_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Family portrait

Me and my housemates took a "family portrait:"


That's Steve on the left, Nils in the center. The picture will be hanging above our mantle once I get a print...

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sparkling

On the NY Times homepage, there's currently a headline that I read as "Sparkling Bacon of Japan's Future." It's actually "Sparkling Beacon of Japan's Future," but I think that if any culture on the planet has the wherewithal to devise bacon that sparkles, it would be the Japanese.

What the world needs now may be love, sweet love (and a big financial bailout), but sparkly bacon would help a lot.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Christmas weather

I had a good Christmas -- took the whole week off from work, so I was in Connecticut the whole time.

One good aspect of my holiday was that I got a dose of seasonal weather. Although the snow had already fallen when I got there, it was good and wintery for the first couple days. Davin (fresh from balmy Colombia) and I even had to push the car up the driveway while Dad whirred the tires.

I was particularly thrilled to do some sledding. My parents live on Fire Tower Road, so named because it leads to what was once the site of a fire tower at the top of the (small) mountain. The neighbors 3/4 of a mile up the hill had plowed, but not salted or sanded, so the surface of the road was packed snow and ice. Davin and I took several runs, walking up to the top and sledding down. Here we are before heading down:


I arrived in DC this afternoon to temperatures in the upper 60s. It was nice -- I took a bike ride -- but sort of disorienting.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Childhood misconceptions

In the short documentary that's part of the Michel Gondry music video collection, he says that when he was a child, he lived on the edge of a city, and always wondered if the earth was a solid ball of city with a splotch of countryside on it, or a solid ball of city with a splotch of city on it. This is one of the more whimsical childhood misconceptions I've heard, but I think everyone had at least a couple.

My dad said, for example, that when he was a kid growing up in Hartford, he was always confused why the state of Connecticut was sometimes shown with its little appendage on the bottom left, and sometimes with it on the top right. The version with it on the top right, he later realized, was the United States.

Likewise, for me, in the apartment building where my grandparents lived, there was a set of emergency lights mounted on the wall next to the door of the neighboring apartment. One time I asked what they were for, and the response got scrambled enough in my young brain that for quite some time after that I was under the impression that there were emergency personnel (EMTs, firefighters, etc.) who waited in that apartment until they were needed to respond to incidents.

I would enjoy hearing about any other childhood misconceptions in the comments, if you're willing to share.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Mobility

In a chain of email messages to me and my brother about coming to town for Christmas, my mother warned us that snow is expected. We both responded that we were looking forward to the snow, but Mom cautioned:

"...this could complicate our mobility significantly."

Heh. It sort of sounds like she's issuing a government report on future snow challenges.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Initials

Slightly whiny/ranting post:

The Post has an article on trade associations feeling the pinch of the recession. It happens to mention two different organizations that have formally changed their names to their initials:
  • "...ASAE, formerly known as the American Society of Association Executives..."
  • "...AeA (formerly the American Electronics Association)..."

Okay, so they want to make their names seem more modern, and maybe signal a broader mission than their original names conveyed. But please, just change your friggin' name. Officially changing it to the initials of your former name may seem like a nice compromise -- everyone can keep referring to you by the same acronym they've always used, but the antiquated/narrow name is dropped. Seems sensible enough, but it sounds asinine outside a board meeting.

This trend may stem from KFC, nee Kentucky Fried Chicken. They made a successful transition to non-acronym acronym because everyone knows what they do. They serve fast food, much of which is fried chicken, but they were able to get rid of the word "fried" in their name when it became undesirable, and excise the slightly outdated-seeming "Kentucky," to boot. This does not work, however, if many people don't know what you do. Every time the New York Times prints a health article that references something in BMJ, the poor reporter is forced to say that it was formerly called the British Medical Journal. Even though the name was changed in 1988, they have to keep saying it because otherwise no one outside the field would know what kind of organization BMJ is. When people from these trade organizations introduce themselves to members of Congress, do they say they're from "AeA, the organization formerly known as the American Electronics Association"?

If these groups can't bring themselves to part with their initials, a much better option is to change the words to fit. For instance, the U.S. General Accounting Office became the Government Accountability Office in order to reflect a broader mission. It may take some people a while to realize the underlying name has changed, but at least you're not left having to explain what the initials stood for before you officially declared that they no longer do.

(I realize that I've given this more airtime than it deserves, but it's a pet peeve.)

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

WWJD?

After more than a year of careful consideration, I hath purchased this shirt from Twin Six:

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Super Furry Animals - Frisbee [mp3]
> TV on the Radio - Golden Age [YouTube]
> LCD Soundsystem - Yeah (Crass Version) [mp3]
> Animal Collective - The Purple Bottle [YouTube]
> DJ Shadow - Organ Donor
> My Morning Jacket - Strangulation [YouTube]
> Feist - Past in Present [YouTube]

It's a volcaaaano, it's a volcaaaano...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Education costs

The most-emailed article on the New York Times website right now is about the inexorable growth of college costs over the last couple decades. (It was at college, incidentally, that I learned to use the word "inexorable.") The news peg is a new study that compares increases in higher education costs to increases in family income; the study also makes useful calculations of "net college costs," which factor in financial aid grants.

I could quote the numbers, but you know...it's really expensive. What are we getting for these increased costs? At the high end, which includes my education at Carleton, there are big building projects, substantial investments in technology, lowering the faculty to student ratio, and probably many other things that I'm unaware of. Most of which are very worthwhile. But I would submit that at least a portion of these increasing costs are driven by the competition surrounding U.S. News and World Report-style rankings. Criticizing these rankings is pretty much cliche by now, but I suspect they really do drive a focus in college administrations (mostly unconscious, probably) on the trappings of high quality education as measured by those indexes, as opposed to the intangibles that really make a high quality education. (Plus, if all your peer institutions are charging a lot more, low tuition almost seems to cast doubt on your own school's prestige.)

Another factor: There has been very little downward pressure on college costs. As the article mentions, middle class families generally decide that college is extremely important, and that they will finance it with debt if needed. While I appreciate all those subsidized federal loans, one of their main effects is probably to increase colleges' pricing power. If people didn't have access to all that cheap financing, schools would be under more pressure to keep costs in check because otherwise their students wouldn't be able to pay.

Not that I know what to do about this, since insisting on more efficient spending is easier said than done. I guess the increases in cost wouldn't be much of a problem if admissions were need-blind and institutions met 100% of need with grants. That would take a whole lot of money, but I know I'd give more generously to Carleton if it were toward that explicit goal.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Aussie Voicemail

Today at work, I was trying to figure out how to get my voicemail inbox to do a particular trick, and discovered that the system has an online interface. This is probably common, but it came as a total shock to me. My horizons were expanded to include a whole universe of voicemail configuration options I had never dreamed of. These include some possibly useful things such as having it email you upon receiving a voicemail to say who called and how long their message was.

However, the feature I immediately implemented was the ability to change the language of the prompts you hear on the phone while navigating the system. One of the options was "English (Australia)." Now, when I dial in to my mailbox, all the instructions are delivered by this pleasant Australian woman, and it's sort of like a very sedate Outback Steakhouse commercial. (Don't worry, the prompts that people hear when they call me still have an American accent.)

