May 30, 2009

Beer Adventures: Origin by He'brew

http://blog.oregonlive.com/thebeerhere/2007/07/medium_ORIGIN_top.jpg

I spied this pomegranate beer in my search for information about one of the brewer's other offerings; He'Brew Rejewvenator. I tried Rejewvenator last night and didn't love it. Ryan was fond of it, but I thought the combination of hops was too exotic for my palate. It was definitely spicy, strong and intriguing. I didn't hate it, but ultimately I didn't like it. Took me half a pint to decide for certain, though.

Now, this pomegranate beer sounds very interesting. I'll have to keep my eye out for it. As if I need more beer in the house after a recent purchase of a six of a certain Watermelon Wheat beer.

In any case, I posted the link to my Facebook and attracted a comment disparaging the legitimacy of fruit in beer. I thought we'd gotten over this in American after the 90's, but apparently some people still think "beer" means Budweiser. The fellow said he wants his beer to taste like beer. That gave me a guffaw. Considering the range of flavors int he sort of beer my friends and I drink, I wonder "what, exactly does 'beer' taste like?"

I don't know if the guy was pulling my leg or not, so I figured a friendly attempt at explaining his folly was in order. this is what I posted.

There's a much larger world out there and I invite you to join me -- there's always room!

Are there bad fruit beers, poorly conceived and executed? Certainly. But there is nothing like a Belgian frambiose lambic straight from the tap. And the world has its share of bad beers of other styles. Give me a cherry-Tripel with a hint of cherries over a least-common-denominator MGD.

They've been making delicious beer with fruit and other ingredients that violate the German reinheitsgebot since the dawn of beer -- it IS beer-flavored.

Saying you want yours to be beer flavored instead of fruit flavored is like saying you want your car to look like a car, not a Ferrari. You don't have to like Ferrari, but it's a car nonetheless.

Just because PBR, MGD and Bud suck doesn't mean I won't drink a pilsner. Bad beers do not ruin a style; I'll drink a Pilsner Urquell any day.

Beer's adventure! If you lack understanding, you need to work on it. :-) Have fun, and I'll be happy to answer questions.

I'm always sad when someone has placed needless limits on their universe. And if he refuses to overcome self-imposed limitations, I suppose that's more good beer you and I have to drink in his stead. Cheers!

Posted by James at 3:23 PM | Comments (3)

May 29, 2009

Serial Sandwich Shotgun

I like to eat a sandwich serially.

First I eat a slice of bread in my office. Then I walk to the fridge and eat a couple of slices of chicken coldcuts. Then, grape tomatoes. Then I walk back to my office and eat another slice of bread. If I'm feeling in the mood, somewhere in there I take a swig of mustard or hot sauce.

Update Bonus:

Weekly weigh-in: 179.5 lbs

Posted by James at 12:25 PM | Comments (1)

May 28, 2009

Born That Way?

I sometimes hear people express a belief that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice. Other people argue that folks are born gay.

I honestly don't know how much of your sexual preferences you are born with. I don't think anyone knows for sure. I strongly suspect that it depends a lot on predispositions that you're born with, and that factors in your environment may have some influence on how your "self" unfolds. Essentially I think you are born with it, but I feel that's an unnecessary oversimplification.

What I'm more interested in at the moment is whether it even matters at all.

Considering that nobody really knows how we arrive at our sexual preferences, it seems like it could be a fairly random dividing line for people, especially if natural consequences of that belief affect how we regard others. But are there important natural consequences of that belief? (I am ignoring the scientific research consequences, which may be interesting to ponder but not necessarily directly applicable to interpersonal relationships.)

We can all agree (we can all bear witness, from experience) that feelings of a sexual nature and even more complex feelings of romantic love are extremely strong emotions. They exist and we have to deal with them, not only as individuals, but as a society. Dealing with them is a challenge, but also a strength in our society. Our emotions help us form strong ties that are the foundation of a social structure.

It seems to me, then, that we needn't question the origin of these feelings. We can deny they exist, I suppose, but then how do you explain apparently committed gay couples? That's a silly line of reasoning. So, I ask for your opinion: does it really matter to you whether people are born gay or whether it happens after birth? If so, why?

Posted by James at 3:52 PM | Comments (9)

May 27, 2009

The Run Around

Walking is apparently the norm for human bipedal movement. By that I mean that if you deviate from walking you get weird looks. You are violating the behavior that is expected of you.

I can understand why crawling might cause people to wonder about your sanity. It's inefficient and it's not even bipedal. Somehow, crawling is casting off your charter as a human, if only temporarily. it's something that animals do. Don't even mention belly slithering.

But how about running? I guess I like to run.

When I'm walking alone, I often get bored. This is especially true if I've got someplace to go. Sometimes, a stroll is relaxing and enjoyable. You can look around, observe objects and people, and get a sense of your surroundings. At a walking pace you have plenty of time to take in details. But when I am walking through the city to get back to my car, I am impatient. I prefer to break into a jog.

It's a leisurely jog, mind you. But you should see the effect it has on people. You get startled expressions, derisive smiles, and often even comments and laughter. You would think I was doing somersaults. "Save your energy!" people seem to be saying. "Why are you in so much of a hurry?" they ask as they walk by me. Then they hop into their cars and zip of onto the highway at 70 MPH.

I am not a natural runner. I do run for exercise, but not very far. However, once you've run a while you do get a feeling that running is more natural than walking. Walking gets even more boring. At times it even becomes excruciating. Rather than a feeling of leisure, a walk can give you a feeling as though you are holding yourself back. Once your muscles are configured for running, you almost feel a wind at your back, and like walking is constantly resisting that wind which is pushing you forward.

Rather than feeling like you're in a hurry, running is a freeing feeling, like you're going with that flow. But I try not to run all the time. because people think you're crazy. It's almost like those movies where our intrepid heroes have to stagger around to convince the zombies that they, too, are zombies. Otherwise, you don't fit in and next they'll be eating your brains.

