Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Your Daily WTF for 3/30/10

This the most disturbing school play I've ever seen in my life...


UPDATE: This too is odd. Those census ads are getting creepier all the time.

Attention All You Graduate Students

One of my office-mates has just pointed out to me the most ingenious piece of software I've ever seen for organizing, reading, and annotating PDF files of academic papers: Mendeley. Seriously, check it out. It's even free!

It bills itself as being "like iTunes for research papers," and that description is quite accurate, even up to allowing you to assemble groups of papers into collections (playlists), copying all the files into a single organized directory, and automatically importing metadata (though that's a bit iffy on a lot of them). You can read, highlight, and annotate papers directly in the program. You can sort your entire collection by title, author, publication, keyword, etc. It can even search the body text of your entire collection for terms! (Well, as long as they're native PDF files rather than scans.) And possibly coolest of all, it stores up to 500 MB of your collection online for you to access from anywhere (and act as a library backup).

My only complaint is that it's a bit resource-intensive for my old laptop, which leads to some stability issues. But even with that, it's increased my research productivity immensely. I can't recommend Mendeley highly enough. Check it out!

Friday, March 26, 2010


This, apparently, is what happens when Fido finally catches that car he's been chasing:

Consider My Cynicism Warranted

A few days ago I remarked upon the passage of the Healthcare Reform bill:
It passed the House with 219 for, 212 against. They clearly needed Stupak's vote, and I find myself wondering what they really gave him to get it, since the executive order BS is so weak, and he had so much leverage.
Well, guess what headline I saw this afternoon:
After health care vote, Stupak 11 request billions in earmarks
With Stupak himself requesting over $578 million in earmarks, no less. [cough]vote buying[/cough] Some "most ethical congress in history."


Thursday, March 25, 2010

Your Daily WTF for 3/25/10

A double dose:

1) The best equipped military in the world? Indeed.

2) Cows with Guns:


Social Security Runs out of Revenue...

... and begins drawing on the general treasury this year. One of the main reasons I opposed the healthcare reform bill was that the thing's adding more oomph to our existing financial powder keg, despite protestations to the contrary:
Every since the early eighties, when the Greenspan commission kicked the can down the road with a combination of tax increases and later retirement ages, analysts have been awaiting the day when the [Social Security] system would finally go into deficit. That date has been sliding around between 2016 and 2020 for some years now, but the suspense is finally over: the system is going into deficit this year....

This is the canary in the coal mine; if Social Security's finances are in trouble, Medicare's will also be looking worse. While I was at the Kauffman Foundation's economics blogger forum last Friday, a show of hand indicated that about 80% of the people there thought America would have a serious fiscal crisis in the next two decades. This is how it starts--not with a bang, but with a moderate decline in revenues.
As I've said ever since I started thinking seriously about entitlement spending: anyone my age (or really under the age of 40) planning their retirement around getting anything from Social Security is going to be sadly disappointed.


And so true.


Tuesday, March 23, 2010

My Head Asplode

... from the sheer awesomeness of John C. Wright's "current project."

Seriously, if you follow only one link this week online, make it this one. You won't regret it.

(post title reference)

Monday, March 22, 2010

And this...

... is why mail-in rebates are scam-tastic. Don't ever base a purchasing decision off of one.

Holy Crap!

Why, when I was a kid, just to get to school we had to . . . okay, you win.

(Stolen shamelessly in its entirety from Radley Balko)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Healthcare vote news - Part 2

It passed the House with 219 for, 212 against. They clearly needed Stupak's vote, and I find myself wondering what they really gave him to get it, since the executive order BS is so weak, and he had so much leverage.

But I think what disturbs me most is the scorched-earth brand of politics used to bring this through. The American people were clearly against it by a not-too-small margin (significant, given the scope of the legislation). And the Democrats decided they didn't care. If this doesn't disturb you, I recommend thinking about it a bit more:

Regardless of what you think about health care, tomorrow we wake up in a different political world. . . .

Republicans and other opponents of the bill did their job on this; they persuaded the country that they didn’t want this bill. And that mattered basically not at all. If you don’t find that terrifying, let me suggest that you are a Democrat who has not yet contemplated what Republicans might do under similar circumstances. Farewell, social security! Au revoir, Medicare! The reason entitlements are hard to repeal is that the Republicans care about getting re-elected. If they didn’t–if they were willing to undertake this sort of suicide mission–then the legislative lock-in you’re counting on wouldn’t exist. . . . If the GOP takes the legislative innovations of the Democrats and decides to use them, please don’t complain that it’s not fair. Someone could get seriously hurt, laughing that hard. . . .