Monday, December 01, 2008

Cohousing

Here's an interesting NYT article on a prospective "cohousing" community in Brooklyn. A number of families and individuals are getting together to build an abandoned previously-planned condo development, but tweaking the space to put an emphasis on shared living spaces. The members agree to be engaged with their neighbors, and they even plan to share some meals. It's a pretty neat concept, and has been implemented successfully elsewhere, especially in Scandinavia. This particular one sounds especially cool because of the location and the fact that the site includes adaptive re-use of an abandoned church.

I thought the coolest part of the article was the description of how the group makes decisions, of which there are many as they work to make the community a reality. There's an elaborate consensus-building process that, at least ideally, yields careful decisions and involves those with dissenting opinions in a way that leaves them still feeling invested in the final decision. Seems like they've had good results so far, in any case. One of the best classes I took in grad school was on citizen involvement in policy decisions, and one thing apparent in the literature on that topic is that carefully structured discussion between average citizens on a given issue (even when there are conflicting interests and viewpoints) can go a long way toward working through solutions. The problem is implementing those policies, when only the small group was part of the give-and-take that helped them arrive at a well-rounded solution. In the case of a cohousing community, the size of the group is small enough that everyone in the entity can participate in the process and feel invested in the decisions that are made (it helps, of course, that they have all chosen to live there, and thus bring some similar values to the table).

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Thanksgiving recap

I know you're waiting for the Thanksgiving post-game recap -- first, a bite of turkey, followed by complementary cranberry sauce...choosing salad for the third bite was an error, should have waited until further through the savory items...

Anyway, I had a great TG (as my mother refers to it in email communications) weekend. Nice to see the family, although Davin doesn't return from Colombia until just before Christmas. While there was a smaller-than-usual group at my parents' house this year, we had the customary large surplus of food, good for several subsequent days of meals revolving around refrigerator rummaging and the microwave.

I helped Dad out a bit with the deck he's building, as can be seen below. We were going to work a bit more before I left this morning, but were thwarted by sleet and big fat snowflakes.


Through a quirk of Amtrak pricing, I reserved a return trip on the spiffy Acela Express for only several bucks more than the regular train. It was spiffy, though not much faster, especially after we got stuck behind another train for the last part of the trip. Fortunately the luggage sniffing dogs I encountered on my way to CT weren't there, or they might have demanded to examine the left-over turkey and stuffing I had stowed in my carryon.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Garden Recap

The weather here is a bit schizophrenic, but the garden season is definitely over. However, by bringing in most of the remaining green tomatoes from the garden a couple weeks ago, I've had a rerun of peak tomato season, with enough ripening on the windowsill to keep me thinking of ways to use them. There are still a dozen at varying states of ripeness, so I will likely have fresh tomatoes for a couple more weeks.


The big pot of vegetable soup that's in the fridge right now contains the last carrots and squash, as well as some tomatoes. (You'll have to trust me on this, because I was too lazy to take a picture, but the last carrot I pulled was immaculate! Tall, nicely proportioned, arrow straight...most of my others were gnarled.)

I'm not sure exactly how many veggies I harvested over the course of the season, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was more than 20 lbs each of both tomatoes and squash, along with not-inconsequential amounts of green beans, carrots and greens -- mostly tastier than what I could buy at the store. Considering that back when I planted in the spring, I calculated that I had spent just over $50 on gardening supplies, this is a good deal. It's also satisfying, as evidenced by my repeated postings. Also, the amount of time I dedicated to the garden was pathetically small. I spent a couple afternoons planting it, and then weeded it maybe twice; I used the hose to water it every couple days during the dry parts of the summer. If these are the results you get without really trying, imagine if I put in some actual effort! Matt and Risa kindly gave me a gardening book when they visited a few weeks ago, so hopefully next year I can have an even better harvest...

Friday, November 07, 2008

Election night

This quick video clip I shot on Tuesday night captures the scene a lot better than the photos:

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

In DC

Riding around the city with Eric this evening, on the way home from watching the returns at Aron's, there was lots of honking. But it was not because cars wanted us to get out of the way.

On U Street:


Next to the White House:

Monday, November 03, 2008

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Les Savy Fav - The End
> TV on the Radio - DLZ [YouTube]
> The Thermals - St. Rosa and the Swallows
> Butthole Surfers - Thermador
> The Weakerthans - Sun in an Empty Room
> Weezer - Buddy Holly [YouTube]
> Magnetic Fields - Epitaph for My Heart

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Estate sale promotion

I saw this while out on a bike ride yesterday evening:

I know it's Halloween, but putting happy skull balloons on your estate sale sign is still kinda weird.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Carving

Hope you had a sufficiently spooky Halloween. Here's my jack-o-lantern, which looks suspiciously like last year's:

I had folks over on Thursday for carving, but it was BYOP, and Catherine couldn't find a P, so she carved an acorn squash instead. Makes a nice black cat:

I also carved the giant zucchini that I had previously mentioned finding in the garden:

Seems like it could be one of Strongbad's friends, maybe Marzipan's sister.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Voter Guide

The DC voter guide arrived last week.

A bit more whimsical than I expected.

Not to quibble, but we don't complete the pencil, we only complete the ballot. Sorry, happy pencil -- it wasn't meant to be.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Nostril Notoriety

Looking at the webstats for my blog, I noticed that there was a meaningful uptick in visits this past week. In particular, a lot of views of this page featuring the jack-o-lantern I made last year. Sure enough, if you do a Google image search for jack-o-lantern nostrils, it's the first hit; if you search pumpkin nostrils, it's the third hit. If only I could monetize my nostril authority...

Friday, October 24, 2008

Perfumed prose

I was idly scrolling down the New York Times homepage when I should be going to bed, and the words "Perfume Review" in an article title caught my eye. Huh?

Yes, as part of the T Magazine fashion supplement, there's a review of a couple $250 perfumes. Sounds like a tricky task, to translate smell into words.
Manakara smells like a color-saturated contemporary painting, as if Barnett Newman’s 1966 “Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue?” somehow exuded scent from its glaring acrylic surface.
...

Rêve is a delectable, edible, light-infused leather that is instantly legible, deliciously impossible, as if an Hermès belt had been candied and baked by a patissier.

I can smell it right now.

Admittedly, those might be the silliest parts. But the whole thing is snicker-inducing -- the author takes his vapidness very seriously.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Sudden Awareness

Perhaps you've noticed this on your local public radio station, too: Here in DC, one of the main October NPR sponsors has been "Medtronic, in recognition of Sudden Cardiac Awareness Month"

To me, this sounds like you might be walking down the street sometime during October and a man (from Medtronic?) will jump out from behind a shrubbery and scream "YOU HAVE A HEART!" at you through a bullhorn. Which would be doubly effective, because in addition to his statement, it would also cause your heart to pound, making you palpably (and suddenly!) aware of its existence.

However, in the last week or so, the sponsor script has changed to "Medtronic, in recognition of Sudden Cardiac Arrest Awareness Month." Ah, I see.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Status

Facebook, as you are probably aware, allows users to post a "status" -- basically a brief note about what you're currently doing or thinking. (It's like an internal version of Twitter.) The Facebook program for the iPhone defaults to a list of recent status updates by your friends, so checking it has become an easy way for me to zap any random moment of boredom in my day.

