Link Love

On the misunderstood nature of bullying. Depressing, but it rings true to me.

India’s forgotten stepwells. These are truly stunning!

Why tech nerds aren’t so great at understanding politics.

Mindy Kaling’s recent NY Times interview about the books she’s into deserves wider circulation.

Are people in particular professions more likely to be Democrats or Republicans? Love the way this has been laid out, particularly the interesting juxtapositions of professions.

Hope we manage to go see these awesome creatures at the Peabody Essex Museum.

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Thing I did: Watson Adventures’ Murder Mystery Scavenger Hunt at the Museum of Science

During the fabulous three weeks that my parents were staying with with us over the summer, the four of us (my parents, my husband M. and I) participated in a murder mystery scavenger hunt organized by Watson Adventures at Boston’s Museum of Science. Watson Adventures is a company that started in NYC, and organizes mMuseum_of_Science,_Boston,_MA_-_IMG_3150urder mystery games or scavenger hunts in various museums or neighborhoods. This was our first time participating in one of them, and we weren’t really sure what to expect.

Not only had we never done one of these hunts before, we’d never even visited Boston’s Museum of Science before, except to see IMAX films and to see a show at the planetarium. We were afraid this would leave us at a disadvantage, but we needn’t have worried — the game was superbly organized, with maps, clear directions and just challenging enough clues. We raced around the museum in single-minded pursuit of the next clue. As it happens, we needn’t have tried to be so fast — though we were the second team to be done, there were no points for finishing the hunt as quickly as possible (though there were negative points if you took over the time allotted).

The only sour note was at the end, as the organizer had a tough time dealing with the extremely close competition: of the six teams, four finished with a perfect score (including our team) and the remaining two lost just one point. (To me, that indicates that they need to allow less time for the hunt or make the clues somewhat more challenging. ) She tried to conduct a tiebreaker, but the questions were such that no one was able to get the correct answer (The questions were, respectively: 1) What year did the board game Clue come out? and 2) How many unique types of murders are there in Clue?). I did end up writing some negative feedback about the end of the quiz to Watson Adventures, and they wrote me a great response and offered me four free tickets to another hunt! I was impressed by their great customer service and can’t wait to try another one of their events.

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Book I read — The Power of Habit

I’ve never been much for routines. I like to think of myself as spontaneous and impulsive, always ready to try something new. But since reading Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit, I’ve started thinking more seriously about the few habits and routines I have incorporated into my life, almost without thinkingthepowerofhabit. Duhigg’s definition of a habit is as follows:

The habit loop starts with a cue, which is then followed by an almost automatic action or routine, which is reinforced by a reward and the cycle is ready to begin again.

Duhigg’s suggests that we can develop the habits and routines that help us rather than hinder us by modifying the habits we already have — by playing with that automatic action or routine and the reward that immediately follows.

There’s one area in which I believe I have already done this, albeit unconsciously. I’ve always been a nail-biter. My mother tried all manner of techniques on me, from taping my nails, to painting them with bitter substances. Nothing really worked, and I’d been fairly resigned to trying and failing to stop biting my nails for years now. Other women had strong healthy manicured nails — mine always looked bedraggled. On a whim, I decided to get a manicure. Now, this was a technique that my mom had tried in the past, but as a teenager I was supremely unconcerned with things like how my nails looked, so it had little effect.

This time was different. As soon as I painted my nails, my little habit loop changed subtly. I would look down at my nails and instead of seeing a bare bitable expanse, I saw my neat, colorful, manicured fingers. I started to admire them, which in itself was my “reward”. As long as I kept my nails manicured, I could let my nails grow. Of course, since I couldn’t paint with my left hand, I need to go to a nail salon to get my nails done, which makes this an expensive new routine – still it’s worth it to see my nails actually growing!

I realized that I have other habits that I could play with:

  • Every morning when I get to work, I IM a few friends and we head down to the cafeteria for a free cup of coffee, always iced in my case. Duhigg suggests that we think about what we actually get from the habit and analyze whether we could get those things in different, perhaps preferable, ways. I think I get two things from this habit — the coffee itself (it’s refreshing plus it has caffeine) and the few minutes of friendly interactions with others. I like this habit — I’m fine with coffee and I think social interactions should be encouraged.
  • I brush my teeth morning and night. Duhigg suggests tacking on other habits to already established ones. I currently need to apply a topical ointment as often as possible, but often forget. I decided to just do it immediately after brushing, and the refreshing tingle of freshly brushed teeth serves as my reminder.
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Lazy weekend breakfast — eggs in zucchini nests

IMG_3375A new technique for breakfast today! I got the recipe from the blog I Breathe I’m Hungry, which is a great resource for low-carb cooking. My package of bacon had sadly developed a fungal colony, but I substituted pork sausage sliced into strips. I also used the cheese I had on hand (Mexican cheese blend) instead of asiago and used a bit of ghee to make up of for the lack of bacon grease.

