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March 6, 2006

Ann Hood on Heartbreak

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She wrote the following for the February 26 New York Times "Modern Love" feature.

It is so, so beautiful and equally sad.

    Now I Need a Place to Hide Away

    It is difficult to hide from the Beatles.

    After all these years they are still regularly in the news.

    Their songs play on oldies stations, countdowns and best-ofs.

    There is always some Beatles anniversary: the first No. 1 song, the first time in the United States, a birthday, an anniversary, a milestone, a Broadway show.

    But hide from the Beatles I must.

    Or, in some cases, escape.

    One day in the grocery store, when "Eight Days a Week" came on, I had to leave my cartful of food and run out.

    Stepping into an elevator that's blasting a peppy Muzak version of "Hey Jude" is enough to send me home to bed.

    Of course it wasn't always this way.

    I used to love everything about the Beatles.

    As a child I memorized their birthdays, their tragic life stories, the words to all of their songs.

    I collected Beatles trading cards in bubble gum packs and wore a charm bracelet of dangling Beatles' heads and guitars.

    For days my cousin Debbie and I argued over whether "Penny Lane" and its flip side, "Strawberry Fields Forever," had been worth waiting for.

    I struggled to understand "Sergeant Pepper"; I marveled over the brilliance of the White Album.

    My cousins and I used to play Beatle wives.

    We all wanted to be married to Paul, but John was O.K. too.

    None of us wanted Ringo.

    Or even worse, George.

    It was too easy to love Paul.

    Those bedroom eyes.

    That mop of hair.

    Classically cute.

    When I was 8, I asked my mother if she thought I might someday marry Paul McCartney.

    "Well, honey," she said, taking a long drag on her Pall Mall. "Somebody will. Maybe it'll be you."

    In fifth grade, in a diary in which I mostly wrote, It is so boring here, or simply, Bored, only one entry stands out: I just heard on the radio that Paul got married. Oh, please, God, don't let it be true.

    It was true, and I mourned for far too long.

    Of course by the time I was in high school, I understood my folly.

    John was the best Beatle: sarcastic, funny, interesting looking.

    That long thin nose.

    Those round wire-rimmed glasses.

    By then I didn't want to be anybody's wife.

    But I did want a boy like John, someone who spoke his mind, got into trouble, swore a lot and wrote poetry.

    When I did get married and then had children, it was Beatles' songs I sang to them at night.

    As one of the youngest of 24 cousins, I had never held an infant or baby-sat.

    I didn't know any lullabies, so I sang Sam and Grace to sleep with "I Will" and "P.S. I Love You."

    Eventually Sam fell in love with Broadway musicals and abandoned the Beatles.

    But not Grace.

    She embraced them with all the fervor that I had.

    Her taste was quirky, mature.

    "What's the song where the man is standing, holding his head?" she asked, frowning, and before long I had unearthed my old "Help!" album, and the two of us were singing, "Here I stand, head in hand."

    For Grace's fourth Christmas, Santa brought her all of the Beatles' movies on video, a photo book of their career and "The Beatles 1" tape.

    Before long, playing "Eight Days a Week" as loud as possible became our anthem.

    Even Sam sang along and admitted that it was arguably the best song ever written.

    Best of all about my daughter the Beatles fan was that by the time she was 5, she already had fallen for John.

    Paul's traditional good looks did not win her over.

    Instead she liked John's nasally voice, his dark side.

    After watching the biopic "Downbeat," she said Stu was her favorite.

    But since he was dead, she would settle for John.

    Once I overheard her arguing with a first-grade boy who didn't believe that there had been another Beatle.

    "There were two other Beatles," Grace told him, disgusted. "Stu and Pete Best."

    She rolled her eyes and stomped off in her glittery shoes.

    Sometimes, before she fell asleep, she would make me tell her stories about John's mother dying, how the band met in Liverpool and how when Paul wrote the tune for "Yesterday," he sang the words "scrambled eggs" to it.

    After I would drop Sam off at school and continue with Grace to her kindergarten, she'd have me play one of her Beatles tapes.

    She would sing along the whole way there: "Scrambled eggs, all my troubles seemed so far away."

    On the day George Harrison died, Grace acted as if she had lost a friend, walking sad and teary-eyed around the house, shaking her head in disbelief.

    She asked if we could play just Beatles music all day, and we did.

