Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Random Football Rant

Ok, given that I'm a relatively new convert to football, I really don't have much right to start making critiques, but hey, what are blogs for, if not making critiques that you're not qualified to make?

Timeouts
Call me crazy, but my understanding of timeouts is that each team has a few opportunities to stop the clock and have some additional time to prepare themselves for the upcoming play. They're meant as tactical tools, and to be separate from the play action. Yet they seem to be used more and more as part of the strategic game play, either to draw out the last 2 to 3 minutes of the game in a completely artificial and unnatural way, or in the half-second before the opposing team starts a big play for the sole purpose of messing with their heads. Yes yes, I know teams should use all the tools in their kit to win the game, but come on.

Reviews
As the talking heads have reminded us at least a million times, in order to overturn the outcome of the play, there must be indisputable evidence that the call on the field was wrong. I just watched some refs take 5 minutes to review a play. Memo to refs: if you have to take 5 minutes to determine whether a call is right or wrong, then chances are it's not indisputable as the spirit of your rule suggests. I know that lately your motto has been "Get it Right", but if that's really going to be the case, then you need to do away with the "Indisputable Evidence" rule, and move towards codifying what's already happening in practice: namely that the real refs are up in the booth, and that the men on the field are just their as a speedy convenience when the booth isn't needed.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Holy Cow, It's ... THE BIRD!!


There's a big lake behind the building that I work in, which at any given time is home to a large number of seagulls, ducks, Canadian geese, and two really big birds that I had a faint idea were Herons, but never really bothered to look up and know for sure. Usually we just refer to them as "The Birds".

But this afternoon, as I put together my daily MSNBC jigsaw puzzle, I came to the realization that today's puzzle subject was none other than The Bird! Apparently it really is a heron, the Great Blue Heron, and happens to be the largest heron in North America.

You have no idea how excited I am.

Stupid People: Tasteless Jokes Edition

If you haven't heard about the MagicNegroGate scandal yet (now there's a sentence I never thought I'd write), the basic gist is that Chip Saltsman, a high ranking Republican politician who's trying to become the next head of the Republican National Committee and the de facto leader of the GOP for the next 4 years, decided to send his colleagues a CD with the song "Barrack the Magic Negro" as a Christmas gift.

As you might imagine, this has not been particularly well received by most people. For his part, Saltsman insists that the CD, titled We Hate the USA, is clearly satire, and was supposed to be funny.

Two Things:
1) There is a big difference between supposed to be funny, and actually funny. This song is funny in a Don Imus kind of way; you can see how it could be funny to some people, but only if you take a pretty perverse view of the subject already. Plus, there's the sheer boneheadedness of the move: was there really no nagging voice in the back of Saltsman's mind that this might not be a particularly bright idea, that he didn't need this hanging over his head during his campaign to become head of the RNC?

2) Completely separate from Saltsman's boneheadedness is the complete general cluelessness of what's left of the GOP base. Even a few years ago, the party's response would have been something along the lines of: "Look, it was a stupid thing to do, but ultimately harmless ... we're keeping you around cause we like you, but not in a leadership position where you'll just be an embarrassment." Indeed, that's what actually happened a few years ago when the GOP removed Trent Lott from his Senate leadership post after he said the country would have been better off if Strom Thurmand had won the presidency on a segregationist platform.

But that's not what's happening this time: instead, people are rallying around Saltsman, the mere fact that somebody somewhere said it was a dumb thing to do is now the single most important reason to support him, and anyone who disagrees is now an enemy who must be defeated.

Steven Bennen sums up my thoughts nicely:
So, to summarize, a leading candidate to lead the Republican National Committee promoted a song calling the next president a "magic negro." This has improved his chances of getting the job.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sunday Cat Blogging

Lucy recovers the way cats recover best: by finding a warm cozy spot and wedging herself into it.
And what, exactly, was Lucy recovering from, you ask? Well, she had to spend a week with these two: Meet Sullivan "Kitty Beast" Henry (left) and Cosmo "Razz Matazz" Heberlein (right), Brandon's and Katie's cats. While Cosmo and Lucy don't really mind each other, Kitty Beast does not appreciate the presence of other cats, and does not hesitate to make his displeasure known. When he wasn't jumping at the window trying to attack Socks (the neighbors' cat who likes us better), he was growling, hissing, attacking, and doing his best to make life as difficult as possible for Lucy. Needless to say, whenever Lucy slept, she did so with one eye open, and didn't get much rest, hence the exhaustion.

Of course, even troublesome Kitty Beasts have photogenic moments. Here's Sullivan showing off his ferocious tree-eating skills:

Random Travel Thoughts

Well, I'm back home in Richmond. I tried a new route back home this time; rather than taking 83 to Baltimore and then 95 around DC to Richmond, I took 81 south to Staunton and then 64 over to Richmond. Basically, I decided to go this way because even though it adds over 100 miles to the trip, it completely bypasses NOVA, which is bad anytime, but particularly bad during any holiday travel time. In that respect it worked, but it was still a miserable trip.

To start out, we had fog. LOTS of fog. Can't see more than 50 feet in front of you fog.
Then I finally broke through the front barrier, which meant no more fog, but also meant that the temperature jumped 20 degrees from 37 to 57, and stayed there. Ugh.

The 200 miles on 81 south felt like it took forever, but the worst part of the trip was definitely my sinuses. For whatever reason (and I have several hypotheses), I always get a cold when I go up north to my parents place, and usually my asthma starts to act up too. This time was no exception, so I was driving last night with a stuffed up nose and sinuses. I had a bunch of tissues with me, and most of the trip wasn't so bad, but when I went over the mountain just west of Charlottesville and then came down, the pressure difference was too much for my sinuses to handle. Something clogged, and I found myself unable to breath out of my nose, and with my left ear feeling like it was going to explode. Trying to blow my nose only made it worse. UGH. I was like this for 80 minutes, until finally, just after getting to Richmond, my ear finally popped and the pressure equalized. Even so, I felt miserable.

Today I'm taking it easy, doing some laundry, some vacuuming, watching some football (will the Lions go 0-16?), and sustaining myself with oranges and green tea with honey.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Earthquake

We had an earthquake last night, right around midnight. It was only a 3.3 on the Richter scale, and everybody's fine, but still pretty weird.

There was a quick jolt, then the house shook for a few seconds as everything settled back into place, and then a bunch of people poking their heads out of their rooms wondering what the heck just happened. The cats weren't quite as calm as the rest of us ... Cosmo freaked out and ran full speed into a door. Dumb cat.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Irony is a Cruel Mistress

You know, a year ago, the most I knew about football was that it happened on Monday night, and that the Philadelphia Eagles is the team I'm supposed to root for.

Fast forward to today. I have no idea how it happened, but I actually find myself missing the fall football season, even though it isn't even technically over yet.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Happy Non-Denominational Generic Winter Holiday!


Or, if you're a Christian who feels threatened when people the term "happy holidays", I suppose I can wish you a Merry Christmas as well. I once got into a very long argument with one of my friends about this whole subject, about whether I could still 'celebrate' along with everyone else or whether I had to do something else. In order to satisfy her I think I eventually settled on officially celebrating the Winter Solstice, just doing it a few days later so it happened to coincide with everyone else's celebration. Aaaaaaaaaaanyway....

Phew, Christmas was work this year. Between Mom and Dad being sick, 3 cats that don't like each other, last minute Christmas Eve shopping, a birthday dinner, and two family Christmas parties (alas, the second was Katie's SO, not mine, *sigh), all the wrapping etc, and my mother freaking out over Will having a sip of amaretto, I'm officially exhausted.

Sleep soon...

Friday, December 19, 2008

Blog Dump

Ok, lots of things that I've been meaning to blog about, but didn't, and now have.

The Minnesota Senate race just gets more and more interesting. Out of millions cast, Coleman now leads Franken by two votes. And this is before the improperly rejected absentee ballots are counted. I say 'improperly rejected' because everyone acknowledges that they're valid votes, but Coleman, for whatever reason, doesn't think that they should be counted.

