Links: “Mate” is coming, “Pimp,” learning to speak lingerie, disconnection, tea, and more!

* The Tucker Max and Geoffrey Miller book, Mate: Become the Man Women Want, now has an Amazon pre-order page. You should pre-order it, though note that I now know Tucker well enough to not be an unbiased critic.

* “The Ex-Pimp Who Remade Black Culture:” On Iceberg Slim, whose book Pimp I read a couple years ago. I see why it resonates despite technical flaws and repetitions: it has style, and although I wouldn’t endorse everything in it it is willing to speak of truths that most high-brow discourse flattens, or pretends don’t exist.

* “Learning to Speak Lingerie: Chinese merchants and the inroads of globalization.” Interesting throughout, and it’s about more than you think it’s about.

* “The Miracle of SolarCity: Elon Musk’s Tesla and SpaceX are impressive. But the solar company he founded with his cousins could be transformational.”

* “We Don’t Really Care About Car Accidents: Driving is horrifyingly dangerous. It doesn’t need to be this way.” One fun game if you’re an annoying person like me is to ask people who are worried about terrorism or plane crashes or kidnapping or shark attacks how many people die in car accidents every year in the U.S. If they don’t know they’re just signaling.

* “Struggling to disconnect from our digital lives;” the fact that many people have problems with this is one of my competitive advantages as a grant writing consultant.

* “Is Britain falling out of love with tea? Brits are drinking 22pc less tea than they were five years ago as a coffee shop culture and the death of the biscuit turn customers away from the cuppa.” I hope not; perhaps they need something like TeaBOT?

Links: Ancillary Justice, TeaBOT, myth, solar, condoms, and more!

* The Subterranean Press edition of Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice has been released; unfortunately it’s already sold out.

* “teaBOT Makes Customized Cups Of Tea With The Touch Of A Button.” This is great. I’m slightly more a tea person than a coffee person, but good coffeeshops dominate good tea shops in the U.S. One of the very, very few things I miss about Tucson is The Scented Leaf, which had everything I was looking for and opened right before I left. Something like teaBOT may make tea shops more competitive and enable smaller tea shops to open.

* Mass Transit Doesn’t Cause Gentrification.

* “Unraveling The Myth Of The Alpha Male.”

* “Roughly 100 Fantastic Pieces of Journalism,” which also helps explain why it’s so hard to make money as a generic writer: you are competing with all of these pieces, all of which are online, for free.

* Two months with Soylent. My guess is that Soylent may replace one meal a day somewhat effectively, especially when made into a more conventional, palatable smoothie. That being said it has too many sugars in it to appeal to me.

* Woman attempts to divorce-rape another woman, although that is not the actual title; one could profitably read this story against Real World Divorce, by Alexa Dankowski, Suzanne Goode, Philip Greenspun, Chaconne Martin-Berkowicz, and Tina Tonnu. Incidentally, if any literary agents are reading this blog they should contact the authors.

* Rooftop solar is booming. But it may be more vulnerable than you think.

* “We’ve been cheated out of condoms that actually feel good during sex.” Another of these very important yet totally underrated issues.

* “The incredible shrinking megacity: How Los Angeles engineered a housing crisis: Los Angeles used to be the promised land for America’s homeowners. Now it’s tearing at the seams.”

* “Rising Rents Outpace Wages in Wide Swaths of the U.S.;” national policy focuses on ownership while facts-on-the-ground demand more planning for renting.

* “ Warren Buffett’s Family Secretly Funded a Birth Control Revolution: In the past decade, the Susan Thompson Buffett Foundation has become the most influential supporter of research on IUDs and expanding access to the contraceptive.”

Links: Teen sex attitudes, writing lessons, sentence origins, math, cities, tea, languages, and more

* Parents Just Don’t Understand: A sociologist says American moms and dads are in denial about their kids’ sexual lives. See also: “ Sex? Not my kid! A new book explores parental delusions about their teens’ sexuality.” Notice this: “[S]exual threats are seen [by parents] as ever present — from someone else’s sex-crazed kid, someone else’s corruptive parental influence, someone else’s perversion. Rarely do parents attribute the risk to their own child’s sexual desire or agency. Surprise, surprise.”

