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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Passion Pit/Temper Trap

I've been using Pandora for part of my music listening time at work recently, and the bands Passion Pit and Temper Trap both come up in my Sleigh Bells-based channel.

I have a persistent problem with confusing the names of the two bands. It's not because they sound a bit similar (and I'm not even that keen on Temper Trap). Rather, their names are parallel in several ways:

Passion Pit/Temper Trap
- two-syllable first word
- one-syllable second word
- both words can function as nouns
- but in this case, the first one is an adjective modifying the second (right?)
- first word can refer to heightened emotions
- second word is something you don't want to be in
- alliteration

My friend Mike is in a band called Saffron Holiday. I overhead someone apologizing to him: "Sorry we couldn't make the show the other night. We already had tickets to see Cardamom Vacation."

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cutting the cable

A Wall Street Journal article notes that the number of pay-TV subscriptions has fallen:
For the first time since the dawn of cable TV, the number of U.S. households paying for TV subscriptions is falling, marking a potential turning point in the TV business.
Between the first and third quarters of this year, 335,000 fewer homes out of 100 million subscribed to TV service from a cable, satellite or telecom company, according to research firm SNL Kagan.

The economy probably plays a role, as does the ability to watch TV content on the internet. But when I was last out in San Francisco visiting my brother, he noted that almost none of his friends have cable. I think it's probably 50/50 among my friends here in DC, but it's certainly not unusual to not have cable. Most of these people watch some television online, but I think there's the beginnings of a trend toward less television watching among younger demographics.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Pete's Donuts

While I was home for Thanksgiving, Uncle Dick stopped by one morning. He came partly because he just wanted to stop by, but also because he had read my account of Doughnut Quest 2010 and wanted to bring some from Pete's Donuts, a New Haven favorite. (You'll notice that the box says "Whitney Donut Shop," but to those in the know -- which certainly includes Dick, a long-time customer -- it will always be known by the owner's name.)

As you can see, Dick brought us a very impressive spread of doughnuts. I tried the glazed, French cruller, blueberry jelly, and blueberry cake varieties. While I did not do a full DQ2010 scoring sheet workup, I kept our rating criteria in mind as I ate.

Overall, I'd put Pete's at the top end of the traditional doughnut shops we tried. The dough of the glazed was the right density and level of sweetness for my taste, and the fried-ness was just right. The French cruller had fewer spice notes in the flavor than others we had tried, but it was notably lighter and eggier, and I liked it a lot. Like the other traditional doughnut shops we rated, it can't compete with gourmet places like Doughnut Plant (where I, ahem, also stopped on my way back to DC), but Pete's puts in a very good showing.

Speaking of calories, some of my other Thanksgiving photos can also be seen on Flickr.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

TV news

I had a very nice Thanksgiving here in Connecticut, and am headed back to DC tomorrow, via NYC.

As a cranky aside to follow my somewhat-cranky prior post: My typical abstention from television was broken by being at my parents' house, and it reminded me how inane television news coverage is and how it lacks any sense of proportion. The latest round of push and pull over airport security turns into "OMG! Crisis at the airport! Rebellion in the security line!"

This also shows up in coverage of holiday shopping. I realize that Black Friday is tailor-made for TV news, but I do not under any circumstances want to hear another story about it. And more broadly, news coverage of holiday shopping is all organized around breathless anticipation of "Will consumers spend more than last year?" It starts to make you feel that if you're not planning to spend more, you're just not doing your part. The fact that gauging whether or not more crap was purchased than last year is seen as the best barometer of the "success" of a holiday season is just kind of depressing. Time to bring in Reverend Billy.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Takedown notice

I received two "takedown notices" from Blogger for my most recent Songs of the Moment post:
Blogger has been notified, according to the terms of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), that certain content in your blog is alleged to infringe upon the copyrights of others.
...
If you have legal questions about this notification, you should retain your own legal counsel.


Actually, I do have some legal questions about this notice, but since I'm not going to retain legal counsel, I'll just pose them here: If there was no copyrighted content in the post itself -- just hyperlinks to pages on YouTube -- how can I be in copyright violation? If the video I linked to is violating copyright, wouldn't having YouTube take it down be the way to address that? If linking to infringing content on other websites puts me in direct violation of copyright, how am I supposed to determine the legality of things before I link to them? A couple of the videos I linked to were obviously posted by the record label or artist, and a couple others were ambiguous. But even for the couple videos that were obviously posted by some random person, that is legal in many cases because the copyright owners have deals with YouTube to show ads (and get the revenue) on any videos that use their content. It's not possible for me to sort this out.

I presume that this whole process took place without any human intervention along the way -- a system scanning the web on behalf of a record label identified my nefarious links and sent an automated notification to my host, Blogger, whose systems automatically took down my post and emailed me the takedown notice. So it's possible that the system just messed up and linking to other websites isn't considered infringement. But if it is, I consider that pretty unreasonable.

I actually got two takedown emails for the same blog post, which presumably means there were two different links flagged. I wasn't able to locate these two complaints in the database that the takedown notices directed me to, so I can't tell which links were accused of being in violation. So I took all links out of the post before republishing, but I'll admit to being a bit grumpy about it.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Kitchen progress

Last year, I wrote a post about my relatively limited cooking repertoire, and my desire to expand the number of dishes that I know well enough to not work from a recipe. Now that the cold(er) weather has arrived, I'm more enthused about cooking again. Yesterday afternoon I made pumpkin-ginger pancakes...they were very tasty, and more substantial than regular pancakes, but I still somewhat regretted making them my lunch, which usually happens when I decide to make pancakes for a non-breakfast meal.

In addition to the lasagna and quiche that I noted in the previous post, I now feel comfortable improvising with vegetable soup, stir fry, and polenta. Granted, polenta is probably the only thing on that list that goes at all beyond kitchen basics, but I still consider this a reasonable rate of progress. I've also gotten better at preparing salmon a couple different ways and with different accompaniments. And I've made pad Thai a few times, but I'm still pretty tethered to the recipe. Any suggestions on dishes that are relatively easy/quick to make, and can be varied on the fly to stave off boredom?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Night photography

It's been a gorgeous fall weekend here in DC. Last night I decided to take advantage of the weather to take a ride down to the Mall and try some night photography, now that I have a legit camera. The World War II Memorial and the Washington Memorial, seen below, are good subjects, because they're dramatically lit, and thus easy to shoot.

A couple others are on Flickr.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Santogold - Lights Out
> Arcade Fire - Ready to Start
> Sleigh Bells - Tell 'Em
> Passion Pit - Sleepyhead
> Matt and Kim - Daylight
> Battles - Tonto

The linked video for "Tonto" is pretty awesome.

(EDIT 11/24: I had to get rid of the links because Blogger said it had received a copyright violation complaint on this post.)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Visit to NYC


I went to New York this past weekend, in part to celebrate Alex's 30th birthday. Saw some old friends from both high school and college, too, which was great.

The weather was gorgeous, and even though NYC isn't the New England countryside, the foliage was still a really nice touch. A few of my pictures are up on Flickr.

