December 24, 2009

Economical Brain

A few days ago, my father and brother were discussing the relevance of London as a financial center, and the many ways to pronounce languages. I was mentioning how my friends complain about French, and used the sound "oh" as an example. In my mind there were 4 ways to spell the "oh" sound in French (eau, au, o, ot). In true one-up-manship, my father said "well there are actually 13 ways to pronounce the sound 'oh' in French."

A little deflated, I turned away from the conversation feeling much less knowledgeable than both of them.

Until I started reading the new issue of the Economist. Which happened to have: 1) an article on the relevance of London as a financial capital, and 2) an article on difficult languages to learn and pronounce (with the anecdote about the French "oh").

Bwwwaha, I'm on to you now! And I must remember to read the Economist before family dinners.

December 22, 2009


Washington D.C. got plummeted with snow this weekend. And as per usual, Washingtonian were completely unprepared for the slush, wetness, and ice that came with it. At the end of the second day, snow plows had still not cleared my house, sitting on a relatively large side road. Friends from Toronto and Montreal anxiously called me, to make sure that I had enough food and proper winter gear (I had neither).

However, despite our relative inexperience with snow, let no one say that we are not willing to help ourselves.

As I was walking past a sex shop in U street, I saw a shop keeper in sweats, scraping the icy surface in front of his store...with the empty plastic casing of a dildo.

Now, that's pretty creative.

December 06, 2009

Awkward conversation with mom

A few months ago, I reported that a quote of mine ended up in a book called We Feel Fine. Having just received the book in the mail, I spend a good twenty minutes flipping through it to find my quote, and proudly show it to my mom.

Impassively, my mom takes a look at it and says "your picture is right next to the quote: 'I feel weird having phone sex' ".

I feel weird having my mom read that out-loud.

October 06, 2009

Making Great Green Spaces and being famous in interim

So, yeah, I never post anymore.

But when I DO post blogging entries, it's for very important topics. I would like to share an important initiative going on in Washington D.C. right now:

Everyone can name great public places, such as parks, squares, and outdoor markets found in cities across the country. But what makes these places work? Why do people seek them out and congregate there in large groups? And what makes some of public spaces “greener?" In an effort to provide a “decoder ring” to reveal what makes these places so successful, the National Building Museum presents a series of mini-documentaries that identify the specific elements that help make Great Green Places.

So, what's so special about Great Green Places you ask?

Well mainly, I appear in 0.5 second of the video - you can see me on the screenshot on the front page (girl smiling idiotically with pink skirt and brown belt, almost completely hidden by girl with red and black shirt. Which incidentally happens to be my friend. I'm going to have to have a talk about not stealing the limelight).

Also, if you're courageous enough to watch the video, I can be seen in all my glory at 2:26.

I'm so bloggostistical!

September 12, 2009


I just signed in to Netflix, to read this:

Unique for You

007 in Africa, we think you might enjoy the following movie:

Can't Get a Date

Our best guess for you 3.8 out of 4 stars
Customer average rating 3.2 out of 4 stars

Hum, yeah...

July 28, 2009

On Becoming

For some strange reason, I've been spending a lot of my time on youtube, looking at people's video diaries, as they transition from male to female; and female to male.

These individuals are usually reflective, often funny, many times insightful.  Concerned with recording their transition, they get excited about voice changes, body fat redistribution, hair changes; or sometimes record the sadness of not transforming quickly enough.  It becomes a rite a passage of sorts, and is fascinating to see their physical changes, and the intense elation that comes with finally becoming something they've always felt cheated out of.

The journeys are hard, physically painful and slow.  The operations are gruesome, and take away the very parts they were born with.  But I've never heard it described with such poetry and spirituality as Unmeasuredinstances does:

And you feel reborn.  And I remember thinking, Oh My God, this is real.  This is real.  It was the sweetest sleep of my life.  I can't tell you how important that process was for me.  A sense of being born, a sense of spiritual awakening.

Makes me understand the intense joy of Becoming.

July 19, 2009

The Fake Girlfriend

Today, I went for a long bike ride to look at Open Houses in Washington, D.C.  I went with a male friend who's looking for a place as well.

We stopped off at Firehook near the Capitol, where intense young people worked on their computer trying to catch up on their policy work.  On the street and in the coffee shop, we met three of his acquaintances.

This is the conversation that ensued, as soon as they were out of out of earshot:

007: Wow, your friends are ridiculously good looking

Friend: ...

007: Next time, how do I stand next to you, but make it clear we're not dating.  I mean, they probably totally discounted me, because they thought we were together!

Friend: No, you can't make it obvious!

007: Why?

Friend: Because I like having a fake girlfriend!

July 17, 2009

Random Observations

Thank you Mr. Fruit Man
I know I’ve already talked about him before, but the fruit guy in front of my office is awesome. He comes to D.C. early in the morning with his truck, unloads his carts full of trail mix, apples, cherries, grapes, plums, bananas and pears, and transforms his carts in vending tables.

This morning, I made a special trip to the ATM to get some cash and bought:

-1 apple
-3 plums
-3 peaches

All for $3! OK if you hail from the 1950s (when a cup of coffee cost 10 cents), that’s pretty shocking. But believe me, nowadays, $3 dollars for 6 pieces of fresh fruit is amazing.

Kitchen Appliances - not a bad invention after all
Also, as a follow-up to my post about the utility of kitchen appliances, two nights ago I was preparing meringues with the remnants of egg whites. I measured the sugar and crème of tartare…Only to find out that my roommate had taken the electrical beater to her fiancé’s apartment. I was left with a whisk to beat the eggs into stiff mounds.

