Monday, June 30, 2008
Those brownies are not long for this world....
5 tablespoons butter or marg.
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Optional: chocolate chips, nuts
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Melt the margarine or butter in microwave,
Pour into mixing bowl and stir in brown sugar, vanilla and egg with a wooden spoon, until mixture looks smooth and glossy.
Blend in the flour, baking powder, and salt until all of the ingredients are well combined.
If desired, add chocolate chips, nuts, or other filler.
Spray a 8 or 9" square baking pan.
Pour mixture into pan.
Bake for 25 mins (8") or 20 mins (9").
While warm, cut the brownies into squares.
Allow to cool completely before removal from pan.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
I had to lower the seat about three inches just to get my leg over it. And this was my non-injured leg. The other one, I'd have to lay the bike down, step over it, and hoist it up underneath me. This one, it comes close, but I can do it. I promised my wife (more like a disguised request for help, actually) that I would not try to ride the bike unless she was around. Guaranteed, if I fall, I'm walking home. She thinks I should get a recumbent bike. I do like the way they look, but I'm not willing to spend the money for one, nor do we have any place to store one of those monsters. So if I'm going to ride, this is going to be what its on.
The good news is, my mobility continues to improve -- slowly, but I can see it. I don't have to 'loosen my hip' when I get out of bed. I don't have to (usually) lean on something to get up after using the john. I can (usually) stand on one leg while getting my pants on (though I tend to do it within falling distance of the bed). So, things are improving. No one would call me limber, though. More like lumber.
As in, timberrrrrr!
It brought to mind the Microsoft Passport, which I thought of the other day when I was reading an article about an effort to create a neutral ID registration authority. The idea, as I understood it, was that this agency would authenticate you (yes, you are authentic!), and from there on, for however long, any authentications needed would be done behind the scenes. It wouldn't literally be a one-id signon, which Passport was supposed to be, but it would have the same effect. I don't know why Passport didn't work, globally; in my case, it was that I didn't trust Microsoft, as a rule, and I didn't trust that the system would remain secure. I still think that, both about Passport and about this neutral authority. And then there's the gotchas as some bright young person seeks to monetize this. Why, every time someone signs onto our site, we can just pop up ads here and there, very unobtrusive.... guaranteed eyeballs on screen!!! Likely? Who knows. I wouldn't want to take the chance.
What brings this to mind is thinking that Gee, with this third email, what're the chances that I'll actually get mail there and not know about it? Pretty slim, but possible. The other day I got a note from one of the two people that I thought I had slimed, saying that she wasn't intentionally ignoring me, but had had to drop out of sight for a while to clean up some messy familial problems (as if her family was more important than me; imagine!); one of the side effects of that dropout was that she wasn't looking at one email account, and was surprised to find the note from me when she did get back to it. Which in turn reminded me of something I'd read to the effect that one organize-your-life guru recommended cleaning out your email in box on a routine basis, as a way of keeping things nice and orderly; this writer said that if the idea was to handle everything when it showed up, fine, but that did make you a slave of the inbox (Omigod, forty eight more emails, gotta get them done!); and if the idea of keeping things N&O was to slot them into folders as they arrive, then you tended to lose any awareness of what the important ones were. The writer said he intentionally left his inbox messy, treating it as a personal to-do list, and only filing once they were handled (even if one of the filing options was File 13, and how did we get to calling trash File13 anyway?). My attitude was a combination; emails that I would get routinely, with keywords, got autofiled; ones that I didn't recognize, I'd look at (except the ones with great titles like Increase Your Penile Prowess!!!!, somehow, I didn't think I would benefit from reading them).
So, with all of this shuckin' and jivin' going on in three different email accounts (and thats just my blog-related accounts; I have two others - one with my actual name as part of the address, used for personal emails from people I know or trust, and one that is a variant of my name, used as the general purpose and spam-catcher for our family), I wondered; is there a market for a one-size-fits-all email box? It all goes into its individual email accounts, gets sorted, shuffled, shucked, jived, minced and chopped according to the rules set up for those boxes, and eventually forwarded to the One Big Email box that I actually do look at? Something that would say Ah! A note from Golightly on Yahoo Mail, leave me create a response here that goes back to that email account there and sends it as if I'd signed directly onto it?
Man, you'd think I get a lot of mail, or something.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
The face of the clock was almost bright enough to be a nightlight -- not enough to read by, by any means, but enough to give a soft glow to the room. What was terrific was that the display was LCD -- unlike the Sony Clock/Radio I have right now, which has red LEDs for the time (I have a bit of a problem reading red on black), this was black letter on that white glow. Very cool. If I could find that clock, or better yet, a clock/radio with MP3 input -- I'd buy it in a heartbeat. Oh, battery backup needed, too.
The other two things I liked? Weird looking halogen light pods sticking right out of the headboard. Not totally well designed -- the on/off switch was up at the bad, not on the nozzle where the bulb was -- but awesome in terms of reading in bed. My wife's not bothered by lamps, or I'd be looking for these two jewels, too.
But the clock, you bet. This MP3 playing/SD card compatible/LCD alarm clock looks interesting....
I find myself hoping that I am on the receiving end of such an experience, someday, as at the moment, my daughter seems less than overwhelmed by our overnight trip to Baltimore, yesterday. Part of it was the room, I think -- we usually get a suite so that she can sleep physically apart from us, but this time the hotel didn't have any available. She wasn't cramped for space, but she didn't have one area that she could call her own, and that can be irksome. We'd also forgotten that Baltimore at the end of June can be hot -- in the high 80s and low 90s -- and humid. None of the stores that we went into felt it was necessary to crank up their air conditioning to the arctic level that I like, and even the Aquarium didn't feel as cool and misty as it usually does. The big A had its own problems, which basically translate into Too Many Tourists/ Too Little Space. The place was mobbed. Packed. Jammed.