* The Most Important Writing Lesson I Ever Learned; unfortunately, I think most academics either never learn or forget this:

When you understand that nobody wants to read your shit, your mind becomes powerfully concentrated. You begin to understand that writing/reading is, above all, a transaction. The reader donates his time and attention, which are supremely valuable commodities. In return, you the writer, must give him something worthy of his gift to you.

* Where do sentences come from?

* “[A]lgebra isn’t harder than other subjects, it’s more objective. Therefore, it tends to make educational fraud more visible. People rarely fail algebra and succeed in other subjects; they fail in all subjects and algebra is the only one where it can’t be ignored any longer.”

* How communities are banding together to create high-speed, affordable broadband access.

* Allen Wyler’s Dead Ringer unintentionally shows the importance of creative writing classes. The novel starts: “A dark, ill-formed premonition punched Lucas McRae in the guy so hard it stole his breath.” But premonitions don’t punch people in the gut—other people do. “A second later it vanished, leaving only a lingering vague sense of foreboding.” We don’t need “lingering” and “vague” one word will do, and the phrase itself is a cliche anyway. This is the sort of stuff college sophomores discuss in “Introduction to Writing the Novel.”

* Survival Lessons From an Ancient Failed City:

Today’s sprawling cities expanded in a period of mild weather too, with no anticipation that seas might rise or energy resources could be depleted. Angkor and modern cities resemble one another in that they were built to survive in only the most benign weather regimes. The roads, sewers and the like of the modern suburb are based on an assumption of mild weather and cheap energy. Recent events like Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans and subsequent Midwestern intense storms show how poorly modern infrastructure performs in extreme weather.

* Everyone loves smut, says Patty Marks of Ellora’s Cave, who turned kinky fiction into millions before E.L. James.

* How to start an online tea business. My best guess: don’t.

* Bryan Caplan: “To understand why Americans don’t learn foreign languages, simply reverse this reasoning. We don’t learn foreign languages because foreign languages rarely helps us get good jobs, meet interesting people, or enjoy culture.” I approve of learning foreign languages and admire people who do, but I doubt the typically American derives much benefit because the typical American has to travel too far to make use of the foreign language. For most people, learning programming languages is probably far more useful in terms of both job skills and “learning how to think.” This view is close to David Henderson’s point: “Thoughts on Second Language.” Here is a counterpoint. It is possible that foreign languages would be much more useful from a very young age, but then the same could be said of Python. It’s possible that I haven’t seen foreign language benefits in my life because I haven’t learned enough of a foreign language to receive real benefits.

* You’ll never be Chinese.

Late December Links: Sleep deficits, narrative power, tea, iPads, bikes, pubic hair, and more

* Sleep Deficit: The Performance Killer. This should be obvious, and medical residency directors ought to read it.

* “[N]one of my contemporaries seem to be interested in the things that interest me, such as fast, clear, several-stranded narrative, action, character, violence.” Can you guess the context? It’s actually about poetry, but it fits literary fiction too and my feelings about so much lit fic.

* Tea: Not Just for Girls; I find this intriguing, since I am a guy:

My customers are about 60% male, and men make up the majority of attendance at my tea tastings. Why guys? I think guys are fascinated by the history and culture of tea, and view tea as a hobby — seeking out the best of the best, matching tea with tea ware, using ancient steeping methods.

* Charlie Stross: Why I don’t use the iPad for serious writing. But he’d like to. And I’d like to. I don’t own an iPad primarily because it looks like a media consumption device, and while I read and watch a fair bit of “media,” I want to focus more on the production side of things most of the time.

* Famous Authors’ Harshest Rejection Letters. It’s amazing to me not only how little we know, but how little we know how little we know (read that twice).

* Jurors Need to Know That They Can Say No; “The First Amendment exists to protect speech like this — honest information that the government prefers citizens not know.”

* This Bike Could Save Your Life: An Infographic On The Massive Benefits Of Bicycling.

