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At HOME with Google

About a month ago I received a Google Home device in the mail.   It was a free gift for renewing a Verizon contract, or some such thing.  It sounded like it would be a fun thing to have; and it is!  It lives in my kitchen and has cute flashing lights and it tells me useful things like when Walgreens closes or how many grams in half a cup of flour.

My family was alarmed when they saw it; it's a spy machine, they said.  And they are not wrong!   The press is full of articles talking about how these smart devices are nothing more than machines for gathering information about us, which they use to sell us stuff.   Take, for example, this article from The Guardian: Will You Be Getting a Smart Home Spy for Christmas? 

I clicked on that article, and was immediately presented with sidebar ads encouraging me give to Planned Parenthood and to buy a streamlined steam cleaner from Dyson that will replace every other home cleaning device I own, but taking up only half the space. They know my politics and they know that I am downsizing.  

Of course they do!   Every time I go to the grocery store I blithely give Jeff Bezos full information about my consumer preferences in exchange for $.25 per lb. break on the price of organic avocados.   Should I be surprised that whenever I log onto Facebook, I am presented with ads for the most wonderful of pants, with pockets in just the right places, presentable in a business setting and yet comfortable enough to wear to yoga class?   Which are made from recycled coffee grounds!   And every time a pair is sold, the company gives money to retrain rescued sex workers as air traffic controllers!

Big Internet knows what I want before I know it myself.  And when I'm elbow-deep in bread dough but can still command the Google Home to play Leonard Cohen, I don't particularly mind.

Yesterday was my birthday.  In high spirits as I was cooking dinner, I told the new toy, "OK, Google!   Play birthday music!"

And without missing a beat, the Google Home started playing 2Chainz' hit, All I Want for My Birthday is a Big Booty Ho.

I am thinking that perhaps Google has a little work yet to do on its algorithms.   Because it is definitely NOT the case that what I want for my birthday is a big booty ho'.

I also want those pants I saw on Facebook.



The Leaky Pen Waltz

Shot last week in Santa Barbara!   Check out Julia Ansolabehere on the clarinet.   Thanks to Steve Ansolabehere for his ace iPhone camerawork, and to Rick Travers for his musical guidance.


Resolutions, L.A. Style

It is the dawn of 2019 -- time for a round of resolutions!   I am fortunate to have spent the past week in Los Angeles, a city deeply committed to self-improvement.  So I have decided to draw my New Year's resolutions entirely from the mile-long stretch of Ventura Blvd. in Studio City, between Coldwater and Laurel Canyons.   And here they are.

Resolution 1:  Get in Shape

There are dozens of fitness studios in this mile of Ventura Blvd.--I tried to count, but I ran out of fingers.   Here's a sample from a single block closest to our vacation rental:


Giving Season

It is the season of giving at our house -- mostly because we are planning to sell the house in a few months, and in preparation we are giving away as much as possible.    We're making trip after trip to the Salvation Army donation station; Big Brother has done a few major pickups of household goods.  The day after Thanksgiving we brought about 3/4 of our book collection to a donation bin.

At first it was agonizing, parting with much-loved books and souvenirs loaded with happy memories.  But I got over that pretty quick.  Now I find it postively exhilarating to get all this stuff out of my life.

Good-bye, Dostoevsky!  

Reading you made me a better person.

Good-bye, Marcel Proust!

It's possible that reading you might have made me a better person....but we'll never find out, now, will we?


Suburban Pioneer

Last Sunday I went full-on Pioneer Woman and made my own butter.

What occasioned this spasm of DIY was that I'd bought some heavy cream for Thanksgiving, because you never know which of your five desserts will need to be slathered with whipped cream.   But we failed to slather at all on Thanksgiving; and the cream was stranded in the fridge, sidling up to its sell-by date.   Thus the butter project.  And it worked like a charm.

Look at me, making butter!   Just like the Pilgrims.   Or at least, just like the Pilgrims if they'd had high-speed electric mixers, refrigerators, and Tupperware.


Would Jew light my candle?

Chanukah started last Sunday evening, about six hours after I left my home for a week of work travel.  I have a travel menorah – which is a thing; it folds.   And I got as far as pulling it down from the shelf before I left for the airport.


