I am sorely, severely challenged when it comes to picking colors that work together, whether it be wall colors, blog colors, or fabric colors. This fact was recently (and brutally, I might add) thrown in my face when I put together a quilt top the other night and realized that I really didn't like how the colors were coming together at all. I find that to spend a $30 plus a weekend washing, ironing, cutting, ironing some more, sewing a little bit, and then more ironing only to discover that you don't like the end result is more than disappointing.

For web stuff, I found this color schemer that has some color groupings that are freely available and complete with html color codes. For wall color, I usually consult the paint brands and their online color generators, like Behr or Ralph Lauren (not that my house looks like their floor models). The QuiltWoman comes close to playing around with color and quilt patterns, as does Quiltopia's color wheel, but they don't help me with the print on the fabric.

Yet, I can play online all I like. I like several color combinations, but when it comes down to applying colors on different scales (like teeny tiny quilt blocks or great big walls) disaster usually ensues. It seems like people either have it or they don't when it comes to color selection for projects, but I'm hoping that a quick study of colors and their values, qualities and other complexities could save me money and valuable weekend time in the future.

The best resources I have found so far are (!) books. Color Works by Deb Menz is among the best when it comes to explaining color theory. The Quilter's Color Scheme Bible by Celia Eddy is another great resource as it includes examples of colors used in quilts, however the fabrics of the quilts in the books don't show many patterns, and she rarely goes beyond 4 colors. (Hey! Maybe that's my problem with my quilt bomb! I had 12 different fabrics!)

As far as the quilt top goes, I sought the advice of my artist friend who had some brilliant suggestions for salvaging what I could. If that doesn't work, I'll donate the quilt top to my mother's church where the ladies who quilt can put it together with batting and backing, and then give it to a relief agency of some sort. In the meantime, I can at least admire my perfect corners. :)


The five Ws of caucusing

Who Minnesotans eligible to vote by November 4, 2008
What The first chance to tell your party who should be the next president, senator, and/or other elected officials, as well as discuss the party's platform.
When Tuesday February 5 at 7 p.m. for residents in Minnesota. The Republican, Democrat and Independent parties all caucus at the same time, while the Green party will hold their caucus on the traditional date for Minnesota, March 4.
Where The Minnesota Election Caucus Finder will help you determine your caucus site.
Why You've got a white woman and a black man in the running - not to mention Al Franken. If you're like me, and haven't caucused before, this seems like a great year to do it. Well, that gives me away as a Democrat, if that wasn't clear before.
How Proof of eligibility to vote in the next election. In addition to casting your presidential preference ballot, you will have to declare yourself a voter in that party. You might also be asked to volunteer for the party. Apparently, you can vote in the primary and then leave without have to stay for the caucus meeting. I'll find out.

The above isn't so much an 'invitation' as a list of the Five Ws (to get rid of Dubya). However, the DFL put a formal invitation on Blip TV. A little cheesy, but great visuals and very informative.


Eighteen Aggner

My husband and I have always disagreed, with animation and conviction on both our parts, on the correct pronunciation of mauve. I remember reading 1984 in high school and asking my mom what a ren-days-vez was. "Huh? Oh! Ron-day-voo." (I felt quite lucky at the time to be spared any public humiliation and scorn for my mispronunciation. Many years later, here I am, blogging about it.) There are so many author's names that I encounter on a daily basis that I have no clue how to actually pronounce. Within my family, there are a couple different ways we pronounce our last name. D and I were talking/fantasizing about shoes today (particularly about these Anyi Lu shoes designed for support and fit) when she handed me the name Etienne Aigner on a piece of paper today and told me that her mother had always pronounced the name as "eighteen aggner." Needless to say, I had no idea who the woman was, but I knew I had to blog about pronunciation.

