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SCAish Thanksgiving

In Boston I used to go to vegetarian Thanksgivings organized by the acetarium crowd. That seems to have faded, but last year there was a filk Thanksgiving. Or maybe just a filk meeting near Thanksgiving with appropriate food, I forget. This year, my early attendance of SCA dance practice without being in SCA paid off again, as I went to something held by someone I know there. Twas fun. So much food, though with like 16 people the turkey got demolished and I didn't get as much dark meat as I wanted. (I could have taken a whole drumstick, as the last person served, but I didn't feel up to it.)

So many desserts, multiple kinds of pecan pie, super sweet brittle... "maple pie" which was like pie crust with maple goop in it.

I've never had a Thanksgiving side dish in my repertoire, and being in a new Airbnb place isn't good for being comfortable cooking, so I brought a couple packages of nice sausage. They didn't evaporate but did mostly go away, so that works.

So cold. My outfit apparently isn't proof against -10 C and wind. But soon it should be up to 10 C.

On the way home I missed Downtown Crossing due to re-reading Celebrimbor+Annatar fanfic. I found the Park to Downtown corridor hinted at on maps so I didn't have to go outside. It's kind of neat: the walls and pillars are painted orange and green, such that you mostly see orange if you're facing the Orange Line, and ditto for the Green. There's also a bit of Red on the Orange end which is weird -- Red actually is at both stations. And a wee bit of blue, for no good reason; maybe someone ran out of paint.

Back at home, I am sadly reminded that I can walk more quietly in boots than some adults do barefoot.

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Royal Mountain squirrels

Years ago I visited the Monterey Bay Aquarium, and I've told various people of my passing an empty lot of ground squirrels[1], luring one up a chain link fence with a peanut, dropping my trail mix, having four of them seemingly teleport to the sidewalk[2], and having one of them start climbing my leg, which I considered far too tame.

'Monterey' is "mountain-king" in Spanish.

Today I'm in Montreal, which is French for "royal mountain", more or less. I was walking through Parc la Fontaine, and observing very bold gray squirrels. I had no food, but that didn't stop them approaching and looking expectantly, where squirrels from my childhood in Chicago would have been much more cautious about putting distance or a tree trunk between us. I walked further, and found three perched on fence posts like statuary. Two descended and approached, getting even closer; I got a photo of one just inches from my foot[3]... right before it started climbing my leg I could feel its little claws through my jeans I yelled and shook my leg and it was gone.

[1] Squirrel-like rodents living in holes in the ground, anyway

[2] There was a hole in the bottom of the fence, but I did not perceive them moving. Suddenly, squirrels, one on my backpack.

[3] It turns out my attempt at such a photo was ruined by the leg climbing; I actually had a blurred photo of leaves.

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some meals in Montreal

If I'm lazy, it's just brie and pate on bread from the bakery five minutes away.

With a bit more work, frying up some pepper steak in olive oil, then in the remaining oil frying up a grilled brie cheese sandwich.

Morning croissants from aforementioned bakery. They have varieties like kamut and vegan, though I'm good with regular.

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TJ pepper and other food notes

Trader Joe's sells a cheap plastic grinder, full of black pepper, for I think $2 or so. I actually like it a lot. It gives a coarse grind with a lot of flavor; it seems to do better on the same batch of pepper than another grinder I had did. I left my old one when I started going nomadic, but after a month and a half I decided to travel with my own and bought another. It's even stronger than I remember, making me wonder if they also use better pepper than the refills I'd gotten from Harvest Co-op or Penzey's. Since I am traveling, this time I kept the cap, to reduce leakage in my luggage; possibly that also reduces oxidation as well.

Being clear plastic you can see how much you use. I bought this one on Oct 13 and I'm already halfway through. I knew I used a lot but this seems faster than I recall.


In the previous Montreal post I'd snarked about milk types. As recorded in the comments, I since learned that 3.25% is the minimum limit for "whole" milk in the US (though some say 3.5); also, "whole" homogenized milk is probably skim milk with the right amount of cream added back in. UK whole milk is apparently at least 3.6% fat.

I'd always thought of whole as 4%. I am tempted to get cream or half-and-half to add to milk...


