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Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year from Nyan Cat

To ring in the new year, I would like to point your attention to a video meme from 2011 that I have belatedly run across, known as "Nyan Cat."

Yes, it's a cartoon cat with a Pop Tart body flying through space accompanied by an over-caffeinated repetitive soundtrack. (According to the Nyan Cat Wikipedia entry, "The Japanese word for the sound cats make, 'nyā' [にゃあ?], is the equivalent of the English language word 'meow'.")

It's not bearable for more than a minute or so, but somehow, I find it hilarious. I think the fact that it has had tens of millions of views is part of what makes it funny, because viewing it makes you think of all the tens of millions of other people who have taken the time to watch such a willfully pointless (and annoying!) video. Pulling on that same thread of humor, the website Non-Stop Nyan Cat allows you to tweet how long you've spent watching their Nyan Cat knockoff.

Also, I must add that the Smooth Jazz Version of the meme is amazing.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Postcard from the past

I was poking around in my parents' basement while home for Christmas, and found this postcard:

It caught my eye because it looked familiar. Not the postcard itself, but the view, from Glacier National Park. In fact, I took almost the exact same picture on my own trip to Glacier this past September:

The postcard was from my paternal grandparents, sent in September 1984 -- almost exactly 27 years before I inadvertently took the same picture.

I must admit that Doug is right -- there's something special about physical postcards, compared to all the different flavors of instantaneous electronic communication. If I had run across an old email, it wouldn't have been quite the same, never mind that emails won't just hang out in a box for a few decades to be stumbled upon later.

Warmth of home

I've enjoyed being at home for Christmas. I didn't take any pictures of the family get-togethers, but here's a picture of the ash basin underneath my parents' wood furnace. It does actually feel a bit like winter here, although still unseasonably warm. Heading back to DC tomorrow...

Sunday, December 04, 2011

The DC I know

I thought it'd be interesting to map out the parts of DC that I'm familiar with. It would be cool to see many different people's version of this map, as the shape of their DC would probably have a strong correlation with their demographics and lifestyle. For instance, I bet my friends who live in the District (nearly all of whom, naturally, live in areas I'm familiar with) and use their bikes to get around would have a very similar shape. Someone in their 40s, however, might be familiar with a different set of neighborhoods.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Wilco - Born Alone
> Dismemberment Plan - The City
> TV on the Radio - Caffeinated Consciousness
> Modest Mouse - Guilty Cocker Spaniels
> Broken Social Scene - Ibi Dreams of Pavement
> Gorillaz - DARE (DFA remix)

That Wilco track is from their new record, which I like a lot.

My interest in "The City" was rekindled by listening to the remix on "A People's History of the Dismemberment Plan," but the original remains the best. I think the synth line makes the song. (Okay, probably the drums, too.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

New old laces

My great grandmother, who emigrated from Finland at middle age, kept lots of stuff. In fact, even though she passed away a number of years ago now, it has taken the family all that time to clean out her house, which was next door to my grandmother's house. Many of the things she kept had to be thrown out, but some are neat mementos of her life. (I had previously posted about the vintage postcards she kept from her time traveling with a wealthy family she and my great-grandfather worked for.) Some of the things left in the house are even useful -- for instance, we came upon a cache of old but unused men's shoelaces, which I took with me.

Last week, one of the laces on my brown work shoes snapped while I was tying them in the morning. So I re-laced them with these, which I would guess date to the 60s. I don't think anyone will notice how retro-cool I am, though...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Stacking Your Deck

In a fit of nesting instinct, I spent a few minutes yesterday afternoon browsing a website called Lamps Plus. As you may have inferred, I was looking at lamps -- I clicked through a few styles made by one particular manufacturer, and then wandered off somewhere else on the internet. Shortly afterward, I was on an unrelated web page and saw an advertisement for Lamps Plus. I sighed at the reminder that my online activities are being tracked.

As I was again browsing online last evening, I saw another Lamps Plus ad -- this time featuring photos of four lamps I had looked at earlier in the day. Even though this only added a little bit of specificity beyond the targeted ad I had been shown earlier in the day, it violated some subconscious sense of my personal space online, and I felt a bit creeped out. It was as if a salesman I had talked to at a furniture store suddenly tapped on my bedroom window and held up a lamp I had considered purchasing.

From the perspective of marketing efficacy, the problem here is that they weren't subtle enough. They'll probably refine that over time, as they have access to plenty of data regarding the rates at which various strategies lead people to make a purchase. But even if they figure out how to avoid creeping me out, I'm not sure that makes it better -- it's probably worse, actually, since subtle techniques may have the ability to influence my decisions without me realizing it. Marketers have obviously been influencing our decisions for quite some time, but the vast new quantities of data and targeting/tailoring techniques now available change the game, and make this more insidious. As I've written about before, it's not an entirely fair fight if marketers spend all their time identifying the factors that can influence your decision so that they can control those levers, while you make a decision without being aware of many of these factors that are influencing your decision. At the same time, scientific understanding of what goes into our decision-making processes is getting more advanced, which adds to the number and effectiveness of the tools of influence that marketers have at their disposal. (For example, the blog I had linked to in that previous post recently had an entry about "facial coding" of expressions, where webcam views of faces as people consume content record where eyes look and what emotional reaction people have to the information they're receiving.)

This may seem like a lot of paranoia touched off by a slightly over-eager lamp seller, but I do think the cumulative effect of all this scheming to influence our decisions can be insidious. To take a more overtly problematic example, in a recent Planet Money podcast, they featured an interview with a former economics professor who is now CEO of casino operator Caesar's Entertainment Corporation. He talks about how they use data from loyalty cards to actively monitor their customers and intervene to make them more likely to keep gambling. If someone loses a lot of money in their first 30 minutes playing slot machines, management can see this and, for instance, give them a free drink. The company is actively experimenting to see what freebies, and what points of intervention, are most effective at keeping people in the casino. The CEO frames this as making sure everyone has a good experience, but of course the goal here is to make sure customers part with as much of their money as possible. Casinos are already fairly sophisticated about manipulating psychology, and this is just taking it to the next level using data with a level of granularity that hasn't been available in the past. The type of information gathered by Facebook, furthermore, is far beyond what Caesar's has -- if marketers want to tailor their approach to single women from 25 to 30 who like Maroon 5 and have no religious preference, they can do that.

As marketers' ability to target us individually grows, it will require greater awareness on our part, and hopefully some new rules to address the changes (and I don't mean new Facebook privacy settings).

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Shall I Be?

While in Connecticut over Thanksgiving, I played Scrabble with my parents one night. Their copy dates to 1968, and an insert in the box advertises other games by Selchow & Righter (Scrabble's publisher at the time), including this pair:

Here's the text of the caption:
WHAT SHALL I BE? An important question for children when they think about their future . . . . Our two What Shall I Be? games, one for boys, the other for girls, teach youngsters about planning careers while having loads of fun. Boys follow the career road to becoming an astronaut, doctor, scientist, lawyer, pro football player, or engineer. Girls reach for careers in dancing, acting, teaching, nursing, modeling, or as airline stewardesses. These are really different games for boys and girls. Here's to your children's future!

