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User Journal

Journal Journal: Help me buy something. 14

Howdy all. Addressing my geek peeps, 'cause I 'spect that y'all keep up with this a bit more on average than the Multiply crowd.

In any case, I just filled up my 120GB external HD that serves as a storage drive for my iTunes library and backup for all those digipics and homemade porn vids, and I'm in the market to buy a new one. Anyone know of any good deals going on these days? A few months back the X picked up a 200GB drive for $90 after rebate, I think. That sounds doable to me.

I appreciate any resources or links you can refer me to!
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Journal Journal: [Ask my GeekPeeps] GPS thingies 6

I have a friend who is looking to invest in a GPS thingie, but technogadgetry isn't his strong suit... not like it is y'all's, anyway.

He has a buddy who uses a Microsoft Atlas, and is thinking of just going with that because it's familiar. He also mentioned a "Tom Tom." (Obviously, I know nothing about these things -- but I DO know who to ask for advice. *grin*)

Says he wants to spend less than $200, and he's going to be using it mainly for driving directions. Has to be extremely reliable & accurate.

If you can refer me to articles or website that review & compare such things, I'll pass those along -- and as always, thanks for any help y'all can offer!
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Journal Journal: [Solicitation] Personal Financial Mgmt Software? 4

Heya. It's time for me to invest in some software to manage all the flithy, ill-gotten lucre that I'm voraciously extracting from every possible orifice of the VNFspouse*. I'm looking for something that will track all my accounts and investments, be able to print checks IF I choose to do that, and integrate with tax software on an annual basis.

Oh, and it has to run BEAUTIFULLY on a Mac. (Although being able to transfer over to a PC would also be nice, in case I need to go back to that platform at some point in time.)

All I have any idea about is Quicken, and I'd be happy with that. But before I take the plunge and spend my money, does anyone else have any suggestions for stuff they recommend? Or some way to get a great deal when buying Quicken -- or any other package? Links would be appreciated.


*Very Nearly Former Spouse
User Journal

Journal Journal: On the Return of Things Taken 22

So I had a little adventure this weekend. Saturday night I went out and ended up at an Atlanta Bread Company with some soup (Roasted Red Pepper with feta cheese on top -- quite yummy, if a bit salty, but what can you expect?) at 9:30 pm.

In my rush to vacate the premises at closing time (10 pm -- and I had my laptop, and YES, stupidly enough, I was on my cell phone), I left my purse behind. I discovered this less than 5 minutes later when I pulled up to the Starbucks and went to grab it and go in and get something yummy and hot to sip on for another little bit before heading home.

Well, I turned right back around and went back to the Atlanta Bread Company, which had since closed and locked its main doors -- but another one over to the side was still open. I went in and explained my plight to the two female employees who were still there, who immediately began scouring the place for my purse. One of them called the guy who'd been acting as manager when they were still open, a guy named Diego who had already left with the one other employee (also male) who had been there when I left.

I suppose it's worth noting that there had been another table occupied when I left -- what looked like a mother/teenage son duo.

In any case, the female employee called Diego back to the restaurant, and he was there within 5 minutes. When Diego got there, he looked at the table where I'd been sitting and then said he was sorry, but my purse wasn't there. He offered to let me leave my name & number and said they'd talk to the other employees and call me tomorrow (Sunday).

Now, at this point I'll editorialize and say that Diego had a way about him... a bit stammery, a bit pale, a bit shifty-eyed... that screamed "Guilty!!" to me. And I looked him in the eye and talked to him directly as if I *knew* that he was the one who took my purse. Because I just had the feeling he did.

But I walked out of there empty-handed.

It took me an hour to drive home, and then another 30 minutes or so to round up the numbers for the credit cards and get them cancelled/reported. And eventually I went to sleep, but it was fitful. I woke up in the morning still feeling extremely anxious, so I took a Xanax and went back to sleep until about noon -- and thank goodness for the marvels of modern pharmacology, because I woke up after that feeling at least *somewhat* relaxed.

But lo and behold, 3:00 rolled around and my cell phone rang... and it was Diego. He had my purse. He says that "his friend" had had it, and had decided to give it back, and would I care to come pick it up from him? Of course I say yes, noting with interest that he wants me to meet him at the Starbucks and NOT at the Atlanta Bread Company. And the last thing he says to me before I get off the phone is, "But you gotta promise not to call the manager, 'cause I'll get fired, and my friend'll get fired." I assured him that it was a deal -- that I just wanted my purse back.

So I packed up in the car and met him down there (after ANOTHER hour-long drive, with my gas tank getting closer and closer to the red line, starting me to wonder if there'd be any cash left in my purse and what I might be able to do to pay for gas so I could get back home again...) and he handed me back my purse. Everything was in it (not that I'm surprised by this -- once you've admitted that you took a purse, it'd be kinda stupid to steal money from it).

And I gave the guy $20 to thank him for giving me my purse back. And said something along the lines of "Nothing in this purse is worth your integrity. Now you have that... and $20. It takes guts to bring something like this back. Next time, don't take it in the first place."

I've gotten things returned to me like this before, most notably a BLANK (the "payable to" line), signed check for $1500 that fell out of my pocket in a cafe bathroom in the French Quarter in New Orleans, of all places! In that case, I was so completely flustered that I walked out of there without leaving ANYTHING for the person who had turned it in... and I regret that to this day.

So my policy ever since has been to pay a reward to anyone honest enough to turn in my purse or wallet or whatever. It happened a couple months ago at a coffee shop I frequent. In that case, though, they actually called *me* to let me know I'd left it there. And not just once -- but TWICE. And they'd had to look up my number in the phone book and *really* make an effort to track me down. Of course, that's a local little place and I make an effort to know their names when I go in there, and, well, it really is true that folks are just generally a bit nicer up here in the country. I'm not sure why that is, but it's true.

My dilemma now is whether or not to call the restaurant manager. Yes, I "gave my word" to Diego that I wouldn't do so. But as far as I'm concerned, I would have told him just about ANYthing to get what I wanted. Something about Sun Tsu or something, I'm sure (remind me to put Art of War on my must-read list... Probably should have done so before doing the divorce papers... but then again, I saved an assload of lawyer's fees by not having done so, probably...).

But I wanted to put the situation out there to the group. What would you do? What would you have done? Paid the guy? Brought the cops with you? Would you call the manager and insist he be fired? Would you call and commend his latent honesty?

Have you ever gotten anything given back to you like this? I don't know if it's just me, but I have this niggling doubt that if I *weren't* a relatively attractive ("easy on the eyes," is how I believe some of you have so generously put it) female -- that is, if I had been a guy or a fat, ugly chick (BTDT, BTW!), that Diego wouldn't have bothered to call me and give my purse back. He made a remark about hoping to see me back again in the restaurant as I was leaving... and that felt a bit... odd.

Have you ever gotten preferential treatment... or been deprived of it?... because of your appearance? How do you feel about it when it happens to you? How about when you see it happening with someone else?

Oh... and Happy Monday, everybody! :-D
User Journal

Journal Journal: Molly Ivins again. This one is better. (Natch.) 5

January 31, 2007
Molly Ivins, Populist Texas Columnist, Dies at 62

Molly Ivins, the liberal newspaper columnist who delighted in skewering politicians and interpreting, and mocking, her Texas culture, died today at her home in Austin. She was 62.

Her death, after a long fight with breast cancer, was confirmed by her personal assistant, Betsy Moon.

In her syndicated column, which appeared in about 350 newspapers, Ms. Ivins cultivated the voice of a folksy populist who derided those who acted too big for their britches. She was rowdy and profane, but she could filet her ideological opponents with droll precision.

