June 30, 2008

Loyalty Bonuses Effect on Fuel Tank Levels

On NPR's On Point this morning I heard Jane Clayson say that roadside assistance organizations were getting more calls from motorists who were running out of gas because they were only filling up with the fuel they needed in the short term. They couldn't afford to fill up their tanks.

A guest on the show mentioned that this contrasted with a practice which became common in the fuel crisis of the 70's in which people would keep topping off their fuel tanks.

Keeping a full tank is better for your car than keeping a near-empty tank for a number of reasons. An empty tank means that any accumulated gunk in your tank has a greater chance of getting sucked into the fuel filter. Also, near-empty tanks are more likely to leave you stranded when you forget to fuel your car.

That said, I often let my own tank get low, which is something I never used to do if I could help it. I got used to doing that because I was getting 10 cents off per gallon at fill-ups with Stop & Shop's "loyalty program" in which they'd give you a coupon for spending $50 on groceries.

That encourages large fill-ups. If you're only getting the discount at one visit, it's cheaper to buy all your gas during that visit. To do that, you have to go longer between fill-ups.

It would be better for the consumer if you had a running loyalty bonus which applied as long as you were in good standing (perhaps up to some limit in gallons). That would make me feel more loyal than having to worry about whether I should waste my discount on a half-full tank. And, honestly, when I'm not completely filling up, I go elsewhere.

Stop & Shop are switching to a non-coupon loyalty program in my area. You get the discount "automatically" at the pump. You're supposed to be able to check the status of your credits by looking at your grocery receipt, but thus far my receipts have not been very clear on whether I've earned any bonuses or how much those bonuses are. I did get a discount (it looked like 20 cents) last time I filled up at Stop & Shop, but if I can't easily know whether I am going to get a discount or not, I will do most of my filling up elsewhere and only visit S&S infrequently. I don't appreciate when I feel like a store is making changes that make it more difficult to monitor your spending, especially when they sell it as an improvement for you.

In any case, I could probably save more money and fuel by setting up a hammock at work and just staying there overnight a couple of days a week.

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Posted by James at 3:27 PM | Comments (8)

MSPCA on Cruel vs. Legal Pet Treatment

Because it's been discussed recently by friends of this blog. FYI:

One of the most common, and sometimes heart-wrenching, of such calls concerns the dog chained to a doghouse 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year. The dog is fed and watered adequately and is in good physical condition; but its only contact with another living creature occurs when its owner sees to its basic physical needs. The dog - like most dogs - apparently craves companionship, as it often cries incessantly. But it lives in near-total social isolation.

Does this sound like a cruel situation? To the MSPCA it certainly does. Does it violate any animal-protection laws? No, it does not. Technically and legally, there is nothing the MSPCA can do to compel a change in this situation.

I wonder what they consider to be a "sanitary environment."

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Posted by James at 3:06 PM | Comments (17)

June 29, 2008

Today's Ramble: Disney, Wall-E, etc.

Oh no! Disney is planning to close the Adventurers Club at Pleasure Island.

Maggie and I have such fond memories of the place from our honeymoon. I guess the advantage of going to, say, Rome on your honeymoon is that nobody threatens to close Rome.

Speaking of Disney, we went to see WALL-E today (trailer). I thought it was a great movie. I can see why it has conservatives are so excited about its depiction of a glorious market-driven Utopian future. Wait... what? Conservatives are complaining about the film has a liberal bias. Gee, and I thought it was just a good film. Well, what are they saying?

This may well be the fifth or sixth movie this year to depict our government as taken over by a corporation - as though that would be a bad thing.


  1. Glad to see somebody's keeping count.
  2. Oops, you've got a little corporatism on your... no, a little to the left. No, down. On your chin. There, that's got it.
  3. It's an entertaining kids movie.

One thing that is fascinating me lately about the Republican blogosphere is that it has split into two factions. We have the Blame Bush First crowd of people who doesn't realize their bad ideas screwed up the country, it's all Bush's fault (after they spent 7 years telling us to put our faith in the president).

The other faction are the people who still call any criticism of the president "Bush Derangement Syndrome" as if you have to be deranged to criticize the president. The reviewer above is in the latter category, and is disappointed by this film.

I do agree with him, though, when he calls the human characters "flat." And I think that's precisely the point. It's something I've thought about for a while, the possibility that the things we build will preserve we today recognize as humanity. This may be true even if humanity and society change.

I keep remembering what some people told me about the Azores vs. mainland Portugal. Portugal populated the Azores, and continued to "evolve" through its contact with the rest of the world while the islands were preserved in an old-fashioned society. I think the same might be true for intelligent machines of the future, who may be built to interact with humans of the time. Until machines evolve, we may find that our built tools become a sort of snapshot of our society.

In any case, a richly textured film allows for musings in all sorts of directions, and I think that Pixar has created another such film, but much darker than any other they've offered. It may, in the end, prove less endearing but possibly more thought provoking. I found myself thinking a lot of Silent Running which wasn't nearly as good a film as this. I have to think that Silent Running lent some inspirational spark.

One remarkable thing about the movie is how little dialogue is in it, and how expressive the robots are without much verbal language. That's a great achievement for the animators.

I highly recommend the film.

Forget the politics and the bickering and just see Wall-E.

Now I'm off to work on my woodshed some more. This thing is taking me forever. If I remember, I'll take some pictures.

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Posted by James at 2:55 PM | Comments (0)

June 27, 2008

Quick Updates

New Doubles

I don't know if I posted about this before (maybe Maggie did) but we snagged a couple of double kayaks from Dick's Sporting Goods when they had their recent kayak sale. Maggie'd wanted a double for a while, and these were on clearance for a crazy low price compared to what we were seeing for even used doubles.

Anyway, we tested them for the first time today. It was a brief, but fun expedition. We paddled up and down the river about 1/3 of a mile in each direction. Not very far, but we got a late start in the morning because the girls (and I) had a sleepover last night. It was enough to tell that we like the kayaks. And that I'm really going to need a seat (backrest) for mine for longer trips. My stomach muscles aren't up to the task.

Yesterday we had dinner at Ugly American in Fall River. We'll be back. I think we had nearly everything on the menu (it was an expedition with Cousin Bob) and the burgers are great - hand formed from tasty ground Angus beef. The choices of burger toppings are varied and wonderful. I love it when I can get a burger with hot wing sauce. Also, nothing beats French fries which actually taste like potatoes because they're fresh.

Deep fried Twinkie with raspberry sauce? Bring it on.

Today, I hear that Cupper's Cafe in Somerset is opening it's doors. I'm going to pop out and investigate.

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Posted by James at 4:18 PM | Comments (3)

June 26, 2008

Green Tea Ginger Ale

Tea Ginger Ale

Canada Dry has come out with this new ginger ale. We're big fans of ginger ale in my house for its tummy-calming effects. I've been drinking Canada Dry since I was a wee lad visiting my grandparents in Brockton.

