November 30, 2008

Qwitters Never Win?

I'm fascinated by social networks. I don't consider myself the social type, but the dynamics of networks are fascinating.

I define "social network" as any system of connection between people, and "social network software" as software that supports or constitutes a system by which people manage their relationships with other people. In the loose definition, this blog and its comments system are social network software, because my friends use it to manage this small part of our social network.

"Twitter" (for those of you who do not use it) is a popular way for people to strengthen and grow their social networks. By following people (and by being followed) connections are made, relationships grow. The mutually beneficial nature of networking happens via Twitter, as people put valuable information into the hands of their friends and contacts, or just connect in emotional ways. When someone follows your feed on Twitter, whenever your social network grows, you get an email notification -- reinforcement.

On the heels of the success of Twitter, a new application has arrived. "Qwitter" allows you to know when a person has un-followed you. Twitter will already notify you when a person adds you to their network, but you don't get a notification that they have dropped you unless you use Qwitter. Qwitter also reports the last thing you tweeted before they left.

Is Qwitter is a bad thing? Does it erode social networks?

Here's a good blog post on Qwitter, articulating an argument against needing it: "The Fallacy of Qwitter."

The author, Amber, makes a good point. I agree that just because someone dropped you after a particular tweet does not mean that the specific tweet had anything to do with it. That is, indeed, a fallacy reinforced by Qwitter. But this post is interesting because there is so much going on with Twitter that is outside of my network. Now I understand why some people saw Qwitter as a bad thing -- dropping people out of spite is erosive.

But I have a confession to make. I follow a lot more people on Twitter than I can really "follow." I have followed some of those folks simply because they followed me and their feed looked decent. But my connection to them varies. Sometimes I'm interested in their tweets, but sometimes it's just too much and I'd rather see the core of my network which consists of my close personal friends and a few local Twitterers who are recent network additions that I feel a connection with.

So, when one of those people on the fringe drops me, I sometimes see it as a relief, and I drop them back. That's not out of spite, but out of recognition that the connection wasn't there. I appreciate Qwitter for letting me know it was mutual.

I guess I need to get over my reluctance to drop other people if I don't like their feed: if I don't see value in it. Then I will only have valuable follows, and I will miss them when certain of them leave. When I drop someone, I don't care if they drop me back. It's not the numbers that concern me, I just feel guilty that I am not reciprocating. Weird, eh?

So I'll continue to use Qwitter because it's of value to me. But I see why it means something different to other people.

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Posted by James at 4:52 PM | Comments (9)

November 29, 2008

Fearless Wine

winetrials-187x300.jpg

I've been benefiting from a friend's birthday gift, and I thought I'd mention it so that other interested folks might also benefit.

Sara bought me a book called "The Wine Trials." The author is Robin Goldstein and it is published by Fearless Critic Media.

The point of the book is to report the results of an experiment regarding how cheap wines stack up against more expensive bottles when the labels are obscured with a brown bag. What they found was that you can drink some really great wines and not spend a heck of a lot of money in the process. Check out the book itself for details, including the experimental design.

Of special interest, however, are the rankings of the many wines they included in the trials. It is within those lists (and more detailed descriptions of favorites) that you will find your possible shopping list of wines.

They've steered me right thus far. I'm someone not looking to become a wine expert, nor spend a ton of money. I just want a nice glass of wine now and again. This book is exactly what I wanted, and I thank Sara for digging it up. Are you looking for affordable imbibing? Then I recommend this book. Christmas shoppers, take note.

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Posted by James at 3:10 PM | Comments (4)

Crooked Night

Crooked Still at the Narrows Center for the Arts

Crooked Still performing at the Narrows Center

Last night, my favorite alternative-bluegrass group Crooked Still played the Narrows Center in Fall River and it was a blast.

The doors were scheduled to open at 7PM, with the show starting at 8. Younger daughter M agreed to accompany me early to wait out in front of the door, in the cold. We bundled up and got there at 6:15. We were first in line by about 5 seconds. (Technically, we were second in line, but a young lady and her mother fled to the Waterstreet Cafe for a drink after finding out the doors were closed.

The folks behind us were not dressed for the slight chill in the air, and there was a lot of goodhearted joking about talking our way into the venue early.

Ryan and Shanna arrived with a friend (whose name I sadly cannot recall) followed by Maggie and K soon after. When the doors opened and we all tromped up to the third floor stage.

We occupied a couple of tables off the corner at stage right, which were about the best tables that were not reserved. (There was one smack dab in the middle -- but only one table, so that was no good).

As soon as we got settled in, we unpacked a bounty of wines, cheese, bread, popcorn, and beer. Maggie got the girls hot chocolate from the concession as Ryan and crew tucked into the subs they'd brought.

The show was simulcast on WMVY and streamed online as well. It might be available there eventually in the archives, but I don't see it there now.

Here are my impressions of the performance: Most notably, Brittany Haas, their recently-added fiddle player, is amazing. Switching between a four-string and five-string instrument, she is a fiddle-playing powerhouse and a crowd pleaser. A perfect compliment to the group, I did not realize that she'd contributed to a couple of the songs on Hop High (you can hear some of her fiddle playing here and I learned that her fiddle can be heard in the PlayStation game Karaoke Revolution Vol. 4 on the song "Dust in the Wind"). In any case, we all agreed that she's a crowd-pleaser. And it was amazing how steady she held her fiddle as her bow seemed to fly.

Sitting off stage right, it was interesting to see her interact and coordinate with the new cellist, Tristan Clarridge. Tristan is used to working closely with a fiddle; you can hear his work as part of the brother-and-sister duo of "Tristan and Tashina Clarridge." Beautiful stuff. Turns out Tristan is also a kick-ass fiddle player himself. See (and listen) here.

On Tuesday, the group performed (somewhat lubricated by tequila) under the name "Solid Steel" at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge. A fellow who books gigs for the band in Europe insists that "Solid Steel" is their name, so i guess they decided to embrace it for a night.

