Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm off to Maine in a few hours and have a bunch of stuff I need to finish up for work, so this will probably be my last blog post before Sunday or Monday.

I'll have a lot of cooking to report back on, and I hope to GPS another hike as well.... but until then, have a good holiday!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving Gameplan, Day 2

The results can be found here.

Part I, with the bulk of the cooking lineup is here... so this will be a short post just about getting the turkey, dressing, and gravy all onto the table on Thanksgiving Day, with a pumpkin pie for desert. If you followed Part I, cooking up a storm the day/night before, there isn't a whole lot to do on the actual day... unless of course you have responsibility for other sides like mashed potatoes and whatnot... luckily for me, Anna does all that stuff, though I will most likely be lending a hand.

Thursday November 27th, 2008
Dinner, T-minus 2-2 1/2 hours: High Roasting the Turkey
At 450 degrees, the turkey takes about 80-100 minutes to reach 165 degrees at the thickest part of the breast. Obviously, that time is plus or minus, though much more likely "plus"... but I've found myself in that range both of the other times I've made it. You also need to let the turkey rest at least 20 minutes before carving, so that's where the 2-2 1/2 hour time frame comes from.

Also, you really need an instant read thermometer for this... which you should own for any poultry you cook... those pop up things are rubbish. If you don't mind spending a little more money, I like the ones that have remote probes and sit outside the oven... though I've learned you have to be kind of careful with the probes, as I've had one die on me (though it got pretty heavy use and lasted 2 years) so I'd recommend buying it at a local cooking shop that you know sells replacement probes as well. The main reason I prefer it to the hand held models is that you don't have to open the oven, lowering the temperature, and increasing the cooking time... just stick the probe in the thickest part of the breast and forget about it until it's done... or if you're an OCD cook like me, you can check the readout every 15 minutes instead of peeking in the oven. You'll still need to check a couple of different spots when you take it out, to really be sure it's done, but I find using the remote probe and then poking it a couple of times makes me a more relaxed cook. When you take it out to check for final done-ness, this is what Cook's Illustrated suggests:
The tendency when inserting a thermometer straight down into the meat (which is not even 2 inches thick) is to push it down too far or not far enough. For this reason, we prefer to insert the thermometer horizontally from the top (neck) end down the length of the breast. The idea is to insert the thermometer well into the meat, then slowly withdraw it, looking for the lowest temperature that registers.

If you're taking the temperature of the breast on a whole chicken, aim for the meat just above the bone by inserting the thermometer low into the thickness of the breast. Because the cavity slows the cooking, the coolest spot sits just above the bone (which is a poor conductor of heat).
So that's the plan for me. To start, I'll insert the remote probe from the neck end and keep it near the bone and put it fairly deep in. I'll set the temp alarm for 165. When I take the turkey out, I'll check the temp as I slowly pull the thermometer out... to make sure it's done all along the breast bone. I may check the other breast as well, since I don't particularly want salmonella. I'll check the thighs too, of course, but I'm pretty confident that the butterflying will save me there (though you obviously always want to be sure). The uncertainties with cooking poultry are one of the big reasons to brine, as it gives you a bigger temperature window of moist meat... so I can err on the side of caution and not end up with dried out meat (hopefully).

Anyway, on to the turkey cooking...

You'll need one ingredient for this step (besides the prepped turkey):
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  1. Adjust an oven rack to the lower middle position, and set the oven at 450 degrees. Remove the broiler top with the turkey, and discard the foil covering the roasting pan. Replace the broiler top and turkey.
  2. Brush the turkey with the melted butter, and place the entire assembly in the oven.
  3. Rotate the roasting pan 180 degrees (back to front) 40 minutes in.
  4. The turkey will be done, after anywhere from 80-100 minutes of roasting (total), when an instant read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the breast reads 165 degrees and 175 when inserted into the thickest part of the thigh.
  5. Remove the broiler top to a cutting board so the turkey can rest for 20 minutes. Move an oven rack to the upper middle position and return the roasting pan with the stuffing to the oven, and bake until golden brown - 10 minutes. Cool the dressing 5 minutes and serve.

Dinner, T-minus 15-30 minutes: Finish the gravy
Technically, it's not really gravy at this point... despite all the work from the previous night, it's just "stock"... so you'll need the stock with it's congealed turkey fat on top out of the refrigerator plus:
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  • Salt and ground black pepper
  1. If you have a fat separator, and were smart enough to refrigerate your stock in it the night before, pour the stock through a fine mesh strainer into a medium saucepan... leaving the congealed fat behind. Otherwise, spoon off the fat with a large soup spoon and reserve it (you'll need it for the roux) before likewise pouring the stock through a fine mesh strainer into the saucepan.
  2. Bring the sauce to a simmer over medium high heat.
  3. In a second saucepan heat 4 tablespoons of the reserved turkey fat over medium high heat until bubbling. Whisk in the flour, whisking constantly, until it is combined and turns honey colored. About 2 minutes. Continuing to whisk constantly, gradually pour in the hot stock. Bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to medium low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened... about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and serve with the turkey.
I'll warn you that if you've never done a roux before, this is probably the trickiest part of the whole meal... you might want a backup jar of gravy, just in case you end up with a clumpy mess... but I've managed to make decent gravy(though admittedly, now that I have more experience it's become much better), so I think that probably means anyone can.


So there you have it. I'll take some pictures and make some notes, if I can, and report back how it went (especially the pie) on Monday.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Gameplan - High Roast Butterflied Turkey with Sausage Dressing and a Pumpkin Pie

Day 2 can be seen here. Results here.

As I've mentioned previously, this will be my third time cooking a turkey for the holidays. Since Anna's father will be the only other person who eats meat in attendance, it's not super high pressure, but I take it pretty seriously nonetheless because... why not? Anyway, in the past I've stuck to turkey, dressing and gravy so I've not had the insanity of trying to have twenty different things all ready at the same time. Most of the work with the turkey happens Wednesday night, so I can just stroll into the kitchen on Thursday, pop the turkey in for a couple hours and relax and watch football or whatever while Anna and her mother run around and do all the hard stuff. This holiday, however, I'm mixing up my routine by trying to make a decidedly non vegan pumpkin pie since it's one of my favorites... and I don't think Anna and her family care much for the vegan version, so why not try to make the regular one? The problem being I have to make that on Wednesday as well, and I don't want to be up until 3 in the morning waiting for a pie to finish... that sort of takes away from the gloating aspect if I'm all bleary eyed and yawning the next day.

There are a few non gloating reasons to do most of the work ahead of time. The main one is obvious... less stress. As an inexperienced cook, my biggest problem is freaking out because I have too many things going on at once, which is big part of why I'm writing up a detailed plan ahead of time. I'll print this out and have it near me as I cook, to (hopefully) save me time and frustration from trying to figure out what I'm supposed to do next. In addition, on the culinary side, letting the turkey air dry over night helps you get a super crisp skin... which is one of the big reasons of doing a "high roast". The dressing also benefits from resting several hours so the flavors blend and the dried cornbread absorbs the liquids... or so they tell me.

