June 24, 2009


Apparently, now that we use Twitter, we need all new words to describe things we communicate using Twitter. Here are some commonly-used Twitter neologisms, or "tweologisms." (I could have gone with "twortmanteau" but that's just silly, isn't it?)

  • tweeple : Twitter users (people)
  • tweetup : a meetup of people who know each other because of Twitter
  • twhiner : a Twitter user who primarily whines
  • twittilate : to tease and arouse someone with tweets
  • twoops : when you accidental send a private communication to the world via Twitter

What a fun game! Here are some of my own terms I have made up. Not in wide use, but I assume that will immediately be adopted. (NOTE: I can't guarantee other people haven't already used these terms. But i promise you that I thought them up myself. So keep any comments like "hey, so-and-so already uses this term." If you find that these twogisms aren't as neo as you first thought, I will refund your money) (Offer not valid within or outside of the continental USA.)

  • twelousy: when a person is commanded by his spouse to drop a Twitter friend based on the appearance of his/her avatar or content of his/her tweets
  • twastration : when a man follows said command
  • twipped : ... more than once
  • twabstinence : what happens when a man does not follow said command
  • twivorce : legal separation from your spouse after you post information about your sex life (or lack thereof) to Twitter
  • twawyer : the new, unwelcome person in your life after being served twivorce papers
  • twalimony : paying for former spouse's DSL / cable modem service
  • twisogyny : subtle anti-woman overtones in the tweets of bitter male tweeple
  • twirty old man : You see where this is going. The future of Twitter. It ain't pretty.
Posted by James at 8:34 PM | Comments (8)

Hopeful Implosions

The bright stars in the Republican firmament, the ones with their sights on a run for president in 2012, are going supernova all over the place. Most notably in the recent news are Senator Ensign and Governor Sanford.

Senator John Ensign, Republican of Nevada was a pillar of virtue in the GOP. At least, he preached virtue. Back in the 1990's, Ensign insisted that President Clinton resign because of his infidelities. How times have changed!

At the beginning of June, Ensign made a speech in Sioux City, Iowa (a Republican Stronghold). Presidential candidates are often made or broken in Iowa. A local radio spot touted Ensign as "a rising star in the conservative movement."

Before a couple of weeks had gone by, Ensign was admitting to the nation that he'd had an affair with a former staffer of his. The story is a bit more complicated than that, of course. There's a question of other wrongdoing in the case: possible extortion and whether Ensign used his influence to get the staffer's husband a job.

And, gee, it looks like Fox News has dirty fingers in this story as well. Ensign's mistress' angry husband wrote a letter and an email to Fox News for help in outing Ensign and saving his marriage. After the man claims to have sent these communications, Ensign suddenly confessed. The initial story on why he confessed was that he knew a major news outlet had gotten hold of the story. Oddly, that was later retracted. And Fox is denying it even got the letter, and that it ignored the email. Seems like quite a series of coincidences. Fox denies tipping off Ensign, but i have a hard time believing their story.

Ensign must have a guardian angel close by, because not a week after his story broke, the Republican governor of Georgia South Carolina (apparently, I had Georgia on my mind) went missing.

Governor Sanford's wife said he was away writing over the Father's Day weekend. His staffers claimed he was out walking the Appalachian Trail. Neither of those stories were true, it turns out. What was he really doing on Fatner's Day? Hanging out with his mistress. In Argentina.

Sanford is... er, make that was chairman of the Republican Governor's Association. Fox wasn't involved in covering up his scandal, but they are hoping that you think he's a Democrat.

Republicans everywhere are really hoping that this Iran story explodes soon. Before the rest of their party does.

Posted by James at 4:48 PM | Comments (2)

June 23, 2009

Dear-Office Politics

Dear OP game book

We have some pretty good relationships in the office where I work, but nowhere in the working world is free from the quirks of office politics.

I didn't realize that one of my Twitter friends (@frankejames) is an author who has written a book about office politics. The book is in the form of a game. From the website, it's a...

dilemma-based social game that teaches you how to play (and laugh at) office politics.

Dear Office-Politics lets YOU be an Office Politics Adviser and offer your best, sage advice. And then it turns the tables, and puts you into the role of Advice-seeker!

Sounds like it could be fun. The dilemmas in the book are taken from the website Office-Politics; people submit their questions in search of advice.

I'm intrigued.

I learned of the book when Ms. James tweeted that someone had purloined a couple of signed copies of the book when they were on their way to the recipients. To quote her "who steals an ethics book?"

