Later On

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

Archive for August 3rd, 2019

Deep Mind AI Alpha Zero’s Positional Masterpiece With the Black Pieces

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This game was interesting to me because I never know what to do in very closed positions, such as seen in this game. But AlphaZero knows.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2019 at 8:33 pm

Posted in Chess, Games, Video

Don’t Throw Out the Leek Greens

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Allison Robicelli’s article in Taste caught my eye because over the past year or so I’ve not been discarding leek greens, but slicing them up with the white part (though it is necessary to rinse them well—I like her method of just slicing them up and then putting them into a bowl of water to rinse them: much easier than what I’ve done, and you can use more of the green). Full disclosure: I also don’t stem kale or chard or collards or the like. I chop the stems small and start cooking them first (with the onion I normally cook with greens.)

She writes:

Cooking without a recipe can be wild and reckless. Anything can be questioned. Rules can be broken. You can bastardize things you’ve already tried, amalgamate dishes you love into irresistible culinary monstrosities, turn the mundane into something great. When it’s time to make dinner, my recipe of choice is “throw something together with whatever crap I have in the house”

One particular favorite non-recipe in my household is a dish that I’ve come to refer to as “That Thing With the Leeks.” It all started with, naturally, a bunch of large leeks, one of my favorite vegetables to buy and then forget about until I find them liquefied in the bottom of my produce drawer.

Often, you’ll see the delicately flavored leek used as a background note in places where it seems like onions might be too strong. I’m sure that you’ve probably eaten countless leeks in your life, yet if you were asked to describe their flavor, you’d struggle, thanks to their perpetual second-banana status. But why should we treat them like the Muzak of the allium world when they have their own distinct, fresh sweetness, full of character and grassy-green color?

Most recipes tell you to cut off the green tops and throw them away, an act which is verboten in my teeny, tiny kitchen. Throwing out perfectly good food is a sin, and I didn’t pay $3.99 per pound for organic leeks to be tossing half of them in the trash. But more importantly, leek greens are much more than “perfectly good food”: Prepared well, they’re utterly spectacular.

You’d never know this if you blindly subscribe to the fake leek news, perpetuated by years of recipes, which contends that they’re “too tough to eat.” Know what easily fixes that problem? Cooking. Throw them into the pan to soften for few minutes before throwing the white parts in. No special prep, no massaging them with salt, no soaking them in an excessively complicated brine. Just cook the damn things.

The first time I made soupy leek rice (recipe below), I slowly cooked the leeks with a good amount of butter; the next time I braised them in olive oil. Once I threw a few tablespoons of schmaltz in there, and another time I started it off by rendering bacon fat in the pan, reserving the meat to crumble over the top. All of these were, in their own special way, great decisions, confirming the fact that I am a genius.

Next to go into the pan was half a bag of Arborio rice I found hiding behind my secret Oreo stash. I don’t make a lot of risotto because, with two adolescent boys living in the house, the hours between 3 and 8 p.m. are a nightmarish hellscape where my biggest priority is to make it to bedtime without someone requiring stitches. I have no time to be standing by the stove, gingerly stirring while adding small ladles of white wine and fresh stock. I do have the time to dump the rice, wine, and stock into the pan before walking away, which is what I did.

Once the rice had absorbed all the liquid in the pan, in went a bag of shredded gouda. I have no recollection of ever buying the shredded Gouda, no idea what I had intended to do with it, but it was there and needed something to do. As fate would have it, it was exactly what the dish needed—adding a little bit of nuttiness to make an otherwise mellow dish feel a bit more alive.

It’s not pretty, but scooped into a bowl and eaten in front of the television, this non-recipe hits all the right notes. But just like mac and cheese or potato salad, this is merely greatness upon which more greatness can be built. You can . . .

Continue reading, and note the recipe link at the end.

This is pretty much the kind of cooking I do: improvised, and then run variations in subsequent iterations.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2019 at 5:30 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

Boar wars: how wild hogs are trashing European cities

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Boars are smart, quick, tenacious, and not very neat. Bernhard Warner has a long and interesting article (with photos) in the Guardian, and it’s worth reading. It begins:

Collserola Natural Park looms over Barcelona, rising to about 500 metres at the Tibidabo peak. This forested ridge effectively walls off the city’s growth. Collserola is rich with wildlife, home to more than 190 animal species. Overlooking a city of more than 1.5 million residents, which welcomes tens of millions of tourists each year, it has become a battlefront between humans and nature. On many a hot Catalan night, wild boar from Collserola, alone or in gangs, descend on the city and mingle with the human population carousing after hours.

The encounters between Barcelonan and beast are numerous, peaking in 2016 when police logged 1,187 phone calls about nuisance boars on the loose – wild hogs rooting up turf, munching trash, attacking dogs, plundering cat-feeders, holding up traffic and running into cars. For the past decade, Barcelona has been desperately searching for a way to keep the boar from colonising the leafy neighbourhoods – some home to footballers, bankers and celebrities – that back up against Collserola. The low point came in 2013 when a policeman shot at a boar with his service revolver, but hit and maimed his partner instead.