As last time, the band was great fun to watch, relaxed and cheerful during what must be a pretty busy time, right after Thanksgiving. Aoife O'Donovan's voice is almost like an instrument itself when we hear the band live. It's so ethereal, it's often difficult to make out the lyrics, but she punctuates the performance with emotion, from sorrow to excitement.

Ryan mentioned that he liked them better in person than he does on the recordings, and I have to agree. While I love the recordings, their live performances are energizing. I think Dr. Gregory Liszt's banjo playing is more enjoyable live. And the addition of Brittany and Tristan have improved the songs I already loved from Shaken By a Low Sound.

I was glad to hear "Little Sadie" this time, since Maggie was there and both K and Maggie named it as a favorite. They finished up with my favorite "Come On In My Kitchen" and the night was complete, but for one encore of "Baby, What's Wrong With You?" because when they exited stage right, they found themselves trapped in the corner amid a standing ovation.

If I had more free time, and fewer responsibilities, I'd try to catch more of their shows when they're around Massachusetts.

Beverage Report:

  • Ryan brought a bottle of the Newport Storm '08 that we found when we were in Sturbridge. He even brought it in the STEM conference bag.
    • Tasting Notes: We were told not to expect much from this year's offering. WRONG! It was definitely a departure from the usual special releases, I thought I tasted fermented honey. It was unusual, but not unpleasant. We'll compare it to '05, '06, and '07 in December. Yes, I still have 4 years of the stuff in my beer cellar. I only have one bottle of '08 and '07, though, so there may be some disruption of the tradition next year. We liked the '07 so much at last year's party that I think I opened too many bottles of it.
  • I brought a bottle of the new release of Sam Adams Chocolate Bock.
    • Tasting Notes: Sweeter and slightly more noticeably chocolate-flavored than the previous release. They've changed the type of chocolate, according to the label. It's noticeable. Also, I felt it had slightly less body than the original release. It might actually be more drinkable this way, although slightly less interesting? I certainly enjoyed it.
  • I brought a bottle of House Wine (red)
    • Tasting Notes: I like a red wine that you can open up and drink right away. This one was just that. I found it a little more interesting than the Red Truck Red I've been drinking lately. At around $10 per bottle, this stuff is cheap and a good accompaniment to the sharp cheddar and spicy jalapeno cheese that Maggie brought.

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

November 28, 2008

Financial Finger-Pointing for the Holidays

I had a very nice Thanksgiving. I hope you did, too. The kids got to see their cousins, I made some extremely buttery mashed potatoes for the feast, and we all enjoyed turkey and the rest of the usual.

At some point in the afternoon, discussion turned to the financial crisis, and there was some disagreement about where to place the blame for our current predicament. Two popular targets were Clinton and Bush.

If you are all political, or have relatives who are at all political, you will be having this discussion with friends and relatives, and there will be disagreement. Why not arm yourself in advance?

This financial crisis is one of "layered responsibility" according to Economist.com. FactCheck.org has written a response to those who would lay the blame completely at the feet of Democrats or Republicans. Home Buyers, Wall Street Firms, the Bush and Clinton administrations, Congress, the Fed, Alan Greenspan, and mark-to-market (but not Marky Mark, oddly enough).

Check out the FactCheck article "Who Caused the Economic Crisis?" for a debunking of the Clinton blame game (and also an explanation that financial institution deregulation was a bipartisan effort), and for a list of many of the contributing factors. Their list of references is a good place to go for details on the crisis.

For example, here in some of Clinton's own words, is a defense of some of his policies, along with an admission of some contribution to the problem:

"There are some people who believe that that bill enabled them to somehow participate in some of the riskier housing investments," Clinton said. "I disagree with that. That bill primarily enabled them to, like the Bank of America, to buy Merrill Lynch here without a hitch. And I think that helped to stabilize the situation."

Clinton, however, said that Democrats weren't entirely blameless, stating that they should have highlighted problems with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and "tried more aggressively to regulate derivatives."

He also acknowledged that there was possible danger in his administration's policy of pressing Fannie Mae, the mortgage company, to lower its credit standards for lower- and middle-income families seeking homes.

"I think, through the lens of this, it looks like that was true," Clinton said. "But let's go back to where we were at the time. At the time, they had lots of money, were making lots of money, and I thought too much of the money was being given out in value to the shareholders and compensation to the executives. And, at the time, we had a balanced budget and a surplus and a rapidly growing economy in other areas."

You can avoid many arguments by simply insisting upon one or two facts that let the hot air out of any purely partisan theory. You can also point out, as the former president does, that he was looking at a different world at the time -- one of growing prosperity and shrinking deficits surpluses. But whichever way your party-goers are pointing the finger, note that there is plenty of finger-pointing to go around. Change the subject to a hope for a better future.

And hopefully, this leaves you with more time to enjoy the holiday cheer.

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Posted by James at 10:08 AM | Comments (3)

November 27, 2008

Thanks!

Thanks to all my readers, who keep visiting through the boom and bust weeks. Even as I get busy and my blog posting waxes and wanes, I'll try to keep things interesting.

As you reflect this Thanksgiving, I hope you find much to be thankful for. And I hope you think of ways to return the favor to people who deserve thanks, and to make the most of opportunities for which you are grateful, to the benefit of yourself and others.

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

Posted by James at 10:12 AM | Comments (2)

November 26, 2008

Chocolate Surprise

I ran into a Sam Adams (Boston Beer Company) representative at the liquor store yesterday. Apparently, the local radio station was doing its afternoon show from Yankee Spirits in Swansea (they were striking the audio equipment when I walked through the door) as a promotional event.

I usually avoid the free sample people at the liquor store because I feel strange tasting free liquor samples in public. My taste buds don't work right standing awkwardly in a store aisle with a company rep and other customers watching me. So I didn't notice that he was from Sam Adams, or that he had Chocolate Bock. But I overheard him talking about one of their seasonal offerings, and came around the corner to see a bottle of my beloved bock.