So, although we were glad that we went, it was pretty clear that she wasn't all that thrilled, and would have been happy enough to stay at home while we went. (Except for the NCIS marathon showing on the hotel's LCD tv. She totally loved that. Imagine. ) She's still young enough that we don't really want to do that -- more accurately, I would, but my wife wouldn't; then again, as my daughter will occasionally ask a question to which I thought she knew the answer --how do I make the microwave run for forty-five seconds?-- maybe its too soon. But I told my wife that I'd like to go back, just with her. And I even know the hotel I want to stay in. I usually like to stay in a nice place, sometimes an extremely nice place -- think Four Seasons or Ritz Carlton -- but this time, I was captivated by one hotel. Actually, just its name. A little boutique hotel in the Fells Point area of Baltimore's harbor, the name of the hotel is:
The Admiral Fell Inn.
What? The Admiral fell in????
You've got to love it.
Thus it wasn't too much of a surprise to read, in yesterday's Washington Post, that two of Bush's minions, dragged to a Congressional inquisition, essentially told them to go into a dark room and amuse themselves with farm animals. They were the classic bad boys of high school smirking at the substitute teacher, their scorn and contempt for the legislators perfectly and totally obvious as they did everything but defecate on the desk as a way of indicating their opinion of the value of the process.
And these are the people that Bush likes to have around. Can he be any more vile, more dismissive of the congress? Let alone, to the people they represent? As it is obvious that they'll continue to beg and cower for his approval even as he's -- to use the classic Monty Python phrase -- farting in their general direction, and they will not actively pursue any sort of disciplinary activity -- we have only to wait and watch. Any other president would be a lame duck, this late in his career and with such a dismal approval rating. Bush likely regards it as the opening bell for 'all bets are off'. What has he got to lose?
After all - what's the Congress going to do? Take swift, decisive action? Be bold? Hah. Fat chance.
Friday, June 27, 2008
The checkout people at the store during the day are usually competent and reasonably cheerful. The ones that are working at night, not so much. They take longer, get puzzled more easily. My wife and I will say 'well, the store took longer because the B team was on tonight'. Today, it was a different flavor. All of the checkout lines were staffed normally, but the one I was in was staffed by an unusual duo -- a man wearing a tie, with an assistant who was very pretty and well dressed (casual, but well). Every so often he'd turn to her and ask 'now, how do I do this?' It took longer than the A team would, but the combination of the guy's obvious intelligence and the visual treat of the assistant made it more bearable than it otherwise might have been.
I figure it was a regional manager, getting a taste of what it's like in the trenches.
People get ideas about your characters, things that you didn't put in the book, but which seem reasonable to them. Oh, Archie Goodwin, he's probably fairly thin, a little above average height. Oh, the starship captain, she'd figure out how to realign those injector coils using cellotape and two wads of gum (one has to be cinnamon, though). The desk in the library is probably pretty big, and it commands a view of the window. Then you come along and casually mention how Goodwin's always been a little on the short side, or the captain can't figure out how to realign the coils, or that the desk is over on the other side of the room, and the reader thinks what? Thats not how I imagined it. Usually, its not that big a deal -- you scrunch your image of Goodwin, you allow that maybe the captain can't fix everything, you see the desk over there instead of over here -- and you move on. Sometimes, though....
I'm reading a sequel to the novel Polaris. I really liked Polaris. I read it slowly, because I didn't want it to end. When I came across Seeker, the other day in the bookstore, I got it immediately, and I've been reading it, interspersed with Solar Eclipse. And what I'm finding is that I'm reading it slowly -- but not because I don't want it to end, but because I'm thinking Oh, no, another two pages of well lets go look here, huh, nothing there, okay, lets go look here, nope, well, lets go see if .... C'mon, already. In Polaris, you guys had brilliant insights all over the place! What happened to you? The story feels like its running in second gear.
Would it feel this way if I didn't know what to expect from the main characters? Probably not as much, but a little, yeah. Reading this one first, I might not have been excited to see a sequel. Oh, yeah, I read those guys, I'd think. I'll take a glance at it. Which has got to be a killer for an author - spend your life plotting this stuff, working it out, writing, rewriting, all so someone standing tapping their feet in a bookstore can glance at it and shove it back on the shelf. Gee, thanks a lot. But once you get those expectations on the part of the reader, you have to meet them ... and then some. It has to be both the same as what you've written, with the same qualities for the characters, but it has to be better, too. Better in a believable way.
Sequels can be a bitch.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Works well, and easy to use. It's worth checking out.
I wonder what the instant experts who always pop up when a new issue arises -- cardiovascular health, the source of the oil price surge, the effects of subprime mortgages -- do for information when they need to sound au courant and up to speed? I'm guessing they have pocket experts that they call, and I seem to remember reading that there are actual directories of experts for hire on various subjects, but I wonder how current they are. I'm always tickled when I'm listening to NPR and they dredge up some guy who's never been heard of before to give his opinion on this, that, and the other. Where did these guys come from? What process knighted them?
Why are brownies so good? Our neighbor just gifted us with some to thank us for putting up with the cable provider -- the physical cable to their house somehow failed, and they had to dig up part of our lawn to get at it. Our meticulously cared-for lawn! Yeah, right -- barely mown, turning brown in the sun, except for the crabgrass and weeds, more like. But they gave us cookies and brownies! And the cookies were good, but the brownies! Reminds me of the time we needed to make brownies, and I told my wife that I was going to do something unusual -- I was going to make them from a mix. When I was done, I observed with some surprise that they were very easy to make, quick, and tasted just as good as mine! So this is why people buy them!
Why did McCains advisor get beaten up for his remark about the effect of a new terrorist attack on the election? What he said was exactly true. It isn't desirable, but its true.
I don't often like seeing news articles that say (deep breath) that this event is of major importance and will forever change the way things are in this particular area except that maybe they won't and even if they do it won't really matter though it might in some cases but maybe not... but when I saw that most major cities didn't think the Supreme Court ruling would have much effect on them, since it related to home ownership, not in general, I thought Oh, good...I think. Guns are such a volatile subject (no pun intended). I like having reasonable discussions about them, but its like the Paris Peace Accords of years gone by, where they'd spend weeks discussing what the table ought to look like -- you can spend days just discussing what 'reasonable' means. Why, its whatever I think, of course!
