November 30, 2007

The Call of NaBloPoMo


There was one man in that gathering who understood the monstrous carvings, and who presently shared his meagre insights. This person was the late Joshua Inter-Webb, Professor of Online Communications at UMass Miskatonic, and an explorer of no slight note. Professor Inter-Webb had embarked, a decade before, on a failed tour of Australia and New Zealand in search of some Runic inscriptions. There he had encountered a singular cult of degenerate natives whose curious form of journal-worship chilled him with its almost deliberate pointlessness. It was a faith of which other tribes knew little, and which they mentioned only with shudders, saying that it had come down from horribly ancient aeons before ever the world was made. Besides nameless idioms and memes there were certain queer hereditary rituals addressed to a supreme elder devil, and of this Professor Inter-Webb had taken a careful phonetic copy from an aged geek or wizard-priest, expressing the sounds in Roman letters as best he knew how. The words were carved, the professor stated, on a very crude bas-relief of stone, comprising a hideous idol and much cryptic writing. And so far as he could tell, it was an uncanny match for the bestial thing they had pried from the arms of a feral SouthCoast Massachusetts blogger.

There then followed an exhaustive comparison of details, and a moment of awed silence when both detective and scientist agreed on the virtual identity of the phrase common to two hellish rituals so many worlds of distance apart. What, in substance, both the Oceanic geeks and the SouthCoast swamp-bloggers had chanted to their kindred idols was something very like this: the word-divisions being guessed at from traditional breaks in the phrase as chanted aloud:

"Ph'nglui mglw'nafh NaBloPoMo W'blog wgah'nagl fhtagn."

They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any internets, and who came to the young world out of the sky. Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their manuscripts had told their secrets in dreams to the first bloggers, who formed a cult which had never died. This was that cult, and the prisoners said it had always existed and always would exist, hidden in distant search engine caches and dark places all over the 'net until the time when the great priest NaBloPoMo,from his dark journal in the mighty city of W'blog under the waters, should rise and bring the Internet again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, when All-Hallows-Even had passed, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.

For now, no more must be told. There was a secret which even torture could not extract: mankind was not absolutely alone among the conscious things of earth, for desperate notions formed out of the dark to visit the minds of a faithful few. But these were not the Great Old Ones. No man had ever seen the Old Ones. The carven idol was great NaBloPoMo. No one could read the old writing now, for it was voluminous, daily gibberish. It was naught but near-insane ramblings to please the Elder Gods by filling space and consuming bandwidth. The rituals themselves were told by word of mouth. The chanted refrain itself was never spoken aloud, only whispered. The chant meant only this: "In his house at W'blog dead NaBloPoMo waits dreaming."


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NaBloPoMoByeBye Shotgun

Last shotgun post of the month.

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November 29, 2007

Dangerous Ideas for the Caffiend, Part 2

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have a love/hate relationship with coffee. The largest love/hate axis is that I love the flavor and the jolt but hate being sick when I over-indulge. And for me, it doesn’t really take that much to over-indulge because I’m sensitive to caffeine.

For the first time in a while, I’ve found something that no only makes it easy to over-indulge, but makes it relatively cheap, easy and convenient as well. Yikes! That’s a dangerous combination.

The Aeropress Espresso Maker is a unique coffee brewing system produced by the company that makes the Aerobie flying disk. It is designed to deliver one to four “shots” of concentrated, rich coffee of a character similar to espresso. It does this at a lower temperature than drip coffee and by forcing the brew through a fine filter with air pressure powered by your hand and a plunger.

In the short time I’ve owned the thing, which retails for about $25, I’ve been extremely happy with it.

The Procedure

There is no recipe here, because you just follow the instructions that came with the thing. But I’ll summarize for you. The included scoop is used to measure your ground coffee. You put a filter in the base and screw the thing together. Place on a mug. Dump the coffee in the cylinder. Dump 175 degree water into the cylinder slowly, moistening the coffee. Fill to the indicated levels according to the amount of coffee you’re making. Stir with the included paddle for 10 seconds. Put the plunger on and press down the plunger slowly for 20 seconds. Your mug is now filled with rich, strong coffee. There is often even a bit of foam that is evocative of espresso crema.

You then up-end the press to prevent dripping and rinse the thing off in the sink. Unscrew the bottom, remove the filter and eject the puck. Rinse again and the thing is now practically clean. If you like, you can even rinse the filter and re-use it (but the unit comes with a year’s supply of clean filters).

This is so ridiculously simple that I would take a 3 minute break to prepare coffee every 30 minutes if my body could handle that much caffeine. The coffee that comes out of our office water heater is just the right temperature for brewing, by my estimation.

The Disclaimer

I am no coffee expert. I am expert at making espresso. I’m not even a novice at making espresso, nor even at tasting espresso.

However, I can’t make an espresso. I don’t have a machine for it and even if I did, I wouldn’t really enjoy learning how to use it, cleaning it and maintaining it. I just want delicious coffee.

I know that espresso refers to something very specific, and this press doesn’t produce espresso. It makes something different, which may be similar. May be worse. May be better. The important question for this tradition-flouting American coffee consumer is “do I like it?” And the answer there is “yes.”

Why I Like It

In case you’re considering getting one of these, or giving one as a gift, here’s a rundown of the points I like about this AeroPress:

  • Easy to clean
  • Makes a small amount of coffee well, which is all I want
  • Portable
  • Gives you a lot of control over the finished product, yet the basic use is simple
  • You can reuse the filters
  • The coffee it produces is rich, flavorful, smooth, and sippable

Negatives

None of these bother me much, but they may bother you more.

  • The box is covered with ridiculous superlative claims
  • Eventually, you’ll have to buy filters, although there are probably people other there who have found a way to make replacement filters if you can’t get ones from the company.
  • You need a source of hot water for this to work
  • You need a sink, for rinsing it off.
  • Only makes 4 shots max, which could be annoying if you’ve got, say 4 people each looking for a doppio (double serving or espresso).
  • Inasmuch as it differs from espresso, it may disappoint sticklers.
  • Technically, not espresso
  • Since it brews at a lower temperature, the coffee may come out cooler than you expect.

In all, I’m delighted with my Aeropress. My problem now is trying to keep from over-caffeinating myself. I have to go to the market right now to get some decaf beans.

Additional Notes

  • Make sure you warm your mug or demitass. You’re brewing at a low temperature and the coffee is goign to cool off if it hits a cold mug.
  • If you prefer the brew hotter, zap it for a few seconds in the microwave. I have not notice this doing any harm to the flavor.

Links

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Dangerous Ideas for the Caffiend - Part 1

My mother-in-law bought me the Aerobie AeroPress for my birthday and I’ve been hyper ever since. But I’m saving that story for Part 2.

I have a love-hate relationship with coffee. I love the flavor, but I hate the fuss of making it myself and having it come out bitter and unsatisfying. I love a jolt of caffeine when I need it, but my digestive and nervous system is not very forgiving if I overstep the line. I love coffee-shop coffee, especially iced coffee, but I have done the calculations and know that buying even one coffee every day is a much larger expense than people seem to realize1.

I have found two methods for making coffee I like without the expense and with very satisfying results.

Method 1: Concentrate

Over the years, Maggie and I have tried to make iced coffee drinks that would satisfy our craving without the expensive trips to coffee shops, and where we had more control over the calories. But I was never really satisfied with the flavor, texture or richness with any of my homemade concoctions. Until we learned about cold-brewed coffee, which only seems to be a secret to a now-shrinking number ofyankees.

This method is said to produce a smoother iced coffee, with less acid and a little less caffeine. That means you can enjoy it more if you’re sensitive to either the acid or caffeine. And if you like caffeine, no problem — it produces a concentrate, so you can adjust the strength to your needs.

Coffee Concentrate Recipe

  • 1/2 lb of ground coffee (I’ve been using coffee that says it’s for espresso, which usually means it’s a dark roast and a very fine grind, but use whatever you like. Cafedu Monde coffee with chickory came out really great. A regular or coarse brew is easier to filter and decant later. YMMV)
  • 5 cups of cool water (if your tap water is drinkable, that should be fine. If not, filter it.)
  • A covered container that will hold both comfortably
  • A mesh strainer of some kind
  • A container which will hold 3 + cups of liquid

Put 1/2 pound of ground coffee into your container. Pour the water over the coffee. Stir to moisten all the coffee.

Let it sit 8-12 hours.

Pour your mixture through the strainer and reserve the liquid2. Discard the grounds. There still may be some fine particles in the concentrate. You can decant it a few times to remove this gunk, according to your preference. This produces 3 cups of concentrate, which you store in the fridge.

To drink, you will need to dilute this concentrate to a desired strength. In my estimation, this stuff is somewhat more concentrated than espresso. About 1 part concentrate to 2 parts water or milk is good, but this will vary wildly by your preference.

This method made me realize that cooked coffee with ice in it is a complete blasphemy. And once you’ve got this fresh concentrate on hand, you can whip up an iced coffee any time. Ir a coffee smoothie. Or back coffee-flavored pastries. Or whatever.

AeroPress

part 2 - coming soon

If you like coffee (and why would you read this far if you didn’t) you owe it to yourself to give this a shot, since it’s so damned easy.

The great news for me is that now I can enjoy iced coffee all the time, cheaply. The better news is that with less acid this stuff is easier on the tummy. But the bad news is that now I’m addicted to coffee again. It only got worse when I got my AeroPress, which I’ll discuss in Part 2.

Links:

  • Real Iced Coffee; WaPo
    • I linked to this before; this is where I first discovered cold brew.
  • Coffee Without the Heat; MSNBC
    • Author claims cold brew has less acid and caffeine, and indeed their cold brew tested at a higher pH than hot brew.
  • Cold Brew On The Cheap
    • This guy has built a cheap system to make cold brewing easier. You can buy cold brew gadgets, but why pay?
  • Coffee Concentrator; How To Brew
    • Here’s a negative opinion. This guy hates the cold brew, and he’s using a gadget designed for the process. I don’t know what he did wrong, but just using a bowl works great for us.
  • Recipe; NYT
    • This recipe has slightly different amounts, but the same result. And they claim you can use the concentrate to make hot coffee. I don’t doubt it. Since the stuff wasn’t ruined by cooking it the first time, I think a quick heating up to 160 degrees in the microwave won’t damage it.

1 Say you spend $4/day on your favorite menu item at Starbucks or wherever (you’ll pay more than that for some selections) by the end of the year you’ll have spent $1,460. You’re drinking two laptops per year. Even if I buy somewhat-expensive beans at the supermarket at $8/lb, using the concentrate method I got a pound to last me 2 weeks. That’s $416, or less than a third of the cost. And I’ve made my coffee concentrate with $5 coffee on sale for $2.50 and it tasted great.

