Thursday, February 21, 2008

Happy Kitty Birthday!

Today it's my cats's birthday's! They're two years old. Judging by Lucy's behavior this morning starting about an hour before my alarm went off, they are either entering their terrible twos or their rebellious teenage years.

I made them party hats using the outline from this template, scaled down to fit a cat-head instead of a person-head. I personalized them with photos of each of them:

Printed party hats

And then I added some happy birthday messages and taped them up:

Party hats assembled

I experimented with chin straps, and it just was not happening. So I had to try to get a hat near one of their heads and then snap a picture before they batted it away. The perfect ensemble portrait I had pictured in my mind was clearly an impossibility.

Lucy in her party hat

The Colonel in her party hat

Happy birthday, Lucy and the Colonel! I love you guys!


Matt Yglesias discusses how zoning can work against a vibrant urban environment. I think this is one of those cases where a thinking person should be able to look at the rhetoric in support of certain policies, contrast that with the undeniable reality of their effects, and infer that the true motivations are something else. Zoning regulations have been recognized as a destructive force for decades, and the fact that they persist, and that well-connected developers continue to pocket piles of public money because of them, might suggest that the people who maintain them are perhaps not interested in urban vibrancy at all.

Not really related, but Harper's has publicly posted their article on "The next bubble." It's supposed to be a warning against buying into whatever mania takes the place of real estate, but my take-away is to invest in green technologies right now, then cash out in five years and buy a cheap-ass house. Can't fail.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Non-water liquids as beverage media.

I've had this idea before that one could make a cape codder with extra cranberry flavor by starting with pure cranberry juice and diluting it to drinking strength with vodka rather than water. The resulting drink would be as flavorful as a regular cranberry juice cocktail and as alcoholic as a normal bar cocktail. You might want to add some sugar as well.

Anyway, my lover and I were recently discussing coffee brewing. She was a big proponent of brewing methods that keep the coffee hot, so that it doesn't end up being too cold after you add a lot of milk. One solution is to steam or otherwise heat up the milk before you stir it in.

I was mulling this over, so to speak, and it struck me that you could do something similar to my cape codder variation, brewing the coffee directly in hot milk (or a milk/water mixture) rather than water.

You would probably want to use a manual drip brewer or French press so you don't have to worry about getting old milk all up in a machine that's not easy to clean. Then just heat some milk up on the stove and pour it in. You could even try milk in a Moka pot.

This approach is preferable to water brewing and adding cold milk in that it doesn't cool off the final beverage. It is preferable to heating up milk separately in that it only requires one heating step. And it is preferable to either in that it does not dilute the coffee.

Friday, February 8, 2008

I'm a Terrible Roommate

I frequently feel the urge to vent about some supposed impropriety perpetrated by one or the other of my roommates. But I'm aware that pretty much everyone does things that will get on someone's nerves if they live together, and it has a lot less to do with what the offenses actually are than it does with their being repeated over and over and how you can't really do anything to get away from them.

So I decided that any time one of my dear roomies moves my favorite oven mitt and I'm all full of righteous anger about it, that instead of venting I'll try to put myself in their shoes. I'll think of something I do all the time, obliviously, that might plausibly drive one of them up the wall.

The point isn't too identify personal shortcomings in myself for the sake of fixing them—because really, what are the chances that I accurately stumble across one of the many potentially annoying behaviors that actually bugs one of my roommates—but merely to remind myself that living with relative strangers is always difficult and takes patience.

So with that explanation out of the way, here's the first reason I'm a Terrible Roommate: I never ask my roommates' permission, or even offer a heads-up, before inviting people over, letting friends from out of town crash on the couch, dog-sitting, or any other act of hospitality on my part that could reasonably be understood as a huge imposition on my cohabitants.

Not sure if I screwed this up.

So I'm playing a scrabolous game with Nate. He had just played JOG hanging over the bottom triple word:

I was holding ROASTED, which I saw I could play along the left to make STAG. But if I could bingo by hooking my S onto JOG instead then it would be a 100+ point play. I couldn't find an anagram, though, so I did this:

I think it's the first time I've been holding a playable bingo and not played it. And I burned my E,R, and S. My reasoning was: it was worth almost as much as the bingo would have been (60 vs. 66, if I recall); leaving JOGS open would risk most of my bingo points anyway if Nate was holding an S; and I could land my D on the double letter and leave myself with A and T on my rack.

