September 28, 2007

Bleh Shotgun

The weather is humid and bleh. So, enjoy your links!

  • Manic Mundi (game,flash,puzzle)
    • Use the steam elevator to turn off all the lights in the hotel.
  • Press The Spacebar 2000 (games,flash)
    • Race to ruin your spacebar by seeing how quickly you can tap that key in 5 seconds, or longer if you are really enjoying yourself.
  • lolsecretz (parody,humor,image,animals)
    • It’s the darker, secret, more intimately personal side of LOLcats.
  • Wall Animation - CollegeHumor video (animation,art,cartoon,video)
    • Freakiest animation I’ve seen all year. In chalk drawn on some walls, ceilings and floors.
  • One Gigabyte: Then and Now (computer,history,photo)
    • Rui sent me this link. It’s an opportunity to think about how we spent so much time carting around tons of floppies for so many years.
  • Somebody Taser The Penguin (economics,funny,politics,comics,humor)
    • The evil comic genius of Alan Greenspan captured in This Modern World.
Posted by James at 9:36 AM | Comments (1)

September 27, 2007

Whales Talk French Thursday

Fired for a Scientific Answer

When an instructor said in class that you can’t take the story of Adam and Eve literally, some Christian students complained to the school that this was offensive to their religion. Subsequently, the instructor was fired from Southwestern Community College in Iowa.

“As a taxpayer, I’d like to know if a tax-supported public institution of higher learning has given veto power over what can and cannot be said in its classrooms to a fundamentalist religious group,” he said. “If it has … then the taxpaying public of Iowa has a right to know. What’s next? Whales talk French at the bottom of the sea?”

“Whales Talk French”? I like how he slipped a “WTF” into the story.

Store Owner Says Men Hypnotized Him Into Giving Them Cash

This guy is actually claiming that thieves pulled a Jedi mind trick on him and made him hand over the contents of the cash register without violence. No kidding.

Storeowner Yogesh Patel, 29, who is also from India, said that he had heard of the scam but never believed it and never thought it could happen to him. He said he’s now upset and embarrassed.

Just plain bizarre.

Candidate of the Klepto Party

Carlos Felix, A local community activist who unsuccessfully ran for city council was arrested for shoplifting tools from Sears in Dartmouth, MA. He claims to be a kleptomaniac and that he’s denied himself marijuana after being arrested for possession in last year — but that the pot was helping him deal with his anxiety and klepto urges. A loss prevention officer says he confronted the man outside the store, but Felix has a different description of events.

Mr. Felix said he never left the store. He said he was going “in and out” out of the door, struggling with his impulses. “I was fighting my demons,” he said.

Baseball Interruptus

I actually got a breaking news story from my New York Times email subscription to tell me that the Yankees have clinched the wildcard. For the record, I only want an email alert when something bad happens to the Yankees.

Pour Your Own Drinks, Ladies

That’s the lesson I’m getting from the story about this creep, formerly of New Bedford, MA, who was arrested in Florida after a woman blacked out for a day and a half and woke up without her underwear. The creep was apprehended with a number of pictures of other women, some of which looked unconscious and some of which may have been from Massachusetts.

Ugh. Just… ugh.

You Want Chemicals With That?

What do you do when you’re in the drive-through and you can’t your drinks for 69 cents because the drink promotion is over? Why, you spray the cashier with noxious chemicals, of course. A number of questions:

  • A McDonald’s 69 cent drink promotion? Really?
  • WTF pepper spraying the cashier? (obviously)
  • The person in the passenger seat was “dressed as a black woman” — what’s that mean? Not a “black person dressed as a woman”?
  • And WTF possibly cross-dressing red-white-and-blue-haired pepper spray drive-through hooligans?

I give up.

Posted by James at 9:03 AM | Comments (4)

Bug: I'll Dig It Out And Show You

I just saw the movie Bug, William Friedkin’s film based on the play by Tracy Letts. I guess if you don’t want to hear anything about this film, you shouldn’t read this post. I don’t really know if this is a spoiler or not.

Reviews described this film as “two people’s descent into madness.” It’s a horror film, definitely, but not a monster movie or a slasher film. It’s more in the mold of Psycho, at least in that it deals with inner demons unleashed.

Ashley Judd is Agnes, a lonely woman with a sad past and an abusive ex-husband (Harry Connick Jr.). Michael Shannon is Peter, a man on the run from something. They find each other, and you can easily see that it’s going to be bad, but it isn’t completely clear how it’s going to get bad. The “bug” of the title refers to the infestation they find in the apartment which serves as the stage for the entire drama.

A movie about a growing madness wouldn’t be any good if the people didn’t seem to be somewhat sane at the beginning of the film. I think most people, if they met him, would have their doubts about Peter; he gives off an unbalanced, perhaps even dangerous vibe. I have met people like that. There are people who are different (harmless weirdos) and then there are people who have something more going on. They don’t speak much, and when they do speak their words don’t comfort you at all.

So it falls to Agnes to be the sane one. She’s lonely, but she does have at least one friend, namely R.C., who first brings Peter to the apartment. As the film progresses, Agnes reveals the depth of her inner damage. Eventually there is a moment where Agnes starts down the dangerous path where Peter is leading.

When R.C. notices Agnes is in trouble, she moves to separate her from Peter. Peter’s erratic behavior is alarming at this point, and any sane person would not want any part of him. But even he insists that he won’t stop Agnes form leaving. She’s an adult. She can make her own decisions.

Being sane, you and I share a point of view with R.C., as she has a moment of realization. The situation is beyond anyone’s control. If you’ve ever had a friend need help you couldn’t give, you know that’s bad. But a friend who needs help and can’t even grasp that need, or is blind to it, is something overwhelming. Faced with Agnes’ transformation (or R.C.’s misjudgment of her friend), R.C. is forced to leave in confusion and frustration.

This is a dark film, and the performances are especially convincing if you’ve been unlucky enough to know people who are able to spin “facts” out of thin air to feed their delusions in real time.

Many films are populated with interesting damaged characters. Psychic damage in a character’s background makes for interesting plot possibilities. As we negotiate the bumps and setbacks along the road of life, a traumatic incident can make a person more vulnerable to exploitation. In Agnes’ case, she’s got a lot going on under the surface, but it is her abusive ex-husband who has primed her by breaking her personality and teaching her how to submit to submit to someone else’s will. But instead of an abuser’s will, she substitutes Peter’s strong personality.

I know it’s a bit of a stretch, but it reminds me of how so-called-psychics take advantage of people who are grieving. Con artists target people who have suffered a loss because they are easier marks.

I wouldn’t necessarily describe Bug as a cautionary tale. It is more of a slow motion train wreck of insanity.

Posted by James at 8:08 AM | Comments (2)

September 26, 2007

Bush Phonetic Guide

So a non-final version of Bush’s UN speech was leaked on the UN website yesterday. Some people are amused that this speech contained phonetic spellings for a number of hard-to-pronounce names. I’m going to come to a rare defense of the president and say that such practices are common for public speakers. If you’re not familiar with certain words, reading them off a prompter becomes difficult.

Do you know the capital of Zimbabwe? It’s Harare (or “hah-RAR-ray”). The president would have no trouble pronouncing this if he lived next door to Harare. It is unfamiliar, foreign, and obscure to him. Why shouldn’t he have help?

So, in the interest of good pronunciation, I’ve listed here a few more of the words that the president needs to have spelled phonetically in his speeches because of his complete lack of familiarity. Enjoy.