2 You might be thinking at this point “Why not use a French Press to filter the coffee?” That’s what I thought, too. But it just didn’t work that well for me (especially trying to prepare so much concentrate at once) and then I had to clean the press, which is not as easy as cleaning a strainer and a metal bowl. Feel free to try this yourself, though and let me know how it goes.

Posted by James at 1:08 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

November 28, 2007

Kids and Religious Experimentation

Yesterday I got an email from a friend. She was seeking my advice with a family situation.

Her experiences with a religious community led her to take a more personal approach to her beliefs, which means that she and her children are not part of an organized religion. She retains spiritual beliefs1.

Her children have tutor, and this tutor is a practitioner of an unfamiliar religion. This religion differs significantly from her beliefs. The kids and she are really fond of the tutor and his wife, they’ve gotten close, and now two of her kids have decided that they’d like to join that religion and begin studying the religion. The younger of the two sons is 10. She doesn’t want to react in a way that motivates her older son in a negative way. And she doesn’t think the younger one quite grasps what it means to adopt a religion. On top of that, she doesn’t want to insult her friends with her reaction.

My advice (edited a bit and elaborated in places):

One of the problems I have with religion is in how it is used to control people, and that would be my main worry if my children got involved with any religion. I agree that 10 is too young to really understand the implications.

I think that if my kids were to get involved with a religion, I would get involved, too. Like your family, ours encourages rational and independent thought. Your sons are naturally curious, and so of course they want to explore both their world and people. And religious beliefs are absolutely fascinating, even if we find this one or that one silly.

I would try to make sure we could continue to have discussions about belief, so that I could understand what they are thinking and, perhaps, where they are going with their thoughts. As a parent, you are still guiding their study of belief. You’ve probably already exposed them to the ideas of different religion. I’d suggest continuing to do so. Don’t be afraid to touch on some of the dangers of belief, and trouble people have gotten into when other people take advantage of a willingness to believe. You can continue to teach them to be skeptical without necessarily teaching them to be cynical or atheistic.

The important thing always with children is to keep them engaged in thought and to be critical of their own beliefs as well as those of others. Self criticism is essential to a scientific mind. I am finding that the most effective people I know are creative thinkers who self-criticize. It allows them to be creative, productive and stay grounded in reality.

You have to have an open mind and many creative thoughts and points of view, but grounding them by thinking critically is what helps you find a balance.

If you’re involved with them you can help them make sense of what they’re hearing and make sure they’re not accepting anything uncritically. Their beliefs are going to be theirs alone, but as a parent you provide context and can help reinforce their confidence to decide what they want to believe rather than what someone else wants them to believe.


1 I’m being vague because the details aren’t really that important. And I like to take a default approach of preserving as much privacy as possible even though this friend said I ought to share some of our conversation with my blogging audience. If she reads this and wants to elaborate details, she can, of course.

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November 27, 2007

Pandora Problems

Maggie’s blogger account is not letting her log in, and when she asked it to send her back her password, it told her it was sending her information to an email address at a domain she didn’t recognize (triera.net, in Slovenia). It could be a Blogger bug, or it could be that someone has hacked into her account.

Either way, Maggie is no longer in control of Pandora’s Tea Room. I’ll post more about this as we know more. She’s contacted Blogger to try to get help, but I am not sure what help they might provide.

UPDATE: She has access back. She hasn’t been contacted by Blogger, so I’m assuming it was either a bug, or someone on Blogger’s end flipped a switch and made it recognize her email address again.

It was weird. She knew her password, but it kept telling her that it didn’t recognize her email. And there were a bunch of “password requested” notifications for her other blogs.

Posted by James at 10:04 PM | Comments (3)

Tuesday Awards


That's right - this is the day you wait for all year long! It's the day I pick a random day to give out a bunch of random awards that I just made up expressly for the purpose of making fun of a bunch of links. First annual, and yet not annual at all!



The I Just Threw Up A Little In My Mouth Award goes to Men's Health for their "Men We Can't Say No To" article containing advice from (get this) actual women. Actual horny women.

A quick scan of any of the descriptions of the 4 sexy man-types might make you hot if you're a lady, but I burped up my dinner and it took half a bottle of Pepto to get the taste out of my mouth.
As he began to frost a #1 on Thomas the Tank Engine, I could tell that the rest of the world had faded away. When he's focused on me, I feel as if I'm getting 500 percent of his attention. He doesn't play games or hold back when he feels like grabbing me and carrying me to bed. His passion is directed carefully but expressed with abandon--it's so damn sexy I can't imagine ever getting enough.
Is Men's Health the male version of Cosmopolitan? And you can't tell me that any hetero man wants to read about a "mountain man" rubbing snow all over his naked body. Oh god. I just vommed again.

FUNFACT:
I want a shiny suit just like Justin Timberlake has. But I don't want it if it means having memories of having dated Britney Spears.



The You Just Won The Presidency Award goes to Mitt Romney.

It's still early, but I swear Romney has clinched it with this brilliant gambit to grab the spotlight back from Obama vs. Hillary. He says that no Muslims will serve in his cabinet. He's even got the best "I'm not really a racist" excuse. It's that Muslims don't form a high enough percentage of the population to warrant a cabinet position. By the same logic, we're going to let all the Arabic translators go from the state department. Percentage-wise, there just aren't that many Arabic speakers in the world. We're hiring tons of Chinese-speakers, though.

FUNFACT:
I heard a kid call a concession stand "the consumption stand" the other day. I kid you not. She did correct herself, but not before I tried to shake her hand.



The Lucky My Ass Award goes to unnamed people paraphrased by the Daily Mail in this story about an Indian boy who was impaled and survived.
Manish Rajpurohit has been hailed the luckiest teenager in India after he survived being skewered by a metal pole in a bus crash.
Yeah, I know what they mean, but this should be a Thanksgiving story. Here in the states we have Bill O'Reilly and other nimrods crying themselves to sleep over the casualties in the War on Christmas. Life is tough. But in India it's a LUCKY day if you get impaled.

I mean, I could say that the guy in this story, named Lonnie Anderson, is lucky he was in his late teens when "WKRP in Cincinnati" aired instead of being 9 or 10 years old, on the basis that he avoided being teased by middle-schoolers. However, he's still named Lonnie Anderson, and people probably probably ask him if he is THE Loni Anderson all the time. Lucky? My ass.

FUNFACT:
If I ever get impaled and survive, and you tell me I'm lucky, I will come to your house and prevent you from ever sleeping again by making you watch "Girls Next Door." Until you go insane.



The Best Customer Service In A Lifetime award goes to Princess Cruises for taking an old lady's money after she wasn't able to make it to the Alaska cruise on time as the result of a huge ordeal. She'd saved for this trip of a lifetime, and was screwed over at every turn. The cruise line offered no sympathy or refunds, citing the "being an asshat is industry standard" excuse, which works every time if you're in the travel industry. Because everyone believes it.

Cue someone telling me this is reasonable. Cue someone telling me it's good business. Cue someone else offering to give the woman a free cruise.

Cue me telling you that she's lucky; her airplane didn't crash on the way home.

FUNFACT: You're feeling bored right about now.

Fin.

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November 26, 2007

Would You Rather

Someone you admire, but have never met is giving a talk near where you live. You go to the venue and before the talk you have the opportunity to shake this person’s hand and exchange a few words. This person then graciously offers to send you a copy of a book you would be interested in and takes your card for your contact information.

He/She takes off a long coat and turns away because the talk is about to begin. Right then, you notice something embarrassing about his or her clothing. (For instance, if he is male, his fly is down) It’s a 90 minute talk, and everyone in the room will eventually notice.

Would You Rather

  • Awkwardly re-approach the person and tell them of the problem
  • Let the person speak and later realize that you were the last person who could have warned him/her about the situation (when they see your card).
Posted by James at 10:00 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

November 25, 2007

Stripes on A Third of Women

According to Meet the Press this morning, 75% of likely Republican voters think abortion ought to be illegal. (This stat was also mentioned in the Mercury News)

The LA Times claims that a third of all American women will have had an abortion by the age of 45.

75 out of 100 of likely Republican voters want to make a third of American women criminals.

Did they ask these folks how we ought to punish women who seek an abortion? And have they considered water boarding, especially in the case of women who refuse to turn in their doctor?

(I don’t like posting on Sunday, so you get a hit and run blog post!)

Posted by James at 10:32 AM | Comments (15)

November 24, 2007

Freelancing: Discounting Oneself

I’ve thought, on and off, about freelancing over the years. I have done some small work in a couple of different areas. Web design, graphic design, writing, blog installation, but have never intended to make a career of any of it (or any substantial sum, for that matter). I’ve never felt I had enough free time to put a serious effort into freelancing1.

I saw the following article float by, dealing with web development freelancing. However, I suppose the lessons could apply equally to any freelancing. This is a list of “Absolute Nos! for Freelancing.”

Because invoicing was always a challenge for me when it did happen, item #2 was of interest to me.

2) Can you give us a discount rate? No.

One client of mine was a friend and a much smarter businessperson. When I tried to do work for free, I was told that was a mistake. I eventually convinced my client to take a very discounted rate for my time, because I didn’t consider this work to be my primary work, and because I got some enjoyment out of it. But my client, in the end was right. It’s business, and it’s psychology.

No matter how I viewed the work, it makes sense to get paid for the quality of the work. If you do good work, you should get paid well.

So what does this tell people if you discount your work? It tells them that your work is crappy. Worse, if they are inexperienced at judging your work, they might consider the cost more than looking at your work. Yes, people like to pay less, and yes you can get experience that way, but they may take your discount to heart and you may never recover from that impression.

In the future, I think I would try to be realistic about the quality of my work and figure out what it is worth. And if this turns away customers, then I am better off; it’s better than undervaluing myself. I would still, perhaps, give a discount to close friends, but I think it’s smart to invoice them anyhow and show the discount. However, this would be a discount on the basis of the friendship, not a discount based on my inexperience. This ought to help dispel the pall of “you’re getting a discount because my work sucks.”

I’m not much of a businessman. Some people seem to understand this psychological aspect of business at a young age. Socially stunted people (and late bloomers) like me are at a disadvantage in that world!


1 Of course, I have written for online sites (on my own terms) and gotten paid (on their terms). And have made enough money to spend. Epinions was one example of this. But I found that an uphill battle, only worth it if you were really enjoying yourself.