I'm cautiously in favor of the proposed compromise on the auto bailout, which is to provide gov't funding for the Big 3 while they go into bankruptcy. What a lot of people don't realize is that Chapter 11 bankruptcy, ie classic bankruptcy that would allow the firms to operate as their operations are sold off to other firms, isn't an option this time because the credit markets that support Chap11 aren't available. This would result in a Chapter 9 bankruptcy, where all the workers are laid off, assets are sold in a simple liquidity exercise, and everyone loses. Not good. If we can use the bailout money to make bankruptcy work like it's supposed to, that's good.

Rick Warren. Don't know exactly what to think. One the one hand it's symbolic. On the other, it's a symbolic slap in the face. Hmph.

Paying executives' bonuses with the toxic assets they helped create actually seems like pretty poetic justice to me. Since people don't have margin calls, if the assets are ok then the execs are rich, if not then they suffer with the rest of us.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Not the Best Sunday

The Cinncinatti Bengals beat the Washington Redskins.
The Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens.
The Dallas Cowboys beat the NY Giants.

Also, Monday is the 15th of December. Monday is also supposed to have a high of 70 degrees.

*sigh, on the other hand, I got a lot of baking done today and have a purring cat in my lap. Not all bad I suppose.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Stupid Parking

I would just like to say that it's really stupid we've designed a transportation system that's entirely dependent on people driving more cars than the city can handle.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

At last count, I had a grand total of 5 readers, including myself. Needless to say, I am very thankful for each and every one of you, both as readers and as friends.

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Idiot Zookeepers

I get that checking the sex of a polar bear isn't quite as straightforward as checking the sex of, say, a puppy.

But even so, if you're a zoo buying a polar bear for the explicit purpose of mating it with a female bear that you already own, wouldn't you want to, you know, check to make sure you're buying a male?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

More Nonsense on Gay "Marriage"

All this seems pretty reasonable, right? So where does the nonsense come in? Simple: if you're going to make the separate-but-equal argument in favor of 'separate', you've got to have the 'equal' part as its complement. ____ makes it sound like fully equal civil unions are available to anyone who wants them, gay or straight, which is laughably untrue for most of the country.

In the US, there remain 9 states that haven't outright banned gay marriage and offer either full marriage or some kind of equivalent. But those marriage/union rights didn't just spring into existence, they were legislated. Of the 41 states that have banned gay marriage, only 2 offer civil unions. If you're in the other 39, you're out of luck. You can move, permanently, to another state, or you suck it up. That's it. The only other option available would be to specifically legislate some kind of civil union contract, but even there we have problems. Because of those 36 states, 19 of them don't just ban marriage, they explicitly ban civil unions as well. Take my very own state of Virginia:
Only a union between one man and one woman may be a marriage valid in or recognized by this Commonwealth and its political subdivisions. This Commonwealth and its political subdivisions shall not create or recognize a legal status for relationships of unmarried individuals that intends to approximate the design, qualities, significance, or effects of marriage. Nor shall this Commonwealth or its political subdivisions create or recognize another union, partnership, or other legal status to which is assigned the rights, benefits, obligations, qualities, or effects of marriage.
In other words: no gay marriage, no civil unions, and no private legal contracts that seek to approximate the benefits of marriage. Basically, if you're gay, you're persona non-grata.

So while I sympathize with both the separate-but-equal and get-government-out-of-marriage arguments, you just can't argue that there are other options available to most Americans. Indeed, more Americans live in a state that actively prevents any kind of gay civil union than live in a state where civil unions or marriage is available. You can call that many things, but you can't call it equal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Top Chef Week 2

And it's week 2! Last week saw two young chefs go home on the first episode; one for not being able to dice apples quickly enough, one for doing a pretty crappy Chinese dish.

And this week? Well, let's see!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Still No Rain

A few more clouds, but still no rain. Grrrrr.....

Give Lieberman the Boot

For the record, I agree 100% completely with Rachel Maddow on what Joe Lieberman's fate should be. You should really watch the whole thing, but in case you aren't interested, here's the summary:

1) In the past 2 years, while his counterpart Rep Waxman in the House was investigating everything from DOJ torture memos to FEMA's Katrina plans to secret White House email accounts, Lieberman didn't hold a single hearing. Ever. Not one. And all of a sudden, now that Obama's going to be president, keeping this committee chair is the most important thing in the world to Lieberman, and it's "unacceptable" that he might have to chair a different committee. Vendetta, anyone?

2) Lieberman isn't just a 'moderate' Democrat. He's a Democrat who campaigned for John McCain, gave a prime time address at the Republican National Convention trashing Obama, campaigned for down ticket Republicans, and has been giving interviews left and right saying he "fears for the country's future" and that it's a "legitimate question" to ask if Obama's a Marxist. You just don't do that and get to keep a cushy and much-sought-after committee chairmanship.

3) Lieberman just needs a good kick in the pants. Let him whine if he wants to about how unfair it all is, the man needs to understand that there are consequences to his actions and that he can't just go around saying whatever he wants to and still stay in good standing with his party. I know he votes with the Dems on most issues. But on Iraq, Iran, and foreign policy in general, he votes with the GOP. And he doesn't just vote with them, he goes out of his way to use his reputation to explain to the world why the Democrats are weak and yellow-bellied and how they can't be trusted with the future of the country and how the GOP needs to be in charge so all our children won't die. The man just needs to be shown the door.

Weather Woes

I swear, no matter where I move, the weather adjusts itself so that rain falls everywhere but where I live. Here's weather.com's latest radar map of the US, which shows where the storm is ... and isn't.Notice any place in particular that's surrounded by rain on all sides, but stubbornly remains dry itself?

Harumph, I say!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Top Chef Season 5 Blogging!

Top Chef is back for season #5! Let the merriment commence!

Ok, seriously, I do like this show, not because I want to eat the food, but because I want to be able to cook food like all these people do. I'm a decent cook & baker, but these people are freakin awesome, and their ability to take nothing but raw ingredients turn it into a culinary masterpiece using only a few knives and the ideas in their head is one that I wish I had.

This season the show takes place New York City, and features a pretty eccentric bunch of characters. I have to be honest here: the show is fundamentally a cooking competition, and I'm starting to worry that the Top Chef producers are moving away from that in favor of pure sensationalism. Case in point: the very first quick-fire challenge of the series eliminated a competitor before they even got into the kitchen.

First, the chefs were asked to peel a bunch of apples using only a paring knife in a time trial. I ask you, what exactly does it say about someone's cooking skills that they're able to peel a bunch of apples 5 seconds quicker than their peers, using a technique that no one uses at all anymore and that they'll never use again in their entire careers?

Second, the losers of the peeling had to finely dice their apples, again in a timed trial. Dicing is a fundamental knife skill, but again, does being a second or two faster than someone else really tell you all that much?

Finally, after the 17 were pared (haha, get it?) down to 5, they were finally allowed to cook. And one poor girl who made a salad got the boot, and was sent home about an hour after she arrived. That's got to be a downer.

Like I said, sensationalism. Anyway, there are certainly some interesting characters this time around. Among the more interesting ones:

Carla.
Imagine a 44 year-old cross between a southern grandma who does southern comfort and a hippie karma queen who actually used the words "vibe" and "karma" as part of her working vocabulary.










Jeff
Jeff is very good looking. And he knows it. Scratch that, he doesn't just know it, he's internalized it as an a priori fundamental truth of the universe. During the opening credits he actually winks at the camera. Before he goes out into his restaurant, he always asks a server whether his hair's ok (seriously, he does that, he said so, I'm not making it up.)




Patrick
One of the three openly gay contestants on this season's show. Patrick's so young that he's still in school at CIA, and also pretty cute. Alas, he used gummy black bean noodles to make his Chinatown dish, and was sent home after the first elimination challenge. Pity, he seemed nice.





Fabio
His name is Fabio, what more need I say? Well, I'll tell you what more I need say: he's personal chef to William Shatner!! Hence the picture! Beam me up, Fabio! KHAAAAAAAAAAAAAN!

