>Kindle Singles

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Very rarely do I criticize anything that has to do with the Kindle. I love it and I wouldn’t be without it for any amount of money. However, this new invention by Amazon called Kindle Singles is annoying. Amazon’s attempts to push it on faithful customers who have no interest in this weird format are even more annoying.
Kindle Singles are short essays (30 pages or so) on a variety of topics, each one of which is more idiotic than the next. Why would I want to read the story of somebody whose only claim to fame is that his father didn’t manage to make money as an Amway employee? Or a weird “love story of a teenager hunted by a diabolical voice?”
Of course, people should read whatever rubbish they want in any silly format that suits them. What I find irksome, though, is that now the entire e-books page of the Kindle store is filled with these Kindle Singles that are interspersed with regular books. Also, Amazon keeps recommending them to me, even though I have no idea what in my buying history could have suggested that I might like either the content or the format.
I’m in a crabby mood today. If you are looking for the definition of the word “cantankerous,” come meet me.

>The Real Reason Research Doesn’t Get Done

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Do you want to know the real reason why people end up doing a lot more teaching and service than research? I’ve been sitting here, struggling with two sentences from the first paragraph of my article since 9 am. And I still don’t like them. 
The temptation just to leave the whole thing aside and go grade some papers, plan classes, create the next mini-quiz, answer emails or prepare for a departmental meeting next week is definitely there. It would be so much easier to postpone revising the article and then blame the administrators, the colleagues, the students, the husband, the weather, or the “effectively gendered” research. Unless we recognize that we don’t do as much research as we would like to for the simple reason that it’s very very hard, we will not be able to move ahead and find actual solutions for the issue.
P.S. Sorry for the stupid alliteration in the post’s title. I can only concentrate on making the article more or less stylistically acceptable for the moment. The posts will have to stay the way they are.

P.P.S. Finished the pesky sentences that had been giving me trouble since morning. Went to get a glass of pomegranate juice to celebrate. Drank the juice, came back, reread the sentences, and realized that they are crap. Back to rewriting the sentences.

>Save Women’s Shelters in Afghanistan!

>One more important issue demands our attention today:
“The government of Afghanistan has recently introduced a bill that wrests control of women’s shelters in Afghanistan from the local Afghan women’s NGOs that have founded and run them, and transfers that control to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA).  This bill could become the law of the land ANY DAY NOW.  

If this bill becomes law:

Women and girls seeking shelter will be required to plead their case before an eight-member Government panel, including conservative members of the Supreme Court and Ministry of Justice.  This panel will determine whether a woman needs to be in a shelter or should be sent to jail or returned to her home (and her abuser).  

Women will have to undergo “forensic” exams (virginity tests) to determine whether they have had sex and therefore committed adultery. The tests are medically invalid. 

Once admitted to a shelter, women will be forbidden to leave. Their shelter will become their prison.
 If any family member comes to claim her, even her abuser, she will be handed over to that person, in most cases to be subjected to the harshest retribution for shaming the family.” 

>Canukistani’s Canadian Style Maple Syrup: A Recipe

>Canukistani, a fellow Canadian and a reader of this blog, noticed that I haven’t posted any recipes in a while, and gave me the gift of the following great post to share with everybody. It is not only useful, it’s funny like hell. I laughed so hard, I’m in actual pain right now. Enjoy! And never say that Canadians don’t have a sense of humor ever again. Thank you, Canukistani!!


Canadian Style Maple Syrup
(Eat your heart out Martha Stewart)
This is my recipe for making Maple syrup from scratch. You might wonder why not just buy it at the store. This stuff is damn expensive! Here’s a graph of the cost in various cities. And you think gas is pricey.

You’ll need: a map, 20 – 40 tree taps (sprules), 20 – 40 metal buckets with lids, drill, 7/16 “drill bit, hammer, 3 foot cloth measuring tape, two helpers, a cord of wood, three large iron kettles, hooks and iron chains, saw, axe, beer, thermometer, brix refractometer, filter sieve, oven mitts, tent, sleeping bags, shotgun, lamps, more beer and a variety of glass bottles with lids. One item which you won’t recognise is a tree tap or sprule.
This can be purchased at a Canadian Tire depot with dollars or Canadian Tire money which is Canada’s real currency.
 
One item which you won’t recognise is a tree tap or sprule.
This can be purchased at a Canadian Tire depot with dollars or Canadian Tire money which is Canada’s real currency. 
You may have not come across a brix refractometer either. Ditto Canadian Tire.
The first item on the agenda is to travel to an area which actually has sugar bush. 

