Monday, March 31, 2008

Feijoada: The Illustrated Recipe

Here we have ingredients necessary to start the black beans cooking (with the notable exception of the beans themselves), from left to right:
  • 4 oz (4 slices) of bacon, minced
  • 1 medium onion, minced
  • 4 medium garlic cloves garlic pressed (or minced)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
Not pictured, but needed:
  • 10 cups of water
  • 2lbs of black beans, rinsed and picked through
I have a hell of a time mincing bacon with a knife, so actually use our kitchen shears to do the job. Stack the 4 slices on top of each other and then cut thin strips widthwise with the shears, and then come back to the strips and cut them into little squares. For mincing onion, I do (or try anyway) this technique, which I first saw in Julia Childs' cookbook. It's incredibly effective even for someone who sucks with a knife, like myself, though it can be time consuming at first.

Note that you'll need a large pot for this recipe, because you need room to fit all the meat in with the beans. The recipe from Cooks called for a 12 quart stockpot, but that may be a bit overkill as I still had lots of vertical space... but then I can't be sure it would have fit in my rather mammoth 6.75 quart Le Crueset pot, though I imagine it would have, but better safe than sorry.
  1. Cook the bacon in a the stockpot over medium heat until partly rendered and light brown ( 4-5 minutes).
  2. Add the onion and cook until softened (5-7 minutes).
  3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant (30 seconds).
  4. Stir in 10 cups of water, beans, bay leaves, baking soda, and salt.
  5. Bring to a boil over high heat.
  6. Reduce heat to low, cover, and cook (with occasional stirring) for 1 hour.
During the hour of the beans cooking on their own, there is no rest for the weary, as it is time to prepare and brown the MEAT.
Pictured above is... half a pig it seems, but in actuality:
  • 2 pounds of pork tenderloin (about 2 small), trimmed and cut in half widthwise
  • 2 racks of baby back ribs(2.5 to 3 lbs each), with each rack cut into 2 pieces
  • 1lb linguiça sausage cut into 6 inch lengths
Not pictured, but needed:
  • salt and fresh ground pepper
  • 1/2 cup of water
  • 3 tablespoons of vegetable oil
The recipe actually called for cutting each rack of ribs into 3 pieces (so 2 ribs per piece), but I misread it and only did two pieces of 3 ribs per piece. The reasoning behind using smaller sections is so that they are easier to maneuver in the pot with the beans to make sure that they stay submerged, however I didn't have too much trouble with the bigger pieces. If you want to do the smaller pieces then do them in 3 batches of two and use another tablespoon of oil with the extra batch.

Basically, this next section is for browning the meat so they have a nice color and flavor and using the juices to help flavor the beans. Thus we brown in sections and deglaze the pan in between with water and add that to the cooking beans. Here we go:
  1. Pat tenderloin and ribs pieces dry with paper towels and then season liberally with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat until just smoking
  3. Brown tenderloin on all sides (2-2.5 minutes per side, i.e. 8-10 minutes), reducing heat if it looks like the pan is beginning to scorch
  4. Transfer the tenderloin pieces to a plate and set aside.
  5. Add 1/4 cup of the water to the pan, reduce heat to low, scrape up all the browned bits, and then pour all of this into the simmering beans.
  6. Wipe dry the skillet with a paper towel.
  7. Return pan to medium high heat and heat another tablespoon of oil until just smoking
  8. Brown 2 sections of ribs for 5 minutes on the meat side only, reducing the heat if the pan begins to scorch.
  9. Transfer the ribs to the plate, and repeat with the remain two rib sections and another tablespoon of oil.
  10. After the ribs are browned, add the remaining 1/4 cup of water, reduce heat to low, scrape up all the browned bits, and then pour the liquid into the simmering beans.
Some comments before we get to cooking the meat in the beans. As you can see in the picture above, 4 pieces of tenderloin made my skillet quite crowded, and hindered the browning a bit... it didn't really make any difference in the end, but it meant I had two leave the two pieces that weren't really browning as well in the pan after I had removed the other two. If you start the meat soon after you set the beans to simmering, I think you'd have time to brown the tenderloin in two batches that would turn out a bit better.

As I mentioned above, I used 2 three rib pieces instead of the 3 two rib sections and it worked out fine. They fit in the pan easily and browned very well... in fact, I am a little bit surprised that the recipe called for 3 batches of ribs while only wanting one batch of tenderloin. If I do this recipe again (maybe at a friend's house for a summer BBQ?) I would brown both the tenderloin and the ribs in two batches, but I'd cut the ribs into two rib sections instead of three.

OK, on to the beans:
In this last 40 minutes or so of cooking, there isn't anything to do except monitor the pot, so this is when I made my Brazilian salsa (molho apimentado - which I will describe in another post) and the white rice for accompaniment - the timing was just about perfect.