We'll leave Boston sometime after lunch, with a 4-5 hour drive and a quick bite when we arrive (and using past history to guesstimate) I should be ready to start cooking by 6 pm. The recipes here are all adapted from Cook's Illustrated, the turkey, dressing, and gravy from The New Best Recipe and the pumpkin pie from the November & December 2008 issue. Note that the turkey recipe is sightly different from the one you can get online if you join their website(they do an 8 hour brine and they don't have the associated gravy recipe from what I can tell).

Wednesday November 26th, 2008
6:00 pm - Butterfly the Turkey
The technique is identical to what I did with the High Roast Chicken (and there is a video link in that post to an America's Test Kitchen video with a chicken). The main difference being that a turkey is much much harder to butterfly than a chicken. I use a cleaver, but theoretically you could do it with a chef's knife. There will be hacking and sawing... which reminds me I should get some disposable rubber gloves so I don't cut my hands on turkey bones like I do every year. You also will have to beat on the breastbone a bit... Cook's says to put plastic wrap over it and beat it with a rolling pin... seriously! Just pushing with the palm of your hand isn't going to work like it does with a chicken.

So why go through all this? Mainly it allows you to cook at a higher temperature, and deals with the problem of the turkey's vaulted bone structure which tends to overcook your breast meat and/or under cook the dark meat... other recipes call for flipping the turkey over in the middle and things like that. Butterflying is a lot like just cutting the turkey into pieces, but with a much prettier presentation that you kind of need for a holiday feast. In addition, in a recent article Harold McGee's main argument against brining was that the pan drippings were too salty to make a good gravy. I hadn't heard that before, but since I don't brine the backbone, neck, and tailpiece that are used in the gravy, maybe that's why I've not noticed a problem. But, regardless, if one of your concerns was overly salty gravy that shouldn't be a issue here... though the turkey juices do end up flavoring the dressing/stuffing, so if you are sensitive to the taste of salt, this might not be the methodology for you.

There are two things you need that you won't see on the ingredient list and are not super common in every kitchen... a 16 x 12 inch disposable aluminum roasting pan and a slotted broiler pan top. If you don't have a broiler pan, you can supposedly use a wire rack that's big enough to span the aluminum pan. Cover the rack with heavy duty foil, spray with cooking spray, and cut some slits with a paring knife for fat drainage.

6:30 pm
Put the turkey(12-14 pounds) in a big stockpot with 1 cup table salt and 1 cup sugar dissolved in about 2 gallons of water for 4 hours in the refrigerator. Now time to make the cornbread for the dressing.


  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 1/2 cups yellow stone-ground cornmeal
  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  1. Oven to 375 degrees, rack to middle. Grease a 13 x 9 baking dish.
  2. Beat eggs(3) in a medium bowl. Whisk in 1 cup buttermilk and 1 cup milk.
  3. In a separate, large bowl, whisk together all the dry ingredients (cornmeal, flour, et al). Make a well and pour in the egg/milk mixture. Stir together until just combined and add in the melted butter
  4. Put into the oven until top is golden brown and edges have pulled away from the sides of the pan: 30-40 minutes.
  5. Put pan on a wire baking dish to let cool for an hour.
While the cornbread is baking, I will need to start chopping up turkey parts and aromatics to roast for the gravy. All of the chopping here can be pretty rough.

Turkey Gravy
  • giblets, neck, tailpiece, and backbone cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1 medium carrot, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 celery rib, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 2 small onions, chopped coarse
  • 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
Put turkey parts, carrot, celery, onions, and garlic in a large flameproof roasting pan (you're going to have to put it on top of burners, so nice heavy metal one is good). In the past I've used a broiler pan and kept the heat down to medium when I put it on the burner, while only using half the broth to scrape up the browned bits (the rest goes in when you transfer it to a saucepan), but this year I might bring up my Le Creuset dutch oven since I know for sure that can take 450 plus work on a burner. A possible problem with that would be insufficient surface area for browning, but the pot is pretty big and that's not a ton of stuff... but that's something for me to consider between now and Wednesday. Regardless, spray everything in the pan lightly with cooking spray and toss to combine. Now you just wait until the cornbread comes out of the oven.

7:10 pm - Roast the turkey parts and aromatics and start the pie crust
Move the oven temperature up from 375 to 450. Once it's preheated, put your roasting pan in the oven for 40-50 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes. You want everything to be very well browned. Now we move on to make the pie crust (though I may wimp out of this and buy one of Pillsbury roll out ones).

Pumpkin Pie Crust
  • 1 1/4 cups(6.25 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) cold unsalted butter cut into 1/4 inch slices
  • 1/4 cup cold vegetable shortening cut into 2 pieces
  • 2 tablespoons cold vodka
  • 2 tablespoons cold water
  1. Process 3/4 cup flour, salt, and sugar until combined (2 1 second pulses). Add butter and shortening and process for about 10 seconds: homogeneous dough should just start to collect in uneven clumps. According to the magazine it's supposed to look like cottage cheese with small pieces of butter still remaining, but no un-coated flour. Interesting. Scrape the dough down with a spatula so it's evenly around the blade. Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour and pulse 4 to 6 times until mixture is evenly distributed around bowl and mass of dough has been broken up. Transfer to a medium bowl.
  2. Sprinkle water and vodka over mixture. With spatula fold to mix, pressing down on dough until it is "slightly tacky and sticks together". Flatten dough into 4 inch disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 45 minutes or up to 2 days. The pie will be the last thing in the oven, so that should not be a problem.
8:00 PM - Back to the gravy
  • roasted turkey parts and aromatics from above
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 cups dry white wine
  • 3 cups water
  • 6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
  1. Remove the pan from the oven and place on a burner at high heat(see above if you are using a non flameproof broiler pan). Add chicken broth and bring to a boil, using a wooden spoon to scrape up the browned bits.
  2. Transfer to large saucepan. Add wine, water, and thyme and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce it to a simmer and take note of how high it comes up in the pan, because you want it to reduce by half... which should take about 1.5 hours. So once you've got that simmering happily, it's on to the cornbread dressing.
8:15 PM - Dry out the cornbread, and finish the sausage dressing
Turn the oven down to 250 (you might want to turn it off and open it up depending on whether your oven tells you when it's at the right temperature) and put racks at the upper middle and lower middle position. While the oven is cooling down, break your cornbread (which should be cool by now) into 1 inch pieces (include the crumbs) and put them onto even layers on two rimmed baking sheets. It'll take 50-60 minutes for the crumbs to dry out.

Now to prep the other ingredients for the dressing, and to cook the sausage.

Sausage Dressing

  • dried out cornbread from above
  • 1 3/4 cups chicken or turkey stock
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 2 large eggs lightly beate
  • 12 oz pork sausage crumbled
  • 3 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 3 celery ribs, chopped fine
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • 2 tablespoons mince fresh sage leaves
  • 3 medium garlic cloves mined or pressed through a garlic press
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons pepper
  1. While the bread is drying out in the oven, heat a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat until hot (1 1/2 minutes). Add the sausage and cook stirring occasionally until it loses its raw color (5-7 minutes). Transfer the sausage with a slotted spoon (leaving the fat in the pan hopefully) to a medium bowl. Cook about half of the celery and onions in the sausage fat, stirring occasionally, until softened and then transfer to the bowl with the cooked sausage. Add the butter into the skillet, and once the foaming subsides, add the rest of the onions and celery and saute until softened, another 5 minutes with some occasional stirring. Stir in the thyme, sage, and garlic and cook until fragrant(30 seconds) and then add in the salt and pepper. Add that all into the bowl with the already cooked sausage, celery, and onion and set aside until the bread is dried out.
  2. Once the bread is dried out, put it in a large bowl. Whisk together the stock, half and half, and eggs in separate medium bowl. Poor it over the bread, and toss very gently, trying not break up the bread into smaller pieces. Add in the sausage and onion mixture, and once again stir very gently to combine.
  3. Spray the bottom of your 16 by 12 disposable aluminum pan with cooking spray and pour the dressing mixture into an even layer. Cover the pan with foil and refrigerate it until you're need it again.

9:30 PM - Finish with the gravy for the evening, and back to the pie
The gravy reduction will be the least predictable and variable thing you cook, as it depends quite a bit on how hard you simmer it... but luckily you'll be working near the stove while it's reducing, so it's easy to keep an eye on. For the purposes of this writeup, I'll assume it finishes "on time" in an hour and a half... but even in only two tries I think I've had one take 2 hours and the other take an hour and fifteen minutes to reduce by half... though they were two vastly different stoves, so that might have been a big part of it. Regardless, all you do now is strain it to get the big pieces out and pour it into a measuring cup or container. Let it cool down to room temperature and then cover it with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the next day when you cook the turkey. The recipe only calls for an hour to get the fat to congeal, but to me, it makes more sense to refrigerate overnight and finish it with the roux as the turkey rests.

Pumpkin Pie Filling
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3 large eggs plus 2 large yolks
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 15oz can pumpkin puree
  • 1 cup drained candied yams from 15oz can
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon table salt
  1. Change the oven temp up to 400 after moving a rack to the lowest position. Remove dough from the fridge and lay it out on a "generously floured"(up to 1/4 cup) work surface. Apparently you want to roll it until it's a 12 inch circle that's an 1/8 of an inch think. I think I'll end up being glad Anna with her baking experience is around to guide me on this.
  2. Roll the dough around the rolling pin, loosely, and transfer to a pie plate... leaving at least an inch around each edge. You're supposed to ease it in by lifting the dough edge with one hand and pressing it into the plate with the other. Then refrigerate it for 15 minutes.
  3. Trim overhang to 1/2 an inch beyond lip of plate. Fold overhang under itself so that it's flush with the edge of the plate... then "flute" it with your thumb and forefinger. Then it goes back into the 'fridge for another 15 minutes to firm up some more.
  4. Line crust with foil and then put in a handful of loose change or some weights. Bake on a rimmed backing sheet for 15 minutes, remove weights and foil, rotate 180 degrees, and bake 5-10 minutes more until crust is golden brown and crisp.
  5. While the crust is baking, it's time to work on the filling. Whisk the cream, milk, eggs, yolks, and vanilla in a medium bowl.
  6. Combine pumpkin puree, yams, sugar, maple syrup, ginger cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, 5-7 minutes. (Does that direction mean it should take 5-7 minutes to get it to a simmer? I think so from watching the video on their website, but am not 100%certain). Simmer for another 10-15 minutes, stirring constantly and smashing the yams with a spoon until it is "thick and shiny".
  7. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream/milk mixture until fully incorporated. Strain it through a find mesh strainer into a medium bowl, pressing with a spoon or ladle on the solids. Re-whisk it and pour into the warm pre-baked pie shell. Return the shell to the oven on the cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 300 and bake for another 20-35 minutes when an instant read thermometer put in the center registers 175 degrees. The video revealed that the center will be jiggly and seem underdone, but that it will finish cooking as it cools to room temperature. Interesting.
The recipe says to let it cool for 2-3 hours, but assuming Anna thinks it will be O.K., I plan on just letting it sit out overnight.

11:15 PM - Prep the turkey for roasting
The only thing left to do for the night's cooking is to take the turkey out of the brine and truss it up. If I do end up taking the turkey out of the brine around this time it will be a slightly longer brine than the recipe suggests... near 5 hours instead of 4, but that's about how long I've left it in before and I've not had a problem with saltiness. As I mentioned in the beginning, the original magazine article had it as an 8 hour brine with the same concentrations... but if you're worried about it getting too salty, just take it out whenever your 4 hours is up (ideally, when the pie crust is in the fridge setting). Anyway, on with the recipe...

  1. Take the foil covered aluminum roasting pan containing the dressing out of the refrigerator, and place your slotted broiler pan top on top. Spray the top with cooking spray and place it all on top of a rimmed cookie sheet. 
  2. Remove the turkey from the brine and rinse thoroughly, inside and out, so there is no salt or sugar residue left. Place on top of the broiler pan top and pat dry with paper towels. Fold the wings back and underneath so it's all pretty like, and tie the legs together to help protect the breast meat. Refrigerate the bird and dressing together until you're ready to cook them (from 8 to 24 hours). 
And that's it for Wednesday night's cooking! Assuming everything goes at about the right speed (not bloody likely) I hope to be ready for bed by midnight. Whew!

I'll follow up tomorrow with a short post about cooking the actual turkey and finishing the gravy up, but this post seems long enough as it is!

See here for Day 2.

Friday, November 21, 2008

So is surgery done by robots better?

Of course not.

But did you miss the part where I said ROBOTS!? I don't care what it costs, give me some of that! Hell, I'll get surgery I don't even need so that I can get the robot.

Ah, the free market... making our health care both sucky and expensive. Wheee!

Clinton at State "on track"

How's that for a "definite maybe" or would it more accurately be categorized as a "surefire probably"?
President-elect Barack Obama is "on track" to name Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as his secretary of state shortly after Thanksgiving, two senior Obama aides said.
Is there some sort of pool where we can bet on how many times the news media will report that she's is or isn't going to accept SoS between now and when she actually does or doesn't accept?

The Dark Tower Series

Anna's always been a big fan of audio books since she does so much driving, but I've been much slower getting into it. It's admittedly nice when we go on trips, but I've generally always preferred the feel of a book in my hand and the ability to easily go back a paragraph or two if I space out. Also, my commute is pretty short, so it seems like it would take me ages to get through a book since I'd never(rarely at least) listen while at home. That's changed since I started to work out on the elliptical here at work instead of running outside as it's gotten colder... I've never been one for headphones when exercising outdoors, but staring at the same wall for 20-30 minutes is pretty hellish without some sort of input... and a book has proven much more effective at distracting me from how much I don't want to be exercising than music. I went through the last two books of The Bartimaeus Trilogy mainly during my commute and while working out, and became so fond of it that I was going through some tough withdrawal this week as I waited for Anna to pick up a new audio book from the library.

So today I start The Dark Tower Series. I've never read it, and have never been a Stephen King fan, though I've been told many times that it's not at all like his other work. We shall see. In my opinion, the best part about it is that it's 7 books so it will keep me busy for a while if I pace myself. Hopefully I'll like it.

My lame Xbox avatar

It's actually a fairly good likeness... though I don't think I'm quite that pale, it's pretty close.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The New Xbox Experience

Took me about 5-10 minutes to update. The Netflix thing was working fine, so I quickly entered the code into Anna's account after a downloading the program(only a couple megabytes IIRC), and was off and running. I already have my PC hooked up to the same 32" monitor my Xbox is hooked into, so I don't particularly care about the Netflix feature... except in so far as it draws a wider audience into streaming video on demand, and (hopefully) increases the selection. Picture quality looked identical to PC version to me, though the "finding your video quality" thing seemed to take about twice as long (maybe 2 minutes)... but that's probably due to what I presume is a quite large uptick in demand today. The only movies that show up to watch are your "Watch Instantly Queue", so you'll have to set that up separately, but I can't imagine trying to search for movies with a 360 controller, so it seems for the best.

I did notice that Scarface, which is standard def, came in at 4 bars... yet 30 Rock which is HD came in at 2 bars, and was thus played as standard def. It's totally possible that my "meh" DSL connection won't be able to deliver HD... but I watched Pan's Labyrinth on Netflix before the whole Xbox thing, and that came through as DVD quality, so I suspect(hope?) that heavy load is the major problem here. However, I've not really experimented that much with HD movies in the past, so I'm not entirely sure.

Avatars are pretty lame, but whatever... but they don't seem too pervasive unless you want them to be.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

BREAKING: Alaskans not completely nuts

The AP is calling the Alaska Senate race for Mark Begich, meaning that convicted felon Ted Stevens won't be returning to D.C. in 2009. Note that this wasn't a recount, but just tallying up all the overseas and absentee ballots... and it's still not done. The bad news is that this means we won't get an opportunity for the high comedy that would be Senator Palin (Stevens would have had to win, then get kicked out by the Senate, and the Palin would have to have won a special election... but it could have happened).

I'm actually relatively pleased that Alaskans managed to regain some semblance of dignity here, by not reelecting Stevens, since my aunt lives there and I think it's quite beautiful... even if everyone up there is a little nuts(except my aunt of course). So that's nice.

We're also up to 58 in the Dem caucus (including Lieberman, our new BFF) with recount to begin between Coleman and Franken and a runoff between Chambliss and Martin. So fingers crossed I guess... not that 60 is that magical since the Senate rarely has straight party-line votes... but still.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Anti-Heterosexual Marriage

Ta-Nehisi has a very interesting post about why he and the mother of his son are not married... despite living together, paying bills together, caring for their child together, and having gone and gotten a lawyer to write up the "business" aspects.

It's a great read, and I highly recommend devouring the whole thing, but here is the important bit about what they went through after they found out Kenyatta was pregnant:
As soon as we started telling people, the first question we got was, "Are you getting married?" Now, if you talk to Kenyatta, she has been a feminist since the day she learned to read, and she never put much of a premium on marriage. Still, up until then, neither of us were opposed to the idea. We just didn't think we needed it. But the constant questioning put us in a place where we were able to ask why. Why did people think we should get married? What did that have to do with pregnancy? We both knew we were committed to the life of the child. But we did we think about each other? Truthfully, I don't think we thought much past the child. We'd been friends for two years before we started dating. I knew Kenyatta would be a great mother. I knew we wanted the same things for our kid. What else was there?

Well, a lot, actually. The marriage convo brought out quite a bit. As much as I can recall, there were basically three reasons for us to get married. 1.) I might leave. Marriage would force me to do the right thing. 2.) To declare our commitment to each other before a community of people whom we loved. 3.) The business reasons--the legalities of your estate and guardianship. I found--and still find--the first two reasons were utterly unconvincing. The third held some sway, but with the help of a lawyer we've managed to take care of that. The first turned marriage into a kind of insurance policy, and I just believed that if you felt you needed insurance for the person you were having kids by to stick out, you needed to reconsider the whole proposition. The commitment and community reason held some appeal. But I believed, and still believe, that long-term romantic partnerships are between the two people entering into it.

I see all those points, though I've never felt strongly enough about them to make a stand. I could go either way. With a kid I'd definitely lean towards marriage for simplifying the "business aspects"... it's been thoroughly tested in that arena, and instinctively I would tend to want to go with that. While I imagine you could do it all with a lawyer, I'm just not sure I see the points against marriage to be strong enough to see doing the lawyer thing as worth it.

Otherwise, with kids out of the equation, I'm relatively ambivalent to the concept... though I tend to vacillate slowly over time between "If she wants to, sure" and "It's just a piece of paper, who needs it?" Mainly, as the child of divorced parents, my feelings towards the institution is that I never want to get divorced. Certainly one way to accomplish that is to never get married, but I'd at least like to think it's not the only way... and if you're with somebody for 10, 15, 30 years and split, it's essentially the same thing whether you're married or not. I have some experience with the fact that marriage isn't going to keep a couple together that's miserable, and nor should it. My mom and dad fell out of love with each other, but that didn't stop them from being able to share the burden of the responsibility of raising me... even if it wasn't in the same house.

I mean, unless you really would never get divorced, it's only "forever" assuming nothing changes... or changes in all(or most) of the right ways. So why not just treat your relationship as an organic and evolving thing from the get-go, instead of pretending that it's only "official" if there is a piece of paper involved? I find it somewhat curious.

In case anybody's wondering, unless something's changed recently, Anna doesn't want to get married anytime soon... so this wasn't some bizarre passive aggressive thing to tell her I didn't want to get married. Heh.


Lieberman keeps his chair. I think he's a complete tool, but I am not particularly upset about the lack of righteous vengeance. I'm annoyed because he has the chair of a really important oversight committee and he sucks at it.

Hillary Clinton to accept Secretary of State post?

That's what the Guardian is reporting anyway.
Hillary Clinton plans to accept the job of secretary of state offered by Barack Obama, who is reaching out to former rivals to build a broad coalition administration, the Guardian has learned.

Obama's advisers have begun looking into Bill Clinton's foundation, which distributes millions of dollars to Africa to help with development, to ensure that there is no conflict of interest. But Democrats do not believe that the vetting is likely to be a problem.
I gotta say that I'm a little skeptical that the British press would get a scoop like this... I mean, why would anybody with that kind of insight into Hillary Clinton's mind leak it to a paper on the other side of the Atlantic? However, it may be that they're just saying that she's agreed to let them vet Bill Clinton's foundation... and if she's done that, why would she refuse, assuming the vetting goes well? I guess that's reasonable logic, but I think I'll wait until a few more news organizations pick this up.

I've become more and more of a fan of this move as I've thought about it, and am actually a bit befuddled by people who still don't get the rationale. It seems pretty straight forward to me for both parties... for Obama, it's that famous Lyndon Johnson quote and her obvious qualifications for the job... while from Hillary Clinton's perspective, if she's considering another run for Prez, it's highly improbable that she could beat Obama in 2012 and win the Presidency. I don't really see how she could tear down Obama over the next 4 years without tarnishing the Democratic brand as well as her own. The safest bet would be in 2016 after a prominent role in a successful and popular Obama presidency. She'll be 69, but that's younger than McCain was and she has the actuarial benefit of being a woman. The only caveat would be, as Nate Silver suggests, if Obama has a failed presidency and loses in 2012, she'll have tied herself pretty closely to Obama and hurt her own chances in 2016... but I'm not sure how good those chances would be regardless. As a Senator she'd be voting for his agenda, so I don't see how she escapes the "90% of the time" thing that killed McCain. That's assuming she even wants to run again... what if she "just" wants to help enact progressive policies to help the American people? Would staying in the Senate be the best way to accomplish that? While she's obviously a very famous politician, she has no seniority in the Senate nor any special leadership role... isn't being the "top diplomat" and #3 person in the Obama administration a significantly more prominent position in shaping policy? Personally, I just don't see how it can be argued otherwise. But, of course, all that matters is how Hillary Clinton sees the situation... and somehow I don't think she's reading my blog.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Auto Industry Bailout

So I think I've pretty much had enough of industries that are "too big to fail" and need to be bailed out by taxpayers... but I have to admit that Jon Cohn and Jeffery Sachs have made fairly persuasive cases as to why just letting them go Chapter 11 and restructure won't work in our current situation.

From Cohn, one big problem is the lack of credit:
In order to seek so-called Chapter 11 status, a distressed company must find some way to operate while the bankruptcy court keeps creditors at bay. But GM can't build cars without parts, and it can't get parts without credit. Chapter 11 companies typically get that sort of credit from something called Debtor-in-Possession (DIP) loans. But the same Wall Street meltdown that has dragged down the economy and GM sales has also dried up the DIP money GM would need to operate.
Without those loans, they close their doors... and when they close their doors, so do many part suppliers, and when suppliers close so do Chrysler and Ford... and maybe even foreign auto makers in the US. As Krugman notes, this might not be the best time to lose a million jobs.

Sachs goes a bit further, and says that even if loans were available, Chapter 11 would kill Detroit anyway:
...any restructuring under Chapter 11 bankruptcy rules would be a death knell. Yes, in some industries, Chapter 11 can provide breathing space. For the automakers, however, it would accelerate the collapse of consumer demand and the mass bankruptcy of parts manufacturers. Consumers choose vehicles in part on their expectation of the long-term health of the companies that make them, which they rely on for parts, service and resale values.
Cohn and Sachs each make the case that, in addition to all the problems with "letting them fail" for the larger economy, the Big Three had also already begun restructuring to face the new challenges of energy independence and climate change... and were making big strides, before the bottom fell out of the economy. Cohn:
According to the most recent Harbour Report, the benchmark guide for manufacturing prowess, Chrysler's factories now match Toyota's for the most productive, while both Ford's and GM's are improving. (A Toledo Jeep factory was actually named the nation's most efficient.) Consumer Reports now says Ford's reliability is approaching that of perennial leaders Honda and Toyota, whose ratings actually slipped last year. In late 2010, GM will introduce the Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in hybrid that can go 40 miles without gas, and the Chevrolet Cruze, a compact that relies solely on gas but that gets 45 miles to the gallon. The Volt would represent a rare leap ahead of the Japanese, who never embraced plug-in technology with the same enthusiasm. It's also typical of the better cars that observers say Detroit has in store. "There's a lot of accumulated negativity about these companies out there," says Wharton's John Paul MacDuffie, who directs the International Motor Vehicle Program. "U.S. consumers gave the Big Three the benefit of the doubt for a long time before turning away from them, and now their reputation is worse than their actual performance and progress toward needed reforms."
So what does that leave us with? A bailout with lots of strings, I guess. Which seems like what Obama is indicating he favors from his interview with 60 minutes last night: hope is that over the course of the next week, between the White House and Congress, the discussions are shaped around providing assistance but making sure that that assistance is conditioned on labor, management, suppliers, lenders, all the stakeholders coming together with a plan what does a sustainable U.S. auto industry look like? So that we are creating a bridge loan to somewhere as opposed to a bridge loan to nowhere. And that's, I think, what you haven't yet seen. That's something that I think we're gonna have to come up with.
I'm just waiting for the biomedical research bailout... how 'bout we double NIH funding while we've got the wallet out?

BU 3 Northeastern 0

My first college hockey game of the season, and it was a pretty good game. Extremely tight defensively in the first period, with neither team generating much quality offense. However, the Huskies seemed to lose confidence and their composure when BU scored two goals in two minutes pretty early in the second period. The first goal by Bonino was just your average scrum around the net, where he knocked in a loose puck... not particularly pretty. Freshman Andrew Glass had a much better look going five hole for his first collegiate goal, while Higgins had the prettiest of the night getting it top shelf in the third.

I don't get to that many hockey games, so I don't have too much to say about the team, but they looked a lot stronger defensively then they have in a while. Everybody seemed surprisingly competent. The goalie Kieran Millan, a freshman, also looked quite solid. He didn't get tested too much, but he didn't do anything to make me nervous... which extremely unusual in my experiences with BU goalies over the years.

The Bonino-Yip line was the most impressive offensively last night, generating the most opportunities and near constant offensive pressure... the Wilson line skated well, but was either too cute with the puck or perhaps just unlucky.

Anyway, I assume Minnesota will be back at #1 later today since the Terriers got shellacked by #20 Amherst on Friday... but it was a pretty crazy weekend of upsets, so who knows how the rankings will shake out?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Hillary Clinton for Secetary of State?

Color me intrigued.
“You can send John Kerry or Chuck Hagel,” said one adviser, mentioning some other candidates for secretary of state, “or you can send Hillary Clinton. That’s totally different.”

Clinton would be most attractive if Obama concludes that he will have to focus his early days in office on the domestic economy, and will have to essentially outsource heavy-duty foreign travel to his secretary of state.

I'm a Kerry fan, and so have sort of been hoping for him to get State... but without thinking about it too hard, like what all the repercussions might be, it strikes me as an extraordinarily good idea.

UPDATE: Josh Marshall asks why Clinton would give up a Senate seat for life to be in Obama's cabinet. I don't really have an answer to that, but I still think she'd be good at the job.

UPDATE II: In thinking about it, Secretary of State of the ruling party seems vastly more prestigious of a position than a low ranking Senator in it. I mean, you hear a lot more about Condi Rice on a daily basis than any GOP Senator (what's left of them anyway).

Thursday, November 13, 2008

The despoiling of my childhood continues apace... Part II

You've got your Ghostbusters in my Inspector Gadget!

Look, this isn't very hard people. He was Jacques Clouseau knock-off who said "Go-go gadget helicopter" and stuff while bumbling things so much that his genius niece had to solve all the mysteries. She also had a book that was shockingly like A Young Lady's Illustrated Primer.

Regardless, I don't remember a single ghost.

Prop 8 postmortem

I haven't said anything about the disheartening passage of the discriminatory ballot measure that stripped gay couples of their right to marry in California... mainly because I didn't have a lot to say, other than that I was surprised and saddened by it... but one thing I've noticed in the early days post Prop 8, that might be a little positive... is that it seems to be serving as a pretty big wake-up call to supporters of equal marriage rights. Many of us, myself included, were overconfident that Prop 8 would get shot down to the campaign's detriment... and while time appears to be firmly on the side of marriage equality, as younger generations support it more and more... it's become pretty clear that you can't just expect everything to work itself out when you get totally outworked by the opposition.

Jasmine Beach-Ferrara at Democratic Strategist has a strong summary of the campaign failures and good ideas on how to move forward. Well worth your time to give it a read. The good news, as bittersweet as it may be, is that it's far better to lose by being outworked, than to be facing an electorate completely hostile to your goals.

When Cubano meets Quesadilla

Gaze over there to the left at the delicious wonder that is the Cubano sandwich. If you're not familiar, a Cubano is the Cuban version of ham and cheese, and consists of layers of ham, pork, cheese, mustard and pickles in french bread that are pressed with a plancha (essentially a panini press without grooved surfaces). The creaminess of the melted cheese, the sweet tart of the mustard and pickles... all combine to make a truly fantastic sandwich. And indeed, when Anna and I head over to Inman Square for lunch at either Bukowski's or All-Star, a Cubano is often my first choice.

Having no desire to own a panini press, nor having the space to put one even if I did, I always figured it to be a sandwich I only would have when eating out... that is, until I noticed a variation on my tried and true quesadilla recipe called (you guessed it) the Cubano Quesadilla. While obviously not traditional, it does make a lot of sense... you can get that same crisp exterior, warm gooey interior, and pressed form factor with that kind of combo... and no need for an extra kitchen appliance! I'm still perfecting my take on the America's Test Kitchen recipe, so I don't have any exact measurments for you, but I can lay out the basics and maybe come back and update with specifics.

  • 2 burrito size flour tortillas
  • black forest ham
  • grated Gruyere cheese
  • mustard (at the moment I'm picking honey mustard here)
  • diced pickle slices
  • vegetable oil
  • salt

  1. Heat up a 10 or 12 inch skillet on medium heat.
  2. Place one tortilla in the skillet and toast for about a minute. The tortilla will puff up like a balloon in spots when it's close to done, so you can then check the other side and flip when it's splotchy brown. Toast the second side for another 30-45 seconds, but don't overdo it, as you don't want the toritilla so toasted that it burns when you cook the quesadilla. Repeat with the second tortilla.
  3. Spread mustard evenly over each entire tortilla.
  4. On half the tortilla place two slices of ham, cover with cheese, then sprinkle with diced pickles. Try to leave a 1/2 to 1 inch border around the edge, and try to keep your pile of goodness relatively thin to keep the tortilla from burning before the cheese melts.
  5. Fold (now this is key) the tortilla into a half moon and press down firmly. Repeat with second tortilla.
  6. Brush one side of each nascent quesadilla with veggie oil and sprinkle with salt.
  7. Place each half moon, oil brushed side down, into the skillet so that they come together into a full moon. (Pretty clever, eh? Much easier to flip the half moons without them falling apart than putting one tortilla on top of the other.)
  8. While they're cooking on one side until golden brown (1-2 minutes), brush the other side with oil and sprinkle with salt, then flip to the newly oiled side for another minute.

I've only tried it once; one tortilla half moon with dijon mustard (not so good) and the other with honey mustard (fantastic). I used two of those sandwich slice style pickle in each quesadilla, and it turned out to be a bit too much pickle... which is why I recommend dicing them up so you can spread it around. I'm going to try some other refinements tonight, and will try to get back to update my discoveries later... but I highly recommend you give it a try, as it is both simple and delicious.

photo by flickr user Adam "Slice" Kuban used under a Creative Commons license

Food Blogging

Looks like many of my favorite political bloggers(such as Ezra Klein and Matt Yglesias) have started up a joint food blog. I don't know how much I care about them live blogging the various cooking themed reality TV shows I don't watch, but as someone who likes to blog about food, politics, and food politics, I will certainly keep my eye on their site.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The despoiling of my childhood continues apace...

via Ta-Nehisi

Apparently they're remaking The Karate Kid with Will Smith's kid as the star. Thanks for making me feel 80 years old Big Willie Style! I was freakin' 8 when that movie came out, and only 12 when "Parents Just Don't Understand" won a Grammy.

Also, I'm with Ta-Nehisi that if they're going to remake The Last Dragon, then the only person on earth who should be allowed to play Sho 'Nuff is Busta Rhymes.

Dear President-elect Obama,

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nile Online Beta

There is an open beta test going on of a new browser game called Immortal Cities: Nile Online that I wanted to give a shout out for. In case you've never heard of them, "browser games" are games with fairly simple graphics that can be run on pretty much any computer that can access the internet. There is a wide variety of game types, but Nile Online happens to be an Ancient Egyptian themed city building game, where you trade with other players to get resources to improve your own city and even found new ones. When you start the game you are the Pharaoh of a small village on the Nile with access to one of nine resources(cedar, gold, oil, henna, etc). You build shops and upgrade them to make bricks, bread, baskets, and more, while getting the resources to make the goods that let you upgrade your palace so you can... get more people to gather more resources to make more finished goods to upgrade your palace again. That's basically the short of it, but after the first couple of upgrades you need to trade with other players (or purchase on the open market at an inflated price) to get the necessary resources and the upgrades take longer and longer to complete.

The good thing about these kind of games is that they don't really require a lot of attention to be fun and feel like your accomplishing something. Go here and submit your e-mail address if you are interested in giving it a try, and check out this primer on how to get started. Also, don't forget that this is a beta, so there are going to be bugs and things are likely to change a fair bit as time goes on... but even in a unfinished state it is a pretty damn fun little game.

I'm Pharaoh ArmLion of the city of Maadi in the region of Amunheker, and my resource is cedar. Send me a scroll if you're playing.

