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July 2, 2006

Church Going — by Philip Larkin

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Once I am sure there's nothing going on
I step inside, letting the door thud shut.
Another church: matting, seats, and stone,
And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut
For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff
Up at the holy end; the small neat organ;
And a tense, musty, unignorable silence,
Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off
My cycle-clips in awkward reverence.

Move forward, run my hand around the font.
From where I stand, the roof looks almost new—
Cleaned, or restored? Someone would know: I don't.
Mounting the lectern, I peruse a few
Hectoring large-scale verses, and pronounce
'Here endeth' much more loudly than I'd meant.
The echoes snigger briefly. Back at the door
I sign the book, donate an Irish sixpence,
Reflect the place was not worth stopping for.

Yet stop I did: in fact I often do,
And always end much at a loss like this,
Wondering what to look for; wondering, too,
When churches will fall completely out of use
What we shall turn them into, if we shall keep
A few cathedrals chronically on show,
Their parchment, plate and pyx in locked cases,
And let the rest rent-free to rain and sheep.
Shall we avoid them as unlucky places?

Or, after dark, will dubious women come
To make their children touch a particular stone;
Pick simples for a cancer; or on some
Advised night see walking a dead one?
Power of some sort will go on
In games, in riddles, seemingly at random;
But superstition, like belief, must die,
And what remains when disbelief has gone?
Grass, weedy pavement, brambles, buttress, sky,

A shape less recognisable each week,
A purpose more obscure. I wonder who
Will be the last, the very last, to seek
This place for what it was; one of the crew
That tap and jot and know what rood-lofts were?
Some ruin-bibber, randy for antique,
Or Christmas-addict, counting on a whiff
Of gown-and-bands and organ-pipes and myrrh?
Or will he be my representative,

Bored, uninformed, knowing the ghostly silt
Dispersed, yet tending to this cross of ground
Through suburb scrub because it held unspilt
So long and equably what since is found
Only in separation - marriage, and birth,
And death, and thoughts of these - for which was built
This special shell? For, though I've no idea
What this accoutred frowsty barn is worth,
It pleases me to stand in silence here;

A serious house on serious earth it is,
In whose blent air all our compulsions meet,
Are recognized, and robed as destinies.
And that much never can be obsolete,
Since someone will forever be surprising
A hunger in himself to be more serious,
And gravitating with it to this ground,
Which, he once heard, was proper to grow wise in,
If only that so many dead lie round.
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July 2, 2006 at 04:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Gado Gado's Handmade Balinese Cast Bronze Gecko Doorpull

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First, a piece of mahogany is carved into the form of a lizard.

Then, a mold is made to cast it.

I find it remarkable that the eleven-inch-long piece costs only $32.

The company makes a wide variety of furniture, architectural objects and accessories and offers tribal and folk art pieces as well.

[via Katharine Salant and the Washington Post]

July 2, 2006 at 03:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

'Our grip on reality is slim'

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So says University College London (England) Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience investigator Dr. Paul Burgess, whose research on whether we can tell if we actually witnessed something or simply imagined we did so was published earlier this year in a paper in the journal Neuropsychologia.

An interview with Burgess follows.

    Our grip on reality is slim, says UCL scientist

    The neurological basis for poor witness statements and hallucinations has been found by scientists at UCL (University College London). In over a fifth of cases, people wrongly remembered whether they actually witnessed an event or just imagined it, according to a paper published in NeuroImage this week.

    Dr Jon Simons and Dr Paul Burgess led the study at the UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience. Dr Burgess said: "In our tests volunteers either thought they had imagined words which they had actually been shown or said they had seen words which in fact they had just imagined - in over 20 per cent of cases. That is quite a lot of mistakes to be making, and shows how fallible our memory is - or perhaps, how slim our grip on reality is!

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    "Our work has implications for the validity of witness statements and agrees with other studies that show that our mind sometimes fills in memory gaps for us, and we confuse what we imagined occurred in a situation - which is related to what we expect to happen or what usually happens - with what actually happened.

    "Most of us, though, have a critical reality monitoring function so that we are able to distinguish well enough between what is real and what is imagined and our imagination does not have too great an impact on our lives - unless the reality check system breaks down such as after stroke or in cases of schizophrenia."

    The study found that the areas that were activated while remembering whether an event really happened or was imagined in healthy subjects are the very same areas that are dysfunctional in people who experience hallucinations.

    Dr Burgess said: "We believe that hallucinations are caused by a difficulty in discriminating information present in the outside world from information that is imagined. In schizophrenia the difficulty you have in separating reality from imagined events becomes exaggerated so some people have hallucinations and hear voices that simply aren't there." These results indicate a link between the brain areas implicated in schizophrenia and the regions that support the ability to discriminate between perceived and imagined information.

    In the tests, healthy subjects were shown 96 well-known word pairs from pop culture such as 'Laurel and Hardy', 'bacon and eggs', and 'rock and roll'. The participants were asked to count the number of letters in the second word of the pair. Often the second word wasn't actually shown and the subject had to imagine the word – such as 'Laurel and ?'.