  1. After the beans have been cooking for 60 minutes, place the sausage pieces and browned rib sections in the beans and submerge them as much as possible with a spoon or tongs. It's OK if they peak out a little bit, but you want them down in there as much as possible.
  2. Continue cooking on low, covered, for 20 minutes before giving them BIG, thorough, stir.
  3. Keep cooking until the beans are soft, about another 20 minutes.
  4. Gently lay the tenderloin pieces on top of the beans (they can sink in a bit) like so:
  5. Cook until the centers of the tenderloin pieces register 145 degrees on an instant read thermometer, about 20-30 minutes (mine took about 40 minutes).
  6. With tongs transfer all of the meat(i.e. ribs, tenderloin, and sausage) to a cutting board and tent with aluminum foil.
  7. Remove 1 cup of the bean cooking liquid and reserve.
  8. Remove 2 cups of beans and another 1/2 cup of the bean cooking liquid.
  9. Using a hand mixer, potato masher, or fork, mash the 2 cups of beans and 1/2 cup of liquid until smooth and then return to the pot.
  10. Use the reserved bean cooking liquid to adjust the consistency: "loose but not soupy".
  11. Slice the pork tenderloin into 1/2 inch thick slices, the linguiça sausage into 3/4 inch sections, and slice between each rib for single rib pieces.

And there you have it. Serve the meat with the beans, rice, salsa (recipe forthcoming), and orange slices.

Arcade Extravaganza

So right after posting about how I have never bought anything off of Xbox Live Arcade, I went and bought 3 games (for about $10 each). Heh.

Here they are with my capsule impressions so far:

N+
Which is a great little platformer that's been free on PC/Mac/Linux for ages (download here). The basic idea is that you are a ninja who can run around and jump of walls and whatnot and you are trying to complete 5 levels before time runs out. You finish a level by flipping a switch and getting to the door, and each little gold coin you get adds two seconds to your time. The controls are simple, just left, right, jump, and suicide (for when you are trapped or just want to see the ninja explode - which is sickly satisfying I might add). However, with the simple controls comes, as a friend would say, "finesse". There is a certain rhythm to wall jumping that is the difference between bounding up a vertical cliff face with ease or scrabbling desperately for purchase.

The big difference between the Xbox Live Arcade(XBLA) version and the free computer version, besides polish, is multiplayer. You can do co-op or competition online or off. All of which looks like a lot of fun, but Anna is still working her way through the tutorial (she didn't grow up with a Nintendo, so platformers are a bit alien to her), so I haven't really checked it out.

Carcassonne

This purchase was somewhat of a brain cramp to be honest, as I already own the actual board game. Basically, I meant to get Catan (see below) which is based upon a classic board game I've always been intrigued about, but needs way more players than I could ever assemble. However when I tried to remember "the video game based on a board game that someone on my friends list plays a lot" I got Carcassonne instead and just dismissed why the name seemed so familiar.

Turned out pretty well though, since I almost never want to play the real game when Anna does(maybe that's why I didn't recognize its name immediately)... mainly because of the general hassle of any board game(score keeping, set-up/clean-up). The XBLA version takes care of all that and tells you the legal positions for any pieces without you having to think about it (nicely preventing arguments as well). The graphics are pretty pleasant, and do just about as much as you can with a game based on placing tiles.

The rule and terminology changes from the board game were a bit confusing at first (monastery!?), but the fundamental gameplay remains as good as ever. I'm not sure yet how I feel about there not being walls, but in the handful of games Anna and I played we didn't really miss them. I may have more on this later as we get more games under our belt.

Catan
This was the game I meant to get all along. However I only played the one tutorial game, so I don't have much of a verdict. The most disappointing thing was the realization that you can't play multiplayer locally; only online. This makes sense with secret cards and all that, but it means that unless I discover a bunch of people who love to play it, I probably won't get my money's worth from this title. We'll see though.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Feijoada Complete

Not quite as pretty a picture as in the "a priori" post... but it is certainly representative of the finished product. I don't think I've ever made this much meat at one time in my life... all of it came out fantastic; but damn. The beans and Brazilian salsa also came out awesomely.

I'll lay down the full recipe with pics in the coming days.

Friday, March 28, 2008

May 14, 2008


Normally I'm not one for retro gaming re-imaginings... in fact, I haven't utilized XBLA at all. However, this game has me much more excited than GTA IV. Call me crazy, but 2 player co-op Bionic Commando sounds like maybe the best idea ever. I am also trying to ignore the fact that the original came out 20 years ago. I am sooooo old.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A priori Feijoada

So this Saturday I plan to try and make Brazilian Black Beans, or Feijoada, while the Vegan girlfriend is away. In short, it's lots of pork cooked in black beans which is then served with white rice, orange slices, and other Brazilian specific garnishes(more on those later).

Best International Recipe is my source. Now, this particular cookbook hasn't been so dyno-mite as others by the same people... as I've mentioned before... however good things have come from it, and I implicitly trust the Cook's Illustrated method, despite the occasional setback. I've completely read through the recipe and their justification(following the recipe without knowing why has been my downfall in many instances), so I'm going to put up some bullet points and the ingredient list ahead of time.

Guidelines:
  • Serves 8-10 people (Whoops! I should see if anybody wants to come over!)
  • No soaking of the beans (!?)
  • Salt the beans at the start
  • Baking soda is key for color
  • Bacon instead of ham hock for general flavor
  • Brown the various pork products before adding to beans
  • Add browned pork products at times based on their cooking time
Ingredient List:
  • 4 oz bacon
  • 1 med onion
  • 4 med garlic cloves
  • 10.5 cups water
  • 2 lbs black beans
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1/8 tsp baking soda
  • 2 lbs pork tenderloin
  • 2 baby back ribs (2.5 to 3 lbs each)
  • 1/4 cup vegtable oil
  • 1 lb linguica sausage
Note that the ingredient list doesn't include the things like white rice and oranges or Brazilian specific garnishes.