    That night we watched a retrospective on George.

    Feeling guilty, I confessed that he was the one none of us wanted to marry.

    "George?" Grace said, stunned. "But he's great."

    Five months later, on a beautiful April morning, Grace and I took Sam to school, then got in the car and sang along with "I Want to Hold Your Hand" while we drove.

    Before she left, she asked me to cue the tape so that as soon as she got back in the car that afternoon, she could hear "You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" right from the beginning.

    That was the last time we listened to our Beatles together.

    The next day Grace spiked a fever and died from a virulent form of strep.

    Briefly, as she lay in the I.C.U., the nurses told us to bring in some of her favorite music.

    My husband ran out to his car and grabbed "1" from the tape deck.

    Then he put it in the hospital's tape deck, and we climbed on the bed with our daughter and sang her "Love Me Do."

    Despite the tubes and machines struggling to keep her alive, Grace smiled at us as we sang to her.

    At her memorial service 8-year-old Sam, wearing a bright red bow tie, stood in front of the hundreds of people there and sang "Eight Days a Week" loud enough for his sister, wherever she had gone, to hear him.

    That evening I gathered all of my Beatles music — the dusty albums, the tapes that littered the floor of my car, the CD's that filled our stereo — and put them in a box with Grace's copies of the Beatles' movies.

    I could not pause over any of them.

    Instead I threw them in carelessly and fast, knowing that the sight of those black-and-white faces on "Revolver," or the dizzying colors of "Sergeant Pepper," or even the cartoon drawings from "Yellow Submarine," the very things that had made me so happy a week earlier, were now too painful even to glimpse.

    As parents do, I had shared my passions with my children.

    And when it came to the Beatles, Grace had seized my passion and made it her own.

    But with her death, that passion was turned upside-down, and rather than bring joy, the Beatles haunted me.

    I couldn't bear to hear even the opening chords of "Yesterday" or a cover of "Michelle."

    In the car I started listening only to talk radio to avoid a Beatles song catching me by surprise and touching off another round of sobbing.

    I tried to shield myself from the Beatles altogether — their music, images, conversations about them — but it's hard, if not impossible.

    How, for example, am I supposed to ask Sam not to pick out their music slowly during his guitar lessons?

    Back in the 60's, in my aunt's family room with the knotty-pine walls and Zenith TV, with my female cousins all around me, our hair straight and long, our bangs in our eyes, the air thick with our parents' cigarette smoke and the harmonies of the Beatles, I believed there was no love greater than mine for Paul McCartney.

    Sometimes now, alone, I find myself singing softly.

    "And when at last I find you, your song will fill the air," I sing to Grace, imagining her blue eyes shining behind her own little wire-rimmed glasses, her feet tapping in time.

    "Love you whenever we're together, love you when we're apart."

    It was once my favorite love song, silent now in its White Album cover in my basement.

    How foolish I was to have fallen so easily for Paul while overlooking John and George, to have believed that everything I could ever want was right there in that family room of my childhood: cousins, TV, my favorite music.

    But mostly I feel foolish for believing that my time with my daughter would never end.

    Or perhaps that is love: a leap of faith, a belief in the impossible, the ability to believe that a little girl in a small town in Rhode Island would grow up to marry Paul McCartney.

    Or for a grieving woman to believe that a mother's love is so strong that the child she lost can still hear her singing a lullaby.

March 6, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

'World's Largest Write–On Map Mural'

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Boy, would I have loved this on my bedroom wall from the age of about 8 up.

Trouble is, my bedroom at the time measured about 7 feet by 8 feet and the ceiling was 7.5 feet high.

It's a funny thing, though: it seemed to me that that was more than enough room.

From the website:

    Write-On Map Mural

    This is the only accurately detailed, eight-color mural of the world that covers nearly 9 by 13 feet of wall space.

    Capitals, countries, major cities, up-to-date political boundaries, time zones, shipping lanes, nautical miles, ocean depths and more are all clearly indicated at a scale of 160 statute miles to the inch; current as of May 2005.

    Laminated surface may be written on time and again with a dry-erase marker (one included).

    8 panels can be hung as one piece or individually.

    Simple instructions and adhesive for hanging are included.

    8'8" H x 13' W.

$149.95.

March 6, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Fun with science at bookofjoe

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This morning I had an idea for a cool science experiment that I could perform right here at home with things commonly found around the house.