  • ON-ess-tee
  • ree-AL-it-tee
  • SIV-ill-LIB-burr-tees
  • COM-pet-tents
  • dip-PLO-muss-see
  • SY-ents REE-surch
  • CORE-pore-it rees-ponce-uh-BILL-itty

Did I miss any?

Posted by James at 11:30 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

September 25, 2007

Exponentially Larger

Yesterday, I saw that Barry of Staring at Empty Pages referenced a story in the Washington Post. The story is entitled "Protest Worth Covering." It's a response to criticism that WaPo's coverage of the recent national anti-war protest was unsatisfactory. It's a good response. However, I immediately found something in it that bugged me. Early on in the piece, Deborah Howell writes the following:
The story did not say that the antiwar protest was exponentially larger than the pro-war demonstration. The headline and photo display exacerbated the problem.
As the title of my post indicates, my problem with this paragraph is the use of the phrase "exponentially larger." I'm trying to understand what she means by using this phrase.

The only safe thing to conclude, by conservatively and charitably interpreting the phrase, is that it means the same as the vague phrase "a lot larger."

I don't like the phrase "exponentially larger" here; its misused mathematical terminology makes it sound like it is saying something precise, when it is the opposite of precise. I'll explain why.

Taken literally, "exponential" means "of or relating to an exponent." So, we might conclude that the author means that group B is equal to group A raised to some power. But what is that exponent? It could be anything. If y = xn, let's plug in some values. Assuming group A comprises a modest 100 members, what happens when we use a few different exponents?

y = xn
Exponent (n) Group A Size (x) Group B Size (y)
1 100 100
10 100 100,000,000,000,000,000,000
.5 100 10
0 100 1

In fact, you can get any size you want for group B by choosing the right exponent. But one thing you do notice is that even using a modest-sized exponent (10), you get an enormous size for group B. Just "having an exponent" has nothing to do with the relationship between the sizes of these two groups.

Exponentiality is a phenomenon of change. It's a way to describe a dynamic relationship. For instance, when x represents time, you can see exponential growth over the passing of time. Unfortunately, this story is about two distinct groups of people at some fixed point in time. One group is not changing into the other group. The aspect of "change" is really missing1.

The formula I used above isn't even an exponential function, really. It's a polynomial function of the nth degree where the other coefficients are zero. But we were playing with "exponential" in the sense of "an exponent." "Exponential function" generally refers to ex where the variable x is the exponent. You can read about the base, e, here. But for our purposes, assume the base doesn't make too much difference.

It's true that with y = ex, the y values can get big really quickly when you increase x by modest amounts.

This time, let's assume that the two group sizes are 500 for group A and 3000 for group B. I think we would all agree that group B is much larger. I've plotted these as y values on a graph (with arbitrary x values -- assume they have some meaning that has to do with a different attribute of the groups) to see if there can be an exponential relationshiop between these two values. The pinkish dot is group A, the blue dot is group B.

It's a graph of a linear function and an exponential function

The red plot shows an exponential function which passes through the two values. So, the two values can lie on an exponential function. But, wait. I've also drawn a green line through the two dots, representing a linear function in the form of f(x) = mx+b.

You can make an exponential function that increases from the smaller value to the larger one. And you can also make a linear function that does the same thing (in a different way).

Would it make any sense to say "group B is linearly larger than group A?" In this situation, it would make just as much sense as saying "exponentially larger" which is to say, not much sense at all.

None of this makes much sense because the relationship between the sizes of these groups has nothing to do with exponentiality. On the information we're given, we can't see exponentiality in action.

We can't really make the assumption, but it is possible that what she meant was that the size of group B was an order of magnitude larger than the size of group A. That would mean that group B was very roughly 10 times larger. She didn't say that, so we can't assume it. She could have said "an order of magnitude." She could have specified two, or even three orders of magnitude. That would be roughly 100 times the size and roughly 1000 times the size, respectively. But she didn't say any of those things.

In the end, we're really left assuming she meant "a lot larger." In Massachusetts, we ahve a phrase specifically for this. "A wicked lot bigger." What she really meant to write was that they failed to report that group B was a wicked lot bigger than group A.

you say. "That's not English!" True, but at least it doesn't pretend to be precise when it isn't. It doesn't imply a dynamic mathematical relationship that doesn't exist. "A wicked lot bigger" is more honest.

Also, "a wicked lot bigger" doesn't confound people's possible understanding of "exponential" and what exponentiality is. Of course, that's a topic for another blog post, or you can read this .

I don't recommend you say or write "a wicked lot bigger." But if you really only mean "a lot bigger" why not just say that? Or, if you have more specific information, give a more precise description.

1. If there were some reason for us to believe that the size of one group had something to do with the size of the other group, that would be interesting. That could involve exponentiality. But this is neither supported nor implied in any part of the story.
Posted by James at 12:49 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

September 24, 2007

Would You Rather?

Would you rather…

  • Wake up to breakfast prepared just how you like it or…
  • Come home to your favorite dinner ready to be served?
Posted by James at 10:34 AM | Comments (17) | TrackBack

Satucket Confusion


a Cortland apple

On Saturday I took the girls to C.N. Smith Farm in East Bridgewater, MA. All year I’ve been waiting to do that, because the last time I took them by there was in October and I had just missed picking season. It was bugging me all year.

I posted some pix to Flickr, and noticed something funny. When I added location data to the images, Flickr reported that the photos were taken in Satucket, MA.

That’s odd. The signs seemed to indicate East Bridgewater. The farm advertises its location as being East Bridgewater.

There is a Satucket River in East Bridgewater.

But this threw me for a loop: The Widow’s War on Barnes & came up in a search for Satucket, MA. And it has this blurb (emphasis mine):

Married for twenty years to Edward Berry, Lyddie is used to the trials of being a whaler’s wife in the Cape Cod village of Satucket, Massachusetts—running their house herself during her husband’s long absences at sea, living with the daily uncertainty that Edward will simply not return.

If Satucket is part of what is now called East Bridgewater, that’s perhaps the farthest from the Cape I’ve ever heard a town called a Cape Cod village.

Finally, after a bit more searching, I found this fun fact on the Chatham Vacation Rentals site:

Harwich was originally known as Satucket by the original Native American inhabitants.

And, actually, you can find this claim in a few places on the intarweb. For you non-Bay-Staters, Harwich is definitely on the Cape, but nowhere near East Bridgewater.

So, it looks like Flickr may simply be confused about the location (and era) of Satucket. But I will defer to friends who grew up near the area. East Bridgewater is only a couple of miles south of Whitman and Abbington, and I know that Chuck and Derek grew up ‘round there. Ever hear of “Satucket?”


This must be the day for web app confusion. I just got an email from Amazon. Here is a snippet:

As someone who has purchased the comedy series Two and a Half Men on DVD, we thought you’d like to know that the new comedy […]

Purchased Two and a Half Men on DVD? I think not. I don’t even think I’ve ever watched the show.

Posted by James at 8:17 AM | Comments (1)

September 23, 2007

I Am Iron Man

Image Hosted by

uploaded by drmomentum at 2007-09-23

Iron Man

I think the new Iron Man trailer looks pretty darn cool. Check it out.

I laughed at this parody of the Spider-Man cartoon theme song.

Posted by James at 1:01 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 22, 2007

Crib Recall - Spread the word

George, from Consumer Help Web, is trying to get the word out on a baby crib recall. These cribs have already been involved in three deaths.

The US Consumer Product Safety Commission and a large crib manufacturer have issued an immediate recall of 1 million cribs. Three children have died.

The cribs have the name Aspen and Graco.

The Aspen crib models are: Aspen 3 in 1, Aspen 4 in 1, Nursery-In-A-Box, Crib N Changer Combo, Chelsea and Pooh 4 in 1.