After 20 minutes of near constant beating, I realized it was an uphill battle, placed my sloppy mix into the oven, and cooked the meringues for one hour. Needless to say, meringues without an electrical beater aren’t meringues…they’re more like a thin layer of protein and glucose, attached firmly to aluminum fold.

This is not how my meringues turned out at all

July 15, 2009

I'm going to be in a book!

Two guys, Sep Kamvar and Jonathan Harris, are publishing a book about "emotions", as reported in various blogs on the internet. They contacted me about my quote on May 8, 2006, a follow-up to a post on May 4, 2006:

Due to popular demand, I am reporting today that I do not have that weird worm-like feeling in my throat.

Though I am flattered that my picture will be in a book, I am a little alarmed that:

1) it will be the smallest picture on the page,
2) it will appear in the "weird" emotion section, and
3) my face will be plastered and obliterated with a quote about worms.

Anyways, if you see the book, entitled We Feel Fine: an Almanac of Human Emotion (scheduled to be released on December 1st, 2009), check out page 145.

I think I remember who took that picture in the first place, I'm going to have to thank him promptly and invite him to the launch party in New York.

July 14, 2009

Accumulating Stuff

I just came back from a lovely 2-weeks vacation to France (Lyon and the South), Croatia and Slovenia, but lost my camera there and unfortunately cannot share some pictures...

I'm glad to be back in D.C., but I now have to face impending deadlines and stresses I conveniently forgot about during my leave. One of my two roommates is getting married in September, and understandably, she will be leaving our apartment in August.

I am planning to buy a house in the next few months, and thus must:

1- Sort out my finances
2- Reapply for pre-approval
3- Find a house
4- Go through the buying process
5- Move

Oddly enough, the moving part has me the most worried. I am finding myself confronted by two opposing problems:

1-Not enough stuff
Roommate-who's-getting married is, little-by-little, moving her stuff out of our house, and into her fiancé's. And suddenly, we have no more blender. And vegetable peeler. And vanilla essence. And a small strainer.

And though I joked with her that she had more cooking utensils than Julia Child, I'm suddenly realizing that I DO need a blender, vegetable peeler, vanilla essense, and a small strainer.

2-Too much stuff
I'm trying not to put off the inevitably painful task of sorting through my closets and packing up some boxes. These are some of the items that are crowding up my closet:

-various garden tools and plant foods (I never garden)
-tons of Congolese Kuba cloths (I have no more space on my walls to hang them)
-liquors and other strong alcohols (I always end up serving wine with dinner)
-natural cleaning products (they don't work very well so I've switched to industrial-strength ones)
-waxing kits (I generally end up going to a salon to get my legs professionally done).

My room looks spotless, thanks to my huge closets. But I never open them in public, and the amount of stuff they hide will make moving monstruously difficult.


June 22, 2009

Father's Day

It was Father's Day yesterday. And though I don't often give him a pat on the back, encourage him in his endeavors to paint or refinish a cane chair, I admire my father very much. Maybe it's about time we thank our dads as much as we thank our moms, for sticking through with us, as we grow up to be adults.

Yet, not everyone is this lucky. Some fathers are no longer with us, and some fathers are not able to take care of their children. Obama wrote a beautifully touching letter this year about how fathers, or the absence of them, really shape up people's live:

[...] on this Father’s Day, I think back to the day I drove Michelle and a newborn Malia home from the hospital nearly 11 years ago—crawling along, miles under the speed limit, feeling the weight of my daughter’s future resting in my hands. I think about the pledge I made to her that day: that I would give her what I never had—that if I could be anything in life, I would be a good father. [...]

It is especially powerful because he never had a father, and that makes him even more resolute to be there for his children. Watch his advice to fathers on this father's day:

He's redefining father's day: it's not just a thank you for those dads that are there, but a plea for those that aren't, to step up to their roles as parents.

June 15, 2009

Remembering the Holocaust

By now you’ve heard, of course, of the crazy man who shot and killed a guard at the Holocaust museum. The shooting happened just a few blocks from my work, so there was a frenzy around the National Mall. The incident was racially motivated, and the man lived his life eaten by hatred and anger.

Today, released this amazing 20-mins interview with Eva Schloss. Eva is an 80-year old Auschwitz survivor, and she talks about her experiences of the Holocaust and her relationship with Anne Frank.

“For me, it’s a great insult, because I was there, experienced it, I lost my family. How can people say it's not true? And I think there should be a law to forbid to deny the Holocaust. Because it's not freedom of speech, it's really libel. Because it's proven that it is there. The Germans themselves took documents and photos, and they recorded every day (we got from the Red Cross the dates that my father and brother died). It was recorded by the Nazis. And where are those 6 million Jewish people?"

I call that interview pretty good timing.

June 12, 2009

On Drones and Cops


I was going to write a post about how people in the metro are complete drones. Here they are, standing in the metro car, sporting their Ann Taylor Loft dress and flip flops, or beige slacks and leather satchel. They slowly move out of the train, and towards the escalator, queuing up nicely by the walking zone or the standing zone. They don’t smile, they don’t acknowledge other presences, and they rush towards the gates, and drop their newspapers mechanically into the recycling cans.

Every morning, I fight an irresistible need to go “Baahhh, bah!” like a goat, as I standing on the moving stairs. But I suspect that no one would even flinch.

As I was walking by my office this morning though, I saw a cop and smiled at him.

Cop: “Ma’am, can I ask for your help?”

I looked at him with raised eyebrows.

Cop: “I need to put this in your bag” as he shows me a can of diet coke.

I stutter and shift on my feet several times, thinking of the stories of unsuspecting tourists stuck in some overseas jail because they accepted to store similarly innocuous items in their suitcases. I look at his uniform several times, trying to see how official it was.

