"U.S. woman's acquittal is upheld"

JoongAng Daily News:

January 14, 2006 ㅡ The Supreme Court upheld yesterday a lower court ruling acquitting an American student on charges of murdering another U.S. student in Korea in 2001. The court said there was insufficient evidence to convict Kenzi Snider, 24, of killing Jamie Lynn Penich. Ms. Snider had been accused of beating Ms. Penich to death in a motel in Itaewon in March 2001.
The court said it did not accept Ms. Snider's confession to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation because it was later retracted. After questioning in Korea, Ms. Snider was questioned by the F.B.I. in the United States and confessed to the murder. Extradited to Korea in 2002, Ms. Snider disavowed her confession at her trial here. The court said evidence from another country's authorities is only admissible if the suspect confirms it to a court here.

Game: Blokus

Last night I had the unusual pleasure of being introduced to a good strategy game by somebody I don't live with. (The normal problem is that, if I find a good game, I don't want to buy it, because I already live with a copy. If I want to acquire a new game, I have to acquire one I don't know anything about.)

Blokus is a beautifully mathy game (not in a "numbers" sense of mathy...); my first thought of how to describe it is as four-player Go, but played with Tetris pieces made up of one- to five-squares each. The goal is to place all of your pieces on the board; the strategy relies on the Go-like principles of maintaining as many liberties as you can and of creating safe territories that you can dump your remaining pieces into at the end of the game. (The official site describes the origins as an accidental consideration of the four-colour theorem as applied to a Pentominoes game.) Game play is ridiculously cut-throat - repeated games run into "get the guy who won last time" three-on-one assaults, and every move you make past your second or third is offensive - and it plays pretty fast (15-20 minutes). Playable online at the link above, though the physical set is kind of pretty in its four-color transparency.

First project of the New Year

With such a large south-facing window in the living room, and a shelf conveniently mounted in front of it (Cara's doing), I figured I'd see if I could grow some salad fixin's in the wintertime. I scrounged 8 pots that had held mums (some were transplanted, some just died), borrowed some soil (all of the extension service pages I read on container gardening indicate that Michigan's lovely clay soil probably wouldn't work too well in pots, so I reused some of the soil from the mums and some potting soil that was sitting around), and planted some loose-leaf greens, radishes, and baby beets. The pots are probably too small and the days too short and cloudy for much good to come of this, but it gives me a nice feeling of anticipation to watch them.

In related news, Cara bought me a composter for my birthday - the kind that has a drum with a horizontal access for easy tumbling of the contents and therefore quick, well-aerated compost. She described it as buying me "negative consumption" for my birthday. Very nice.

My end-of-the-year yuppie activism

(as in, giving $.)

My nod to the national scene this year is to become a card-carrying member of the ACLU. I can sign petitions and write e-mails and stuff, but they've got lawyers. And I, of course, request that all y'all continue to inform me of the petitions I ought to be signing and concerns I ought to be writing my Senators about. (Though, really, the legislators I personally have available to write to are among the ones who least need the the encouragement.) In return, I'll keep telling you more than you want to know about what you should care about locally.

Locally, I've donated to Growing Hope, which runs community gardening and food education programs in Washtenaw County, most in Ypsilanti, including a garden at the SOS Crisis Center, "to provide fresh produce for clients who need emergency food assistance"; a garden at Dawn Farm, a substance abuse treatment house; the Home-Grown Health program, which "teaches low-income families how to garden, cook, and eat nutritiously", including a program targeted at low-income Head Start children and their parents; and gardens and greenhouses at several schools. Their programs address several of the "adjacent services" strategies of the Washtenaw County Blueprint to End Homelessness.

Perverse incentives arising from treating government like business? And urinals.

While looking for information on how much water the City of Ann Arbor uses ("over six billion gallons a year"), I found the following statement in the Water Department's FAQ:

We had an exceptionally good summer for water sales. We sold 230 million gallons more water this June through September than the same months last year . The biggest part of these sales came in September , which was our best September on record. The year was not characterized by record maximum days but instead by record high averages. We pumped in excess of 30 million gallons per day for more days than ever before.

This seems wrong, doesn't it? From an environmental standpoint (and since our drinking water comes out of the environment and our sewage goes into it, the environmental standpoint is a matter of survival, and not some sort of hippie-dippie concern, thanks), we ought to be trying to minimize the amount of water we consume. From the point of view where government is a business (and officials "hired" by "taxpayers", rather than elected by citizens), however, it makes most sense to always "sell" (rather than "provide") as much water as your treatment plant can handle. If the water people determine that they're suddenly pumping a lot more water than normal, and haven't added users to the system, they shouldn't be patting themselves on the back, they should be trying to figure out what's wrong.

