Friday, February 29, 2008

Blogs are down

but it appears that posting still works. How unusual.

Yours, repressing an urge to write and write and write.

Happy Birthday!

A very happy birthday to all those people who were born on the 29th of February! I remember growing up thinking about how sad it must be for them to only get a real birthday once every four years: but now, I think about how special each of those real birthdays must feel!

Yours, bringing greetings,

More on reading

Boo's teacher lent her a book yesterday to take home and read to LOML and me: and she did! several times:-) Previously, she had read several pages (and in reality actually much more text than in this book) of a longer book: the key thing here is that this time she read a whole book! It's fantastic to see the look of achievement on her face as she finishes! And fascinating to watch and hear as she starts gaining confidence in her words, recognizing the common ones more and more by sight, and becoming less hesitant in reading, actually grouping the words together in sentences!
And recognizing that a sentence is a question, and giving the words a rising tone!

I love being read to by her:-) I just can't wait till the books get to be less dreadful!

Yours, paged,

Thursday, February 28, 2008

More origami opportunities

I'm gradually finding more opportunities to do origami --- there are two new ones on the horizon.
A few months ago an arts centre opened up in the next town over from where we live: and various people have mentioned to me that they are looking for people to teach various arts skills: I know several people involved, and am going to see if I can get started with something this summer.
For the second one, I'm making some pieces that will be photographed and used for a t-shirt for a local math competition in a few weeks: I'll probably run a fun 20 minute seminar on how to fold them in between the morning and afternoon sessions of the competition. It will definitely be interesting to teach to older students than the ones I work with every Friday afternoon at the moment!

Yours, keeping down the day job, but enjoying the extracurricular activity,

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's taken me an hour to get to this screen

And now I can't do anything else. It won't publish. All I can do is type in the text and hope that I can publish it in the morning.

Computer problems left, right, up the middle, overhead, overheard, under the bed today. Enough that LOML threatened to make me stay at home rather than going to our friends house for dinner if my mood didn't lighten. Needless to say, that helped cheer me up immensely.

Tant pis. A night without the web. I can do it. I will survive.

Yours, clawing at the ceiling.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Something is wrong with our network at home

I don't think that it is inside the house --- I suspect that it is a problem with our internet service provider. But LOML can't get to gmail, and I'm finding various pages interminably slow to load.
So, no real post this evening.
Yours, in apology,

Monday, February 25, 2008

More politics --- don't read:-)

Mark Halperin, one of the more successful poli-journalists around, a future all-star talking head, has a list of ways that he thinks that McCain can beat Obama. And one of them is to play the "Manchurian Candidate" card: now, let me see: the plot of the Manchurian Candidate: a former prisoner of war from a time long ago, during a land war in Asia, turns out to have been brainwashed, and is now running for high political office. And which of McCain and Obama spent more time in an environment where such brainwashing could happen? Does anyone else, say, anyone with a clue, feel that this would be a profitable avenue for McCain to explore?

Yours, unwashed, brain or otherwise,

More politics --- don't read:-)

Someone far more eloquent than I

I could never write this way --- but this is what I was trying to say the other day.

Yours, hoping for a nadir, not a Nader,

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Stan Rogers they're not

but this is tremendous... check out this youtube of Fry and Laurie kicking ass.....

Yours, still twitching,

Jon Stewart just made the oscars for me...

(and I suppose the backstage producers too....) Two people came out to receive the oscar for best song: one of them talked too long, so the other didn't get to have a say.
And in what for me is a first, a few minutes later, Stewart announced that she hadn't hand a chance to say her thanks, and brought her out again! So, so sweet.
And neither of them were famous --- a delightful oscar!

Yours, touched,

Not again, Nader

Ralph Nader announced this morning that he will again run for President. After what happened in 2000, in which all and sundry (with the exception of Nader) recognize that he made the difference between Gore winning the popular vote and the electoral college, and his failing to be credited with a win in Florida --- Nader still seems to think that Gore did better in Florida and nationwide because he himself was in the race (what arrogant idiocy!) --- can there really be anyone out there who cares about Nader's issues who really will vote for Nader again?