    Participants were then asked which of the second words they had actually seen on screen and which ones they had only imagined. The subjects' brain activity was observed using fMRI scans while they remembered whether words had been imagined or seen on screen.

    When people accurately remembered whether they had actually seen a word or just imagined it brain activity in the key areas increased – many of which are found in brain area 10, which is involved in imagination and reality checking, develops last in the brain and is twice as big in humans as in other animals. In the people who did not remember correctly, activation in brain area 10 was reduced.

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You can see the abstract of the Neuropsychologia paper here or read it below.

Or live large and do both.

    Differential components of prospective memory? Evidence from fMRI.

    Two of the principal components of prospective memory (i.e., remembering to carry out delayed intentions) are recognizing the appropriate context to act ("cue identification") and remembering the action to be performed ("intention retrieval").

    In this experiment, the demands on these components were manipulated while measuring brain activity using fMRI to explore whether the two components share a common neural basis.

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    The results showed significant behavioral differences between the cue identification and intention retrieval conditions.

    However, a consistent pattern of hemodynamic changes was found in both prospective memory conditions in anterior prefrontal cortex (BA 10), with lateral BA 10 activation accompanied by medial BA 10 deactivation.

    These effects were more pronounced when demands on intention retrieval were high.

    This is consistent with the hypothesis that anterior prefrontal cortex (area 10) supports the biasing of attention between external events (e.g., identifying the cue amid distracting stimuli) and internal thought processes (i.e., maintaining the intention and remembering the intended actions).

    Together, the results suggest that whilst cue identification and intention retrieval may be behaviorally separable, they share at least some common neural basis in anterior prefrontal cortex.

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The great 19th-century English neuroscientists Gilbert & Sullivan anticipated these results when they penned the following lines for "H.M.S. Pinafore," sung by Little Buttercup and Captain:

Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream;

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[via Matt Penning]

July 2, 2006 at 02:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack

4-in-1 Outdoor Adventure Light

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Say what?

From the website:

    4-in-1 Adventure Outdoor Light

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    This small but powerful multipurpose light is ready to come to the rescue during the darkest hours.

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    Handy design is actually three lights in one — as well as a distress alarm.

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    Light and compact, it easily slips inside a bag, boat hatch or glove box, instantly shedding light on any situation.

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    • Super-bright LED spotlight

    • Blinking emergency light

    • Personal distress alarm

    • Glowing reading lamp

    • 1-1/4" x 7-3/4" high

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Requires 4 AAA batteries (not included).

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At the regular price of $24 it's nothing special but it's worth noting today by dint of its sale price: $6.99.

[via Shawn Lea and everythingandnothing]

July 2, 2006 at 01:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Acronymfinder.com — 'Find out what any acronym, abbreviation, or initialism stands for'

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It does what it says.

July 2, 2006 at 12:01 PM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Limited Edition Chuck Taylor All Stars

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How about a pair of metallic-gold Chuck hi-tops (above) for $96.99?

Or a knee-high shearling-lined version

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for $174.99?

They even make them in snakeskin — $1,800 a pair.

FunFact: Nike bought Converse and its Chuck Taylor brand in 2003 but prefers not to broadcast that fact so as to keep the Chuck Taylor aura as pure and iconic as possible.

FunFact #2: Chuck Taylors were "named for a legendary Converse salesman who played for pro basketball teams like the Akron Firestone Non-Skids. Taylor traveled from town to town, running basketball clinics and getting the best local players to wear Converse," wrote Stephanie Kang in a June 23 Wall Street Journal story.

[via Stephanie Kang and the Wall Street Journal]

July 2, 2006 at 11:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Grease is the new green

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Or so it might appear after reading yesterday's Washington Post Style section front-page story by Allan Lengel about the growing number of drivers who are fueling their cars with used cooking oil.

Long story short: more and more people are turning to restaurants for unlimited — and free — supplies of used vegetable oil to power their diesel-engine cars.

With a car conversion kit (about $800) the vehicle becomes a "greasel."

One guy who has one said his friends call it the "tempura taxi."

In the picture above, Mike Leahy — who converted both his 1998 VW Beetle and 1994 Suburban into greasels — prepares to fill up.

Here's the Post article.

    Grease Guzzlers

    These Folks Fuel Their Diesel Cars With Cooking Oil. Slick, Huh?

    In these days of eye-popping gas prices, Mike Leahy gets fuel for his Volkswagen Beetle at the Barking Dog, a popular Bethesda pub. Shane Sellers fuels up at a Chinese restaurant in Frederick. And Ben Tonken heads to a Tex-Mex eatery in the District.

    "There's a bit of a smell when you get out," said Leahy, a D.C. lawyer. "A slight french fry smell. I kind of like it; it's kind of sweet. It smells better than diesel."

    Welcome to the world of greasel -- the shorthand some use for grease and diesel. Leahy and the others are among a tiny but growing band of environmentalists and thrifty consumers who are turning to restaurants for free, used vegetable oil to fuel their diesel-engine cars.

    With a little filtration and a car conversion kit, oil that once fried potatoes, egg rolls or tortilla chips is ready for its second act: air pollution fighter.