So, how is this newfangled stuff with all the antioxidants?

Actually, it's quite tasty. It seems that ginger and the delicate green tea make a decent combination. At first sip, I taste the tea more than the ginger ale. It's a very mild flavor overall. On ice, it's very refreshing. It's carbonated like ginger ale, and a carbonated tea beverage is also novel to me.

Judging by the flavor, they are hoping to snag the iced-tea-drinking crowd.

Judging by the label, they're hoping to get the health-conscious crowd. Antioxidants? Mercy, me! You don't drink soda because you're preoccupied with your health. It's got the same number of calories (all from sugar) as a can of Coca Cola!

Get your vitamins from fruits and veggies. But if you like green tea, I think it's worth giving this a try.

I'm trying to think what would be good to mix with this. Gin would overpower it. Maybe a splash of Pim's? I'll report back if I find anything significant.

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Posted by James at 3:36 PM | Comments (19)

Gallons Per Mile

The way we think about things has a strong effect on the conclusions people often come to. This is why you often hear opposing political camps struggling to get people to adopt their names for certain issues -- even the name of an issue can change the way it is perceived by citizens (e.g. pro-choice vs. pro-abortion).

Sometimes, we adopt conventions that don't serve us well when we need them most. Such an issue was covered recently in this NPR story about cars and gas mileage about the difference between "miles per gallon" (MPG) and "gallons per Mile" (GPM). Both are ratios that tell you something about the fuel efficiency of a vehicle. They are reciprocals of each other, so they represent a relationship between the same two numbers.

We're more familiar with MPG because it's the measure that car manufacturers use in their ads. But it turns out that using MPG can mislead people who are making decisions about what car to buy.

Especially when multiple cars are involved, people overestimate how efficient it is to own a really-high MPG vehicle. This website has a quiz that illustrates the problem. When it comes time to replace one of your vehicles, is it better to own two medium-efficiency vehicles, or one SUV and one super-efficient hybrid?

Research showed that most people choose incorrectly, because MPG exaggerates how efficient hybrids are and de-emphasizes the inefficiency of SUVs. When people are shown GPM values for the cars, they more easily understand that they don't need to own a hybrid to really improve their fuel efficiency, they just need to dump their SUV.

I can't say for certain why we cling to MPG as a measure. I don't have the evidence to propound any conspiracy theories, but I will say that it makes sense for a society to adopt and encourage language and metrics that serve them best, instead of allowing industries, corporations or other parties to force language and metrics on us that serve their own interests. Ironically, the government already uses GPM when it sets fuel efficiency standards.

Unfortunately, there's always resistance to new metrics; even ones that serve us better. Some resistance comes from corporations, and some is just sloppy thinking. In looking up this story I can't tell you the number of stupid comments I saw along the lines of "if you're measuring your car's efficiency in gallons per mile, you must have a really inefficient car!" The implication being that you must be using one or more gallons in every mile. This person clearly has not grasped the idea of fractional numbers.

A 32 MPG car uses 0.03125 Gallons Per Mile. A 20 MPG car uses .05 Gallons Per Mile. It's not rocket science.

Then there are complaints like this one from "The Green Geek" at TheTechStop.net :

this seems like one of those "no chance in hell" initiatives. I mean… seriously, what's easier to say… "33 miles per gallon" or "0.0303030303030303030303030303030303… gallons per mile"?

I'm hoping that's a joke; of course our ability to measure gallons per mile does not justify precision out to that many decimal places... 33 MPG is likely rounded off to the one's place. 0.0303 GPM is pretty close to 33 MPG. Using GPM we'd just get used to other round numbers.

The decimal problem is nicely handled by using GPM to actually represent gallons per one thousand miles. 33 MPG becomes 30.3 GPM. That's pretty easy to understand, isn't it?

The benefit becomes even more clear when you ask a question like "How much would I save?" when comparing two cars. If you trade your 15 MPG truck for a 25 MPG car, and you drive 100 miles a week, how much gas will you save each week? (If you answer this question you'll likely convert to GPM first)

It's a lot easier for you to do the math if I ask you the same question in GPM: If you trade your 66 GPM truck for a 40 GPM car, how much gas will you save each week at 100 miles per week? You'll use 6.6 gallons in a week with the truck. In the car you'll use 4 gallons. You'll save around 2 2/3 gallons.

And at $4 per gallon, that's over $580 per year.

If we thought in gallons per mile, we'd be at an advantage as consumers. Wouldn't you rather have that advantage?

Extra Notes

For folks who have an approximately hour-long commute, your weekly distance is probably more like 600 miles and your above savings would be closer to $3480. Yikes! Don't drive a truck to work!

I commute about 280 miles per week. Here's a question that we actually faced. I owned an old Saturn. I wanted a Jeep for towing and for geocaching. But I didn't want to commute in it if I didn't have to. The Saturn got about 40 GPM . The Jeep takes 58 GPM or so. Does it cost more to keep the Saturn on the road (and pay insurance and registration), or to get rid of it, at $4/gallon.

It comes to $1048 savings per year. So, if your registration, insurance and your excise tax don't exceed $1048, it starts to make sense to have a truck you only use for towing and the like.

Most people overestimate the efficiency of their vehicles and are encouraged to do so by efficient sounding "highway mileage" estimates from auto companies or mileage counters in their cars which may not be completely accurate. Don't guess, record your odometer reading and the number of gallons when you fill up and do the calculation yourself. Or, you could try out http://mymilemarker.com/ I haven't yet, but they say you can SMS your fill-up information, then come back and check your mileage.

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Posted by James at 2:56 PM | Comments (4)

June 25, 2008

Still Crooked

Still Crooked

Still Crooked is the first album from Crooked Still since the addition of Tristan Clarridge on cello and fiddle and Brittany Haas on 5-string fiddle.

The album starts off gently with "Undone In Sorrow" perhaps easing you into the loss of cellist Rushad Eggleston, who no longer tours with the band. The second track "The Absentee" kicks the album into a higher gear with the energy of Hop High's "Lulu Girl" but with a great theme (which is spelled out for you separately in a track of its own later in the album).

My favorite track thus far is the mystically moody "Pharaoh" whose cranky rhythm combines with Aoife O'Donnovan's plaintive crooning to evoke a dust bowl where farmers and snake oil salesmen wander in some sort of funk.

The nearly minute-long fiddle intro on "Oh, Agamemnon" sticks in my mind and is, I think, a great introduction to Ms. Hass' fiddle playing.

Many tracks should prove to be crowd pleasers in concert. Especially "Baby, What's Wrong with You" which begs for Ms. O'Donnovan to let loose her voice upon lyrics like:

I asked you this morning, baby/"Please bake me some bread?"/And you told me/Well you told me baby/You told me/You said/"Johnny, I'd rather see you dead!"