I used my handy new spiralizer to make the zucchini strands.

Even with all my substitutions, this turned out great – crispy-bottomed zucchini and runny egg yolks (I did cook it more than in the picture, so the whites were set). I could imagine all kinds of variations on this theme — Caprese-style with tomatoes, basil and chunks of fresh mozzarella or Mexican-style with jalapenos, tomatoes and onion.

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An incomplete list of books that have stuck with me

A friend on Facebook asked me to do one of those chain games, where you list 10 books that have stuck with you through the years. I said I would, and perhaps someday I will post this list on her wall, but it has a tendency to change. In the meantime, here is the current version, with brief explanations of why these books are meaningful to me. I read an awful lot, but I also tend to read shallowly — these are books that have somehow resonated despite that. I’ll also note that most of these books are ones that I encountered in my teenage years — somehow, it seems a lot harder for a book to leave a lasting impact once one is no longer a child.

  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers: This is a British detective story, probably my absolute favorite category of fiction, but that’s really the least of its charms. Besides the mystery, the central question this book wrestles with is whether women should choose an intellectual academic life or the safer domestic one. At the time this was written (1935), this was definitely an either-or question; some might argue that it still is. I was struck when reading this how similar Harriet Vane’s dilemmas were to my own, so many decades later.
  • Watership Down by Richard Adams: I usually loathe books with animal protagonists, so this is a surprising book for me to love.The part of this book that I always remember is the seeming warren paradise that the roving band of rabbits discover fairly early on in the book. There’s abundant food and the rabbits seem to have to work very little for it. The true situation soon becomes clear: a farmer sets out food for the rabbits in this warren, and in exchange, the rabbits essentially sacrifice one of their own when the farmer sets out a snare, doing nothing to save the trapped rabbit.
  • The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: A brilliant book, set in England immediately before and after World War II. A consummate professional, Stevens served Lord Darlington as his butler for three decades, including during the War. He sees himself as serving society through his service to Lord Darlington, but revelations about his former employer force him to reconsider the sacrifices he made to be the perfect butler and his true contribution to the world.
  • Anne of the Island by L. M. Montgomery: By far my favorite Anne of Green Gables book, one I’ve probably read dozens of times. I’m not sure there’s anything I can say here that hasn’t been said better by other people. I loved the depiction of the slow-blossoming love between Anne and Gilbert in this book. Particularly, I was a hopeless romantic about the chapter where Anne finally discovers her true feelings for Gilbert when she believed him to be dying.
  • The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton: Few Americans have heard of Enid Blyton, but several generations of Indian children were pretty much raised on her books (this could be an entirely separate blogpost). This was my absolute favorite of all the fantasy series she wrote. Jo, Bessie, Fanny and Dick have discovered a magic tree in the nearby woods, the top of which rotates between multiple magical lands. I particularly loved the lands where they got good things to eat (The Land of Goodies involved cake and treacle pudding) or had nice things happen to them (The Land of Birthdays!).
  • Boy by Roald Dahl: Another childhood favorite, an autobiography of Roald Dahl. If I’m honest, I probably remember two main things from this book: 1) Childhoods in the UK at the time Boy is set seem to involve a large amount of corporal punishment and 2) They sure got a lot of yummy-sounding candy to eat. Sherbet suckers and liquorice bootlaces sounded so exotic and delicious to my Indian ears. And later, he and his schoolmates actually got to test out new flavors for Cadbury!
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell: I can’t say that I remember most of this book very much at all, but there is one tragic scene that will haunt me forever. To tell you about it would destroy its impact, but if you were to ever read this book, you would know which scene I’m talking about.
  •  The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver: The story of a fundamentalist missionary Nathan Price, his wife, Orleanna, and four daughters, who move to the Belgian Congo. The books switches between the perspectives of the wife and four daughters and is remarkable for the way in which it depicts the slow change in perspective on the parts of Orleanna and her daughters and in contrast, the hubris shown by Nathan.
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen: I’m slightly ashamed to admit that it took me five tries to read this as a child. Austen is just so witty here, so subtle, so observant, her language so delightful. I will also forever be a fan of the 6-part BBC miniseries, which is remarkably faithful to the book.
  • An Equal Music by Vikram Seth: A beautiful and perfect love story but set in a world I’m completely unfamiliar with: that of professional musicians. Though I’m far from musical, this book made the music come alive and the passion these characters felt for it became completely understandable. I wished I’d taken those violin lessons more seriously.

That’s the end of my list. Ask me tomorrow and I might produce another one.

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