Posted by James at 9:26 AM | Comments (6)

May 26, 2009

Squalus and Memorial Day

I spent Memorial Day weekend reading an amazing tale of true grit and heroism.

On May 23, 1939, off the coast of New Hampshire, the then-new USS Squalus (pronounced SQUAY-lus) experienced a failure of a critical induction valve during a dive trial. As a result, it took on water in the after compartments and sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic, its stern partly lodging itself in the mud at a depth of over 240 ft.

What followed was an amazing rescue operation of her crew, and a delicate salvage of the Squalus herself.

The improbable events are told in detail within Peter Maas' book The Terrible Hours: The Greatest Submarine Rescue in History. I, somewhat coincidentally, picked up the book on the 70th anniversary of the event. It had been loaned to me some time ago by my cousin.

I say "improbable" because sub crews were routinely lost completely when their boats went down, even in 50 feet of water. Over a decade before the USS Squalus made its fateful dive, the S-51 foundered off Block Island, never to resurface under its own power. Lost under some 130 feet of ocean, the crew of the S-51 was beyond rescue when the S-1 and her captain Charles "Swede" Momsen were ordered to search for her. The futility of this operation and the loss of the S-51 crew would stay with Momsen through his life and fuel his efforts to create submarine rescue protocols and equipment.

Unwavering in his purpose, lack of support from the Navy did not deter him. Intrepid in his methods, he pushed the envelope of human dive experience using himself as primary test subject. The reward for his efforts comes when, preparing to test an ingenious diving bell, he is called to manage the rescue of the crew of Squalus.

The book is well-written, although Maas effort to be thorough throws many characters at you at once in the beginning of the book. I appreciate the detail, but it does make it difficult to get into the story at first. It is well worth the time, to hear about the history of Charles Momsen's attempts to engineer life-saving methods.

For me, this is the greatest draw of the book. The rescue is quite exciting, but I find Momsen an intriguing and inspiring character who teaches us something not only about self-sacrifice, but of the preservation of life. He teaches of perseverance, creativity, and the rejection of senseless death. While his superiors appeared to judge research into rescue methods as having a high cost, Momsen placed an even higher value on the lives of his compatriots.

This is how I spent my weekend. I'd like to say a word or two about the holier-than-though disapproval that some people dish out over how others spend their Memorial Day. After reading some letters published in the paper and blog posts, I feel the need to speak on this.

I am rather disappointed to see people describing Memorial Day thusly: "Memorial Day used to be a day of solemn remembrance, now people just grill some hamburgers." These scoldings smack of the typically hazy view of the past, but worse they presume to know what we're thinking. The practice of celebrating a spring day away from work may not be somber enough for some, but the scent of grilled hamburgers wafting over the tattoo of marching band drums is perhaps a perfect combination for reflection.

Grilled delights and self-aggrandizing scolding are two of the freedoms we enjoy today. Memorialize Responsibly.

Posted by James at 2:34 PM | Comments (6)

May 24, 2009

The Resurrection

Or, "how I saved my sourdough starter."

I guess I left it a little too long in the fridge without feeding it. I think it might have been 2 weeks. 2 weeks is really too long.

I checked on it Saturday morning and it had the usual layer of hooch on top, but I noticed there was a bit more hooch than usual and the grey color that eventually overtakes long-stored yeasted dough was beginning to set in. Luckily, it was not irredeemable, although I was quite worried for a while.

I mixed the hooch back in with a chopstick, then poured out over half of the mixture. This I used to start another batch of the Artisan in 5 dough. That stuff really adds serious flavor. And the longer the starter has been sitting, the stronger the flavor.

Then I doubled the starter using equal parts (by weight) of flour and water. Letting it sit out for 12 hours I saw very little activity, but there was some bubbling. So I fed it again and left it out. Four hours later it seemed active enough to put back in the fridge.

Indeed, it appears to be as good as new. I used up all my Ai5 dough this morning baking the levantine Mnaeesh my family loves so much, so I started a new dough batch and took the opportunity to divide the starter yet again. On the counter for 3 hours it bounced back like a real trooper.

Happy ending!

Posted by James at 12:46 PM | Comments (3)

May 22, 2009

Blinkered Shotgun

Oh, I just remembered another story about driving yesterday. but first, the shotgun links:

Ok, so I was driving the kids home from my daughter's art show last night. It was near dusk, but still pretty light out.

As I came around the corner onto my town's main drag, I saw int he middle-distance a frantic mess of blinking and flashing light, like a patrol car in hot pursuit. Except all the lights were brilliant white, and they were flashing at hyper gran-mal-inducing speed.

I thought it was the police. As I got closer, I saw that it was just some pickup truck. I immediately wondered whether it was some undercover police pickup truck. It was certainly nondescript. But the lights were mesmerizing. The patterns were changing. There was no light bar you typically see on a police vehicle. Not ever a light bar inside the truck. The flashing was coming from all of the regular automobile light sources: the directionals, the "in reverse" lamps, the side directionals, and the brake lights.

The truck was parked on the side of the road outside a pizza shop. I expected to see some crime being committed, or to see an officer jump out of the truck into the street, at least. Why else would a parked vehicle be warning me so insistently?

But, no. There was just a guy with a baseball cap on sitting in the driver's seat. in front of a pizza shop.

So distracted was I by this overwhelming light show that I failed to notice that a family was stepping up to the crosswalk. They stopped before entering the street. Drivers are supposed to stop and let pedestrians cross when you see them at a crosswalk. Normally I would have stopped, but I saw them too late. It made me rather angry because I think I would have been breaking the law if they had stepped into the crosswalk. I was busy looking at the truck, slowing down and expecting that I was going to have to react quickly to something which might happen.

There were people close behind me (because I had slowed down) and I couldn't slam on the breaks for fear I would get rear-ended.

No real harm done, but it seemed clear that this was not a police vehicle. None of the usual hardware from what I could see -- like radio antennas and such. Was it just some tricked out light show version of parking lights? If so, I do not like this and I hope it is not the beginning of a new trend.

[Oops, forgot to note today's weigh-in. 181 lbs.]

