Saturday, May 31, 2008

South Park vs. YouTube

For people who don't spend much time on Digg or Boing Boing or whatever it is the kids use to determine what is open scare quote cool close square quote, then the following South Park clip, interspersed with actual You Tube videos, may be of some use in getting up to speed on what is so last year.

The only one I didn't recognize was Dramatic Gopher which shames me. I'm not really sure how I missed him, but I can only thank the
Heavens that I've found him several years after everybody else is tired of him. I was also unaware that Tron Guy seems to have made himself sort of a career out of not being embarrassed to be Tron Guy... which is good, I guess? I have never been on Jimmy Kimmel, so he's certainly got me there.

My fave internet sensation remains unchanged though... Asian Backstreet Boys is still teh winnArs. I'm not sure what it is... the earnestness? The matching Yao Ming jersey's? The dude just going about his business in the background while they SOFT ROCK OUT? It's really just a video so full of win that it's hard to pick a favorite part.

URGENT UPDATE: In watching the South Park clip again I realized that I was also unfamiliar with Numa Numa, which doesn't shame me... though it does touch on the same theme of "emphatically singing along to a song in a language you don't understand" that I think is comedy gold. It suffers, I think, from a lack of a roommate trying to pretend the singer doesn't exist.

Friday, May 30, 2008

A Children's Story?

via Ta-Nehisi guesting at Yglesias's blog:

Slick Rick was just pardoned by New York's new Governor David Patterson. I didn't even know that he was in danger of deportation, nor that he was convicted of attempted murder like 15 years ago... so I really have no idea of the "justice" of this decision, but Children's Story is awesome, so here we go:

The Problem with Polling

In the past, I've complained that even though Rasmussen and Gallup are doing these snazzy new "daily tracking polls" with all sorts of Super Statistical Powers, they don't account for margin of error in their pretty graphs... leading many reporters to breathlessly talk about how a 2 point difference in a 3 day rolling average of a sample size of 1000 means that "Clinton is surging" or "Obama was undamaged" or whatever. This is nonsense. I'll grant that when someone looks at polls and says something like that they generally are talking about trends and not absolute differences, but let's leave that aside for today.

A 2 point or 4 point or even a 6 point "lead" is not a significant difference in a sample size of 1000. That's all there is to it, though if you want an illustration of the issues of sampling error, then see here(hattip to TNR commenter AlanSP). You can, of course, attach all sorts of caveats to my above statement... the statistics I quoted were for 95% confidence... surely we don't need P=0.05 to hedge our bets? No, we probably don't... but we never get presented with the option of caring about the confidence of the estimate do we?

Anyway, that's my grumble for the day.

Thursday, May 29, 2008


A new link has been added... I still link to Octopus Overlords despite the fact that it is currently down and despite the fact that I had a rather hard falling out with a few of it's members... this notice isn't because I think I deserve some sort of recognition for fortitude in maintaining the blog roll, but merely because I have found that many of the most thoughtful contributors to OO have moved on to their own blog as well.

Witness Popehat. I only know a few of the people contributing by their first names, but it is the same quality stuff that made OO so attractive to me a few years ago. Politics and computer games joined in a way I'm still trying to mimic.

All Jim Webb All The Time

So apparently the clamor from people who post words on the intertubes regarding Virginia Senator Jim Webb as a Obama's VP pick has reached a fever pitch... this was more or less predictable because he just released a book (a good book even), the timing of which may or may not have been coincidental... and the fact that the very people whom Obama has had a lot of trouble getting to vote for him (white working class Appalachians) happen to be mainly of an ethnic group Jim Webb has some affection for (and connection to). He also has a chest full of medals, though President Kerry knows that hasn't always helped.

I've been pretty pro Webb here, though I can't say I know a ton about him(more on that in a bit)... and I also can't say I really buy into the idea that people in Kentucky and West Virginia who won't vote for Obama are going to be swayed by Jim Webb standing next to the black man... but being a junior Senator and reformed Republican he just seems to fit neatly into Obama's message. Obama's appeal to independents and left leaning Republicans seems to have weakened of late, and Jim Webb's profile seems to reinforce the case that the Democrats are the party of everyone who doesn't want 4 more years of Bush policies (which is everyone except the people who read NRO). He's opposed the war from the beginning, and showed foresight in predicting a protracted guerrilla campaign when some people were predicting puppy dogs and ice cream. I certainly appreciate the idea of putting adults back in charge of our foreign policy and being able to completely hang Iraq around John McCain's neck (something that would be a little harder if the VP had supported the war). There is absolutely no reason for Democrats to cede ground on foreign policy any longer, and both Obama and Webb seem ready to make that argument in a way (I hope) the American people will listen to.

On the other hand, I've also been open to the possibility of a "unity ticket" and had some fears that there is a sizable chuck of Hillary Clinton supporters who could indeed sit home in November if she is seen to have been treated unfairly. KathyG guesting at Matt Yglesias's blog brings up, I think, the biggest problem in this regard(which I was unaware of) with picking Webb over Clinton... he was very stridently against women serving in the military... it should be noted that this was 30 years ago, but he also doesn't appear to have been very supportive of the victims of the Tailhook sexual abuse scandal much more recently. I don't think anyone thinks he's a raging misogynist... and in the end he's Pro Choice and a damn sight better for Feminism than John McCain... but given all this, he doesn't exactly seem like the best choice to ameliorate the pain of Hillary Clinton supporters... more like a bit of a slap in the face to be honest.

This is why I agree with Jason Zengerle at TNR, that Obama at least has to offer the position to Clinton before he can select Webb (or anybody really - but Webb especially). Once the magic number is reached (by the end of the next week hopefully), Obama probably needs to publicly ask her to be his running mate even if it's complete theater. I don't think she's the optimal choice for any number of reasons, but you at least have to give the appearance of having her turn down the job before you can go in a different direction.

photo by flickr user carobe used under a Creative Commons license

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Jamaica Pictures

Here is a link to my Flickr page of (some of) the Jamaica photos with descriptions... though I haven't quite finished all of those. They're organized chronologically and are hopefully easy enough to follow.

So what did I miss?

I haven't done anything but scan the news to see that last Tuesday's primaries went completely as expected, and that my Senator's seizure two weeks ago turned out to be from brain cancer. The latter having a very grim prognosis. A pretty sad development, but he has obviously had a very full life of public service and he's a fighter so there is hope. I'm not really sure what else to say there except that I'm wishing for the best for the Liberal Lion with everyone else.

Regarding the Jamaica vacation, I obviously have a ton of pictures and some thoughts but I don't want to over post about it on the blog, so I'll probably just post a link to a Flickr stream and a summary once I have all that together. Should be coming in the next day or two as I get back up to speed with Boston life.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Off to Jamaica

Our flight leaves at 5:30AM(!) for Montego Bay by way of Ft. Lauderdale. Leaving the apartment at 3 in the morning to get to the airport strikes me as a little insane... and makes me a little anxious about sleeping through an alarm (unreasonably so, since I'm not a deep sleeper)... but it does mean we should get to our hotel in time for a few hours on the beach, and regardless: we didn't have a choice. Here is a background post on our plans for the week.

Oh, as an aside, something to note about Spirit Air is that you have to pay for any checked luggage... I didn't realize that until I went to print out our flight information. $10 per bag if you do it online... $20 per bag if you do it at the airport(up to 2 bags - the third is $100), and I think the price is going up in June. I guess that's not ridiculous; it's even a good way for the savvy packer to save money... and the tickets were cheap... but it did come as a shock, and it would have been much worse if I didn't find out until we got to the airport.

But anyway, I won't be back and posting until next Wednesday May 28th... and I expect to see this Democratic nomination wrapped up, the party united, and the Republican Party's brutalized corpse lying at our feet. Get to work!

Photo used under a Creative Commons license by flickr user Beadmobile)

Man Purse

I've worn a messenger bag since my first day of college, and continued to carry one for every day of every job I've had since... and never once thought of it as a handbag for boys... however, it's hard to deny that my latest purchase from Timbuk2 is exactly that. It's about 1/3 of the size of my regular messenger bag... big enough for a passport, keys, two books, cellphone, camera, my DS, and my folded up headphones... i.e. perfect for a trip overseas, but pretty much undeniably a purse (it's called The Metro which should have been a tip off).

I've never been one to be too concerned about how my sexuality comes across to others, indeed, I wore nail polish for years and never worried that women would think I was gay... but I have to admit this bag does make me slightly uncomfortable. A little odd, but I'll get over it I'm sure.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Anywhere, Anytime

I haven't said anything about the remarks Bush made in front of Israel's parliament likening Obama, without naming him, to a Nazi appeaser... but essentially, it was completely ridiculous, and it was nice to see all Democrats leap to Obama's defense while he was off the campaign trail for a day. The best thing of all was the fact that McCain immediately agreed with the President's sentiment, closely linking his policies with the most unpopular President in modern history.

Well, what did Obama have to say for himself today? Here's the speech, which is good but needs some polishing... but here is what I think is all kinds of awesome... his response at a later Q&A:

Man he sounds pissed, and I love it.

It's so nice to have a candidate who is not afraid or ashamed of being a freakin' Democrat. Once we finally put this primary to bed and unite, this election is going to be really fun.

Bring it on.

Congratulations are in order

I'm not really an Ellen DeGeneres fan, and was only vaguely aware that she had a show, but this made me a little misty eyed:

I also have to agree with Matt Yglesias that the fact that "an openly lesbian woman can regularly attract a large audience of very middlebrow people and announce her engagement to a cheering studio audience" bodes well for the prospect of Marriage Equality in the future, whatever happens with the ballot initiative in November.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Marriage Equality in Cali

Good news from the California Supreme Court today.

If you haven't been following this at all, the important difference here from Massachusetts is that California already had civil unions with all the same rights as marriage, their ban just didn't allow homosexuals usage of the name. California's highest court said, quite rightly, that such a ban is discriminatory. As Andrew Sullivan points out, if all you're holding onto is the name is there any explanation other than bias? It's also important to note that if you hear anybody whining about "judicial activism" you can point out the the California Supreme Court is dominated by judges nominated by Republican Governors (6 of 7).

Marriage Equality isn't out of the woods yet though, as there is a ballot initiative in the works to amend the California Constitution in November. As Kevin drum points out in that link, the original legislative effort that was overturned today (Prop 22) passed with 63% of the vote... but it has been 8 years since that, and 4 years since gay marriage has been legal in my own state. Sullivan (probably one of your goto sources on this issue) says polling shows the state at about 50-50 right now.

The final issue, is the worry that this ruling might cause "headaches for liberals" in the Fall. Besides being a "rain on your own parade" kind of thought when we should be happy for gay couples in California... I'm not really buying it, because it's 2008 not 2004 and the country hasn't exploded in hellfire despite all the married queers up here. Yes, having anti-gay marriage amendments in states all over the place in 2004 was a good GOTV tactic for Republicans... but all of those states have their bigotry enshrined in their Constitutions already. I just don't think shouting "liberal! liberal! liberal!" is going to work this time. The war sucks and the economy sucks and McCain is proposing another 4 years of the same policies (except even more war!). I really don't think people are going to be voting on marriage rights in California (well, except in California obviously). At least I hope they aren't, since the day after Kerry lost and all those states had banned gay marriage was probably the most dejected I've ever been about politics.

We are so Post Feminism right now...

Actual CNN headline... Catcalling: creepy or a compliment?

Gee, yeah, that's a tough one. One of the real benefits of the Hillary Clinton candidacy for me was the realization of how much misogyny there really is out there... where I had really turned a blind eye to it for the most part. I'll have more to say about this at a future date as I continue to mull the repercussions of this Democratic primary.

via Mathew Yglesias

Meaningless Endorsements?

Both John Edwards and NARAL announced their support of Obama yesterday, and I think the question for both is: Why Now? For Edwards, I guess right after the West Virginia loss and renewed questions about Obama's appeal to working class voters was pretty much the best he could do after waiting until it didn't matter. He might have still been able to get a promise for Attorney General out of it... it did, after all, change the news cycle effectively, so I guess we'll see. However, NARAL, on the other hand, seems to have made a big mistake in their timing. Their press release was was inundated with comments from some very angry Clinton supporters who seemed to feel pretty betrayed by the organization. If you just take a minute to look you'll see about 95% of the comments coming from some pretty pissed off people. Now, I think the NARAL endorsement is perfectly logical given the candidate's respective records on Choice (identical) and the fact that the race has been essentially decided... clearly the Clinton supporters are being a bit irrational, and probably most will cool down as we approach the convention... but it just seems like something they could have avoided. Why not just wait until Clinton drops out? What did they gain here?

UPDATE: It looks like NARAL affiliates are distancing themselves from the endorsement... eplicitly preferring to stay neutral.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

More grist for the "Jim Webb for Vice President!" mill

Marc Ambinder notes that Senator Webb has a new book out tomorrow... just in time for breathless speculation about his ability to balance a ticket with Obama!

Also, as Ross Douthat opines, this Daily Kos diarist's map is about the best argument for Webb I have yet seen:
Big losses for Obama in the land populated by Scots-Irish? Hmmmm.... I wonder who might appeal to the people of that stock?

Good Luck

My lovely girlfriend Anna has her first Actuarial test today. Her first one on the somewhat unlikely path from Yoga teacher to person who will "evaluate the likelihood of events and quantify the contingent outcomes in order to minimize losses, both emotional and financial, associated with uncertain undesirable events"... whatever that means.

Though she will probably not see this before her test, I wish her the best of luck!

In other election news...

Democrats pick up a House seat in one of the Reddest of Red Congressional districts. Not only did Travis Childers(D), man of the terrible cartoon villain mustache, win this very Republican district... he did it by a relatively hefty 8 points. The win makes the Dems 3 for 3 in special/runoff elections this cycle. (The two others being Don Cazayoux in Louisiana and Bill Foster in Illinois)

Is a major realignment of something like 1932 proportions in the cards? I don't know, but the Republicans are down to 199 seats in the House from 232 in 2004, which has gotta be a bit demoralizing. There are 23 Republican seats compared to 12 Democrat seats in the Senate being contested this fall, and while everyone expects Dem gains, this result may indicate that what had been considered "safe" seats may no longer be. (See Elizabeth Dole)

Good news for all Democrats. (And yes I'm purposely pretending last night's primary didn't happen because I don't want to think about the 1 in 4 Clinton voters who happily admitted to not voting for the black guy)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Liberty City vs. New York

So I know I promised a review of GTA IV, but I haven't finished it yet or even done any multiplayer, though I'm probably two thirds through the main plot guessing from the completion percentage... all I can say is that if you hated the other GTA games (for whatever reason) then you'll hate this one 100x more since it's like all the other ones only squared or times eleventy million or something. I, on the other hand, really enjoyed the other GTA's so I really like it... though I will have a few nits to pick at a future date.

Regardless, Gawker (sheepish= yes, sometimes I read Gawker /sheepish) pointed me to flickr user Mathew Johnston's project comparing the actual pictures of New York City to Liberty City scenes. Pretty cool. Here's a couple:

You can see the rest here.

New Stephenson book!

While eating my lunch and browsing Amazon, looking for ideas on what books to bring to Jamaica for beach reading, I had the bright idea to search for my favorite author (Neal Stephenson) and look at the "also bought" section... and lo and behold! A new book called Anathem was at the top of the list and apparently is due out in September. According to the Wiki:
Unconfirmed reports by Lev Grossman writing for TIME speculate that the novel is set in a post apocalyptic future, wherein the protagonist, Raz, is among a cohort of secluded scientists, philosophers and mathematicians who are called upon to save the world from impending catastrophe.[2] The novel's description on concurs, explaining further that Raz has spent his entire life inside a 3,400-year-old sanctuary. The rest of society — the “saecular world” — is described as an “endless landscape of casinos and megastores that is plagued by recurring cycles of booms and busts, dark ages and renaissances, world wars and climate change.” Resident scholars, including Raz, are unexpectedly summoned, one at a time, by a frightened “higher power” to leave their monastic stronghold in the hope that they may prevent an approaching catastrophe. [3]

Uhm O.K. Not sure what all that is about, but that really doesn't matter for me since I'm going buy it regardless... though it looks like he might be doing a post-apocalyptic setting, which is a bit of a departure from the historical fiction he has been writing lately. Should be interesting. As an aside, one awesome aspect of this development is that this means he should be traveling around doing book signings... which means I should be able to get that 1st edition, 1st printing of Cryptonomicon that Anna got me for my birthday signed by him finally.

UPDATE: From the blog of someone who works at Google Kirkland, where apparently Stephenson did a Q&A...
Q: What are you working on right now and when will it come out?

A: He's writing a science fiction novel unrelated to Cryptonomicon and the Baroque Cycle. It's set on another planet and has aliens and so on. It's really about Platonic mathematics, but he needed the aliens and space opera-ish elements to spice it up a little bit, just like the pirates kept people engaged in the Baroque books. He's nearly finished writing it, and if he doesn't finish by the end of the calendar year he'll have to give some money back. If everything proceeds according to schedule, it should be available in stores in about a year.

Another planet? Aliens? I don't know how reliable this source is, but that would mark a significant departure for him. Very cool.

Running Update: Week 9

Map of 4x 0.5 mile run/ 1 minute walk
I haven't posted many updates, but that's mainly because not much has been changing with my exercise... I was keeping up with running Monday, Wednesday, Friday and doing the elliptical on Tuesday and Thursday. Because of problems with shin splints, I had moved to doing run/walk interval training so that I could get my legs into shape without dealing with too much pain... relatively stable at 4 minutes of running followed by 1 minute of walking... and that's basically been the story for the last month.

However, last week the weather was so nice (in the beginning of the week anyway) that it seemed really depressing to be in a dank, dark exercise room on a machine when I could be experiencing Spring(be it ever so brief here in Boston)... so I decided to try and change my routine to include 5 days of running and no elliptical and see how it felt. If you're curious, you can check out all my GPSed runs here, but it suffices to say that it went pretty well. I went back to trying to run 2 miles in one go for most of my workouts that week, and while I did O.K. with it as far as pain goes, even running 4 days in a row, I still think I need to continue with the interval training to make real progress. However, I decided to make a change this week and am really pleased with it after only one workout (map/linked above).

Instead of doing a time run/ time rest interval workout, I decided to try doing a distance run/ time rest and was really happy with it. When your goal is distance instead of time, I think you spend less time looking at your watch because what you need to accomplish is right in front of you and much more concrete. Trying to do a workout of a set distance more quickly seems to be a better motivator (to me) than working out for a set amount of time and trying to get more distance in that time.

So my workout plan is to run 5 days a week, weather and legs permitting, and to run intervals of 0.5 miles with a 1 minute rest period. Yesterday I did 4 reps, and today I'll do 5 with the plan of moving up to 6(i.e. 3 miles) (probably not this week though). Once I'm comfortable with that, I think I might switch to metric and run 1 kilometer and rest for a minute 5 times. I'll throw in some "runs without stopping" to see where I'm at, but I think I'm mainly going to do the intervals for a while... and even once I can run 5K comfortably, I'll still be doing the intervals pretty often because then the next goal becomes getting my speed up.

So anyway, that's the State of the Exercise.

Canon PowerShot SD750

So I went and bought the 750 last night off of Amazon, since I could snag the camera, a 2 GB memory card, an extra (generic)battery, and 2 day shipping for about $200... which seemed pretty reasonable... less than picking up the camera and memory card at Best Buy at any rate.

Even though I'm no photographer, I'll still give some impressions of it once I've played around some, since uninformed opinions are what the internet is all about.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Walk Score

via Atrios

What would the internet be without various quizzes and seemingly arbitrary metrics to brag about and compete over? Walk Score appears to be the latest on that front as a site that uses the Google Maps API to compile a summary score about the walkability of any address you input. It seems to add up the number of different establishments within a a mile radius in different categories like grocery stores, parks, bars, and schools. For our current residence, that score comes out as an 88 out of 100, which I actually thought was a little low since I certainly feel like where we live is a "walker's paradise"... but it did beat my old apartment in Brighton by 3 points, so I'm movin' on up at the very least (though my college dorm was is 95 out of 100).

So, kinda cool if you are buying a condo or looking for an apartment or something... though there seems to still be some bugs and issues, like the fact that convenience stores appear to count as much as actual grocery stores... and it would be nice if you could weight the categories of your own interest, as I imagine someone fresh out of college might have different priorities than a family of four.

But pretty cool usage of Google Maps at any rate (though Walk Jog Run is my favorite still)

UPDATE: One interesting thing was looking at where my mom lived when I was in high school... the score is only 25 out of 100 which isn't shocking for suburban Towson MD living, but what did surprise me is that the Hillendale Shopping center was within a mile... since back then it seemed like it was REALLY far away. Sort of interesting how different your thinking is if you always go for a car first.

Camera Dilema

So we leave for Jamaica in a little over a week, and I need to do something with my camera, which is a relatively old and beat up Kodak EasyShare CX7330. The camera itself is working fine, and I don't want or need a much fancier camera with lots of manual features that I'll never use, and really the only problem with it is that it doesn't have rechargeable batteries. So what I should do is just buy some rechargeable batteries and a new memory card for it and go on my merry way... after all, we're about to spend a lot of money on a vacation, right? And I still have to buy some things for the trip that I actually, you know, need.

However... there's always a "however"... the camera's only 3.1 megapixels. Which is probably perfectly fine for my needs, but feels really inadequate and that I'm somehow letting other geeks down or something. In addition, it's a bit on the bulky side... not tremendously so... but it certainly looks kind of gigantic next to some of the ultra-compact ones they have out now, and I think the bulkiness (as well as the lack of rechargeable batteries) is one of the reasons I don't take more pictures.

If there ever was a reason to buy a new camera, a trip to a tropical island probably qualifies, right?

I haven't decided whether I really want to spend a couple hundred dollars, but I have a least started looking at the various options on CNET. I'm powerfully drawn to the Cannon PowerShot SD1100 IS, but that's probably only because it's really new and popular and thus my own personal kryptonite... when I should probably stay focused on the 750, which seems to be a better deal presumably because you can't buy it in pink. I don't imagine I'll miss the 0.9 extra megapixels in the 1100, but I very well may miss the image stabilization... but then how can I miss something I've never had? Of course the A570 IS offers image stabilization and manual exposure controls (which I can't imagine using, but who knows?) for even cheaper, but it's not at all pretty isn't the tiny kind of camera, so that's kind of a turn off.

One issue I'm having, is that CNET seems to have a real love of Canons which has me wondering about bias... but they seem to have the most comprehensive reviews, so I'm not sure where else to look. Hmmm.

Friday, May 9, 2008

I'm officially old.

The New Kids on the Block are having a reunion tour?!

This isn't the first group from my youth to get back together decades later and try to make a quick buck with a new album and a big stadium tour... The Pixies and The Cure come instantly to mind... but this one is both extremely hilarious and deeply upsetting. Hilarious for the obvious reasons pictured above, and upsetting because they were a central pillar to my Middle School experience... the boy band that every girl loved and every boy loved to hate, just when they were starting to *really* like girls... at, of course, the time when we were at our most unattractive and awkward thanks to puberty. So making fun on New Kids on the Block was part of the weird pubescent attempts at flirting that mixed playground antics and more confused adult desires.

So anyway, it's a little surreal to see this:

Thursday, May 8, 2008

More on the "Unity Ticket" at TNR

It looks like The Stump at The New Republic is putting up the opinions of various writers on the idea of a Obama-Clinton ticket... the first two, Alan Wolfe and Ed Kilgore, are pretty compelling.

None of this ought to be said if Obama chose Clinton only because he is black and she is a woman. But these are the two most talented politicians the Democrats have, one, as it happens, adept at the high road, the other at the low. It is also the case that both have genuine leadership abilities. The Democrats could use identity politics to move beyond identity politics. The country would be better off for it.

Symbolism aside, Hillary Clinton would bring some tangible political assets to the Democratic ticket. Even if you dismiss her relative strength in the primaries among white working-class voters, older voters, Appalachians, or Catholics as ephemeral or irrelevant to a general election campaign, there is simply no denying her personal and positive appeal to professional women and Latinos, with whom she has generated as much excitement as Obama has among younger voters and African-Americans. She would also bring some national security street cred to the ticket, which is an Obama vulnerability that I suspect is being underappreciated at the moment.

If the unity ticket is going to happen, it ought to happen as early as possible. We need to put the nomination contest behind us, and get on with the task of ending the Bush Era once and for all.

I've never been convinced of the prospects of working class whites voting en masse for HRC in the fall, as they've not been strong Democratic supporters for a while... but I certainly have been concerned about older women, and how much resentment they might harbor for Obama... but Kilgore also brings up a good point about Hispanics. Those are two groups we need to be healed and brought back into the fold and it's worth considering a Hillary Clinton vice presidency as the proper means to accomplish that.

Of course, for this to be remotely plausible Hillary Clinton is going to have to start backing off... which it's not entirely clear she is going to do.

Hi-Rise Bread Company

As big fans of sandwiches, Anna and I often take weekend walks to one of the two Darwin's Ltd. locations in Cambridge, or if we are feeling lazy we just wander a couple of blocks to Oxford Spa. All-Star Sandwich Bar is also an option, especially if there is something else we want to do in Inman (like visit Christina's spice shop), though it's appeal is more dependent on what the daily specials might be. Regardless, they are all quite good and I thought I had a pretty good handle on where the best sandwiches in Cambridge are until I ran into the comments section of the Ezra Klien post that also introduced me to the concept of a banh mi.

Anna had seen the place in her travels, so we decided to make a field trip.

Hi-Rise has two locations, one in Huron Village (Concord and Huron) and the other on the edges of Harvard Square (Brattle). With both in easy walking distance, but the Harvard Square location being reportedly much smaller, we elected to head over to the one in Huron Village.

View Larger Map
Now, if you check out the reviews on Citysearch you'll see a fair number of complaints that focus on poor service and overcrowding... which seemed to be most likely related, so we chose a weeknight for our first trip.

The location itself is fairly large, but is mostly dominated by the bread making operations so the area for seating and waiting in line is on the small side. There are two long communal tables with benches as well as maybe a handful of two person tables on the edges of the room. I was surprised to find that they sold wine as well as sandwiches, bread, and desert. I didn't look too closely, but it seemed like they were in the $10-20 range and many had fairly detailed descriptions/reviews with recommended food pairings. They also sold boxes of "mix packs" of six bottles for $55 as "daily drinking wine", which struck me as a pretty unique and really good idea... especially if you like the taste of their sommelier. In addition, they sold some stuffed hearth roasted chickens for $12 that looked pretty good though it grossed the vegan out that they put them so close to the pretty bread. In that regard, as you might expect from a bread company, they had dozens of types prominently displayed and available by the loaf that all looked tremendous.

They might have close to thirty different sandwiches on their menu (significantly more than Darwin's at any rate) as well as a dozen or so salads, 5 or 6 of the sandwiches explicitly vegetarian but of the cheese eating kind - and they looked at Anna like she was an alien when she asked to be spared. From the reviews it's indicated that they don't care for substitutions on their sandwiches, but despite severe shock and disbelief, they didn't have a problem not including cheese for her. So Anna's choice was a half sandwich called "DDC Olive's Fix" which consisted of grilled portabello, onion confit, swiss, spicy mustard stacked onto concord bread and grilled... while my selection was "Andi's Loose- Knit Crew" which was grilled portobello mushroom, gorgonzola, crispy bacon, monterey jack, spinach, red onion, special sauce on concord bread which was also grilled. They came in littel baskets and were simply gorgeous (I wish I snapped a picture)... certainly well done on the presentation. Both of us really liked our sandwiches, and all the ingredients appeared to be high quality and well prepared. What really made the sandwich seem exceptional was, perhaps not surprisingly, the deliciousness of the bread and added flavor of grilling. In my case anyway, I really appreciated the melty gorgonzola and jack cheese with still hot portobello and wilted spinach... and I've never really been that drawn to hot sandwiches or paninis, but perhaps I need to reevaluate. Overall, I would definitely say the sandwich I had, if indicative of their other items, suggests that they are indeed worthy of all the praise they get... and perhaps the best sandwich shop in Boston/Cambridge, though I don't think I'm ready to bestow that ranking after a single meal.

As far as crowds and service, it really wasn't bad at all on a Wednesday evening (we arrived around 6:30 I'd say - they close at 8 pm on weeknights). There was certainly a line, maybe 6 people long, that didn't get much shorter until well after 7... in addition, all of the two people tables were taken and pretty much stayed that way, but the benches were fine and only sparsely populated. Service seemed quite nice to me, didn't present any problems, and our wait for our food was pretty normal. I imagine this isn't the case at 1 pm on a Saturday, but Darwin's is pretty terrible in that regard as well, so it's really what I would expect... but if you want to try it out without overwhelming crowds I think you'd do fine in the Monday-Friday late dinner range.

Speaking of dinner, they also offer a "gourmet to go" option which daily/weekly changing menu (though chicken seemed to always be available) at around $18 per person. I guess a good choice for the presumed multitude of Cambridge residents with $40K kitchens who don't know how to use their stove but would like to pretend the do... based on their sandwiches I'm sure it's all quite delicious and would look great on those granite counter tops. To be fair, it doesn't seem like a bad idea for surprising the Sig Other with a romantic dinner at home if you aren't an expert cook. I guess it's not any more expensive than a restaurant and you have the bonus of being closer to the bedroom if it goes well.

Price might actually be the major negative mark against the place actually, as all of the sandwiches are close to $10, a couple bucks more than Darwin's, though they buy local I think, so depending on your politics it might be worth it... and the sandwiches are really good, but probably not an everyday thing.

So with those caveats, Hi-Rise is highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Is it over yet?

With a 14 point win in North Carolina and a 2 point loss in Indiana, it might be. While I thought that a sweep was necessary to change the media narrative, the chattering class on MSNBC(whose coverage I watched on the intertubes because Chuck Todd is pretty good) certainly seemed to think that it was just as good, with Russert calling the race. It's a bit interesting that the margins were pretty much what people were predicting three weeks ago, but now it might be the decisive blow that ends the Clinton campaign... obviously a lot of that is due to Reverend Wright and Bittergate and gas tax controversies, and the fact that those 3 weeks of intensely negative coverage did nothing to alter the results. It seems logical to wonder that if, in that wake of all that, she couldn't change the nature of the race then when exactly is she going to do it? There just aren't that many delegates or votes left on the table, and so there isn't a realistic metric where that she could conceivably end up with the lead.

A quick scan of the Washington Post and New York Times seems to show only negative stories about her chances. I don't see her dropping out just yet as she will have a big victory in West Virginia next weekend as well as Kentucky the week after. However, with Oregon the same day as Kentucky, the Obama camp is saying they expect to have nailed down 50+ percent of the elected delegates on the 20th. If she is going to drop out, that would be the most logical time frame... but I'm not sure how likely that is either, as she and her supporters have made a big deal about "counting every vote". However, if the "kitchen sink strategy" is out the window and and the media starts calling Obama the presumptive nominee or whatever, then who really cares whether she takes it to the convention? I really do think the days of negative campaigning are over, since I don't think the Superdelegates are going to have much patience with destructive attacks... so if the spends the next few months attacking McCain and pushing her health care plan then what's the problem?

The one caveat is whether, if she wins West Virginia by 20 points or more, whether the media swoons a bit and changes the storyline... I don't think that will happen, but we will have to see.

Anyway, good news for Obama and Democrats in general, and now it's time to see whether the wounds will heal themselves or whether either Clinton herself or someone from her camp needs to be chosen for VP to help the party move on.

(picture used under a Creative Commons license by flickr user tsevis)

UPDATE: Here is rundown of the pundits saying "It's Over." Not sure how I feel about the media driving the story here, but at least they are confirming the math that has been the case for months now.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

CompUSA - Rise from your grave!

via Gizmodo

CompUSA was, once upon a time, one of the few brick and mortar stores you could buy computer components from, and was pretty much the go-to shop for your average computer nerd... then internet retailing and Best Buy happened and CompUSA started to suck. Trying to adapt(poorly) to this new marketplace, CompUSA ended it's existence as a more expensive (with less selection!) Best Buy and, thus, nobody was sorry to see it go... but then Tiger Direct bought it, which was intriguing to say the least, as Tiger Direct is the online equivalent of what CompUSA once was. Looking at their website, their "Barebone" kits seem a nice compromise between a ordering a Dell(very expensive but easy) or buying every component individually from Tiger Direct or Newegg and building it yourself (big hassle and lots of time commitment but cheap).

At this point though, they've only reopened stores in Florida and Texas, and thus I don't know what their plans are for the old Brighton location they had.

However, since I'm looking to upgrade my computer in the next year, I might price the components of some of their "barebone" systems at Newegg and see what the difference is... if it's not much more expensive, I may go that way instead of buying everything individually.

More Hot Democratic Primary Action

So Tar Heels and, uhm, people who live in Indiana(EDIT: Duh... Hoosiers), go to the polls today for our eighty billionth day of Democratic primary contests that will never EVER end.

From what I can gather, polls for North Carolina close 7:30 p.m. ET while Indiana closes at 7:00 p.m ET... so results should start coming in around then.

In the analysis department, I think I'll outsource it to Noam Scheiber at the Stump, who has several interesting observations:
There are four polls out today that previously came out last week. All four show Obama gaining in Indiana and Clinton gaining in North Carolina. In Indiana, Clinton's lead is down from 8 to 5 (PPP), from 9 to 8 (ARG), 7 to 4 (Insider Advantage), and from tied to down 2 (Zogby). In North Carolina, Obama's lead is down from 12 to 10 (PPP), from 11 to 8 (ARG), 5 to 3 (Insider Advantage--actually more like 5 to just under 4), and 16 to 8 (Zogby). I don't know precisely where that leaves us, but, qualitatively, I'd guess we're looking at a "solid, but not as big as it could have been" win for Hillary in Indiana, and a "closer-than-expected, but not super-close" win for Obama in North Carolina.

This, of course, would be Chris Bowers' Most Annoying Result in that it wouldn't change any dynamics of the race and we just trudge on to the next primary. Obama would come out with more net delegates and this is the last big chunk of pledged delegates (187 are at stake today compared to 217 in the remaining 6 primaries) that Clinton has to close the gap, but Conventional Wisdom would be that he didn't "close it out" and the she still has a shot. A sweep by either candidate, no matter how narrow the margins, would be a big deal, however... an Obama sweep ends the whole thing, while a Clinton sweep puts Obama on the ropes and maybe gives some justification for Superdelegates to swing her way... the math is still terrible for her, but she at least comes out with momentum and a semi-logical argument instead of just crazy talk.

Now, for those intent on following along at home and trying to guess the outcomes based on exit polls, here is Noam's advice on the demographics to keep an eye on:
Demographically, the two groups to follow are African-Americans (obviously) and college-educated voters. Mark Blumenthal puts the likely black vote-share at 9-12 percent in Indiana, and high 20s to high 30s in North Carolina. The bottom end of those ranges should be good news for Hillary, the top end should be good for Obama. Except! We don't yet know how African-Americans are reacting to Wright. I speculated last week that some black voters could be even more pessimistic than white voters about what Wright's done to Obama's electability. If Obama's margins among black voters slip, that could be the reason, and things could get dicey for him regardless of turnout. (Interestingly, at least in Indiana, the robo-polls show Hillary doing slightly better among African Americans than the live-interview polls. I wonder if they're picking up on a queasiness black voters are less comfortable sharing with human interviewers.)

As for college grads, this goes back to a debate John Judis and I had after Pennsylvania. Obama rarely loses this demographic, but he lost it last time out, and losing it again would be worrying--a sign that his coalition is shrinking. On the other hand, per the back-and-forth Mike and I had last week, if there were ever a demographic that might respond well to Obama's attack on gas-tax pandering (and badly to Hillary's attack on experts), it's college grads. The gas tax debate could help him nail down this group.

So I don't really know what the take home message is from that in prediction terms, but it's interesting nonetheless.

Anyway, here's hoping for a knockout blow from Obama tonight.

UPDATE: Zogby says that Obama is expanding his lead in NC and is pulling ahead in Indiana, but since Zogby is almost always wrong, I would say this does not bode well for tonight.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Urban Elites mount anthropological expedition to the Outback (Steakhouse)

It looks like there is widespread bemused incredulity at the New York Times latest attempt to paint itself as the paper of latte sippin' out-of-touch elites. Basically, the premise is that the NYT food critics took trips out to suburban chain restaurants to report on how the natives could subsist on such fare... and, yes, it really is that arrogant and insulting. To give an example, one reviewer expresses confusion at how "those coasterlike disks that light up when your table has been called" work. Uhm, right. So what's the punch line? They found out that suburban chain restaurants really aren't that bad (except for Applebees whose customers they essentially call simple minded children).

Now, I certainly make a habit of not eating at chain restaurants whenever I'm in a decent sized city... and since I live in one of those cities, I can't remember when was the last time I ate at a national chain... maybe an Outback Steakhouse for somebody's birthday 4 or 5 years ago. Regardless, I know how they work and that, for the most part, they are decent places to eat and it's not some sort of black mark on your soul to live in a place where national chains are the only reliable option. It seriously strains credibility to assert that these places are complete mysteries to our sophisticated reporters, when in fact, these chains are all over New York City.

Honestly, if you wanted to parody Sneering Elites, then this would pretty much be the text book example.

Iron Man

So Anna and I went to see the Iron Man movie (sitting at astonishing 94% on Rotten Tomatoes) at the Loews on Boston Common Friday night... place was packed, of course... we got there probably 20 minutes early and still had to sit in the front section, though that has to be expected on opening weekend in Boston.

Anyway, it really is great summer blockbuster type fun. Robert Downey Jr. is a fantastic Tony Stark and the dialog is snappy and crisp. Great action coupled with some funny moments and plenty of easter eggs for comic book fans (be sure to stay to the end of the credits!).

I've never really been much of an Iron Man fan... always pretty much solid X-men with a little Batman thrown in since he's such a psychopath. Tony Stark is pretty interesting with all of his flaws, but gadget oriented superheroes just aren't my thing(which is a little odd since I'm an engineer, but there it is)... however this movie has definitely given me a newfound respect for Iron Man the hero and solidified my interest in Tony Stark the character.

I have to say this was the best executed super hero movie I've ever seen, and could only wish the X-men had been so excellently cast and competently executed. Even Batman Begins, which was excellent, had flaws (the fight scenes, for example, were badly shot IMHO)... none of which is in evidence in Iron Man. It's really pitch perfect as far as the superhero movie goes; the best of the bunch.

Now, how does it compare to "regular movies"? I'm not sure I'm qualified to judge, since I can't really separate the comic book origins out... but I think it's certainly going to stand up as one of the better popcorn flick action movies of the last ten years or more, and it even has a little social commentary thrown in there for free. I do know that Anna really enjoyed it, and she is not exactly a superhero fanatic, so that's something.

So, two thumbs up. Go see it right now.

(image used under a Creative Commons license by flickr user Speaking Jargon)

Obama-Clinton '08?

An inveterate Obama supporter, and one of the biggest sufferers of "Clinton Derangement Syndrome" in all the Intertubes, Andrew Sullivan makes the case for the "Dream Ticket".
I never thought I'd even consider it; but times change; politics shifts, and in the roiling flux of this American campaign, a bold unifying gesture could make the Democratic ticket — and an Obama presidency — unstoppable almost overnight. It's still highly unlikely, but so was JF Kennedy running with Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan running with the first George Bush.

I'm not sure I've ever been against the idea of an Obama-Clinton ticket, I've just never thought it was remotely probable that Hillary Clinton would accept the #2 spot. So why does Sullivan believe that the vice-presidency is precisely what she wants?
There are three main theories behind Clinton's refusal to acquiesce to mathematics: she simply cannot tolerate losing a nomination she believes she has a dynastic right to; she is trying to ensure that Obama loses in 2008 in order to run again herself in 2012; or she wants to be offered the vice-presidential spot on an Obama-led ticket. I'm beginning to suspect the last option is the most plausible, and it gives Obama a potential opening: why not give her what she wants?

Not terribly persuasive, but while I agree that she's not crazy, I think she could just as plausibly be hanging on just to see what happens. I mean, why not? It's not her money(well, most of it), so why not wait it out and see if Obama has some necrophilia or something in his past? (Though if Obama implodes I think it most likely that Dems draft Gore) However, let's concede the point that HRC would like to be the vice president in an Obama led administration and see why Sullivan thinks that would be such a good idea.
By picking Clinton as a vice-president, he would be pulling a classic American manoeuvre — getting a surrogate to do the dirty pugilism of the campaign, while using his own extraordinary skills to provide a unifying and uplifting overall theme. Picking Clinton would also defuse genuine concerns among older voters that he is just too green to be entrusted with presidential power just yet.

Remember Kennedy-Johnson? They too loathed each other and cast extremely different shadows in American public life. But Kennedy put Johnson on his ticket in order to achieve exactly what Obama needs to achieve now: bringing more conservative, practically-minded voters into his camp. There are other figures who could do this for Obama — most obviously, the anti-war Reagan Democrat senator Jim Webb from Virginia. Webb also neutralizes McCain's veteran appeal to heartland voters. And Webb has a tough campaigning streak as well.But the hard reality is that the Democratic party is deeply divided and Webb cannot bring the losing faction with him.

The Clinton dynasty has lost to the new pretender, but it hasn't been defeated in one fell swoop. Dynasties rarely are. The old guard also has enough clout and enough support to threaten Obama with considerable collateral damage — if it wants to — and that's the message it is now clearly sending.