Despite the awesome weather, we spent a fair bit of time in the movie theater, seeing I Can't Sleep (a French film from 1994) and Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench (a new American indie film). I liked them both a lot, especially Guy and Madeline, which one might call a mumblecore musical.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Back of the napkin

In DC, people can oftentimes be overheard in talking in public about arcane policy topics in great detail. Occasionally, one wonders if the conversation at the next table over might actually be between Very Important People who are assessing the options in preparation for a big decision.

Combining that with the Washington tradition of writing things on napkins during meals, I have arrived at a new pastime: When eating out, write stuff on napkins that looks sort of cryptic and important, and leave them behind to befuddle those who might pick them up. This past weekend Alex put in this excellent effort, which was left on the table at Ella's.

I think the inclusion of "panda travel" was particularly inspired. (The napkin also shows the influence of Fair Game, which we had all just seen at E Street.)

Monday, October 25, 2010

Fall in Connecticut


I took a quick trip to Connecticut this weekend to visit my parents. It was great to see them, and it's absolutely beautiful there this time of year with all the foliage. A few pictures are up on Flickr.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Evil sounds

I've got a new seasonally-appropriate post on the DC Listening Lounge blog. At last night's DCLL get-together, I took people aside and asked them to give me their most evil cackle. The piece is unedited, I just stopped and started the recording. (The first one is me.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Brooklyn Space Program

This is pretty cool, and impressive: A group of kids and parents from Brooklyn make a balloon that manages to record images of space from the outer atmosphere.

Homemade Spacecraft from Luke Geissbuhler on Vimeo.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Capital Bikeshare

Capital Bikeshare launched last month here in DC. It provides over 1,000 bikes at stations all around the city (concentrated in the denser parts of town), as well as in neighboring Alexandria, VA. Rides are free if they're 30 minutes or less, and charged by the half hour after that. You can join by the day, but it's much cheaper to get an annual membership, as I did, which also gets you a key fob that unlocks the bikes.

You might be asking yourself why I would join CaBi (as people have dubbed it) if I already have a bike. I originally signed up with the idea that it would be useful only a few times a month. Since getting my key fob in the mail a couple weeks ago, however, I've found myself using it more often than I envisioned. Because you can drop off the bike at a different station than the one you pick it up at, a key advantage is that it allows one-way bike trips. I used it when picking up and dropping off a rental car, for example. But it's also useful in instances where a bike trip is interrupted by other forms of transportation -- for instance, when meeting friends for happy hour, walking or taking transit to dinner, and then heading home. This can be awkward when I have my own bike along, but well-suited to bike sharing. Another situation where it's useful is when you're out and about and realize you want to go somewhere else that would be best reached by bike, as I did today. (This last scenario means you're riding without a helmet, which isn't ideal, but the bikes are big and heavy, with conservative gearing, which leads to cautious riding.)

An app on my phone shows the location of stations and how many bikes (and empty docks) each has in real time. (That data powers this very nifty map that lets you see the number of bikes at each station over the previous 24 hours.) Combined with the fact that my phone knows where I am on the map, it makes it very easy to use.

More broadly, this also contributes to a sense of having lots of options available for getting around the city. To get to any given destination, I can walk, take Metro or a bus, hail a taxi, or grab a CaBi bicycle. I can even take a Zipcar on a few minutes' notice, though that needs to be returned to the same location. The usability of all these forms of transportation (except taxis) is greatly improved by a smartphone, which, in addition to pointing me to CaBi bicycles, can also tell me which way I'm walking, the arrival time of the next bus, or the location of the nearest available Zipcar.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Outer Banks


I went to the Outer Banks for the first time this past weekend. Matt, Risa, Leslie and I shared a beach house (in the Rodanthe area), and it was wonderfully relaxing. We lucked out with unseasonably warm 80-degree temperatures and not a drop of rain, so the swimming was quite nice. I posted a few pictures on Flickr.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Teleport me!

A neat little web gizmo: Globe Genie takes you to a random location in Google Maps Street View every time you press the cheekily-labeled "Teleport" button. So awesome.

EDIT: I'm still sitting here clicking. I'd like to suggest a game I sometimes play with myself in the real world, especially when going somewhere new: Look at your surroundings in a given spot; if you had just been plunked down with no context, would you have any idea where you are? Using Globe Genie makes it possible to actually do this (there's even an on/off toggle for the locator map). If you have no idea at first, wander down the road a bit to look at that house...Peugeot in the driveway, can't be the U.S. Etc., etc. It's still fun even when you're totally wrong.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Florida vs. Detroit

The Big Picture blog at the Boston Globe recently had a selection of satellite shots of "human landscapes" in southwest Florida. The irrational exuberance of the housing boom comes through in these aerial views, and the subsequent bust is also clearly visible in many cases.

Take this one, for example:
(photo copyright: Google)

Minus the fake lake, this bears some resemblance to certain parts of Detroit:

View Larger Map
Will either of these neighborhoods ever recover and be a good place to live? The reasons for the strange landscapes are different in the two places, but when you step back and look at it in macro terms, all those new houses being built in the marshlands of Florida aren't entirely unrelated to the hollowing out of inner cities. I remember a developer quoted in an NYT article I read a while back, talking about an uptick of new housing starts in Las Vegas despite the dire state of its housing market. Paraphrasing, he said "Sure, there are lots of unsold houses that are a few years old elsewhere in town, but people want new houses. And that's what we're selling." That's not sustainable, of course, and I really dislike hearing people talk of houses as a pure commodity, since they're not just widgets, but part of the fabric of communities. Anyway, if you're looking for a place to build new houses to sell, there's room in Detroit.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Doughnut fallacy

A column by Kathleen Parker in the Post makes a good overall point about the differences between rural and urban life having an effect on people's views on the role of government. But I have to take serious issue with an example she cites of excessively intrusive rules in cities:
You may have heard about Mayor Michael Bloomberg's crusade against trans fats, which are now banned from restaurant fare in the city. Okay, fine, trans fats are bad for you, and I voluntarily eschew them. Not so the fellow who installed my wireless. "You can't get a good doughnut in the city anymore," he railed. "I have to drive to Jersey to get a decent doughnut."

This is an area where I have some expertise, and I can definitively say that while this man may know how to install WiFi (or may not, based on my experiences with the cable guy), he does not know a doughnut from a bagel. For one thing, trans fats are not the key element in making good doughnuts -- doughnuts were well-recognized as tasty prior to the introduction of partially hydrogenated frying oils. And to even more directly answer his complaint, there are plenty of great doughnuts to be had in New York. Allow me to give you a list. Doughnut Plant, which makes the best doughnuts I've ever had, has always been trans fat free.

(More broadly, this is also a bad example because the case for regulatory intervention is particularly strong on trans fat: It's much worse for public health, but provides little benefit to consumers compared to natural frying oils, and individuals are in a poor position to monitor their intake of trans fats at restaurants or push for alternatives.)

Monday, September 27, 2010

Canal Quarters

I had a very nice weekend bike trip to Harpers Ferry and back with Aron and some other folks from work. I brought my camera, but I have no pictures to show because I forgot my memory card at home. D'oh. Justin organized, and he grew up in Harpers Ferry, so with his help we avoided the surprisingly bad food in town and ate at a cool place in nearby Shepherdstown, WV.