About halfway through Solar Eclipse, a third of the way through Seeker (scifi). Starting to look for something else to read. I still have not gotten that interlibrary loan of the baking book, nor have I bought that excellent one that I borrowed, a few weeks back. I really need to do that.
Tomorrow we're going down to Bawlmer for the day -- down around 1, back around noon on Saturday. We just had to get out of this area for a while. The hotel's one of the many, many ones in the Inner Harbor area -- pretty nice. And its near Little Italy, which means: pastry shops!
First, based on the promo, the new Will Ferrell movie, Stepbrothers, is so incredibly bad, I made my self a promise to never, ever see anything by him, just so that I don't accidentally come across anything this egregiously awful. I'd sooner lick Dick Cheney's armpit.
Second, Get Smart is a funny movie, with a good actor playing the lead. He did a nice job, and his chemistry with Anne Hathaway was excellent. I liked the bad guys (I really liked the short henchman), too. Well worth it.
Update: One, tiny, problem. That catchy theme keeps running through my head!
The decision of the Supreme Court regarding gun ownership was predictable. This is, after all, a Bush-stocked court. As long as Roberts and Alito are on it (though I do like Roberts, he's got that same nasty streak that Alito shows to excess), they'll reject any limits to personal freedom. I suppose I should be pleased that they did recognize that there are some constraints -- criminals and the mentally ill. As far as the NRA is concerned, that's next. Down at headquarters, they're likely celebrating -- breaking out the bubbly, shooting off pistols. Metaphorically -- you can't actually bring guns into the NRA offices. I find that amusing.
In a novel which I recently read -- the one which was notable for being almost plot and content free -- one character proposed a constitutional amendment to limit the term of Supreme Court justices, and to allow for legislative overrides to Supreme Court decisions. I think that the second is impractical, but the first makes sense to me. Courts need to present a moderating influence that reflects the nature of the Constitution whiles both being sensitive to the tenor of their times and resisting the sway of popular opinion. What we're seeing on the bench now is the tenor of the first and early second Bush terms == how it interpreted the Constitution, what it valued. The time of that attitude is waning; so, I believe, should the tenure of members of the court.
The plan for this morning was that I would start the focaccia (Why do they call it that? my daughter asked. And why can't Japanese people say the letter L? First, because 'Wonder Bread' was already taken, and second, probably not so much a physical inability as a neurological one -- just as when I do an English accent, I think I sound pretty good, but to an actual Brit, I'd sound phony. (By this time, she's off looking at a book and not really listening.)) While it was rising, I'd mow the lawn, possibly do a little weed-killing. Chemical warfare on the front forty.
That was before I stepped outside and felt the gentle rain.
At first, my feeling was oh, man! , thinking about now the grass is going to get high again, and while it's raining, I can't do weed - killer effectively. And then I chilled. I just stood there in the rain, feeling the mist on my skin. I felt the rain, and I listened to the birds, and I mellowed.
So now I'm indoors, letting the dough sit for a while. I'm warming up the oven (in an attempt to combat those nasty dough-rising gremlins who live in my kitchen), and in a little bit I'll go knead it a bit, and slide the bowl into the oven to rise for a couple of hours. In the mean time, I'll read -- either Solar Eclipse, which is still pretty good, though characters are popping out of the wood work -- turns out the hick sheriff, who used to work for the DEA until his wife was killed in an assassination attempt on him, thinks that maybe one of the federal cops who showed up when word got out about a family being killed was running them, because they weren't just any old family, but of certain Columbian drug line lineage, and the sheriff has always suspected that that particular cop was actually the orchestrator of the assassination attempt. And the women he met in Los Angeles becomes the one who found the bodies, after someone tried to run her off the road, and damn near killed her. And....woah.
Timer's going off. Gotta go.
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Here's the recipe, from Savory Baking. Please note that I've rewritten it a bit to make it easier for me to understand.
4 1/2 t active dry yeast
3C + 1 T unbleached all-purpose flour, plus some for handling
7 T butter, melted, divided
1 t fine kosher salt or sea salt, divided
6 T finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, divided
Butter, unsalted, softened, to grease baking sheet
1 1/2 T olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Make the Biga:
1. In medium bowl, dissolve yeast in 2/3 cup warm water; stir until creamy.
2. Add 1 C flour, 1 T butter, 1/4 t kosher salt or fine sea salt.
3. Mix until you have a rough batter
4. Sprinkle 1 T flour over top of batter
5. Cover with plastic wrap; place in warm draft free location for one hour.
When Biga is ready:
1. In a large bowl, combine 2 C flour, 3/4 t kosher salt or fine sea salt.
2. Make a well in the center of the flour and place the biga into the well. Note that the biga is very likely to be sticky.
3. Add 1/3 C plus 2 T warm water to the sponge. Mix the water with the sponge, by hand if you can.
4. Gradually work the flour in with the sponge. You may need to drizzle a little more water to moisten the flour sufficiently.
5. Knead the flour briefly to make a rough dough.
Working the Dough:
1. Dust a work surface with flour.
2. Knead the dough for 1-2 minutes.
3. Invert a bowl over the dough and let it rest for 15 minutes.
4. Knead for 2-3 minutes more until the dough is smooth and elastic.
5. Shape the dough into a ball, cover with a damp cloth, and let it rest for 20 minutes.
Rolling out the Dough:
1. Roll the dough out into a 10 x 15 inch rectangle.
2. Brush the dough with 2 T melted butter.
3. Sprinkle 2 T Parmesan over one half of the dough, leaving the other half plain.
4. Fold the plain half over the cheese-covered half.
5. Rotate the dough 90 degrees.
6. Do steps 1 - 5 of Rolling out the Dough two more times.
7. Roll out the dough to a 10 x 15 rectangle one more time.
Preparing to Bake:
1. Generously grease a baking sheet with the butter.
2. Place the dough onto the sheet and cover with a damp cloth.
3. Let the dough sit in a warm, draft free place for 1.5 - 2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.
1. Heat over to 400 F
2. Uncover focaccia and let it sit for 5 minutes to dry a bit.
3. Brush focaccia with olive oil.
4. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until well puffed up, golden, and crisp. (Bake for 15-20 minutes if you prefer it to come out softer.)
