January 31, 2008

Poor Prior Planning Produces Poor Smurfing

If you were going to try to get a few hundred people together to cover themselves in blue paint and dress up like smurfs for the purposes of breaking the world record of “most smurfs in one location” what would be the very first thing you would do?

Think about it; I’ll wait for you.

If you said “verify what the current record was with the Guinness Book of World Records” then you are absolutely right.

If you said “check on the internet for the current record and cross your fingers hoping it was correct” then I’m sorry, you fell into the same trap as these 395 Croats1 who were trying to beat what they thought was the American record.

The true record is 451, set last year.


1 I went with “Croats” rather than “Croations” because Wikipedia told me to.

Posted by James at 9:13 AM | Comments (20)

January 30, 2008

I'm Voting For America's Mayor

I’m sorely tempted.

Giuliani is apparently about to exit after running a pathetically anemic campaign. If you can’t come out ahead in this field of Republican snoozers, you should really examine your political career. It’s like not getting picked to go onstage at a comedy club open mic when the other choices are a divorce lawyer, a sales guy from Radio Shack, and the voice that announces the stops for the green line on the Boston T.

But still, I’m tempted. After all, it’s been drummed into my head that Rudy is America’s Mayor. It’s hard to argue with a meme like that. Rudy’s vision for the future of America is for us to endlessly replay 9/11 in our heads. It’s dawning on people that 9/11 helped us to make a whole slew of bad decisions, and Rudy is like the political equivalent of the plot of Superbad.

You know when voters say, ‘Oh I was so afraid of terrorism, I shouldn’t have voted for that candidate.’ I can be that mistake!

But I don’t care. It worked on me. Rudy can drop out of the race, but as soon as Massachusetts gets its crap together and we have the chance to vote in a primary, I’m going to cross over to the Republican side, grasp my ballot firmly and write in the first blank space: AMERICA’S FRIKKIN MAYOR 9/11 with a big, bold check mark next to it. If I have time, I’ll scribble a tiny American flag next to it.

Call me chicken for waiting until he dropped out of the race before I voted for him, I don’t care.

I kid, but now I remember why I voted for McCain (against Bush) in the 2000 primary instead of voting for a Democrat. By the time it gets to Massachusetts, the Democratic Party primary ballot practically looks like this:



Massachusetts Democratic Party Primary Ballot
Please Check One Box
Do You Like Ponies?
  • Yes

Edwards has dropped out and not thrown his support behind either of the front runners. So, basically, he’s telling me that if I did my homework and decided he was the candidate most in line with my values, I have to go back and do my homework again because I can’t vote for him and he’s not going to tell me who he has the most faith in.

So, less choice by the time we get to Massachusetts, and little help from John Edwards in making that decisions. Thanks for your time.

AMERICA’S MAYOR, GOD BLESS 9/11!

Posted by James at 1:47 PM | Comments (39) | TrackBack

January 29, 2008

Conservarrhea Two Step

I heard some conservarrhea1 from the radio this morning, and it reminded me of how the conservative talk echo chamber works.

Here’s what I heard: “Some people are saying that Obama is the new J.F.K. Some are saying he’s the new M.L.K. Here’s how that works.

Step 1: Some Fox talking head introduces a segment “Is Obama the next Martin Luther King?”

Step 2: Conservative talk host says “Some people are claiming that Obama is the next M.L.K! Isn’t that ridiculous?”

Sourcing an opinion is useful. It lets you analyze the context of the opinion and the motivation behind the opinion. If you’re dealing with an analogy, it might give you some clue what aspect of the comparison is significant.

But none of that is necessary if your purpose is merely to get people ranting about libruls.

Of course, nowadays we don’t really need the two-step to create strawmen for filling up hours of conservative radio. But you look upstream and when you see Fox or Bush pooping in the water, it’s no surprise when everyone comes down with a case of conservarrhea.

BTW, when someone drops a bomb into the middle of a day full of soulless sound bites, this is what it looks like. That’s Montel Williams ruminating aloud on a situation he feels is unbalanced. I guess covering the story of someone who gave his or her life in Iraq is risky because it reminds the American people of the price we’re paying for an unpopular war that people feel they were tricked into.


1 conservarrhea: a thin brown flow of ideas ranging in quality from questionable facts to outright invective often found distributed by self-proclaimed conservative talk media.

Posted by James at 12:29 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

January 28, 2008

Hops High

I like hops, but I’m hoping the hops shortage that’s all over the news means we’ll be seeing more attention to malty beer styles.

We had an extra-hoppy beer at a restaurant in Saratoga, and Sara immediately commented on the lack of body. She was right. The beer had been named for its hoppiness (it was loud in the room and I never did catch the complete name).

Not enough work was put into balancing the maltiness, which meant that the beer delivered a hops kick which quickly faded into a weak and dry finish. It was very sad.

Give me some doppelbocks or alts.

One thing that should worry all craft beer lovers, aside from the price hikes that will undoubtedly come, is that exceptional beers they know and love because of their specialty hops may fall victim to substitutions which leave them less unique.

The above-linked Globe article suggests that brewers may get creative to avoid using all those hops. I hope they invent some new beers rather than just try to fool people that they’re still drinking the same beloved recipes. And I urge them to rely on maltiness! It may not be as popular as hops overload, but there is more to beer than just hops.

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Would You Rather

Would you rather:

  • Understand quantum physics or
  • Understand the opposite sex
Posted by James at 8:56 AM | Comments (11) | TrackBack

January 27, 2008

Touch Me Mario Shotgun

Can't you see that I am not afraid.
What was that promise that you made?
Why won't you tell me what she said?