Photo by Flickr user su-lin used under a Creative Commons license

Running Update... #3?

I ran outside for the first time since last Monday (i.e. my first day running) yesterday, and borrowed my coworker Glen's GPS watch thing for it. It's really pretty neat. One of the things I have liked about the elliptical machine is all the feedback it gives you regarding pace and distance and whatnot... something the GPS gives you as well, but you get to be out in the sunshine and scenery instead of a dank exercise room staring at a wall. It seems to me that this will serve as really good motivation, as already this has proven true with the elliptical's feedback. Additionally, having access to all those variables from my training on my computer and being able to graph it really speaks to my inner geek. Also, it seems harder to spend $215(plus s&h) on a GPS watch and then have it gather dust on my shelf... well, maybe not, but gadgets make everything more fun.

So it looks like I'm in the market for "GPS Fitness Computer" as the adverts say.

The Forerunner 305 is what I'm looking at right now, because I think I want a heart rate monitor... but I'm going to try one of the lab's today to make sure it's not too uncomfortable. The 301 is a bunch cheaper, but not nearly as pretty... oh and some people have trouble with the HR monitor. I'm not really sure what features aren't shared between the two, and have to do more research to really decide... and it may be that I really don't want a HR monitor.

Now, as far as actual exercise... I was able to do 3 miles on Friday on the elliptical (Level 4) at about a 10:30 pace (which seems to be where I'm at right now), but I didn't do anything over the weekend and was lazy on Monday, so I could only do 2 miles on Tuesday (Level 5 though). As I said above, I ran outside on Wednesday and got in 2 miles again at that same 10:30-11 minute mile pace but I walked some... GPS watch saying I did about 22 minutes of work with 5 minutes of rest interspersed.

I was thinking I was going to do the elliptical today, but it's supposed to be 50 degrees, so maybe I'll run outside with the HR monitor to see how it goes.

UPDATE: The other option I looked at during lunch was Polar heart rate monitors with an accelerometer you put on your shoe. The advantage of those is that they work indoors, so you can still track your workouts even when it is winter or raining or whatever. The downsides being that it appears less accurate and more prone to errors. One of the reasons I wanted a heart rate monitor was to track indoor work outs even without pace/distance(and keep it with my other workouts)... but it also appears that you can get a "Foot Pod" for the Forerunner 305 (but not the 301 unfortunately). So far all reviews are pointing to the 305 mainly for the better HR monitor and much better GPS performance, but it doesn't appear to have many/features that the 301 doesn't.

UPDATE II: The HR monitor was perfectly comfortable (Polar is what we use in the lab) and didn't bother me a bit. Iit also showed me what I suspected: I work a lot harder running outside than I have been on the elliptical. My heart rate has been relatively consistently in the low to mid 140s on the elliptical, but I was in the mid 150s on my 2 mile jog today... this is stuff that really helps me just starting out. So I went an ordered the Forerunner 305. Here is a picture of how ginormous it is:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Guinness Beef Stew Update

Well I don't have any pictures because my kitchen is poorly lit and my phone doesn't have a flash... should have used the real camera. It turned out mainly average I'd say, but I think I might be getting a cold which negatively impacted my taste buds. The flavors may also be better today as they have had time to meld, but it is also possible that Irish Stew isn't much different than regular American stew. I'm surprised I didn't catch much of the Guinness flavor though.

That's not to say it wasn't a worthy meal, however. It was a fairly easy and straightforward recipe and I didn't burn the roux so that's good. I think I should have split the meat into more than 2 batches for browning, however, as the dutch oven was pretty crowded and there might have been more steaming in their own juices than real browning. Live and learn.

So speaking of Judas...

That would be one Richard Mellon Scaife sitting next to Hillary in the interview where she brought up Jeremiah Wright after the issue seemed to be dead and buried. This is the guy who was the mover and shaker behind pretty much all of the most noxious accusations of Clinton wrongdoing in the 90's... including that Hillary had Vince Foster killed.

Bygones eh? Strange bedfellows and whatnot.

Oh, and the Clinton Camp is apparently circulating an American Spectator article about an Obama adviser. The American Spectator would be the former Scaife publication where the most egregious accusations (i.e. Arkansas Project) were published.

I wasn't all that politically active in the 90's, and honestly thought Bill Clinton was too centrist for my taste, so this doesn't really offend me so much... I'm mainly just befuddled that she's willing to sit at the same table as this guy after what he published about her. However, some of the people who had defended her back then against all comers are more than just a little livid about it.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Hulu

It seems there is some new completely legal way to watch TV for free online called Hulu. I guess it's an NBC/Fox thing with advertisements interspersed as if you were watching it on broadcast. I haven't watch any of it yet, so I don't know how intrusive it is... but looking through their selection it doesn't really seem that awesome right now, but that may be because on the few shows I watch (or would watch) I'm at least a season or two behind. Heroes for example is a show I enjoy, but Anna and I aren't quite done the first season... and Hulu only has full episodes of the second season. Battlestar Galactica is another show that I've watched on DVD in the past and might be interested in watching, but it seems they only have five episodes from the third season available.

They do seem to a wide array of clips from The Simpsons, SNL, and The Family Guy so I guess that could turn out to be viable way to combat boredom.