Still Having Computer Problems

In case you're wondering, my problems with my personal laptop are continuing, and getting increasingly more frustrating. The current issue I'm dealing with is anytime InstallShield Wizard comes up, the computer crashes and restarts. Since InstallShield Wizard is used to install just about everything, I'm having a difficult time repopulating my computer with all the programs I want on it.

I'm increasingly considering just trashing the damn thing and buying a new one.

Dumb Markets

The single best description of stock market analysis I've ever read was from Dave Barry. I can't find the original, but it went something like this:
Analyst #1: Well, the market went up or down today, based on whether it went up or down.
Analyst #2: Will this trend continue?
Analyst #1: It's too soon to tell.
It never ceases to amaze me how often random fluctuations get mistaken for mass rallying or sell-offs.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

GRAH!!

I had an absolutely awesome afternoon. And then I had a not so absolutely awesome rest of the evening.

As I was walking back from Godfrey's, my phone battery died. Normally I'd just plug it in again, but my sister was down this weekend, and her phone died, so I let her borrow it for a day. She used it to charge her phone, and left it with Todd when she left ... but Todd's off visiting one of our supplier sites, and my charger is trapped in his apartment. Which is all to say that my phone is currently a pretty piece of plastic and silicon, and will remain so until Todd comes back. Grah!

Also, my personal computer died this weekend. It'd been acting strangely, randomly shutting down, blue screening, etc. I chalked it up to overheating (which it's prone to doing), and would just restart it. That worked until Saturday morning, when it stopped booting and just showed a message about the registry file \SystemRoot\System32\Config\Software being corrupt. I tried safe mode, tried last usable configuration, tried everything I could think of, but it just wouldn't start.

I got onto my work laptop, searched online, and found a lot of sites that told you how to deal with the problem. I tried to restore the registry files via the System Recovery Setup screen, but the backup files weren't created, so no dice. Then I searched through all my old files and boxes, and found (what I thought to be) the WindowsXP disc that came with the laptop, and tried to do a repair install. Alas, the repair option wasn't accessible. I searched and searched through dozens of forums, and always came up with the same answer: if those two options didn't work the only option left was a clean wipe and reinstallation. Grah!!

(Asside: I've never been technologically savvy. I know I'm a nerd and it's required and all, but honestly I couldn't set up a home network to save my life. It's always frustrated me to some degree, but this entire episode really served to frustrate me more and more with my lack of computer skills. So that's the backdrop to all of this.)

I wasn't happy about doing a clean wipe and then reinstalling, but it wasn't quite as bad when I thought about it. Most of my media is on my iPod, and I can just resynch that later. I'd lose some pictures of Lucy, but she'll be around for a while and I'm sure she'll do plenty of funny things in the years ahead. I'd lose some links, but I found the pages once, I can find them again. The biggest worry I have is my finances on MS Money and the word doc that has all my online sign-ons and passwords. (Yes, I know it's not recommended to store that stuff. But if they don't want us to store it, then they shouldn't make every site have different requirements on what your username and password can be. We're human beings, not filing cabinets. We can't remember 20+ different usernames and passwords and which sites they all belong to.)

So, I started the install. Took about 40 minutes, and then my screen filled up with the most dumbed-down worthless version of XP in existence. No media players, no MS Office, no network drivers, no nothing. The only thing on it were games, and an offer to sign up for MSN's online portal. "Wait, this isn't right!", I thought to myself. "Where's all the stuff that's supposed to come with it?" Of course it won't have everything, but I KNOW it at least came with MS Office! So, I start looking through boxes again, this time much more thoroughly, and between two manual pages I find another XP disk.

And I come to a horrible realization.

The version of XP that I'd just installed was not the version that came with my laptop. Instead, it was the stand-alone version that my parents had gotten me for Christmas 5 years ago when I was a sophomore at college to replace my old computer's ailing Windows ME. I'd just wiped my laptop and reinstalled a 5 years old version of XP, with absolutely no utility at all. GRAH!!!

So I pop in the newer disk, thinking that I could just do the whole thing over again, wipe it all, etc. And what should pop up, but the repair option that would've let me fix it all! Of course, at that point it was completely useless, since I'd already reformatted everything, and it's gone forever. GRAH!!!!

I took a deep breath, reminded myself that I'd already accepted losing everything and that really that wasn't so bad, and continued with the install. Except something was popping up about the drive already being partitioned, and that it was a very bad idea to install more than one OS on a single partition. Well, couldn't I just remove the partition? Nope! Apparently you can't reinstall Windows from Windows, since the partition hosting the installation can't be removed, or something like that. GRAH!!!!!

Rather than just frustrating myself more, I'm not going to do anything more tonight and just tackle it tomorrow. *sigh, maybe I'll throw it out a window or something.

More to Come...

More pictures and explanation to come. Sufficed to say, I had an awesome Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Obama, 44th President of the United States

With the polls closed in California, Oregon, and Washington, Barack Obama is now the 44th President Elect of the United States.

Elation. Adrenaline. Exhaustion.

Going to bed.

YES WE DID!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Fisking the Cornerites #1

As the prospect of an Obama presidency gets closer and closer to reality, we've seen the writers over at The Corner get increasingly shrill and excitable. They can't quite seem to accept that America might actually elect someone who represents such a stinging rebuke to their conservative philosophy, and so they start inventing more and more fantastic reasons that explain it all. And today's no exception, with a couple doozies so big that they each warrant their own fisking. We start with editor K-Lo, explaining why people who blame Palin do so at their own 'peril'. K-Lo starts thusly:
In the final week of the presidential election, the hot political storyline centered on how the maverick hockey mom, also known as Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin, is really a “rogue,” a “diva,” and even, Lord help us, a “whack job.”
It should be noted that none of those descriptions came from a Democratic source. One came from a professional news commentator who's supposed to be objective; the other two came from internal McCain campaign sources. So to the extent that people are calling her names, it's the people who have been spending the most time with her and are supposed to be her alllies.
She’s gone “off message,” “McCain sources” complain.
Off message? Off message! That’s only something to complain about if you want Palin’s running mate to lose.
Hang onto that last sentence, because we're going to come back to it. K-Lo writes a few more sentences about how McCain's campaign hasn't exactly been stellar, and then a few about how much of what Palin says 'off message' actually resonates, particularly Palin's nationally televised denouncement of robo-calls.
Why shouldn’t she say that robocalls are irritating? Ever get one? Conservative friends of mine who have recently received such calls from Michelle Obama appreciated Palin’s honesty. Even while the Republican presidential campaign defends the use of automated telephone messages, Palin’s remarks were not only honest but smart politics. McCain sources complain at their own peril.
Ok. Let's say you go to a rally and hear Palin say that robo-calls are terrible. It resonates. You leave the rally feeling great about McCain-Palin. You get home, push the button on your answering machine and hear ... a robo-call from the McCain-Palin campaign. If you're like most voters, this won't exactly do wonders for your feelings about the Republican ticket. That's why the McCain campaign was angry. Palin wasn't off message, she was contra message; ie - explicitly denouncing, in no uncertain terms, the very tactic McCain was using at that very moment, and likely lowering McCain's chances of winning. What was that quote K-Lo just had about the complainers only wanting McCain not to win?
The motivation, presumably, of whoever is complaining to the press lies in getting a head start on recriminations. Someone, operating under the assumption that McCain-Palin will end up a losing ticket, is aiming to get in front of the pack by making the GOP’s first female vice-presidential contender a scapegoat.
Probably. It's probably also not a coincidence that those people are all blaming Palin. Especially since poll after poll shows her to be the reason many people won't vote for McCain
.“And it’s my own jacket,” Palin said about the cream-colored blazer she recently wore, in the wake of the Republican National Committee’s much-reported efforts to spruce up the candidate’s wardrobe. That story didn’t help her or the campaign, and she knows it.
No, it certinaly didn't help at all. Like most things that don't help a campaign, there's a reason for that.
It was a silly distraction in some ways — only to get sillier when it started a fight on The View after co-host Elisabeth Hasselbeck appeared with Palin at a weekend rally. But it also indicated the direction the blame game might head should the Republicans lose the presidential election. And in this way, the diva story should serve as a cautionary note.
There are all sorts of reasons not to blame Palin for the down-to-the-wire nature of this close election, but to thank her.
So, after listing a bunch of reasons that Palin was directly or indirectly responsible for some bad press, K-Lo's conclusion is that Palin is the only thing keeping McCain afloat. Umm... ok.
She has, by McCain’s own admission, energized the campaign.
And also energized hoards of people against it.
She has presented America with an entirely new type of feminism, one that conservative women and the Catholic Church can finally understand and identify with. She should not be faulted for providing the campaign and the election with a breath of fresh air.
That breath of fresh air last about 30 seconds, until people started looking at her actual record, and found it wanting. She may have been a boon to far-right social conservatives like K-Lo, but most people saw a woman who didn't know anything about national issues, thought that was ok, and tried to bluff her way past it all by saying whatever she felt like saying, regardless of whether it had any relationship to reality.
She’s not perfect, but who among us is? If the McCain campaign tries to make her responsible for any defeat or close call, Republicans ought to repudiate such tawdry efforts with due haste. In many ways, Sarah Palin is a step in the right direction. Don’t you dare blame her.
"In many ways, Sarah Palin is a step in the right direction." Wow. Just ... wow.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Halloween!

