Oh my

Pandemic news is so dire 
that *positive comments* by YouTube users (!) 
encouraging us 
to be cautious 
so we can live to see 
*the whole new season* 
of Killing Eve. 

Book: On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder

Cover of On Tyranny

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century
by Timothy Snyder
published by Tim Duggan Books (Penguin Random House)

This pocket-sized book of about 125 pages is written by a Yale History professor specializing in the Holocaust. Snyder relies upon this historical expertise to compare the language, speech, rallies, actions, and slogans of the US president elected in 2016 to those used by Nazis, Communists, and Fascists in a prior century. He finds many commonalities, and summarizes appropriate responses into twenty themes intended to support civil society over repressive authorities.

I read this when it was quite new, and found its warnings insightful; I read it again recently, and found it to be understated relative to our current circumstances.

What struck me more on the second reading is the idea that we are formally taught to believe that “progress” is inevitable; that the future is bright; that the seeds of the future were planted long ago, and all we need to do is step back and let it naturally grow. I recall being in high school and believing this, despite known systemic flaws in that plan. The idea is appealing, because it requires no real effort on any one individual’s part. If the future takes care of itself – how convenient is that? But I grew up, and could see clearly that having a future I’d actually want to live in requires effort.

Progress is NOT inevitable. Democratic institutions DO NOT defend themselves. People DO commit terrible crimes in the names of ideologies they can barely explain. Civilizations DO collapse.

Effort is always required to maintain good things. Always.

Book: The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

Cover of The Moment of Lift by Melinda Gates

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World
by Melinda Gates
published by Flatiron Books, NY

I didn’t anticipate buying this book – I don’t generally think that billionaires do enough for the world, and I’ve read of the Gates’ many grants that appeared to push privatising the public school system – as if the ownership model of the schools, rather than the poverty of the students, the lack of pay for teachers, and the unfair, property-tax-based disparities that create a lack of funding for materials and facilities were not the issues to address in struggling districts! That said, I recalled that it was Melinda who took the initiative to engage in philanthropy, and who should take the credit for turning the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation into a philanthropic force. Plus, empowering women IS a great idea! So I stood inside a real bookshop (likely Bookshop West Portal), and opened this book to a random page. I was immediately engrossed, and bought it.

This is a good book.

Melinda Gates writes very modestly about – yes, this is going to shock you – listening to people in difficult situations, and financially supporting the people’s own plans to solve their problems. No, really! This isn’t a, “we are rich, and we float down from the heavens and know best what people need” story AT ALL. Instead, this book involves lots of travelling, listening, supporting ideas that Melinda isn’t entirely sure make sense, trusting people, and then being amazed by the results. (A recurring joke in the book in the form of her asking her husband, “Did you know that we are funding a [community initiative that wasn’t in the grant proposal, but which is a successful intervention]?” in which the answer is no, but the results are great, provides upbeat laughs.)

It also took guts to stand up to the leadership of the Catholic Church, a faith which Mrs. Gates is a member of, to actively support (and fund, and speak on behalf of) family planning. Having the church call her out by name for helping women must have been a shock (WHO DOES THAT?!?), but she stood her ground, and speaks up strongly and with evidence for what a positive difference family planning makes for everyone.

This book is informative, interesting, really well written, and ultimately emotionally moving. People helping women succeed in a way that benefits society is a fantastic subject!

Billionaires aren’t off the hook with me, but this particular one comes across as a really great person who has the right idea and has put her beliefs into action in a very positive, effective way.

Recommended recipe: tomato rasam (tomato charu)

I eat constantly and enthusiastically! I am not ashamed of this. 🙂

Rasam is a soup from Southern India that I haven’t had great luck with in restaurants. It didn’t seem half as interesting as sambar, and I have been repeatedly disappointed by a sort of watery version that I’ve been served.

Yet, I’d optimistically made up a huge jar of rasam powder at some point, which has just been sitting in my spice cabinet in a nearly accusing way for several years. So, I decided to give rasam another try with this recipe, which incorporates lots of fresh tomatoes:

Tomato Rasam (Tomato Charu) from indianhealthyrecipes.com

This recipe is GREAT! I used slightly overripe fresh tomatoes, and found the soup flavorful, warming, and yet still light. I served it with a bit of rice, just to add some carbs and give the spices something to contrast to.

I will make this again!