After Patrick J. Buchanan, as a conservative candidate for president, declared at the 1992 Republican National Convention that America was engaged in a cultural war, she said his speech "probably sounded better in the original German."

"There are two kinds of humor," she told People magazine. One was the kind "that makes us chuckle about our foibles and our shared humanity," she said. "The other kind holds people up to public contempt and ridicule. That's what I do."

Hers was a feisty voice that she developed in the early 1970s at The Texas Observer, the muckraking biweekly that would become her spiritual home for life.

Her subject was Texas. To her, the Great State, as she called it, was "reactionary, cantankerous and hilarious," and its legislature was "reporter heaven." When the legislature was set to convene, she warned her readers: "Every village is about to lose its idiot."

Her Texas upbringing made her something of an expert on the Bush family. She viewed President George H.W. Bush benignly. ("Real Texans do not use the word 'summer' as a verb," she wrote.)

But she derided President George W. Bush, whom she first knew in high school. She called him Shrub and Dubya. With the Texas journalist Lou Dubose, she wrote two best-selling books about Mr. Bush: "Shrub: The Short but Happy Political Life of George W. Bush" (2000) and "Bushwhacked" (2003).

In 2004 she campaigned against Mr. Bush's re-election, and as the war in Iraq continued, she called for his impeachment. In her last column, earlier this month, she urged readers to "raise hell" against the war.

Mary Tyler Ivins was born on Aug. 30, 1944 in California and grew up in the affluent Houston suburb of River Oaks. Her father, James, a conservative Republican, was general counsel and later president of Tenneco Corporation, an oil and gas company.

As a student at private school, Ms. Ivins was tall and big-boned and often felt out of place. "I spent my girlhood as a Clydesdale among thoroughbreds," she said.

She developed her liberal views partly from reading The Texas Observer at a friend's house. Those views led to fierce arguments with her father about civil rights and the Vietnam War.

"I've always had trouble with male authority figures because my father was such a martinet," she told The Texas Monthly.

After her father developed advanced cancer and shot himself to death in 1998, she wrote: "I believe that all the strength I have comes from learning how to stand up to him."

Like her mother, Margot, and grandmother, Ms. Ivins went to Smith College in Massachusetts. Graduating in 1966, she also studied at the Institute of Political Science in Paris and earned her master's degree at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.

Her first newspaper jobs were at The Houston Chronicle and The Minneapolis Tribune, now The Star Tribune. In 1970, she jumped at the chance to move to Austin, where she became co-editor of The Observer.

Covering the statehouse, she found characters whose fatuousness helped focus her calling and define her persona, which her friends saw as populist and her detractors saw as manufactured cornpone. Even her friends marveled at how quickly she could drop her Texas voice for what they called her Smith voice. Sometimes she combined the two, as in: "The sine qua non, as we say in Amarillo."

Ronnie Dugger, the former publisher of The Observer, said the political circus in Texas inspired her. "It was like somebody snapped the football to her and said, 'All the rules are off, this is the football field named Texas, and it's wide open,"' he said.

In 1976, her writing, which she said was often fueled by "truly impressive amounts of beer," landed her a job at The New York Times. She cut an unusual figure in The Times newsroom, wearing blue jeans, going barefoot and bringing in her dog, whose name was an expletive.

While she drew important writing assignments, like covering the Son of Sam killings and Elvis Presley's death, she sensed she did not fit in and complained that Times editors drained the life from her prose. "Naturally, I was miserable, at five times my previous salary," she later wrote. "The New York Times is a great newspaper: it is also No Fun."

After a stint in Albany, she was transferred to Denver to cover the Rocky Mountain states, where she continued to challenge her editors' capacity for prankish writing.

Covering an annual chicken slaughter in New Mexico in 1980, she used a sexually suggestive phrase, which her editors deleted from the final article. But her attempt to use it angered the executive editor, A.M. Rosenthal, who ordered her back to New York and assigned her to City Hall, where she covered routine matters with little flair.

She quit The Times in 1982 after The Dallas Times Herald offered to make her a columnist. She took the job even though she loathed Dallas, once describing it as the kind of town "that would have rooted for Goliath to beat David."

But the paper, she said, promised to let her write whatever she wanted. When she declared of a congressman, "If his I.Q. slips any lower, we'll have to water him twice a day," many readers were appalled, and several advertisers boycotted the paper. In her defense, her editors rented billboards that read: "Molly Ivins Can't Say That, Can She?" The slogan became the title of the first of her six books.

After The Times Herald folded in 1991, she wrote for The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, until 2001, when her column was syndicated by Creators Syndicate.

Ms. Ivins, who never married, is survived by a brother, Andy, of London, Tex., and a sister, Sara Ivins Maley, of Albuquerque, N.M. One of her closest friends was Ann Richards, the former Texas governor, who died last year. The two shared an irreverence for power and a love of the Texas wilds.

"Molly is a great raconteur, with a long memory," Ms. Richards said, "and she's the best person in the world to take on a camping trip because she's full of good-ol-boy stories."

Ms. Ivins worked at a breakneck pace, adding television appearances, book tours, lectures and fund-raising to a crammed writing schedule. She also wrote for Esquire, the Atlantic Monthly and The Nation.

An article about her in 1996 in The Star-Telegram suggested that her work overload may have caused an increase in factual errors in her columns. (She eventually hired a fact-checker.) And in 1995, the writer Florence King accused Ms. Ivins of lifting passages from Ms. King' for an article that Ms. Ivins had written in Mother Jones in 1988. Ms. Ivins had credited Ms. King six times in the article but not in two lengthy sentences, and she apologized to Ms. King.

Ms. Ivins learned she had breast cancer in 1999 and was typically unvarnished in describing her treatments. "First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you," she wrote. "I have been on blind dates better than that."

But she continued to write her columns and continued to write and raise money for The Observer.

Indeed, rarely has a reporter so embodied the ethos of her publication. On the paper's 50th anniversary in 2004, she wrote: "This is where you can tell the truth without the bark on it, laugh at anyone who is ridiculous, and go after the bad guys with all the energy you have."
User Journal

Journal Journal: I am a *cook*!! 10

I got in the kitchen last night and Just. Got. Bizzay.

No, not with the STBex. That book is closed and burned. But with the food, just the way it's s'posed to be.

First thing I got goin' was some sopa de frijoles negros. That's Black Bean Soup for you gringos out there, and it ain't no thang. Just buy a bag and follow the directions. Involves lots of simmering time and overnight soaking, so plan ahead. It's super yummy with cornbread, and that's what we'll have for supper tonight.

Also did an adaptation of FK's Forgotten Chicken, except kicked up a notch or two 'cause it was really bland the first time I made it. This time, I added worcestershire, dried minced onions, a bit of cayenne & sweet paprika (and I'm not sure if there was anything else) to a can of cream of mushroom, cream of chicken & 2 packets of french onion soup mix. Pour that over rice and chicken breasts... Came out pretty darn good, so reporteth Kiddo. (ExHub whinged that the rice wasn't good with it.)

But my *real* success for the evening was with the leftover [boneless, skinless] chicken breast that wouldn't fit into the pan that I cooked the rest of the chicken in. I figured I might as well do a little experimenting, 'cause I was in the mood and all.

So I pounded it into a cutlet and garlic salted & peppered it on each side. Quickly browned it on both sides, squeezing half a lemon on it while it cooked in about a tablespoon of very hot EVOO in the cast iron skillet, then removed it from the pan.

In its place, I put about 2-3 tablespoons of minced garlic (the jarred kind, because I keep a LOT of that on hand), and after it got a chance to start carmelizing, but before it burned, I added about 1/3 cup of marinated artichoke hearts, 3 or 4 chopped, marinated sundried tomatoes, and the juice of the other half of the lemon.

