Today on MSN:

Wow, I've been helping Katrina survivors every time I format stuff on the web, and I didn't even realize it!

Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...

Weather Underground is saying it's 41 degrees in Boston.

Somehow I'm not buying it:

Snow Picture #1, October 29 2005

Snow Picture #2, October 29 2005

Can a book still be a great book if no one likes it?

Matthew Baldwin of The Morning News has done a great thing. He's taken Time Magazine's list of the 100 best novels from 1923 to the present and has then compiled particularly amusing one-star Amazon.com reviews of these books. The reviews chosen don't seem to be intended to make a specific point about the public's view of critically acclaimed works, as Baldwin has included both reviews where the reviewer clearly didn't "get" a particular book and reviews that make a sound case for the book being flawed or unpleasant to read. It does raise the issue of what makes a book good. If a book is viewed by experts as having a high literary value, but flies over the head of a typical person who doesn't have an extensive literary and historical background, is it still good?

My favorite review: The Lord of the Rings (1954), Author: J.R.R. Tolkien, “The book is not readable because of the overuse of adverbs.”

I know they're different boards and all, but really...

Why does the state list physicians by their work address, but require most other licensed professionals to provide a residential address?

OK, so the rest of us only have our city and state listed on the website, and my residential address is "Boston," which includes a number of different types of neighborhoods. But if I lived anywhere else, I would find it inappropriate for my clients -- who of course have the right to look up my license status -- to see whether I live somewhere that's urban, rural, more affluent, less affluent, or is known to tend toward particular political or worldviews.

As it is, I had a client's sister ask me if I lived in [the suburb where she and the client both live, one of the ones right on a main T line] and I said, thinking it was a generic-enough answer, "No, I live in Boston." She said, "Oh, you live in Boston, you must be rich!"

I forget that some people's concept of Boston is having been to the Back Bay a couple of times, despite having lived 15 minutes from Boston all their lives.

Yes, a mind sure is a terrible thing to waste

From the United Negro College Fund homepage:
HBCUs graduate far more than their share of African American professionals. While the 105 HBCUs represent just 3% of the nation’s institutions of higher learning, they graduate nearly one-quarter of African Americans who earn undergraduate degrees. Put another way, HBCUs graduate 75% more of their African American students than other schools do.
Not only is this the wrong statistic to back up this claim (they should use the graduation rate of HBCUs compared to non-HBCUs, not the percentage of A-A bachelor holders who attended HBCUs), but the math is wrong. I have no idea where they got "75% more." The only place to even get "75%" from these figures is that 75% of African Americans who have undergraduate degrees went to a school that is not a HBCU. The 3% versus nearly 25% figure makes the point well enough on its own without "putting it another way," which they actually didn't.

The United Negro College Fund and the Historically Black Colleges and Universities are really great programs. I'd advise them to stop botching up statistics in such a way that suggests otherwise.

Bill Hees for Cambridge City Council

No, this isn't an endorsement. I mean, it's also not a non-endorsement. Frankly, I just think Bill Hees is the political candidate with the coolest name ever, provided he's never in a race against Peter Unitt. He also gets points for using the adjective "jacked-up" on his website. He could really use a better campaign slogan than "Hees #1" though. Some suggestions:

Bill Hees; So do I when something's funny

Bill Hees; So should you

Bill Hees, but that's not why you should vote for him

Bill Hees, though not as much as I do when I see his signs

See? The possibilities are endless!

The MBTA is run by trained monkeys, only without the training

Tonight at around 9:30, I was at North Station waiting for the orange line to go to Roxbury Crossing.

After waiting about 20 minutes, I heard a garbled announcement saying, "Due to signal construction, we are running shuttle buses in both directions between Haymarket and Oak Grove."

Since I was between these two stations, I assumed this meant no train would be coming. Haymarket and North Station are about 800 feet apart though, so I figured I would walk to Haymarket to catch the train, rather than take a shuttle bus one stop. As I was leaving the station, I noticed an inspector standing there, so I asked him why there were no signs or people directing people or anything.