I love Halloween. The fall/winter holidays all seem to have something special about them that sets them apart. The lights, the decorations, the culture, it all just works together to create something different. Thanksgiving and Christmas give you a kind of warm-happy feeling, but Halloween's different. The best way I can think to describe it is that it's just exciting in a way that nothing else is.

Anyway, every year a block of Hanover Ave gets really into the spirit, close the road, and put everything they have into turning the block into a haunted house. Naturally, now that I'm down in that area, I needed to check this out myself.

An inconspicuous beginning.
A cat checking everything out.












Something REALLY scary: a Starbucks I didn't know was there!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Cold Weather Cat Blogging

Iz on your blankets, stealin your fuzzies!

Too Many Veggies!

One thing that's really been bugging me lately is the complete lack of options around the size of produce that you can get at either Ukrops or Kroger. You can't buy single, or even double, sized portions of most vegetables; instead you're forced to buy something like 8 to 10 servings of something that you just end up wasting.

The latest such incident happened tonight when I tried to make an Italian vegetable soup that was featured in Mens Health. Simple, inexpensive, healthy, and according to the editor, absolutely amazing.

So off I walk, cloth bags in hand, to Ukrops, home of the much-touted, and inconveniently bundled, local produce. Among other things, the recipe calls for: 2 carrots, 2 celery stalks, a few leaves of cabbage, and a small bunch of chard. Of course, when you live in rural Italy and have all these things growing in your garden, getting the right amounts is a snap. Alas, I do not live in rural Italy.

Just 2 carrots? Nope, gotta buy 2 dozen carrots. Just 2 stalks of celery? Nope, same as the carrots. Just a few cabage leaves instead of an entire 2 lb cabbage? Surely you jest.

And the chard. Ooooooohhhh, the lovely chard. The recipe calls for a "small bunch". What you see in the picture is the most not-un-small-bunchiest bunch of chard they had, which just happened to weigh 2.5 lbs and be twice as big as the magazine itself. That's not a trick of the camera angle, it really is that huge. *sigh, rant over, feel better now.

Fortunately, the Mens Health editor was right, this really is some good soup! Healthy, incredibly simple, and amazingly good. And if you have some just-reduced crusty Italian bread and a simple red wine to go with it, then you are in for a good night!

World's Dummest Winger

The scandal du-jour in GOP-land now centers around Obama's internet fund-raising: apparently if you donate by credit card at the Obama campaign's website there aren't many, if any, controls in place to catch fraudlant donations.

While Steyn, Goldberg, et al ponder how this destroys the very fabric of democracy, a couple of their loyal readers decided to go one step further and take matters into their own hands.
So I went to the Obama website this afternoon and clicked on the "Donate" button.

I used my real MasterCard number (but was not asked for the 3 digit security code).

Used the following information and it was accepted...

[lots of obviously fake information]

And incredibly, my $5 donation was ACCEPTED!!!

...

Please tell me what I can do with this information? Is this a violation of FEC law by the Obama Campaign? How do we publicize this???

Thanks for all you do.

Best,
Now, the verdict's still out on whether the original acceptance is a violation of campaign law; Obama's campaign does do some after-the-fact batch verification, and did return several million dolloars of their September fundraising. So while I'm frankly shocked that their fraud protections are so lax, I'm not sure if this is a violation of the law.

But one thing I know for sure that violates the law is making fraudulant campaign donations. So not only did this dumb ass go out and commit a felony, he then proceeded to proudly publicize his felony, and all his identifying information, on a website that has several million visitors a day and ask how he could let the FEC know how much of an idiot he is.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

How to Make Sausage-Lentil Soup

1) Take lentils out of your cupboard where they've been for the past year and a half.

2) Go to the store to pick up the other ingredients.

3) On the way to the store, call Mom to figure out what the spice was that Betsy puts in her sausage-lentil soup that makes it taste so good.

4) Remind Mom that sausage-lentil soup tastes very very good. Tell Mom that of course you'd love to make it for her and Dad when they come down to visit next weekend.

5) Decide that you don't want to have lentil-sausage soup all week long only to have it again next weekend. Buy stuff to make chicken parmesan instead.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Random Saturday Happenings

1) Greg & Cathy's dog Dixie is awesome. No pictures yet, although Todd has one of me in a somewhat compromising position that I'm sure will make it's way up here sometime. We met her last night as we hung out at Greg's apartment, and then this afternoon we went her across the street to an old fenced-in soccer field and just let her run. Dixie got in 30 minutes of pure joy before some jackass actually called the cops on us and a squad car showed up. The cop was a good guy and said he wouldn't be there except that they got a call about it, but home we had to go. Jackasses suck.

2) I have a sudden hankering for lentil soup.

3) Ok, technically this happened on Friday, but The Village Cafe near VCU is awesome. Went with Justin & Danielle for dinner: great little place with good atmosphere, lots of good for good prices, and fantastic fries. Bonus feature: they're open for breakfast and you can order as much and as little as you want, which means I finally have a breakfast place that's diner-ish enough to satisfy my parents.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Fact of the Day

From the often annoying but generally somewhat astute Andrew Sullivan:
Joe the Plumber has now held more press conferences than Sarah Palin.
Note that a "factoid" is technically a fact that is incorrect, not a small tidbit of information.

When is $250K not $250K?

Answer: when John McCain says it is.

Ok, cheap shot, but the depth of dishonesty coming out of the McCain campaign on the Small Business tax thing is overwhelming. Read this CNN fact-check article for an in-depth review, but here are the basic facts:

1) When McCain claims Obama's plan would raise taxes on 50%+ of small businesses, he's using an extremely, shall we say 'unique', definition of small business. By McCain's definition, Obama and McCain themselves actually count as small business owners, because both get royalties from their book sales.

2) The $250K number from Obama's plan refers to income, not revenue. That's an extremely important distinction. My parents own a small business, and while I don't know for sure, I'm pretty sure they take in a good bit more than $250K of revenue a year. But by the time you get done with cost of goods, depreciation, salaries, rent, utilities, supplies, yada yada yada; that more-than-$250K of revenue has turned into less-than-$250K of income. Ergo, Mom and Dad won't see their taxes raised a dime. I can't wait to pound my dad over the head with that when they come down to visit next weekend :P

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Debate #3 Live Blogging!

8:48PM - Does Bill (CNN's Republican Talking Head #1) really think that Obama would name Bill Ayers as the Secretary of Education? Seriously? On some level it's been fascinating watching the right become more and more obsessed with Ayers over the past few weeks as they grasp at something, anything, they can throw at Obama and have it stick. You're forced to wonder whether they're just saying anything they can to get McCain elected, or whether they actually believe this stuff.

aaaannndddd..... why did RTH#1 just grab his neighbor's hand and hold on tight as he was talking?