A couple was pondering which of the winter beers they'd like to taste, and he was chatting them up. At the first break in the conversation, as they were staring at the bottles, I broke in.

"When is the Chocolate Bock available?" I asked.

"Right now," he said. "I've got all ten bottles in the store right here. Fifteen dollars each."

"Oh, good. I'm prepared to take all ten." The couple looked put out that I was interrupting their tasting. See? It's awkward.

The rep recovered from a momentary surprise and told me that they were only selling one to a customer. I explained to him my predicament, being down to only a handful of bottles, and asked him how I could get a case.

"I work for the company, and even I don't have a case," he explained. I assure you, this isn't going to stop me. "I guess you could go from store to store."

"I'll take the one, then," I replied, and he handed me a bottle-opener ornament along with my bottle of Bock.

I allowed the couple to return to their beer-tasting dilemma, and recommended to them the Old Fezziwig, if they had hearty taste buds. Otherwise, the Winter Lager is tasty. The woman mentioned Oktoberfest, and I told her she needed to try the Doppelbock (Sam Adams Double Bock) which the rep called a "secret seasonal." He was dubious of my recommending the double bock to the lady, and I explained that it's because she liked apparently malty beers. He referred to it as "boozy." I told him that I saw that as a good thing. then I wandered off, having made enough of a nuisance of myself.

Two rumors:

  • Doppelbock may become a year-round offering
  • Chocolate Bock may become a semi-annual biennial offering, alternating every-other-year with Utopias. I never tried Utopias because, well check out the prices on eBay. I think the prices started at $100 and kept going up.
Posted by James at 8:16 AM | Comments (24)

November 24, 2008

Spam Explosion

Sorry, folks -- I'm fighting a heavy wave of blogspam this last week or so. I'm having trouble keeping up with deleting it and it's getting past my antiquated blog software. So if you see some rude comments, I'm sorry and know that I'm doing what I can to remove them as soon as I find them. Unfortunately, this is a real pain in the neck and a drain on other, more productive activities.

If it gets bad enough, I may have to take the blog down temporarily and move to a new blog platform. But we'll see. It's not as though I have a lot of time for that, either. But I may have some forced vacation coming, so you never know.

Again, I apologize for any rude spam you see here.

Posted by James at 11:58 AM | Comments (7)

November 19, 2008

Get on the Boat! Lessons from Team Fortress 2

So, I found myself munching on hardtack and playing Team Fortress 2 last night.

For those of you unfamiliar with hardtack, it's a simple, near-flavorless, tough biscuit that used to be a staple of travelers and war-fighters for its durability and ability to remain reasonably edible for long periods of time. G.H. Bent, A company in Milton, MA, still makes 'em, and my sister was nice enough to get me some so I could try them. That was last year, and they still taste the same, as far as I can tell. I was eating them because Maggie cleaned off part of my desk, which is where I was keeping them, and suddenly they were in reach and visible.

For those of you unfamiliar with Team Fortress 2, it's a multi-player on-line action game. Basically, it's a shoot-'em-up with different classes of characters and an element of teamwork (sometimes). Oh, and really cartoony-looking art.

I have a scheduled game going, where the same people play. But I also play now and again to try to increase my marginal skills so that I might be an asset to a team, rather than a liability.

There are different game scenarios, with various goals, most of which are variations of "capture the flag." But one unique map offers what they call a "Balloon Race." And playing the Balloon Race got me thinking. But I need to briefly explain "Balloon Race."

In "Balloon Race" the object is to be the first team to move a balloon-suspended boat around a course and return to your base, which is right next to the enemy base. When the game begins, combatants stream out of the bases and onto the boat. Standing at the bow of the boat propels the balloon forward. You have to basically be right on top of the helm, which causes the boat to grudgingly gain speed. If you leave the helm, the boat will slow to a stop. This happens, for example, when the guy at the helm is shot repeatedly with a chain gun. The boat driver(s) are horribly exposed.

In the back of the boat is a protective cabin, within which you can heal and refuel. If you're out on the helm and run out of ammo, a quick trip to the cabin is needed. You can also snipe from the relative protection of the cabin.

If you are killed, you will soon "re-spawn" back at the base, and teleporters can send you back to the boat. So the consequences of dying are basically a 10 second cooling off period.

If you have 24 people playing, then each team has 12 people. It's very easy to get a few people to drive the boat at any given time, and the boat will quickly reach max speed. But things are different with teams of 3 or 4 people each.

I want to preface my next comments by explaining that I don't care if I win or lose balloon race. I like to win, but a close race is just as much fun. What's not a good time? If your boat is not moving and you cannot engage the enemy at all, that sucks.

So, here's something I've noticed. I teleported onto a boat the other day and saw two of my three teammates hiding in the cabin (they were snipers) trying to shoot at the rapidly disappearing enemy boat.

As I struggled to stay at the helm, and keep the boat going at a paltry 2/5 speed, getting picked off by enemy snipers because I was the only target, I had lots of time to think about the situation. I had type to type "Please -- someone take the helm!" while I was waiting to re-spawn, watching the boat slow to a crawl and stop.

Some people are more "mavericky" than others. These players say "I'm good at X, so I'm going to help the team out by doing X as well as I can!" This has a better chance of working within a large group where the basics are already covered and a stand-out player can put a team over the edge. But in smaller groups, the bases are harder to cover. You need a lot more cooperation, and people who ask "What does the team need right now, and is it something I can provide?" I think that this question shoes better team behavior.

The two questions are about taking initiative, but they're very different in the type of initiative.

A Team Fortress 2 team represents how teams work together in a very light management environment. Unless an unofficial leader takes control, each fighter is acting on his own with a common goal, but not strict assignments. Real life teams can sometimes be like this, especially if a manager is overburdened.

You're more valuable to a team if you ask what the team needs, in lieu of any guidance from management, and then try to fill that role, whether it fits your skill-set or not. If you have absolutely horrible management, you might get your hand slapped for taking initiative; but all but the worst management will find your efforts useful. Even if you suck at the role, identifying a need is something managers benefit from. If you just don't have that sort of leeway in your job, you can use your judgment to work within your boundaries. Your initiative might be to plan as if you were going to do this needed job, and then take your plan to the manager. This is an approach that works better in a strict management environment, but I imagine any manager reacts better if you come to him with "I have a solution for a problem I noticed" rather than the "We have a problem."