Being the curious sort I went ahead and did it, in the process realizing that I had inadvertently stumbled upon the best ever way to describe exactly what it means to be a TechnoDolt™.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I wondered if an iron tablet — FeSO4,

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ferrous sulfate, what people take when they're prescribed a dietary iron supplement — would be attracted to a magnet.

Stupid, huh?

Not to me, because I honestly didn't know what the answer would be.

So I went to my fridge, magnet central here at bookofjoe World Headquarters™, and pulled off the biggest, baddest magnets I could find.

Then I placed FeSO4 tablets on them and tipped the magnets to see if the iron tablets would stick.

No dice — they fell right off.

So, either I need stronger magnets or there's so little iron in the tablets that no magnet I could ever use would attract them or there's something wrong with my experimental design.

But if there is one true thing I've learned over the years, it is that being willing to be stupid and wrong and make a fool of oneself is a prerequisite for discovering wonderful things.

At least, it makes it more likely.

On February 4 I had a post entitled "An idea to get rich with."

A number of people commented and noted the variety of ways they were already doing more or less what Mr. Dim Bulb here had thought up.

But you know what?

There's an axiom in medicine that if there are many different cures for something, none of them are much good.

Why?

Because just as good money crowds out bad, a clearly effective remedy consigns the rest to the sharps box scrap heap.

For example, hiccups — there are a million and one ways to cure hiccups — because none of them are always effective.

If one worked you'd never hear about the others.

So with all the toolbar tricks, FireFox wizardry, AOL Wallets and the rest that people told me did just what I'd suggested I'd like a quick hack for.

Too many solutions means no solutions.

For your information, I do not know — nor do I care — what a toolbar is or does; I use Safari; I have no AOL account and never will, and so I say again what I said last month: give me a way to quickly create my own little secret key combination — on any computer, using any operating system and any browser — that on my command pops up, in a little one–time–only window, my credit card info so I can buy something on the spot without having to go get my wallet.

So easy it's impossible, apparently.

And now you know what it means to be a TechnoDolt™, by analogy to my little failed experiment.

Except that's it's not really a failed experiment.

Because it succeeded in showing me something I didn't know before.

Say what you will, I call that not failure but, rather, learning.

The terms on which I engage computers are precisely those on which I explored the magnetic space — very, very rudimentary.

I am not interested in computers at all — only in what I can do with them.

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You can upgrade and tweak your tools and toys all you like but me, I'm about play and use.

March 6, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Instant Cat Playroom

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Lots of good fun here.

Nothing like a little fresh air in springtime, what?

From the website:

    Now your indoor cat can play outside!

    Instant play area for your cat — with no worry he'll roam.

    This mesh tunnel stores flat, then instantly pops open into a "playpen" that's over five feet long!

    Use indoors or out to let your kitty exercise safely.

    Zippered doors at each end of this clever cat accessory make it easy to let him in and out — buy two and zip together to double his fun!

    Secures with sand pockets and stakes so you can relax while you enjoy watching him play.

    Steel spring frame.

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Now, recent posts featuring various items like the two iterations of an instant screened room (for people, not cats, though I see no reason you couldn't let your kitty enjoy the space with you) have met with a chorus of scoffing and disdain from a number of you.

Long story short: There appears to be a consensus that once you open one of these expandable things that purport to easily fold back up into a small neat space — this one, whose official name is the "Kitty Fun Run," is said to fit inside the bag pictured below,

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with the whole contraption measuring less than two inches thick — you can never ever get it back into the original container.

Well, I'm not here to argue with you.

As I recall, I had some device once that worked via the same principle (a flat spring that opened and then was supposed to reclose) and did indeed have a lot of trouble cramming it back into its carrying bag.

But, if you're willing to give it the old college try one more time, jump in.

$49.95 (cat not included).

Question of the day: How many physicists do you suppose have a cat named Schrödinger?

March 6, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

'The last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202'

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Above, the final sentence of yesterday's New York Times story about a recent study exploring why blond hair and blue eyes exist.

Here's the article.

    How Blonds Evolve

    Roger Dobson and Abul Taher report in The London Times (www.timesonline.co.uk) on a study suggesting blonds began having more fun in the Ice Age.

    According to the study, North European women evolved blond hair and blue eyes at the end of the Ice Age to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males.

