built in word processor: who knew?

I have been in the market for a small word processor for some time dear reader. For a few years and then intermittently thereafter I have used my Alpha Smart 2000 keyboard as one. The devise is adorable: small, blue, four lines on the screen. And it runs forever on four AA batteries. What’s the problem? Well, I will blame Apple and Steve Jobs. The keyboard on Alphie is too difficult to type on. I have to press down too hard. What I would like is a keyboard for my iphone Brent just gave me. It would make the iphone the perfect device. But alas, Steve won’t go down that road with me, for he hates buttons. One of my main reasons for wanting this word processor is that I want to disallow usage of the internets when I work. The distraction of the web browsing is hard for me to ignore.

But I have hit upon a new idea – perhaps revolutionary. I might not need this device. Perhaps I have a word processor that is kind of built in: the pen and paper coupled with my brain. Gasp!

As I sit here on the plane penning this missive (when else do you get to use that line?) I am flying to Oklahoma. Later, I will type it up – perhaps editing it a bit. (This did indeed happen.)

I have read that there are quite a few writers out there who do this. And the best benefit of all is that it is very hard to heed the Internets siren call.



Part of the "Year of America" has been getting out there to those friends I have meant to visit for a long time but have not been able to visit. In that vein, I finally went to visit Krista. She has made it to everyplace I have lived since we met but Montana and Germany I think...all that with four kids at home...

Oklahoma was super! Krista and her family live in Stillwater, OK. I had never been to Oklahoma, but judging by the responses I got from people about the place, I was surprised how nice it was. Nothing bad about it. It's middle America, like the rest. Rolling hills, hot, breezy sometimes, oil rigs everywhere. Good times.

I took lots of pictures of Krista's highly photogenic kids...
See pictures here.


talent: can it be learned? writing notes

Reading, Writing, and Leaving Home: Life on the Page
by Lynn Freed

The author, Freed, hails from South Africa – and according to this memoir cum resume, that’s where she places all of her novels. Before my professor recommended the memoir, I had never heard of Freed. Also, according to this book Freed has lived her life on her own terms – which we hear over and over. She relied and continues to rely largely on her innate "talent" as a writer to get by after she divorced her husband. Lucky for her, since she tells the reader over and over how hard it is to read all of the poor writing found in the MFA courses she teaches to make ends meet. She also tell us she has problems not being brutally honest – yet she can’t bare to tell these mediocre writers the truth: they have no future.

Is that true? Is there really no future for the average or even poor writer? Brent and I recently came upon some dastardly lawyer-ing. A large part of being a good lawyer is anticipating the worst case scenario. This poor work made me realize there are lots of professionals out there who make a living not being the best. Freed puts so much emphasis on being the best writer. I would love to do some statistically analysis of her former students and see how they are all doing. Were they really that bad?

Freed does make some great points about writing though—one of which being that the writer must stay away from the cliché of making all parts of a book fall into a "good" or "bad" basket. In fact, because I remembered this idea from her book, I just edited myself and instead of telling you that I thought she should have cut all of the family crap from her book, I realized that some of it was quite interesting, and therefore, resides in the gray of life.

Seeking out the gray is akin got seeking trugh in your writing – another theme of the book. Writing the truth is hard. When I try I sometimes get worried that I will hurt people’s feelings – or worse yet my truth – which has a tendency to modify a bit to sometimes enhance the truth- might be completely different from someone else’s truth. But what can you do? Press on as Linda would have said to me.

The final tidbit that struck me was her guidance to "Ask your self what obsesses you and write about that."

Annoyingly, one long-term obsession of mine –gigantic waves—just got its book, so I would add to the tip: NOW. Go write about your obsession now.


tanner's visit

We hit all the high spots:
* Lake Anna Nuclear Power Plant
* UV Lightbulb Manufacturer
* Server building with Aunt Erin and Uncle Mt
* Lego Exhibit at the National Building Museum
* Udvar-Hazy Smithsonian Museum near Dullas (Concord, Enola Gay, and Space Shuttle-check)
* National Academy of Sciences Museum

See photos of our adventures by clicking this sentence.


why does death smell?

