This is my internet origin story. Essentially, I was a Luddite from the beginning.

It was probably 4th grade when people began “being online,” by which they mostly meant being on AIM, AOL Instant Messenger. It was treated as another place where kids could hang out, away from parents; in middle school, this would morph back into a physical location, “the fields,” a mosquito-ridden set of sports courts.

I had email: it was from our ISP, Optimum Online. When my friends wanted me to “get online,” I didn’t see the point of registering for an account — wasn’t this the same as sending a lot of short emails? Why not just do that? Why did I have to go through the onerous process of getting an account when under 13, which involved asking your parents for their credit card number and moreover, telling them what you were up to?

I remember the first night of trying to send quick short emails. Too much latency for conversation: it seemed lame and we stopped the experiment.

I then discovered how to evade the hassle of <13 account signup: lie, lie about everything. I just called AOL’s password recovery service and not a single fact I could remember from that time was helping the poor guy key into my accounts.

A bit sad, but perhaps it’s for the best that the away messages and profile text (proto status updates, proto Facebook updates, proto tweets!) stored under FrogertoLily2001 have disappeared into the ether.

observations on beef

It was finally getting wintry enough to make a pot of the Zeng family(*) beef stew: celery + onion + carrot, tomato base, and beef — and I always add cumin and chili powder out of reflex, and soy + cooking wine, out of a different reflex. The vegetables are in 1-2” segments out of rustic aesthetic and my use of a pressure cooker: any smaller and it turns to mush.

* My dad says he picked it up from the Mexican ladies in Tom’s River, NJ, where he worked as a full-time waiter at a fine dining establishment.

I use beef shank for this stew. Beef shank is cheap, delicious, and extremely tough to cut: an inch-thick tendon runs through it, a tendon to test your cleavers for sure, and the muscle is surrounded by sheets of connective tissue (fascia?) that are severable by only kitchen shears. It’s also near-impossible to chew if you haven’t cooked it enough.

No wonder the fascia is strong: it holds the muscles together. No wonder that tendon is thick: it joins the muscle to the leg that has to move a cow. No wonder the muscle is tough: it (historically, theoretically) brings the cow to grass, with which it sustains itself.

No $20-30 / plate restaurant in Seattle advertises beef shank. Osso buco is veal shank: the thighs of a baby cow that has not had to leave its mother. Aside from that, other humble cuts are associated with ‘ethnic’ cuisines: flank steak is associated with fajitas. Brisket is rustic. Tendon is an option on pho, one that I always get.

Instead, the meat I see served is stripped of all evidence that it ever was part of an animal, or evidence that it ever had to do work. Think of the idiom (switching animals, for a minute) “eating high on the hog”: when you’re doing well financially, you eat the parts of the animal that are far from the ground, since parts that touch the ground, or were connected to parts that touch the ground, had to do work.

Think of the most prized cuts: filet mignon, tenderloin, sirloin — these are from non weight-bearing parts of the animal, and are cleaned (by low-paid humans, probably the husbands of those Mexican ladies my dad got the stew from) into uniform pucks to the point that they might as well have been grown in a Petri dish.

It’s not just scarcity. A single steer has but a single tongue, but young men don’t go to Vegas and brag about eating tongue and sipping rye. It’s not flavor: filet mignon is so useless — so interior to the animal that it has little flavor of its own, and usually needs supplementing with sauces or bacon.

What does it say about a nation when the bulk of its dining dollars go towards flesh that has never supported weight, is homogeneous, and doesn’t show that it ever existed in context of bone or other muscle?

We value effortlessness in America. The people at the top — the ones inside our governing structures — are, by and large[*], ones that haven’t worked very hard for it, but have been helped inside by connections that aren’t discussed. Maybe this is a matter of politeness: there aren’t enough connections for everyone, so we won’t mention it.

It’s also not normal to talk about how hard you worked. Let’s use the Barbie utterance, “Math is hard” as an example of mainstream attitudes towards work. If this were followed with “And it’s really beautiful when you work for it” (aside: society is happy to reinforce this message when it comes to women’s physical appearance), it would be accurate and encouraging. Instead the doll said “… let’s go shopping”, which tells kids to give up.

* One thing that “makes America great” is that it might not totally necessary to have connections: there seem to be a few spots left for bootstrapping miracles.

I could be fine with having the secret of beef shank to myself. If it became the hottest new menu item and my price per pound doubled, I suppose I would personally be less happy. But from a utilitarian point of view, it seems unproductive for the seemingly-effortless and seemingly-disconnected to be most valuable.

[I thought I had already written another fantasia on butchering and structure, but I can’t find it, so that’s coming soon.]

antioch 277 – sacred harp in Latin?

When I started putting Latin puns in my changelist descriptions, I realized that I had to channel those energies elsewhere.

Maybe I should translate something, I thought. Thing is, my Latin was never great, and is now next to nonexistent — Latin->English was always a struggle. On the other hand, English->Latin always felt more accessible, and I had some great (easy) source texts at my disposal — shape note songs.

Why are they easy? The texts are old, so most of the words exist. The texts are short, so I’ll actually finish. Moreover, they’re Protestant texts, so I’ll have some satisfaction of creating something original, vs putting English that had been translated from Latin back into (less elegant) Latin.

This song has three verses and the chorus after each verse; I’ll shorthand “Glory, Hallelujah” with “..”; google translate says that is “gloria alleluia” and I’ll take its word for it.

1: Scio redemptorem vivere [indirect statement!], ..
Quam solatium haec verbum est, ..