Posted by James at 12:21 PM | Comments (3)

Annoyance On the Road

I guess it's road work season, because getting from point A to point B has suddenly become a lot more annoying.

Seems like every 600 feet or so there's a work crew with a police detail. The new Massachusetts law says that you have to slow down to a crawl if there's a crew at work and the road has only one lane open. Makes sense, but how do you know you're going slow enough to avoid a fine? Sometimes you can tell that those detail cops are having a really bad day.

Of course, road maintenance is absolutely necessary. Most of the time. Traffic is especially fun where Rte 79 dumps onto 195 East, under Government Center in Fall River. The highway is perpetually down to 2 lanes there and timid folks on the on-ramp can cause a back-up all the way back to the U.S.S. Massachusetts.

But what really bugs me this time of year in town are the pervasive yard maintenance trailers which are invariably parked in the street in front of the people who pay for yard work. Driving around those things often puts you face-to-face with oncoming traffic. It's not so bad on a side road, but why are so many of these things parked on main roads? It's double-fun when they're parked on a corner and you can't see well around them. Drop to 20MPH and hope nobody is speeding in the other lane, if you value your life.

Speaking of blocking the road, there must have been a baseball game up the street, and the folks in attendance had never heard of carpooling. I have never seen so many cars on our little road before. Lining both sides, I barely got my car down the road. Seriously, I thought I was going to scrape some cars. There was a truck behind me, and as I passed through the gauntlet of parking horrors and descended the hill, I could see in my rear-view that he was coming to a complete stop. I can't say for certain whether he ever made it down the road.

Of course, walking and cycling present their own set of problems. I saw someone in Fall River biking while on a cell phone, getting ready to cross a busy on-ramp to 195. I wasn't sure if he was going to stop or just dash in front of me, since his cell-phone-hand was between my car and his face; I didn't think he could see me. Luckily, I was watching him. But he stopped, unlike the guy who, later int eh day, crossed two lanes of a much more busy street lost in conversation on his phone. This guy was seriously tuned out. He got halfway across the road and stepped in front of a large commercial truck which then slammed on its brakes. As the truck screeched its disapproval, this guy never broke stride, even as he planted his foot on the opposite sidewalk and the truck's wake tousled his hair.

It's spring in New England.

Posted by James at 8:25 AM | Comments (5)

May 21, 2009

Happiness Is a Cold Gun

Innis & Gunn

Yes, this is a beer post. Recently, Derek poured a few ounces of Innis & Gunn into my empty glass at the Pour Farm. Weeks before, we'd been in Douglas Liquors and the "beer guy" there was all excited that he'd gotten a shipment of this stuff. We were in there looking for lambics, and the blonde color of this brew didn't intrigue us, so we passed on it.

File that under "don't judge a beer by its color."

Although the light caramel color of this beer doesn't imply a bold flavor, this brew is definitely unique and flavorful.

The style is an English Pale Ale, but it's been oak aged. I expected a scotchy taste, but instead I find that this beer delivers a refreshing, slightly vanilla overtone to a solid pale ale primary flavor. The result is refreshing, but not in the light or over-hoppy way that some of today's craft beers seem to aim for. I love hops, but I like variety more.

This one is worth a try. It's around $11 or $12 for a "bomber."


Posted by James at 12:55 PM | Comments (2)

May 19, 2009

Gluefinger

Made cioppino on Sunday again. E-mail me if you want the recipe I'm using; I'll post it to this site eventually, but I'm note done fiddling with it yet. Because scallops are expensive and I love shrimp, I use half the scallops and make up the difference with shrimp. Then I go ahead and double the shrimp.

In any case, it came out quite good.

While I was cooking, I was watching some MIT lectures on Linear Algebra. Specifically, the first two lectures in Dr. Strang's course (which I linked to on Friday). I wasn't paying attention like I should have while I was cutting an extra onion to put into the base for the cioppino. At the last minute I decided it needed more onions, and I was rushing. Bad combination!

So, I sliced into my finger. Luckily, my nail stopped the knife from going all the way through. Actually, the cut's not that bad, but did nearly take a chunk (0.5 centimeters?) of the side of my fingertip off. Maggie went to get me an adhesive bandage, and she suggested that there might be something better in the first-aid kit to keep my finger together. I replied: "What? Like, glue?"

And we both realized, I do have super-glue.

So I glued my finger back together after rinsing off the wound. I have no idea whether this is an advisable thing to do, so I do not recommend you do it. (I am not a medical doctor).

I essentially painted the area with glue. It held, except it did still bleed a little bit. And it hurt for over a day. But it feels pretty good now.

If it doesn't get infected (and it doesn't look like it will) I declare success!

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

May 15, 2009

Not-what-you-hoped-for Shotgun

This shotgun post is probably not what you hoped for. I haven't really been surfing too many fun links this week. As you can see, I'm learning Python and Maggie and I are going to tackle Linear Algebra. Fun! (Well, I think so)

Really, you could spend all weekend and more at Academic Earth. Tons of great lectures on so many different subjects. Not just math (although there are some great topics in math). History, literature, psychology, philosophy. Check it out, I urge you.

Weekly Weigh-in: 184 lbs.

Did you find a cool cartoon, video or game this week? If so, add it to the comments. Actually, I thought this video was really, really cute:

Hat tip to Thirdmate for the vid on Facebook, where wondrous links are found.

Posted by James at 3:05 PM | Comments (2)

May 13, 2009

Standing Up in the Notre Dame Scandal

If you haven't heard, radical right-wing conservatives are freaking out all over because Notre Dame asked the president of the United States of America to speak at graduation.

Here's a Facebook page for some binders that, supposedly, contain the names of people with their underwear in a bunch over this issue.

If you read some of the comments, you'll see people planning to boycott the graduation. Here's a story about it on ABC's website. It's mainly a student group called ND Response.