The song that was inexplicably in my head last week:

Mystery Solved! It was the similarity between the Doors song intro and this Mario theme that had me humming "Touch Me" in the airport on the way to California. I had been playing Super Mario Galaxy with the kids heavily before I left.

Posted by James at 12:28 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 25, 2008

Apple Visit Over

Sign in Apple restroom

Apple wants you to keep your germs to yourself. I agree!

Well, we’re back from “the mothership” and everything went well. We’re looking forward to more contact with Apple in the future, and seeing them help us apply the results of our research more broadly, and to continue that research.

We didn’t see a lot of California, as we were either flying, sleeping, presenting or eating the whole time. We were certainly treated quite well by California, except for Ryan who was flagged as a terrorist on our return to San Francisco International and taken aside to have every orifice of his person searched for bombs. But at least they didn’t put him in the amusing “sniffer” machine that seems to have only one purpose that we could observe — to put you on display so that it can startle you with a puff of air. Awkward!

The Apple Campus itself is a real kick. They have the most amazing cafeteria I’ve ever seen. If you picture a gigantic high-end mall food court, you’re close. The sushi I had there was not mall sushi, though. it was pretty much the best nigirizushi (salmon, yellowtail, tuna and shrimp) I’ve ever had. The Apple Campus is a lot like Disney in that everyone seems to be happy and smiling, and there was juggling.

I was surprised to see evidence of the decade-old “Think Different” campaign in the executive business center, but everything there was clean whiteness and Apple products.

I don’t like to blog much about work, so I’ll leave it at that for now. You can enjoy some few pictures, if you like.

Posted by James at 10:04 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Condolences

Our hearts go out to Kenneth Thuestad’s family, and their friends. News like this is a punch in the gut, and we were all shocked by this tragedy when we heard of it on the road. Mattapoisett has lost a good man.

Posted by James at 8:31 AM | Comments (0)

January 21, 2008

White Kids And Black History

Why do white kids need to learn about Black History Month? Where is the value in it?

Folks will have their own opinions on the subject, but I think I know one of the most important reasons. It occurred to me while my daughter and my wife were working on organizing my daughter’s report on Dr. Maya Angelou.

Maybe you have your own ideas about why it is important for a white girl like my daughter to study the life of Dr. Angelou. I have heard all sorts of things about what a white person can understand about the life and struggle of a black person in this country. The most disturbing things I have heard focus on an inability to understand, to the point of impossibility.

That mindset is an obstacle in itself.but I want to answer people who say “why isn’t there an X history month” where you insert whatever for X. Certainly, the history of African Americans in this country is part of the history of this country, and there are many important moments in our history that are intertwined with the struggle for rights that people have endured. Just from an American history perspective, I think it is appropriate to examine “black history” in America. You could make a similar argument for other groups, but I think you would not have as strong an argument.

But I still don’t think that is the most important reason.

I don’t think I had given it much thought before. Yesterday I might have said to my daughter that her studies this month are important because we need to understand what happened to African Americans so that we can better understand their struggle. But that is a superficial explanation of something that needs to happen at a much deeper level. It smacks of preaching. it is not inspiring.

My daughter’s answer to “Why is Maya Angelou famous?” focuses on how her writing became popular, and how so many people read her story about the struggles she endured. If her writing did not connect with people, she would not be the figure she is today. And I think this is the key to this story.

Because every person endures his or her own struggle, and faces challenges, uncertainty, peril, fear and despair. We read the works of others to learn about them, but young people also need stories so that they can learn about themselves, the people they are becoming, and the people they could become.

By reading Dr. Angelou’s biographies, my daughter is learning what she has in common with this woman, not looking for differences. And so she is learning about herself, how she will deal with struggles. It barely matters that her struggles will be different; we all face our own. What matters is how we face them, and we can learn something from people who faced their struggles with dignity. What matters is not that we learn that we can never truly understand what she has gone through, but rather that we can understand because of what we share.

Learning about ourselves and our connection to other people improves us. We learn how we are alike, not just in our situations, or ancestry, or struggles, but in our ability to have pride in what is best about ourselves and keep dignity in our actions and interactions. When we internalize these lessons and they shape our behavior, we will have gained a deeper understanding that transcends one race or another. We won’t need to be taught the same lessons for this group or that group.

Some see a month of education as a sort of trophy (for good or ill, with pride or with disdain). Maybe we should forgive both of them their shortsightedness. We will learn human history during Black History Month.

Posted by James at 10:49 PM | Comments (10) | TrackBack

Fly Anxiety

I never used to be nervous about flying. But that was before 9/11.

You say the above to most people and they are going to think you’re talking about terrorism. But, of course, I’m not. I don’t imagine I’m going to be a victim of terrorism if I set foot on a plane. I think that, at least for a while, people are hyper aware of tactics that terrorist have used before and will probably be extraordinarily vigilant against those techniques.

Instead, I’m talking about security “theater” imposed on travelers. It makes me very nervous, thinking I might come afoul of the rules and be subject to delay or indignity.

That said, most of my personal travel experiences in the last 2 years have been neutral to positive, except for the anxiety of rules which are rigid and seem arbitrary at times.

I should chill out about it, but anxiety isn’t logical. I find it super ironic that someone like me who is really not afraid to fly, is anxious about flying.

Posted by James at 10:41 PM | Comments (10)

On The Move

I know my blog just got back, but I need to let you know that my posting may be more erratic than usual this week because of this week’s activities, which I will be more specific about at the end of the week.

I never like to say posting will slow down, because I have no way of predicting that. But posts will probably be more brief. Which you will likely appreciate in any case.