Turkey Time

This coming Thanksgiving will be my third year of turkey preparation and, not coincidentally, my third year of celebrating Thanksgiving with Anna's family up in Maine. Being that she, her sister, and her mother are all vegans, they were pretty overjoyed that I was interested in cooking the turkey for me and her father. I've been doing the butterflied high roast turkey with cornbread and sausage dressing straight out of The New Best Recipe the last two years, and I see no reason to change now. It's come out pretty well both times, and I think "high roasting" is actually something I have some small measure of cooking experience with (thanks to how often I've high roasted chickens).

One thing that is changing, is where we get the turkey... I've used Whole Foods both times, but this year I'm going with Mayflower Poultry (East Cambridge home of the landmark sign picture above). They don't kill the turkeys on site, like they do their chickens, and they're not "certified organic"... nor "free range"... but they are not fed any animal products nor given antibiotics, so that seems good enough to support the local poultry business. Next year, I may try ordering a Massachusetts "free range" turkey from Savenor's, but before that I wanted to try the place that sells Fresh Killed thongs. While I don't plan on buying any of their clothing line, depending on how this experience goes I may do more of my poultry shopping there.

photo by flickr user frankh used under a Creative Commons license

We're #1?

I received word last night that my alma mater, Boston University, is currently ranked #1 in the country in college hockey... which I don't believe has happened since I was back in college and going to every single game. My attendance has slipped a bit in the years since, only making it to a couple of games a year at most, but I still try to pay attention to them. They had descended into mediocrity for the most part... able to make the 16 team national tournament in order to lose in the first round. However, this year they are off to a torrid start, beating North Dakota, Michigan State, and Michigan (which were ranked #5, #11, and #4 respectively) in their early non conference schedule. Their lone loss was a narrow 2-1 defeat to New Hampshire.

It looks like Hockey East has a ton of good teams this year, with Boston College, New Hampshire, and Northeastern all in the top 10 right now, so it should be an interesting season. I guess it's time to look at getting some tickets, eh? Maybe the Beanpot?

Assuming the Terriers don't implode and depress me, expect to see more College Hockey blogging in the coming months.

picture by flickr user matt.hintsa used under a Creative Commons license

Monday, November 10, 2008

Rolling back the Bush administration

First step, close Guantanamo.
Under plans being put together in Obama's camp, some detainees would be released and many others would be prosecuted in U.S. criminal courts.

A third group of detainees — the ones whose cases are most entangled in highly classified information — might have to go before a new court designed especially to handle sensitive national security cases, according to advisers and Democrats involved in the talks. Advisers participating directly in the planning spoke on condition of anonymity because the plans aren't final.

That third group is going to be a tricky one, and I don't imagine the ACLU is going to be completely satisfied with a separate system... and personally, I think I'm going to need to be convinced it's really necessary... "national security reasons" has become a dirty phrase to me over the last 5 or so years, and I don't plan on becoming a true believer just because President Obama is saying it... but at least they're actively moving forward with a plan to end the torture regime.

It's notable that this is one of the first policy things that they are leaking word of... so it indicates they are intent on moving swiftly.

Krugman: Figure out how much money the economy needs, then add 50 percent.

An interesting article, as always, from Paul Krugman in today's New York Times regarding FDR's public policies during the Great Depression. Krugman argues, that great as the New Deal was, it was ineffective as an economic stimulus because it was too timid(!). Right as he and the Democrats won a massive landslide in 1936 (in recognition of their early efforts), FDR "cut spending and raised taxes, precipitating an economic relapse that drove the unemployment rate back into double digits."
The political lesson is that economic missteps can quickly undermine an electoral mandate. Democrats won big last week — but they won even bigger in 1936, only to see their gains evaporate after the recession of 1937-38. Americans don’t expect instant economic results from the incoming administration, but they do expect results, and Democrats’ euphoria will be short-lived if they don’t deliver an economic recovery.

The economic lesson is the importance of doing enough. F.D.R. thought he was being prudent by reining in his spending plans; in reality, he was taking big risks with the economy and with his legacy. My advice to the Obama people is to figure out how much help they think the economy needs, then add 50 percent. It’s much better, in a depressed economy, to err on the side of too much stimulus than on the side of too little.

In short, Mr. Obama’s chances of leading a new New Deal depend largely on whether his short-run economic plans are sufficiently bold. Progressives can only hope that he has the necessary audacity.

There are going to be a lot of people talking about how we've got to cut spending, and how Obama's agenda needs to be scaled back, now that we're in a recession... these people need to be slapped down forcefully whenever they pop up.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

364 365

Nebraska's 2nd Congressional District just called for Obama. Nebraska being the only other state besides Maine that apportions it's electoral votes by Congressional district. I believe Missouri still has yet to be officially called, though everyone assumes it will stay for McCain.... though that's what I though about Omaha too.

Friday, November 7, 2008

"How He Did It"

I haven't had any time to blog today, and am still quite busy, but I did want to make sure I highlighted an excellent Newsweek piece about the Presidential campaign that's online and weighs in a hefty 7 parts. I've not made it all the way through, but it has some really fascinating anecdotes and insights that I don't think have ever been in print... such as the following:
Obama was something unusual in a politician: genuinely self-aware. In late May 2007, he had stumbled through a couple of early debates and was feeling uncertain about what he called his "uneven" performance. "Part of it is psychological," he told his aides. "I'm still wrapping my head around doing this in a way that I think the other candidates just aren't. There's a certain ambivalence in my character that I like about myself. It's part of what makes me a good writer, you know? It's not necessarily useful in a presidential campaign."

These candid remarks were taped at a debate-prep session at a law firm in Washington. The tape of Obama's back-and-forth with his advisers, provided to NEWSWEEK by an attendee, is a remarkably frank and revealing record of what the candidate was really thinking when he took the stage with his opponents.

On the tape, after Obama's rueful remark about the mixed blessings of his detached nature, there is cross talk and laughter, and then Axelrod cracks, "You can save that for your next memoir."

Obama continues: "When you have to be cheerful all the time and try to perform and act like [the tape is unclear; Obama appears to be poking fun at his opponents], I'm sure that some of it has to do with nerves or anxiety and not having done this before, I'm sure. And in my own head, you know, there's—I don't consider this to be a good format for me, which makes me more cautious. When you're going into something thinking, 'This is not my best …' I often find myself trapped by the questions and thinking to myself, 'You know, this is a stupid question, but let me … answer it.' Instead of being appropriately [the tape is garbled]. So when Brian Williams is asking me about what's a personal thing that you've done [that's green], and I say, you know, 'Well, I planted a bunch of trees.' And he says, 'I'm talking about personal.' What I'm thinking in my head is, 'Well, the truth is, Brian, we can't solve global warming because I f–––ing changed light bulbs in my house. It's because of something collective'."