I think that one measure of an individual is whether the collective impact of the
differences they make around them are for the better or for the worse. It is clear in my mind which side of the line, say, the current president falls. In Nader's case, I think that the case can be made that, as Bush's great enabler, he is a net negative.
In spite of all the good he did as a consumer advocate, his net impact is awful.

With luck the election this time around will be a bit less close than in 2000.

Yours, rooting against the raiders,


Breathing through my nose again: so much better:-)

Yours, aerated,

Saturday, February 23, 2008

All quet on the Western front

Too quiet. Another lazy day --- we didn't go to an international festival at a local elementary school --- none of us feeling up to anything strenuous. In my case, it's at least partly the flu --- or near-flu symptoms. I'd hoped that being vaccinated would stave it off, but this year's strain is apparently rather virulent. Sinuses stuffed, muscles aching, nose running: fortunately no fever or chills yet.

Time to snuggle up in my big armchair, and watch the latest Harry Potter dvd.

Yours, ughly,

Friday, February 22, 2008

The origami is coming together

The school's fundraiser is three weeks hence, and so we are beginning to get a sense of urgency about getting the origami all folded (they have an asian theme to the fundraiser this year, and so I am coordinating the students folding enough pieces to decorate all the tables).
Apparently there will be 20 large tables, with several pieces on each ---- 11 of them will be sponsor tables with more substantial main pieces --- ranging from cranes made from 12 inch paper (mostly done) to geometric shapes, other animals, etc.
I think that we've done about 80% of the folding so far --- including all the folding that we did for the hundreds of invitations! --- but the remaining pieces are the ones that we need for the important (i.e. expensive) tables, and hence need to be more impressive!

Conveniently, I may be out of town for a few days a week before the benefit happens -- giving me an additional incentive to have everything done next week!

I've been promised photographs of the final displays --- LOML and I are better at donating our time to projects than our money! --- and will post them here in a few weeks time.

Yours, piecing it all together,

Thursday, February 21, 2008


LOML was out this evening for dinner, having cooked a meal for our friends, one of whom has had a couple of strokes recently. So I was left to have dinner with Boo and Skibo by myself: and it was a lovely time (mostly). We had roast chicken, with salad, and they both were more than happy to chow down on the chicken. Neither of them are big fans of salad, so I got them to pretend that the red lettuce leaves were strawberries, and from there, their imaginations took off: they both finished off their salads, alternately pretending they were eating m&ms, mandarin oranges, even some really weird things like leaves with caterpillars on:-)

All in all, a lovely evening.
Yours, smitten with their imaginations,

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

McCain and the IseWoman

I do not like McCain: I think that he has had a free pass from the press on multiple issues: he's touted by the media as a "straight talker" when he has flipped more flops than a pair of sandals: and he is seen as a paragon of ethics in politics in spite of being "One-of-Five" in the Keating scandal back in the late eighties/early nineties.
Nonetheless, I don't think that the issue here is whether he had a sexual relationship with Ms Iseman: that should be an issue between him and his wife, and of course, if true, I guess also Ms Iseman.
No, I believe that the more important issue here is this: what the heck was he doing having such an intimate relationship (I mean in terms of the closeness of the friendship) with a lobbyist, inviting her along at completely inappropriate moments?

Let's not focus on the sex: let's focus on the policy favours he did for her.

Yours, favouring this approach,

On the rise

Have you ever looked at the moon through a telescope? I was absolutely unprepared for how fast it moves: on the screen, showing about half a moon's width, you could see it moving: the telescope needed to be realigned every few seconds!

Don't believe me? I'm going to try uploading video now to show it! First time uploading video, so if it doesn't work, bear with me:-) And if you have a slow
connection, don't click on it!

Yours, moved,

"the whole of the moon"

Tonight was an eclipse of the moon: and since we have a nearly new telescope, with a USB camera, this was a nice opportunity to try to learn to use the new equipment... an hour to get everything set up, and a while to try things out: it worked after a fashion. Unfortunately, the title of the post notwithstanding, I didn't get to see the whole of the moon (in the camera): the field of view was too restricted: but nonetheless, I'm reasonably pleased with the images below!

Yours, baying at the moon,

Linking to brilliance

Here is a wonderful cartoon on why the US government was right to get the telecom companies to spy on citizens, and right to give them retroactive immunity from prosecution.... sheer brilliance.