Good weather for sap production is night temperatures in the 20s F and sunny days with temperatures in the 40s F. This alternate freezing and thawing temperature cycle (which can also cause potholes on roads) causes the pressure changes inside the tree that makes the sap flow. If the night time temperatures are too cold, it takes a longer time for the sap to warm up and ‘run’ in the daytime. If the temperatures are very cold, the sap may not run at all.

WARNING! You might run into bears which have just wakened up from hibernation and are HUNGRY. Safety first. Bring at least one person who can’t run as fast as you. If you’re particularly Machiavellian buy insurance with yourself as the beneficiary. Alternatively do a Sarah Palin and arm yourself with a short barreled SxS 12 gauge with Remington Buckhammer slugs – don’t retreat. Reload!
Learn to recognize the right trees. Tapping an elm tree is pointless and embarrassing. The main maple producing tree is known as the Sugar Maple, or Hard Maple ( acer saccarum) which is the best provider of the highest quality sap. It grows as tall as 100 feet. A few of the other main types of maple trees are The Red Maple (acer rubrum), The Silver Maple (or Soft Maple) and The Ash Leafed Maple (or Box Elder) You may need to enlist the help of the indigenous people. They are friendly and will trade for Canadian Tire money.

Local and two specimens of H. Canukistanus (two of my daughters)
 Depending on the tree’s diameter and strength, it may be fitted with as many as three (3) taps. Use the cloth tape to measure the diameter. Trees with trunks less than 25 cm in diameter should not be tapped at all. Prudent tapping is harmless to the maple. Each tap will produce 10 gallons over a six week period.
Drill 1 cm (7/16″) holes about 5 cm (2-2 1/2″) into the trunk of the tree. Use the hammer to place the sprules into the tree. The sap will deteriorate if not attended to. The sap must be boiled the same day it is gathered, so a hot and steady fire is kept going at all times.

The “boiling down” process is slow – sometimes continuing far into the night. Bring lots of beer. Evaporation that is too slow or too fast will affect the color, flavour and texture of the syrup. At sea level, the correct temperature for evaporation is 104ºC. However, since the boiling point varies with altitude, a thermometer must be used to adjust the cooking temperature. For example, in a region where the boiling point of water is 98ºC (or 2ºC below normal), the cooking temperature of the sap must also be reduced by 2ºC (to 102ºC

I use the three kettle method where I put the raw sap which has the consistency of water into the first kettle and then transfer the more concentrated sap into the second. Repeat from the second kettle to the third where the final evaporation takes place. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup. If you use maples other than the sugar maple, the syrup will be darker because the other trees have a lower concentration of sugar and the boiling will take longer.

Maple syrup must be filtered to remove the impurities that could affect its appearance and flavour. Orlon or felt make good filters. Filters should be cleaned with hotwater only (no detergent) and dried thoroughly before and after each use. New filters must be washed before use. Bottles or jars used to store syrup should also be cleaned and rinsed prior to bottling. It is important to adjust the density to between 66º and 67º Brix (the Brix unit of measurement indicates the risk of fermentation or crystallization). Use the brix refractometer. The syrup is then bottled or put in galvanized metal cans while still very hot (87ºC or more). The heat sterilizes the containers and prevents the formation of mold.

You can use maple syrup as a replacement for sugar in any recipe.

>Why Do You Like Don Quijote?

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A student from Serbia whose name is Marija is asking those of us who have read Don Quijote to share why we like this book. I provided my answer here. Please help Marija out and share why you like this great novel in the comment section of this post.

Thank you!

>Tromsø, Norway

>I just discovered that reader Leah Jane and I had the same dream of moving to Tromsø , a town located in the Northern part of Norway. Here is what Tromsø looks like:

Just imagine living here and seeing this every day.

This beautiful town is located in the subarctic climate zone, and this is how it looks in winter:

And this is the Aurora Borealis that you can see over Tromsø:

And this too:

>Flåmsbana, Trondheim, and the Beauty of Norway

>I’ve never been to Norway but I’m dying to go. I spend hours online looking at the pictures of this beautiful country. One of the things I will most certainly do when I finally get there is travel on the Flåmsbana. It’s a train ride that takes you through some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Just look at how beautiful this railway station is.

This is the beginning of the train ride at Myrdal.

I would also love to go to the northern part of Norway. Imagine staying at this chalet for a while and staring at the beautiful view. It must be so quiet there.

And of course there is also Trondheim that is so beautiful that it’s scary:

There is also this great picture of Trondheim:

Everything looks so serene and so right. I look at the pictures of Norway and get this weird feeling that this is how things should be. Maybe I lived in Norway in my previous lives. It would explain my love for extremely cold weather.