8:50PM - Anderson Cooper: "We have so many people we now have the best political hoarde on television!" I was just thinking that, actually.

8:50PM - Soledad O'Brien exlains the "squiggly lines that people will be watching with great fascination ... via our perception analyzer device." Yikes.

9:01PM - Here we go! Bob Schieffer moderates, with a format that's supposed to allow a bit more back and forth with followup.

9:02PM - Debate tie watching: Obama's got the red Alpha Male tie. McCain's got blue & black. I'm actually not very fond of McCain's tie.

9:04PM - McCain says Fannie and Freddie were the cause of the housing crisis. Nope. By 2006, almost 70% of all "sub-prime" mortgages were outside of Fannie/Freddie, mostly because Fannie/Freddie thought those loans were too risky, but other, non-federally regulated institutions, saw easy money, and went after it.

9:07PM - Joe the Plumber? Seriously? Ok, seriously, McCain is rambling. He took a follow-up to the bailout and turned it into some kind of general tax rant, with almost no structure other than "Joe the Plumber good! Tax bad! I good!"

9:11PM - Theme for tonight: Joe the Plumber!

9:13PM - Hmm, good question about the need to raise taxes in the future. Look, there's just no way to balance the budget without raising taxes. You can take a good chunk out of the deficit with reduced spending, but you can't just waive away a half a trillion dollars of spending with a magic wand. Taxes are going to have to go up, it's just an unfortunate reality.

9:17PM - Is McCain just throwing out random talking points? He's asked about his budget and whether he can pay for it. He immediately goes back to something about home ownership, randomly hits up energy independence from the Middle East (?), and then finally gets to the question.

9:18PM - McCain: "I oppose subsidies on ethanol." Credit where it's due.

9:19PM - Obama hits back on earmarks, and how little they actually contribute to the budget.

9:20PM - *sigh, McCain rolls out the taxes on people making $42,000 thing again. It's a clerical error that they fixed when they realized the error, and never actually made it into law. This has been pretty thoroughly debunked by just about everybody.

9:23PM - Hmm... didn't know Obama supports pay-for-performance for teachers. He says it didn't make him popular with the teacher's union. No, I don't doubt that it didn't.

9:25PM - Schieffer asks if they can say to each others' faces what they're campaigns have been saying. McCain goes after Obama on his previous statements on campaign financing, town halls, etc. Obama hits back on negative ads and says we should be talking about issues.

9:29PM - It occurs to me that people keep saying they want to hear about actual issues in the debates, and that there's some kind of consensus that if the debate goes negative, it's the candidates' faults. Questions like this from Schieffer don't exactly make it easy to talk about the issues.

9:31PM - Oh geez, now we're down to talking about t-shirts at rallies and what some of them say. Can we please just move on from this ridiculous tit-for-tat?

9:35PM - McCain brings up ACORN and how it's "perpetrating one of the greatest acts of voter fraud in American history" and "destroying the fabric of American democracy". Oh please. ACORN is paying people to go register voters. Some of the registrars brought back names like Mickey Mouse, and got paid for that. Apparently this is destroying the fabric of American democracy. It's worth pointing out that 7 years ago Ashcroft Justice Department made voter fraud a top priority. In those 7 years, they couldn't find a single instance, not one, of actual voter fraud.

9:40PM - Finally, we're moving on.

9:43PM - Spoke too soon. Sheiffer asks each candidate why their VP nominee is better than the other. You couldn't have asked for a question better suited for a scripted response. Which is exactly what we got. So far this debate is worthless.

9:47PM - McCain: "We can achieve energy independence with 85 new nuclear power pants!" He then corrects himself. Heh.

9:48PM - To his credit, Obama says we can't drill ourselves out of the energy crisis, but to his detriment, calls for more domestic production, which doesn't make any sense at all.

9:51PM - McCain keeps doing some kind of weird pidgeon-like puff up with a weird look on his face. Does he have gas or something?

9:52PM - For better or worse, the squiggly lines seem to be perpetually stuck at slightly positive, plus or minus an inkling or two.

9:55PM - McCain: "I don't think there's any doubt that Senator Obama wants to restrict trade and raise taxes." I guess the plan is to just repeat that line over and over again, and hope it sticks.

9:58PM - Candidates talk about health care, mention discrimination against pre-existing conditions, but don't really discuss it. It's actually kind of complicated, but in a wonkish kind of way*.

9:59PM - McCain speaks directly to Joe the Plumber. Twice. Who's next, Kelly the Hairdresser?

10:03PM - McCain just sounds confused. He's randomly stringing together talking points and throwing in a shout-out for Joe the Plumber.

10:15PM - They've turned to abortion. McCain says Obama hates babies, or something like that. Personally, I've stopped paying attention.

10:20PM - Um, there's a reason you need to be certified in order to teach in most states. It's because we'd prefer you actually know something about teaching before you get up in front of a bunch of kids.

10:23PM - Hmm, school vouchers. Still worthless.

Final Thoughts:
That was a waste of 90 minutes. Utterly uninformative, and steeped almost entirely in a he-said-she-said mindset that wasn't helped one bit by Scheiffer's questions.

Neither candidate scored a knockout. McCain tried, desperately at times, and came off as petty and childish. Obama tried a bit of himself, though not to the extent of McCain, and did try several times to bring it back to issues.

Ultimately, neither candidate did themselves any favors. My prediction: both candidates will go down in the polls slightly as voters register some distaste with the atmosphere. They'll go back up in a few days, but nothing will change.

**
Health insurance companies exist for a reason: they believe they can pool risk, pay for individual health care needs, and make a profit in the process. Pursuant to that, any kind of competent insurer assesses risk, and charges appropriately. It's the definition of being an insurer. There are very few risk indicators better than pre-existing conditions. Looked at that way, it makes perfect sense for insurers to "discriminate" against people with pre-existing conditions. You wouldn't ask an auto insurance company to turn a blind eye to a customer who promised that, 2 years in the future, they'd ram a couple other vehicles and ring up tens of thousands of dollars in costs.

If you don't like that pre-existing conditions make it harder to get health care, then your problem isn't with the insurance companies themselves, it's with this whacked-out, jury-rigged, Frankenstein-like system that we've come up with in the United States, and that we continue to blindly insist is the best possible solution in the world, even in the face of massive evidence to the contrary.

Random Wednesday Thoughts

Some random thoughts while I wait for the last presidential debate to start:

Markets are finnicky. Down, then up, then down, now down again! Dow dropped 8% today, and as of 8:44PM, Japan's Nikkei is down more than 10%. Yeah, gonna be interesting.

It should not be 86 degrees in mid October!

Dumb people suck.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Lucy Blogging

"I cloze eyez, and count to three. If camera not gone, world of pain!"

Warm Greek Pasta Salad Blogging

Nothing beats Greek food! Unless maybe Thai. Or Mexican. Or Chinese. Or Italian. Or Indian. Or sushi. Or other Greek food. Or ... well, it's all good, if you do it right!

Warm Greek Pasta Salad
You'll need 2 boneless-skinless chix breasts, a box of orzo, pitted calamatas, grape tomatoes, a red onion, some basil, a bunch of baby spinach, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar.

Cut the chicken into bite size pieces, and start to cook with the olive oil in a pan. Slice the onion and cut the grape tomatoes in half, add them to the pan once the chicken is cooked on the outside, and continue to cook for a few more minutes.

Meanwhile, cook the orzo in a large pot. Cut the olives in half, and chop the spinach and basil into bite sized pieces. Once the orzo is done drain it, then return to the pot. Immediately add the spinach/basil/olives to the drained orzo and let the residual heat wilt the greens. Stir in chicken/onion/tomatoes, then add some more olive oil and a good bit of balsamic vinegar. Stir stir stir, serve warm, and voila! Warm Greek pasta salad!

I get 6 good meals out of this, but usually eat a stuffed grape leaf or something with it to give a bit of variety, but really you could have anything. However, if you do want a stuffed grape leaf, don't go looking for them at Ukrops. They don't have them.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Oh Virginia...