Yours, in awe,

Turnout in Washington State

Both parties had a caucus in Washington State a couple of weeks ago: and both have primaries today: the Republican primary actually determines more delegates, but the Democratic primary is merely for show, as far as delegates go.
And even so, it appears that the Democrats will spank the Republicans on turnout.

Yours, with apologies to all those who are not completely obsessed with the minutiae of US politics!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

With apoloies to Monty Python

I love Monty Python: some of their insanity was inspired brilliance: but they have left an ugly residue on the political process in the US. I refer, of course to "this theory, this theory which is mine...." which seems to have led large numbers of people in this country to regard any vaguely held belief as a theory, as equally valid as any other theory.

I am (surely even more obviously) referring to the "debate" over evolution: amongst the scientific community, there is a legitimate debate, about whether the details of the theory need to be tweaked: there are serious schisms about subtle points (for example, punctuated evolution): but there is really not a serious division about whether evolution, broadly described, happens. And it is to a very large extent, almost overwhelmingly, a scientific theory: that is to say that its premises can be used to generate conjectures, and these conjectures can then be tested: the theory can be proven to be false, or merely flawed, or in need of tweaking.

This is something that can't be said of the alternatives pushed by those on the anti-evolution side. They may describe their alternatives as "theories" just as they deride evolution as "just at theory": in this they misuse the word theory at least once. Evolution is indeed, just a scientific theory: their alternatives are merely "theories" in the Pythonesque sense.

I was prompted to these musings by the decision by the Florida school board to give the official thumbs up to the teaching of the theory of evolution: with the emphasis on "theory": perhaps we in the scientific community can now lobby the state (and other states) to mandate the teaching of what it means for a theory to be a theory!

Yours, speaking merely theoretically,

Rash predictions

With 10% of precincts responding, it looks as though the results will be around
Obama: 500,000
Clinton: 430,000
McCain: 230,000
Huckabee: 160,000
Paul: 18,000
Romney: 8,000

Quite something.

Yours, saying no more,

Update: with about 50% reporting, it appears that Obama's total will go up, and all of the others will go down. And as of now, Clinton is leading the Republican party. But just slightly.

The big race is on

Can Clinton pull out a win tonight? No, not against Obama --- that race has already been called: and it looks highly likely that Senator Clinton will get more votes than Senator McCain: no, the remaining horserace tonight is this: can Clinton, losing the democratic primary, still get more votes than the Republicans combined?

Yours, counting every vote

Monday, February 18, 2008

Let us all have a network moment

Please, wherever you are, in the US or elsewhere, will you do me a favour? Will you stick your head out of the window (metaphorically speaking) and tell everyone that you are mad as hell and you are not going to take it any more? Please?
And link to this post: which makes me absolutely mad as hell.
Yours, fuming,

On words

There has been much said back and forth over the past couple of weeks about words versus deeds, with the Clinton campaign trying to make the case that while they will be able to get things done, all Obama has is rhetoric.
Now, it seems to me that a natural response to this is "Words mean something". Followed by "here are some examples of great US rhetoric which changed things. And even someone like me, who grew up in another country and continent can name the speeches, the lines one would quote.
I could have written Deval Patrick's speech. I could have written Obama's speech. Any educated US citizen would have written a similar speech. It is not surprising: it is not original: it is, however, deep and meaningful.
Does Obama's "quoting" of Patrick rise to the level of plagiarism? That to me is a difficult question: at the formal level, probably not, since the words that were identical were actually quotes (and clearly intended as quotes) from earlier speeches. Did his expressing an identical idea with slightly different words make it plagiarism? As I have tried to express above, I don't quite think so.

A completely different question, of course, is whether he or Patrick actually wrote the speech in the first place: and if they both had the same speechwriter write it, can it really be called plagiarism?

Yours, probably saying the same thing as a lot of other people right now,

For Presidents' Day

A quiz. One question. I have a non-authoritative answer, thanks to some googling: what is a "nutmeg dealer"? And why does this make me want to write a cookbook for this time of year with "nutmeg dealer" in the title?