Why was I looking for how much water A2 uses? Because, after spending a few days working frenetically in the School of Natural Resources' computer lab, and making use of their no-flush urinals, I was wondering why these fixtures aren't a more widespread thing. Intuitively, you'd think you could not only save water (and thus save $), but could also reduce the amount of hardware and half the plumbing you'd ordinarily install (thus saving $) and reduce maintenance, because there are fewer parts to break (thus saving $). Oh, and they're much simpler in appearance than the traditional loads-o'-chrome monstrosities, so they're probably easier/faster to clean (again, saving $), so it would seem a no-brainer.

So, as a thought exercise, I was wondering how much water the State of Michigan would save by replacing all of the urinals at highway rest areas with no-flush models. After all, if we hope to prevent a pipeline to Phoenix, we Great Lakes states have to be setting a good example - want some of our water? Let's see you exercise at least as much thrift as we do before you come to us, tap in hand. And this makes a good exercise both because it would be a large number and a figure I think I can come up with. Okay, so about 42 million users (pdf) stop at Michigan's highway rest areas annually. Assume that's people, rather than vehicles. Assume (probably conservatively) that about half of those "users" are men. Assume (again conservatively) that about half those men use the urinal during their stop. Replacing all of the American Standard 1 gallon-per-flush urinals with no-flush models would therefore save at leasst 10.5 million gallons of water annually.

Which is . . . 1/3 of Ann Arbor's daily water use in the summer. Oh. Not as impressive as I'd hoped. But, considering that there aren't really any downsides, it doesn't have to be impressive.)

Some fun additional links I found while researching:

  • The Australian Rota-Loo company has a diagram of their composting toilet, which, indeed, rotates the segmented drum of humanure under the toilet to allow batch composting. Nifty.

  • A plumbing company in Cinci discusses urinals in the context of the home bathroom, rather than in a commercial/public setting: "Early trend setters opted for a urinal in the master bathroom. Now they are beginning to appear in other bathrooms in the home as well ... especially where there are males in the household. Urinals can be installed next to the toilet, although most women prefer to place it in a separate WC (Water Closet), or behind a partition." (Emphasis theirs.)
  • And apparently part of the problem is that the widely used Uniform Plumbing Code doesn't permit no-flush urinals, though other Codes do.

It's so much fun to be "done" with the semester and be able to spend an hour of my Saturday researching urinals rather than working in any particular direction. (And I'm sure you all appreciate it, too...)

Masters project purgatory...

The optimistic euphemism for my day is "Adding Adobe InDesign to my resumé."

Was picked up at 8 am for Team Breakfast at the Northside, and will probably be in the lab until 9 or 10 tonight. Repeat tomorrow, with a few-hour break to stop into work and start training my replacement.

The mediocre state of modern activism

Sometimes it strikes me just how lame activism has become. A one-time event by a group of EMU social work students made the paper today for feeding a free hot meal to forty people in Ypsi. The article makes sure to note corporate donors Zoup and Starbucks for their donations. This is all praiseworthy, and nice to see happen.

However.

I'm reading the news in a break between sections of writing - the piece I just finished is about the Black Panthers' programs, which fed free breakfasts to thousands of Oakland schoolchildren daily for years, and occasional distributions of 10,000 bags of groceries. I'm kinda betting that this event in Ypsi had no political message attached to it, no, "So, why are these people hungry, anyways?" Or, at least, no such message well-stated enough and integral enough to the event to make the news.

But, hey. I've never organized an event to feed forty people once, so I have to look favorably on those who have, even if I have enough context to know how little good it's doing.

Our project hits the newspaper

Maybe this will boost turnout for our final presentation beyond the dozen people who have been at the past two? From the Flint Journal, 14 December, UM, neighborhood team up to create revitalization plan.

FLINT - The new urban planner may be your next-door neighbor, as community groups such as the Grand Traverse Neighborhood Association take their revitalization into their own hands, with a little help.

In this case, a group of students wants to help transform this aging community.

Students from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, master urban planning program have been working with the association for three months, and a final planning meeting is set for 7 p.m. today at the Court Street United Methodist Church, 225 W. Court Street, Flint.

Thanks to the Genesee County Land Bank, which covered the student costs as they use the project for their master's degree final project, the 10-year-old neighborhood association hopes to begin a more aggressive approach in neighborhood revitalization.

"We're one of their strategic investment areas because we're so close to downtown Flint," said Heidi Peterson, a five-year resident and current association president. "I'm excited to see how this turns out."

They didn't contact me for a quote, though...Sigh.