All in all, they're still having fun, stilll a little crooked (in a good way) and still making great music. I'd put this album above their debut Hop High and nearly on par with Shaken By a Low Sound. It's tough to make that comparison, since I love some of the songs on Shaken so much and I've only heard this one a few times through, but it will be getting a lot of play in my car and on headphones at work.

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Posted by James at 8:48 AM | Comments (0)

June 24, 2008

The Perfect Vehicle

Compare and Contrast

Double-fisted Coffee Preparedness

In my town, Dunkin' Donuts coffee cups are ubiquitous. Especially in the summer, which must be their busy season, Dunkin' Donuts blankets Somerset (and Rhode Island... and Massachusetts... and beyond) with iced coffee cups.

Sometimes it's just the plastic cup. Sometimes they slide the plastic cup within a big-ole polystyrene hot cup for extra insulation. When your beverage is better insulated than your house, you know that people are serious about their refreshment.

I used to love Dunkin' Donuts iced coffee. I've since learned that it is largely a vehicle for fat and sugar. That'll probably come as no surprise to the nutrition-conscious, although I'm sure some people are in denial about the number of calories in their beverages. But what I mean to say is that I enjoyed cream-and-extra-sugar iced coffee and the best thing about it was the coffee-flavored sugar at the bottom of the drink. So I wasn't enjoying the coffee per se.

Their lattes are better. I learned I really liked lattes when @fourlittlebees recommended the Bialetti and our household was forever transformed. Although, we'd already mastered the cold brew, so either way you approach it we have access to a supply of delicious cold concentrated espresso ready to be turned into an iced latte. And it turns out that if the espresso is decent enough, a skim-milk and Splenda latte is really, really good. So I can keep that svelt appearance and self-caffeinate.

I am unintentionally green when it comes to coffee cups. I recycle them. I like to make my own lattes; mine are both better and cheaper than the purchased variety. The only thing they have which I don't is that convenient plastic cup. So, for the price of a Dunkin' Donuts latte once in a while, I keep myself supplied with reusable plastic cups. Rinse and reuse. Dunkin' Donuts gets free advertising, although getting their product seen with me is of questionable value.

It struck me that the ubiquity of Dunkin' Donuts containers makes them the perfect smuggling vehicle. Trying to hide diamonds in your car? Put them in that convenient space between the plastic cup and the polystyrene one. Voila! That small pocket of air has now made itself useful. Nobody will question what's in your container.

The fact is, the ubiquity of Dunkin' Donuts has made us coffee-blind. The cups fade into the background the same way that an odor will become unnoticeable after a long exposure. This is bad news for anyone trying to keep an alcoholic on the wagon. Iced Irish Coffee is indistinguishable from the non-alcoholic beverage. I have never seen anyone questioned about the contents of their coffee.

Ever been stopped brining a soda into a movie theater? You wouldn't if it were inside a Dunkin' Donuts cup (behind the polystyrene cloaking device).

It's a little-known fact that the ban on liquids during air travel was not created in response to a terrorist plot to bring explosive gels onto planes. The plot in question was to smuggle the terrorists themselves onto planes dressed as giant cups of Dunkin' Donuts coffee. The current rules force them to inspect everything that might contain liquids, which the NTSB found was just enough to get their agents to notice that the giant walking polystyrene coffee might be a terrorist.

If you don't believe me, you can verify this by dressing up as a cup of coffee for your next flight. I guarantee you will be cavity-searched.

Additional Notes

  • Remembering the great Coffee Prank of 2006. It's #3 on Google when you search "coffee prank."
  • Yes, Starbucks makes a better iced latte than Dunkin' Donuts. But mine are still better and much cheaper. Props to Starbucks, though, because the people in the Seekonk store are so nice. I rarely go in there, but the last time I did my order took longer than they expected because they were short-handed. They gave me a coupon for a free latte. I wasn't in a hurry, nor was I disgruntled. So, they're clearly concerned about customer satisfaction.
  • Scarfin' Donuts didn't get a lot of signups to its "social network" on Ning, despite my attempts to promote it, but we're still going to collect pictures. The data on the "event" was arbitrary and unnecessary; there is no scheduled event. We're going to take pictures when we can. So I pushed back the date. Ignore it. I'm going to try to get Brian in a scarf when he visits in July anyhow.
  • I bought some whole-bean espresso at Polcari's in Botson. The price was nice and the coffee was superb. They have an amazing assortment of spices, too. Anyone know where to get the best whole bean espresso in the SouthCoast and/or the Providence area?

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Posted by James at 11:53 AM | Comments (7)

June 23, 2008

George Carlin

George Carlin is dead at age 71.

When I think of George Carlin, I think of my good friend Chuck. Maybe because we shared an appreciation for his humor, and Carlin's wit always came off with a snappy intelligence that Chuck's wit also has when it was at its keenest. About the time I met Chuck is the time I also became aware of George Carlin, and so they are linked in my mind in a way that made the news that much more jarring.

Carlin will be remembered for significant accomplishments which go beyond just being funny. He was to receive theMark Twain Humor Prize at a tribute in November. His willingness to be arrested for humor set an important precedent. Standing up for what was right so that people with no sense of humor couldn't ruin it for the rest of us surely put a damper on the decency police.

Humor, if it's any good, has to have a bravery to it. At the least, there is the risk that you'll bomb. But there is the risk of being misunderstood. There is the risk that you piss off the wrong person. With humor, you sometimes take a risk by trying to communicate something of substance beyond just a laugh.

I was about to launch into a really foul mood at this news. But it seems like a lousy reaction to the passing of a comedian I enjoyed so much. Instead I'll think of the laughs I've shared with good friends over his humor; the recordings Chuck and I listened to and the times when Maggie and I caught his performances on TV and DVDs.

And now that he's not going to be around, maybe the rest of us need to pick up the slack.

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Posted by James at 1:53 AM | Comments (9)

June 22, 2008

Creationist Gone Wild!

By now, you've probably heard this story about the teacher in Ohio who burned crosses into the arms of students.

I tried looking for a story in which a teacher burned a "Darwin fish" into a student's arm. Didn't come up with anything.

Of course not all people who turn their backs on evidence and choose to take myth over science are burning crosses into arms. But isn't this a part of why teachers should check their superstitions at the door of the science classroom? I say "yes."

But this struck me:

Freshwater's friend Dave Daubenmire defended him. "With the exception of the cross-burning episode. ... I believe John Freshwater is teaching the values of the parents in the Mount Vernon school district," he told The Columbus Dispatch for a story published Friday.

Well, if ignore the inconvenient murder and cannibalism, I hear Jeffrey Dahmer was quiet and charismatic.

This creationist dogma is a mental shackle. In the dogma of this Freshwater fellow, it's OK to mark up students with crosses because everything is subjugated to his religious beliefs. And it's OK to lie about it, telling people that you were just marking an "X" into their arms.

