Saturday, August 30, 2008

And What Breed IS Your Rabbit?

The Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club's latest meeting addressed the matter of America's rabbit breeds. Of course, generally speaking we have adopted rabbits who needed homes, but that doesn't mean we are uninterested in their physical characteristics.
I didn't actually take notes, but if memory serves me, there are something like 40 or 60 breeds recognized in the United States, which doesn't take into account the numerous breeds found only in other lands. I learned that while Orion is unquestionably an English Spot, he is definitely not a show rabbit (not that this was any surprise). Only 50% of a litter has the "correct" markings; 25% is solid-colored and Orion is one of the 25% that have something vaguely approximating the standard markings. Orion has the black ears and black patches around his eyes, he sort of has the black nose but in a lopsided manner, his cheek spots are merged with his eye patches, and let's not try to specify what happened to the differentiation between the black stripe down the back and the side spots. If he weren't so fat, he would have the correct arched, long-limbed body type (he had it once upon a time).
Ms. Spots is allegedly a French Lop, but I have always had doubts about this, as she has never weighed more than 8 pounds, so perhaps she is actually a Mini Lop or some sort of mixture. She has much bigger feet than Orion and always looked as though she would grow to be larger than she actually did.
There are photos of the various breeds at the ARBA website.
While at the meeting, I learned that Bingo has really and permanently been adopted. He was fostered by a shelter worker who decided that she couldn't possibly give him up, and he now lives with other rabbits, birds, and I don't know what all. I gather he has exactly the kind of high-stimulus, high-petting life he needs and deserves. While I regret not getting to have him myself, I don't know how I would have added him to my small household.
Less fortunately, Sophia was adopted but returned--after she had bonded with another rabbit in the household. No one is very happy about this, least of all Sophia. It is true she doesn't seem to believe in litterboxes, but other than that she's a lovely rabbit.
Also less fortunately, my car has had to be towed to the shop for the second time in two weeks. The first time, the (local) shop couldn't find anything wrong. We'll see what the (no longer very local) dealership says. The obliging towtruck operator, who did his best both times around, now wonders if the fuel pump needs to be replaced.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

The Annoying and the Exciting

The annoying: looking in the closet for something to wear and discovering that not all of the woollens got put into ziplock bags a few months back, meaning that MOTHS have invaded. (Is it worse to have moths or carpet beetles? I am uncertain. I don't think moths have such diverse appetites, but they did seem to be invading the silks as well as the woollens.)
The exciting: finding that quite a few members of the American Art class have overcome technical difficulties to get to their discussion board on Courseweb and are saying pretty intelligent things about a fairly hard reading. This bodes well for today's presentation.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Shocking Negligence

I admit it, I have not attended properly to the blog of late. My head has been full of writing projects, preparations for teaching, New Faculty Orientation and New Faculty Reception, swing dancing, gamelan, and even German translation practice. The Spotted Pair have been somewhat disappointed at the limited petting, and are doing various things (mostly quite agreeable) to remind me of my duty to my lapine roommates.
New Faculty Orientation was all very well in its way, but necessarily somewhat repetitive for those of us who are only new in our titles. I wasn't sure what to suggest when we had to fill out evaluation forms, but it has since occurred to me that there could have been some attention to things like the mysteries of the Peoplesoft system (something that was implemented while I was in Prague and still have no concept of other than that people keep asking for my "Peoplesoft number" but will accept the number on my ID card instead). There could also have been some brief reference to our health insurance options. Still, I was glad to run into an old friend who's also Visiting this year and even has a book contract (although I would not like to have to turn in a book manuscript pretty much at the same time as the dissertation it was based on), and we brilliantly managed to sit next to a new member of the History dept whose work on Hungarian pop culture relates to both of our interests.
As for the New Faculty Reception, well, that's the kind of thing that either proves to be thoroughly worthwhile or thoroughly dull, depending on who you end up talking to. The setup was excellent--the Chancellor has a house with a very suitable garden, the weather cooperated, and there was very good food and enjoyable baroque guitar music. Fortunately I hit it lucky on the conversation and enjoyed talking further with my acquaintance from History and his wife, and met another Visiting person, this time from English, who had done his undergraduate work at the same place I had, so we immediately began to compare recollections. I am sure it would have been a fine thing to have met a few more people, but at least the four of us had plenty to say and barely managed to eat anything as a result.
I have taught one session of each of my classes, and am optimistic about both of them. The Intro to Modern class is mostly people who claim to know nothing about art, but they did a good job of starting to discuss the formal analyses I had them write. The American Art class has mostly people with more experience taking art history classes, and they are (or some of them) are now in the throes of trying to discuss their reading online. We are having some technical issues, but not impossible ones, as some people have got it all figured out and perhaps they can pass on their expertise to the rest of the class while I try to improve how it works from my end (on Blackboard, known in Pittsburgh as Courseweb).
The gamelan class is distressingly small this semester, but is enthusiastic and includes two of my friends from last year. I suppose it will burgeon in the spring; I gather it always does.
And that is enough for the moment.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Back in Western PA