These are really different games for boys and girls.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Gotcha

Every fall I make sure to catch at least one leaf before it hits the ground. Here's this year's, caught last night while biking up 11th Street:

I believe this is the second time I have caught my annual leaf while biking, but I do not have a photographic record of the previous occasion, in Minneapolis.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Dr. Dog - Heart It Races (Architecture in Helsinki cover)
> M83 - Midnight City
> Pinback - Good to Sea
> John Vanderslice - Exodus Damage
> The Octopus Project - An Evening with Rthrtha
> Dr. Dog - Shadow People

Two doses of Dr. Dog might be a bit much, but I'm really loving both of those tracks right now. The Shadow People video is great, very earnest and well-done.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween update

The snow that I mentioned was purely of the "conversational" variety here in DC, but as you probably heard, it hit hard in Connecticut. My parents have been without power since Saturday, and have been told it could be a while yet before they get it back. This is only two months after losing it for a week because of hurricane Irene!

Meanwhile, it's unusually brisk for Halloween here. Nevertheless, I saw plenty of costumed kids walking around on my ride home. Sort of disappointed that I don't get to hand out candy this year (having moved into an apartment), but it meant I didn't have to feel bad about getting home as trick-or-treating hours were ending.

I did, however, put together a costume this year for the first time in a while, for a party on Saturday. I was Boris Yeltsin's agent. It required some explanation, but gave me ample opportunity to practice my Russian accent.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kickin' mouse pad

The weather has turned cold, and I'm putting off turning on the heat. I've always been annoyed by how cold my mouse-using hand gets while sitting at the computer, so I googled "microwaveable mouse pad," thinking that maybe someone had made a mouse pad that you can stick in the microwave to warm up.

My search did not turn up any such thing. But I did find an "I [heart] microwave risotto" mousepad being sold through the Sears website. I realize it's from some tiny outfit with an affiliate deal with Sears, but still, I have some questions: Does anyone actually love microwave risotto? If so, at what point does that person say to him/herself, "Hey, since I really like -- no, love! -- microwave risotto, perhaps I should get a mousepad that says so"?

Saturday, October 29, 2011

October snow

It was a cold rain coming down when I ventured out to the farmer's market in the morning, but this is what it looked like outside by late afternoon:



I remember when it snowed on October 1 my first year at Carleton. That was pretty early, even in Minnesota, but the end of October is really early in DC. While looking out the window at the snow, I saw a flurry of people coming outside to take pictures.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Miscellany

  • This Post article on Google Street View in the Amazon seems like a good real-life example of the now-you-can-talk-to-a-kid-in-Africa utopian visions from the early days of the internet in the 1990s.
  • An interesting NYT column on an initiative from Howard Schultz, the Starbucks CEO, to provide small business financing in $5 bites from consumers. I think there's the germ of a good idea here, but it also sounds kinda wacky.
  • Bad restaurant reviews are always more fun to read than good ones, and the latest Frank Bruni column in the Times is a doozy. He reviews a restaurant that appears to be a parody of itself, and wisely broadens the critique to the fetishistic tone that has crept into some corners of our increasing obsession with food.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Outer Banks


I spent a long weekend at the beach in the Outer Banks with Matt, Risa, Leslie, Andrew, and Frances. It was quite lovely -- food, games, and hanging out on the beach. Not quite as warm as during our stay there at this time last year, but we were still able to swim. Beach houses are cheap this time of year, and ours even had an outdoor hot tub.

Some pictures are on Flickr.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street protests are getting some news coverage. Some observers have been mocking, while others have been more sympathetic. Almost all, it seems, have noted the lack of a coherent message or achievable demands. Which is a sensible thing to mention, since the protest doesn't really have either of those things.

However, I'm not sure that calls for dismissing the sentiment entirely. The Tea Party, after all, was pretty scattershot, and many of the participants couldn't articulate what they were protesting or specific things they wanted. But by giving it a name, it has turned into what is generally seen as an influential political force, even if politicians and the movement itself are still trying to figure out what the Tea Party is and what they want.

Along with a name, the other important thing that the Tea Party provided was a unifying opponent: government. This new protest has Wall Street filling that role. Both visions are big oversimplifications, of course, but they're probably necessary. People approach issues from a lot of different perspectives. If you're trying to get a lot of people mobilized, it's difficult to get everyone to agree on exactly what they want, and much easier to rally people against a symbolic opponent with some emotional resonance. Mass political movements don't coalesce around detailed policy plans. (The estimable Nick Kristof suggests, in the Times column I linked to above, specific demands for the protesters to make, including "moving ahead with Basel III capital requirements and adopting the Volcker Rule." Such a stirring rallying cry!)

The muddled message of the Occupy Wall Street folks is as much an indicator of the complicated issues in play as it is an indicator of the protesters' naïveté. They know something's wrong, and that it has to do with money and greed, but they can't quite put their finger on the exact source the problem. (Or rather, they've put their fingers in many different places.) It's worth noting that experts generally agree that there's something wrong with our financial system, but also can't agree amongst themselves on the exact nature of the problem or what the solutions are. If your town floods, it's easy to get people to agree that the issue at hand is the water inundating buildings, and it's fairly easy to get folks to help fill sandbags now and chip in later on for a new levee to keep it from happening again. When it comes to the complex, interrelated forces of the world financial system, not so easy.*

In any case, the Occupy Wall Street movement may fizzle, but it's disingenuous to dismiss it as a bunch of confused kids. Like the Tea Party, it's a crude representation of feelings that are amorphous but nonetheless deeply-felt among a wide swath of the public. In fact, you could argue that both groups are arguing similar points from different angles, as this Times column from a month ago argued, despite predating the Wall Street protests. Both are resentful of elites who appear to lack accountability, and angry about economic challenges in a system which seems to be stacked in favor of large institutions that don't share the interests of the country as a whole. The two groups have very different opinions about the types of solutions that are needed, however, so it will be interesting if these become competing narratives in the run-up to the 2012 elections.


*Incidentally, NPR's Planet Money excels at making this complicated stuff understandable, and just last week they had a podcast episode that boiled down the changes in finance over the last few decades with a critique that made a lot of sense to me.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

John's new bike

World Bicycle Relief provides heavy-duty bicycles to people in the developing world, and my friend John participated in a WBR fundraiser this weekend. They had a raffle at the end, and much to his surprise, he won a bike! Not just any bike, but one of the custom-designed bikes that the organization distributes in the field.

The bike weighs 55 pounds. It has one gear. The tires are made of car-grade rubber, and say "Inflate Hard" on the side. The rear rack carries 200 pounds. There's a toolkit attached, in a case made of recycled car tire. This is one no-nonsense machine.