Gave that a few seconds to get heated up, then I deglazed the pan with about a cup or so of Asti Spumante that I had opened (but didn't feel like drinking all of -- this is a problem with me and a whole bottle of whatever). That cooked down over the course of 5-8 minutes, and I have to admit that I was concerned it was going to be kinda sour, because that's the smell I was getting. And the smell was that *really* wine-y smell. But I wasn't getting discouraged -- it was one of those "got nothing to lose" kinds of deals.

In any case, once the sauce had reduced substantially, I added in a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream and then the cutlet once again, with the juices from the plate. A couple of minutes bringing all that back up to bubbling, then I plated the whole deal -- and topped it with crumbled tomato-basil goat cheese -- and stuck it in the oven with the convection going at 400F, in an attempt to brown the cheese a bit. The cheese didn't get brown, but it got very melty, and that worked just fine.

And the result was... exquisite. Tangy and sweet and savory and exciting. Layers of flavors and a wonderful combination of textures with the chicken and tomatoes and creamy sauce. The garlic was lovely and smooth, the lemon was bright, and the goat cheese was... just the perfect accent.

What was even better was having the leftovers for lunch today mixed up with some of that steamed white rice I had leftover from the OTHER chicken dish.

I'd been having a pretty crappy week, and I'll tell you what -- a success like that, so validating and gratifying -- was exactly what I needed.

As for today, Kiddo woke up around 4:30 and puked about a half dozen times before the sun came up, so school, work, and the gym all got called off. She seems to be just fine now, so we're hanging around the house with laundry and bits of cleaning up and just putzing around the house all day. Reminds me of why it is that I'm *so* glad to be "gainfully employed" these days. Not that it's so bad to have a day "off" -- but even when it's productive it is just flat-out mind-numblingly dull (for the most part -- I manage to squeeze in a bit of fun now and then, 'cause entertaining myself is a forté of mine.) :-)
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Journal Journal: [NYT] The Turntables That Transform Vinyl 5

January 21, 2007
The Turntables That Transform Vinyl

LONG-PLAYING records are gathering dust in the homes of many music lovers, who hope to hear their contents one day on a CD player or iPod.

Now, an updated version of another audio relic, the phonographic turntable, may provide a fairly inexpensive way to do that. Two new consumer turntables on the market at $200 or less connect directly to computers to transfer cherished vinyl to MP3 files and CDs.

The machines aren't for audiophiles who have the skill to rig their own systems with special cables and preamplifiers. But they may offer a doable way for nontechies to thrill again to their favorite bit of analog Beethoven or Dylan.

Learning how to use these systems takes time -- up to three or even four hours. The turntable has to be assembled, and the LPs cleaned carefully to remove the dust of ages -- two jobs that those over 30 might remember well.

Then the recording software, which comes on a CD, takes about a half-hour to set up properly -- or three times that if you skip the "frequently asked questions," as I did, and then sheepishly return to them when you get stuck.

The software requires some attention even after you learn its ways. For example, it can't automatically detect the end of each track between two songs or movements of a symphony. You have to mark these spots yourself in the program before burning a CD or making an MP3 file.

Still, once the learning curve is vanquished and the sounds of much-loved old recordings fill the air, you may wonder why you waited so long.

One of the new turntables is called the Ion USB or, more formally, the iTTUSB ($199 list price, about $150 on the Web through a site like Amazon.com). Made by Ion Audio, it works with both PCs and Macs. This lightweight plastic turntable plugs directly into the USB port of computers; inside, it has a preamplifier to bolster the sound, which is digitized and then sent to the computer through the USB cable.

When the Ion turntable is removed from its box, the rubber belt that drives the platter must be threaded into place, and the tone arm put together and balanced so that it produces just the right weight on the record. Be sure not to discard the Styrofoam blocks after you unpack the device: the tone arm and its counterweight are tucked within them.

The software goes on next. The Ion uses a venerable and free program called Audacity, which can do many jobs -- like eliminating some scratches on the recording. Installing it is easy, though a few instructions in the Audacity manual are in high geek, particularly those that guide you through changing the settings so the internal sound card on the computer will be used for playback rather than the turntable, which has no speakers. The frequently asked questions, downloadable at the Ion site, www.ion-audio.com/ittusb_FAQ.php, are invaluable here.

One of the trickiest parts of the recording procedure is low-tech: cleaning the records. Unearth your old LP cleaning brush or buy a new one and carefully run it over the LP. And make sure that the turntable is on a level, relatively vibration-free surface.

When you press "record," you'll see the digitized wave forms of the music traveling across the monitor and hear the audio version through the computer speakers or headphones. (Ion suggests trying a short section of an LP as a test.) If you are ambitious, you can edit the file, deleting some of the scratches, for instance.

Once the recording is done, the album must be divided manually into tracks, by marking the beginning and end of each with the computer mouse. If you can't tell from the wave forms where the break is -- they drop off when there's silence -- you can always check by listening to the recording.

In Audacity, each track is stored as a separate file; if you are making multiple tracks, you send each on its way as a .wav file to your hard disk. The manual was too geekish on this step, but the frequently asked questions explained it clearly. Once the files are on the hard drive, they can be burned quickly to a CD. The Ion will also convert 78-r.p.m. records, as well as cassette tapes.

Another new turntable, Audio-Technica's LP2Da ($170 to $199) works with PCs but not with Macs. And it has a sturdy dust cover, unlike the coverless Ion. The Audio-Technica's tone arm comes assembled and can be set to raise and lower itself from the turntable automatically

The Audio-Technica model has a pre-amplifier, but no USB connection. It plugs into the computer the old-fashioned way: through an analog line input jack. That means that it won't work with many laptops unless special hardware is bought, for laptops typically have a jack only for a microphone.

THE accompanying software, Cakewalk Pyro, is easier to use than Audacity: burning a CD, for instance, requires only one click for the entire LP, while Audacity requires that you send along each track separately. And it includes software for converting .wav files to MP3 files; by contrast, Audacity requires users to download a free plug-in in order to do this.

Ion users may soon have software that is easier to handle: in April, the company plans to replace Audacity with a program that detects tracks automatically and allows recording in MP3 format without a separate download. Buyers of the iTTUSB will be able to download the update at no charge. The company also plans to ship two models that are variations on the basic iTTUSB, both with dust covers.

Of course, there are other ways to digitize old LPs. Commercial services will transfer them, typically for $15 to $50 each, depending on the number of extra services. TEAC makes an all-in-one machine that doesn't require a separate computer to convert LPs to CDs ($400). It does some automatic tracking, although incompletely.

To see how the new, inexpensive turntables sounded once they were set up, I invited a friend, George Basbas, a physicist, to bring over some of his treasured LPs. One was an old Columbia Masterworks album featuring the countertenor Russell Oberlin. We recorded it on the Audio-Technica turntable, burned a CD from the .wav files, then played both the CD and the LP on the stereo.

We couldn't tell for sure which was the LP and which was the CD, although many experts probably could. "Any digitization process imposes limits on quality," said Mark Schubin, a media technology consultant in Manhattan. "Be prepared: it won't sound the same as you heard it through your analog system when you were playing back the record."

But the new recording sounded good enough as we listened to Mr. Oberlin's exquisite voice fill the room, ready to be taken along by CD or MP3 in the car or on a walk, freed after more than 50 years from its vinyl confinement.
User Journal

Journal Journal: [NYT] Help, I'm Surrounded by Jerks 1

January 18, 2007
Help, I'm Surrounded by Jerks

CERTAIN mortals have the power to sink hearts and sour moods with lightning speed. The hysterical colleague. The meddlesome neighbor. The crazy in-law. The explosive boss. A mélange of cantankerous individuals, they are united by a single achievement: They make life miserable.