Pretty fascinating for anybody who has been following the campaign as obsessively as I have.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Sold out in hours

I guess some people are a little excited. I imagine I will come to regret that I didn't pick up a paper yesterday... but it's nice to know they've got all the front pages archived on newseum.

Princeton Election Consortium's Performance

Pretty damn good. A lot of people are focusing on how Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight did in the predictions game, which is fine as he did quite well, but I wanted to take time to extend congratulations to the less well known Professor Wang for his outstanding efforts with a much simpler and more elegant model. ( also nailed it)

He predicted 364 Electoral votes (as I did using his analysis), but like everybody else, Indiana and Missouri were picked for the wrong sides. He predicted a 53% to 46% margin, where the actual result was 52.4% to 46.3%. He called for 257 Democratic seats in the House, and we (appear to have) won 256. The Senate is a giant mess right now, but he called for 58 and that appears to be the most likely outcome... though it really is hard to say what is going to happen in Alaska and Minnesota.

And finally:

The Electoral College and state win predictions were done using state polls only. The cell-phone adjustment was done using Pew Center data. The Senate and House predictions were done using Congressional polls only. The popular vote share prediction was done using national polls only. Turnout was estimated using the work of Curtis Gans and data from InTrade and the Census Bureau. In no case was any demographic or pollster-specific information used. Overall, the results show that a high degree of accuracy is possible without complex model-building.

Yet another victory for Occam's Razor.

Fallout 3 Impressions

I took a celebratory day off yesterday, and between going out for Korean food and helping hang some curtains, I got in some pretty solid Fallout time... all in President Elect Obama's honor, you understand.

I have to admit, that much like Bill Harris, the game wasn't quite clicking for me a first... though for me, I was overwhelmed by the openness. It's been so long since I played an RPG that wasn't on rails that it was almost frustrating to have so many options. It felt like I actually had been locked down in Vault 101 my whole life and then thrust out into the wide world. After I finished a quest or two, however, I started to get into a groove and really enjoy that I had so many different things I could do. The world is amazingly detailed... and sort of bizarrely beautiful in a post apocalyptic way(if that makes any sense). The radio is fantastic, and is probably the most surprisingly enjoyable aspect of my gaming experience so far... surprising, because I don't normally even notice music in games... and enjoyable because there is just something surreal about humming along to Billie Holiday as you blast the heads off of mutated fire breathing ants. But maybe that's just me.

The V.A.T.S. combat system is... interesting, but I'm not quite ready to render a verdict. The basic mechanic, for those not familiar, is that instead of being a straight up run and gun shooter like Call of Duty or something... you can pause the game and queue up shots to various body parts that get executed after you unpause. Based on your ability scores and what kind of weapon you are using, you get to line up 3 or 4 shots when your "action point bar" is full... after those points are used your bar will slowly regenerate, but you're pretty much stuck playing a gimped shooter until they come back. The slow motion cinematic aspect of firing three bursts from your assault rifle into a raider are pretty neat (though as reviews have noted, sometimes the camera gives you a boring view of the action) but I wonder if it will get old 30 hours in? I plan on picking up the "Bloody Mess" perk, so maybe that will keep it interesting... and I certainly can't deny that I've been caught laughing evilly as decapitate peeps with a surprise snipe from the shadows. Difficulty wise the combat has been fairly easy, but I have been outmatched by multiple foes and it is very early yet.

One of the other things I like about the game so far is how it stirs my pack rat tendencies... I've probably spent half the game encumbered and moving at half speed because I can't bear to leave behind a broken vacuum cleaner... what good is a broken vacuum cleaner? I don't know, but it's gotta be good for something, right? Right!?

Anyway... that's all I have for now.

photo by flickr user Leeks used under a Creative Commons license

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

McCain's Concession

Great speech, but horrid crowd.

2008 Election Live Blogging

7:00 - KY for Mcain, and Vermont for Obama... too close to call for others. No surprises so far.

7:19 - Indiana hasn't been called yet. Good Bad news for McCain.

7:30 - No new calls, despite many closings. I'm frankly shocked that Obama is close in Indiana.

7:46 - Oh Noes! South Carolina gets called for McCain.

8:00 - PA called for Obama. Election pretty much over...

9:24 - OH called for Obama. It's hard to see how McCain can recover from this.

10:00 - Iowa to Obama. Too close in Montana! Obama leading in Nevada.

10:32 - Still looking for some calls on these close states like... Indiana? Still not called, but WORD on Virginia, North Carolina, and Florida would be cool.

10:54 - Virginia was apparently called for Obama by Fox...

11:00 - Obama projected to be the next President. What did I tell you? Still awesome.

11:14 - Florida for Obama.

Fired up, ready to go

I'm off to cast my ballot, and to be a little schmaltzy, hopefully help change the world. (Despite the meaninglessness of a vote for Obama in Cambridge Massachusetts, it still feels great)

UPDATE: Vote cast and there was no line, and probably between 6 and 10 people voting at the same time at 3 pm.

Vote YES! on Prop R

For any San Franciscans who might be wandering by, don't forget to vote to secure George W. Bush's legacy.

As the official voter pamphlet states:
Need Bush memor'l?
Sewage plant available.
How appropriate.

Go Vote!

Campaigning for the 2008 presidential election is over: no more polls and no more pleas for money, and so the last thing you have to do is go and vote. I'll be voting this afternoon after leaving work early so I can get home and obsess about leaked exit polls that I know are misleading and meaningless. Fun! Most likely I will be doing a lot of posting tonight as polls close.

Only one change from my prediction from last Monday. I think that Obama is going to pull out Missouri too:

<p><strong>><a href=''>2008 Election Contest: Pick Your President</a></strong> - Predict the winner of the 2008 presidential election.</p>

This is probably my most optimistic, yet fairly plausible view, of what will shake out this evening. Missouri and North Carolina are genuine tossups according to the latest polling, and could come down to only hundreds of votes, but I'm feeling that Obama's ground game and the cell phone voter problem will push him over the top.

Interestingly, I appear to have the same electoral vote projection as Professor Wang at Princeton Election Consortium... though I guess that's not so surprising since I used his site and its meta analysis to help come up with it!

Thus my verdict is a pretty crushing Obama victory, that sadly, his grandmother will not see. She passed away yesterday, and you can see Obama eulogize her here. A pretty big downer on what should be a very good night to be a Democrat with nice pickups on both the Senate and House sides.

Lastly, to avoid ending on a bitter sweet note, I highly recommend Nate Silver's Election Viewing Guide. It lets you know which key states close when and gives some insights into what to look for as you watch the coverage tonight.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Hiking Holyoke

I don't have a lot of time to blog today, so I'm just going to put in the slide show from our hike of Mt. Holyoke on Saturday. It was a very enjoyable hike that fit well into an action packed, yet relaxing, weekend in Western Mass. Click on the link if you want a more detailed description of the hike itself.

Mt. Holyoke via Dry Brook Trail

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