A Quebec convenience store has packaged croissants. It doesn't necessarily have good croissants; I saw various oils and no butter in the list.


I prefer good oranges (sweet and juicy) to grapefruit (bittersweet and juicy) to bad oranges (unsweet and/or dry). Thing is, grapefruit seems much more consistent in quality, especially compared to navel oranges, but even to clementines or juice oranges. That or because I buy grapefruit individually, I'm better at weighing them in my hand to make sure they're heavy and juicy... It came up because I didn't trust the oranges in the store, so I have grapefruit again.

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Montreal observations

* The weekly metro pass runs Monday-Sunday, not 7 days from purchase. Oops.
* The subway is every 5-10 minutes from like 5am to 1am. Beats Boston or even some NYC lines. The buses, though... I was deceived by staying near the 24, which does run every 10 minutes until 9pm, but most other lines seem more like 20-30 minutes.
* Supermarkets seem scarce, though I did find one today. (A proper one. Google Maps calls various things "supermarkets" that are lame corner/convenience stores.) It has many varieties of brie and Camembert for sale. Lots of smaller stores, quality ranging from "seriously meh" to "ooh, nice produce!"
* Apparently no whole milk, just 0, 1, 2, and 3.25% fat.
* Yogurt without gelatin! ...not as good as TJ/Strauss "European style". I may try "Balkan style" after I finish this one.
* Montreal has Uber and no Lyft, and no UberPool. I'm told Toronto has Lyft, I forget if it has Pool.
* My front door is literally flanked by maple trees.

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I read Jemisin's Broken Earth Trilogy. It was good, though I'm not sure it really needed four Hugos in a row.

Dan Dennett's From Bacteria to Bach and Back was interesting as usual, though also as usual I'm not sure I came away with an actual story about consciousness.

The latest two Penric novellas were fun.

I found a novel length Bujold fic, A Bit Too Much Good Work; it's Captain Vorpatril's Alliance from the POV of Byerly and Rish. Enjoyed it a lot, and the author's other Vorrutyer or Arqua stories.

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In Malden. Not too exciting. Yesterday I saw a "Mountain Park" on the map, right behind my house. It's a decent size but doesn't seem to have trails, just one driveway up to the peak. That was surprisingly busy at dusk: some public library reading even, and amateur astronomers setting up. I thought about staying but had Urgent Shopping Plans.

Which were to go to the nearest Trader Joe's, in Assembly Square. That's part sad imitation of a real city, right by the T stop, and part giant parking lot and mall. TJ is beyond the parking lot, and despite all the space it had, somehow felt anemic. Still, I got stuff, especially cheaper nuts and cheeses and frozen shrimp. Which I cooked today, my fanciest thing since going nomadic.

My 'roommates' still haven't figured out how to turn off the shower without the water running, after two weeks. Nor how to get out without dumping water on the floor, or the poor mat on the floor.

I've had five hosts so far and not one has provided a washcloth.

TJ has started selling nuts in re-sealable bags. Yay!

The Orange Line seems less reliable than I recall from last year; there seem to be a lot of unexpected waits at stations.

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about those 100 companies and emissions

Okay, people. That "100 companies are responsible for 71% of emissions" thing that you keep sharing? That's so misleading that it might as well be a big lie. Those are *fossil fuel* companies. Coal and oil and natural gas companies. They're not producing the emissions, they're providing the fuel for *you* to produce the emissions. They're not dwarfing the contributions of your car or your transatlantic tourism or your single family home, letting you off the environmental moral hook; they're *providing* the fuel for your car, plane, energy-intensive house, etc.

It's a comforting narrative. "Just a few big businesses are to blame. It's not my fault!" But it's wrong. Your car and your coal- or gas-powered electricity and your gas-heated hot water are still the bulk of the emissions.

Source: I'm looking at the actual report.

The report

And US energy use. I'm pretty sure most of "transportation" is private cars, since most US oil is turned to gasoline rather than diesel or jet fuel.

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Tower of generate-and-test

In more than one of his books, Daniel Dennett talks about this concept, using it to categorize various kinds of creatures. This is someone's 2 page PDF diagram describing the ideas, but having just read one of Dennett's latest books, I'll give my own spin here.

