[personal profile] kittenscribble
A few miscellaneous bits, because time seems to be running very fast* right now:

I just raced through four Marla Mason books at about the pace of one per day.** It's pretty light reading, lots of fun. Unscrupulous, amoral Marla is the chief sorcerer of Felport, a grim, squalid little town that she loves with all her heart. Other sorcerers can take her mantle by defeating her, and much of the plot stems from their trying to do so. I love the sorcery system, in which sorcerers gain power from certain elements; chaos magicians draw power from disorder, pyromancers are weakened in the cold, and pornomancers... well, you get the idea. Marla herself is actually a jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none type sorcerer; if her limited magic skills aren't up to the job, she doesn't hesitate to use tools, fists, and blackmail if necessary.

Marla Mason actually hooked me via T.A. Pratt's website, on which you can read her origin story. Great stuff; I highly recommend it. The following books actually kind of pale in comparison (but they're still good!).

From the Marla Mason series, I transitioned to Charles Stross's Atrocity Archives, which is a much more... technical take. The theory is that sufficiently advanced math is indistinguishable from magic; overly brilliant math or CS grad students, chasing down a particularly knotty theorem, can find themselves opening portals onto other dimensions or summoning fiends from afar. To keep things under control, we have the Laundry: a super-secret agency of the Crown, rife with middle management and paperwork.

The book is a pretty awesome mixture of Lovecraftian horror, James Bond spy thriller, and Office Space. There's actually a little too much in the way of made-up technical detail (I don't care whether your dimensional gate was derived from the Hilbert theorem or one of Turing's principles) but there's plenty of excitement to keep you going.

And yes, Stross reading material can also be found online! If you want a sample, Tor.com has posted "Overtime," a short story in the Laundry universe; check it out here.

** This is actually pretty fast, even for me. I can down a regular-sized paperback given two or three uninterrupted hours, but in the normal course of affairs, I also work, clean, cook, eat, watch TV, hang out with K, play with the cats, etc, so such a book should usually last about a week. (I still try to read when I can, though. When we first moved in together, K was surprised that I would take out a book while I brushed my teeth.)

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Creamed corn! It's corn season at the CSA (even though they mourned the end of corn season three weeks ago, the corn just keeps on coming) and I've been drowning in soft little white kernels. I tried out two recipes for creamed corn: Thomas Keller's, which uses cayenne and lime zest, and the Lee Bros recipe, which uses, well, cream and butter.

Keller's creamed corn was an instant hit with K. The tiny amount of cayenne actually added a huge amount of kick, and the hint of lime was very tantalizing. I liked it a lot, even though it didn't have the "classic" taste of creamed corn. (I also left out the chives.)

The Lee Bros recipe, on the other hand, didn't turn out so well. It absolutely blanketed me with the smell of butter and cream as I was stirring the mixture on the stovetop, which was drool-worthy, and I could almost feel my arteries hardening. Sadly, it was too salty. I think I fell victim to the fact that not all kosher salts are created equal. Still, it's an absolutely luxurious recipe, and I'd definitely try it again... salting carefully next time.

I love the CSA corn but it comes with a fair amount of worm action at the tip. I've learned to husk very carefully so as not to disturb the little guys; more often than not, there's one per cob. They look like little green caterpillars, the kind I used to play with when I was a kid and less squeamish. If I see one, I lop off one or two inches of the tip of the cob, and let the worm keep the tip; I figure there's enough corn for both of us. (One of the other CSA patrons was complaining that there were worms in her corn. The farmer's daughter said, "but you want organic vegetables, right?")

-

Vienna Teng played in Silver Spring on Saturday, accompanied by talented producer/percussionist Alex Wong, with singer/stand-up comedian Joey Ryan opening. (He's not really a stand-up comedian. But he should be. I've never seen such deadpan delivery. "This next song is my wife's favorite song, like, ever, in the whole history of music, which just goes to show that, you know, maybe she should listen to more music. Anyway... it's called 'You Deserve Better.'" And as the audience is still laughing, he starts into the opening chords.)

Vienna and Alex were great as usual, riffing off each other splendidly and inviting plenty of audience participation. Both of them made extensive use of loopers during the show, which I found fascinating; Vienna managed three-part harmony with her looper, and worked it in seamlessly during the choruses while accompanying herself on piano. It was really impressive to see. The audience was, as Vienna put it, "pin-drop silent" during the songs (my favorite kind of audience), and very generous with applause. Joey Ryan came out to accompany them on one or two songs, and the three of them together had a fabulous blend.

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Oh! And congratulations to Maryland, which was among ten states (well, nine states and DC) that won funds for the Race to the Top program: $250 million to invest in public schools. I'm grateful, seeing as it's my state and all, but this state also has four of the highest-income counties in the country.