Have any of you dear readers smelled death? It smells horrible. I have seen it, from a quick internet search, described as sickly-sweet. I would describe it as stale. Furthermore, not everyone can smell it. Isn't that interesting? One person posited that it might be from ketoacidosis.


shameless electioneering

I want to win this CB2 contest, and I need your vote. Click here to go to their website and vote for our apartment. I called our apartment: dupont home in red and gray.



who knew? great story about voting

My Favorite August
By Gail Collins, New York Times

The story in American history I most like to tell is the one about how women got the right to vote 90 years ago this month. It has everything. Adventure! Suspense! Treachery! Drunken legislators!

But, first, there was a 70-year slog.

Which is really the important part. We always need to remember that behind almost every great moment in history, there are heroic people doing really boring and frustrating things for a prolonged period of time.

That great suffragist and excellent counter, Carrie Chapman Catt, estimated that the struggle had involved 56 referendum campaigns directed at male voters, plus “480 campaigns to get Legislatures to submit suffrage amendments to voters, 47 campaigns to get constitutional conventions to write woman suffrage into state constitutions; 277 campaigns to get State party conventions to include woman suffrage planks, 30 campaigns to get presidential party campaigns to include woman suffrage planks in party platforms and 19 campaigns with 19 successive Congresses.”

And you thought health care reform was a drawn-out battle.

The great, thundering roadblock to progress was — wait for the surprise — the U.S. Senate. All through the last part of the 19th century and into the 20th, attempts to amend the U.S. Constitution ran up against a wall of conservative Southern senators.

So the women decided to win the vote by amending every single state constitution, one by one.

There were five referenda in South Dakota alone. Susan B. Anthony spent more time there than a wheat farmer. But she never lost hope. The great day was coming, she promised: “It’s coming sooner than most people think.” I love this remark even more because she made it in 1895.

Sometimes I fantasize about traveling back through time and telling my historical heroes and heroines how well things worked out in the end. I particularly enjoy the part where I find Vincent van Gogh and inform him that one of the unsold paintings piled up over in the corner will eventually go for $80 million. But I never imagine telling Susan B. Anthony how well American women are doing in the 21st century because her faith in her country and her cause was so strong that she wouldn’t be surprised.

The constitutional amendment that finally did pass Congress bore Anthony’s name. It came up before the House of Representatives in 1918 with the two-thirds votes needed for passage barely within reach. One congressman who had been in the hospital for six months had himself carted to the floor so he could support suffrage. Another, who had just broken his shoulder, refused to have it set for fear he’d be too late to be counted. Representative Frederick Hicks of New York had been at the bedside of his dying wife but left at her urging to support the cause. He provided the final, crucial vote, and then returned home for her funeral.

The Senate failed to follow suit. But Woodrow Wilson, a president who had the winning quality of being very vulnerable to nagging by women, pushed the amendment through the next year. The states started ratifying. Then things stalled just one state short of success.

Ninety years ago this month, all eyes turned to Tennessee, the only state yet to ratify with its Legislature still in session. The resolution sailed through the Tennessee Senate. As it moved on to the House, the most vigorous opposition came from the liquor industry, which was pretty sure that if women got the vote, they’d use it to pass Prohibition. Distillery lobbyists came to fight, bearing samples.

“Both suffrage and anti-suffrage men were reeling through the hall in an advanced state of intoxication,” Carrie Catt reported.

The women and their allies knew they had a one-vote margin of support in the House. Then the speaker, whom they had counted on as a “yes,” changed his mind.

(I love this moment. Women’s suffrage is tied to the railroad track and the train is bearing down fast when suddenly. ...)

Suddenly, Harry Burn, the youngest member of the House, a 24-year-old “no” vote from East Tennessee, got up and announced that he had received a letter from his mother telling him to “be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt.”

“I know that a mother’s advice is always the safest for a boy to follow,” Burn said, switching sides.

We celebrate Women’s Suffrage Day on Aug. 26, which is when the amendment officially became part of the Constitution. But I like Aug. 18, which is the day that Harry Burn jumped up in the Tennessee Legislature, waving his mom’s note from home. I told the story once in Atlanta, and a woman in the audience said that when she was visiting her relatives in East Tennessee, she had gone to put a yellow rose on Harry Burn’s grave.

I got a little teary.

“Well, actually,” she added, “it was because I couldn’t find his mother.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 14, 2010

An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that the House of Representatives was composed of only men in 1918. Jeannette Rankin, a female representative from Montana, served from 1917 to 1919.