Pronunciation can be a tricky thing, especially when it comes to names and words imported from another language into English. (And, as in the above-mentioned situation, foreign names.) People who are familiar with languages are more apt to be able to intuit the etymology of words that are derived from foreign sources, but some of us might need a little help when it comes to certain words we are encountering in print for the first time.*

A few pronunciation tools
Merriam-Webster Online is an excellent first stop for most words. In a wise move on their parts, they provide the best pronunciation of mauve. YourDictionary is also a good first stop, but their audible pronunciation of mauve is a little less clearly in my favor.

Twelve years ago now, Jon Scieszka (author of excellent books, founder of Guys Read, and first National Ambassador for Young People's Literature) wrote this hilarious and helpful guide to difficult-to-pronounce names of authors and illustrators in the children's book circuit. The people at TeachingBooks had authors and illustrators record themselves saying their names for us to listen too. You can't get more authentic than that!

Zappos makes sure you can hear the names of certain designers being said, and the Wine Lexicon includes audible pronunciations of wines.

*And not necessarily words encountered for the first time. Do you say 'fort' or 'for-TAY'? According to M-W's usage note, you get to decide on that one.


Death certificates

An interesting and challenging question from the reference desk the other day....this isn't an immediate need for me (I hope). Just clarifying up front.

There is a lot online about how to order a death certificate in the United States, but guidelines on actually issuing that death certificate is a bit harder to find. It seems like a service that most funeral homes provide as part of their service (possibly because they can't legally complete their services without the death certificate?) so maybe it doesn't need to be widely known.

The form that doctors fill out and file with the state can be found at the CDC. One quick glance makes it easy to understand why many doctors have had a difficult time with the forms in the past.

How to obtain a death certificate seems like a good place to start if you live in Minnesota and need to get additional copies. The Minnesota Funeral Plan offers great resources for pre-planning and pre-funding funerals, but nothing on the legal hassle and challenge of filing the death record. The previous resource was provided by the Minnesota Funeral Directors Association.

Here's hoping nobody needs these resources anytime soon, but should you need to find a funeral home, here's a handy establishment directory.

On reading, and non-reading

Some patrons are shocked when I admit that I haven't read a particular title. The most common title that causes such an upset is To Kill a Mockingbird. I have not read it. But one woman got quite visibly upset that I hadn't read anything by Nevada Barr. "DON'T YOU READ?" she accused me. "Well, yes... I do." But, like everyone, I have not read more than I have read.

I have also had a weird relationship with books. (Well, weird if you're a librarian, it seems.) If I have to read it, I hate it. I figure this goes back to school days when I was not inspired to read The Scarlett Letter (for example) when it was assigned, and therefore didn't enjoy it.* (This makes me a terrible book club member. I resist those book club deadlines like nothing else.)

Anyway, I stumbled upon this curious book about reading a couple of weeks ago...

Title: How To Talk About Books
You Haven't Read
Author: Pierre Bayard,
translated by Jeffrey Mehlman
In a nutshell: a book about talking
about books that you, er,
have not read. :)

Again, copying Alicia's way of introducing books in blogs...

In the first section of the book, the author (who is a professor of literature at the University of Paris) discusses different ways that readers engage in non-reading, as well as strategies for circumstances in which one could be expected to talk about a book that he or she has not actually read. The ways of non-reading that he discusses are really quite active (as opposed to simply not reading). One could read only about the books, not the books themselves; one could skim a book; one could understand a book by paying attention to what others say about it; or one could forget what they have read. (That has never happened to *me,* though. Hee hee.) He gets a bit carried away in my view, but he argues that there is value in the ways we non-read. For me, those ways include reading book blogs and reviews in the trade publications, listening to what patrons and other readers tell me about the books they read, and weeding the library's collection. (Oh, okay, and I non-read by forgetting what I read.) These activities all help me to include what I have not read in my (admittedly limited) knowledge of books, and to keep an entire collection in my sights. Not just the books that I have read. There's comfort in that.

I have no plans to stop reading, of course. I value it and enjoy it too much.

*I re-read The Scarlett Letter a few years ago and loved it.


Fashionably Late Bloomer

A couple of years ago at Christmas my Quebecoise aunt (who has the most delightful and lovely way about her) opened a silk scarf and immediately tied it around her neck in an Italian loop. I remember thinking to myself "now, how did she know to do that?" I wanted to copy her, and copy her I did....three years later.