You call them jerks, dolts and nitwits. Psychologists call them "difficult people." In fact they are difficult in so many ways that they have been classified into species like the Complainer, the Whiner and the Sniper, to name but three.

But in an age when no problem goes unacknowledged or unaddressed, living with such people is no longer the only choice. Instead, an industry of books and seminars has sprung up, not to help the difficult change their maddening ways, but to help the rest of us cope with them.

Two decades ago there were only a handful of books offering advice on how to defang the dears. Today there are scores of seminars, workbooks and multimedia tools to help people co-exist with those they wish did not exist.

In the spring, Career Press is to publish "151 Quick Ideas to Deal With Difficult People" by Carrie Mason-Draffen. But numerous resources are already on the market, including the succinctly titled "Since Strangling Isn't an Option" by Sandra A. Crowe.

Next month the Career and Professional Development Center at Duke Law School will for the first time offer a workshop called Dealing With Conflict and Difficult People. In September the negotiation program in Harvard Law School's executive education series will present a seminar called Dealing With Difficult People and Difficult Situations. And the Graduate School, United States Department of Agriculture, which offers continuing education classes, has scheduled more than half a dozen seminars entitled Positive Approaches to Difficult People for this year.

The lessons include common sense (talk it out and put yourself in their shoes), character by character tactical road maps and something that the victims of the difficult don't want to hear: they might be the problem.

Nan Harrison, the vice president of training resources and publication sales for CareerTrack, which every month presents more than 50 public "difficult people" seminars across the country, attributes the increased popularity of such workshops to a desire to improve workplace skills in a time of corporate downsizing and a more competitive job market. "I think the stakes have gotten higher for everyone," she said.

Other conflict-resolution specialists suggested an unexpected reason for the increasing interest: A post-9/11 desire to make peace, even if it is merely with the wet blanket in the adjoining cubicle.

Whatever the reason, "difficult people" gurus are in demand. That is perhaps because everyone knows at least one person who can set the blood boiling. They can be found in corporate offices, on co-op boards, in church choirs and on university faculties. They are the office Cassandra who predicts doom for every project her team initiates, the intimidating boss for whom nothing is ever good enough and the unreasonable receptionist at the motor vehicles office.

"They're very disruptive, these people," said Brook Zelcer, a tennis pro and an English teacher in Westwood, N.J.

On the tennis court, Mr. Zelcer has been served up his share of overbearing and impatient parents. One stood out as truly difficult: The father who gave his wife play-by-plays of his daughter's matches on his cellphone, disrupted games by shouting from the stand, encouraged his daughter to cheat during matches and drove her to tears.

Mr. Zelcer tried to control the father, but all he got was a phone call from the man insisting he loved his child. "That's one of the reasons I quit coaching," Mr. Zelcer said. "I couldn't deal with these people."

For Ann Rothman, a Manhattan real estate agent, her difficult person is a know-it-all friend who simply cannot be pleased.

"She's a superior human being, and she comes from a superior area -- Berkeley, Calif.," Ms. Rothman said. "She has told me many times that there are only two places to get good food. One of them is Berkeley, and one of them is France. And France is only second to Berkeley."

Difficult people are not harmless. The impact of slowing productivity or creating unhappy customers and vendors is immeasurable, unknowable and often a company's biggest cost, said Ms. Harrison of CareerTrack, paraphrasing W. Edwards Deming, a management consultant.

Yet, some scholars say, the problem is not the difficult people themselves. It is you.

"There's a good quote from the Talmud," said Bruce Elvin, an associate dean and the director of the Career and Professional Development Center at Duke Law School. " 'We do not see the world as it is. We see the world as we are.' That really in my view sums this topic up."

He and others say that rather than seeing the office curmudgeon or the post office nitpicker as the sum of their most wretched behavior, it is better to think of them as full people, even to empathize with them, if only to maintain some sense of control.

Easier said than done. But psychologists say people exhibit difficult behavior because they have a need that is not being met. Understanding that need -- a colleague may be snappish, for instance, because his personal life is in turmoil -- helps take the sting out of his or her actions, they say.

"Some people really are bad people," said Mark I. Rosen, a social scientist at Brandeis and the author of "Thank You for Being Such a Pain: Spiritual Guidance for Dealing With Difficult People," "but I don't think the percentage is as high as people think it is." Instead, he said, "most people fall into the category of incompetent or oblivious."

Several authors think it is useful to characterize infuriating people into types and prescribe ways to deal with them, as Robert M. Bramson did in 1981 in "Coping With Difficult People," one of the first popular books on the topic. Its overarching lesson is to find a way to communicate with these people because they are not going away. Dr. Bramson lists seven difficult behavior types: Hostile-Aggressives, Complainers, Silent and Unresponsives, Super-Agreeables, Know-It-All Experts, Negativists and Indecisives.

These authors say that after categorizing the difficult behavior, you can take steps to rein it in. For example, Dr. Rick Brinkman, a seminar leader and an author of "Dealing With People You Can't Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst," calls one category Whiners. These people rattle off an endless loop of complaints and must be coaxed into problem solving.

He suggests listening to them and letting them vent. Chances are, he said, their complaints will be vague and exaggerated. When they begin to repeat their gripes, summarize for them what they have said. Then begin asking specific questions.

"You have to keep asking them what they think they should do," Dr. Brinkman said, to press for resolutions. You might finally say something outrageous, like "What if we were to kill everyone in the other department?"

The literature on difficult people often focuses on the workplace, but business scholars say that neither your department nor "the other department" has a corner on the difficult people market. Rather, as Richard Freedman, the distinguished service professor of management at the Leonard N. Stern School of Business of New York University, put it, "Difficult people are distributed evenly throughout society."

"How many mother-in-law stories have you heard?" he asked. "It's not disproportionate in the workplace, but often what it is, is that the stakes are so big for people. Career is at the center of people's lives."

Workplaces are competitive environments comprising individuals with disparate styles of working and communicating. With so many temperaments thrown together, every office is a powder keg.

For instance, there are those who think they are powerless, that their ideas go unheard or are dismissed and who believe they are not valued, feelings that can turn into chronically difficult behavior.

In the end, the specialists say, we cannot control other people, only our response to them. Then again, we can always let nature take its course.

"Having somebody who is really difficult can actually be good for the workplace," said Jo-Ellen Pozner, a researcher in the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern. "If everyone really hates this one person, it becomes the basis of social bonding for the rest of the group."
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Journal Journal: [NYT] 51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse 53

January 16, 2007
51% of Women Are Now Living Without Spouse

For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results.

In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000.

Coupled with the fact that in 2005 married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time, the trend could ultimately shape social and workplace policies, including the ways government and employers distribute benefits.

Several factors are driving the statistical shift. At one end of the age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried partners more often and for longer periods. At the other end, women are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom.

In addition, marriage rates among black women remain low. Only about 30 percent of black women are living with a spouse, according to the Census Bureau, compared with about 49 percent of Hispanic women, 55 percent of non-Hispanic white women and more than 60 percent of Asian women.

In a relatively small number of cases, the living arrangement is temporary, because the husbands are working out of town, are in the military or are institutionalized. But while most women eventually marry, the larger trend is unmistakable.

"This is yet another of the inexorable signs that there is no going back to a world where we can assume that marriage is the main institution that organizes people's lives," said Prof. Stephanie Coontz, director of public education for the Council on Contemporary Families, a nonprofit research group. "Most of these women will marry, or have married. But on average, Americans now spend half their adult lives outside marriage."

Professor Coontz said this was probably unprecedented with the possible exception of major wartime mobilizations and when black couples were separated during slavery.

William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, a research group in Washington, described the shift as "a clear tipping point, reflecting the culmination of post-1960 trends associated with greater independence and more flexible lifestyles for women."