But I didn’t end up packing it, because you can’t really light things on fire with impunity in hotel rooms any more.   And anyway I didn’t have enough candles, and by the time I figured that out it was too late to go buy any before I had to leave.


Hello, Pittsburgh!

What I really want is to be home in my fuzzy bunny slippers, feeding my sourdough starter and working on my seventeenth interesting way to cook turnips from the winter CSA.

But I am not at home in my fuzzy bunny slippers.   Instead I am spending quality time here:

This week has me making two round-trip passes through the JetBlue terminal at Logan Airport.  

Yeah, I know.  This all sounds a little too humble-braggish:  I am soooo busy because I am sooooo very accomplished and important.   Rest assured:  I'm not all that accomplished.   I'm certainly not any more important than anyone else.   And to tell the truth, I'm not even all that busy.  But on this particular week I do happen to have back-to-back business trips, and homebody that I am, it is making me a little cranky.


Nothing here is mine

Last Sunday morning I got into my car and encountered a bit of a mess.   Our cheap and largely useless sunglasses were scattered on the floor; the car manual and registration were tossed on the seat, along with a pile of CDs.  Soooooo many CDs.  

So I stewed about it for a bit.  Why had Steve left the car such a mess?  And why does he insist on using CDs instead of Spotify, to which we subscribe, and which streams just fine from any cellphone through our car speakers?   This question of the continued utility of CDs is a long-running battle between me and Steve.   For the record:  I am thoroughly on the side of modernity and progress.

After a few moments of marital self-righteousness, I remembered that I, in fact, had been the last person to drive the car, just the previous evening, while Steve was clear on the other side of the country.  And since I had no reason to check either the manual or the registration, and since I no longer believe in CDs and handle them as little as possible, someone else must have broken into the car and rifled through the glove box and other assorted compartments to see if they could take anything of value off our hands.


Visible Me

I am self-employed and I work out of a home office.   I’ve been working this way, full-time, for more than 18 years.     This arrangement has facilitated a good deal of control over what I do and how and when I do it.

The biggest benefit is time. I make my own. Of course, I only get paid for the work I do; and I do have meetings and deadlines and work trips and all that.  But there is nobody counting the hours when I’m at my desk, or monitoring my lunch breaks.   I love that.

I can start my workdays at 6:30 or 10:00; I can end them at 3:30 or 9:00.  I can use my study breaks to pop a loaf of bread in the oven, or to pick a few grapes or pull a few weeds in the garden.   If I’m having a slow day I can sneak out to a noon yoga class (assuming I’m not recovering from rotator cuff surgery).  Actually: I don’t even need to sneak!   It's nobody's business but my own.  That's the whole point of self-employment.

Many days, I don’t even need to dress like an adult.   I can work at home in my fuzzy bunny slippers.   If one pair of jeans is feeling particularly cozy I can wear them every single day.   And if I’m visiting multiple clients in the course of a week, I can wear the same outfit multiple times.  I don’t even have to change my accessories!  Because who’s to know?

Note to any clients who happen to be reading this:   I don’t behave this way when I come to your office, of course.  When I come to your office I only wear freshly-laundered outfits that I have selected just for you, most likely to match the colors of your latest corporate identity package. 

Urban Terroir

Over the past five or ten years, food magazines (and I read far too many of them) have lingered long and lovingly over the concept of terroir.   Here’s how the word is defined in the Lexicon of Food:

Terroir is the idea that food has specific qualities that are influenced by a sense of place. From the people who tend to it, to the minerals in the soil in which it is grown, to the local microclimates of the area, how food is farmed influences everything about its taste, texture, smell, and overall quality.

The notion of terroir has long been familiar to people who are knowledgeable about wine.   I am not one of those people.  But I have had a couple of opportunities in recent years to go on vineyard tours; and let me tell you, terroir is the only thing they like talking about more than the makes and models of their fermentation tanks. 

My first such tour was in Priorat, a region of Catalonia, which may or may not be a region of Spain, depending on who you ask.  Oenophiles (a word I do not know how to pronounce) adore the wines of Priorat.   And the vintners of Priorat will tell you that their wine is so special entirely because of the landscape, which looks like this:

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