Almost the entire bike trip was along the C&O Canal towpath. In order to get from sea level to Cumberland, MD, the canal had 74 locks. Back in the day, someone had to man each lock 24/7, so each lock had a house where the lock keeper and his family lived. They were sturdily built of stone, and many of them are still standing. The C&O Canal Trust has recently renovated a few and made them available for people to stay in under the Canal Quarters program. This seems pretty awesome -- they have period furnishings (only one has plumbing), and the canal tends to feel pretty isolated, even though much of it is quite close to modern development. I think we're going to try to get a group together to spend a weekend at one this winter (one that has heat) or in the spring.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fall heat


It's quite hot, considering it's actually fall now. But I guess it's to be expected that this vicious summer wouldn't go quietly. On my way home yesterday, I stopped on the Mall to fool around with my new camera a bit -- a couple pics are on Flickr.

On a completely unrelated topic, you really need to check out this video that Mike sent me -- it's a remix of an Olsen Twins show that seems pretty similar to what would happen if David Lynch directed an Olsen Twins music video. If you're not mesmerized right away, make sure to at least catch the pizza song at 3:30.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Doughnut Quest 2010: The Best Doughnuts in New York


The last weekend in August, Doug, Alex, and I met in New York for an event that had been in the works for more than a year: Doughnut Quest 2010. Our aim was to settle the question of where to find the best doughnut in New York, both for ourselves and for the benefit of society at large.

All three of us are big doughnut fans. Back when we all lived in Minneapolis, we spent a couple months going to one neighborhood bakery each weekend to try their doughnuts. We debated the merits of the various shops, trying to tease out the characteristics that allowed a simple glazed doughnut to make the leap from tasty to sublime. We developed some clear favorites, though we didn't always completely agree. (Doug and I also had a sharp difference of opinion on chocolate croissants that resulted in raised voices on several occasions, but that's neither here nor there.)

Methodology
In bringing our doughnut search to New York, we felt it was important that our evaluation be rigorous, so that we could stake future calories on its results. Both Alex and I had places in NYC that we already knew for their great doughnuts, but we also conducted a search of the literature, identifying almost 20 establishments that had been cited as having the "best" doughnuts in New York. We winnowed our sample by eliminating places that were not corroborated in multiple sources, as well as those that had closed. The end result was a list of 10 shops [map], a mix of traditional doughnut shops and places with gourmet ambitions:

- Alpha Donuts
- Cafe Falai
- Cupcake Cafe
- Donut Pub
- Doughnut Plant
- Koryodang
- Mike's Donuts
- Peter Pan Bakery
- Sullivan Street Bakery
- Trois Pommes

At each of these bakeries, all three of us ate a glazed doughnut (when available) as a baseline. Cleansing our palates with iced tea or other beverages in between, we also shared samples of up to three other varieties, for a total sample of 25 different doughnuts. Crucial to ensuring the rigor of our taste test was a uniform scoring sheet with eight criteria, which we each filled out for each doughnut prior to discussing our impressions. Each criteria has relative weight according to its importance, and was judged on a 1 to 10 scale for each doughnut:

  • Dough (taste) - yeastiness, richness, degree of sweetness (Scoring weight: 5)
  • Dough (texture) - body of the doughnut, chewiness, density, mouth feel (3)
  • Fried-ness - extent of frying, texture, flavor (2)
  • Glaze/Topping/Filling - taste, texture (5)
  • Balance of flavors - interplay and balance between dough, glaze/filling, and fried-ness (4)
  • Appearance - physical attractiveness (2)
  • Ambiance of setting - appeal and doughnut-appropriateness of bakery setting (1)
  • Overall doughnut rating - taster's overall rating (10)

Once the data were collected, they were analyzed to determine the score for each doughnut we sampled. This score, the Doughnut Index, represents the percentage of possible points earned by the doughnut. The results listed below are averages across all three tasters; follow the links at the bottom if you're interested in individual ratings.



Results
Sampling 25 different doughnuts over the course of three days was hard work. We trekked around three different boroughs, eating only small meals at breakfast and lunch to keep our hunger up. After each of us had filled out scorecards for each of the doughnuts, we had 600 data points to crunch. (In the interest of transparency, the full data set and some additional charts can be seen in the results spreadsheet on Google Docs. ) Let's take a look at what we found, starting with the five doughnuts scoring the highest Doughnut Index.

Top Five


1) Blackberry Jelly with Vanilla Bean Glaze
Doughnut Plant
84.6

This absolutely delicious blackberry jelly doughnut took top honors of all the Doughnut Quest 2010 entrants. It earned high marks from all tasters for dough, filling, and flavor. "Best filling I've ever had," noted Alex on his scoring sheet. "Tartness of blackberries balances well with vanilla bean glaze," wrote Doug, "a nice foil to the fried-ness." I sounded the only note of reservation in the glowing reviews, saying that the filling was "a little too sweet." Completing the package was the fact that, unlike every other bakery in America, Doughnut Plant makes their jelly doughnuts with a hole in the middle. Where does the jelly go? Instead of an ill-distributed glop in the center, this doughnut had jam distributed evenly throughout the interior of its entire circumference, ensuring perfectly-calibrated quantities of doughnut and jam in every bite.

2) Blueberry Glazed
Doughnut Plant
83.0

Doughnut Plant's flavors change with the seasons, and we were fortunate to visit during blueberry season. The fresh, light flavor of the blueberry glaze was a surprising but excellent compliment to the substantial, chewy body of the doughnut. "Blueberries + fried taste = SUMMER," wrote Doug, putting his high school algebra to good use. Alex was slightly more reserved, saying that the "flavor is a touch too subtle". I was unreserved in my enthusiasm, but not in the mood for overanalyzing, simply noting on my scorecard that it was "a beautiful union of antioxidants and saturated fat." (Apologies for the out-of-focus picture -- I was clearly more focused on eating than photography.)

3) Vanilla Bean Glazed
Doughnut Plant
82.3

This is Doughnut Plant's take on the basic glazed doughnut, and it rounds out their sweep of the top three positions. For me, the texture and taste of the dough make this doughnut -- it's a tad less sweet than you expect it to be, a little bit chewy, and has a nice, subtle, yeasty flavor. Add in the lovely vanilla flavor of the glaze, and you've got something that goes far, far beyond the typical glazed ring.

4) Raspberry-Filled Bomboloni
Sullivan Street Bakery
81.7

This is one of two varieties of bomboloni we tried at Sullivan Street Bakery. (Bomboloni are an Italian style of doughnut that are typically small spheres filled with jam or cream.) Their take was more intensely fried than bomboloni or other doughnuts elsewhere, with only a touch of powdered sugar. Inside was a tart, intensely flavorful spoonful of raspberry jam. "Delicious," said Alex. "The texture [of the filling] and the fact that it was so tart worked really well with the crispier-than-average outside," I wrote. "Perfect marks for fried-ness," Doug concurred. "Dough texture, taste, firmness, etc. just about perfect." One of the few caveats was that Doug noted he "would have liked more powdered sugar." Alex concluded by saying that it was "very, very good," but without "the extra, ineffable sparkle" to make it a perfect 10.