The Graco crib models are: Ultra 3 in 1, Ultra 4 in 1, Ultra 5 in 1, Whitney and the Trio.

Spread the word, if you can. If you have a Reddit or Digg account, you can vote up these story submissions to increase their exposure (The stories link to Consumer Help Web, not back to this blog):

Posted by James at 1:23 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

September 21, 2007

Hopeless Authoritarian Shotgun

Here you go again.

And don’t forget the Twitter. Add me and my friends and get updates through your IM client.

Posted by James at 12:02 PM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Rude Rights

Margaret pointed out to me that something I said in my previous post was something I didn’t really mean. So I will revisit it here.

I said you don’t have the right to be rude, which is wrong and it’s not what I meant.

You do have rights which allow you to be rude and obnoxious. Rudeness and obnoxiousness are not against the law. However, you don’t always have the right to choose any forum as a platform for your views. Venues have a right to require a level of discourse and behavior from you to participate in an event.

In a way, this infringes on your right to be rude. Which is a complexity I fumbled in my previous post. Sometimes our rights are at odds with each other. Sometimes it’s more important to be rude — politeness is great, up to a point.

People (I among them) are definitely a lot more sympathetic if you are rude and obnoxious for a good reason.

Posted by James at 11:40 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

September 20, 2007

Andrew Meyer Kerfuffle

A couple of words on the Andrew Meyer media kerfuffle.

For those of you who missed the story (not sure how you could have) a guy made a ruckus at a John Kerry event and when he refused to comply with the authorities at the scene he was forcibly removed and then, as he continued to both resist and act in a combative way towards police, he was tased.

I am always very wary of excessive use of force by authorities. I think that when we give the state and police too much free rein they will naturally, eventually, squelch individual freedoms. That said, it is a function of police to keep the peace. The laws they enforce are often concerned with protecting your individual freedom from being trampled by another person’s individual freedom. In the case of Andrew Meyer, I’m afraid he crossed the line from expressing himself to convincing the people at that forum that they were possibly in danger from him.

I quote from this story.

“For a question to be met with arrest, not to mention physical violence, is completely unacceptable in the United States, especially in the halls of education,” Mr Dictor said.

I agree completely with that statement. But this is not what I am seeing in these videos.

I’ll let others argue the evidence that Meyer went to the event specifically to cause trouble. But I will tell you what I see that differs from Mr. Dictor’s statement. Meyer didn’t really seem to have a question. He attempted to hijack the forum, and claimed he had three questions. But after he ran on in a manic fashion for a while and finally uttered something like a question, he refused to give Kerry the opportunity to respond. Eventually he degenerated into conspiracy theory and someone decided he’d taken up enough of people’s time. I don’t know if police asked him to stop, but I doubt he would have heard them; they started to remove him. He played to the crowd (who appeared to be happy to see him go) and was combative with police, even though he claimed he was cooperating. Once they had him on the ground, they tried to reason with him. It did seem like he would start to cooperate at first, after they threatened to tase him. Then suddenly, he started to fight with them again and they tased him.

Also, throughout, he claimed he was being arrested when clearly they were moving to eject him.

Key points here:

  • He hijacked the forum. You have a right to free speech, but you don’t have a right to be rude, obnoxious, and waste other people’s time1. He had plenty of time to say something dramatic if that’s all he wanted. He could have asked a question and listened to the answer. Instead he escalated the situation, and to my eyes it appeared intentional.
  • The original shaky-cam obscured the extent to which he was fighting the police. He was not cooperating. It doesn’t take a genius to know what’s going to happen if you don’t cooperate with the police. But even if you didn’t know that, you can’t claim to be cooperative and continue to scream and fight.
  • What was your point? Andrew Meyer didn’t say anything that you can’t already read on the Internet. He didn’t reveal any shocking truth that was being hidden from society. He didn’t risk getting tased to bring you some heroic message. If he had been standing on a street corner yelling that stuff, nobody would have cared, except the neighbors — so this wasn’t about free speech.

In conclusion, I am not going to say that the police couldn’t have handled this better. But they were in a pretty tough situation, because this guy was acting dangerous. It really appears he just wanted attention. Well, he’s gotten it. But let’s give him the right kind of attention; he deserves our scorn. There are legitimate complaints about our current government, and all Andrew Meyer did was make people who have complaints seem crazy. That’s not the way you raise awareness, it wasn’t necessary in this case, and it hurts, rather than helps.

Mr. Meyer, I don’t know if the cops should have tased you, but it certainly looked like you deserved it.

One more note: how this story has played out is an interesting example of our current Internet/media culture. People were outraged that he was tased, and the first video was really unclear. But we’ve had the chance to see different views of the same event, and see the extent to which he was fighting with police. That’s a good thing. But we see in the online media cycle and the initial CNN saturation that this video got that this is now the age of attention junkies. Act outrageously enough and you’ll get plenty of people giving you sympathy; at least until the details are revealed.

I was really happy to hear Keri on WSAR this morning criticising Meyer. I miss her show, not being able to listen to it here at work. It was the first I heard someone in the professional media actually cutting through all the BS surrounding this story.

1 Well actually you do. This came out wrong. See later post. I really mean that you don’t have the right to turn any venue into a forum for your rudeness. There is a balance to be found between your individual rights and others.

Posted by James at 11:37 AM | Comments (30) | TrackBack

WTF ...Thursday

Where’s the Feet? (as they say on Woot!)

Kids Say The Darndest Things

When police pulled over 28-year-old Joshua McClelland for a DUI, they didn’t expect to learn of another crime.

McClelland had two small kids in the car and said he had just come from his wife’s house in Bruceton Mills, W. Va. That’s when the suspect’s 5-year-old son in the back seat pointed to a bloody knife on the floor and said, “See that knife. Daddy stabbed mommy in the back.”

Holy crap that’s going to make Christmas awkward this year.

WTF Red Sox


“We’re just not ready to talk about the playoff roster,” Francona said. “That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

No kidding.

Lizard Begets Likeness

Jacksonville, FL veterinarians must have been surprised when a father rushed a pet bearded dragon in because of a strange protrusion and then…

“The next thing I knew, I was seeing legs and a body and a head. It was very strange to be tugging on this thing,” he said.

By the time the rubbery lizard’s legs began to appear, Rossi realized what it was.

It was a smaller, plastic lizard. (The lizard had eaten it, of course.)

Geocaching For Coke

Criminals say the darndest things.

Leroy Carr kept crossing the border with a GPS and a ton of cash. This got the interest of US officials, but…

…Carr refused to speak with Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and they let him go — until he called to ask if they had seen his cocaine.

Interesting tactic. Of course, it starts to make sense when you realize that there were some pretty angry people who thought he had stolen the cocaine for himself.

Not-Judge-Ito Disses Simpson

When it’s tough to get a quotation from a notable person, why not just get an outrageous quotation from a person who kinda sorta looks like that notable person?

TMZ was a little too quick in posting a video that supposedly showed Judge Ito calling O.J. guilty. Isn’t that the kind of thing you’d want to get confirmation on before broadcasting it? Nah!

The confused, random, haphazard revolution will be confusedly, randomly and haphazardly televised.

Americans Suck at Hygiene

This makes me very sad. America, for years you have enjoyed making hygiene jokes about Europeans. You know what I mean: calling them “smelly” and such.

Well, the CDC reports that only 77% of Americans in a recent study were found to wash their hands in public restrooms. That’s down 6% from 2005. When asked in a phone survey, 92% of adults say they wash their hands, so it appears that the vast majority of people know they should be washing their hands.