We tried it out this afternoon. It was pretty fun -- the handling is much different than anything I've tried before. It's big and hefty like the Capital Bikeshare bikes, but has an extremely long wheelbase and swept-back handle bars. Its one gear is actually pretty high, and I had to stand up and really mash on the pedals to make it to the top of the hill at the exit of the parking lot. I put a few pictures up on Flickr if you'd like to see.

(Incidentally, John doesn't think he can keep the bike because it barely fits in his apartment. He's thinking he'll "sell" it to someone who's willing to make a donation to WBR. If you're in the DC area and are interested, let me know.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> The XX - Intro
> The Decemberists - Calamity Song
> Les Savy Fav - Dear Crutches
> Raphael Saadiq - Stone Rollin'
> Mark Ronson - Bang Bang Bang
> Battles - Ice Cream

Some well-done videos in there. The Battles clip is a bit risqué, but also pretty awesome.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Glacier


Had a wonderful time in Glacier National Park last week -- it's a spectacular place. You can see some of its splendor in the pictures I took, though of course they never completely capture it.

Lisa, Stacey and I had a six-day backcountry itinerary mapped out, about 55 miles. The first day was up and over the Ptarmigan Wall (where we ate lunch in snow flurries), about 10 miles, camping at the foot of Lake Elizabeth. Our second day was another 10 miles around the Belly River, camping at the head of Glenns Lake. There was a big rainstorm that lasted all night and into the third day. In the morning we saw that what had been cold rain at our elevation was the first new snow of the season on the surrounding peaks, starting perhaps 1,000 feet above us. Meanwhile, Stacey's ankle had swelled quite a bit, and we decided it wouldn't be wise to press further into the backcountry. We doubled back to the Belly River ranger station on the third day. The rainstorm wrapped up at midday with a burst of big, wet snowflakes, just before the sun came out -- the weather felt compelled to match the drama of the landscape, it seemed. At the ranger station, we got directions on how to hike out to a highway and catch a shuttle, which we did the following day. (The ranger was great. He was already planning to pack out an injured hiker by horse the same day, and he volunteered to take some of Stacy's gear to avoid aggravating her ankle.) So in the end, we only spent four days in the backcountry, but Stacey's ankle didn't get any worse, so we were able to spend our remaining couple days doing some great day hikes elsewhere in the park.

Bears take up a lot of mental space in Glacier and I found the range of attitudes toward them interesting. Of the several locals I spoke with about our plans before we headed out (on the plane, at the hotel), bears were the first thing they mentioned, and they all more or less indicated that we had a high risk of being devoured by a grizzly. ("I wouldn't go anywhere in Montana without protection," said the guy on the plane.) However, none of them had traveled in the backcountry. In contrast, once on the trail, most people seemed less concerned about bears than us -- some didn't carry bear spray, and most didn't routinely make noise to alert bears of their presence as we did.* One couple that we shared a campground with apparently didn't even hang up their food overnight (eek!). In any case, we didn't encounter any bears during our time in the park.

A great trip. I definitely recommend Glacier if you have a chance to get to Montana. If you don't mind the colder nights, this is a great time of year to do it, with lovely daytime temperatures and fewer people.


*This is a recommended practice, as bears will typically leave an area if they know humans are approaching...the danger comes with surprising a bear or when they are attracted to you by food smells.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Montana

On my way to Glacier National Park for 6 days of backcountry backpacking.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Speedy coconut


On Sunday night, I purchased the above can of coconut milk at the grocery store here in Mt. Pleasant, and used it to make a curry stew. When opening it, I noticed that it said:

PRO: 09/05/2011
EXP: 09/05/2013


Presumably, this means that it was produced on September 5. I bought it on September 11. But it's a product of Thailand! Six days seems exceedingly fast for it to make it from the factory in Thailand to the distributor, to the grocer, to the shelf. I was perplexed, and left to wonder if perhaps their production stamp dates aren't totally accurate...

Monday, September 12, 2011

C&O Canal


Over Labor Day weekend, I biked the length of the C&O Canal Towpath -- Aron organized, and Dave, Colleen, John, and Becca also joined. In its day, the canal ran from Washington to Cumberland, MD, and the towpath is now a national park. It's about 185 miles long, and with our various detours and side trips, it was about 200 miles over four days -- not too intense, but with the rough and muddy surface, it still felt like an achievement. I'd done the whole towpath in the opposite direction on our way to Pittsburgh two years ago, but this was the first time I'd done the whole thing in the opposite direction. One highlight of the trip was that, unlike my previous C&O trips, we camped at two different places that gave us opportunity to swim in the Potomac, which feels great after a sweaty, muddy day of biking. I did the ride on my folding bike, which allowed me to bring it on the Amtrak to Cumberland as carry-on luggage, which is pretty cool.

I put a few pictures up on Flickr.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Food costs

During the month of August, I kept track of every food or drink expense that I incurred. (I used a Google Docs spreadsheet on my phone, which worked pretty well.) As part of my life goal of thoroughly over-analyzing everything, I present the following findings:
  • I spent $697.94 on food and drink in August. This is a couple hundred dollars more than I would have guessed -- many of these transactions are in cash, and thus easy to lose track of.
  • More than $200 of the total was during a three-day trip to New York early in the month. So, New York is expensive, and my budget estimate might have been fairly accurate otherwise.
  • Omitting purchases of alcohol, I divided my total costs for eating out by the number of meals it represented, and then divided my grocery costs by the number of remaining meals. Meals out cost an average of $15.19, while meals I made myself cost an average of $3.51. While meals in has a slightly unfair cost advantage because of the many breakfasts that were just a granola bar, banana, and tea, that's still a pretty big difference.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Obligatory hurricane post

Irene brought about 24 hours of bad weather, but nothing earth-shaking (unlike earlier in the week). I ventured out to a fundraiser in Kalorama last evening by bus, and it wasn't so bad. (It would have been much less pleasant without NexTime helping me arrive at the stop at the same time as the bus.) Later in the evening I was at a get-together a few blocks from home; they had both the front and back doors open, since both were covered by porches, and the wind sent the humid air whipping through the house. The short walk home felt a bit adventurous, but my umbrella didn't even turn inside-out. Skies cleared out at midday today, and it's now a very lovely evening.

My parents were more directly in the path of the storm in Connecticut, but this afternoon Dad assured me that "no trees fell on the house." They are without power, though. We were without it for about three days after Bob in 1991; hopefully it won't be quite that long this time.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Obligatory earthquake post

I was down in southern Maryland today for a meeting. My ride back had another meeting after lunch, so I set myself up on the patio of a nearby Starbucks for a few hours. After I'd been there for a while, it suddenly seemed there was something wrong with my chair. A glance down revealed no issues with the chair's soundness. "Oh, I think I'm having some sort of episode," I thought, as the wobbly sensation grew stronger. I looked around to see who might be able to assist if I were to pass out, but saw the two women nearby were also looking around with agitated expressions on their faces. Then I noticed the plate glass windows wobbling, and confirmed this sensation was not just me. The shaking stopped about two seconds after my brain concluded, "Earthquake, holy cow!"