From a reporter at Time.com who visited McCain's newest campaign office in Virginia:
With so much at stake, and time running short, Frederick did not feel he had the luxury of subtlety. He climbed atop a folding chair to give 30 campaign volunteers who were about to go canvassing door to door their talking points — for instance, the connection between Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden: "Both have friends that bombed the Pentagon," he said. "That is scary." It is also not exactly true — though that distorted reference to Obama's controversial association with William Ayers, a former 60s radical, was enough to get the volunteers stoked. "And he won't salute the flag," one woman added, repeating another myth about Obama. She was quickly topped by a man who called out, "We don't even know where Senator Obama was really born." Actually, we do; it's Hawaii.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Wow

Sometimes it's worth stepping back and admiring the amazing beauty that this planet has produced.

An overcast Yosemite Park:


Two lonely roses outside my apartment building:

A Night with Todd

You hear many things when you spend an evening with Todd.

"Well, you know, Florida is the wang of the US."

(after I said something really dumb) "Your eloquence is topped only by your stature." Gee, thanks Todd.

"I made strong drink." *BURRRRRRRRRRRRP*

Friday, October 10, 2008

3 Down, 47 to Go

The Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that gay and lesbian couples have the right to full marriage based on the state constitution's equal protection clause. That means Connectuicut joins California and Massachussets as the third state in the US to allow full marriage rights for same-sex couples.

The Corner predictably freaks out.

I don't know how many times I've said this, but I'll say it again. No government has the right to force any church or religious institution to marry a couple the church doesn't feel it is appropriate to marry. If such a law was proposed, I would fight tooth and nail against it. But that's not what we're talking about. We are talking about the 1,097 extra rights, priviledges, and protections that the state grants to married couples, regardless of their religious affiliation.

People like K-Lo say these special rights are necessary, because we need to incent couples to form a loving, stable, and committed relationship in order to raise children in the best environment possible. And she's 100% right that such a relationship is the best environment possible in order to raise children. But the state has married millions of couples who are not, have no intention of becoming, and in some cases are physically incapable of becoming, a loving, stable, and committed relationship in order to raise children. We all remember Brittany Spears' marriage in Las Vegas a few years ago. That drunken, spur-of-the-moment relationship lasted a whopping 3 days, and the only reason it lasted that long was that the divorce courts were closed over the weekend. Does K-Lo believe Brittany should or should not have had the right to marry? What about a 90 year old couple with no living relatives who love each other and simply want to spend the rest of their years together?

The Connecticut court didn't "create" the right to marry; the Connecticut legislature did that when it wrote the state's original marriage laws. The court simply observed that if the state's going to create a right to marry for some people but not for others, it needs to have a pretty damn good reason not to give it to those others. In the end, nobody has been able to come up with an explanation that doesn't boil down to gays = icky. Thus, the decision.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bad Mood

Ok, I'm sorry, but I'm an analyst. And when I see something that is completely contrary to everything I know to be true about my area of expertise, I require an explanation a bit more well grounded than: "they talked about it over dinner."

And, when I then ask for more explanation, it is NOT a good idea to:

1) Tell me nobody cares what I think anyway

2) Tell me that I don't have the right to be asking the question in the first place since I'm not on the project team and

3) Tell me that me, others like me, and our "misguided" thinking caused a big mess and now it's time for me to shutup so someone else clean it up

Yeah, kinda pissed

Ouch

Increasingly possible now seems like an understatement. Dow closed at 8600 today.

The financial crisis explained in terms any kibble eater can understand.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Debate #2 Live Blogging!

Live blogging debate #2! Sorta-kinda-but-not-really town hall style.

8:53PM - CNN has their group of "undecided persuadables" that they've been tracking ever since the debates started back on for a 3rd time. I honestly have to wonder how many of these people are still undecided versus just want to stay on tv, especially considering many of them have rather well-developed opinions on the issues that point them towards one candidate in particular.

8:56PM - Oh geez, Wolf Blitzer just said "I assume by now that all of you [watching at home] have laptops." Note to Wolf, not everybody even has a computer, much less an open laptop while watching tv.

8:59PM - Hmm... something I didn't know but should've: a whopping 80% of the country now believes we're on the wrong track. That's a really big percentage.

9:02PM - How is it that Tom Brokaw is able to speak so distinctly without moving 99% of his face?

9:05PM - Hmm.. thought that Obama wasn't going to answer his first question, but now he seems to be starting.

9:08PM - McCain would order the SecTres to buy up bad mortgages and then renegotiate? That's a pretty big expansion of government involvement, not one that I knew McCain supported, or that will go over particularly well with conservatives, I imagine.

9:11PM - Brokaw reminds the candidates to keep it to a minute. Lay it down, Brokaw!

9:12PM - McCain goes after Fannie & Freddie and Obama's "cronies". Ok, this definitely deserves a post later on, but sufficed to say Fannie & Freddie may play a role, but by no means a leading one, and the cause is certainly not the low-income loan encouragement that many supply-siders are now decrying.

9:14PM - Ok, both McCain and Obama are now going after each other. This is not going to go over well with anyone.

9:16PM - Obama: "You're not interested in hearing politicians point fingers". You are correct sir, so stop doing it!

9:17PM - Weird how the 20th century is now "archaic". I mean, I know McCain is old and all that, but still...

9:21PM - I wonder if McCain's campaign has some kind of internal competition to see which staffer can find the weirdest earmark that's ever been marked? McCain needs to stop just going around spouting Obama did this or Obama voted for that. Obama needs to stop it too.

9:25PM - Is it just me, or does McCain sound old? Like, can't catch his breath and keeps gasping as he moves around?

9:27PM - When's the best time to plant a shade tree? 20 years ago. When's the next best time? Now. Energy overhaul needs to be a top priority of this country, period. We can't just keep pushing it off later and later saying "oh, we'll just drill a few more wells" and it'll all be good.

9:28PM - Oh geez, Brokaw reminds the candidates about time again. They're going over by like 10 to 15 seconds, just drop it already.

9:31PM - Wow, if I had to guess which candidate would bring up 9/11 first, I would not have guessed it would be Obama. Ah, he ties it back to sacrifice for the country. Ok, I was worried for a second.

9:32PM - Obama goes for off-shore drilling, which is disappointing. The general consensus is that, best case scenario, there will be a slight increase in oil supply several decades from now, by which point it will be meaningless. Off-shore drilling is a pander, plain and simple.

9:36PM - McCain: Obama's got several different tax proposals? Umm, no, just one, and it's been consistent. McCain's on the other hand, went through several evolutions in just the past few days.

9:38PM - Ok, Brokaw, you really shouldn't redesign the questions mid-debate. Obama brings it back to tax plans. McCain brings up the idiotic "94 votes for tax increases" thing again.

9:50PM - Hmm.. healthcare as a commodity issue. This is sort of a complicated question, since the commodity in quesiton isn't really healthcare, but more like an option on healthcare, and therein lies the problem, since it's now the option providers who are able to dictate whether you get your healthcare or not, which directly affects their bottom line.

9:55PM - It's a fundamental difference between Obama and McCain on healthcare: Obama believes the current hodgepodge is fundamentally broken, McCain believes we've just got to keep trying and eventually it'll all get better somehow.

10:05PM - Hmm.. Obama is faltering a bit on the "Obama Doctrine" question, which asks under what conditions he would send troops for non-national-security issues. I don't know what is so hard about "every situation is different". It has the virtue of being true.

10:07PM - That's odd, when McCain was going on about bringing the troops home in victory rather than in defeat (totally idiotic, btw), it was the women who liked it, but the men stayed flat. That's completely contrary to the conventional wisdom about men and women on national security issues.

10:09PM - Question about ignoring Pakistani borders. Obama's skirting around the question. Ok, he finally answered the question, it just took a while. Pretty standard only-if-absolutely-necessary response.

10:11PM - McCain's going off on Obama for talking loudly while carrying a small stick. Wasn't it McCain who was singing "bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran!"? So would he or would he not take action inside Pakistan?