Who is brining down the numbers? Well, men are.

Men were the biggest offenders, with just 66 percent of men seen washing their hands in public bathrooms, compared with 88 percent of the women, according to study presented at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy meeting in Chicago.

“Very clearly, guys need to step up to the sink,” said Brian Sansoni, a spokesman for the soap industry group, told reporters. “One third of guys weren’t washing their hands in public restrooms. That’s gross.”

Wait — this study was paid for by Big Soap? The Soap Lobby? Uh-oh.

In any case, hang around a men’s room long enough and you’ll see that hand-washing is far from a universal virtue in men. Ask Larry Craig and he’ll tell you. Think about that the next time you shake hands with a guy. Or touch anything in your office.

Look, people. When you go into a public restroom, I don’t care what your business is in there but you are likely to touch a surface with germs on it. WASH YOUR HANDS BEFORE YOU LEAVE! It’s not rocket science. WTF!!?!?!?

Hide In The Sausage

I’ve heard of “hide the sausage” but…

Staff at a German butcher’s shop were shocked to discover a customer had hidden two sex toys in their sausages for transport to Dubai, police said on Wednesday.

A shop assistant got suspicious when the guy asked him to wrap the sausages and he noticed they were heavier than they ought to have been. Authorities took over.

I wonder if they gave the guy a phone call or just waited for the customer to return to the shop? In either case, the police had some advice:

“He could have used a loaf of bread,” the spokesman said.

To protect and serve.


The Best Buy Cops

I had to include this story about what happened to a fellow who tried to leave Best Buy with his loan application. He was worried that they would discard the application after he changed his mind about the loan. It had his SSN on it and he is a security expert.

When he left with the loan application, Best Buy called the police on him. They were waiting for him when he got home. Yay, Best Buy!

Posted by James at 7:29 AM | Comments (2)

September 18, 2007

Gin Buck

I like delicious drinks. I like easy drinks. And I like gin.

I was talking to my colleague Arden the other day and she let slip her favorite drink. Coincidentally, it involves two of my all-time favorite ingredients: gin and ginger ale. That’s it — gin and ginger ale.It’s like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of gin drinks. A highball glass with ice cubes, a shot of your favorite everyday gin1, and top off with ginger ale.

I love ginger ale; I have ever since I was a kid. And I like gin. I have no idea why I’ve never tried the combination. But perhaps I had and I don’t remember. It’s smoother than a gin and tonic, but then I like the bite of a G&T. SO I was glad I ran into this recipe:

Gin Buck
  • Highball glass
  • A few ice cubes
  • Shot of gin
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Top off with ginger ale (or diet ginger ale)

I like this. The lemon brings a little refreshing bite back to the drink.

And I don’t know why I didn’t think of this before. I don’t usually have Limonata around the house to make Pimm’s Cup. I bet you could make a passable substitute with either tonic or ginger ale, and half a lemon or so. That plus a shot of Pimm’s over ice… but I digress.

The Gin Buck ought to appeal to any fans of the Gin and Tonic. I used lemon juice from concentrate and it was still good. If you tend to have lemon juice and ginger ale in the house and you run out of tonic, turn to the simple yet noble Gin Buck to quench your thirst.

1 If you drink gin, you ought to know what your everyday gin is. Mine is Seagram’s. What am I saying? Of course you have an everyday gin.

Posted by James at 9:34 PM | Comments (7)

Mr. Bento Madness

Mr. Bento

Mr. Bento

I have an awesome friend, Amy, who runs the EAForums online discussion board. She did something really nice for me this week. As a gift, she sent me something I’ve been coveting for a while. It’s pictured at right: a Zojirushi “Mr. Bento” stainless steel insulated lunchbox!

The first time I heard about one of these was from Sarah, my cousin Bull’s wife. She’d bought him one and packed his lunched in it when he was working at the Surface Warfare Officer’s School in Newport, RI.

It’s basically a big Japanese thermos with 5 plastic microwaveable containers for food. One bowl for soup, one large container and two smaller Tupperware-ish round containers. It’s got a top that snaps on and a carrying case. Inside the case there’s a forked spoon (spork) with it’s own little cover to keep it clean.

The Japanese have a real skill for the boxed lunch. “Bento” is the Japanese term for a single meal, packed for someone to eat. Kids who grew up not wanting any of the food on their plates to touch other foods would have been thrilled with the Japanese bento, which usually comes in an actual, rectangular box consisting of several compartments. When Maggie and I have a chance to catch lunch at the local Japanese restaurant (which happens maybe once a year) their bento is both satisfying and economical.

Mr. Bento is inspired by the traditional Japanese bento, but stacked vertically and insulated so that it can be safe to eat within 6 hours of having been packed.

Here are some Bento-related links:

A huge “thank you” to Amy, again. Maggie is hoping that this means I’m going to cook stir fry more often during the week. The answer is “yes.” I’m going to need rice and food to put into my bento!

Posted by James at 8:24 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Coffee Replaces Goats

Goat diapering

I’m no longer #1 in goat diapering.

It’s sad, but true. I’m #2 under a story about people being punished for not diapering their goats. Oh well, that was fun while it lasted.

But Ryan points out that I am now #1 in “Coffee Prank.” Yes! When you search for Coffee Prank, I am the number one hit on Google because of this blog entry.

This non-content content provided to you as a courtesy of Aces Full of Links.

Posted by James at 10:22 AM | Comments (4)

Challenging Problem Abbreviated, B****!

I like words. I think I like them because they’re so useful.

Even though I have a fairly liberal attitude about language, I like precision, too.

A couple of years ago, I started noticing at work that whenever we ran into a roadblock in development I would say we had a “problem”. Whenever I was planning ahead and I identified some unanswered questions or some sort of hurdle we were going to have to overcome, I would also describe that as a “problem”.

I felt my language was too negative. I seemed to be talking about problems all the time.

So I started trying to use the word “challenge” to describe problems that we were anticipating. “We’ve identified a few challenges to implementing this.” It sounds more hopeful. A challenge sounds like a problem you’re ready to work through and solve. I like to use “challenge” especially when I have a plan to solve the problem. I fell back to using the more negative problem when we ran into unanticipated issues that were tough to resolve.

I felt that this gave a little bit more information about the situation and made the language a little less negative. What do you think? Have I been a little too sensitive about the word problem?

Grammar Girl

In other word news, I’ve been enjoying the Grammar Girl podcast. If you don’t enjoy podcasts, she’s got the transcripts up there, too. The last one I listened to was about Abbreviations, Acronyms and Initialisms. I learned something.

NASA is an acronym, but FBI is an initialism. I always thought that if you form an abbreviation using a bunch of letters from the abbreviated words, you’ve got an acronym. That’s not the case. It’s only technically an acronym if you can pronounce it as if it was a word. Eff-Bee-Eye is not pronounced as a word, just as the initial letters of Federal Bureau of Investigation. Thus, it’s an initialism.

In the world of computers, I have never heard anyone make that distinction. In fact, the Computer Desktop Encycolpedia calls XML an acronym. You pronounce it “Ecks-Em-Ell” so this is a different interpretation of acronym1. That’s too bad, because the formal distinction seems significant to me. In a technical field, we should be used to striving for precision. Let’s call it an initialism, why don’t we?

If techies can show their cleverness with things like recursive acronyms, we ought to be able to handle using the right word for things that aren’t acronyms.

In any case, check out Grammar Girl if it seems up your alley.


Finally, in word-related news, Isiah Thomas is in trouble, accused of sexual harassment.