Posted by James at 12:47 PM | Comments (2)

Playing On Your Brain's Weakness For Food

I mentioned earlier in the month that CSPI was trying to alert people to the outrageous calorie content. I think there might have been a misunderstanding about why I thought this was an interesting and worthwhile story.

I think that people do realize that they're splurging when they go to a restaurant, but I don't think they're aware that one restaurant meal can offer well over a full day's recommended calories. And I think this lack of understanding contributes to obesity in this country.

Of course, it won't make any difference if people aren't trying to be careful about what they eat. But the sneaking of more calories into food is an art that has developed into a science.

Yesterday we saw the president sign a landmark bill to regulate tobacco products. Part of this new law will govern the nicotine in smoking products. The cigarette companies have a history of manipulating nicotine levels in cigarettes to reinforce addiction in their customers. These activities are well-documented.

These manipulations were discovered because Massachusetts requires manufacturers to use a more realistic test to measure how much nicotine is deliverable to typical smokers and requires companies to report design features of their cigarettes. When Harvard researchers reanalyzed the data they found that the nicotine yield per cigarette rose by an average of 11 percent between 1998 and 2005, a conclusion contested by the industry.

Harvard researchers concluded that the companies managed this by using tobacco containing a higher concentration of nicotine and perhaps also by slowing the rate at which cigarettes burned - thus increasing the number of puffs per cigarette. The companies presumably hoped that additional nicotine would hook more new customers and keep old ones from breaking the habit.

There is a general understanding that addiction to cigarettes is difficult to overcome, and that smoking is not simply a failing of will power. In signing yesterday's bill, the president acknowledged his own struggles with tobacco. Knowledge of the strength of this addiction makes people a bit more understanding about why folks continue to smoke when it puts their health at risk. Addiction is a huge contributing factor, though not the only reason people smoke.

Another result of this knowledge is that there are efforts by society to aid sufferers, and prevent more people from being afflicted.

Personally, I'm not fond of being exposed to smoke, and I have never been very compassionate about involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke. However, I do sympathize with people who struggle to quit. They feel the lingering effects of a drug that was designed to make them lifelong customers of a destructive business.

It's not smart to start smoking, but a decision like that should not put you at the mercy of a predatory industry which enlists your biology against you. I liken it to being slipped a rape drug. Just because you show up at a party and have a beer doesn't mean it's OK for someone to slip a substance into your drink that compromises your ability to control what happens to you. The effort to increase the addictiveness of cigarettes is a similar attack on a much larger scale.

Now, it seems, people are finding that the food industry benefits from some complex neurochemistry and the manipulation of ingredients:

In "The End of Overeating," Dr. Kessler finds some similarities in the food industry, which has combined and created foods in a way that taps into our brain circuitry and stimulates our desire for more.

When it comes to stimulating our brains, Dr. Kessler noted, individual ingredients aren't particularly potent. But by combining fats, sugar and salt in innumerable ways, food makers have essentially tapped into the brain's reward system, creating a feedback loop that stimulates our desire to eat and leaves us wanting more and more even when we're full.

If we dismiss overeating as simply a lack of willpower, that's an easy out for those of us who have healthy habits. But we're all bearing the burden of the effects of smoking and overeating. From both a practical and a compassionate view, it behooves us to recognize that there are educational, informational, economic and neurobiological factors. Possible practical solutions in the future positively depend on this.

Posted by James at 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2009

IPAwesome - New Favorite Man O'War IPA

I have to crow about how proud I am of my cousin Bull and his IPA. For lack of knowing a specific name, I'll call it Man O'War IPA (that's a link to his blog post about it), but informally I call it "delicious."

I'm not a fan of overpowering hops; some of the pricier and fancier IPAs out there today trying to make a name for themselves want to be EXTREME, so they just dial up the hops and call it a day. Not so for this IPA. Yes, the hops are the prominent feature of this beer. That's as it should be. The hops are front and center, but as the hops fade, you get a nice progression of fruits and grain.

In his own assessment on his blog, Bull noted a grapefruity essence -- I noted this as well on the tail end of this brew. A big fan of grapefruit and citrus notes in beer, that's why I love dry-hopped brews. Not only do they affect the nose, as intended, the hop oils often impart some fragile and harder-to-predict essences that the brewing process would destroy. Dry-hopping (adding the hops in the fermenter, long after the boil) allows these oils to live in the beer and make into your nose and palate.