"For better or worse, women are less dependent on men or the institution of marriage," Dr. Frey said. "Younger women understand this better, and are preparing to live longer parts of their lives alone or with nonmarried partners. For many older boomer and senior women, the institution of marriage did not hold the promise they might have hoped for, growing up in an 'Ozzie and Harriet' era."

Emily Zuzik, a 32-year-old musician and model who lives in the East Village of Manhattan, said she was not surprised by the trend.

"A lot of my friends are divorced or single or living alone," Ms. Zuzik said. "I know a lot of people in their 30s who have roommates."

Ms. Zuzik has lived with a boyfriend twice, once in California where the couple registered as domestic partners to qualify for his health insurance plan. "I don't plan to live with anyone else again until I am married," she said, "and I may opt to keep a place of my own even then."

Linda Barth, a 56-year-old magazine editor in Houston who has never married, said, "I used to divide my women friends into single friends and married friends. Now that doesn't seem to be an issue."

Sheila Jamison, who also lives in the East Village and works for a media company, is 45 and single. She says her family believes she would have had a better chance of finding a husband had she attended a historically black college instead of Duke.

"Considering all the weddings I attended in the '80s that have ended so very, very badly, I consider myself straight up lucky," Ms. Jamison said. "I have not sworn off marriage, but if I do wed, it will be to have a companion with whom I can travel and play parlor games in my old age."

Carol Crenshaw, 57, of Roswell, Ga., was divorced in 2005 after 33 years and says she is in no hurry to marry again.

"I'm in a place in my life where I'm comfortable," said Ms. Crenshaw, who has two grown sons. "I can do what I want, when I want, with whom I want. I was a wife and a mother. I don't feel like I need to do that again."

Similarly, Shelley Fidler, 59, a public policy adviser at a law firm, has sworn off marriage. She moved from rural Virginia to the vibrant Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington, D.C., when her 30-year marriage ended.

"The benefits were completely unforeseen for me," Ms. Fidler said, "the free time, the amount of time I get to spend with friends, the time I have alone, which I value tremendously, the flexibility in terms of work, travel and cultural events."

Among the more than 117 million women over the age of 15, according to the marital status category in the Census Bureau's latest American Community Survey, 63 million are married. Of those, 3.1 million are legally separated and 2.4 million said their husbands were not living at home for one reason or another.

That brings the number of American women actually living with a spouse to 57.5 million, compared with the 59.9 million who are single or whose husbands were not living at home when the survey was taken in 2005.

Some of those situations, which the census identifies as "spouse absent" and "other," are temporary, and, of course, even some people who describe themselves as separated eventually reunite with their spouses.

Over all, a larger share of men are married and living with their spouse -- about 53 percent compared with 49 percent among women.

"Since women continue to outlive men, they have reached the nonmarital tipping point -- more nonmarried than married," Dr. Frey said. "This suggests that most girls growing up today can look forward to spending more of their lives outside of a traditional marriage."

Pamela J. Smock, a researcher at the University of Michigan Population Studies Center, agreed, saying that "changing patterns of courtship, marriage, and that we are living longer lives all play a role."

"Men also remarry more quickly than women after a divorce," Ms. Smock added, "and both are increasingly likely to cohabit rather than remarry after a divorce."

The proportion of married people, especially among younger age groups, has been declining for decades. Between 1950 and 2000, the share of women 15-to-24 who were married plummeted to 16 percent, from 42 percent. Among 25-to-34-year-olds, the proportion dropped to 58 percent, from 82 percent.

"Although we can help people 'do' marriage better, it is simply delusional to construct social policy or make personal life decisions on the basis that you can count on people spending most of their adult lives in marriage," said Professor Coontz, the author of "Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage."

Besse Gardner, 24, said she and her boyfriend met as college freshmen and started living together last April "for all the wrong reasons" -- they found a great apartment on the beach in Los Angeles.

"We do not see living together as an end or even for the rest of our lives -- it's just fun right now," Ms. Gardner said. "My roommate is someone I'd be thrilled to marry one day, but it just doesn't make sense right now."

Ms. Crenshaw said that some of the women in her support group for divorced women were miserable, but that she was surprised how happy she was to be single again.

"That's not how I grew up," she said. "That's not how society thinks. It's a marriage culture."

Elissa B. Terris, 59, of Marietta, Ga., divorced in 2005 after being married for 34 years and raising a daughter, who is now an adult.

"A gentleman asked me to marry him and I said no," she recalled. "I told him, 'I'm just beginning to fly again, I'm just beginning to be me. Don't take that away.' "

"Marriage kind of aged me because there weren't options," Ms. Terris said. "There was only one way to go. Now I have choices. One night I slept on the other side of the bed, and I thought, I like this side."

She said she was returning to college to get a master's degree (her former husband "didn't want me to do that because I was more educated than he was"), had taken photography classes and was auditioning for a play.

"Once you go through something you think will kill you and it doesn't," she said, "every day is like a present."

Ariel Sabar, Brenda Goodman and Maureen Balleza contributed reporting.
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Journal Journal: [NYT] Wielding Kitchen Knives and Honing Office Skills 4

January 13, 2007
Wielding Kitchen Knives and Honing Office Skills

SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 12 -- Steve Jakosa, leader of the Emerald Palace cooking team, took off his apron and sat down to enjoy his dinner when the bad news came. His team's Mongolian beef had lost.

Across the room at a Sur La Table store here, the victors, the Wok Stars, cheered over their triumphant sweet soy and chili flank steak. It was a cook-off with decidedly corporate overtones as the group of amateur chefs from UBS, the financial services company, divided into teams and donned aprons recently one night after work.

Mr. Jakosa stood to make a toast. "I just want to tell you I'm devastated we didn't win the protein category," he said in jest.

Forget ropes courses and golf outings. Cooking is the new wave in corporate team-building exercises. And cooking schools across the country are expanding to meet demand. Last year, Hands On Gourmet, a company in San Francisco, tripled the number of chefs it has on call, to 32. Cooking by the Book, a company based in New York, did 178 team-building events, a 24 percent increase over 2005.

Taking inspiration from Rachael Ray, "Iron Chef" and "Top Chef," companies like Amgen and Microsoft are sending their employees off to chop, dice and sauté their way to better sales and management skills. They might spend a leisurely hour assembling a meal together or split up and go cleaver to cleaver in a race against the clock.

However it is done, the cooking class approach to corporate team building has caught on.

"This is a wonderful way to break the ice and get people familiar with each other while getting them to do something as basic as cooking," said Stephen Gibbs, a co-owner of Hands On Gourmet whose corporate team-building business in the last year has increased to 20 events a month from an average of 12.

Cooking events serve as an equalizer, Mr. Gibbs said, where the hierarchies of the office do not always translate. "In the kitchen, it's not about top-down structure," he said. "Everyone is working on the same level." Indeed, Mr. Jakosa, a senior vice president at UBS, directs a small wealth management group, but on this night he was the also-ran, the guy whose team took the equivalent of the Miss Congeniality crown, with the prize for the best noodles.

"Some people would be happy with the noodle prize," he said. "I'm perennially unhappy unless I'm No. 1 in the meat category."

Yet Mr. Jakosa kept his humor about it. "It's so good for the boss not just to lose but to come in third out of three," he said. "It's good for esprit de corps."

Bibby Gignilliat, the owner of Parties That Cook, which sent three chefs to work with the UBS group, said the change of scenery makes people see their colleagues in a different light.

"It breaks down your stereotype of people in the office," Ms. Gignilliat said. "You might not especially like someone you work with, but suddenly you're working on a recipe with them and you see they're a really good cook."

