Saturday, December 27, 2008

Year In Review

This longish Dave Barry piece at the WaPo today is hilarious (and probably more true than satirical): The Year In Review

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Prop 8: The Musical

This is awesome.  Jack Black as Jesus...and it even has Doogie. It has a lot of people, actually!

Python 3.0 Has Arrived!

I hadn't noticed this myself; it was from a post shared (via Google Reader) from Brandon that I learned of it.  Python 3.0 ('Python 3000') was first talked about (2000) not long after I was still using Python a lot (1999)...and it's finally here.  This is the long awaited release that is intentionally not backward compatible with previous releases, meant to clean up some language cruft.  Guido's summary of the changes: What's New In Python 3.0

Friday, October 10, 2008

Human Evolution: Slowing Down?

I saw this a day or two late, but the geneticist Steve Jones asserts that human evolution has pretty much ground to a halt. The Times (UK) has the story .  The summary of why he thinks this is the case: a big drop in the 'old guy with much younger girl' case.  Fathers in their 20s have accumulated far fewer genetic mutations than fathers in their 50s..and so fewer mutations are conferred to the child.  The lower mutation rate (on average) would ostensibly lead to a slower pace of evolution.

Steve Jones is the author of a pretty good evolution-focused book that I read several years ago and would recommend: Almost Like A Whale.  That is the title of the UK version of the book (the version I have), but the US version is instead called Darwin's Ghost: The Origin of Species Updated .

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Large Hadron Rap



I just came across this rap about the Large Hadron Collider.  I've seen 'nerdcore' rap before (see MC Plus Plus), but this is the first such rap I've seen by a woman.  It is awesome.  You can bask in lyrics like (from about 2:40)

The Higgs boson, that's the one
that everybody talks about,
and it's the one sure thing
that this machine will sort out.

If the Higgs exists
they ought to see it right away.
And if it doesn't,
the scientists will finally say,

"There is no Higgs!
We need new physics
to account for why
things have mass.
Something in our Standard
Model went awry!"

Monday, September 22, 2008

State GDP Equivalency

From Christian Broda: a US map, with state names replaced by countries of roughly equivalent GDP.  We're about equal to Canada.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

FP's '10 Dumbest Policy Ideas'

Foreign Policy magazine compiled (in their opinion...there are plenty of statements on both sides to choose from!) what they view as the 10 stupidest ideas publicly put forth by each candidate.

Obama's 10 Dumbest Policy Ideas

McCain's 10 Dumbest Policy Ideas

Probably the only one I would potentially challenge is the nuclear item on the McCain list.  Sure, 45 plants sounds like a pretty arbitrary number, but the assertion that they would take too long to come online to 'matter' as far as climate change is concerned sounds dubious to me.  If the even 50 years is 'too long to matter' (and I don't think people are asserting it would take 50 years to bring 45 plants online; we have 104 plants today, and a good chunk of those would have been end of lifed by the time these 45 are all up), we're pretty screwed: no way the developing world will have gone all the way from where they are, zipping right through developed economy status, and magically ending up in some ultra low emissions future state within that time frame.  Given that, even if we could get to zero emissions tomorrow, those savings would be negated by rest of world growth within that time frame.

In a sense, I think the FP summary actually sort of mis-summarized the Ferguson/Squassoni article (in FP itself!).  The article did not really so much argue that 45 plants would be 'too late to matter,' but rather that even if we built 45 plants, the growth of demand in China and India alone -- and given that nearly all of that will be coal-based -- will more than cancel out 45 zero-emission nukes.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ike from the ISS

I found this in a very interesting blog post on Weather Underground.  The post talks about how even though Ike is a category 2 (as of the blog post), it was actually more powerful (in total) than Rita (5) or Katrina (5) in terms of aggregate kinetic energy.  Interesting reading: Ike Closes In On Galveston

Friday, September 12, 2008

Detroit: Houses Cheaper Than Cars

No joke: the average sale price for homes in Detroit during the past year fell below the national average for a new car ($22,650).


I found this on this post on Carpe Diem, an econ blog run by a UM-Flint professor.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Lance's Back

Hopefully he can return to old form (the guy is almost 37, though!) and won't end up regretting the return: VeloNews: Lance Is Coming Back

Friday, September 05, 2008

Stormpulse

I saw this mentioned on TechCrunch and just messed around with it: Stormpulse

It's one of the sweeter mashups I've seen; it provides great visualization of hurricane and tropical storm activity and forecasts.  It has toggleable overlays to include clouds, projected storm routes by various computer models, etc.  It's akin to having one of the visualization systems that the major network forecasters use to show expected storm routes (as seen with Gustav).

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Day 1 With Chrome

I've now spent a day with Google Chrome (or at least since it came out early this afternoon).  Conclusions thus far:

  • It is really fast.  I'm not talking about 'yeah, I think it seems a bit faster than Firefox and IE,' I'm talking about a very obvious, very marked difference in performance.  The first visit to a busy page like cnn.com and it's very apparent that it renders much faster than my normal browser (Firefox 3).  The one process per tab approach is going to be a welcome change, as well.
  • It seems stable, despite the 0.2.x version label.  I haven't had any crashes yet so far.  I suppose this makes sense, as Brandon tells me that they internally eat dog food like this for a long time before it's even released in a beta form like this.
  • Rendering incompatibility seems very rare.  I know that Guidewire applications won't render perfectly in Chrome as of yet (people were quick to satisfy that curiosity), but I have yet to come across any of my normal daily sites that showed obvious rendering issues.  I suppose this shouldn't be a huge surprise either, being based on an established engine (WebKit).  I'd think that it's site compatibility would be roughly equal to (or if they've done extra work, better than) what is seen in Apple Safari (also WebKit based).  I read on a site earlier today that Google has internally built a site compatibility test harness that runs against the top several thousand most popular sites (and if anyone would have that data, it'd be Google!) and farms this testing out across Google machine clusters, allowing them to test on the order of 10,000 sites on a brand new build within 20-30 minutes.  Pretty sweet.
I think I'll keep using this until I run into something that is too broken to keep going with it; I'm not sure I'm going to bump into any such thing!

I also see that Picasa 3.0 beta came out today, with automated facial recognition (meant to help auto-tag people).  Big release day at GOOG!

Genetic Predisposition to Stray?