Cop: “I need to test the guards, I’ll be right behind you”.

An image of me in shackles surrounded by dozens of cops forms very clearly in my mind, so I say:

Me: “OK, sure”

I drop the can in my bag, and walk in the building. I put my bag on the x-ray belt, and flash my badge. The guards say nothing, and let me go on my merry way.

The policeman catches up with me in the elevator, and thanks me profusely. He asks me for his can back, and I say jokingly:

Me: “What, I don’t even get to drink it for my troubles?”

He unscrews the top, and shows me that the Diet Coke can is not a can at all, but a receptacle of some kind, stuffed with tissue. A young man who was riding the elevator with us blanches and quickly steps of the elevator. I try to probe a little more, but all I get is that this is connected to the Holocaust museum shooting that happened this week (about 6 blocks from where I work).

This is more excitement than this drone can take!

June 03, 2009

On Ambition

I went to dinner with some pretty ambitious folks last night and it was nice to hear of all the places in which they'd studied, traveled to, and experienced.

And though my job is not nearly as glamorous as my last one, I am relishing my newfound evenings and weekends, and reveling in going to happy hours with friends, and signing up to dance classes.

Yet, I feel vaguely dissatisfied that I'm not jet-setting to exotic places, getting a second Masters or a Ph.D. or doing a job where I save children and puppies. I felt slightly ashamed that I didn't display more ambition.

But sometimes I think: isn't it just as ambitious to build solid friendships, fall in love with a vibrant city, take some time to reflect, and balance it all with a job that still pays the bill?

May 21, 2009

Awesome Job by my Bank Account

My bank account did an amazing job of monitoring suspicious activities on my account. Last week, I bought a wedding present for a friend in the U.K. I rarely buy from overseas, so they sent me this message:

Dear Ms. 007 in Africa;

On regular basis, our Security Department review credit card accounts for activities that may be outside members’ normal purchase patterns. This is done in order to provide protection against the possible unauthorized use of members’ credit card accounts.

They have been unable to contact you to verify a recent transaction appearing in your credit card ending in XXX. Consequently, our Security Department has placed protective restriction on the account until you call or email us to verify the transaction(s) and confirm possession of your credit card. Please reply to this email or call our Security Department immediately at the number (555) 555-5555 (toll-free); if overseas you can call (555) 555-5555 in order to verify the following transactions(s):

05/19/09 $YY.YY “Randomwedding registry.COM” LONDON (GB)

To unblock your account, please provide the last four digits of your social security number and date of birth. Please disregard this email if you have already contacted us. If you have not been engaged in the above transaction(s), please contact our “Lost/Stolen Department” at the number 1-800-555-5555.

Please help us to serve you better letting us know of your travel plans at

Thank you very much for your assistance. We regret any possible inconvenience caused you by this effort to prevent the unauthorized use of your account.

Card Services

I have to say, I'm impressed!

May 20, 2009

OnBeing 2

And here is Gladys Mitchell, remembering Martin Luther King Jr's and his legacy, in 3 minutes 48 seconds.


Check out this series from where they interview kooky people with interesting points of view: OnBeing.

My favorite so far is an interview with Edward Fahnbulleh, a janitor from Liberia, who works two jobs because "he's not tired yet", and he can give money back to his friend at home to build a school and pay teachers. He seems like he's just having the time of his life!

May 13, 2009

Portrait Project

I just learned that some pictures I took from the Congo, and later donated for a Silent Auction, sold at Buy-Out price. OK, so it was for my high school, but still, I'm encouraged to continue taking pictures. I'd really like to start with a portrait idea I have in my head.

I would like to take pictures of my friends. I'm not talking about the kind of pictures that you would put in your yearbook (looking stiff, a little fake, and overdressed), but rather, the ones that display people's personalities subtly, and in a simple and repetitive way.

I'd like my friends to pose against a white sheet against the wall (or on the porch), and a small chair. We'll see how it turns out.

I like how portrait photography can either be highly polished like that of Annie Leibovitz or raw and honest like Diane Arbus.


May 02, 2009

My Favorite Place by My House

This is the Hi Market right around the corner from my house. It always makes me giggle when I walk by it. True to its name, it sells salty snacks, sports juices, and cigarettes.

This is the basketball court and the super bright kids' park I can see from my barred window. Sadly, a lot of drug deals and shootings happen right there, as it is surrounded by a lot of low income housing, dark street alleys, and has a number of unkempt yards that are ideal for stashing drugs.

April 28, 2009

I (heart) D.C.

I think I’m a D.C.ophile. 

For one, I always talk about how great D.C. restaurants are, express wonder over the funky home furnishing in people’s windows, and I smile idiotically at mothers pushing their hip-hop 2-year olds in strollers.  I think I really annoy my friends from N.Y and California, who just shake their heads at me with a smile that says “poor girl, she doesn’t know what she’s missing”. 

But really.  I sometimes walk home from work, a 1.5-hour stroll, from the heart of the business district, to my ghetto neighborhood I call home.

I walk from the Capitol, through Gallery Place Chinatown, trying not to bump into the hoards of Capitol fans (hockey) in their identical red sweats and baseball caps.

I then snake around through Mt Vernon Square/Convention center, with all its chichi new modern condos. 

(there are modern condos and yet these store fronts are rotting and deteriorating in the snow and the tropical heat of D.C.)

I follow through in Shaw/Howard University and wave to the babies in their strollers, and the old men chewing sunflower seeds on their stoop.  I slow to a crawl to look over a prim lady’s yard with wind catchers and plastic flowers.