10:17PM - Did Obama start and end an answer with different countries?

10:19PM - More "honor and victory, not in defeat" crap. Plus he goes on about Obama being wrong about the surge. The surge's stated purpose was to provide security to get Iraq's government to start working towards reconciliation. For various reasons, many unrelated to the surge, violence went down. Iraq's government did squat, and is as divided as ever. The surge worked tactically, but failed strategically and ultimately that's what really counts.

10:22PM - McCain advocates Ukrainian and Georgian membership in NATO. That is a really bad idea. It would mean going to war with Russia if something like the recent Russia/Georgia conflict happened again. I really doubt that's what McCain and co actually want, and inviting Georgia or Ukraine to NATO is more like deterrent than anything else, but that ignores some very real Russian territorialism that's being to show itself again. Russia's going to call our bluff, and then we either have WWIII, or NATO is rendered completely useless. Not good.

10:24PM - McCain on whether Russia is an evil empire: "Maybe. If I say yes I'm reigniting the Cold War if I say no I'm ignoring the recent actions." Surprisingly astute. Both candidates had good answers on that question.

10:31PM - Ooooo... a Zen like question!

10:32PM - Hmm, Obama turned it into a life story. Senator, it is a question, not a closing statement. You could've tried to answer the question.

10:34PM - McCain also uses the question as a closing statement. "Comrades!"

10:35PM - HAHAHAHAHA ... McCain blocked Brokaw's view of his teleprompter, Brokaw had to ask him to move!

Hmmm.. ultimately a better debate than I expected based on the last two presidential elections, I wonder if that's the norm or if it's just my perception from growing up during the past decade?

Whoa, Blitzer says it's "apparent McCain has some disdain for Obama". Coming from Blitzer, that's huge.

I'm really at a loss to say who "won". Obviously I agree more with Obama on policy, but I think both articulated their positions fairly well, and neither made any big mistakes. Bottom line: no game changer = Obama wins. The election is getting closer and closer, and Obama remains ahead.

Random Rants

1) Is it too much to ask for some enterprising company to make a half-gallon of unsweetened iced tea? No insane amounts of diabetes-causing high-fructose corn syrup, no insane amounts of empty-calorie tin-tasting Splenda, but just regular unsweetened iced tea?

2) Is it too much to ask for the postal worker to put letters in the mailboxes of the intended recipients? Several times a week I get mail my neighbors' mail in my box, which I then put on the wall ledge right next to the mailboxes so that my neighbors can pick it up. It's become a nightly ritual to go downstairs sometime around 8PM after everyone in the building is home from work and sort through the ledge letters to see if I got anything that day.

3) Pens should not leak. That is all.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Poorly Thought Out Deux ex Machinas

Ok, if you don't like nerdiness, this post is not for you. If you read on, don't say you weren't warned.

I've recently become a fledgling fan of the Stargate tv series. It's an interesting twist on the classic aliens-visited-the-Earth-a-long-time-ago sci-fi theme, has a relatively decent plot where each episodes' antagonists present different and unique challenges instead of just ever more fantastical versions of the previous episode, and it's about 45 minutes long if you download it from iTunes, which makes it a perfect way to get through a 45 minute cardio workout.

For those who are unfamiliar, the central premise is that some ancient and incredibly advanced race built a network of "Stargates" across the Milky Way galaxy. Two Stargates can link together by creating an artificial wormhole between themselves, allowing near instantaneous transportation between worlds across the galaxy. The tv show is about present day Earth taking its first baby steps in interstellar exploration, and making various friends and enemies along the way. How the Stargate functions has been explained in some pretty specific detail during the show, and here's the basic gist:


A Stargate is essentially a giant upright ring. Along the outside of the ring are 9 "chevrons", although typically the bottom 2 chevrons are buried in the SG's base and aren't visible or used (the show explains this in later episodes). There is also an inner ring, which features 37 separate symbols, or "glyphs".

Stargates work by "dialing" the address of another Stargate. A standard SG address is a specific sequence of 7 glyphs; 6 glyphs are used to define a 3-dimensional address in space, and the 7th glyph is a point of origin that matches the dialing gate. If there is a functioning gate at the dialed coordinates and if the 7th coordinate matches the point of origin, a wormhole is created that links the two gates. Now, being a nerd, I couldn't just sit down and let myself fall into the series, I had to take apart the Stargate network and figure out how it worked, at least theoretically. And as it turns out there are several problems with the stated functionality that the show doesn't address, and that nobody seems to have a good answer for. After many hours of thought, here's what I can come up with:

Problem 1: Geo-Centric Glyphs
It is firmly established in the series that the 37 glyphs on the inner ring correspond to constellations in the sky. These constellations are what make up the "coordinates" of a destination gate; if you connect pairs of constellations with interstellar planes, 3 uniqe pairs (6 constellations) will produce 3 planes that intersect at exactly one spot in space, the destination. Note that the doodle Dr. Jackson draws to explain this is correct in theory, but incorrectly uses 1d lines in place of 2d planes, leading to some initial confusion. The problem with this, though, is that constellations are extremely arbitrary groups of stars, and a team on another planet would have no idea what stars each of the glyphs corresponded to, and would never be able to get home. Furthermore, it means that a single destination has a different address for every different point of origin, a highly impractical system of transporation. Given that various characters have memorized large numbers of addresses, it doesn't seem likely that there is a unique set of glyphs for each gate.

The SG series never explicitly explains this, but if you examine the gates you notice that the glyphs on all the SGs are the same, with the exception of the origin glyph, which is unique to each gate. If this is the case, it would mean that there is a standard set of coordinates, and each destination would have only one address; the only thing a traveler would need to know is the origin glyph, which is far easier to discern. While far more practical, this introduces a more intriquing question: the glyphs all correspond to constellations as viewed by the planet Earth. What is it about Earth that makes it so special? Why choose a relatively obscure planet that's (relatively) in the middle of nowhere as your vantage point? Part of an explanation could be that Earth was, in the past, a very important place for the race who built the gates, an explanation that is born out as the series progresses.

Problem 2: Generation vs Connection and Interstellar Drift
Do the gates generate and/or define the wormhole themselves, or do they simply connect to a pre-defined, already existing, web of wormholes that's sustained by an outside mechanism? This one's actually pretty easy: we know that gates can be moved pretty much anywhere in the galaxy, even outside the galaxy, and still function properly. New gates on new planets have even been built during the series, and these work perfectly fine with the existing gates. If the gates simply connected to a predetermined web it wouldn't be possible to move gates around or create new ones, since chances are there wouldn't be an existing wormhole at the new location to connect to.

Furthermore, there's "interstellar drift". The SG series never actually explains what this problem is, only that they need to correct for it. However, as best I can figure it out, the "interstellar drift" problem is that the stars, over millions of years, have moved relative to each other and thus now look very different. More specifically, each time you want to make a wormhome, the originating gate needs to be programmed to look for a destination gate at coordinates that are the extrapolation of millions of years of movement from where the glyph coordinates actually point to. This further points to the wormholes being created by the gates themselves: if there were a fixed pre-defined network in place it would be fixed to something. Either fixed to points in space which means that the gates would've moved far away and wouldn't function after millions of years, or else fixed to gates in which case no interstellar drift compensation would be needed.

Saturday Baking Extraveganza!

This weekend Katie, for reasons known only to her, decided that she needed to get into the Halloween mood, and the best way to accomplish this was to have a cookie baking extraveganzastic weekend down in Richmond with Todd and me. I had to be involved because I have all the cookware, Todd had to be involved because he's Todd, and because he's got a better kitchen than I do (a fact which, incidentally, drives me crazy).

So, down comes Katie, and out we go in search of ingredients. It was a grand shopping experience, and we found Hot Wheels toys as well as "gourmet" cat food flavored with egg/cheese souffle. We ended up going to Capolla's deli in Carytown for lunch, which is probably one of the best little sandwich shops I've ever visited. If you haven't tried it already, I strongly recommend.

On our way back from lunch, we found a dog.