And Nate makes a play on a whole different triple as I draw...another bingo!

Not a very valuable or safe one, admittedly. But still pretty lucky. I think I may have not made the best choice with DOERS, but since I lucked out and didn't get punished for it at all, I'm afraid it might encourage bad habits.

Update: I ran the board past Quackle. DOATERS and TROADES are both valid. None of the AIs recommended DOERS.

Update: Also since Quackle counts tiles for you, I noted that at the time I was deciding whether to play DOERS, I was holding the fourth and final S. You'd think I would have thought to count those since blocking JOGS was a big part of my calculus. I'm an idiot.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

3-2-1 Compact

I never fucked around with Compact Fluorescent light "bulbs" before. My thinking was that as a single non-homeowner, my lifestyle doesn't really justify buying anything that's going to last five years. But I have cats, so I guess that reasoning doesn't really hold up. And then a couple recent events caused me to take the plunge and pick up a couple.

First, Rob Cockerham posted quantifying the efficiency gains of CF over incandescent, which I found pretty persuasive. A couple days later he posted again with some negative feedback he'd received in response to his CFL essay. These responses set off my right-wing bullshit detector (my detector of right-wing bullshit, that is) right away. They all consisted of lists of the same "gotcha" objections (e.g., you can't use a CFL in your oven) without ever challenging the central assertion (that CFLs are far, far more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs).

It's exactly the style of argument used to dispute the veracity of global climate change, evolution, or the Holocaust: the point isn't to actually win the debate, but rather to make it appear to the casual observer that, first, there is a debate to be had; and second, since it seems to involve all these highly technical points regarding flagella or mercury disposal or whatnot, the layman had best just leave the whole thing alone and not pass judgment one way or the other. "Opinions Differ on Shape of Earth," as the joke goes.

Anyway, down towards the end of the response page someone gives the game away by linking to a WorldNetDaily article (duly sadlynotified later that day). So while I haven't talked to anyone who can figure out what's motivating right-wingers to go after CFLs aside from sheer misanthropic orneriness, it seems pretty clear that I'm now obligated to use CF on principle.

Oh and then when I was helping Andrew move he revealed that he had a couple in his apartment. I had been worried about the light quality of CFLs, but as an artist in the medium of light, his endorsement carries a lot of weight. So I picked up a couple and put them in both my bathrooms.

I'm pretty happy with them so far. They seemed dimmer than the 75W bulbs they replaced at first, but then when I gave them time to warm up they looked okay. Here's my downstairs bathroom, pictures taken just after flipping the lightswitch, and then every 10 seconds after:

So it's really yellow at first but pretty white by the time you're done brushing your teeth or peeing, and you can put on your makeup or artificial tan without concern.

Also the incandescents I had been using were those full spectrum or "daylight" ones, so that's part of the difference. They also have CFLs like that, but they were like twice as expensive, so I went with the regular ones.

Next up will be my bedroom, where I have three incandescents (plus two track lights that I think are halogens) right now. I have one 3-way lamp and one with a dimmer, but they have fancy CFLs on the market for both of those situations. And then my other floor lamp's socket is recessed so far that I couldn't get the ones I got to screw in, so I'll have to see if I can find one that's shaped differently.

The future is now, in any case.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Elite Opinion and Policy Versus Politics

Ezra Klein comments on the emerging elite consensus in favor of Obama, and describes how he perceives the Obama/Clinton choice:

My basic belief is that Obama is more progressive on foreign policy, [Clinton]'s more liberal on social policy, but he's more likely to lead towards a more progressive moment on social policy, almost in s[p]ite of his own policy shop.

Or as he puts it in his longer piece (nullus):

The promise of [Obama's] presidency is less its capacity to change our policies than its capacity to change our politics.