Note from Nicole: I would add that Jeanette Rankin also served again in 1940, and was the only person to vote against both WWI and WWII.



So, last year DC enacted a 5 cent rule for every bag used in the District. The Anacostia Watershed Society was a large part of this effort. We are supporters of this organization.

In their newsletter today I learned this tidbit of information (remember DC has 600,000 people living here, with as many commuting into DC daily):

Since the law took effect: The MONTHLY plastic bag usage has gone from 22.5 MILLION bags per month to just over 3 MILLION bags used per month! This is amazing.

The average plastic bag is used for just 12 MINUTES and can persist in the environment for between 25 to 50 years.

The bag fee has generated only $150,000! This money goes to clean up the Anacostia. They expected bag use to generate more money, but the drop off in use has been greater and faster than projected.



book review: sweater quest

by Adrienne Martini

There is a sub-genera of literature, well of chick-lit really, that is called knit-lit. It is comprised of books about knitting. My friend Jessica lent me this book a few months ago...I am behind. Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously, tells one woman’s story of knitting a Fair Island sweater. To those of you who don’t know, it is a very difficult project. While weaving in the history of knitting, these specific sweaters, and her actual knitting, the book trundles along, helping the reader quickly pass time on airplanes or trains.

She also has somewhat highbrow discussions of the difference between craft and art. Art is the creation of something new, while craft is said to be following someone else's patterns. I find this distinction interesting. Why can’t following another person's pattern be art? And isn’t all art following someone else’s pattern, and diverting from it? Are there really any new ideas out there?

I wonder about our society’s ability to create new ideas, and where this ability has gone, often. There are millions more people in America today than when I was little, but all of the movies and TV shows seem to be remakes of the stories from my childhood. But then, maybe these shows merely recycled ideas from before I was born and I don’t know it?

What appeals to me about knitting and the book is the exploration of creating. What does creating something, be it art or craft, out of nothing mean? How does this affect your brain? I get a rush when I create. I feel like I have accomplished something. I don’t get this feeling from consuming. But a lot of times I don’t know how to suggest to my friends that instead of getting together to consume (going shopping or going to dinner), we should get together and create something new.

I also found this quote in the book to be true: “One of the central tenets of a happy person is that when they give something away, they cease to care what happens to it.” I love giving things away, because I feel like I am making someone happy. It is important to let it go once it is gone.

After reading the book, I was laying in bed with Brent.

“We have to go to Toronto. It sounds wonderful. It is knitter’s mecca.”

“Well, you really know how to sell a guy on a trip.”

Knitting is easy and fun. If you don’t do it, you should try it. I will even show you how. The book was easy and fun too!


sad vituary

My friend Beth will most likely leave this world soon. I say this even though I am of the "you are either alive or dead, but never dying" camp. I wrote this for her book of memories she received last week.

I believe that only passionate people can have big dreams. Years ago when Beth and I started at POGO, we butted heads, but now I realize it was only because we both cared a lot about the work POGO was doing and continues to do. When I think of Beth I see her with the painting of Lady Liberty she always had in her office. The picture is just of the statue’s head but I really think that symbolizes Beth’s work: the liberty to expect that all government to be good government. I know now it is an honor to work with people dedicated to a cause.

Thank you for your dedication and friendship throughout the years Beth.


wonderful weekend at the cabins

My good friend Emily had "the girls" up to her cabins in rural Connecticut for a long weekend. It was just wonderful. More pictures can be found by clicking this sentence.


brent's book review: Union Atlantic

by Adam Haslett

This book has beautiful dust jacket. It's artistic and beautiful and printed on great paper. The whole way through this book I kept worrying I was hurting the dust jacket.