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November 23, 2007

Water Cracker Shotgun

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November 22, 2007

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

I have to look for this recipe every year, so I’m posting it here to make it easier for me and others to find next time!

Garlic Mashed Potatoes

3 heads of garlic
2 pounds potatoes peeled and quartered
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of half and half
salt and pepper to taste

Roast the garlic in the oven by the usual method (slicing the tops off, drizzling olive oil on, etc).

Squeeze the garlic cloves out into a bowl. Mash the garlic into a paste. Boil the potatoes 15-20 minutes until they’re soft in the middle (test with a fork).

When they are ready to mash, drain off the water and place the pot back on very low heat. Stir for a few minutes to dry out the potatoes a little. You’ll be moistening the potatoes with cream and butter, so allow some of the excess water to evaporate. Give it about 5 minutes, but make sure the heat is very low. You don’t want to burn the potatoes, just dry them out a little.

Remove the potatoes from the heat. Add the garlic and butter. Mash the butter and garlic into the potatoes. Start beating with a spoon and add cream as you go. Continue until the potatoes are smooth. Salt and pepper to taste.

Garlic lovers will go ape over this. It’s not a lowfat or local recipe. So don’t eat it every day. You can probably get away with reducing the fat because the garlic flavor is intense. But I don’t mess with success in this case.


Essentially, to roast garlic you cut 1/2 inch off the top of the head of the garlic and either wrap them in foil and bake them for a couple of hours at a low temperature (350 degrees for 2 hours) or roast at a high temperature for less time (450 degrees for an hour). Still others suggest not wrapping the garlic at all, and instead placing them in the oven in a pan just large enough to hold the garlic, with a small amount of liquid in the bottom of the pan. At 500 degrees this roasts the garlic in 30 minutes or so. In any case, roast until the cloves are soft in the center (poke with a fork or knife to test). You can also drizzle oil and/or dry sherry over the garlic before roasting to add to the flavor.

Links:

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Thanks Giving: Arthur Nobile

Arthur Nobile, you worked mostly alone in your endeavors, and you had to fight hard to challenge the conventional wisdom of the day to get your innovative ideas heard. Through your efforts, the world eventually realized the value of using molecular biology to improve the efficacy of natural drug compounds.

When you succeeded in using bacteria to oxidize cortisone, you invented a drug that was dramatically more effective than the natural cortisones in use at the time, with fewer dangerous side effects. You had created the drugs we know today as prednisone and prednisolone.

You employed knowledge, creativity and hard work. You did what wishing alone could not, what invisible forces would not and what empty words do not. you did what a human being can. Because of that, you have provided doctors with the means to save many lives and reduce human suffering.

You don’t even have a page on Wikipeda. But you were an inductee into the New Jersey Inventor’s Hall of Fame a few years before you died in 2004.

You created a solution so that other dedicated and caring people could save my child’s life. I thank you.


Additionally, I would like to thank my good friends and family — you know who you are. You’re always there to help me. You’re there with an encouraging word or something special that seems small but makes an indescribable difference. And while I try to thank you when appropriate, the accumulated effect you have is overwhelming. You make me laugh, and make me feel that life is worthwhile. Among this group, I want to especially thank my wife and children who know and understand me best. Thanks for the straight shooting and the curveballs.

Thanks to all of you who lurk on this blog, or comment on this blog. Thanks for your contributions, all of which I appreciate. Thanks for giving me a reason to continue.

And Happy Thanksgiving.

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November 21, 2007

Behind

I usually lurk on a bunch of other blogs and comment semi-liberally (ha, ha) on those other blogs both to encourage the authors and to giver whatever I feel I can contribute, because I know I appreciate contributions on my blog. But for the first time in a long time I’ve been way too busy to keep up with my favorite blogs every day.

That’s partly because I am busy. Also partly because my list of “favorite” blogs (most of them slightly more personal, or with a personal connection) has expanded over time. Thirdly - some of my favorite blogs are in the swing of NaBloPoMo, so there are a lot more posts.

I think all this is great. But the downside is less commenting, which makes me a little sad. And some blogs on which I frequently lurk probably don’t know I’m still a reader because I never comment. I like small blogs better than mega-blogs. I like personal blogs better than targeted, one-subject blogs. And I like to have personal connections to the blogs I read. And those types of blogs thrive on personal comments.

In any case, this is me excusing myself for being spread thin. If you think I’m reading your blog, I probably am. If you think I stopped reading your blog, I probably did not stop. Just so you know.

Posted by James at 10:11 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

The Complexity of Weight and Health


I've criticised BMI in the past as an over-simplification. I don't think it handles muscle weight or bone density properly, though these concerns mainly effect athletes and the elderly.

It's common to hear people lament how low "normal" weight seems. I spend much of my time on the cusp of overweight for my height -- just above "normal". Even when I'm eight pounds above my current weight, people tell me that I don't look overweight. Visual perception is very misleading. The right or wrong clothes can change a visual assessment entirely. But I also suspect that people are used to seeing more overweight people, so I look normal in a wide range of clothes.

We turn to BMI because the weight issue is so complex, even though BMI is imperfect.

The question of what is normal weight became even more complicated when researchers started looking into how weight affects death rate and found that overweight people have a different set of problems from normal, obese and thin people, but that overweight people seemed to live longer on average than normal people.

This sort of finding is like throwing a box of crullers into the middle of an Over-eaters Anonymous meeting.  Maggie pointed me to this interesting article in the NYT that discusses some of this new controversial research.

As with many things in science and nature, the answer about what is a healthy weight is complicated, and there are a host of differing opinions. It's not only life expectancy, and not only the risk for certain diseases.

While they addressed the question of possibly changing our understanding "overweight," I was disappointed that this NYT story glossed over how they have, in the past, decided where to set the BMI categories.

Risk

Maggie also sent me this test for having or developing type 2 diabetes based on weight, height and other factors.

My risk comes out to 0 on a scale of 0-10. If I gained 15 pounds I'd be at a risk of 5. And in 5 years I'll pretty much be stuck at "5" no matter what I do about my weight.

But, clearly, they don't think that being a little bit overweight is a problem. The story changes when it's no longer "a little bit."

Cost / Benefits

I've never exercised in the hope that it would unnaturally extend my lifespan. My interest has always been to feel better, and this payoff is one that comes soon enough once you are regularly exercising that I don't have to just hope that my exercise is paying off. I have impossible-to-ignore every-day benefits from being in better shape. It's worth the brief time I have to put in exercising. The eating is harder, but thinking about the benefits is one motivator.

One example: poker. Poker requires your brain to be working right. I notice a definite difference in my poker playing when I'm in better shape. Maybe it's partly attributable to discipline alone, but there is a difference, and I believe it to be physical. Your brain, after all, is a part of your physical body. Why shouldn't it work better when your body is working better.

Basically, if you do something with your body, it works better when your body's working better. It's not rocket science, but science is about proving these things rather than just going with what sounds good.

And there is evidence that it's physical exercise, not mental exercises like "Nintendo Brain Age" or Sudoku puzzles, which will keep your mind more generally nimble into your later years.

What To Do?

I liked the comment from the first NYT article I referenced:

Dr. Gail, though, had some advice, which, he said, is his personal opinion as a physician and researcher: “If you are in the pink and feeling well and getting a good amount of exercise and if your doctor is very happy with your lab values and other test results, then I am not sure there is any urgency to change your weight.”
You know how you feel. And you know if you're getting exercise. And your doctor can tell you about your test results.

Taking all that into account, it shouldn't be too difficult to decide if you actually need to lose weight. Maybe you want to lose weight because of some of the other benefits. Or maybe you're getting exercise, and everything else looks good, but gosh darn it you can't lose those pounds! If you can avoid fooling yourself about your BMI, your cholesterol, your level of activity, etc, you might find that you're either OK where you are or your goal of a healthy weight is more attainable than you thought.
Posted by James at 11:18 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 20, 2007

Kucinich

When the primaries come around, I’m pretty sure I’m going to vote for the same guy I voted for last time. Dennis Kucinich. I’ve thought about it, after considering Hillary and Barak, and this seems to be the a clear choice for me now. He’s the only candidate anywhere near my opinions. American voting has moved so far to the right that authoritarians all over the world have to look a little bit to the right to see our Democratic party.

It would be interesting, as some on the Internet are pushing, to see Ron Paul vs. Dennis Kucinich. I understand why many people support Paul, but I just can’t. He’s got too many opinions that I think would result in less social freedom. I appreciate the idea that government should just remain out of your life completely, but I don’t think freedom actually works that way. So I remain a largely anti-authoritarian liberal, desiring the government to get involved for social good, and especially when it can enhance freedom, rather than just stand aside and let people get more efficiently trampled.

But I wouldn’t mind seeing Paul make it to the general election because he at least seems honest, and I think some of the other choices are fairly evil.

The fact that Paul and Kucinich are getting so much attention this go-around is a testament to how deeply, efficiently, unceremoniously and blatantly Bush and the Republicans have screwed themselves (and us) over.

In the best and shortest blog post I’ve read all week, David says:

The Republicans should just change their name to the Torture a Spic for Jesus party and be done with it.

I think that sums up the platform well, and honesty is the best policy. Following that line of thought, we could be all relieved to finally see Roger Ailes come to his senses and rename the Fox News Channel to The Torture a Spic For Jesus Porn Network.

Links:

Of course every American knows that the Fox News Channel is, in actuality, Republican run party propaganda. I like to call it Republiporn. But wait! This supposedly conservative news station is also a good source of female skin and smut. See the video: Fox News Porn. This video is made of footage just taken from Fox news. You could probably claim softcore porn just on the dressing habits of the female talking heads.

I attribute the mainstreaming of pornography to our “conservative” friends at Fox. No wonder Ashcroft left the Bush administration. He was probably about to start investigating the websurfing habits at the Fox News studios.

Check out Dennis Kucinich’s positions and see if they don’t coincide with your own. If you weren’t considering supporting Kucinich, I bet you’ll agree a lot more than you expect.

Posted by James at 8:42 AM | Comments (6)

November 19, 2007

Milk Lunch

Milk Lunch

Mrs. Alison’s Milk Lunch

The “Milk Lunch” cracker is alive and well, and I bought some at my local supermarket. It’s the Nabisco “Royal” version that is no longer made.

These aren’t the same brand I grew up with. The brand I remember had some sort of printing on the crackers and the biscuits themselves were larger and more cookie-like. But these smell the same as I remember.