This is true of other team-bonding pursuits, of course. Companies are always looking for ways to make their employees happy and productive. That is why they go to the trouble and expense of scavenger hunts, rope courses, team boat building, and reality and game show knockoffs (one team-building company offers a number of these, including one called Corporate Survivor). These experiences are all popular ways to get employees together out of the office to discover new things about themselves and one another.

And fortunately most people are willing to give cooking a try, as the threshold to a minimal level of competence in wielding a kitchen knife is relatively low. What's more, the kitchen can represent a microcosm of the working world, with a deadline, limited resources to work with and a requirement for cooperation.

"At a golf tournament, the better golfers will have more fun," said Mary Risley, the owner of Tante Marie's Cooking School in San Francisco. Ms. Risley has been running corporate events since 1980, when she led a group of 24 summer associates at a law firm through a menu of fresh pasta, sautéed chicken with shallots and chocolate mousse cake. Over the years, Ms. Risley has led classes for many law firms and for corporations as diverse as H. J. Heinz, Genentech and Fidelity Investments.

Cooking is certainly safer than, say, rope climbing. "This is more social and you're not dangling 20 feet in the air," said Shoshana Wolf, the culinary coordinator at Sur La Table in Arlington, Va.

Ms. Gignilliat, whose prices start at $115 a person, said that unlike the corporate world, where co-workers might be collaborating on a project for a year, in the cooking class "they can see results after an hour."

Not surprisingly, the culture of the office can creep into the kitchen.

Before the professional chefs let Mr. Jakosa and his employees loose in the kitchen they had rented at Sur La Table they demonstrated some culinary basics -- using the side of a knife to smash garlic; the grid approach to dicing onions -- and offered a few safety tips.

A teacher suggested to the group that if they were carrying a hot pan and needed to call it to the attention of someone standing in the way, unaware of the peril, they call out, "Hot behind!"

Ever mindful of linguistic caution in the workplace, Mr. Jakosa shouted across the room to a colleague: "Hey, Andrew, can we say 'hot behind?' "

Some of the most gratifying results can come from a cooking event with people who barely know one another.

Throughout each year, Thermo Fischer Scientific, a large maker of laboratory equipment based in Waltham, Mass., invites managers from around the world to participate in a weeklong leadership training program.

For the last two years, a cooking course has been the first event of the week.

"You might have someone from China or Japan who speaks very little English," said Shelly Goulet, an administrator who coordinates the event. "It's just amazing that they then come together and do this dinner together. It puts them in a different place outside the business world."

Ms. Goulet said that in a survey after the program, the comments about the team-bonding cooking event are consistently the highest. "It's one of the favorite events of the week," she said.

The culinary approach has even been used to court a customer.

Last spring, Renate Glaessmann, a sales manager at Hewlett-Packard in Bridgewater, N.J., took her team to a cooking event in Chicago and invited employees from Verizon -- her prospective client -- to join them.

"There were some challenges with some of the personalities," she recalled, "so initially, some people were very reserved, and there were a few mad faces."

But as the group of a dozen or so sales managers and engineers -- mostly men -- from both companies worked together to create a tapas menu, the group grew more collegial. "They were pleasantly surprised," Ms. Glaessmann said. H.P. got the business.

Ms. Gignilliat, whose company is based in San Francisco and offers courses in Chicago and Los Angeles, said she started doing cuisine-centered team building eight years ago, when 40 or so executives arrived in San Francisco from Asia to negotiate a deal. The local law firm they were working with set up a team-building class with Ms. Gignilliat, at the home of one of the lawyers.

Ms. Gignilliat thought they would want to cook fish. The lawyer told her that they wanted steak.

Ms. Gignilliat was skeptical at first. "I walked into the living room and they were standing in a circle, very formally, and no one was talking," she recalled. She tried to break the silence with a cheerful rallying cry: "O.K.! Who wants to cook!" No response.

Once she managed to get the men to the kitchen and into aprons, she showed them how to make a stuffed beef tenderloin and strawberry shortcake.

"By the end of the night, it was raucous," she recalled. Ms. Gignilliat heard later that her class had been the highlight of the group's two-week stay in San Francisco.

"That's when I knew I was on to something," she said. "Food is a universal language and nothing brings people together better than creating a meal."

Mr. Jakosa said that even weeks after the event, people in his office were still talking about it. Of the 13 people in Mr. Jakosa's group at UBS, two had other obligations on the night of the cooking challenge and could not attend.

Mr. Jakosa likened the bragging rights earned by his group to the St. Crispin's Day speech from "Henry V." As the king exhorts his ragged band of soldiers to confront the French, he explains that those who are not there with them will regret it for years to come.

"It was that great," Mr. Jakosa said. "And that's the effect it had on people who didn't come. They regret it. Profoundly."

Still, Mr. Jakosa said, as gratifying as he and his employees found the cooking challenge, it might be time to branch out. So next year, they might get out of the kitchen and try some four-wheeling down in Monterey.
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Journal Journal: [NYT] In Obesity Fight, Many Fear a Note From School 5

January 8, 2007
In Obesity Fight, Many Fear a Note From School

BLOSSBURG, Pa. -- Six-year-old Karlind Dunbar barely touched her dinner, but not for time-honored 6-year-old reasons. The pasta was not the wrong shape. She did not have an urgent date with her dolls.

The problem was the letter Karlind discovered, tucked inside her report card, saying that she had a body mass index in the 80th percentile. The first grader did not know what "index" or "percentile" meant, or that children scoring in the 5th through 85th percentiles are considered normal, while those scoring higher are at risk of being or already overweight.

Yet she became convinced that her teachers were chastising her for overeating.

Since the letter arrived, "my 2-year-old eats more than she does," said Georgeanna Dunbar, Karlind's mother, who complained to the school and is trying to help her confused child. "She's afraid she's going to get in trouble," Ms. Dunbar said.

The practice of reporting students' body mass scores to parents originated a few years ago as just one tactic in a war on childhood obesity that would be fought with fresh, low-fat cafeteria offerings and expanded physical education. Now, inspired by impressive results in a few well-financed programs, states including Delaware, South Carolina and Tennessee have jumped on the B.M.I. bandwagon, turning the reports -- in casual parlance, obesity report cards -- into a new rite of childhood.

Legislators in other states, including New York, have proposed them as well, while some individual school districts have adopted the practice.

Here, in the rural Southern Tioga School District, the schools distribute the state-mandated reports even as they continue to serve funnel cakes and pizza for breakfast. Some students have physical education for only half the school year, even though 34 percent of kindergartners were overweight or at risk for it, according to 2003-4 reports.

Even health authorities who support distributing students' scores worry about these inconsistent messages, saying they could result in eating disorders and social stigma, misinterpretation of numbers that experts say are confusing, and a sense of helplessness about high scores.

"It would be the height of irony if we successfully identified overweight kids through B.M.I. screening and notification while continuing to feed them atrocious quality meals and snacks, with limited if any opportunities for phys ed in school," said Dr. David Ludwig, director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children's Hospital Boston.

The farmers and foundry workers here in north-central Pennsylvania have different ideas about weight than those of the medical authorities who set the standards (the percentiles are based on pre-1980 measurements because the current population of children is too heavy to use as a reference). Here, the local pizza chain is called Pudgie's. Nearby Mansfield's fanciest restaurant serves its grilled chicken salad piled with fries.

Nearly 60 percent of eighth graders in the district scored in the 85th percentile or higher in 2003-4; more than a quarter had scores in the 95th percentile or higher, meaning they were officially overweight.

As it is for adults, the body mass index for children is a ratio of height to weight, but the juvenile numbers are also classified by age and sex, and the word "obese" is not used.

Holly Berguson, the homecoming queen at North Penn Junior-Senior High School here, wears a size 20, a fact cited by her many admirers as proof of this community's generous attitude toward weight, its proud indifference to the "Baywatch" bodies on television.