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Posted by James at 10:58 AM | Comments (6)

June 21, 2008


As Maggie posted on her blog, the neighbor's rats are back. This is partly thanks to the habitual squalorous conditions in which they force their dog to live, with piles of feces remaining until someone cares to clean out the cage. The biggest draw for the rats, though, is the constant access to dog food which is left out in the cage at all times.

Since rats don't respect property line boundaries, we're worried. Again.

I am so many shades of frustrated about this, I can't tell you. I feel bad for the dog, which whines all the time when people are nearby because nobody pays any attention to him. It's maddening. It's not the noise I mind, so much. The whining isn't too loud. What makes the whining upsetting is that the neighbors don't seem to mind or care that their dog is unhappy. The whining is a frequent reminder of this dog's situation.

The rats are like some physical manifestation of the neglect of this dog, and of the attitude of the neighbors.

We've tried all the adult things. Early on, we got the neighbor to agree she wouldn't feed the dog outside anymore. Ha! The dog rarely, if ever, leaves the cage. Where else are they going to feed it? We tried complaining to the board of health; they did everything they could to deny there were any rats in the neighborhood. The board of health seems more interested in maintaining the fiction that there are no rats in Somerset. There are no rats if we don't admit it, right?

Do I need to remind you that this is a daycare, by the way?

In my dreams, some team of pet vigilantes comes and takes away the dog, giving him to a loving family. But here in the waking world, I'm left to wonder what you do when there doesn't seem to be a way to convince your neighbor to get the rat food away from your property line, and start treating her dog like she cares whether it lives or dies. The other dog that used to share the cage died mysteriously after "maybe being bitten by something" according to the neighbor. Gee, what might bite a dog. In a cage? Gremlins perhaps?

Now we're leaving rat poison on our side of the property line. Sooner or later, the dead rats will show up. Quite probably in our yard. Is it considered crossing the line if you show up at town hall with a bag of dead rats and plop them down in front of the board of health? I suspect that is crossing the line. Showing them rat holes does not qualify as crossing the line. Why? because the holes can be filled in and the board can continue with its policy of rat ignorance. The bag of rats is over the line because someone has to remove the rats, and it's too difficult to ignore.

We're at wits end. Do I have to go to the selectmen? Do I have to act like a crazy person and try to get rats on video? It strikes me as bizarre, but maybe a rat video would do the trick.

As I've said, in this years-old struggle we've done the adult thing, and Maggie even went much further once it was clear that promises from the neighbor were not worth much. Lately, we've had a better relationship because we paid to have a tree removed that the neighbor owned and wanted removed; it was a common goal and we footed the bill.

I don't want another war, but it looks like that's where we're headed. You can't just poison the rats. If there is food and feces, the rats will come for it. Where are the dognappers when you need them?

Posted by James at 11:21 AM | Comments (21)

June 20, 2008

Oh, Hi. I didn't see you there.

And left. And right. And left and... Oh, hi! I didn't see you there. Just getting a little exercise.

You know, on the way home I was really annoyed yesterday. I was low on gas driving home and I pulled off the highway in Dartmouth into the Stop & Shop gas station. There were a lot of cars at the pumps. I had some difficulty deciding where I was going to wait to pull up to a pump.

Someone once told me that the reason they put the gas caps on either the right or left side of cars rather than going for all-left or all-right is so that you won't have everyone trying to get on the right side of a pump and nobody on the left. But at Stop & Shop (and most gas stations) you can approach from either side, so there really never is much of a problem approaching the pump.

Unless there are 10 cars trying to share 7 pumps (one was broken) and they all have their gas caps on the driver's side and you have your gas cap on the passenger side.

There's nobody you can get behind because when they pull through, you'd be on the wrong side.

I drove around 3 times just to make sure. Yep - all lefties.

I could pull up to the front of a car, but that presented two problems. If I pulled up in front, but left enough room to allow the car to get by me, someone might not realize I was waiting for the spot and just pull in behind that car. If I pulled up too close, the person would have to back up. That would annoy them, most likely. Plus, someone might park him or her in. And you just know that someone with the gas cap on the same side is going to think they're the rightful user of that pump, since you're the only one facing a different way.

I thought about hanging back and just waiting. While I thought about that, two more cars arrived and pulled behind cars at the pumps. Now there was at least one car waiting behind each other car, except at the seventh pump at which there was a lawn care guy getting ready to fill his truck and (it appeared) a number of gas cans. In this situation, I was pretty much done.

I drove to another gas station.

Hey, looks like it's about to rain. You'd better get that suede jacket of yours inside. Have a nice day!

Posted by James at 12:00 PM | Comments (11)

June 19, 2008

Soup Dumplings!

Soup Dumplings

XLB, yo!

Yesterday I spent the day in Boston with Cousin Bob. We were lucky enough to meet with Bull for lunch at the Warren Tavern at which the food was quite good, but the highlight was the good company.

For the non-lunch portion of the day, Bob and I wandered around the streets of Boston on foot, eating a bit here and a bit there in as many places we could carry ourselves to.

I wanted to highlight one of my favorite taste sensations of the day: Xiaolongbao, aka. Soup Dumplings, aka. "Delicious." We had them at the New Shanghai Restaurant (warning: link has music) in Chinatown. There are a number of places that serve these delicious morsels, and I wish I had time to try them all, but we only had time for the one stop because we had to get back to the North End for pastry.

These dumplings are made within a dumpling wrapper and contain a ball of meat and congealed soup stock. When they are steamed, the stock turns into a delicious soup. They are eaten piping hot; you scoop them onto a ceramic spoon, hold them steady with chopsticks, bite into them and drink the soup before eating the whole thing.

They are served with a ginger/vinegar/soy sauce which gives you some control over the flavor. The meat filling was tender and juicy. Like a little gingery Chinese meatball. I highly recommend the experience.

I hear there's a place in Providence that serves these, and I'm anxious to try them. I'm really craving them today, and I don't get into Boston to eat that often. If you know of a place that serves good soup dumplings in RI or SE Mass, let me know!

The word of the day is definitely Xiaolongbao.

(A few pictures from our day can be seen here in a Flickr set devoted to the Boston trip)

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Posted by James at 2:06 PM | Comments (4)

June 17, 2008

Candy Cold War?

Soviet Snickers?

Anyone know what's up with this new Snickers wrapper? Saw it in Wal*Mart and it looks strangely soviet to me.

3 Musketeers had a different wrapper as well, which was vaguely American patriotic in red, white and blue.

Is there a candy Cold War going on?

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Posted by James at 3:49 PM | Comments (21)

Random Stream of Consciousness

I considered doing one of those "365 days" things on Flickr. If you're not familiar, that's when a photog takes at least one photo every day, numbered for the day, for a whole year. But I figured you probably don't need to see a 365 pictures of my office computer, my laptop, my home computer, an mostly-unfinished drink I woke up in front of, etc.