If I'm going to spend time playing Team Fortress 2, I figure I had better try to get life lessons out of it.

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Posted by James at 1:28 PM | Comments (5)

November 17, 2008

Awards!

I have been honored

I am grateful to have been recognized by a fellow blogger1 at Cthulhu Family Restaurant with the Superior Scribbler Award. The first reaction I would like to communicate is that I appreciate the recognition. These proliferating blog awards are by no means rare, but I assure you that I value them more than if I had received one of the high-profile name-recognized awards. Web awards, generally, are not about awarding anything, but rather increasing the hits of the award granter and the award creator2. Thus, the awards come with strict rules, like requiring you to post links back to the creator, for example.

I'm not always good at following rules, though. One of the rules for this award is to post the rules for the award. I'm not going to do that. It's up to the award creator if they want to disqualify me.

Another of the rules is to tag 5 more people. I'm not going to do that, either (I'll tell you why later).

Of course, this doesn't mean I can't appreciate the sentiment (I do!) and have a little fun with it. You know I will.

As I mentioned, the rules tell me to tag 5 people. Let's assume that not everyone tagged complies. Let's assume that two don't want to comply and one can't find an untagged blog they like. So, only two people comply, but they tag five people. As you probably have guessed, it is an exponential function, although the formula I came up with did not use exponents, because it has to account for recipients only spreading the "awards virus" once, to five people. In any case, the question is: how fast does this thing grow?

Wow. At day 22, over 10 million blogs have been awarded this honor. And a bunch of them are scrambling to find non-awarded blogs! On day 23, the count would be over 20 million blogs. Why did I stop it at day 23? Because estimates put the number of active blogs at somewhere around 15.5 million. So, the blogosphere would be blanketed. And that's if only 2 of the 5 tagged people participated. If 3 of the 5 participated, day 15 is the day when the Internet is nearly completely blanketed.

The spreadsheet, if you'd like to see it, is here. You can see the comparison graph of 3 compliant recipients vs. 2 there as well.

But, think of that. What quicker way to get links back to your website than create an award like this? Instant link love. I'm not talking about the friends who award this to other friends. I'm talking about the original creators, who made it a rule to link back to them. I don't consider this a scam, but I do consider the much higher profile web awards to be on the verge of scammery; just there as marketing opportunities. I'll link back to my friend's blog, thankyouverymuch.

Final word: I appreciate getting this award because I appreciate being thought of by my friends. Sincerely, that's the true award, being appreciated and in your friends' thoughts. If you feel like recognizing me in these awards, I don't mind it at all. I will return the favor in my own sincere way, by linking to your blogs now and again and by commenting there, too. I think that's what bloggers really like best (unless they're A-listers, and then they get so many posts they don't care anymore and have to invent Webstravaganza awards).

So, thank you very much for the appreciation. I am not an awards Scrooge; my appreciation is sincere. I'm a marketing and pyramid Scrooge. In return, I'm going to actually try to dig up some of my most weird and amusing scribbles and post them at some later date. Might be worth a laugh, especially if I try to explain them.


[1] And cousin, and friend.

[2] Someday I will post more at length on this, but I generally disdain the more organized awards on line, including the popularity contests which require voting, and periodically cause blog authors to lean on their readers to "Vote for me! Vote for me!!!!" As Richard P. Feynman's dad would say: "epaulets."

Posted by James at 10:38 AM | Comments (2)

November 14, 2008

Downturn Shotgun

In the wake of the election, it starts to sink in just how bad a legacy Bush will be passing on to the next president, and i have to admit I'm getting depressed just thinking about it.

Instability is terribly worrying, especially when you've got a family.

The important thing, however, is to stick together with your family and friends, and keep doing the things that make life enjoyable. Like goofy links:

Chin up!

Posted by James at 9:23 AM | Comments (10)

November 13, 2008

Idaho Say What?

I admit that over here in Massachusetts, being a teen in the 80's, we got a very strange picture of Idaho. First, there were those "Hey, ho, I'm from Idaho!" commercials to push Idaho potatoes. Later, somebody at Keebler invented "O'Boisies." Remember them? They were O'boisterous! Presumably from the magical elves of Boise, Idaho.

Well, this isn't helping:

Students chant 'Assassinate Obama' on school bus

Whoolery and his wife couldn't believe it when their second and third graders got off the bus last week and told them what other students were saying.

"They just hadn't heard anything like this before," said Whoolery. "They were chanting on the bus, 'Assassinate Obama. Assassinate Obama.' Then adding in a name sometimes of a classmate on the bus, 'Assassinate Obama and Kate.'"

My thoughts went to "what the hell are these kids hearing around their community?" Kids are great repeaters. They're also amplifiers, to the embarrassment of the adults around them. Many kids will carry their imprinted attitudes into adulthood. This is upsetting on so very many levels (including the obvious bullying of 'Kate.')

Beyond the obvious, this part of the story really struck me:

Matthew Whoolery and his wife aren't blaming the school district for what happened on the bus but they do think all parents need to be careful about what they say and teach their children. [...]

It's not that the Whoolery's are big Obama fans they just don't like people joking about a serious matter concerning any leader of the country.

"I'm assuming if it were, 'Assassinate McCain' you'd feel the same way?" asked reporter Nate Eaton.

"No question about it," replied Whoolery.

So, wait - this reporter in Idaho thought that it was important to clarify (for his readers) that the parents' complaint about the chanting wasn't motivated by partisanship? The reporter felt the need to (defend?) clarify the Whoolerys as not being "big Obama fans?"

What does that imply to you about the atmosphere in this part of Idaho?