5) Chantilly Cream Bomboloni
Cafe Falai
76.8

We tried several different varieties of bomboloni at Cafe Falai, but this was the one that stood out. Presented on a plate at a white-tableclothed Soho cafe, the experience of eating it was also quite different than most of the other doughnuts we ate. (It didn't hurt that our server brought out another doughnut on the house when she saw our scoring sheets.) A cut of the doughnut revealed a filling much less dense than other cream centers. "Surprising -- eggy, light filling," I wrote. "Really nice balance of flavors." The flavor had "nice depth," according to Doug. Alex did have some reservations about the lightness of the filling, however, saying that it wasn't quite substantial enough to match up with the dough. Quibbles aside, this was a delicious, well-executed doughnut.


Overall Bakery Ratings
Averaging the Doughnut Index scores of the ten bakeries we visited, the traditional doughnut shops -- Alpha Donuts, Donut Pub, Mike's Donuts, and Peter Pan Bakery tended to underperform.

Doughnut Plant was the clear winner, with an average Doughnut Index of 81.2. Donut Pub, with a score of 44.7, was the only bakery under 50.

Performance of Classic Doughnut Varieties
At the four traditional doughnut shops, trends were apparent in the scores of the basic doughnut varieties -- glazed, jelly, and French cruller. The jelly doughnuts performed poorly, while the French crullers scored well on the Doughnut index, with those from Peter Pan Bakery and Alpha Donuts appearing in the top half of the ratings.


Worst Doughnuts
For the most part, we liked the doughnuts we tasted, it's just that some were better than others. So it's not surprising that almost all doughnuts scored above a 50, meaning they received more than half the points available. Four doughnuts, however, did not pass this threshold:

22) Red Bean-Filled
Koryodang
49.4

This Koreatown shop sells many other baked goods alongside a couple types of doughnuts. The Red Bean-Filled doughnut wasn't exactly bad, but it didn't quite win us over. As Alex put it, "It's a doughnut filled with red beans. Hard to judge, as the red bean flavor is so unusual to my palate."

23) French Cruller
Donut Pub
48.13

Despite the solid performance of French crullers overall, this one did not go over well. "Blah," declared Doug. "Tasted distressingly like the Glazed," added Alex.

24) Jelly
Mike's Donuts
44.7

Mike's is a very typical doughnut shop in outer Brooklyn, and turned in a good performance on the only cake doughnut we tried (Coconut). But the Jelly had "boring, over-sweet filling and little texture in the dough," I wrote. Alex termed it a "crappy jelly doughnut." Doug gave a backhanded compliment, saying that the filling was good "in an artificial, diner-pie sort of way."

25) Jelly Sugar
Donut Pub
33.7

Bringing up the rear as the lowest-scorer by more than ten points was the Jelly Sugar at Donut Pub. Unlike the other jelly doughnuts sampled, it was covered with granulated sugar instead of powdered. All three tasters mentioned the "poor distribution of jelly," which Alex remarked "tastes like cough syrup." "If I didn't really like doughnuts," added Doug, "I wouldn't like this."

Additional Info
We said we were going to be rigorous in our approach to this project. If you do not yet have enough doughnut information to satisfy your appetite, you can also read top rankings and concluding thoughts from Alex, Doug, and me.

In addition, pictures of Doughnut Quest 2010 (including one of every doughnut sampled) are posted on Flickr.

Doughnut Quest 2010 Results: Alex

(Alex's individual results and observations -- see the main Doughnut Quest 2010 post for more details.)

Top Five (Doughnut Index)
1) Vanilla Glazed Blackberry Jelly, Doughnut Plant (95)
2) Creme Brulee, Doughnut Plant (91)
3) Glazed, Cupcake Cafe (89)
4) Raspberry-Filled, Trois Pommes (87)
5) Vanilla Glazed, Doughnut Plant (83)

Because we were in New York City, I thought all of the doughnut shops would be very hoity-toity, high-quality bakeries focused solely on doughnuts. This was not the case.

In fact, there was a very clear delineation between the two types of shops we went to. First, there were the traditional, diner-esque doughnut shops with Formica countertops and grubby environs that made almost exclusively doughnuts and fried egg sandwiches. And, second, there were the very fancy, very well-decorated bakeries that served quiches and focaccia bread and wonderful-looking tarts – which also happened to specialize in a bourgeois-type version of a doughnut.

Upon realizing this, I thought I’d enjoy each establishment for different characteristics. But I didn’t, really. Simply put, the regular doughnut shops made inferior doughnuts – not that some weren’t good, but they were never anything transcendent or original. It was more, “Oh, yeah, that’s a pretty good doughnut.” On the other hand, the high-end places were stimulating in their environs and the additional care that went into each aspect of the doughnut was obvious – you’d get a transformative and exciting eating experience. So I preferred those.

The only establishment that didn’t fit this mold was Doughnut Plant, which had a more down-to-earth environment and which served solely doughnuts, but which put an unbelievable amount of care into each doughnut, used top-shelf ingredients, and had an incredible range and variety. It was the hands-down winner.

It’s not that someplace like Sullivan Street Bakery or Trois Pommes couldn’t give Doughnut Plant a run for its money – if they made four or five different types of doughnuts and worked really hard to perfect them, they could. But that wasn’t their mission, and besides, Doughnut Plant has a patent (literally) on square-shaped (with hole in middle) jelly-filled doughnuts, where the jelly-distribution is perfectly even around the whole doughnut and where the dough itself is uncompromised by its proximity to the uncooked jelly. I mean, god, do you know how hard that is?

So I can’t really blame anyone for not wanting to compete – Doughnut Plant is the unquestioned (and well-deserved) king in this realm.

Doughnut Quest 2010 Results: Doug

(Doug's individual results and observations -- see the main Doughnut Quest 2010 post for more details.)

Top Five (Doughnut Index)
1) Blueberry Glazed, Doughnut Plant (85)
2) Vanilla Glazed Blackberry Jelly, Doughnut Plant (85)
3) Raspberry Bomboloni, Sullivan Street Bakery (85)
4) Chantilly Cream Bomboloni, Cafe Falai (83
5) Vanilla Glazed, Doughnut Plant (81)

I have seen the light and it is filled with jelly. I've always thought of myself as a plain-doughnut guy--I appreciate a good filled doughnut, but that extra stuff just seemed like overkill, as though the baker were trying to compensate for an inferior dough, unwilling to pull off the fine art of doing the simple thing right. But now I know the possibilities, the bliss that can be found when the right filling is paired with the right dough. (Is it a stretch to compare these flavor pairings with that of a fine wine and a finer cheese? I think not.)

My favorite doughnut, hands down, was the blackberry-filled raised doughnut at The Doughnut Plant. The fresh blackberries make all the difference, and the clean, fresh flavors paired perfectly with slightly yeasty dough and the subtle vanilla zing of the glaze. Forget ice cream or pie; this, to me, is the quintessential taste of summer: berries plus fried-ness, gooey and messy, with just enough grease to make you feel guilty and flavors that capture the glorious, evanescent spirit of the season.

