Archive for September, 2008

Falling off the wagon

It’s been almost two months since I finished my orgy of dissertation writing where I wrote two chapters and seventy-odd pages in two spurts during July.

Since then, I’ve done relatively little on the dissertation, aside from sifting through the first drafts, making a few changes and sending them off to my adviser two or three weeks ago.

My original time line counted on less productivity over this span, since we’d be returning to this country and spending extended stretches with our respective families. I had hoped to get a third chapter knocked out by the time we got to Seattle a couple of weeks ago, then a fourth one done by the end of this month. Oops.

I did try to get writing again back in California about a month ago. Unfortunately, I decided to send in my laptop to get the crack in my case repaired (the plastic is too thin, so Apple fixes it free under my extended warranty), which cut into prime writing time. And then, when I got it back and set to work again, I only had a couple of days before it came time to pack up the van and drive up the coast. I did manage to get three pages written, bringing the cumulative total to seventy-six, but I haven’t touched it since then.

Until yesterday. I hadn’t been able to do much work until about this week, since we spent a good week or more getting moved into our new place. It’s more or less in order now, except for some odds and ends and some yet to be retrieved items, but it’s in livable condition. But I kept dragging my feet. Classes started on Wednesday (not that it has any bearing on me, since I’m not enrolled this quarter), so I attempted, vainly, to get started again. But I finally cracked it open again yesterday.

I was actually spurred, finally, by getting comments back (all favorable) from my adviser on the first chapter. So I read through those, then read through the first two chapters again to get a pulse on where I was going with this.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get much further than that. Part of it is because it takes a couple of hours to read as much as I’ve written, but mainly it’s because I’m just having some difficulty summoning sufficient focus.

I’m not really sure the best way to get back into a spurt of high productivity, except, perhaps, by plotting a series of goals. So, here are some small chunks to try to get going again:

  • Get to eighty pages total by the end of tonight (or possibly tomorrow)
  • Finish the rough outline for Chapter 3 by the end of the weekend
  • Write at least ten pages a day next week until Chapter 3 is finished
  • Rinse
  • Repeat

We’ll see how it goes.

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The Moose is loose

Sarah Palin explains to Katie Couric why being governor of the state closest to Russia gives her foreign policy expertise (and in the process explains to the rest of us why the McCain campaign doesn’t want reporters anywhere near her).

(Video here.)

After watching this, it’s hard to believe folks want to … what’s the word? … mock the Moose for her claims of foreign policy experience. (And I wonder if she actually went on any of these trade missions since, you know, she didn’t get her passport until last year.)

And if you wondered what the Sarah Palin Story would look like as a Disney movie, check the trailer for “Head of Skate.”

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The beer index

A few years ago, I hit on a handy way for ascertaining if a particular restaurant in Prague (but it works across the Czech Republic and Slovakia) had reasonably priced fare. Simply check the outdoor menu, scan for the beverages and check the price on a half-liter of draft beer to make a determination. At the time I developed this strategy, I knew any place selling a large beer for 29 crowns (Czech) or less wasn’t jacking up their prices (or catering to tourists), so it was a worthwhile gamble on the rest of the food. When I explained this to a friend planning a brief sojourn through Prague, I hit upon a pithy name for it: the beer index.

Beer works well as a microeconomic indicator in these countries because it’s ubiquitous (and delicious). Even American fast food chains like McDonald’s and KFC sell beer (though it’s usually in [overpriced] 33-milliliter cans). Plus, because beer is, almost always without exception, the most inexpensive beverage on any Czech or Slovak restaurant menu, it’s what I normally drink.

One of the main reasons I never have to worry about becoming an alcoholic after an extended stay in the republic of beer is that it costs so damn much in America, especially by comparison. I’ve seen six packs (of 12-ounce bottles) of Pilsner Urquell retailing for $9-10 in supermarkets here in Seattle … which seems criminal after being able to buy it on tap by the half-liter for about two bucks (and by the bottle for around 75 cents in Czech supermarkets).

