May 31st, 2009

gardening love

Shakespeare’s Sonnet CXVI:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

The Guardian careers website has a nice video about a gardener whose love for his trade would (literally) not be weakened by tempests nor Time. The video begins with a quote from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 (above).

May 31st, 2009

Sebald’s last interview

From 2001:

Sebald: The moral backbone of literature is about that whole question of memory. To my mind it seems clear that those who have no memory have the much greater chance to lead happy lives. But it is something you cannot possibly escape: your psychological make-up is such that you are inclined to look back over your shoulder. Memory, even if you repress it, will come back at you and it will shape your life. Without memories there wouldn’t be any writing: the specific weight an image or phrase needs to get across to the reader can only come from things remembered – not from yesterday but from a long time ago.

More (Guardian)

May 31st, 2009

a pint on tap

Here’s the second of my five poems on leaving Dublin, where I’ve lived for the past 11 years. Sort of.

Two days ago now,
I left the tap on.
After half an hour
I discovered this.

Yesterday, bad too:
I burnt a pan black —
I’d forgot that too.

Last night, drunk and blue,
“forgot” to say “bye”
or “I’m leaving now”.
Feeling selfish, I,
not digging the tunes,
stole to a taxi —
asocial baboon.

Now that time is here:
Groceries have dates,
usually on top,
that are redundant
(I’ll be gone by then).
For example: beer.

But a pint on tap
is for drinking now,
or for drinking then.
“Goodbye Dublin town!”,
I might burp and say,
if I’d know that pint
were the last I may.

But, instead, I’m dumb;
It’s become my way.

May 30th, 2009

“Pepsi White”?

Now That’s Nifty blog has a collection of “popular and unique” softdrinks from around the world. Pepsi White is one of the drinks listed — a sweeter, white, yoghurty version of Pepsi that’s marketed in Japan.

But what made my heart swell with nostalgia was the inclusion of Almdudler — probably the only softdrink i’d be bothered to unscrew the cap for (insert toothy smile here). It’s an Austrian drink but I first tried it in Belgium.


Almdudler is the brand name of a popular Austrian soft drink. The original Almdudler is a sweetened carbonated beverage flavored with herbs; its flavor is similar to ginger ale or elderflower cordial but with a somewhat stronger and more complex flavor. Almdudler has been called the “national drink of Austria”. Its popularity in Austria is second only to Coca Cola; 80 million liters of the beverage are produced yearly.

Go to Now That’s Nifty for many more unusual drinks.

May 29th, 2009

One Boy Told Me

Another great video from Poetry Foundation, this time by Naomi Shihab Nye — she reads a collection of poetic revelations of her young son. A must :)

May 29th, 2009

I go back to May 1937

The Poetry Foundation has a video reading by Sharon Olds of her popular poem I go back to May 1937.

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks,
the wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips aglow in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it—she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you have not heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips, like chips of flint, as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

Go here for the video (can’t embed it here unfortunately).

May 29th, 2009

food fixation

In a post on his Blog, Mark Bittman highlights the folly of society’s food fixations: Even when it’s easier, more logical, and (little do we know) more tasty, we will choose to eat the food we know…

I write this as I eat my pizza four formaggi — “authentic Italian pizza,” it says here, on this cardboard box — on American Airlines, which I have flown for 10 years because they often go where I want to go, and because they have good outlets for laptops.

It certainly isn’t for the food, and I know it’s stating the obvious (and I further know that some of you are saying “be thankful that you got food,” but on trans-Atlantic flights one still does). But it occurs to me that I spend my days cooking and writing about the simplest food imaginable — I mean, yesterday for lunch I had lentil salad, of which you could make enough in your kitchen to serve a planeful of people in about an hour, and the day before that I ate a few pieces of fruit — and it’s as if I and all the others doing similar writing sometimes seem to have no impact. It has to be 20 years since I wrote my first piece on this subject, and interviewed one culinary luminary or other, who said something like “why can’t they give us an apple and some decent bread and cheese?”

Bittman’s blog, “Bitten”, ON NY Times.

May 28th, 2009

when I was younger I wanted to be an inventor

Now all I want to do is tell stories. What happened? Ann Charles explains:

Literature is an invention, and storytellers are inventors, whether they appear in the guise of entertainers, or enchanters.

Of course!

