Wednesday, May 25, 2011

New Blog!

Due to several major life changes that are in the works, I've decided to start up an entirely new blog to document adventures in uncharted territory: Freestyle Home & Life. The main topics there will be pregnancy, homeownership, and eventually parenthood, as told from a learn-as-you-go newbie perspective.

Due to this blogging change, I don't expect to post very much here at My Way or the Pie Way anymore. (I may eventually attempt to export the content built up here to the new blog, although since the themes are somewhat different, it may not be as sensible or organized a solution as simply leaving this here as an archive.)

Anyway, that's the big announcement -- click here to check out the new blog in all its glory!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Google Chrome's New Icon

When I started up Google Chrome today, I was a little surprised to see that the icon had changed. Apparently Google has decided that it was in need of a redesign, but I'm honestly a little puzzled by this move. Have a look at this "before and after" image:


After a quick search of the internet, it seems that opinions vary on the redesign, but personally this strikes me as a step backward. The old icon looked polished and professional, while the new one just looks flat and faded. Overall, it looks to me a bit like something a middle school student might throw together.

But here's what Google has to say about this redesign:

Since Chrome is all about making your web experience as easy and clutter-free as possible, we refreshed the Chrome icon to better represent these sentiments. A simpler icon embodies the Chrome spirit — to make the web quicker, lighter, and easier for all.

A lovely sentiment, to be sure, but I just don't think they hit the nail on the head with this redesign -- simplification and clutter reduction doesn't need to look this bland. In the future, I hope they end up tweaking the icon in a way that sticks to their stated principles while also providing something a bit more aesthetically appealing.

How likely is this to happen? I'm not sure, but it brings to mind another example of how Google hasn't always gotten its redesign right on the first shot. Google's favicon took a few attempts to get right, as the following image demonstrates:


(Image credit: Search Engine Land.) If I'm not mistaken, the favicon on the far left was around for quite a while before 2007; in 2008, they replaced it with a bland and over-simplified blue g. Less than a year later, they came out with the current favicon, which kept the g while also beautifully capturing Google's iconic colors, and which they've kept around ever since.

Even though Google is generally known for its barebones aesthetic, I appreciate the effort they put into these little design-y things, and hopefully they'll eventually get it right with the Chrome icon.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

My Experiences with the Amazon Kindle

Back in February, my husband and I decided to get Kindles -- specifically the "all new" Amazon Kindle 3. It wasn't exactly an easy decision. Both of us have always enjoyed browsing in the book stores, and both of us cherish the collection of titles lovingly organized on our bookshelves. But over time, the allure of the e-reader slowly drew us in.

It's been a few months now, and I've had a chance to read a few books on the Kindle. I feel like I've had enough time to get comfortably acquainted with the device, and so I figured I would write up a review -- what I consider to be the good and bad aspects of the Amazon Kindle based on my experiences with it so far.


I'll start by saying that, from the beginning, I've found the Kindle to be incredibly comfortable to use. By this, I don't just mean that it's comfortable visually, although to me the fancy "e-ink" technology is all but indistinguishable from text printed on paper.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Wuthering Heights

I first read this book in a high school English class, and I remember having mixed feelings about it then: the story and the characters intrigued me, but I found the reading to be difficult and tedious. Still, the book persisted in my memory for a long time.

So when I was looking for something to read on my new Kindle -- more on that shiny device coming soon in a future blog post -- I realized that a lot of the classics were freely available for download through Project Gutenberg, and Wuthering Heights naturally caught my eye. So I downloaded it and began reading.

The first thing I noticed, to my surprise and delight, was that the text didn't seem difficult or tedious at all. I guess that's what an extra ten years of education and life experience will do for you.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

To Rent Or To Own?

Keep renting that apartment, or buy your own place? It's a question that seems to have many conflicting answers, and a question that I suspect is particularly common among newlywed couples first starting to build a life together.

My husband and I are at that stage in our married life. We're gearing up to start expanding our family soon, and our one-bedroom basement apartment just isn't going to be enough. Not too long ago, I blogged about how we briefly considered renting another place, and even went around looking at some apartments, before deciding that we'd rather save up for a place of our own.

But what exactly was the logic behind our decision? In this post, I'm going to look at the arguments for owning vs. renting, and the things we took into account when considering this important question about our future.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Biased Fox News Coverage of the Madison Wisconsin Protests

Yesterday, I traveled the 150 miles from Chicago to Madison Wisconsin to participate the rally to support the unions. This was for two general reasons: (1) I'm married to a union man, and (2) I strongly believe that Governor Walker's anti-union bill is a load of despicable nonsense that deserves to be slapped down, publicly and repeatedly.

But since I haven't blogged very much about my political views so far, I figured that any soapboxing about unions and the role they should play in a healthy democracy would be best saved for a future post. In this one, I'm going to recount my own experiences at the rally, and its subsequent coverage by the media.

Several things struck me upon my arrival in Madison: it was cold, it was snowing, and there were a lot of people.


It was really an incredible sight: thousands of people waving handmade signs as they swarmed through the streets and surrounded the capitol building, some passionate, some angry, but all completely civil and completely nonviolent. They marched, they chanted, they sang. As one of the oft-repeated lines went, "This is what democracy looks like."

