Twisted by Jessica Zafra – Pumping irony since 1994

If you’re disappointed in your species, here’s a story to give you hope (and clean your tear ducts)

December 09, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Science

The Coma Cluster of Galaxies from the NASA APOD Archive.

Allora & Calzadilla collaborated with author Ted Chiang on their video installation The Great Silence, which centers on the world’s largest radio telescope in Esperanza, Puerto Rico— home to the last remaining population of a critically endangered species of parrots, Amazona vittata.

(I copy my favorite writing into a notebook, hoping to figure out how they were created.)

The Arecibo telescope, from the National Geographic.


Endangered Puerto Rican parrot ceremonially released at the new flight cage of the flight cages at the Iguaca Aviary.	Saturday	Photo by Tom MacKenzie
Amazona vittata photo by Tom MacKenzie from Wikimedia Commons.



Continue reading The Great Silence.

I have an issue with Uber but they refuse to listen.

December 07, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: In Traffic, Technology


I use Uber a lot. It’s convenient, safe, and reduces the stress of getting around the city. I’ve written about how glad I am that Uber exists. I don’t even mind paying the surge rate (up to 5X during the Xmas season last year) as long as I am informed of it beforehand. Hey, traffic is a pain in the ass, what are you going to do.

Recently Uber updated its app. Now it doesn’t show you the surge rate. Instead you get an “Upfront Fare” that tells you how much your ride will cost. It may seem like a good idea—except that that is not what you end up paying.

This morning I took Uber to the Rockwell area. The “Upfront Fare” was Php55. The actual fare when I got to my destination was Php100.

This afternoon I took Uber back to my house, roughly the same distance as my morning trip. The “Upfront Fare” was Php170. The actual fare I was charged when I got home: Php248.

I understand that the effects of road traffic cannot be predicted exactly, but knowing the surge rate would give me a more accurate idea of how much I would have to pay. The “Upfront Fare” is completely unreliable, being nearly 50 percent off the final fare. I would prefer not to get a shock when the driver gives me the total (I use the cash option, so I am more aware of what I pay than if I charged it to a card).

As I am trying to be cheerful, I thought I would take it up with Uber instead of getting angry. In the past, I could report issues to Uber by replying to the receipt they email after each ride. Turns out you can’t do that anymore. I got an automatic reply that said the address does not accept incoming email. I was advised to go to “Help” in the Uber app or go to on the web.

So I did that. But the Help menu on both app and website has limited options, none of which cover “Your Upfront Fare is not very upfront, and I would prefer to see the surge rate so I don’t get a shock.” I tried reporting my issue under “I lost an item” and “I had an issue with a receipt or payment option” to no avail.


I asked my terrifyingly efficient sister how I could contact Uber, and she suggested their Facebook page. As I am not on the social media, I asked her to relay my message for me. Here is their reply:

Hello, just go to your History in Uber app, choose the trip that got issue and submit a note, we’ll follow up.

In short, Uber does not care to listen. And if Uber will not listen, I do not have to use Uber.

Uber, I want a reply. Readers, could you do me a favor and pass this on to them?

In the meantime I will use Grab. I have found Grab to be slightly more expensive, but at least they tell you what the final fare is as soon as you book.

Dancing In My Tsinelas: A happy playlist for VP Leni

December 05, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Current Events, Music

I am tired of being angry.

We all have reasons to be angry, but being angry just makes us angrier, and then the loudest and angriest wins. All that energy expended on nothing, just making everyone feel ill and look worn-out.

Today we woke up to the kind of news that makes us angry. I support #ProtectVPLeni and #LabanLeni, but I’m thinking that we could also try a different approach—one that is less likely to cause yelling.

A different approach, like Cheer. Like believing that good defeats evil. Like laughing in the face of despair. Like insisting on hope. Like dancing on the grave of injustice. (To those of us who are not perky sunshine people, it’s positively revolutionary.)

Nothing promotes happiness like music. So Juan, Ricky and I got together and made a list of happy songs off the tops of our heads.

Here is the first Dancing In My Tsinelas — a happy playlist for VP Leni. Because there’s a lot of work to be done, and how can you work if you feel like the nails are being driven into your coffin? Cheer up!

Don’t just listen to the playlist, make your own and send it to us! (Note: We need Filipino songs!)

It’s that time of year. If you are not one of the cheery sunshine people, here’s how to deal with it.

December 04, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Psychology

The Oatmeal has some thoughts on happiness that puts it into the proper perspective.


My solution to seasonal glumness: Read a good book (I’ll post a selection soon).

