Monday, June 30, 2008
What's so terrible about somebody saying that military service, however heroic, doesn't automatically qualify you to be President? I can only guess that Andrew Sullivan does not remember the things said about John Kerry if he is going to call this, entirely legitimate, critique "swiftboating". Nobody, who is not a fringe loony, is denigrating John McCain's service... Republican's, on the other hand, wore Purple Heart band aids at their national convention. They weren't saying that John Kerry's service was not relevant, they were saying he didn't actually serve honorably and were calling him a liar.
Anyway, I hope Clark doesn't back away from this line of attack, even if he ends up for apologizing for wording or whatever... he'll just have to start every sentence with "John McCain is an American Hero, but..." to keep the man crush media's heads from exploding.
UPDATE: I'll agree with TPM's headline and leave it at LAME.
Speaking of... Brianna's Chipotle Cheddar dressing is a really good.
On a sad note, no cilantro seedlings were available as the plant people present had been sold out for a ages... while last week I was told the plants were too small and wouldn't be available until now. It feels like a grand conspiracy to deny me one of my most favorite herbs, but I guess I should be pleased that it is so popular. I'll probably just run up to Pemberton Farms and see what they've got.
Sunday, June 29, 2008
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Diablo III has been announced. The Blizzard website is here. I know almost nothing about the new game, but it seems clear that Blizzard hasn't been wasting all that WoW money on hot tub parties. I'm excited, but they have a gameplay trailer up on their site, and I can't say it does much for me. Having a pretty 3D presentation is nice and all... but it's been ten years, and there have been legion imitators... you need something more than a new class or two and a better look.
At the same time, with Blizzard's track record... it's hard to imagine how this won't be awesome.
I fear it just the same.
The game is at 2:45 ET on Sunday. I was ready a full 24 hours in advance. See, that's dedication to the sport.
Since I've already had my 5 dollar beer and 10 dollar mediocre burger allotment for the weekend, I might stay home and write up a Bill Simmon's-esque running diary tomorrow. We'll see how it goes.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Episode 5 is out, and I think this might be the best of the bunch to date. While all of the episodes are loosely based on the content of Keep on the Shadowfell, this one seems to not have many spoilers that I can detect... so if you have been concerned about that messing with a future running of said adventure, you're pretty in the clear here. There is a little discussion of past accomplishments, but really all you'll get it the name of an NPC or two. In general, I think they do a good job of deviating from the prepared adventure so much that any resemblances are pretty cosmetic (i.e. they are both in keeps).
So if you only have time for one of their D&D podcasts, this is the one I'd recommend. You'll need some basic concept of die rolling and RPGs to get it, but if you want to see how it plays, this is a good example. They touch on changes to concepts like saving throws, action points, and death... and James Wyatt runs a pretty good session, as you might expect.
As someone whose only experience running a gaming session were two Shadowrun prepared adventures that ended in total party wipes back when I was in high school... it's sort of neat to see(hear) people who know what they are doing.
Is speculation playing a role in high oil prices? It’s not out of the question. Economists were right to scoff at Mr. Masters — buying a futures contract doesn’t directly reduce the supply of oil to consumers — but under some circumstances, speculation in the oil futures market can indirectly raise prices, encouraging producers and other players to hoard oil rather than making it available for use.
Whether that’s happening now is a subject of highly technical dispute. (Readers who want to wonk themselves out can go to my blog, krugman.blogs.nytimes.com, and follow the links.) Suffice it to say that some economists, myself included, make much of the fact that the usual telltale signs of a speculative price boom are missing. But other economists argue, in effect, that absence of evidence isn’t solid evidence of absence.
What about those who argue that speculative excess is the only way to explain the speed with which oil prices have risen? Well, I have two words for them: iron ore.
You see, iron ore isn’t traded on a global exchange; its price is set in direct deals between producers and consumers. So there’s no easy way to speculate on ore prices. Yet the price of iron ore, like that of oil, has surged over the past year. In particular, the price Chinese steel makers pay to Australian mines has just jumped 96 percent. This suggests that growing demand from emerging economies, not speculation, is the real story behind rising prices of raw materials, oil included.
He basically wants us to stop blaming the evil speculator boogey-man and get on with accepting that high prices are here to stay. This seems to have started a back and forth among the "economists who also blog" that is mainly over my head... but I thought this post by Arnold Kling seems to sum up the parts that I actually understand.
We agree that trying to reduce oil demand by getting rid of speculators is foolish. Knowing what we know now, we seem to think that the price of oil is close to where it belongs, although events could change that.
Krugman and Hamilton want to account for the excess oil that should appear as the price shoots up from $60 to $130+ per barrel. Krugman says that the fact that it does not show up in above-ground inventories is a sign that speculation is not at work. Cowen and I say that the excess oil might be underground, although I have to do a lot of hand-waving and fall back on the fudge factor of "convenience yield," given that futures prices are not far above spot prices.
Hamilton says, eloquently, that "China already burned" the excess oil. That probably ought to go down as the definitive assessment.
And soon athletes from around the world will be breathing it! I hope they enjoy it; that stuffs not cheap.
Did the NRA really win such a crushing victory over public opinion? I think I recall(or was I just younger and more liberal?) when the concept of an "individual right" was a pretty kooky one. Now everyone seems to assume that's the way it should be, and here is Jack Balkin's (slightly snarky) take on it:
In Heller, the Court changed existing law dramatically to adopt a new interpretation of the Second Amendment that is actually fairly close to the center of public opinion. It struck down one of the most restrictive gun control laws in the country and it recognized Americans' right to use handguns to defend their home.
Despite its long and occasionally dreary originalist exegesis, the Heller majority is not really defending the values of 1791. It is enforcing the values of 2008. This is no accident. Indeed, the result in Heller would have been impossible without the success of the conservative movement and the work of the NRA and other social movement actors who, over a period of about 35 years, succeeded in changing Americans' minds about the meaning of the Second Amendment, and made what were previously off-the-wall arguments about the Constitution socially and politically respectable to political elites. This is living constitutionalism in action.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
I'm no lawyer, so you probably want to go to one of those people if you want more measured and educated commentary... but it looks like the Supreme Court went with "individual right to have a gun" (as opposed to collective right) by a 5-4 margin.