5. Remove from oven.
6. Optionally, drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.
What ticked me off was two things, both relative to blogs -- the number of people who read this one versus others, and the difficulty I find sometimes in putting words to paper. (Words to silicon doesn't have quite the same ring, does it?)
The first was exacerbated by reading an article this morning which was written by Naomi Dunford, who's a bright person with a blog on small business marketing. I like hearing what she has to say, even though most of it doesn't apply to me, because she has an irreverent insight that can be pretty funny, too. Seeing her article, I thought 'gee, its been a while since I dropped her a note to see how she is doing' -- so I did, and to my surprise, she didn't respond. Now, we're not tight friends, by any means -- but still, it made me wonder. What, am I chopped liver? Which I know is overreaction. And then there's a woman who writes a blog oriented toward Muslims, called Muslim Apple, which I like to read to get insights into what it means to be a Muslim in America. I don't always agree with, or sometimes even understand, what she says, but its a good blog, and (though I blush to admit this) I think of reading it as good for me. I don't get much insight into that mindset, and I wanted one. We've exchanged the occasional email, and she seems pretty nice. Well, as it happens, the other day she wrote something that agitated me quite a bit, and I wrote a very long reply to the effect of you have got to be kidding me -- tell me that you didn't really mean this, because this is what it sounded like to me. Which, I think, ticked her off, because now she doesn't respond to emails, either. Wow. Doing good there, Bill. Two for two. Who else can I piss off, today?
More direct to the source of my mood, there have been things lately that I wanted to write about, because I found them interesting -- such as the articles about whether speculation is truly a major component of current oil prices (as best as I can determine, the answer is Yes but Not A Lot Unless The Flow Is Limited, and Sometimes Other Times ), or the articles about why Tim Russert died (as far as I see, its because he had some risk factors, not others, and the ones he had turned out to be much worse than his doctors thought), specifically as it related to how the heart works, how cardiology works, and why the two don't always mesh, or the state of the economy (pretty uniform there -- it stinks, and its still trending down unless you're a CEO), or whether those girls in Gloucester actually had a pact to get pregnant (I've seen quotes both ways, sometimes from the same people), or whether the cops are overreacting to events a lot more than society should accept (my hunch? Yes. Big time.) . But when I wanted to actually say something, the words wouldn't flow. Nothing new to say, nothing graceful to add. This was pretty depressing to me. Should I stop this blog? I wondered. (Philosophical question: if I did, would anyone notice?)
So I was disgruntled. I'm not, now, mostly because that bread turned out well. But you know? You can only bake so much bread.
Now I see an article saying that if you're doing the speed limit -- 55 in a 55, 65 in a 65, whatever -- but you're in the passing lane, you can get a ticket if you're slowing down traffic behind you that wants to get past you. I've had the feeling for a long time that 'go with the flow' was a valid driving strategy -- not leader of the pack, but comfortably in the middle -- but this is the first time that I've seen an article say, in effect, that you'd better be going faster than the limit if most other people (how many?) are doing it, too, or want to.
Things like that bother me, a bit, because they take a black and white situation and introduce variables based on hunch, mood, interpretation. Does that cop understand that I wasn't speeding, I was keeping up with traffic, not blocking it? Can she give me a ticket anyway because I could have pulled into the slower lanes? And where does this 'flow' that I'm keeping up with come from, anyway? If the road's clear and dry, and the speed limit sign says 65, does that mean I could safely and legally do 65 in the right lane, but not necessarily in the left? If I go faster, is there a transition zone where I move from 'legal' to 'not really legal but keeping up with traffic' to 'speeding'? Who decides? (Hint: They drive cars with shiny lights on top, and they're not auto tow truckers.) Am I in a damned if you do/damned if you don't loop here?
Perhaps the sign should say 'Speed Suggestion'.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
During my time of thinking myself bright (well....relatively bright), I started getting materials from MIT on their Open Course network. I never took any of the courses, because, frankly, even the simple ones struck me as a brick to the brain. Oh my lord, people take this? And understand it?
But there are some that still sound pretty interesting... even if they are incomprehensible to me.
And while I would never tell any woman that she has to wear a bra, there are apparently times when it's a really good idea.
I like it. This being together stuff is okay by me, even if it does cut down on my porn downloading time.
As someone who has occasionally dabbled in doing that kind of writing, I was a little offended. Didn't he understand that such writing was an act of homage, a way to show how much you liked what he did? What about that Star Trek novel where they met the characters from Here Come The Brides? After a very brief period, though, I realized that he was exactly right. They were his characters, people and places and styles that he had created out of whole cloth. Simply taking them, without recompense, was theft. Fun, but not right.
My daughter is on the mailing list for several authors who publish their own writings at FanFiction, and I will occasionally look at the stories. Usually, its just so I can reassure myself about the kind of thing she's reading (his passionate lips met hers in a paroxym of fevered lust), and also to get a feeling about the style of fiction she likes. It's worth looking at, just to read or even to try your hand at it. Just don't write any stories with characters that I'd recognize.
Though...what if the guys from the Man From UNCLE series met Nero Wolfe? Hmmm......
Monday, June 23, 2008
Well, what happens when you cut taxes? (I'm talking at the corporate level, not the taxing authority). The company has more money to do things with -- to pay people, buy equipment, try things. I started to say that it can keep prices of its products lower than would otherwise be the case, but upon reflection, I don't think thats true -- the amount of money you make per unit of product sold would be affected (less per unit), so the amount of money you put into the corporate treasury would be less, but thats a result, not a driver.