I get out of people’s way on the busy U street,

(View from the top of a hill overlooking U street - see the National Monument in the background)

(A dilapidating house sits right across from this one with blue accents around the windows)

(Examples of nicely refurbished Victorian homes)

And I stop at the yellow house with pale ivy across from the community center.

I’m home!

Sigh, (I heart) D.C.!


Office Woes

Cubicle Emergency
Yesterday, I walked into the office, to find my cubicle locked. I never lock my cubicle, and unfortunately, my three copies of the key were in a drawer… in the cubicle. Thankfully, I had arrived a full 40 minutes before most of my colleagues.

The administrative assistant was also there, and had forgotten *her* keys at home today. She told me of a trick: “borrow the janitor’s ladder from the main closet”. She helped me to position it just so (making sure it was fully opened, and angled over my desk). She then averted her eyes as I climbed it in my short dress, and hopped over the wall, on the floor, and opened the door of my cubicle.

A few lessons learned:

1-Always be nice to your secretary. She’s a great resource, but she can definitely make your life difficult if you piss her off (those pens you like so much? Sorry, she conveniently forgot to reorder them from staples)
2-Always call your secretary “an administrative assistant”. There’s nothing she hates more than being called a secretary
3-Give one of your colleagues an extra set of keys to your cubicle
4-Ask your colleagues for their innovative solutions. When I was recounting my story to my cubicle-mate, she told me she had fashioned this hook-thingy from a wire hanger, for an identical cubicle emergency. Brilliant!

The Treats Lady
Today, the Treats lady came to my cubicle for a chat. You know who I’m talking about – every office has a nice lady that brings impossibly sweet things to endear herself to colleagues. I always dread our chats because I invariably have to choose from her stack of rich blueberry muffins, and oily lemon-poppy-seed cake.


I don’t really have a choice, because if I refuse, she will be irreparably offended. So I choose the healthier of the two options (was the lemon-poppy-seed cake the best option since it had lemon – a fruit – and poppyseed – a grain?) and am now devouring it at 9:48 a.m.

Sigh, so much for my diet.

April 25, 2009

Margaret Wertheim: The beautiful math that links coral, crochet and hyperbolic geometry

Did you know that crocheting can be made into a huge, artistic coral reef, explain hyperbolic space, and help people understand abstract mathematical concepts?

Margaret Wertheim, a science writer, demonstrates how this "feminine art" can do all of that.

Never underestimate the strange, innovative ideas people come up with!

April 07, 2009

The Euphoria of Being an Adult

Do you ever get this intense feeling of euphoria from doing things by yourself? I’m not talking about refinishing furniture, building a bookshelf, or cooking a perfect Julia-Child soufflé. I’m just talking about getting that feeling when you throw your lights in the washing machine, go to Giant to pick up those ingredients for dinner, or write your monthly rent check.

It happened to me yesterday. I was riding on the metro, and suddenly felt so proud of waking up on time, dressing professionally, and taking the metro ride to work…by myself. I’ve been doing all these things for years, yet, once in a while, I can’t believe I’ve actually made it adulthood, and don’t need my mom and dad to hold my hand anymore.

April 01, 2009

Who had the Majority in Congress

Here's a snapshot of who had majority in Congress since Roosevelt:

President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933 to 1945) was a Democrat
1933-1945 - The Democratic Party controlled both houses of Congress

President Harry S. Truman (1945-1953) was a Democrat
1945-1947 – Democratic
1947-1949 - Republican
1949-1953 - Democratic

President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961) was a Republican
1953-1955 - Republican
1955-1961 - Democratic

President John F. Kennedy (1961-1963) was a Democrat
1961-1963 – Democratic

President Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969) was a Democrat
1963-1969 – Democratic

President Richard Nixon (1969-1974) was a Republican
1969-1974 – Democratic

President Gerald Ford (1974-1977) was a Republican
1974-1977 - Democratic

President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) was a Democrat
1977-1981 – Democratic

President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) was a Republican
1981 – 1987 - Republican
1987 – 1989 – Democratic

President George H.W. Bush (1989-1993) was a Republican
1989-1993 – Democratic

President Bill Clinton (1993-2001) was a Democrat
1993-1995 – Democratic
1995-2001 – Republican

President George W. Bush (2001-2009) was a Republican
2001-2003 – Democrats and Republicans split control of the U.S. Senate 50-50

- From January 3 to January 20, 2001, with the Senate divided evenly between the two parties, the Democrats held the majority due to the deciding vote of outgoing Democratic Vice President Al Gore.
- Beginning on January 20, 2001, Republican Vice President Richard Cheney held the deciding vote, giving the majority to the Republicans.
- On May 24, 2001, Senator James Jeffords of Vermont announced his switch from Republican to Independent status, effective June 6, 2001. Jeffords announced that he would caucus with the Democrats, giving the Democrats a one-seat advantage, changing control of the Senate from the Republicans back to the Democrats.
- The November 5, 2002 election brought to office elected Senator James Talent (R-MO), replacing appointed Senator Jean Carnahan (D-MO), shifting balance once again to the Republicans -- but no reorganization was completed at that time since the Senate was out of session.

2003-2007 - Republicans
2007-2009 - Democrats

President Barack Obama (2009) is a Democrat
2009 - Democrats


How the Budget of the U.S. Government is Decided

The President’s budget is a mix of Obama’s wish list, and the recommendation of various Departments, agencies, and coordinating offices. Here's my (limited) understanding of how the U.S. Government decided its budget.

First Monday in February
Obama must submit his budget to Congress (Congress is composed of the Senate and the House) no later than the first Monday in February 2009. It represents a broad framework for his agenda.