May 28th, 2009

Brie is “very maluma” whereas cranberries are “very takete”


Oxford scientists are researching the notion that we are all synaesthetes to a certain extent — we can all, up to a point, taste sound and hear shapes.

The concept of sharp- and soft-sounding words was introduced in 1929, when Estonian psychologist Wolfgang Kohler designed an experiment that asked people to choose which of two shapes was named “bouba” and which was “kiki”.


The vast majority of people choose kiki for the orange angular shape and bouba for the purple rounded shape.

Professor Spence thinks this strange language can influence our taste buds.

Working with world-renowned chef Heston Blumenthal, he is trying to directly combine an auditory experience into a dish.

More at BBC Science

May 27th, 2009

Lidl, Thomas Street

This is one of five poems I’ll write as a farewell to Dublin (doctor’s orders).

I stand
for Lidl Quality,
more and more each month.

I am
sitting now on their shelves in boxes,
waiting to exist:
Brown bread,
Bebida Soja, tinned tomatoes.

I picture myself at my last meal,
before I go off

May 26th, 2009

“My name is Jonathan, and I am an introvert.”

This article by Jonathan Rausch on Introversion vs. Extroversion in American society is an interesting read (for me at least), although Rausch comes across as a little staid and arrogant. Presumably these are not inherent traits of introverts.

Oh, for years I denied it. After all, I have good social skills. I am not morose or misanthropic. Usually. I am far from shy. I love long conversations that explore intimate thoughts or passionate interests. But at last I have self-identified and come out to my friends and colleagues. In doing so, I have found myself liberated from any number of damaging misconceptions and stereotypes. Now I am here to tell you what you need to know in order to respond sensitively and supportively to your own introverted family members, friends, and colleagues. Remember, someone you know, respect, and interact with every day is an introvert, and you are probably driving this person nuts. It pays to learn the warning signs.

More (via Kottke)

May 25th, 2009

vitamin wheel

This widget is pretty neat. I had to go and eat some vegetables after reading through it.

May 25th, 2009

the nature of the beast

Exam went ok today (I think), in spite of the usual procrastination. I had to laugh at this video just now! (Thanks Aedin)

Posted in Ha!, Video | No Comments »
May 24th, 2009

beer advocate


I’m at home studying for exams today, but outside it’s the most beautiful summer’s day (after what seems like weeks of grey skies and rain). So in self-pity I will spare a moment to reminisce of picture perfect days in Belgium, drinking excellent beers with excellent friends…

Beer Advocate is a great beer review website. I know it’s “great” because my favourite Belgian beer (Gulden Draak) is on there, and it has a perfect score. Here’s one review of Gulden Draak on the site:

330ml brown bottle, painted white. No freshness date … as if you need one at 10.5% alcohol by volume!

Poured in a proper gold-laced Gulden Draak tulip glass, this beer offers a very dark ruddy-brown colour with a mountainous off-white foam head that retains extremely well and trails the glass with its stick — it’s all about the glass.

Peppery aroma with soft grain, faint orange juice, herbal and dried hay.

Flavour is blissful … ultra-malty, smooth, soft and sweet with strong Belgian candy sugar flavours, light chocolate (more like malted-milk) and semi-burnt caramel edges. I can’t stress the sugary character of this beer enough, it’s without a doubt sweet, but not in a sickly manner. Carbonation induces a creamy sensation on the palate and aids in slightly subduing the maltiness, while a defining herbal flavour complements, creating a sweet tea-like infusion. Alcohol is there, but it’s very devious and nearly undetectable, but it does lend quite a bit of spicy flavour that adds to the overall pepperiness of the beer. A warming sensation hits the head about half-way thru as you slip into beerdom. Finish goes dry with a soft, woody, yeast character.

This beer doesn’t pussy-foot around. It’s serious, complex, mysterious (alcohol-wise), demands respect and if you’re not careful it’ll walk up to you and kick your freagin’ ass! One of my favourites, and simply a classic amongst Belgian beers.

Aahh… Get me out of here.

May 24th, 2009

why is there ash in cat food?

The word “ash”, mentioned amongst the ingredients of some pet foods, sounds quite unpleasant and mysterious. NewScientist explains that the term is misleading.


Almost all dog food contains ash as an ingredient. Sometimes it makes up as much as 14 per cent by weight. I have always thought of ash as being toxic waste, containing all sorts of noxious elements, so why is it added to dog food and what type of ash is it?