I had similar feelings about (if just slightly less enthusiasm for) the blueberry-glazed doughnut at The Doughnut Plant and the raspberry bomboloni at Sullivan Street. And right up there with those berry-intensive offerings at the top of my list, I'd also have to include the Chantilly cream bomboloni at Cafe Falai (which, by the way, is totally the SoHo cafe of my imagination: sleek and white and effortlessly hip). If I'm going to continue the season metaphor, this was a fall doughnut, its flavors more grounded and slightly more savory; there was an eggy flavor to the filling that I found startling at first, but my surprise soon gave way to delight as I sopped up the runny filling with what remained of my doughnut (using a fork--it was that kind of place).

I was surprised that the old-school doughnut shops didn't fare too well, at least not taste-wise. Not that they were bad; they just weren't as good as their more upscale counterparts. What they did have was ambiance--aesthetic character and real-life characters. Peter Pan was packed with regulars and wise-cracking servers; Mike's had a genial mailman who entered to cheers and lively banter; Alpha had a world-weary counterman who assured us, "We make the best doughnuts"--and then paused for a moment and hedged, "Well, at least, we try to." That camaraderie, that sense of community and place found in the old-school bakeries, is every bit as fulfilling and delightful as the delicate glazes and sensuous fillings of the gourmet bake shops--and, in their own way, all the more impressive, because no amount of culinary schooling can train you to conjure community from nothing. Maybe it's good, though, that no bakeries had that ideal balance of great doughnuts and great character--if I'd found that, I'm not sure I'd have ever left.

Doughnut Quest 2010 Results: Teague

(My individual results and observations -- see the main Doughnut Quest 2010 post for more details.)

Top Five (Doughnut Index)
1) Blueberry Glazed, Doughnut Plant (86)
2) Vanilla Bean Glazed, Doughnut Plant (83)
3) Raspberry-Filled, Trois Pommes (82)
4) Raspberry Bomboloni, Sullivan Street Bakery (79)
5) French Cruller, Alpha Donuts (74)

Three days of singular focus on eating and evaluating doughnuts certainly made for a memorable weekend. I felt like I might be going into diabetic shock sometime around doughnut #8 on the first day, but I enjoyed trying so many different varieties in quick succession.

I've been going to Doughnut Plant for almost 10 years now, so I may not be the most unbiased judge, but I think it's pretty clear that they are the all-around champion here. Everything about their doughnuts is carefully executed, as we saw in the four varieties we sampled. The dough, in particular, has taste and texture that are unmatched.

The Raspberry-Filled doughnut at Trois Pommes also bears mentioning. It didn't look like much, but upon biting into it you find that it has very strong and complex flavors -- probably the most adventurous of the doughnuts we tried. The doughnut is dense and yeasty, and the raspberry filling initially hits with a strong note of brandy before mellowing into a deep, complex fresh raspberry flavor. It couldn't quite match the perfectly balanced doughnut essence of Doughnut Plant's best, but it was still a truly excellent doughnut. (It was also the most controversial -- Doug absolutely hated it, and ranked it dead last.)

A few other quick observations:
- Jelly doughnuts are a bit manic -- when they're good, they're really good, but they can also easily be really bad. Our overall top-rated doughnut was a jelly, as was our last-place doughnut. A good jelly doughnut is quite difficult to make, but there's a big payoff.
- I should eat French crullers more often -- I liked all three that we tried, and the Alpha Donuts cruller showed up in my top five. Even at shops where that weren't good overall, I still liked the cruller. When available, a good escape hatch for bad doughnut situations.
- Although their doughnuts weren't notable for the most part, New York's classic doughnut shops are great places. The banter at the Peter Pan Bakery counter could have been put straight into a screenplay, and appeared to be entirely genuine.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Dictionary of the Near-Future

An op-ed column entitled A Dictionary of the Near Future is on the NYT most-emailed list. It proposes new coinages for a variety of phenomena; an advantage of this format is that it allows the author to stuff his chance at a Times op-ed with observations/opinions on a wide range of contemporary social phenomena. But some of them are pretty good:
OMNISCIENCE FATIGUE The burnout that comes with being able to know the answer to almost anything online.

Reading this list reminds me of a phrase from Beck's "Loser" that I've appropriated over the years (in my interior monologue, anyway):

GET CRAZY WITH THE CHEEZ WHIZ To be overzealous, especially in relation to that which is tacky, tasteless, or frivolous. (-Did you notice that the neighbors bought 16-inch spinner rims for Bobby's Power Wheels? -Yeah, they're really going crazy with the Cheez Whiz.)

(Employing some of my omniscience, I see that the Cheez Whiz website has not been updated since 2004. But that sort of fits the overall vibe of the product, so I guess it works...)

NYC photos


I'll have the Doughnut Quest 2010 rundown posted by the end of the week, but in the meantime, here are some other
photos I took in New York.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Phoenix - 1901
> Automato - The Single
> Modest Mouse - Autumn Beds
> Band of Horses - Ode to LRC
> Frightened Rabbit - Living in Colour
> Caribou - Bowls
> Calexico and Iron & Wine - History of Lovers

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Janes Island


I went camping over Labor Day weekend with Aron, Alex, Dave, and Colleen at Janes Island State Park* in Crisfield, MD. It's way down the Chesapeake side of Maryland's Eastern Shore, about 3.5 hours from DC.

It was a great trip -- the park has canoe and kayak rentals, with miles of water trails through the marshlands. Even better, you can paddle out to a really nice beach on the Chesapeake with almost nobody on it. The whole gang was there for two days, and Aron and I stayed through Tuesday to do some cycling on the flat and empty roads of the Eastern Shore. The whole area feels (culturally) like it's about 500 miles further south than it actually is.

Check out some pics on Flickr.

* The lack of an apostrophe makes me twitch every time, but that's how the name is spelled. I guess there were several Janes on this particular island.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Vacation pics


I've belatedly finished posting pictures from my trip on Flickr, so you can peruse them if you wish.

Off to the Eastern Shore for some camping and bike day-tripping at Janes Island State Park this weekend, with Aron and company.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Marcel the Shell

Doughnut Quest 2010 was awesome. We each tried 26 doughnuts, I think -- all were tasty, some were transcendent. But there are still numbers to crunch and pictures to upload, so I will delivery a full recap later this week.

In the meantime, I'd like the share this video, passed to me by Doug, via Amanda. It's Marcel the Shell introducing himself.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sculpture

I'm off to NYC for the weekend (for Doughnut Quest 2010), and haven't managed to get my vacation pictures uploaded yet. But in the meantime, here's something from a couple months ago:


My uncle Dick has been making metal sculpture professionally for many years, and I asked him a while back if he could make a sculpture for me. I had something simple in mind, and he suggested that I visit and help him make it (or at least watch him make it). While I was in Connecticut in June, I spent an afternoon at his backyard studio in New Haven. It was pretty cool -- I did some bending of metal, but Dick did all the welding, and a finished product emerged after a few hours of sparks flying. Check out a few pictures over at Flickr.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Rolling shutter

Check out this photo of a propeller seen out a plane window that I saw on a Flickr blog. It was taken with an iPhone, and the milliseconds it took the electronic shutter to capture the different parts of the image yielded a really cool effect with the prop.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Energy drinks

I'm back in DC after a wonderful vacation. I'll post a few pictures from my trip soon.

While in Minneapolis, Andrew steered me toward Longform.org. It's an edited compilation of links to interesting longer-format articles from a variety of sources; many are recent, but it also links to older stuff. (Andrew showed it to me in the course of seconding David's recommendation of Instapaper, which is a very snazzy way to keep track of and read written content from the web.)

