Wednesday, July 30, 2008

So,...

So, I notice that I start basically every post here with the word "so." And the ones I don't, I usually want to, initially, at least. I'm not sure why I do this. Do I talk that way? Is it annoying?

Sometimes I really wish I weren't me, so that I could observe me and see how I look/sound/come across to other people.

history

So, back in May, I did a presentation for my gender and women's studies class about advertising, specifically the portrayal of women in ads and especially the gratuitous use of sex or sexiness in said ads. It was quite a good presentation, in my own humble opinion—at least, I got a lot of positive feedback from my classmates—and the most effective part, I think, was probably the Ad or Porn Quiz, where I showed a bunch of pictures and had the class guess which ones were ads and which were from porn movies or websites. This was the part that drew the most comments, and I was really happy with how it went over, and especially the grade I ended up with (^_^).

Now, you are probably asking what brought this up, so I'll explain: in the course of putting together the aforementioned quiz, I spent a lot of time on this very laptop looking up porn on the internet. (This led to some hilarious conversations between myself and my roommate.) I did all my searching on Google, and of course, I never bothered to clear out my history, because honestly, who uses my computer but me? And I promptly forgot all about that, until tonight when I happened to open the Google homepage by mistake and on a whim, I clicked to see what the first few things that came up on my history were, and thanks to the magic of alphabetization, they were all porn. In fact, scrolling down the list, more than half of the items on it were porn, some obviously so from the names, and others less obvious, but I remember searching for them, so I know that's what they are. My history, I notice, is different on the actual webpage than the one I get from the search box built into my browser, which is much longer and more up-to-date, so I guess when I search from there (which is much more often), it doesn't go into the same list as the one for the actual webpage? I'm not sure how that all works.

At any rate, this still wouldn't bother me, except I let my 14-year-old cousin use my laptop when she was staying with us last week, and I'm pretty sure she didn't go anyplace much except for Hotmail and Myspace, but not entirely sure, because the history doesn't differentiate between my usage and hers, and I'm on Google all the damn time. So it all boils down to the fact that she probably didn't see any of that, and if she did, she didn't say anything, but still, what if—?

Time to go "Clear Private Data" and all that jazz.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

sweets to the sweet

So, y'know Snapple? "Made from the best stuff on earth," and all that shit? Anyway, get this: a woman in New Jersey sued Snapple because they advertise their beverages to be "All Natural" when in fact they are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, "a highly processed sugar substitute." Now, from any reasonable person's view, and speaking in a layman's terminology, she was totally in the right. Snapple's entire image is about being healthy and, more importantly, NATURAL. I mean, take one look at their website (though I wouldn't stay too long—the music is completely irritating). There's a whole little "book," complete with three pages of references, on the history and health benefits of tea—that's tea in general, mind you; I don't know how that compares in reality with the history and processes involved in creating Snapple's teas. Anyway, it's clear that a major component in Snapple's image is the idea of being "all natural." And HFCS is about as far from "natural" as you can get, unless of course, you're speaking in the technical, legal sense of the term, in which case, it's now officially A-OK, because, that's right, the lady from New Jersey lost the case. (You can check out the official court decision here.) HFCS is now officially a "natural" ingredient.

Of course, what is or isn't "natural" in a legal, what-you-can-or-cannot-put-on-a-food-label sense, is a complete load of bullshit, from any normal person's perspective. If you don't know what I'm talking about, do a Google search for "natural flavors"—this article is one that's pretty good. In a nutshell: "Consumers pay a lot for natural flavorings. But these are in fact no better in quality, nor are they safer, than their cost-effective artificial counterparts." They're the same chemicals, folks, just extracted from different sources and processed in different ways. And yet, many people will pay more for products that are labeled as "all natural" simply because they think that is some guarantee of healthiness. (The standards for "organic" products are stricter, but still a bit convoluted in places—it's all a very fascinating topic that you shouldn't get me started on unless you want to hear a rant.) It is, in short, a completely deceptive mode of business, which remains completely legal. And now, the FDA has given Snapple and other companies that use HFCS (which is the sweetener in basically every processed food EVER) a nice big boost by saying definitively that it, too, can be considered "natural."

Of course, you probably didn't hear about the court decision or the FDA's letter changing their minds on HFCS (they'd previously said they would not consider it a "natural" ingredient). I only stumbled across the link by chance on a vegetarian blog I happen to lurk on every now and then; I don't see anything about it on any of the major news sites or anything like that. But what you may hear (or see) is the ad campaign that is being launched by the Corn Refiners' Association. You can bet they're going to milk this for all it's worth.