I've seen several other mentions of this study (all linking to the Washington Post article I am about to link to), but it's interesting enough to merit all of these mentions: Study Links Gene Variant in Men to Marital Discord

Basically, they found:

 The finding is striking because it not only links the gene variant -- which is present in two of every five men -- with the risk of marital discord and divorce, but also appears to predict whether women involved with these men are likely to say their partners are emotionally close and available, or distant and disagreeable. The presence of the gene variant, or allele, also seems predictive of whether men get married or live with women without getting married.
"Men with two copies of the allele had twice the risk of experiencing marital dysfunction, with a threat of divorce during the last year, compared to men carrying one or no copies," said Hasse Walum, a behavioral geneticist at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm who led the study. "Women married to men with one or two copies of the allele scored lower on average on how satisfied they were with the relationship compared to women married to men with no copies."

Interesting!  Biology is not destiny, but I smell a new bullet point in the list of mitigating circumstances in future divorce court proceedings!

Nike Human Race 10K

Jen and I signed up for the Nike Human Race 10K held this past Sunday. I had never run 10K (6.2 miles) before. I think my previous high water mark was the roughly 5 miles we ran with one of Carie's training groups sometime last year. An Austin360.com story about the race (before it took place) is here: 'Austin runners and celeb athletes join the world in Nike+ Human Race 10K'

I didn't have any way to bring my camera along, but Patrick, Bethany, and Carie were hanging out on the outside bar at the Stephen F. Austin. Bethany had a camera, and snapped a few pictures.

This is what it looked like on Congress at the start of the run. The shirts they issued in our race packets were pretty nice; they were all Nike Dri-Fit shirts with the number printed on the shirt (on the front) and the list of the 25 cities on the back.

Patrick and Carie, chilling with drinks while we sweltered below.

Patrick and Bethany, with more drinks. Patrick looks to be doing his best Samantha Ronson.

The view towards the start.

Matt McConaughey crossing the finish. Lance was running too.

Jen and I, waiting for the start.

The race started in the evening (6:30 PM), but it was still pretty warm. My watch said 94, but I don't know how accurate that reading is, being so close to the body. It was very humid and there was zero breeze, making the first half (also the half with hills) kind of brutal. Things got much easier once we hit The Drag, with the sun having gone down somewhat, a slightly cooler temperature, and an occasional (very occasional!) breeze. It ended up being not too bad, although the massage I had last night sure hurt a bit!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hotter 'N Hell Hundred 2008

This past Saturday was this year's Hotter 'N Hell Hundred.  It claims to be the largest organized century ride in the US.  This year's rider total was 11,260.

I used to ride the shorter distances (10 and 25) when I lived in Wichita Falls in elementary school.  Since living in Austin, I've been going back and doing the full hundred.  I think that this weekend was probably my fifth (maybe fourth?) time doing the hundred.  It was probably typical as far as elapsed time: 5:44  (17.6 mph average).  Much slower than my best there (5:01, 20.1 mph average), although it was unusually cool that year (80s).  This year was pretty standard temperature wise (upper 90s), with perhaps a bit more wind than normal (or at least than I remember).  The local Wichita Falls paper has a story with much better pictures than I'll paste below: Helluva race

 
Looking back, at the start on Scott Street.


Colleen and I stopped on the bridge right after the start, keeping an eye out for Austin on his handbike.

 
Colleen's friend Austin, who rode this handbike (!).  Jen and I met him a few months ago, when Austin was in Austin for a wheelchair rugby tournament that Colleen brought us to.  He was playing on Mark Zupan's team!

It is probably a bit hard to see in this grainy Blackberry camera picture, but this is showing a group of T-38s from Sheppard AFB that fly right over the column of riders along Scott Street to kick off the ride.  A cannon is fired off somewhere, the jets buzz the crowd, and off we go!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Another Theory On Dudes Into Dudes

A neuroscience seminar in college was the first place I heard a few angles on answering 'if homosexuality is non-procreative, what is the evolutionary reason for its existence?'  I think the most popular or frequently mentioned theory I had heard was that gay men would not have children of their own, so they served as a family (and particularly childcare) buffer in the event that one or more of their siblings were to be killed or otherwise unable to care for their family.

A university study in Italy has another angle: 'hyper-sexual' women.  Apparently, the same gene that causes men to like men also causes women to like men, leading to more children.  Full story here: Bisexuality passed on by 'hyper-heterosexuals'

The Other Side of the Coin..

As a follow-on to the Obama post the other day (the worshipful one), I came across this Hubbard piece in the WSJ yesterday: We Can't Tax Our Way Out Of the Entitlement Crisis.  His applauds Obama for moderating the degree of some of his planned tax increases (particularly the retreat from a fully-uncapped payroll tax), but points out that the revenue that would be brought in by his current tax increase planns, when combined with his unwillingness to consider benefit cuts, leaves us only someone less screwed then our current path. 

In other words, he has not put forward any plan to address Medicare (and its less-challenging fellow traveler, SS) growth explosion.  (Then again, I don't think anyone thinks McCain has any plan where the numbers add up, either.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Staying Warm?

For some reason, Lucy & Ethel have taken to sleeping underneath their bed in recent weeks. Usually, they are entirely hidden. Today, they seemed to want to keep tabs on things.

Free-Market Loving, Big Spending, Fiscally Conservative Wealth Redistributionist

That is the title (the browser title, at least) of a forthcoming New York Times Magazine story actually titled How Obama Reconciles Dueling Views on the Economy. It's a pretty long piece (I've linked to the single page version) and tries to tell an interesting tale of Obama's economic evolution from his teaching days to the present day.

It's worth reading. The weak point: the author's barely veiled adulation for his subject. The critical statements he makes are about as aggressive as a Larry King interview (made worse yet by omitting large swathes of well-known policy critiques made by others).

Monday, August 11, 2008

Lezak is a Stud

The men's 4x100 free relay was pretty much completely insane. Jason Lezak kicked more ass than a donkey: Lezak lifts U.S. in 'best ever' relay Watch it on the NBC Olympics site, if you haven't seen it..

Friday, August 08, 2008

NewTalk

This looks like it has been running for a while, but I didn't see it until today: NewTalk. It bills itself as a site where 'experts discuss America's toughest issues.' They take one topic at a time, letting a discussion take place amongst a set of experts spanning the political spectrum as well as the vested interests for the topic at hand (an AARP spokesman on entitlements, etc.). After the discussion period has ended, the discussion closes, and they move to the next topic (and a new mix of experts).

I found it by hitting upon a discussion on addressing entitlement spending that ended in late July: 'Can we afford our entitlement promises? How close is the cliff?' It seems like a pretty worthwhile site with a good mix of participants...