Yours, amused,

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A wet and miserable, hence lazy, day

The weather cooperated today: with LOML and I being in particularly unenergetic frames of mind, and the children wanting to play balloon catch inside for hours, we had a spectacularly nothing-y lazy day. Just what we wanted.
Of course, for the children it is a three day weekend (Presidents' Day, or perhaps more accurately, All Presidents' But the Resident's Day), so Boo and Skibo can sit at home and contemplate Millard Fillmore and other strangely named individuals. It will be interesting to see tomorrow morning if they bounce out of bed the way they have been doing recently -- on weekends they have this unerring sense of "we don't have to go to school, so we can come and bounce on Mummy and Daddy in their bed at 6am", whereas on schooldays, they are much more restrained. By which I mean that they have to be physically lifted out of bed at 7:25 or 7:30. And dressed. Unerring, I tell you. Unnerving too.

Yours, bounced upon,

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Happy new year

From what I understand from reading about it on the web, the Chinese New Year celebration lasts for a couple of weeks, and various days have special significance. One of the traditions is that of days which are auspicious to have visitors -- family and friends -- come over and participate in a feast.
And today is either one of those days, or very close to it.
So we had friends over this evening, and ate, and enjoyed each others company, wished each other a happy new year (again), and all in all had a good time.
After we'd eaten our fill, and had taken the remnants out to the kitchen, we swung children around to the Beatles --- a very joyful, if not-particularly-traditional end to a Chinese new year feast!

Yours, still singing obla di blada,

Friday, February 15, 2008


Boo appears to be on the precipice, about to take that massive step out into the unknown: she is hesitantly, slowly, but with more and more confidence, reading words and occasionally phrases in books --- and this evening sat down with LOML and with me and read almost a dozen pages of Kipper to us. She is doing so wonderfully well: we have been waiting for this moment, and are thoroughly enjoying seeing her take these steps!

Yours, thrilled, proud, delighted!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Happy St. Valentine's Day

To all my readers, both of you (or all three of you, I lost count)!

I must say, I miss the days of the UK some few decades ago, when valentines were supposed to be anonymous -- and you gave hints to suggest your identity to the object of your affection: so much more subtle and romantic than the current version of "buy flowers or else"...
Yours, in a retrospective yet romantic mood,

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

One of those days

when I leave for work at 7am and get home at about 10pm. Fortunately they are few and far between, and I did actually managed to spend an hour at home in the middle of the day --- LOML took Skibo to be assessed for the school district pre-K program (the state-run education program for 4 year olds): unfortunately, it is designed for families well below the average income, and we are aways above, or for students with special needs --- so naturally Skibo was on his best behaviour, showing just how smart, co-ordinated, talented, and generally with it he can be! Oh well, at least the non-state-run version exists and is tax-deductible.....

Yours, learning, but not as fast as Skibo,

Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Tortured logic indeed. Scalia appears to be arguing that if you are tortured before you are convicted that is okay, even if the constitution would forbid it after conviction.

Sometimes I wonder about some of the folks on the extreme right. And other times, I don't wonder. I just know. This is one of those times.

Can't find a good link to this: there was a short piece on NPR earlier, and an AP report that I can't find right now. Here is the show he was interviewed on.

Yours, in disgust,

The falls at the end of the walk

As you can see, the falls were lacking in water: rather an insipid drop: still pretty, but the drought has really become made plain.

The water was flowing just enough to look crystal clear: but last time we were here, the water level was about three feet higher, and much faster. This time, it was clear that socks and shoes had to come off.

Both children rolled up their trousers: Skibo, of course, managed to fall down in the water several times --- and had we thought to bring a change of trousers for him? Of course we hadn't.

LOML was seized with an urge to do a series on feet. Here are two of them.

As a scientist, I was pleased to see examples of geology. Or rocks, or stones, or whatever these are. Pretty:-)

Yours, from the falls,

Monday, February 11, 2008

A lovely day in the woods

Saturday was a gorgeous day here. LOML and I had been discussing the fact that we hadn't gone 'xplorin' in a while --- before the children were born we'd often take a map, randomly pick somewhere a few dozen miles from here, and go see it. With the children (and especially with a combination of "where are we going" and "are we there yet?") the idea of a random destination has become somewhat less attractive: but there are a number of places we've found, and we hadn't been to many of them in quite a while.
We decided to visit a local waterfall: it is about a half hour drive, then a good half hour walk (longer with little legs!) along a gentle trail into the woods.
It had been well over a year since we had been there, and the intervening months have been full of drought and almost empty of rain: it showed in the waterfall, which was rather more of a trickle than a fall: but it was beautiful still: the day was great, and the children took off their socks and shoes and paddled around in the pools of water at the base of the falls.

