Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Road To Vegetarianism Is Hard. And Uphill. And Rocky. And My Car Keeps Breaking Down.

Those who know me know that I adore meat. I used to eat it three times a day. I adore milk. When I could drink all the milk I wanted, I think I was drinking a half gallon every day. To me, milk is the greatest liquid in the universe, and I would drink it all day if I could.

However, in the last few years I've become aware of the treatment of animals in factory farms (something that has undergone a good deal of change in the last 20 years), and I no longer think it's okay to eat meat, unless you're sure it got to you by ethical means (this is ignoring the health and environmental benefits of not eating (or not eating so much) meat).

One thing I've done is implement my meat offset program, which is going pretty well (although I have not paid for all the meat I ate on my recent road trip). However, I'm trying to save money, and my offsets are expensive ($1 per egg, $2 for a thin hamburger patty), so I'm just trying to cut down on meat. And I have to say that getting to not eating meat is onerous.

I'm out of ideas for a good breakfast. I used to eat two eggs every morning.* This was a great discovery for me, because I found that if I ate protein for breakfast, I would not be famished by 10:30am. Now I'm eating steel-cut oats for breakfast, which are pretty good, but certainly not delicious without way too much brown sugar. And I'm getting sick of it. What am I supposed to eat that's not pure carbohydrates? (My new year's resolution was to give up breakfast cereal for a year; that's not making it easier.)

Lunches and dinners are getting to be a problem too. I have a few vegetarian meals that I like, but I'm afraid that in a few months I'll get sick of them and there will be nothing left to eat. Even now, sometimes I'm hungry, and I'll go to the fridge, look in, find nothing that looks appetizing, and just go back to typing, hungry. And sometimes typing "hungry."

Hungry hungry hungry hungry.

So what am I eating?

  • Vegetables in curry. The curry's not vegan, but one jar lasts me about 10 meals, so it's a small offset. Curry also has the amazing ability to make brown rice and cauliflower palatable. It's a miracle! 
  • Vegetables and hummus
  • Pasta with olive oil, garlic, capers, and sautéed mushrooms. Starchy, but good in a pinch.
  • Tuscan white beans with sage. The recipe in the America's Test Kitchen Best Recipes Cookbook (p230) is fabulous (I've figured out how to make it pretty well in a slow cooker, though). 
  • Stir-fried Tofu and vegetables
  • Ramen with spinach.  I eat this almost every day for a snack, or with breakfast.

It's not a huge selection.

Luckily, my milk problem is mostly solved. The local no-name brand of chocolate soy milk tastes enough like chocolate milk to satisfy me. I go through a lot of it. Now I only drink milk if I'm having chocolate cookies or cake. We keep it in the house, though, for coffee and for scrambled eggs.

I need more delicious vegetarian meals, but I'm not sure where to find them. I'm aware that there are millions of vegetarian meals online, but I want particularly delicious ones. And I don't want vegetarian imitations of delicious meaty dishes. They are just disappointing.

A friend of mine was a vegan chef and cooked elaborate meals at her house. I not only didn't like the food, but I got a stomach ache later. And she was considered to be excellent at what she did by the other people there.

* I imagine people saying to themselves "but vegetarians can eat eggs!" If you're cutting down on meat for ethical reasons, you really need to cut down on anything from animals, including milk (my favorite drink), cheese (my favorite cheese), yogurt, eggs, and fish. That is, be vegan. I mean, come on, do people really think dairy cows are any better treated than beef cows?  I find it kind of baffling that in this culture you can get away with calling yourself a vegetarian and still eat eggs, cheese, milk, and fish.** To me, it's like going to a culture where a person will claim he or she is faithful to his or her spouse, but will let oneself get to third base with strangers met in bars.

** Fish are, in my opinion, ethically treated, but the decimation of our oceans due to overfishing is such an enormous problem, I really hate eating non-sustainable seafood. So the environmental reason for vegetarianism kicks in here. For hope, see this great TED talk about ocean reserves:

Pictured: Miso soup, a vegan dish I actually adore.

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Wednesday, September 08, 2010

I will be in the Radio Saturday Morning

I mentioned in an earlier post that my artwork will be for sale at the CATwalk:
I will have 31 pieces for sale.

My interview about my artwork will be on the radio Saturday morning, for anyone who wants to tune in.

The show is:
In Town and Out, hosted by Michael Bhardwaj
Saturday Morning, 6 -9am, Eastern Time
CBC Radio One
91.5 fm in Ottawa
You can tune in online at

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Why I'm Returning My Kobo

I bought a Kobo in April, and I loved it. I'm totally sold on the whole e-reader thing. At the end of my first day of having it, I picked up a print book I was in the middle of and got irritated with it, for these reasons:

  1. You need two hands to hold it open.
  2. You need two hands to turn pages.
  3. It's heavier than the kobo.
  4. The binding was tight and it put strain on my fingers.

I read Stephen King's Under The Dome with it, mostly walking back and forth from work. Try that with the hardcover and I can refer you to a good hand specialist.