I have about 250 friends on Facebook. I know them from lots of different settings, and am in touch with them in the real world to wildly varying degrees. There are people I see all the time, and people from high school who I didn't really know that well back then and haven't talked to since. Yet I have what-I'm-doing-right-now updates from the cross-section of friends who post status updates.

It's quite fascinating to get (sort of) reacquainted with people via bulletins about the minutiae of their daily lives. If I were to run into someone in the grocery store while visiting home, the conversation would run along the lines of where they're living now, where they work, etc. On Facebook, I know that they've got the flu, had Chinese food for dinner, are driving to Boston, or whatever. (Basic biographic data is available, too, but I don't look at profiles on a daily basis.) Normally, when you have this sort of information about a person, you know them pretty well and have the broader context of their life to fit it into, but on Facebook you may only have these bits. It's a strange way to know someone, though a surprising amount can be gleaned by what they're doing, what they choose to post about, and how they say things. It's also interesting to see how my range of acquaintances react to the same things, like the stock market plummeting (once day three different people made reference to putting money in their mattresses) or the presidential campaign.

Anyway, I've got jury duty tomorrow, during which I'll certainly have plenty of time to check Facebook status updates...

Monday, October 13, 2008

Bike trip

Aron and I took advantage of the long weekend (for those not lucky enough to get this lame holiday off, today was Columbus Day) and biked to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It was a great trip, and certainly the farthest I've ever ridden. Our route was over 150 miles -- 70 or so in one day on the way out, and the rest over two days on the way back. There's something very satisfying about starting a vacation by rolling your bike out the front door, and finishing it by rolling it back in.

We took the Washington & Old Dominion rail trail out through Virginia, then cut north to catch the C&O Canal. The country roads in Virginia were a highlight of the trip. I'd never been to Harpers Ferry before. It's a very attractive little town at the intersection of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers; much of it is a National Park due to its Civil War history. We camped at a hostel near town.

We headed back on the C&O towpath, which offers many great camping sites along the Potomac. About half of them (including the one we used) can't be reached by car, which is really nice.


A great way to spend a long weekend, some lingering aches notwithstanding. (More pictures can be seen on Flickr.) It's possible to bike from DC to Pittsburgh without using a road, and I'd like to work up to doing that at some point.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Prescient Mouse

When I posted about good reporting on the financial crisis, I forgot to mention This American Life's use of Modest Mouse's "Bankrupt on Selling" in Another Frightening Show About the Economy:
so all of the businessers are in unlimited hell
where they buy and they sell and they sell all their trash to each other
but they're sick of it all and they're bankrupt on selling

Really quite apropos. There are a few different songs on that album that offer a critique relevant to the moment we find ourselves in (I've posted about them before).

Anyway, I'm off on a bike camping trip (w/ Aron) to Harpers Ferry, WV tomorrow morning, taking advantage of the long weekend (for the government, anyway). At about 60 miles, it's a bit farther than I've ever ridden in one day, so wish me luck.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Shocking

Depending on what kind of task I'm doing, I'll often listen to my iPod at work. With my old iPod earbuds, I would hear a crackling in the earpieces from static electricity when rearranging myself in my chair. The new earbuds that came with my iPhone are comfier, and also do not have any audible crackle from static. But I have found that every once in a while, I'll move in my chair and simultaneously get a shock in my ear. It's not a big shock, but since it's in my ear it makes me wince. What I assume is going on is that the new earbuds don't conduct static charges away from me as well as the old ones. Apparently the conducting part is just close enough to my skin that when I build up a large enough charge, a spark flies and I get zapped in the ear...

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Recommended reading, listening and viewing

Today was a classic Sunday for me...brunch with IPS folks in the morning, a visit to the very cool Smithsonian Jim Henson exhibition on its final day, some time reading in the Smithsonian garden, as well as the typical grocery shopping.

Then I spent most of my evening attempting to get up to speed on the financial crisis. In talking to my normally well-informed peers over the last week or so, none of us has much of an idea of what to think. Not surprising, since there are a lot of moving parts in both the problem and the potential solutions, some of which are contained inside black boxes. But I do feel like my evening of browsing gave me a better sense of things, so I share the following recommendations:

  • First, be glad we aren't in as tight a spot as Iceland, which faces similar root problems but has much less room to maneuver.  Also, who knew that the housing bubble in Britain was even bigger than the one here? (Not I, in any case.)  That means they're facing big problems in the UK, too.

  • You really should take the time to check out the widely-recommended This American Life piece from last May entitled The Giant Pool of Money, which brings their formidable storytelling skills to bear on the causes of the subprime mortgage crisis and why it has had such a broad impact. The follow-up on more recent developments, entitled (ahem) Another Frightening Show About the Economy, is also extremely helpful in clarifying what exactly we're talking about, and in scaring the bejeezus out of you.

  • You should follow those up with this soothing Charlie Rose interview with Warren Buffet from last Wednesday. (In which he repeats his admirable demand that we increase his low tax rate.)

A side note: These are high times for metaphors. The stuff we're being asked to think about is so intangible and beyond our detailed comprehension that everyone is resorting to metaphor and simile to try to explain it. I've been thinking that I should start a blog, titled something to the effect of "Citizens for the Responsible Use of Metaphor," which would point out/discuss particularly effective or ineffective examples of figurative language. If you have any ideas for how to make such a blog not be as boring as watching paint dry, let me know...

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Late-season garden

I pulled these stumpy carrots out of the garden yesterday. They're a bit ugly, but they taste pretty good in the vegetable soup I made last night. (Chopping them up was so much more satisfying with the snazzy new knife I got from Hill's Kitchen. What had previously felt like a confrontation with recalcitrant vegetables now seems more like a mutual agreement that they'd be much tastier chopped up in the soup.)



Something else I pulled from the garden yesterday: this huge squash that was plotting world domination while hidden under the leaves.



There are a good number of green tomatoes lingering on the plants, but there's only been one ripe one in the last few weeks. With any luck, we'll get a spurt of warm weather to persuade them.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Singled out

There's this lady I see every week or two on my ride home from work, always somewhere within about 4 or 5 blocks of the Giant store in Shaw. I suspect she's schizophrenic, or otherwise mentally ill in some way, because she is always delivering a monologue to no one in particular, speaking loudly (but not yelling) as she walks. I can only hear a few phrases as I ride past, but her monologues seem to focus on power relationships -- she is always telling unseen conversation partners how a boss, a political entity or an institution is screwing them over without their knowledge.

Today as I rolled up to a red light, I recognized her voice and cadence, and looked at her walking down the sidewalk.  She looked at me as she continued, "...who was fired for testifying to Congress against THIS MAN'S [stabbing hand in my direction] boss."  She kept walking past me, and the light changed, so I didn't really catch much more. There wasn't anyone else there to hear the accusation, but I felt weird for a moment anyway.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Reporting the Crisis

In the last few weeks, as the financial crisis has unfolded, the narratives in New York and DC have been fast-moving and often opaque to outsiders. My main sources of news are the websites of the New York Times and the Washington Post, and flipping back and forth between them over this period, there has frequently been a startling difference in how events are being portrayed as one's reportage follows the story just a bit closer than the other.