Should have known getting out wasn't so easy

As an undergrad, I took three grad classes in the planning department, having only two requirements left for undergrad and needing to fill my schedule. At some point along the line, around the time of applying to/entering the master's program, I was told, "Those credits will transfer." The proper response on my part should not have been, "Great!" but, "What hoops do I have to jump through?" It wasn't until applying to graduate from the master's program that I found out, whoops, those didn't transfer, and I'm 1 credit short. What do I need to do? Submit a form to Rackham (the grad school administrative unit), and get my undergrad advising office to write a letter saying those credits weren't used to calculate my undergrad requirements. I finished undergrad with 30-40 credits extra, so this shouldn't be a problem, except.

The EECS undergrad advising office is ridiculous even when you're a member of their department. This was the office that told me I couldn't declare my major without taking Calc II. "But I've already taken Calc III and IV," I noted, because of a weird quirk in applying AP and community college dual-enrollment credits. "Can I still take Calc II after taking III and IV?" "No." "Then can I declare?" "Not without Calc II."

So, upon finding I needed once more to deal with the EECS advising office, I entered a tragicomic montage: arriving at the office as they were leaving early for lunch. Arriving at the office to find everybody just gone to a departmental holiday party for the rest of the day. Calling to make an appointment, only to have the connection die midway through leaving a message (at a time of day when they should have been answering the phone).

Finally, I just camp out outside their door during lunch until they get back. Once inside, they point me to a form - which has the officious-looking title, "ugrad to grad transfer appl". I fill out the form, and notice that there's no place on it write, for example, which courses I'm seeking to transfer. Or, as another example, what program I want to transfer them to. I add these data as marginalia and point them out when I hand in the form. Next up, they say that, due to the amount of effort involved in paperwork, it takes their office a minimum of three weeks to handle transfer credit requests. (I'd expect they could just pull out the form they filled out for my undergrad credit audit, when I was graduating, that shows which courses I took and how the department applied them, then fill in the blanks in the form letter they send to Rackham, and get this off in about 15 minutes. Apparently not.)

That was yesterday. The last day of classes is today, and the last day of the semester on the 23rd. Not quite three weeks of time there, so it looks like I may not be graduating officially until well after the time my department has kicked me out as done. It's likely I won't be officially graduated until April, the next time a degree cycle comes up. Oh well.

I am hereby swearing off peeled vegetables

Mondays are my evening to cook, and yesterday I was a little more stressed than usual - post-class meetings ran late, leaving me less time to cook, the kitchen was dirty, and the previous day's hamburger experiment had spattered the stove with grease that hadn't been cleaned out of the burners - so three of my four burners caught fire when I tried to boil water on them. (Not seriously - when I took the pot off and blew on them, the little flames went out; it was only at maximum burner heat and covered with a pot to reflect the heat that this happened. But seriously enough that I only had burner capable of safely heating a pot to boiling.)

I was into the home stretch, though, with everything on track, and was just making salad when, YEARGH! That was not the carrot I just hit with the peeler! That was my *&%@ing FINGER!

This is when it's nice to have housemates, so that when you suddenly start dancing around the kitchen yelling, "ow ow ow ow ow ow ow", there are people around to fetch bandaids and finish making dinner while I stand around holding my hand in the air, applying direct pressure, giving directions, and trying not to pass out.

This morning, then, I went to change the bandage, and found that - sigh - my finger had fused itself to the bandaid, despite the slick slathering of antibacterial crud. An attempt to run warm water under the bandaid to soften things? No luck. Still attached. So I carefully prepared by operating theater - fresh gauze slathered with ointment, precut strips of tape, open hydrogen peroxide bottle (thank you to Andra and Michael for providing raidable first aid caches), and clean paper towel. So. Rip! Rinse! Peroxide! Dry! Gauze! Pressure! Tape! Sit on floor and take moment to catch breath and reflect on the damage. Looks like I took off the corner of my fingernail (right index), and a not quite lentil-sized chip out of the corner of my finger tip. Yuck. I'm pretty certain that's going to scar. Good thing I'm not a pianist. And good thing I'm left-handed. And good thing I've never used conventional finger-key assignments for typing - it's less hard to adapt to holding my index finger in the air when I don't have any strict typing to worry about.

Bleeding was renewed when I ripped off the band-aid, and I waited for a minute to make sure that it was going to stop, and that I wouldn't need to go to the emergency room. (Because, honestly, all they'd do is say, "Yup, looks painful. Can't stitch it. Keep it clean and wait for it to heal.")

To distract myself, I then called up the folks who gave me a job offer on Friday and informed them I was accepting. I start January 9.