"20% over the asking price!"

If you own property in San Francisco, local realtors bombard your mailbox with post cards touting their power to sell, sell, sell your house. Today's card comes from one Janet Larson. She sold the house here for $1,055,000. "3 bedroom, 1.5 bath home w/ 1 car garage & garden". The asking price was $879,000.

I often wonder how this can be a good thing, even as the "price" of my own modest little palais soars.

(I love that "hybrid" option on the Google map view. Very cool!)


Iron mystery

iron mystery bar

While laying down a cobblestone path in my backyard, I discovered the tip of this iron rod set vertically in the ground a good 30 feet from my house. Intrigued, I excavated three feet down. The bar wouldn't budge. Eventually I just worked around it. Any ideas what it could be? A grounding rod would be nearer to the house, right? And it wouldn't be two inches thick either.

iron mystery bar, detail

My house is almost 100 years old on a hill in a neighborhood which was nothing before the houses were built. Lots on the street behind me are 2-3 feet below grade.


Waterfall found

SF Chronicle:
"Waterfalls are usually fairly obvious elements of any landscape, so it is exceedingly strange that a 300-foot-cascade in Northern California has gone unnoticed for the 400 years that Europeans and their ancestors have been tramping around the state.

The newly discovered cataract is tucked away in a remote corner of the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, a 43,000-acre parcel of wildland dominated by Whiskeytown Reservoir and administered by the National Park Service.

Favoring predictability over imagination, the service has tentatively named the cascade Whiskeytown Falls."




"The beauty of daylight-saving time is that it just makes everyone feel sunnier," said Markey.
I agree!


"The quest to isolate deliciousness"

The Observer:
Professor Ikeda was one of many scientists at the turn of the century working on the biochemical mechanics which inform our perception of the world. By 1901 they had drawn a map of the tongue, showing, crudely, the whereabouts of the different nerve endings that identify the four accepted primary tastes, sweet, sour, bitter and salty.

But Ikeda thought this matrix missed something. 'There is,' he said, 'a taste which is common to asparagus, tomatoes, cheese and meat but which is not one of the four well-known tastes.' He decided to call the fifth taste 'umami' - a common Japanese word that is usually translated as 'savoury' - or, with more magic, as 'deliciousness'. By isolating umami, Ikeda - who had picked up some liberal notions while studying in Germany - hoped he might be able to improve the standard of living of Japan's rural poor. And so he and his researchers began their quest to isolate deliciousness.

What he found led the reviled food additive, monosodium glutamate (MSG). As a chemist, I've often wondered whether some MSG production methods might somehow introduce a small amount of the D-glutamic acid isomer. Anyone know whether this has been explored?

All the proteins in our bodies are made up of amino acids which can come in two structural forms, D and L. Why all living creatures on Earth have exclusively L-form amino acids is a great mystery of science. (Glycine--being neither D nor L--is the lone exception.) The difference between D and L is non-trivial biologically, pace the thalidomide story which is directly related.

(Hat tip to Metafilter)


Buffy--where to begin.

Buffy began as a low-budget half-season replacement. The writers didn’t know if the show’d get picked up for another year, so Season One just scratches the surface of the narrative tension and drama that propel the series through the rest of its run. The small budget compelled the writers to focus on the characters, not the special effects and as such, Season One remained truest to Buffy’s B-movie influences. (Note: Season One DVDs feature the series’ best creator commentary. Commentary on subsequent Buffy DVDs largely disappoints.)

The writers began to probe the show’s deepest narrative possibilities in earnest during Season Two. These shows set the bar for everything that came later. Purists regard Two as Buffy’s apotheosis and I won’t disagree. The show got a big budget boost half way through the second year; some say this made it more visually engaging from that point on.

People remember Season Three for the introduction of Buffy’s irresistible dark reflection, Faith, played with gusto by Eliza Dushku. I can’t give lucid praise for Dushku’s exhilarating performance; I gush hyperbole. Many non-Faith gems are tucked in there as well. Simply put, Season Three rocks!

Season Four lacks the over-arching narrative cohesion of 1-3, making it a great place for newbies to start. It doesn’t matter so much if you don’t understand everything that’s going on. Season Four offers several stand-out episodes and chances are high that one would randomly make a fun and intriguing pick. (Note: Maybe avoid the episode where Buffy and Riley’s passionate coition triggers the frat house’s haunting.)

Season Five starts out slow and builds to a dazzling, dizzying second half. Some of my all-time favorite Buffys come from Five. The writers and cast turned in astounding work.

Season Six goes to a dark, introspective place (foreshadowed in Five from beginning to end) and alienated many viewers who considered it all a terrible misstep. I found several episodes from Six hard to watch the first time around despite often stunning visuals. Happily, Six has aged surprisingly well and I appreciate it better now. Regardless, this challenging season sometimes makes it hard to like the characters. I recommend holding off on Six until you’re ready to commit.

Ditto for Season Seven, which I remain ambivalent about despite several standout episodes and a fine dénouement. Imo, the writers twisted the show’s continuity past the breaking point in this final season. Sometimes it works, sometimes not; after all this time, I still haven’t balanced the bottom line. It’s worth considering that continuity may be sacrificed to service the demands of the plot. Reasonable people disagree on this point.