Book: Chronicle Books: The First 50 Years

Cover of Chronicle Books: The First 50 Years

Chronicle Books: The First 50 Years
by Julianne Balmain
published by Chronicle Books, San Francisco

This is an inside history of the establishment of San Francisco publishing house, Chronicle Books, and how the company grew and thrived by embracing California style, cooking, and generous illustrations in their publications.

It is organized chronologically, and tells the story of how it grew from a tiny operation to a global brand, with a special emphasis on developing non-traditional (non-bookstore) retail. Yes, it was innovative to suggest selling cookbooks in the same shops where you buy cookware, and the colorful covers of their books fit in nicely in those settings.

Typical for this publisher, the book itself is well designed. It features perforated covers revealing images from the company’s back catalog, colored paper edges on all sides, and lavish photographic illustrations.

I purchased this from the San Francisco Center for the Book’s Online Shop. (If it is in stock, you can, too!)

Book: Turning Over an Old Leaf: Contemporary Palm Leaf Work in South and Southeast Asia

Cover of Turning Over an Old Leaf

Book: Turning Over an Old Leaf: Contemporary Palm Leaf Work in South and Southeast Asia
by San Francisco Center for the Book, exhibit curated by Mary Austin and Betsy Davids
published by San Francisco Center for the Book and Autumn Press, Berkeley

I LOVE PAPER. And I often wonder how people can live without it if appropriate natural fibers and other needed supplies aren’t available to make it where they are, or if they need more than they can make. I learned about one of the answers in this lovely catalog of work on palmyra and talipot palm leaves that have been carefully dried, inscribed, inked, and bound into books or assembled into large, flat work to hang.

The leaves generally have a pleasant, soft-wood-like, pale yellow-cream color, and can support very fine linework. The catalog presents excellent samples of recent work, primarily on religious themes appropriate to their region. I especially enjoy some of the contemporary, non-traditional, gilded Thai compositions, and the Burmese scroll-length pieces that have complex edge treatments.

Book: Ladies of Letterpress, by Kseniya Thomas and Jessica C. White

Cover of Ladies of Letterpress

Ladies of Letterpress: A Gallery of Prints with 86 Removable Posters
by Kseniya Thomas and Jessica C. White
published by Princeton Architectural Press, NY

This is a gorgeous, oversized publication showing off the work of passionate letterpress print makers, with large reproductions of their designs. From the embossed cover, to the beautiful, full-color reproductions on sturdy stock (perforated for removal and display!), this is a fantastic collection of both artist profiles and work samples across a large number of techniques.


I purchased this book from the always excellent San Francisco Center for the Book, where you can not only see samples of letterpress prints in real life, but can also learn to make them yourself!

Mood music

I’m listening to Limbik Frequencies, as I have been for much of the self-quarantine. I think one of my friends calls it my robot music, but it is more fun that that!

I’m amused that every so often, I get a flash back to sitting in a Virgin America plane, beneath violet lights, waiting for my plane to take off – certain tunes put out that so-hip-downtempo-club-loop vibe. 🙂

Books: Agency, by William Gibson

Cover of the novel Agency, by William Gibson

Agency, a Novel
by William Gibson
published by Berkeley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

Agency, a Novel by William Gibson, made me giddy, excited to be reading, and excited to think about the future. Which is worrisome, because it is seriously dystopian!

The story is set in what is functionally the present, in a parallel universe in which the Democrats won the US presidency in 2016, and the world is heading toward a world-ending nuclear conflict triggered by a proxy war in Syria. Authorities in a dark future attempt to intervene to save this parallel reality from destruction by reaching back through time using [a technical magic trick] to contact a woman in San Francisco, who is testing out a new technology that could change her reality’s future.

Be aware that this is the second book in a series that began with The Peripheral, which sets the scene / technology / world-building for this book, and to fully appreciate this one, you’ll need to read its predecessor. Know that the story and quality of writing is worth it to commit to both books!

I’m one of those people who has been reading Gibson’s novels since his cyberpunk era, and am an even bigger fan of his recent, non-cyberpunk work. While cyberpunk felt very much built around dark video game graphics and deadly street fighters, Gibson’s recent writing features remarkably hip female lead characters, contemporary conceptual art, vividly realized technology that feels imminent and consumer-ready, and in human cultural products like film, fashion, user interface design, and cosplay. Gibson is developing an extensive female readership, having moved from describing women physically (I flash back to a character’s girlfriend who was perpetually sexually available: “She was always ready…”) to writing in the voice of really compelling female characters. He writes characters that are smart, enjoyable, and human!