    The study argues that blond hair originated in the region because of food shortages 10,000 to 11,000 years ago.

    Until then, humans had the dark brown hair and dark eyes that still dominate in the rest of the world.

    Almost the only sustenance in Northern Europe came from roaming herds of mammoths, reindeer, bison and horses.

    Finding them required long, arduous hunting trips in which numerous males died, leading to a high ratio of surviving women to men.

    Lighter hair colors, which started as rare mutations, became popular for breeding, and numbers increased dramatically, according to the research, published under the aegis of the University of St. Andrews....

    However, the future of the blond is uncertain.

    A study by the World Health Organization found that natural blonds are likely to be extinct within 200 years because there are too few people carrying the blond gene.

    According to the W.H.O. study, the last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202.

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I've always enjoyed the sort of "just so" stories like the one above posited by scientists attempting to figure out why things happened as they did.

Let me make a prediction: long before 2202, the DNA sequences and epigenetic markers coding for blondness and icy–blue eyes will have been identified, isolated, and packaged for sale to anyone who wishes to have these features.

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What is natural?

If an individual in 2100 buys the deluxe Nordic package — which will also convert her or his heritable germ cells into blondness delivery devices — then the resulting blond child will be as natural as Grace Kelly (above).

Here's the story by Roger Dobson and Abul Taher from the February 26 London Times.

    Cavegirls were first blondes to have fun

    The modern gentleman may prefer blondes.

    But new research has found that it was cavemen who were the first to be lured by flaxen locks.

    According to the study, north European women evolved blonde hair and blue eyes at the end of the Ice Age to make them stand out from their rivals at a time of fierce competition for scarce males.

    The study argues that blond hair originated in the region because of food shortages 10,000-11,000 years ago.

    Until then, humans had the dark brown hair and dark eyes that still dominate in the rest of the world.

    Almost the only sustenance in northern Europe came from roaming herds of mammoths, reindeer, bison and horses.

    Finding them required long, arduous hunting trips in which numerous males died, leading to a high ratio of surviving women to men.

    Lighter hair colours, which started as rare mutations, became popular for breeding and numbers increased dramatically, according to the research, published under the aegis of the University of St Andrews.

    "Human hair and eye colour are unusually diverse in northern and eastern Europe (and their) origin over a short span of evolutionary time indicates some kind of selection," says the study by Peter Frost, a Canadian anthropologist.

    Frost adds that the high death rate among male hunters "increased the pressures of sexual selection on early European women, one possible outcome being an unusual complex of colour traits."

    Frost's theory, to be published this week in Evolution and Human Behavior, the academic journal, was supported by Professor John Manning, a specialist in evolutionary psychology at the University of Central Lancashire.

    "Hair and eye colour tend to be uniform in many parts of the world, but in Europe there is a welter of variants," he said. "The mate choice explanation now being put forward is, in my mind, close to being correct."

    Frost’s theory is also backed up by a separate scientific analysis of north European genes carried out at three Japanese universities, which has isolated the date of the genetic mutation that resulted in blond hair to about 11,000 years ago.

    The hair colour gene MC1R has at least seven variants in Europe and the continent has an unusually wide range of hair and eye shades.

    In the rest of the world, dark hair and eyes are overwhelmingly dominant.

    Just how such variety emerged over such a short period of time in one part of the world has long been a mystery.

    According to the new research, if the changes had occurred by the usual processes of evolution, they would have taken about 850,000 years.

    But modern humans, emigrating from Africa, reached Europe only 35,000-40,000 years ago.

    Instead, Frost attributes the rapid evolution to how they gathered food.

    In Africa there was less dependence on animals and women were able to collect fruit for themselves.

    In Europe, by contrast, food gathering was almost exclusively a male hunter’s preserve.

    The retreating ice sheets left behind a landscape of fertile soil with plenty of grass and moss for herbivorous animals to eat, but few plants edible for humans.

    Women therefore took on jobs such as building shelters and making clothes while the men went on hunting trips, where the death rate was high.

    The increase in competition for males led to rapid change as women struggled to evolve the most alluring qualities.

    Frost believes his theory is supported by studies which show blonde hair is an indicator for high oestrogen levels in women.

    Jilly Cooper, 69, the author, described how in her blonde youth she had "certainly got more glances. I remember when I went to Majorca when I was 20, my bum was sore from getting pinched".