Here's my suggestion to this community: According to this Time article, your statewide standardized test scores are much less rigorous than national standardized math tests. As a state, you're not alone in that, but your tests are among the least rigorous. Focus more on improving education and less on... whatever it is that you are doing in your public schools. Unbelievable.

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Posted by James at 10:26 AM | Comments (7)

November 12, 2008

Wingnut Redux

Remember when I wrote about the conservative writer who was imagining that Barack Obama's mother might have aborted him if she'd had the chance, and was wishing that this would make Obama think "more carefully" about the issue?

Looks like Mr. Whelan, whom I mentioned in my Wingnut Parade post, read this blog, then whined about it to folks. I found this because another blogger wrote to Whelan and he sent her a response, including a reference to this blog. I guess he didn't like my thought experiment as much as I didn't like his.

Apparently, when people emailed him with complaints about his post, instead of giving them a thoughtful answer, he complained about my reaction, and the reactions of all the other big, bad liberals.

Weak.

Ed: You implied that Obama's stance on abortion was the result of careless thinking, but you didn't offer any evidence that this was the case. Instead, you sought to make some strange "what if" comment. You deserved all of the criticism you got, and I'd say speculation about your motives is natural when you decide to take such a bizarre approach.

Posted by James at 5:11 PM | Comments (2)

That Song Must Die! 9

You're going to wish you'd visited somebody else's blog. I have no idea whether you're going to find it easy to determine which of these songs must die, but I'm fairly certain that you're going to curse me for asking you to listen to these tracks which take the phrase "gift of hearing" and turn it into a cruel joke.

Today we have "Hollaback Girl" (Gwen Stefani) vs. "Rico Suave" (Gerardo). These songs are so bad that if Sarah Palin had blamed them on Obama, John McCain would have won the election.

But... WHICH SONG MUST DIE??? That's for you to decide.


Posted by James at 8:48 AM | Comments (15)

November 11, 2008

It's a Celebration of Peace

Whereas the 11th of November 1918, marked the cessation of the most destructive, sanguinary, and far reaching war in human annals and the resumption by the people of the United States of peaceful relations with other nations, which we hope may never again be severed, and

Whereas it is fitting that the recurring anniversary of this date should be commemorated with thanksgiving and prayer and exercises designed to perpetuate peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations; and

Whereas the legislatures of twenty-seven of our States have already declared November 11 to be a legal holiday: Therefore be it Resolved by the Senate (the House of Representatives concurring), that the President of the United States is requested to issue a proclamation calling upon the officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings on November 11 and inviting the people of the United States to observe the day in schools and churches, or other suitable places, with appropriate ceremonies of friendly relations with all other peoples.

This is from the text of the resolution, passed by Congress, to enact Armistice Day, commemorating the armistice of World War I. After the Second World War, this was amended to form Veterans Day, to include honoring the veterans of all wars.

We remember the work and sacrifice of our veterans, which is why this is a day of giving thanks. Just as important, this is a day to remember for what we are thanking them, and for what it is they have fought. That is an expectation of peace through good will and mutual understanding between nations.

When something is hard won, it is our duty to maintain it and not to spend the capital of goodwill imprudently. An appetite for war, alone, is not enough. This is a lesson especially important for our leaders, the people who advise them, and the people who vote them in.

We at Aces Full of Links thank our veterans. May yours be a thoughtful Veterans Day, and may the exercises you choose to participate in focus on the perpetuation of peace.

Posted by James at 10:02 AM | Comments (1)

The Bock Is Back

Rock Out With Your Bock Out

I first mentioned it on this blog almost three years ago. It was tough to find, but a little help from the liquor store connections and I eventially got my hands on a few bottles.

It's the magically delicious Sam Adams Chocolate Bock.

They're finally making it again. Perhaps my occasional weepy phonecalls made an impression on someone.

In any case, this is what I'll be drinking on January 20, 2009.


Posted by James at 1:15 AM | Comments (8)

November 10, 2008

Not Quite Christmas

I was in Wal-Mart over the weekend buying some soap.

I'm picky about the scent of soap we use in the house. Maggie alerts me when we're low on the stuff, and I go pick up a few bars, usually of Dial soap because it always economical and I like the scent. I like to get two different scents of soap, and alternate them; when one runs out in the shower I'd rather switch scents to the other one. I think the reason why is obvious, and if other people don't do this I really can't imagine why not.

I'm even more particular about the scent of hand soap. I hate a lot of the cloying floral scents, and vaguely-melon scented antibacterial soaps out there. And once they're on your hands, you have to smell them for hours. Why not a hand soap that just smells like soap?

But I digress.

I was in Wal-Mart and suddenly I had an oddly Christmasy feeling. And since I was in a retail store, it naturally translated to a feeling like I was shopping for Christmas. But I wasn't; I was buying soap.

It didn't take long for me to realize where the feeling was coming from. The piped in music I was listening to over the store's speakers sounded somewhat Celtic; I could hear a fiddle and some sort of flute. And the tune was familiar. It was "Deck the Halls!" I could have sworn it was, up until the last few notes of a phrase. The tune was sufficiently altered so that it really was not "Deck the Halls" and you couldn't have sung "Deck the Halls" to it, because it kept veering off. But it was very odd once I noticed it. I immediately wondered whether it was intentional.

Did they think that I would do Christmas shopping if I started thinking along those lines while in their store, and was this a subtle attempt to put Christmas on my mind? It's not too far-fetched.

Why not just play Christmas tunes? I imagine that if they were to play the actual "Deck the Halls" they would get complaints. People are increasingly sensitive about efforts to push the shopping season closer and closer to Halloween. Safer to just evoke "Deck the Halls." Composers for TV shows often craft mutated versions of a recognizable theme to play as a parody when they don't have the rights to the original. People get the joke because they can still hear the similarity, though they know it's not the same tune.

The next song came on, and it wasn't any recognizable Christmas tune. Not even a mutated version. I dismissed my conspiracy theory as my own active imagination, then I headed for the checkout.