Here's to you, ND Response, in exercising your right to free speech. However, your form of protest is pretty pathetic. This isn't just about graduation. Your college is awarding the president an honorary doctorate. That's huge. Yet you choose to protest in basically the same way an angsty high school senior does when he skips out on graduation. You're not going to be at the ceremony? So what; you're still collecting your degree.

If you want to impress people, don't just skip your graduation, reject your graduation and your degree entirely. Contact the institution and tell them you don't want your degree to be awarded. That is a rebuke which is much more likely to get attention than a hissy fit where you simply go to your own party instead of the official ceremony.

Posted by James at 2:37 PM | Comments (1)

Numeric Keypads Mystery

Karen asks an intriguing question: Why are numeric keypads grouped into two different designs? Phones and ATMs arrange the numbers from left-to-right in three columns in ascending order top-to-bottom. Keyboard number pads and calculators use a left-to-right ascending, three-column, descending-order arrangement. (You can see some photos she has diligently collected on her blog.)

I'm currently looking through my Donald Norman ( The Design of Everyday Things ) and Henry Petroski ( The Evolution of Useful Things: How Everyday Artifacts-From Forks and Pins to Paper Clips and Zippers-Came to be as They are ) for some reference to the original design of these objects, but nothing yet indicates how they came up with the layouts. Panati ( Extraordinary Origins of Everyday Things , The Browser's Book of Beginnings: Origins of Everything Under, and Including, the Sun ) is not helpful here, either.

The likely answer is going to be that one group of these devices evolved from adding machines and the other evolved from the original push-button phone from Bell Laboratories. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that since adding machines predate the push-button phone, early adding machine designs are key (pardon the pun) to present-day calculator layouts. This design would have been carried forward into new devices to take advantage of human experience with the top-to-bottom increasing order. Designers would have not wanted to upset potential customers by changing that layout, and they had no interest in determining whether it was the most efficient.

Take Charles Latham Sholes "qwerty" keyboard as an example. The original design was not the first keyboard design, but it was the most successful because it overcame a mechanical difficulty: the possibility of collision of the typebars, which would lead to jamming. By placing letters which were frequently juxtaposed in English words (like 'i' and 'e') far apart on the keyboard, typebar collision became less likely because the levers were approaching from different angles. With such mechanisms now in our distant past, the "qwerty" keyboard is perpetuated because of human experience with it.

Norman says that Bell Laboratories researched their keypad design (and everything else about the original digital phone) very carefully, and so they were not wedded to an earlier mechanical calculator layout. It is likely that they were also influenced by the fact that rotary phones put the "1" near the top of the dial, while the "9" was near the bottom. If they were not influenced from a design perspective, it's probably that their testers were, and this might have figured into their results.

My guess is that calculator manufacturers did not put much design thought into their keypad layout. Having some knowledge of calculator manufacturers, I have learned that other factors far outweigh human factors in their design consideration process.

Aha! A little more searching has produced this link. Some helpful person has pulled together a few references on Keyboard Trivia. I forgot to check my Feldman! (Why Do Clocks Run Clockwise?: An Imponderables Book )

It seems that there is not a lot of definitive information for why these two keypads are different, but it does boil down to Bell laboratories research finding that people could dial numbers more efficiently with their top-down ascending design. Several people note that Bell Labs scientists were surprised when they asked calculator designers for their prior research on keyboard layout and were answered with "What research?"

Also worth noting: the rotary telephone had already adopted a system where alphabetic characters were assigned to digits. "ABC" are assigned to "2", "DEF" to "3" and so on. If the engineers had rearranged the numbers similar to the adding machines and calculators, they would be rearranging the alphabet as well, because they could not change the associations that were already in popular use as a mnemonic for remembering phone numbers. The new alphabetic order would have been: "PQRS TUV WXYZ GHI JKL MNO [blank] ABC DEF." What a mess!

Bonus:

Did you know that the first private (home) telephone was installed in Somerville, MA?

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

May 12, 2009

Tuesday Is Soylent Green Day

So let's chew up some news and spit it out.

Obama Aid Resigns Over "Air Force One" Scandal

This is what passes for a scandal nowadays. If annoying and scaring people while being paid by the government is such a big deal, why is Dick Cheney still a free man?

When you make the president angry and screw up in public, it makes sense that your days are numbered. Louis Caldera will no longer lead the White House Military Office. This is a sharp contrast to the last administration in which a screw up would merit you kudos, or the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Accountability? How refreshing. The birthers and their ilk can move on to their next hysterical complaint.

Subsidized Breasts

Stupidest story of the morning: pretty much anything about Carrie Prejean. You decide. The Miss USA pageant apparently paid for her breast implants. Why? to "put her in the best possible confidence in order to present herself in the best possible light on a national stage." Apparently, the best possible confidence = fake bewbs. Simplified, a narrow conception of beauty is that which inspires confidence. Brilliant.

I wonder if that confidence translates into courage when you're having to fight off questions that were sent to you directly from Satan? Perhaps bewbs are a radio for SPEAKING TO GOD!

More Catholic Than the Pope?

Patti sent along this story, explaining how National Right To Life Committee supporters are incensed that the Catholic Church is taking a moderate view of Obama, supporting his invitation to speak at Notre Dame's commencement. "Why hast thou abandoned me???"

"This restrained view contrasts with charges that Obama is the 'most radical pro-abortion president in history,'" Dionne writes. He notes that although the "consternation on the right over the Vatican article was immediate," many "[r]ank-and-file Catholics do not share in the conservatives' gloominess."

Once again, we have a vocal, radical minority who are holier than thou to the extent that they can't even handle the president speaking at a graduation ceremony. Meanwhile, the Pope just can't seem to make anyone happy these days, even when he's trying to honor those who died in the Holocaust.

China Alarmed By Spread of Swine Flu

They're quarantining people who have visited the US, so they're still in "containment" mode. Don't they have bloggers in China to tell everyone that any reaction to flu is an overreaction?

What boring news this Tuesday.