Oh, and, I have to throw this in—part of the Corn Refiners' Association website is a chart comparing sugar, honey, and HFCS, as well as two types of "artificial" sweeteners, and at the bottom, in the "What's it made from?" field, it mentions that "Most honey is now imported from China," while throwing in that the corn used to make HFCS is "primarily grown in the United States." Not only is that completely irrelevant to the question ("What's it made from?" not "Where does it come from?") it manages to smear all honey everywhere by relating it to the recent issues with Chinese imports (seriously, it's pretty easy to tell which brands come from where—it says so right on the bottle) while planting that tiny little seed of goodness in the mind on the side of the HFCS—made in the USA! Woo! Of course, the corn industry is basically the opposite of "good" for the US economy as a whole, but they conveniently forget to mention that.

Further reading: Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan (the first chapter of that one is especially relevant here). Seriously kids. Go read these books, and tell your friends, so I can quit annoying people with my rants about food.

*EDIT* Apparently there was an article about the decision in the Wall Street Journal, which, I suppose, counts as a "major news source." I beg a thousand pardons.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

pizza

There was a time when I thought my strange tastes in pizza toppings ought to keep would-be midnight-snackers and other sneak-thiefs of food out of my pizza. The other evening, for example, I brought home a medium consisting of one half veggie lover's, and one half BBQ sauce, pineapple, and onion. Now, I know nobody else in the world wants any of that second half, and my mother specifically doesn't like onions, which I should think would keep her out of either half, but I made the mistake of getting a stuffed crust—when I came back today, the pieces were all intact except for two, and from those two, the crust had been carefully cut away and apparently consumed.

I suppose I should be expecting this, seeing as how she's starting a new diet and all. The fun part is, though, that the diet hasn't even officially started yet. I'm going to have to bring in the mini-fridge and put it in my room or something, if I want to keep food in the house. (Mom, if you're reading this, STAY OUT OF MY ROOM.)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

bizarre

So, I was working this evening, and around 7:30 pm, returning from a delivery, I made a right turn into the Pizza Hut parking lot and...my turn signal didn't stop. I mean, the little handle clicked back into the "off" position and everything, but the light on my dash was still blinking, and the little ticking noise was still ticking, and, sure enough, both the front and rear signal lights were still blinking. Pulling into my parking space, I clicked the handle down, as to signal a left turn, and found that instead of helping the problem, I'd only succeeded in turning both signals on at the same time. Which would be cool, if I wanted emergency flashers (mine work, but are unusable because the button sticks) but totally useless as turn signals. And so the problem was thus: the left turn signal worked normally, but the right one was always on, no matter what I did. I could put the handle in any position, I could turn off the car and remove the key, but no matter what, the signal was still on, ticking, flashing, and everything.

I told the manager when I went back inside, and he said (after he quit laughing) that there was nothing to be done for it just then, but if things slowed down and I got a minute, I should take out the fuse, and that would at least turn it off until I could get it looked at.

Well, things never slowed down, and so I finally drove home at 10:30, turn signal still blinking merrily away. When I got home, I explained the situation to my mother, and we got a flashlight and went to work on the fusebox.

I took out each and every goddamned fuse, and nothing stopped that signal. I think there must be something more to it though, because the dome light didn't go off either, and one of the fuses had to be for that, too. So we were doing something wrong, but we didn't know what. Finally, exasperated, we dug out a socket set and disconnected the battery. Obviously, that did the trick. Except we still don't know what the problem was, or what we were doing wrong with the fuses. So tomorrow morning, I get to call my uncle Rob, who's a mechanic, and explain to him the new and weird habit my car has apparently developed.

And also the weird thing with the brakes, but that's another (and probably far more mundane) story.

My mother has now officially declared that I "do bizarre things to cars." I resent this statement, because this is the first bizarre thing that has ever happened to a car under my care, and I most certainly did not do it.

Also, she'd better hope that's not the case, because I'm scheduled for a 9-hour shift tomorrow, and guess whose car I'll probably be driving? (Hint: not mine!)

Thursday, July 10, 2008

politics

In short, I'm sick of 'em. But not so much that I'll swear off them completely—that would just be madness. You know me.