"I don't care how big I am," said Holly, 17, who is insulin resistant, a condition that often precedes Type 2 diabetes. "It's not what you look like, it's who you are."

Part of the rationale behind the reports is that they are an extension of the height and weight checks that schools have traditionally conducted.

But here, the letters sent home with report cards have been a shock. Many parents threw them out, outraged to be told how much their children should weigh or unconvinced that children who look just fine by local standards are too large by official ones. Seventh graders traded scores during lunch periods. And more than a few children, like Karlind, no longer wanted to eat, students and parents said.

This year, Pennsylvania requires body mass index notification for students in kindergarten through eighth grades. Holly will graduate before it is required at the high school next fall. Her confidence about her body -- she is a lifeguard and wears a bathing suit without embarrassment -- says something about how the perception of childhood obesity has changed from earlier generations.

Among children, teasing and weight have always gone together, but now, says Doris Sargent, principal of Mansfield's elementary school, there are so many overweight children that "you can't pick on everybody." Here, two kinds of children are teased about their weight: the hugely fat and the thin.

Children who are merely big "pick on skinnier kids because they don't like their own weight," said Cassie Allen, a wiry ninth grader at Mansfield Junior-Senior High School who has been taunted as anorexic, as she and her friends sat over a lunch of brown-edged iceberg lettuce piled with artificial bacon bits and neat discs of chicken parmesan in the cafeteria.

A few miles away, at North Penn Junior-Senior High School, a cluster of bleary-eyed girls gathered before the start of classes, complaining that the letters chided them for a situation they were helpless to fix.

"It would be different if we had something to do rather than eat," said one, Shauna Gerow.

On a recent school trip to New York, the girls felt like visitors from a different, chubbier planet, they said.

"They're all this big," said Cassie Chase, holding her arms close together, "and we're all this big," she said, flinging them wide open.

The letters made some recipients feel the same way but left them unsure what to do about it.

Karen Sick, food services director for the school district, has been phasing in healthier foods despite budgetary obstacles and students who prefer white bread over whole wheat. The school district has revamped its menus, eliminating Gatorade and the powdered sugar from the funnel cakes. But it still sends a nutritionally mixed message: birthday cupcakes are discouraged while cafeterias sell ice cream sandwiches and Rice Krispie treats, which some students buy five at a time.

The district's cafeterias recently introduced kiwi and field greens, which drew enthusiastic reviews, but because of the high cost, they are now back to canned fruit and iceberg lettuce. Officials, while trying hard to address the concerns, acknowledge that change may take several more years.

Along the same lines, all students receive some form of physical education each year. But some students live 45 minutes from school: by the time they get home, it is too dark and cold to play outside. And the administrators point out that many children with weight problems also need tutoring after school, so they have to choose between extra help and team sports.

School administrators here say they do not have the resources of their counterparts in Arkansas, which slowed the rate of increase of its childhood obesity using money drawn from a state tobacco settlement windfall.

Nor can they afford exotic gym fare like the Pilates and kayaking now offered in the Miami-Dade County Public Schools, where high school students who had scores in the 95th percentile and above have lost an average of eight pounds a semester.

To successfully change students' eating habits, schools would need to counsel each child and provide "really high-quality nutrition and physical activity assessments," said Marlene Schwartz, director of research and school programs at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale. "How often are they eating fruits and vegetables? How much soda are they drinking?"

Christina Bové is the mother of three children who attend the Blossburg schools. She clutched a picture of her 9-year-old son, Christian, in a bathing suit, to prove that he was not "at risk of overweight," as his 92nd percentile score had indicated.

The letter was inaccurate -- and useless, Ms. Bové said. "The school provides us with this information with no education about how to use it or what it means," she said.

Ms. Bové is more worried about her daughter Alora, age 8, who has lately taken up carrot sticks and constant weigh-ins. "She walks out of the bathroom saying, 'I weigh 68 pounds, and none of you can say that,' " Ms. Bové said.

For the kind of young woman who counts every kernel of no-butter popcorn, the index reports can be dangerous, some experts said.

"A letter from school feels evaluative," said Kelly M. Vitousek, a professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii and a specialist in eating disorders. Declaring a weight healthy "without knowing the background of how the kid got there, you're affirming kids who have actively done something to suppress weight," she said.

The practice of reporting body mass index scores in schools has gone from pilot program to mass weigh-in despite "no solid research" on either its physical or psychological impact, and "no controlled randomized trial," said Ms. Schwartz of Yale. "Entire states are adopting a policy that has not been tested."

Individual school districts like Miami's and New York City's are issuing personalized fitness reports for students that list their abdominal crunches and the pace of their one-mile runs along with their body mass index scores.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is expected soon to issue a policy statement on the reports, providing guidelines about their benefits and risks, an agency spokesperson said. Meanwhile, supporters of the reports said that some of the problems experienced here -- shocked parents, uncomfortable revelations -- are precisely the point.

"If families had an accurate perception of the issue, we wouldn't need B.M.I. screening," said Dr. Ludwig of Children's Hospital Boston. "There are so many overweight children that perceptions are getting distorted about what's normal and healthy."

While the body mass index is not a perfect test, Dr. Ludwig said it is an effective, low-cost screening tool. He cited a 2005 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine that suggested the current generation of children might have shorter life expectancies than their parents.

"The consequences of childhood obesity," he said, "are too great to ignore."
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Journal Journal: [NYT] Pulling it All Together 2

January 4, 2007
Pulling It All Together

WILLIAM D. WATKINS has seven terabytes of data storage tucked into a cabinet in the media room of his beach home in Aptos, Calif. That is not a big thing for Mr. Watkins, the chief executive of Seagate, which makes hard disk drives. But it is enough space to hold 600,000 songs, 584,000 photographs and 1,000 hours of TV shows.

All of that material can be displayed on the giant flat-panel TV spread across one wall in the media room and distributed to the six TVs and numerous speakers throughout the house.

Call it tech envy, but I wondered if I could set up a system on a wireless home network so my own photos, videos and movies could be viewed from any TV in the house, and an entire collection of music could be summoned from any stereo. Could I do it with equipment available at a big chain like Best Buy or Circuit City?

"The answer to that is easy: no," said Dan Sokol, a technology analyst with the Envisioneering Group, electronic engineering consultants in Seaford, N.Y. The problem, according to Mr. Sokol, is that there are dozens of pieces of incompatible electronic equipment involved in this kind of project.

I refused to take Mr. Sokol's "no" for an answer -- and set out to build a home media network for less than $1,000. I understood there would be plenty of hurdles. Devices coming out of the world of information technology, like PCs and networking equipment, are just beginning to communicate with the devices that come out of the world of home electronics, like TVs and stereos.

Both industries have been working out standards through an alphabet soup of trade associations. They are hoping that all of those devices, and cellphones, printers and digital cameras, will start making sense to each other this year. Best Buy just started selling a whole system in a box that will handle entertainment and control your thermostats and lights for $15,000.

Device manufacturers are convinced that consumers will want interconnectivity. Parks Associates, a technology industry consulting firm, estimates that by 2010, some 30 million American homes will have a home entertainment network. (Right now only about half of the 43 million American homes with broadband Internet connections even have a home network, so this seems like an optimistic projection.)

"Connected entertainment is near and dear to our heart," said Jan-Luc Blakborn, director of digital entertainment at Hewlett-Packard. "We clearly see connected entertainment as an area where we can grow. It is starting to happen."

At present I can buy a Sonos or Squeezebox device to play music throughout the house -- but those can only handle music. Another device, the Slingbox, can send TV programs to a PC anywhere in the world over the Internet. But I do not want to watch TV on a 15-inch notebook screen when I can watch it on a 42-inch TV.