They taste a lot like a Ritz cracker, although a lot less salty and a little sweeter. They’re less fatty than Ritz crackers.

These make a nice snack and would go well with milk and coffee.

The box calls them “New England Biscuits,” but I’m not sure why they’re particular to this area.

While we’re talking about endangered foods, I can’t resist a mention and a link to Space Food Sticks.

Posted by James at 8:17 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

To Some, Tolerance Has Narrow Definition

“Hyde Park Baptist Church hopes that the AAIM and the community of faith will understand and be tolerant of our church’s beliefs that have resulted in this decision.”

That accompanied a statement from Hyde Park Baptist (mega)Church that they would not allow an interfaith Thanksgiving gathering to use their facilities this year. Even though the space had been booked in July and the organizers made clear that this was an interfaith gathering, HPBC rescinded the availability of the space a week before Thanksgiving because the even would include Muslims exercising their freedom to worship in Islam.

There was no rental space free for this interfaith gathering, but even for an atheist like myself it is hard to imagine that some other Christian organization wouldn’t step forward and offer space. Instead, Austin’s largest synagogue responded, and will be providing the space for the event.

It’s almost like a semantic game, how some people use the word “tolerance” to attack others and defend their own intolerance. It’s nice to know that some people aren’t interested in playing that particular game.

Of course, the Christians who are involved with this event are saddened by the reaction of the Baptist megachurch.

Flowers said she was disheartened by the church’s decision. “As a Christian, my first response is, what would Jesus do in this situation?” she said.

There are Americans who can help you with that question, and in the city of Austin, they’re Jewish.

Posted by James at 8:02 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

November 18, 2007

Twitter vs. Reality


With no apologies to Twitter.

Twitter: totally exhausted from spinning class!
Reality: managed 10 minutes on the bike, stopped off at McDonalds on the way home

Twitter: 最後の夜だった偉大な
Reality: 私は何が起こったか覚えていない最後の夜

Twitter: New blog post: Colbert on the iPhone! http://tinyurl.com/6jw3vcx
Twitter: New blog post: Whats up with lolcats? http://tinyurl.com/a9j0ggc
Twitter: New blog post: Top 10 ways you can read my blog  http://tinyurl.com/l00zur
Reality: I'm starting to think nobody knows I have a blog.

Twitter: Wow - it's been over 5 days since I updated something clever to Twitter!
Reality: 5 days and counting

Twitter: Smoke on the water, fire in the sky / They burned down the gambling house / It died with an awful sound
Reality: Hey, I'm 20 years old and I just discovered songs have lyrics!

Twitter: Now reading Joyce's Finnegan's Wake
Reality: Now watching "Deal or No Deal" with copy of Finnegan's Wake open in front of me

Twitter: Baby crying again, and oldest won't stop picking on middle child.
Reality: Baby crying again, and oldest won't stop picking on middle child.

Posted by James at 12:22 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

November 17, 2007

Bygone Crackers

Crown Pilot

Made me buy clam chowder

Julie mentioned the embattled Crown Pilot crackers the other day on her blog. I wrote a response post about crackers, and it included an observation that “Chicken in a Biscuit.” The funny thing about that is that she later posted another entry which covered the chicken-soup-flavored crackers. So I feel my old post is now almost completely obsolete. Since I lost it to a stupid mistake, I don’t mourn it much. Here’s a new post about crackers.

I bough myself some Crown Pilot crackers after Julie mentioned them, and I was interested in the fact that there was such a strong enthusiasm for this cracker.

In my searching, a memory came back to my from my childhood. It was about “milk lunch crackers” which, it turns out have their own disappointed following, now that a popular version of this cracker is no longer produced.

If you’ve never had a milk lunch cracker, they’re a little like the cookie part of a Vienna Finger, but not quite as sweet. In the home of my childhood, milk lunch crackers and the sweeter Vienna Fingers were both dipped in coffee and eaten by adults, and sometimes given to children for a sugary, soggy, coffee-flavored bite.

But often we’d be given a slightly sweet milk lunch cracker with butter on top. The salty butter a complement to the cookie-like cracker.

I’d almost completely forgotten about that. When I was reminded of it, I was amazed that it was possible to lose it in the first place.

In the name of cracker progress, Milk Lunch is replaced by new flavors of Triscuit and Chicken in a Biscuit. And we have less to remind us.

Posted by James at 9:21 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Studios: Justsoyaknow

Studios, Justsoyaknow.

You canceled Arrested Development and Deadwood. We already know what it feels like to have good shows go away. We can wait as long as it takes for writers to get a fair deal. There are a lot of books.

-The Viewers

Posted by James at 7:17 AM | Comments (1)

November 16, 2007

Mid-NaBloPoMo Shotgun

Posted by James at 8:36 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

November 15, 2007

A Bid for Dissent and Patriotism

Bridge, Bush and American Values

Did you catch the story about the American bridge player team which is in hot water for an off-the-cuff moment of political dissent at an awards ceremony?

In response to a lack of the usual warmth at international bridge events, and pointed questions about Iraq policy, Bush and torture, Ms. Gail Greenberg held up a sign stating “We did not vote for Bush.”

It was meant to be a moment of levity, a sign to her international friends that Americans are still independent thinkers, and patriotically question their government’s actions.

Ms. Rosenberg said the team members intended the sign as a personal statement that demonstrated American values and noted that it was held up at the same time some team members were singing along to “The Star-Spangled Banner” and waving small American flags.

The backlash against her is a demonstration of the new American values of the Bush Administration: patriotism means supporting the party. Dissent is sedition.

Judging by arguments gone by, some will say that the bridge organization to which they belong has every right to impose sanctions against these women — that “protected speech” doesn’t actually mean they are protected from consequences.

My first answer to that is that America stands for certain freedoms which are more important than the exaltation of the leader of one political party, and more important than any president. Whether or not those freedoms are protected under the law in every circumstance, (for instance, by prohibiting sanctions for political speech) those who claim they are Americans should show respect for that speech, especially abroad. This is how we effectively export our values: with demonstrations of our freedoms, not with bombs.

My second answer is to repeat what Danny Kleinman had to say on the subject (in the above article):

Not so, said Danny Kleinman, a professional bridge player, teacher and columnist. “If the U.S.B.F. wants to impose conditions of membership that involve curtailment of free speech, then it cannot claim to represent our country in international competition,” he said by e-mail.

If the USBF wants to speak of consequences, and shows that its priorities are not with the freedoms we Americans hold dear and essential, then perhaps they shouldn’t represent America in international competition. That’s if we want to follow through on the idea of consequences.

The bottom line is this. I can understand the USBF not wanting political messages to overshadow their activities. But this one off-the-cuff expression at an international awards event is hardly worthy of their gross overreaction. Such an overreaction is much more of a distraction, and even a stain, than one person’s admission about how she spent her vote.

Posted by James at 10:36 AM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Automatic Data Loss

A better default

I know what you're going to say. "Save early and often." And you're right.

But computer systems should be built that help to overcome our weaknesses and magnify our strengths. And if one of your weaknesses is that you don't always save your documents before you go to bed for the night, there's a little bitty monster inside your Windows installation that's waiting to take away your data.

As I said in an earlier post, I usually write blog posts in Google Documents for later posting, then paste them into a blogging client. This is great for me, because Google Documents autosaves, and my data is available everywhere.

Well, once in a while, when I think I'm writing a quick off-the-cuff post, I don't do that. And if it becomes a longer post than I expected, I sometimes forget to save[1].

Forgetting to save and letting it sit overnight is bad. There could be a power outage, and you'll lose your document. You should always save! BUT - your computer also shouldn't sabotage you. Last night, that's just what my computer did to me.

I failed to save a blog post, left it open on my computer and my computer downloaded updates from Microsoft and restarted my machine without asking. That's because my computer is set up to automatically download and install Windows updates. And an automatic restart is in there, too.

If you object to automatic restarts of your machine (and there are many reasons you might) it's pretty easy to disable the automatic update. I prefer to let my desktop machine download the updates for me and then ask me if I want them installed[2].

It's easy to change your update settings. Right-click your "My Computer" icon and choose "Properties." Your Automatic Updates options should be under the Automatic Updates tab of the Properties window.

Set it to the setting that's most appropriate to your habits.


fn1. My blog client sucks at saving. It inserts extra line breaks between every paragraph when you re-open a saved document. Yet another reason I use Google Documents.

fn2. Your situation may vary. On my laptop, I prefer to just be notified of updates, because downloading over the WiFi slows me down too much. I want to choose when the download happens.

Posted by James at 8:46 AM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

November 14, 2007

Carne Asada

In the quest for a perfect No Problemo taco clone, I stumbled on Carne Asada, which is a Mexican-style steak. In 2005 I posted a full recipe for delicious tacos. The kids weren’t really thrilled by the meat in that recipe, although the adults loved it.

This weekend I decided to try something slightly different, and it was a hit with the kids and us adults.

You start with two pounds of beef — traditionally flank steak. When Maggie went to the local butcher, they suggested something I’d never heard of before: “flap steak.” It was on sale for $5/lb, sold in 2lb portions. When I went back to get more, I was told it’s the same meat as steak tips. If you look at the diagram of the steer, the flank (which is where flap is supposedly from) is close to the bottom sirloin1. Ask your butcher what he’s got for making fajitas - flank steak or flap steak and that will probably be enough info for you to get what you need.

I started with this recipe for marinade and modified it based on what I had in the house, what I wanted, and the fact that cilantro isn’t really popular with the wife or kids:

Carne Asada Marinade

(for 2 pounds of flank/flap steak)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed (or more)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, ribs and seeds removed and chopped fine
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/4 cup dehydrated onion flakes
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon Adolph’s meat tenderizer2
  • 1/4 teaspoon of Kosher salt OR 1/4 tsp Accent3 (MSG)
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, ground
  • 1/4 cup white wine (if you’ve got an open bottle — skip it if you don’t)
  • 1 shot tequila (for either the meat, the chef or both)
  • 1/2 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
Mix up that marinade, put your steak in your favorite marinating container (I like a ziplock bag for maximum marinade-meat contact) pour the marinade over the meat, and let it sit for at least two hours in the fridge.

When you’re ready to cook, choose a high-heat method. you want this a little pink on the inside when you’re done, because this cut of beef will get tough if overcooked. I cook until the internal temperature is greater than the medium-rare temperature (145 degrees F) but below medium rare (160 degrees F). Using a thermometer really takes the guesswork out of cooking meats.

While it’s cooking, sprinkle some kosher salt and fresh ground pepper on the meat.

