Three paths to bacon

Mmm, bacon.

The excitement of the week is that Trader Joe’s opened a new location by Alewife. I went over today to check it out and it was pretty exciting. All the employees were friendly and seemed to genuinely enjoy discovering new TJs products that they weren’t aware of. Of course the Trader Joe’s Song was running through my head the whole time…

I picked up some natural organic granola hormone-free pet-safe carbon-neutral bacon, and decided to follow the directions on the packaging exactly. Unfortunately, there were three sets of directions: microwave, broiler, and pan fry. So I did all three, and compared the results.

Continue reading “Three paths to bacon”

Currentlies for October

Haven’t written much here in a while. Been busy during the week with work and on the weekends out exploring. There are many pictures to be posted, soon as I get to that. On Saturday Meghan and I checked out Halibut Point State Park in Rockport, which was an interesting old quarry that we could walk around. It was unseasonably cold, a precursor to yesterday’s snow — SNOW! Last weekend was Harvard Square’s annual Oktoberfest fair, with a bunch of crazy lefty-hippie bands marching a “honk” parade. The week before we saw the 1,500 lb. prize pumpkin and other fun things at the Topsfield Fair. Had a great chili cheese dog at the B’nei Brith booth. Go figure.

Going all the way back into September (man, how did I get this behind?), there was a fun excursion to a cabin in the woods of Vermont that deserves an entry of its own. Along with that, a trip to the Tunbridge World’s Fair which included some really neat historic components, including old farm equipment, a blacksmithing demonstration, a one room schoolhouse, and hundred year old steam and gas-powered engines.

We also spent a long weekend in Baltimore, spur of the moment, because JetBlue was offering super-cheap fares. We explored the Inner Harbor, went to a book fair, hung out with a couple of Meghan’s friends, saw a dolphin show, and climbed through a submarine. Pretty cool. (You may ask, “where are the pictures?” A fair question. Soon.)

Otherwise, not much to report. I’m behind in my Ruby class, behind on my reading, and behind on my chores. Igor is away from the next few weeks, a good opportunity to caulk the tub and do other household maintenance, so I should do those things. Soon enough it is off to Cleveland to explore and see one of the final Springsteen shows of his tour. This whole frequent travel thing is starting to become a trend, between trips to Israel (still haven’t finished blogging!), Ireland (never blogged, never posted pictures!), and less glamorous but just as fun destinations like Vermont, New Jersey, and New Hampshire. The number of US states I’ve visited has probably doubled in the past year, and I don’t plan to stop. As winter approaches, skiing trips might start to dominate. Just as soon as I go out and buy a set of skis!

When future historians examine the downfall of western society, this example of our stupidity might “bubble” to the top

Summit Spring’s new “Raw Water”:

Pullen said the water is nutrient rich, “living” spring water, with essential minerals and gravity fed straight into a clear glass one liter bottle. The glass bottle is placed immediately into a recycled-content brown paper bag lined with wax, to protect it from sunlight’s corruption and spoiling, further preserving the taste and clarity of the water inside.


We last checked in as spring approached, but my mood was decidedly winter. Now summer is in full swing, and, much as I detest the Boston humidity, I’m certainly in a summer state of mind. Work continues to be what it is, but there is much else of value in the world: kayaking the Charles, walks when the air is cool, cooking when I have the energy, and eating out when I don’t. The occasional frisbee game, a visit to the New Jersey State Fair, ice cream on a waffle cone, farmers markets. Trips to the Berkshires, for mini-golf and canoeing. A holiday in Dublin with friends, just for fun.

And best of all, I am three months in to a wonderful new relationship, chock full of mutual respect and shared interests and happiness. Not a bad summer so far.

Next week, off to Israel on a Birthright trip, which I will try to deconstruct here if I have the time.

Abortion reasoning, by historical analogy

I am on the record (briefly) supporting what I hope is a nuanced view of the abortion debate. The short version is, I am pro-choice but not pro-abortion, and I have a healthy respect for the arguments on the anti-abortion side of the fence.