It's my observation that the Times has generally been the one out front. For instance, two Sundays ago when Lehman Brothers was swirling down the toilet and Merrill Lynch being swallowed by BofA, the Times carried an article about tense negotiations and looming danger under a banner headline. The Post, I recall, had an article somewhere down the front page that was much more vague and did not convey the same sense of urgency. It's not that the Post was really that far behind, but things have been moving so fast that any lag means you can be telling a very different story. This dynamic seemed to continue even as the story moved onto their home turf in Washington, with the Times breaking the news of the collapse of the deal on Thursday well before the Post.

However, the Post has shown they have great sources in DC with a fascinating article today on how the negotiations played out when the presidential candidates were in town. The last page has some amazing details...

Dear Science,

The new TV on the Radio album, Dear Science, is spectacular. I'm totally hooked.

Here's a video for Dancing Choose:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

The National - Mistaken For Strangers
RJD2 - Since '76
The Thermals - Returning to the Fold
My Morning Jacket - Strangulation
Panda Bear - Take Pills
Neutral Milk Hotel - Communist Daughter
Peter Bjorn and John - Objects of My Affection

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Perfect

we're special
in other ways
ways our
mothers appreciate


I saw Built to Spill last night, on their tour performing Perfect From Now On. It was great to hear them play that album, which has always been way up on my list. I thought that "I Would Hurt a Fly" gained the most from a live performance. Upon finishing the album, they also launched directly into a stellar version of "Goin' Against Your Mind," spiked with a couple explicitly political tweaks to the lyrics. (Also explicitly political: the Aussie first opening band ripping apart a cardboard cutout of George Bush onstage during the Meat Puppets' set.)

I rode my bike down there to meet Stephen and Laura, and the ride back reminded me that a bicycle is most definitely the ideal way to return home from a concert...limber up standing-stiffened legs, feel the brisk night air, and enjoy the quiet, which is slightly enhanced by muffled hearing...

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Windows


As seen from my desk on Friday -- he rappelled down, suction-cupped on with a thunk.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Miscellany

A few mostly unrelated points:
  • The weather is suddenly fall-like in DC.  Biking to work at 58 degrees is an amazing thing.

  • I was riding behind a slow-moving car today when a squirrel ran in front of it.  The driver stopped, lightly beeped his horn twice, and proceeded when the had squirrel moved.  This struck me as a particularly urban response to the situation.

  • All these news stories about financial turmoil have to settle for such poor visual approximations, since what's actually going on is invisible, just numbers in ledgers.  You can roll footage of bedraggled people carrying their stuff out of the Lehman Brothers offices, but it's not the same as boats washed up on the freeway by Ike.  The intangible and incomprehensible nature of it only makes it more frustrating for us, of course.

  • Slogan of the American International Group (AIG): "The Strength to Be There."  Seriously.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bike credit

I went to Bethlehem, PA this weekend for Lauren and Adam's wedding. The wedding was fun, and Bethlehem was unexpectedly interesting.

Among the mail I sorted through upon returning today was this intriguing item:


It's from a local credit union. Bank loans for bicycles is a new one on me. A quick Google did turn up at least one other credit union offering bike financing in the mold of car loans (in Portland, naturally).

I have mixed feelings about this, for fairly obvious reasons. On the plus side, it's indicative of bicycles being taken more seriously as a means of transportation and a reasonable thing to spend your money on. It might help a few people get a good bike, or avoid carrying it at a higher interest rate on their credit card. (This particular offer is for up to $2,500.) But on the other hand, isn't the beauty of a bicycle that you don't have to take out a loan to get one? I spent a fair bit on mine, but you can get a perfectly functional bike for not very much money at all, then maybe trade up once you can afford something better. And goodness knows we don't need any more ways to create consumer debt...

(Also, does anyone else have a visceral ick reaction to ads with photos of smiling people fanning out cash?)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Pete's New Haven Style Apizza

A while back I noticed that a new pizza place had opened by the Columbia Heights Metro stop -- Pete's New Haven Style Apizza. This caught my eye, since I'm from the, um, Greater New Haven area. And it's true that the region has good pizza. (I only realized this after leaving for Minnesota and discovering that much of the pizza there, while perhaps meeting the strict legal definition pizza, generally bares little resemblance to a proper pie.)

I finally went over to try it out last night. I somewhat smarmily told the cashier that I was from the New Haven area and was interested to see if it could live up to my memories...she turned out to be one of the co-owners, and came over to talk to me after I got my slices. We chatted briefly about the poor quality of native DC "Jumbo Slice" pizza (but better than MN, I must say). She and her husband lived in New Haven for a number of years, so they have some claim to the title.

As for the pizza: It's pretty good, though calling it "New Haven Style" is always going to lead to arguments about what that actually means. Personally, I was picturing Pepe's and Sally's, the two iconic New Haven places. The co-owner said that they weren't going for that at all, and their favorite place is in East Haven. In any case, the sauce was the aspect that was most on the mark as far as what I know from CT -- not very much of it, but flavorful because it's less processed than what you usually get. The cheese and toppings (sausage, pepper, onions, some other stuff I can't remember) were good, though I think the cheese is usually browned a bit more in CT. The crust tasted good, especially compared to the many pizza crusts that are merely cheese platforms with no identity of their own, but Pete's was chewier than I like it.

So, good overall, I think I'll stop in for a slice from time to time. And they get major props for being one of the few counter service places to ever give me a glass (as opposed to a disposable cup) for tap water...

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Little houses hit the big time

A while back, I wrote about how infatuated I was with the idea of the tiny houses made by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company. I had heard about them in a New York Times article a couple years back, but they've gone and written another one, this time assessing if the cultural moment of the tiny house has arrived. People are certainly interested in one way or another, as it's on the most-emailed list.

(Weird side-note: The article references the book “Little House on a Small Planet (Lyons Press, 2006)." Lyons, of course, is my last name. Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press, is based in Guilford, CT...which is my hometown. Sadly, I have nothing to do with the Press, and am not heir to a publishing fortune. But it seems like they should have some sort of obligation to publish my Great American Novel.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Like or As

I've often grumbled to myself that talking about metaphors vs. similes is not a distinction worth making -- a simile is just a metaphor where the comparison is made slightly more explicit by the presence of "like" or "as." But this sentence in a New York Times article about Maurice Sendak drives home the difference in how they can hit you:
Mr. Sendak, a square-shaped gnome, was sitting in the dining room of his Connecticut retreat.

The normal, newspaperly way to deliver that bit of color would be to say, "Mr. Sendak, looking like a square-shaped gnome, was sitting..." Okay, it's sort of an unusual line anyway, but it's a lot more striking without the "like."

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Marketing versus happiness

A good post from No Impact Man:

"Most people," [Seth Godin] wrote, "have a better standard of living today than Louis XIV did in his day. So why are so many people unhappy?"

He said that what makes people unhappy is not what they have but what they want. And that the job of companies is to create want for their products.

Therefore, Seth wrote, "Marketers trying to grow market share will always work to make their non-customers unhappy."
...
What makes people happy, Arthur Brooks, author of Gross National Happiness, reminded me the other day, is a sense of transcendent meaning, success in living our lives in accord with our values, and a sense of control of our destinies. Marketing often depends on convincing people they don't have these things and then tricking them into thinking that the product on offer will somehow provide them.