    Sure, saving the world would be nice. But these folks don't really expect to. Most seem to be getting their hands greasy more to prove a point: There are alternatives to fossil fuels, and vegetable oil, according to studies, burns cleaner than diesel fuel. What's more, it can save money.

    As for performance, drivers say there's virtually no difference. Wear and tear on the engine is the same, as is acceleration. So is gas mileage: about 40 to 55 miles per gallon, depending on the vehicle.

    When Sellers, 31, bought an $800 conversion kit two years ago, "it had nothing to do with fuel prices; it was just a decision on having some sort of independence and challenging the use of fossil fuels," said the adjunct professor of art at Frederick Community College.

    But with gas prices skyrocketing, he's saving $80 to $100 a month. Sellers is already on his second grease car, a 2002 VW Golf hatchback. He installed the conversion kit himself, but those who lack the mechanical chops pay an average of $900 to have it done. Installation in trucks can cost as much as $2,500.

    Sellers's car still uses diesel when it has to. But once the engine and the vegetable oil warm up, he flips a switch to convert to vegetable oil, which is stored in a separate fuel tank. He burns through about 30 gallons a month, mostly canola oil.

    The concept of vegetable oil as fuel is more back-to-the-future than leading edge. In 1900, an engineer named Rudolf Diesel used peanut oil to demonstrate his new high-compression engine at the World Exposition in Paris. Historians say he hoped that small-scale farmers would be able to "grow" their own fuel. But petroleum-based fuels soon became plentiful and cheap and wound up the fuel of choice.

    More than 100 years after the world's fair, the "greasers," as some enthusiasts call themselves, are once again piquing the public's curiosity.

    About a half-dozen times a day, as businessman Ben Tonken's silver 2002 VW Jetta station wagon idles at a red light, fellow motorists pepper him with questions after spotting the car's "powered by vegetable oil" decal.

    "Some people laugh," said Tonken, 32, of Rockville, as he drove in Northwest Washington. "That's unfortunate. They're the nonbelievers."

    Jim Hickey, 46, of New Market also gets his share of wisecracks as he drives his 1984 Volvo equipped with a VW diesel engine. He fuels his car with canola oil that has fried tempura shrimp, vegetables and chicken at The Orchard, his whole-foods restaurant in Frederick.

    "It smells more like a chicken barbecue," Hickey said. "Everyone laughs about it." And some ask: "How's the tempura taxi running?"

    Jokes aside, the idea is catching on, said Lee Briante, a spokesman for Greasecar in Amherst, Mass., one of the largest manufacturers of conversion kits.

    The company has gone from selling about 20 kits a month in 2000 to as many as 100 a week this year, he said. In its six years of existence, the company has sold 3,000 kits nationwide, including 50 in Virginia, 30 in Maryland and 10 in the District.

    "In general, we see a direct relationship with fuel prices to sales," Briante said. "Over the last two years, I'd say more folks just can't afford to run their vehicles."

    There is no official count of the number of U.S. vehicles fueled by pure vegetable oil. Briante and Charles Anderson, owner of Golden Fuel Systems of Springfield, Mo. , another leading manufacturer of conversion kits, guess that there are 8,000 to 10,000.

    Still, Jonathan Overly, executive director of the East Tennessee Clean Fuels Coalition, sees limited growth ahead. "It's really going to be your green community," he said. And people must be determined enough to collect used oil from restaurants.

    "There's a whole lot of individuals who don't want to do that," Overly said.

    Leahy, a lawyer for a wildlife conservation group, noted that the resources are finite. "I don't think there's enough used cooking oil to fuel the masses," he said.

    A more practical option, Overly and others said, is biodiesel, a more sophisticated formulation that combines plant or animal fats and some form of alcohol, such as methanol. It burns cleaner than conventional diesel fuel and requires no conversion kit for the diesel engine.

    Some municipalities, including Falls Church, use biodiesel to run fleets of trucks or buses. About 75 million gallons were produced in the United States last year.

    Another popular alternative, ethanol fuel, is a mix of fermented corn sugar and gasoline that can be used in regular car engines. Last year, nearly 4 billion gallons were produced across the country.

    Still, the "greasers" remain true to their low-tech fuel. And for now at least, getting grease is a cinch. Most restaurants have to pay to dispose of it, so they're happy to give it away.

    One recent evening, Leahy pulled up to the Barking Dog in downtown Bethesda to pick up his fuel, which he would take home to filter.

    As kickball players filed through the front door for a night of beer and frivolity, owner John McManus brought out a five-gallon pickle pail for Leahy. The pickles were long gone; soy oil sloshed to the brim.

    "I wish everyone would do it," McManus said.

July 2, 2006 at 10:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Giant Scare Eyes Bird Repellent Balloon

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From the website:

    Giant Scare Eyes

    These yellow, black and white inflatable bird repellent balloons have giant eyes to ward off birds from barns, outbuildings and other areas where birds are undesired.

    Comes in a 3-pack with holographic tape and eyes that will ward off birds every time.

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Tell you what: I get scared looking at those eyes.

Maybe there's a reason people call me a birdbrain.

Three for $18.95.

[via Shawn Lea and everythingandnothing.com]

July 2, 2006 at 09:01 AM | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

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