You’re at a party you really don’t want to be in: Find a quiet spot, read a good book. (Though my first solution is: Don’t go. Granted, you have to train for decades to resist the social pressure. I started by avoiding family gatherings from the time I was 11.)

You’re stuck in traffic, read a good book. If you’re driving, listen to a good audiobook.

If you need a plausible excuse to be absent from festivities, leave a comment and I’ll invent one for you. Who says fiction is not useful? Don’t feel guilty. It would be worse if you forced yourself to show up and made like it was a funeral.

Flea markets: Easy time travel to your childhood

December 02, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Childhood, Places, Traveling

Brooklyn Flea and Smorgasburg is on weekends at the old Williamsburg Savings Bank Clocktower in Fort Greene. I want to live there.

It’s like entering a bank vault and emerging in your childhood. It was perfect flea market weather: one degree Celsius, and the wind could take your face off.

I resisted the mind-boggling array of vintage eyeglasses, concert T-shirts and other clothes, vinyl records, magazines and games.

But not the necklace with a plastic dragon pendant.

The vendors sell all the stuff you’ve thrown out over the years and now want to get back. It’s not really the stuff you want, you know, it’s the past. When you look back you realize those were the good times, but you were too busy waiting for the future to arrive.

You can buy back your childhood. An attractive proposition, since the future circa 2016 has been a whopping disappointment. Sure, there are new toys, but you want the things that were around when you were a kid.

Did anybody save their pins, T-shirts and stuff from the street parliament years, 1983-1986? Show us.

We live in science-fiction times. You have to read Ted Chiang’s The Story of Your Life (filmed as Arrival).

November 29, 2016 By: jessicazafra Category: Books, Movies

Movies showing in New York: Moonlight (which I have to see with my friends), Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford’s latest, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Venice where Lav Diaz won the Golden Lion), and Manchester by the Sea, the new film by Kenneth Lonergan starring Casey Affleck. Cost of a movie ticket: $16.

I loved the ill-fated Lonergan movie Margaret and wanted to see Manchester by the Sea. Casey Affleck, who has used his freaky stare to great effect in his brother’s Gone Baby, Gone and The Assassination of Jesse James, is said to be terrific in it (the word Oscar has been used). But when I got to the Angelika both screenings of Manchester were sold out (there was a Q&A with the filmmakers aargh) so I settled for Nocturnal Animals.

Tom Ford’s first movie A Single Man, an adaptation of the Christopher Isherwood novel, was a feature-length perfume commercial (Bawal ang pangit) lifted by a heartbreaking performance by Colin Firth (who really won his Oscar with that). Nocturnal Animals, an adaptation of Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, is actually two movies. The first is about an art gallery owner played by Amy Adams who seems to have everything she wants: a thriving career, a rich and gorgeous husband (Armie Hammer), a fabulous house and glamorous lifestyle. It still looks like a perfume commercial, but this is to underscore the shallowness of her existence.

The second movie is a dramatization of the novel her first husband (Jake Gyllenhaal) has written and dedicated to her. It’s a nasty, alarming thriller in which a man (Jake), his wife (Isla Fisher, brilliantly cast—she looks like Amy) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) are driving through a Texas highway in the dead of night when they are forced off the road by a trio of thugs led by a terrifying Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The worst that can happen, happens. The ensuing investigation is led by the always disconcerting Michael Shannon, who would’ve made off with the entire movie if Jake were not so solid.

As the gallerist reads the manuscript, she recalls her relationship with her sweet, unambitious ex and how she destroyed him at the prodding of her mother (Laura Linney, who is brilliant). Nocturnal Animals stays in your head for days, and should cause a few arguments about the ending.

Amy Adams is having a great year. I’m looking forward to Arrival, directed by Denis Villeneuve (Sicario). Even before I’ve seen the movie, I already owe it a great debt for introducing me to the work of Ted Chiang.


Arrival is based on Chiang’s The Story of Your Life. Ostensibly a first contact with extraterrestrials tale, it is a mind-bending rumination on language and cognition, and a deeply emotional story of motherhood. The main idea is the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis:

the theory that an individual’s thoughts and actions are determined by the language or languages that individual speaks. The strong version of the hypothesis states that all human thoughts and actions are bound by the restraints of language, and is generally less accepted than the weaker version, which says that language only somewhat shapes our thinking and behavior.

Chiang is a writer who explores exhilarating ideas without losing sight of the familiar and human. Like many of the finest writers today, he is isolated from the general audience by the label “science-fiction”. But we live in science-fiction times, and the only way we can make sense of this pandemonium is to read writers like him.

If you see Ted Chiang’s books in stores, buy them all. Read them and give them to your friends. If for some reason you don’t like them, send them to me and I’ll swap other books for them.