Anyway, if you follow the news at all, you've probably heard about Obama's support of the FISA bill. Highly disappointing. And really, it's not like they have to vote on these things—McCain didn't. When senators are running presidential campaigns, they miss votes all the time. So that means Obama made a special effort to show up that day to vote that way on that bill. The wrong way, might I add.

So I sent a letter. I know, I know, it's not really a whole lot, but I don't often send letters to elected officials (and he is one, don't forget, he's still an Illinois senator, and as a student at a college in Illinois, I am a constituent), so it's something, anyway. I have copied the letter here, because this is my blog and I can. And if you happen to feel the same way I do, you should write him too!* (Or even if you feel differently. Everybody should be involved. Our government, after all, is supposed to be participatory.)
Mr. Obama,

As a registered voter and contributor to your presidential campaign, I was sadly disappointed by your support of the FISA bill. On your campaign website, it says, "It's time to put an end to the say-anything-to-win politics of the past," and yet, that seems to be exactly the kind of politics you are playing here. You tell voters (of the more liberal variety) that you won't stand for the abuses of power committed by the current administration, but your support of this bill says the exact opposite; this is either an attempt to draw in more hawkish voters in hopes that the rest of us won't notice (or won't care), or it is a revelation that perhaps you're not so different from the current president after all.

Either way, as I'm sure you know, this bill gives retroactive immunity to the companies that enabled the current administration to ILLEGALLY SPY ON AMERICANS, and supporting it is the same thing as saying, "Yep, that's okay by me." As a person who fully supports the Constitution and the rule of law, this does not sit well with me at all. I want a president who will protect the rights and freedoms of the American people, not the bloated, shady government organizations (DHS) and the anything-for-another-dollar corporations.

I hope that in the future, you will think more carefully about the effects your decisions will have, instead of trying to pander to the more conservative voters—you don't balance a tipped see-saw by standing in the middle, and the time for trying to please people on both extremes has long since passed.

Sincerely,

Andrea Johnston

*That's the link for his Senate website; if you don't live in Illinois—or go to school there, as I do—you'll have to find your own means of contact, sorry. I'm too lazy to do it for you. Though I'm sure it's not hard.

Monday, July 7, 2008

whoa...

So, after I made my post on July 4, I was looking at the main page of my blog, and all the text except the main part of that (then) most recent post was very small, and I couldn't for the life of me figure out why. The only thing I could think of was that I'd been looking at another page in a different tab earlier that had some very small text, and so I'd used ctrl+ to make it bigger so I could read it, and then ctrl- to shrink it down again; I thought maybe for some reason the browser was screwing up and was somehow stuck in tiny mode or something, and perhaps a restart would fix it, but I had three windows with a bunch of tabs open in each and didn't want to go through the hassle of bookmarking everything (I rarely shut down my browser completely—is that bad?) so I went to bed and promptly forgot about it the next morning.

I didn't remember again until just now, when I made that last post, and then I went to the front page of my blog and it was doing the same thing: the most recent post and the one before (from July 4) were normal-sized, and everything else on the page (the rest of the entries, the index links on the left-hand side, basically everything else but the header) were tiny. And then I realized what the deal was: at the bottom of my July 4 post, I put a footnote in subscript and forgot to close the tag. It's not that I typed it wrong—Blogger won't let you put up a post with a broken tag—I simply forgot to close it at all. And somehow, that affected not only the other posts, but the entire page. I don't know enough about website design to know if that's weird or not, but it surprised me, anyway. It always seems to me like bits of layout I haven't consciously altered (like the predesigned layouts on this site) shouldn't be subject to change in response to anything I do (as opposed to Myspace, where I—with the help of a code-generating website—specify exactly how I want each element of my page to look). I really wish I understood more about this stuff; it is one of my goals to take a computer science class at Knox before I graduate.

Of course, I harbor no illusions that anyone actually looks at this blog, except perhaps my mother every now and again (Hi Mom!), so it's not like it would've mattered much anyway, but hey, I like to keep things tidy online. It's may way of compensating for living in a room that could be mistaken for a disaster area.

wasting time

Should you find yourself bored and unable to sleep sometime (as I seem to be wont to do lately), you might check out this fascinating site. It has a bunch of these so-called IAT tests, which test your unconscious preference of things over other things, e.g. presidential candidates, or old vs. young people, etc. I took the candidates one, as well as the gay people vs. straight people one, and (surprise surprise) I like Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton (apparently not a completely up-to-date test) and not John McCain, and I have somewhere between a moderate and a strong preference of gay people over straight ones (I took it twice).