In the wake of the murder of Dr. George Tiller, who ran a practice that performed late term abortions, familiar battle lines are drawn with regard to anti-abortion extremists. In Congress, we are having familiar debates about the Roe v. Wade 1973 Supreme Court decision, as we always do when a vacancy opens on the Court. But we seem no closer to understanding each other, and no closer to reaching, if not a compromise, at least a détente.

Into these well-tread tracks delves Megan McArdle, who writes a careful and nuanced post on her blog at the Atlantic espousing a position that tracks very closely with my own. Her argument is very easy to misinterpret if one is not a careful reader. Her allusions to slavery and Nazism are the sort of arguments that are quick to inflame, but her examples are illustrative and so the comparisons, I think, justified.

The definition of personhood (and, related, of citizenship) changes over time. It generally expands–as we get richer, we can, or at least do, grant full personhood to wider categories. Except in the case of fetuses. We expanded “persons” to include fetuses in the 19th century, as we learned more about gestation. Then in the late 1960s, for the first time I can think of, western civilization started to contract the group “persons” in order to exclude fetuses.

But that conception was not universally shared. And rather than leave it to the political process, the Supreme Court essentially put it beyond that process. Congress, the President, the justices themselves, have been fighting a thirty-five year guerilla war over court seats.

She goes on to argue that, due to this inability for those who fervently believe that “abortion is murder” to have any voice in the federal political process, they feel driven to express themselves through acts of violence and terror. I’m not sure that I believe re-opening the debate would staunch this appetite, and I’m sure that I don’t believe that giving in completely to the demands of the anti-abortion fringe is a viable option, but I do understand the conflict, and the way in which the abortion debate fuels terrorism in much the same way that the Israel-Palestine debate does. This understanding does not lead us to answers, but it is more productive than simply villanizing the other side of the debate.

Read Megan’s article here.

Looking forward to my first farm share

This year Yoni invited me to split his farm share at Parker Farm. Farmer Steve has started blogging about the farm and his daily work planting and cultivating crops. Understanding more about where my food is coming from and the effort that goes into growing it makes me more determined to use the spoils well, by cooking interesting recipes and wasting as little as possible.

Photos and video from Paris

There is little useful information in the captions, because we mostly stuck to well-known tourist areas, but I am trying something a bit different this time, embedding the Flickr slideshow below, with a few short video clips interspersed between the pictures. Full screen it for best effect. Now that we are in Perugia and I am once again with internet, the card reader in my silly little computer has stopped working, so I’m not sure when the Rome photos will come. I’m trying to keep up because otherwise I won’t end up posting anything until 2010, knowing my track record…

Customer-focused decision making

Reading Kevin Fox’s response to Doug Bowman, the designer whose post about leaving Google I linked to last week, I was struck by his closing statement:

Even when data-driven analysis is used to determine which design will be more profitable, at Google this is highly tempered against the impact to the user. Google could easily increase their revenue in the short term with just a few poor decisions, but they don’t. This philosophy of ‘put the user first and the money will follow’ is so ingrained into the Google culture that many designers and engineers for whom this is their first corporate job don’t even realize that this is unusual, and that is awesome.

I didn’t fully realize until reading this statement that the root of most of my job-related frustration over the past two years is directly related to this user-first philosophy, which causes me to butt heads constantly with workers and managers who follow a different path.

A Battlestar Cloister

This entry about Battlestar Galactica is spoiler-free.

Last night was a late one, and I woke up this morning having not seen the series finale of Battlestar Galactica. Getting ahold of the episode was a time consuming hassle, and in the meantime I was effectively barred from the entire internet, for fear that someone might have posted a spoiler on in my Facebook or Twitter feed, on email, in an IM away message, or on a web site.

BSG is the only long-running television show I’ve watched that has ended at a relative high point. Most other shows end or are cancelled well past their expiration dates. Watching the BSG finale unspoiled was important to me, and it was worth it. This show is deep, powerful, affecting. It is something I have been watching and analyzing and enjoying for over five years. Every week we talk about the latest episode at work. For a while I held and attended BSG watching parties each Friday. The end of the show feels like losing a friend.