April 1
Congress responds to the President’s Budget with its own version. Both the Senate and the House must submit their markups by April 1, 2009 (today). At this point, the budget is still a resolution and not law. It includes input from the administration, constituencies, and Members of Congress.

Depending on which party is in leadership, Congress’s budget can be either very different or similar to the President’s. Currently, the President is a democrat, and Congress is democratic as well (to give you an idea of how often Presidents and Congress were ruled from different parties, see next post).

It’s a little tricky to draw up a budget since it must reflect
- Budget rules,
- Actual revenues, and
- Mandatory spending (programs for which the Government is obliged to pay)

June 10
The Appropriation process begins – this is basically a fight over small non-defense discretionary spending.

Congress annually considers 11 or more appropriation measures, which provides funding for numerous activities. These measures fund national defense, education, homeland security, crime, but also government operations for the federal agencies. Congress has developed certain (arcane and complicated) rules and practices for the proceeding for these measures: this is the Appropriation process.

House and Senate Appropriation Committees control about 40% of the total deferral spending for a fiscal year, and the House and Senate Legislative Committees control the rest.

June 15
Congress completes action on reconciliation legislation

June 30
House completes action on annual appropriation bills

At the end of the process, Congress develops a Conference Report, a report accompanying the bill which explains much of the bill language and gives specific directions.

Finally, if passed, Congress sends the report to the President for signature.
At this point, the President can:
- Veto the bill. In that case, the process must start over again
- Sign the bill into law. And that’s our Government budget for the year

October 1
Fiscal year begins

Here is President Obama’s proposed budget, submitted on February 26, 2009

March 31, 2009

New Secretary of Health and Human Services Hearing

It's happening now:

Committee: Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions
Title: Hearing for Secretary of Health and Human Services-Designate, Governor Kathleen Sebelius
Date: Tuesday, March 31, 10:00 a.m.
Place: Hart 216

Senator Kennedy is introducing her now - his speech is a little labored, it's kind of sad but valient.

March 30, 2009

International Women's Day and Gender

International Women’s Day was on March 8, 2009 this year, and I’ve shockingly missed it this year again. I marked it three years ago, in Congo.

Fortunately, my sister who is a medical student in Australia, also works on Diffusion Science Radio, a very cool website that diffuses weekly shows on brainy, nerdy science.


Here’s a great podcast she helped produce, for International Women’s Day 2009:

International Women's Day 2009 with Victoria Bond and Ian Woolf
Gender bending stories:
- Phthalates feminize boys
- Half-boy, half-girl bird brain
- Sixth sense switches mice gender
- Gender gene identified
- Gender and sex identity development
- Gender development disorders
- Turner sydnrome
- Kleinfelter syndrome
- Hermaphroditism and gender assignment
- Testosterone receptor insensitivity
- Women in Science: Marie Curie, Rosalind Franklin, Rachel Carson

Presented by Victoria Bond, Produced by Ian Woolf

March 25, 2009

La Grande Anthologie de la Science Fiction

I grew up with a whole library of strange books at home. My mom was interested in French fiction and non-fiction, reading books about escaping from turbulent relationships, the French Kings’ legacies, and women marrying Iranian men and struggling to get their daughters back to France. My dad was more of an Anglophone reader and introduced me to short stories about Englishmen ill fitted for the Indian Colony, books about spies, and science fiction. Their tastes in books have both evolved, and my mother tends to read stories on culture and religion, and my dad is all history and disease these days.

Still imprinted in my mind, are his amazing books on science fiction. Before the age of 12, I didn’t really ask myself what it would feel like to be the last person on earth, or how radiation might mutate my neighbors, or what would happen if my robot-servant decided to go rogue. But boy, when I picked up those science fiction books, I was plummeted with a myriad of outlandish scenarios that blew understanding of life right out of the ballpark.

I fondly remember 4 or 5 books that belonged to a collection called La Grande Antropologie de Science Fiction. The stories were often kooky, with odd conclusions and parting words. For example, when meeting aliens, apparently “two heads are better than none”. This refers of course, to the fact that conversing with a two-headed being is easier than conversing with a no-headed being. The books dated from the 1970s, so they had this intoxicatingly pleasant musky smell, and the pages were brittle and yellowed.

One day, much to our collective (my brother, sister and I) horror, my mother decided to take the books to church and donate them to the church Bazaar. We cried and moaned, blamed and tore our hair out, but alas, those books where for the benefit of others now.

After a lot of digging, I just found that there are a few remaining copies on the internet! French Wikipedia says the following (paraphrased):

The Large Anthologie of Science Fiction is a collection published by a French company Livre de Poche in the 1970s, by Demètre Ioakimidis, Jacques Goimard and Gérard Klein. The collection was initially composed of two series, one with 12 volumes and the second with 24 volumes. A third series dedicated to French Scifi had 5 volumes.

Each volume has short stories organized around a main theme.

First Series (1966-1975)
1-Stories of Aliens
2-Stories of Robots
3-Stories of Astronauts
4-Stories of mutants
5-Stories of the End of the World
6-Stories of Machines
7-Stories of Planets
8-Stories of Special Powers
9-Stories of Tomorrow
10-Stories of Travel in Time
11-Stories of Going Backwards
12- Stories of Galaxies

Second Series
1-Stories of ESP
2-Stories of Survivors
3-Stories at the End of Time
4-Ecological Stories
5-Stories of Colonizers
6-Stories of Space Travels
7-Stories of Doctors
8-Divine Stories
9-Stories of the 4th Dimension
10-Stories of Immortals
11-Stories of Androids
12-Stories of Supermen
13-Stories of Creatures
14-Stories of Future Societies
15-Stories of Strange Worlds
16-Stories of Mechanics
17-Stories of Rebels
18-Fake Stories
19-Paradoxale Stories
20-Stories of Mirages
21-Stories of Year 2000
22-Stories of Catastrophes
23-Stories of Future Wars
24-Stories of Mechanics
25-Stories of Sex-Fiction

Third Series
1-Worlds of the Francs
2-The Hallucinated Hexagone
3-The Exploded Frontier
4-Mosaics of Time
5-Divergant Horizons
6-Story of Science Fiction

I bought two books at an exorbitant price, and am now voraciously reading through my Stories of Aliens. In this economy, it seems silly to spend so much money on used books, but who wouldn’t do the same to recapture one’s youth?

