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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Letterman history

Another YouTube music video kick has led to me watching a bunch of live performance clips from Letterman. There are plenty of good recent performances, but there are also some great blasts from the past:

The Presidents of the United States of America performing "Lump":

REM with "Radio Free Europe" -- in 1983!

Green Day's first time on TV, playing "Basketcase":

The Flaming Lips with a cool version of "She Don't Use Jelly":

And even if you don't like it, this this clip of 311 performing "Down" is oh so 90s:

Monday, July 27, 2009

Dolly Sods

I took a luxurious four-day weekend and went camping at Dolly Sods, in the Monongahela National Forest with Zach and Peter. Dolly Sods is interesting because it's a high plateau with a landscape that feels a bit exotic -- almost tundra-like, with scattered pines surrounded by a sea of low brush and occasional rock fields. The funny thing is that this landscape is so unique because it was totally devastated by human activity in the late 1800s; the area was logged, burned, and overgrazed. This stripped so much of the topsoil that scrub brush is the only thing that can survive on parts of it. Nevertheless, it is pretty.

We stopped at Zachary's parents' place in Keyser on the way to and from Monongahela for provisioning, and some awesome home-grown and home-cooked food. Zach had the foresight to plan the trip for blueberry season (they thrive in the scrubby landscape), so we spent some time tromping through the brush and picking them. We also spent a fair amount of time cooking (including blueberry pancakes!), tending the fire, and reading. (We weren't the only ones out there for the weekend, as we ran into Allison and Nat, who I hadn't talked to for a while, as they were unpacking their car before hiking out to camp in the backcountry.)

Upon arriving on Friday, I found that the rain fly for my tent had fallen out of the bag before I left DC, but we rigged up a tarp to cover the tent. Good thing we did, because we got lots of rain. Most of it was at convenient times, like just as we finished our hike up to Seneca Rocks, or the 10 hours between when we turned in on Saturday night and when we got up the next morning. But when more rain set in on Sunday afternoon while we were trying to dry out our stuff from the night before, we decided to head home instead of staying through Monday as we had planned. Still a great trip, though, and I'd like to head back there in the future.

A few pictures are up on Flickr.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Greetings from...

I went to visit my parents in Connecticut this past weekend, and enjoyed helping Dad with the deck he's building, hanging out in the more pastoral setting, and watching out for the big black bear that has made a couple appearances recently (s/he did not stop by).

We also went to visit Grandma up in Moosup. My great-grandmother's old house is next door, and although she passed away a number of years ago, the family is still working to go through the things she accumulated in her small home over the years. She was a bit of a pack rat, and there's a lot of stuff. My mom and her sister Liisa were going through things again this weekend, and I grabbed some of the old pictures they had found and looked through them with Grandma. She grew up in Finland, so some of the photos were taken there -- even one of the family posing on their cross-country skis, which is how she got to school in the winter. Very cool.

Anyway, getting to the impetus for my blog post: After coming to America, my great-grandparents worked in the household of the Reynolds family (of Reynolds Aluminum fame) for many years. The family had homes in several places, and my grandmother and grandfather would often travel with them. Among the many photos of them posing on the grounds of the homes, there were also postcards they had purchased when accompanying the family on vacation. I asked to take a couple of the postcards with me, and they're pretty awesome:

They're not just postcards, but actually little folders that the recipient opens up to see an accordion of painted images of the place:

The postcard for the "romantically located" cities of Miami and Miami Beach is copyright 1946. No date on the card from Havana -- "where beautiful homes are placed in tropical settings of languorous loveliness" -- but before Castro, in any case.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Yanking the supply chain

Wal-Mart has announced a long-term initiative to score the environmental credentials of the products it sells.

Wal-Mart will be asking companies that sell products at their stores to provide information on environmental characteristics of their operations and supply chains. The information gathered about the environmental impact will eventually be summarized in scores available to consumers alongside the prices. (The Times calls it "the environmental equivalent of nutrition labeling," which seems an apt analogy.) Wal-Mart is hoping to have other retailers adopt the index, as well.