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore

As suggested by some of my previous posts on this blog (and particularly this book review), evolution is a topic that I find to be very interesting. By extension, I'm also very interested by the similarities between humans and other species on this planet, and articles about dolphin communication and chimpanzee tool use fascinate me to no end. And so when I heard about this book, I was very much intrigued.

The premise: this novel is narrated in the first person by a chimpanzee named Bruno who learns human language, and it purports to tell the story of how he went from living in a zoo, to living in human society, to living in captivity again. That premise alone was enough to persuade me to pick this book up, and I fully expected to enjoy it.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Freakonomics

After buying this book due to a few glowing recommendations, I opened it one evening expecting to read just the first few pages -- and instead I sat for a full hour, unable to put it down. The writing style was so engaging and conversational, a kind of storytelling in nonfiction, and every paragraph held interesting observations and factoids.

The book centers around a fairly simple premise: what can numerical data tell us about some obvious (or not so obvious) question? In come cases, the answers seem reasonable and straightforward. For instance, a child is statistically far more likely to die by drowning in a backyard swimming pool than in an accident involving a gun in the home -- and yet the latter is generally regarded as a far more dangerous, frightening thing to have around.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Chicago Snowpocalypse 2011

Last Tuesday, Chicago was hit by a massive blizzard -- the third biggest in the city's recorded history. They'd been forecasting it and issuing blizzard warnings for days before, but I think it still took everyone a little by surprise. Overwhelmed by the snow, Lake Shore Drive became completely impassable, and people ended up trapped in their cars all night. The following photo, courtesy of Reddit, gives a pretty clear idea what this looked like:


My own experience was pretty mundane. I was at work, and the blizzard just happened to hit on the same day that I moved to a new office, from which I no longer had a clear view outside. I didn't realize how bad things were getting out there until the office manager came around suggesting that people leave early -- and this was around 4:00 PM, before the bulk of the snow had even hit.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Twilight Saga

Yes, I'll admit it: I've read the Twilight books. All four of them. Since most of the people I hang out with are intellectual enough to be repulsed by the series, this is something I've had occasion to feel awkward about -- and perhaps even a little guilty, because I actually kind of enjoyed the books a little. But let me try to explain in a belated blog review. (Belated because I read these books circa 2008.)

The thing about the Twilight novels is that they're very readable -- light, easy books that don't really make you think too hard. (Really, I'm not sure why anyone should come to them expecting anything else, after observing how popular the series is with the tweenage girl demographic.) The books contain the long, romanticized story of mutual infatuation between a vampire and a human, and are basically escapist wish fulfillment fantasy to the core.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Apartment Hunting Adventures

As I mentioned briefly in this blog post a while back, we'd like to move out of our current apartment sooner or later -- not only because of the lack of natural light, but also because it would be nice to have a bit more space than our current one-bedroom basement unit offers. With that goal in mind, about two months ago we began looking seriously for a new apartment in Chicago.

We had a list of criteria that any potential apartment had to meet. For instance, being within walking distance to the El was a must, since my husband and I both work in the Loop. We also wanted a dedicated parking space for the car, so as to avoid the stress of trying to find street parking on Saturday nights and so forth. And although those were the two big things, other factors -- such as windows, access to laundry, and of course price -- had an impact on how appealing any given apartment was.

We knew from the start that we'd be paying more for pretty much anything we found. Basement units are cheaper in general, and we have an even sweeter deal right now because pretty much all of our utilities are rolled in with the rent thanks to the landlord living upstairs. But our thinking was that having more space (and some natural light) would be worth the added expense.

But with all that being said, finding something desirable within a reasonable price range turned out to be harder than expected. Several of the apartments we looked at suffered from a frustratingly inefficient use of space, sacrificing on the size of the kitchen or the bedrooms for the sake of a large dining room that we knew we would hardly ever use.


This was just sketched from memory, but it's pretty representative of a couple of the apartments we looked at: bedrooms so cramped that they wouldn't be able to fit much other than a bed, and a large semi-separated dining room that was unwanted and unnecessary for our needs. But floor plan issues aside, other apartments suffered from more serious problems like a lack of laundry on the premises, roaches in the lobby, etc.

The anticlimactic end of this story is that we decided not to move at all -- or at least, not yet. Don't get me wrong, there's a lot out there in Chicago and if we'd continued looking long enough, maybe we would have eventually found the Perfect Thing. Although it seemed more likely that we would end up spending dramatically more money on an apartment that's just as imperfect as our current one, albeit in different ways.

Overall, I think looking at what was available, and for what prices, made our current apartment look all that much better by comparison. Our revised plan now is to bide our time, bask in the cheap rent for a while longer, and hopefully save up for a down payment on a place of our own. But the reasoning on that, and an analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of doing so, is probably a subject best saved for a future blog post.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Ender's Game

Over the past couple years, I've gotten the impression that this novel by Orson Scott Card is one of the "classics" of science fiction. This, and the fact that several people have told me how good it is, made me curious enough to pick it up while we were doing some shopping a few weeks before Christmas. And right off the bat, the premise seemed pretty interesting.

In the distant future, humankind struggles against a number of daunting challenges. Aliens -- a race humans call the "buggers" -- have been shown to exist, and two major wars have been fought in space against them. The earth is also overpopulated, to the point where couples are prohibited from having more than two children lest they face some steep tax penalties and generalized social stigma.