Anyway, one of the articles I found through Longform is on the flavoring industry. It's a good read.

Other flavorists were perplexed by Red Bull, which was created in 1987. "Have you ever tasted such a crazy flavor?" Hagen said. "What is it? There is nothing like it, and every once in a while you come across a flavor that is not especially balanced but for some reason it takes off." Today, it is virtually impossible to market an energy drink that does not have the same unbalanced characteristics that Red Bull has. "It scores terribly when you put it in front of consumers who don't think it is an energy drink," a salesman for one of the top flavor houses told me. "But the spiky note in there now defines 'energy.' So when I build energy flavors with our client it has got to taste bad. If you give the consumer a great-tasting orange flavor for an energy drink, their liking drops way down, because it doesn't have that 'energy note' they expect."

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Seattle

Seattle is lovely. Went for a bike ride with David and Sean -- we're presently on the water taxi heading back across to downtown Seattle.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

On the ferry

The tent-on-deck thing worked out. It's pretty cool. I've already taken a nap in it...

Ferry terminal, 4 AM

Ho boy, sure is early. I'm waiting to board a ferry that will take me for a two-day ride to Bellingham, WA. No cabin for this leg of the trip, I'll be setting up my tent on deck -- we'll see how that goes. (I can sleep in a chair inside if necessary.) I had a great time in Petersburg. A couple great hikes, a kayak daytrip to the Leconte Glacier, and hosting a country-folk show on the public radio station were some highlights. I'll write in a bit more detail later.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Raven's Roost

This is the view from the Raven's Roost trail, up the mountain behind Petersburg. The peak to the far left of the frame (shrouded in clouds) is where I was when I posted a picture on Saturday.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

This is not...

...somewhere I expected to have cell service. To the right of the picture, that's a glacier spilling between the mountains.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Alaska

Hey, look at that -- I'm in Alaska! The photo above is my view from the ferry as I write this (still at dock in Juneau).

A few observations, appropriately bite-sized for phone blogging;

- While waiting for the bus at the Juneau airport, a pickup truck pulled up with a bumper sticker that read "Honk if you're drunk." Just after that, a VW Vanagon pulled up and a guy with a bushy beard got out and carried a big barrel of something into the terminal, then came back out and drove off.
- The cruise ships that dock in Juneau literally dwarf the city itself...at least in physical size, and probably in population as well.
- I bought a sandwich (at Subway, blah) to take on the ferry with me and asked for provolone on it. "This is Alaska," the woman behind the counter said, "we don't have provolone...we don't even have Swiss."

Overnight ferry to Petersburg, where I'll hang out with Melati for a few days. Then a two-day ferry ride to Seattle, for a long weekend there with David and others. That will be followed by a two-day train trip to Minneapolis, where I'll hang out for almost a week before heading home. Should be awesome.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Ahead Pavement on Words

There's a nice new two-way bike lane in the median of Pennsylvania Ave.


I don't ride in it very often because I'm typically traveling perpendicular to Pennsylvania Ave. But I did want to note something that has always been a minor annoyance to me, and is more obvious than usual here: Am I the only one whose first instinct is to read that text on the pavement as "TURNS FOR X WALK USE"? I get that you're supposed to read the words in the order you encounter them, but since I can see all of the words at once, my eye is trained to read them top to bottom. I'm sure it's in the MUTCD, because pavement text is always written this way. "AHEAD ZONE SCHOOL," etc. -- it actually takes quite a bit of effort to read it in the order it's intended to be read. There was probably some traffic engineer who considered it a highlight of his career that in 1964, he helped determine the right way to put words on pavement. Well, he was wrong, I tell you!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Fleet Foxes - Ragged Wood
> LCD Soundsystem - Dance Yrself Clean
> Sleigh Bells - Crown on the Ground [mp3]
> The National - Afraid of Everyone [mp3]
> Cloud Cult - Running with the Wolves [mp3]
> Uncle Tupelo - Whiskey Bottle

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Wikipedia prose

I love Wikipedia, but one result of its crowd-sourced content is that the writing can sometimes be a bit idiosyncratic and disjointed. Reading the entry for Juneau, Alaska, one finds this sentence at the end of a paragraph on the city's economy:

"Tree-trunk exporting also has a fondly remembered place in Juneau's economic history."

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Omnibus update

Hey there, long time no blog.

I haven't posted for over a month -- been quite busy -- so permit me to recap a few things, proceeding in descending order of importance:

- Alex, Doug and I have set a date for Doughnut Quest, at the end of August, about a year after we had originally planned to have it. I'm sure it will be worth the wait. Expect an extensive blog post recap.
- I'm in the final stages of plotting a trip in late July/early August that will take me to Alaska, Seattle, and Minneapolis, with some nice multi-modal transportation in between.
- I got my first real camera, which I'm very excited about. More on that in a subsequent post.
- My gardening efforts are now bearing frui...er, vegetables. I sauteed my first zucchini yesterday, and I've had salad greens for almost a month. (I highly recommend growing mixed greens in a window box. It keeps them off the ground, where they can get overtaken by other plants or eaten, and keeps them close at hand to snip a few the moment you want a salad.) The bunches of big, fat green tomatoes on my dozen-plus plants indicate that there will be plenty of those in a couple weeks, all heirloom varieties.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Bike trip


Had a great bike trip this weekend. Aron was primarily responsible for planning it, with some input from me. We did the middle third of the DC to Pittsburgh trip Aron and I did last fall, but with a group of 7 people. The weather was good, and no major mishaps (Aron had 5 flats -- something lingering in his tire, we presume -- but he's fast at fixing them). A few photos to be seen on Flickr.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Bike parts

This is probably sort of boring for you to read about, but I put about $300 into my bike in the last couple weeks. This includes:

-Tune-up
-Overhaul of front and rear hubs
-New shifter cable
-New chain and rear cassette
-New bar tape
-New tires
-New 36-tooth front sprocket

The end result is a much better-functioning bicycle. The mechanic did the first four items for me, and the did the last three myself. I only realized I needed a new sprocket once I rode with the new chain and found it didn't fit well with the wear on the smaller front sprocket. So I got a new one and put it on this evening.

When I put the kevlar tires in late 2008/early 2009, I said that I'd report back on their performance. Well, they did perform well, as I only got two flats in a year and a half; one was on the way to Pittsburgh, due to a hard pinch on a tree root. The other flat was a few months ago. However, the tread on the tires didn't last quite as long as I would have hoped...I had to replace them because in addition to being cut up from glass, they had also developed some bald spots where the tread had come off to reveal the kevlar layer underneath:



Aron organized a bike trip this weekend with a larger group (7), doing part of the ride we did on the C&O Canal and Great Allegheny Passage last fall. Just three days, about 30 miles per day, but I'm definitely looking forward to it.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New albums

Yesterday, thanks to The National, I spent my $50 store credit at Crooked Beat records. This is what I came back with:

> Frightened Rabbit - The Winter of Mixed Drinks (LP)
> Band of Horses - Cease to Begin (LP)
> Uncle Tupelo - No Depression (CD)
> Vampire Weekend - Contra (CD)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> The National - Anyone's Ghost
> Caribou - Sun
> Toro y Moi - Blessa
> MGMT - Time to Pretend
> Neutral Milk Hotel - Communist Daughter
> Dan Bern - Estelle

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cell phones

Maryland just enacted a ban on using a hand-held cell phone while driving. An online poll accompanying the Baltimore Sun article asks, "Will you stop using your hand-held phone while driving?" As of now, 25% of people have chosen the response "There's no way I can ever live without using my hand-held phone while driving."