Only here can we go up into the mountains, in the middle of winter, and paddle barefoot in a stream!

Yours, warmly,

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Pandora's music box

What I"m listening to right now: Stan Rogers' "Free in the Harbour", from his album Northwest Passage. I listen to this song a lot: it is a hauntingly beautiful, a story of how children of fishermen leave their traditions to become oil refinery workers in Alberta. I know some of these people (or at least, I knew the children of farmers who did the same thing): and the song is deeper for all that.

But what is of interest here is that I am listening to it on a radio station "Stan Rogers Radio": it plays music of a similar type. It's not a real radio station: it is a construct of which I have created to play songs of this type. I've told it to throw in things like Pete Seeger, Woody and Arlo Guthrie, etc, and it plays a bunch of other interesting things too.
Unfortunately it's only available in the US: licensing issues keep them from allowing access in other countries: and its collection is not perfect: no Zoe Lewis, for example, which surprised me a little (I expected not to find Jennifer Gasoi or Nancy Day, for example, but I thought that Lewis's Sheep might be well enough known that she'd show up!) But if you are in this country, I'd recommend giving it a try. Throw in your favourite musicians and see what it spits back at you!

I have an awful feeling that this is going to be a fiscal disaster for me --- it will introduce me to new music I'll end up wanting to buy.

Yours, anticipating musically induced poverty,

Mr Fry blogs. On open source

A stray column on a blog I read (one rather better known, I suspect, than almost all the others I read put together) (it's eschaton, atrios's blog) noted that Stephen Fry has a blog.
Now, there is only one Stephen Fry: at least as far as I am concerned: he is the man to whom Emma Thompson turned in Peter's Friends and said "Fill me with your little babies!"; Blackadder's Duke, General, and nemesis all those years.

I watched Fry and others in Footlights a year or two ago (here a year or two should be read as a decade or seventythruvizx): if pressed, I could probably still recreate a bad joke or none from the revue. Needless to say, I'm a fan. Even of his books, which are merely hilariously funny.

And I go to read said blog, only to discover that he has the same proclivities as I, that is to say, he's a linux and open source bigot!

Oh my. I now have two things in common with Mr. Fry! Does this mean that I have a chance to become a success in the future too?

Yours, aspiring,

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Agnosticism, atheism and theism

David Horton, at the Huffington Post, had a piece a few days ago in which he proclaimed that there is no middle ground between a belief in God and atheism: he has no room for agnostics. Unfortunately, the HuffPost has no room for comments, at least from those who don't sign up with an account with them, and I hate having to have accounts here there and everywhere. So I have to respond in public, here.

To an extent, I agree with him. I have no truck with agnostics. At least, in the Huxleyian sense of the word: in its original meaning agnosticism was the belief that it was and would forever remain impossible to know whether there was a God. And that is a position I don't hold: it is clear to me that if God doesn't exist then it is highly likely we will never be able to disprove her existence (so on one side, I side with the atheists): on the other, however, I maintain that if there was a God, she certainly could prove to us her existence. Or at least demonstrate it to an extent that we'd have more reason to believe it than to believe, say, that the sun would rise tomorrow. So, I don't hold that it is impossible to know.
Of course, Horton more likely had in mind the wishy-washy group of whom I'm a proud member: a group who choose not to say "I believe in God": I've seen no personal evidence for one, and have not got a solid reason (other than cultural and heritage) to choose one particular incarnation of a description of a supreme being over another: indeed, the multitude of different belief structures around is one of the reasons I see not to be persuaded by any of them. Each proclaims that they are the way, the tao, etc. Most of them are not the way (a fact which most theists are happy to proclaim: they are just reluctant to include their own beliefs in that unfortunately large group!)
On the flip side, however, I am not an atheist. To me, atheism is a positive belief --- in the non-existence of a supreme being: and again, to me, to believe in such a thing, I need evidence. And as the old saw goes, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. So I choose not to be an atheist. Merely disinterested in the whole thing.