Him: Yeah, you gotta take the train to Haymarket, then you catch the shuttle bus to Oak Grove.
Me: No, I'm going to Roxbury Crossing. I'm going to walk to Haymarket to get the train. But other than that garbled announcement, there's nothing saying what's going on. I waited for 20 minutes before I knew anything was up.
Him: Oh, Roxbury Crossing is that way.
Me: Yes, I know that; the announcement said there's a shuttle bus between Haymarket and Oak Grove. So that means the train isn't stopping here, right?
Him: This is North Station.
Me: Yes, and we're between Haymarket and Oak Grove. If they're running shuttle bus service on the part of the line we're on, doesn't that mean the train isn't coming here, hence the need for the shuttle bus?
Him: The shuttle bus is running from Haymarket to Oak Grove.

[train pulls into the station]

Me: Is that train in service?
Him: Yeah, the train turns around here and goes back to Forest Hills.
Me: OK, if you could have the announcement say that the train is in fact stopping at North Station, that would be helpful so people don't think they have to walk to Haymarket like I was about to.
Him: The announcement doesn't say anything about North Station.
Me: Exactly.

Rest in Peace, Mrs. Parks

Civil rights activist Rosa Parks passed away this evening, reports The Detroit Free Press.

May we remember her every time we step onto a bus or sit down at a restaurant and do not have to worry, at least from a legal standpoint, about whether we are allowed to be there, or whether our being there is oppressing someone else who cannot be there.

And may her works and words live until and through the day that all people have equal civil rights.

Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others. ~Rosa Parks

Ostentation at its finest

Last night I had the pleasure of playing in a concert before which the Mayor of Newton issued a proclamation. In order to thank the Newton Symphony for providing the City of Newton and surrounding area with concerts, he declared several days, including Newton Symphony Day and Maestro Jeffrey Rink Day. This involved reading a lot of statements beginning with "whereas." I had never before witnessed a real-life proclamation. I'm not sure how this was any different from just thanking us, but it did involve a lot of big words, certificates, handshakes and photos.

The best part though was when a board member introduced the mayor with a speech that included, I kid you not, the line "at least the Newton Symphony never has to worry about the maestro knowing where to put his stick."

The board member is a great guy and an entertaining speaker, but he really ought to run his speeches by someone under 50 before he gives them in public.

If you don't see me again, at least you'll know why...

There's a construction permit in the front window of our agency's building, authorizing REPOINTING OF BUILDING, 51 x 88 FEET.

It doesn't say where it's going to point when they're done. We can at least hope that the door still points out to an open space and isn't butted up against the building next door or facing straight up or anything.

Pimping the veggie festival...

The Boston Vegetarian Food Festival, which has totally rocked the past five times I've gone, is tomorrow. Free food, free samples of cruelty-free products, and lots of booths selling vegetarian food, clothing, personal goods, and household products. Sample booths and sales booths feature both prepared dishes and dry goods to take home. There will also be cooking demonstrations and speakers. Admission and presentations are all free. Free parking too. Word.

And to think people get paid to write stuff like this

Heard on the radio today as part of an ad for an upcoming production:

Some Important Publication raves, "Cecilia Bartoli sings with her whole body. And her whole body sings, even when she is silent."

All right, I’m not sure what the reviewer is referring to here, but I have several thoughts about what it could be, and none of them are in any way complimentary. Farting, jiggling, wearing really tacky outfits...

Anti-equality crusade also affecting other issues

Yesterday, a young woman standing on Causeway Street asked me if I would sign the petition regarding the establishment of a PCA workforce council in Massachusetts. I had actually been trying to find someone who had this petition, so I was glad to sign it. However, given MassEquality's report of people using other petitions to fool people into signing the anti-equality petition, I wanted to be cautious. I asked her if I could read the text of the petition. She wasn't quite sure what I meant, though she was cooperative and curious. I showed her where the text of the proposal was and showed her how the letter assigned to the proposal matched up with the letter on the signature page. I explained to her that there had been reports of people claiming to have the petition to sell wine in grocery stores, when they actually had the anti-equality petition. She told me that she had had several people refuse to sign her petition, stating that they didn't trust that it wasn't the anti-equality one.

So, anti-equality people, you're not only hurting the families from whom you want to take legal protections that don't in any way affect you, but your tactics and reputation are also preventing people with disabilities from getting better services and people who serve people with disabilities from having a better working environment.

Because crime statistics are related to postal routes

I just called my provider of auto and homeowners insurance to ask why my auto insurance went up by 50%. I was told that this was because I had moved. When I inquired more specifically, the underwriter told me that moving from my previous ZIP code to my current one caused the change.