Paying people more might result in more innovation, in that you can either motivate people more or hire a more expensive class of people -- ones who presumably would be more innovative. I don't think that just paying them more would do it, but it might; similarly, hiring more innovative people might do it, but its not a guarantee.
Buying more equipment, particularly if its equipment that can be used to innovate, might do it. If you're working in a field that requires specialized equipment, and now you can buy equipment that before you could not, that might make the level of innovation higher.
Trying new things -- having the money to throw at a problem, whatever that translates out to in practice -- might affect the level of innovation, and my guess is that of these three its the most likely. Innovation isn't just cerebral, as a rule -- you have to try things.
So is she right? Will it stimulate innovation to have a tax cut? Yeah, I think she is. Does that mean its a good thing to do? I think not, for two reasons.
One is, a tax cut is a broad method of approaching the question. You're cutting taxes for twenty thousand organizations, but not all of them will take it and put it toward innovation - promoting activity, just as many people are not taking their stimulus checks to the mall. You're hoping that some subset of them will do it, though, and that some subset of them will generate additional innovation.
Second, you're betting that the increase in revenue as a result of innovation will be greater than the revenue you've lost by the cut. Is that possible? Yes. Is it likely? I think it takes a leap of faith. Sometimes leaps of faith are justified. Sometimes, not.
So what does stimulate innovation? I have a couple of ideas, but I'd like to see if anyone has any they'd like to mention.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
In talking about her home, she mentioned that the housing market in Tucson has dropped significantly over the last couple of years. Last time we were there, we saw housing springing up everywhere. Now, not quite so much. People are still putting up way-expensive houses, but apparently even they have had a cut in their pricing. For grins, I picked a Tucson real estate web page at random and searched on houses that were one level, less than two thousand square feet, and had a garage. Over seven hundred listings came up. Good lord. I doubt we would, but suddenly the idea of being 'snowbirds' doesn't sound completely out of the question.
What's not to like?
The CD player's putting out 'Love for Sale', and has just segued into another soft jazz tune which I don't recognize -- wait, it's Sweet Georgia Brown -- but I like. It's Sunday morning, and the living is good. Breakfast came off pretty well -- we learned that cooking bacon in the oven does work, but trying to cook both the bacon and crescent rolls at the same time does not -- the bacon cooks in 25 minutes at 400, but dropping it down to 350 for the rolls extends the baking time more than we allowed. But microwaving fixed it. The Belgian waffles, drenched in syrup, were good. The strawberries were -- well, pretty good. And the coffee was excellent. So things are going well.
We don't have too much planned for today. I want to redo that wall switch that I put in upside down -- its funny; we have the same switch in six other places; in four of them, they're dual-throw switches, meaning that up or down can mean 'off', while on the other two, they're single-throw -- down is off, up is on -- so it really shouldn't matter which way the switch is in there. But we've lived here for twenty four years, and, by god, our core brains know that if that switch is up, then the lights should be on -- whether they are or not. It'll be a pain to flip the switch, but it'll be a one-time pain. Retraining our brains could take considerably longer. And we're going to go to a local park for a walk -- its a pretty barren spot, actually, but we like it. When my wife lived in Delaware, she used to drive to a state park with a huge -- must have been three miles, easily -- oval that was used by joggers and whatnot. She'd just walk it, passing under the trees, listening to the birds. We don't quite have that delight here, but we do what we can.
The New York Times Magazine does a one page interview every week. It's usually pretty light reading, and I do so about half the time. This week it was Charlie Crist, the governor of Florida. Oh, god, I thought, not only Florida, scene of vote fraud, but I know this guy is a Republican, so the odds of liking what he thought were pretty low. I was quite surprised to read his observations about various things. He sounds intelligent, bright, and insightful. Granted, much of what he said was phrased in careful politician phrases, but I found myself thinking I could vote for this guy. And too bad he can't run with Obama. Amazing.
I learned a new phrase this morning - 'reality mining'. Basically, its a method of tracking activity through records of the movement of location-aware devices - ie, GPS-enabled, or cellphone signal generating (the cellphone signal inherently allows location determination) - and, by mapping it, fitting activities into clusters -- here's a general 'flow' of how the day usually goes for a given group of people who have similar flows. This is yeah, so? information, but then they say 'so if you'd like to know where people who are otherwise much like you in their flow go on their weekends, or at nights for entertainment , here's a list; perhaps it'll contain things that you might find of interest'. This is magical information for people who'd like to know where the flows go, overall, so that they can position the next Starbucks or the next bus route or more cops there, too. Very interesting.
I picked up the local paper today; part of the program to save money on the Sunday papers. I noticed something interesting. There was an article about how people in rural areas are hit harder by gas prices than ones in semi-rural or urban ones. They don't have alternatives; they can trim usage somewhat, but not a lot. What surprised me was that if I had seen that comment in a major paper, I'd have thought 'well, duh!', but because it was written by local people, I judged them a bit more kindly. I didn't expect as much from them.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
I'm in the mood to move rather than stay, again. The impetus is having spent forty minutes replacing a light switch in our bedroom. There were two surprises -- one was that the lamp that I was using as an indicator that power was well and truly off was (I remembered later) plugged into the socket we'd had added about ten years ago. Brzzap! Turns out it's wired in with the garage wiring. The other is that the wiring is thirty years old and very, very resistant to being manipulated. I don't want any real electricians looking at that switch. It's legal, but it's ugly, in the way that its in there. Oh, and after I was done, I realized that the switch is upside down. I told my wife that there's no way I'm taking it out again -- those damn wires slipped off the nuts twice before. I'm not giving them a third chance. But it got me to thinking about how you build houses, and how, in a perfect world, you would do it. It seems to me that for things that are obvious failure points, a house ought to have a method of gracefully accommodating you. (Graceful: sure, if we build a house, the builder will be in tune with that. You bet.) For example, you ought not to have to climb up on a ladder routinely to change ceiling lights -- the light source should be down low somewhere, with the light piped up. I know, that'd take power, but when I get to be eighty, I really don't want to fall off a chair changing a lightbulb. And switches - they're mechanical; they break. Whats needed is a magnetic coupling so that you pull out the defective switch and slap in a new one. Physically abutted against the house wiring, but without the need to pummel the wire into a little hole in the switch. I mean, really -- little holes in the switch? Whats next, having to use actual blades to cut people open in surgery?