March 06, 2009


What is it?
Gigapan is a program that allows you to create amazing panoramas, with intricate number of details and an amazing level of granularity.

Case in point
This is a picture of India, which shows a beautiful Golden Temple on the water. But wait! You can zoom in, and zoom in, and zoom in again, until you get to see people in front of the monument, in colorful clothing and regalia. Amazing!

GigaPan panorama by Matt Deans

How’s it done?
Panoramas are usually constructed out of 10's or 100's of individual pictures. Each picture is zoomed in to see a small area, and these pictures are assembled into a single panorama using "stitching" software. There are several ways to capture pictures and stitch them. The GigaPan project has developed an automatic system for capturing and stitching pictures, but you can share panoramas from any source on this site.

What’s the Best Gigapan?
Here’s an breathtaking image taken during the inauguration of Obama. At first glance, it’s a well taken picture of the capitol, and the crowds around it. Until you start zooming in, and see every single person in the crowd. Wow!

March 04, 2009


So, I was looking up a biography of Rush Limbaugh on wikipedia, because he's been quoted as making incendiary comments lately (what a shock).

Did you know he was partially deaf? So it made me want to look up Cochlear Implants (which are really cool devices that consist of a tiny microphone and a receiver implanted on the skull which transmits radio waves to the cochlea).

Then it showed a link to deafness, and of course, I had to look up Hellen Keller. She in turn is connected to a number of really interesting people (did you know that her mother sent her to Baltimore to get more information about her deafness after reading a collection of anecdotes by Charles Dickens?). She met really interested people later in life, such as Ann Sullivan (which had a really tragic childhood in Ireland and the United States).

Then, what the heck, it seems like looking up the entry to American Sign Language was important, and I learn lots of interesting facts about Home Signs, the Old French Sign language, and Scarlet fever (which, by no coincidence I'm sure, caused a number of child to become death and blind, and some became both, or DeafBlind).

Now, I really want to learn sign language. Wow, all that from an entry about Rush Limbaugh!


February 17, 2009

Taxation Without Representation

Did you know that D.C. residents have no representation in Congress, and no voting rights in the House of Representatives? According to Wikipedia:

Voting rights of citizens in the District of Columbia differ from those of United States citizens in each of the 50 states. D.C. residents do not have voting representation in the United States Congress. Instead, they are represented in the House of Representatives by a non-voting delegate who may sit on committees, participate in debate and introduce legislation, but cannot vote on the House floor. D.C. has no representation in the United States Senate.

People in D.C. are mad. They have "Taxation Without Representation" license plates, regularly march about obtaining their rights, and want their quarter to carry that motto. Heck, even the Visitor's Center, a few streets from the White House, advertizes D.C.'s lack of representation:

Taxation Without Representation

DC Residents Federal Tax Dollars Paid: $116, 177,984.40

Even the usually very New-York centric New York Times had an article on it today:

This nation’s founders rebelled against taxation without representation, but residents of Washington are still without a meaningful voice in Congress. A bill to give the District of Columbia a voting member in the House of Representatives has taken an important step forward, and it could become law this year. The bill is not ideal, but it would redress a longstanding injustice. Congress should pass it.


Washington’s lack of representation is profoundly undemocratic. Its residents are American citizens who pay taxes, vote for the president and serve and die in the military. Although the city is relatively small, it is more populous than Wyoming and nearly equal to those of Vermont and Alaska.


With Barack Obama, who co-sponsored a 2007 version of the bill, now in the White House and the Democrats in control of both the House and Senate, this could be the moment Washington finally gets its representation.

“It’s 200 years too late,” says Eleanor Holmes Norton, who now serves as the city’s nonvoting member of the House. “But we’ll take it.”

I can't wait. Maybe we should ask for reparation: 200 years of Representation without Taxation.

February 09, 2009

Planned Obsolescence

There’s an approach in the United States that I like to call “more bang for your buck”. It goes like this:

1) I have a limited amount of money,
2) I want to own a lot of stuff,
3) I will buy the cheaper items, so I can get more stuff.

I wish it was a little bit more like this:

1) I have a limited amount of money,
2) So I will save my money until I can buy that nice, good quality item,
3) When I buy the item, I will take care of it so it lasts a long time.

Sure, attitudes are changing. Americans are turning, for example, to better foods, leaving the McDonald behind, and choosing instead to get a nice salad at Cosi.

But gadgets remain an area where the “more bang for your buck” theory goes strong. Since people want cheap goods, and manufacturers want your money, they’ve devised a crafty, little scheme of “plan obsolescence”.

According to Wikipedia:

Planned obsolescence or built-in obsolescence is the process of a product becoming obsolete and/or non-functional after a certain period or amount of use in a way that is planned or designed by the manufacturer. Planned obsolescence has potential benefits for a producer because the product fails and the consumer is under pressure to purchase again, whether from the same manufacturer (a replacement part or a newer model), or from a competitor which might also rely on planned obsolescence. The purpose of planned obsolescence is to hide the real cost per use from the consumer, and charge a higher price than they would otherwise be willing to pay (or would be unwilling to spend all at once).