Posted by James at 10:27 PM | Comments (0)

January 20, 2008

MLK Day

I was not aware that Martin Luther King Jr. had turned his attention to economic rights in his final years.

With the economy taking a downturn and the government saddled with Bush’s war bill, the president makes a point to warn congress that it had better extend tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans. Will we honor King today by considering the ideas he was fighting for when he died, or ignoring them?

Posted by James at 11:42 PM | Comments (1)

Personal Power Corrupts Personally

Did you catch the Tom Cruise video that was all the rage last week on the interweb? It was on Gawker (via YouTube) and the Church of Scientology is suing to take it down. Or something.

As I watched the video, I was reminded of what creeps me out the most about Scientology, and it isn’t limited to scientologists.

It’s the whole personal power gig. Now, I’m all for giving people advice to help them sort their lives out. Especially when they ask for it. But when people are on a crusade to supersize their personal power, it makes my skin crawl. That’s a visceral reaction, and I’ve had it since I first learned about est when I was in college.

With Scientology, they seem to have cranked the skincrawl factor (I like to abbreviate it to SF because it’s cool to have your own secret acronym language) up to eleven by insisting that their thoughts can change reality, something that the cult of The Secret also has latched on to.

My thoughts can change reality, too! If I think the right thoughts, like I’m going to give you noogies, and then I allow my muscles to move my arm and grind my knuckle into your scalp, then my thoughts have changed reality. The thing is, I have to use my physical body to do it. That, inconveniently enough, is the way the universe works.

Some people think that all they need to do is think, and reality bends toward their will. That’s dopey, but it’s the “drunk on your own personal power” trip that really gives me the heebie jeebies.

The idea that I keep hearing with selfish belief systems is that if you are focused enough on your success, then you will achieve it. My take is that if you are focused enough on your own success, you will be an insufferable bore, a self-absorbed ninny, possibly a danger to the world and you will make people’s skin crawl. The more focused you are on changing reality with your thoughts, the more your own brain is going to become out of synch with reality.

There are people who don’t believe that their thoughts change reality, but are self-deluded beyond the norm and craft their own versions of reality. Our president is possibly one of those people, and all you have to do is watch the news to see the results of staying focused on how you want reality to be rather than facing reality. Now imagine how much worse a situation you could get yourself into if you not only deluded yourself about reality, but also on how you interacted with reality. It’s a double dose of delusional thinking.

Something else was bugging me, this time about Buddhism. The idea that suffering comes from attachment bothered me because on the one hand it makes some sense. On the other hand, I want to be attached to certain things, like my wife and children, and I think that good comes out of those attachments. I am only superficially informed about Buddhism, though, so I looked it up for an explanation.

One explanation that I read led me to believe that my interpretation of attachment was wrong. This explanation said that our attachment is to ideas, such as an idea of how reality is. For example, you might become attached to the idea of your life being perfect. Your attachment to an idea would cause you suffering when your idea differed from reality. Or, you could have an idea about the world which brought you misery — perhaps you imagine that you are jinxed or cursed.

In any case, an attachment to an idea of something, or an idealized version of something could certainly cause you suffering when you have a “cognitive dissonance” between your thoughts and reality. Suddenly, I found this explanation of attachment to be comforting rather than troubling. A philosophy which urges you to try to see things more clearly rather than to bend reality to your thoughts is one that I can find wisdom in.

I think that facing reality, especially the reality of change which is beyond your control could help these folks who are attached to the idea that they are the shapers of reality. And maybe the rest of us can benefit from it, too, Buddhist or not.

Bonus:

Craig Ferguson practically nailed the video in this brief parody.

PS.

“You revived your blog for this?

Posted by James at 10:51 PM | Comments (12)

Blog Back?

I think my blog is back. Still some bumps, but at least I can post.

Thanks for your patience, and for all the folks that seem to care whether this blog is here or not.

Posted by James at 9:49 PM | Comments (5)

January 14, 2008

Wesley Snipes is a Nutfudge

If you enjoy nuttiness from the likes of Mel Gibson and Ton Cruise, but are getting sick of Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise, try some Wesley Snipes on for size.

I noticed this story in the NYT (thanks Reddit!) which mentions that Snipes is a tax resister.

That means that Snipes doesn’t pay his taxes, but believes he’s right not to pay his taxes. He has some goofy belief that nobody actually has to pay taxes and that we all just do it for the entertainment value.

But, even better than that, check out this shizz:

His involvement with the tax resistance movement may stem from his association with the Nuwaubians, a quasi-religious sect of black Americans who promote antigovernment theories and who set up a headquarters in Georgia in the early 1990s.

These suckers are organized! Promoting antigovernment theories must be a fun job, and making it quasi-religious means people will be reluctant to criticize you. Well, unless you’ve forgotten you’re in America and failed to somehow link yourself to Christianity. Oops - nope, looks like they’ve gone the New-Agey route. And this isn’t scary:

In 2000, Mr. Snipes sought a federal permit for a military training compound on land next to the Nuwaubian camp; the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms rejected the request.

Mr. Snipes has joined the ranks of Hollywood stars who think they’re actually in one of their own movies.

If you’re considering becoming a Nuwaubian, one of the cool perks is that you get to talk an awesome ancient Egyptian mystery language. This video explains it all.

That way, when you’re training in Wesley Snipe’s “How To Overthrow The Government” (secret, non-government approved) summer camp you know how to tell the other kids in the mess hall “Please pass the Kool Aid.” Isn’t one “Church of Scientology” enough?

Posted by James at 10:43 AM | Comments (19)

Focaccia 2008

Pesto, Mozzarella, Tomato, Focaccia

We love this sandwich.