In an article from the New York Times web site, it's noted that the Smucker Company has purchased the company which has made White Lily flour for more than one hundred fifty years, and is moving operations from where it's been made all those years to two plants further north. A number of southern bakers are concerned that the flour made at these other locations won't be as light as that made at the original plant. I've never seen White Lily, but from what I gather, it is noticeably different than other all-purpose flours -- whiter and lighter, the result of being ground from low-protein, low-gluten red winter wheat, using only the heart of the grain, then grinding that multiple times. The result is a light, silky flour. The company promises that the new flour will be identical to the original, and that you won't be able to tell the difference. "But in a blind test for The New York Times, two bakers could immediately tell the old from the new." And that was just from touching the flour. Baking just confirmed the difference.
I gave him an extra-large tip. Very classy statement.
Friday, June 20, 2008
At what point did I become vaguely uneasy with the amount of money that the Obama campaign has accumulated? If it were the McCain folks, I'd be aghast, and if they'd decided not to take public funding so as to not limit how much they could acquire, I'd be furious. Obama sent out this message saying that he supports campaign financing reform, but as his opponents are very good at 'gaming the system', he found it necessary to do this so as to not be unduly constrained. It feels to me like the financial equivalent of having to destroy the village in order to save it. This article does a decent job of explaining why, but I still don't like it.
Last nights trip to the funeral home was unsettling. Some people there were amazingly distraught. People came who didn't make it to the EDS reunion a few weeks ago. I do think funeral homes are creepy places -- too little air movement, too stuffed with furniture. At least the music wasn't too lugubrious.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
WASHINGTON — After months of wrangling, Democratic and Republican leaders in Congress struck a deal on Thursday to overhaul the rules on the government’s wiretapping powers and provide what amounts to legal immunity to the phone companies that took part in President Bush’s warrantless eavesdropping program after the Sept. 11 attacks...... The agreement would settle one of the thorniest issues in dispute by providing immunity to the phone companies in the Sept. 11 program as long as a federal district court determines that they received legitimate requests from the government directing their participation in the warrantless wiretapping operation.
With some AT&T and other telecommunications companies now facing some 40 lawsuits over their reported participation in the wiretapping program, Republican leaders described this narrow court review on the immunity question as a mere “formality.” The proposal — particularly the immunity provision — represents a major victory for the White House after months of dispute. “I think the White House got a better deal than they even they had hoped to get,” said Senator Christopher Bond, the Missouri Republican who led the negotiations.
You've got to wonder how many campaign contributions just got used up. Good going, Democrats. You spineless weasels....
Yesterday, we went to Lowe's and picked up a container of Spectracide weed killer, as the weeds and such had gotten to be too much even for us (and we're pretty tolerant of it). The container was a nifty little deal with a battery operated pump. What could be better? This morning, while it was still cool, I was out there, spraying away, muttering to myself each time I stepped where I had just sprayed - got to do it the OTHER way, dummah! - when, abruptly, the flow stopped. I looked at it, wiggled it a bit -- and the little bitty hose snapped right of at the cap. Oh, man. So I got to make a run back there this morning, and picked up a container of concentrated spray, plus a sprayer deal, one of those things where you pump it to get an overpressure and then spray. I'm sure it won't be as convenient as just point and squeeze, but I'm hoping it will work out well. I admit, I am a little nervous -- I rarely use garden chemicals -- no major reason, I just don't -- and reading the directions, noticing that right up front, it talks about how if you mix and use it wrong, you could have an 'explosive container failure' - hoo, boy -- it made me wonder, a bit. But I pumped up a little bit of my testosterone, and we'll give it a try tomorrow.
I'm a little disappointed by Obama's decision to not accept public campaign funding (and thus allow him to avoid being limited in how much he can take in). I can't say its the wrong direction to take, but I don't like it. I know that if McCain did that, I'd be quite irritated.
This afternoon, I need to make a menu/shopping list for next week -- my wife's taking the week off, which is mostly good news, but it will mean that the meals during the day are likely to be more normal, shall we say, than Cocoa Krispies - a small price to pay for her company - and then this evening, I'm going to the funeral home for the wake of the fellow I used to work with. We were not friends, but he was a decent sort. And, of course, the classic feeling of but he was ten years younger than me! Makes you think.... at least, for a little while.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
My daughter sleeps for about nine hours a night, or 63 a week, leaving one hundred five.
She goes to color guard or related activities about five hours a week, leaving one hundred.
She spends about an hour a day eating meals, leaving 93.
She goes to church, and then to the store, once a week, leaving about 91.
Of the remainder, we've asked her to spend about 5 hours a week doing activities such as cooking one meal per week, mowing a small section of lawn, and writing in a journal about what she's reading. Also, to take care of her pets, and keep her room relatively neat.
We are cruel parents.
Last night, while we were out, she called to tell us that she had sent us an email about it. She told my daughter that she would call back again today to confirm the -- well, I'm not sure what, actually. My wife and I joked that she would send us a fax to tell us that she would call later to confirm the email... and that we were lucky we never told her about our IM setup, or she'd be pinging us on that to let us know about the fax.
Lately, I've seen the occasional -- not often, but some -- article about people who got caught, and they didn't do it. Two come to mind -- the woman who was a teacher, and the PC that she was given to use with her class had a fault in its antivirus, so that when she went to show her class something on the web, where she ended up was a graphic porn site. And a guy whose PC did have porn on it, but not because he put it there -- it was either there when he got it, or, because the PC's antivirus systems were not working, it got downloaded without his knowledge.
In each case, the person was fired with great publicity -- excoriated in the press and public forum. And only after great effort did it turn out that it wasn't their fault. In the first case, the woman got her job back, though no apology or recompense was given. In the second, the guy didn't -- and he says he never will work for that state agency again.