You will be relieved to hear that ash is not added to pet foods. It is a way of describing the mineral content of pet food. The ash you see listed is part of the guaranteed nutrient analysis: legally the pack must state how much of the food is protein, fat, fibre, water and ash.

Ash is measured by heating the pet food to temperatures of around 550 °C, and burning off all the organic components to leave just the inorganic residue. If the mineral content of pet food sounds high, it is important to remember that our domestic carnivores were designed to eat carcasses that are full of bones containing minerals, and a well-designed pet food will reflect this in its composition.

Kim Russell, Registered pet nutritionist, North Molton, Devon, UK

May 24th, 2009

why I enjoy being lost

In the absence of any objectifiable criteria of right and wrong, good or evil, the self and its feelings become our only moral guidance… There each individual is entitled to his or her own ‘bit of space’ and is utterly free within its boundaries.

From Habits of the Heart, Robert N. Bellah, Richard Madsen, William M. Sullivan, and Ann Swidler.

May 22nd, 2009

tv tropes

The concept behind is quite brilliant, and the pheomenon it documents endlessly fascinating. It’s one of those things you completely take for granted, and when you finally appreciate it, it’s like realizing you’ve unwittingly been wearing your trousers backwards:

Tropes are devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations. On the whole, tropes are not clichés. The word clichéd means “stereotyped and trite”. In other words, dull and uninteresting. We are not looking for dull and uninteresting entries. We are here to recognize tropes and play with them, not to make fun of them has a rich, categorized, user-contributed list of tropes.
Here’s an example of a tv trope. “Dumbass has a point”:

A character who’s normally Book Dumb, The Ditz or possibly even the Ralph Wiggum comes up with a valuable insight. The character most often heard belittling their intelligence sighs heavily and concedes, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I agree with him.”

This was under the “dialogue” category. Other categories include “plot”, “narrative devices”, “paratext”, “characters”…

Here’s an interesting piece, more a “tv observation” than A “tv trope”, in the “british telly” category. British Brevity:

Shows are made differently in Britain, and perhaps the biggest sign of this is length. A full-length season in America is generally considered twenty-four episodes — many seasons run twelve or less, but usually this reflects budgetary constraints, a first season which is something of a trial period for the show, or some other special circumstance. Many have the conception that British shows invariably produce a grand total of six episodes per year: in reality, this only tends to be true for sitcoms, while dramas tend to last around 10 episodes per year.

There are a number of reasons for this, the simplest being that British shows usually have a fairly small creative team — it’s not uncommon at all for one person to single-handedly write every episode of a show, as Steven Moffat did with Coupling, or David Renwick with Jonathan Creek. This creative consistency, added to the fact that the British can spend a whole year putting together an amount of screentime that an American show produces in less than two months, often results in a show of satisfyingly concentrated quality (…)

TV Tropes | (via growabrain)

May 22nd, 2009

neuroplasticity and religion

The more you focus on something — whether that’s math or auto racing or football or God — the more that becomes your reality, the more it becomes written into the neural connections of your brain. (Andrew Newberg, neuroscientist)

Apparently religious focus (such as Christian prayer or Buddhist meditation) can shape our brains in a particular way. Our brains become attuned to activities such as concentration and feelings such as compassion.

Baime is a doctor at the University of Pennsylvania and a Tibetan Buddhist who has meditated at least an hour a day for the past 40 years. During a peak meditative experience, Baime says, he feels oneness with the universe, and time slips away.

“It’s as if the present moment expands to fill all of eternity,” he explains, “that there has never been anything but this eternal now.”

When Baime meditated in Newberg’s brain scanner, his brain mirrored those feelings. As expected, his frontal lobes lit up on the screen: Meditation is sheer concentration, after all. But what fascinated Newberg was that Baime’s parietal lobes went dark.

“This is an area that normally takes our sensory information, tries to create for us a sense of ourselves and orient that self in the world,” he explains. “When people lose their sense of self, feel a sense of oneness, a blurring of the boundary between self and other, we have found decreases in activity in that area.”

Newberg found that result not only with Baime, but also with other monks he scanned. It was the same when he imaged the brains of Franciscan nuns praying and Sikhs chanting. They all felt the same oneness with the universe. When it comes to the brain, Newberg says, spiritual experience is spiritual experience.

“There is no Christian, there is no Jewish, there is no Muslim, it’s just all one,” Newberg says.

Read/listen to more at NPR.

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