Couldn't we give this money to, I don't know, Alabama or something? Surely we make enough money that we can allocate some of it to the poorer counties in the state, without taking money from the feds. Yes, I understand that it's irresponsible to hand out funds to those unprepared to use them, and that a lot of effort went into making sure that the states that got this money were prepared indeed. But it still seems unfair.

Anyway, in case you're wondering, the other winners were: Washington DC, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, Ohio and Rhode Island. I'm particularly glad to see DC, Georgia, and Hawaii on the list.

I learned of this because Governor O'Malley informed his listserv in a triumphant email, concluding, hilariously: "We are grateful for... federal investments from President Obama and the U.S. Department of Educatio." Yes, even governors need spellcheck.

-

* I keep thinking about that article on NPR which said that time moves faster because we're increasingly familiar with routine. It's a pity that I find such solace in routine. I guess I'll just keep trying to cram more into the interstitial bits.

Date: 2010-08-26 04:29 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mediaprophet.livejournal.com
Maryland also has 2 of the worst 20 school districts in the nation, by graduation rate (PG County and Baltimore City). Our property taxes fund our school districts. Our state taxes are supposed to pay for state initiatives like the HOPE program, highways, the Universities, historic areas, state parks, etc.

PG County's problem has not, historically, been money as much as poor management. They go through CEOs like a failing mortgage lender, and half of them seem to leave with indictments. I don't want a dime of my state taxes to go into these counties. They should raise their own taxes to pay for their schools, or crack down on corruption.

Race to the Top is a good stopgap to fund improvements in Baltimore city and PG county while they get themselves cleaned up. Baltimore city is actually improving fast and may be the primary reason we got Race to the Top funds -- they've improved their graduation rate and implemented magnet schools to help retain and encourage high-performing students. They've raised teacher pay to very competitive levels, and created teacher recruitment and retention programs. I hope most of those dollars go to Baltimore. What they're doing is very promising.

PG county seems to be at a nadir, with poor teacher retention, poor test scores, record-breakingly-poor graduation rates, and a new CEO. I hope the state attaches a lot of strings to the dollars they give to PG. But to see change happen, they need the dollars to attach those strings to.

Race to the Top can also help high-performing, wealthy districts. Montgomery County has a serious budget crisis, and its tax base is shifting as more and more low-income families move in. These students are hurting their test scores, too. The long-term solution is to raise taxes to tap those 80K+ income earners, which would pay for additional schools and services for their lower-class pupils. A small, short-term injection of cash will get them through while the wealthy MoCo folks grapple with the political challenges of budget realignment and accepting tax increases.

I agree a short-term cash injection would do more for a poor state than a rich state, though. A state like Mississippi, with consistently low performance, suffers from poverty and poor tax base. A short-term injection of cash would help them build new schools and increase teacher preparedness, which would be a big help for them. They need it more, but it's hard for Mississippi to win a contest requiring them to demonstrate improvement, with severe poverty, unemployment and budget woes.

Date: 2010-08-27 02:30 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kittenscribble.livejournal.com
That's a lot of great information that I didn't know. Good to hear about Baltimore City. And PG is in an even worse spot than I had imagined. As for MoCo, it just sounds like they need to reevaluate their spending priorities, but I can see how a quick dose of cash would come in handy.

Are property taxes seriously the only source of funding for schools? That way seems to encourage vicious cycles of wealthy people making better schools for wealthy kids. Conversely, 80k+ income earners aren't going to want to raise their kids in PG County any time soon, so the property values are going to stay low, etc.




Date: 2010-08-27 12:26 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mediaprophet.livejournal.com
Property taxes aren't the sole source of educational funds -- state and county taxes also contribute -- but they're a major source of school funding.

The median income for a family in PG county now is over $80K. PG County isn't all that poor, which is the ironic tragedy of the place.

Date: 2010-08-27 02:19 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kittenscribble.livejournal.com
PG County isn't all that poor, which is the ironic tragedy of the place.

Tragedy does seem the appropriate word.

Date: 2010-08-27 02:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mediaprophet.livejournal.com
Also, can I borrow those books?

Date: 2010-08-27 02:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] kittenscribble.livejournal.com
Yes, but not from me... I just returned the first three to East Columbia a couple of days ago, so they should be all ready for you at the SF/fantasy paperback section. =)

I haven't returned the fourth one yet, so you can borrow that if you don't mind returning it for me.

Date: 2010-08-27 02:54 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mediaprophet.livejournal.com
OMG libraries!

I'll stop by the Brokenland library. Thanks!

Date: 2010-08-27 03:15 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mediaprophet.livejournal.com
Wow... The library website lets you place it on hold so you don't even have to walk around looking for it!

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