So I wondered: is there a market for insurance to pay for defending yourself in this case? And, if you're found innocent, to pay for suing the people who so quickly chucked you out?
It saddens me to think that we need it.
So instead, I thought about traffic. They live in a lovely area with a number of nice houses that would easily fetch prices in the mid-million dollar range -- one, where we picked up a brochure, had three thousand square feet, a three car garage, bedrooms in the 15 x 20 square foot range -- but for one little thing. Well, actually, one big thing, six lanes wide, right next to the yard. The Pennsylvania Turnpike. Based on the asking price for that house, we guessed that the presence of the Turnpike dropped the value of the house about a third -- they were asking $289,000 -- which in one sense isn't too bad if your purchase price had also been reduced, but in another is fairly awful -- not to mention what it does to the daily life there. At one point, a man standing twenty feet from the speaker had to ask her to shout, because he just couldn't understand what she had said.
I wondered why they didn't have any methods of abating the noise, and, for that, wondered what methods existed to abate noise. My guess is that there are basically three methods -- two blunt force ones (put up a big honkin' wall; plant densely-growing trees or shrubs that grow high and close together) and one technical one (capture the sounds and feed back a noise cancelling equivalent). The first would have a high chance of being ugly - hey, Charlie, you got a handball court back there, or what? - while the second would be difficult to accomplish in a limited area. The third, though -- why couldn't you do this? Other than the power question (it'd have to be always on), the only thing I could think of is that the sheer amount, range of frequencies, and variability of the highway's sounds would overwhelm any but the most robust and responsive noise abatement systems Plus, there'd still be sound (though the image of dialing, say, Shaded Forest Glen With Gurgling Pool is seductive). At best, I guessed, you'd still hear a loud sound, but it'd be a diffuse sound -- mmmmMMMMMmmm -- rather than the sound of specific vehicles and such.
Wish I knew an affable acoustic engineer to talk with about this.... though I did find an interesting article here. Apparently, it Isn't That Simple.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
One section that frequently gets me thinking is their monthly contest where they ask offbeat questions, and you answer to win something. This month, the responses were to answer this: what are your wildest dreams? Reading through them, a number were predictable -- have every pair of Jimmy Choos ever made, walk barefoot in the sand on Fiji, have dinner with Jack Nicholson. (Actually, that last one, I might enjoy, myself. Depends on his ego.) Some of the answers were hard to believe -- not that I thought they were lying, but that I thought 'thats your wildest dream? ' For example, several said that they just wanted their children to grow up as decent people, or to hold their grandchildren. But that got me to thinking. I've never much been persuaded by those articles that say you ought to 'live your dreams', because, for the most part, I've never had dreams. Oh, there have certainly been things I'd like to do, or like to have done, and once in a while -- like when I got to spend three months in Australia -- I've done them. Mostly, though, they fall into the category of things that would be nice, but I'm certainly not going to spend time dreaming about them, because whats the point? Thats where the occasional thoughts about being a professional photographer, or just once being actually, no kidding, well-dressed -- as in, George Clooney in Oceans Eleven well dressed -- without looking like a dork, or being able to get why people like eating fish, or going to the CIA's Baking Boot Camp -- thats where those dreams go. And even those aren't wild. Hard to achieve, you bet. Me, well-dressed? Ah...no. Don't think so.
But it made me wonder: what if dreams really were valuable? What if they really could motivate you, help you steer your life, give you the psychic boost that the people who write those self-help books want you to think they do? If that was true...what would mine be?
Wish I knew. A little, anyway.
Newser's a service that promises to show you news in a quick, capsule form across a variety of topics. It lets you 'tune' what you see. You can tell it how often to update its display, and you can select whether you want to see just hard news, softer stuff, or material thats somewhere inbetween. The display is nice, with both text and images, some of which offer a capsule summary of the linked page. Not bad.
On the other hand, looking at it five minutes ago, selecting hard news in politics, it told me about Jim Johnson's quitting, and that Tim Russert died, and that Clinton says she's going to back Obama. To copy the phrase I heard for a television news station years ago -- two days ago, that was news. Today, it's history. Why are they showing me this stuff?
There's a grey area, of course. What if the article about Johnson includes more detail about his transgressions, or whether he was pushed or jumped -- would that qualify as current news? I think so. On the other hand, telling me that Russert is dead -- well, he was dead two days ago. Is he deader now? Information about funeral arrangements, or background material on his medical condition doesn't expand the article, doesn't tell me more about the core concept. And seeing articles where Obama says he will be the nomimee -- hello? Will?
I think they could have done better. Then again -- I didn't have to do it, did I? And the view is always good from the sidelines.
If anyone can explain to me why it was necessary to have the infernal device carried to Wayne Tower, in Batman Begins, I would appreciate it. I know what they were trying to do; I just cannot understand why it was necessary to bring it 'to the hub'. Though, of course, watching the substitute driver in the Batmobile, aka the Tumbler, was nifty. Including the awkward little wave at the end.
I am looking for something to read until Blue Ocean Strategy, which is not about the Navy or even the water, but rather marketing and segmentation strategy, comes in to the local library via an inter library loan. I do seriously like those. I sometimes think that I should periodically make a donation to them just so I don't feel guilty about making them go through the extra effort. Then I think about how irritated I get that they never seem to have anything like that just on the shelf, and I conveniently forget about the idea.
Tried baking some fortune cookies this morning. When they say that you have to fold them very quickly, they're not kidding.
a) launching the pig
b) box 2
c) shatter your mailbox
d) execute an experiment in ballistic flight
e) retailiating for not being invited to your pool party
g) use smaller bovines in the future
h) would withdraw your tort
Sincerity: Leftmost oval
Excuses: Option seven
Feel: Option seven
Please: Options four, five, six, and seven
Monday, June 16, 2008
Picked up my daughter's grades from school, and - of course - looked at them before I got home. Not bad. She improved, overall, and even though I would have let her stay in color guard anyway - conditionally - she did well enough that I could do it with a straight face. So, she's happy. Today I take her to a pool party, and maybe hang around. I don't plan to, but we'll see.