Thursday, August 07, 2008

We Bring Economic Decline

Or so you might think, looking at Forbes' new list: America's Fastest Dying Cities. Of the 10 cities on the list, we have ties to several: Flint (Grand Blanc is a suburb of Flint), Detroit (nearby), Canton, OH (mom is from North Canton), Youngstown, OH (dad is from Canfield). Some of the statistics in the slide show are pretty amazing: about 175,000 people have moved out out Detroit just since 2000!

Flint In the News Again

After the 'no crack' policing from a few posts ago, I hit upon this story: Wandering prostitutes prompt 'No Ho Zone' sign

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

In Praise Of....Houston?

I came across this Ed Glaeser piece Houston, New York Has a Problem in the NY Sun praising Houston, of all places. He compares and contrasts NYC and Houston, and (more specifically) the growth the two cities have seen. The whole thing is worth reading, but the essence of what he thinks Houston brings to the table is this:

Houston's great advantage, it turns out, is its ability to provide affordable living for middle-income Americans, something that is increasingly hard to achieve in the Big Apple. That Houston is a middle-class city is mirrored in the nature of its economy. Both greater Houston and Manhattan have about 2 million employees.


Basically: unless you are extremely wealthy, you can't live too big in NYC. Recent immigrants in NYC have a very low standard of living by American standards, but generally still well above what it was where they emigrated from. If you're a run of the mill native American with a 'normal' middle class job, your dollar stretches much farther in the home of The Geto Boys.

The Smile Capital

That is apparently what Pocatello, ID bills itself as: the US Smile Capital!

I'm typing this from the airport in Idaho Falls (about to fly back home), but it is my first time in either place.

The landscape was a good bit hillier than I expected. This is the view from the customer's parking lot:
The people were all very friendly. The housekeeping staff at the hotel left messages like this:
We finished early, so I also drove into town to see Idaho State. I took these quick pictures there as well:

Friday, August 01, 2008

Proudly from an un-PC major..

Mankiw links to this piece in Inside Higher Ed, ranking majors by the prevalence of PC-ness (definition within). The conclusions are pretty non-shocking, like:

Humanities and social science fields tend to have higher politically correct rankings, while professional and science disciplines do not.

Mankiw summarized
some of the most-PC and least-PC majors as follows (yay CS):

The most PC: Psychology, Sociology, English, History, Elementary education

The least PC: Criminal justice, Economics, Marketing, Accounting, Computer science, Biology, Finance, Management information, Mechanical engineering, Electrical engineering

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

471 Miles Later

I'll flesh this out later (when I'm not out of town for work; typing this from Philadelphia), but here is the link to pictures from the RAGBRAI ride across Iowa last week (July 20-26): RAGBRAI 2008.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Flint, MI In The News

I saw this at Reason's Hit & Run: Flint Battles Crack Epidemic (now they have both types!).

The article also links to a study listing Flint as the third most violent city in the US. Go Flint! Edged out by Detroit (#1) and Saint Louis (#2) this time..

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Python Code History, Visually

Brandon sent this to me tonight. It's pretty cool -- basically a moving histogram of Python source commits over time, with some added visual flair as developers fade in and out of the scene. It's crazy to see the explosion of activity when it began to become widely used (1999/2000).


code_swarm - Python from Michael Ogawa on Vimeo.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Civil War Slavery (Some Surprises)..

A few days ago, Megan McArdle had a much larger list of (potentially) surprising statements about the nature of slavery in the US at the time of the Civil War. The full list in her post is worth reading, but here are a few that struck me as particularly counter to the connotation given it all when it was covered in school:

4. Slave agriculture was not inefficient compared with free agriculture. Economies of large-scale operation, effective management, and intensive utilization of labor and capital made southern slave agriculture 35 percent more efficient than the northern system of factory farming.

6. The course of slavery in the cities does not prove that slavery was incompatible with an industrial system or that slaves were unable to cope with an industrial regimen. Slaves employed in industry compared favorably with free workers in diligence and efficiency. Far from declining, the demand for slaves was actually increasing more rapidly in urban areas than in the countryside.

8. The material (not psychological) conditions of the lives of slaves compared favorably with those of free industrial workers. This is not to say that they were good by modern standards. It merely emphasizes the hard lot of all workers, free or slave, during the first half of the nineteenth century.

Friday, June 27, 2008

More Knuth Wisdom

I somehow hadn't noticed that Knuth recently released another book in his Art of Computer Programming series. Actually, it's not a book -- it's a fascicle (something I had to go look up on m-w.com). This one is part of what will be a multivolume series on combinatorics.

The full title is The Art of Computer Programming, Volume 4, Fascicle 0: Introduction to Combinatorial Algorithms and Boolean Functions. Another cool book to buy and only partially comprehend...

Monday, June 23, 2008

More Premarital Sex == Less HIV

I need to buy the Elizabeth Pisani book The Wisdom of Whores; it sounds like it will be interesting in the same way that Alexa Albert's Brothel was. Anyway, she offers some data from the developing world that seems to bolster Steven Landsburg's argument that if the total amount of sex went up (via increased frequency among those who do it less frequently now, rather than hyper-sex amongst those already most frequent), STD rates would decline. This argument was made in More Sex Is Safer Sex.

The full quote should be read over at the MR post where I saw this story, but one bit that I found interesting:

At the start of the 1990s, 57 percent of twenty-one-year-old men in Northern Thailand trooped off to the brothel to do their philandering. More than half the sex workers who soaked up their excess energy were HIV-infected....

Chinese Sports Academies

During my trip to and from Richmond last week, I picked up the current issue of Time. There was a really interesting feature story in this issue that talked about China's sports development academies. There are lots of them: about 3000 scattered across the country. They send out scouts to find kids who have the objectively-measurable attributes that make them well suited to a particular sport (even if they have never heard of the sport in question) and offer to enroll them in one of the academies. The entire story is China's Sports School: Crazy for Gold.

In an effort to try to win the most golds at the Olympics, they spend extra recruitment efforts on sports that have a large number of medals awarded (like swimming). I'd be curious as to how much doping they have going on now; the 1990s Chinese women's swimming team was particularly blatant: only good in sprint events, deep voices, acne, and hugely discontinuous drops in time (and a men's team that wasn't even on the radar). Actually failing drug tests a ton of times surely adds some support to the view of widespread, East German-style doping at the time.

