the sliced potatoes, chopped onions and whatever other optional items you want. Chop everything so it’s bite-sized. Nestle the veggies around the chicken, not too crowded. Salt and pepper the whole thing (if you use bacon, omit the salt). Add other seasonings if you want (I like a mix of smoked paprika and ancho chili powder).

You can just cook it as is for 60 minutes. If you have the energy to pay attention, I like to cook it for 30 minutes, flip and cook for 15 minutes (take this opportunity to stir the veggies), then flip again and finish under the broiler for the last 15 minutes.

You could use any kind of long-cooking veg in this. I won’t hesitate to try it with leeks, parsnips, or chunks of peeled winter squash.

Gold plating

February 8th, 2012

In this blog post on irrationality in transportation costs (via Flutterby) I discovered a new-to-me term that is instantly useful:

There is a tension between the risk of gold plating (focus on benefits to the exclusion of cost) and of corner cutting (focusing on costs to the exclusion of benefits). But there is available to us a balance, building something which maximizes the difference between benefits and costs, not just looking at benefits or costs. Insufficient attention is placed on the trade-off, too much on the ends by advocates of one side or the other. [Emphasis added]

Gold plating. Brilliant. I had not noticed before that corner cutting was a one-sided term, only half an equation. Gold plating is the other side, the missing piece. Google tells me that this term is commonly used in the IT world — but I’ve not encountered it before, either as a social scientist, or as someone who is a “client” for a lot of IT teams. But you can bet I’ll be using it in a meeting someday soon. Oh yes.