When consumers try to make environmentally-sound purchasing decisions, it's actually pretty hard. A company may tout its innovative biodegradable material, but you wouldn't know if this new material required twice the raw materials and resulted in more emissions of CO2. Are you concerned about deforestation? Water consumption? Air pollution? There are so many aspects to sustainability that consumers rarely have access to information about all of them for a given product. Even if they did, it's not practical for individuals to process and act on that information for the huge range of products and things that go into them along the way. Having an index number (or several for different types of environmental impacts) would be a simplification, but it's a necessary one. (A better way is to put yourself in a position to see the entire supply chain, like buying milk from a local farmer. But this is not practical for most products. Though the very best thing to do, of course, is to buy less crap.) When consumers are armed with understandable scores of environmental impact, manufacturers might actually start to to get some market feedback on consumers' preference for sustainable products.

In the near term, the most influential aspect of this initiative may simply be Wal-Mart expressing its interest in these issues. The first round of questions to suppliers is pretty basic, but just having Wal-Mart ask could be a paradigm shift for many companies who have previously only answered questions about how many more fractions of a cent they can shave off the unit cost and if they can deliver on time. Just introducing environmental considerations into the discussion could have substantial impacts.

We just have the initial steps to look at now, and it will require a lot of follow-through for Wal-Mart to accomplish what it's talking about. Even in the best case, it will be impossible to create a true quantitative measure of sustainability, because it won't be able to capture every consideration and nuance. But it could be a lot better than the total lack of reliable and comprehensible information that we have right now.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Andrew Bird - Anonanimal [mp3 stream]
> Avalanches - Close to You
> Dosh - Um, Circles and Squares
> Fleet Foxes - White Winter Hymnal
> Cat Power - The Moon
> Ugly Casanova - Barnacles
> Fountains of Wayne - Radiation Vibe [mp3]

I've been really into Andrew Bird since seeing him again with the Decemberists last month. I picked up his latest album, Noble Beast, and have been addicted to it for the last couple weeks. (And as an extra bonus, Dosh is now part of his band...)

Monday, July 13, 2009


Apparently Tim Hortons, the famously Canadian coffee-and-doughnuts chain, is making a move on New York City -- a former Dunkin' Donuts franchisee reopened 12 of its stores today as Tim Hortons locations. According to the City Room blog, NYC Council Member David Weprin attended the grand opening ceremony at one branch. Tim Hortons' arrival, he said, "shows New York City is on the move, that we’re a desirable market."

So, for all you New Yorkers who are concerned about your city's limited cultural and economic importance, take comfort -- an influential Canadian doughnut chain has now opened franchise locations in town. You're on the move.

(We'll have to add Tim Hortons to the Doughnut Quest itinerary. Though, unfortunately, it looks like Doug won't be able to make it in August after all, so the real Doughnut Quest will be delayed until next year.)

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Facebook ads

This ad just appeared on a Facebook page I was looking at:
Modern Art by Indorato
Michael Indorato is an up and coming artist. Invest in his artwork now while you can. His work is sure to be famous and very expensive.


On the previous page, there had been an ad for a DC-area professional pet photographer who will get shots of your pets posed in front of the monuments. At least I'll know what's going on when I pass by the Washington Monument and see a doggie photo shoot underway.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Wallet endurance

This is the only wallet I've ever carried; it's been in my pocket every day since late high school -- more than ten years. (At first it lived in my front right pocket, but it was later booted to the back right when I got a cell phone.) It had been raggedy for a while, and it finally split in half a couple weeks ago, so I had to get a new one. I salute its long and faithful service.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

July 4th bike camping

I had a great long weekend, bike camping with Aron, Alex, Mike, Nils, Delphine and James. Our route took us just about exactly 100 miles -- up the C&O Canal, camping overnight, then looping around Poolesville, taking White's Ferry to Virginia, and heading back to DC on the W&OD trail. It made for a laid-back trip with the good weather and the fact that James met us by motorcycle at camp with the makings for a delicious dinner. I think we all had a good time despite three flat tires and one collision with a tree (none of those was me, and everyone was fine). We even made it back to DC just in time to watch the fireworks (official and unofficial) from Alex's rooftop deck.

Pictures are on Flickr.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

O Canada

The NYT ran a funny piece in honor of Canada Day, wherein they asked Canadians exiled to the U.S. what they miss most about their native country. Malcolm Gladwell offered this:

In history class, in seventh grade (or as we like to say in Canada, grade seven) we learned the story of the American Revolution — from the British perspective. Turns out you were all a bunch of ungrateful tax cheats. And you weren’t very nice to the Loyalists. What I miss most about Canada is getting the truth about the United States.

Of course, learning about America from the American perspective can also be problematic. For instance, until about 4th grade, I was under the impression that America invented the idea of democracy, and was the first place to have people vote on anything, ever.