Sunday, April 6, 2008

cactus flower

My recent obsession with Goldie Hawn culminated in a whirlwind reading of her autobiography A Lotus Grows in the Mud. You can't make up titles like that. Well, she can, but not me. As I do whenever I have embarrassing subject matter to read, I enlisted Wendy to get the book out of the library for me.

Last time I did this resulted in a coup for Wendy. I systematically stockpiled every single book on lesbianism I could find (including, So, You Want to Be a Lesbian) while she went about her way browsing the detective novels, blithely unaware. At the last minute before checkout, I dumped the lesbian books on the counter and asked the guy to put them on her card. (I'm almost always sans library card, for reasons too numerous to go into here.)

Predictably, I was several weeks late returning the books. Which meant that next time she went to the library, the sexy butch librarian who rules the Piedmont branch with an iron fist "spoke" to her about them. Sure, she had to pay fifty cents, but that's a small price for the patronage of such a powerful figure.

This time, though, it didn't work out so well. The librarian called across the room, "Is this your Goldie Hawn biography? Miss?" As Wendy frantically tried to figure out how to believably claim it was "for a friend."

It was all worth it for me, though, as I struggled to answer the question: how is Goldie not embarrassed about herself? For years I've wondered this. I see her on TV every now and then, saving elephants or telling us to recycle or talking about her screenplay in which a widow travels to India and is visited by the ghost of her dead husband. How can she not want to crawl into a hole in the ground? The sheer existence of Goldie in the world is a justification for hari kari.

And yet she continues. Nay, flourishes. I wanted to know her secret. Apparently it all boils down to being not all that bright. Still, I'm glad I read the book because she seems to be an incredibly loving person. (I thought that about Paula Abdul, too, because she was once nice to Wendy in line for the women's room at a restaurant -- and boy, was I wrong about her.) But Goldie (her actual, honest to gosh name) seems to be without snobbery or affectation.

She did have some cool things to say about success making you feel estranged from your family, and how success engenders jealousy and guilt -- all the stuff that people who change classes or cultures go through. Apparently nine years of analysis helped her deal. But besides that (not surprisingly, in retrospect) Goldie has very little to teach us.

Whatever, I still liked Foul Play.

my mom skipped 4th grade

Last month I induced Alice, the 13 -year old girl who owns Sequoia's sister, to tell me all about her chemistry class. Dragging "what did you learn in school today?" out of her and her older sister Rachel is -- I was about to say as difficult as gleaning FBI secrets, but that's a cinch compared to obtaining information from the Contopoulos girls. These girls don't leave laptops lying around.

Alice's explanation consisted of atoms walking down Telegraph Avenue and being spare-changed by other atoms who needed electrons. (How do they teach chemistry in other cities?) Then she started on covalent bonds and Group Zero and the second-to-last electron shell in transition metals until I was out of my depth.

I was freaking out that an 8th grader knew more chemistry than I did, until I remembered that my high school Science for Poets class focused on the metric system (all the vogue back then, when there still seemed to be a chance we'd convert) and the properties of light. In fact, my teacher was strongly against any attempt to memorize the Periodic table. I honestly think we would've been marked down for it.

Add to that that quarks weren't invented until I was seven, that I got my chem credits by reading Lavoisier at a liberal arts college, that I dropped out before I got to P Chem, and there you have it: an ignoramus. I suddenly had a magnitude more of sympathy for my mom, who never really learned division, decimals, or angles properly because she skipped fourth grade. When I was in high school she asked me what a 45-degree angle was. "People are always talking about it," she said. I used the kitchen clock to demonstrate, and she freaked out with excitement. 90 degrees! 60 degrees! Who knew?

Anyway, Alice has renewed my interest in basic chemistry. Which means I've been reading tons of crazy web explanations on the subject. Can I just say that I now have an inkling about why the U.S. lags in science? Even if I ignore the typos, I have to wade through incomprehensible grammar and meandering explanations.

Example: "When going about their natural lives, you will never (never say never because there may be an exception) find the inert gases bonded with other elements."

What the fuck does that mean? Is there a known exception or not? And since when is it okay to change the subject from "they" to "you" mid-sentence? Damn science geeks. And don't get me started on "Bronze was one of the first alloys crated by humans." Is anyone even proofreading?