Words are fun, but everything useful eventually gets somebody into trouble. The outrage in the media seems to focus on whether or not Thomas used the word “bitch”, and what he thinks about the appropriateness of the word when different people say it. They have him on tape indicating that it’s more acceptable for a black man to call a black woman “bitch” as opposed to a white man saying the same thing. I think he almost got it right when I heard him tell the press that it’s never appropriate for a man to use that word to refer to a woman. It was PR right — it’s certainly the right thing to say when you’re accused of sexual harassment. And it’s also a good general rule for the workplace. “Don’t use it” is a rule of thumb you can live with.

However, the more these sorts of stories pop up, the clearer I get in my opinion about these hot button words like “bitch”, “nigger”, and others which we feel the need to refer to as “the n-word” or “the b-word” when the media covers them2.

I think my initial opinion was that everyone should have the same rules for using words. However, that conflicted with my other belief that context and intention are extremely important. Clearly, the speaker is part of the context. Of course, this complicates the question because it requires you to examine the context and try to understand a person’s intention. In today’s sound-byte world of news there is time for neither of these things.

That’s a shame, because forcing people to interpret intention should immediately bring the principle of charity3 into play, and would be useful in calming down the national outrage machine that fires up any time any celebrity opens his or her mouth.

People responding to CNN on this issue seemed to focus on the race aspect of the context. This is typical, because it is a hot button. It is more important to focus on whether there was workplace bullying going on, not whether he’s black or not. If he was using degrading language, he was bullying her. It’s that simple4.

Back to the word “bitch” — context is important. If your male supervisor calls you a bitch in a meeting, that’s inappropriate whether you’re white, black, or a man or woman. Men also find it pretty offensive to be called a bitch.

Maybe the problem is that certain uses of derogatory words assume a certain kind of relationship. I can imagine being called a bitch by a close friend in a joking moment. I wouldn’t be offended. But that’s because of the relationship. The idea that a black man can assume he’s free to call a black woman a bitch is a racist idea.

If you assume someone else is something because of their skin color, that’s racism. If you assume that they have a certain experience because of their skin color, that’s racism. If you are assuming you have a certain relationship with someone else just because of their skin color, that’s racism.

The correct context to consider is your real relationship, not some assumed relationship based on a racist idea. So, until you know what sort of a relationship you have with a person, keep your language on the more professional side. And err on the side of caution if you’re somebody’s manager. You’re never wrong when you’re too professional with your subordinates.

1 Throwing a curveball in there, XML may not technically be an initialism, considering that the “X” comes from the second letter of “extensible.” Technically, not an initial. But perhaps that’s splitting hairs.

2 I used “B****!” in this entry’s title because titles are without context. Words without context are open to misinterpretations — both honest misinterpretations and intentional misinterpretations by people who don’t like you. Because of this, you need to be careful with your words when you have a lot of enemies. This is why politicians and celebrities are always in the news for their language. People like to hate them. But within the context of a blog post, if my intention is to talk about the word “bitch” it seems silly to refer to it as “the b-word.” It’s not that I don’t care whether you’re offended, it’s that I don’t want to insult your intelligence by implying that you can’t tell my intentions from context. If someone didn’t like me and attacked me because of my use of the word “bitch” in this article, they’d just look stupid. And I’d laugh at them. And you would, too.

3 The principle of charity is a philosophical approach encouraging you to assume the speaker’s argument is rational. My use here is probably a little closer to the principle of humanity — I’m arguing for some charity and humanity in interpretation until proven otherwise. This does not mean you won’t object to the interpretation, perhaps outrage is warranted. But it is useful and fair to look for less objectionable interpretations first.

4 Workplace bullying can be more than just sexual harassment. I think we focus too much on sexual and racial harassment and not enough on harassment in general. Not to downplay sexual harassment at all, I think the generally higher acceptance of nonsexual workplace bullying actually provides cover for other types of workplace bullying. We should strive to limit bullying in general and stop it from becoming a race or sexual issue.

Posted by James at 8:19 AM | Comments (16)

September 17, 2007

Would You Rather

A silly question for today:

  • Would you rather have the ability to tickle anyone, anywhere, any time just by thinking about it or
  • Would you rather have your voice automatically have a soothing effect on anyone within earshot (not recordings, only your live voice).
Posted by James at 10:18 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

September 14, 2007

Man vs. Domicile - Opening Contemplation


Entombed “Knife & Blade Set”

Not every challenge of man’s environment takes courage, brute force, and craftiness. Some problems that the domicile throws your way are philosophical dilemmas. If properly handled, these can result in a moment of calm reflection. Or psychic destruction.

In a state of heightened awareness, man achieves a kind of indescribable oneness with his surroundings, as if he has touched some universal truth. Words fail, because the human mind cannot fully grasp. The closest description would be that of a blind man touching an elephant while wearing a burqua, a sombrero and a pair of welding gloves.

The man, not the elephant.

I was faced with such a problem (“problem” is such a coarse word — let me say “opportunity”) when I visited the store and retrieved a razor tool to be used in opening plastic clamshell packaging.

When I returned to the domicile, I placed the tool on my desk and it immediately chickened my egg. I stared at it. It stared back. Surely, for everything in this universe, there is a cause. And every cause has its cause. And so forth. Back into the depths of time. Plumb those depths and you feel overwhelmed, spinning. Where is the first cause? Who has presented me this cruel joke? More importantly - how the hell am I going to get this package opened?

There is a time for philosophy, but philosophy has also been known to kill the wiliest of men when it strikes at the wrong time. Man must triumph over domicile.

I chewed through the packaging with my teeth to get at the tool, in the process proving I did not need it.

Did man triumph? Did domicile? As I used a screwdriver to pry sharp bits of plastic out of my bleeding gums, I pondered these questions. The one thing I knew for certain was that I could never use that tool now. It was dead to me.

Posted by James at 9:08 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

Shotgun's Back

Join me and my friends in the Twitter collective.

Posted by James at 8:47 AM | Comments (12)

September 13, 2007

Danger of Tire-Changing

Fall River man struck, killed while changing flat tire

The unfortunate man was struck on Riverside Ave, not far from here.

He was airlifted by helicopter to RI Hospital. The helicopter had landed in the field of the nearby elementary school, and was there while parents (including Maggie) were picking up children at the end of the school day.

Folks, be really careful if you ever have to change a flat on the road.

Over 13 years ago I was driving up to Burlington, where I used to work on an overcast day. There was a late and very light snowfall. I was all dressed up, because I was going to leave work early for an interview (which turned into my current job at UMass). One of my tires blew out on my Toyota.

There wasn’t much of a shoulder on that stretch of Route 128, but I pulled over, hopped out, and started to fish out my tire, cars whizzing past in the rush hour traffic.

Before I got down on my knees to jack up the car, a man in a pickup truck pulled in behind me and jumped out of the cab. He said “You’re all dressed up, let me do that for you. Just make sure nobody hits me.”

So I stood in the road, facing the oncoming traffic and made sure they saw me. When I looked back at him, I could see that he wasn’t really all that visible to cars coming around the gradual curve in the road. But his truck and me standing there were enough to alert people that something was going on.

The guy left me with a message to help someone else out someday, and I’ve kept him in mind the times I’ve offered my help to someone in need. If you see someone changing a tire, even just pulling in behind them to block traffic, you can possibly save a life.

Riverside, over here, is supposed to be a 30 or 35 MPH zone, but people really speed through that stretch. It is narrow and curvy enough and people drive too fast. Recently, when friends of mine visited and we walked along Riverside, I couldn’t believe how the cars seemed oblivious to the speed limit. I wish I could say I am surprised that something like this happened on that road.

Go slow on curvy roads. We lose too many people to these tragic accidents.