We're not a parliamentary democracy, and we don't have the mechanisms, like votes of no confidence, that parliamentary democracies use to provide a check on their politicians. The check that we have is that politicians care what the voters think. If that slips away, America's already quite toxic politics will become poisonous.

We may have just killed the social norm that it's not okay to blatantly defy the wishes of your constituents - leaving me with the fear that the political class may decide that the "best" way to serve constituents is to ignore them. And there's not a damn thing we voters can do about it until they come up for reelection.

Healthcare vote news

Apparently Stupak (and presumably the rest of his pro-life cadre) will now vote for the healthcare bill in exchange for Obama issuing an executive order reiterating the current policy of not spending federal funds on abortion.

This shows that Stupak's opposition to the bill was either fundamentally (a) unserious, or (b) a power play. An executive order is binding only on the executive branch, and is sustained by no force other than the whim of the sitting President. So this does not effect the text of the legislation being debated, and can be changed whenever the President wants. What did Stupak gain here? This is disgusting.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Leonidas the Undergrad

This remind anyone else of ME 104? Awesome!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lora, this one's for you

Neatorama has a great (and trivia-filled) profile of Big Bird up in honor of his (41st) sixth birthday.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Wait, what?

File this one under "things that would never have occurred to me in a million years, but make total sense": database management implications of gay marriage.

There are various objections to expanding the conventional, up-tight, as-God-intended "one man, one woman" notion of marriage but by far the least plainly bigoted ones I am aware of are the bureaucratic ones.

To be blunt, the systems aren't set up to handle it. The paper forms have a space for the husband's name and a space for the wife's name. Married people carefully enter their details in block capitals and post the forms off to depressed paper-pushers who then type that information into software front-ends whose forms are laid out and named in precisely the same fashion. And then they hit "submit" and the information is filed away electronically in databases which simply keel over or belch integrity errors when presented with something so profound as a man and another man who love each other enough to want to file joint tax returns.

Much knowledge on fixing said databases follows. Not my field, but interesting nonetheless.


Things that do not make me want children...

They are apparently not merely to be tolerated, but to be actively feared.

Monday, March 15, 2010


This has got to be the most interesting thing I've read in weeks: Gondor, Byzantium, and Feudalism. The author has a brilliant analysis of whether Tolkein's kingdom of Gondor more closely resembles western feudalism or the Byzantine empire. Most intriguing - read the whole thing.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Logic Fail

Nancy Pelosi on the health care bill (emphasis added):
You’ve heard about the controversies within the bill, the process about the bill, one or the other. But I don’t know if you have heard that it is legislation for the future.... It’s going to be very, very exciting.

But we have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it, away from the fog of the controversy.
The time to find out what's in a bill is not after it's too late to do anything about it. (Also, I find "try it, you'll like it" a less than satisfactory sales pitch for federal governance, particularly if you can't even explain what "it" is.)


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Your Daily WTF for 3/10/2010

Presented without comment: Lost Jewish tribe 'found in Zimbabwe'.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Quote of the Day

"The reason the first three Star Wars movies were so terrific and the second three sucked so bad is actually very simple. The first three were about rebels shooting guns, and driving fast, and speaking with American accents. The second three were about politicians discussing treaties, and holding court, and speaking with British accents."

--Bill Whittle

An Excellent Question

Via Instapundit, Cato@Liberty has a question for the President:

The rationale for your proposed tax on high-cost health insurance plans is that it would encourage people to purchase less-comprehensive coverage and thereby reduce health care spending.

If that’s a good idea, then why is it bad when insurers raise premiums?

(I'd also add "Why the hell is it any of your business how much of my compensation I want to spend on healthcare?" but that's just me.)

Unintended Consequence?

I'd call this an unintended consequence of new regulations, but it was so freaking obvious that this would happen I don't know that it can be reasonable classified as "unintended":

Continental Will Cancel Flights To Avoid Fines For Late Takeoffs

I don't remember who, but I read a blogger predicting this months ago, when the regulation was announced.

UPDATE: SB7 cordially reminds me that it was indeed him. And it was only weeks ago. My memory sucks. (I had thought it was SB7, but a cursory google search didn't turn it up and I was rushing, so...)

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Spanish Tortilla

When I get a request for a recipe, I usually decide to put them up here rather than just email them around. This is another in that series.

A deliciously easy omelet-like food, best served warm.

Notes: Don't worry about using so much olive oil - you pour off a lot, and if you store it in the fridge you can use it for sauteing or frying most anything you'd use olive oil on anyway. Slicing the potatoes is a breeze with a mandoline, but the important thing is relatively even slices, to ensure that it cooks evenly. Feel free to add in anything you think would improve it. I've been debating adding green pepper or some thinly sliced ham, but haven't tried it yet.

Spanish Tortilla

1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 lb waxy potatoes, peeled and sliced thinly (I use red potatoes)
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
6 to 8 eggs
salt and pepper


Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat (about 5 min). Add the potatoes and onion, and sprinkly with salt and pepper to taste - and don't be afraid to be generous with the salt. Adjust the heat so that the oil bubbles (but doesn't bubble furiously), and cook until the potatoes are tender, turning every few minutes. While this is cooking, beat together the eggs with some salt and pepper in a large bowl (it will need room for the potato mixture too).

When the potatoes are done, drain them using a colander (and reserving the oil for later use!). Wipe the skillet out with a paper towel and return it to the (medium) heat with 2 Tablespoons of the oil you just drained. Combine the potato mixture and the eggs, and add them to the hot skillet. As soon as the edges are firmly set (only a minute or two) reduce the heat to medium-low and cook 5 min (untouched!).

After the 5 min, loosen the tortilla from the pan by sliding a rubber spatula under/around its edges, and very carefully slide it out onto a plate (it will be runny in the center, and we don't want to lose that egg!). Cover with another plate and flip the whole thing over, holding tightly (we want the other side to cook next). Add another Tablespoon of the reserved oil to the pan, and then slide/scrape/prod the tortilla back into the pan using the rubber spatula. Cook for another 5 min on stovetop, or 10 min in 350 F oven. Remove to a plate and allow to cool somewhat.

Serve warm or at room temp (not hot!). Don't refrigerate it, as this will ruin the texture, but it will keep overnight on the counter.

Eggplant Parmigiana

When I get a request for a recipe, I usually decide to put them up here rather than just email them around. This is another in that series.

This recipe has been heavily edited to reflect our tastes. Feel free to edit it to reflect yours! The original version called for 16 oz mozzarella and 10 oz swiss, but we found that to be excessive. It
probably serves 8 to 10 or so, but it seems to change every time we make it, so I don't really know how much it makes. I recommend cutting down the recipe if serving fewer than 4-5 people, as it makes poor leftovers (the eggplant has atrocious texture when reheated).

Eggplant Parmigiana

1 egg, beaten
2 Tablespoons milk
dash garlc powder
dash onion powder
dash salt
dash black pepper
1 large eggplant to 2 medium eggplants
1/2 cup seasoned dry breadcrumbs (I use plain and toss in some random Italian seasonings)
vegetable oil for frying
about 25-30 oz Family Pizza Sauce (see recipe below)
12 oz shredded Mozzarella cheese
7.5 oz shredded swiss cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup grated Romano cheese

Preheat oven to 350 F. Combine egg, milk, and spices in shallow bowl. Dip eggplant in mixture and then coat in breadcrumbs.

Add enough oil to a large skillet to cover bottom by 1/4 inch. heat over medium-high heat. Fry eggplant until browned (flipping once to get both sides); drain on paper towels. Cover bottom of 9x13 inch baking dish with thin layer of sauce. Layer half of the eggplant slices in the dish, cover with half of the mozarella and swiss cheeses, and then half of the remaining sauce. Repeat layers, and then sprinkle with Parmesan and Romano cheeses.

Bake 30 minutes or until heated through and cheeses are melted. Serve over cooked spaghetti.

Family Pizza Sauce

15 ounces tomato sauce
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced or mutilated with a garlic press
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Combine ingredients in small saucepan. Cook over low heat for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool and use or refrigerate till needed.

Note: Custom Italian Seasoning = equal parts basil, marjoram, sage, and oregano.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Sweet Photo

Check out the awesomeness:

Fighter jets and a castle?! The only way it could get any better is if the castle were shooting lasers (some kind of point defense system?).


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Standard Steinways

Slate has an absolutely fascinating piece up on how the ubiquity of the modern Steinway piano has changed the character of the "classical" music we all know and love, with sound clips to demonstrate. Essentially, it would seem that the fact that all concert pianos are now the standard mellow and uniformly voiced Steinways removes a lot of the style of the piece as originally envisioned by the composer. The example from Beethoven's "Appassionata" sonata is truly eye- (ear-?) opening.