One of the most popular photos I’ve ever uploaded to Flickr is this photo of a focaccia I baked in January of 2005, almost exactly 2 years ago today. I posted about it here. That focaccia was a messed-up and doctored version of an Alton Brown recipe from “I’m Just Here For More Food.” We got a lot of mileage out of it, but I have since learned that it’s best to get bread recipes from the best bakers, because making bread is more than recipe.

I’ve learned a whole heck of a lot more about baking in two years. What I liked in 2005 would now sorely disappoint me today if it came out of my oven. That goes especially for focaccia. If you look at that old photo, you can see that the focaccia had a somewhat dense crumb. When it was very fresh (which is how I served it to friends) it was decent and hearty. But it wasn’t chewy enough, nor moist enough; it was too heavy.

Today I make a more open-crumb, moist and chewy focaccia, mostly thanks to Peter Reinhart’s excellent book “Bread Baker’s Apprentice. And the one most valuable piece of advice there was that good bread takes time to develop excellent texture. Not work, but time.

I’m not using Reinhart’s focaccia recipe here. As usual, I’ve got a mix of stuff going on. If you’re interested in making a sandwich like the above mostly from scratch1, I’m including the recipe at the end of this entry off the main page). But, here is a description of the sandwich, first.

When I was between jobs and first baked bread, I struggled with sandwich loaf. I imagined that making a good loaf of bread meant making one that could be used for sandwiches. And I decreed that no white bread would ever be bought in my house! And I never bought a loaf of bread after that… for about a month until I rejoined the workforce.

I was never completely happy with my sandwich loaf, but what I know now is that it’s much easier to make sandwiches the old fashioned way. A much flatter bread like a focaccia, cut into squares and then horizontally, like a bun, is much easier than trying to get your white bread loaf to “bloom” and make perfectly sliceable bread.

So, here’s our favorite sandwich.

Mozzarella Pesto Sandwich

Slice a 4-5 inch square piece of focaccia horizontally so that you separate the top crust from the bottom crust. Toast top and bottom in a bagel toaster. I like to just toast the inside, like a bagel, but you could toast all sides of your sandwich. While the bread is toasting, slice a ripe tomato. Also, slice enough cheese off a fresh ball of mozzarella so that you have enough to make a 1/4 inch layer on your sandwich.

I’m going to assume you have bought or otherwise produced a container of pesto. Spread a layer of pesto on the inside of both pieces of (now toasted) bread. Layer the tomato slices and the mozzarella on the bread according to the size of your mouth.

Eat!

This sandwich is perfect for whenever you want a pesto, mozzarella and tomato sandwich. On focaccia.

Continue reading to learn the secrets of baking your own focaccia.

Focaccia 2008

If you’re not using a mixer, you’ll need to adjust slightly. Here are the quick and dirty details2.

Takes 2 days. Prepare and ferment dough on the first day, bake and assemble sandwich on the second day.

(volumes in parenthesis) [baker’s percentages in braces]

  • 27 ounces of bread flour (6 cups) [100%]
  • 0.56 ounce salt (2 1/4 tsp.) [2%]
  • 0.19 ounce instant (rapid) yeast (1 3/4 tsp) [0.7 %]
  • 20 ounces cool water (2 1/4 cups) [approx. 79.6%]

Combine all the dry ingredients. Weighing the flour works better than cup-measuring. Add the water and mix until a dough forms. Switch to bread hook and machine knead for 5-6 minutes on medium. To get the moisture level right, at the end of 5 minutes you should have a ball of dough sticking to the bottom of the bowl but cleaning the sides. If it’s too sticky, add a pinch of flour and observe. If it’s too dry, add a teaspoon of water and observe. Repeat until dough is the right moisture level.

Form the dough into a ball and place in an olive-oiled zippered plastic bag with the air mostly squeezed out (a gallon bag should do3). Place this in your fridge and let it ferment overnight.

The next day, remove the dough from the fridge about 3 hours before you want to bake it. If you can’t bake the next day, the dough can probably wait and will be good in the fridge for another day4. The dough will have expanded somewhat.

Cover the bottom of a 12 in. x 17 in. rectangular sheet pan with parchment paper and dump the dough out into the middle of the pan. Let it rest for about 5 minutes, covered with a towel. It should flatten out slightly. Sprinkle spices to cover the surface of the dough (see suggested spices below) and then drizzle olive oil on top.

With the tips of your fingers, poke dimples into the dough while pressing it to an even thickness. The idea here is to get it flatter, fill the pan with the dough, dimple the dough and avoid pressing all the pockets of air out.

Once it is sufficiently stretched, you may want to sprinkle on more spices, since you’ve increased the surface. (The reason I do the spices in two steps is that when you poke with your fingers, you’re pressing some of the spices below the surface of the dough, which is better than just having the spices on top.

Here are the spices I’ve been using, but I’m still experimenting and you should, too, to find out what you’d like.

  • crushed rosemary (pretty much essential, IMHO)
  • garlic powder
  • dried onion
  • onion powder
  • paprika (I go light on this)
  • kosher salt
  • cracked black pepper (light on this)
  • “Italian Seasoning” mix, often sold to sprinkle on pizza5

Here are things I haven’t tried yet, but would like to:

  • Caramelized onions (I’m afraid they might overcook, but perhaps I can just soften some onions and let them darken in the oven on the bread)
  • Dehydrated, roasted garlic. (This stuff is magic, but I don’t know where I can buy it. Local place doesn’t carry it anymore)
  • Roasted or smoked peppers

Back to the recipe.

Cover your dough in plastic wrap to prevent drying and let it proof for 2-3 hours. It should double in size.