I feel weird when I do anything that's trendy. Just the thought of it somehow transports me back into the eighth grade - like I have no originality or I'm (poorly) trying to copy the cool crowd but don't know how. (This is also why I don't dance.) But I have to say that I quite enjoy the fashion scarves. My mom brought a back long scarf back from Germany for me this fall, and I bought another pashmina scarf yesterday. I don't need any extra bulk, but I love the colors and the extra bit of warmth and visual interest they provide.

Being the fashion-impaired woman I am, I decided to look around for ideas on how to wear scarves. (One of these days I won't care if I'm doing it right.) Elizabetta provides the best instructions for (and definitions of) wearing a scarf that I could find, followed by Hermes.


And speaking of geography...

...this map is cool. Countries are labeled by the two-letter country codes that are used in URL extensions.


I take geography quizzes for fun

And, yes, I know that makes me a nerd.

My current favorite way to unwind is to play the Traveler IQ Challenge on Facebook. It's basically...a geography quiz. The map is small and blank, the borders are hard to see, and the clues get harder and the timer gets faster as the game goes on. With each clue, you have to place a flag where you think the location is. There are several iterations of the game - my current favorite is the Photos of the World challenge of locating famous buildings and monuments on the world map after seeing only a picture.

Many of the famous places fall into the I Should Know That or Everybody Seems To Know That But Me categories (there are many places I know, of course), but I broke the ones I decided to read about into other categories for my own amusement.

In the I Only Know Their Names Because I Play Rise of Nations category, there's Angkor Wat (a religious temple in Northern Cambodia built around the 12th Century) and the TerraCotta Warriors (life-size and unique warriors modeled in clay that guard the mausoleum of the ruthless Qin, first emperor of China).

In the I Only Knew Where This Was Because I Play Around In Google Earth category, there's Easter Island (2000 miles west of Chile) and Christ the Redeemer.

In the I've Heard of These Places Somehow, but Never Knew What They Looked Like or What Their Significance Was category, we have the White Cliffs of Dover (referenced by Julius Caesar and Shakespeare, and a historical point of British defense against neighbors due to their location along the English Channel) and the Rock of Gibraltar. The UK got Gibraltar from Spain in the 1713 Treaty of Utrecht. Its a little strip of land on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula that borders the (get this!) Straight of Gibraltar. Also, it was one of the pillars of Hercules.

In the No Matter How Often I Take The Quiz I Can't Keep These Straight category you'll find The Galapagos Islands (a volcanic archipelago and province of Ecuador considered part of the Ecuadorian national park system), Antigua and Barbuda (part of the Caribbean Leeward Islands (so named because they are away from the wind)), and Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, northeast of Madagascar.

In the I Knew What These Were But Had Never Seen a Picture category, there's the Blarney Castle and The Hague.

In the I'm right and my husband's wrong category, we have The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao Spain. There is MORE THAN ONE Guggenheim Museum. (We've been debating this for years, but he won't let me show him the proof). :)

In the I can place the flag within 70 km every time because I've been there category we have Chichen Itza, The Pantheon, and the CN Tower, and the Hofbrauhaus.

Man, I want a vacation.


The strike

This is old news, but for a couple of months now I've been casually wondering who exactly the Writers Guild of America was striking against. I knew what they were striking for, but since I assumed that writers are hired by different production companies for each job, I wasn't quite sure if the production companies had some sort of association and/or set rates or percentages that they had to pay writers, or what.

If you were wondering too, the production companies are organized. The Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers is the organization of the production companies in Hollywood. And, yes, set rates and percentages are established for the industry. The WGA has a schedule of minimums on their site that highlights major points from the last time negotiations were held in 2004. There are specific dollar amounts mentioned, an implied formula for figuring rates based on the film's or show's overall budget, and it looks like room for agreeing upon compensation higher than the set minimums. Also, based on an outline of what (film) producers need to know (again, based on the 2004 basic agreement, and there is a separate one for television producers), there is a set checklist of expectations, including timing of payment, informing the Guild of contracts, allowing writers to meet with the directors, editors, etc., and being informed of other writers working on the script. Kind of interesting -- a lot more goes on behind the scenes that one would realize!