I would add that this becomes especially insidious in an age when marketing is less and less about convincing you of the objective advantages of one product over another (Axe Body Spray reduces odor by 71%!) and more about connecting the product to your self-image or identity (Axe Body Spray makes you irresistible to women!). With so many companies trying to get us to buy stuff, it adds up to a constant barrage of messages that we are not as happy/successful/respected as we could or should be. And those efforts get more sophisticated all the time, with marketing going way beyond 30-second ads and billboards into all sorts of electronic and social media. Once marketers figure out the intricacies of how to use the way our brains work to very efficiently influence our opinions and decisions, the effect of marketing in framing our perceptions will be even stronger.

I'm not sure what it would take for us to break out of this. No Impact Man envisions commerce remade around providing "the meaning, success and control to people instead of selling them material proxies. What if business actually tried improve life on this planet and make a profit doing it?" This may be feasible to some extent, but it would require huge changes in what consumers demand from companies. Some consumers, mostly upscale ones, do seem to be getting more sophisticated about their relationships with companies...ironically, this usually takes the form of them wanting the company's identity to comport with or reinforce their own identity (e.g. seeking out companies that have a "green" philosophy, or local businesses where they can know the owner personnally). I'm not sure if this can lead to what No Impact Man wishes for, but maybe...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Elvis Costello - Beyond Belief
> Death Cab for Cutie - Song for Kelly Huckaby [mp3]
> Gillian Welch - Revelator [mp3]
> Love-Cars - Lovesick Sigh
> Super Furry Animals - If You Don't Want Me to Destroy You [YouTube]
> Supersystem - Miracle

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Happy birthday to the both of us

It was my birthday last week, and I celebrated in NYC with Nina and Shane -- Nina is one day younger than me, so we covered both of our birthdays in the course of the night. Here's the Triborough Bridge, as grainily seen by my phone from the rooftop in Queens where we went to a BBQ with Alex:



I visited my parents in CT for a couple days, which was very nice. (Upon my arrival, my mother said "Tomorrow, if you're around for lunch, we can make sandwiches. (See earlier post.) She made carrot cake, which I will take over a sandwich any day.

I also remembered that I forgot my blog's birthday. Since August 11, 2005, I have posted 450 times (including this one), which comes out to about one post every two and a half days. Doesn't seem like I've posted that much, but that's what it averages out to...

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Bike Lockup

I had an extremely unsuccessful trip to the Apple Store in Bethesda this evening. (The 3G connection keeps freezing up on my iPhone, but I don't think it's a network problem because it works again once I turn 3G off and then on again...I suspect they'll just swap out my phone.) I mindlessly got on the train to go home, not the train to Bethesda, and by the time I got myself straightened out, I missed my service appointment by 10 minutes.

I then emerged from the Apple Store to find that someone had locked their bike next to mine and inadvertently locked mine as well. (I brought my bike with me on the Metro.) I had also forgotten my lights at work, and needed to bike home before dark, so I devised the following plan to liberate my bike: Make it appear that I was fiddling suspiciously with the other bike in the hopes that the owner was in the Apple Store and would see me out on the sidewalk and come to rescue it. This worked amazingly well, as a woman appeared about 5 minutes later to ask me what I was doing to her bike...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cultural blind spots

We all gain familiarity with most of the range of American mass culture as we grow up, either directly or by peer and media osmosis. So even if you never used a fast food drive-through on a regular basis or (for my generation) watched GI Joe frequently, you are conversant with the basics -- a squawky "Do you want fries with that?," or "...and knowing is half the battle," or whatever.

However, I suspect that each of us had specific cultural blind spots that persisted into adolescence (or even adulthood) as a result of the quirks of our childhoods. I say this because there are a few basic areas of American culture in which, over the years, I have realized that my comprehension was very low, in the bottom few percentiles:

Sports fandom
We hardly ever watched sports in my house growing up. The only thing Dad watched was tennis, and only very occasionally. We only went to sports events as part of Cub Scout trips (Yankee games) or when my friend's dad got tickets for free (Whalers games). None of my close friends were big into professional sports. And Connecticut had no major league professional sports teams after the Whalers left. As a result, at some point I realized that I couldn't relate to the concept of sports fandom. Why would you be concerned with how a specific team does, or wear their hat? What did that do for you, exactly? You could talk about it in class the next day when your team won, but you didn't actually have anything to do with them winning, so that's not really a valid point. In any case, a lot of time and energy spent on something with no apparent return. Today I still don't find myself engaged with sports -- going to the ballpark is fun, but for the experience, not following a team.

Sandwiches
For whatever reason, my family generally does not make sandwiches, and does not go to places like Subway that are sandwich-focused. I always brought my lunch to school, but it was never a sandwich. The only sandwich we ate with any regularity when I was a kid was grilled cheese, but in retrospect, I thought of this as a specific item, not as a member of an entire genre of foods that I might want to eat. In my mind, a sandwich was a last-resort means of consuming food eaten by those who had no other options. I have come around to sandwiches, however. I actually remember eating a sub at Hogan Brothers while visiting Carleton with my dad and thinking to myself, "Hey sandwiches can be good!" (In contrast with the local pizza, which is terrible, which at the time I had thought was impossible.)

Playing cards
I was never around people who played cards while growing up. Thus, at an embarrassingly late age, I lacked some key concepts and skills. Not only how to shuffle, which is kind of hard regardless, but also things like how to hold a hand of cards. To misquote Kenny Rogers, "You got to know how to hold 'em." I do now play cards sometimes, though I still can't shuffle.


I don't really regret that I was so outside the norm on these aspects of our culture. It's the kind of thing that gives each of us unique perspectives...e.g. while someone else might approach an issue from a sandwich-centric perspective, I might be more open-minded.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

NYT on the farm

Just after I posted about the Public Farm 1 installation at PS1, the New York Times writes it up. Note that the woman in the accompanying photo is trying unsuccessfully (I say, anyway) to look relaxed lying on the grass.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Outliers

The Times reports on a study that mapped European genetic variation. It yielded sort of a misshapen Venn Diagram, which can be seen below.


Most obvious conclusion: The Finns are weird, off sulking in a genetic corner by themselves. Since that's half my own heritage, the nugget about the Finnish stemming from a small founding population is particularly interesting to hear. It does seem, however, that the graphic is potentially a bit misleading. I'm not sure what the units are ("Eigenvectors?" Yeah, I think my cell phone has a thingy that coverts those to miles per hour), but I know from what little biology I've taken that the percentage of DNA shared between even the most distinct human populations on earth is more than 90%. So portraying Finns as sitting off by themselves may exaggerate the difference for the casual reader.

Anyway, this talk of Finns as outliers reminds me of the exhibition I saw at PS1 this weekend -- Arctic Hysteria, a show of current Finnish art. Some very cool stuff. I think my favorites were:

> A long series of photographs of daily life, with handwritten notes on them about the day's weather and other things happening in the world around the photographer.

> A dark room filled with the figures of antique diving suits, with loud shots of escaping compressed air cylcing on and off. Surprisingly disconcerting. (The PS1 description links it to the sinking of the Kursk.)