Of course, you're supposed to get lost in a book and not be worried about the dust jacket, and I just couldn't do it here. Everyone who reviewed this book, it seems, loved it. And the book is so timely! It's about a big bank that fails and has to get bailed out by the Federal Reserve, yet it was written before the financial crisis! Therefore, the reviewers said, it tells us something important about our times. Except it doesn't really. The author went to Yale Law School and he has a pretty basic liberal understanding of the world. Money is bad and the people who make and spend money are bad and we're all their slaves. That's true of course, but we all got that memo, even before the financial crisis. But the book isn't really about the financial crisis at all. The Bank doesn't get into real trouble until 2/3 of the way through. Instead it's about a group of characters who I just couldn't get that into. People who are sad self-medicate with money and we're meant, I suppose, to feel pity and condescension towards them even though they think of themselves as better than us. OK, I just don't have time for that. I finished the book only because (a) it was a gift from Nicole who read the same glowing reviews as I, and (b) I kept hoping something would happen. But by the time it did, I just didn't much care.


book review: Made by Hand

by Mark Frauenfelder

My favorite blog, as many of you know, is boingboing.net. It is also apparently the most popular blog on the internet. (When does a blog become just a website?) Anyway, one of the main contributors, Mark Frauenfelder, wrote Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World.

Years ago, I woke up in my apartment in Arlington and realized I was tired of shopping. Shopping meant consuming not producing. I wanted to produce. Since then I have tried to temper my shopping urges, with the typical varying degrees of success. Mark had a similar epiphany...but they ended up moving around the world to an island. They did not stay long. He did begin a voyage of self-discovery. DIY, do it yourself rather than HAP, hire an expert, became his MO, modus operandi. (tee hee)

"The truth is, the stuff we already own is loaded with features most of us haven’t learned to use." This idea really appeals to me: I have tons of stuff that I don’t fully utilize. One of the things I loved about my parents’ house was that they had everything you needed to do any project. You name the project: painting some bookshelves, have paint and paint brushes – check; loading shotgun shells: the machine to pack the gunpowder in – check. So, I miss those things. Mark convinced me that maybe I don’t need all of this stuff to start my projects.

I loved this definition of work:
"Work is of two kinds: first, altering the position of matter at or near the earth's surface relatively to another such matter; second, telling other people to do so." This reminds me of something my geology teacher in high school insisted we remember: "Everything we have is either grown or mined." You can try to argue your way out of these statements, but both are true.

A few times Mark veers off into marketing theory and history, and he lost me there. I read right over that stuff. Great: cigarettes are bad and the guy who figured out how to market them to women was genus. I get it. Tell me more about your chickens...or how to make a guitar out of a cigar box. Stop with the lecture.

After reading his section on bees I am hopeful that I can get my brother and sister-in-law to get a beehive. I am deathly afraid of bees, but I bet they can handle it. And, I would love to unschool my kids. Mark does not do this, but he does try to tutor his daughter in math. She might not have done well on the standardized test, but I still get the sense she got a lot more out of their time together than could be measured by a test. (Mark felt bad she did not do better on the test. I felt bad for him.)

This statement sums up the book really: "The purpose of DIY is learning to take back control of your life from outside parties..." So true. Get out there and make something...or at least read the book about it.


do you believe in gravity?

Do you? I have a good friend who is really into String Theory. I did not really get it...until I read this article, which I don't really understand, about a guy who does not believe in gravity. He thinks it is merely a byproduct of some other string theory related thing. That is my concise explanation. If you want to know more, read the article at this link: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/13/science/13gravity.html.

Really, you want to know more. Expand your mind.

Have you heard of sting theory dear readers? Thoughts?


brent's book review: Rework

I will let you know what I think of the book once I read it!

This was one of the best, most fun, and inspiring books I've read in a long time. It's written by a couple of guys who run a web-based business and it filled with their lessons on how to run a company. But even though I work for the government and not a private company, I still found it great. Much of what they have to say is just about how they way people work today is often ridiculous and counter-productive. I think the "Don't Treat People Like 13 Year Olds" should be standard reading in every IT Department (why is it that so often something useful that's only a mild security risk gets disabled and people find themselves resorting to things that are bigger security risks?).

The book is short, but consciously so. The authors cut the number of words in half between the second-to-last version and the final version. Yet there's no chance that doubling the size would have made it any better. And that's a pretty good summary of their advice. Do what needs to be done and focus on making that part the best part. You can have a hot dog stand without condiments or drinks or a colorful umbrella, but not without hot dogs. Send people home at 5; fire the workaholics; resumes don't actually tell you anything (nor does GPA or school attended or years of experience). Bottom line: there's a lot of truth in this book that almost everyone I know understands and yet somehow gets smothered in most of the institutions we work for. I'd like to give this book to just about everyone I know who holds a job.