After checking out, I gathered my soap and headed for the door. Before I escaped, a new tune floated to my ears on the sound of horns. It was, without a doubt, a craftily modified version of "The Little Drummer Boy." The conspiracy lives!

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Posted by James at 5:07 PM | Comments (12)

Crooked Still at the Narrows Center

Crooked Still is coming to the Narrows Center for the Arts in Fall River, MA.

The concert is the day after Thanksgiving. Friday, Nov 28, 2008. 8PM show.

The Narrows Center is very Bring-Your-Own-Bottle/Food-Friendly. The plan is to stake out a good table or two with friends, bring wine, bread, other food and eat dinner while we're waiting. They're a fun "roots" band, and it's going to be a great time.

If you're interested, pick up tickets online and let me know you're coming so we can coordinate. Good food and good music -- the only thing missing is you.


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Posted by James at 10:07 AM | Comments (1)

November 8, 2008

Joe the Hypocrite

Warning: This is not going to be a very charitable or happy clappy post. It's about Joe the Plumber, and you may have gotten enough of that during the campaign.

I don't think Joe the Plumber (JTP) was a real campaign issue. Even he said that nobody should care who he was voting for... just before he went on a campaign tour for McCain / Palin. So I actually think it's more appropriate now to talk about this hypocritical bonehead as a celebrity rather than as a campaign symbol.

But I have to slam this moron.

His gig for the last month or so has been to call Obama's tax plan "socialist." He attacked the plan (which returns us to an earlier tax structure we had when the country was pretty prosperous and people still seemed to think we were living in America and not some Marxist dystopia) with scare words and bullshit. A specific attack has been to decry "spread the wealth" as unamerican.

All tax plans spread the wealth, and indeed all economies do. JTP says he doesn't have a problem with taxes, per se. He just doesn't want bigger taxes. And it's against his principles to spread the wealth -- to take money from one person and put it in another person's pocket. The longer you listen to JTP, the longer he sounds not like an everyman, but a politician stuck on his talking points and increasingly good at dodging questions.

Except that he's run into a little problem about welfare. His family accepted it. Twice. It was when he was a child, and this allowed them to eventually become part of the middle class and enjoy a middle class lifestyle.

Social programs are in place for a reason. Aside from the compassionate reason, they are practical because they strengthen the country. This is why they should neither be abused, nor denigrated. Like drugs that you take when you're sick, programs target a need and we're better for it in the end. As with drugs, then can be abused. But we'd never think of letting the abuse convince us to shun the benefit of drug treatments and medicine.

Joe is full of shit. Not just because there's a lien on him for nonpayment of his taxes, nor just because he embellished more than a bit when he said he was buying a plumbing business. Not just because he isn't even a licensed plumber. Not just because whining about the tax structure in the midst of delinquency is bizarre. He's full of shit because he's living in a dream world. Unable to accept the benefit he experienced from a "socialist" program when he was a child, his rationalization is that he "paid into the system." Presumably he means later, when he grew up (again, ignoring his tax delinquency).

News flash: "welfare" isn't a system you pay into. It's a social program. Some would even call it a socialist program in which tax money is used to provide temporary support to people who are not able to manage because they are unemployed or underemployed. It's not a bank, despite what Joe tells himself when his mind cannot wrap itself around the cognitive dissonance of having benefited from (gasp!) a socialist program.

Joe Wurzelbacher's reflection goes only as deep as his rhetoric. His wisdom is nothing more than you can distill from a few minutes listening to right wing radio. He's a perfect regurgitator. It's like some mad scientist reached into a misleading campaign ad for the brain of his Frankenstein monster. A wingnut Young Frankenstein story.

The campaign is over, but Frankenstein's Monster lives. I keep saying that this is the type of stuff we're going to have to get used to hearing, from hypocrites just like this, but I hope I'm wrong.

Posted by James at 3:00 PM | Comments (8)

November 7, 2008

We Can Shotgun

Yes we can! Play games and drink wine.

  • Bubble Spinner (game,flash)
    • Shoot bubbles into key spots to knock off combos.
  • Cheap Wine - Freakonomics
    (wine,articles,economics)
    • Are expensive wines automatically better?
  • Change.gov (politics,government,obama)
    • The website of the president-elect and transition team. Read their agenda. Submit your ideas and comments.
  • Twitter Taste Live (wine,social_media,twitter)
    • People posting their tasting notes in real time! On Twitter! Filtered!
  • Mallet Mania (game,flash)
    • Hit the ball with the mallet. Fun!


Posted by James at 9:14 AM | Comments (2)

November 5, 2008

White, Rural, Regional?

Moderate Virginia Republican Congressman Tom Davis was quoted yesterday on what's happened to the Republican party:

"We'll have to see what happens, but I suspect in urban areas across the country, Democrats will continue to make gains that they've made the last decade," Davis said during an interview on MSNBC.

"We've become a regional party, basically become a white, rural, regional party, and not a national party. And we're going to have to retool ourselves," he added.

I expect that the Republicans will retool themselves, and adjust to the changes in the country. But the first thing they're going to have to address is their embrace of anti-intellectualism, which culminated finally in the choice of an incurious vice presidential candidate and then the elevation of Joe the Plumber, a symbol for disingenuous and misinformed blathering. It is poisonous to the country and has proved poisonous to the Republican Party itself.

There will be a lot of finger-pointing within the Republican party, and it will be interesting to see what sort of narrative we will hear about a campaign's final days. Whether or not Sarah Palin was a bad choice, it is not a good sign for the Republicans that some have called her "the new face of the Republican party." She may instead become the new face of Republican losses, and the icon of what went wrong. The longer they embrace her as the future, the longer the Democrats are going to win. Since I believe the Democrats will serve all of us better with a more competitive (sensible) Republican party, I hope they jettison this albatross around their necks.

It will be a slow process. Harold Ford is on MSNBC trying to tell Joe Scarborough that we need to invest in infrastructure. Scarborough is (either willingly or honestly) misinterpreting infrastructure to mean "concrete" instead of intellectual, technological, and other infrastructure. And don't even ask about Fox News and the nearly Orwellian "balance" that involves repeating something long enough that it sounds true.

