sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

August 31, 2006

rain!, reward, and a random duck
posted by soe 9:42 pm

With this morning’s unsettling news about O’Rourke’s, I thought it might be hard to switch gears and think about positive things. Luckily, as sad as I am about the (hopefully temporary) loss of a favorite restaurant, I am sufficiently removed from the devastation to be able to see there are still good things in the world. I offer you three from the last week:

1. Yesterday, it drizzled — just a bit — as I was heading home. It hasn’t rained here practically since June (when, you may remember, it rained so much our apartment flooded). While it wasn’t the gorgeous thunderstorm I was hoping for, it felt utterly delicious. Today’s weather was lovely and cool, and more rain is predicted for the weekend. The worst of summer might finally be over!

2. Today was a marathon day at work, with me arriving home just before 9. Waiting for me were two lovely skeins of yarn from The Dye Pot: sock yarn in a purple colorway called “Carmichael” and bulky yarn for this cute purse in a multi-hued colorway called “Wave.” The yarn was on sale, so it was even better.

3. Rudi just suggested that “rapscallion” should be the third beautiful thing for alliteration’s sake. How can you not love that?

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devastating news
posted by soe 8:55 am

Word is trickling down through Wesleyan’s alumni email list that Middletown’s famous diner, O’Rourke’s, suffered a devastating fire last night. This is terrible news for owner and head chef Brian O’Rourke, for the town of Middletown, and for gourmands worldwide.

O’Rourke’s, a Silver City-style diner, was an amazing place that managed to straddle a line with ease. On weekdays it served your typical greasy spoon food, specializing in steamed hamburgers. On weekends it turned gourmet, however, offering up a menu that was pages and pages long and constrained only by the imagination of Brian and his customers, who came from around the state to taste his creations. He introduced us to a variety of new foods, including colcannon, mashed potatoes with cabbage, and sabayon, a delightful custard. The bread was homemade and you were presented a sampler plate as soon as you managed to make your way in the door. The lines were long, particularly if you got a late start to your morning, but the prices were affordable and it was possible for a family to eat after church without breaking the bank.

It’s still early and details are sketchy about what will happen next. I am hoping that Brian, like my cousin Gary whose restaurant burned to the ground last year, will be able to recoup his losses and rebuild. In the meantime, my heart goes out to him and to his employees.

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August 30, 2006

parrots fly
posted by soe 11:56 pm

We rented The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill over the weekend and divided the show over the last two nights (due to life intervening not due to lack of interest).

The movie, filmed by fellow Conn alumna Judy Irving, focuses on Mark Bittman, a San Francisco man who champions a wild parrot tribe in the Telegraph Hill section of the city. Bittman is a sweet man who knew absolutely nothing about birds when he first noticed them and who grew to become an expert on the three types of parrots that comprised the flock. For the majority of the film he is essentially squatting in a cottage rent-free, feeding the birds with proceeds of odd jobs (and, eventually, a book).

I was prepared for the movie to be sweet; these sorts of movies never succeed if they don’t take a bleeding heart-approach to nature. I wasn’t prepared for how normal and humane Bittman seemed to be, how individual the birds were — or how heart-wrenching certain later scenes in the movie were.

Irving’s film is sensitive and moving and the colors of the film are over-saturated, calling to mind the bright plumage of the title birds. She does periodically pop into her movie, but in an unobtrusive way, and only in a way that answers questions you have — like why she made the film.

It wasn’t the best documentary I’ve seen this year, but it was one of the nicest I’ve seen in a long time. I’m proud to share an alma mater with Irving, who put together a pretty awesome film. I recommend the movie with the only caveats that you be prepared for a deeper story than you expect and to connect more with Bittman and the parrots than 90 minutes ought to allow.

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posted by soe 2:16 am

What is it about a good book that makes it so hard to put down? What makes a book compelling rather than commonplace? Is it the storyline? The characters? A unique twist in the storytelling? Something intangible?

I’m not sure which of these has come into play, but I finally got around to reading Peter and the Starcatchers and it is taking all my self-restraint to put it away for the night and to go to bed. I mean, it’s 2 a.m.! I have another 20 chapters — probably 150 pages — which I could finish by 4.

What sane person thinks like that? What normal person seriously considers intentionally staying up until 4 hours before they need to go to work in order to read a book that will still be sitting there come lunchtime or eveningtide? Will things happen in the book while I’m away that will change the story? It’s not like I’ve left the characters in a precarious situation (which I never would do, by the way). They’re all safe. They’re on the beach. They’ll be fine until I’m able to get back to them. (They will be, won’t they?)

But it doesn’t matter. I really just want to throw myself back on the couch, pull out the book, and read away until I reach “The End” and my curiosity about what happens next is satisfied.

Woe to those who hope their children grow up to be readers. This is the future that you’re pointing them to — sleepless nights and an unquenchable thirst for adventure and knowledge. It’s a hard life.

Category: books. There is/are 1 Comment.

August 28, 2006

posted by soe 11:58 pm

There is a 15-20 minute delay on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in Northern Virginia –or, rather, on the demolition of the bridge. Some days you just gotta love irony.

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August 27, 2006

why people don’t like science
posted by soe 11:59 pm

I think that scientists don’t fully understand why the public dislikes and is confused by science. My theory is that the field has, as have many others, taken concepts that are ultimately understandable and swathed them in language that is so technical and specialized that it is virtually incomprehensible.

I recently read an article about research into the brain’s role on obesity. I have been looking into the subject of obesity for a year now and I still found it hard to follow. This is because in an article that was six paragraphs long it included a ridiculous number of multi-syllabic words (and I like multi-syllabic words!).

Included in the article were gems like

“The importance of these brain peptides and their expression patterns in energy homeostasis is underscored by central injection studies with the peptides themselves, as well as with antisense oligonucleotides that produce a local blockade of peptide gene expression”


“These investigations, involving both in vivo and in vitro techniques, enable us to unravel a cascade of factors controlling neuropeptide production, including circulating steroids, glucoregulatory peptides and nutrients, as well as intracellular proteins and lipids.”

The article is neither specifically aimed at the layperson nor at the science community, so it could be that the author did not intend it for the non-science community to read it. But if it was intended for wider circulation, the author (and other scientists who write similar articles) does the field a disservice.

If scientists want to present a friendlier front to the public, they will start teaching their up-and-comers how to present their materials in a way that doesn’t automatically isolate the general audience. As I used to tell science students, explain it as if you were talking to your grandmother. Once you can do that, the public will get behind your work and behind science in general, and it will stop seeming like it’s a club that doesn’t want any new members.

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