Except, of course, when it impinges on my life: when others attempt to impose their beliefs on me, to change the way I live. Please don't be offended, but I have no wish to say "so help me God" at any point in a legal proceeding: nor have I any wish to include "under God" in the saying of the pledge of allegiance of which this country is so proud.

The world is a mysterious, amazing place, full of magic and wonder: but I don't need to invoke the supernatural to explain our lack of understanding. I'll proclaim that loud and proud. But I don't need to say "I'm an atheist" to do so.

Yours, toasting irrelevance,

Friday, February 8, 2008


that I am right. Here.

The cartoon strip is worth visiting.

Yours, vindicated,

6001, A Race Oddity

The race to the Whitehouse had it's little oddity on Tuesday: there was a tied vote, 6001 - 6001 Clinton-Obama, out of 12346 votes cast (it would have been so much prettier if there had been exactly one fewer vote cast!). National Public Radio today stated (without clarification) that a mathematics professor had shown that the odds of this happening were less than one in a million.

I'd beg to differ, except that I poked around a little, and discovered that what she showed was that the odds of this happening if the vote were a random sample from the same distribution as the entire state was less than one in a million. Hence, she concluded, there is a different distribution for the folks in Syracuse than for the rest of the state, in which Clinton won by a reasonably large margin.

"Well", says I, "hit me with the stupid stick and colour me purple."

Of course there was a different distribution. Look at the bloody vote! It counts everyone who chose to vote. The votes are different.

Now, if she had been talking instead about polling, or random samples, then she might have a point. But the vote in Syracuse was not a random sample of opinion there, it was an actual vote: it is not a sample, it is the true outcome!

And even if it were referring to sampling, it wouldn't be surprising. It would be reflecting a common outcome, namely that populations are not homogeneous in their opinions: she was testing an hypothesis (that the distribution in Syracuse is the same as the average distribution around the state) which one would almost certainly expect to be false in this election. Obama is a hit on college campuses, and Syracuse is a college town: it is to be expected that he might outperform there than he did in some other areas.

To give Professor Kim her due, she was probably asked to perform this calculation by the press: specifically the Post-Standard.

Here, though, is the calculation that I wish that she had added:
Now that we have convinced ourselves that the distribution is not the same as the rest of the state, let us ask instead the better question: suppose that the population were tied in its opinion of Clinton and Obama, and we take a random sample of 12346 voters: what is the probability that we'd end up with and exact tie then? To persuade you that this is not as unlikely as you think, let's simplify it slightly: instead of 12346 voters, some of whom might vote for a third candidate or spoil a ballot, let's toss a fair coin 12002 times, and ask for the probability that it comes up heads 6001 times and tails 6001 times.

This is an easy calculation to do: it turns out that the most likely number of heads you'll get is exactly 6001, and that the probability that this happens is about 0.00728: that is, about 0.7%, or almost one percent of the time. In other words, while ties are unlikely, they are not prohibitively so, when taking samples from tied distributions. Furthermore, if you perform this experiment, say, one hundred times, the odds of seeing a tie at least once are better than 50-50 (about 52% in fact). So, if this sampling model is a good model of the elections, if there were 100 precincts in which opinion was tied, you would not be surprised to see tied votes!
I've drastically simplified the model, mainly for the ease of computation, but more sophisticated models give the same qualitative behaviour: once you accept that different areas in the state have different populations, this sort of outcome becomes much less unlikely than the media, and Professor Kim, have suggested!

Rather than giving the media the message that 6001-6001 is this dramatically unlikely event, I wish she had taken the opportunity to demonstrate yet another circumstance in which coincidences do happen!

Yours, counting votes,

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Romney pulls an Edwards

He insisted over the past couple of days that he was staying in the race for the long term, and then called a new conference to announce he was dropping out.

I was a little surprised that he used CPAC as his venue (okay, it wasn't really a news conference, it was a scheduled speech): perhaps he thinks that in four years this will make a good jumping off point for his campaign against President Oba/nton.

I thought that his ultra-honourable reason for dropping out --- so as not to split the party and thereby allow the Democrats to win the election --- seemed disingenuous at best. I suspect that there were some discussions between him and his family about how best to spend the rest of his fortune: on them, or on a losing race for President....

Still, it can't be easy to be a presidential candidate, especially one who has been taken seriously by the media, and have to choose to drop out. So, although I have no sympathy for most of his this-year-expressed views (as opposed to his views of a few years back when he was running in Massachusetts) I'm signing off as

Yours, with a smidge of sympathy for the individual,

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Business strategies

A question for all my economist/marketing/business experts amongst my friends (of whom I may actually have none):
Differential pricing is a long established practice in the business world: paperbacks versus hardbacks, first/business class versus cattle club, overnight shipping versus slow boat to China. And in the book market, it is reasonably clear that publishers release the hardback at a higher price, early, to milk as much out of those willing to pay more, and making cheapskates like me wait another few months to buy a copy. The hardback costs more to print, so it is more expensive.
In the airline industry, the seats are bigger, drinks are free, and it is "exclusive" so you don't have to mingle with the cheap-seaters. There is a perceived value for the seats. And it is justified, since the seats are bigger, so they take up more room, so it is appropriate to pay more, right?
In the shipping business, the value to the customer is clear. If you pay a bit more, you get your stuff shipped to you much more quickly.

What is less clear is where the extra cost to the supplier comes in. Is it really that much more expensive to ship things two-day rather than five-day?

And so to my question: I've travelled less in the past few years than before, but every time I travel, it seems like the conditions have got worse than the previous trip. Have the airlines actually been deliberately trying to make condtions worse in the cheap seats? Or is it just a result of malign neglect?
And UPS seems to be great at overnight shipping, but their standard shipping seems to be deteriorating rapidly: a few months ago I tracked a package only to discover it was sitting in a warehouse a few hundred miles from here for four days. I can't conceive the benefit to UPS to store that package longer than a few hours --- other than deliberately sabotaging one service to tempt people to use a more expensive alternative. Again, is this a deliberate policy? Am I imagining it?

This came to the front of my attention today, when I found out some stuff I ordered on Sunday on Amazon is due for delivery on Tuesday: nine days later! I am looking forward to tracking it to find out where it stays for four days this time!

Yours, cheapskating on thin ice,

Bad storms. Really really bad storms

The tornado-bearing storms yesterday which hit much of the southern part of the US were really really bad. Huge numbers of tornados, and non-tornadic winds in the 60-70 miles per hour range. Over fifty people killed, over several states.
A ton of people to keep in your thoughts.

Yours, saddened and horrified,

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Simplistic turnout estimates for various states

Alabama: D 526K: R 524K
Alaska: too early
Arizona: too early
Arkansas: D 311K: R 200K *This is a stunner to me!*
California: too early
Colorado: too early
Connecticut: D 357K: R 163K
Delaware: D 96K: R 50K
Georgia: D 889: R 945K
Idaho: too early, no Republican event today
Illinois: D 2055K: R 688K
Kansas (caucus): D 28k: no Republican event today: (state delegates, whatever that means)
Massachusetts: D 1238K: R 493K
Minnesota (caucus): D 145K: R 63K (but the R's result may really be too early to tell: not voters, but state delegates, whatever that means)
Missouri: D 723K: R 579K
Montana (caucus: no Democratic event today): R 1K (state delegates, whatever that means)
New Jersey: D 1123K: R 565K
New Mexico: too early, no Republican event today
New York: D 1752K: R 596K
North Dakota (caucuses): D 19K: R 9K (State delegates, whatever that means: not voters, I assume)
Oklahoma: D 411K: R 301K (another stunner!)
Tennessee: D 641K: R 563K
Utah: too early
West Virginia: no Democratic event: no vote totals reported for Republicans.


At this point, it appears that the turnout on the Democratic side has been much better than the turnout on the Republican side: in particular, scanning down the list of results on CNN's website a moment ago, it appeared that the Republicans led in Georgia, and that Alabama and perhaps one or two other southern states are the only other ones in which Republican turnout came close to the Democratic turnout.
Is this because the Democrats are more engaged in the race? care more? are more energized?

Of course, Utah is yet to come in.

Yours, definitely energized,

Swings and roundabouts...

I'm not going to blog tonight --- except to say that I am glued to the screen, watching the results come in, the exit polls discussed, the prognosticators and pundits talking their little heads off.