Posted by James at 10:09 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Would You Rather?

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Cookies by compujeramey

You’re hungry and on a diet.

It’s 2:30PM, and you had lunch over 2 hours ago. You’re trying to get work done.

Would you rather…

  • Smell fresh baked cookies that are forbidden to you? (or)
  • Smell burned cookies that are unappetizing?

Posted by James at 8:57 AM | Comments (11)

WTF, Thursday

Good Samaritan Sex Offender

This story takes the cake. A guy sees a woman in trouble while he’s dropping his daughter off at school. With his wife and daughter in the car he rolls up to see what the woman in distress wants. She sticks her head in the car and solicits him for sex. The guy says “no” and they laugh about the incident, until the police come and pull him out of the car, arresting him for solicitation.

WTF? Eventually they dropped the charges, but they impounded the family car under forfeiture laws and won’t give it back until the family pays $4,700 in towing fees. Wheee! WTF?

Man Arrested for Diaper Text Message

Police say 48-year-old Lawrence Robarge used his cell phone to send photographs of himself wearing a diaper to a female teen in Enfield, New Hampshire. He had never met her and reportedly got her number by just typing numbers.

Hear that, folks? It’s like a new sort of contest you can win. I bet folks all over the country are now contemplating sending pictures of themselves in various states of creative attire to your cell phone by dialing randomly. It’s like the lottery, only creepier. And you get to pay for receiving the text message. Enjoy!

Bank of America raises ATM fee

A coworker recently exclaimed “Two Dollars???” when she was using a Bank of America ATM to take money out of her non-Bank-of-America account. She’ll be thrilled to learn that Bank of America has revisited their AMT fee and “rightsized” it up to $3.

The short version of this story is “Screw you, Bank of America. I’m not going near your bank.” No lie, I was considering switching my checking account to BoA, partly because there is one convenient to where I work. But that ain’t happening now.

You can roll into Stop & Shop, buy a pack of gum, pay with your bank card and ask for cash back. Sure, you have to buy a pack of gum, but it costs a lot less than $3 and… you get to chew the gum.

Former Pastor Pleads Guilty

If you’re a Roman Catholic priest, it turns out it’s easy to get people to donate money to you. Of course, they think you’re doing good with it so when it turned out that…

Fay, 56, used church money for limousines, stays at top hotels around the world, jewelry and clothing from Italy. He also bought a condominium in Florida with another man. Federal investigators said that Fay also spent money to buy a condominium in Philadelphia.

well, people were a little miffed. The U.S. attorney wants you to know that nobody is above the law! Apparently he doesn’t read the national news.

Waiter Fired After Leaving Shift To Save Carjacking Victim

Manager: That’s the third time this week you’ve left your shift to stop a violent crime. YOU’RE FIRED!

No, that’s not really what happened. The manager just fired the guy after he returned, conveniently waiting for the lunch rush to be over.

I’m not saying that the fellow deserves a raise for leaving his post, even if he did stop a carjacking. But, come on! If I were a customer at that restaurant and I had to wait a little longer for my soup, you’d only have to say “I’m sorry sir, your waiter left the building because he saw a carjacking in progress and helped to stop it.” So the manager was just stupid if he thought he needed to fire the guy because of irate customers. Who doesn’t want to see a carjacker stopped?

Turns out, the guy has since gotten a lot of job offers. In fact, the manager has called to offer him his old job back. Which just makes the manager look like even more of an opportunistic jerk. He was probably getting a lot of calls from people who said “Don’t expect me to eat at your restaurant. I’d rather eat somewhere where they care whether I’m being carjacked or not.”


Posted by James at 7:58 AM | Comments (1)

September 11, 2007

Contract Is Up

Recently my 2-year mobile phone service contract with Verizon ran out. About three months before that day, Verizon called me and said that they wanted to give me a paltry (my description, not theirs) discount on a new phone. They have a "new every 2" plan which provides this discount.

I told them I would think about it. But what I was really thinking was that they have me over a barrel while I'm still under contract.

Mobile communications companies will penalize you for cancelling service with them before your contract term is over. I think it's $175. To evaluate whether a deal is good or not, you need to be able to compare it to competing equivalent services. When switching service includes a $175 penalty, that's a pretty good incentive for staying with your current provider. That's the purpose of the penalty.


The Samsung Upstage

And they'll charge you that fee right up to the day before your contract is up.

When I got the call from Verizon, I knew they were only motivated to dangle a mediocre deal in front of my face, because I was still stuck with them and, predictably, they were only going to offer me the minimum to get me to stay.

On the other hand a different company will offer you a better deal to switch. Ryan found a deal through for free phones, and a rebate on top of the phone, if you signed with Sprint. I could have called up Verizon and asked them for a better offer, but how do you ask your cellular company for a free phone and for them to send you extra money on top of that?

So I waited for my contract to expire, and then ported my number to a new account with Sprint.

Verizon called to find out why we switched. Maggie took the phone call. I think she told them that we switched because their offer was lousy. Even answering their question is doing them more of a favor than they would do for you (giving them information they want after you've already terminated the business relationship). Try accessing your Verizon account to pay your bill online, see your phone usage or check what you owe Verizon two seconds after you've ported your number. You can't; they completely lock you out as soon as you port your number. You don't have an account anymore, and that's business. So, perhaps Maggie should have answered "that's none of your business." But she's a person, not a corporation.

Sprint is probably no better. But they offered me a deal. I will say this about Sprint -- I have been very happy with the customer service. I had weird a problem with my new phone (which has a strange two-sided design that makes it impossible to remove the battery) and a tech at Sprint spent a good amount of time with me on the phone trying to fix the problem, and then just said "give me your number, I'll call you back when I've solved the problem." I didn't have to wait on the phone and he called me back 15 minutes later after doing something on his end that fixed what was wrong.

Moral of these stories? I dunno. Always shop around when your contract is up, I guess.

Bonus link: Cellular Freedom: bill would cut early termination fees, hidden charges

Posted by James at 4:03 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack


Some of what we lost was taken from us. Some we never had. And some we just gave away.

Posted by James at 9:37 AM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2007

Scattergories Meme

I was tagged, and I kinda promised I would respond. Grudgingly, here it is. If you’re reading this and shaking your head, just be glad I didn’t decide to tag you.

SCATTERGORIES…it’s harder than it looks! Copy and paste into a new email. When you are done, send it on, including to the person who sent it to you.

* Use the 1st letter of your name to answer each of the following…they have to be real places, names, things…nothing made up!
* Try to use different answers if the person in front of you had the same 1st initial. You CAN’T use your name for the boy/girl name question.

What is your name? James

4 letter word: Joke

Vehicle: Jalopy

TV Show: Jeopardy

City: Jamestown

Boy Name: Joseph

Girl Name: June

Alcoholic Drink: Jello Shot

Occupation: Janitor

Something you wear: Jersey

Celebrity: Jenna Elfman

Food: Jelly Beans

Something found in a bathroom: Jug of bleach

Reason for Being late: Jury Duty

Cartoon Character: Jerry Mouse

Something You Shout: Just do your homework!

And now I tag… any of my regular readers who would like to do this meme. It was, I confess, reasonably diverting.

(Oh, and it was pippa who tagged me. So blame her!)

Posted by James at 7:00 PM | Comments (9)

Beer Can Chicken Thoughts

Beer Can Chicken - Try 2

Beer can chicken… can’t it?

Beer Can Chicken Recipe

This weekend I made my second run at “beer can chicken.” It’s not a complicated recipe at all, but the first time I made it I was not careful with my placement of the temperature probe (distracted after burning my fingers) and the breast meat was a little undercooked. The second attempt was a success, so I figured I’d post my observations.