The Red Stag SupperClub is the first LEED-CI registered restaurant in Minnesota. What does that mean?

For the USGBC (the US Green Building Council), who certifies that buildings meet green standards, it means that the interior of the restaurant is a "healthy, productive place to work; [is] less costly to operate and maintain; and [has] a reduced environmental footprint." LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The CI stands for Commercial Interiors, and is one of several rating systems. The CI is reserved for projects where the designer doesn't have control over the sustainability of the entire building. It's for tenants.

For the restaurateur, it meant that the construction of the building cost more than typical construction would have (much more), but the energy savings will pay off. The Twin Cities Daily Planet summarized the efforts that were required to meet the standards. The lighting will uses 90% less electricity, and the water heater only heats the water as needed. The front doors once were at The Wyman Building, and the booths are discards from the Marriott Hotel downtown. It also hopefully means that she is recognized in the city as concerned about environmental issues and doing something about it.

For the restaurant-goers, it means that we are saving the environment! (Hee hee). But, there is something to supporting the restaurateur in her efforts. And, I'm looking forward to patronizing this place. Given that it is owned by the same woman who owns other local favorites Bryant-Lake Bowl and Barbette, I think it will be very very good food. The menu looks fantastic.


Ass fab?

With so many acronyms, how are any of us going to keep them all straight? A patron came into today and asked for books with practice tests for the GED and the ... ass fab?!!?

Rather than admit any ignorance, I positioned myself at the keyboard ready to do a quick Google search before the catalog search before asking "what is that test for?" "Entrance into the Air National Guard." Aaaaahhhhh. The ASVAB (or, Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) is a required test for enlisting in the military. It scores vocabulary, reading comprehension, math and arithmetic reasoning, and counts toward one's total AFQT (Armed Forces Qualifying Test) score which determines whether one is qualified to enlist in the military at all.

Besides the GED, PSAT, ACT, SAT, Praxis, GRE, LSAT, GMAT or MCAT, what other assessment tests are used regularly? Test Prep Review provides a quick summary of common tests and what they assess, in addition to free practice questions. Barron's (a publisher specializing in test preparation) offers a list of their books, as well as an online test prep center. Kaplan (a preparation business) categorizes the tests they work with very nicely so one can determine at a glance which career path will require which tests, and at which stage (admissions? employment?) one would need to take the test.

Uff! All I can say is that people should not underestimate the value of taking those practice tests. The tests themselves can be long and grueling (especially if you have a short attention span, like myself), and you need to know how to pace yourself before entering a standardized test situation. Too bad we require this experience of so many grade-schoolers. Damn nclb. Damn it all.


Food chemistry

I have many favorite scenes from Anne of Green Gables, but one of them of Matthew being shy about buying Anne a dress with puffed sleeves. In his effort to stall, he buys 20 pounds of brown sugar for Marilla. I love it.

My husband has become a cookie-making-machine, and last night he discovered mid-batch that we had run out of brown sugar. He thought he could just skip it; I thought he should find a different recipe or use white sugar. We compromised and made a quick trip to the store. Tonight I was making soup and realized I was out of curry powder. I had some curry paste, but had been burned by adding too much paste in previous situations, so had to consult Google just to be certain I could use it. I'm not a natural in the kitchen by any stretch of the imagination.

Cooks Recipes provides many charts, including common food substitutes, temperature charts (for meat and candy), and food yield charts. The University of Illinois Extension Office provides another substitution chart, as well as equivalent charts, but focuses a bit more on nutrition than the previous. The Cook's Thesaurus, another neat tool, is a searchable encyclopedia that contains pictures, pronunciations and background information on many ingredients and kitchen tools, in addition to providing preparation tips and substitution information.