* Darwinian creatures: essentially stimulus-response automata determined by their genes; what is generated is genotypes, what is tested is phenotypes reproducing in the environment.

* Skinnerian creatures: use associationism or reinforcement learning (called conditioning in lab experiments); what is generated is (initially) random behavior, what is tested is the consequences. Darwinian constraints hopefully keep the creature from killing itself outright before it has learned; with more altricial animals, parents may 'teach' their children by setting up the right environments for their children to play in.

* Popperian creatures: have models of the world good enough to generate hypotheses or imagined behaviors and evaluate them by their predicted consequences. There's a small cottage industry of experiments trying to show whether corvids or apes have insight in their tool use, vs. just using a past library of Skinnerian fooling around. Complicated by, well, how does one get such models? Almost certainly by a childhood or lifetime of Skinnerian experimentation, with Darwinian biases (like expecting object persistence) helping: think of a baby trying to stick things in holes, until eventually learning not just that round holes won't go in square pegs, but 'why'.

* Gregorian creatures: this is where the standard description, as captured on the PDF, loses me. But to me it seems that the next level is obviously language, or more generally, imitation, both of which seem uniquely human[1]. To try to stay on theme, what is generated and tested is other people's behavior, which we can then learn from.

In looking for summaries, I saw mentions of Dennett in some older book proposing a fifth level, of the scientific method. At first I dismissed that as just being a mash of Skinnerian experimentation and Popperian modeling. But note that each successive level 'learns' orders of magnitude faster than earlier levels. Likewise, counting from 1650 or later, the scientific community has learned the world far more broadly and deeply than all the millennia of human civilization before it. I feel it's too simple to say that's just due to scientific method: tools like lenses, good clocks, and the printing press helped a lot. But still, there's a big change.

Some other analogies come to mind. 'Gregorian' learning is like enhanced Skinner: instead of being limited to trying your own behaviors at random, you can learn from other people's behavior. "Did you hear what happened when Bob ate that mushroom?" Gregorian, or at any rate human, thinkers are all about giving reasons for our behavior and inferring reasons for other behavior; science sort of enhances Popperian models with reasons, going from "I have observed predictable regularity" to "I can explain predictable regularity and make further predictions from deeper principles."

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Google Translate fail

English to French:

"fourscore and seven years ago." generates 'Il y a quatre ans et sept ans.', which I can't read myself but it then reverses as "Four years and seven years ago."

If I remove the period, it gives 'Il y a sept ans' which reverses to "seven years ago".


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MTA vs. Boston

Obvious: many more lines, more frequently.

Lots of schedule complexity; supposedly people actually are addressing the "MTA falling apart" problem, but in the short term the solution for that (closures, rerouting, and delays) looks much like the problem (closures, rerouting, and delays.)

No phone signal in the tunnels. OTOH, wifi. It wasn't that solid the one time I tried and I didn't need it, plenty of reading material on my phone. Though it'd be good when you need to re-check your navigation, or communicated with people (via something other than SMS.)

Lots of different car types, none with a simple printed line map as are universal in Boston cars. Some did have an electronic line map that shows where you are and where you're going -- very nice, if you're in the right place to see it.

I never noticed the announcers announcing the wrong station, as is ubiquitous on the Boston red line.

Fares: in Boston, it takes 5 round trips for a 7 day pass to pay for itself, or 4 if you're comparing to using CharlieTickets instead of CharlieCards. For a monthly pass, 19 or 16 round trips. In NY a 7 day pass needs 6 round trips, and a 30 day pass 22. Also, the 7 day pass expires at midnight, whereas Boston passes are timed so you get a full 24x7 hours from first use.

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last day in NYC

Technically that's tomorrow, but I'm just getting put on a bus. Well, putting myself on a bus. Anyway, today is my last full day this trip. And it started out sucking! Loud party nearby, vibrating my room to 4:30am. So that was a thing.

I figured I would go to the Met, but when I got to Central Park, the day was *perfect*. I decided the Met is always there while the weather will be changing (sometime...) and I should enjoy the outdoors.

There's an Ancient Playground, which is basically a playgound in "ancient" style. I would have taken a photo but I was self-conscious of photographing lots of kids. And it's easier to link to someone's else's photo anyway.