Hindsight is 20/20, but I told Maggie a couple of days ago, McCain should have chosen a more intellectual running mate, an already respected running mate and someone to answer Obama's message of progressive change whether she be a woman or not. Had he chosen someone that Clinton voters could have embraced, and that reinforced the earlier image of McCain, that well might have been a maverick move. It is not a maverick move to appeal to your anti-intellectual base. Shoring up his base would not have been a problem if his strategy had been early on to run against the Democratic congress while Obama ran against Bush. That, and avoiding some of the over-dramatic moments and he could have been seen as that steady hand on the tiller.

Perhaps this takes too much away from Obama's brilliant campaign. In a poker game between experienced players, you're only making advances when your opponent falters. Obama was buffeted by pitfalls around him, but he rarely himself faltered. McCain had barely an opening, but there is plenty of room for criticism in how he played his hand.

But back to the Republican party, what are the implications and the fallout of Obama's 50-state approach?

We heard a lot about this election being the most important in our lifetimes. I scoffed at that, preferring to think we already screwed up the most important election in our lifetimes, back in 2000. I still think that. But considering the changes in the electoral landscape, we should not underestimate the importance of this election. But what political changes will it bring, and what process will the Republican party turn to in trying to regain relevance in a world where we must rely on our ingenuity, innovation, hard work, compassion and intellectualism.

White, rural, regional? Discuss.

Posted by James at 9:23 AM | Comments (8)

My First President-elect Obama Criticism

If you stayed up to see Obama speak, you saw a sober speech delivered to an excited but rapt audience. And he referred to his family:

And I would not be standing here tonight without the unyielding support of my best friend for the last 16 years the rock of our family, the love of my life, the nation's next first lady Michelle Obama.

Sasha and Malia I love you both more than you can imagine. And you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the new White House.

I have to admit that it was wonderful to see the Obama family on stage together; Barack and Michelle and their two young daughters superficially remind me of my own family.

But, President-elect Obama, my daughters heard about your speech, and now they want a puppy. So, thanks for nothing!

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Posted by James at 8:12 AM | Comments (21)

A New Direction; Challenges Ahead

It almost didn't sound like a victory speech. President-Elect Obama took the stage and addressed not just his supporters, but the citizens of this great country.

Young Americans came out in surprising numbers to support Obama, showing concern for the future of a country which an increasing majority of Americans describe as "moving in the wrong direction."

Technically, Obama is the president-elect. But he is going to have to act like a president starting immediately. If you're an American, he's your president now. He'll immediately be making important decisions for our future. In this complicated time, there is no waiting. The hand-off will have to be smooth.

Apart from the foreign and domestic challenges, Obama inherits a divided country. Can he increase his support and reach out to those who did not vote for him? We just elected a black man with the middle name "Hussein," a man who was criticized for being associated with America's most hated type of enemy, and accused of harboring ideologies that are completely distasteful to the average American. But he was still elected, and especially enjoyed a surge within the population of college educated whites, who usually break much more to the Republicans. I think he has a basis from which to grow more broad support. And after seeing his campaign, I am convinced he will do it.

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Posted by James at 7:24 AM | Comments (6)

November 4, 2008

Poll Report

Here's my brief poll report on how voting went this morning.

The kids had the day off from school and chose to sleep over their grandparent's house. That meant no getting them ready for school, so I could get on my way early. The polls opened at 7 AM, but I took my time getting ready. After Maggie left for her class, I drove over to the Somerset Public Library sometime before 8 AM.

The door I usually enter was locked, so I walked around to the other side of the building and entered at the "VOTE HERE" sign. The polling place was set up as usual. There was no actual line, but there were two people in front of me, chatting with their neighbor poll workers. I saw about 6 other people in the booths marking their ballots. My only wait was for the chatting to subside.

I got my ballot in a minute or so, and quickly marked it in the appropriate locations. I can't say I felt anything too special casting my vote, certainly nothing like I felt in 2004. I expected to feel more, but I simply felt I was filling some very small responsibility. You don't really deserve a huge amount of credit for voting, especially if you only waited a couple of minutes to do so, as I did. I count myself as lucky.

I put my ballot into the ballot box and I was voter #186.

People were very cheery at the polls. The bake sale had a number of people browsing the wares. I headed back to my car and drove off to get the traditional election day celebratory snacks for the office. This year it's apple pie and Leddy's doughnuts.

Tonight I'll hang out in front of the TV with some papers to read, with one eye on the results. Maybe I'll play some games with the kids, if they don't have any homework and we'll watch the projections together. The girls will probably be going with Maggie to vote, since she wanted them to get a chance to be a part of this election.

Posted by James at 12:45 PM | Comments (1)

GO VOTE

If you are a citizen of the Unites States of America, and eligible to vote, then please



GO VOTE



You rarely get a chance to help make a choice like this, so go make yours.

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Posted by James at 7:43 AM | Comments (3)

November 3, 2008

Pumpkin Spice Latte

A day before the election, I've decided to come out as a latte-sipping liberal.

It's somewhat amusing that this has become a slur. In my America, we take the best way of doing something and embrace it, or try to improve upon it. Boiling the hell out of your coffee or dripping your coffee through a filter will get you some coffee-flavored liquid and plenty of caffeine. But better ways have been invented, so why not make espresso? You don't need a fancy machine, as a friend showed me.

This is how we make coffee at home; it's basically Italian coffee. And we really like it.

And since I like milk in my coffee, I also simulate "lattes" at home. Since I am no baristi, I have no idea what I'm technically making. It's a mix of milk and coffee, the percentages vary, and I drink them hot and cold.

But at the local coffee shops, I often enjoy what they're calling a "pumpkin spice latte." In the fall, this shows up on the menu all over the place. What is it? Just as Mock Apple Pie contains no apples, this contains no pumpkin. It's just the spices. Thus the name, "Pumpkin Spice."