Roxana

On the happy side, Roxana Saberi has been released. It's important to note that the reason she was jailed is so that you will conclude that Iran is evil and that we shouldn't talk to them. You see, there are people in Iran who think they should engage with the west and there are hard-liners who try to convince their countrymen that America is the biggest evil in the world. The hard-liners, when they're not looking for ways to convince their own people, are looking for ways to make us think we should also giving up talking to Iran. These people are isolationists; they want to be left alone to make Iran as radical as possible. You see how that would be a bad thing, right? So they jail Roxana Saberi after Obama makes overtures to Iran in the hopes that opponents of Obama's diplomacy here in the USA will have more ammunition.

Why was she released? My guess is that moderates in Iran convinced the hard-liners somehow. But her release is surprising, welcome and mysterious.

Posted by James at 9:02 AM | Comments (6)

May 10, 2009

Danger Mouse Cocktail

Fans of James Bond will be familiar with the Vesper cocktail, named after his love interest from Casino Royale. James says he likes to drink just a single cocktail before dinner, and he likes it to be strong. Nobody would argue otherwise about a Vesper.

A regular martini is already pretty strong stuff, especially with today's larger cocktail glasses. I once made the mistake of ordering a Hendrick's Gin martini at Elizabeth's in Fairhaven one night after a symposium. I declined to order dinner, planning to have a quick drink and a relatively quick exit. My mistake. When you say "extremely dry martini" you essentially get a glass of gin. My brain knew this, but my brain was taking a rest after a long week. Halfway through the martini, when my companions were halfway through their dinners, I realized I was going to be there a while. Still, it was a very good martini.

A Vesper is a martini that has been fortified. The modern version of the Vesper (since one of its ingredients is no longer made) contains 3 oz gin, 1 oz vodka, 1/2 oz Lillet Blanc and a couple of dashes of bitters. Lillet Blanc is a white wine with aromatics and botanicals added, taking on a mostly citrus essence.

It's a bracing cocktail, not for the faint of heart, and properly served in a deep champagne goblet. I drank one of these the other night, and found it quite fortifying. If you serve these to your guests, be certain to offer them a room for the night, or to call a cab.

I liked the Lillet Blanc and I think I will always use it in place of vermouth whenever I mix a martini for myself (which isn't often anyhow). But I wanted a cocktail that would have a similar flavor to a Vesper but not pack quite as much punch. So I have invented the Danger Mouse.

Danger Mouse Cocktail

  • 2 oz gin. (London Dry Gin; I'm using Plymouth at the moment)
  • 0.5 oz Lillet Blanc
  • 2 dashes of your best bitters (I'm using Stirrings Blood orange)
  • 1.5 oz tonic water

Shake the gin, Lillet Blanc and Bitters over ice. Pour the tonic water into the shaker. Pour contents of shaker into cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel if desired.

This is quite a bit less powerful than a Vesper. It's got approximately half the alcohol in it. Two ounces of gin is plenty for a casual drink. It's about as strong as a gin and tonic, I suppose. It tastes enough like a Vesper to drink when you're craving one but don't want to pickle yourself.

It's named, of course, for another famous secret agent.

Posted by James at 11:31 PM | Comments (10)

A New Trek

StarTrek_Crew_560x330.jpg

Star Trek, the original series, was one of the glues that held my childhood imaginings together. The original show (ST:TOS as referred to by fans) began the year before I was born. The last episode aired when I was not yet 2 years old. My birthday is smack dab between the airing of "Catspaw" and "I, Mudd."

My mom loves speculative fiction. I had Star Trek imprinted on me at an early age. I reinforced an early imprint with Star Trek reruns which were on day after day, after school. It was never a surprise when people would observe that Star Trek was on the small screen somewhere in the world at any given moment. There were both fewer channels back then and less of a syndicated TV archive. Thus, a Sci-Fi-hungry population was steeped in Trek.

For me, as a kid, Star Trek was part of a template for all sorts of "let's pretend" games. Just as kids before us would play "cops and robbers" or "cowboys and Indians," we played Star Trek. Just like an episode of the show, we threw our own contexts together within a thinly structured universe that existed only for the purposes of adventuring. We could explore some new planet (which was, in reality, that same hill in the woods we explored last week). We could rescue a missing crewman (our friend from down the street who hadn't come out yet). We could use what we had at hand to form whatever outlandish adventure was desired with very few boundaries and no apologies.

A discussion of the character dynamics could fill a number of blog posts. Suffice it to say that Star Trek provided bold character types which gave plenty of play time material to draw from. It was OK to be as different as Spock and Kirk and McCoy were. We explored individuality and common purpose. It's a complex dynamic that people struggle with even as adults as we seek to apply our personal skills in the best possible way.

As the years passed, many would come forward to criticize Star Trek, and tell us how this or that was better than Trek. Personal preferences aside, they just didn't get it. As we got older, we understood the power and compelling nature of story arcs in the serial fiction we enjoyed. We understood that special effects could be spectacular. But to the frustration of Trek-haters, the U.S.S. Enterprise hasn't been easy to supplant. The aspects of ST:TOS which were rooted in the past made us feel nostalgia; the aspects that were timeless made it into a mythology.

Over the years, the keepers of televised Trek have done a decent job exploring and extending that narrative space. My daughter's ST:TOS is Star Trek: Voyager. Is it a coincidence that the series she took to the most was the one which began just before her birth? Like us, she saw them mostly in reruns, and like us she mentally digested the world of Trek and recreated it in her own mind.

So, how can someone go and reboot the entire universe on us?

Star Trek has always been about adventure. We rebooted the universe every time we played in the woods, keeping the general outlines the same. The question was, "are we having fun?" If we weren't, we'd go off and do something else. The mythology can't get in the way of the fun. And stuffy reverence is rarely fun, even if it does get longtime fans to clap on cue. And that's what Trek movies had lost, ever since somewhere around Star Trek IV.

The new Star Trek (2009) is definitely fun. It begins with an event which explosively notifies every Trekkie that almost everything they know about the past is wrong. Casual Trek fans, on the other hand, will just see an exciting and emotional birth of a new franchise. It's as if J. J. Abrams is telling us from the first scene "Just so you know, I'm in the driver's seat. If you relax, you might enjoy the ride."