There is, however, the potential backlash of consumers who learn that the manufacturer invested money to make the product obsolete faster; such consumers might turn to a producer, if any, which offers a more durable alternative.

Problem 1
The many hair dryers I used to buy, for example, are made from lightweight, breakable plastic. It naturally follows that, when I am drying my hair in morning, holding the dryer in my recently moisturized hands, rushing to get ready before 8:00 a.m., I will often drop the dryer on the tile floor of the bathroom. And so it breaks, or overheats. And so I have to buy a new one.

Source - This is an ugly hair drying from ebay, but I bet it still works

Solution 1
Borrow your ex-boyfriend’s hair dryer made in the 1960s, permanently. I’ve dropped it countless times, and it still works like a charm.

Problem 2
Imagine yourself a loyal customer of, let’s say T-Mobile. Imagine yourself a chatty person who likes to call your friends often, and keeps in touch with family abroad. You’re a good customer, and you spend a lot of money on your phone plan and long distance. You always pay your bill on time. Wouldn’t it be infuriating then, to find that even the most basic phones offered by T-Mobile are ridiculously expensive, and have an uncanny ability to break a mere one month after their warranty?

Source - contrary to what the picture may lead you to believe, this basic phone does not shoot death rays from its screen

Solution 2
Purchase the cheapest phone available, and extend your contract another 2 years to get an acceptable discount. Consider changing phone companies.

Problem 3
I’ve had my computer for 5 years. I’ve treated it with kindness and consideration even while in the bush in Congo. But I’ve had to replaced the battery once (it lasted about 3 months before shorting out again), and the power adapter twice. I’ve also had Geek Squad remove the standard antivirus software, because the upgrade I installed was defective and froze the computer. I’ve had to buy an external hard drive because I ran out of room on the hard drive.

My computer is possibly the most precious thing I own, since it contains my thousands of photos, videos, newsletters, and passwords. I have also grown addicted to connecting with my friends through email, skype and blogger, and watching episodes of Lost and Torchwood on it.

Source - Expensive, ugly and poor quality. And this was the best they had to offer when I bought my laptop

Solution 3
At this rate, I’ve easily spend the equivalent of a new computer on the replacement parts. I am seriously exploring going over to the dark side and buying a mac computer.

Grrrr. This is all such a waste of money. What a waste of components, plastic, time, and human labor as well. How very un-environmental.

January 28, 2009

Photos from the Obama Inauguration

Old buildings in Washington, D.C. welcome Obama.

Tanks love Obama too.

The Mall was packed like I've never seen before.

Malia and Sasha are also welcomed to D.C.

Apparently, Mongolians like Obama too.

Beautiful view of the National Monument surrounded by an iced pond. The weather was beyond frigid.

Lincoln was Canadian.

The Mall was so packed that people actually climbed the toilets to get away from the crowds. Just glad I wasn't peeing in the stalls at the time.

Here's me posing with the man. I almost brought him home with me, but my pockets were too small.

Choose Jesus or Obama. There's no compromise.

Ben's Chili Bowl sported an Obama on its roof. Standing on a pulpit. With a gavel. A little creepy actually.

Obama! In car dust!

Cool decal of our prez.

Thievery Corporation

This is an email I sent to a few of my friends recently. I've been so eager to go to this concert (it gets sold out all the time), that I'm surprised no one has taken me up on my offer.

Good afternoon!

I've been meaning to see the Thievery Corporation for a while, but their shows are always booked. I managed to buy two tickets before they got sold out. Would you be interested in joining me?

In case you need more information:

Thievery Corporation is a Washington, D.C.-based recording artist and DJ duo consisting of Rob Garza and Eric Hilton and their supporting artists. Their music style mixes elements of dub, acid jazz, Indian classical and Brazilian (such as bossa nova) with a lounge aesthetic. The two musicians used to own the 18th street lounge...

They're a lot of fun, and the crowd will be young and hip :) Though the band is local, they play internationally, so it's nice to hear them in their hometown.

Let me know if you can join me! Please don't make me go alone :(

> >> ________________________________________
> >> From: []
> >> Sent: Sunday, January 11, 2009 1:47 PM
> >> To: 007 in Africa
> >> Subject: Your Ticket Purchase from The 9:30 Club and
> >
> >> The following is your on-line ticket purchase summary:
> >>
> >> Delivery Method: Please pickup your tickets at the box office.
> >
> >> Your reservation number is XXXX
> >
> >>
> >> The tickets you have purchased are:
> >> ----------------------------------------------------------
> >> RadioRetaliationTour
> >> A Night With Thievery Corporation (Live)
> >> 9:30 Club
> >> Washington, DC
> >> USA
> >> Friday , 1/30/09 , 8:00PM
> >>
> >> Price
> >> $40.00
> >> $40.00
> >>
> >> Total Convenience Fee for 2 seats $13.00
> >> Price for 2 seats $93.00
> >> ----------------------------------------------------------
> >> Subtotal : $93.00
> >> Handling : $4.00
> >> Total : $97.00
> >>
> >> *** Important***
> >> Please note that the time listed above is the Door time.
> >>
> >> Thank you,
> >>
> >> The 9:30 Club

Next stop? Posting them on Craigslist, in the "Strictly Platonic, and I meant it in every sense of the Word" category.

January 26, 2009

Your Walk Score

My Walk Score's better than yours. My Walk Score in Columbia Heights is 91 out of 100 — Walkers' Paradise.