I have decided, at least for now, to accept the finale as it is without deep analysis and nitpicking. The show is now complete, and there will be time to go back and analyze its entire run in light of where we ended up. All I will say about it now is that the episode’s ending cracked me up. As my roommate can attest, I was laughing hysterically through the last 5 minutes or so, and for a good five minutes thereafter. Not at all the emotion I expected at the conclusion of such a dark and deep story.

Now that I am BSG-full, and hopefully will wake up tomorrow morning well-rested, I can once again rejoin the (newly sunny) Earth!

A stunningly beautiful information-rich world

This Microsoft concept video envisions a future where pervasive computing devices surround us. It shows how interactive, data-rich environments can complement our lives rather than intruding into them. My vision of pervasive computing was always human-centered, in computing devices that we take with us. Google and others live in a network-centric world in which all data lives in a vast and inscrutable cloud. This Microsoft video is notable because it offers a hybrid approach, where data is delivered on demand from the internet, but most interactions are fundamentally physical — you “take” data with you from a meeting table onto a handheld device, you “share” data by bringing devices (and people) together.

Joss pulls a JRB

DollhouseThe pilots (first episodes) of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly are both notable for being narrow. You’re not going to get a mass ER-like audience from a story that starts with a vampire bite, much less from one that opens on a silent space salvage operation. You are going to get a genre audience, and that audience may well turn out to be a devoted one, but it will never be a large audience.

With Dollhouse, Joss Whedon seems to have embraced the network meddling that has so bothered him in the past. The open is a motorcycle race, followed soon after by sexy dancing, naked showering, a hostage crisis, shooting… Only once or twice does authentic “Whedon” writing shine through. The rest is equal parts FOX network filler, pandering, and standard tropes. The concept of the “dollhouse” is never adequately fleshed out. The sets and the stars are pretty, but the show is shallow.

Still, the creation, while flawed, is not without merit. It just isn’t exceptional. And much the same can be said about playwright and composer Jason Robert Brown, whose latest show, 13, recently ended its brief Broadway engagement. Brown’s previous works include the heartfelt Songs for a New World and the raw and emotional Last Five Years. All of his shows have had devoted fans, but not the sort of broad appeal that would carry them to Broadway. With 13, Brown made a conscious choice to aim lower, or, at least, broader. He made something that was good, that had merit, but that was not truly exceptional. It made it to Broadway, after many changes, and had a brief run before closing in a dismal economic climate.

Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse will follow the same pattern. FOX has committed to a 12 episode run, but each week the audience numbers (in the Friday evening “death” scheduling slot) are shrinking. It is unlikely that the show will come back for a second season.

What is the lesson here? That people who make deep and meaningful and heartfelt work are doomed to be marginalized? I don’t think so. I think that when it comes to art in modern society, we are no longer in an age where everyone likes, or pretends to like, the same thing. We no longer go from a period of Impressionism to the Heidelberg Schol and then on to Arts and Crafts. Our choice of media is so vast, our interests so varied, the number of artists so many, that we can’t judge things the way we used to. Joss Whedon, or Jason Robert Brown, can create truly good shows, and they can affect half a million people deeply, and that is nothing to scoff at. Shonda Rhimes can create Grey’s Anatomy and it can touch 20 million people lightly. But Joss Whedon probably can’t create Dollhouse and touch 20 million, or even 10 million. He isn’t that sort of entertainer. The lesson of Dollhouse, for Joss, is the same as Pushing Daisies for Bryan Fuller, and Veronica Mars, for Rob Thomas. Do what you do well, do it well, and find a good place for it. That place may not be a major television network. Pour your heart into it. Affect people. Don’t compromise. Hope for the best. And don’t try to be what you are not.

If that isn’t enough, if you really want that big huge break, the adoration of millions, then take comfort in this: some of the best artists of the past were never truly recognized until many years later. For what it’s worth.

Not even BBC World is immune

A story this morning out of Germany that a former student at a vocational school came back with weapons and killed seven students and three instructors, before going on the run and shooting various other people at random across two towns. The shooter was killed in a confrontation with police. Clearly, this is a tragedy caused by a deranged individual. A tragedy that happened to begin at a school.