From then on, it's time for us to absorb this new Star Trek universe which is much like the old universe except for the fact that the adventures can be all new, all different, and you don't know what's going to happen. It blows up the persnickety details of the mythology but keeps everything else. Mythology has always co-evolved with the needs of culture, with common elements represented even when gods become fused with each other to absorb stories from disparate regions. Here we find a deliberate, modern take on the practice, with the time travel rationale already built in to the Star Trek universe and used so many times before.

For the fan, it's important that you know these characters and recognize what you liked about them in the first place, not that you know how everything turns out. The new actors do a wonderful job recreating the impetuousness, curmudgeonry, inner struggle, wit, and exceptionalism of the Enterprise crew plus their knack for making their own luck.

In this new Star Trek, nobody whines about the future having been changed, and nobody even thinks to put it aright. This is something we can all relate to: you have to deal with your own future by facing your problems in the present, solving them and moving on. Not only are we going to move on, but we're going to kick ass.

I don't know about you, but that's how I want to look at the future, and that's how I want to feel when I leave a movie theater.

Posted by James at 10:13 AM | Comments (7)

May 9, 2009

Stupid Story of the Weekend

A Texas couple thought that a man, his 7-year-old son, his 5-year old daughter and a 30-year old family friend were trespassing on their land.

They did the obvious, sensible thing that anyone would do. They shot at them with their shotgun, killing the 7-year-old and seriously wounding the friend.

Turns out the family, who were off-roading, weren't even on the couple's land.

I've heard people brag about how, if someone came onto their land, they'd shoot them. They're proud of it. They think it's their right to express themselves with lead. Trespassers are the devil! Even the thought that someone might be trespassing is the devil! They like to talk about it. It's fun to talk about shooting people!

Just in case you think this is nothing more than a horrible accident:

The Houston Chronicle reported that suspects live in a small house on stilts with a rebel flag flying from the roof. A sign posted out front reads: "Trespassers will be shot. Survivers will be reshot!! Smile I will."

Bishop said the district attorney could upgrade the charges to murder on Monday.

Shoot dem survivers! There's a goddamn TV show and you can't even spell the word right. But you sure know how to aim a shotgun. [golf clap]

Posted by James at 5:34 PM | Comments (5)

May 8, 2009

Refreshing change - Or Not - For Utah

I applaud the Tremonton (Utah) City Council for reversing its own policy on forcing young adults to get permission from parents before being able to borrow certain fiction books, like "Lord of the Rings" and the stories of Stephen King.

However, a big "WTF" goes out to the "Our View" page on the Standard-Examiner's website (out of Ogden, UT):

Within hours after the vote, council members realized they had made a mistake. No one tried to obscure the issue or assign blame elsewhere. Tremonton's council stood up and took the blame.

Wouldn't that be a refreshing change for Washington D.C. or even our state Legislature?

I'm 100% behind them on the praise they heap on the city council, but I had to check the date on this opinion piece. It probably would have been appropriate for 2008, but it's a little past date. Example:

Obama: 'I screwed up' in Daschle withdrawal

The president isn't perfect, but you can't say that he hasn't conducted business differently in the handling of public mistakes.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday abruptly abandoned his nomination fight for Tom Daschle and a second major appointee who failed to pay all their taxes, telling NBC News: "I screwed up."

"I've got to own up to my mistake. Ultimately, it's important for this administration to send a message that there aren't two sets of rules - you know, one for prominent people and one for ordinary folks who have to pay their taxes," Obama said on NBC's "Nightly News with Brian Williams."

Hmm. I agree I'd like to see more of this. Not just in our president.

While we're looking back at the old news of cabinet nominees and their tax problems, this reminds me. Obama's recent announcement to close tax loopholes that have allowed corporations to avoid paying their fair share of the tax burden (while claiming a disproportionate amount of the benefit of the system we all support) was met with opposition from the GOP.

Bizarrely, they complained about a cabinet member who was behind on his taxes, but corporations dodging $200+ billion over the next 10 years need to be protected from this effrontery! While they conceded that corporate tax loopholes are a problem, they gave no alternative plan to combat them. Seems pretty simple to me: close the loopholes. But since Obama suggested that already, it must be wrong.

Posted by James at 3:52 PM | Comments (0)

Play the week off, Keyboard Shotgun!

I didn't encounter any fun online games this week; if you have, please let me know about them in the comments!

(Actually, I did install this Chain Rxn game at Facebook. It's a simple game where you try to start a chain reaction. But I think you can only play it if you've got a Facebook account.)

(If you want to find me on Facebook, btw, I'm here. I mostly use it as an add-on to Twitter, posting different stuff like songs and videos. And keeping in touch with folks who don't use Twitter.)

Oh - and my weekly weighing: 186 lbs.

Posted by James at 8:06 AM | Comments (6)

May 6, 2009

TLA

A previous job in the defense industry exposed me to a vast world of abbreviations for all sorts of long-named technical and administrative inventions. My computer science college career certainly contained it's share of jargon, but the defense industry seemed to raise the practice to an art form. Glossaries would be circulated in the company to inculcate tyros and give seasoned veterans a quick reminder of the meanings of ADCAP, CCS-MK2, AN/BQQ-5, PM/FL, and other such esoterica.

One joke among techies is the abbreviation "TLA" which is said to be a self-referential abbreviation for "three-letter acronym." Techie geeks love self-reference.

But geeks also like precision, and this joke is not precise.

According to the definition, an acronym is an abbreviation formed by the initials of a phrase or other name, but it forms a new word. For example "NATO" (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is not pronounced "en ay tee oh" but rather, "naytoh." It's pronounced as if it is, itself, a word or name.

Abbreviations that are not pronounced, such as "TLA" and "FBI," are more accurately described as "initialisms." They're not words.

Personally, I like acronyms better, because they're more friendly and memorable than a bunch of initials.

