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.