OK, we can debate the merits of even basing auto insurance on local vehicular crime rates -- something the car owner cannot control -- another time, but what I want to know is how it possibly makes sense to use ZIP codes to determine this. A ZIP code is something determined by the postal service based on how they sort the mail.

My ZIP code is geographically pretty large, given that there aren't any major corporations receiving a high volume of mail within the ZIP code, so it's made up of a large number of residences and small businesses. It's also not a very dense neighborhood for an urban one -- no highrises or anything. So, my ZIP code includes a couple of areas fairly far from my home where there are vacant lots and abandoned vehicles. It also includes some rather large housing developments, where there is unfortunately a lot of petty crime. So, I don't doubt that I live in a ZIP code with a fairly high rate of vandalism to vehicles.

However, my particular precinct does not have a high rate of any sort of crime. My precinct -- which was determined by the city by grouping together properties with similar needs in terms of city services, not determined by the postal service according to efficient means of delivering mail -- is a leafy residential neighborhood of one, two, and three-family homes with small yards. I really don't worry about anyone damaging my car there. It would make much more sense for the insurance company to use my ward and precinct to determine the crime rate of where I actually park my car.

Another thing I wonder; how did they actually get statistics regarding crime rate by ZIP code? I can easily find the statistics by precinct, but I can't find a compilation by ZIP code. Do the insurance underwriters actually do some sort of sampling of ZIP codes found in police reports? Or did they just choose a precinct in the ZIP code at random? Or use the highest one?

A great prosopagnosia resource

Once again, Molly's hobby of very random surfing has turned up something really intriguing and useful. This is a great website about prosopognosia (neurological inability to recognize faces of familiar individuals). The author does a fabulous job of comparing faces to stones to illustrate how the brain center that allows most people to recognize faces is really separate from other processes of memory or observation and is in fact an intuitive process.

For someone who has prosopagnosia, picking a familiar person out of a crowd is as difficult as it would be for someone to find me in a crowd with only a description of my facial features. Or to find a stone in a pile with only a description. The author describes how she usually can rely on clues such as whether a particular person has a moustache, or what types of clothing or hairstyle he or she wears, or the context in which she encounters the person, but that when these things change, she does run into situations in which she doesn't recognize familiar people.

I found this site particularly useful because the author is able to understand and describe her experiences so well, given that she does not have other cognitive or mental disabilities and is clearly a very astute person. In the same vein, this got me to thinking that there are no doubt many people who also have a similar neurological inability to recognize faces, but might not recognize it as such due to other neurological impairments.

For instance, I wonder about the number of people who have schizophrenia or Asperger's who might also lack the ability to recognize faces, but who probably figure this is just part of their general difficulties with organizing information about other people and responding consistently in a socially appropriate manner. Although these individuals also have other difficulties, they could improve their functioning by using strategies specific to helping identify people.

I also wonder how many people have prosopagnosia and have been mistaken for having mental illness, or who have developed mental illness as a result of the distress. If someone has difficulty recognizing people but isn't as self-aware as the author of the article, he's going to be very agitated and probably feel confused. It seems very likely that he or someone else could interpret his day-to-day difficulty with recognizing people as disorientation and/or extreme discomfort with human interactions. I know that if I assessed someone who didn't seem to always know who people were, seemed agitated when speaking with people, and seemed to think people didn't like her, it wouldn't occur to me that the issue was prosopagnosia; I would assume schizophrenia, Asperger's, or severe anxiety. I wonder how many people there are in our mental health system who really only need strategies to help them recognize people.

Isabellas get in free

The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum grants free admission to anyone with the first name Isabella with proper proof of identity. Hmm, I wonder if vet bills or cat bowls can be used as proof. I'm sure our little Izzy would love to run around in the gardens and climb on some art.

Northeastern University restricting movement of students?

Disclaimer: This is completely hearsay, although the source seems quite trustworthy.

Last night I was speaking with a Northeastern University student whom I know through a group with which I volunteer. We were chatting about various areas of Roxbury and Mission Hill. He was mentioning where fellow students of his live and which businesses he frequents, and I was talking about where friends of mine live and in which neighborhoods we had looked at houses before finding ours. While discussing various areas, this student mentioned that while he was a freshman, the Northeastern University police stated during a mandatory safety lecture that "if we find any of you over there [near one of the Boston Housing Authority developments], we'll pick you up and you'll be in a lot of trouble."