Then there is TiVo. It had the potential to become the leading home entertainment hub. A free download of TiVo Desktop software to a PC allows video from your TiVo to be watched anywhere and anytime on that PC. If you have a second TV, any program recorded on one TiVo box can stream effortlessly to any other TiVo elsewhere in the house.

But this is really an example of a lost opportunity. TiVo stores video in a proprietary digital format that prevents it from being viewed on non-TiVo devices, and the files are not recognized by other hardware, which is the problem that led Mr. Sokol to declare that my efforts would be futile.

James Denney, vice president for product marketing at TiVo, said the company had not set out to be the center of everything. "Our approach is that there isn't one hub in the house," he said. "Our role is a display device near the TV."

TiVo also does nothing for my collection of DVDs. It is difficult to watch a movie on DVD over a home network without first copying it to a hard drive. Software for doing this is widely available, but it is illegal to bypass the copy protection on a DVD, even one that you own. Systems for sending copy-protected video around the house are still largely works in progress.

Another problem I encountered was a lack of advice. Few of the devices needed to assemble my network are even advertised by retailers or manufacturers. Sony, for instance, has a number of devices under the LocationFree name that can be used to move TV shows to a PlayStation Portable game machine or a small TV monitor outdoors, but it seems to be keeping this a secret. Hewlett-Packard is selling what it calls the MediaSmart TV, a 37-inch L.C.D. set that locates your wireless home network and pulls in content. It is a nice product, but it will not work for this project; it costs $2,000.

To build a homemade networked entertainment system, I needed a network, of course. Older wireless routers using the 802.11b standard will move video data so slowly that it will be nearly unwatchable. So the wireless router has to be upgraded to 802.11g or the even newer 802.11n standard.

Here is where this project started getting expensive. Wireless devices anywhere on the network that are still using the older technology will slow the whole network. I have to upgrade them, too, for about $50 each.

Music, movies and photos can be stored on the hard drive of any computer connected to the network. But because TV shows or movies can fill up a PC's hard drive much faster than photos or music files do, it can make sense to centralize everything on an always-available external hard drive.

"The way I view it, being a nerd, the storage device is as important as the media center," said Mike Scott, technical media manager at D-Link, a maker of home networking equipment.

There are now drives on the market that can hold as much as a terabyte, enough space to hold about 90 hours of high-definition TV. That much storage will cost a bit more than $500, but prices keep falling.

I decided to use a kind of external hard drive known as a network-attached storage device. Although they cost about $100 more than regular drives, they come with software that will organize files and help all the devices on the network find the drive. The Maxtor Shared Storage II drive that I chose, which holds 1 terabyte and costs about $680, was up and running in less than 10 minutes.

One alternative is buy a $100 device called a network storage link that is plugged in between a regular external drive and the router. That offers more flexibility if I buy a lower-capacity drive that needs to be upgraded later.

The next step is attaching a media adapter to a TV or a stereo to pick up the programming from the network. D-Link sells one called the MediaLounge Media Player for less than $300. (A fancier model just hit the market for $600.) This is essentially a DVD player with a built-in wireless adapter that enables it to locate photos, movies and music on the network's hard drives. A similar device from D-Link, which costs about $180, can connect to any stereo receiver so that music files are always accessible. The drawback is that I needed one of these adapters for every TV and stereo.

The home entertainment network that I jury-rigged wasn't nearly as slick as Mr. Watkins's setup. But then it only cost me about $850, not including the cost of my existing computers and TV. I spent more time moving music and video files to the hard drive than I spent actually setting it up. Once the content was there, I could do exactly what I wanted to do: view whatever I wanted, wherever I wanted.

If all of this sounds like too much effort, you can always wait. Almost every consumer electronics company is set to announce its answer to home entertainment connectivity at the Consumer Electronics Show next week. As with all consumer electronics, the devices coming out next year will do more for less. I can only hope they will be just a little bit easier to put together.
User Journal

Journal Journal: To Paraphrase Talking Heads 2

Solve something once... Why solve it again?

But yes, 'tis the eve for those grandiose plans for the year ahead. But before we get into that, let's review last year, shall we?

Resolutions v. 2006
  1. I resolve to pet my dog more.
    Hmmm... Can't say I've done really well on this. The puppy has gotten a lot of love, but the "old dog" is outside most of the time and, well, she stays pretty dirty. It would be enjoyable, but I don't see this as much of a priority anymore.
  2. I resolve to use my neti pot on a regular, frequent basis.
    I must have been sick or recovering from it last year, because that's when the neti pot comes into play. Other than that, I'm just too busy to add yet ANOTHER thing to my "personal care regimen." And I'm OK with that.
  3. I resolve to stop using plastic shopping bags.
    I did really well with this until I started working again in August, and that was a conscious choice. We use the grocery bags to contain the babies' dirty diapers in the childcare at work. Since they're being reused for a VERY noble purpose, I feel good for getting them from the store. And we're still getting lots of use out of the reusable bags for other things, too.
  4. I resolve to keep exercising.
    Can I just say that I fucking RAWK on this one? I am so happy with myself. GIGANTOR biscuit to Bethanie for the exercising. As if the exercise weren't enough of a biscuit, itself!
  5. I resolve to do more for my own fulfillment.
    Oooh... this was a good one! I hadn't even remembered it, but indeed, I have been doing quite well on this front. In every way I can think of. And this is a very good thing.
  6. I resolve to get my front yard landscaped.
    Yup. Did this. I still have to mulch the beds, and come spring there will be lots of weeds to pull and plants that didn't make it or never really "took" will need replacing, but the hard part is done, and I'm pleased with the results.
  7. I resolve to use our video camera more often.
    Nope, didn't do this one. Actually, I cut WAY back on the use of the digicam, too. But we regularly take fun pictures using the Photobooth app on my Mac. Still, getting more real, live action footage would be fun to have in the future.
  8. I resolve to have more sex.
    This has had its ups and downs, but on the whole I've done pretty well this year. I've taken time for myself and enjoyed it... So I'm giving myself credit here. Good for me!

Now, for the coming year's Resolutions:

Resolutions v. 2007

  1. Keep exercising. I have recently had the epiphany that EVERY good period of my life has been accompanied by a regular, rigorous exercise routine. And I am hereby declaring that it's not correlation -- it's causality. I'm gonna keep the good stuff coming, and keep up the good, hard, sweaty work, 'cause it's just so damn good for me in every way.
  2. Get a "real" job. This means getting employment that will actually enable me to support myself and my kids -- and a mortgage payment... and, eventually, a car payment... and all the other stuff grown-ups have to pay for, as well. And the thing is, I can totally do this. And I'm really looking forward to it. Keeping balance with my exercise routine might be challenging, but I am going to make it a priority.
  3. Socialize. i.e. DATE!!! I cannot say how excited I am about this. It's not that I'm looking for a boyfriend or a replacement for STB-exHubby... I'm just *really* looking forward to meeting new people, ahem, correction: MEN! and getting to know a few of them and feeling that spark and excitement and attraction again.
  4. Organize finances. I think I will need the services of a financial planner for this, but I'm gonna need some professional advice about what to do with my settlement award and how to deal with it, as well as how to deal with the taxes.
  5. Set some medium- and long-term goals. This goes hand-in-hand with #4, but also extends to career and life in general. I need to spend some time thinking about what I'd like for the next few years to hold for me.

That will suffice for now. There are some real biggies on there. The little things can wait for next year or for later on, I think. Now for me to get around to doing a full-blown Year in Review 'cause I really liked reading the one I did last year. (I found it, and my comments in the subsequent thread, telling to say the least.)

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We don't know who it was that discovered water, but we're pretty sure that it wasn't a fish. -- Marshall McLuhan