Bull entered this beer in the Yankee Spirits homebrew competition. I have no idea what other beers he'll be up against, but I believe that the judges will be as impressed with this beer as I am. I have shared this beer with cousin Bob, and cracked another open last night for Julie to try and the consensus is that this is a professional-quality brew. Best of luck in the competition, Man O'War.

Posted by James at 3:09 PM | Comments (4)

The Gin Quench

Recent burger, fries and steak consumption notwithstanding, I've been trying to watch calories. This is no fun, especially if you like beer and mixed drinks.

The gin and tonic is a summer favorite, but tonic water has a lot of sugar in it. The alcohol in gin doesn't help, either.

Coming up with lower calorie alternatives means I can feel less guilty when I do splurge and enjoy a beer, a real gin and tonic, or a burger.

Sometimes, you can create a low-calorie version of a drink and it works out great. Other times, it's best to go a slightly different direction. I don't love diet tonic water, and most of my G&Ts are heavy on the gin, so I need an actual substitute that is enjoyable and light. I've found one that's simple. It's not a gin and tonic, but it's not trying to be. It's just trying to be drinkable and refreshing, and it succeeds at that.

The Gin Quench

  • 1 packet of Crystal Light "On the go" Natural Lemonade Flavor
  • 1 shot of Rangpur gin
  • juice of 1 lime
  • cold water
  • ice cube (optional)

In a reusable 20 oz bottle, empty the packet of flavoring, the shot of gin and the lime juice. Drop in the ice cube and shake to mix. Fill bottle with water, shake again and enjoy.


  • Your favorite sugar-free lemonade, already mixed.
  • 1 shot of your favorite gin
  • juice of 1 lime

In a reusable 20oz bottle, add the gin and the lime juice. Fill with the lemonade, shake and enjoy.

This drink is low in alcohol and calories, but has a decent flavor and is very refreshing. I would recommend that you make this with grapefruit flavored gin, but Seagrams no longer produces its fine Grapefruit Twisted Gin. The blaggards.

Posted by James at 12:53 PM | Comments (4)

Steaky McSteakerson

I stumbled upon a really good recipe for a steak marinade. Literally, I found it while using the StumbleUpon plugin. It was entitled "Best Steak Marinade in Existence."

Of course, I can't follow a recipe without fiddling with it, and ended up making my own modifications. So, I present to you my version. I suspect this would actually be a good marinade for chicken as well, although I would only marinate chicken for a couple of hours, rather than 8 hours.

This recipe worked best where the tips were slightly charred, like a blackened steak but not super-spicy like a Cajun recipe.

Steaky McSteakerson Sirloin Tips Marinade

  • 1/3 cup soy sauce (or Tamari)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil (or other oil)
  • 1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 3 tablespoons "Italian Seasoning" (a mix of Basil, Oregano, Rosemary, and Thyme)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dried parsley flakes
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
  • 3+ cloves fresh garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons of sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Adolph's Meat Tenderizer (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon MSG (optional)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl.

Add steak tips (around 1-2 lbs) to bowl and toss to cover. Or, add steak tips to ziplock bag and pour marinade over tips.

Place in refrigerator for 8 hours. If using a ziplock bag, turn the bag over 4 hours in to help evenly distribute the marinade.

Fire up grill to high heat. Oil grill to prevent sticking, then add tips. Continue to grill over high heat, turning tips when they are slightly charred on the outside. the charred bits are delicious. The ton of spices tend to stick to the tips. As they blacken, they release an incredible aroma and flavor.

Technorati :

Posted by James at 11:22 AM | Comments (1)

Saturday Shoterday-gun

Better late than never:

Yeah, I didn't do a lot of websurfing for links this week. I did weigh in at 176.5, though, surely an aberration because I had skipped breakfast (in anticipation of having an early lunch with Ryan at Ugly American) and the night before I'd only eaten "froyo" for dinner.

Posted by James at 10:49 AM | Comments (3)

June 19, 2009

Parking Weirdness Day

From Aces

I like posting to my blog best when something weird or stupid is happening; I like to tell you about out-of the ordinary things. Thursday was a little weird, because it had a theme of "parking."

First off, we met friends in New Bedford for tacos and conversation. Folks from the office brought along some visiting academics and we talked about math education and whether tapping an unopened soda can will stop the thing from exploding on you (see below).