I think I basically agree. I'd elaborate that, first, policies matter, especially to non-elites; and second, politics don't seem to ever much change, despite many smart people's best efforts at various significant points throughout history (not least the election in 1992 of William Jefferson Clinton, whose triangulized policies progressives are still trying to get out from under).

What it do, Travis!

Since I've been playing Scrabulous on Facebook, I've always noticed, and been mildly annoyed by, the little foreign-language greetings they use to welcome you to the main screen:

Scrabulous greeting me with 'G'day!'

For some reason it never really occurred to me that Flickr has always done the same thing:

Flickr greeting me with 'Yasou!'

Is this some sort of Web 2.0 standard or something? Does Ruby have a library function that returns a random international salutation?

Thinking about this also rememberized me to the fact that the school computer system in college named its individual servers this same way, each one a different word for "hello" in some other language. So when you'd telnet to, it would actually connect you to, say, if that had the fewest users at the time.

Anyway, so I guess it's just some geek thing thought up by dorks.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Democratic Primareez Nutz

It seems like everyone is supporting Borat Obama now. I think he's great, and I'll gladly vote for him in the general election, but despite all the adoration people have for Obama, I'm still pretty sure I'll be pulling my lever for Hillary on Tuesday.

But I'll also be voting for her. Amanda and Ezra both linked to an essay in the Nation, that makes the argument that (roughly) the president has more leeway in setting foreign than domestic policy, so you should support the candidate with the preferable foreign policy, Obama.

I'm sympathetic to that sort of argument, since it's along the lines of my original support for Chris Dodd, but I'm ultimately unconvinced. Obama's early opposition to the Iraq war is admirable, but it came in a context (as a representative of Chicago in the Illinois State Senate) where it carried little political risk. While he has made much of that stance as public opinion on the war has soured, he has not shown the willingness to counteract the broad Democratic Party foreign policy views that let so many Democrats sign off on the war in the US Senate.

And so I would expect him to more or less follow the establishment Democratic opinion. It would be perhaps marginally more humane than Clinton's, but not the radically saner alternative that a Dodd or Kucinich could really get me excited about. Nullus.

On domestic policy, in contrast, I think Clinton is far more credible. She cut her legislative teeth tackling health care before she was even in office. She knows better than to even hint at fucking with Social Security. She will not be an echo of her husband: Bill Clinton came to the presidency with a background as a pro-business Democratic governor, while Hillary will come to it as a solid Democratic legislator with a history of support for traditional Democratic constituencies.

Recent Obama converts make a big deal about how presidents don't get carte blanche in implementing domestic policy. But they do set priorities and wield the bully pulpit. Whether they ended up succeeding (the Assault Weapons Ban, No Child Left Behind) or failing (health care reform, Social Security privatization), nobody can honestly look at the Clinton and Bush presidencies and say that the president's impact on legislation wasn't enormous.

So that's it: whoever is president will doubtlessly continue to fuck up the Middle East, Latin America, East Asia, and Africa. This is what American presidents do. Domestically, Clinton wins on both policy and politics.

Some people also argue that Obama has vision, or is a symbol of a better tomorrow, or will usher in a new era of progressivism or what have you. Whatever. JFK had all that too and he gave us Vietnam. Johnson was an unlikeable asshole who passed the Civil Rights Act and did more for social democracy than anyone since FDR. I'll take tangible results over symbolism any day.

Hillary Clenis for Nominee!

Biking Loses an Advantage

I hate owning a car. There are any number of annoying aspects of urban car ownership, but one of them is flyering.

Just about every week when I go to move the car for street cleaning (most weeks this is the only time I even look at my car) there is at least one advertisement tucked under the windshield wiper. Postcards and letter-sized sheets are the most popular formats, though business cards show up on occasion, and they're often filthy from enduring several nights in the open.

Yet another reason to prefer a bike, right? Well so I thought. Yesterday evening I was running errands in the city and I came back to my bike only to find that I'd been flyered:

Advertising flier in bike basket

It was an ad for some retail promotion where you get a free dinner or something. Ridiculous.

So there you go. One less advantage of cycling over driving.

And while I'm posting pictures from my cell phone, here's one of Nate with a dead salmon:

Nate thinks the dead salmon is number one