Turns out, three of my cookbooks also provide substitution charts. I am quick to turn to the web for everything...

Other fun food science sites
About.com has several articles on the chemistry of food.
  • Cutting onions can make us cry because the enzymes they release produce a sulfur compound. You can minimize the amount of tears by refrigerating the onion, cutting under water, or holding a spoon in your mouth Veronica-Mars-style.
  • Pop Rocks are made by inserting pressurized carbon dioxide into the hard candy mixture.
  • Thujone (present in absinthe, and blamed for the hallucinations and insanity 'the green fairy' was known to cause) is also present in sage and tarragon, as well as vermouth. Although toxic in high quantities, it was possibly bad additives or the fact that the liqueur 136 proof that was the source of the ills.
Science News publishes a delightful blog called Food for Thought that records discoveries and explanations about all sorts of food-related topics, from fertilizing with urine to eating and cooking with rare seafood. Includes links to references and further readings.

The Exploratorium Museum of Science's (San Francisco) Science of Cooking offers recipes as well as webcasts, forms book recommendations and monthly features all providing information about the scientific processes at work when cooking and baking.


Stage fright?

I wonder if other bloggers encounter blog performance anxiety. Do they become overly critical of their posts? Do they struggle to come up with topics to blog about? Do they feel like they have to outdo themselves at times? I'm sure that the answers are yes, and that it varies depending on the expectations they set for themselves or the scope / nature of their blog. I specifically did not want to keep a diary or a log of "what I did today," so I do try to consider the scope of my blog when I'm writing. (FYI, this post doesn't fit the intended scope of this blog.)

There are tons of of 10-tip articles that give tips for coming up with topics. They generally read like this one, and the tips include anything from exercising to reading a lot to "look deep inside yourself."

But I'm already doing a lot of stuff on the list (but I don't want oops, I mean look deep). I make a note of questions, experiences, conversations, passages in novels and record any potential topics as a draft post or in a Google Doc. I have a few topics in both places, but my problem is that I'm not inspired to write about any of them tonight. I truly believe that action inspires motivation (as opposed to action requiring motivation), but what do other casual bloggers do when they are inspired to do other things besides blog? Conflicting desires is not new to me, of course, but it is new to me when it comes to blogging. It's not like my livelihood depends upon Oranges and Peaches, and the original intent was for it to be a fun, casual creative outlet rather than an obligation. But I also want to post regularly.

I could just *not* post tonight. Problogger suggests that I should just walk away when posts aren't working. I spent a good hour tonight watching Elvis videos on YouTube, and then spent another half an hour trying to figure out if I could cleverly disguise my life-long crush on The King while simultaneously working it into a witty and clever post. (I tried. It didn't work. Sadly, answering the question "Did Elvis experience stage fright?" does not a blog post make.)

I do take comfort in that even the 'pro' bloggers stress out about coming up with killer content, but I think tonight I should have just followed my instinct and gone to bed early to read. Oh well.

(Elvis did experience stage fright, by the way.)


There and back again

I think everyone should have a passport, just as everyone has a driver's license. You never know when the chance to get to another country will present itself (read: I still believe that someone might just pay me to travel abroad), and I wouldn't want anyone to miss it (read: I dream of flying to Paris for a weekend getaway on a moment's notice) because they don't have the proper documentation to get there and back again. The real (as opposed to my) passport requirements have come up in a few different conversations lately, so here I am, blogging about it.

The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative includes a revision of the document requirements for US citizens to re-enter the country after travel to Canada, Mexico, Bermuda and the Caribbean region. US citizens must present a passport to re-enter the US when traveling by air from these regions as of January 23, 2007. (I thought that we always had to have a passport to travel to Canada by air -- I needed mine when I flew to Montreal in 2001.)