There was even an interesting bit about Chinese ping pong dominance (and how it came to be):

Consider the country's decades-long dominance of table tennis. This supremacy had little to do with a national passion for wooden paddles and plastic balls. China decided to develop star paddlers largely because the International Table Tennis Federation was, in 1953, one of the first sports organizations to drop ties with Taiwan in favor of the mainland. In 1959, Rong Guotuan made history as China's first world champion in any sport. Mao deemed the victory a "spiritual nuclear weapon." Determined to maintain Ping-Pong supremacy, coaches fanned out across the countryside looking for kindergartners with quick reflexes and superior hand-eye coordination. "Other countries have produced some really good table-tennis players," says Liu Fengyan, director of China's table-tennis administrative center. "But without a sports system like China's, their success ends when those athletes retire."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Straight Dope On Candidates' Tax Proposals

I saw a post over at Capital Gains and Games that listed something I'd long wondered about: what actual dollar values the McCain and Obama tax policies translated to. It's pretty easy to get the impression that McCain's proposals would equate to a sizable cut above and beyond what Bush already did (given that he's proposing eliminating the AMT and reducing corporate tax rates (albeit phased)), and that Obama's must be expensive (since every speech is laden with tons of new programs and bolstering of various existing programs...all of which has additional cost).

Here is are the numbers, from a new Brookings/Urban Institute study:

...compared to current policy, Senator McCain would cut taxes by $628 b. over the next 10 years and that Senator Obama would raise them by $734 b. over the same period. Most of Senator McCains cuts go to middle and high income individuals, while most of Senator Obama's cuts would go to low and middle income individuals.

It goes on to say that Obama's tax raise may be markedly higher than the 734, since he has repeatedly proposed completely eliminating the current $250k income limit cap on payroll taxes (which would amount to a huge hike for high earners). He's also denied this at various points...so the study worked up his numbers without this change. The full post referenced at Capital Gains and Games is here.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Post-Ride Report: Real Ale Ride

Saturday was the Real Ale Ride in Blanco, TX. I had not done it before (there was just last year, and I heard that one was cancelled due to super high winds at starting time).

I planned on doing the 80 mile route (they sometimes listed it as 85...and their own GPS-published version of the map shows it as 77-something). That didn't happen: the ride started late, I blew some time with a flat around mile 14 or so, and the hills sure didn't speed me along. While waiting to refill my water bottles at rest stop two (and later searching for a full size pump, in vain), a ride worker runs around yelling "if you are going to do the 80 mile route, you have to leave within the next minute and a half!!" I looked around and saw a bunch of people in the drink line basically shrug like 'oh well, darn ;)'. So, everyone left was shunted to the 65 mile route.

It was a pretty nice ride, and basically what I was guessing it would be: pretty hilly and scenic. Blanco is about 20 minutes south of Johnson City, straight down 281. If you've driven to San Antonio via 281 before: that hilly stuff you drive through along the way was the sort of landscape for this ride. It was mostly rural FM/RM county roads running alongside ranches with wandering cattle. I took these photos from just before the 50 mile stop:


I should have taken some earlier in the ride, where it was particularly hilly (mile 9 sticks out, as does 36/37). 9 was abrupt and steep, while the 36/37 was loooong and sustained climbing. All of the extra pounds I was carrying with me were particularly unwelcome on that second hill!

I actually got a second flat right after the long climb, at the 40 mile rest stop. It was kind of bizarre: after my 14 mile flat, I used a CO2 inflator to get my tire up to about 100 psi. I'd looked for a full size pump at the 25 mile stop to try to top it off to 110-120, but couldn't find one. I did find one at the 40 mile stop, and proceeded to pump up to about 120. I propped my bike up against a fence, and went to refill my water bottles. While I was in line, I heard a loud pop...loud enough that everyone turned to see what it was. It was my bike, still over by the fence. It seems that I must have had a pinch right by the valve stem when I changed the last flat, and ha ridden with that pinch from 14-40..and the extra inflation up to 120 was enough to push it over a threshold and pop it. The tire was totally off the rim near the valve stem when I went to see what had happened. Luckily, the Bicycle Sport Shop van was at the stop at this point, and so I was promptly hooked up with a free tube (I'd only brought one, using it for the 14 mile flat) and use of a full size pump. The mechanic also was kind enough to slightly adjust one a limit screw after I inquired about a bit of clicking I heard in my small ring (but not the big) -- that fixed it.

The ride finishes right at the Real Ale brewery (where it started). Each rider gets 2 Real Ale beers of their choice, as well as BBQ catered by Riley's. The food was good, as was the beer. The only minus here was the lack of throughput on the food line; it kind of sucks to finish a ride like that and then wait in a 45 minute long line in a very hot (99 for the high in Austin, not sure what it was there) parking lot with no shade. There were about 1400 riders; maybe I happened to be going through the line around a peak time.

I ran into Jane Bui and Roman when I was there (right at the start, and then again after finishing my BBQ). Didn't see any other familiar faces, though. I did see a Circle C Ranch Cycling Club jersey, though (kept running into the same guy).

This was also the first long ride for my new saddle, the Koobi PRS Alpha. So far, so good -- pretty comfortable, and not broken in at all yet. Two other things got their first long-ride exposure: the Polar F11 that I got for Christmas (worked great, very comfortable strap) and some BodyGlide (no complaints here; definitely worth a try after the MS150 experience!).

Vulcan Dachshund

I am not sure why I didn't post a picture of this back when I got it (from some small gift shop near the new Hill Country Galleria).

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Holy Crap

This just arrived. I thought they were releasing the lottery results on May 1, but maybe the emails go out a day ahead?

Subject: RAGBRAI Update
Body:

CONGRATULATIONS!
CORBETT KLEMPAY,
your wristband number is:
99439

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Lemon Curd Mousse Cake

I made this for a dinner (with my fellow MS 150 riders) last Friday. Laura found the recipe of Epicurious. Two thumbs up; I think I'll likely make this at this year's wine & dessert party (but with a thinner crust). Here are a few pictures at various stages of assembly and decoration (including my first attempt at using a pastry bag):





Thursday, April 24, 2008

SWA Free Hooch

In reading this rebuttal of Judge Posner's commentary on why domestic airline service is so bad, this embedded bit of information about the dawn of airline deregulation in the 1970s made me chuckle:
In 1976, CAB Chairman John Robson pushed to “experiment” with price competition, and Continental was allowed to lower its intra-Texas fares to match and even undercut Southwest’s. Incidentally, Southwest introduced a two-tiered pricing structure… $13 each way fares matching Continental and $26 business fares which included a free fifth of alcohol. I vaguely recall Southwest becoming the largest liquor distributor in the state of Texas in 1977.