The optimistic version of that list would have read: the readout on my treadmill, Maggie in her running gear, a freshly-mown lawn, what's cooking on the grill, the ingredients for a mojito. There's the power of positive thinking for you.

I still am considering it.

I like the word "photog" because it reminds me of the early days of my relationship with Maggie. We must have used the word jokingly. And it reminds me of Peter Parker.

If I were to be Peter, I always thought of Maggie as Gwen rather than Mary Jane. Until they got married and they seemed to try to make Mary Jane into a better character, Gwen seemed to me to be the much more desirable. More brains, a better family. Unfortunately, a tragic character.

People talk about "market forces" like they're magic, and like they can cure anything. I can't count the number of times that people tell me that markets just give people what they want. It's simply a fairy tale. Markets and corporations give people what they want in much the same way mobs do what the constituent people want.

In any case, it seems to me to be more accurate to say that corporations give the money what it wants, and damn what the people want. People are just along for the ride, mostly.

And the first few chapters of The Omnivore's Dilemma are telling me that we're all just giving corn what it wants. Fascinating book.

Mark Bittman discusses our diet in a TED talk here. "Us" meaning the western world. When you talk about where our food comes from, many people think of exposés and think that they're just going to be grotesque stories that are either meant for you to lose your appetite or will inadvertently make you lose your appetite on a visceral level. But the story of our industrial/agriculture is interesting well beyond The Jungle (for historical perspective) and, more recently Fast Food Nation (both the book and the film).

The film version of Fast Food Nation struck me as almost more about the tragedy of poor immigrants than it was about the food supply.

The subject of our food supply is so huge, and so multifaceted, that there is no one subject for it to be about. All the way from the beginning of the food chain (which has always been the Sun, but lately it is surprisingly by way of petroleum, which itself is inedible) down to the preparation of our food which has been fascinatingly recounted in books like Anthony Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential. It's not always gross. And if you eat, you really ought to be interested.

Ignorance is unbecoming, and willful ignorance is a downright turnoff.

It's never surprised me that intelligence is a turn-on, because a component of intelligence is intellectual curiosity, which is another way to describe intellectual energy. Energy is where it's at. The physical form may be great as a subject for art, or selling cigarettes and cars, but it is just a shallow reflection of our reliance on our sense of vision. You can't airbrush a person's personality.

Not just sexual attraction, but just attractiveness in friendship; who wants to be friends with the intellectually lazy? How will they ever challenge you to grow?

A challenge of capturing the individual in personal photography must be not to highlight the most pleasing aspect of the physical form, but to reflect the energy of the individual. My favorite pictures of people I know are ones where they're physically moving; that's the easiest kind of energy to capture.

And we're back to photography, so I guess I'm done.

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Posted by James at 11:27 AM | Comments (11)

June 16, 2008

Cup Holder Fail

I never understood the obsession with cup holders in cars. About two is all I can imagine needing in most situations.

They have to be well-placed, of course. We had a station wagon a while back in which the cup holders were cleverly concealed in a retractable drawer in the middle of the dashboard. The problem with that was that if the cup holders were deployed, they hung over the radio. You couldn't adjust the radio at all if you had an iced coffee in there. Also, if your beverage spilled, it would soak the radio. Sub-optimal, to say the least.

My current car, a Saturn, has two cup holders. It could be that Saturn is not very concerned about your caffeine habit, or perhaps they don't consider cup holders to be a vital part of the mechanical functioning of your car.

That's what I thought, until this morning.

When I arrived at work and parked my car, I found that I could not get out. My car doors were locked. A feature of this car is that the doors lock when you start the car and stay locked until you turn off the car*.

Then I realized that I couldn't get the keys out of the ignition. Dang! I restarted the car, put it in reverse, backed out, put it in drive, slid back into my space and turned off the car. Nope, still stuck.

I could unlock the door manually and get out, but I really wanted to take my keys with me. Stymied for the moment, I decided to just relax and have a sip of my iced coffee. I took my cup out of the cup holder. As I did this, I heard a "click." The shift lever had been resting lightly against the cup, and the release switch had been depressed enough for the car to think it was not completely in "park." With the cup removed, the magical spell was broken and my keys released from captivity.

It was a very "Henry Jones" moment.

"I find, that if I just sit down to think… the solution presents itself!" - Henry Jones, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"

* You can change this behavior, but that is the default.

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Posted by James at 12:57 PM | Comments (6)

June 13, 2008

Tim Russert

I really can't believe Tim Russert is gone.

He's been so much apart of our weekends lately; as I tell my younger daughter when she asks why I'm watching "news" on Sunday morning "This is what we do in this house in an election year."

But even in other years, Meet the Press was a staple, and only recently have I added This Week with George Stephanopoulos to the mix.

Apparently, Tom Brokaw will hosting the show this weekend. But in the coming months, political reporting will be much the poorer because of his absence. At any age it'd be a terrible loss, but it's that much more shocking considering his relative youth.

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Posted by James at 6:42 PM | Comments (3)

Barack and Michelle Obama - The Smears Begin

With Hillary out of the way, Michelle Obama will be the focus of all that pent up right-wing misogyny they were holding back on Fox and elsewhere.

And the swift-boating of Obama began long ago.

Luckily there is a good place to go if you hear that Michelle Obama said "Whitey" on a tape, or that Barack Obama is a Muslim, or any other stupid smear about Barack Obama or Michelle Obama. I hope people searching for information about the presumptive Democratic nominee and his wife will find this information rather than the smear themselves.

It's election season. We're in for a real ride. It may seem sometimes like Republicans are resigned to losing this November, but there are a lot of people with lots of cash who know the despite what McCain does to distance himself from Bush, electing McCain is the closest thing they can get to a Bush third term.

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Posted by James at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)


Non-terrorist Paisley Bandana

By the way - my non-terrorist paisley bandannas came in. I have about 10 left after giving two to my non-terrorist daughters of partial middle-eastern descent.

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Posted by James at 8:38 AM | Comments (3)

To Teach A Lesson

It's really tough to teach someone a lesson by lying to them.

Boiling it down to the most basic logic here, when you deceive someone, you teach them you are not to be trusted. If you are then asking someone to take your advice about something important, you've already tossed away your credibility. It's unlikely you're going to teach people what you intend to teach them when the more accurate lesson (of your duplicitousness) has already been driven home.

Check out how this school in California completely missed the above point.

On a Monday morning last month, highway patrol officers visited 20 classrooms at El Camino High School to announce some horrible news: Several students had been killed in car wrecks over the weekend.

Classmates wept. Some became hysterical.

A few hours and many tears later, though, the pain turned to fury when the teenagers learned that it was all a hoax - a scared-straight exercise designed by school officials to dramatize the consequences of drinking and driving.

Not surprisingly, when the students realized they'd been "punk'd" they focused their anger on the school that deceived them. And still the school didn't seem to fathom that the lesson learned was not the one intended. They explained themselves by saying that they had intended to traumatize the students.