We'd parked in the pay lot behind the Seaman's Bethel. For some reason I only thought we'd be there for an hour, so I paid only a dollar. Oops. I lost track of time, never came back out to pay for another pass and we ended up with a ticket for $10. ironically, the City of New Bedford already owes me $2 from the last time I parked there and paid them $5 when I only needed to park for 3 hours; the machine doesn't give change, so they gave me an IOU. So, I owe them $8. At least, I assume they'll see it that way when I go in to pay the fine. Maggie has convinced me not to charge them interest on the $2 of mine they've been holding on to.

So, kind of a bummer.

Later, we headed up to the Providence Place Mall so Maggie could get some frozen yogurt before her exam. Unscientific tests show that she does better on an exam when she has "froyo" for dinner. After we are, we parted ways and the girls and I returned to our car.

When we got there, I saw there was a note on my windshield. I've scanned it so you could see it (the image is slightly edited, just leaving the relevant details). It's a message from a helpful parking attendant trying to tell me that I shouldn't make it obvious that I own a GPS device. Apparently, he or she is telling me that I am in danger of having my car broken into if the mount for my GPS is visible in the car. I'm assuming that they know from experience that this is something that puts my car at risk. It seems like an odd little note; I've never gotten one of these before. But it seems as though its heart is in the right place.

Aaaaanyhow. thanks for the warning. I will be more careful in the future. The "S - A - 40" is a bit mysterious. Dunno what the deal is there. I've edited out my license plate number, but that was included as well.

So, that's the second thing I'd found on my windshield in the course of the day. Better than the parking "ticket." The day got slightly weirder after that.

As we were leaving the parking garage, I noticed there were 3 lanes open at the exit. If you've never been to the Providence Place Mall, these are automated toll lanes. You pay for your parking before you leave the mall, then you insert your card at the toll station which verifies that you have paid. The arm of the gate lifts and you drive out.

For anything under 3 hours, the parking cost is a cheap-as-Hell $1. It goes up after that, but nothing like the $31 you can easily spend at a garage near Faneuil Hall, Boston for a few short hours.

As we approached the three empty lanes, I noticed cars behind me. I pulled into the middle toll lane and expected the other cars to fan out to fill all three lanes, but they lazily remained in a parade behind me as if they didn't know the other lanes were open, or didn't care. I mentioned it to the girls and we found the inefficiency of it all a bit annoying. Especially because the truck directly behind me was right on my rear bumper.

I gave the toll robot my ticket, the gate opened and I rolled through. As I rolled forward, the pickup behind me stayed right on my bumper. She was trying to get through the booth without paying -- "tailgating" through the booth! Unlucky for her, I was driving too slowly. The gate gently came down on her truck. The exit was sharply to the left, and she'd expected me to roll quickly through, oblivious, and then cut left out of her way; she would have passed me on the right, zipping around me unsafely and crossing into other exit lanes.

Changing plans, she darted slightly to her left, I turned my car left, toward the exit. There was no room for her to pass there, and now she was practically up against the door of my car with the grill of her truck. I could look her in the face this way and said to her "What the heck are you trying to do?" She looked back at me with an expression that said "I need to get the frak out of this parking garage, and fast!" I think she actually said something, which was probably "Go!"

I don't take kindly to being tailgated, but I am not the Mall Parking Garage Police. I just shook my head and pulled forward, at which point she zipped around behind me and then to my right, cutting off another exiting vehicle. I took a left out the exit and she sped away to the right.

The girls were quite amused by the whole incident, and we talked about cons, theft and stealing all the way home.

At one time, there were human attendants at those booths. I don't know why they switched to the current system, but I strongly suspect it has something to do with corruption and the large number of low denomination bills that would change hands at the booth. And how many of those bills might go missing. Having robot tool operators means there is nobody there to yell and scream when someone exploits the system.

Now that I've witnessed one way to cheat the Mall Parking Lot out of a dollar, it certainly doesn't seem worth it to me. Maybe she had parked there for a year or so and owed something like a grand.


On the subject of soda cans, tapping the top does little to prevent an explosion. But some people say that tapping the sides does make a huge difference. Why? Shaking a can causes some of the dissolved carbon dioxide to come out of solution. It forms bubbles. the bobble cling to the sides of the can. If you open the can, those bubbles expand rapidly and fly upward, forcing anything above them out of the can.

However, if you can dislodge the bubbles from the sides of the can, they float to the top. Without any soda above them, they expand relatively harmlessly as the can is opened.

I plan to try this. I hear it doesn't work with diet soda, though, so be careful with diet. Something about the bubbles being more likely to stay clinging to the sides.

