Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for November 26th, 2008

Duck for lunch (and dinner)

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I roasted the duck using the roasted chicken with lemon technique, just extending the times somewhat. Extremely tasty on a dark cold day.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food

Overparenting

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Interesting book review by Joan Acocella in the New Yorker. It begins:

We’ve all been there—that is, in the living room of friends who invited us to dinner without mentioning that this would include a full-evening performance by their four-year-old. He sings, he dances, he eats all the hors d’oeuvres. When you try to speak to his parents, he interrupts. Why should they talk to you, about things he’s not interested in, when you could all be discussing how his hamster died? His parents seem to agree; they ask him to share his feelings about that event. You yawn. Who cares? Dinner is finally served, and the child is sent off to some unfortunate person in the kitchen. The house shakes with his screams. Dinner over, he returns, his sword point sharpened. His parents again ask him how he feels. It’s ten o’clock. Is he tired? No! he says. You, on the other hand, find yourself exhausted, and you make for the door, swearing never to have kids or, if you already did, never to visit your grandchildren. You’ll just send checks.

This used to be known as “spoiling.” Now it is called “overparenting”—or “helicopter parenting” or “hothouse parenting” or “death-grip parenting.” The term has changed because the pattern has changed. It still includes spoiling—no rules, many toys—but two other, complicating factors have been added. One is anxiety. Will the child be permanently affected by the fate of the hamster? Did he touch the corpse, and get a germ? The other new element—at odds, it seems, with such solicitude—is achievement pressure. The heck with the child’s feelings. He has a nursery-school interview tomorrow. Will he be accepted? If not, how will he ever get into a good college? Overparenting is the subject of a number of recent books, and they all deplore it in the strongest possible terms.

Most of us have heard of people who pipe Mozart into their child’s room. In “A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting” (Broadway; $23.95), Hara Estroff Marano, an editor-at-large at Psychology Today, writes that Baby Einstein, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company, will sell you not just a Baby Mozart CD but also a Baby Beethoven. Both are available on DVD as well, with the music supplemented by puppet shows and other imagery. These DVDs, Baby Einstein says, are for the three-months-and-older age group. Since, at three months, babies cannot sit up, parents will have to hold them in front of the monitor, and since these infants have only just learned to focus their eyes, it is hard to know what they will make of the material. (Nothing at all, Susan Linn, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School, told the Chicago Tribune: “The baby video industry is a scam.”)

The DVDs are intended to provide you with a head start on the academic-achievement front, but there is also the environmental-hazards problem. Hovering parents, Marano says, see lethal bacilli on every surface. To thwart them in the supermarket, you can buy a Buggy Bagg, a protective pad that you insert into the front of the grocery cart before you put the child in. According to Buggy Bagg’s literature, this will guard against “viruses, bacteria, and bodily fluids” left on the cart. In a survey that Marano cites, a third of parents reported that they sent their offspring to school with antibacterial hand gels. Who trusts soap? …

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 12:33 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life

Donald Rumsfeld, chronic liar

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Fred Kaplan in Slate:

Donald Rumsfeld is writing his memoirs, and if his op-ed in the Nov. 23 New York Times is any preview, it should be a classic of self-serving revisionism.

On the surface, the former defense secretary’s piece seems to be a warning—sound, if unoriginal—that merely sending more troops to Afghanistan won’t fix that country’s problems or win the war.

But his real intent is clearly to justify his own policies on the war in Iraq, to refute the (properly) widespread idea that he committed serious errors, and even more to deny that he held the views that he actually did hold.

The first eyebrow-raiser comes in the second paragraph, in which he writes, almost in passing, “As one who is occasionally—and incorrectly—portrayed as an opponent of the surge in Iraq. …”

Let’s stop right there.

Read the rest of this entry »

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 11:09 am

Peer review

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Interesting brief article by Steven Wiley on peer review:

During a break at an NIH review panel a few years ago, I was scanning the list of grant applications that were not being scored because they were considered uncompetitive (usually about 50% of all applications). One caught my eye because it was a resubmission from a famous scientist that I knew. I wondered why this accomplished scientist would have his grant summarily rejected twice.

First, I read the reviews of the proposal from its initial submission, which revolved around the technical feasibility of an approach he was implementing. All three reviewers mentioned the same central issue. I then read the response of the applicant, which began: “It is so typical of the status quo, that when their sacred cow is gored, they circle the wagons in defense….” Ouch! I immediately guessed why the grant was rejected the second time.

Although such an emotional response from a well-regarded scientist was surprising, it also made me uncomfortable. It reminded me of my own similar response a decade earlier to what I took as slights by a review panel. In my revised proposal, I was circumspect enough to try to cover my opinions, but I did not take their criticisms seriously, much to my detriment (I was rejected again). Recently, I dug up these old reviews and was chagrined to find nothing insulting from reviewers in them. Time has given me the emotional distance that I had sorely needed.

Serving on multiple review panels has also given me a better perspective. Rather than being self-serving ogres who are part of an elaborate conspiracy to thwart the ambitions of their fellow scientists and maintain the status quo, the reviewers I know are usually motivated by a desire to serve the community and to help fix a system that we all see as inherently flawed. Although …

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 10:10 am

Posted in Daily life, Science

Bruce Scheier reviews Here Comes Everybody

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The review begins:

In 1937, Ronald Coase answered one of the most perplexing questions in economics: if markets are so great, why do organizations exist? Why don’t people just buy and sell their own services in a market instead? Coase, who won the 1991 Nobel Prize in Economics, answered the question by noting a market’s transaction costs: buyers and sellers need to find one another, then reach agreement, and so on. The Coase theorem implies that if these transaction costs are low enough, direct markets of individuals make a whole lot of sense. But if they are too high, it makes more sense to get the job done by an organization that hires people.

Economists have long understood the corollary concept of Coase’s ceiling, a point above which organizations collapse under their own weight — where hiring someone, however competent, means more work for everyone else than the new hire contributes. Software projects often bump their heads against Coase’s ceiling: recall Frederick P. Brooks Jr.’s seminal study, The Mythical Man-Month (Addison-Wesley, 1975), which showed how adding another person onto a project can slow progress and increase errors.

What’s new is something consultant and social technologist Clay Shirky calls “Coase’s Floor,” below which we find projects and activities that aren’t worth their organizational costs — things so esoteric, so frivolous, so nonsensical, or just so thoroughly unimportant that no organization, large or small, would ever bother with them. Things that you shake your head at when you see them and think, “That’s ridiculous.”

Sounds a lot like the Internet, doesn’t it? And that’s precisely Shirky’s point. His new book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations, explores a world where organizational costs are close to zero and where ad hoc, loosely connected groups of unpaid amateurs can create an encyclopedia larger than the Britannica and a computer operating system to challenge Microsoft’s.

Shirky teaches at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, but this is no academic book. Sacrificing rigor for readability, Here Comes Everybody is an entertaining as well as informative romp through some of the Internet’s signal moments — the Howard Dean phenomenon, Belarusian protests organized on LiveJournal, the lost cellphone of a woman named Ivanna, Meetup.com, flash mobs, Twitter, and more — which Shirky uses to illustrate his points.

The book is filled with bits of insight and common sense, explaining why young people take better advantage of social tools, how the Internet affects social change, and how most Internet discourse falls somewhere between dinnertime conversation and publishing.

Shirky notes that …

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Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 10:05 am

Crime rankings by city, 2007-2008

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Here’s the list (PDF) sorted is descending order (highest crime rating at the top). Other ways to slice the data and more information can be found on this page (lots of links). (Baltimore is number 12; Philadelphia is number 22; New York is number 259.)

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 9:51 am

Posted in Daily life

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Interesting article: Faulkner and the Coen Brothers

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The article is by Daniel Arizona and begins:

“This boy is a wonderful comedy writer”, H.L. Mencken once said of William Faulkner. Yet we seldom associate Faulkner with humour. The term “Faulknerian” tends to connote that blend of Southern gothic tragedy for which the author is most recognised. Many assume that Faulkner’s work is little more than lurid tales of burning barns, kitchen castrations and moaning man-children, but this does a disservice to his novels and short stories. It ignores a fundamental aspect of Faulkner’s work: the pairing of the comic with the tragic, the screwball with the sordid, the goofy with the grim. It is a rare mix of light and dark, and one that is most closely emulated today in the smart films of Joel and Ethan Coen.

Mining Faulkner’s work and biography for inspiration, the Coens have managed to grant the Southern bard the popular acceptance that always eluded him. The films recall Faulkner’s style and hallmarks, such as his use of exaggerated and repetitive dialogue–either mile-a-minute or tight lipped–slapstick violence, farcical situations, absurdist chases, voluptuous sirens and reprehensibly hilarious bovine acts. The Coens’ (mostly) subtle allusions to his novels always tend to elicit a knowing chuckle from Faulknerians in the audience. (We are few but mighty, and very pretentious.)

It is easy to see why the Coens are attracted to Faulkner. The author’s best work has a distinctive blend of levity and doom. His most productive and creative years were during the 1930s and ’40s, the golden age of screwball comedy and film noir (genres that clearly speak to the Coen brothers). He often reveals his obsessions in darkly comic tones, or disguises them as corny bathroom humour. He is probably the only Nobel Prize-winning author who would imagine, let alone conjure, a poetic love scene in which a drooling idiot tries to woo and console an embarrassed cow that just soiled him (this is the Faulkner that Oprah didn’t want you to see):

When he moved toward her, she whirled and ran…in a blind paroxysm of shame, to escape not him alone but the very scene of the outragement of privacy where she had been sprung suddenly upon and without warning from the dark and betrayed and outraged by her own treacherous biological inheritance, he following again, speaking to her, trying to tell her how this violent violation of her maiden’s delicacy is no shame, since such is the very iron imperishable warp of the fabric of love.

As absurd as this scene is on its surface, Faulkner actually wants us to believe that not only is this love real and heartfelt, but also a romance for the ages. What many readers might identify as purple prose or lousy writing (see Clifton Fadiman, literary criticism’s biggest tool) is merely bathos gone wild, a blend of lofty and lowbrow that captures something real and monumental. …

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 9:37 am

Terrific photo album of Obama and campaign

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Thanks to Josh Marshall for pointing out this absolutely great collection of photos.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 9:05 am

Greg Sargent makes an excellent point

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Greg Sargent, writing for TPM Election Central (emphasis added):

An interesting moment at Barack Obama’s presser on the economy today: He declared in more direct terms than I’ve heard before that his “decisive” win has unquestionably given him a “mandate.”

“We had, I think, a decisive win, because of the extraordinary desire for change on the part of the American people,” he said in response to a reporter’s question. “And so I don’t think there is any question that we have a mandate to move the country in a new direction, and not continue the same old practices that have gotten us into the fix that we’re in.”

But Obama also tempered his claim to a mandate by acknowledging that he needs Republican help to succeed.

“I won 53 percent of the vote,” he said. “That means 46 or 47 percent of the country voted for John McCain.”

He added that he was entering the White House”with a sense of humility and a recognition that wisdom is not the monopoly of any one party. In order for us to be effective given the scope and the scale of the challenges we face, Republicans and Democrats are going to have to work together.”

This is probably too obvious to point out, but the game here is that Obama is working to frame GOP obstructionism in advance. By simultaneously claiming a mandate while approaching Republicans with “humility” and a request for their help, Obama is boxing out Republican opponents in advance, laying the groundwork to cast them as partisan and hostile to the people’s will.

That’s why it’s still lost on yours truly why people are seeing Obama as “centrist” based on his bipartisan gestures and tone or his “pragmatic” staff pickes. This stuff is just about positioning in advance, and the real tell will lie in his actual policies.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 9:04 am

Within Your Means

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The free Excel workbook, Within Your Means, has now been downloaded slightly more than 19,000 times. With the economy in its current state, I thought the downloads would take off, but of course the problem is getting the word out. The actual usage may be higher: once you have downloaded it, you have the Excel workbook as a file, and I imagine that it’s been emailed as an attachment here and there. I do hope it’s helping.

I also thought that with the economy in the pits, men would find that that simultaneously cutting shaving costs and greatly increasing shaving enjoyment would lead to a little rush on Leisureguy’s Guide to Gourmet Shaving, but again: how to get the word out. I suspect that the book will have to find its audience through word of mouth and occasional gifts. If only the NY Times would write a long and favorable review in their Style section…  Hope springs eternal in the human heart.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 8:38 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

Technology: my upscaling DVD player

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I just recently bought a Sony DVP-NS700H/B 1080p Upscaling DVD Player to replace my Toshiba. The upscaling seemed like a good route to high resolution (much cheaper currently than Blu Ray). Toshiba also makes an upscaling player, but it has the same enormous drawback that my current Toshiba player has: it presents movies shot in 4:3 aspect ratio stretched out to 16:9 format, so everything is stretched somewhat sideways. Very irritating, especially since I enjoy classic movies and I want to see them in the original 4:3 ratio.

The Sony allows you to change settings so that the player will detect the aspect ratio and automatically switch to that ratio (the 4:3 movies thus have black bars at the side—my TV is an LED flat panel with a 16:9 screen). This feature is not, however, the default: you have to turn it on. Now that it’s on, I note that quite a few trailers are in 4:3, probably because they were shot for TV ads.

The player does do progressive display, but again that’s not the default and you have to turn the feature on.

Biggest drawback so far found: the remote is black, which can make it hard to find if it’s in shadow.

On the whole, I’m extremely pleased—and note the price: today it’s $70 with free shipping if you’re Amazon Prime.

UPDATE: I forgot the most impressive feature, which I totally didn’t expect. If you eject a DVD in the middle of watching it and watch instead another, when you load the first DVD (the interrupted viewing), it will resume from the point of interruption. And it works even if in the meantime you’ve played several other DVDs. Amazing. And useful.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 8:23 am

Dish of the Seven P’s

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Daniel Meyer’s recipe from Bittman’s column:

Pasta With Peas, Pancetta, Pecorino, Parmesan, Parsley and Pepper

This “sauce” can be made in the time it takes for the pasta to cook.

  • 1 pound pasta
  • 1 10-ounce package frozen peas
  • 1/3 pound pancetta diced
  • 1/4 cup pecorino grated
  • 1/4 cup parmesan grated
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper

Drop the pasta into boiling water (I do not salt the water for this dish because the cheese and pancetta are sufficiently salty for my taste)

Sauté the pancetta in a high-sided skillet or dutch oven (large enough to hold 1 pound of cooked pasta) until it is nicely browned and has rendered its fat. (about 6-7 minutes)

Stir in the peas.

Strain the cooked pasta (it should be al dente) and transfer to the pan with the pancetta and peas

Stir in the pecorino, parmesan, parsley and pepper and serve

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 7:36 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Megs, lying abed

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Yesterday was a dark day, threatening rain and heavily overcast. The only sensible thing to do, Megs thought, was to spend the afternoon in bed. So here she is, lying on sheets and my pyjamas.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 7:26 am

Posted in Cats, Daily life, Megs

Return to Vintage Blades soap

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I liked the Vintage Blades shaving soap enough so that I wanted to try it again. Great fragrance, excellent lather. The Plisson HMW size 12 made another excellent lather, and the Merkur Futur smoothly slicked away the stubble. The finishing touch was TOBS Bay Rum.

Written by LeisureGuy

26 November 2008 at 7:22 am

Posted in Daily life, Shaving

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