The Spotted Pair and I managed to drag ourselves out of bed at 4am yesterday in order to fly back to Pittsburgh. Or I dragged myself out of bed but I'm not sure what they did as they were already awake by then and wondering what dire event was in store.
While I was unhappy when our second flight of the day was delayed, all seemed better once we got to the apartment. The weather was pleasant--neither boiling hot nor like the recent Bay Area weather that caused some people to put on fuzzy gloves or even wool turtlenecks topped with sweatshirts. Actually, it was pretty much ideal summer evening weather, so I went out for a walk. My neighborhood looked positively enchanting in the gloaming, and I saw fireflies!
I can't say I have ever given thought to whether I have a favorite insect, but the thought occurred to me that perhaps the firefly ought to be in the running. Butterflies are often gorgeous, but I'm not sure they can be said to have the magical charm of the common lightning bug.
My stay in California was, in retrospect, an odd mix of things. I got a lot done on certain projects, although not as much as I would have liked. I saw more friends than I expected, given that I had less free time than usual--while both John and Cesar spent significant parts of my visit away on separate European adventures, I did get to see them, my writing group, and several old friends from the NWU. At the end, several parts of my life even combined in an unexpected manner when Cesar took me to the poet Alice Rogoff's birthday party. They're in the same writing group and I know Alice slightly from the NWU (she was becoming active just as I was getting ready to go off to school), but it turned out that a significant number of the guests are close friends of an old friend of mine. I thought I had known Sullivan a respectable length of time, but they've known him since about 1969. Anyhow, it was nice to have a few opportunities to escape my various projects and even my father's medical adventures.
Meanwhile, my birthday draws closer and tomorrow my father is scheduled to get out of rehab, so some celebration ought to be in order.
But I regret to say that I have been asked to do a second rewrite of a journal article written last summer. This is better than having it rejected, but one of the anonymous reviewers seems to want me to shoehorn most of my dissertation into a 10,000-word article, in addition to adding some things that I would have to research separately. I am not sure what to do about this, so I think I should return to putting the final touches on my fall syllabi and presentations, since after all I do commence teaching in a week and a half.

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

More Coffee?

I'm not one of the world's champion coffee drinkers. Many of my friends are, but I'm usually content with one or two cups in the morning.
On the other hand, I do find a good cafe to improve my overall productivity, because I tend to thrive on an occasional change of scene. If I work for a few hours at home, for instance, I usually need to go somewhere else if I expect to work for a few more hours. Back when I first returned to school and was taking classes at San Francisco State, I wrote one of my papers in some sort of marathon that involved 1) several hours at the UC Berkeley library; 2) several more hours at a cafe (I believe it was Coquelet, which has been in existence since before I first moved to the East Bay and shows no sign of disappearing these many years later--in fact, it's open 24 hours); and 3) a final frenzy of composition at home sitting on my bed. While one need not drink coffee in most cafes, it is what one does usually get unless a confirmed tea-drinker. (I drink tea more as a change of pace, or herb teas.) Thus, there arises that nagging question of whether I drink too much coffee.
My coffee-obsessed friends have been pleased to note that the medical world is no longer stern about the evils of coffee. Numerous recent studies seem to indicate that unless you really, really drink lots of the stuff, it is probably even good for you. The New York Times recently ran an article claiming to demystify the conflicting claims, though as far as I could tell it was only citing the favorable studies as a corrective to the previous anti-coffeeism.
I am a little skeptical of all this. I'm quite willing to believe that coffee is not bad for humans unless taken in huge doses; after all, people have been drinking coffee for quite some time without there being any discernable terrible effects. I am glad not to have an addiction to the stuff, since I hear unpleasant things from people who try to cut down their caffeine intake, but as addictions go, it is pretty benign, and I am sure coffee is much better for people than the various forms of cola. But given the size of the American coffee industry, I think there are quite a few people with a vested interest in seeing studies that promote the benefits of coffee. I wouldn't be at all surprised if many of these studies were funded at least in part by the coffee industry.
Having said all this, I feel obliged to add my voice to the many that protest the Starbuckization of America and the world at large. I do not, in fact, detest Starbuck's; it has brought decent coffee and pleasant places to drink it to many remote parts of North America. If I am driving across country, and don't see a promising local coffee house, I am perfectly happy to visit Starbuck's. I am opposed, however, to the chain's habit of opening new branches right near thriving independents or local chains. In some neighborhoods this doesn't cause a problem--any place that can accommodate three or four cafes in one block obviously isn't endangered by a Starbucks--but in others, it drives the competition out of business. But perhaps this is no longer happening; I gather Starbuck's is closing some stores.
I dislike, however, the way that other cafes feel they have to imitate Starbuck's menu. I don't care where I am, I am going to order a small coffee (unless, like Tazza d'Oro, "small" truly means small and not big), not a "tall," because no matter what it's called, it will be more than I usually drink and I don't want to encourage tallness. And, apart from getting the occasional latte or cafe-au-lait, I am not about to spend my small cache of disposal income on fancy coffee drinks that will just make me fat and broke. I don't know what most of these are and I don't think I want to know. I first heard of "Americano" in Prague, as that seemed to be what I began hearing American tourists order, circa spring 2007. Whatever Americano is, I now hear it constantly in American cafes as well.
In the Berkeley area, total coffee devotees have gone to Peet's for a very long time. The original Peet's locations seem to have kept their extreme-coffee ambiance, which was always a little too coffee-worshipping for me, but which I respected. Mr. Peet has now retired and Peet's has expanded quite a bit. I regret to say that the El Cerrito Peet's is pretty much a clone of Starbuck's, even including being too chilly to sit in for any length of time. (El Cerrito does not have a climate that requires air conditioning more than once or twice every five years, so why must Peet's be so cold?) Still, it is not a bad place in general, especially since Fat Apples, which has memorable coffee and pastries, is more a restaurant than a cafe.
Having rambled on at length about coffee, I think it is time to gather my projects and remove myself from the temptations of the internet.