If you like the "TLA" joke, then it still works if you take it to mean "three-letter abbreviation." Correct usage makes a difference to me, not because of persnicketiness, but rather because it's a meaningful distinction. If you ask someone to come up with an acronym and they give you an initialism, you wouldn't get what you wanted. Better that people use the correct word rather than having to explain that you want something that can be pronounced.

Posted by James at 12:03 PM | Comments (7)

Different Kind Of Purity

The Republicans said "good riddance" to Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter because of party purity; he was pushed out because he didn't toe the increasingly extremist line.

Now that the Democratic Party is in power, we need to enforce a different kind of party purity: integrity. Sleaze and corruption will grow in the absence of our attention. One of the mistakes of Republicans is that they placed platform adherence over competence and integrity because it was the way they fired up their base and milked the multiplier effect of regressive talk radio and TV like Fox News. Eventually they were caught in the avalanche of accumulated consequences of looking the other way.

In the interest of good government we need to embrace the press and bloggers keeping a close eye on Democratic leaders and the President, and demand integrity of them.

My worry this morning? No-bid defense department contracts like the ones that John Murtha's nephew's company is getting.

Over the years, John Murtha has proudly claimed credit for using his Appropriations Committee seat to steer hundreds of millions in Pentagon work to companies in his district, many of them fledgling enterprises run by campaign contributors. [...]

The command awarded its first storage contract to Murtech without competitive bidding, paying $1.4 million a year. Robert Murtha Jr. says the no-bid arrangement was "the government's choice" and occurred because the government "got itself in a bind." A contract with SA Scientific of San Antonio was about to lapse, and the command needed Murtech, then serving as a subcontractor to the Texas company, to store materials for the military's Critical Reagents Program. The program produces lab materials that can be used in handheld devices and sensors to detect the presence of biological toxins.

"We were uniquely qualified because we had already been doing that work," Murtha said.

That the Army got itself into a bind is a convenient excuse, but without bidding these things turn into huge problems. No bidding means no competition which means complacency, waste and a quicker path to corruption.

We need to shine a cleansing light on this sort of thing.

Hat tip to Majikthise.

Posted by James at 8:36 AM | Comments (2)

May 4, 2009

Weekend Roundup - Vesper and Cioppino

Ours was a relatively unscheduled weekend, though K had her high school placement exam on Saturday, which (according to her) went well. I'm not sure how valuable self-assessment is on those tests; I have noticed that in my own standardized test-taking I am very confident of my answers when I'm correct and when I'm far off. That's a post for another time.

Fish

Maggie and I have decided that we'd like to eat more fish. We both need a way to get more protein without introducing so much cholesterol-inducing fat. The benefit to you, dear reader, is that you may be treated to a seafood dish the next time you're around at dinner time. That is, if I can get confident cooking fish.

To that end, I took K with me after her test to Borders to pick up a cookbook that focused on recipes and techniques for cooking seafood. After a quick on-line search, I settled on Fish Without a Doubt: The Cook's Essential Companion. It looked like the focus was on relatively simple, but versatile recipes. There are lots of sauces and such that can be applied to a number of different fish, and each recipe includes substitutions. Of course, I like to make my own substitutions.

Math

Maggie is spending a good deal of her time studying math. She's very industrious. She'll be taking Linear Algebra at the beginning of the summer and I told her I'd study along with her class. She's tried to get me to look at the book in advance of the class, as she is doing, but I have thus far resisted. I will be having enough fun this week with my PME (Psychology of Math Education) reading I expect to be assigned at any moment.

The Market

I can't stand visiting the supermarket on the weekends. Specifically, I'm talking about Stop & Shop. There's nothing more frustrating that pushing around a carriage that pulls aggressively to the right while trying to circumnavigate people who are standing still, staring off into the distance. Here is a list of the most challenging obstacles you may encounter at the market:

  • The women having a lively social hour in front of the meat counter and their husbands looking lost and bored two or three steps away.
  • The person who seems to be leaning on his carriage more than actually pushing it.
  • The three forlorn carriages arranged at the end of the aisle, and their sprightly owners who are rushing back to them as you push past.
  • The "caravan": a family that uses more than one carriage and moves around as a unit. Understandable when they're buying enough groceries to fill 2 carts, inexplicable otherwise except possibly that the children need something to do.
  • The woman tasting the grapes when you need to get to the electronic scale. (Hint: they taste like grapes. I've never understood this. One white seedless grape tastes like every other white seedless grape you've ever had. Perhaps she's just trying to keep her blood sugar up.)

You know who generally doesn't bother me at the market? Kids. You'd think kids would be annoying in the market, but the ones I notice the most are the ones who elicit a smile because they have either said something cute or they have decided to try to strike up a conversation with me. These are the ones too young to be out of the child seat.

"Hi!" "Hi!" "Hi!"

Say "hello" back and you'll get a huge grin. Gets me every time.

But there are the annoying variety of kids as well, usually at the checkouts. These are the ambulatory variety. Since I use the hand scanner, I want my checkout experience to be quick. I had to resort to one of the lanes with a cashier because I was buying town garbage bags. Besides, the self-serve "12 items or less" aisle was occupied by a fellow who was frantically trying to stuff half of his 40 plus items in bags so he could scan the rest of his carriage-full.

In my aisle I was quickly joined by a family whose presence I noticed because one of the children was tapping on my back while the other was pulling on my jacket. I turned around and was treated to the sight of a pretty motley group. The runts pushed past me and began molesting the poor older gentleman in front of my carriage while they fingered the tabloids, magazines and the candy rack before the matriarch of this brood recalled her progeny, prompting them to push past my carriage again.

I decided to place the carriage between myself and these folks, so I moved in front. The kids took this to mean they could push my carriage, and so the whole family moved up, the kids gripping the cart handle with both hands and their lips. This is why I keep hand sanitizer in my car.

They were pushing on the cart, so I had to plant myself to prevent encroaching on the gentleman to my right. The mother was looking through one of the gossip rags, and the presumable father had moved around to the end of the aisle where he made himself an obstacle as he stood, slack-jawed and glassy-eyed. Sir, I feel your pain.