But whatever, I'm fascinated by this whole carbon-14 thing. After I learn this stuff, I'm on to looking for a YouTube video of Nightmare on Puberty Street, which Rachel told me about in not at all enough detail.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

email excerpts

I'm continually amazed by the stuff that gets delivered to my in box -- and I'm not even counting spam.

These excerpts are from this week only -- if I'd gone back two weeks, I'd have emails about hot naked handymen, webkinz hijinks, and God only knows what from Eve (whose coworker wears his 11 year old daughter's black velvet dress to work as a t-shirt).

Still, it's entertaining enough:

"I was thinking about installing an anchor in the ceiling, problem is, I'd need to take out the chandelier in the living room... I'm not sure it is really necessary, though. There are better environments for practicing this sort of stuff."

"i told you it's because the overall volume of oxygen exceeds that of hydrogen because the hydrogen molecules are a lot smaller than oxygen ones. are you bringing sequoia over on monday?"

"While in South Africa I re-outlined the serial killer story and I'm trying to complete it."

"Really, when you think about it, who has just one pair of shoes, or just one coat? And yet, we expect to get by on just one pair of glasses?"

"Another way to compute it is with the formula for the binomial coefficient of (7 choose 2) and then add 7. I probably shouldn't explain that formula in too much detail, but its the number of ways to choose K things from a set of N possibilities, without repeating any choice.

(7 choose 2) + 7 = 7! / (2! 5!) + 7 = (7*6*5*4*3*2*1) / ((2*1) * (5*4*3*2*1)) + 7 = (7*6) / 2 + 7 = 21 + 7 = 28"

"I put Clio’s pills in with the meat in 4 bags for 4 mornings."

"Python? Python is a mishmash of design features from other languages, crammed together and poorly thought out. The syntax is obnoxious. The best one can say is that it interacts with C libraries well."

"Tell me about Goldie Hawn!! Is it the face lift? ;-)"

"Hi Teresa,

I wanted to send you a synopsis of what we did on our trip to Costa Rica...

The deal is that the iBOL (International Barcode of Life) people (Dan Janzen and Paul Hebert) want to team up with Google to see what they can do together (just want that is is yet to be determined). For further info on the iBOL see:

Dan and Paul have the very ambitious goal of wanting to barcode (sequencing of the mitochondrial DNA) every living organism on Earth."

"that is the coolest game ever!!!! i loved it!!!!!!!!!! i got 42 elements, then i resorted to my science book. (hehehe! i'm a cheater!!!!!!) thanks for sending the awesome game. a."

"I'm sitting in the Lazy Daisy Cafe in Notting Hill - Ella Fitzgerald is playing - and you flashed through my mind. Maybe it's because the Lazy Daisy is about as close to an East Bay cafe as you get in London. Maybe it's because I'm looking for a distraction from writing. Regardless, there you are in my head."

"81% in Poll Say Nation is Headed on the Wrong Track"

"Hi, Janet, So sorry, that last email should have been addressed to you and not Teresa!"

"On the train I mostly read a book about the Lindsay administration in New York, in part used as a lens with which to investigate the crisis of liberalism that occurred in the seventies and eighties. The raw details of the history were excellent, but the analysis was kind of moronic."

"I'm smiling, too. People at work think I have indigestion."

"given the following function, tell me what it does and how someone is supposed to use it:

def mystery_function(self, text1, text2):
pointermin = 0
pointermax = min(len(text1), len(text2))
pointermid = pointermax
pointerstart = 0
while pointermin
pointermin = pointermid
pointerstart = pointermin
pointermax = pointermid
pointermid = int((pointermax - pointermin) / 2 + pointermin)
return pointermid"

"THANK GOD David Slimy Head Cook allowed them to take a scissors to that awful comb over. Thank you Jesus."

"Hilariously, this was forwarded by my brother from his friend Alex (closet cases) and was sent as a video attachment you must download and then view. I went to You Tube and did a search: Japanese two-second t-shirt folding

And speaking of efficient women vs not-so-much men, listen to this guy's tortuous explanation of the two-second method. Remind me, why are they still in charge of everything?
two-second t-shirt fold demonstrated thoroughly, slowly, and painfully in English"

Last but not least...

"You're perfectly normal, eh? Tell them to check the scans again."