Until I got more info, I was a bit worried that it might have been a much stronger quake elsewhere. But once I found out that it wasn't too big a deal overall, I realized that I had sort of liked it. Mostly out of novelty, I think, but I also appreciated that, like a major snowstorm, it injected itself (annoyingly, but mostly benignly) simultaneously into our daily routines, momentarily making everyone think about the same thing. (I talked about it for a few minutes with the other people on the patio, and we exchanged information as we were able to coax it out of our cellphones.) However, talking to my coworkers after getting back to DC, I gather that they were not amused. The shaking was scarier and more obvious inside a large building, and when in downtown DC, the list in your head of potential explanations for sudden shaking does not start with "something's wrong with my chair." On the upside, the quake was a very insistent reminder to be prepared for a real-deal disaster, major quake or otherwise.

In any case, I got home and could only spot three things out of place: teacups came unstacked, an insulated mug tipped over, and my coriander fell onto the stove from a ledge on the counter. Not exactly total devastation.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

"No more smiles"

This is a pretty amazing reminder of the speed of change in the Arab world in the last year.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How cleaver!

From the spellcheck-can't-help-you-here department:


Sure, you can get a cleaver for about $3. And it could reduce facial wrinkles. But it would also reduce your face.

As seen on the Washington Post website. Which, ironically enough, is also the place where I read last month about how the scam (you knew there was a scam) behind these ads works. Sort of pathetic that they're still running them.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Searchers

I was looking at the blog's web stats for the past year, which include search terms that have landed people here.

The most common was my name. And in line with my goal of being a doughnut expert, "best doughnuts in NYC," "doughnut quest," "best donuts in NYC," and a number of other doughnut-related queries also appeared high on the list.

Digging a bit further down, other people arrived at my blog looking for things that I was not as well-positioned to help them with:
  • what is that smell mic cable
  • how do you tell people you've already sent invitations to, that it was going to be a potluck
  • ironing sneakers
  • nude photos vacation croatia
  • chicken gizzards in dc area
  • sample letter-complaint letter-food lying on the floor in offices

I'm especially fond of that last one. I really hate how there's food lying on the floor in our offices. Do you think someone else has already written a letter about this that I can copy? Otherwise, I don't think I'll be able to properly convey the particulars of this situation.

Monday, August 15, 2011

All the wrong exports

The consistently excellent Planet Money reports on how North Korea raises cash for itself. A good read overall (illegal drug smuggling!), but I found this particular aside interesting:

And North Korea has one more legal export: monuments. It turns out that giant, ugly statues are one of the few exports of North Korea.

There's a whole division of the North Korean government that specializes in building those statues for dictators around the world, according to Curtis Melvin, an econ grad student who runs the blog North Korea Economy Watch.

"You can go as far back as the 1970s to find monuments the North Koreans have built in Africa and that's sort of continued to this day," he says.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bike tires

After having trouble with flats, I first put a pair of Specialized Armadillo kevlar-lined tires on my bike in December 2008. They worked well -- I only got one flat while they were on my bike -- but after about 18 months, they started getting bald patches where the tread separated from the kevlar lining.

I got another pair of Armadillos in May 2010, and I've only had one flat since then. But earlier this week I heard a thwap-thwap-thwap on my ride home. Turned out the tread had started peel off:

And that's after only about 15 months this time. While I would estimate that I put on about 3,000 to 4,000 miles per year, that still seems like an unacceptably short life for a bike tire. So I've replaced my rear tire with a 700x32 Michelin City. I'll let you know how it works out.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Joanna Newsom - Cosmia
> Pearl Jam - In My Tree
> Radiohead - Backdrifts (Honeymoon Is Over)
> Soul Coughing - Houston
> My Bloody Valentine - Slow
> Crooked Fingers - Give and Be Taken
> Bright Eyes - Old Soul Song (For the New World Order)

Sunday, August 07, 2011

NYC

I went to New York to visit Alex and Alissa once more before they move to Chicago at the end of the month. It was quite nice, as usual.


Getting drinks at sunset on the roof of the Metropolitan Museum of Art is highly recommended on evenings when the weather is nice -- a very dramatic place to watch the sunset.

As always, I went to Doughnut Plant (coconut cream and blueberry cake). But one food highlight that I ought to mention is the Mile End Delicatessen, a tiny place in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn where we went for dinner. It was hands-down the best pastrami sandwich I've ever had, and is in the running for best sandwich of the year.

I put a few photos up on Flickr.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Perspective Project

Here's the video that Brad, Jess, Saskia, and I made for the DCLL Sound Scene:

The Perspective Project from Brad Horn on Vimeo.


Thanks very much to, among others, Rock Creek Rowing for letting my groggy self hang around their practice with AV equipment.

(Looks much better in the larger version.)

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sound Scene

Last night was the DC Listening Lounge's Sound Scene 2011: Natural Selections show. It was a success!


We moved up to a bigger venue this year (the Goethe-Institut in Chinatown) and got mentions in the weekend calendar sections of the Post and some local blogs. As in past years, there were audio pieces, live music, and interactive installations. It was great to see the whole thing come together after working on it since March.

This year we also had a few video pieces (with an emphasis on audio). I collaborated on one with Brad, Saskia, and Jess. I'll post a link once it's uploaded to Vimeo. Meanwhile, I posted a few pictures on Flickr.

(Local illustrator Elizabeth Graeber did the poster.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Eat your broccoli

Packaged food manufacturers are feeling some heat from attention in recent years to the health impact of their products. I've been seeing a series of ads lately from Mars, the major chocolate maker, that address these concerns head-on. Here's one:

After a moment, the text changes to "It makes an occasional treat taste even better."

Do you think these ads might be designed to fail? I realize it's supposed to be a little bit cheeky, but I think Mars knows quite well that suggesting that people eat more broccoli instead of chocolate is most likely to make people think of how much they'd like some chocolate.

It's also possible that they are designed to fail in a second, more subtle way. "Eat more broccoli" is a crude form of the message that's been coming from public health advocates, and it sounds lecturing. By telling people to eat their broccoli (even somewhat jokingly), it helps remind people how much they hate being told what to eat. It seems quite likely to me that this particular presentation is calculated to make policymakers feel like they'll be perceived as lecturing if they impose nutrition/labeling/etc. standards on the industry. I think I've only seen these ads in the Washington Post, and it would only heighten my suspicion if they aren't appearing elsewhere.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Bikes vs. cars

Jet Blue offered an LA-to-Burbank flight during "Carmageddon" this past weekend. Tom Vanderbilt (of Traffic fame) off-handedly tweeted that someone ought to race the flight on their bike. Some folks actually did that, and the bikes won!

As he explains in his column, the comparison is a bit contrived, but it does help make a point about the feasibility of bicycles for transportation, even in a place that isn't built with them in mind. (Here in DC, biking gets me to work about 5 minutes faster than driving, and about 10 minutes faster than transit. Comparison with jet not immediately available.)