Also, I have questions and skepticism about the reasoning behind using this method. What else is new?

Beer Can Chicken is a pretty darn simple dish to prepare. Roast chicken isn’t complicated in the first place, but the beer can chicken method is compelling mainly because it involves a couple of things so many people have handy - a grill and a can of beer.

Recipes can be found very easily on the internet. The basic steps (which I followed) are:

  1. Get a can of beer and a chicken of about 4 lbs.
  2. Drink about half the can of beer.
  3. Take the giblets out of the chicken cavity, rinse and pat the chicken dry.
  4. Rub dry spices onto the skin of the chicken and inside the cavity.
  5. Grasp the chicken by the legs, slip the chicken down over the half-full can as far as it will go.
  6. Arrange the bird on the grill using the can and two legs as a tripod. Breast towards you and leaning enough so it is quite stable.
  7. Roast the bird with indirect heat — meaning no heat directly below the bird.
  8. Cook until a heat measurement in the breast (near the bone) is 180 Fahrenheit degrees1.
  9. Rest the chicken for 10 minutes before removing the can and serving.

Beer Can Chicken Tips

Now, some of my details and recommendations.

  • Make sure the breast is facing you on the grill or in the oven, for easier access to place your thermometer.
  • You can find suggestions for spice rubs on the internet; use whatever you like. Here’s what I used:
    • Lowry’s Seasoned Salt on the inside of the bird
    • McCormick’s Montreal Chicken Seasoning on the skin.
    • Garlic powder also on the skin.
    • If you’d prefer a wet rub, I’d suggest starting with a base of mashed garlic. You just can’t go wrong with fresh garlic. Add salt, a little sugar, paprika, pepper… and either stop there or wing it with whatever smells good in your spice cabinet. Follow your nose.
  • Using tongs to grasp the beer can at the end of cooking will keep your hands away from hot beer. Or, you could put the chicken in a bowl and stick a skewer through the bottom of the can. The beer will drain out of the can into the bowl and the skewer can be used to pull out the can. It won’t slip like tongs might.
  • I used Budweiser. But the cheapest beer you can use is probably the best.
  • Use a drip pan if you don’t want chicken fat getting on whatever is under the bird. If chicken fat hits flames, it will likely flare up. That can be dangerous and/or can scorch your bird.
  • The beer can has a printed label on it which is not meant to come in contact with food. A gadget for cooking beer can chicken has the advantage of not placing a printed label against your chicken. However, I didn’t notice any visible difference in the Budweiser beer can label when I was done, and I don’t have any evidence that label-to-chicken contact is a problem.

Beer Can Chicken - The Myth, The Legend

OK, now my thoughts on what the heck beer can chicken is all about.

People say that the beer will steam the chicken from the inside, keeping it juicy and delicious while also imparting flavor from the beer. Ostensibly, that’s the reason for using this method. Well, that plus the fact that the can forms a tripod with the legs, and keeps the bird off the grill.


Does the beer steam the chicken? I rather doubt that. Water boils at 212 degrees F. You’re cooking the chicken to 180 degrees; the beer in the can probably stays pretty close to the temperature of the chicken. It’s jammed in the center of the bird where it doesn’t get to boiling temp. This is the exact reason that a stuffed bird results in unsafely-cooked stuffing. The center of the bird doesn’t get to safe temp by the time the meat is ready to eat.

How about the alcohol? Ethyl Alcohol boils at over 170 degrees. So it is hot enough to boil off some of the alcohol, but only for a few minutes at the end of the cooking.

I have serious doubts that this method imparts any moisture to the chicken. I haven’t noticed much of a difference in the liquid level in the can after cooking. Recipes say to use a half full can. I tried using a lot less than half a can of beer and didn’t notice any difference in the chicken.

It’s true that some of the liquid will become vapor during cooking. The air in the chicken will definitely stay moist. It’s also true that the can is plugging up a big hole in the chicken. If air were to pass through the cavity of the chicken, that would dry the chicken out. Blocking the passage of air is already going to keep the chicken more moist. The added moisture in the can probably makes little difference. Without air moving through the cavity, whatever moisture in there will just sit there.
A couple of recipes say that the beer can opening is too small and so you need to cut the top of the can off. I wonder if anyone has tested this. Assuming the beer is becoming a vapor, it is expanding. The increased pressure in the can will immediately vent through the can’s hole. A hole that size is not going to hinder vapor from expanding out of the can. I don’t imagine cutting the can is helpful.

Doesn’t rotisserie chicken stay moist? I am dubious you need the beer can for moistness.


Does the beer impart a flavor to the chicken? I’m skeptical of that as well. This fellow tried a side-by-side test pitting beer against plain water. He found no difference in the chicken. This implies that no taste from the beer makes it into the chicken.

Some people, including those that market gadgets to help you make beer can chicken, advocate adding spices and garlic to the water. I am dubious. The vapor coming off the beer is not really dense with flavors. It’s not like smoke which is chock full of particulate matter and pungent chemicals that penetrate and cling to the chicken. Hold your hand in wood smoke for a second or two and it will smell like smoke for a while later. A little beer vapor does not have the same effect.

Applying spices directly to the chicken is a more effective means of flavoring the bird. Oils from the spices would have a chance to actually penetrate, rather than evaporate, or just steep into the beer where they will be discarded.

In fact, you’re probably better off brining your chicken instead of hoping to get some flavor in their via beer steam. You can even brine the chicken in cheap beer if you like.


The fellow who did the Beer Can Chicken water vs. beer comparison pointed out that being exhaustive with his tests he’d have to cook (and waste) a lot of chickens. While I’d like my questions answered, I’m not about to cook tons of chickens, but I will continue to experiment. But based on my knowledge of chicken and physics, I think that the main reason for the beer can is to help stand up the chicken. So if you already have a device that does this, you are probably ahead of the game. My recommendations:

  • Brine the chicken. Put garlic and spices in the brine. Brining will make the chicken more moist and will help protect your chicken from over-cooking.
  • Use a spice rub you like, and lots of garlic
  • Smoke the chicken if you have the equipment and/or ingenuity. That’s the real way to get noticeable flavor into the bird.
  • If you have a can of beer you don’t mind using, go ahead and use this method. But feel free to drink most of the beer first. Leave 1/4 of the beer in the can. I bet it doesn’t dry out. Rotisserie chickens have no beer in them and they don’t dry out.
  • If you can find a device that stands your chicken up without a beer can, and you can get it for cheap, use that instead.

Despite my skeptical observations above, beer can chicken was certainly fun and delicious. So if you have a beer, a chicken and a grill, go for it.


1 Actually, some recipes I have seen called for the breast to register 160 F. When I have done this, the breast looked under-done. Safe temp for poultry is, according to USFDA, at least 170 F for breast meat and 180 F for a whole chicken. Quite honestly, I don’t like my chicken to be pink at all. I go by the FDA recommendation.

Posted by James at 8:23 AM | Comments (11)

September 8, 2007

Shock Doctrine

I told Maggie about my earlier comment on this blog, in which I suggest that future generation will have a low opinion of this generation’s intelligence. But Maggie disagreed, saying that she thought future generations would instead remark on how we were fooled.

And then the next story I read is an interesting one about fooling people.

The Shock Doctrine is a very brief film about the effective use of shock to change people’s minds.

It begins with a CIA-researched and documented technique used by interrogators to regress a subject to a child-like state1. Once the subject has reached this state, he or she can be manipulated by the interrogator who is now in the role of the protecting adult.