> A video piece called Screaming Men, in which men in suits step off an icebreaker ship to perform in a screaming chorus on the ice.

> Clothes made entirely out of leaves and other plant matter, very cool-looking.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Gardening in NYC


Potentially Photoshopped? No, it's just PS1's summer installation called PF1 (Public Farm 1), which is growing vegetables and flowers outside the museum. It's both cool-looking and admirable for its advocacy of urban gardening. More pictures on Flickr.

I hung out in the city with my parents on Saturday, which was great. We walked around, went to the Botanical Garden, and had dinner with Alex at a pretty good Thai place. I also brought them to Doughnut Plant, where I proceeded to eat more doughnuts* than the two of them combined.

Dad also shared the following doughnut-related anecdote at dinner, which was new to me: [roughly quoting] "Teague's preschool was called Boulder Knoll. One day, we were there for a school picnic. There were doughnuts, and I knew that we had failed as parents when I saw Teague eating one over a trash can so that he wouldn't get any crumbs in the grass."

* White peach, coconut cream, and strawberry jelly with vanilla bean glaze, in case you're interested.

Friday, August 15, 2008

On the bus

I posted a while back about the sketchiness (but also the cheapness) of the Chinatown bus to NYC. This weekend I'm trying Washington Deluxe, which also leaves from near my office. It's $5 more expensive ($40 round-trip).

The bus was a bit late, but it is cleaner. Our driver sang "Unchained Melody" over the PA as we made our way put of DC. The woman next to me half-whispered "I hear they show dirty movies." I will report back with a full review later (of the bus, not any potential dirty movies).

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Albums in order

I was flipping through my CDs this past weekend, and I got the urge to arrange them in order of how much I like them. I have had this urge before, but it always seemed like a silly way to spend an hour. But this time I guess I was bored, because I did it, and I took pictures to record my current taste for my own personal posterity. Below is the top 20, with #1 on top. If you are also bored, you can look at the full set of 223 albums, which I uploaded to Flickr in a fit of self-absorption.


(This naturally omits the albums I have only in digital format, or burned on CD. I also excluded the few albums that I simply don't listen to anymore, as well as Zaireeka, since it's not really operating on the same plane.)

Monday, August 11, 2008

Draw A Cow

Doug would like you to Draw A Cow. You can also look at other people's cows, including a wiener-dog-esque effort by yours truly.

I have my own collective art assemblage that I'm working on, and I may ask you to help at some point...

Obligatory gushing

So, I've had my iPhone for going on a couple weeks. I will refrain from continually talking about it in the future, but this thing is amazing. Look at it -- several years ago, I would have been amazed if anyone had fit just the very nice screen into a package that small. But it also happens to have a phone, GPS, fast internet over 3G or WiFi, a video iPod, 16 gigs of storage, and a very impressive touch-based operating system.


It was great to have while out of town last week. On a day-to-day basis, the best thing about it is the ability to get my email and look things up on the internet wherever I am. However, the applications you can download are also pretty neat, like the one that will pick out restaurants near my current location. I can only imagine what creative developers will do in the future with a device that knows where it is, has access to everything on the internet, has a big touch screen and audio, and is with its user all the time. Given the quantity of stuff that's being created just for the iPhone, seems like Apple has a pretty good shot at dominating the entire upper half of the cell phone market.

Anyway, if you call, email, instant message or text me (or even leave a comment on this blog), I'll pretty much get it right away.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> The Bad Plus - Lost of Love [YouTube]
> M.I.A. - Bird Flu [YouTube]
> Thievery Corporation - Lebanese Blonde
> Bill Callahan - Sycamore [YouTube]
> Modest Mouse - White Lies, Yellow Teeth
> Belle and Sebastian - If You're Feeling Sinister
> The Gossip - Standing in the Way of Control [YouTube]

Monday, August 04, 2008

Moustaches only

I'm on my way to Dayton for the week. (And I'm loving my new iPhone, which allows me to write this blog post from the airport.)

The US Airways announcer just made a long announcement that ended with "moustaches only in first class." I'm assuming that's not what she actually said. (But it would make first class extra-classy.)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Small Worlds, Part V

In a continuing series, I post about weird social coincidences.

I went to a Nationals game with folks from work this evening. A few rows in front of me, I saw this woman who looked really familiar. Then I realized why: She lived in my apartment building in Minneapolis, and we did some volunteering together. A couple innings later I went down to talk and confirmed it was her. Turns out she's interning this summer. Again, it's not really that huge a coincidence, since the volunteering we did was policy-related. But still...


Also at the ballgame: One of those big video screens that rotates ads throughout the game had the following text for a Lexus ad: "The one a year sales event is no now." Huh? Oh yes, "The once-a-year sales event is on now." I guess spell-check didn't catch that one, did it dude? And it really should be hyphenated...

Monday, July 28, 2008

Heirlooms

The heirloom tomato varieties in the garden are now coming ripe. I've picked a few Old German, and some Cherokee Purple are almost ready.


As you can see in the tomato on the left, I've had some problems with splitting (some split so much they rot as they ripen), which the heirloom varieties are more susceptible to, but can apparently be made worse by uneven watering or temperature. However, I ate that ugly one last evening in a pita with hummus and bell pepper, and boy was it good. The flavor was much more intensely tomato-y than store-bought or my own Better Boy tomatoes, and sweeter, too. One other striking difference is that instead of spilling that jelly-like stuff with the seeds in it when you cut them open, the Old German tomatoes are mostly flesh, with only small liquid-y seed pockets. So when you slice it, you basically get slabs of tomato instead of that familiar lattice. The only problem with tomatoes this tasty is that it's sure to make it kind of depressing when I later have to resort to one of those bright red tomato objects in the grocery store.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Peachy Cream

Yesterday morning I went to the small Mount Pleasant Farmer's Market, which is only a few blocks away. (The Dupont market is on Sundays, and has anything you would ever want to buy at a farmer's market, but it is a mob scene from opening until closing...it made me realize how much l like a little personal space while shopping. It's hard to appreciate the slow food movement in a fast-moving crowd that does not have time for you to ponder whether you want a quart of apricots or plums.)

The folks from Reid's Orchard are the biggest draw there. (Click through that link to see why I'm looking forward to apple season.) Yesterday, I found that they were being somewhat devilish, however...their peaches were priced at $5 for a quarter peck, $10 for a half peck, and $15 for a full peck. So you doubled your peaches every time you spent another $5. This lured me to spend $10 on a half peck, which is a lot of peaches (23, to be precise). Ripe peaches typically need to be eaten within about four days, so I need to eat about 5.75 peaches per day. I think I am up to this challenge. Yesterday should be pro-rated because I procured the peaches around 11 am, yet I managed to eat 5. So far today, I've eaten three, one of which ended up like this:


That picture is a nice bookend to my similar photo commemorating the end of last year's peach season.

Friday, July 25, 2008

DC police side with the cars

This may not have gotten any play outside DC, but conservative columnist Robert Novak hit a pedestrian Wednesday in downtown DC. He continued driving for a block before an angry cyclist blocked his way. The police showed up and gave Novak a $50 citation. As I've seen a few people comment, this is less than most DC parking tickets.