* The New Full-Frontal: Has Pubic Hair in America Gone Extinct? To me this reads like old news, like a lot of the reporting “old” people do on “young” people. I wonder when I join the old people reporting instead of the young people, with their shocking, new-fangled ways, being reported on.

* David Henderson’s “Occupy Monterey” talks are fascinating in part because they reveal the basic economic illiteracy of much of his audience. There are three parts, all at the link; some of the comments shouted from people in the audience remind me of things I’ve heard peers and profs say in English departments.

* The No-Brainer Issue of the Year: Let High-Skill Immigrants Stay:

Behind Door #1 are people of extraordinary ability: scientists, artists, educators, business people and athletes. Behind Door #2 stand a random assortment of people. Which door should the United States open?

In 2010, the United States more often chose Door #2.

* Get Ready for Manufacturing’s Big Comeback; “As the cost of doing business in China rises, U.S. manufacturing could be on the verge of a renaissance.”

February 2011 Links: Brian Jacques, Writing, Science Fiction, Innovation, Tea, and more

* Brian Jacques died. I met him once, briefly, during an otherwise dreadful study abroad experience at the University of East Anglia in England. His books haven’t held up especially well with time—unlike, say, Tolkien and Philip Pullman, he isn’t as easily enjoyed as an adult than as a child—but I still think his plotting, characters, and ethos are forever stamped in my mind because a fifth grade teacher read Redwall and Martin the Warrior to my class.

And Jacques was an astonishing performer, more like an actor than a writer. Maybe his material and audience demanded it. Nonetheless, it was easy to see the vitality in his books in his person. I’ve met enough authors to realize they’re often nothing like the books they write, but he was.

* A Classic ‘Nontextbook’ on Writing, the “Nontextbook” being Writing With Style: Conversations on the Art of Writing. Expect a review when I get my copy.

* The Purpose of Science Fiction: How it teaches governments—and citizens—how to understand the future of technology. Also, it might be fun.

* Space Stasis: What the strange persistence of rockets can teach us about innovation. Neal Stephenson wrote this, as he did “Turn On, Tune In, Veg Out.” Both are highly recommended.

* Bureaucrat acts like a jerk and attempts to silence smart guy, news at 11:00.

* Hilarious: how advertisers use to sex to get their ads banned from the SuperBowl, then viewed widely online.

* You Can’t Be Against Dense, Urban Development and Consider Yourself an Environmentalist.

* Tea: A Literary Tour. Sample: “I suspect that many of you, dear readers, are tea drinkers, too (tea and the literary life just seem to fit together, somehow). . .”

No one can agree on how to make tea

Since reading “A Hacker’s Guide to Tea” (and this worthy discussion) I’ve begun drinking more of the beverage, which I rather like now that I know how to make it: tea isn’t hard to prepare. But I came from the idiotic “more is better” school of thought and figured the longer and hotter that tea is steeped, the better it must be. In reality, this just makes it tremendously bitter and vile.

In actuality, light teas—like green and white—need to be steeped at temperatures well below boiling for about a minute or two. Black teas should be steeped with boiling water for two to three minutes. Tea should be loose leaf and circulate freely with the hot water poured on it; I now use an IngenuiTEA from Adagio for one to two cups. The drink falls from the bottom of the device, rather like it’s peeing, but I find the overall effect quite amusing.

Still, the number of people with very strong and conflicting opinions about how to make tea is astonishing. “Very strong and conflicting opinions” would also have made an excellent title for Christopher Hitchens’ memoir, but today he merely offers bilious tea making instructions—and that’s as strange a construction to write as it is to read—in How To Make a Decent Cup of Tea: Ignore Yoko Ono and John Lennon, and heed George Orwell’s tea-making advice:

It’s quite common to be served a cup or a pot of water, well off the boil, with the tea bags lying on an adjacent cold plate. Then comes the ridiculous business of pouring the tepid water, dunking the bag until some change in color occurs, and eventually finding some way of disposing of the resulting and dispiriting tampon surrogate. The drink itself is then best thrown away, though if swallowed, it will have about the same effect on morale as a reading of the memoirs of President James Earl Carter.