Irish Beef Stew

That's what I'm going to make tonight while Anna's teaching... I actually bought the stuff to make it this weekend while she was up in Maine, but I got lazy and just made frozen pizzas or bought burritos... whoops! I guess I was inspired (for the recipe not the laziness) by St. Patrick's Day or something (even though we didn't go out for it), but even more likely is that I just really like stews and have been wanting to make this for a while. It's Guinness based with chuck roast, potatoes, and carrots and not a whole lot else. It takes 2-3 hours which is mostly simmering in the oven time. The recipe itself is from The Best International Recipe which has been frankly a bit hit or miss compared to The New Best Recipe which is the most awesome cook book ever (no really!). However, where the The New Best Recipe makes shortcuts and ingredient substitutions for people who don't have access to fancy international markets, The Best International Recipe tends to be more traditional which can be really cool but also problematic if you don't know where to get fresh epazote (for example). Thankfully, this isn't really an issue with Irish Beef Stew.

So we'll see how this all plays out and I'll update with pictures once it is finished. This weekend's cooking extravaganza will be Feijoda which are Brazillian Black Beans. That recipe apparently calls for like an entire pig, so I've decided to be contentious and wait until my Vegan girlfriend goes back up to Maine this weekend.

Monday, March 24, 2008

No BU

So the Terriers lost to Vermont this weekend in the Hockey East quarterfinals, and so ends their season... no NCAA berth for them. It's a bit disappointing that after how much they turned their season around, that it wasn't quite enough... but thems the breaks.

Also: BC sucks.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Context

Watch Jeremiah Wright's post 9/11 sermon:

Seriously. Progressives should be defending him with all their heart, and yet they'd rather throw him under a bus. Thankfully Obama doesn't share the belief of political expediency.

I'm not religious and don't want to be, but I have to say that I would have benefited from Pastor Wright's sermon, as I was almost entirely consumed by rage then... and it was in no way constructive.

Inevitability

Politico sez:
One big fact has largely been lost in the recent coverage of the Democratic presidential race: Hillary Rodham Clinton has virtually no chance of winning.

Her own campaign acknowledges there is no way that she will finish ahead in pledged delegates. That means the only way she wins is if Democratic superdelegates are ready to risk a backlash of historic proportions from the party’s most reliable constituency.

Unless Clinton is able to at least win the primary popular vote — which also would take nothing less than an electoral miracle — and use that achievement to pressure superdelegates, she has only one scenario for victory. An African-American opponent and his backers would be told that, even though he won the contest with voters, the prize is going to someone else.

People who think that scenario is even remotely likely are living on another planet.


Awesome. Hopefully in the next few weeks the media will recognize this... without revotes in Florida and Michigan she it toast. She was probably toast regardless, but revotes gave her hope... now she has none.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Reactions to "The Speech" several days on...

The Daily Show has perhaps my favorite:

And so, at 11 o'clock AM on a Tuesday, a prominent politician spoke to Americans about race... as though they were adults.
I, of course, thought it was a brilliant speech... as I think most educated liberal Obama partisans did. It was a rare Obama speech that was just as good (if not better) to read as it was to hear. It seemed to me to be a courageous speech because of the honesty and the clear political risk involved. However, I'm not really sure what my reaction really means in the grand scheme... what we all want to know is what working class whites thought of it... or if they even saw it. Almost 2 .5 million views on YouTube seems like a good sign though.

I do want to mention the two most surprising defenses of Obama's speech. First up:
Take, for example, the treatment of his reference to his white grandmother. Of course you can go after him in all the ways that people have gone after him—if what you want to do is go after him. But suppose you approach Obama’s text under the twin assumptions that (a) he is trying to communicate with you, and, (b) your obligation is to make a good-faith effort to understand his meaning. I read what he said about his grandmother, and his words left me in no doubt about two things: He really loves his grandmother, and he was saying something important about race that I recognized from my own experience. I bet many of the people who have slammed him recognize it from their own experience too. The guy was being honest, and he was being right. What the hell more do you want?

Ah, but he was trashing his grandmother for political purposes, he was equating what she said with the much more terrible things that Rev. Wright said, blah, blah, blah. Yes—if you insist on interpreting what he said purely as an exercise in political positioning. No, if you go to his text with the intention of trying to understand what Obama thinks about race.
Now who said that? Charles "The Bell Curve" Murray!? Oh my.

And finally:

And he made the point, and I think it's a valid one, that you can't hold the candidate responsible for everything that people around him may say or do. You just can't -- whether it's me, whether it's Obama, anybody else. But he did distance himself from the very vitriolic statements.

Now, the second story. It's interesting to me that there are some people on the left that are having to be very uncomfortable with what Louis Wright said, when they all were all over a Jerry Falwell or anyone on the right who said things that they found very awkward and uncomfortable years ago. Many times those were statements lifted out of the context of a larger sermon.

Sermons, after all, are rarely written word-for-word by pastors like Rev. Wright, who are delivering them extemporaneously, and caught up in the emotion of the moment. There are things that sometimes get said, that if you put them on paper and looked at them in print, you'd say, "Well, I didn't mean to say it quite like that."

...