About 1/2 hour before you’re planning on baking, preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Then, turn it down to 450 degrees and pop the pan in the oven on the center rack. Bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees and bake for another 5 to 10 minutes until the crust is golden brown. Sometimes, I will slip the bread out of the pan and onto the rack or a baking stone for the last couple of minutes to darken the bottom crust.

Remove the bread to a cooling rack and wait at least 20 minutes before slicing.

Now, go make your sandwich.


1 I wouldn’t make pesto from scratch unless I had a basil harvest from the garden. Off-season I just by the spread from the supermarket. I consider the fresh bread much more important to the recipe!

2 I’m rushing through this. If you want a detailed recipe, follow the recipe instructions for Reinhart’s Pain a l’Ancienne until you take the dough out of the fridge, then shape, proof and bake it according to his focaccia instructions in the book referenced above.

3 You can re-use gallon bags for this purpose if you turn them inside out and wash them.

4 I haven’t tried that with this recipe, so I cant’s say for sure.

5 I feel a slight urge to justify this list of spices, or at least explain a bit. People might be taken aback at the use of dried anything when I could use fresh onion. Dried garlic? How could I call myself a garlic lover and still use that? “Italian spices?” Why not know the individual spices and use those? I use things like dried onion and garlic powder because I like the way they taste. They’re different from fresh onion and garlic. Chopped or minced garlic, IMHO, doesn’t always deliver the flavor I’m looking for when I put it on top of a focaccia. Some wet ingredients just don’t bake right. So I use what I know works for me. As for “Italian Seasoning” — it’s usually basil, oregano, thyme, and a few other things. It’s got a nice mix, and it was right there when I opened up my spice cabinet.

Posted by James at 12:17 AM | Comments (0) | TrackBack

January 13, 2008

A Tale of Two Teas

Two Teas

Peach Apricot tea and Maple tea

from the Metropolitan Tea Company

Last fall we went to Old Sturbridge Village, as we do nearly every year, to celebrate Maggie’s birthday. While we were there I saw a tea in the gift shop which piqued my interest. It is a maple-flavored tea produced by the Metropolitan Tea Company of Toronto. It wasn’t an herbal tea, but rather a regular black tea with some sort of flavoring added.

I doubt they had maple tea in the 1830’s but who cares, if the tea is good.

I bought this cute wooden box of 25 tea bags and found that I liked the tea so much I was drinking it every day.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I first brewed it; I suppose my main expectation was sweetness. A number of herbal teas on the market actually contain ingredients which act as sweeteners1. But this is not an herbal tea.

The tea, while not sweet, has a vaguely maple aroma. When brewed, the flavor is not at all (at least to these taste buds) evocative of maple. Instead, the flavor reminds me of currants. Sharon tried it and I believe her impression was a more general dried fruit flavor. It’s a rich flavor, and it was more subtle than I expected, which is a good thing if you aren’t a huge fan of wild herbal flavorings, but are looking for a tea that is just a little bit different.

I burned through my 25 teabags and asked for more for my birthday back in October. I located the tea at Jolly Good Tea and subtly sent the link to Maggie as a clever hint with a message “I want more tea for my birthday.” Maggie also ordered me some Peach Apricot tea for me because I love peach flavored stuff.

I think I might like the peach tea even more than the maple. This company seems to have the dried fruit vibe down pat. This one smells like a bag of dried apricots. Unlike the maple tea, this tea, when brewed, definitely does match its name. It tastes like dried peaches plus tea.

I’m not sure where else you can get this stuff, but if you’re looking for flavored teas, my limited sample tells me that these Metropolitan Tea folks know what they’re doing.


1 I’ve found roasted barley malt on the ingredients list of some teas. The sugar and maltodextrins in barley malt are used to add both sweetness and body to herbal teas. The ones I’ve tried (Sugar Plum Spice Holiday Tea comes to mind) are sweet enough for me to skip adding sugar when I drink them. And I usually add sweetener to other teas.

Posted by James at 5:55 PM | Comments (9)

Six Years of Aces

It’s my blog’s birthday! Let’s celebrate six years of posting whatever darn thing comes to mind.

To celebrate, I’ve decided not to charge readers access to my archives. So, go wild!

Since I never charged for access to the archives, this isn’t much of a change. Maybe we’ll have a real celebration at 10 years.

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

January 11, 2008

Tale of Two Candidates

Kucinich wants to pay for a recount in New Hampshire. The reasoning he gives is what he calls a shrinking level of confidence in our election process, but the specific issue he cites is a discrepancy in machine counted votes vs. hand-counted paper ballots.

Whether the discrepancy has an explanation is almost beside the point if the assertion about voter confidence is true. Low confidence in the process contributes to apathy, which is a bad strategic situation for populist candidates, but also bad if you profess to like democracy. And there are certainly groups of vocal people in the world of online discussion who complain about low confidence, and they have many counterparts in the men on the street who shrug off the idea of voting, saying their votes don’t matter.

Will a recount ease uncertainty and raise confidence? I’m not quite convinced it would, though I believe it might stem further erosion of confidence if it quiets the most recent concerns.

Over on the Republican side, Ron Paul insists he should be taken seriously, trying to sell the idea of fiscal responsibility and civil liberties to the party of outrageous spending and authoritarianism.

It seems that his opponents have decided that the best tactic to take with Paul is to not take his issues seriously. Check out this clip. Look at the split-screen with Paul and McCain. Paul mentions we used to support Saddam Hussein and that we were once allied with Bin Laden. McCain maintains an amused smile throughout. Paul mentions that we’re re-arming hostile groups. McCain smiles.

Even if you interpret McCain’s smiling as “Oh, you’re so wrong, poor, misguided Dr. Paul.” it seems to me that there’s enough truth in what Paul says that you ought not find much to smile about.