When it’s done, take it off the grill onto a warm plate to rest for 5 minutes.

Now, you’re going to need a sharp, long knife. The longer the side of your steak is, the longer you’re going to want your knife. But a very sharp chef’s knife is fine. If your knife is sharp, use your honing steel and then go to it. If your knife is not sharp, shame on you for cooking with dull knives! You need to read the Razor’s Edge Book of Sharpening4!

Hold the meat steady with a fork while you slice against the grain. Make long, thin strips. As you cut the grain, you’re making the meat easy to chew. If you don’t do this, your diners will have a nightmare trying to swallow this stuff, but sliced across the grain this meat is just great.

You could serve this with the previously mentioned taco recipe or just with pico de gallo on the side, rice, beans and some guacamole. Just make sure everything else is already prepared by the time you’re ready to slice the beef, because it’ll get cold quickly once you slice it.

¡Buen apetito!


1 Flap steak was completely new to me, but it was a good recommendation. They were perfect for carne asada. It grilled perfectly, sliced nicely, and tasted great with this marinade. Flap steak is described on Wikipedia here, and here is a Flap steak article in the SF Chronicle. You could certainly use steak tips with this marinade, but part of this recipe involves cutting the steak a certain way, which is much easier with these steaks. The cuts of meat that traditionally go into tacos and fajitas are often more fibrous, but flavorful cuts that benefit from marinating and slicing across the grain. So steak tips would taste similar, but be harder to chew unless you can manage cutting it up small. If you look at a flap steak, it looks like a bunch of sirloin tips that haven’t been cut into strips yet. And that’s pretty much what it is.

2 I think it’s amusing that the Lowry’s website entry for Adolph’s Original Unseasoned claims that the tenderizer features a unique blend of seasonings. oops! Remember when using Adolph’s not to make the marinade very salty. In fact, even though I love salt, I favor lower-salt contents in marinades because of the possibility of making the meat too salty if you end up wanting to marinade for longer. Meats take kosher salt really well during and after cooking, so there is little need to infuse meat with saltiness.

3 MSG is a better flavor enhancer for marinade than salt is. if you are cooking for someone who objects to monosodium glutamate, just omit it. MSG gets a bad reputation, but it’s not worth arguing about. There are people who have an MSG sensitivity, but if someone regularly eats foods with soy sauce in them without burning sensations, numbness, headache, nausea, rapid heartbeat, and other symptoms, they are probably not actually sensitive to the stuff. MSG is in tons of food under different names. But as I said, not worth arguing about, so omit it if people object.

4 Hey: The Razor Edge Book of Sharpening Look! An affiliate link, Karen! Seriously, this book taught me what it means for a knife to be sharp.

Posted by James at 8:43 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

November 13, 2007

Scan-As-You-Go Shopping

Scanner

The handheld shopping scanner.

Also, a photo of the produce scale.


When I stopped by the supermarket on Monday I was accosted by a fellow in a bright red "Red Sox" jersey and a well-dressed woman. They asked me if I wanted to try out the new shopping system, so of course I said "yes." That's how I roll.

The new system involves a hand-held scanner. I handed over my shopper's card to be scanned into the system and it associated the scanner to my card. I had to agree to a few terms, a little more about that later.

As the woman placed some empty shopping bags into my cart, the fellow explained the system to me. As I take an item off the shelf, I scan the barcode, and then place my item in one of my bags. Effectively, I would be scanning my items and bagging them as I shopped.

The scanner will give me a running total of my order and a list of the items I'd bagged. If I wanted to remove an item, I press a "remove" button and then rescan the barcode before placing the item back on the shelf.

For produce, the system is a little more involved. I choose my produce and place it on one of the new scales that are positioned at the end of all the produce bins. Then I punch in the 4-digit code for that item and the scale weighs the produce. For items that are sold by unit, I enter the number of items. Then I press a "print" button which prints out a sticker with an appropriate barcode for that produce item. I scan that barcode and then bag the item in my cart.

I thanked him and got to it.

I started with the produce aisle. Since the new system is a little cumbersome for produce, I found I was spending more time in that section than in other parts of the store. But things went smoothly (except for one scale that had run out of paper).

After a few minutes, while the scanner was sitting in my cart, it emitted a beep and I saw the the bottom of the screen was telling me about a sale item in this week's circular.

It didn't look like a lot of people were trying out this new technology, and I got some weird looks from people ad I went around pointing the scanner at things and bagging them in my cart.

When I was finished, I went to one of the self-checkouts which had a poster with a picture of the scanner on it. There is a special barcode on the poster that you scan to indicate the end of your order. You now have a chance to scan any unscanned items (like checkout-line impulse purchases) and run your credit card or other form of payment.

I returned the scanner to the two folks who greeted me at the entrance and gave them a generally positive review of the technology, which worked very smoothly.

The Good

  • For large orders, scanning each item as you put it in the basket means reducing the number of times you tough the item. This saves time. Instead of moving the item from shelf to basket to checkout belt to basket and then to your car, you simply move it from the shelf, to your cart and then into your car.
  • If you like to use reusable bags, this works well. I hate having my reusable bags in my cart, lying there uselessly while I shop. And I feel strange about bagging items that I'm going to have to unbag when I get to the checkout. With this system, if you have your own bags, you can use them right away.
  • It's nice to see a running total of how much money you're spending on the order.
  • If you're unsure about the price of something, you get an immediate answer, and it's easy to put the item back on the shelf if you change your mind.
  • Your loose produce is weighed precisely while you're still in the produce section. If you want a pound of green beans, you can get a pound of them. It's easy to adjust your amounts because the beans are right there.
  • If other people are using this system, no more long waits in the checkout lane while the slowpoke in front of you decides that bagging is a Zen experience best done at the speed of chilled molasses.
  • Less pressure to buy impulse items in the checkout
  • I can put my ice cream in a cooler or freezer bag right away.

The Bad

  • For every produce item, before you bag, you have to go to a scale. This is a lot of walking back and forth if you buy a lot of produce, and possibly a bottleneck if other people are, too. You could work around this by having separate areas in your cart for scanned and unscanned items. Grab three different produce items and take them all to a scale. But that slightly breaks the model.
  • Small learning curve may mean you will encounter confused people. It may also mean you're thinking about the scanner and forgetting you need buttermilk.
  • Not good for small orders. If you have a handbasket, you probably want to skip the scanner. It's really only useful if you're pushing a cart. I don't like to use a cart all the time because you can't maneuver as well around the slowpokes.
  • THE MAN KNOWS WHAT YOU'RE BUYING! Not a big concern for me, truth be told.

How are they going to prevent theft? That's one of the things that you agree to when you use the system. They do random audits of people using the scanner. So far, apparently, they haven't seen much theft. The stuff you agree to with the new scanner is not much different from what you agree to by using a shopper's card in the first place.

Suggestions

  • Have dedicated hand-scanner aisles. I wandered a bit looking for a free aisle. It defeats a lot of the purpose of hand-scanning if I have to get in line behind two people who didn't.
  • Have some sort of easy-pay option. Other Stop & Shop stores have this, but not our local. Associate my credit card with my shopper's card so that when I scan "end of order" I can then press "easy pay" and it goes directly to my credit card. Then I just take my receipt and walk out.

I'll definitely use the hand scanner again, especially for larger orders. I'm all for increased checkout efficiency, because I hate time wasted at the supermarket.

If you've tried the system, let me know what you think.
Posted by James at 2:11 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Deval vs. Poker

I don’t play poker for real money online. There are various reasons for this. One of those reasons is that the federal government apparently considers it illegal.

In the past, the feds have only gone after the poker houses, not the individuals looking for a game. But when PayPal stopped allowing people to fund their stakes through their online service (not coincidentally, about the time they were merged with eBay) it started to get more and more difficult to play poker online for money.

While I’m not really interested in playing poker online now, I might consider it if it were easier to do and legal. And it’s something I think adults should be allowed to do. When people object to it, I want to know the reason.

Does our governor, Deval Patrick, object to online gambling? Apparently. His new bill would jail internet gamblers for up to 2 years and fine them 25 thousand dollars.

WTF, Deval? Is internet gambling such a problem in Massachusetts that you feel we need stricter laws to crack down?

At the same time Deval is going after the little guy for relaxing with an online poker game, Barney Frank has been fighting the federal ban. Instead of preventing online gambling, he’d like to license and regulate it. “It’s a free country” to me means allowing people to engage in activities they want to pursue, if they don’t infringe on other people’s rights.

But what annoys me further is this:

Patrick officials declined yesterday to explain the governor’s rationale for including the provision in the proposed legislation. They also would not respond to Frank’s comments.

Governor Patrick, we deserve an explanation of your objections. It can’t be based in morality, because this is the bill that allows three casinos to be built in the state.

Is this, perhaps, something slipped in there as a bonus to the casino companies, or perhaps to mollify supporters of the state lottery to help make all those involved parties more profitable?

I would take a dim view of new laws that solidify a restriction of our rights (and necessitating the spending of even more money from state coffers to enforce those laws) just to improve the bottom line of some companies.

And how about this bit of the bill:

Patrick’s provision, which is described in three paragraphs of the bill, applies to anyone in Massachusetts who places or receives a wager of any type using a telephone, cellphone, Internet, or local wireless networks. It also applies to anyone who knowingly installs equipment for transmitting wagers. The provision also specifically exempts the proposed casinos from the law.

Installing online poker software could certainly be characterized as “knowingly installing equipment for transmitting wagers.” Even if you don’t plan to use it for wagers. Are they going to monitor internet traffic to see if people are playing poker online? Will the play-money players be harassed in an effort to find the law-breakers?

This bill stinks.

Posted by James at 12:22 AM | Comments (13)

November 12, 2007

Would You Rather

Buster fears sheep

In honor of veteran’s day, an unrelated picture of my favorite almost-member of Army. Buster Bluth!

Would You Rather

  • Be notorious
  • Live alone as a hermit and be completely forgotten

Bonus links:

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

November 11, 2007

Wind and Rain in the SouthCoast


Stage

The girls and I visited the Narrows Center for the Arts to see Crooked Still perform. I'm not sure they really knew what to expect; this was their first live music show. The short story is that it was a long evening and everyone had a great time.

Maggie had work to do for her class, so the girls and I were on our own. We arrived 30 minutes before the show and the venue was already pretty full. There was ample space on one of the pews, but some people arrived later and wanted to sit next to their friends, which made for cramped seating.