Gibson uses language skillfully: there were sentences I re-read out loud to savor. There aren’t many authors I can say that about.

I recommend this book! I especially recommend it to people who like his other recent works, fans of near-future fiction, people who drink coffee at Craftsman + Wolves on Valencia Street (lightly disguised by a slight name change in the novel), people who daydream about AIs that are actually clever, and dystopian futures that feature grown-ups.

I bought this book new from Green Apple Books here in San Francisco. You can order online from them! Always support your local booksellers!

On a prior episode of [this]

I’ve had a pleasant shower, coffee is brewing in my French Press, and I am full of words.

I’m starting this particular blog because the weblog format is the easiest way for me to post frequent, small-ish updates on an irregular schedule, and with relatively little effort.

I’ve had web pages forever, and they are quite satisfying. I am one of those people who insists on writing all of the HTML by hand, which makes spontaneous posting slow, and since I am prolific, my hundreds of pages become an effort to keep up-to-date as HTML evolves. So the one-HTML-page-per-thought model is great for persistent content that has a long lifespan, but is an obstacle for me to just ‘dash something off.’

While “social media” is a popular option, my experiments with it have been mixed. The people I am connected with through school or work don’t have the same interests I do. Sharing gushing reports on science-fiction books to people who attended school with me, but who don’t like science-fiction, feels pointless. I’ve had better luck connecting on topic-centric sites with strangers who share my affinities and enthusiasms, but the feedback loop there pushes me to be a single-topic poster (architecture/design), which isn’t a complete version of me.

Rather than cutting my interests up and carefully distributing them across sites to separate readers, I want a one-stop-posting-shop, and this is intended to be it. I enjoyed this approach with my original Blogger site, Things Consumed, which ran from July 2002 through April 2010, and on the Google+ platform, which has since shut down. This page is intended to be the next iteration of my all-my-interests posting place.


I am starting this blog in the midst of a global pandemic. It’s… an odd time. A difficult time.

Late in 2019, a zoonotic virus jumped from animal to animal to humans, and started spreading wildly in Wuhan, China. In a pattern that would soon be repeated in other countries, the authorities were slow to recognize the danger and take preventative measures. While China instituted a comprehensive and effective lockdown of millions of people, it came after travelers had already left; these travelers dispersed the highly contagious severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) around the world, and now, just a few months later, there are more than 2 million cases of COVID-19 (distinction between disease and infection clarification added 2020.05.07, based on WHO explanation here). Testing is not widely available, and there is no preventative medicine nor a cure available yet. The virus can be fatal to any age group, but fatality rates are low for children and highest in the elderly and those with “pre-existing conditions,” (which would mean most Americans).

In my region, as of the time of this writing, we are six weeks into preventative isolation-at-home, limiting our interactions to those within our households. This approach has been both wildly successful in preventing the spread of coronavirus in our region, and profoundly disruptive to ordinary life. Only “essential” businesses remain open: these include hospitals, pharmacies, grocery stores, pet food stores, post offices, and restaurants (for delivery/take-away only). Panic broke out early on, and it was difficult to buy food and basic household goods, because some people were buying MONTHS’ worth of it. Toilet paper is widely unavailable in stores, which had enough for everyone’s regular use, but not enough for stockpiles. Buying supplies is now an elaborate effort involving wearing a mask, waiting in a lines spaced out in six foot intervals, and trying not to frighten others while reaching for a bunch of bananas by coming too close to them.

The news every morning updates us on the confirmed-by-testing total of global infections (well over 2 M now) and deaths (over 100,000), which jump dramatically by the day due to each region/country’s belated protective measures, and which are acknowledged as a dramatic undercount, due to the lack of tests. Unemployment is also skyrocketing, as most of our economy not based on essential needs… which raises all sorts of conceptual questions, especially considering how poorly paid essential workers are. Doctors, nurses, paramedics, grocery store workers, pharmacists, and food delivery people are now heroes – yet healthcare professionals are suffering and dying in unacceptably high numbers because of a lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), and these unacceptable working conditions have not been remedied.

My beloved hometown is a city of 800,000+ people, yet it has the eerie quiet of a scene from a disaster film.

This is the context in which I’ll be writing, and it may affect my otherwise upbeat tone. It has been difficult to do things that make me happy while knowing how others are suffering, while knowing that I am not able to usefully intervene. I’ve been reading some great books and looking at lovely, fun, and sometimes even great art, however, – humans can make great things! – and I still want to celebrate those things in text. So, here goes!