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Juan Valdez

If I had known the real Juan Valdez was appearing at the Colombia portion of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, I would have made a point to get down there. (The bit about the Juan Valdez succession process is kind of interesting.)

Monday, July 04, 2011

Eastern Shore



I went to the Eastern Shore yesterday with Aron, Alex, John, and Mike. We all squeezed into Mike's car (he being the only one among us to own one) and took a nice loop ride, starting from Easton.

Aron had his iPhone mounted on his handlebars, equipped with an app that tracks routes via GPS. Previously, if feeling ambitious, I might have mapped out a bike trip after the fact, but this nifty program allowed him to simply email us the route. It even includes information on our average speed for each mile of the trip, if you're nosy.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Lyrics Born - Callin' Out
> Modest Mouse - Fire It Up
> Dosh - Everybody Cheer Up Song
> Beatles - Hello Goodbye
> Blackalicious - Shallow Days
> Outkast - Synthesizer
> Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

I think that video for "Helplessness Blues" is unofficial, but it's well done.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Staples

Today at work, I went to staple something and found that there were no staples left. I rummaged through my desk drawer and found the box of staples I was issued upon starting my job. As I pulled a row of staples out of the tightly packed box, I had the same thought I'd had the last time I refilled my stapler: It's going to take me a really long time to go through these staples.

Then, I went to the next logical step that I hadn't pursued last time: Can I estimate how long that will be? Turns out I had all the necessary information at hand.

Today I took the fourth row of staples from the box, meaning I've used three so far.

There are 210 staples in each row, for a total of 630 used.

I've been at my job for almost exactly four years now, so my average staple use per year is 157.5.

There were 5,000 staples in the box, leaving 4,370 there now.

If my staple usage continues at the rate of the last four years, it will take me about 27 years and 9 months to use my remaining staples.

I guess I'll go ahead and submit retirement paperwork for March 29, 2039.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Small Worlds, Part IX

My friend Mike is in a band, and my friend Jocelyn is in a band. Last week, Mike emailed me to say he had met Jocelyn at a concert, and ask if I wanted to go to see a show they've got coming up. He was unaware that I already knew her...funny, but not that big of a coincidence, given that he saw I "like" the band on Facebook.

Later, however, Mike was telling a friend about this coincidence while they were having dinner, and at the very moment he was talking about it, I rode by the restaurant on my bike.

(This is part of a subgenre of coincidences where the telling of the story yields another coincidence.)

Friday, June 17, 2011

Doughnut Plant in DC


You may recall that Doughnut Plant was the overall winner of our Doughnut Quest 2010, sweeping the top three positions. I make a point of going there every time I'm in New York -- in fact, I've been going there for almost 10 years now. I think the area around their Lower East Side location may be the neighborhood I'm most familiar with outside a city I've actually lived in.

Now, Jess S. tipped me off to some earth-shaking news: Doughnut Plant owner Mark Israel plans to open a DC location. I guess maybe I'll gain some weight?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

California

I went to California for a long weekend to visit my brother. It was quite nice -- got to walk around the Marin Headlands (where he's living now), camp on the beach with him and his girlfriend Molly near Santa Cruz, and spend some time in San Francisco as well. I posted a few pictures on Flickr.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Who's Gonna Ride Your Wild Hamsters?

Not to make light of the ecological issues involved, but I was drawn to this article on the Great Hamster of Alsace by the phrase "wild hamsters," which is highly amusing to anyone whose only experience is with their wheel-running relatives.

Clearly the reporter had the same American childhood associations, given the opening line of the article: "France was punished on Thursday for not taking proper care of its hamsters."

Har har har.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> TV on the Radio - Second Song
> Yeah Yeah Yeahs - Zero
> US3 - Tukka Yoot's Riddim
> Free Energy - Free Energy
> Grizzly Bear - Two Weeks
> Beck - E-Pro
> Caribou - After Hours

Bonus PSA at the beginning of that US3 video.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Giving the labor market too much credit

A recent article in the Washington Post covered a new report from Georgetown University that looks at average annual earnings by college major. This was made possible by the fact that the Census has just started asking people with bachelor's degrees about their major. The data showed that those who majored in sciences earned substantially more, on average, than humanities majors.
The individual major with the highest median earnings was petroleum engineering, at $120,000, followed by pharmaceutical sciences at $105,000, and math and computer sciences at $98,000. The lowest earnings median was for those majoring in counseling or psychology, at $29,000, and early childhood education, at $36,000.
...

"I don’t want to slight Shakespeare,” said Anthony Carnevale, one of the report’s authors. “But this study slights Shakespeare.”

That Shakespeare jibe irked me a bit, but I was much more dismayed when I got to the kicker quote at the end of the article:
“The engineering major makes more money because he or she is more productive. In the end, the market is very discriminating,” Carnevale said.

Ugh. Productive in the strict economic sense, perhaps, but let's not confuse market value with actual value. I've no doubt the market reflects value in some useful ways -- for instance, the need for people with computer science training is very strong, which is probably a big part of the high median earnings of those in that major. But do we really think that earnings are a good reflection of the value of the work people do? It's convenient to think so if you have an above-average salary, but the link is tenuous.

Petroleum engineers make more than three times the salary of those in early childhood education. But I would submit that their earnings are so high because their work is related to the extraction of a commodity with a well-defined market value. The market for early childhood education, by contrast, is nonexistent. Child futures are not traded on the stock exchange, and the "market" determining how much early childhood educators are paid is a mishmash of government programs and affluent parents paying for Montessori preschool. The impact of their work is huge, and long-term, but it is not reflected in their pay in any meaningful way.

Or, to take an example from within a single field, lots of research has shown that primary care doctors are the most important players in ensuring that patients gets high-quality and economically efficient health care. But there's a shortage of primary care docs, in no small part because they get paid less than most specialists. (E.g. this site says that general practitioners report an average income of $118,000, while plastic surgeons report an average income of $203,000.)

My point is, there are lots of things that can make your work valuable, both in an economic and social sense, but only a small portion of them are reflected in the labor market. When it comes to picking a college major, future earning potential is something to consider, but don't mistake it for a proxy for the usefulness of your chosen field. The market is not equipped to determine that. But with a well-rounded education (maybe including some Shakespeare), you are!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Becky and Andrew


I spent a great long weekend in Minneapolis. Went to a Twins game on Friday, and was cold! (Not so much now that I'm back in DC.) Also got to bike around the city, and try a few local pastries with Doug.

But the purpose of the visit was to see Becky and Andrew get married, which was lovely. I posted some pictures on Flickr.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

It's a sign

I was briefly in New York the weekend before last, and saw this cleverly edited sign in a subway station.



(I was reminded of this by the construction sign I passed on the way home today, which had been altered to read "EEL PLATES AHEAD.")