So the BBC host asks, doesn’t Germany have a history of this sort of violence? To which the correspondent replies, yes, in 2002 there was a prominent school shooting, and some politicians say that since then nothing has been done to improve the security at schools.

Two shooting in a seven year period does not a trend make. There will always be deranged people, and there are many possible things we could do to try and catch them early or limit the damage they can cause. But putting metal detectors and sentries and cameras in schools is a feel-good measure for adults that has no practical benefit. In this case, if the school was too difficult a target, the shooter would have simply gone someplace else, like a shopping mall, or a town square, or a train station. But really, what obstacle do metal detectors, cameras, or guards pose to someone who wants to kill and is equipped to do so?

BBC, you, like so much of the rest of the media, are asking the wrong questions. This is not the only example, just a recent egregious one. Encouraging this sort of alarmism and push for security theatre is counterproductive and carries many hidden costs. Give it a rest.

Addendum: Right on cue, a “rampage” in Alabama today in which a gunman took the lives of nine people and burned down his mother’s house. Dare I take the liberal position that denying this man access to guns may have better limited the scope of his damage than, say, metal detectors in public buildings?

Currentlies in longform

Not many blog updates recently. This feels like an administrative day — laundry and cleaning and grocery shopping to be done, photos to be posted, computer files to be organized. For the last two weeks my home server that contains a few thousand hours of movie and TV and radio content was offline, due to a hardware failure, and I didn’t really miss it much. Besides Battlestar Galactica on TV and Watchmen in theaters, I’ve had no desire to engage in media. I don’t even listen to my NPR podcasts anymore. This doesn’t really bother me. But I’m also not reading books, which does bother me. Need to get back to that.

My social calendar has been unusually full lately, which is quite nice, but also exhausting. It makes me feel like I am behind on things, although I can never quite pinpoint what they are. I need some downtime, but when I get it I then feel like I’m missing out on things.

The sun has been out, the weather has been good. I really need to get my bike fixed up so that it is available on days like yesterday when it was randomly 60 degrees out and beautiful. Went down to the Blue Hills and wandered through their Maple Sugar Days event, petting lambs and watching the sugaring process and climbing trees. Did so in conjunction with folks who are less worried about sticking to a schedule or having a plan, and more worried about taking the time to enjoy whatever wonders the world presents. I can see the appeal of that worldview, and it was a nice change.

Last time I wrote one of these updates, it was winter, gloomy and misty gray, but now it is verging on spring, the snow melting and the sun shining and the people emerging from their hibernation. This is a good change, I think, but I am still firmly in a winter mindset. I need to get out of it.

Watch out, web comments may be put into print!

Got this charming message in my inbox today:

I am the editor of the Forum section of the Justice, Brandeis University’s student newspaper. Thank you for your comment on the article “Brandeis hires PR firm to handle Rose media attention” on the Justice Web site. This is to inform you that your comment will be published in the form of a letter to the editor in our Feb. 24 issue.

They could maybe have asked me to publish it, rather than told me it would be published? No matter. The comment in question appears to be this one.

Obama isn’t following the rules

The way this was supposed to play out was relatively straightforward. Barack Obama proposes a massive stimulus measure, and the opposition vocally opposes the irresponsible spending. Obama makes a few half-hearted attempts to reconcile with the Republicans, but in the end he passes his stimulus bill with little to no Republican support. They go on TV to decry the “business as usual” partisanship, and then when the effects of the stimulus are not immediately clear, Republicans reiterate that it was ill-advised.

But then Obama started inviting members to Super Bowl parties, and holding office hours, and coming to Capitol Hill for negotiating sessions. He started giving consideration to the Republican’s outlandish additions. He refused to let his party pass the bill without Republican support.

And the days wore on. And here we are. I am curious to see how it all turns out, and who comes out looking better, and what difference it makes in the end. Already Obama’s approval ratings have gone down 6 points. In that time Congressional Republicans have seen steeper drops, and Congressional Democrats haven’t been doing very well either, but Obama is the one to watch.