So what’s Walk Score, you ask? According to its website:

How It Works
Walk Score helps people find walkable places to live. Walk Score calculates the walkability of an address by locating nearby stores, restaurants, schools, parks, etc. Walk Score measures how easy it is to live a car-lite lifestyle—not how pretty the area is for walking.

What does my score mean?
Your Walk Score is a number between 0 and 100. Here are general guidelines for interpreting your score:
- 90–100 = Walkers' Paradise: Most errands can be accomplished on foot and many people get by without owning a car.
- 70–89 = Very Walkable: It's possible to get by without owning a car.
- 50–69 = Somewhat Walkable: Some stores and amenities are within walking distance, but many everyday trips still require a bike, public transportation, or car.
- 25–49 = Car-Dependent: Only a few destinations are within easy walking range. For most errands, driving or public transportation is a must.
- 0–24 = Car-Dependent (Driving Only): Virtually no neighborhood destinations within walking range. You can walk from your house to your car!

The top 20 neighborhoods for walking in Washington, D.C. are:

1 Dupont Circle - 99
2 Logan Circle - 98
3 Downtown - 97
4 U Street Corridor - 97
5 Foggy Bottom - 95
6 Mount Vernon Square - 95
7 Adams Morgan - 93
8 Kalorama - 92
9 Friendship Heights - 90
10 Georgetown - 90
11 Shaw - 88
12 Capitol Hill - 87
13 Chevy Chase - 83
14 Cleveland Park - 83
15 Columbia Heights - 83
16 Woodley Park - 82
17 South West - 81
18 Glover Park - 80
19 Mount Pleasant - 77
20 Ledroit Park - 75

I think all real estate deals should disclose their Walk Score. I also think doctors should tell their patients what their Walk Scores are, much like their cholesterol level, weight and height.

What’s your Walk Score?

It's snowing!

It's snowing today. It's made of light, wind-swept flurries that disappear when you breath too hard on them.

I've seen snow many times in my lifetime, but I still get that giddy feeling that you get as a kid. IT'S SNOWING!

I walked out the door to get to the metro, and ran into my neighbor. I almost shouted "IT'S SNOWING!" in his direction; but in my embarrassment, just looked up to the sky, and grinned. He grinned back, knowing exactly what I meant.

It's snowing!

January 23, 2009

The United States of Obama

A friend and I were laughing at lunch, noting that the press is keen on reporting every single move Obama makes: "On Obama's first day in office, he repelled X policy instituted by Bush", "on his second day, he repelled y policy from the Bush team".

I wonder how long it'll take until he signs a bill to rename the U.S. "the United States of Obama".

On a somewhat related note, I attended the inauguration and it was great! I can't wait to post my pictures.

January 12, 2009

Top Ten Reasons You Know You're Working at an Aid Organization Headquarters

This is eerily spot-on:

According to David Letterman (The Late Show on CBS)

1. You just had a pre-meeting to discuss your strategy planning session for the new initiative to reduce poverty by increasing access to Safe water/credit/food/health care through fair and equitable distribution to those with the right to said good or service through engagement with duty bearers in the government and other stakeholders and civil society organizations.

2. You just repeatedly slammed your head into your keyboard after spending the last 20 minutes trying to get your Skype conference call
between Port au Prince, West Bank/Gaza, Delhi, Nairobi and New York to work only to fail miserably.

3. You realize that you can no longer squeeze into your cubicle past that cool hand-woven cloth from Mali, the wooden mask from Congo, the elephant figurine from Thailand and the rug from Afghanistan.

4. You just completed an annual report to your donor explaining that you're very sorry that you only managed to accomplish 2 of your 14 objectives due to sudden onset of war, drought or an invasion of futuristic nano-robots.

5. You just finished explaining to the donor that you are likely to need a two-year extension and an extra $200,000 to hire an independent
Consulting company to come up with a plan to fight off the nano-robots, carry out said plan and then finish up the original activities.

6. You realize that you just used cheers, karibu, Insh'Allah or namaste in casual conversation despite the fact that you are neither English, Kenyan, Arab or Indian.

7. You realize that your favorite and most frequented cafe is located in Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam.

8. You just finished depressing a volunteer caller from the Red Cross for the 12th time this year who reluctantly agreed that you are not
eligible to donate blood because you just got back from .

9. You're pumped with antibiotics more frequently than a cow in a
concentrated feeding operation.

10. You tell yourself it's not failure if you turn it into a lessons-learned document.

January 09, 2009

Yogurts are my Speciality

A good friend of mine came to the rescue, concerning yogurts. Here are the facts, paraphrased from a nice, long email he sent today:

1-France surpasses India in yogurt consumption per capita, volume, sales, etc.

2-See total sales of yogurt per region in the world in 2006, by product. The graphs show that European consumption largely surpasses Asian consumption in total, and that would prove that consumption is greater “per capita”.

3-Of course, these are sales only, and one could argue that exchange rates and price differences can explain that difference. A comparison per volume would be more appropriate.

4-Comparison per volume:

Data from Euromonitor for consumption of “spoonable yogurt” in India and France, with his calculation per capita (thanks friend, you went above and beyond the call of duty on that one).

Sale of Spoonable yoghurt in 2007 :

- 172,260,000 tons / year (estimated population in 2005 = 1,147,995,898)
- 0.15 tons / capita

- 983,340,000 tons / year (estimated population in 2008 = 64,473,140)
- 15.25 tonnes / capita

Source : Euromonitor

The United States, as usual, dominates when total consumption is concerned, but per-capita, it is not comparable with France :
- 1,521,670,000 tons / year (estimated population in 2008 = 303,824,640)
- 5 tons /capita

Argh, if only this had been a Trivial pursuit question!