Sadly, rising food prices are hitting this most sacred of cows. The Czech daily Dnes is reporting that Plzeňský prazdroj — a.k.a. Pilsner Urquell — the Czech Republic’s largest brewer and producer of such brands as Gambrinus (the most popular domestic beer in the Czech Republic), Radegast, Kozel and the namesake Pilsner Urquell, is raising prices on all its brands by 4 percent.

Granted, this isn’t a huge jump, and it might not even be perceptible to most consumers (and it’s not likely Pilsner Urquell isn’t already unaffordable at close to two bucks a bottle in U.S. grocery stores), but it’s a sad piece of news.

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Yeah, I haven’t posted in a few days, and won’t for a few more, in all likelihood. We’re still getting settled in our new place, but mostly it’s just that we don’t have internet yet, so it’s hard to do. Stay tuned.

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In light of yesterday’s verdicts in British court cases over the attempt to fashion liquid explosives in order to blow up trans-Atlantic flights, Virgin Atlantic is asking for a review of the current restrictions on liquids in carry-on luggage.

Of course, this is probably still unlikely to happen, so long as the people in a position to advise continue to maintain that liquids on a plane are more terrifying than snakes on a plane.

Peter Clarke, who was the head of Scotland Yard’s Counter Terrorism Command at the time the plot allegations surfaced, said restrictions on passengers carrying liquids on flights must remain.

“This means of detonation is still in the hands of the terrorists, and so to wind back security, to think of going back to a position where the terrorists could defeat airport security, seems to me foolhardy.”

Evidently this guy never read about how wholly implausible the liquid explosive plot was. In fact, it sounds like a case for the MythBusters.

O, Jamie and Adam, where art thou?

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For those unfamiliar, public broadcasting in Britain has a different economic model from its American counterpart. There isn’t advertising (and, I believe, not even the quasi-commercials for corporate sponsors you see on American PBS all the time at the beginning of programs), but the main difference is that everyone who owns a television has to pay an annual licensing fee that goes to support the BBC. It’s not cheap either — about $280 a year.

Unsurprisingly, a few people — an estimated 5 percent or so — try to stiff the Beeb by claiming not to own a TV. Since this behavior cuts into BBC revenues (and, if allowed to occur on a larger scale, could threaten its economic model), the Beeb has a vested interest in curtailing it.

Enter the TV license detectors (no, I didn’t make that up). It’s an arm of the Beeb charged with, well, detecting who needs to buy a license for their TV.

Problem is, the license detectors have started a campaign that smacks of bullying, claim critics.

One recent campaign carried the sound of a helicopter apparently bearing down on a street.

It was followed by the sound of a barking dog, a knock at a door and the warning: “Your town, your street, your home… it is all in our database.”

Big Brother in action, I suppose. Actually, I’d love to picture a crack team of Chuck Norris-trained commandos swooping in on an unsuspecting couple out in Yorkshire who’ve tried to skive off paying their licensing fee, only to have the ace troops bust through the living room window in the middle of the East Enders in order to force Mr. and Mrs. Cheapskate to pay their damn licensing fee. Overkill, perhaps, but high comedy.

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Evidently a Russian high jumper is under investigation from the IAAF, track and field’s international governing body, over allegations from a meet in Switzerland, after “rival high jumpers said the Russian had been drinking vodka and Red Bull during the competition.”

Since alcohol isn’t considered a “performance-enhancing substance,” its use isn’t barred in athletic competitions.

Still, can you imagine how much fun Congress could’ve had back in the 1960s had then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn convened a landmark commission to investigate charges the Mickey Mantle-Whitey Ford-Billy Martin Yankees were using booze to improve their performance? Or if Bud Selig had investigated the claim ex-Yankee David Wells made in his book that he pitched a perfect game while hung over?

Of course, while Congress, league commissioners and other pundits vilify athletes for real or alleged use of designer steroids and other illegal substances meant to improve their games, they largely ignore the obvious signs of tobacco use among baseball players, or the manifest alcohol abuse going on off the field in most sports. But hey, that stuff hits too close to home. Plus, there are all those beer sponsors to think of. Oh, won’t somebody think of the Anheuser-Busches?

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