    However, Jodie Kidd, 27, the blonde model, disagrees with the theory: "I don't think being blonde makes you more ripe for sexual activity. It’s much more to do with personality than what you look like. Beauty is much deeper than the colour of your hair."

    Film star blondes such as Marilyn Monroe, Brigitte Bardot, Sharon Stone and Scarlett Johansson are held up as ideals of feminine allure.

    However, the future of the blonde is uncertain.

    A study by the World Health Organisation found that natural blonds are likely to be extinct within 200 years because there are too few people carrying the blond gene.

    According to the WHO study, the last natural blond is likely to be born in Finland during 2202.

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Here is the abstract of the article advancing this theory;

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it's by Canadian anthropologist Peter Frost and was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior.

    European hair and eye color: A case of frequency–dependent sexual selection?

    Human hair and eye color is unusually diverse in northern and eastern Europe.

    The many alleles involved (at least seven for hair color) and their independent origin over a short span of evolutionary time indicate some kind of selection.

    Sexual selection is particularly indicated because it is known to favor color traits and color polymorphisms.

    In addition, hair and eye color is most diverse in what used to be, when first peopled by hunter-gatherers, a unique ecozone of low-latitude continental tundra.

    This type of environment skews the operational sex ratio (OSR) of hunter-gatherers toward a male shortage in two ways: (1) men have to hunt highly mobile and spatially concentrated herbivores over longer distances, with no alternate food sources in case of failure, the result being more deaths among young men; (2) women have fewer opportunities for food gathering and thus require more male provisioning, the result being less polygyny.

    These two factors combine to leave more women than men unmated at any one time.

    Such an OSR imbalance would have increased the pressures of sexual selection on early European women, one possible outcome being an unusual complex of color traits: hair- and eye-color diversity and, possibly, extreme skin depigmentation.

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And that's how the leopard

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got its stripes.

March 6, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (30) | TrackBack

Banana Guard Version 2.0 — 'Protect your banana'

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Newly redesigned, Version 2.0 is now available in nine colors: Brilliant Blue, Passionate Purple, Mellow Yellow, Ravishing Red, Sublime Green, Skyhigh Blue, Outrageous Orange, Pretty in Pink and Glow–in–the–Dark.

From the website:

    Specially designed to fit the vast majority of bananas.

    Its other features include multiple small perforations to facilitate ventilation thereby preventing premature ripening, and a sturdy locking mechanism to keep the Banana Guard closed.

    The banana guard is of course dishwasher–safe for easy cleaning.

    The new design is more rigid and features a new closure.

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$7 here.

March 6, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Something I've Meant To Write About For 30 Years — By Elizabeth Bishop

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The Florida East Coast Railroad: dawn
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One felt dirty, dirty, with swollen feet
and twisted clothes twisted under one
the scratchy sooty plush
the reek of beer and rye; a sailor's hat
hung on a seat arm. All the sailors were
passed out or sleeping & the soldiers, too—
in a mad ugly mess open mouths
and baby faces, flushed

We stopped for just a moment, a small town
in Southern Georgia? probably—
we jerked, backward and forward there
and I woke up—
Looking right into nigger town
then back, then the same place again,
as if to make sure I'd really seen it
I'd really see it, and I did—
The light was lavender. The unpainted houses
were almost the color of the air
air color, almost—sodden (this was the South)
bare muddy yards, black trees White_spaceindent2letters_1all its black people were in bed
one porch with a wisteria
as if the air had started to crystallize there
and melted again, dripped down—
But then it was a fence, a fence
that took my eye—I saw it slide back White_spaceindent2letters_1silently
then forward like a slide several times
a picket fence
Where the wisteria was (the picket fence
once whitewashed)
someone had fixed
with nails, half hammered in, then bent,
a piece of broken mirror to each picket top
gothic shape—
these fragments
catching the light, reflecting, white
and bluish, sadly, over and over again
as we shunted
only the mirrors seeing the morning coming
20 or 30 of them—I lost count White_spaceindent2letters_120 or more
a crazy iconography decoration why not decorate morning?
Irregular jagged jagg'd disconnected mad
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March 6, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Good morning

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[via John Anderson, who knows how to deal with Bizarro World techies as well as anyone I've ever had the pleasure to encounter]

March 6, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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