Posted by James at 1:55 AM | Comments (14)

June 15, 2009

Return on an Anti-Science Societal Investment

Pentagon fears technology edge may be eroding; Defense officials cite shortage of scientists (Boston Globe)

Looking for a job?

"We don't have enough people going into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics," added Werner Dahm, the chief scientist of the Air Force, adding that "the best and the brightest get hired away by industry."

The gap between supply and demand in science and engineering skills is a nationwide problem that has been brewing for years. A study last year by the National Science Foundation found that the number of graduates with science and engineering degrees - at the bachelor's level or higher - increased by an average rate of 1.5 percent a year from 1980 to 2005. But the average employment growth for such jobs each year over the same period was 4.2 percent.

Thing is, we shouldn't have a deficit of people going into these fields. We're a well off country; we should be able to get our kids educated and into STEM careers.

I can't tell you what THE problem is, but I can tell you that motivation is one difficult-to-surmount problem. And while it is only one factor, it is a factor that has a social component. This implies to me that the social context has a role to play, either as part of the problem or part of a solution.

When Sputnik was launched, we saw a space race propel young people into STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) careers. But when we have been attacked by terrorists, we seem to have pounded our calculators into swords. I don't believe that math, science and technology are a panacea for terrorism, but advanced technology is a force multiplier that allows us to throw fewer bodies and more brains at any problem we choose.

A society is beset by any number of difficulties. Whether they are from enemies who seek to do us harm, environmental forces, diseases, economic woes, or what-have-you, together they sap a nation's capacity. If you like the society you're in, you have to think about what you can do to keep it going. This is why I've spoken about shared responsibility in the past. I'm all for frivolous endeavors to balance one's life, but the country needs its best minds working to solve humanity's problems. Global terrorism is but one of those problems, but in a sense our entire set of problems are interlinked, in that solutions draw from the same pool of resources.

I think that mathematics education is a huge issue for the future of this country and that of the free world if we are to see freedom's perpetuation, progress and growth. I see basic enemies of freedom ready to mire us in extremism, anti-intellectual fundamentalism, and violence.

Why have we not seen the sort of rush to STEM as we have at times in the past? I believe our attitudes play a huge role. When was the last time you were asked to observe a holiday honoring engineers?

Not that such holidays necessarily result in more engineers; many people will tell you that Memorial Day is squandered. But STEM is not embraced by our society. People are still considered nerds and geeks if their minds draw them to technical or theoretical problems.

What do we do about it? I don't know. Motivating the population as a whole is beyond my knowledge. Do you start small and learn to motivate individual students, or go big and declare STEM careers "patriotic?" Or do you go the Dick Cheney route and tell people we're all gonna die if kids don't start embracing their homework?

I'll try to do my part on a small level, but I think it's going to take a much wider effort.

Posted by James at 11:13 AM | Comments (12)

June 12, 2009

Rush Shotgun

I'm on my way out the door, but here you go!

Also, I weighed in at 179 lbs... again. Hello plateau!

Posted by James at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

June 9, 2009

Destination Soups

We were in New Bedford yesterday to visit the Whaling Museum and to hang out. K has the week off from school because she's not going on the school's D.C. trip and we are putting her on an alternate education program for the week so that she doesn't have to sit through movies and stuff with the other kids who didn't go to D.C. (We're going to D.C. later in the month).

For lunch, we wandered over to Destination Soups for lunch.

I've enjoyed their fare before. they make a mean sloppy joe. But I think I found their perfect lunch. K's eyes were bigger than her tummy and she over-ordered. Both a mac and cheese side dish and a grilled cheese sandwich. i never order grilled cheese because I am not a huge fan of cheese. I don't always love the flavor of cheese, though I have my favorites. I generally abstain because I don't mind skipping cheese calories.

Here I was faced with a sandwich my daughter couldn't finish (she ate 2 bites of it). I did my fatherly duty, as I learned by example from my own father. Cleanup patrol.

I'd ordered creamy tomato basil soup. i have to tell you, the buttered sourdough slices covered with cheddar and provolone were perfectly buttery and gooey. Dipped in the creamy tomato basil soup, they were divine. The soup was like liquid pizza.

I can never, ever again say I don't like grilled cheese sandwiches. Thank you, Destination Soups!

Posted by James at 10:24 AM | Comments (3)

June 5, 2009

Private Shotgun

Weekly weigh-in: 179, still.