This is so obviously idiotic, it is the basis for a recurring joke on "Arrested Development" as an example of bad parenting. George Bluth senior's "lessons" with the one-armed J. Walter Weatherman and Michael Bluth's own version using the "Hot Cops" to scare his son straight in the episode "Pier Pressure." BTW, if you've never seen this episode, you really must see it. It's one of the best. Watch the first 2 minutes for an example of George's "lessons" or the whole 22 minutes for the entire experience.

(If you have ad blocking software, like I do, you have to wait about a minute for it to start.)

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Posted by James at 8:02 AM | Comments (4)

June 11, 2008

Wiki Wednesday: Littlewood's law

For Wiki Wednesday, here's something I ran into the other day in reference to the idea of miracles.

Littlewood's Law says that if you define a miracle as a one-in-a-million occurrence, you should encounter something you'd describe as a miracle about once every month. The law is an application of the Law of Truly Large Numbers.

Whether or not we accept Littlewood's Law, or the assumptions that it requires (that an "occurence" happens to a person once per second, for example) it is meant to drive home the idea that, in a very large universe, uncommon things actually happens more often than you might expect. We humans have a tendency to attach undue meaning to exceptional events. This is, in part, because it's so difficult for us to grasp numbers that are beyond the scope of our daily lives.

A month of seconds is well over a million seconds, (Littlewood is only counting 8 alert hours per day) but when we look back over the month we do not remember it as a month of seconds. We don't even experience it as a month of seconds. It's no surprise to me, then, that when something amazing happens, people don't remember all the times that nothing amazing happened.

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Posted by James at 4:47 PM | Comments (9)

June 10, 2008

Bagels Face Inwards

Bagels Face

Inspiration from a toaster.

If I were planning to have a Jewish-themed blog about baking and introspection, this would totally be the name of that blog.

Alas, I have no such plan.

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Posted by James at 10:07 AM | Comments (7)

June 9, 2008

Kung Fu Panda

Like many other people did, the Burke family trekked to the mall to use somebody else's A/C for the afternoon. The pool just isn't clear enough yet for me to want to take a swim and we hadn't yet turned the office A/C on so we needed to cool off.

Maggie noticed that Kung Fu Panda was playing at the IMAX in Providence, so we hit the road. (They have TCBY in Providence as well, so it's a popular destination.)

My short take on the film is that it's a really fun and amusing summer kid's movie.

It's a familiar story: a boy with a mundane existence dreams of becoming a kung fu master. In this case, the boy is a panda. Po, the panda, is stuck working a noodle stand with his dad. He dreams of the local kung fu school on the mountain. When the old master dreams that a threat is coming, Po becomes entangled in the plan to protect the village. What can an overweight panda possibly do to help?

The style of humor has the power to make or break these films. "All goofy" is rarely effective, and a film that takes itself too seriously leaves the kids confused. Po is the comic relief in a story that takes itself just seriously enough that the humor is effective. Jack Black is great as the voice of Po, and there are a number of other voices you'll recognize.

"Plausibility" is tough to assert n a film like this; it's a cartoon. But the messages in the story is are pretty decent ones, and they lend some credibility to the conclusion of the film.

The animation itself is wonderful. 3D CGI has come a long way, and this film shows off some great cinematography in the fight scenes.

This film was fun enough that I'm looking forward to seeing it again on DVD.

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Posted by James at 9:18 AM | Comments (1)

June 7, 2008

Hand to the Ear

By now, I think there isn't a person on the planet who hasn't heard one of the following, if not all of the following:

  • A complaint about someone driving like a moron while talking on a cell phone
  • A study that says driving while holding a cell phone to your ear is dangerous
  • A study that says you're impaired even if you use a hands-free set

But yet people of all sorts still drive impaired. Why is that? It's because people overestimate their ability to drive, and thus overestimate how much ability is left after their attention is divided.

There are many ways a person can become an impaired driver. There's the obvious drunk driving. There's tired driving. There's talking-driving (no matter where your conversation partner is). There's kids-in-the-back-seat-fighting driving. There's adjusting your music driving (I know people who have been killed this way).There's hot-girl-on-the-side-of-the-road driving. There's just plain angry driving. And so on. When I learned to drive, nobody needed to tell me not to try to make pancakes while driving; we were told to give the road your attention and both hands on the wheel.

It's up to you to know, without fooling yourself, what your level of ability is. You folks who suck at driving are going to ruin it for the rest of us really talented people.

It's interesting me that there are bans on cell phones, but little interest in measuring the amount of impairment from some other things (exceptions for drunk and sleepy driving).

For drunk driving, we often view alcohol as a vice, so it get more than its share of attention. Not undeservedly in the case of impaired drivers, which are a serious problem. But sleepy driving is less stigmatizing, even though you can be just as dangerous.

In the case of cell phone driving, it's significant that you can often see a person with one hand to their ear. This is the telltale sign of a cell phone driver. And when this person cuts you off, it galls you even more than if they had just been some clueless Sunday driver.

It's interesting when a behavior can be embodied in a device or physical object. Or recognizable gesture, like the hand to the ear. It's like a place where language and technology cross each other.

Something happened to me today, reminding me that things are not always what they seem.

I was cut off by a man on his cell phone today, on Riverside Ave. while I was lugging kayaks. I was sensitive to being cut off, because I had the trailer on.

He proceeded to slow down far below the 30 MPH speed limit, so I got a good look at him with his hand to his ear. He was an older gentleman, and you don't usually see that type driving with cell phones, so I was surprised.

And then I noticed him take his hand away from his ear, and look at his phone. And then return it to his ear. And then look at it again.

And then I realized he wasn't holding a cell phone. He was digging in his ear. Every time he looked at his hand, he slowed down again. I tried to slow down so that I didn't have to watch this guy aggressively pick his ear, but his speed was too low at times. He went at it for around two miles.

It was pretty gross. I think I would have preferred if he'd been on a cell phone. I don't know if that's a moral or what, but there you go.

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Posted by James at 5:16 PM | Comments (15)

June 6, 2008

Benny Lava Shotgun

No explanation necessary.

  • Big Ideas (Don't get any) on Vimeo (music,tech,weird,video)
    • Using electronics to remix a difficult Radiohead tune. I think this is an amazing accomplishment.
  • Squirrels (cute,funny,images,photos,squirrel)
    • Pictures of squirrels. This is squirrel overload.
  • Crazy Indian Video... Buffalaxed! (video,wtf,youtube)
    • In case you want to know what we do at work all day, it looks a lot like this. But we do it in English.
  • De-Animator (lovecraft,,games,,zombie,,flash,)
    • A game where you shoot zombies? FTW! Gruesome and annoying, I warn you. I can't get past 6 zombies. Based on Lovecraft's Re-Animator.
  • Puki 3d: Fun Online Flash Game (animation,flash,game)
    • Kinda creepy. You have to shoot the little toothy imps.
  • Comboll game (flash,game)
    • A game all about bouncing.
  • Toon Crisis (game,video,flash)
    • Fun FPS game with toons!
  • My Tweeple (networking,people,tools,twitter)
    • Manage your Twitter follows in MyTweeple. Useful if you're mostly interested in 2-way follow/friend Twitter relationships.

