29 August 2008

Steven Pinker - The Stuff of Thought

If anyone's in search of a good - yet intellectually stimulating - book, take a look at Steven Pinker's The Stuff of Thought.
I'm not quite through all of it, but it's a well-researched and accessible read on our speech and what we can learn about our minds through language. I couldn't recommend this more highly for anyone interested in the fields of linguistics, anthropology, or psychology. And it's a scholarly read but doesn't read like a textbook. The examples he chooses are fascinating, and I can apply almost every one to my own use of speech in daily life. There's a bit of an eye-opener when he discusses the distinction between predicating and referring (in the chapter, "Cleaving the Air") in reference to how Google sells noun phrases. Apparently - I didn't previously know this - Google became hugely successful because of its ability to generate successful clicks for advertisers based on a sort of graduated cost system. For example, displaying your company's website in the primary results for the search phrase "digital cameras" is more expensive than for "digital camera" because in the former, which is more referential, the person is likely to be researching brands to buy, while in the latter, generic singular phrase, the person searching is probably just curious about how digital cameras work. Therefore, plurals are more expensive than singulars. Great stuff.

25 August 2008

Reason # 302 to ride a bike (waba style)

The comfort of knowing that the blaring at 1am on your block is not your car alarm going off.

And another: being able to park safely in your living room at night. Parking here can be horrendous, especially for those less experienced with parallel parking.

21 August 2008

It's already looking brighter in DC...

Within a couple weeks of the DC SmartBike program starting up, there's already talk of expanding - adding more locations, and of course more bikes. More bikes in the city! Currently there are 120 SmartBikes total, and with 450 people signed up already, they'll need to move to catch up. It's been hailed as a hugely successful start to a program that'll put more people in the saddle, help speed up the process of making DC more bike-friendly, and promote courtesy among drivers and cyclists. At least I hope.

They're talking plans for Capitol Hill as one of the crucial stops in expansion. It'd also be neat to see DC SmartBike come to Columbia Heights, maybe as part of the whole DC USA growth at the Metro. I've seen the stations full of bikes around the city, but have yet to spot a person renting one out or riding one.

20 August 2008

Froyo everywhere, all the time!

Walking through Adams Morgan today, I noticed the former space of the Miss Pixie's location is being converted into a frozen yogurt place! The sign's probably been there awhile, but I just now noticed that it was touting some froyo. Here's to hoping it's good, because it's close enough to my house. I'm already a Mr. Yogato addict, and that's fairly new in the city as well. What's nicer than some froyo topped with mochi pieces in the summer heat? I still need to try the other frozen yogurt places, like Tangysweet (I've never been).

17 August 2008

oh grand and powerless technology!

It doesn't seem irrational to make statements such as "iTunes can read minds" anymore. Right? On shuffle it'll play the perfect song, we'll strive to match it to the situation with a bit of coincidence, or confidence in its psychic properties. This program must know so much about me - you know, for a computer program. How often I listen to a song and when I get stuck on a certain one (playing it over 40 times in three days for instance), what time of day or night I play music the most, when I'm on a downloading kick. If only it had the power to truly understand what other value music holds, and what it personally means to each of us. It'd have the power to destroy. The emotional investment is incredible.

14 August 2008

40-hour workweeks, nine-to-fives...

I'd like to find a statistic on the number of people working approximately 9-to-5 Monday through Friday in DC, because I bet it's a huge proportion of our working population.
Downtown during a weekday is a good indication of this - basically all you'll come across is office buildings, lunchtime establishments, and caffeine pit-stops. It's a desolate area after hours, when you'll be hard pressed to find a place to eat or something to do and the streets will be empty, save for those few drained souls treading back to the Metro to get home and crash before another long day in the office. The more social of their coworkers have dispersed into the surrounding city by this time and are working on drink three.
Actually, since my "weekend" by the five-day workweek standards usually falls on Monday and Tuesday, I've found that there's a certain niche in DC of those who shun the 9-to-5s. They're found in the coffee shops - all day long it seems! In this way, even the cool coffee shops become a bit more like offices...

13 August 2008

Olympics coverage.

Summer Olympics season really makes me wish I had a television. I can watch some of the recaps online, but there's something about sitting around a telly with some pals rooting for the athletes.

Also, the Chinese are serious about their training! They're leading in gold medals, but the U.S. has a couple more medals overall.

09 August 2008

How these seasons create their own desire and fulfillment

This morning was the most blissful morning to ever descend upon us. Riding my bike to work today, coasting down hills with the breeze, I couldn't help but wonder if I had just awoken from a two-month long nap. The weather felt like it was sharing a secret - this is what we call autumn, and it's headed your way - and consequently I felt like I was again a grade schooler, passing notes and having crushes. The cool lack of humidity made DC feel oceanside.

Let's hope this sticks around for the rest of the summer. Autumn is certainly my favorite time of year. Crunchy leaves and crisp air! Primo bike-riding weather! Freshly baked pumpkin pies and apple cider!

07 August 2008

Cool diagram for people who like cool diagrams (and food)!

The NY Times has a nifty chart detailing how the American weekly diet has changed since 1970. Fastest growing food category? Fats. We're also eating more shellfish, less veal, adding an increased amount of sugar and sweeteners to processed foods, but overall just putting a lot more on our plates.

02 August 2008

Locals, eh?

How long before one feels comfortable in a new state? How many years until one truly believes that they are a citizen of a country?
Could I ever be anything other than DC? I'm not sure why, but I was surprised to hear a customer tell me today that she was new to the area and already loving this city. DC doesn't feel outwardly friendly or welcoming, in my opinion. A while back, I started talking with some tourists on the Metro, and one of them told me that some newspaper or magazine ranked Washington, DC as the most difficult city in which to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Are we all so distant from each other? It does seem that most residents are people "just passing through" during some stage of their lives, constrained by the bounds of time as their jobs or internships will dictate. DC as a stepping stone is sort of a depressing idea, because what of those of us who choose to stay? Does it harden us against loss, bracing ourselves for the inevitable moments when our friends fly off, or does it make us more adept at maintaining long-distance relations?