Another issue of the initiative is when one will need a passport to re-enter the country when traveling from these regions by land and sea. (Again, I needed my passport when I drove into Lethbridge, Alberta in 2005, so thought this requirement was in place already). Both the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security expect the requirement to be in place by mid-2008, but have not set the date yet. However, beginning on January 31, 2008, US citizens must present their driver's license (or other government-issued photo ID) and birth certificate (or other proof of citizenship). The border states of Arizona, California, Michigan, Texas, Vermont, and Washington are developing enhanced driver's licenses that prove citizenship with RFID (radio frequency identification) technology. Sounds creepy to me, but I don't exactly carry my birth certificate with me either. Actually, I don't know if I even have a copy...

Anyway, it's just easier to have a passport.

Car maintenance just got a little easier

When I started this blog I was a little hesitant about admitting what I didn't know. I was able to set aside most fears about embarrassing myself in public, but every once in awhile I come across a bit of information that I honestly can't believe I missed along the way and I have to decide whether I should blog about it or not. Sure enough, today I had one of those "duh," "a-ha," "oh. my. god.," realizations. And this post is one of those embarrassing posts.

Let me set it up for you. I have posted about my POS car before, and lately the engine has been clicking a lot more often. I stop, check the oil, add more oil and go on about my day. I took the car to the shop this morning with the hopes that they could unsuck (that's for you, D!) my car and get me out of this cycle of adding oil every two weeks.

Friendly Chad at the shop took a minute to make sure I knew how to check the oil. I step up confidently and say "Right there -- the yellow dip stick. Wipe it off, dip it all the way in and pull it out to make sure the oil is between 'low' and 'full'."

Okay. I passed that test. I know how to check the oil. So far so good.

"How much oil did you add last time?," Chad asks me.
"Ummmmm...one of those bottles I got at the gas station."

Chad, with incredible patience and professionalism, takes a moment to explain that one of those bottles is usually a quart, and my engine holds four quarts. He also points out that one quart of oil equals the distance between the 'low' spot and the 'full' spot on the dipstick. We come up with a plan for me to check the oil myself every 1,000 miles or so and bring it back up to full.

I'm feeling really good with the new plan and my new understanding of the oil in my engine.

"So, Chad, do you have any tips for adding oil? It is really difficult to get the funnel into the opening to add the oil!"
"Um...well...it gets easier with practice. Uh, let's go look."

Chad then uncovers the engine -- shown to the left here -- and says that the funnel usually fits in the opening to the left there.



Chad looks concerned for a moment -- "where have you been adding the oil?" he asks.

"I've been adding oil down the dipstick tube -- where I check it."

Well, now I know. And adding oil will be much less painful in the future.



Hello! My name is... K365

Our patron asked her daily question again yesterday, and there was some confusion over who she was asking about. I thought she said one (female) name, but she was saying something else. When I told her the person she was asking about was a character on television, not a male comedian, we had a very lengthy back-and-forth trying to figure it out, until I realized what happened. When I got off the phone, my coworker (who knew exactly who I was talking to) said "we need soundex when we talk to her." "Yeah," I said, while secretly trying to recall whether I had ever heard of this resource. I admittedly remember only a select few resources from the two reference classes I took in library school, but I had no idea what she was talking about! (I think I 'fessed up quickly).

Soundex is a phonetic algorithm for indexing names by sound. The National Archives maintains the rules for the current soundex system, and uses the system to code names in the census. It can be a helpful tool for genealogists (which, I am not) to account for all the variances a name can take. To determine the soundex code for the name you are searching for, you can do it manually, or use the soundex calculator.

Soundex Coding Guide, from the National Archives
1: B, F, P, V
2: C, G, J, K, Q, S, X, Z
3: D, T
4: L
5: M, N
6: R
Disregard the letters A, E, I, O, U, H, W, and Y.


My husband handed me a piece gum the other day, and was perplexed by the annoying 'bursting' graphic that was used to announce "Now containing xylitol!" My husband is one to wonder (out loud) why do they have to keep adding ingredients to gum! I'm not going to chew that! I am one to think (to myself) but I like the burst of fruit flavor, so ease up, and then forget about it. I did forget about it until my dentist gave me some literature on remineralization (I have two teeth that are on the verge of developing cavities) and one of the tips was to chew gum that contains xylitol. Yay! I'm already doing that!