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Posted by James at 11:48 AM | Comments (11)

Obama Stickers

I just ordered 100 Obama stickers from MoveOn.org.

You can get a free sticker sent to you if you request it here. However, if you are someone who sees me in person, just let me know you want one and you can have one of mine. They may take a few weeks to come in.

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Posted by James at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)

June 5, 2008

Lust, Caution

Maggie and I watched Ang Lee's Lust, Caution last night. My first comment is that this is definitely not a date movie for most people.

It tells the tale of a WWII-era Chinese theatrical-troupe with a patriotic bent, and the consequences once their patriotism becomes vigilante fervor.

Wong Chia Che is a college freshman who has been abandoned by her surviving family. her modesty about her acting ability does not stop the drama society from recruiting her, and it soon becomes clear that she has a natural talent in speaking to the hearts of her audience, engaging them in patriotic fervor and loosening their purse strings for the cause. Wong is a student of American films; she sits in the dark and absorbs the emotions which later become fuel for her own performances.

When the taste of that power becomes too strong for Kuang, the drama society's zealous leader, he turns the attention of the group to plans that are significantly more challenging and dangerous. Wong becomes central to their plans, directed by a resistance leader with a longtime grudge against a Japanese collaborator.

The film becomes increasingly disturbing, since the troupe are over their heads, but Wong is the only one with emotionally and physically damaging exposure.

Without family, we create our own family through the friends we choose to surround us. Wong's situation is stressed a number of times when she speaks of her abandonment, when she gives up hope of being reunited with her father who has fled the country with her favored brother, and much later when she is living with what are, perhaps, distant relatives who care nothing of her comings and goings.

Seeing herself through Kuang's eyes proves to be a strong motivating force for her, but has she chosen a brave patriot or a cowardly hothead? The answer becomes obvious fairly early on in her mission. Her target is an extremely cautious (and violently lustful) official. Wong does what she can to preserve what's left of her own personality while immersed in the role that her mission requires. But it's unclear whether she's waiting for Kuang to redeem himself, or for something else. That personality may have given up hope of her father ever returning to "save" her, but is still waiting for someone to fulfill that role.

The forces of revolution and resistance take a back seat to the confused emotions of a girl who has never truly had anyone on her side. What is patriotism, anyway, without family? And if you define a family, as I do, by love, then what is patriotism without love?

The trailer can be seen here. This film is rated NC-17 for violence and violent, explicit sex. I found it to be an engrossing film, often confusing in its character's motivations, but thoroughly depressing throughout.

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Posted by James at 9:38 AM | Comments (8)

June 3, 2008

You've Gotta Be Kidding Me

No, they're not kidding you.

Woman Robbed in Cemetery

WPRI is reporting that a woman was visiting the grave of her mother in the Oak Grove Cemetery in Fall River (the one where Lizzie Borden is buried) when someone ran up and grabbed her purse. The assailant hopped into a car and took off.

I've been to Oak Grove. It's a big cemetery with a lot of twisty roads. On the one hand I'm not surprised that a so-inclined person would chose that location to rob someone (after all, it's often easier to victimize people who are already in some sort of distress or grief. See people who rob houses of the bereaved and charlatans who pretend to speak to the dead) I'm still disturbed that there are people of such low morals living among us.

King's Inn Tussle

In somewhat more violent but slightly goofier news, three men were arrested for threatening to shoot bouncers at the Kings Inn strip club in Dartmouth.

I guess they were upset the bouncers had bounced them. One of the defendants had a broken leg, one of the bouncers got pistol-whipped, so it was some sort of lively fight.

But I guess the geniuses lit a fire in some nearby bushes to distract the bouncers. Sun Tzu would be proud, but I think these guys are watching too many episodes of "The A Team" or something.

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Posted by James at 8:41 AM | Comments (16)

June 2, 2008

Tale of 30 Cookies

So, my younger daughter is turning 11 this week. And part of having a birthday is that you get to bring in a treat for the whole class so that they can celebrate your birthday.

I agreed to make my famous chocolate chip cookies These cookies are so deliciously evil that I stopped making them. We just can't have them in the house.

Maggie asked me to make sure we had the ingredients for this variation on Toll House Cookies, and then it hit me: the cookies have ground up nuts in them. The hidden nuts lend an amazing texture to the cookies. But. You can't send a kid into school with cookies that have hidden nuts. What if someone is allergic? Even if you put a note on them that they have nuts, you can't guarantee every kid will get the message, or that the adults will pass it on. You'd hope they would, but who knows? Allergic kids are likely to avoid home baked goods, but again, who knows?

So, when you send in cookies you really should only have obvious ingredients, even though they can cause allergies. Flour, eggs, chocolate, dairy... Those are things everyone expects in chocolate chip cookies.

So I used a recipe that was limited to the usual ingredients. Alton Brown's "Chewy."

I needed 30 cookies. The recipe said it made 2 1/2 dozen. Perfect!

It has to chill in the fridge, so I started working on it around 10 PM. I know - that's late, but I figured I'd be OK. It doesn't take long to bake cookies, I figured I'd start around midnight and be done by 1. No problem.

The first problem

When I completed the cookie dough, it looked more like the dough of 20 cookies, not 30. It's measured out in 1.5 ounce scoops, so I had every reason to trust the recipe, but my eyeballs told me I'd be in trouble if I didn't make more dough. Luckily, Maggie had gotten twice the chocolate I needed. No problem.

The second problem

I set out to halve the recipe. I melted the butter and began to cream the sugar into the butter. Oh. Wait. I didn't halve the brown sugar. Crap. I looked at the mixture. So far, it was only butter and sugar. I figured that if I took half of that mixture out and replaced it with half of the butter in the recipe, that'd be like taking out half the sugar. Right?

Yes, it is right. But it is the wrong thing to do. Because I was now being less careful, so instead of weighing the whole mixture and halving that, I eyeballed it.

What I should have done was said "oh well!" added some melted butter and proceed to make another whole batch instead of a half batch. You can always give some cookies away. But I thought extra cookies would be a mistake. Silly me.

The third problem

I didn't know it at the time, but I used the wrong flour. The recipe calls for bread flour, which is odd; I don't expect that in a cookie. For the second batch I reached for the all purpose flour.

The fourth problem

I added the baking soda to the liquid instead of the dry ingredients. I have no idea why; I have never done such a thing before. So, I hurried up and stirred the dry and liquid together. It was a bit thin. I tried to add flout and sugar. Eyeballing it. It looked better.

Everything went into the fridge for a good chill.