Friday, May 06, 2011

Mission critical carpet

Being a new homeowner, I found myself in Home Depot a couple weeks ago. Walking through the floor coverings department, a carpet sample panel caught my eye. Not because of the carpet itself, but the name of the style:

Mission Critical Visionary? What? That's a strange name for carpet, even stranger because the display made it clear that this line of carpet is for homes, not offices.

I flipped through the rest of the panels of samples, showing the different styles, and every single name was straight from corporate-speak. There was "Corner Office," "Value Added Self Starter" (all the necessary hyphens were missing), "Chairman," and -- I kid you not -- "Ground Breaking Due Diligence."

How on earth did someone decide these would be good names for home carpet styles? This is difficult for me to fathom. (I did not note the manufacturer, and Googling some of these names and "carpet" didn't turn up anything....)

Monday, May 02, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> TV on the Radio - Will Do
> Gorillaz - Kids with Guns (Hot Chip Remix)
> Wilco - Handshake Drugs
> Yuck - Get Away
> Brian Eno - Here Come the Warm Jets
> The Knife - Heartbeats
> Bellflur - Grey Sparkle Finnish Pig[mp3]

Really loving that new TV on the Radio track, which is imbued with extra poignancy because their bassist died of cancer a couple weeks ago.

Bellflur is a local band that opened for Low when I saw them last week. Was really impressed with their performance and bought an album after the show. So far, I think it loses something in the recorded version...there are lots of instruments, and the mix sounds too busy to me, while the live version didn't. But I still like it a lot, including the free mp3 linked above.

Going to see Yuck and Tame Impala on Friday. (And Les Savy Fav on Saturday.)

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Back of the napkin: Ella's

Jesse was in town this past week (escaping the royal wedding), and fortunately he had a chance to meet up while he was here. We went to Ella's, and it reminded me of my plan, hatched on a previous trip to the same pizzeria, to leave behind cryptic napkin scribbles at restaurant tables. So we made one:

Jesse tried to come up with a timeline-oriented action plan to implement the policy framework, but was unsuccessful.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Verizon and me

I've been slow with the blog posting for the last month or so. This is partly because I've been busy with moving-related stuff, but also because I was without internet for the first few weeks in my new place. While I think complaining is generally a poor use of a blog, this was very frustrating, so please permit me to rant for a moment:

I called Verizon (which is the local phone company in DC) to switch my DSL service from my prior address to my new place. Once I identified my new address, the call went something like this:

Verizon: Sir, I'm afraid service is not available at that address.

Teague: Really? Can you double-check the address? I know it's available there, other people in the building have Verizon DSL.

V: There may be wiring in the building, but there is no more service available.

T: No more available?

V: That's right, I'm sorry. No more capacity. But I can email one of our engineers and see if they can do something. They can't always, but sometimes they can free something up.

T: Uh, okay. Sure.

V: It might take them a couple hours to get back to me.


I then checked the other regional DSL provider; they don't serve my neighborhood. And I confirmed that because my building is wired for satellite TV, Comcast is not an option. So it was Verizon or nothing. After not hearing back from them all day, I called again:

Different Verizon rep: I don't see any record of your previous call in the system. But yes, service is not available at your address.

T: But the rep I talked to earlier said she was going to check with the engineers. Can you check on that?

V: Sir, there aren't any engineers we can talk to.

T: Well, she said she was going to check with the engineers. I'd definitely like to see if there's a workaround, because I really want to have internet at home.

V: Sir, I hate to say somebody was lying to you, but there aren't any engineers. We don't have any way to talk to any engineers, they're a separate unit. Maybe that person was just telling you that to finish up the call.

T: Uh, okay. I don't have access to RCN or Comcast, so Verizon is my only option. You're telling me there's no way I can get internet?

V: Sir, it's like a parking lot -- all the spaces are full. There's nothing I can do. You could check back in a few months to see if a space has opened up. But to be honest, Verizon is putting most of its resources into expanding its FiOS network, so you'd be more likely to get FiOS than have a regular DSL spot open up.

T: When might we get FiOS?

V: Oh, well, I can't really provide any predictions about that. If you want internet access now, you could sign up for a home phone line with dial-up or Verizon's 3G mobile internet.

T: Neither of those sound very good to me.

V: Well, is there anything else I can help you with today?

T: I'd like to get internet.

V: Well, I'm sorry sir, there's not anything I can do. Have a good day, and thanks for choosing Verizon.


Anyway, I've now worked out a WiFi sharing arrangement with a neighbor. But it seems ridiculous that Verizon would be unable to offer DSL service in a well-established neighborhood in the heart of Washington.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Settling in



Here's the view from my new apartment -- this window is in my bedroom, next to my desk. You're looking south toward the center of Mount Pleasant, which is just beyond the larger apartment buildings.

I've been here for almost a month now, and really like the new place so far. Still have a list of things to do before I'll feel completely settled in, but it does feel like home.

Meanwhile, I went to visit Matt and Risa in Greensboro a couple weekends ago, which was lovely. While spring was still tentative in DC at that point, it had definitely sprung there. But we've caught up, and today felt quite summery in DC -- I took a weekend bike trip to Harpers Ferry, WV with some friends from work, and I got quite sweaty on the ride back to DC today, with temps in the 80s. (The local snakes were enthused with the warm weather...seems like we stopped every few miles to look at one sunning itself on the C&O towpath.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Home haiku

I formally became the owner of a condo today, which is very exciting and slightly scary. It's in Mount Pleasant, only a few blocks from where I've been living. I love the neighborhood, which is quiet and leafy, but also near all the urban amenities. I move on Thursday, and will probably post a couple pictures at a later date.

Because I realized that I would not be able to smash a bottle of champagne across the bow of my apartment and roll it off the dry dock into the water, I gave some thought yesterday to a proper ceremonial christening of my new place. I decided to move my Magnetic Poetry kit into the apartment first thing after getting the keys and compose a poem in recognition of the occasion. I mentioned this plan to three different people, and two of the three said "Ooh, ooh, a haiku?" -- which I wasn't specifically planning on for the format, but it seemed a good fit:

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Moving Miscellany

Sigh -- I hate moving. Every time, my reaction is "How could I possibly have so much junk?" And now, I'm moving to a much smaller place with very little in the way of storage, so it's forcing me to think a bit more carefully about what I actually need. I've already donated/recycled/thrown out several hundred pounds of stuff, and this weekend I've been juggling Craigslist buyers for some of the bulkier things, like the futon in the basement. As for moving the things that I'm holding onto, a big step for me: I've hired movers because I ended up having to move on Thursday, and am loathe to cajole friends to show up for uncompensated manual labor after work. At least this way, none of my friends will end up being crushed by the sleeper sofa while trying to heft it up to my third-floor apartment.