High levels of stress to the mind and body — shocking the individual literally and figuratively — produce this state. The film makers go on to suggest that this not only works on an individual level, but with whole populations. A state of shock can make a population vulnerable. They then go on to claim that this has already happened, and that it was essentially a doctrine of Milton Friedman.

And of course they quickly get around to 9/11 and Bush.

One thing they fail to mention, but I think supports their argument, is that people didn’t slowly start to realize they’d been manipulated and decide they didn’t like Bush. Katrina hit and suddenly their surrogate father figure wasn’t fatherly enough. They grew disillusioned and everything went down for Bush from there.

If I were going to write a much longer essay on this, I’d relate this shocking-to-a-childlike-state to the conservative strong father model. And then I’d point out the feminine term “nanny state” oft-used when conservatives malign government intrusion, but rarely heard when they seek the “strong father” forms of government protection they favor.

The film is fewer than 7 minutes long, and worth a look. Agree or disagree, you might still find it interesting.

1 On top of the moral qualms I have about torture, I hadn’t even considered the ramifications of producing childlike vulnerable people.

Posted by James at 3:34 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 7, 2007

Why Should You Care About A Bad Loan Bailout?

Motley Fool’s Seth Jayson has a good, brief article about the possibility of a housing bailout:

If the NAR [National Association of Realtors] gets its way, the people of the U.S. who didn’t go out and spend irresponsibly during this housing bubble will be tasked with stepping in to guarantee the bad loans of those who did, spurred by the 6-percenters at the NAR. That might not even be enough to reanimate the dead monster bubble, but it might buy those Realtors a few more months of commissions.

He posted an earlier article when Bush was about to suggest the bailout to Congress.

If you didn’t make the stupid decision to speculate on a risky mortgage, should you be expected to cover the people who did? Speculators with more money than sense jumped on the risky loan bandwagon and bought, bought, bought investment properties simply for the reason that their also-too-rich-for-their-brains friends were going housing speculation crazy. They let the greed get the better of them.

When you make a really stupid investment, you ought to suffer the consequences. What else keeps more people from making risky investments? After they’ve been warned? Repeatedly?

Hey there, President Bush. I think my meagre investments should have returned more than they have. Maybe the government can swoop in and top off my nest egg. But I guess I have to make some really stupid decisions before I get sympathy from President Bush. He understands ignoring the warnings and jumping full speed ahead into stupid risks. And having other people (Daddy… Hardworking Americans…the next President) bail you out.

Posted by James at 8:47 AM | Comments (12)

New Al Qaeda Video Anticipated

Caught this on the news this morning:

Osama bin Laden plans a new video to be released in the coming days ahead of the sixth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in what would be the first new images of the terror mastermind in nearly three years, Al Qaeda’s media wing announced today.

Well, I’m not going to fall for it this time. I got the last one on DVD and it really sucked. Horrible acting, cheap production values — it’s no surprise at all that it was a straight-to-video release. Unless Bin Laden has hired an experienced camera operator and paid for a decent screenplay, I recommend you don’t waste your money on this tripe.

Insult to injury: I hear Bin Laden’s production company isn’t even union.

Update: Word that Bin Laden was in talks with Uwe Boll turned out to be just rumors.

Posted by James at 8:31 AM | Comments (1)

September 6, 2007

Ghostly Bird

Bird Impression

Ghostly Bird Impression

A bird flew into the window here at work, I don't know when.

It was very challenging to get a photo of the impression, because it is very faint. Plus I am working within the limitations of a point-and-shoot snapshot camera. I finally tricked the camera to stay in focus, then took a reference photo so that I could later reduce the intensity of the background and create contrast. However, the tree is moving in the wind and perfect subtraction is not possible.

Some manipulations later, I had something I thought revealed enough detail that you could see it is a bird, though some of the detail is lost.

You can now see the ghostly image of the bird, including its wing tip in the upper right. For more detail, view the larger size on Flickr.

I wonder what became of the bird.


(Here is the unenhanced photo, for the interested)
Posted by James at 1:15 PM | Comments (13) | TrackBack

Geese Crossing

Geese Crossing
Originally uploaded by Dr Momentum.
Traffic stopped for a gaggle of geese crossing the street at the
intersection of Read St., County St. and Riverside Ave. in Somerset,

As it was the first day of School in Somerset, it is possible they
were on their way to class. At goose school. In the river. Where you learn to do goose stuff.

(But not about crosswalks)
Posted by James at 10:25 AM | Comments (5)

September 5, 2007

WTF Wednesday: Desecration Edition

2 arrested in vandalism at Somerset churches

Down the street from here, two teens broke into St. Patrick Church. They stole various items (which were recovered by police) and apparently had a hankering for communion wafers.

As an additional “WTF,” I heard on WSAR that the male half of this boyfriend-girlfriend duo left his license behind at the scene. So, even if they hadn’t been caught right after they left the church, the police didn’t really have to call the CSIs in on this one.

Man Loses $114 Million in Record Time

…And ruins his life in four short years. Thanks, lottery!

He was a happy guy, then he won the lottery. Then he made some bad decisions. And now he isn’t a happy guy. Ask him and he’ll tell you:

He has frequently stated that no amount of money lent to friends and family was ever enough and that his experiences with the lottery destroyed his life. He states that if he could do it all over again, he would have just filled up his tank, bought a sandwich and gone on his merry way.

Go ahead and play the lottery if your dream is to be transformed from a human being into a walking ATM. And to have every stupid mistake you can make (for you and your family) to suddenly be within reach.

Plagiarism Rampant in China

You think plagiarism is bad at the local university? Check out these Chinese officials.

Zhang Shaocang, former Communist Party chief of state-owned power company Anhui Province Energy Group Co Ltd, wept as he read a four-page “letter of apology” during his corruption trial at a court in Fuyang, Anhui, according to a Procuratorial Daily report reproduced in Wednesday’s Beijing News.

But Zhang’s sentiments were later found to be strikingly similar to those of Zhu Fuzhong, a disgraced former party chief of Tongan village in southwestern Sichuan province, whose apology letter was printed in the Procuratorial Daily less than two weeks before.

Dude, where’s my apology??

A Not-So-Quick Catnap

To finish up with another semi-local story:

A man in North Kingstown (that’s RI, which is small but full of interesting people) was arrested for repeatedly ransoming off his mother’s cat. He netted upwards of $20K in these multiple instances of what criminologists are now calling “the purrrrfect crime.”

OK, they’re not really saying that.

Posted by James at 8:41 AM | Comments (10)

September 4, 2007

Postholiday Would You Rather?

Your friend has lost his wallet and his puppy! The wallet contained money, credit cards and ID. The puppy is a little over a year old.

Would you rather:

  • Help search for someone’s lost wallet or
  • Help search for someone’s lost puppy?

(Assuming that you are eventually the one who finds the item)

Posted by James at 9:19 AM | Comments (13)

September 3, 2007

Orson Scott Card on Amnesty

While I'm thinking up actual, original content for my blog, I thought I'd point you to an article by one of my favorite authors, Orson Scott Card. I think his politics are generally more conservative than mine, especially socially, but I think he's spot on in this essay about immigration and amnesty.

If you find yourself annoyed and up against people who constantly hammer on illegal immigration as their one big issue, you might enjoy reading his take on what would happen if we ousted the immigrants.

"No, sir, you are the traitor. You're the one who declared that America was no longer a nation built around an idea, which accepted all who embraced that idea. Now it's just like any other nation on Earth. It stands for nothing except for holding on to what we've got and making sure there's no room for the people most desperate to come and join us."
Posted by James at 8:45 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack