Saturday, January 30, 2010

Butter

We just made butter.

I saw some whipping cream in the fridge, it was still good, but I knew we didn't have any plans for it (well, I thought briefly of making truffles...).

A pint of cream in a quart jar. Shake 15 minutes. voila!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Simone, Cute As Ever

I got a Nano for Christmas (thanks Mary), and it takes video. Pretty decent quality. Here are two videos of Simone.

The first is on a walk Nana, Grandpa, Mary, Simone and I took. Beautiful day.

video

The second was when Simone and I were downtown:

video

Obama and Democrats - Not Good At Politics

I believe I've said it before, but Democrats seem to be horrible at politics (I can't find any blog posts on it, but a search through my chat records show I say it all the time). It just boggles the mind they can be so incompetent.

Dems won a majority in House and Senate and took the Whitehouse on a campaign for change. What do we have?
  • Guantanamo still open.
  • Gays still not allowed in the military
  • We're still in Iraq (the current plan leaves <50,000 in Iraq)
  • Health care reform dead (60% people have said for years they want universal health care)
  • Biggest financial crisis since 1928 and no reform for Wall Street (maybe a tax on bonuses, BFD)
Paul Krugman reacts to Obama's state of the union speech, specifically regarding Obama said he'll freeze government spending. Krugman writes:
[I]t’s a spectacular demonstration of Obama’s failure to change the narrative. Not only is he accepting the general Republican world view, he’s parroting their dumb attacks on his own policies.
So true. One thing goes wrong and Democrats all over are embracing Republican policies. Eh? This is crazy talk.

And I thought Jon Stewart's analysis of Democrat's reaction to losing the Senate race in Massachusetts was spot on. The Democrats are acting like the Republicans have the majority with 41 seats, and are acting like they need Republican permission to do anything. Jon nails it when he says to Democrats, "No matter what you do, the Republicans are never going to let you into the station wagon. They're never going to let you in!" (at 3:00 in the video).

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Heck, Jon couldn't be more right on his January 18th show (@10:00) when he ranted about how poorly the Democrats are playing politics:

This isn't about Republicans playing checkers while Democrats play chess. This is Republicans playing chess while Democrats are in the nurses office because, once again, they've glued their balls to their thighs.

And, lastly, I wholeheartedly with David Brin's post on the difference between the Democrat and Republican parties. My summary would be that Republicans stick together and Democrats can't unify on anything.

It's a sad state of affairs, and it's looking to get a whole lot worse...

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Eggnog

I just made the aged eggnog recipe (hat tip Michael Ruhlman).

Now I have to wait 3 weeks (or up to a year) to try it.

A year? you ask. Yes, up to a year (or longer). The reason it can last that long is that it is half alcohol (think Bailey's).

Monday, January 18, 2010

Children's Book Review: Clifford's Birthday Party

I've talked about Clifford before, and I've reviewed one of Simone's books before. Now I'm combining the two for a Clifford book review.

Yesterday, Simone and I went to the library and had a wonderful time. I found some books that look interesting. We read The Pink Refrigerator (by Tim Egan), which is a very sweet book. While I was looking for gems to read, Simone found Clifford's Birthday Party, and read it peacefully until it was time to leave - at which point she wanted to bring it home...

So I did.

I'm not a fan of Clifford, or pretty much any cartoonish dog. They're all big, dumb, clumsy, destructive animals - and the stories just laugh it off as no big deal. Oh Clifford! (Marmaduke, Harold the Huge, etc.)

To nobody's surprise, the Birthday Party stuck to the standard script, making it another horrible book (that will soon disappear back to the library). Simone, if you're reading this, I love you dearly, but Clifford books are terrible. It's for your own good, trust me.

Page 1: you get the standard two line, "My name is Emily Elizabeth, and this is my dog Clifford." that seem to begin every Clifford story. He's having a party. Innocent enough.

Pages 2-4: Nobody shows up, where could they be? There they are, why didn't you show? Wow - 4 pages in and it's still pretty benign.

Page 5: It begins... the reason nobody showed up is "they didn't have very good presents for Clifford - not good enough for such a special friend." Moral: you had better bring awesome presents, or don't bother showing up. Birthday parties are about presents, nothing more.

Page 6: The book tries to smooth things over, "I told them not to be silly." (good start) "Clifford would like whatever they got for him." (ouch). Moral: go get me my damn presents! Notice the promise that Clifford would like what they gave him - we'll get back to that.

Page 7: everyone came to the party (bearing gifts).

Pages 8-11: Clifford gets an inflatable ball, everyone plays, and then Clifford begins his destructive streak: he pulls out the stopper, knocking some dogs over (Emily is actually frowning in that page). And it culminates on page 12: "That was a mistake." by the ball knocking everyone over and flying away (like a balloon). Not very destructive by Clifford's standards, yet the gift is lost to all and people were tossed around like rag dolls.

Pages 13-14: A piñata! Cool.

Pages 15-17: Clifford is given a stick and ... you guessed it ... he destroys everything in sight: the piñata is broken open , kids are running in fear (both the girl in yellow (Alisha) and Emily are running away from Clifford with worried faces - they're in a full sprint). Tree branches, fence posts and shed pieces are flying every which way. After the fleeing, the dogs look happy chewing on bones but the tree is dead, the fence is ruined, the shed is destroyed, a shovel and lawn mower are bent, and the bird path and picnic table are on their side. "we decided not to give Clifford any more piñatas." What they should have decided was to get rid of him, but then we wouldn't get the rest of the lovely story.

Pages 18-19: Time to take a break from the destruction but laugh at the present (a sweater) the next girl gives Clifford. ha ha ha, silly girl - to dumb to realize that the sweater would never fit a dog the size of her house...

Pages 20-22: Clifford gets a robotic dog, which he steps on and destroys. "They don't make toys the way they used to." Right... toys that could withstand a 10 ton animal stepping on them.

Pages 23-25: Clifford gets a gift certificate for a shampoo and haircut. Nice. Each person is shown thinking what funny hairdo Clifford would have. Surprisingly gentle humor.

Page 26: The true colors come to light, Emily thanks Cynthia for the gift but "slipped the certificate to Scott and Suzie." Yes, right in front of Cynthia, Emily re-gifts the gift. I'm not saying you need to use/keep all the gifts you get, but at least have the courtesy to wait until the person's back is turned before you ditch the gift. Oh, and what was that line about "Clifford would like whatever they got for him."? Liar.

Pages 27-30: The book ends with a huge cake, filled with Clifford's family, and the words "Clifford liked the presents his friends gave him, but having his family and friends with him was the best birthday present of all." Good last line half of the line. But the part about liking the gifts? He either destroyed the gifts, re-gifted them, or made fun of them. Sure, maybe he liked them, but he has a funny way of showing it.

All in all, I give this book a "D". It would be a failure except for the part about family and friends being the best part.

I can't believe the book was written in 1988. It reads like it was out of the 50s or 60s.

It's too bad Simone likes Clifford so much, I really struggle with it.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pullups

Simone can do 5 of them.

I'm pretty sure she'll reach 10 pullups before I do...

Monday, January 04, 2010

Health Care

My ignorance on health care is pretty vast. It's an incredibly complex issue, but one thing just stands out above all others: that US spends way more than other countries (by pretty much any measure), and we're way behind everyone in terms of quality of life. Check this quote from wikipedia:
Currently the U.S. has a higher infant mortality rate than most of the world's industrialized nations.[nb 1][11] The USA's life expectancy lags 42nd in the world, after most rich nations, lagging last of the G5 (Japan, France, Germany, UK, USA) and just after Chile (35th) and Cuba (37th).[12][13][14] The USA's life expectancy is ranked 50th in the world after the European Union (40th).[15][16] The World Health Organization (WHO), in 2000, ranked the U.S. health care system as the highest in cost, first in responsiveness, 37th in overall performance, and 72nd by overall level of health (among 191 member nations included in the study).[17][18] A 2008 report by the Commonwealth Fund ranked the United States last in the quality of health care among the 19 compared countries.[19]
Downright embarrassing.

Pretty much whomever you talk to thinks they have a good idea as to why the costs are so out of control. It's the doctors, or it's the insurance industry, or it's the greedy/lazy americans, it's the inefficiency of the system, etc. etc. etc.

Recently I listened to two This American Life stories on healthcare: "More Is Less" and "Someone Else's Money". Give them a listen, they're well worth it. The first episode covers reasons why each of the standard reasons for cost increases is true, and the second goes over the history of how we got to where we are today. Plus, the second one covers pet health insurance, and looks at it as a model that we might follow for people health insurance.

That last bit on the pet health insurance really convinced me. Now I believe the problem is the entire system. It has removed the consumers (people) from the actual cost of the health care, and that's just a recipe for disaster in a capitalist environment. That and the drug companies are to blame.

Random Thoughts

I'm at work (yes, check the timestamp) waiting for things to build so I can run tests and go home (well, go to the folks house and then to Mexico on vacation!!!!). But, going to Mexico isn't why I'm writing.

I've just got some time to kill and have random thoughts.

Cellphone While Driving Ban in Oregon
This makes no sense. I'm not a fan of folks driving while talking, but I do it myself. Now that they've banned it, I won't do it until I get a headset (thanks bro!).

But all the studies around cell phone usage that look at headset usage find no real difference between using the cellphone by itself and using a headset. The problem isn't the lack of a hand, the problem is the diverted attention.

So this is yet another piece of legislation that is some knee-jerk reaction that isn't going to make us any safer and will just add to the cruft that cops have to deal with.

NVC And The USA
I've been doing a little reading around Nonviolent Communication - essentially a process you can follow to improve communication. (I could use the skills.) I'm not very far into the book, but one thing struck me early on.

The book gives several examples of communication that hinders the process when you're expressing your observations. Things like moral judgment and labeling can really get in the way. I don't have the book in front of me, but one of the examples is language used in the cold war, setting "us" versus "them", good vs. bad, communist, etc.

As much as I appreciate having Obama as president, the language he (and everyone in his administration) is using is just continuing the same dialog with new (and equally polarizing) language: terrorists, criminals, terrorist states, etc.

Our language and our actions have not changed, and it's no wonder there are large numbers of people who see the U.S. as an imperialistic country with designs on ridding the world of all traces of Islam. Whether or not that is true, that is certainly a perception.

It doesn't matter whether or not our intentions are "good." People in Iraq/Afghanistan/Pakistan who see their families and friends killed and harmed by our military, who see only ruin brought on by our invasion and occupation of their countries, they do not view our actions as "good". They couldn't give a rat's @ss that we're doing this to make the world "safer" - our actions have had a direct, severely negative, effect on their lives. It's no wonder Al-Qaeda has no shortage of recruits.

Our leaders could use some NVC training.

TSA
The security screenings they've put in place since the underwear bomber are not going to make us any safer. Many folks (Bruce Schneier is my favorite) have pointed out all sorts of problems with the various TSA policies, but it's a large bueracracy and will probably never really improve.

It's just annoying to have to jump through all these dumb hoops when they don't make us any safer.

Photographic Memory
Turns out, Simone has an excellent memory - perhaps photographic. She remembers all sorts of passages from books we haven't read in months, and when you change a word in the story she's heard before, she'll correct you. Which is fine, but sometimes I try to soften the language (Angelina the Ballerina is kind of harsh at times) and Simone will catch me - because she's heard the written variation one time...

Phone Monopolies
A while back I wanted to switch from Qwest to some other phone carrier, and the only option was to go to Comcast for a "land line". There is another provider, Pioneer, who provides service in Philomath - but is prevented by law from competing in Corvallis (a mere 3 miles away). It's a bunch of crap. There's no marketplace for services. The basic Qwest phone service runs nearly $30/month for just a land line. Comcast charges the same (when you get their "special deal").

So, that's why we switched our phone number to be an extra line on our cell phone account (only costs us $10/month more).

But then that gets me all riled up about cell phone service in the U.S. We're a good generation or two behind other countries in terms of services. Everything is set up for the cell phone providers. It's painful to switch, the carriers are on different frequencies and different wireless standards, phones are locked in - and because of that, your monthly payments basically subsidize people who trade in their phones every two years. Plus, because of all the companies competing using different technologies, we have 2-3 times as many cell phone towers as we need because everyone had to put up their own towers... It just seems like a waste. Imagine if customers had the power to easily switch carriers and weren't locked in to 2 year plans (to subsidize the phone purchases) - it'd be more like Europe where the carriers actually have to compete to get their customers.

Anyway, the build is done, time to get back to work...

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Bringing It, 7 Weeks Now

Seven weeks ago Mary and I started the P90-X program, and we've been following it pretty strictly. The first month we even followed the dietary guides (eating 50% of our calories from protein).

Eating right has been a little... challenging, through the holidays. And now that they're over, we're heading to Mexico for a week. But, we'll definitely be doing our workouts (haven't missed one yet). I just put all the workout videos on my new Ipod Nano w/video.

We measured ourselves after the first month, and not a lot changed for me. My weight was down only a pound and a half, which was a little disappointing. My waist was down an inch though, and I think I'm starting to look a little different in the mirror.

I still can't keep up with the "Ab-ripper X" program, but I'm feeling good about all the other exercises. I can now do 6 pull ups, whereas I was barely able to do 3 when we started.

This Makes Me Feel All Warm And Fuzzy Inside

Did you hear about the musicians that are suing the RIAA for being pirates?

I sure hope they get the same justice they found for folks who "pirated" their music. Remember the $675,000 fine for sharing 30 songs? And $1.92 MILLION fine for a woman who shared 24 songs?

The CRIA (Canadian version of RIAA, whose members include Soni, EMI, Universal Music, and Warner Music) is being sued for distributing more then 300,000 songs. Boo-yah!

Luckily the case is in Canada, where (hopefully) the courts won't be as friendly to businesses as they are here.

The potential damages could be $6 BILLION.