The rebuttal is worth reading. Posner's commentary is generally quite good, but he gets ripped hard by Mr. Leff. It sounds like Posner was commenting on an industry for which he doesn't have his normal depth of background (Leff calls him out for overtly false historical assertions left and right). Becker's commentary on the same topic differs a good bit from Posner's as well.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Large Prison Population Due to Long Sentences

....not due to readiness to arrest and convict people at a higher rate than other developed countries. To hear some people rant about it, you'd think they were trying to imply we're to be lumped with the Chinas and Irans of the world.

Reason has a post commenting on a NYT piece today studying this issue. All of this is likely followup interest after the news the other week that 1 in 100 adults in the US are incarcerated (or some similar stat). It finds that we are not at the the top of the list among industrialized countries for the rate at which we imprison people; it is in how long we keep them there that we are the outlier. We do imprison more people for drug offenses, but we keep people in much longer for 'regular' crimes as well (owing to minimum sentencing laws). For example:
Burglars in the United States serve an average of 16 months in prison, according to Mr. Mauer, compared with 5 months in Canada and 7 months in England.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Ghetto Avoidance Via Nav

Yesterday saw a story on AutoBlog about a coming enhancement to the navigation system in Hondas. The systems comes out today in Japan, but there are no currently-published plans to bring it to the US. Basically, the system takes into consideration high crime areas (in addition to the things such systems already take into account when routing, such as construction, real time traffic flow data, and the roads themselves) so as to potentially avoid the area in creating the route.

I have a hard time seeing how the introduction of such a feature in the US wouldn't result in cries of racial profiling (even if it was digesting raw geographically-tagged government crime rate statistics).

An Impressive Freak

David Blaine has always struck me as a bit of a tool, with the "I'm a mysterious hip 'street' magician", heavy on the novelty. Still, this story in the NYT on his preparation to try to break the breath holding limit (training with the US freediving team) is pretty interesting and impressive. The ancillary detail about human physical limits in this area (and how humans have gone much farther than was thought theoretically possible) is pretty interesting.

Stereotype #96

I happen to have bought a ton of them because they fit my weirdly shaped feet well, but yesterday's post on Stuff White People Like hit home: #96 New Balance Shoes.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Truth In Stereotypes

CU's 4/20 pot smoke-out draws crowd of 10,000

I wonder if the Wolverines feel usurped.

Rising Inequality Explained By....Educational Slowdown?

Mankiw has an AEI short publication out called The Wealth Trajectory: Rewards for the Few. It's interesting reading. He summarizes some recent results that have found quantitative support for the belief that economic inequality has risen (but interestingly, also show that it was also steadily rising in the 80s and 90s) -- not too many would find this all that controversial.

The interesting part is the thesis of Claudia Goldin and Lawrence Katz: that basically people have slowed down the rate of increase of years of schooling, leading to more scarcity of the most qualified people. They assert that the latest crop of highest end jobs are -- like most 'new' jobs in recent decades -- knoweldge worker jobs, and that people have not ramped their education as fast as the switch-to-knowledge move in jobs has occurred.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A Slew of Credit Crunch Musings..

Megan McArdle has a huge post of some digested thoughts after a consumer credit conference this past week. The whole post is worth reading.

The part that made me chuckle most was this section of her post:

3) The moral panic also extends to people who meet those needs: we view paycheck lenders as in broadly the same class as pimps, casino owners, and drug dealers. Particularly disturbing seems to be the notion that people make profits providing money to the poor. Yet there's little evidence that payday lenders make especially high profits; even non-profits who try to get into the business have found themselves charging interest rates they previously regarded as usurious. Poor people are, in fact, poor lending risks; the high interest rate compensates for the high default rate.

..when followed by this comment:

I find it odd that if you offer loans with high interest rates to Bangladeshis, you win the Nobel peace prize. If you do the same for... name your far more local constituency... you get vilified.


(Glances in the direction of Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank...)

Mayor Schmoke Makes Us Proud

Kurt Schmoke was the mayor of Baltimore the entire time I was there for school. That was his standard election poster: 'Mayor Schmoke Makes Us Proud'.

I didn't know know what he had gone on to; apparently he's now the dean of Howard Law School. I saw an editorial yesterday that he has on drug control policy in everyone's favorite story-fabricating magazine. The commentary itself is pretty standard fare: stop going hard on minor offenders, expand the use and number of drug courts to deal with those minor offenders, and focus more heavily on it from a medical addiction angle. He does hint that he thinks you won't fully solve it until it is not a highly profitable underground enterprise -- advocating legalization, in other words -- but says that you have to take incremental steps first.

I remembered he raised some controversy years ago when he publicly advocated decriminalization. I've always wondered if that was partially the inspiration for the character of Bunny Colvin in Season 3 of the fabulous show The Wire (my favorite show, until it ended recently) and his experiment with a drug free for all zone ('Hamsterdam').

MS 150 Drama

I finished the 2008 BP MS 150 this past weekend. It was a long saga, though.

I was in Hartford, CT last week for a trip to Travelers. I was to fly home Thursday night, with plenty of time to board the 4:30 PM MS150 Houston to Austin bus (they also transport your luggage and bike). When I got to Hartford Bradley to fly home, it seemed that my return (on Delta) through Cincinnati was delayed. The problem: all of the AA cancellations had resulted in all available slots being filled, so there was nothing left to rebook me on for a later Cincinnati->Austin flight.

Delta initially told me they couldn't get me home before Saturday night. This was a problem, as I'd totally miss the Friday bus, and the ride itself was starting early Saturday morning, in Houston. After a long time on the phone with Delta rebooking, they found a solution: stay the night in Hartford, then leave on a 6 AM to Cincinnati, then to Salt Lake City, then directly to Houston. Jen was able to come to my house and pack up my gear and get my bike, getting it in Amar's hands at the bus departure point on Friday.

It was a bit worse than this: I had picked up my ride packet on the way to the airport, so my packet (a required item) was in my car...at the Austin Fast Park location at the airport. Jen didn't have a way of checking her mail to see where I was parked (she was at my place, sans computer), so she ended up having to drive the rows at Fast Park until she found my car.

She managed to do all of this (I owe her big) and get it on the bus. My flights were miraculously not delayed at all, and I made it to Houston. I was able to grab a SuperShuttle over to the Rouse's (where my group was staying; Andy Rouse's parents' house...conveniently near Tully Stadium).

Here is what the start looked like at Tully Stadium (one of three possible starting locations):



Here is Chocolate Thunder, fired up to get going:


The riding on day 1 was pretty brutual. A front had come through, and as a result, we were riding into heavy (probably 20-30 mph) sustained headwinds...all day long. My lips are still so cracked and chapped from the wind that I'm bleeding every time I eat!

We did have a bad turn early in day 1: very shortly after the 25 mile stop (within sight of it, even), Amar wiped out. I was riding immediately behind him, and couldn't get left or right quickly enough, so I went down too. Andy was immediately behind me...and crashed as well.

I ended up with just a few scrapes, and (as far as I can tell) no damage to my bike. Andy may have very slightly knocked one wheel out of true, but it seems they fixed that at the 25 mile stop that the SAG wagon took them to afterward. Amar, though, had it rough: not only did he have to replace both of his wheels, but he also broke his collarbone! They didn't know this right away, and it wasn't until he rode to the next stop (about 10 miles) on his new wheels that he went to another medical tent and had EMS come. They took him to the hospital, where the broken collarbone was confirmed in x-rays. His right arm is in a sling for the next 4-6 weeks! Might be kind of hard to drive (both Amar and Kim drive sticks)...

We didn't know a bunch of this until much later in the day. We hung out at lunch for a good while while some of this was being sorted out. Being on a team has its pluses: see my team lunch spot (a 4-H pavilion):


Blue Bell was even giving out mini ice cream sandwiches there:


I had three.

The ride itself was pretty picturesque in places, like this field of wildflowers:


We even have Texas pride in our windmills:


Day 1 ends in La Grange, Texas. It was a madhouse: whereas the three starting points (and plenty of people leaving from hotel parking lots and such) earlier in the day resulted in a few thousand at each spot, the entire ~13,000 assembly of riders were present in La Grange. They brought giant temporary shower equipment in, and were even busing people to the nearest middle school to shower as well (the route I took). They had dinner for everyone at night, and breakfast in the morning. Various bike shops set up little covered mini-shops to sell tons of energy gels, tubes, and that sort of thing...as well as more than a bit of clothing. Later in the day, we heard that it was going to be in the low-mid 40s at the start of the next day, and most people just had regular short and jerseys. I think I was a bit behind the curve here: by the time I went to try to find a long sleeve jersey or base layer, pretty much everything of that sort in a men's large was sold out. I finally lucked out and got the very last men's large of an overpriced (but warmer than expected) Sugoi Helium windbreaker in red (err, sorry, 'Matador'). People were even cutting up garbage bags and taping segments of the plastic around their legs to stay warm early in the ride.

I wore a sleeveless jersey underneath my St. David's team jersey, with the new jacket over it all. I was pretty cold, but it was tolerable. Best of all, the wind was way down at the start of day 2: it was probably 5 mph tops. Around lunch, it picked up, and we were riding in pretty steady (10-15 mph?) winds the rest of the day. It was hugely better than Saturday though. We rode smarter on Sunday as well: Drew, Andy, Nate, and myself kept a tight pace line from lunch onward, and we were hauling ass (at least as compared to earlier in the day, and especially compared to Saturday). My knees were hurting a good bit by the end, and anything above about 3 hours in the saddle causes my lovely pair of torn discs to make their presence known, but it ended up not too bad. I expect we'll be back next year -- hopefully with our suave Indian mascot along for the entire ride this time.

Male Pill?

I've read stories about the 'coming' male pill for years. It's supposedly 'in a few years' every time I read it. This story is no different, although they claim to have concluded that they have an approach that both works with an efficacy similar to a vasectomy and is totally safe.

I saw this as a link off of Marginal Revolution; there are a ton of comments there as well. The part people in the comments (and in Tyler's story itself) seem to gloss over is that even the people trumpting the breakthrough say it's a good three or so years from availability and (more importantly) major pharma companies do not expect it to be particularly profitable, and so are sitting on the sidelines at the moment.

Jane Is A Badass

Jane Bui: Ironwoman.


Paul Graham On Group Size

I just came across a new Paul Graham essay (maybe a bit late; it's dated March 2008) called You Weren't Meant To Have A Boss. The main thrust of the piece is that working as a cog in a large company is suboptimal (for you) and a bit unnatural, based on what studies have shown to be roughly ideal upper limits on human group sizes. Above a group size tipping point, there is a big fall off in cohesion; there are too many nodes to keep everyone in sync.

The piece is worth reading (as are pretty much all of his essays), although it does have a bit of a "I'm a badass OG, and so are my friends, and today's smart guys are going for the safe and easy" feel to it. It feels related to condescension, but not quite the same thing. Still, the commentary and advice are worthwhile and interesting.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A 'Computer Programming' Major?

Since when was this a 'major' at non-vocational schools / at major universities? Computer Science != 'Computer Programming'. Stack ranked majors, by starting salary, as in today's WSJ:


The Roads I Left..

I am sitting here in the United section of O'Hare, waiting for my departure to Hartford. Browsing Autoblog to pass the time (hard to do heavy Guidewire work here, not being able to find a free power plug, grr..), I found a story on a contest to find some of the worst potholes in Michigan.

When I hit a particularly rough road in Texas, it's rare enough that it really stands out. I always forget how common really potholed, cracked roads are back up in Michigan. Ones like this:



If I had to pick a day to not be on American (where all of my miles live), today was probably as good a day as any, though. It looks like American has had to cancel a ton of flights today as it brought MD-80s (what I am overwhelmingly flying on with them) out of service to inspect wiring harnesses.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Postwar Tax Rate Trending

The content of this editorial in today's WSJ is pretty standard fare. The part I found particularly interesting was the tax burden as a percent of GDP (the italicized distinction would surely be seized upon by both sides arguing the merits of the content) as it has varied over time since WWII. The authors (Cogan, Hubbard) argue that if the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts are allowed to lapse, the resulting tax load increase would put the tax rate as a percentage of GDP at its highest level in the postwar era. The article is worth a read (especially for those who may not realize how small military spending is in comparison to entitlements), but here is the key trend graphic:

Female Inequality -> High Performing Kids

This post over at MR is interesting. He's summarizing the analysis of a final version of a paper that came out in an earlier form in 2004: that male inequality lends support to polygamy, but female inequality girds monogamy...with the conclusion hat female inequality seems to be the more powerful factor in the West:

Economic growth means that some women have higher human capital than others and thus they are better suited at producing and rearing high quality children. Wealthy men with lots of human capital will start to bid for these women and they will have to offer them exclusive status; these men also wish to invest in a smaller number of higher quality children.

In other words, male inequality encourages polygamy while female inequality discourages it. Apparently female inequality has been winning that race.

The hypothesis also helps explain why polygamy unravels so decisively at some point. Since monogamy itself encourages children (including daughters) with higher human capital, initial tendencies toward monogamy are self-reinforcing.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

This Is Awesome

I'm not sure how I hadn't seen this before, but LaBate pointed it out to me yesterday: the Stuff White People Like blog.