The old political adage that you should keep your friends close but your enemies closer therefore seems appropriate. Clinton will not be running for president in 2012 if she is vice-president in 2009. The same could not be said if she were consigned back to the Senate to lick her wounds and plot her future. If Obama wanted to flatter her even more, and keep her occupied, he could offer her the healthcare portfolio — allowing her a second chance to do what she so fatally failed to do 15 years ago. And if she turned him down, he could nonetheless say that at least he tried.

The biggest problem, of course, is Bill. He is an inveterate meddler, and thinks of Obama as his nemesis. Having a former president married to your vice-president could give Obama a huge headache as president. But what we've seen in this campaign is how resilient the Clintons are and how dangerous they will be to any Democratic president who isn't beholden to them. Better, perhaps, to co-opt them and bring them into the tent than to have them as dangerous dynastic rivals outside it.

Basically his thesis is that it would unify the party and it's better to have the Clinton's where you can see them. I think the idea that the party is fractured is overblown, as despite the amount of vitriol being tossed around by supporters I really have trouble believing that many are immature enough to sit at home in November if their candidate isn't the nominee. However, a unity ticket certainly can't hurt party unity, can it? I also think there is some merit to the idea that Obama would be better able to handle the Clintons if he co-opts them. Surely the next 4 years would likely be strategic pseudo opposition from Hillary Clinton in the Senate that could be painful as she sets up for 2012.

I guess the real question, given that we accept that the VP slot is what HRC wants, is why would Obama want it? As Sullivan mentions, Jim Webb offers many of the same appeals as Hillary Clinton plus he is a former Marine who showers with a combat knife in his teeth*. At this point, Obama is winning and really has no need to do the unity thing. He has every reason to believe that once he has secured the nomination the party will unite behind him... I mean look at McCain... half the party loathes that guy, but they're still going to vote for him.

For me to really get behind this is going to depend on what happens tomorrow... if Obama wins both North Carolina and Indiana then the race is over and Obama can dictate the terms (and if HRC is the veep choice then so be it). If they split North Carolina and Indiana and it looks (again!) like this thing is never going to end and that Obama just can't close it out... then I'm all about a unity ticket and ending the race so we can focus on McCain. If Hillary Clinton beats the odds and wins both states, then I would obviously still be behind a unity ticket, but I think that Hillary Clinton would be thinking that she can still pull it out - mathematically not really true, but she would have some Big Mo' to make her case at the convention.

* That last part is probably untrue

Friday, May 2, 2008

Is Science a greater threat to our children than GTA IV?

I guess it would depend on how you feel about the Holocaust. According to Ben Stein, of the anti-evolution propaganda piece “Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed”:
Stein: When we just saw that man, I think it was Mr. Myers [i.e. biologist P.Z. Myers], talking about how great scientists were, I was thinking to myself the last time any of my relatives saw scientists telling them what to do they were telling them to go to the showers to get gassed … that was horrifying beyond words, and that’s where science — in my opinion, this is just an opinion — that’s where science leads you.

Crouch: That’s right.

Stein: …Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people.

Crouch: Good word, good word.

If Real Life were more like Internet Forums then conservative commentators wouldn't be able to get away with breaking Godwin's Law all the time, but alas, we get statements like this and books like Liberal Fascism.

Of course, it is important to note that our modern Institutional Review Boards and our concept of research ethics are, in large part, a response to the horrors committed in the name of Science in concentration camps. Indeed, the Nuremberg Code was written in order keep such atrocities from ever happening again, and forms the backbone of all the various rules and regulations that people who are involved in human research must be versed in.

But if we're going to essentially call Charles Darwin a Nazi to invalidate evolutionary theory via reductio ad Hitlerum, then why don't we call Martin Luther a Nazi and dispose of all Protestants? Or maybe the fact that the Third Reich favored certain authors or ideas has no bearing on their legitimacy? Hmmm.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

For the hipster Vampire on your holiday list...

via Andrew Sullivan

A coffin couch! Only $3500 and it's recycled... no, not "dug-out-of-the-ground-and-body-dumped-in-a-pit" recycled, since if a human body has been put in a coffin it becomes a biohazard... but recylced in the "cosmetic-imperfections-so-can't-use-or-sell" sense.

But there you go... perfect for the environmentally conscious Goth out to impress!

More than just Pho apparently...

The indignant commenter response to an Ezra Klien post lamenting sandwich options in D.C., surprisingly introduced me to a piece of Vietnamese cuisine that I had never heard of (and I eat a lot of Pho):

Meet the Bánh mì, which The Globe, describing the offerings of New Saigon of Chinatown (Boston), characterizes as:
The banh mi roll looks like an undistinguished supermarket baguette, a side split bun, something straight out of the toaster at Quiznos. It's slathered with sweet, slightly garlicky mayonnaise and stuffed with your choice of fillings, which include Vietnamese ham, head cheese and pate, shredded pork, curry chicken, tofu. Then it's topped with matchsticks of pickled carrot and daikon, whole sprigs of fresh cilantro, and cucumber spears. If you say you want it spicy, you won't be disappointed. You'll get thinly sliced jalapenos or small red bird chilies with the seeds intact. After a drizzle of fish sauce or soy sauce, the cook slips the sandwich into a small paper bag, then into a larger paper bag. All yours, amazingly, for about the price of a hot dog.

Interestingly, it appears that the reason I have never encountered this sandwich is because pho and bánh mì don't often mix... I guess you mainly get a little sandwich shop or a full blown pho restaurant, and not often both. (Pho Viet in Supper 88 being the notable Boston middle ground apparently)

Sadly there does not appear to be any Cambridge bánh mì shops that I can find, but we're always looking for an excuse to drive over to Allston for Super 88 and filling baskets full of interesting things whose labels we can't read... now we can make a point to get sammiches too. Not to mention that with the weather getting warmer, a trip to Chinatown for bánh mì followed by a meal and walk in the Common is an attractive idea.

Consider it another food project.

(Photo used under a Creative Commons license by flickr user roboppy)