Yet the Republican hopefuls find what Congressman Paul has to say amusing. And Fox, of course, seems to be in the debate to ask Paul whether he is electable. An interesting choice, considering you don’t hear Fox asking anyone else to justify their electability. Only one person will be the nominee. The rest will be judged, by the party members to be unelectable.

Reality is that folks like Paul and Kucinich are extremely unlikely to be elected. But if Paul weren’t on that stage to discuss his views, we wouldn’t get the opportunity to see McCain amused by the idea that we contributed to the rise of two of the figures most reviled by our current administration.

Posted by James at 4:00 PM | Comments (1) | TrackBack

Lead Saddle

Over the past week I’ve been reading about the increasing standard of living in other countries, and wonder why so many people like to insist that America is the best without checking to see if there is any way to do things better.

Wouldn’t it be smarter, and better for our citizens, to see how things are better elsewhere and try to adopt economic and social policies that improve the quality of our lives? An America that does that truly is striving to be the best.

“No” comes the answer from many conservative quarters. Learning from others and changing economic and social policies is a progressive idea. When social changes are called for, we are often met with religious opposition. When economic changes are called for, there are other canards.

Have the people who adhere to these stiff arguments about American economics been drinking their own Kool Aid so long that the world has moved on without them?

Take the outdated arguments that are launched off the back of anti-European sentiment. From Krugman’s NYT Op-Ed today:

What European countries definitely haven’t done is dismantle their strong social safety nets. Universal health care is a given. So are a variety of programs that support families in trouble, helping protect Europeans from the extreme poverty all too common in this country. […] According to the anti-government ideology that dominates much U.S. political discussion, low taxes and a weak social safety net are essential to prosperity. Try to make the lives of Americans even slightly more secure, we’re told, and the economy will shrivel up — the same way it supposedly has in Europe.

Read the Op-Ed, it’s short and to the point. His example of broadband competition is meaningful to those of us struggling with so many stupid issues as telcom customers in America, and we can barely get our legislators to understand what an MP3 or an “intertube” is.

We’re saddled with a lead weight of outdated ideology. We need to cut it loose, and we need to look at good examples as a guide. It’s not going to happen if people would rather pretend that America is the best country rather than looking around to see if we can make it a better country.

Posted by James at 9:06 AM | Comments (8)

Crufty Shotgun

Back by lack of negative criticism.

Posted by James at 9:02 AM | Comments (2)

Cruft

We have a word for unsolicited emails that advertise products and services: “spam.”

But I get a lot of emails that aren’t spam, but aren’t as interesting as an email from any of my friends. These are emails that may or may not be solicited, and even if they are things I signed up for, they may not be something I want to read every day. For example, email from lists that I only want to read infrequently, alerts on deals, alerts on news, alerts on Google searches, semi-work-related newsletters, etc.

Some of these are time sensitive, some are not. Most of them, I have learned from experience, will either interest me right away, or will never be read. Often, saving them means just cluttering up my inbox, because I will never go back and read them. I call this larger class of non-interesting messages “cruft.”

Spam, of course, gets deleted right away. Cruft may linger, but when I’m busy and get that urge to skim my inbox, I resist the urge to ignore it and take some satisfaction in just deleting it outright, watching the signal to noise ratio in my inbox rise.

Netflix DVD sent notification? Deleted. (The message is all in the subject already.)

Notification from Facebook or MySpace? Deleted (They never contain the actual message anyhow — I’ll have to log in to read it and so I’m not deleting anything useful.)

Blog Comment notifications? Deleted (The actual comment is already on my blog.)

Notes from John Kerry, Move On, Howard Dean, the DNC? Deleted. (Sorry, guys, but I pretty much know what the message says and I don’t have time to read it.)

Really, almost anything that isn’t personal, work-related, or of future reference value could be considered cruft, but some mail is cruftier than other mail. Or it becomes obvious as cruft sooner.

Months ago, I went on a spree and unsubcribed from a large number of little notifications and things. It’s really cut down on my cruft. But I kept a few. it’s partly because they are useful. But I also think it’s partly because I get some satisfaction deleting the cruft. Work-related email is often such a drag that I enjoy seeing I have three messages, none of which are at all interesting and can immediately be deleted.

I remember a time when I was practically overjoyed to get a couple of electronic messages in a day. That time was called “1985-1991.” Is it a message from my hot girlfriend, some gossip from a friend, a joke from BITnet, or something else entirely? I can’t wait to read it!

Today, I don’t mind spending time away from email… or I would if I could get away with it. I shudder to think of having to go through days of work-related email. No wonder people set up vacation responses.

Do you mentally separate your email into categories? I’m not talking about just sorting the mail with a filter in some application, I mean have you named the different mental categories of email, based on your attitude toward those messages? Do you have your own concept and/or name for cruft?

Posted by James at 12:39 AM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

January 9, 2008

Iron My Primary

Wouldn’t it be hilarious if a radio show stunt revived the momentum of a candidate’s campaign and ended up changing the course of history? Or, at leas,t contributed to that course?

In Salem, a protestor showed up at a Clinton rally with a big sign yelling “Iron my shirt!!!” repeatedly before he was led out of the auditorium. Senator Clinton used it as an opportunity to talk about the glass ceiling.

Immediately, right-wing paranoiacs with keyboards like Michelle Malkin wasted no time in implying that Clinton had staged the protest as some sort of opportunity to rant about sexism. All that’s needed is an implication, because then the ditto-heads come out and just fill in the blanks. It was obviously staged by Hillary Clinton, right?

