May 19th, 2009

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Climate Change and Disasters

It's nice to see someone saying that we should do something about damage control:

UN Chief Urges Action on Growing Climate-Change Risk
Agence France-Presse: "UN chief Ban Ki-moon called for decisive action to reduce the growing impact of climate change as he launched on Sunday a global assessment of ways to minimize the risks from natural disasters.... Last year alone, 236,000 people lost their lives in over 300 disasters. More than 200 million were directly affected and estimated damage totalled over 180 billion dollars, Ban said."


It would be even nicer if the person saying this were somebody that people might actually listen to so that things would seriously get done.
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Better Than Sex Ideas

This writing exercise is for those of you writing romance, or using romance as a major subplot in some other genre.

1) Read this list of things (many of them backed by statistics from actual studies!) that people have cited as being better than sex in some way.

2) Pick something on this list. Your female protagonist finds it more gratifying than sex. That is, she feels better after doing that than she feels after doing sex.

3) Pick something else on this list. Your male protagonist finds it more interesting than sex. That is, he would rather watch or talk about that than contemplate having sex.

4) One of these things will appear frequently in the story, available as a distraction to the target character. The other will be very hard to find, and thus distracting because it tempts the other character into great efforts to obtain it. You get to pick which is which.

5) Despite these forces pulling the characters away from each other, they have at least one strong reason to fall in love. Describe it.

6) They also have a plot-worthy force binding them together, even during times they want to walk away. Outline it.

7) You should now have two imaginary people screaming at each other and bouncing back and forth like pheromone-overdosed ping-pong balls. If they aren't, make the situation worse somehow. Lather, rinse, repeat as necessary.


Also, am I the only person who looked at the "romantic complication" in Twilight and thought, "Gee, that wouldn't be a problem if she just chained him down really well before they started making out!" ...? And would have had exactly the same thought as a teenager?
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Photography Discussion

This blog contains mostly words, but sometimes I write about things that would benefit from visual input. People keep asking me for photos of things. I have posted a few photos, mostly ones taken by my partner Doug, who is a very talented photographer. Thing is, I don't want to keep pestering him for blog pictures.

I do enjoy taking pictures, and I used to get tolerably good snapshots out of a film camera. I don't have a digital camera (or a scanner). I'm not great with electronics in general; I tend to fry them. But the prices have come down enough that low-end digital cameras are pretty inexpensive now. For some time, I've been wanting to buy a basic digital camera to see if it's a tool I can use. I figure if it dies on me, small loss; and if it survives, I'll be able to learn what it does and what I'd want to add in a fancier model should I have an opportunity to upgrade. Likely categories of photos would include yardening, food, and craft projects.

Right now, I'm really really broke. We're using the Poetry Fishbowl funds to buy groceries. So if you-all want more photos here ... you'll need to buy me a camera. I did some advance scouting and found one available for about $25. There is a permanent PayPal button on my profile page (scroll down, it's under Bio > Feed the Bard) that you can use; please tag the funds "for a camera" or somesuch to distinguish them from other purposes.

If nobody's interested, that's okay. If I get a camera and it works, great, we'll have more photos to enjoy. If I get a camera and it doesn't work out ... um, I'll post about that too, and you can have the vicarious amusement of reading about a machine's death by faery or my brain exploding from trying to use technology that is over my head.

EDIT 5/20/09:
Current donors: browngirl
Camera funds raised: $11
Remaining: $14

EDIT 5/29/09: FULLY FUNDED! Thank you!
Donors: browngirl & my partner Doug
New camera is in hand and playtesting will begin shortly.
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The Reliability of News Sources ... Or Not

The One About has an interesting post on the topic of reliable and unreliable news sources. Despite criticism of blogging as "not real journalism," I have found that some bloggers demonstrate exemplary standards ... sometimes beyond those of certain conventional media sources.

One thing that I personally like about blogging is the flexibility it offers, compared to traditional media. For example, most of the time I try to provide fair balance in my coverage of topics. That's an ideal from traditional journalism. In cases where I've already got a strong stance, however, I may decide to present it as such and include the opposition mainly so I can disprove their main argument(s). Other times, I like to share personal musings, ideas, and theories. As a blogger, I can switch back and forth among those different approaches. Traditional journalism tends to prefer sticking to one approach, or at least one per section (as in a newspaper where reporting is on a different page than the Opinions section). Also, traditional media often pretends to be more objective than it really is; that's a problem, customarily described as "slant" or "skew." Only a few media sources really come out and name their slant as an open trait. Because blogging highlights the voice and perspective of each blogger, however, it's much more open about such things. If you're reading my blog regularly, it won't take you long to figure out my favorite topics and views -- and that counterpoint references are welcome too. Finally, conventional media get slammed if they quote something that isn't solid. Blogging is different; you can quote things of any level of reliability, if you give an indication of how much (or little) faith you put in the material. There are whole blogs devoted to mocking bad grammar, poor copyediting, slopping reporting, stupid ideas, you name it. So here you'll see me quote things I agree with, but also things that are painfully, obviously flawed -- with suitable commentary.