Xylitol is a sugar substitute found naturally in fruits like plums and raspberries. Unlike sugar which fuels the bacteria in our mouths that eat away at the enamel on our teeth, xylitol helps produce the saliva that rinses away the bacteria.


Pump that iron!

A colleague of mine is producing and storing too much iron in her body - a condition called hemochromatosis. Her doctor told her that she would have to give a pint of blood each week (indefinitely) to get rid of the excess iron.

There is a certain romanticism to the scenes when Jane Austen's characters are bled, but...seriously? We still do that? It seems a bit primitive to me - isn't there any medicine to treat this condition?

Well, a quick search in MedlinePlus and the CDC revealed that yes, phlebotomy (removal of the blood) is the standard treatment, along with modified diet to prevent any increase in iron levels. WebMD listed another process called chelation therapy, but said phlebotomy is the safer choice. She'll continue to have her ferritin levels monitored - ferritin is the protein in the body that bonds to iron. It's good she detected it early -- once too much iron gets into the organs complications ensue, including the possibilities of cirrhosis, diabetes and heart failure. Yikes!

Since she isn't looking forward to the weekly blood donation, I suggested some alternatives to her to cheer her up. 1) A course of leeches, or 2) a sexy vampire to remove the blood. These suggestions lightened the mood a bit, but in reality, all she can do is bring music or audio books with her to pass the time as pleasantly as possible.

The Barack Obameter

I felt this question could best be handled in a Q & A format...

What exactly is a caucus?

YourDictionary defines caucus as "a private meeting of leaders or a committee of a political party or faction to decide on policy, pick candidates, etc., esp. prior to a general, open meeting."

Okay, smarty-pants, what is the Iowa Caucus?

The Iowa Caucus is the night when registered Democrats and Republicans gather in each precinct to elect party delegates. Those delegates move on to the county convention. During the county conventions, delegates are elected to be sent to the state convention. (You see where this is going). During the state conventions, delegates are elected to be sent to the national conventions. During the national party conventions, delegates nominate their party's candidate for president.

Alright. Just to be clear, what does it mean when Obama wins the Iowa caucus?

It just means he's in the lead for securing the party's nomination. Delegates indicate which candidate they support. Although delegates are not obligated to continue to support their candidate they've indicated throughout the entire process, they usually do. Because Iowa holds their caucus night early, and both Republicans and Democrats hold their caucus on the same night, they have become known as "first in the nation," and often provide a good barometer for how the nomination process will continue to go. Thus, all the media attention.

I guess I just assumed that Iowa and New Hampshire get to decide for the nation. Doesn't Minnesota have a caucus?

Yes. The DFL, Republican and Independence parties will hold their 2008 precinct caucus on February 5, 2008 at 7 p.m.

If you had understood this process when you listened to Dan Savage's report on his bid to become the gay Republican delegate from his precinct in Seattle, would you have laughed any harder?

Possibly. But, it was one of the funniest episodes of "This American Life" I have ever heard in my life. Regardless of whether I understood the delegation process fully or not. (Dan Savage's part is toward the end of the hour).

Did you come up with the title of your post all by yourself?

Of course not. I'm not that creative!

Anything else?
The Democratic National Convention will be held in Denver on August 25-28. And, I seem to be the last one to know this...but the Republican National Convention will be in Saint Paul this year, from September 1 - 4. Yuck.


One point twenty-one jigawatts?

In the sixth grade I conducted electricity through my braces and lit a light bulb during science class. I remember the oohs and ahhs well, but I don't really remember how electricity actually works. Well, that's not exactly true. But, I don't remember well enough to understand how one uses the electricity from solar panels. I get that solar cells convert sunlight into electricity, but then what? What are the panels attached to so that you can use the energy? The image of 1.21 gigawatts of electricity generated from the bolt of lightning traveling down the cable and directly into the flux capacitor don't exactly help me here!