Then I found myself trapped on the 86th transverse, which is a road, with sidewalk... and no escape for pedestrians. Or if there is one, it was blocked off by police for some big Global Citizens concert, which was disrupting much of the park even when I finally did escape (by walking *all the way through* to the west side.) I'd found the Ravine last time, but it might have been walled off today. Then again...

Central Park keeps confusing me. Lots of twisty paths, few maps, and the maps don't show you where you are on the map. At least the Ramble Path ones don't.

Anyway, I did have fun, but it was annoying too.

So, next. I grew up reading Calvin Trillin's food humor essays, in which he extols Katz's Deli, and Russ and Daughters. He was writing in the 1970s but these are still around! Or things with their names are, anyway. Russ was closed but I went to Katz. It's big! And busy! And... expensive! $23 for a pastrami sandwich! I don't know if their pastrami is supposed to be that good and expensive -- and their roast beef, and their bologna -- or if they're just milking popularity. I let myself be milked.

It was... okay. I'd be hard pressed to imagine a sandwich that I could agree was worth $23 -- wagyu beef, maybe. I'm not sure this was even the best pastrami I've ever had. It was different, almost like chunks of beef, vs. thin sheets or basically shredded. And there was a lot of it. But, eh. It came with two kinds of pickles, I assume the small dark tasty one was kosher dill, don't know about the bigger bright green one.

Oh right. Outside the Met I'd had a hot dog from one of the ubiquitous food stands. Then I saw a Nathan's stand so had a Nathan's dog, plus fries. The hot dog was definitely different -- thinner, firmer, different flavor. Maybe better. The fries were bland and almost wet inside.

Man, this sounds like I'm raining on NYC, or at least its institutions. But I've had fun. The ferry was cheap and fun. Dim sum yesterday was great (good, and also a bunch of things I hadn't seen before). What little I saw of the AMNH was great. I know the Met is good. And probably better on a weekday with fewer people in it...

What I really miss getting to is the Bronx Botanical Garden. But it's like 1.5 hours from where I'm staying -- or an hour via some Harlem train that runs once and hour -- and I didn't feel I left home early enough to make the trek worth it.

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There are so many little deli/convenience stores near each other, sometimes 2 or 3 on one short block. Weird. Also the supermarkets are either one-off or small chains I don't recognize: Associated, Key, City Fresh.

Met DW:conuly a three days ago, that was fun.

Explored Bedford area of Queens, and south Brooklyn, took the south Brooklyn ferry north and saw the Statue of Liberty, far off like a little action figure. Nighttime perspective was weird, it *felt* closer.

Otherwise been working, haven't seen much. There's a nice Japanese restaurant right across from me, with cheap lunch specials -- even cheaper because the price includes sales tax! When I first walked in it was playing "Auld Lang Syne", which is what Japanese stores play at closing time.

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Bronx Zoo and stuff

Went yesterday.

Biggest zoo in North America, one of the biggest in the world, must be awesome, right? Actually my impression was that it doesn't have more exhibits than other large zoos, but has more space for them. So six giraffes can probably go hide from each other, and there's a big paddock for a breeding herd of Pere David deer, and the House of Birds keeps going though the second floor aviaries aren't actually that big, but there are two of them, plus a separate large aviary for sea birds, and an aquatic bird house...

Wednesday is "suggested admission" day, which probably increased the crowds; that's why I was there! Some things like gorillas and butterflies you need a full ticket for -- *that* was discounted too, down to $15, but I figured there would be enough free material to fill my 3.5 hours, since I left home late.

The Pere David were a soft spot for me. A childhood book was Gerald Durrell's A Bevy of Beasts, and I dimly recall the story of the finding of the Pere David, and of him trying to nurse a deer or something during his apprenticeship at Whipsnade. Deer usually aren't very exciting for me but it was nice to see these, and read about the zoo breeding them, and in fact there were a whole lot, lying together in a pile.

Got a glimpse of a tiger. Hyenas and elephants AWOL. Distant view of African wild dogs, which looked pretty big. Also lions are thugs, stealing from hyenas and wild dogs. A placard claimed lions would steal a dog kill in 8 minutes, which sounds implausibly precise, and that a whole pack of hyenas can't stop a male lion, which matches a video I saw, though in that the hyenas were poaching the lion cubs.