So yesterday it was the planted question “Who does your hair?” causing her breakdown, and today it’s a staged “Iron my shirts?” She is sick. - (Some Freeper)

Unfortunately for the paranoid Clintomaniacs, it was not staged by the Clintons. Instead, it was a joke engineered by Boston radio station hosts. It’s pretty clear to people familiar with Toucher and Rich.

But, what if the paranoids were at least right about the possible effect of the protest? The incident got a mention in Maureen Dowd’s column today:

When Hillary hecklers yelled “Iron my shirt!” at her in Salem on Monday, it stirred sisterhood.

The joke isn’t completely ironic; there is more than a touch of sexism behind it. It was not done in support of Hillary. But my sense of irony is one of my keenest1, and I can’t help but be amused today by the idea that “Iron My Shirt” may have helped save a campaign which the press was in the process or writing off. Of course it’s not as simple as that. It never is. But it is ironic.

Oh, and props to the paranoid Clintomaniacs for being amusing in their own right. Keep on keepin’ on!


1 My sense of irony is, sadly, much stronger than my grasp of politics. But I try.

Posted by James at 1:46 PM | Comments (4) | TrackBack

Max Hoppy

NYT has a story today on exceptionally hoppy American beers, and the reactions of traditionalists.

Creating super-hoppy beers is certainly a way to get attention. And then, of course, you get people who pooh-pooh the idea of ultra-hoppiness on traditional stylistic grounds. And that’s a way for them to get attention. So it goes.

In any case, they actually tasted the beers, which seems to me to be a sensible way to judge these things. At least, it’s how I generally go about it. But, as always, I am not an expert, so I defer.

They mention Dogfish Head 90 minute, which was one of the beers I gave this year but failed to snag for myself. I’ve only have the 90 minute once; it was a gift and I believe I shared it with a crowd. It was noisy that night, so I don’t remember what I thought of it. I’ve already forgotten what we thought of the Newport Storm ‘07. I remember liking it. It’s important to take notes!

My problem with beer tasting is that I nearly always enjoy beer to some extent, I’m not particularly picky, except when it comes to my favorites, and I don’t drink it often enough to keep my taste buds expertly trained.

But, since this article made me thirsty, I figured I’d pass it along to you.

I have always preferred maltier style beers. But a good hoppy beer can really wake you up, add punch to a meal, and give you an excuse to slow down and pay attention.

It’s funny they mention spicy foods (long enough to trash the mo-hotter mo-better attitude) because I think hoppy beers pair really well with blackened meats and fish. You’d think you’d need something to soothe the tongue in between bites. But, on the contrary, it’s better to hit ‘em for a one-two punch rather than give them a rest.

Your Mouth May Vary. And I appreciate the efforts of any brewer who cares enough to make good beer, but resists making people look at it like wine.

Which reminds me; there are a couple of brewers I need to call and annoy about a certain Chocolate Bock and a certain Doppelbock.

Posted by James at 8:54 AM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

January 8, 2008

In Train Engrish

In Train Engrish

Look out for those variations.

I got the family a few of these train sets from Woot! this Chrismas, as a Christmas Eve gift. We had a lot of fun with the trains, but almost as much fun with the copy on the boxes.

It was obviously created by non-native English speakers, and if you know me, you know I love twisted language like this.

So check out this Flickr set, with comments, to experience the train of thought behind the marketing on a box of toys.


Posted by James at 9:19 AM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 7, 2008

What We're In For?

I’ve not been doing too much political blogging lately, mostly because I’m scared spitless about this country, and I don’t have the economic chops to write about it with any authority.

I’m particularly worried that, as soon as the primaries end, there will be a concerted effort by the Republicans to launch a new round of fear to sweep the nation, and hopefully sweep them beck into the presidency. And I don’t just mean the Rudy Giuliani “Bush-Lite” 9/11 Touretts-style fear.

As the ‘08 elections approach, I have little doubt that the economy is going to become worse and worse. Bush has barely held things together, and it’s seemed to me that most of what has been touted as economic stability has only been for investors and not in the jobs department. People aren’t spending, so there is already fear out there. And the people who hire aren’t hiring because, what’s the point if people aren’t spending?

At the moment, the housing market effects and the lending crisis have not really sunk in. On HGTV you see people who have overbought their homes, looking to sell, and are shocked when they can’t get the half-a-million plus dollars they expected. Have you looked at your comparables, folks?

Robert Reich has a suggestion about how to avoid or slow the recession. Basically, cut taxes to lower income people and make those taxes up at the higher income end to avoid it contributing to the national debt. Of course, part of this whole Bush mess is that he cut taxes to the rich (and a little bit to you, too, so you wouldn’t complain about the windfall that the wealthiest Americans socked away for their McMansions and grandkids). The poorest Americans spend the most of their income, percentage-wise, and so shifting that tax burden back to the rich who benefit the most from our economic system is a stimulus.

Maybe the rich like it the way things are. Stock market relatively OK (for now). Jobs in the crapper and economic instability for the middle and lower classes. Huge war-generated deficit to tie the hands of the next president, be he conservative or liberal1.

But, I wonder what people are going to do in November when the recession is looming even larger in our minds, when the crisis sinks in.

The larger Republican plan, I’m convinced, is to continue to teach America a lesson; if you give the government money, it’s going to waste that money. Turns out, if you give the Republicans money, they’re going to waste it as fast as possible because they’re scared spitless someone might fix health care. Because they see health care as some sort of high end car. If you can’t afford a Mercedes-Benz, you shouldn’t get to ride in anything like a Mercedes-Benz. There is, seriously, an attitude of “what’s the point of being rich if there aren’t people who can’t afford health care?”