Over the years I've gone from a pretty firm supporter of gun control to someone who, these days, doesn't think there is much evidence that it really decreases violence. I'm open to being persuaded on this last point, but confirming an individual right to bear arms doesn't really bother me... especially if, as the linked blog post seems to indicate, requiring a license is enough to satisfy that right.
I'll be interested to see what other who actually know what they're talking about think the effect of this will be.
This is an Alton Brown recipe I tried for the first time the other day... straight out of "I'm Just Here For the Food" However, since Alton isn't as anal as Cook's, my experience might provide some benefit to other novice cooks... other than just transcribing something you could just as easily read as I did.
Up there you can see the ingredients... a bunch of swiss chard that I got at the farmer's market (looking a bit wilty, but sitting in some water perked it right up), onion, garlic, farfalle, butter and flour for a roux, hot pepper flakes, and crushed tomatoes... here are the measurements and a few things not pictured:
2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup diced onion (about 1 small onion)
8 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups crushed tomatoes
1 cup chicken stock
16 oz farfalle pasta
1 bunch swiss chard
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon fresh rosemary
1. Get 2 large pots of boiling water going. 1 for the pasta, and the other for blanching the chard. For the chard, Cook's said to hold the stalk and use a knife to cut the leaves off going away from you... however mine was just to wilted at that point, so I just used my hands to tear the leaves off into a bowl of water. This was farmer's market swiss chard, so it was pretty grubby. I dunked and changed the water 4 or 5 times... until it didn't look like it was leaving a residue.
2. Cook the pasta according to the package's directions. Pretty straightforward. Blanching on the other hand is a little mysterious to me. Both Cook's and Alton said boiling water, covered, 7 minutes... which is what I did... then dump it into iced water. How do you know if it's done or over done? Dunno. Supposedly you lose color first, and this looks pretty good to me:
Once it's cooled down take it out and chop it up.
3. Combine the butter and flour into a smooth mixture.
4. Heat oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes and saute until the onions are golden brown... about 7-10 minutes.
5. Turn heat to medium low and whisk in the in the butter/flour mixture. Cook for 5 minutes.
6. Add the tomatoes and stir for 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken stock and whisk until "sauce is smooth and creamy". Then add in the pasta and chard and heat through.
7. Finish off with rosemary, Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste.
Pretty simple, eh?
The finished dish with a salad of bib lettuce and mustard greens.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
Monday, June 23, 2008
You don’t necessarily have to use a computer to understand, you know, how it shapes the country. … John McCain is aware of the Internet.
But is he aware of all internet traditions? In a less meme-that-is-not-funny-anymore note, should we get together and buy McCain a Wii? It might help him feel a connection to the kids.
I could blame it all on my mom... gotta do touristy things when your mom visits, right? But the fact is, Anna and I saw a tour going around not that long ago and realized that we know almost nothing about the history of Boston... for her that's pretty excusable, but I went to college here and have lived here for probably 10 years and have never really been a tourist... and you gotta figure there are tons of interesting things I don't know about Boston.
Case and point... most of Boston is built on landfill.
That shows the original Boston peninsula with 1880 streets superimposed upon it. You have to click on that to really see it, but it's kind of crazy. The orginal streets are your sterotypical paved over cow paths of Beacon Hill and the North End and the 1880's streets are all straight and flat. This may be common knowledge to most people, but I found it pretty cool. Here's a simpler map blown up to all get out:
Knowing this, the Boston scenes of the Baroque Cycle make a lot more sense.
UPDATE: Here is a little animation that goes through the progression of the landfills. Crazy.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
We went to the farmer's market in Union Square on Saturday and finally picked up some herbs for me to try and tend. I've never really tried to grow anything, or really had the responsibility of caring for a life form other than myself(which, truth be told, I'm probably only barely receiving passing marks for)... thus my little baby herbs become an awesome responsibility. I should note that the herbs didn't come in that pretty pot... I had to put them there, and even add soil. Pretty impressive, eh? Well, OK, Anna told me what to do and all, but still.
For people as plant illiterate as myself, from left to right, it's: basil, curly parsley, rosemary, and thyme. Pretty much the big 'uns. We left a space for cilantro, because I use a ton of that, but the locals said to wait until next week when the plants are bigger.
If I show that I can take care of these guys, I think Anna might let me get another pot to put some the lesser used herbs like sage and chervil and marjoram. (ohpleasepleaseplease) I had presumed our window, which gets only obstructed morning sun was insufficient for growing herbs, but Anna says otherwise. I admit that I am shamelessly excited. I spend a ton of money buying those "fresh herb packs" and waste a lot of it, not being able to use the entire package before it goes bad. I mean, I buy a couple ounces of sage, because that's how it comes, and then I make a sage-vermouth sauce for some pan roasted chicken breasts... which is super yummy, of course... but then what? Wasted sage is what. So I tend not to buy those crazy herbs unless I've got real plans for them... but if I had them growing right there... wouldn't some chervil be yummy on a salad? I bet it would... and if I could just cut off a few leaves of a plant I bet I would do it all the time.
Each of the herb plants I bought cost me $3.50(3 for $10 was the deal), which I doubt is too much more expensive than one of those little plastic containers I buy from the supermarket. It probably cost about $15 for the pot, sub-pot thingie, and little bag of soil to make my mini-garden.
I presume if I have any semblance of a green thumb, that I'm going to save a fair amount of money in my cooking... while at the same time making it fresher and more interesting.
Update: Wow nice header... but fingertip save. Uh-oh corner time.
Update II: Pretty pass but 3 yards offside.
Update III: On to the second extra time.
Update IV: What a stupid challenge! Sergio Ramos... goat?
Update V: Amazing pass but bad first touch. So close!
Update VI: Both teams looking sloppy and tired... less than 2 minutes to penalty kicks.
Update VII: OMFG. Arrrrgg! The only time I think I could ever wish a Spaniard to go for the extra pass. Penalty kick time.
Update VIII: SAVE!!!!!!
Update IX: Oh no... save Italy. Tied back up.
Update X: Spain takes it back with another save.
Update XI: That's it! Spain onto the Semis versus Russia!