The Narrows


The layout of the Narrows Center is very cozy. The building itself is an old factory, and the topmost floor is where performances are held. You enter through a small gallery area into a large room whose windows face the Taunton River, overlooking Water Street. Blocking some of the windows is a large black curtain behind a small stage. Right in front of the stage there are a number of small tables about the size of card tables. Set back a little farther are pews which surround the stage on 3 sides.

We sat on the "stage left" side of the stage, off the corner but a couple of rows back. It wasn't the best view, actually -- but it was close to the snack area, so the girls got to share a brownie while I grabbed a coffee to wait for the performance. The next time we go, we'll show up early with a cooler and food (it's BYO whatever) and grab a table!

It was too dark for my camera to get a good picture, and during the performance I didn't want the bright LCD disrupting any-one's enjoyment (from our vantage point, a quick snap would have been pointless; I would have had to aim carefully and make many attempts). The only picture I got was the empty stage between sets.

The show started a bit late, and the performers explained that they were on "Portuguese time" -- which meant that they were taking a laid back attitude after having waited a bit longer than expected for their (otherwise enjoyable) meal at an unnamed Portuguese restaurant.

SouthCoast Connections


Crooked Still are very personable, fun and relaxed. They had a good rapport with folks in the crowd, many of whom had followed them south from the Boston area. Aoife O'Donovan mentioned her connection to the SouthCoast: an aunt and uncle who have a house in Westport. She professed a great fondness for Westport's legendary Lees Market for its well-stocked hippie food supply, good for making vegan dishes such as a chocolate chip banana dessert. Whether it was a cake or pie, I can't recall, but she was sporting a neon green Band-Aid as a result of a mishap while baking it.

We heard about Corey DiMario's recent wedding and the night they spent in the UMass Dartmouth dorms. It struck me that these folks would fit right in with the JJKCriminals when Corey detailed an unfortunate dare involving two tablespoons of wasabi chased by a shot of Jameson. Why didn't we think of that? Dr. Gregory Liszt found it amusing that the dare was to prove Mr. DiMario's manhood, yet it resulted in much crying. Wasabi does tend to have that effect. My personal experience with wasabi peas (coincidentally purchased at Lees Market) involves a poker game, eating too many of them without thinking and losing my ability to taste for a couple of days. Maggie says the effect was caused by a cold I had coming on, but I blame the wasabi.

In a funny coincidence, our dinner conversation that evening was about the difference between the food flavors you taste with your tongue (limited to the five basics: salt, sweet, sour, bitter and umami) vs. those that require a sense of smell. The band has a bagpiper friend who lacks the olfactory range of tasting, and exploits this by taking bets to eat things that other people would find disgusting. His worst experience? Eating a quantity of salt (sorry, the exact measure is eluding me at the moment, but it was somewhere between a couple of tablespoons and a cup) which resulted in 36 hours of hell.

After hearing that they like to discuss and compare state slogans and mottoes, I wish someone closer to the stage had asked them what they thought of Fall River's "We'll Try."

They performed all of my favorites except for "Little Sadie" from Shaken By A Low Sound. Maggie might have been disappointed; "Sadie" is the Crooked Still song I knew she had the biggest chance of liking. "Come On In My Kitchen" is my favorite, and I wasn't disappointed to hear them pour some serious emotion into their performance of it.

Singing Along


They called a number of children to sit at the foot of the stage, where Aoife could see that many of them knew the lyrics. She said it was her dream to see little girls singing along.  My girls were a bit too shy to sit so close to the performers.  I told them "they don't let you do that when you're an adult, so you ought to take advantage of it while you're young!" But they were quite happy where we were.

The entire audience was encouraged to join in on a couple of the songs. In "Wind and Rain" we sung "Oh the wind and rain" and "Oh the dreadful wind and rain." And during "Shady Grove" we pitched in on the refrain (which is repeated quite a few times at the end of the song, not that anyone seemed to mind). By that point in the evening K was quite exhausted, but perked back up to lend her voice to the crowd.

End of the Tour


Uninhibited Cellist Rushad Eggleston only has 3 more performances with Crooked Still, and it was great to see him before he moves off to the west coast. I don't know exactly where he's going, but if you hear about a sneth-metal band called "The Wild Band of Snee" or "But, Wizards?" I advise you to check it out. Rushad threw a wrench in the works for their encore, suggesting an impromptu Hank Williams song instead of the song Aoife had planned. It was a pleasure to hear them perform "Long Gone Lonesome Blues." The ear-tickling vocal somersaults had us grinning.

I believe the band is monitoring Internet buzz via Google Alerts, so, if you read this, thanks for such an enjoyable experience, especially for the girls who may be even more enthusiastic to see live music in the future. If you come back to the Narrows Center I'll be there. I'm looking forward to the new album in January and hearing Crooked Still with its new band members.

[For those who didn't see it the first time, my earlier post on Crooked Still.]

Posted by James at 12:19 PM | Comments (5)

November 10, 2007

Vegetable Oil Spill

I learned something, so I thought I'd share.

If you leave a can of vegetable oil spray, grill oil spray for example, outdoors, it can leak.

I didn't know this, but I learned it the hard way. It's been at least a month since I've used our grill, but I thought I'd fire it up today. When I opened the little door of the inside of the grill, I noticed that the inside of the grill was coated with oil. not only that, but it had dripped onto the deck so that we have a nice dark stain on the fake wood.

So, I went out in the chilly air, in shorts and sandals because I am stupid, and cleaned the grill up. That wasn't hard, and oil won;t really hurt the grill anyhow. I tried to scrub the deck, but the oil has already seeped in. I guess the plastic is porous enough. But I feel that using grease-cutting soap should have cleaned up enough of the oil that I am no long at risk of a fiery oil slick while I'm cooking.

As oil spills go, it could have been a lot worse. So I'm trying to keep things in perspective. Good luck to the people trying to contain that mess in San Francisco. It's just speculation at this point, but my theory is that God is punishing them for a lack of piety. (That's just a Google news search on the word "priest," just so you know.)

Posted by James at 5:01 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 9, 2007

Polaris Shotgun

"Polaris" is the name of a tune that I found using EpisodeWorld. I heard the tune while watching the TV show "Life" and found out the name via EpisodeWorld.

  • Foamee (beer,drink,tools,web)
    • Owe somebody a beer? Keep track of it using Twitter and Foamee.
  • EPisodeWorld (music,search,television,tv)
    • It's a guide to TV show episodes. But what I think rocks is that each show also has a music guide. If you're lucky, you can find that song you heard on that show that you liked. And you can even buy it on iTunes.
  • Adtunes.com Forums (music,tv,search,television,video,advertising)
    • See my description for EpisodeWorld. This site helps you find music you saw in advertisements.
  • Bush Bowl Buddy (#83305) (gags,humor,tools,jokes,bush)
    • Clean your toilet compassionately, conservatively.
  • YouTube - Scientology: Inside the Cult (religion,scientology,video)
    • A 24 minute video on some folks who got inside of the British Scientology organization.
  • TasteVine: Discover Your Taste (wine,drink,food)
    • A site to help you figure out what kind of wine you like, and to find other wines like it. If it can save me having to spend a lot of money, I'm all for it. Let me know what you think.
  • algebasics™ Algebra Tutorials (education,free,mathematics,reference,tutorial)
    • Neat little "animated" tutorials on algebra concepts. Nice for reviewing.
  • CSPI on Italian Food (food,health,diet,video)
    • This video tries to explain why eating chain restaurant Italian cuisine will make you more meatball-shaped.
  • Heathrow prank - Airport tannoy mischief (audio,funny,prank)
    • Takes Amanda Kissenhug to a whole new level.
Posted by James at 12:17 AM | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 8, 2007

President Contradiction

Because of a previous discussion, I couldn’t let this go by without mention. And hat tip to Barry.

One of the reasons people cited for wanting to be president was that they’d like to become commander of the military. Bush begs to differ.

“You can’t be the president and the head of the military at the same time,” Bush said

Any moment now we’ll hear that what he really meant was that “America doesn’t do torture” and if you keep picking on him you’ll find out in a personal way what the government’s definition of torture is. Or something similarly inspiring.

Posted by James at 3:16 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Trashing Staph

You’re a good citizen when it comes to hygiene. You’ve heard about MRSA infections and you don’t want to contribute to the problem, or spread any other infectious disease. In the restroom, you do your business and wash your hands. Then you leave.

But not before grabbing the handle of the door. That’s be the same handle that your coworker grabbed right after he wiped his nose or other bodily location with a thin piece of germ-permeable paper.

It doesn’t take an immunologist to tell you that there are germy surfaces around you1.

And unless you don’t believe that germs are what’s making you sick, reducing your exposure in some easy ways seems prudent.

If you’re washing your hands, you’re already ahead of the game, so kudos. But don’t touch that faucet after you wash if you can use your elbow or the back of your wrist to turn off the water. If I can’t do that, I let the water run for a second while I dry my hands on a paper towel, then use the paper to shut off the faucet. Then I use the paper to open the restroom door and I leave.

Here at our work office, there is no trash near the restroom door. I have four options.

  • Toss the crumpled up paper in the trash across the restroom after I’ve opened the door (holding the door open with my foot)
    • Awkward!
  • Toss the paper towel on the floor near the door
    • Obnoxious
  • Hold on to the paper towel and throw it away in a trash container on the way back to my office
    • Not so bad
  • Try to open the door using my sleeve over my hand
    • Not so useful when you’re wearing a short sleeve shirt.

It would be better if there were a trash container next to the door. But I’ll live.

I was saving this for the shotgun post, but it fits here. You can’t always trust surfaces you would otherwise assume are clean. Like the drinking glasses in your hotel which say they’ve been cleaned. Oops. A hidden camera investigation in Atlanta showed that among 5 different hotel chains not a single one of them actually cleaned those glasses properly. Not one.

I don’t think you should be paranoid about germs. But you should be knowledgeable and realistic. If you put something in your mouth, don’t assume it’s clean. And if you touch something with hands that eventually put food in your mouth, think a little bit about that, too.

If you tend to put germs in your mouth out of habit, try to get some new habits. Good luck out there!


1 Doorknobs are not the most germy bathroom surface, but faucets are pretty bad. Why not reduce your risk by cultivating a habit of touching neither of them? This article discusses research on which are the worst surfaces. Also, NPR did a story on the worst surfaces in your child’s school.

Posted by James at 2:47 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

IM Switch

I hardly use instant messaging anymore, and yesterday I came to a realization.

Most of the instant messaging I actually do, I do through Google Talk. I use GMail all the time, and so do most of my contacts. So GTalk comes naturally.