Learned today that a friend from work died yesterday. He was in his early fifties, and out of the blue, had a heart attack. Way too much of that stuff going around.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
Tomorrow my daughter's going to a pool party hosted by the father of one of the girls in color guard. I told her that I did not intend to hang around, but that I would if there were no other adults there. She grimaced and asked if I would consider people who could drive as being 'adults' -- the local driving age is, I believe, 16. I told her I would. My wife isn't too thrilled about that. My feeling is that I'd rather have adults there, but we'll see how it looks when I get there. Its not a question of trusting my daughter -- its a question of trusting everybody else.
According to the New York Times, some gay couples that got married are now finding that marriage wasn't a good idea. Others that didn't get married now think they should have. For some, one wants to get married, and one does not. And for still others, both chose not to get married, and are happy with that. What was that about being worried that this would destroy marriage? These people are - GASP - just like us!
Actually, it's incense. My daughter went to the local Ten Thousand Villages to buy a Fathers Day gift for me, despite my protesting that a) she really didn't have to, and b) Circuit City not only has plasma televisions on sale, they also have the Alert 5 delivery truck sitting, idling, outside, ready to Make That Delivery.... But TTV is what she likes, and where she went. Truth to tell, the incense isn't all that great -- it isn't particularly aromatic, and from what I gather, not at all hallucinogenic, either -- but I appreciate the thought. It was nice of her.
This morning I got to cook breakfast -- my wife was up till just past 3 on a system upgrade that had serious problems, else she'd likely have done it. We were under some time constraints, because my daughter's friend had slept over, and we had promised her parents that she'd be back home by ten. Real quick breakfast! But there was enough time for excellent coffee -- Ghiradella chocolate orange -- with waffles, fresh strawberries, and bacon (doing it in the oven really does work significantly better than cooking it on top of the range). I think her friend was a little bemused by it all. Her family tends to be more structured for meals, apparently, whereas we were doing our traditional two people sit down one person pops up arrangement. But we got it done, and ten minutes later she was on her way home. I told my wife that I would not remind the girl that the last time I saw her, she was naked in our living room, and she said that that was a very good idea.
I am not sure what we're doing today. I suspect my wife and I will take a nap -- we're both looking like the Walking Wasted -- and that will be pretty much it. Oh, and slough through the papers. For some reason, I got three this morning. Lets see if they all tell the same story.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Because its got to happen. Many of his economic advisers, even though they have political chops (why I'm really glad Clinton didn't win? It means James Carville won't be poking his dome up above the horizon for a while), are predominantly academics -- and as Ben Bernanke is finding out, economics in the real world doesn't always play out the way that the theories, even the judiciously applied ones, say that it should. (Which brings to mind: why isn't 'economics' considered a plural? ) Some of these people are going to be quite surprised to find that their reasonable suggestions are hotly rejected by people, even people that they thought were on their side. It'd be fun to watch if it wasn't so serious.
Today my daughter has a friend coming over - a girl that she went to preschool with. When she was at the school, there were four of them who hung out together -- my daughter, Torie, Maggie, and Beth. Each had her own style -- Torie was very, very quiet; Maggie was noisy and a little aggressive; Beth was a jock (and still is, I hear). For the longest time, she lost touch with them, and when she finally did get back together with one or the other of them, she learned that the same thing had happened to each of them -- as they grew up and went to different school districts, they'd only see each other on occasion, and my daughter, almost never. About two weeks ago, my wife was talking with Beth's mother, with whom she works, and she sang the same litany ==
My beard itches. Oh, the problems of the idle retired.
I mentioned the other day that I was surprised to find that I 'have a follower' on Twitter; for that, I was surprised to find that I was even still there. Now one of the people who looks at this blog mentions that she is 'following' me as well. I have to find out if there is a service that will make Twitter entries for me so as to make my life seem more interesting, more eventful than it actually is, because otherwise I think that these people are going to be seriously disappointed. That's it? You're not leaving things out? That's really all you do all day?
Friday, June 13, 2008
Business trends from around the world: London, EnglandRain sent us this pic of an electric car recharge pole, which is directly opposite the Bentley and Rolls Royce dealerships in Berkley Square. Juice Point for a G-Wiz - this electric car thing is getting serious.
Not to be harsh, but if you aren't already enjoying being a father, having a your day isn't going to help. Plus, there's no good reason to use it as an excuse to buy yourself something, no matter how often I tease my wife and daughter about this being the year they're getting me that big screen plasma television with Bose surround sound and a comfortable leather recliner that nobody else gets to use. (Every year, that list gets longer). You're an adult, go get it yourself. Creeping around hinting strikes me as infantile. And in my case, if they did buy that laundry list, I'd be astounded (I thought they were smarter than that), and, truthfully, a little disappointed, because a) its more fun to tease about it than to get it (how often does the longed-for item actually fulfill your desires?) and b) I'd rather we had the money than the item. Thats not universally true, but it is pretty much true.
Not to say that celebrations are entirely out, though since my wife has this thing about nubile hookers with flexible, um, morals, the kind that comes to mind likely isn't going to happen. But, you know, thats probably goodness, too. I would really not know how to proceed with one. No, really. I've wondered for a long time -- what do you do with a hooker? Not the literal this goes here, that goes there, oral sex doesn't mean just talking about it, but the logistics of the whole process. When I saw Scent of A Woman, I was quite taken by the image of the elegant -- hooker seems a bit coarse, but thats what she was -- and the night of delights. I'd occasionally muse about how totally awesome that must be (well, till I found out about Elliot Spitzer), but I knew in my heart that if I were ever in that situation, I'd be just as suave, cool, and confident as your average pimply-faced adolescent. Mrs. Robinson, are you trying to seduce me? So, no hookers for Father's Day.
But according to the Christian Science Monitor, thats okay, because lots of guys are cutting back this year.