Not all posts there specifically cite things that white people like. For a consolidated list of those posts, you can see this list.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Erin On Perez Hilton

Perez Hilton is pointing people at Erin!

She's reppin' TU2K well!

Weight Contest Over!

You can see a few months ago a post detailing the Weight Wars contest with Jen and my sister. It ended yesterday. Yours truly was the victor. All of the travel towards the end (NJ, SF, SF, Tokyo) put an end to my continued drop, but I avoided backsliding too much, and ended up at 185.6 (-5.0%). I think I got as low as -5.2% or -5.4% before the travel halted the drop.

I need to keep dropping; the absence of weight will be definitely felt if I make it through the lottery for RAGBRAI.

Complexity Reduction: I've Heard This Before

I think I've heard this pretty much every year in the automotive press, especially from Ford. The domestic auto manufacturers (in general) offer far more permutations of each of their vehicles for sale -- orders of magnitude more than some of the Japanese makes. If you try to configure a Honda or a Toyota, you'll find your choices limited to a very small number of broad packages ('sport package' and so on), and that's about it. The US manufacturers offer packages, but also offer a ton of options entirely standalone (including many that are not optional in or out of a package from other OEMs), as well as many that can be obtained via standalone or package content.

The net result of this product offering strategy is that the US manufacturers offer for sale (and thus must be able to build) many more variants of their vehicles than their foreign competitors, leading to additional complexity in the manufacturing arena. Every so often (every new CEO, every new PD head, etc.), the US manufacturers say that they are going to reduce the complexity of their offerings (more closely mimicking the Asians) as a route to cost savings via reduced a engineering and manufacturing burden. The referenced link shows that they're talking about it again; they are targeting a 99% reduction in the offered permutations ('buildables') of the meaningful features on the vehicle for the 2009 Focus, for example.

I'm sure some would view this as 'bad', since it is reducing the choices available to customers of Ford/GM/Chrysler. However, just because those choices are available does not mean that people actually make use of them. Just because the F-150 is offered in a zillion ways, there really a small handful of common configurations that people ordering the F-150 as a work truck end up settling on. Similar clusters of configurations hold true for other use cases for the F-150 (and for every other such vehicle).

Back when I worked on a team dealing with Ford's global product definition (1999-2007), this was definitely the case. I was able to empirically verify this for specific vehicles, using data and configuration functionality available within our system. One quick study done out of curiosity used data for the Transit (a European market commercial van; you can see Sabine Schmidt drive one around the Nurburgring at this YouTube video). I had our system enumerate all buildable combinations of the 'defining features' (all of the important feature families in the vehicle: 'transmissions' is one such feature family, for example...'engines' is another) on the vehicle. Then, we took historical sales data (represented by a list of specific vehicle combinations for that given calendar year) and binned each of those against the theoretical possible buildables. The finding: something like 99%+ of the buildables had no sales volume. Of the tiny percent that had any actual sales associated with them, a tiny handful of that tiny handful accounted for nearly all of the sales. Being a commerical vehicle (commerical vehicles tend to have more options) offered in many markets, the Transit has more buildables and thus more complexity than most. However, the same story is true for all of the vehicles: more choices are offered than actual customer purchases seem to ever merit.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Wow, This Is What Passes As News...

She must be scared!

CNN: 50 Cent No Longer Supports Clinton

Living Together Before Marriage: Maybe Not Bad?

I'd often heard that there was a variety of studies that showed that couples that lived together before marriage (in the US, that is) had higher divorce rates than those who waited until marriage to shack up. Cohabitation before marriage has long happened at a higher rate in Europe than in here, and there didn't seem to be as much negative correlation there as is found here.

A post I saw yesterday (I think at Marginal Revolution) points to a new study that says that while there was ample statistical evidence backing premarital cohabitation being a bad thing, its effect has lessened with time. In fact, it says that in the most recent data available, there no longer seems to be a negative affect to shacking up early!

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Talk About Weird...

This takes the cake as the weirdest story I've seen in a while: FIA chief Max Mosley embroiled in S&M sex scandal

For example:
The video reportedly depicts Mosley engaging the services of five prostitutes in London to stage a perverse reenactment of a Nazi concentration camp in which Mosley plays both victim and oppressor, alternately receiving lashes from a dominatrix and barking orders in German to the prostitutes dressed in pseudo-Auschwitz uniforms.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Liberal / Conversative Charity Gap: Austin Mention

George Will had an article yesterday about differences in charitable donation rates between liberal-heavy regions and conservative-heavy regions. He used our very own Austin as the main thread in his story. I'm not sure if it is because it is a liberal island in a sea of red, or if he just happened to have some quotes and data for it specifically. I'm sure you can guess which side gives more (or maybe you can't?), but here is an Austin-specific snippet:

Reviewing Brooks' book in the Texas Review of Law & Politics, Justice Willett notes that Austin -- it voted 56 percent for Kerry while he was getting just 38 percent statewide -- is ranked by The Chronicle of Philanthropy as 48th out of America's 50 largest cities in per capita charitable giving.


There is a lot more in the article, expanding this to talk about patterns seen nationwide.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Obamanomics Commentary in Today's WSJ

While the article was meant to summarize the economic content of a speech he just gave, it was the sidebar graphic that was the most interesting:


While Obama has the most worrisome voting record, the first two bullet points in Hillary's list should scare anyone (well, anyone who isn't currently the holder of an inflating interest-only mortgage).

Monday, March 24, 2008

Affirmative Action Around The World

I finished this book just this past weekend, during my flight back from Tokyo. It was a pretty quick read (or maybe it just seemed that way when trapped in an airplane for so many hours?), and I enjoyed it.

It is a mix of history and opinion (albeit heavily fact-supported opinion), grouped into chapters that dive deeply into affirmative action programs (original motivations as well as results to date) in several countries: India, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Nigeria, and the US.

I was already familiar with a bunch of the data on the US situation (results as well as the data immediately leading up to its implementation), but I knew much less about affirmative action programs in the other countries mentioned. Read the book for the full story, but nearly every case involved plenty of:
  • Good intentions gone awry
  • Programs meant to be temporary far outliving the originally-envisioned duration
  • Everyone completely disregarding the law of unintended consequences
Some of the countries have had a worse time of it than others, but the facts don't paint the results too well in any of the studied countries.The actual book is only about 170 pages (with an additional 30 pages of notes beyond that), and so is quick to check out..