On most other issues, a newspaper wouldn't dare pose the question, "Are you going to obey this law?"

Here in DC, where we already have such a ban, a guy pulled out in front of me the other day while talking on his cell phone. He was in a convertible, so when I passed him a moment later, I yelled "Hang up and drive!" This naturally earned a string of expletives from him.

We obviously have a cultural issue to overcome before we can get proper recognition of the danger (to you and others) of talking on the phone while driving.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Megapolis


I went to the Megapolis audio festival in Baltimore this past weekend. Heavy on the sound art, but also a fair bit of radio documentary-focused stuff...I like both, and thought the festival was pretty cool on the whole. A few highlights:

WikiMixing - Eight people at the table, everyone gets a modified computer keyboard. Four channels of looped audio shown on screen, each with a bunch of parameters you can control (volume, speed, pitch, low end filter, etc.). In fact, everyone can control these factors simultaneously...if I turn it up while you're turning it down, we cancel each other out. Or maybe I turn it up while you're increasing the pitch. You can also change what loop of sound (bells, clanky plumbing, a guitar riff, etc) is playing in each channel. Mostly chaos, of course, but with moments of brilliance...a neat idea, and a lot of fun.

Book Odds Remix - A room full of people have 30 minutes to edit together 8 specific sounds into a short piece. (The audio is from The Books, selected for a contest that's part of the Third Coast Festival.) We listen to the results, and they're played on an XM Radio station immediately afterward.

Matt Sterling performance - Simultaneous manipulation of audio and video -- A/V DJing, basically. This was interesting because he wasn't just manipulating music and video tracks, but generating them in real time. The audio was constructed from various beats and such, while the video was constructed from combinations of geometric shapes and patterns. He was constantly adjusting knobs on the audio and video to keep them in sync as the composition evolved. (Pictured above.)

It was also cool to hear David Kestenbaum of NPR/Planet Money talk about his techniques for effectively presenting abstract financial news in a comprehensible way.

So, a great weekend. Susie was kind enough to put me up in her work-in-progress rowhome; she also lent me a bike, which enabled me to revisit some of my farmers market favorites on Sunday morning. Oh, curry pockets...

Friday, May 14, 2010

Blitzer and mascot

Here's a very brief Daily Show "Moment of Zen" clip, taken from a CNN segment commemorating Wolf Blitzer's 20 years at the network. For some reason, the Washington Wizards mascot is standing behind him, yet Wolf is trying to play it very earnest in describing his journalistic experience. The mascot tries to back him up on the earnestness.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Moment of Zen - Wolf Blitzer Celebrates 20 Years
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Good, bad, good

Good: I went to the Caribou show at Rock and Roll Hotel last night, and it was absolutely great. Riffs and patterns building up on top of each other, peeling off and coming back in again, all wrapped up in a bit of a psychedelic swirl. You can check out videos of them in the studio playing Yeti and After Hours off their previous albums, but where they really shined was in performing tracks off the new album.

Bad: My shifter cable broke on the ride home this evening, leaving my bike stuck in the highest gear.

Good: I stopped at Crooked Beat on my way home to pick up the new album by The National. I debated a while on whether to buy the CD or LP copy, and went with vinyl. When I opened it up at home, I found a certificate that said
Greetings to you, the lucky finder of this ticket. The bearer of this ticket will receive a $50 credit at the store where this CD or LP of The National High Violet was purchased.

I was a little skeptical at first, but on The National's website it says that "Many indie stores also have one special copy of High Violet which contains a Violet Ticket which is redeemable for a $50 store credit." Sweet!!

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Bushwick

The NYTimes ArtsBeat blog had a post yesterday about Bjork DJing in Bushwick, Brooklyn. Offers some little Bjork tidbits, which are always nice, but also this piece of information:
She checked out another venue, the Market Hotel, which has since been shut down, but preferred Above the Auto Parts because it was rougher, said the promoter, Todd Patrick.

Market Hotel was the very sketchy (yet awesome) venue for the show that Alex, Shane and I went to in Bushwick a few months ago. Not too surprising that it has been shut down, since it didn't seem to have a certificate of occupancy, never mind a liquor license...

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Sacramento

This fine Worksman cruiser bike is an imposing presence in my hotel
room.

I'm in Sacramento this week for work, and with some Googling, I found
a brand new shop called Practical Cycle (it opened last Thursday) that
sells and rents basic bicycles. Since I was taking the bike for a few
days, they let me have it for the very affordable rate of $20 per
day. I'd also like to give props to the Holiday Inn Express -- when I
inquired at the front desk about a place to park my bike, I did not
expect the lady to say I could put it in my room.

I took a cruise down the bike trail along the American River this
evening, and cut back to the hotel through some neighborhoods that
blended from industrial to residential. (The maps on the iPhone make
this sort if wandering much easier than it would otherwise be.) Always
great to experience a new city by bike...

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

News via Facebook

The Washington Post posted an editor's note today about integration of Facebook with their site. If you're logged into Facebook on your computer, you will automatically see a box on the Post that shows articles your friends have recently shared. And there's now a Facebook "Like" button for every article.

There's some irony in the fact that the Post has dubbed this new feature "Network News." The original television network newscasts for which that term was coined, along with other traditional media like the Post, created a mainstream where media gatekeepers guided the national conversation to a certain set of issues. New media have been dismantling that, serving up specialized channels of information that are only relevant to and consumed by a subset of the population. The Post's "Network News" embraces social media's tendency to take that one step further, and expose you to information based on what other people in your social circle are consuming. This has long-term implications for the flow of information through society and our ability to have collective discussions about topics that affect us all. It's not like this change at the Post's website will have much impact along those lines on its own, but I had previously noted that the social media effect can be a bit unnerving when you can see it happening.


In any case, I'm sure the Post freaked out a number of people, because while opt-out instructions weren't included when I saw the note this afternoon, they have now been appended. It's actually rather counterintuitive to opt out, because it's controlled through your Facebook account -- I imagine that it would be difficult for many people to understand that they need to go to an entirely different website in order to remove a feature that appears on the Post site.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Miscellany

A bit lacking on the blogging lately.

This new table I got for the porch is awesome. Sitting on the porch with a beer and a couple friends is a lovely evening activity when the weather is this nice, at least until the bugs kick in later in a couple months.

I went to Cincinnati for work during the first part of the week. I found the farmland on the way from Columbus to Cincinnati very reassuring for some reason. (Ohio seems to be very heavy on the beginning of the alphabet -- Akron, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton.) We ate the local specialty of chili, which, for the uninitiated, is more like a sauce and is served over spaghetti. Not bad, but not great either.