I love the overstated, overstuffed phrasing: “ridiculous business,” “dispiriting tampon surrogate,” “best thrown away.” But his advice is limited to black tea. He goes to to quote Orwell ” ‘[O]ne should take the teapot to the kettle, and not the other way about. The water should be actually boiling at the moment of impact, which means that one should keep it on the flame while one pours.’ This isn’t hard to do, even if you are using electricity rather than gas, once you have brought all the makings to the same scene of operations right next to the kettle.” But, in The Story of Tea: A Cultural and Drinking Guide (which is not very good and reads like a travelogue), Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss say:

While millions of avid tea drinkers around the world ‘take the teapot to the kettle’ to use water that is as hot as possible to brew ‘proper English tea,’ we find that even the stoutest black teas prefer to be brewed in water that is slightly off the boil. Any perceived reduction in strength can be made up by steeping the tea a little longer.

Here is my proposition for Hitchens and innumerable others: instead of insisting that one way is better, why not take the Coke-Pepsi challenge? Brew a large number of cups both ways, give them to a large number of people over a large number of occasions, and see which one works better? More likely than not, neither will work out. Based on the large amount of contradictory advice I’ve read regarding tea, I would guess that once one has a reasonably fresh, loose leaf and a reasonable knowledge of approximate brewing temperatures, the rest is superstition.

The analogy to wine is probably appropriate: except for people with very highly developed senses for wine, most of us probably can tell “bad” “better” and “best” but little more. So we decide what wine to drink based on price and innuendo more than anything else. By the same token, I bet that Hitchens can’t really tell the difference between tea brewed off the boil or not, but he probably derives a certain amount of status by having very strong opinions about how tea should be brewed. I leave to the reader who is familiar with Hitchens’ work to decide whether this general principle might apply beyond the realm of caffeinated beverages.

Finally, Hitchens is only writing about black tea, but he doesn’t say as much. Making green or white tea as he recommends will be terrible. Still, even there the advice is contradictory Tony at The Chicago Tea Company—quoted in the first link—says black tea should be steeped for one minute or so. “A guide to tea” by the foppish Chris Cason says that black tea should be steeped no more than five minutes, while white teas are more forgiving and could be steeped as long as seven. I am more inclined to agree with Tony, based on experiment. The issue of making tea should not, however, be one argued with the fervor of someone discussing Middle Eastern politics.

EDIT: I’m now reading Orwell’s “A Nice Cup of Tea,” in which he says:

“If you look up ‘tea’ in the first cookery book that comes to hand you will probably find that it is unmentioned; or at most you will find a few lines of sketchy instructions which give no ruling on several of the most important points.
This is curious, not only because tea is one of the mainstays of civilisation in this country, as well as in Eire, Australia and New Zealand, but because the best manner of making it is the subject of violent disputes.
When I look through my own recipe for the perfect cup of tea, I find no fewer than 11 outstanding points. On perhaps two of them there would be pretty general agreement, but at least four others are acutely controversial” {Orwell “Essays”@990}.

To me, the most interesting part of this is his comment about how only “two” of 11 points “would be in pretty general agreement,” while “four others are acutely controversial.” This indicates that tea-making preferences have been an issue for at least sixty years (the essay was published in 1946) and are likely to continue to be controversial in the near future. So far as I know, “violent disputes” haven’t resulted from tea making, but then perhaps Americans, especially those in overheated Arizona, are not so particular about tea, or there isn’t the critical mass necessary for violent factions to form.

EDIT 2: A redditor pointed me to the ISO 3103 standard on making tea. Even the parody, however, leans toward black tea: “The method consists in extracting of soluble substances in dried tea leaf, containing in a porcelain or earthenware pot, by means of freshly boiling water [. . .]” Follow the standard regarding green tea and you’ll find a less-than-optimal cup.


As long as we’re discussing Hitchens, here’s one of the more amusing quotes from Hitch-22: “I always take it for granted that sexual moralizing by public figures is a sign of hypocrisy or worse, and most usually a desire to perform the very act that is most being condemned.”

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