Craigslist is always an adventure. A lady who bought my chair and ottoman said that she recently sold something on Craigslist for $500 and the buyer tried to pay her with $500 of Starbucks gift cards. And some of my email interactions with potential buyers make me despair for the state of written communication. Missives along the lines of "im looking 4 futon how is it would you take $40" not only make it hard for me to take you seriously, but can also make it legitimately difficult to figure out what you are trying to say.

Also, a squirrel ran into the back yard this afternoon carrying an entire doughnut in his mouth. Perhaps he snuck into the post-worship coffee hour at the church up the block. He lugged the doughnut with him up onto the top of my (soon-to-be-disposed-of) car -- I think he was looking for a safe place to stash it.

Oh, and that reminds me of a squirrel I saw outside work last week: He found a discarded paper napkin, which apparently smelled enough like food that he wanted to take it with him. He proceeded to stuff as much of it as he could into both cheeks, but it didn't all fit. There was a big bulge of white napkin hanging out below his mouth, and as he ran away he looked like a squirrel wearing a fake Santa Claus beard. (I tried to get a picture, but failed.)

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Doughnut authority

After fellow-Doughnut-Quester Alex sent a report on his visit to the Brindle Room (verdict: very good), I tried Googling "best doughnuts in NYC." Doughnut Plant was first on the list of search results, as it should be. But I noted with satisfaction that our Doughnut Quest 2010 report was the 10th search result! Yep, looks like we're noted authorities on doughnuts.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Pink and blue

I was in Target this evening, and found myself in the pharmacy section, looking at earplugs. (I don't need earplugs, so why this happened isn't clear.) These two packages were on the shelf:

I saw the bright pink package and asked myself, "What makes a set of earplugs specific to women?"

"Probably the fact that they're pink," answered a cynical part of my brain. And then I noticed the package to the right, which looks pretty much identical, but they offer "XTREME" protection and have a somewhat macho name. And they're blue.

A glance at the back of the package makes it clear that they're made by the same company, and are almost certainly the exact same product in different colors. The kicker, of course, is that the women's version is $4.19, while the male version is $3.79.

(This isn't quite as egregious as another pair of gender-specific Target products that I noted on Facebook a while back, the boy and girl cookie molds seen below. Note that where the boy has a "#1" trophy, the girl has a handbag. Sigh.)

Thursday, March 10, 2011

She blinded me with...

This new set of cookbooks, Modernist Cuisine, seems to have a number of very useful reference materials, but they're inconveniently trapped within what appears to be several tomes' worth of a very strange ideological framework.
A not atypical recipe step reads “Cavitate in an ultrasonic cleaning bath for 30 minutes."

Monday, March 07, 2011

Parts


A package of chicken gizzards and hearts (well, okay, mostly gizzards) was abandoned on a random shelf in Giant, away from the meat section. Perhaps the potential buyer was disheartened when s/he noticed the disclaimer about gizzards?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Around DC


While syncing my phone for a long-overdue software update, I uploaded a few pictures I've taken with it around town over the last few months.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Talking Heads - I'm Not in Love
> LCD Soundsystem - I Can Change
> Crystal Castles - Vanished
> Uncle Tupelo - Graveyard Shift (and here's them performing the song on local TV in 1989)
> Con Brio - Gibberish
> Arcade Fire - We Used to Wait

Check out that video for "We Used to Wait," it's a video capture from an interactive site the band set up, thewildernessdowntown.com. And if your computer is relatively zippy, go try out the site yourself -- it uses Google imagery to make a custom music video for you based on the address at which you grew up. Very cool.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Dance Yrself Clean

Here's a video for LCD Soundsystem's "Dance Yrself Clean" featuring Muppets giving a rooftop performance. It's very well-executed for a non-professional Muppets production.


(If you're not familiar with the song, it doesn't kick up a notch until around the 3 minute mark.)

Friday, February 25, 2011

Seedy

Hey, long time no blog. I've been busy (see previous post).

I saw this amusingly-written NY Times article on growing plants from seeds found in the kitchen, i.e. those that come in your produce or spices. In discussing the hardiness of some types of seeds, an anecdote is cited: "In 1940 when the Natural History Museum in London was bombed and the fire brigade played their hoses upon the ashes, seeds of the legume Albizia cheerfully woke up and germinated on the herbarium sheet where they had been placed in 1793." In addition to that being a cool story on its own, I really love the personification of the legume. The image of these seed-Van-Winkles being oblivious to the fact that they're in a busted display case in a war zone (and sprouting happily) is funny and sort of touching.

And, did Mercedes-Benz really use that Janis Joplin song in their Super Bowl ad? I can deal with an Iggie Pop song about heroin being used to promote Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, but licensing a song for the exact inverse of its intent seems like it's crossing some sort of shamelessness rubicon.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Real estate prose

I'm going to have to move out of my place within the next couple months because my landlord is selling the house. This is a major bummer for a number of reasons, including the fact that I really like the house and my roommates. For the moment, I'd like to highlight one particular reason this isn't much fun: wading through real estate listings. Specifically, the writing in real estate blurbs is absolutely insufferable.

Sometimes, it's just clunky:
"Secure accommodations where you will reside in proximity to some of our nation’s leaders."

Other times, it tends toward weird and/or carelessly written:
"Crispy hardwood floors!"

But the most popular approach, I'd have to say, is empty buzzword hyperbole:
"...this luxurious downtown Washington DC apartment building puts you at the nexus of District culture and commerce. This Southeast DC apartment building marks a new tier of luxury living in the heart of the nation's capitol. Make your home in Capitol Hill apartments in sophistication and downtown luxury!"

You know, I hear that last building is luxurious. But for all that luxury, they couldn't even decide what to call the neighborhood it's in -- three sentences, three different names. And of those three names (downtown, southeast DC, Capitol Hill), only one is a plausible name for the area where the building is.

The problem is that useful bits of information ("garden-level!") are often strewn amid the wreckage of this prose, meaning that you have to at least skim through countless repetitions of variations on these themes. Wish me luck!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

> Johnny Flynn - Kentucky Pill
> Fran Healy (w/Neko Case) - Sing Me to Sleep
> Yeasayer - 2080
> Communist Daughter - Not the Kid
> Jack Peñate - Pull My Heart Away
> Death Cab for Cutie - Crooked Teeth

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Snow jam

Yesterday I mentioned the big wallop of snow we got during last evening's rush hour, and how bad 16th Street looked by my house. According to the Post, it was even worse than it looked -- many were stuck for hours. (The article quotes someone who spent 5 hours traversing 6 miles of 16th St.)

At the risk of being a bit too smug, I'll note that my Metro trip home took the normal amount of time (though I'd rather have been biking), and after making dinner, I saw the traffic on 16th as I was walking a few blocks to a friend's place for tea and board games.

Metro car redesign

Holy moly, what a flash blizzard this evening -- from drizzle to furious snow to thundersnow to clear skies between 3:30 pm and 11:00 pm. With the rapid, wet snow, 16th St. near my house was almost literally stopped for several hours tonight. Glad I don't depend on a car to get home (and would like to avoid ever having to do that).