Getting to the zoo was supposed to be 1.5 hours and ended up being longer. After exploring the area for food, I found a faster way back, the 5 instead of the 2. I ended up staying until City Hall; no food there but a busy pathway which turned out to be the Brooklyn Bridge. I walked it to say I had, got to Brooklyn, saw nothing, and took a train back.

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is huuuuge I was there for 3-4 hours and feel like I barely scratched it. Went through the ocean hall, some forest halls, and some Asian Peoples halls. Some neat exhibits on forest microclimates, and various cultures. OTOH lights were often out, and many placards have terrible text contrast even in bright light.

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NYC travel

Grid Madness

The physical streets are nice grids, but the numbering in Queens is odd. The block south of me is the 400s, whereas mine has addresses like 17-11.

The City That Never Sleeps

Certainly up later than Boston. This residential neighborhood has Crown Chicken and Top Gourmet open at 12:30am, among other things.

Conservatory Scale

I looked up Central Park Conservatory, and found the Conservatory Garden, in NE Central Park. It turns out to just be a formal garden, the only one in the park. It seemed small -- and compared to Central Park, or any proper botanic garden, it is. But it has three fountains and is at least two minutes walk north-south, it would be a sizable city park by itself.

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The whole Lady Trent series. I enjoyed re-read it, and some arc bits made more sense when I read them back to back.

_A Numerate Life_, John Allen Paulos. I've enjoyed his classic books (_Innumeracy_) but this grumpy memoir-skeptical memoir didn't have much IMO. It did have something though, an observation that almost no one is entirely normal.

Imagine that 90% of people are 'normal' on some dimension. Imagine that there are lots of mostly independent dimensions: height, IQ, sexual orientation, kink, family history, travel... if there are 10 such, then under 35% of people are normal on all dimensions. If 20 such, 12%. Up to you to decide how many ways you could characterize people, or how many of them to treat as normal.

_Port of Shadows_: years later, Glen Cook returns to the Black Company series, with an interquel, set after the first book. It was a gripping read, and possible inconsistencies were lampshaded within the text...

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nomad: Queens

Staying in Queens now. I've been in better Airbnb places, but in the spirit of not wallowing in negativity, let's move on.

Grids! I can walk around at random and take different routes and not get lost! Unlike most of Boston area.

And so many businesses. There are clusters, but there are lots along the short blocks, all over. Laundromats and convenience stores and delis and such. Again, not so true in Boston (or Camberville) where squares and rare arterials sequester all activity.

I haven't seen much else yet. Got here late Sunday, and have had to work, or been tired rapidly. I need to be available for Skyping tomorrow too, but hope to start hitting zoos after that.

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Holocene causality reversal?

I remember reading that the Holocene was unusually stable in climate, with the suggestion that agriculture arose because of that; this seems to suggest that agriculture was stabilizing the Holocene, with emissions countering Milankovitch drops.


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My lease with Psycho Killer Cat is up, and I chose not to seek a new one, for reasons like "want to travel more" and "fear committing to another lease with a startup job". So I'm back to the Airbnb migration I was doing for six months last year. It'll probably be harder now, as various cities have been cracking down; certainly Cambridge and Somerville rooms seem a lot scarcer now, though I was also looking last minute at a busy period. OTOH, I'm aiming to actually travel this time, with two weeks in NYC next week.

I suppose there are various degrees of nomadism: last year, and also my three months in Europe back in 2010, were lots of 1-4 week stays; other nomads might stays for some months, or even a year, before moving on. My boss is friendly to my 'working vacations', though I don't know if he'd be happy with my disappearing from town for 3 months...

So far I've stayed a couple days in North Arlington, and currently Watertown a mile west of the square. Both were quiet and sleepy, apart from yardwork. Arlington did have a reservoir and the Great Meadow nearby. NY will be in Queens.

Lots of Lime (dockless) bikes in Arlington and Watertown; my first attempt was pretty negative though, as the seat kept collapsing under me, which is a *really* unpleasant feeling: pain and ache up through my right inside (like, not the skin muscles, but further in.) I poked at a bike in Watertown, which seemed more stable, but chickened out of renting it.

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Damien Sullivan

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