2408WFP: Pulled The Trigger

The Sony G500 CRT that I bought refurbished off of uBid in probably 2000 or 2001 (Nick bought one at the time, too) had been going downhill in recent months: when coming back from power save mode, it would take several minutes to fade to full brightness. Just as annoying, the image would jiggle until reaching full brightness (at which point it would lock).

It was a good monitor in its day, but it didn't owe me anything at this point. Plus, it is huge: I had to keep it on the corner of an L shaped desk, as it was so deep that I could not fit the monitor and the keyboard on a non-corner section.

I wanted to finally get a nice flat panel. Given that I'd likely have it for years, I thought it would be justified to get something nicer than the super-discount-of-the-week TN-based unit. The Dell 240x series has always been well regarded, and so I was looking at the 2407 and 2407-HC (the wide gamut version of the 2407). They apparently have some ghosting issues, however. I had friends with 2405's, but nobody with a 2407. Dell then announced a 2408 at CES in January, so I thought I'd wait until it went up for sale and the reviews started pouring in.

It's taken a while, but it finally became generally available in the past few weeks. It's an S-PVA panel (like the previous 240x units), with some evolutionary improvements in its capabilities (spec sheet here). The forum posts that started popping up were generally pretty positive: it seemed very well rounded, with a lack of the obvious ghosting some found in the 2407-HC. The one complaint is that it has pretty substantial display lag (40-50 ms), but this won't bother a non-gamer like me.

I finally decided to get one after finding the first large review heavy on quantitatives here. I ordered it while in Japan, and it showed up even before I got back. Despite picking free 3-5 day shipping, it was delivered at my house the following day. I'm typing on it now. Next up: figuring out if my Latitude D620 is actually limited to only 1600x1200 on DVI, as its specs seem to suggest (1600x1200 DVI, 2048x1536 analog). This would be annoying, as this panel's target resolution is 1920x1200 (driving that via analog now).

Back From Japan

I got to see cool things, like this!


The rest of the pictures are in this new gallery.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Buy a Plane, Buy a Companion?

The WSJ has an article on how the boom in wealth in recent times has led to a whole new tier of escort pricing (all of this in conjunction with the Spitzer story). Maybe the most interesting bit is some info towards the end of the article on the prevalence of purchased sex among the super rich:

According to a survey by Russ Alan Prince, president of Connecticut-based wealth-research firm Prince & Associates, in his book “The Sky’s The Limit,” a sizable percentage of the super wealthy use escorts. He surveyed 661 people who owned private jets. It found that 34% of males and 20% of females had paid for sex.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Spitzer's 'Kristen'

It looks like they may have a sort-of-masked photo of Eliot Spitzer's girl here.

UPDATE: Even the NYT has outed Ms. Dupre, complete with pictures from her MySpace page!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Subprime Stick Figures

By coincidence, Jen was asking me to explain the whole subprime mess to her yesterday. It was a few minutes of me rambling on the drive from wherever we were to her apartment. Today, Megan McArdle had the same explanation...told in stick figures!



You can click on that above embedded link, but I found it unusably small to read the text. Instead, it's much easier if you follow this link to view the Google Docs presentation at full size: The Subprime Primer

Apparently, Norwegian stick figures have hats that make them look like Canadian Mounties.

Friday, February 15, 2008

"Undiscovered Talent?"

Jen told me that one of the girls on this season of American Idol turned out to not actually be an amateur; she'd already had a real record out. Jen thought she heard it was Kristy Lee Cook, the girl currently hailing from Selma, OR (the one riding horses and such in the color piece on her).

I came across a link at Yahoo Music a few minutes ago talking about how one of the contestants already had a deal in the past. I clicked it, thinking I'd get the full story on the Cook girl..but no, it turned out to be about Carly, the Irish girl with tons of tats.

In the comments on that Yahoo Music page, I saw a link to a whole other page. This page details all of the Top 24's past brushes with commercial success (or lack thereof)...there are a lot of contestants who aren't exactly out of the blue, never seen before talent.

White Chocolate Margarita Mousse

I meant to post this shortly after the Super Bowl, but Jen had my camera in her purse (as usual). I made a white chocolate margarita mousse to take to the party we went to (at Eric & Jen's). I've made this recipe before; it is out of the Chocolate Passion book that I've had for a few years.

Here is a bunch (22 oz, if I recall) of El Rey, waiting to be melted down:


Of course, there were a ton of eggs (copious amounts of heavy cream not pictured):


A whole bunch of lime zest (I hate zesting!) mixed in -- it ended up looking like chives!


And of course, the ingredient most people cared about:


Finally, assembling them at the party: sugaring the glass rims, putting in a dollop of mousse, and topping with a candied lime slice.


And no, I have no idea why I forgot to take a picture of a finished one!

Valentine's Dinner

...turned out pretty much right on the money. Rather than go out for dinner this year, Jen wanted us to stay in and cook.

Jen found an awesome recipe on allrecipes that came out just right: Crab-Stuffed Filet Mignon with Whiskey Peppercorn Sauce. I should have taken pictures. Anyway, it came out great, although we now agree with the people who commented on the recipe, stating that the listed duration is pretty optimistic. We were pretty close: I think it took us about 2 hours, and that included me running out to Bed Bath & Beyond to pick up a large cast-iron skillet (somehow I didn't own one yet). I thought I'd find a bunch of Lodge cast iron stuff at L&T and BBB...but no! It seems cast iron is more scarce than I thought: L&T only had an Emeril cast iron square grill that was only available as a freebie when purchasing a whole Emeril set. I ended up finding the same item for sale separately at BBB (but still no Lodge). Cheap, in any case: $20 for a 10" skillet, $25 for the square grill version of the same thing.

We also made a spinach salad that we make often (toasted pumpkin seeds, red onion, dried tart cherries, and -- this time -- avocado (normally peppered goat cheese, but I forgot to pick it up), all in an oil and dijon dressing.

I also got out a nice Chateauneuf du Pape that I'd had on the rack for years. I tried to bring it to my birthday dinner at The Driskill this year, but they don't allow corkage anymore. It turned out to have mellowed nicely. It was a 1996 Paul Coulon et Fils 'Boisrenard':


I then mentioned that I had a hankering for ice cream, and was about to grab some vanilla out of the freezer. Jen told me no, and made me go read at the computer for 'about 10 minutes'. When she called me back in, this was on the counter:



It is a chocolate ginger bundt cake with a bourbon sauce on top and was damn good. I had forwarded this recipe along months ago when I first saw it, and I guess Jen filed it away for later use! All of the flower petals around it for decoration were apparently courtesy of Matt (apparently he had some fading tulips at his place...maybe from the big weekend prior? ;)