Anyway, speaking of transit, Metro is apparently soliciting public input on the interior layout of the new railcars that will soon be on the way. The Post has a public forum where folks can submit ideas. Some may not be entirely serious:
I would remove the doors, seats and air conditioning from the 1000 series cars, and give riders a credit for riding in these cars. they would be uncomfortable but cheap to maintain, and the swiping of their Farecard would operate as a release of liability."

(The 1000 series are the first cars purchased by Metro for its opening in the 70s; the NTSB has told Metro that they need to take them out of service because when there's an accident, they collapse into each other like the telescoping legs of a tripod.)

But a couple of very obvious themes show up in the comments, which Metro should be able to act on:

1) Perhaps a quarter of the comments ask for lower handholds that people of below-average height can use. Most of the current ones are at the top of the car, and this like it should be fairly easy to accommodate.

2) More than half of the suggestions are for changing the seat arrangement to benches along the walls of the car, instead of the commuter-train-style two-abreast. I wholeheartedly support this suggestion -- as many commenters point out, almost every other subway system does it this way. It's really a no-brainer, since the number of seats is almost the same, but standing room is greatly increased. Getting on a Metro train at rush hour is more difficult than it needs to be, because there's barely room for two people to get by each other in the aisle between the seats. Not only does this clog things up as people try to get in and out of the seats and aisles, but it leads people to linger by the doors because they don't want to deal with it, further gumming up the flow.

The only reason Metro hasn't opted for bench seats in their proposed layout is that they know there's a small but vocal group of people who ride from far suburban stops and view the Metro more like a commuter train than a subway. While this is somewhat understandable, it's just not workable at current ridership numbers. Perhaps Metro is hoping that by soliciting input, they'll be able to show a groundswell of support for bench seats, instead of making the proposal themselves and defending it against the likely onslaught of complaints...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to use a mouse

The Times has posted a timeline of Steve Jobs' reign at Apple, as part of their coverage of his leave of absence. It has a link to their original review of the first Macintosh. Being the first mainstream computer to use a mouse, the January 24, 1984 column contains the following passage:
You find either a word or an icon or pictogram on the screen representing what you want the computer to do, then slide the mouse on your desk to move the cursor into position over that screen object, then press the button on the mouse to activate that particular part of the program."

Sounds kind of difficult.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Opossum



German can be kind of funny to begin with, but is definitely pretty awesome when paired with a cross-eyed opossum.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Potluck best practices

In early December I began what I'm calling my Potluck Initiative.* I realized that I always enjoy having people over for dinner, but I didn't get around to doing it often enough -- so I'm now having folks over every Thursday night. Somehow, giving it a name and a day of the week allowed me to do an end-run around my procrastination by changing the question from "Should I have people over for dinner?" to "Who should I have over for dinner next Thursday?"

I think it's worth devoting one night a week to the Potluck Initiative because it's one of my favorite social formats. If you have people over for a big party, it takes some doing, and you might not get the chance to talk to each of the guests for very long. Going out to eat is easy, but gets expensive fast, and you start to get anxious glances from the waitstaff if you linger for much more than an hour. Bars can be fun, but they're often loud and aren't cheap, either. Throwing a potluck is easy, cheap, and the dinner table naturally lends itself to leisurely conversation.

I've had five potlucks so far, and it's been a lot of fun. Each week I invite people I know from different settings -- college, grad school, work, DC Listening Lounge, etc. -- who don't know each other. This helps keep the conversation from falling into familiar ruts and gives everybody a chance to meet new people. Having everyone around a table avoids some potential pitfalls of trying to mix groups of friends.

You probably also enjoy having people over for dinner, and don't get around to doing it enough. Well, you should start a Potluck Initiative -- I'll let you set up your own franchise for a low fee. So far, I've established the following best practices for hosting a potluck:
  • Invite 4 or 5 people. Three guests is the minimum, both in terms of conversation and food. Once you hit six or more guests, however, the table is likely to split into sub-conversations and there'll be more dishes than you need. Four or five guests is just right. (Also, my table doesn't seat more than 6 people.)
  • Ensure people know no more than one other guest. Assuming you'd also like to mix it up in terms of groups of friends, it's okay to have two people who already know each other, but if you have more than that, it can get the conversation onto parochial topics that leave others idly pushing the food around on their plates.
  • Invite people about a week ahead of time. A potluck isn't the kind of thing you plan far in advance, so a week out seems about right, and still allows enough time to find other guests if folks are busy.
  • Send a confirmation email a day in advance. This ensures that everyone knows what they're bringing. But it also means that everyone has each others' email addresses, so they can send subsequent emails like "Good to meet you last night, here's that adorable slow loris video I was talking about."
  • Find easy recipes. As the host, I always make the main dish, but you don't need to make something fancy, and using recipe you're familiar with keeps it low-stress. I rely on lasagna, mac & cheese casserole, soups, and a couple other dishes.
  • Assign dishes ahead of time. Don't leave the variety of food to chance, figure out who's planning to bring what, and if anyone is vegetarian/vegan/etc. I generally present the options as side dish, salad, bread, and wine. Bread and wine are good for singles and people coming straight from work, while salad and sides are better for couples. I try to figure out what I'm making ahead of time so that the guests can coordinate (e.g. find the right wine pairing for mac & cheese).
  • Keep a spreadsheet. No, seriously, I actually do this. It's got a list of people I'd like to invite, as well as records of past potlucks. I can see if we had lasagna last time someone came, or calculate that the average time of adjournment has been 11:36 PM.

I'll provide updates to these best practices later, as I hone them through subsequent iterations. Meanwhile, I think we all recognize that you can't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, so let me know how your Potluck Initiative goes!


* In my head, this is a nod to the mumblecore film Funny Ha Ha. In one scene, the rudderless main character makes a to-do list that includes "Fitness Initiative!" as one of the items.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Snow in CT


What is that? It's the top of a submerged trash can at my parents' house in Connecticut. They got a whole bunch of snow in the most recent storm, which can be seen in the pictures Dad put on Flickr, if you're so inclined.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Half mast

Flags around the Washington Monument at half mast this past weekend.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Songs of the Moment (An Occasional Feature)

After a week of listening to The Current at work, I'm particularly enthused about this batch of (mostly new to me) music.

> Fitz and the Tantrums - Moneygrabber
> Wye Oak - Civilian
> Warpaint - Undertow
> Adele - Rolling in the Deep
> LCD Soundsystem - All I Want
> Superchunk - Digging for Something
> The Decemberists - 16 Military Wives

I particularly love the video treatment for "Moneygrabber."

Christmas


It blizzarded ferociously while I was in Connecticut for Christmas. Davin suggested that he and I walk up to the bluff in the middle of it. It certainly took some effort, but it was fun -- the wind was blowing 40 or 50 mph when he took this picture of me. (It was taken at the overlook, but of course we couldn't see anything whatsoever.)

Had a nice Christmas visiting with the family. I posted a few pictures on Flickr.