How is this legal? Or ethical? I mean, it's one thing for schools like George Fox and Bob Jones to have very strict policies regulating students' lives and to require them to sign out to leave campus and to abide by a code of conduct at all times. But students attending these types of schools enroll with the knowledge that these schools are restrictive and are choosing to, well, be restricted. As far as I know, Northeastern is not such a school, and does not generally place restrictions on what students do on their own time. But apparently their police department finds it appropriate to threaten to discipline students for visiting friends or family members who live on a certain street, or for taking babysitting or cleaning jobs on a certain street, or for simply going for a walk where they wish to.

I didn't find anything about this restriction on their website, but I would really like to know if this is an official school policy. If it is, I'd like to encourage individuals who live in this particular development to enroll in classes at Northeastern and see what happens when they walk home after class.

Department of Mental Blocks

If the Department of Mental Health works to guide its consumers toward mental health, what does the Department of Mental Retardation do?

If you get it, you're a giant dork

I'm home sick and playing with Photoshop:

More fun with form letters

I just got a phishing e-mail that came from a (forged) eBay address and asked me to verify my eBay password and credit card info. It actually was a pretty good attempt at phishing; the e-mail looked just like an eBay e-mail and it stated that my account had been logged into from various IPs all over the world, which it listed, and that they'd cancelled it due to this suspicious activity. Of course, the address at which I was supposed to enter my information wasn't on the eBay domain and wasn't secure. So, I did what any good internetter would do, and I forwarded it to spoof@ebay.com.

After forwarding it to spoof@ebay.com, which I did given that I recognized it as phishing, I received a form letter explaining to me that the e-mail was a phishing attempt and was not sent by eBay. No, really?

Thank you for writing to eBay regarding the email you received.

Emails such as this, commonly referred to as "spoof" or "phished" messages, are sent in an attempt to collect sensitive personal or financial information from the recipients.

The email you reported was not sent by eBay. We have reported this email to the appropriate authorities.

In the future, be very cautious of any email that asks you to submit information such as your credit card numbers or passwords

Thank you, Captain Obvious

Another instance of the government penalizing people with disabilities for working

I was just looking on the Federal Student Aid site to find out where to refer an individual who took out student loans for college, then later developed schizophrenia, and who currently works a couple of hours a week in an entry-level job and receives social security. This person makes a typical social security income that's just about enough to get by together with a rental subsidy. I figured that there would be some sort of program for loan forgiveness for a person with a persistent disability that results in a very low income. Apparently there is, but only if this individual stops working:

Total and permanent disability is the inability to work and earn money because of an injury or illness that is expected to continue indefinitely or to result in death. You must submit a physician’s certification of total and permanent disability. The physician must certify that you are 100 percent disabled according to the definition of disability above.

So it looks like they require that this person be resigned to a less-empowered and less-fulfilling life in order to have the loan forgiven. Either that or have to live with being unethical and just not paying. Neither is a choice anyone should have to make as a consequence of being courageous enough to return to work after developing persistent illness.

Disturbing sights on the other side of the river

I seem to have spent much of this weekend on *shudder* the other side of the river. It's unbelievable the kind of strange and unusual things one finds over there.

Mary! Where's Mary?
Anyone who's spent any time in Somerville is familiar with the Bathtub Mary. This house on Holland St. has a bathtub, but no Mary.

Paint your wagon

Also in Somerville, the Davis Square Au Bon Pain apparently thought it would be a good idea to order up some personalized flower carts. It wasn't.

Whenever God closes a door, somewhere he opens a window. Er, usually.

This is a church on Pleasant St. in Belmont.

Open Door Sign
According to the sign, it's Open Door Baptist Church. Zooming out, it does in fact appear to be a church, and it would indeed be Baptist if they choose to identify as such...so I guess they got two out of three right.

Of course, some people do go both ways
I enjoy being able to go east and west at the same time all on one highway. Adding south into the mix is a nice added bonus. (For any non-locals who think it's just a weird sign and I'm a smartass, I assure you that this stretch of highway is in fact the merging of these three routes).

Special bonus feature
All of the subtitles in this post are lines from a movie, with some slight liberties taken on a couple of them. Can anyone place all of them?