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

A Little Dancing

While much of my life this week revolves around visits to the rehab facility, quite a bit actually relates to writing things other than blogs, and a certain amount even relates to improving my dance skills.
My father continues to do pretty well at rehab, and the current estimate is that he'll be mobile enough to go home in about a week. The physical therapists put him through a good workout each day and he's learning about special devices that help people put on their shoes and socks when they're not allowed to bend over. We are pleased with the general level of cheer and helpfulness shown by the staff, and I'm told the food is pretty good too.
My friend Cesar, being fairly familiar with the dance scene around San Francisco's Mission, has kindly gotten me out a few times. Last Friday we investigated a free waltz and rhumba class at Cheryl Burke Dance. the instruction was good, the music not so exciting, so eventually we moved on to blues dancing on Heron, where the music was more fun.
Before leaving the Cheryl Burke premises, we signed up for free dance "consultation" (new students only). The school does this on a wide variety of dances, so I decided that since I had never done tango and everyone says it is difficult, I would try that. Of course, there's the problem that they teach three kinds of tango. I ended up having my lesson on American tango, on the theory that I would run into more people who did it.
I enjoyed my lesson and felt comfortable with my instructor, so I agreed to have a paid lesson the next day. It would be nice to learn dances in this manner all the time, with expert partners, but I'm afraid my income bracket dictates that most of my education will have to be in classes full of other beginners. After my second lesson, I met up with Cesar and we headed for one of these classes, at CellSpace. It was a good enough class, but we didn't get as far as learning any of the steps, focusing instead on getting the dancers used to paying close attention to their partners. I spent most of the hour walking backwards with my eyes closed. It was good practice and reminded me how differently less experienced partners lead, but I didn't really find out just how Argentine tango differs from American.
We have a plan afoot to gather a group to go dancing Friday. John says he wants to go and Megan is wavering on account (she says) of having biked all the way to Point Reyes over the weekend. I'm not sure who else is in the process of being gathered...

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Sunday, August 03, 2008

Delicious Revamps

This morning when I attempted to add a Delicious tag, I had to log in. I almost never have to log in, so I wondered what was going on.
It turns out that Delicious has revamped its functions somewhat. I haven't had a lot of time to investigate, but the main thing that strikes me thus far is that, for those of us who try to bundle our tags, the new system isn't very friendly toward non-bundled tags. They just don't show up anywhere unless you go into the tag-bundling area. You have to go into a specific bundle to actually see all the tags you've ever used, and you have to tell it show you whether tags are used in other bundles.
I do often put a tag in more than one bundle, but I am most concerned to get the tags into at least one, because formerly the unbundled tags were all down at the bottom of the page and I had to scroll down to find them. Now it's even more vital to get them into bundles, because they just aren't anywhere to be seen under normal circumstances.
This is irksome, because while I do go in every few months and update the bundles, even when I've just done it, there are quite a few tags that just don't have a bundle. What am I to do with the tag "friends" for instance? Stick it in the "Practical" bundle? That seems a bit weird. "Fun"? Kind of limited. What about "hypnotism," "looting," "interviews," and "contests"?
Furthermore, certain tags show up as unbundled until you go to the bundle they belong in, with the intent of adding them, only to discover that they really are already there. I am not happy about that.
It looks like the display for tagged sites might be better than before, but I didn't really have a strong opinion on it previously, and I'm not sure I have a strong opinion on it yet now.
We will have to see how this all goes.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

On to Rehab

I am pleased to report that my father was finally okayed to move from the hospital to rehab. His hip replacement surgery was successful and without complications, but since he normally takes various medications, these had to be restarted, and that meant several days of getting his blood in the right condition that the doctors felt he could be allowed to get out of bed more frequently and all that.
The rehab facility is farther from the house, but potentially BART-accessible. It seems like a nice enough place as such things go, and people can (and do) bring pets to visit. My father would like to see the rabbits, but as they dislike traveling in the carrier and are not too fond of sitting on laps, it's unlikely that they'll be making the trip over there.
Rehab will probably last about ten days.

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