>Is This the End of the Internet?

>There is this website that everybody was linking to a while ago that said “Sorry, but you have reached the end of the Internet. You can’t go any further from here.” (Here this website is, if you are curious.) Sometimes, it seems that people have confused my blog with that site.

I just received yet another long e-mail containing a bullet-point list of everything that is wrong with my blog (content, writing style, even the excessive frequency of my responses to other people’s comments) and an equally long list of suggestions as to how I can improve my bad blog. Of course, the question remains of why this person who knows so well how to write a good blog doesn’t just write one of their own. 
I’ve received quite a few of such missives and I have to tell everybody who’s been trying to improve my blog: I’m sorry, people, but it is not extremely likely that I will change everything about the way I blog in the foreseeable future. The good news, though, is that this is not the end of the Internet. If everything on this blog annoys you, you can always move on. 

>My University Rocks

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So I just got the bill for the emergency room visit I had to make in January. The whole thing cost a little less than $3500, which is about what I expected. The ambulance had to be called, which obviously cannot be cheap. But  I only have to pay $200 because it turns out that the medical insurance provided by my university is really good. I’d never had a chance to sample the American healthcare system before. All I heard were horror stories about how each trip to the hospital results in ruinous bills that no insurance can cover. I’d actually started saving money to cover the bill while I was waiting for it. So it’s good to know that a college professor can afford good healthcare.
I now love my great university that gave me this wonderful insurance even more. I’m a very happy camper right now, people. And yes, I know that this expression is horribly cliched, but I like it anyway. 

>Things That Suck in Canada

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I love Canada, but there are three things that suck something fierce in my country (no, this post will not talk about taxes): banks, cell phone connections, and the Internet. These three areas are monopolized, which is never good because when there is a monopoly, competition dies. And when there is no competition, there is no incentive to provide goods and services that are even marginally decent.
Canadian banks charge you for every breath you take. Depositing, withdrawing, having an account – everything carries a fee. They mess up, steal your money, and charge you for this transaction. (This actually happened to me. National Bank of Canada stole $1,000 from me, and I could do nothing to get it back. They even recognized they messed up, but that money has never been recovered. By me, that is.) 
They also have this weird policy of “freezing” any money you deposit. I deposit some money in cash, and can’t have access to it for days. If you deposit a check, it’s frozen at least for a week. If the check is American, your money is frozen for 30 days. I once deposited a check from the Treasury of the US in the amount of $250. And then I had to wait for 30 days for it to clear. I mean, I know the US Treasury is not in great shape, but you can reasonably expect it to be able to clear a $250 check, right? After I moved to the US, I kept bugging bank tellers, unable to believe how easy banking was in the US: “So you are saying that I can deposit this check and have access to my money immediately? Like, right now? Like, this very moment? For real?” 
Canadian Internet banking is a story that I’ll keep for another day because it’s too bizarre. And if you dare to lose your bank card, woe betide you. You will be tortured and abused by the condescending bank tellers to the degree where you will start considering how great life was before the banking system came into existence.
The cell phone services in Canada are equally nasty. The quality of the connection sucks. Canadians know that there are specific places in their houses, apartments, offices, streets, where cell phone connection just dies. Every conversation I have with my sister who lives in Montreal is punctured by her saying “OK, I’m gonna get disconnected now. OK, the connection is about to drop again. Don’t hang up if the sound disappears, it might get back up in a minute.” And the cost of having a cell phone has always been sky-high. When I moved back to Canada for a year in 2007-8, I could never understand my cell phone bill. I kept thinking that somebody put the wrong number of zeros on the amount I owed. My happy-go-lucky American habit of blabbing on the cell phone all day long had to be abandoned.
The Internet connection is also expensive, slow and bad. In the US, you can always catch some free Wi-Fi somewhere, but in Canada it’s all password protected. Even in Starbucks, you can’t get free Wi-Fi. Every time I go back to Canada, I prepare to struggle with the Internet connection. As a blogger in the US, I’m used to being able to blog from pretty much anywhere. In Canada, though, I always feel disconnected from the world. Every trip to Canada is spent in a frantic search for a connection. And even if you are fortunate enough to find one, prepare for it to drop for no apparent reason at the worst moment possible.

As if things weren’t bad enough as it is, Canadian monopolists are now trying to make the Internet connection even harder to get and even more expensive:

The CRTC has decided to allow Bell and other big telecom companies to change the way Canadians are billed for Internet access. Metering, or usage-based billing (UBB), will mean that service providers can charge per byte in addition to their basic access charges. The move is sure to stifle digital creativity in Canada while the rest of the world looks on and snickers.

 This is so wrong, people.