Even though we’ve got this huge debt, that’s not enough for the Republicans. They thought they were safe last time, and then the Clinton proved them wrong with a booming economy. If we’d had a president following him and willing to build on that legacy, it would have been a long term disaster for the Republicans, as a generation of Americans might have gotten used to government actually solving problems amid economic prosperity.

But now we have a situation reversed. An environment cultivated for running campaigns on fear. We have terrorists on the one hand, and your financial security on the other. And you’ll be asked to vote your fears in November.

As Paul Krugman puts it:

…there’s a powerful political faction in this country that understands very well that any real change will create losers as well as winners. In particular, any serious progressive reform of health care, let alone a broader attempt to reduce middle-class insecurity and inequality, will have to mean higher taxes on the affluent. And members of that faction will do whatever it takes to scare people into believing that change means disaster for the economy.

He worries that the Democrats running might not be ready for the attacks that are coming, playing on fear. I bet Hillary is ready, but since I’m predicting Obama will go the distance, I hope Obama is ready for it, too. Reich has predicted McCain will be the Republican nominee. If that’s the case, I think that is aligned with the idea that the Republicans will fall back to a campaign based on fear. McCain’s got that covered even better than Giuliani, and I think Huckabee’s is this year’s Howard Dean.

But I guess we’ll have to waint and see.


1 This was always the plan. A huge deficit meant that the government can’t help you. Clinton’s surplus (the surplus you paid for) presented a real problem for Bush and his cronies. If Gore had gotten in, it might have been secured and used to do good for Americans. And like the recent attempts by Democrats to extend health care to poor children, Republicans hate it when there is a chance that people might be given an example of government helping people. It makes the poor “uppity.” So, we had to waste that money somehow. And 9/11 opened the door to the huge Iraqi boondoggle. Why can Bush joke about not finding WMD’s? Because he never really cared about WMDs. Economic Mission Accomplished, for real.

Posted by James at 11:51 AM | Comments (5) | TrackBack

Would You Rather

Would you rather:

  • Only be able to communicate in “baby talk” (as you sometimes hear people talking to babies)
  • Only be able to communicate in a low, sing-song, voice as if you are pretending to sing in an opera.
Posted by James at 9:38 AM | Comments (12)

January 4, 2008

I Be A Scientist

JustSayHi - Science Quiz
100% Free Dating at JustSayHi.com

I would have been very embarrassed to not pass this test, but a couple of the questions were a little tricky.

Take the test here.

Via Karen’s blog.

Posted by James at 1:35 PM | Comments (15) | TrackBack

January 3, 2008

Point Being

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase “the point being” — it’s a version of “the point is.”

I don’t have a problem with the phrase. It is probably best used when someone knows they’ve made a somewhat unclear or incomplete argument or statement and want to clarify what the point of it was. Sometimes the unclear argument is intentionally unclear, so that the point can be revealed dramatically in this explicit way, or perhaps humorously. But most often I do not see it used for any specifically clever purpose.

In the spoken context, I often hear it shortened to simply “point being.”

I come and go about 3 times during the day. Point being, you shouldn’t park me in.

It’s pretty much interchangeable with “the point is” although you hear people using “the point is” to re-frame the discussion when two people are arguing.

Neighbor 1: I saw Spot in my back yard yesterday.

Neighbor 2: Yeah, you should get your fence fixed.

Neighbor 1: The point is, you need to obey the leash law!1

I don’t usually hear “point being” in that sort of conversation, but I suppose it could be used there.

Lately, in the SouthCoast, I am hearing the following:

It’s appalling that kids have poor math skills and can’t talk English right. Point being is, teachers oughtta be held accountable.

It’s as if someone wanted to say “The point is” and then decided that “Point being” sounded more fancy. Then they were worried nobody would understand them, so they stuck the “is” back in. It sure sounds dopey.

Have you heard this usage? I’m hoping it’s a local usage that will soon die off as the few users are told how silly it sounds.

Or, maybe it will start a trend and we will soon be seeing:

  • “The fact remains is…”
  • “Your appointment will be is…”
  • “for the time being is…”


1 Where would we be without people who are gracious enough to reveal to us the point of our conversations?

Posted by James at 8:12 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

January 1, 2008

Robot T-Shirt, Sandwich Not Included

Robot Shirt

Robot T-Shirt, accomplished.

I mentioned my robot tee in a previous post. Here it is in all its glory.

You can see that the final design was for white on black. Not ever having used Zazzle before, I was a little concerned about how the image would appear on the shirt, and whether it would get cut off. It’s pretty much as it appears in the preview on Zazzle, so that’s great news. It is possibly a little vertically compressed (perhaps to get the whole design on there?) and the lines are more pronounced. I had submitted a version with heavy lines so that the design would be strong enough, but it looks like they strengthen the lines themselves, so I probably didn’t have to do that.

The quotation on the back is also just as it appears in the preview. Hooray!

Thanks to Ryan for the idea, and also for buying me one of the shirts for designing it.

If you want to see the T-shirt on Zazzle, you can find it here, and my Zazzle homepage is here.

Posted by James at 8:05 PM | Comments (8) | TrackBack

New Years Would You Rather

Would You Rather

  • Be forced to relive 2007 (Kurt Vonnegut “Timequake”-style, you can’t change anything. You re-experience everything, almost as if playing back a recording.)
  • Or not be able to remember anything that happened in 2007. You wake up he morning of Jan 1, 2008 thinking it’s Jan 1, 2007… until you talk to anyone, check the news, your email, etc.
Posted by James at 11:50 AM | Comments (10)

Happy New Year

May we all meet the challenges of the new year with grace and wisdom.

Posted by James at 12:05 AM | Comments (4) | TrackBack