Posted by James at 12:34 PM | Comments (4)

June 4, 2009

Tabbouleh Recipe

I love this stuff. The Levantine salad that was ubiquitous at summer gatherings in my youth. When people's gardens are giving up tomatoes and the parsley is plentiful, it's time to make tabouleh!

When I encountered parsley at restaurants, it was always in little sprigs on a plate as a garnish. It always gave me the impression that it was an herb that grew in small amounts. A few years ago when we harvested shopping bags full of the stuff from our garden, it started to dawn on me why people turned it into its own salad.

When I wanted to make this myself, Maggie pointed me to a recipe we had from a good book that my family sometimes uses. I stayed up late one night preparing this for folks at work, and it just wasn't flavorful enough. As a salad, I think some people expect the stuff to fade into the background. I want my salad to be worth eating as a main dish if necessary. So I have adjusted the ingredients and cranked up the flavor. You can listen to the song while you make it.

Tabbouleh Salad


3/4 cup dry burghul (bulghur wheat)
2 large bunches of parsley, rinsed and chopped (approximately 4 cups when chopped)
1 cup fresh mint, chopped (or 3/4 cup dried mint)
1 bunch of scallions/green onions, chopped (6-8 scallions)
1 small onion chopped
4 plum tomatoes, diced small (or 2 large tomatoes)
2/3 cup lemon juice
3 tsp salt (or to taste)
pepper to taste (1/2 tsp)
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Rinse the burghul and squeeze it dry. Place in a large bowl.

Grab your parsley bunches by the leaves and chop off most of the stems. It's OK if you leave some, but it's best ro reduce the amount of stem in the salad.
Chop the parsley, mint, scallions and onion. I pulse them in a food processor in small batches. Be careful not to over-process. Pulse until it's chopped to a medium amount.
Add to the bowl, then add the lemon juice.
Toss to mix.
Add 2 tsp of the salt, mix and taste. If necessary, add the remaining tsp.
Add pepper to taste.
Add cinnamon and toss.
Just before serving, add the olive oil and toss. Some folks use up to 1/2 cup. I actually think you can get away with 1/4 cup, but for company I would use 1/3 cup.

Burghul (bulghur) can be found at middle-eastern markets, and may also be found at health food stores. I plan to experiment with high fiber burghul.

Gluten-free variation:

I hear cooked quinoa makes a good salad. I have not tried this myself yet, but I expect that a similar amount of quinoa, cooked and then cooled would stand in fine for the burghul. I may experiment with quinoa salads myself just because I hear it's a good source of nutrients.

Posted by James at 11:35 AM | Comments (11)

June 3, 2009

Super-Size You

Maggie forwarded this story to me. It’s about the latest press release from CSPI, the people who brought you the warning against “buttered” theater popcorn and sneaky chinese food dishes:

It’s as if restaurants are on a mission to make bad food even worse,” says Jayne Hurley, a CSPI nutritionist. Fifteen years ago, restaurants entrees or appetizers might top out at 1,000 calories, and now we are finding in them in the 2,000 calories range.”

The article lists some of CSPI’s worst offenders for high calorie entrees, some reaching heights of 2800 calories.

It’s pretty amazing. The restaurants actually love this sort of news story because it allows them to make statements like this:

Mark Mears, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for The Cheesecake Factory, says, “With over 200 items on our menu, we have literally something for everyone. We have items that are very healthy, and we have some items that are more indulgent. The portions at The Cheesecake Factory have always been generous.

Essentially, it’s an opportunity for them to advertise their food selection and describe themselves as “generous” and “indulgent” — traits people look for when they’re going out to dinner.

The trend toward increasing the size of meals will likely continue. The advantages are too great for the restaurateur. Large meals are seen as “generous” and “getting your money’s worth”. It brings people in the door; increased customer traffic is a good thing. Increasing the price of a meal and increasing the size means more profit per customer. Ka-ching.

But what Mr. Mears goes on to say is also true. These larger meals are a good size for people to share, or for people to take home for a second meal.

Taking food home has obstacles. It requires willpower, many meals are not nearly as good reheated, and if you’re far from your refrigerator it isn’t always safe to carry around cooked food that is within the bacterial growth temperature danger zone.

Splitting a meal between two people requires that the restaurant takes kindly to the practice. Restaurants look at every seat as bringing in a certain amount of money. If you buy one meal for two people, they may see you as costing them money. It also means a smaller tip for the waitstaff with pretty much the same amount of work. I don’t know about you, but it makes me uncomfortable to think I’m eating in a place that may be unhappy that I’m splitting a meal. If you plan to do that, you can ask before you’re seated if there are any policies against it, or how a restaurant feels about it.