Yours, glued,

Monday, February 4, 2008

The shape of Cornish pasties

I'm now confused. Yesterday I messed up the shape of the Cornish pasties: I folded over in half and crimped, much like a Jamaican patty or a calzone: this morning when the gracious MrsMagpie sent me a link to a recipe online, complete with lovely photograph, I realised that I remember the shapes differently, and I had messed up. The pasty should be folded up from both sides, joined at the top in the middle and crimped that way.
I prepared a posting on that score, and prepared to issue the standard triplicate mea culpas to the family for yesterday's error. Then I started investigating other recipes: and I discovered that wikipedia claims the folded-over shape to be traditional, with the folded-up version to be more from Devon.
And now I find that the BBC has a report about the Cornish Pasty Association, whose website has lovely pictures suggesting something halfway between folded-up and folded-over.

Clearly I need to do some more research here.

Yours, confused by non-origami folding,

Cornish Pasties and a call to Cornish readers

I remember cornish pasties fondly from growing up in the UK. And even though they were never from Cornwall, nor baked by a Cornish baker even, they were good, and are to be recreated. Lovingly.

But not last night. I followed Nigella Lawson's recipe, from her "How To Eat" book, I believe: the flavour was okay, pretty good, in fact. But the pastry. It just wasn't right: it was light, it was flaky, it was tasty, it was tender: but it didn't have the heft to it, the integrity to it that a cornish pasty calls for.

Pasties are thing which should be picked up and eaten by hand. Last night's were delicious on a fork, but they weren't pasties.

I know I have a slew of Cornish readers --- well, two or three at least: any recipes/tips/suggestions?

Yours, with thanks in advance,

Sunday, February 3, 2008

I wonder how much I take in subconsciously

It is interesting to me that I have managed to train myself well enough not to pay conscious attention to the advertising on television that during the superbowl, I have to make a special effort to focus on the ads, to remember to watch them. I actually do want to watch them, but keep finding myself looking up from the computer to find I've missed one.

Mind you, this year I haven't seen many that were worth paying attention to.

Yours, less than bowled over,

Red Plate

There is a small story behind the red plates: we were given one each as baby shower gifts for Boo and Skibo: they came with an explanation --- they are to be used only when someone has a particularly good or a particularly bad day: they are in celebration of the good, or commiseration of the bad. It's a tradition we liked, and we have tried (not hard enough) to adopt it as our own. I won't go into the (good) circumstances of the appearance of the plate on Wednesday (the night we had calzones) at least not here and not now. We had guests round that day, and so we were able to share a nice family tradition with them: they liked it enough they took details of where to obtain the plates, and I think that they may adopt it for themselves as well:-)

Yours, sharing traditions,

A first attempt

A first attempt at making calzone: they tasted pretty good, but I got lazy and didn't brush with an eggwash: the colour was not as washed out as it looks, but it was definitely not as golden as I would have liked.

Yours, stuffed,

Saturday, February 2, 2008


A test fold, to see how a lightweight wrapping paper holds up to origami: the paper is light enough that it is not easy to fold, and the model lacks some of the normal structural integrity I'd like it to have: but it does stand up, so long as there's not too much of a breeze:-)

Yours, still standing,

Picture of pizza

The dessert brioche pizza.

Yours, sweetly,

Friday, February 1, 2008

Colbert and the Smithsonian

A post that writes itself: following my post from last month about Stephen Colbert and the Smithsonian, this morning I received the following email message:

Subject: New Smithsonian Channel Video: Colbert @ the Portrait Gallery (Reactions)
From: Christin Eubanks

Hi N.,

I noticed your post about the Colbert portrait in the National Portrait Gallery and thought you and your readers might be interested in this:

The Smithsonian Channel (my client) actually created a funny reaction video featuring the portrait. You can watch the video at the Smithsonian Channel Community here.

If you like the video and want to grab the embed code for your blog, you can find it on YouTube (just uploaded today):

Thanks for your attention. Hope you enjoy the video!


Christin Eubanks

Smithsonian Channel Community Administrator


I checked with Ms Eubanks that it was okay to post this here, and she said that it was fine: so now you can all share in the fun!

Yours, off to visit it now,