The story is worse with a few more details. The man, who is homeless, was in a crosswalk and crossing with the light. Novak made a right turn on red, and says he wasn't aware that he hit the man. The cyclist, David Bono, who happens to be a partner at a law firm, said he does not find that plausible because the man was splayed on the windshield of the Corvette, and he feels that Novak was trying to flee. More witnesses have come forward to back up Bono's account.

One, I bet the police approached this differently because it was a homeless man who was hit. Two, this is indicative of a car-centric point of view on the part of police, who tend to assume that pedestrians or bicyclists must have been the ones doing something wrong when there's an accident. Novak hit and injured a pedestrian who had the right of way, and Novak may have been trying to flee. He received a $50 citation and was sent on his way. Does that sound right?

I was poking around the BikeWashington Google group this evening and saw that Mr. Bono is not only a member of the Washington Area Bicyclists' Association (as am I), but he is a candidate for the board. He himself posted to say the following:
I was not deserving of the honor, but got an award from WABA at tonight's members meeting related to the incident. The inscription was so precious that it demands to be quoted: "Awarded to David Bono who, potentially sacrificing life and limb, risked chasing down a driver who had struck a pedestrian. By placing his bike and body in front of the vehicle, he allowed DC police to show up and give the driver a slap on the wrist."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Curved produce

I got a message on my Flickr account from NowPublic.com asking for permission to use my carrot photo. The site is an OhMyNews-type crowd-sourced news aggregator, and I've gotten emails from them before. But I'm a little confused:
Just to let you know, NowPublic is running a news story on a
majority of EU members voting against the ban on curved
produce and your photo(s) would be an excellent addition to
a photo gallery we are compiling for the article.

An EU ban on curved vegetables? This seems unlikely. But what is more plausible that could have been mistyped as "curved"? Some Googling and checking of their site does not yield any answers...

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Cookie Monster vs. Martha Stewart

Quick, think of two things that go together. What, you didn't say Martha Stewart and Cookie Monster? (From his Wikipedia entry: "He is best known for his voracious appetite and his famous eating phrases.")

Yet, for some reason (because Martha Stewart has a sense of humor?), Cookie Monster was a guest on Martha Stewart Living. This video is long by YouTube standards, but I think it's pretty hilarious. I'm not sure regular Martha Stewart viewers appreciated the loud, furry intrusion into their calming vibe, however.



After the commercial break, Martha has tied up Cookie Monster to restrain him after he realized they were making cookies:

MARTHA: Oh, you're choking yourself, Cookie!

COOKIE MONSTER: Me no care. Me no feel pain. Cookies like novocain.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Never bring a knife to a glass shard fight

I was listening to C-SPAN Radio last night, and Prime Minister's Questions were on. I think this might be my favo(u)rite thing on C-SPAN, with the lively questioning and plenty of cheering and jeering by the MPs. I think we would do well to adopt a similar tradition, and I see in that Wikipedia entry that John McCain has in fact pledged to initiate it if elected.

But anyway, the reason I mention this is the striking contrast that could be heard in the debate on violence and weapons in Britain compared to America. The U.S. Supreme Court recently overturned [pdf] our ban on handguns here in DC because it was found to violate the Constitution. In Britain, where there is almost no pro-gun lobby, there is a near-total ban on handguns across the entire country. From Prime Minister's Questions, I gather that there is currently an uproar about an increase in knife crime. Which led to this question from a Conservative MP:
The current focus on knife crime makes it easy to forget that there are more than 5,000 violent assaults each year involving the use of broken glass. One positive step would be to support the campaign led by my constituent Marjorie Golding, and encourage late-night clubs and bars to replace glass with polycarbonates. Will the Prime Minister be decisive, show some leadership and support the campaign, or does he need more time to ponder?


We decide that cities can't ban handguns within their jurisdictions, the British move down the list of potential menaces to broken glass. Yeah, I would say we're not on the same page with this issue.

(As a side note, the website for Parliamentary affairs is awesome. Check out those cross-links between statements in the record to video clips, and links to information on the MP's voting record, including their expenses! And you can sign up to get email alerts when they speak! For the U.S., I refer you to the home page for the Congressional Record. AAAAAAHHHHHH!)

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Bike Camping


Nils organized a one-night bike camping trip this weekend -- up the C&O Canal past Great Falls on Saturday, back on Sunday. One of Nils' coworkers and a friend of hers came along. I'd never been bike camping before, so it was nice to get a chance. I have ambitions to bike the canal up to Cumberland or even follow the linked rail trail to Pittsburg, so this is good practice.

The one-way mileage was a bit more than 20 miles, which is pretty low-key as far as bike trips go. I carried my small tent, sleeping bag and other gear on my bike fairly easily. Though we did cheat a bit and bike into Potomac, MD last night to buy additional food at the grocery store.

One thing about the canal towpath is that your stuff can get a kinda dusty after a while:

Good trip...a couple more pics at Flickr.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Tomatoes and squash

The garden's first tomatoes and squash:

I checked on this squash a few days before picking it, and it was definitely still adolescent. Then, the next time I looked, it was enormous! I'm going bike camping tomorrow up the C&O Canal with Nils and a couple other folks, and bringing the squash along to put in foil packet dinners.

Meanwhile, here are the infant carrots that I pulled while trying to make room for their siblings:

Friday, July 18, 2008

All Things Me


There are a couple things that are funny about this ad I saw on my blog.

One, the amusing spectacle of Yahoo claiming to have all things Teague-themed. I guess there could be some from its use as a family or city name...

Two, Yahoo is advertising on Google AdWords? Isn't that a market where they compete fiercely?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

iPhone

When the first iPhone came out, I restrained myself by saying that I could let myself get one as soon as it 1) moved beyond the first-generation device, and 2) had GPS built-in. The iPhone 3G fulfills both conditions, but I was feeling a little bit of consumer guilt, as well as some nausea about the expensive service plans. And the battery life isn't that great.

However, my 3-year-old phone is increasingly cranky, and...I really want an iPhone. So today I went to the AT&T store a few blocks from my office (two stories, it's palatial...if you missed the logos, it could be confused for a high-end boutique of some sort). They're sold out, of course, but you can put down a deposit to have them let you know when they get one with your name on it.

REP: [giving me her card] I'll call you when it comes in. I promise I'll call you right away.

ME: Have lots of people been calling you to check up?

REP: Uh, yeah. Like, it's 7 AM and they just talked to me the night before -- "No, your phone has not come in yet."

ME: So you're saying they're anxious.

REP: You could say that.

I'm not obsessed, but it will be pretty sweet when I get it. And, by overhearing the person in front of me in line, I discovered that government employees get 15% off all service plans. I never, ever would have thought to ask about that -- score!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> The Bad Plus - Anthem for the Earnest [YouTube]
> Silver Jews - Pet Politics
> Constantines - Nighttime/Anytime (It's Alright) [YouTube]
> Modest Mouse - Broke [YouTube]
> Liars - Tumbling Walls Buried Me in the Debris with ESG
> Ben Folds Five - Army [YouTube]
> Flaming Lips - Waitin' for a Superman [YouTube]

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ah, marketing

From an article in the LA Times on how car makers are having trouble selling SUVs amid the rise in fuel prices:

"Every carmaker is having the same conversation: 'How do we motivate people to buy in a climate when oil is $140 a barrel?' " said Rob Schwartz, executive creative director at TBWA/Chiat/Day, a Los Angeles ad agency.