I can count the number of IM conversations I have in a month on my fingers. Without using binary.

What does this mean? It means people don’t want to talk to me in IM! This doesn’t shock me too much, because we’re all busy and synchronous discussions (apart from the occasional opportunistic ones) are more difficult than asynchronous (such as email and blogs).

Bottom line: I still want to talk to you, but I won’t be logging into my IM client as often anymore. That means I won’t appear in AOL Instant Messenger as often.

So, if you want to talk to me, you have options.

  • If you’re an AOLIM user, you can email me and ask if I’m around. If I am, I’ll get the message quick, because I see all my email. If I’m free I’ll respond and we can take it to IM if necessary.
  • If you’re a GTalk user, you’ll still see me online, because I’ll probably be keeping my GMail window open, and GMail lets you do Google Talk. So, no problem there.
  • I no longer use AOLIM away messages. You can see my running comments about my current situation on Twitter.

As I said, I don’t have many online conversations anymore, so this will not be a big impact. But I just wanted to let the people who do see me in AOLIM know that I haven’t disappeared. Find me online using Twitter and email from now on. And, of course, via blog comments.

Posted by James at 12:10 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Reruns

I’ve seen discussions online about what reruns people would like to see during the writer’s strike. I think that’s fine, but I was wondering whether it properly reflected support for those writers who are trying to get a better deal.

I guess there are three camps you can fall into with this writer’s strike thing.

  1. You support the writers and want them to get a better deal.
  2. You don’t support the strike and think the writers ought to get back to work without a better contract.
  3. You just don’t care what happens or you just want your TV shows back.

#3 effectively lumps you in with #2, because not caring is not supporting.

I’m not going to tell you what you ought to want, but I will say something you should know. A lot of what I like about good shows is attributable to the writing. When you go into work the next day excited to talk to other fans because of something really cool you saw on that show you like, it’s an idea that a writer thought up. I’m not trying to downplay the other stuff that makes TV and film good, I just want to point out that writing often stays with you.

You want good writing.

The studios are not showing signs of backing down, and have started sending out suspension notices. Feels like we have a long haul coming.

So, what should you do when your new TV shows run out. Watch cool reruns?

I suggest you turn off the TV entirely. If you do want to support the strike, then don’t keep watching TV. Read a book instead. There are lots of good books.

For my part, when my shows run out I’ll stick with books and watch DVDs while I’m running. Will it make a huge difference to the strike? Probably not. But I want the studios to pay writers for new, fun, exciting writing. When the networks can offer me that, I’ll watch. When they can’t I won’t.

And if we feel that way, we should also act that way AND let people know. Shouldn’t we?

Posted by James at 11:47 AM | Comments (12)

November 7, 2007

Oh, That Makes Sense

I don’t know why I didn’t wonder about this before.

Crooked Still” singer Aoife O’Donovan is the daughter ofCeltic Sojourn” host Brian O’Donovan.

I would have had very little exposure to good Celtic music if I hadn’t listened to Mr. O’Donovan’s weekend show on public radio. I’d likely never heard of Altan, one of my favorite groups of Irish musicians.

It’s a small world? In any case, wishes for continued success to him and his family members!

Posted by James at 2:42 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

Violin-lin-lin

Violin

The instrument under discussion

Maggie and the girls arrange for me to have violin lessons from M's instructor.

We already own the violin. A number of years ago, a different violin instructor came into possession of a somewhat beat-up used violin and offered to fix it up and sell it to us for cheap. So, I've had this violin for a while, and it was playable until we broke a string trying to tune it.

While it's appearance is a bit shabby[1], the old violin sounds great when it's in tune. Maggie had the instructor re-string the violin and it's wonderful to hear sweet sounds coming from it... at least when someone else is playing.

At the moment I'm practicing without using the fingerboard at all. I'm just trying to get my arm motions to be even, keep the bow on the strings without screeching, slipping or bouncing, hold the thing at the correct angle, and get a feel for keeping rhythm while moving the bow correctly.

I'm encountering a problem holding the bow. I have never blogged about it, but I have a "unique digital configuration" on my right hand which make some activities more difficult. Holding a bow correctly is one of them. It's safe to say that if I had to work the fingerboard with my right hand, I'd be in some trouble. Luckily, I just have to hold the bow. But my right hand fingers are really weak, and they get tired before I've finished a line of music. I tried holding the bow in my left hand for comparison and it doesn't cramp up nearly as quickly. So I've got some strengthening to do.

The instructor didn't seem surprised by my unique condition, so I wondered during the lesson if Maggie had mentioned it to her beforehand. It occurred to me that of course she would have. It's something we (and I) don't talk about much but it was weird to have it not be an issue in need of mentioning when I met my instructor.

Instructor tells me that M is quite talented on her own little violin. She came down to watch me practice last night, and is relishing the thought of being able to haunt me about whether I've put enough time into my practice. I guess it's novel to see me practicing something, because not three minutes into my practice I had both daughters surrounding me and giving advice, with K actually touching the fingerboard while I was in the middle of a screechy attempt at DDDD-AAAA-DDDD-GGGG. I had to shoo them off, which gave me a chance to rest my cramping hand. And my aching ears.

Bonus points for knowing where the title of this post comes from.

fn1. A chunk off one side of the scroll is missing. But it's otherwise quite nice.

Posted by James at 8:20 AM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

November 6, 2007

Bagless Random Crap


Would it kill America’s media corporations to just give writers what they’re asking for? What’s the worst that could happen? We suddenly have writers getting compensated for writing stuff that people want to see over and over again. And the downside is…?

That one was for you, WGA members. And if you get pissed off at me later for making fun of your strike, just turn to the guy next to you in the picket like who writes for The Daily Show. He’ll explain. It’s comedy. Don’t go there, man, because it’s all relative anyhow. Lawyers are getting beat up in Pakistan. People are suffering. Don’t make me go relative on your ass.

“Prepare your love wand for the next battle” spam subject line is close enough to a twisted Harry Potter fantasy that it completely turns me off.

Conservative radio jaw-flappers talk a lot about how important it is to get Europe to “step up” and work with us militarily (Laura Ingraham show, 11/05/2007, around 7:50 PM), but apparently don’t see the connection with electing a president that is ideologically more similar to Europeans (and not an asshole).

My violin lessons are scheduled at the same time town meetings are usually scheduled. Does that mean I’ll be fiddling while my hometown burns?

Aside from a negative example of parenting, what useful thing can we learn from Britney Spears? People are fascinated by shiny manufactured plastic images of idealized femininity and supercharged sexuality, but they’re a lot more comfortable pointing fingers at a carnival sideshow. And they’re happier with what they find comfortable.

If I start to sound a little like Dennis Miller in the late 80’s, that’s OK; let me keep going for a bit. If I start to sound like Dennis miller any later than, oh, I dunno, 1992, please place a pillow firmly over my nose and mouth while I am sleeping.

Back to conservative radio for a second. I heard a caller say this on the air: “What kind of person could possibly vote for Hillary Clinton? Only a crazy person.” A minute or so later, expounding (bloviating) on the way prisons are run, he said “Replace the showers with poison gas” and hung up before the host could respond. Hey — once the prisons are empty, you’ve got a convenient place for all the Hillary Clinton supporters, right? You just know that’s what he’s thinking.

I went to post a comment on Chuck’s blog (yes — he still has a blog, smartass) and I had to type in this CAPTCHA:   I can’t decide if this is advice on when to post comments on Chuck’s blog, or part of a ransom note telling me when to drop off the money. Chuck, don’t worry, we’re coming for you!!!

Is the news written by union members? If so, are they going to just go with reruns? Seems unlikely. Damn union-busting news writers. That said, I really, really, really, really wish Bush’s speechwriters were union. Since we’re stuck with this president, the least we could get out of the last year or so would be a few months of Bush actually forced to communicate in his own words. When he’s extemporaneous, he never disappoints. Think of the delicious backlog the Daily Show writers would be coming home to.

If you think bad writers are overpaid, only watch TV with good writing. Duh.

Every ad for Bee Movie seemed to be trying to convince me not to see it. I don’t think that’s what ads are supposed to do. Didn’t they do focus groups with potential viewers? Who are these people?

Posted by James at 8:49 AM | Comments (16)

November 5, 2007

Celestial Dirt

Someone told me that if I talked more about the stars, I’d get more blog hits. I didn’t realize that astronomy was so popular, but I’m always willing to give the latest fad a try.

Apparently, the Space Shuttle Discovery recently separated from the International Space Station. If this separation becomes permanent, there is no word on who will get custody of the astronauts.

“Discovery has physical separation,” shuttle Commander Pam Melroy reported to mission control in Houston, Texas, over on open radio channel.

Right there you see the meat and potatoes of a celebrity blog. When friends and relatives of these high profile celebs are willing to dish space dirt (“stardust”, if you will) over open radio channels, it makes it much easier for a struggling blog like mine to make ends meet.

Um, any word on when that writer’s strike is going to end?

Posted by James at 12:33 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Would You Rather - Strike One

Well, folks. I have a confession to make. I do not actually write most of the material you read here on Aces Full of Links. I actually employ a staff of 5 writers, each assigned a different weekday. That’s why you often did no see me post at all on the weekends; the writers have those days off.

I had thought I specified that this was not a union shop. Unfortunately, it turns out the writers went all Writer’s Guild on my ass and joined up when I wasn’t looking. And now they’re on strike1.

The timing is horrible, what with NaBloPoMo going on and all. I expect that many of the blogs you read are suffering the same fate. Blog post quality is likely to drop dramatically as blog owners everywhere are waking up this morning to find that they’re going to have to figure out how to describe what they ate for lunch, what their cat did, and whatever else it is that people write to blogs2.

The writers came up with the idea for “Would You Rather” and I’m not actually sure I get it. But I’ll give it a shot. Here goes:


Would You Rather

You’re about to eat your favorite candy bar, so you unwrap it and notice it’s broken in half, but not evenly. It’s about a 2/5 - 3/5 break. Would you rather —

  • Eat the smaller piece first, then the larger
  • Eat the larger piece first, then the smaller


Ok - I survived Monday, but I sure hope this strike is over soon. This is hard.


1 There is an interesting article in the New York Times about the wide variations in economic status of writers involved in the strike. Especially interesting is that you’ve got working writers who will immediately start losing money by not working; these are generally the better-off writers. In contrast to that, you’ve got writers who may not be working, but are receiving residuals for their past work. Strikes are an easier thing for them, since they’re already out of work.