So I was lovin' that Kobo. I even talked my cousin, who thought she'd never like an e-reader, into buying one. A lot of people are using iPads now for reading, and they are good for that, but there are three major problems with the iPad for reading-- it's too heavy, the battery does not last as long as an e-reader's, and it's not good in very bright light (too much glare) or very dim light (screen is too bright.)

However, I quickly had a problem with my Kobo. You have to synch the kobo with desktop software, kind of like how you have to synch old iPods. Sometime when I'd synch I'd lose my bookmark. I was reading Stephenson's The Diamond Age, which has incredibly long chapters. I once spent 15 minutes turning pages on the kobo, looking for the page I was on. Very infuriating.

But then the doozy... They had a software "upgrade" that featured an auto-shut-off function. After 20 minutes, the machine would power down. Before I explain why this is so bad, let me explain why it was so good before.

E-readers don't draw power unless they are changing what's on the screen. That means that it takes no power to keep something on the screen. When the battery would run out, for example, it would just display the last page viewed until it was recharged. So sometimes I'd be just sitting around, I'd see the kobo on my coffee table, pick it up, and start reading. I didn't even have to open a book! This might sound strange, but that was my experience.

So not only does the device no longer show the page you're on, nor the cover of the book you're reading, but a "You Kobo is powered down" message. Okay, whatever. Here's the problem: it took me 60-90 seconds to get from powered down to reading. 30 or so seconds to boot the machine, and then you had to click, and load the book you're reading, which took another 30 to 60 seconds.

Oh my God this drove me crazy. I used to go to bed, pick up my kobo, and instantly start reading. When I was in line, I'd pull out the kobo and read for two minutes. Now, I start booting, go brush my teeth, come back to bed, click on the book I'm reading, put on my PJs, and by that time I'm ready to read. This made me incredibly angry.

I complained to customer service. I posted complaints on their website. I don't expect it to change. It was a designed software upgrade. They had two reasons. The first one was to save energy. This makes little sense to me, since it only draws power when page-turning. If I have to boot it up everytime I start reading, it takes, over time, more energy. Second, it was how people expected the device to behave. I guess I can understand this. I bet people were calling in complaining that their device was not going to sleep when they left it, like their computers do. They probably got sick of trying to explain to them that it didn't matter.

Well, they're doing worse than losing my business. I am returning my Kobo. I called customer service and they put in a note to allow me to do it (you're not supposed to be able to after 30 days of purchase... I guess their return policy has an auto shut off too...).  The customer service was good.

What's next? A iPad or a Kindle. Kindles are now almost as cheap as kobos, and I'll get a dedicated e-reader again sometime soon, but the iPad does a hell of a lot more cool stuff. We'll see.

Pictured: the black kobo, in full sunlight. Perfectly readable!

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You should write every day

Professors who engage in binge writing (where they
only write when they have major blocks of time) produce, on average,
.32 pages per week. If they write 15-60 minutes per day, instead,
they produce 1.2 pages per week. If someone check up on them and
makes sure they do it, they produce a staggering 3.025 pages per
week! Boice (1989) shows experimental evidence that writing a bit every day
increases your scholarly writing output.

1. You need half an hour just to get into it.
        Not true if you write every day. Your mind stays in it. 
2. Your writing is bad if you only do it for a short time.
3. You need to be inspired to write or write well.


Boice, R. (1989). Procrastination, busyness and bingeing. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 27(6), 605-611.

 (this is a great paper-- let me know if you want me to email you the pdf.)

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Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Negatives Are Hard To Understand

The clip above is a funny skit from "Mr. Show," featuring grocery stores competing with advertisements. One says "no rats," implying that the other has them.

A study presented participants with two glasses of water. They watched sugar get poured into both. Then, after that, one glass was labeled `poison' and the other `sucrose.' People were averse to drinking the one labeled poison. Interestingly, a condition in which the glass was labeled `not poison' was also avoided, suggesting that the subconscious does not understand negatives (Rozin, Millman, & Nemeroff, 1986).

I recall once at Georgia Tech there was a water fountain that had a sign on it saying that the water from it was safe to drink. A colleague came into the building and asked me if the water was safe. Interesting that she'd ask when the sign clearly said it was safe. The sign gave her reason to suspect something was amiss.

What am I doing with this? Well, I think that the default value of any proposition encoded in your mind is "true." I think it takes effort to encode a negation, and it takes effort to recall it. I would love to do an experiment that tested this, showing that people under cognitive load would mis-remember false propositions as true.

In real life, Fairsley's "no rats" statement would probably hurt sales at Fairsley's too.


Rozin, P., Millman, L., Nemeroff, C. (1986). Operation of the laws of sympathetic magic in disgust and other domains. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 50(4), 703-712.

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Monday, September 06, 2010

Jim Davies's art will be a part of the CATWALK, Sept 12, 2010

I'm a part of a coalition of artists in centretown, Ottawa. Each year we have a walking tour of the artists' houses. It's the Centretown Art Tour Walk, or CATWALK.

It's Sunday, September 12, 2010, from 10am - 5pm. If you live in Ottawa, please stop by! I believe almost all the art will be for sale.

For my part, I'll have my calligraphy, pac-man art, and others.

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