The older kid pushed past my carriage and me once again, which was fine with me. He was off to bother someone else; the father (ineffectively) played verbal goalie with him as I paid for my order. It was a horror show.

Cioppino

I decided to make the scallop cioppino recipe from the above-mentioned book. It is one of the easier recipes and gets much of its flavor from bell peppers and clam juice. I decided to substitute cod for half the scallops, because Georges Bank scallops are pricey, I like cod, and I didn't want to buy the Chinese kind. Support local scallops!

(Which reminds me, I need to find a decent fishmonger in the area. I'm just not hooked into the local fish purchasing scene, which is half the problem with my lack of seafood expertise. A good cook needs a good fishmonger. Little help, anyone? Who should I be talking to?)

The cioppino was a success, if a teeny bit too spicy (my fault for augmenting the chilies with red pepper flakes). Quite flavorful over linguine. Next time I'll serve it over rice, perhaps with a sourdough bread like they do in San Francisco.

Vesper

Calmed myself down with a Vesper martini. Here's the recipe I used:

  • 3 oz gin
  • 1 oz vodka
  • 1/2 oz Lillet Blanc
  • 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters

Shaken over ice. I skipped the "fruit" (twist of lemon). It's as strong as it sounds. I don't know how James Bond is supposed to have ingested 6 of these over the course of a night (in Quantum of Solace). By my calculations, 6 of these is equivalent to 3/4 of a case of beer. Yikes. That's 3 six packs.

One of these is enough, which is the normal number to consume, according to Bond:

Gosh, that's certainly a drink,' said Leiter.

Bond laughed. 'When I'm...er...concentrating,' he explained, 'I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything, particularly when they taste bad. This drink's my own invention. I'm going to patent it when I think of a good name.'

One of my favorite lines from Casino Royale (the film) is when the bartender asks him if he wants his martini shaken or stirred. Bond replies "Do I look like I give a damn?" He was a little touchy after the poker tournament.

Posted by James at 9:39 AM | Comments (3)

May 3, 2009

Courage, Service, Duty

There are different sorts of courage, and perhaps different degrees of courage. But it's important to recognize courage, to have courage and to act with courage.

We tend to focus on the dramatic when we talk of courage. It's a sort of sensationalism. Sensationalism has its place, but it tends to warp reality and feed both our prejudices and the excuses we tell ourselves.

I'm reminded of a conversation I once had with a wise man (a cousin of mine) about duty and service. It stuck with me, and I've spent a long time thinking about it. I keep returning to it. He had an interesting problem with the phrase "thank you for your service" when people seemed to use it reflexively in talking to members of the armed forces. I don't want to represent, and possibly misrepresent, his opinion. Instead, I'll simply tell you what I took from the conversation.

People exhibit courage every day when they give of themselves to help others, and that's not very sensational. But it is vital to a working society. It is their service, often involving decisions that are not self-serving, that enriches and strengthens the community. It's wrong to think of duty, service and courage as something that other people do because of their chosen profession or their uniform. It's wrong to think that thanking those people absolves you of your own duty. And these reflexive actions do encourage a sort of lionization of certain sorts of service to the detriment of others. The effect is insidious and eventually erosive.

When we're conditioned and reinforced to recognize a very narrow definition of duty and courage, that makes it easier to ignore what those words may mean to our own lives at the moments where these virtues are important in our small decisions and large, life-altering choices.

To summarize (and hopefully prevent myself from belaboring that point) weave service, and courage into the choices of your life rather than simply recognizing them in sensational or pre-approved examples.

Society recognizes courage, but it tends to generate group-approved courage rather than individual courage. The courage of the group is a sort of means of multiplying our power to make change by working together toward a single goal. Society has given us the organization which allows us to lower the bar on courage because our fellow man has "got our back." When we're working together, our comfort zone is larger. That's good news, because our self-sacrifice can be worth more.

However, groups can go astray. What role does courage play then?

Without the cover of your group, it must be incredibly difficult to do what you feel is the right thing. And it is often a thankless job, as Joe Darby has learned. After turning in the pictures of abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, he's left feeling like a marked man. He was run out of his hometown, where they were not very thankful of his service to what he saw as his job, his country and his conscience. He has had to live under armed guard after Donald Rumsfeld revealed his identity. He has sacrificed a number of things, including his peace of mind, for what he thought was right. Joe says he has never regretted turning those pictures in; he doesn't see himself as a hero.

People who do courageous things often say "I don't see myself as a hero. I just did my job." They're not just being modest. What they're really telling us is that it is our job, too.

Posted by James at 2:01 PM | Comments (0)

May 1, 2009

Shotgun's Back!

Shotgun's Back! After an extended hiatus, that stand-by Friday staple which allowed me to post at least once a week without much thought going into it is back! But. For. How. Long?????

Anyhow, here's a smattering of links.

The white noise generator was very helpful when I was trying to study in the office at home. The office is not usually a very quiet place, so to aid in concentration I used sound blocking earplugs They only block some of the sound, though, so I wore headphones over the earplugs and piped white noise through them. Suddenly I was completely isolated. Very peaceful! It made me wonder what an isolation tank is like. I'd love to try one; I hear you can get some pretty cool hallucinations.

Here's a tip on not getting dropped from my Twitter follow list. If you post a link like this, and I click it, there's a good chance I'll stop following you. It recommends adding chiropractic to your flu prevention regimen. Get those subluxations treated before the flu gets you! If there's something I hate, it's quacks taking advantage during an outbreak.

And finally, I need to lose some weight. So I'm going to do what worked last time. I'm going to count calories and post my weight progress here. Once a week, I'll weigh in. My weight today: 187. That's my heaviest weight ever. That's sure do go down without even much trying on my part, so I should have some early encouraging numbers. I'd be happy with a pound/week. Anything more than that is gravy. Mmmmm. Gravy. Damn.

I'm using http://www.twackit.com/ to track my weight. It's a tool that pulls data from your Twitter stream and graphs that data for you.

Posted by James at 8:29 AM | Comments (9)