  • The U.S. Department of Energy Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy site gives a good overview of photovoltaic (PV) energy systems, and current uses of these systems throughout the country and the world. There are actually a few different systems for using the electricity that is generated -- you can use it immediately in a stand-alone system (like water pumps), store the energy in batteries, and even send unused electricity back to your utility company through a net metering arrangement.
  • The American Solar Energy Society provides some clarification on how to use the harnessed energy from PV systems, as well as excellent educational resources and practical considerations and resources for anyone wanting to use solar energy in their home or business.
  • The Energy Story and the Energy Administration Information sites simplify everything and makes it a little bit more accessible.
I reserve the right (as if I need to!) to post about this topic again. But in the mean time, I will close by saying that my sixth-grade teacher was pretty nervous about my conducting electricity through my mouth, and discouraged others from trying the same trick, but I didn't feel a thing.


Rods and cones

We stumbled upon the topic of colorblindness in animals over the New Year's dinner. (Oh, how I truly enjoy the conversations I have with my in-laws! You never know where the conversation is going to go.) Everyone in the gathering thought that animals were colorblind, and only saw the world in black and white. So, the news that my father-in-law had to share that dogs and cats have cones in their eyes that are sensitive to green and blue was news to everyone, and a chorus of "I-always-thought-that"s quickly broke out. Except for me. I have to admit, it never even occurred to me to wonder whether animals can see in color, and I certainly don't have any recollections of this topic coming up before. So, the whole topic of conversation was definitely news to me.

In a related note, it is well-known that I have one of the most adorable and lovable cats on the planet. Sadly, she rarely photographs well. She doesn't have a red-eye problem. No. She has the creepy-glowing-yellow-eye (which most photo editors do not fix) issue.

We human-folk may have three types of cones in our eyes that allow us to register blue, green, and red light, but dogs and cats and many other predatory animals have additional cells behind their retinas called tapetum lucidum. These cells act like a mirror behind the retina, and work to let cats and dogs pick up extra light at night.

So. Until photoshop comes up with tapetum-eye remover, I'm going to have to work on not using flash if I want to have a decent picture of my cat.


A thousand words

One way that Internet resources differ (or, at least should differ) from print resources is that Internet resources are (or, in some cases could be) interactive. As much as I like sifting through booklists, I really enjoy the reader's advisory databases that offer books suggestions based on your input of what you enjoy. Similarly, as much as I enjoy sifting through the Popular Baby Names by decade, and occasionally, sifting through alphabetical lists, Nymbler offers suggestions based on names you know you already like. (This is NOT an immediate issue -- I just like names).

Yet, more often than not I find it is easier to flip through a book containing photographs or images when I (or my patrons) have a picture of an object (like trees, leaves, animals, artwork or the like) and need to name it or identify it somehow. As helpful as indexes can be, it can be very frustrating if all you have is a picture and you need a thousand words. Or, even just a handful of words.

I have a number of birds in my yard at any given time, and Geobirds gives me exactly what I need when I want to identify those birds. It's interactive in that I can fill in the colors I know, and it gives me a few choices to start with, as opposed to a book containing all the birds in North America. I still find my Birds of Minnesota Field Guide to be quite useful, but I'm not much of a birder, so this isn't often an issue anyways.

What I really need is something exactly like geobirds for flowers and furniture / design style. I have a couple of flowers and plants that were left in the yard by the previous owner, and I had no idea what they were until my mother came to see the house. Naturally. And I'm just as bad when it comes to design. I have a pretty good idea of what 'mission furniture' is, but beyond that I'm hopeless when it comes to identifying the style of furniture I have. The Visual Dictionary and the M-W Visual Dictionary could help in some instances, but so far they are both pretty basic.

There are tons of images on the Internet, I know. For the flowers, I find seed catalogs to be useful sites for identification, for example, but that isn't much different than flipping through a book. I'll keep looking for the interactive sites, but in the mean time, I find that someone in the vicinity usually knows the answer to my basic vocabulary questions. And, for the design stuff, I've got you, AKC! :)

Hedgehogs for new years

"Nothing brings in the new year better than a cream cheese hedgehog." And it was delicious.