It’s a little disingenuous for restaurant folks to say “you can just split a meal” — if that is an approved activity, they could mention it on the menu or offer half-sized meals. Again, they don’t want to offer those meals because they are not as profitable.

Regardless, if you care about your health, you probably ought to split your restaurant meals or make a habit of taking food home. Even 1,000 calories is a lot for one meal, considering you eat three meals a day. The secret to restaurant food, most of the time, is a generous use of butter. Butter makes things delicious and sends your calories skyrocketing. This means that if you’re trying to watch your weight, eating out is nearly out of the question unless you are extremely vigilant in your choices (with restaurants and with the dishes you order) and in your willpower.

Bonus: This article has a number of tips on restaurant eating. Most of them are common sense, but still good to keep in mind.

Posted by James at 10:26 AM | Comments (13)

June 2, 2009

Struck Again By Terrorists

Plain and simple, the killing of Dr George Tiller is an act of terrorism. Suspects in this case ought to be considered suspected terrorists.

Terrorism is, plain and simple, violence or the threat of violence for the purpose of intimidating and coercing to bring about an ideological change. The targeting of doctors who perform abortions is an act of terrorism intended to further the ideological agenda of the pro-life movement, whether these are officially sanctioned or not.

Just as islamist terrorists have their supporters, you can find a network of moral support among terrorist sympathizers here in this country. The evidence appeared on Twitter as people eagerly weighed in with their approval and support of this terrorist act.

The fact that the news does not call this terrorism and does not call Scott Philip Roeder a suspected terrorist shows a strong bias. What sort of bias? Is it pro-Christian bias? Anti-Muslim bias? There doesn't appear to be any such reluctance when the perpetrator is Muslim. Richard Reid and Jose Padilla were both considered suspected terrorists before they were convicted. And their plans never came to fruition. You tell me what it means.

If we are going to target terrorism, we cannot ignore domestic terrorism and we can't ignore that terrorism can be performed by non-Muslims, even Christians.

In Jose Padilla's case, the judge sentenced him to over 17 years for conspiracy. Judge Cooke was quoted saying that such conspiracy would not be treated lightly. Cooke said: "The sentence will serve to inform others [...] that conspiracy to support murder, maiming and kidnapping will not be tolerated in this country."

I know that law enforcement works hard to find a killer when a shooting like this occurs, but is the conspiracy to support such terrorism getting sufficient treatment when the conspirators are white? I don't ask this lightly, we are already seeing tolerance in the language used against certain types of terrorists. They are not called suspected terrorists for their actions, and that's wrong.

I don't care where it's coming from, the use of violence to further an ideological agenda or intimidate a population is wrong and it is erosive to our society. We needn't pull punches in calling it out.

Perhaps as they link this suspect to extremist groups, the news media will eventually find the courage to call this act what it is: the first high-profile act of terrorism during the Obama administration. Their reluctance should be disheartening to anyone who wants to live in an equitable and safe society.

BONUS: A current events story about what is happening in Tanzania, where abortions are illegal.

Posted by James at 8:58 AM | Comments (8)

June 1, 2009

If You Had 2/3 Of A Brain

Jim Correia tweeted this story earlier about trouble figuring out how to fulfill a 2/3 majority vote:

In a vote of 136 to 70, voters passed a new time limit on how quickly a cottage colony, cabin colony, motel or hotel can be converted to condominiums. [...]

The exact count of the vote - 136 to 70 -had town officials hitting their calculators yesterday. The zoning measure needed a two-thirds vote to pass. A calculation by town accountant Trudy Brazil indicated that 136 votes are two-thirds of 206 total votes, said Town Clerk Cynthia Slade.

Brazil said she used the calculation of .66 multiplied by 206 to obtain the number.

But using .6666 - a more accurate version of two-thirds - the affirmative vote needed to be 137 instead of 136, according to an anonymous caller to town hall and to the Times.

Slade said that she called several of her colleagues to see how they calculate a two-thirds vote, and the answer varied widely. In Provincetown, Town Clerk Doug Johnstone uses .66. But Johnstone said he'd never had a close vote where it might matter.

Whoa. There are so many things wrong here.

They're using 0.66 as an approximation of 2/3 in a calculation where the measured data has a precision of three digits? Sloppy.

Even if you don't know about precision, there is no need to approximate 2/3 this roughly on a calculator; you just divide 2 by 3 and the calculator does the approximation for you.