And one other thing I think we've got to remember: As easy as it is for those of us who are white to look back and say, "That's a terrible statement," I grew up in a very segregated South, and I think that you have to cut some slack. And I'm going to be probably the only conservative in America who's going to say something like this, but I'm just telling you: We've got to cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told, "You have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant. And you can't sit out there with everyone else. There's a separate waiting room in the doctor's office. Here's where you sit on the bus." And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had a more, more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me.


Nobody said Mike Huckabee wasn't a fundamentally decent man. I honestly think we Dems dodged a bullet with him... he would have been tougher than most think.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Nerd Games!

This is how I spent my Wednesday night. Recreating Lord of the Rings one plastic figurine at a time. Above is the beginning setup for War of the Ring. I'm not sure how much of my love of this game is related to my intense LotR fanboism, but with that caveat, I must say that it really is a great game. I say this despite the fact that Anna has won all but one of the half a dozen games we've played so far.

It's a little on the complicated side for a board game, but nowhere near the mind numbing rules lawyering that hardcore war games can degrade into. The basic combat rules are fairly simple: roll one die for each unit (up to 5), hit on a 5 or 6 (reduced to 6 when defenders have fortifications), regulars can take one hit and elites can take two. Of course, combat is not really the basis of the game... certainly the forces of Shadow need to make the world run red with the blood of hobbits and elves, but it's almost impossible for the Free Peoples to do much in a military sense, so it's really just a matter of doing so before the One Ring can be destroyed. That's not to say that the battles aren't important and tense, but for the Free Peoples a "crushing victory" is barely beating off a siege with a surprising card play or lucky rolls... generally, the Shadow can amass such a superiority of numbers that it is just a matter of holding out as long as you can.

Now, while the Free Peoples are trying to withstand the rampaging hordes of darkness, they are also trying to move Frodo, Sam, and the rest of the Fellowship into Mordor to destroy the Ring. Of course, they don't get to move without opposition... the Shadow is simultaneously hunting for the Ring as they cut a bloody swath across Middle Earth. For them, the balance between The Hunt and military conquest turns out to be one of the more important strategic decisions they make, as the ability to perform any action (muster, move an army, play a card, etc) comes from random dice rolls each round, and the dice dedicated to The Hunt must removed from this pool before you roll to determine what type of actions you can take that round. The Free Peoples on the other hand, are pretty much trying to move the Fellowship closer to Mordor whenever circumstances allow.

There's a fair bit more to it than that, but I think I've given a decent summary. For most of our games to date, I've played the Free Peeps and she's gone with the Hordes of Darkness (ex- goth chick you see)... but last night we switched it up. We only got a few turns in, and I don't want to be premature, but I think I might be looking at my second straight win here. I don't have a lot of "victory points" (acquired by capturing Goody-Goody strongholds) yet, but the Fellowship is still a fair bit from Mordor and has already 6 points of corruption (simulates putting on the Ring to escape enemies - too much of that(12) and it's game over). Lothorien has fallen and Helm's Deep and Minas Tirith are under siege.

We shall see, but I'm feeling pretty good about my days of ineptitude being a thing of the past.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Running Update #2

It's raining here in Boston today, so I almost postponed my planned exercise... but decided to use the elliptical instead. Since our lab exercise trains people for (some) of its money, I do have access to a reasonable array of equipment... however, I've never enjoyed exercising in a gym environment and pretty much hate treadmills. On the other hand, in 10 years of massive sloth I missed the invention of the elliptical and was sort of curious about why people love it so much... and more importantly I didn't want to set a precedent of postponing scheduled exercise.

Turned out OK. Glen showed me how it works, told me the settings that he and my boss Andy use, made sure I could use it without killing myself, and left me to my own devices. I tried a resistance of 6(units?), which Glen said was reasonable, but that was killing my flabbiness in no time (~5 minutes before my quads were cursing my name)... so I dialed it back to the more namby pamby number of 2, so that I could keep it up for 20 minutes. I liked all the feedback... heart rate, watts, etc... but it is still boring as all get out to run in place in a sterile room. Listening to music made it better, but I've always preferred the more Zen experience of the sound of my own breathing and the sights of terrain passing by.

Regardless, I'm quite glad I decided to try it out, since it has proved to be a perfectly acceptable alternative to running in slop.

I, for one, welcome our new four legged robot overlords.


It may be time to start training the resistance. The walking over broken terrain thing is impressive, but it's the galloping/jumping part at the end that makes me wonder whether a shotgun could take out one of the legs.

UPDATE: And leave it to The Onion to be the only responsible news outlet to examine our peril.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"A More Perfect Union"


Like I said, I missed it because I was in the lab and couldn't have it play while I crunched numbers.

I'm playing it now as I start to analyze this morning's data, but have no impressions as yet... what I've gleaned from a brief sojourn into the intertubes is that Obama fans loved it and Wingnuts hated it. So big surprises there, right?

Anyway, I'll have more later.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Running Update Week #1

More of a walking/running update to be honest. I want to be able to run 5K(~3.2 miles) 3x a week eventually, but taking more than 10 years off the running thing means that's not happening anytime soon... so I decided that I'd start going 5K but just run as much as I can and build myself up to running the whole thing. The route is a pretty scenic one that goes along the esplanade from Spaulding to the Mass Ave Bridge and back again... very pretty, but it can be wee bit windy along the water.

I ran probably 2/3rds of the first leg to the bridge, and almost none on the way back. I think it took an hour, so I was going pretty slowly, but I'm not sure how slow since I didn't bring a watch.

Maybe I should borrow a heart rate monitor from work to track my progress. I wonder if that would help me keep motivated... and I wonder how awful my legs are going to feel tomorrow... time will tell.

Obama to give major speech on race tomorrow

According to Ben Smith at Politico, Obama is going to give what the post title says... a speech on race. There are not many more details than that at the moment. I haven't said anything about the Jeremiah Wright controversy because I don't really know what to say. As a non-Christian agnostic, I generally find pretty much all religious figures to be creepy and I'm somewhat incredulous that Wright's comments are any worse than those of Hagee or other Right Wing preachers. It seems pretty much like an "OMG Angry Black Man!!!!" reaction more than anything else, and I'm saddened by the fact that the controversy might just work to marginalize Obama as such.

Well, here is his chance to respond in the forum where he is at his best... so we'll see. As Smith notes however, it is risky since it will keep the story in the news longer... but was it really going away?

I don't know if it will be watchable online live (or even when it will be) but I imagine it will be on Obama's website shortly after it's finished.

UPDATE: Scheduled for 10:15 AM in Philly sez Dana Goldstein at TAP. I'll be in the lab like a good little biomedical engineer, but I certainly look forward to reading people tell me what I think afterwards.

To a strange and distant land...


So Anna and I booked our first "real" vacation together last night... 7 days in Negril, Jamaica in late May. I think tourist season ends mid April, so we'll be well off it. Frommer's describes Negril as:
On the arid western tip of Jamaica, Negril has had a reputation for bacchanalia, hedonism, marijuana, and nude sunbathing since hippies discovered its sunny shores during the 1960s. The resort became more mainstream during the early 1990s as big-money capitalists built megaresorts, many of them managed by SuperClubs, Sandals, Couples, or the relative newcomers, the Spain-based Riu chain. But despite the creeping sense of corporate encroachment on a domain once dominated by laid-back hippies, some resorts still reserve stretches of beach for nude bathers, and illegal ganja is still (more or less discreetly) peddled.
So, uhm, yeah... we're not actually going there for nudity and ganja... the important part for us is that the naked and/or high Rastafarians eat in style known as "Ital" which is pretty much entirely vegan, so Anna will have a surprising number of dining options it seems. Though, the fact that "
ganja is considered as an holy herb that can be used in pretty much any recipe" is something for us to... uhm... keep in mind.

We were unsure as to whether to focus our vacation on the white sands of Seven Mile Beach or the cliffs of the West End, as Anna is a uber beach person but I burn to a crisp in seconds... so we decided for both: our first 3 nights across the road from the beach at Rayon Hotel and the next 4 at Xtabi in the West End.

So we're pretty excited... just got my passport in the mail the other day so we're just biding our time now. On a related note, I also bought some new running shoes yesterday to hopefully shed some pounds before my blindingly white skin is unleashed upon the beaches of Jamaica.

UPDATE: I made a little Google Map with guessed at locations of our two hotels. Despite Google's world domination, it apparently doesn't know all that much about Negril... or places in Negril just don't have addresses... probably the latter. Anyway, it might be interesting to update that map almost as a diary... especially since my phone has GPS... though would I be roaming to use it? Hmmm.

View Larger Map

Saturday, March 15, 2008

More Laziness.. but f-in cool Laziness.


French Techno with slo-mo flying dogs and laser beams... how does it get better than that!?

Bring it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

(More) Trouble Brewing for Darfur Refugees

from flickr user hdptcar under a Creative Commons License

According to
The dozen refugee camps in Chad were never an East African Hilton: The logistical challenge of getting resources to camps spread across a landlocked country nearly twice the size of Texas has hampered the refugees' access to necessities like potable water and waterproof roofing. The camps contain diseases that Western countries haven't seen in decades: Playful groups of children with polio are a heartbreakingly common sight. Hundreds of rebels roam the area, forcibly recruiting children from the camps and stealing vehicles from aid workers. Four years of overcrowding in the camps has decimated the area's stock of firewood, pushing the refugees farther into dangerous territory each day to collect what they need.

But unlike most African refugee camps--consisting of hastily assembled shacks scattered across a windswept plain--the camps in Chad were planned well in advance, and designed to last. Djabal resembles a neatly drawn city, a rectangle 1.5 km long and 1 km wide, divided into six well-organized housing sectors. When refugees first began arriving in June 2004, families were given gardens, seeds, and a nursery for trees, with some even receiving livestock. "Repatriation is the goal, but that will not happen with the refugees anytime soon," says Emmanuelle Compingt, a community services officer with UNHCR. "What we want is sustainability. We want them to have some kind of income-generating activity."

After some false starts--animal theft, conflicts over who owned the arable land--the sustainability strategy looked like it was paying off. The average number of calories consumed daily was climbing by the month, peaking at just over 2,100, and some resourceful refugees started trading their homegrown millet and sorghum for tomatoes and sweet tea in the Goz Beida market--relative luxuries for families that fled Darfur with the clothes on their backs. The population was stable and inching up--not from new arrivals (there have been virtually none since the camp opened) but from live births, about 70 each month.