Or, alternately, you could follow my lead and become obsessed with Shoebox. Which I am probably going to go read now.

I have to work in the morning. Goddammit.

Friday, July 4, 2008

a long-ish post about very little

Happy Fourth of July!

So, I haven't posted in awhile. I would apologize, except there has been absolutely nothing of interest about which to post. There still isn't, really, but sometimes I get this nagging fear that if I don't post anything for a long enough period of time, I'll simply cease to exist. Okay, not really.

(Sort of.)

Anyway, here we are. The reasons for my lack of online activity lately are many and varied—well, that's a lie. There are three basic reasons: I've either been at Dad's and unable to find a wireless signal (sometimes true), or I've been sleeping (often true), or I've been working (virtually always true, seems like). 'Cause I've been working rather a lot. And by "a lot" I mean I've been scheduled an average of 38 hours per week, and actually working between 40 and 42. And of course, this isn't counting my second job of the summer, which I just started this week: custodian of Seminary church (the one Mom goes to) in Roanoke. They needed somebody, and I was there, and voila! Another four hours of my life sold weekly to The Man.

Of course, it's nice that I'm working a lot, because it means I'm getting paid for a significant portion of my time that would otherwise be spent not making money in some form or another, but it also means that I'm tired a lot more, and when I'm not working, I'm quite often sleeping. This means that time I would otherwise be spending in at least a semi-productive manner ends up slept away, and thus I have written nothing (I had so many ideas at the end of last term!), read nothing (my list of must-reads grows steadily longer), and just generally done very little that makes my life feel worthwhile.

That's not to say I haven't done anything, of course. They've just been mostly little things. For example, in mid-June, I made two rhubarb pies, which were delicious. I also did a lot of online shopping, intending to purchase a Game Cube, but I ended up deciding to wait and ask for one for Christmas instead, because a) I am cheap, and b) my brother has one here and I will be abroad fall term, so I wouldn't have much call for one of my own until January anyway.

More recently, I have re-discovered The Shoebox Project, which, in case you didn't know, is basically the end-all be-all of Harry Potter fanfiction.* Seriously. I mean, I don't really get much into fanfics—I had a brief, mild obsession with fanfiction.net when the first LotR movie came out, but that, like my flirtation with MSN chat and my ninth grade crush, eventually faded. However, a friend sent me the link to this one and insisted I read it, so despite my misgivings (which were many—there's a lot of baaaaad fanfiction out there), I skimmed through part one, and then I had to go back and read it again, and then part two, and on and on and...it's so amazing. But anyway, the other day, I happened to go check it out again, and there was a post up from May that I hadn't seen, so I had to read that, and then I went back and reread some old parts, and and then of course I had to go reread HP 7, and part of 6, and now everything in the world reminds me of HP, or Shoebox, or both. Yes, I'm a dork, we've been over this, I know.

I must say though, going back, I was a little disappointed with the actual books after reading the fanfic. I mean, don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed them immensely, and I still bawled like a baby at that one part in book seven (gets me every time!), but after taking Fiction Workshop last year and looking so closely at what makes good writing *good*, it struck me how very mediocre J.K.'s is at times. I mean, I like the stories—the plots and action are excellent, and the characters are for the most part good—but word choice, J.K., word choice! (Though it was nothing near as bad as Eragon—I picked that up on a number of friends' recommendations and couldn't even finish it, and that was my senior year of high school!)

Shoebox, however, seems to suffer much less from this sort of problem; granted, it's a piece of fanfiction posted on the internet, so there are the occasional errors and things that a good editor would otherwise catch, but it is so SO excellent in terms of character and sheer wit that I simply cannot compare it to the original books. It is co-authored by two girls, one of whom has just recently had an actual original book published (co-authored with somebody else), which I really really want to find and read now, because it sounds rather fabulous.

Anyway, I really have very little else to say just now, so I think I'll go to bed. Bed sounds nice. (Bed always sounds nice lately.) Cheerio, darlings.

*It's a slash fic (Remus/Sirius), just FYI for any snitty canon-worshiping link-clickers out there. Wouldn't want to offend anyone's delicate sensibilities by letting them get all caught up in such a wonderful story only to have it go someplace they don't want it to (but seriously, after reading the first half-dozen or so parts, who wouldn't want it to?).