Here's what my calculator says is the value for 2/3: 0.6666666667. That's an approximation good enough for any town vote. It is rounded up at the end there because nobody's calculator can represent 2/3 in decimal without rounding.

Which brings us to another question: why did they round their approximation down? 0.6 repeating rounds at two decimal places up to 0.67, but they chose to round down to 0.66. It turns out that 206 * 0.67 = 138.02. Whoops, looks like they might be two votes shy! 0.67 isn't a very good approximation of 2/3; it's just slightly better than 0.66.

Why deal with approximations at all? 206 * 2/3 = 137 1/3. (I'm sure you can do the math with the fractions.) That extra 1/3 tells me that 137 votes is not enough to exceed 2/3 of 206. We have to ask "what does it mean for a vote to be required to pass by a 2/3 majority?"

In government matters, rules decide the way things work. If they have some bylaw that says the "yea" vote must equal or exceed the total number of votes multiplied by 0.66 and then subsequently truncated, then that's the law. But it seems silly to have a law that essentially defines 0.66 as 2/3, and I don't believe we do.

I think the law probably intends that at least 2/3 of the voters must vote for the measure. That is very easy to test.

If the yea votes divided by the total vote is greater than 2/3, then it passed! It's calculated just like it sounds. The ratio must be greater than 2/3.

Is 136 more than 2/3 of 206?

136 / 206 = 0.660194175

0.660194175 is indisputably less than 2/3. So the 2/3 requirement has not been achieved. What happens if you get one more vote?

137 / 206 = 0.665048544

Whoops! 137 votes is also less than 2/3! it's close, but it's actually about 0.00161812298 votes less than 2/3. I say "about" because everything is an approximation when you're dealing with a repeating decimal like 2/3. Well, not everything. I can tell you with absolute certainty that 137 is less than 2/3.

138 / 206 = 0.669902913

Hooray! 138 is definitely more than 2/3 of 206. It's arithmetically defensible that with 138 votes you have met or exceeded a 2/3 majority.

"But James" you say. 137 and even 136 are close enough!!! Look, either a number of votes is over 2/3 of the total or it isn't. That isn't up for argument. And you need at least 138 to exceed 2/3. Let's try a f'rinstance.

Let's say the law says you need a 2/3 majority. We'll use the Truro accountant's method. But, oops - only four people show up to vote! Two vote yea and two vote nay. So, how many votes did you need for your 2/3 majority? Four * 0.66 = 2.64. Continuing the trend of rounding down, that means we need two votes. I think you can see that's wrong. 50% definitely does not satisfy a 2/3 majority. It's a silly example, but it's also silly to approximate 2/3 with 0.66, and to always round down.

To be fair, they were obviously taken by surprise because they had adopted a lousy method for calculating 2/3 of the vote. Perhaps the law calls for a really flawed method for calculating 2/3 of a vote. I doubt it, but stranger things have happened. Regardless of that, shouldn't a town accountant be able to tell you whether a number is at least two thirds of some other number? That's middle school math, the last time I checked.

Posted by James at 9:41 PM | Comments (11)

Trailer Collision

A couple of Fridays ago I wrote:

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.

This weekend a woman died when she drove into one of these landscaping trucks. It was on Chase St, a place I used to ride my bike frequently as a teenager.

The woman was very old and it appears she dove right up the back of the trailer. it seems likely she was an impaired driver.

The trailer owner did make an attempt to make his truck even more visible by placing cones around and behind the truck. However, the problem with these trucks is not their visibility -- the cones are more for the safety of the owner of the truck as he walks around his trailer, warning people to give the thing a wide berth when passing.

As you can see from the comments on that news story, people want to point fingers at the woman or the truck owner. They're missing the point.

In completely ideal conditions, there are no accidents. But the world is not an ideal place. There are distractions, impairments, and situations that chip away at the chance that everything will go according to plan. in the aggregate they can contribute to an unsafe condition.

Nobody can argue that these trailers kill people. But no amount of cones can prevent a trailer from requiring you to cross into oncoming traffic as you go by. These trailers are an obstacle that often reduce the safe driving condition of the roadway.

Considering how vigilant the town is at policing things like signage, maybe a little attention needs to be paid to whether the laws are being followed when these trucks block the road. Maybe more of these yard workers will ask their clients whether they can park the trucks in the driveway instead of blocking the road. I'd like to see that.

Posted by James at 11:51 AM | Comments (3)