Fighting has erupted between the Chadian government and the rebels in the villages along the Sudanese border--the town of Adré, around which thousands of refugees live, was nearly overrun by rebels in early February--and the violence in the capital last month has disrupted food shipments to the camps. Somewhat ironically, the possibility of new conflict has also delayed the deployment of an already behind-schedule European Union peacekeeping force--3,700 troops who were intended to secure the refugee camps. Originally slated to deploy in November 2007, only a fraction of the forces arrived in mid-February 2008. The chronically belated mission has never seemed more necessary. A week after fighting broke out in the capital, the Sudanese army bombed towns in western Darfur, pushing 12,000 more victims into Chad. The ballooning refugee population and dwindling humanitarian presence has made the situation on the border so untenable that, on February 11, Chad's Prime Minister said the international community needed to move the refugees back to Sudan, or the Chadian government would move them itself.
This kind of report right after the departure of Samantha Power from Obama's campaign is particularly poignant... but as one of the most visible voices against genocide that I'm aware of, it's a shame she won't be near the spotlight any time soon (though perhaps not being part of a Presidential campaign allows her to speak more forcefully?).

Anyway... I think I'll finally buy her book though.

Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Bomb Iran?

McCain's catchphrase seemed to be the major concern about Admiral William Fallon's abrupt resignation as CENTCOM commander this weekend. These fears of imminent war were due to the rather oddly coincidental recent release of an Esquire profile that basically portrayed Fallon as the only man between Bush-Cheney and bombs falling in Tehran. I have to admit that "Uh-Oh the Hawks are back in charge" was probably the first thoughts in my mind, since I really hadn't heard much besides the guy's name before that Esquire piece.

However, people who know more than me, like Fred Kaplan, have spoken up about the resignation... saying essentially that it is his unauthorized public policy proclamations about Iraq (not Iran) that have gotten him in trouble:

Last month, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that after the five "surge" brigades left Iraq this July, there would be a "pause" before any further withdrawals would commence. In a Feb. 27 interview with the New York Times, Fallon said this pause would be brief, just long enough to allow "all the dust to settle," after which the drawdown would resume. Moreover, he said, U.S. strategy would shift—focusing on "supporting, sustaining, advising, training, and mentoring" the Iraqi army, not so much on fighting or providing security ourselves.

In a Slate column the next day, I wondered if Fallon was speaking on behalf of Gates, the administration, or anybody besides himself. I have since learned, from a senior Pentagon official and from a high-ranking Army officer, that he was not. I have also learned that many of Fallon's statements on policy matters have been similarly unauthorized.

Now it seems to me that Kevin Drum had the right of it. While I agree with Fallon, I certainly wouldn't want a Republican Admiral in a Democrat's Administration mouthing off to the press how President Obama was leaving too quickly and going to send the region into chaos. We do have civilian leadership for a reason and it seems like he was acting inappropriately. Perhaps positioning himself for a even higher profile role in a Democrat administration?

Regardless, what do Fred Kaplan's instincts/sources tell him about Iran?
Fallon has publicly expressed extreme skepticism toward the wisdom of a war with Iran. But so have Secretary Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The option of bombing Iran no longer seems to be on the table. But if President Bush were suddenly to put it back on the table, Fallon—or anyone in his position—would have no power to stop it, unless he simply refused to carry out his orders, and nowhere has Fallon said, or suggested, that he was willing to do that.
Well, that's not particularly reassuring but I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

More on the Popular Vote...

So I've been a bit sick the last few days, but I still did pay attention to politics and all the craziness this weekend... even though all I got around to was posting music videos which is sort of lame and very lazy.

But anyway, with Obama's big wins in Wyoming on Saturday and Mississippi on Tuesday he's pretty much erased all the gains Clinton made on March 5th (in fact CNN is reporting that he is projected to win the Texas caucus and will end up with more delegates from the State).

So what's up with the popular vote? Kos has done the most extensive arithmetic I've seen so far, and has Obama up by 833,000 which, as he says, should be insurmountable. The only problem? Many caucuses don't report direct votes and just report delegates... so he takes the overall turnout numbers and breaks them down proportionally.

Now we understand one of the reasons HRC's camp has been deriding caucuses as undemocratic... and of course that doesn't include Michigan and Florida, which have moved no closer to a re-vote.

So what we really need is for Obama to win Pennsylvania and make all the speculation moot, but it sure doesn't look like that's going to happen. Of course a lot can happen in 6 weeks or whatever it is, but he'd need a big momentum boost to win there and it's hard to see where that would come from. At the very least, hopefully he won't have any more staff resign.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Thursday, March 6, 2008

"Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts"

I find Global Warming Skeptics to be a fascinating group... mainly because I myself am a skeptic of science even though science pays my rent and I'm a very liberal resident of Cambridge Massachusetts. As a skeptic and critic of many things Big Science, I find myself agreeing with some of their arguments while at the same time being repulsed by their clearly partisan agenda. When I say "agree with some of their arguments" I mean the more fundamental critiques of the scientific process; not the crazy loony stuff. It's just a shame that they use those arguments for EVIL, so that if I say that money and politics corrupt science people expect me to be against teaching evolution in schools or something. Now, I don't intend to debate Global Warming here since my non-expert self finds the science to be compelling enough to warrant action, and the side effects of working towards carbon neutrality seem to be suitably attractive; whether or not my taking of a gondola to work is hanging in the balance.