Chorus: Acclamate, adorate, ..
Surrectus est, inventus est, .. [a little loose here]

2: Vivit ut amore benedicat, .. [subjunctive of purpose]
Vivit ut in caelo placeat, .. [again!]

3. Vivit ut demones opprimat, .. [this line scans poorly]
Vivit nec non me inspirat, ..

I’m sure there are mistakes; feel free to let me know. I’ll also take requests, so that I may not (hah) spew dead languages at unsuspecting coworkers.


I’ve been musing about my name as it relates to the vagaries of sound, meaning, and probability.

Here are some explanations of each picture / caption.

“What people hear in loud parties”: The image is ‘blue glue’, and while no one hears both, they often hear one or the other. I guess Lou is a man’s name / I might be overenunciating the ‘l’ — but it is hard to enunciate a liquid!. Honorable mention for this image position is Blues Clues — people also hear ‘Clu’ a lot.

“What Chinese people guess”: It’s not so bad to be named ‘beautiful jade,’ so I assume a lot of girls with Lu4 get this character, making it a safe guess.

A quick note on Chinese words in English: You go from character to pinyin (“spelling,” roughly) (with tones) to pinyin (no tones) to American pronunciation. Each step is _non-injective_: several characters that go to the same pinyin (with tones), four pinyin (with tones) per pinyin (no tones), so on and so forth. Using a concrete example, ‘beautiful jade,’ 璐, goes to Lu4, goes to Lu, goes to “lu” (the pronunciation) — but as do many other pinyin. You lose a ton of information, but people deal by making good guesses — my name just isn’t one of the common guesses.

“What confused Americans think”: Lucy Liu, the actress / visual artist. This one illustrates two confusions: that Lu must actually be my surname, and that Lu must be short for _something_. It also highlights the paucity of Asian women in media, though Liu’s stardom is to be celebrated.

I don’t mean ‘confused’ as ignorant — Americans with far better Chinese than mine have been intrigued by this last-name first-name, especially as “Liu”, an extremely common as a last name, is pronounced in English in the same way as Lu. Lv (like ‘lune’ in French) and Lu are also more common as surnames, and are pronounced the same way in English — this is that relentless loss of information I was talking about earlier. Probability says you’re making a good guess, but for me, it is incorrect.

As for Lu <= Lucy — If my name were Lucy, wouldn’t I introduce myself as Lucy? I’d actually get a sibilant to enunciate.

“What Americans with kids think”: Cindy Lou Who. I had an aftercare (school ends at 2:30, adult jobs end at 5…) teacher, Sue Sette, who called me this. I remember her and those times fondly.

“What numerics people think”: Lower-Upper (LU) factorization — ok, so ninth graders learn this too, more or less, just without the name. Linear Algebra was an important course for me because it taught me new ways to think about information.

“Another acceptable girl-name guess”: Dew. Like Rocio.

“What I am in Connecticut”: My name is homophonic with ‘deer’ in Chinese. There are a lot of deer in CT, and Ellen also came up with this in high school in CT.

“What I am in Portland / England”: The Portland Loo is a great convenience — free public toilets that are not useful for sleeping in / drug deals and are cleaned by a human: it’s like the opposite of “why we can’t have nice things” — “a reasonable thing that Portland (so sadly, not Seattle-we) manages to have”.

“What my name actually means”: Road.

I love my name. It’s not gendered in ANY conceivable way; it is an aspirational name, but an aspiration made concrete: it’s not some nebulous ‘hope’, but a path, paved and drained: I’d toyed with Lucy but it didn’t fit, and now I’m glad I stayed the course.


I used to be a champ at both falling asleep AND waking up[1], but lately I seem to have lost the ability to fall asleep. Road noise, unpredictable nighttime temperature, mind noise, whatever — after another day cut short due to sleeping badly, I decided to do something about it. Continue reading

Sunday morning

“Oh how bleary the day,” she thought. “At least I slept through a lot of it.”

She rolled out of her soft padded cave, rubbing her face in the softblanket one more time for good measure. Into the entryway, she extended and reached up for the canister of coffee beans to the right, and the filters, to the left.

“Whshdhshshsh” went the faucet, for six cups worth. “Fwwwwp fwwwwp fwwwwp” went the grinder. “Pwap pwap pwap” she persuaded the grounds into the filter.

Now, time for the oatmeal, made by an unmeasured swipe of oats and whoosh of water, plus three prods at the microwave for 1:30.

The coffee was finishing, and as she poured her cup, the oatmeal was nearly done too, ready for flavoring. “These green beans will do. Also, I am the best at pipelining.”

She ate the oatmeal and drank the coffee, and on top of it, a good measure of water. Mildly she sniffed at the prospect of the day and listened to the twittering of the birds. Nope, there was nothing to do but plomp back in, back with the softblanket and other downy friends. There she could pretend to be a soft quadruped in peace.

[comment: “it’s like the metamorphosis, but more apathetic and fewer legs. also she is only pretending to be soft and furry; she is not particularly furry.”]

more newcomer thoughts on biking

If someone tries to attack me at the top of a hill that I’ve just climbed, not only do I have to get off the bike (clumsy, if you’ve ever seen me try to get on or off a bike), but I also will also sprint at decreased capacity because I’ve just been working oppositional muscles, and the ridiculous helmet will be bobbing in my face. I am not a triathlete.

Basically, I don’t think I like it when my transport time is a time of increased alarm. It’s supposed to be a break.

(also how do I know if there will be a place to lock it? In Redmond I could just lock it against any sapling as a formality.)