2 I’m not really sure what people write in their blogs. Part of the responsibility of my hired writers is to read other people’s blogs and comment on them. I’ve been out of the blogging loop pretty much since January of 2006. You may remember that it took them almost 3 months to remember this blog’s anniversary.

Posted by James at 8:31 AM | Comments (9) | TrackBack

November 4, 2007

Backup Followup

Following up on a previous post about losing data and backing your stuff up, I thought I’d tell you how I’m automating my backups now.

This is only for Windows users (possibly only XP users, in fact — I don’t really know much abotu the new Vista OS).

Microsoft provides a tool for “mirroring” a directory. It’s called “SyncToy” and its purpose is to take a folder and synchronize it with another folder.

What that means is that SyncToy will let you take two folders and make sure that the contents are the same in both folders. Folder synchronization is often used by people who have both a laptop and a desktop machine. If you share a folder over the network you can make sure that both the desktop and the laptop have all the most up-to-date files on them.

For my purposes, however, I’m interested in syncing my folders to an external hard drive which acts as my backup.

I’ve identified 3 folders that contain vital documents. The “My Documents” folder, the “Picture” folder and the “Development” folder. SyncToy has a number of setting which tell it specifically how to sync the folders. I have simply chosen the option to copy every updated file from the source folder to its corresponding backup. The result is that when I run the backup I now have a complete copy of important folders on my external drive.

I could just drag the “My Documents” folder to the backup drive instead of using SyncToy. Windows will certainly oblige and copy the entire contents of that folder over to the backup drive. However, these are very large folders. It tales a while to copy them. SyncToy will copy just the updated files, meaning that this is an “incremental backup.” It’s much, much quicker than trying to recopy all those files.

Because it’s so quick, it’s not a pain to fire up SyncToy and tell it to run all the backups. I do this manually every time I’ve offloaded a bunch of photos from my camera or done any important work.

Because it’s not automatic, there is a chance I’ll forget to run it. However, it’s so quick that running it is painless, and I haven’t forgotten yet. In the “Help” info within SyncToy, Microsoft describes how you can schedule it to run nightly or weekly if you want to, with a little bit of additional effort. But my favorite thing about SyncToy is that there is nothing additional running on my machine to slow it down when I’m not doing a backup. I’m not really fond of lots of processes running in the background on my computer. Dozens of little extras tend to slow it to a crawl over time.

In summary, here are some pros and cons of using SyncToy:

Cons:

  • Not automatic
  • Scheduling takes additional effort
  • Not really a comprehensive backup solution (it’s just copying the files; you can’t go back to a specific point in time)

Pros:

  • Free download from Microsoft
  • Can be scheduled, if you really want to
  • No processes running in the background, if you go the manual route
  • Pretty simple

Links:

Posted by James at 7:18 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 3, 2007

Not Raining On My Parade

So, this is the first real storm we’ve had of “Hurricane Season 2007.” I’m happy, because this is the first local storm like this I’ve heard about via blogs instead of on some breathless over-produced weather news show. It’s just a refreshing change.

Dramatic events like storms draw people together, even if they don’t end up amounting to much. People like to talk about what they did during the storm, where they were, and who they were with.

Even a dud storm is fodder for nostalgia, because you can recall all the times an over-hyped storm didn’t live up to its billing. Like the time they evacuated the SMU1 campus for Hurricane Gloria.

Gloria dropped moderate precipitation in the area amounting to a maximum of 6 inches (150 mm) in Littleville Lake, Massachusetts. In addition, Gloria caused significant beach erosion in Connecticut and Rhode Island.1

“Significant beach erosion” is the booby prize of Hurricane TV game shows, like winning a copy of the home version of The Hurricane Game.

Today, we’ve scheduled indoor activities. I’m an indoor runner anyhow, and the kids and I are going shopping briefly before we seek out some exotic noodle dishes at my favorite Vietnamese restaurant. They’ve never been, but I’m hoping that exposure to their more adventurous cousins will help them broaden their epicurian horizons.

K is already pretty adventurous, in that she’ll try most foods (and not like them). M is a hard case and will shut up like a clam when faced with the out-of-the-ordinary. I’m surprised she is aggreeing to come, but I figure she probably thinks we’re heading to the type of Chinese restaurant she’s used to2.

I have a lot of non-electronic entertainment to catch up on, so if we lose power I’ll actually have a hpapy excuse not to turn on the computer or TV. Trapped inside with books? hat’s a dream, at least until it turns into a nightmare… time enough at last…

If you’re not a Twilight Zone fan, I’ll let Pink Floyd explain.

1 What is now called UMass Dartmouth, young whippersnapper.

2 This place does serve some of the Chinese dishes you’d expect to see at a New England Chinese food restaurant. But it’s mostly Cambodian, Thai, Vietnamese and Laoasian.

Posted by James at 9:14 AM | Comments (3)

November 2, 2007

Apple Trojan

Breaking news. A rare attack on Apple's MacOS had been discovered.

Apple on Thursday confirmed reports of pornography Web sites where hidden software, once downloaded, could take control of an Apple computer. Apple did not immediately respond to claims that it is the first instance of a Trojan horse attack on Apple's Macintosh platform.

Apple also did not respond to claims that this was found by Steve Jobs who was surfing the web and, as he called it, "testing his Leopard."

UPDATE:

A completely unreliable source has suggested that the discovery of this issue originated as a bug report submitted by an anonymous poster to an "Apple Haterz" forum. The IP address was traced back to Redmond, Washington, and the post was accompanied by the following text: "Nyah, nyah! - BG"

Posted by James at 1:10 PM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

Crooked Still at the Narrows Center

I know I’ve mentioned it before — Crooked Still is coming to the Narrows Center next weekend. I’m considering going.

If anyone else is interested, let me know.

Also, next Friday, Iris Dement will be there. I have plans that night, however.

Posted by James at 12:12 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Weighted Companion Cube Shotgun


Posted by James at 9:07 AM | Comments (1)

November 1, 2007

Stupid Ideas for Getting Thin


I was planning on a blog post entitled something like "stupid ideas for losing weight" but the title was meant to be ironic. They were going to be my suggestions for things you can do that help you lose weight, but actually don't sound very effective, or dramatic. (i.e. "that's a stupid idea") An article I read made me decide to post about this sooner rather than later. And then this post turned out to be more about thinking about your happiness, rather than your thinness. They are related, but not as in "being thin will make you happy."
Of course, there are truly stupid things people do to try to get thin, but this post isn't about that.
My first suggestion? "Eat really good food slowly. Let your dinner companions eat more while you talk more. Save half of your food for later." It sounds stupid, but there are a few gems in there.

First, implicit in this idea is not being completely starving at meal time. If you let yourself starve, you are more likely to pig out at meals. At least, this is what happens to me. To remedy, I keep really low calorie snacks within reach. These are things that are appealing, but not too appealing. If they're too appealing, they can turn into a feeding frenzy, so it's got to be something that will just take the edge off. In the past I've used baby carrots and popcorn-flavored rice cakes. Figure out a serving that's under 50 calories. Eight baby carrots, or one rice cake are good choices. Two rice cakes if you have to (that's about 70 calories). When you get to meal time you want to be hungry, not starving. So the snack isn't supposed to fill you, nor even stop your hunger. Just keep you from being starving. Wash it down with some non-caloric drink like tea or water or a diet soda.

When you get to your meal, eat something worth eating. Eating good food helps you lose weight because it helps you look forward to meal time. If you're looking forward to meal time, it makes being hungry between meals a little easier. And, you feel less like you're depriving yourself.

Eat with other people, and talk. This way your eating is more relaxed and if you talk your head off, you'll fall behind in your caloric intake.

Pace yourself right and you can leave a good chunk of your meal for leftovers. This is especially true at restaurants. Portions are far too large for anyone trying to lose weight. Order something that you like and that you know will re-heat reasonably well. Look forward to finishing it later.

While I was considering this post, an article called "Eating French" showed up on my radar. The author describes his thoughts on why French women aren't as fat as we, as a people, are. I'll summarize what he says for you.

  1. They don't wolf down their meals while working or rushing around.
  2. Eating fresh, flavorful, carefully-prepared food means the French don't feel deprived by eating fewer calories.
  3. Focus on time with loved ones rather than material goals (people vs. chicken nuggets)

My main problem with this article is in point #1. Someone suggests that stress hormones change the way your fat is stored. That's not implausible, but I think that how you conduct your mealtime is only a small part of your stress equation. I think that slowing down your eating is a more significant factor, because it will lower the number of calories you eat, not change the way your body processes 800 calories.

And doesn't it just plain make sense that if your focus is on your dinner companions rather than on the food, you will eat less? This is true provided you don't eat on automatic pilot because you've been starving yourself.

The French still have their obese people, albeit at one third the percentage, so there is no magic solution. You can't point at someone and say "you must be wolfing down your food." It's still a complex issue.

Problems are harder to solve when they're part of your lifestyle. Being aware of patterns in eating is, at least, a step towards understanding how your particular body works. In the end, what we're hoping to gain by that knowledge is not thinness, but a balance that makes us happy and healthy. This is why diets don't work, because people aren't happy on them.

So, for any change you make in your diet, if you expect the effects to be long-term, you'd better have a plan for how you change your attitude and lifestyle to something sustainable and which brings you happiness.
Posted by James at 12:17 PM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Email Addresses

I’ve modified the comments form to require email addresses in comments. Some reasons:

  • When I get my email comment notifications, it sorts them by email address. When people don’t use an email, your comments become difficult for me to find in my email database. So, that is for my convenience.
  • Legitimate comments were being marked as spam, and I wouldn’t see them.
  • An email address is a soft version of a login. A commenter recently pointed out that “everybody is anonymous.” While that’s not completely true (I get quite a bit of info on my blog readers, and have few enough of them that it’s easy to sort out) this helps make it less so.
  • There are a number of ways on this website for people to contact me. The email in the comments is my way of contacting you. Your comments email is the email I’ll try to use, if I have multiple and old addresses for you. Giving your email makes this more of a two-sided conversation. I’ve never had a legitimate commenter who was uncomfortable with giving an email address.

Also, according to my logs, someone who also happens to be a recent commenter on this blog was Googling me yesterday after lunchtime. Here’s the search you did. Are you just a curious fellow, or am I that interesting?

Email addresses are not displayed on the site, so they won’t be harvested by spambots. And I promise that I am not a spambot.

MovableType is not friendly to posts which don’t include email addresses; they get lost. So make sure you include that address.

Thanks for participating, and sorry for any inconvenience this causes.

Posted by James at 9:09 AM | Comments (5)