However, most of what is published in scientific journals is garbage. I mean it. Really. I've been going to journal clubs for pretty much one day a week (at least) for almost 10 years, and I'm not sure I can recall the last paper that didn't end up in the trash can with no take home message other than "never do it this way". Most of this uninformative dross makes it through peer review because... well primarily because peer review is a fundamentally flawed process in dire need of reform, but also because it just so much easier to publish papers that further confirm established dogma.

I think anyone who has ever tried to publish a paper whose data contradicts conventional wisdom in their field can testify how much harder it is... how people invested in the area are looking for any tiny flaw to give a reason to reject your work... but I think even people who have met the internet can understand how much people don't want to be wrong. This is especially true if you've based 20 years of your life and your entire career on a wrong idea. It can be a bit more than an embarrassment to admit such a thing.

Similarly, it's amazing how long really bad ideas that have seemingly been thoroughly discredited can remain viable in the literature. They're like zombies; the inertia of bad science with a sexy story can be truly disheartening. Ask me sometime about "Sympathovagal Balance"... actually no, never do that. Read my boss's review article instead and save me from grinding my teeth.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

I Love the Smell of Smoke Filled Rooms in the Morning

I don't have too much to say about the results of the primaries, though the margins were wider than I had hoped in Hillary Clinton's favor, it seems that people in the know suggest that she might actually end up further behind in pledged delegates after the results of the caucus portion of Texas's primary are known.

As far as the popular vote gambit mentioned below, by my count she won 2,816,010 votes to 2,487,028 with 98-99% of all precincts in all the states reporting... or a little over 53% of the vote. However, that doesn't seem to be enough enough when you consider likely sizable losses in upcoming states like Mississippi, Wyoming, North Carolina, and Oregon. I'd have to look at the numbers to be sure, but I would imagine that would mean she'd still have to win Pennsylvania by 20 points to have a shot.

So what other options are on the table? Marc Ambinder is suggesting a push for a revote in Florida and Michigan might be in the works from the Clinton Camp. This would seem to be a pretty solid strategic move, since the new votes would likely be in April or June and give HRC a chance to build solid momentum, votes, and delegates on the way to the convention. Instead of the insane proposal to seat the delegates regardless of the fact that there was no campaigning (and in Michigan's case Barrack Obama wasn't even on the ballot), this would be the solution many of the Obama partisans had suggested all along and would get a lot of support for moral "count every vote" type camps.

So anyway... on to a brokered convention! WooHoo! *sigh*

UPDATE: More from TPM on the popular vote to date...
DNC-Sanctioned Contests
Obama 12,920,961
Clinton 12,322,695

Including Florida
Obama 13,497,175
Clinton 13,193,681
So pretty damn close.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Gary Gygax, 1938-2008

So it appears that one of the Nerd Kings has passed. As designer of both D&D and AD&D, he is probably responsible for most of the wasted hours of my youth (I didn't get out much you see). He will be missed.

via Balloon Juice

UPDATE: Order of the Stick has a pretty nice tribute.

UPDATE II: Penny Arcade tribute... "rolling in his grave" indeed.

UPDATE III:

The Gore Scenario

Clive Crook lays out what I think is the most plausible path to the nomination for Hillary Clinton. As noted by myself and roughly 8 million other people with blogs: she has virtually no shot at catching Obama in pledged delegates no matter what happens tonight.

However, Clive notes what many others (including myself) have forgotten... she's actually not that far behind in the popular vote . 52-48 is what he claims, and though I'm not sure where that number comes from, it seems reasonable. So while she needs epic victories (60-40) across the board to close the delegate gap, she only needs 53% of the popular vote, which given solid five to ten point victories in Ohio and Pennsylvania and not getting blown out in Mississippi, Oregon , and the like seems entirely plausible to me (though I haven't even remotely looked at the math of it).

Now, if it comes down to the convention and Hillary Clinton clearly leads the popular vote (without counting Florida or Michigan) and she's down by less than (say) 100 pledged delegates, who do you think the Superdelegates break for? I'd guess it would be Hillary Clinton.


Just a little nightmare scenario to make me nervous while I wait for polls to close.

March 4th Primaries

Well I was hoping for a knockout blow to be delivered by Obama tonight after a pretty good debate performance and so much momentum, but he's had an absolutely atrocious news cycle with NAFTA gate and HRC's "red phone ad". Obama's back on his heels at what would seem to be the worst possible time.

So based on Pollster.com's polls of polls, it would appear he is going to lose Ohio by 5 points, narrowly lose Texas, and probably lose Rhode Island but clean up in Vermont. So plugging in rough margins (55-45, 51-49, 55-45, and 40-60 respectively) for Clinton on Slate's delegate counter seems to indicate even such a bad outcome for Obama would leave him up by over 125 pledged delegates (leaving out the possibility that he pwns the caucus portion of the weird Texas two step thing). So that's semi-good news I suppose.

But here's hoping the polls dramatically underestimate Obama's support a la Wisconsin.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Go BU?

So I haven't really beeen following my alma mater this hocckey season, but I did get to see them play on Friday. A solid 3-0 win over Umass Amherst, but apparently they then got drilled 5-1 the next night... so I'm not sure what their chances of making the NCAA tournament are... though I know they are on the bubble. Kinda weird to think of a BU hockey team as "on the bubble" but that's the way it is I guess.