Since I like this flavor even out of the fall season, I want to figure out how to make it at home. The flavor itself is easy. It's dominated by cinnamon, with clove, ginger and nutmeg in the background. I found a decent recipe on-line here. Essentially:

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar

Simmer to make simple syrup. Add:

  • 2 Tbsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp clove
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg

You simmer for 5 minutes and then strain out the grit using cheesecloth. Finish it up with:

  • 1 Tbsp vanilla

Store the mixture, and use it at a ratio of about 1 Tbsp per shot of espresso in your beverage.

I tried this recipe, substituting Splenda for the sugar (I used the kind that measures correctly for baking). The aroma and flavor were perfect. But I didn't have cheesecloth, and nothing else I tried really filtered the stuff at all. A coffee filter was useless, as was a wire strainer.

I made a latte this morning with the gritty mixture, and it tasted right, but the gunk at the bottom was gross. The Splenda also had a tendency to form a thick syrup that held the grit. This was fine, until I got to the bottom of my mug, and then it was gross. So I'm still working on this one.

But not so fast on the "mock pumpkin spice" -- here's a recipe that uses pumpkin pie filling. And what's more, it's a crock-pot recipe that can be scaled up for parties. I can imagine a more "festive" version of this in which you add a shot of Canadian whiskey to each cup of coffee. That would be a Pumpkin Spiked Latte.

There are definite possibilities here.

Posted by James at 9:06 AM | Comments (2)

November 2, 2008

On Media Unfairness and Sarah Palin

Fred Thompson was asked on Meet the Press by Tom Brokaw to comment on his assessment that the media have been unfair in their treatment of Sarah Palin. Brokaw asked him what question(s) that Couric, Williams or Gibson asked did he think were unfair. Fred Thompson said "I didn't watch the interviews."

He saw excerpts, and he's read what other people have said about the interviews. That sounds to me like someone else told him the media was unfair. He went on to say that none of the questions were specifically unfair. That sounds to me like he's saying it was simply generally unfair of the media to have high (or reasonable) expectations of her, or that the unfairness was not inherent in the questions, but rather in the questioning.

I think that about sums up this manufactured issue.

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Posted by James at 3:47 PM | Comments (1)

Campaigning for the 4-10 Year Old Vote

This was amazing. A Michigan woman is reported to have asked people coming to her door on Halloween: "Are you supporting Obama?"

If the kids or their parents indicated that they were Obama supporters, they were turned away. No candy for "liars and tricksters."

Is this a good way to win votes for McCain? Would you actually reconsider your vote if you and your kids showed up on Shirley Nagel's doorstep, your kids started crying and she told you "Oh well. Everybody has a choice."

Indeed they do, Ms. Nagel. And your choice was to be a complete assclown. When the idea first crossed your mind, perhaps you were amused by it. But what part of your brain is missing that should have stopped you from making a complete jerk out of yourself to the neighborhood and the media? What part of your mind saw this as a practical way to campaign? What part of your heart is missing that you make little kids the target of your political statement?

If your house didn't get egged, Ms. Nagel, then you've got kids in your neighborhood with commendable restraint.

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Posted by James at 1:31 PM | Comments (4)

November 1, 2008

No Case For McCain?

I have to think that at least part of the reason McCain is down in the polls is because McCain and Palin rarely ever give you a reason to vote for them. They're too busy scaremongering about Obama. I saw McCain on TV this morning, out on the stump, talking about his own attributes and it felt like a positive change to me. It may or may not get the base fired up, but he comes off better for it when he's not spewing bile.

I have a hard time imagining how McCain and Palin would lead, if they were to get elected. Do they have a transition team ready? If so, is it going to be made up of the same people who are quoted as calling Palin a "whack-job?" McCain supporters, when they aren't calling Obama a terrorist, like to say McCain is the most experienced candidate possible. That some of them say this after being sent off to re-education camp *cough*Eagleburger*cough* is a completely different story. But the truth is that McCain has spent most of his time in the limelight as a senator. You can't credibly say that McCain has been a leader of anything for the last 8 years he's spent as Bush's repentant supporter. so the campaign is the best example we have of the actual leadership of these candidates. McCain is seeing defections left and right as a result of his decisions and erratic approach to leading a campaign.

As for tone, of course McCain is negative, to the point of ridiculousness. I don't particularly like that, but both parties engage in negative campaigning. McCain's campaign is overwhelmingly negative, and this seems to pull the base together. The evidence of this is that his biggest gains (where national "tightening" is occurring) is among red states that are very red. This tactic isn't working so well in the more purple areas. It almost seems as though McCain is trying hard not so much to win as to give Republicans reason to doubt an Obama mandate if Obama wins.

Negative campaign itself is a fact of life in politics, but the distortions are at a fever pitch at McCain rallies. Even for silly stuff, like Obama supposedly delaying the World Series (he didn't, although a football game was delayed when McCain's convention was going to preempt it). Stupid stuff, and it turns out to be lies.

The media, sensitive to the constant barrage of criticism from McCain, is going easy on McCain/Palin. I know this is against the conventional (conservative) wisdom, but in direct interviews, McCain is never asked tough questions about this claim of "socialism." I don't think McCain is getting it easier than Obama in the media, but McCain's ridiculous campaign themes offer so many opportunities for criticism that are being passed up. It's because the media is essentially easy on everyone.

On crying "socialism," the only question McCain is ever asked about that is "do you think Obama is a socialist?" McCain answers that some of the wording of Obama's answers hearken to the tenets of socialism. Since he refuses to answer directly, McCain should be asked a follow-up question: "If your advisers all agreed with a plan to save the economy, and some people felt that parts of it sounded like socialism, would you reject it or consider it?"

Even more simple, "Social security is, essentially, a redistribution of wealth for a social purpose. It could easily be described as socialism by someone like Joe the Plumber. Do you oppose this socialist program?"

Everyone knows that what McCain is saying is ridiculous, but it's painful to see him make such a fool of himself. And it becomes hard to take anything he says seriously.

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Posted by James at 12:11 PM | Comments (2)