I like having a venue in which I can sift through a whole planet's worth of news, then reference and comment on the bits I find most interesting, in the company of a thoughtful audience.
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Recipe: "White Peach Ice Cream"

This is what I made today. I have been luxuriating in the smell of white peaches since we bought them a couple days ago.


White Peach Ice Cream


Ingredients:
2 white peaches
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/3 cup and 2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons strong-brewed Earl Grey tea


Directions:

Over a small bowl, pit and peel the peaches, then dice them. Add 1 teaspoon lemon juice to the diced peaches and stir. Sprinkle 1/3 cup sugar over the diced peaches. Cover and set aside to macerate for one hour, stirring occasionally.

In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups heavy cream and 3/4 cup whole milk. Add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract and 3 tablespoons strong-brewed Earl Grey tea. Whisk in 2/3 cup sugar until dissolved. Carefully pour in the juice from the bowl of diced peaches, reserving the solid parts for later. Whisk again.

Pour the milk mixture into the ice cream machine and freeze for 25 minutes.

Crush the diced peaches into mush using a potato masher or similar tool. Add the peach mush to the ice cream. Freeze for another 5 minutes.

Transfer the ice cream to a container and put it in the freezer. Leave it in the freezer overnight so the flavors can marry. Serve the next day.


Notes:

This recipe is optimized for white peaches. They have a very distinctive flavor: intensely sweet top note, mellow middle note, and a bitter bottom note that is almost more texture than flavor – kind of like the furry character of rose water. They also have a strong scent, sweet and floral. White nectarines and white apricots share a similar flavor, so they may be substituted for peaches in this recipe. I do not recommend using yellow peaches, nectarines, or apricots here because they have such a different flavor.

Good, fully ripe peaches are extremely soft and juicy. Cutting them over the bowl in which the fruit will go catches more of the juice, rather than losing it on a cutting board. Just be careful handling slippery peaches and a sharp knife at the same time. I cut these in half first, then quarters, then dug my fingers into the slits to remove the pits. (Freestone peaches are best, as they can be pried cleanly off the pits. Cling peaches have to be cut away from the pits.) Then I peeled the sections with my fingers and cut the sections into chunks. Do what works for you.

There is just enough lemon juice to coat the peach bits and encourage them to release their flavor. There is just enough vanilla to mellow the cream base. Don’t overdo the sharp notes; this ice cream relies on a different composition than many others do.

The preponderance of heavy cream gives this ice cream a good “peaches’n’cream” effect.

The Earl Grey tea is the key to making this ice cream work. It has a high citrus note, a slightly musky middle note that goes well with the middle mellowness of white peaches, and a similar furry-bitter bottom note. Thus it harmonizes with all of the white peach flavors, helping to unify the fruit and the milk base. The tea isn’t really noticable as a separate taste in the finished ice cream. It should be brewed long enough to be a dark liquid brown, not pale. I make mine by putting a tea bag into a cup of cold water, microwaving it for 2 minutes, then ignoring it for an hour or two.

I nicknamed this “The Ice Cream of Civilization” because peaches are considered the fruit of civilization in my fantasy setting, the Whispering Sands. And tea is likewise a symbol of all that is cultured and civilized in our world. For people who just want to know what’s in it, “White Peach Ice Cream” makes a more obvious official name.

Also, it took me about 20 minutes to figure out what to use in the base to bring out the distinctive flavor of the white peaches. I finally settled on Earl Grey tea.
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Endless War

I've noticed that America seems to have picked up the very bad, very expensive habit of endless war.

Chris Hedges | The Disease of Permanent War
Chris Hedges, Truthdig: "The embrace by any society of permanent war is a parasite that devours the heart and soul of a nation. Permanent war extinguishes liberal, democratic movements. It turns culture into nationalist cant. It degrades and corrupts education and the media, and wrecks the economy. It is the crude, terrifying tirade of mediocrities who find their identities and power in the perpetuation of permanent war."
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