I returned around 1. Yeah, I was late getting back to the kitchen, what can I say?

I baked up the first batch. Wow! They were perfect. My new-ish aluminum pans are much better than my old thin ones. The cookies browned evenly. Chicago Metallic. They weren't expensive, either, considering. And I used my new (Xmas gift) Silpat so that I only had to use half the parchment paper. Love the Silpat pan liner.

Things were going smoothly. The first dough batch did indeed run out at 2 dozen. More than 20, but fewer than 30. I knew it!

I started with the second dough batch.

Epic Fail

These did not bake up into cookies. They baked down into flat, crispy, chocolaty messes. I couldn't even get them off the Silpat in one piece. After trying to bake a few of these cookie abominations, I realized that I was short 6 cookies.

My mind returned to earlier that evening when my daughter was telling me how happy she was that I was baking the cookies for her class and how good they were going to be. Etc. Etc. And thanking me. And such. It was 2:30 AM.

In for a penny, in for a pound, as our friend Manny would always say. Time to start another half batch with the remaining chocolate.

The fifth problem

Not quite enough chocolate left for a half batch. I must have gone slightly heavy on the chocolate in Batch #2. And there was some raiding of the pantry before bed. The culprit will remain nameless, but I will say that I tried to hide the chocolate and that plan failed miserably. We'll leave it at that.

I still had unbaked batter that was full of chocolate, so my clean fingers carefully picked some morsels from the unbakeable batter.

I mixed up the half batch. Carefully this time. And chilled it. And waited.

At 3:45 or so I rushed it to the oven. It was chilled enough.

Success! They look great, just like the first batch. I hope they taste as good as they look.

Now I am waiting for the cookies to cool enough to put into a bag. And, actually, I think they're ready.

It is 4:30 AM.

See you later today.

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Posted by James at 4:37 AM | Comments (14)

June 1, 2008

Scarfin' Donuts

The ingredients: You, some friends, and some scarves that resemble the one Rachael Ray was wearing in the online ad. See also pictures of Michelle Malkin and Meghan McCain for types of scarf or ways to wear it. Also acceptable: black-and-white dish towels, checkered tablecloths... use your imagination.

The location: Your local Dunkin' Donuts or other favorite coffee/pastry place.

The plan: Take your picture (or, even better, a group picture) enjoying coffee or donuts from said business. Wearing some sort of scarf, as described above.

The time: Whenever it's convenient for you, but we may establish a particular day to celebrate our freedoms and poor nutrition!

The purpose: To tell the world you know scarves and donuts don't promote terrorism.

Anyone interested in participating, photographing, contribiting their photos or speading the word can contact me. There will also be a Flickr group.

More later.

[UPDATED! I have created a Ning social network for anyone interested in joining Scarfin' Donuts. If you think the social pressure applied to Dunkin' Donuts is ridiculous and you want others to feel free to wear what they like in the future, here's one way to make your voice heard. All you need do is have your photo taken, but if you join on Ning we can also organize there.]

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Posted by James at 3:24 PM | Comments (17)

Bullies, Scarves, Donuts and Laughter

This scarf thing was so ridiculous, it's preoccupied my thoughts (clear to any reader of this blog). When I'm confronted by something so insane, I have to wrap my head around it somehow before getting past it. I think I'm beginning to exorcise it now.


After talking to people here and there, some very wise and some less-so, I've put this thing into perspective. It's bullying. I think it can be boiled down to that, which may explain part of my dismay and also my disappointment with Dunkin' Donuts. It also explains my resistance to the idea of an actual boycott. Yes, the doughnut company lacked courage but does it make sense to victimize them twice? I still feel cool to them, but I can't muster outrage with this perspective.

Spitting in the wind

I don't imagine it's productive to attack Dunkin' Donuts. You can't out-crazy the crazies. You can't intimidate Dunkin' Donuts more than these people who make it their hobby to help spread an obscure symbol of Palestinian unity, emphasize violent aspects of that symbolism, and extend it to other, similar scarves. There's no way to frighten someone into courage, especially when they're staring into the faces of spittle-lipped hordes, and hoping to sell them fried dough.

Best defense

What you can do is foster an environment in which people feel comfortable even if it is the comfort to wear a stupid fashion. That's part of the job of satire. And clearly these people are wothy of satire and political ridicule. It's up to thinking people to see what's ridiculous and highlight it. Through this very small courage, you can give others courage to stand up. That's part of the power of Gandhi's statement "You must be the change you hope to see in the world."

You can intimidate people into not wearing a scarf, but you can't intimidate them into believing they shouldn't wear that scarf. Inside, people will still believe what they feel is right. Satire can talk to that kernel of understanding within people even as they are too afraid to act on it.

Terrorist ties? No, scarves.

image from Crooks and Liars, hat tip @wisekaren

Failure of logic

If it were a matter of reasoning, there would be some indication of thought or ability to compromise. But in discussions with some of these folks I was told that a paisley keffiyeh (the wrong pattern) was still sending the message of terror. It was likened to a swastika. You can then point to McCain's daughter, who wore a keffiyeh of a different color, closer in pattern to the Palestinian one. The excuse there became that color change absolves the wearer. You can ask them then whether a purple swastika would then be OK. Suddenly, the color isn't an issue, the pattern is the issue (and we're back to the Rachael Ray scarf being the wrong pattern).

Do you see the pattern? Just run with the argument until it's meaningless. Never admit that scarves are generally not considered an automatic support of terrorists. You might as well bang your head against a wall.

We're expected to believe that the keffiyeh is equivalent to a swastika. If you were asked to have your picture taken in a chair covered with swastikas, would you? Do you think Michelle Malkin was thinking that when her picture was taken, as seen here? Of course she didn't.

Let the ridicule begin

And that's the heart of this. Attention-whores are trying to push manufactured social agendas that even they don't fully believe. The general public doesn't see these scarves as a symbol, and until it suits her cynical agenda, neither does Michelle Malkin.

Don't Tilt

In poker there is a term "on tilt." A player is said to go "on tilt" when he becomes the victim of either honest bad luck in a hand or in response to losing because of something another player has done (often when that other player does something slightly crazy). A player who is "on tilt" stops playing correctly, goes off his game and usually suffers for it until the madness passes and he can get control of himself again.

Terrorism is an attempt to put a militarily stronger foe "on tilt." And I think our country did go "on tilt" in response to terrorism. Some people are slower than others going off tilt.

As you can see from the description. though, tilt can lead to more tilt, because craziness can lead to more hands lost to crazy improbable plays.

In politics, as in life, as in poker, it's important to avoid tilt by keeping your sense of humor. And don't get too close to the crazy!

Join me in dismissing these folks to the buffoon-bin of history, until the next time they step on a burning bag of dog poop that they have ignited on their own doorstep.

Enjoy the rest of your weekend. I leave you with this humorous video:

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Posted by James at 1:12 PM | Comments (3)