He was just walking around out on the street, no owner in sight, sniffing at things. He had a collar and had been neutered, so he clearly belonged to someone, but there weren't any tags or other identification on him. He was very friendly and went along with us pretty happily as we checked with the neighbors nearby, but nobody knew who he was or who he belonged to. We took him back to Todd's apartment, where Katie and I sat outside with him while Todd went inside and started calling various places to see where we could take him. We kept an eye and ear out for people looking for a dog, but even after 45 minutes, nobody came by. (An unrelated but still interesting event: some sketchy guy came over to us and asked if he could use Todd's phone for a dollar, which Todd agreed to. Weird.)

Eventually Katie and Todd ended up taking him to the Richmond Animal Care and Control Center. Katie took it kind of hard, especially when the dog started to get scared from the strange place, but really, it was the best thing to do. While Todd and Katie were at the center, I walked around and asked everybody I saw whether anyone was looking for a dog, but no one had seen or heard anyone. It makes me mad when stupid stuff like this happens; if you're going to take responsibility for an animal's life, you owe it to them to make sure they're safe, and the necessary information is on the animal if something does happen and they get lost. Especially dogs who are as awesome as this:


Anyway, after the excitement, we finally got back to Todd's, and the cookie baking commenced. Behold the Super Cookie, in all it's glory!


Friday, October 03, 2008

More Cooking Adventures!

Note to self: ground cloves =/= chili powder

whoops

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Yes, I am 3 Years Old

Today for lunch, I had this!
Why, you ask? To get this!

VP Live Blogging!

Ok, here we go! Biden needs to not put his foot in his mouth by saying something outrageous, which he is prone to do. Palin needs to show that she has at least a basic idea of what she's doing, which she so far hasn't done. This is basically Palin's night to win or lose: unless Biden does something really outrageous it's Palin who has to prove something.

8:58PM - John King just said something really smart: "It's much easier for the VP candidate to send their running mate down in the polls than it is to send them up." Very true, and given the candidates and the circumstances, it's a risky night for McCain/Palin.

9:01PM - Here we go!

9:02PM - Gwen (the moderator) reminds me of The Chief from the old Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego.

9:03PM - Palin: "Nice to meet you! Hey can I call you Joe?" ... wha!?!?! Did she know the mic was on?

9:04PM - Biden comes out swinging, says the economic crisis is all Bush's fault.

9:06PM - Palin's studied up on her economics. She's definitely playing to her strength, the "soccer mom" candidate.

9:09PM - "Ok, neither of you answered that question, I'm gonna come back to that." Oh SNAP!

9:11PM - Palin's really coming off strong on the economy.

9:12PM - Biden keeps saying "degregulate", which really just doesn't resonate. "Loosen the rules" sounds much better.

9:13PM - "Darn right!" Ok, that's the 2nd time she's said that.

9:13PM - Ok, the $42k tax thing is just false, it was a technicality that got fixed, plus McCain voted the exact same way.

9:17PM - Biden's answer on taxes is strong. Palin's response that the tax would hit small businesses is a good point, but so is Biden's response that 95% of small businesses don't make that.

9:20PM - Biden's point about the health care thing is a good one, but he's stringing together a lot of numbers, people are tuning out. Simple version: Your employer tax benefits have an average value of $12k. McCain will tax your employer health benefits, which means you won't get them anymore. Then you get a $5k tax break to help you get health care back, but it doesn't come close to the $5k.

9:21PM - "the ultimate bridge to nowhere." Oh snap #2!

9:26PM - Lots of blabber back and forth on energy. No one is really saying anything, just haggling over past votes.

9:29PM - Biden: "quote, and I'm paraphrasing" der!

9:30PM - Palin: "east coast politicians who don't allow states like Alaska to drill." Please. Most west coast politicians vote that way too, plus drilling in Alaska won't do squat. Best case scenario is that 30 years from now we'd have a 5% jump in performance.

9:36PM - Oooo... a gay question. Wow, Palin feels the need to tell everyone she's tolerant. A step in the right direction, I guess.

9:39PM - Ok, they both agree they don't support gay "marriage". Well, it was nice while it lasted.

9:40PM - We're on Iraq now. Palin had her talking points and voiced them admirably, but is now kinda going long and weird.

9:42PM - Biden's Iraq is strong, very much so.

9:43PM - Palin: "umm...... your flag is a white flag of surrender!"

9:45PM - Hmm.. interesting question: which is the greatest threat? A potential nuclear Iran, or an unstable nuclear Pakistan? According to Biden, it's Pakistan because Iran isn't close to getting a nuke, which is true, and because bin Laden is in Pakistan, which is also true.

9:47PM - Palin's been studying her names.

9:49PM - Palin: They hate us! They hate us all, because we're America!

9:51PM - Hmm.. Palin says two states is the solution for Israel/Palestine. That's pretty counter to most conservatives' views.

9:54PM - Wait, wasn't Biden just saying Iran wasn't a threat?

9:56PM - Ok, we get it, it's the same as George Bush's. Although according to insta-read on the bottom of the CNN screen the undecideds are eating it up.

9:57PM - Palin stumbles a bit on the nuclear weapon use question.

9:59PM - Biden, let me say this again! Don't you ever say "Let me say this again!" again! Oh dear, Biden you really shouldn't change topics mid sentence.

10:11PM - Biden has a GREAT response: "Look, come back to my neighborhood, and ask whether the past 8 years have been good!"

10:13PM - Palin: "I guess yours was a bad joke too cause nobody got it." Oh snap #3!

10:14PM - Palin says the constitution gives the VP more authority than's been used over the Senate and leading it? Huh?

10:17PM - Ok, actually, it's Article II that defines the VP, I hope Biden knows that and just slipped.

10:18PM - Umm, Governor, she asked you what your achilles heel is, not why you were chosen. Ok, both of them are turning this into a general why-is-your-candidate-best questions.

10:23PM - Biden goes after McCain the Maverick. According to insta-read, people like it. Wow, that was powerful.

10:30PM - Palin just said she wanted more chances like this. Well, no one's stopping you, if you want them then have them!

10:32PM - Biden: "Fundamental change". Good line.

Ok, that's it. Palin didn't implode, or if she did I somehow missed it, which means she passed. Biden rambled a bit, but didn't make any major gaffes. I think overall Biden had stronger answers, but Palin proved she wasn't just some ditz.

Overall not a game changer, which means Republicans did as well as they could've expected to, but no better.

Explaining the Politics

Yes, the blog has had a lot of politics lately. That's because my blog matches my life, and given that the 2008 Presidential Election is now 1 month away and counting, my life has a lot of politics in it.

Deal.

A Campaign based on Identity

It's becoming increasingly clear that Republicans, faced with Palin's utter lack of qualifications to be president, are turning more and more towards Palin's character as a sufficient qualification in of itself.

Witness Peter Robinson, who asks "Who could resist this woman?" when Palin describes her son as a "little stinker".

Or K-Lo, who justifies Palin's ignorance on the Supreme Court by asking
Sure, you'd come up with one. There's Kelo. My mind would then wander to "that child-rape case." Then, before digging deeper into history during these split-second deliberations, would realize I may not want to say "that child-rape case" on the national TV. And, then, decide: "I just am not going to play Katie's quiz-show game."
First of all, Couric didn't ask Palin about a decision she disagreed with, she asked her if she could name any at all, besides Roe. Second of all, even if she couldn't remember the actual names she could certainly have talked about some of the recent cases and their implications. Third, note how K-Lo describes this, as "Katie's quiz-show game". Palin is running for Vice President of the United States. If McCain wins, he has a 1 in 4 chance of not making it to 2012, which means Palin takes over, becomes president, and takes on all the duties of nominating judges. Palin could reshape the Supreme Court for a generation. Couric asked Palin if she could name even a single SCOTUS case besides the infamous Roe v Wade. She couldn't. And K-Lo calls that a "quiz-show game".

Don't get me wrong, a candidate's character is important. But it also helps to have a candidate who, you know, actually knows something about what they'll have to do if they actually win.