Friday, June 20, 2008
A month ago, Paul Krugman said not a bubble... but prices have continued to rise over the intervening weeks. My guess is that he's right, that $100 a barrel oil that came about over the last five years is the result of "fundamental factors"... but that Kevin Drum and detektor are right that the last month looks a lot more suspicious. I think this was pretty much George Soros's conclusion earlier in the month, and he's a liberal and a lot richer than I am, so he must be right.
It all seems pretty complicated and glad it's not my job to figure it out.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
I guess this shows they are going to adopt the Slate anti-smear strategy by point out how many white relatives Obama has... I guess it's a good example of how they're trying to keep out in front of that garbage, but it still makes me slightly uncomfortable. Probably because I'm a communist who is caused physical pain by love of the United States.
Anyway, I did download the full version, and the first thing I'd tell anybody to do is watch this Maxis tutorial:
It gives you keyboard commands that are not obvious from the interface(though are in the read me file) and are quite useful for customizing your creature. There are two other parts of the tutorial, but they're not quite as useful, as those modes seem more or less self-explanatory, but YMMV. This advanced tutorial of creating a praying mantis is pretty neat, but she goes so fast it's a little hard to follow (for me at least)... but it's still cool.
Other than creating a creature, there isn't much of a "game" here... you can take them out for a test drive, which can be amusing with the more precarious designs, but there isn't a whole lot to do with it. If you like trying to replicate X-wings or Marshmellow Peeps then you probably think the creature creator is just about the best thing ever... and it is incredibly easy to use and very flexible... but it's really hard to know how it translates into whether the full game is going to be fun. For pretending to be a Pixar artist it's pretty unprecedented though.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
Say what you want about sports, but I can't think of anything else that brings random people together quite like winning. You should have seen Causeway Street before Game 6 -- just green everywhere you looked, everyone walking with a purpose, fans chanting different things, everyone just happy to be involved, like we were attending some Celtics Fan Fantasy Camp or something. I can't speak for everyone else, but I pounded my hands together for three solid hours. I jumped up in delight at least 50 times. I fought off a lump in my throat when Pierce and Doc Rivers were hugging near the end. I hugged people I didn't know and briefly turned into James Posey at one point.
Saturday, June 14, 2008
UPDATE: GOAAAAAAALLLLLL!! Torres. Nice touch. 1-0 Spain. VIVA!
UPDATE II: Oh sh!t. Ibrahimovic. He's good. 1-1.
UPDATE III: Wow, that should have been a penalty kick. No question. 1-1 at the half though.
UPDATE IV: GOAAAAAAAALLLL! A pretty thing by Villa. 2-1 Spain!
UPDATE V: The winning goal in stoppage time... nice. My adopted team frustrates me with their unwillingness to shoot, but they are most certainly through to the next round.
Friday, June 13, 2008
UPDATE: Here is a better video.
It's like they are trying to live a video-game, Craziness... but an awesome kind.
Condolences for his family. He got his fair share of criticism over the years, but there is no doubt that political discourse is lessened by his departure.
UPDATE: Here's Tom Brokaw announcing the sad news.
This report won't be anal in explaining all of my decisions and their consequences, partly because I don't think people would be all that interested, but also because I only got the book on Wednesday and the rules have changed a lot... so many of my decisions were based on speculation of how the game will play, which I haven't tested yet. I did work through a rather exhaustive build to make sure everything works the way I want it, but for the most part, I will spare you the gory details.
The first thing to do is come up with a character concept. Just paging through the Player's Handbook, a race jumped out at me immediately as something I wanted to try: the Dragonborn. They're one of the races that are new to me, as I haven't played "pen and paper" (PnP) since second edition. As the name suggests, they're humanoids that look kinda like dragons and they get a breath weapon(i.e. breathe fire or acid or something), which sounds pretty handy. They're the scattered remnants of a once mighty empire that vied for control of the realm, but now they're basically just honorable soldiers for hire who love to fight. Works for me. They also get bonuses to stats(Strength and Charisma) that are important to Paladins; a character class that was heavily revamped in this edition, and one that I really wanted to check out. So pretty quickly I had settled on a Dragonborn Paladin... but the next big question for a Paladin, who is basically the sword arm of some deity, is who exactly this Dragonborn will worship. The obvious choice would be Bahamut, who in the D&D mythology of Eberron is THE dragon who started all dragons and is the patron of honor and justice and all that jazz... however, that's a little boring, because one of the nice things about 4E Paladins is that they don't have to be goody-goodies(basically they had to be your stereotypical knight-in-shining armor) and can worship any god now... even the not nice ones. So, since there are no longer any restrictions, who to choose? Well, there is Kord who is a god of warfare which would obviously work well with a Dragonborn, but once again that's a little too obvious... ahhhh... The Raven Queen. God of death, spinner of fate, patron of winter. Her tenets are:
1. Do not fear death or mourn it.
2. Punish hubris, and those who try to escape fate.
3. Smash cults of Orcus and their undead minions.
So not only will he kill zombies, but it's his sacred mission. Excellent. My Dragonborn Paladin of the Raven Queen is thus some sort of Angel of Death, which I like... and checking the Raven Queen's Blessing (power you don't get for free, but you can select later), you get to heal your buddies when you kill somebody. Nice. I should note that the Raven Queen is not an evil goddess... she is, in fact, "unaligned"... which is sort of motivated self interest. She's more of a force of nature than anything else.
OK, so now I have my concept down, though at some point I'll have figure out more of his motivations for adventuring and what kind of person he is... it's enough of an idea to move onto the numbers... i.e. his ability scores. In D&D you've got 6 stats that define your character: Strength (STR), Constitution (CON), Dexterity (DEX), Intelligence (INT), Wisdom (WIS), and Charisma (CHA)... which all pretty much do what they say. For a Paladin, Strength, Wisdom, and Charisma are all important... however, I plan on playing a Paladin that is focused on Strength and Wisdom at the expense of Charisma... he'll still be one inspiring/intimidating dude, but not OHMYGAWD hot. The nature of the new system is that there are basically two flavors of every class that you can either go with exclusively or mix and match. My inclination is try to focus on one thing and not dabble, and while a Dragonborn gets bonuses to both Strength and Charisma, I think their nature as fighters and the fact that he worships a death goddess is more suggestive of the Avenging(STR based) Paladin build. Oh, remember that breath weapon I mentioned? It does damage based on Constitution, so that's another stat I want to be pretty good.