To translate: "How can we help people make bad decisions that benefit us?"

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Housemate hunting

So, Zach has decided to move out (to a cheaper place) and we're looking for a housemate again. My Craigslist posting, carefully constructed to attract the right kind of person, is the primary means for this. It produced plenty of email traffic with folks asking if their cat can come with them, if they can interview from the foreign country they're currently working in, and sharing all of the typical biographical details. We had our open house tonight, and just like last summer, there were two guys who knew each other from meeting at other places they were looking at.

One prospective housemate remarked that it appears to be obligatory that any group house have at least one member who fights the good fight at a world-saving nonprofit of some sort...that would be Nils in our house. Among those who came to look, it was a very DC slice of occupations, including:


More people are coming on Saturday, they have to tell us by Saturday evening if they're interested, and we'll decide by Monday. Whew.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

July 4th weekend

It was a good long weekend. Today Zach, Emily, Lisa and I went hiking on the Veach Gap trail in George Washington National Forest, which is northwest of Shenandoah National Park. The day was overcast, but it didn't rain.

A view of the Susquehanna River from the overlook at the end of the hike:

Where there were also lots of wild blueberries to eat!


And we saw a bear! No picture of that, though.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Overheard in DC

Man in a suit, talking very animatedly in the crosswalk as I waited for a red light on my bike:
"...running [unintelligible] in the embassy. I told you, those Kurds are crazy! They'll sell us snake oil..."

I'm not totally sure I got that last phrase right, but "snake oil" was in there.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Schadenfreudachino

In Venti Retreat, 600 Starbucks to Close, reads a headline in the Washington Post this evening. That an economic downturn would cause some to reconsider spending $4 on coffee is not a huge surprise, and fits nicely into the narrative that the media is looking for right now. I've always sort of resented Starbucks' creation of a self-important, yuppified language for small, medium and large. For me, it epitomizes their business strategy of packaging up your self-regard, stamping "validated" on it, and selling it back to you.

So the use of Starbucks lingo to describe their difficulties admittedly comes with a touch of schadenfreude. But things get a bit out of hand with a later sentence in that article, which I picture the reporter cackling maniacally while composing: "Throw in the cash-strapped consumer, stung by high gas prices and soaring food costs, and Starbucks has found itself with a venti frappuproblem." Indeed.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Imminent tomatoes

Better Boy tomatoes are on the way in the garden.

The heirloom varieties, like Old German, are a little slower.

But lots of blossoms promise plenty of those, too.


I've collected my garden pictures on Flickr, in case you're interested.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Whiffle Cream Pie

At reunion last weekend:

Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pie (still in the wrapper) + whiffle ball bat = a hit

Flies farther than a whiffle ball, actually.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Reunion



I had a great time at my five-year Carleton reunion this weekend, as well as hanging out in Minneapolis for a couple extra days. Photos are on Flickr if you want to see 'em.

(FYI: A half-empty 6 oz tube of toothpaste is still a 6 oz tube as far as the TSA is concerned.)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Gardening

Today I ate my first thing from the garden -- the lettuce in the salad I brought to work. It was very tasty, though I made a note to myself to get a lettuce mix with less arugula next year.

Here's what the garden beds looked like in late April when I was in the middle of tilling them:


The pile of weeds I took out of them (now being composted):


I haven't used my car since January, and I was determined to get this stuff home without one. I did get a couple weird looks on the way home.


And here's what the garden looks like now:


It's coming along pretty well, with the first tiny green tomatoes now visible. The cast includes:
  • tomatoes (Better Boy, Yellow Plum, Old German, Cherokee Purple)

  • green garlic (found in garden beds, as seen in first picture)

  • zucchini

  • lettuce mix

  • broccoli

  • carrots

  • green beans (two varieties)

  • dill, basil, mint (in pots)


If you come visit in a month or so, it may be all-you-can-eat tomatoes.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Catoctin Camping

I had a nice escape from the city this weekend -- camping with Zach, Emily, Erin, Sophie and Karen. We were at a Maryland state park on Catoctin Mountain, which forms the eastern edge of the Appalachians. This being car camping, we ate pretty well...here are Saturday night's kabobs:



Extensive photographic documentation is available courtesy of Erin.

Plus, I got back to DC in time to see Lisa's band, Society of Strangers, perform at Artomatic. A good weekend!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

538

If you're obsessed with the presidential election, but find yourself pining for more precision than pundit prognostications can provide, perhaps you should check out FiveThirtyEight.com. More smart statistical slicing and dicing than you can shake a stick at.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Northworst

Listening to other people's consumer grievances tends to be a drag -- important to them, but not really the kind of thing you want to hear about. But if you would indulge me for a moment (or just move on to something more interesting), I experienced such profound consumer exasperation today that I need to vent:

A couple months ago, I purchased a $399 round-trip fare on Northwest Airlines from DC to Minneapolis for reunion weekend. This week, my colleagues at work asked me to go to Indianapolis for some meetings the two days prior to my Minnesota trip. I wouldn't be able to get back to DC in time to make my flight to Minneapolis, but the travel folks at work said I could just fly to Minneapolis instead of flying home. Works out well -- I waste half my flight, but no harm.

Then I call NWA to tell them I no longer need the outbound half of my flight, and things just go downhill. The friendly rep tells me that because I'm not showing up for the outbound leg, my ticket gets cancelled and I won't be able to fly the return leg. So I need to alter my reservation to make it a one-way flight, which will cost me...$785. Yes, $785. To make my two-way $399 round-trip into a one-way. He explains all the reasons (short notice, one-ways priced differently from round trips, new fuel surcharges, etc) this is true. I tell him that while I understand, it just doesn't seem reasonable.

For the first time ever in my life, I pull the "Can I speak to a manager?" thing. I talk to Scott, to whom I make the following "business case" for not charging me to change to a one-way:
- I bought a service, and am now trying to use only half of it, but this for some reason costs almost three times as much as using the entire service.
- If NWA changes my ticket to one-way, they can resell the seat I'm no longer using, but keep my money for the whole fare.
- I was about to book a business trip on NWA (the only direct flights to Indy from DC), but if I can't change this conflicting personal trip, I cannot book this second, revenue-generating trip.
- Furthermore, if they refuse to be reasonable, I will remain extremely disgruntled for an extended period of time, not likely to leap at the chance to fly NWA again.

I did not yell, and I was not even unpleasant -- I just laid out a rational case. Scott did not acknowledge my arguments, and told me that he had no authority to override what the system said. He said he could transfer me to the Customer Care Center, where they did have authority to make exceptions, but he didn't see a reason why they would do so in my case. I told him to transfer me, and I spent 20 minutes exploring the branches of the phone tree but never found anything other than automated messages referring me to the website or the reservations phone number. I might have gotten snippy at that point if there had been anyone to talk to.

So, I'm not going to the work meetings in Indianapolis, Northwest lost a few hundred dollars in revenue, and I developed enough hard feelings to extend to NWA and their merger partner, Delta.


Sorry, I won't post any other consumer rants. But this totally ruined my afternoon.