My parents visited last weekend, and we got a West Wing tour courtesy of John. It was cool to see it in person; perhaps not surprisingly, all the parts you're used to seeing look much smaller in person.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Warming up

Today, it felt like summer outside -- a high in the low 80s, and even warmer temps expected in the next couple days.

After work, I took a ride up the Capital Crescent trail from Georgetown to Bethesda. The destination was the Apple Store to try out an iPad, but it was really just an excuse for a ride on a beautiful evening. (The iPad was cool, but I think I'll be able to restrain myself for a bit. While it's spectacularly thin, it's heavy enough that you'll pretty much always want to be sitting down while using it.)

I took the Capital Crescent back home -- it's not the most direct route, but because it's an old railroad grade, it has a very gentle downslope for all 8 or so miles from Bethesda to Georgetown, and you can cruise 15+ mph with little effort. The slope is almost imperceptible visually, so it makes you feel like a very accomplished cyclist. By the time I was heading home, it was dark, and cooling down. When you have warm days followed by cool evenings, and you're wearing only a t-shirt, differences in temperature are easy to feel on your skin -- warmer air near swaths of pavement, cooler air where the trees are thick, etc. The variety of vegetation, development, and water features that the Capital Crescent passes through create a good number of these noticeable variations, and the fact that you're cruising pretty fast makes them more obvious because the transitions happen faster. Between the lovely cool night air, the zippy ride, and the the ability to feel the environments as I passed through them, it was a wonderful ride.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Generation gaps

I picked up a copy of the most recent Wolf Parade record, From Mount Zoomer. (It's good, though I've only listened to it all the way through a couple times so far.) There's a line in one song about a telephone ringing without anyone at home to answer it. This brought to mind the likelihood that there are a number of young people today for whom the concept of a phone ringing in an empty house is a totally foreign concept.

I wonder if that would impact their understanding of the song? I'm sure almost everyone would know what the lyric is referring to, whether or not they've spent much time with landlines. But those who grew up without using a traditional telephone might have a harder time connecting with the feeling that the song is trying to convey.

Given that lots of things that form the basis of our daily experience have been changing rapidly in recent years, it seems like there's greater potential for generational disconnects. The generation gaps of yore were created by broad changes in attitudes on big topics like gender roles, sex, politics, etc. While there's still a good bit of macro-level change in attitudes, today's generational divisions also stem from micro-level changes in how people go about their daily lives and interactions with others -- I'm thinking in particular about the influence of cell phones, smart phones, and social networking.

This idea is supported by a study I saw written up in the Post a while back (their archives are pay-only, so I can't get to it now). The researchers found that there were major differences in how young people born just a few years apart were using technologies such as cell phones and social networking. Someone like me who got a Facebook account after graduating from college uses it very differently from someone who used it daily throughout their college years. Current college freshmen, many of whom started using Facebook early in high school, use it differently from either group. Likewise, most people in my age group use texting frequently for logistics and one-off notes, but kids who are a few years younger have entire conversations through text messages.

While individual disconnects like the telephone lyric in the Wolf Parade song might not be a big deal on their own, it seems likely that the cumulative effect of the differences in how the generations think about things will impede cross-generational understanding in unpredictable ways. I suspect that I will end up feeling like a cranky old man before my time, for instance.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Animal Collective - Winter Wonder Land
> Torches - Mr. Vampire
> Casiotone for the Painfully Alone - White Corolla
> Constantines - Nighttime/Anytime (It's All Right)
> MIA - Galang
> Modest Mouse - Gravity Rides Everything
> Bon Iver - Flume

Monday, March 15, 2010

iPad

My MacBook is now a bit more than 4 years old, and I'm looking to get a new computer. I want to get a fairly fast one, so that I can use it for video editing.

I tend to mull over large purchases for months before actually going through with them. I had been thinking that I would get a mid-range MacBook Pro. I also looked into PCs, since I think the gulf between PC and Mac usability has narrowed. But although they're much cheaper, I'd have to spend more on software to get something equivalent to the Mac's Final Cut Pro, which I already know how to use. And I'd prefer a Mac anyhow. Then, looking at iMac desktops, I was reminded how much more computer you can get for less money, compared to a laptop. Since I tend not to carry my computer with me all that often, I started to come around to the idea of getting one of those.

Then, I realized: With an iMac, I could afford to get an iPad along with it -- as long as I got the cheap one, it'd be the same total price as a MacBook. I had initially dismissed the iPad as something I don't need. The several people to whom I've mentioned my plan have greeted it with a groan...there's significant skepticism about the iPad, and for good reason, since no one has used one yet. But I think it would actually make a good bit of sense for me. I often sit at the kitchen table or on the couch interacting with a somewhat claustrophobic version of the internet on my iPhone, and I'd read e-books if I had a comfortable device to use. The iPad is so thin that I think I'd be willing to put it in my bag and take it with me. And there's the potential for some pretty cool and/or useful apps that take advantage of a touch screen that big.

So, I think I'm going to try one out after they become available next month, and if it works for me, take the plunge. Feel free to try to talk me out of it...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

For-profit education

You may have seen the recent article in the NY Times about for-profit trade schools. The companies take advantage of the huge streams of available federal student aid for education (both grants and loans) -- according to the article, they often derive upwards of 80% of their revenue from federal student aid. At the University of Phoenix chain, 86% of revenue came from the federal government last year. The schools aggressively recruit students, saying that they will position themselves for high-paying jobs upon graduation, but many graduate poorly equipped to land a position with the sort of pay needed to pay back their big student loan debts. Default rates are high.

Of all the morally-suspect lines of business one could be in, this racket seems particularly evil. You're sucking up valuable federal student aid funding for something that doesn't provide real education. Even worse, you're convincing young people who are trying to better themselves to do something that won't really help meet their goals, and at the same time saddling them with huge amounts of debt that will destroy their ability to get back on their feet afterward. (It's very difficult to have student loan debt forgiven, even in bankruptcy.) I'm sure there are some decent for-profit schools, but the basic business model of many of these operators is just repulsive.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Coming Attractions

I'm excited for the new albums by Caribou (April) and The National (May) -- even more so after seeing these two clips.

Video for "Odessa" off Caribou's new album:


The National performing "Terrible Love" on Jimmy Kimmel:

Wolf Like Me

I've posted videos of TV on the Radio performing Wolf Like Me previously; here's another version that's also great.


I'd say the vocals are a little high in the mix, but I'd also say that the part where they kick in after the bridge (around the 3 minute mark) is totally awesome.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

In San Francisco

Here's the view from my brother's deck as I write this post:



SF is indeed very nice. The weather's great, and there's definitely something to the West Coast reputation for having a more laid-back vibe. Yesterday we went for a lovely hike through the redwoods around Mt. Tam, and before this afternoon is out, we'll be driving south of the city to see the seals on the beach.

Doughnut report from the farmer's market: Bomboloni with strawberry jam from an Italian bakery. Very good. The jam was tasty, and the amount just right. The doughnut was dense and doughy, which I like. The sugar on the outside seemed like crushed up regular sugar crystals, giving a finer texture. Made a happy medium between granulated sugar, which might have been too coarse for the delicate doughnut, and powdered sugar, which I almost never like.

Here until Monday, then back to DC...I hear the weather has gotten a bit more spring-like there, which would be welcome.