It used to be that we'd roll a bunch of dice to determine our ability scores (and you still can), but most of us find that a little too random. Generally players these days do a "point buy" where you customize your scores, with it costing more to have a higher score. I won't go into the details of it, but it's fairly straight forward. I chose an array of 15, 15, 15, 11, 10, and 8. I should explain that a score of 10 is average... no bonus or penalty, and a score of 18 is the highest you can buy at the start (though bonuses can push you beyond it). With my Dragonborn bonuses to Strength(+2) and Charisma(+2), this is how my scores worked out (with the bonus/penalty in parenthesis):
An experienced player might look askance at that DEX score, but there are two justifications: I will be wearing plate armor, so that won't affect my armor class, and my reflex save is based on the best of DEX or INT, so while it will still be bad, it won't be terrible. I also don't feel like playing a stupid character, which is just as important. Another thing that may surprise that "experienced player" is the number of odd values in that array. In D&D, you most often want even numbers in your stats because that's when the bonuses increase (i.e. that 17 in Strength is as good as a 16 for determining a bonus). Now, you get to increase your ability scores as you gain levels via adventuring, but having 4 odd numbers in key stats means I'm spreading where I need to put those increases a little thin, right? Not in 4E. We get 2 ability increases every 4 levels, instead of 1 (no, you can't put both increases into the same stat). So I can still increase my main stat (STR) every time and yet even out those odd numbers.
For people who didn't understand a word of that, I apologize for the uber nerd digression... but I felt I had to preemptively defend myself.
Anyway, onto class features. These are the things that every Paladin can do, regardless of their build. It's part of what defines a Paladin. First up is Channel Divinity, which allows me to give a blessing to another character at the expense of a minor action (i.e. I can still move and attack in the same round). I can only do it once an encounter/fight, but allows me to add my Strength bonus to my next attack or give a player a chance to resist some effect (like being dazed or something) with my Charisma bonus added on. Also, if I chose to take it later, the Raven Queen's Blessing would fall in this category. The second class feature is Divine Challenge, which allows me to "mark" an opponent... if they don't attack me after being marked, then they suffer a -2 penalty to hit and 3 points of damage plus my Charisma modifier. You can see already that I'm taking a bit of a hit for my choice of having a lower Charisma score, but 'dems da breaks. However, the last class feature of the Paladin, Lay on Hands, shows where the trade-off for having a higher Wisdom score benefits. Lay on Hands is an ability that lets you, with a minor action, heal another player by touching them... it's one of the few healing powers in the game, and thus very useful... and the number of times a day you can do it is determined by your Wisdom bonus (so two times a day for my guy).
Now we've arrived at the point where you have to make some tough choices... the powers. This is a completely new concept for D&D, so I should probably explain it a little first. There are three types of powers: At-Will, Encounter, and Daily Powers. At-Will Powers can be used anytime I want, Encounter Powers can be used once per fight, and Daily Powers can only be used (you guessed it!) once per day. As you may suspect, their uberness relates to how often you can use them. You start with 2 At-Will Powers(out of 4 possible) and never get anymore... these are your basic attacks, but are a little more flavorful and unique than "swing sword", though that's what they amount to. You only get 1 Encounter Power(out of 4) and 1 Daily Power(out of 3) to start, but you get access to more as you level up. By 10th level you'll have 4 Encounter Powers and 3 Daily Powers to round out your combat options. There are also "Utility Powers", but since you don't get any of those at 1st level I won't say anything other than that they are powers that aren't attacks (like blessings on teammates).
So here is what I picked... all STR based powers naturally:
- Holy Strike: My basic STR based attack that does weapon damage plus my STR bonus plus my WIS bonus (see why I wanted that high now?) if I have the enemy marked with Divine Challenge before I hit it.
- Valiant Strike: You get a +1 to hit for every enemy that surrounds you, but it just does weapon damage plus STR bonus.
- Radiant Smite: STR based again. Does 2 times weapon damage plus STR bonus plus WIS bonus to one enemy.
- Paladin's Judgment: 3 times weapon damage plus STR bonus, and an ally within 5 squares can get healed.
So that pretty much lays out what this first level character can do in combat... a little bit of a departure from the good ole' days for the D&D veterans, eh?
The next step... and I promise we're almost done... is to pick my trained skills and my feat. Skills just give you an idea of what your character is good at besides bashing skulls or hurling fireballs... and they are important in game terms of finding out whether your character knows something about a subject or whether he can jump across a chasm or something. I won't go into detail, but my character is trained in Endurance(resisting the effects of extreme temperatures and the like), History(Dragonborn are obsessed with the fall of their empire), Intimidation(they're also scary), and Religion(kind of mandatory for a Holy Warrior). The feat I chose was Toughness, which grants a bonus hit points(how much damage you can take before collapsing)... something that's pretty key for the guys standing on the front lines and bashing away... which my character most certainly is.
The last thing is my starting equipment... you get 100 gold pieces to outfit your character, which is enough to buy some plate armor, a halberd (I wanted a great axe but couldn't afford it), a holy symbol of the Raven Queen, and a "standard adventurer's kit"... which, as the name suggests, has everything the aspiring adventurer could want... from rope to trail rations to a bedroll and a belt pouch to put my non-existent money in (think positive!). Hmmm... I guess I'll have to use my intimidation skill to get somebody to buy me a beer at the inn.
Oh, there is one more thing... a name. I'm not a terribly creative person and don't know anything about Dragonborn naming conventions... but luckily the Handbook does supply some. Hmmm... combing two likely candidates together... Rhoghesh.
So there you have it: Rhoghesh, Dragonborn Paladin of The Raven Queen.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Jonathan Ogden has been on the edge of retirement for a couple of years now, so this isn't a big surprise. However, he (and Ray Lewis) were the face of football's return to Baltimore, so he's got more of a special place in my heart than your average Raven.
I wish him the best in sitting back and counting his piles of money, or whatever it is he chooses to do.
Grandy over at PopeHat has a much more in depth impressions/review that is much more "What the hell is D&D, anyway?" friendly than my navel gazing RPG geek effort... so you might want to head over there if you're actually sort of curious as to what it's all about.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
I went down to Pandemonium today to check out the new D&D rulebooks I dreamt about buying last week. Sadly, Pandemonium was selling the books for full price ($34.95), and while I understand that Amazon's business model doesn't work for my local indie shop, I still couldn't bring myself to pay full price for all the books when they are still sitting on Amazon at two thirds of that... so I compromised and just bought the Player's Handbook since, quelle surprise, it appears to have all the info you need to learn how to play. I'll order the other two off of Amazon and do the free shipping thing.... thus I save a little cash, support my local independent shop, and satisfy my needs for immediate gratification.
I'll probably blog character creation in the next couple days, once I get a better grasp of it. My initial impression, is that there really don't seem to be that many choices to make customizing your character build compared to the older versions. I can't say whether this is a good or bad thing, but it is pretty shocking for someone who is used to thinking up 3 or 4 class builds for Neverwinter Nights 2. One good thing though, is that I don't have any fears of trying to explain it to my girlfriend or anyone else who has never played. Another favorable impression is that every class seems to have cool things to do all the time... reminds me a bit of Earthdawn in that respect... the Fighter just doesn't say I will "swing my sword at the goblin for the 800th time" but "I will do a Reaping Strike to knock the goblin prone so the cleric can pound on him". Some of it's just terminology, but it's also a melding of spellcasting and fighting into a more coherent idea, which I think it was time for. The Feat concept moved a long way towards making a Fighter as interesting as a Wizard in some ways, but in the end, most of the interesting things you did with your character was picking feats... tactically, it wasn't that much different than it had been before. It seems to me that you definitely have a lot more tactical options here, which has gotta be a good thing for the play experience, right?
I guess we'll see.
photo by flickr user unloveable used under a Creative Commons license
Mark Bittman, a minimalist cook who shares a similar philosophy of food with Michael Pollan, has an interesting article in today's Times dealing with difficulties of actually carrying through with a plan of reducing meat consumption in America's food culture. If it's not something you've contemplated, it really is harder than you'd think it would be. In many ways, Bittman is right: it's simpler just to forgo meat entirely and become a vegetarian since, these days, there is such an established vegetarian food culture full of interesting recipes and all that. However, if you still want to keep meat in your diet, like me, it's a bit more complicated since if you grew up in this country, every meal has revolved around a giant piece of meat and tiny portions of vegetables... which if you buy into the Pollan/Bittman food world view is exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.
Now, living with a vegan means I probably do better than most omnivores, since we often cook together(though not as much as we should) and thus I get completely meatless dishes fairly frequently. Also, when we go out to dinner, 9 times out of 10 it's to an ethnic place like Korean or Thai that does treat meat more like a condiment. However, when I cook for myself I have a troubling tendency to make big meaty things and skimp on the veggies... this is partially do to a lifetime of war against green things that I've only gradually gotten over, and also my status as a novice and inexperienced cook. I have a lot of trouble managing more than one dish at a time, and as a consequence end up making my main dish and then skimping on the sides... which is fine with a stew, but probably not with a steak.
You should read the whole article, but two recommendations struck me as particularly good ones... the first:
This is one of the big reasons I decided to do this farmer's market thing. Buying more vegetables and learning how to cook them in interesting new ways is a pretty exciting concept for me... what am I going to do with those sugar snap peas I bought on Monday? I still don't know, but it certainly helps me become a better cook and get some veggies in my system that I otherwise wouldn't.
4. Buy more vegetables, and learn new ways to cook them.
If you’re a good cook, you already know you can make a meal out of pretty much anything. If you open your refrigerator and it’s stocked with vegetables, that’s what you’re going to cook. You’ll augment the vegetables with pantry items: pasta, rice, beans, cheese, eggs, good canned fish, bacon, even a small amount of meat. We’re not discussing vegetarianism, remember?
If you’re not a good cook, you have the opportunity to learn how to cook in what could turn out to be the style of the future.
5. Make nonmeat items as convenient as meat.
There is a myth, even among experienced cooks, that few things are as convenient as meat. And while there’s no arguing that grilling, broiling or pan-grilling a steak or chop is fast, it’s equally true that almost no one considers such a preparation a one-dish meal.
By thinking ahead, and working ahead, you can make cooking vegetables as convenient as what in India is often called “non-veg.” Spend an hour or two during the course of the week precooking all the nonmeat foods you think take too long for fast dinners.
Store cooked beans in the refrigerator or freezer and reheat as needed, with seasonings. Keeping precooked beans in the freezer will change your cooking habits more easily than any other simple strategy.
Reheat cooked whole grains (the microwave is good for this) for breakfast with milk or dinner with savory seasonings. Wash tender greens and store in a salad spinner, covered bowl, or plastic bag. Most other vegetables can be poached, shocked in ice water, drained, and served cold or reheated in any fashion you like — sautéed quickly in butter, steamed, grilled or made into a gratin or something equally substantial.
This is something Anna does all the time... spend a couple hours one night cooking up a storm of dishes that she can then put together any way she wants over the next week or whatever. It works really well for her, and I have no idea why I didn't think of it before... probably because I am not quite as gung-ho about leftovers as her. It's definitely a good idea for me, and something I need to start doing as I bring in the local produce.
photo by flickr user Muffet used under a Creative Commons license
I've since devoured both books, and I must say that while both were excellent, Paladin of Souls has to be one of the best fantasy books I've ever read. Highly recommended if you are into that sort of thing.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
One of the side effects of working in a lab with French and Brazillian post-docs is that I hear a lot more about fútbol than your average American probably does... so I actually am aware that the NBA finals aren't the only championship that gets decided this month... and since the Euro Cup gets handed out every 4 years and involves 16 different countries, it's clearly a much bigger deal... not that you'd know it from American news coverage.
I enjoy watching soccer, but pretty much only pay attention during the World Cup, where for a couple of months I become a raging fanatic... however, because of the aforementioned post docs, I've been forced to pick a team to root for by unanimous lab opinion... France, Portugal, and Turkey were already taken so I went with Spain since it looked like they had the easiest group. Of course, I didn't know that Greece won in 2004 when I came to that conclusion... whoops!
I still feel pretty good about my choice though... up 2-0 in the second half over Russia. It will it least give me a reason to pay attention, though since most of the games seem to be in the middle of the day I probably won't get to watch many.
photo by flickr user jlvelazquez used under a Creative Commons license
It's almost like humans have been cultivating bananas for thousands of years, and I don't know... selecting for traits that we favor. The fact that wild bananas are vastly different than what you see in the super market might support this thesis... or the answer could be that God did it... hard to say.
I think I'm going to have to agree with Oliver Willis that it's exciting that Senator McCain found an analogy for Obama that involved a politician from the last century instead of the 19th(William Jennings Bryan!?), but it still hits the "I'm an out of touch old man" notes to bring up Jimmy Carter to most people methinks.
I'm sure Rush Limbaugh listeners think it's a witty rejoinder and quite apropos, since they're the Rove Republicans who think they can still win elections by screaming "Liberal! Liberal! Liberal!"... but really, anyone who actually remembers the Carter years is in their 40's or older, so for 46% of voters, he might as well just made a Grover Cleveland reference.
Regardless, I hope he does think it's incredibly witty and keeps reinforcing Obama's messaging by saying "“Senator Obama says that I’m running for a Bush’s third term...", as I don't really care what he puts after the dot dot dot.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Which, if you follow the winding road down to the bottom leads to:
Any of the homologous segments, lying in a longitudinal series, that compose the body of certain animals, such as earthworms and lobsters. Also called somite.WTF. People who study earthworms get their jargon in Outlook, but I use the proper term for the regulation of blood pressure and I might as well be speaking French? Jeez. Is there some sort of all powerful metameres lobby I don't know about?
UPDATE: The description I got e-mailed this weekend seems to suggest I missed something...
Get there early to catch some strawberries from Scott at Freitas Farm or fresh eggs from the happy hens at Silverbrook Farm. Both farms, along with Keown Orchards and Stillman's Farms also have tons of flower and vegetable plants to build your garden, and helpful farmers to guide your decisions. Stillman's also sells a variety of locally raised pork, beef, chicken, and lamb. Choose from three different bakeries for your breakfast, lunch, and snack cravings -- they're all delicious.I'll head back on Wednesday to give it a more thorough look.
...is really, really good. It doesn't sound good, and that picture doesn't really convey the deliciousness very well... but trust me on this.
Just olive oil, salt, and pepper. Broil for 4-5 minutes and then roll them around a bit to get the other side, and then broil for another 4-5 minutes until they are just getting brown. If you have a wide variety of diameters of asparagus(fairly common) then you might have to watch the skinny ones so they don't burn up... super thick asparagus(greater than 5/8" diameter is what Cook's said) is probably a no-go, as it won't be tender by the time the outside is a blackened mess. There is really nothing to it, and it's something you can make as you cook your main meal on the stovetop.
You can find reactions all over the web, as it was THE political story of the weekend... but here is Michael Crowley of TNR, Andrew Sullivan, and Kevin Drum... all of whom lay it out better than I could.
I empathize with the frustrations and feelings of ill will towards the presumptive nominee that many Hillary Clinton supporters understandably have... but as you consider where to cast your ballot this November, it's important to remember what is at stake. It's not about our preferred candidate, but what four more years of Bush policies would mean.
Eyes on the prize, ladies and gentlemen. Eyes on the prize.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
Anna and I trekked over to Union Square in Somerville for the first market of the season (for Union Square - Copley and City Hall have been open for several weeks). I don't have a whole lot of experience with farmer's markets and local produce, but even I can tell that it's on the early side for New England farming. There were about half a dozen stalls: 3 of them selling produce, 2 bakeries, 1 for meat(beef, pork, and lamb), and another one or two focused more on gardening (potted herbs and the like). As far as the available produce, it was mainly lettuce and other salad greens... only one vendor had asparagus and another had snap peas(though sold out before we could snag any)... there was rhubarb, radishes, bok choy in abundance.
Here is our haul... cost about $20-25 I think. Locally made chocolate, a loaf of sourdough, 2 bunches of asparagus, bok choy, radishes, and lettuce. We haven't decided what we are going to make with it, though a salad is likely to be on the menu, but Anna is going to pick up some "seasonal recipes" cookbooks are the library this afternoon to help with ideas.
Friday, June 6, 2008
So I figured I should give people a run down of my experiences in Negril in case anyone was considering a vacation in the area. This was my first Caribbean vacation though, so I can't really compare it to much down there, but Anna did visit Puerto Rico and tooled around Mexico for a while so I can probably supplement this with some of her opinions later. We were trying to keep our airfare/hotel costs below $1500 total, and the closer to $1000 the better... I can't remember exactly, but I think we ended up at $1300-1400 with half of that being airfare. We saved a lot of money by going "off-season" which is after April 15th in most places(our seafront cottage at Xtabi would have cost $210 a night in January but was only $120 in May), though I think that our selection of flight times was much lower because of it. In addition, it really was pretty empty, with even the big resorts seeming half full at best... so if you want a vibrant party atmosphere then off-season may not be your best bet, but I can't really comment on how much (if any) of that is also due a general downturn in tourism in Jamaica or the US economy specifically.
I should note that this is also a country with some poverty going on. Like I said, I can't speak of other Caribbean islands, but I'm under the impression that many of them do a better job at hiding any poverty out of view of your typical tourist... so if that's something that makes you uncomfortable, you might want to pick somewhere else. In addition, everyone sells drugs. I do mean everyone. It may have been that we are a relatively young couple without children in tow, but we were offered ganja all the time... sometimes with a nod and wink "Are you sure you have everything you need?" but more often completely openly. Drugs are illegal there though, and there are cops walking around... but it definitely didn't seem like it was enforced. So if that's something that's not going to work for you then Negril is definitely not the place for your vacation. As it was, neither of us minded it's presence, though neither of us smoke so it really wasn't a boon either... and I have no idea about prices or reputed potency of the local product if you're planing a pot vacation either. Beyond the drug dealers is just a general dominance of beach hustlers... this is probably worse when the hotels are empty on the off-season, but they tend to be fairly persistent. A certain subset walks up and down the beach while another sticks by their business... say a glass boat or jet skis or local crafts. None are too bad, but they do tend towards the hard sell. The big all-inclusives have security guards that mainly keep the hustlers away, though by law the beach to the shoreline is public property. Walking along the beach involves a near constant stream of "No thanks!" though.
That concludes the major "not a vacation for everyone" caveats.
There are two areas of Negril, the 7 mile beach of white sand and the West End which is where the dramatic cliffs and coral reefs are. We decided early on to avoid all-inclusives because Anna is a vegan and being locked into a meal plan was probably not going to be all that good for her. The biggest resorts have multiple restaurants and certainly they could have made her a vegetable plate so maybe it wouldn't have been too bad... but with our budget and flying from Boston it didn't seem worth it. We probably would have cut back to 4 or 5 nights to keep it to about $2 grand for both of us. We would have ended up doing more activities since they were included certainly, incurred less additional expenses, and probably had less issues with beach hustlers... but we also would have been walled off from the community we were staying in, which has it's perks (see beach hustlers), but also seemed to us to defeat some of the purpose of going to another country. YMMV and I'll revisit whether I think a resort was the way to go at the end.
We were in Negril for 7 nights. 3 nights at the beach followed by 4 nights on the cliffs of the West End. We didn't actually stay on the beach but at a place across the street from it. The hotel(The Rayon Hotel) itself was quite clean and served our needs fine, but it was almost completely empty and it didn't really have it's own beach area. This wasn't a problem for us because the lack of crowds meant that any place that did have beach chairs and umbrellas was happy to have our business. In retrospect I don't think I'd stay at a hotel without direct beach access, as it just seems so much nicer. The Palms is the hotel we ended up hanging out at for two of our three beach days and based on the service, food, and setting is probably where I'd want to stay if we went back.
Xtabi on the other hand was a completely different experience. We were secluded, having our own cottage with it's own access to the ocean, but we didn't feel completely isolated since there were guests in nearby cottages and enough guests in the hotel at large that someone was always at the bar/restaurant(definitely not true of The Rayon). The streets are much more narrow in the West End though, with no sidewalks and lots of blind corners so walking around there takes significant courage. Cabs are all over the place, and most places have drivers, so it's not like you are trapped in your hotel... but be aware. We walked a fair amount, but I found it pretty nerve wracking. Snorkeling was the key activity for us there and a definite must for anyone staying in the West End. I think even if you stay on the beach you can get the glass bottom boats to take you out to reefs as well, and I'd say it's totally worth it. We were both amazed at all the life down there and it was pretty cool to have that kind of constant access to it. It was really relaxing out on the cliffs, but I think if we didn't do the beach too we really would have missed it however you could definitely take cabs or shuttles down to places like Margaritaville for a day at the beach.
Anna did get her Ital cooking too, at a place called The Hungry Lion. Run by an old rasta who just made three different dishes that he changed daily. Simple food but good food. Otherwise I'm not sure there was as much Ital influence as we had been hoping for... there was always a vegetarian option, but not so much choice as we had hoped. The food overall was pretty good, though there wasn't a ton of restaurants really. In 7 days I think we pretty much exhausted our options.
So what would I have changed? Like I said, I would have stayed at a hotel on the beach for the first three days, but otherwise not much. I think we should have done a glass bottom boat ride... especially if they do indeed take you to really neat reefs. I think the balance between the beach and cliffs was perfect and that was probably the best idea we had (Anna had actually).
Would it have been better if we had stayed in a big resort? Hard to say since I've never stayed in one, but I think I was happy with a longer stay than a more luxurious shorter one.
Any way, that's the review. You can check out the rest of my pictures here.
I haven't played a pen and paper RPG since high school, entirely getting my RPG fix from computer games. I do still have a really big soft spot for D&D though, and the new version sounds really interesting. A big departure apparently. I don't have anyone who would be interested in playing it though, so I'd probably just end up buying the rule books and making character builds... which is pretty much all we ever did in high school too. Maybe I'll keep an eye out for a D&D night starting up at Pandemonium Books. I've been meaning to go to their boardgaming night for a year now, so maybe I could gauge interest there. Dunno.
For anyone interested in hearing how the game plays, you can check out a podcast of the PvP and Penny Arcade guys getting taken through an adventure here. You might need to sign up for a new account though, and if so you can do that here.
EDIT: Apparently Pandemonium sold the game at 1 am last night while I was dreaming about buying it... so I might have been, like, astrally projecting or something... I best make sure I don't have any rule books stashed in my apartment somewhere.
Thursday, June 5, 2008
GALLAGHER: Yeah, that’s, we hear that everyday. Congressman, every day someone will say to me, and I’ve said it, it’s as if this were a guy who’s desperately trying to cover up what seems to be the kind of old school Marxist, radical liberal failed ideology.
GALLAGHER: That’s what he is.
DELAY: No doubt about it.
Not even paying attention to the substance of the charge, which is obviously comically false... is anyone still scared of Commies? I thought we had moved on to "Islamofascism" as the new way to try and smear people as anti-American.
Calling people dirty commies worked 50 years ago or whatever, but all it does now it highlight how out of touch you are. The Berlin wall fell 20 years ago, and yet you still think that Marxists are trying to take over the country? Yeah, keep up that line of attack please, since we are getting to the point where anybody under 30 might not remember the actual Communists... it's like saying that he "probably supports the policies of Cobra".
Way to enter the 21st century!
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
Sully is undoubtedly cherry picking, but C-SPAN is like eleventy billion times more boring than that.
I'm still upset that she stepped all over Obama's moment, but there are bigger moments coming, and she is indeed a person worthy of all the praise Obama heaped on her. My sanity is returning and as a comic interlude, I give you TPM's summary of Cable News' reaction to McCain's abysmal speech last night(which I missed, and am glad I did after watching this):
Lincoln-Douglas style debates are looking like a pretty damn good idea right now.
UPDATE: Apparently Saturday is the new Friday or something.
UPDATE: In other food related news, there is an excellent little piece in Slate about how none of the urban hipster farmer types talk about butchering the chickens they raise on their roof. I definitely agree with the opinion that a large portion of our really poor relationship with food is because we all think of chicken in context of the Supermarket and have no idea, and no responsibility for, how it gets there. However, I'm not quite ready for butchering my own chicken yet... baby steps.
For those who can't watch clips online... it's Clinton spokesman Terry McAuliffe on last night's Daily Show saying "congratulations to nominee Hillary Clinton"... now the guy is a clown generally and has been denying reality for months(see a nice video roundup here), so it's hard to know what to make of it... but it definitely gives me the impression that they really are planning to take this to the convention. Oh dear. Can I wake up from this nightmare now?
And the black man with a funny name who will be your Democratic nominee:
Having cooled down a little bit (but only a little bit), I will try to explain my thoughts on why I found her speech so upsetting. It's not that she didn't concede... I didn't really expect her to, though I certainly hoped for it. What I did expect was for her to be gracious and complimentary to Obama and to admit that he had accomplished something. I mean sure, maybe she doesn't want to officially drop out right yet... she wants to still travel the country and talk to the people and help their issues get heard; that's perfectly honorable and there was some hint of that in her speech... but you also have admit you lost(and as Chris Bowers points out, he even won if you seated Michigan and Florida in exactly the way Clinton wanted), and let the first black man to be a candidate for a major party have his moment in the sun. But no, instead she basically pretended to win.
Now, she will drop out... and in the next couple of days, there is no doubt(is there!?)... and I agree with the sentiment that she is probably just trying to rile up her supporters for one last donation push to help settle her campaign debt. But still. The idea of her on a ticket with Obama is completely dead to me right now, and if that's what she is gunning for then she isn't exactly going about it the right way.
The greatest tragedy of all this, that my post is enabling, is shifting the focus from the fact that "Yes we did!" However, I'll let others who are more eloquent than I help correct that error.
Towards the end of the 1967 movie "Guess Who's Coming to Dinner," Dr. John Wane Prentice, played by Sydney Poitier, sits down with his fiance's white father, played by Spencer Tracy. "Have you given any thought to the problems your children will have?" Tracy asks. "Yes, and they'll have some...[But] Joey feels that all of our children will be President of the United States," replies Poitier. "How do you feel about that?" asks Tracy, looking skeptically at the black man in front of him. "I'd settle for Secretary of State," Poitier laughs.
Written in the late-1960s, the exchange was, indeed, laughable. The Civil Rights Act had been passed three years prior. Two years before, the Watts riots had broken out, killing 35. Martin Luther King Jr. would be assassinated a year later. But here we are, almost exactly 40 years after theatergoers heard that exchange. The last two Secretaries of State were African-American and, as of tonight, the next president may well be a black man. John Prentice's children would probably still be in their late-30s. They could still grow up to be cabinet officials or even presidents, but they would not necessarily be trailblazers.
I pride myself on being fairly cynical. Like any good child of the 90s, I’ve watched more than my share of Larry David. And I understand the frustrations that Clinton supporters and more hardened, cynical Obama supporters feel when they hear all the naive gushing praise for him — particularly from young people.Right on.
But they need to understand that many of us have never had a moment like this. We’ve never really been inspired — we’ve never “looked up” at candidates in a Paul Fussell “Romantic” sense. Candidates have never been bigger than us — we look down on them, we criticize, we tell dry jokes, we watch the Daily Show. We’re just not that inspired.
But for the first time, a lot of people are inspired. I don’t really remember 1992, and I didn’t exist in 1960. So I don’t know what this feels like. But I’m excited — I’m not in cult-like worship mode, but for the first time in my political life, I’m genuinely excited about the opportunities ahead. Maybe that will prove silly — maybe the proverbial 1968 lies just ahead. For now, though, I’m excited.
But even if 1968 lies ahead, who cares. When you see your teenage children experiencing crushes for the first time, you hopefully don’t call them over and say “these emotions you’re feeling now, they will soon be crushed.” You pat them on the back and wish their doomed enterprise well, and maybe savor a few youthful memories of your own.
Tuesday, June 3, 2008
UPDATE: Isaac Chotiner of TNR captures my feelings... basically WTF!?
If you're interested in seeing Obama's victory speech (and perhaps Clinton's concession speech?), the last polls close at 10 PM EST and it should happen sometime after that. I will, of course, post YouTube links tomorrow if you're an early to bed kind of person.
Barrack Obama is your Democratic candidate for President of the United States of America.
The AP tally was based on public commitments from delegates as well as more than a dozen private commitments. It also included a minimum number of delegates Obama was guaranteed even if he lost the final two primaries in South Dakota and Montana later in the day.I imagine some Clinton supporters will be irritated that they're calling it before the votes from today's primaries are counted, but I'm just so ready for this primary to be over. Now we can start apologizing to each other for being jerks occasionally and start making fun of how old McCain is together. It will be glorious.
photo by flickr user Bithead used under a Creative Commons license
If you are a sane and rational person, you probably haven't been paying too much attention to the Democratic primary lately since it's been effectively over for months now... but after tonight it will be even more over... because after tonight there aren't going to be any more primaries or caucuses or bizarre Texas hybrids. After South Dakota and Montana vote today (which Obama is both expected to win, though there are some caveats about South Dakota) Obama should be about 20-25 delegates short of the 2118 he needs to attach the words "presumptive nominee" to his name and will probably shortly(today?) get a flood of endorsements to push him over the top. With Florida and Michigan pretty decisively settled in Obama's favor, there just aren't any cogent arguments left for Hillary Clinton to make (No she didn't win the popular vote, thanks for playing).
So the big question is what will Hillary Clinton do tonight? Will she concede and endorse? Concede but not endorse? Vow to fight on to the convention? There has obviously been a fair amount of tea leaf reading of all the signs from the Clinton camp, but for every one that suggests a graceful exit there is another that suggests scorched earth.
I'm guessing she's going to concede and endorse this week, but unless Obama does actually manage to get together the Superdelegates to decisively declare victory as polls close, that it won't be tonight. Despite Ickes words this weekend, there is just no way she remains viable until August... she is going to be abandoned en masse by the non-crazy wing(yes, they exist) of her supporters once the last ballot is cast. The possibility of grievous damage to her reputation is just too great to rationalize staying in.
At least, that's my hope.
(image by flickr user radiospike photography used under a Creative Commons license)