Listed on the World Conservation Union’s most invasive species list, the wild boar does well in just about any environment, from semi-arid plains to alpine forests and marshy grasslands. But more and more, they are drawn to city life. In Barcelona and Berlin, Houston and Hong Kong, groups of wild boar have been seen roaming around town at all hours. In Rome, where I live, boars rooting through uncollected piles of trash have come to symbolise the decline of the city.

The arrival of wild boar in town squares and city parks is forcing us to confront a new reality: we are bumping up against the limits of urbanisation. This is a crisis we have largely inflicted on ourselves. City sprawl is driving the species out of its dwindling natural habitats and forcing it to live alongside us. At the same time, we entice it with the tides of garbage and wasted food that wash around our cities. For years, boar have been fattening up on our crops. And now they follow us into our dirty, sprawling cities. Although their numbers are increasing as they migrate to the cities, the move is making them – and us – sick. Boars carry a host of diseases, including tuberculosis, hepatitis E and influenza A, that can make the jump to humans.

In addition to spreading disease, wild boar each year cause thousands of road accidents. In January, a group of wild boar crossed a highway south of Milan, leading to a three-car pile-up which killed one driver and injured several more. The boar destroy property, devour ground-nesting animals – including endangered turtles’ eggs – and crops, such as fragile vine roots and shoots. Italian farmers estimate the boar inflict €100m (£90m) worth of crop damage annually. As the animals’ toll on public health and the economy climbs, communities from Texas to New South Wales have begun to wage war on the species – a campaign fought in public parks, on golf courses, on farmland and on street corners at dusk.

It was in 2014, when this species seriously threatened the global pork industry, that the boar’s presence went from nuisance to existential threat. Boars can carry African swine fever (ASF), an incurable and highly contagious virus. Known as “pig ebola”, it kills wild and domestic pigs, creating an animal health crisis that is rapidly becoming a geopolitical one. To save the bacon from ASF, countries have been erecting physical borders with neighbours, threatening embargos, incinerating millions of farmyard pigs and offering bounties for the culling of wild boar.

A European consortium of wildlife experts, conservationists and healthcare experts, Enetwild, has, since 2017, been tasked with leading research into the link between wild boar and ASF. “The wild boar problem has been progressing for decades,” says Joaquín Vicente Baños, a Spanish scientist and coordinator of Enetwild. “It’s just that now we are seeing the consequences.”

Wild boar now number more than 10m in the EU, the group says. “Conflicts between humans and wild boar will increase,” says Baños. The numbers are putting more pressure on cities to manage the population of a pest that’s bigger than a rat, with behaviours more complex than a pigeon or stray cat.

Boar eradication strategies have been trialled, including contraception, poison and selective culling. In Berlin, the city pays a team of stadtjäger, or trained street hunters, to pick off nuisance wild boar within city limits. They have shot thousands, but there are still roughly 3,000 in the German capital, populating the city’s green outlying enclaves and parks and venturing on to streets at night, according to the German hunting lobby.

In rural Texas, they use helicopters to flush the wild hogs into the open. A marksman, flying shotgun, picks them off one by one. “It’s expensive on a per-hour basis,” says Michael J Bodenchuk, a wildlife biologist and director of Texas Wildlife Services, a division of the US Department of Agriculture, who often does the shooting. “But cheap on a per-pig basis. Because we’ve got so many pigs!” The only thing to put a crimp in his kill rate was the recent federal government shutdown. “We lost a month of flying,” said Bodenchuk, which put them behind their kill targets.

Barcelona takes a different approach. Shortly after the calamitous 2013 police shooting, the city hired a team of veterinary scientists from the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB). The vets practise a form of wildlife management on the streets of one of Europe’s most densely-populated cities. Their duties involve pre-planned kills – targeting females in their prime reproductive years and their young, rather than adult males – they also accompany police on late-night calls in case they are needed to euthanise a boar. During the day, they conduct citizen outreach efforts and supply data and reports to city officials about waste management and where the city is falling behind on trimming vegetation along roads, parks and squares. The effect of this partnership is that boar-human clashes in Barcelona have fallen by more than half, results that are gaining attention across Europe. “They’re doing great stuff,” Sebastian Vetter at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology in Vienna, told me.

But while scientists and conservationists see real promise in the Barcelona programme, politics and public opinion might just sink it. Brussels last year rejected a UAB-led funding request that, the team hoped, would lead to an EU-wide plan to manage the urban boar problem along the lines of the Barcelona model. Jorge Ramón López Olvera, the UAB vet scientist managing the programme, told me his contract with Barcelona, which expires in 18 months, hinges on the whims of city hall. Urban boar are a new urban issue, Olvera says, one that is confounding and dividing city dwellers. Homeowners want them off their street. Animal rights activists want them relocated in a humane way. Hunters prefer the status quo, while politicians just want the problem to go away. And they don’t all agree on whether Olvera’s methods are best for Barcelona. After six years on the job, Olvera has learned that what to do about the boar has become an emotionally charged question. “It’s a human-to-human conflict as much as a human-to-wildlife one,” he says.


One evening in late May, Olvera picked me up in a beat-up Dacia Logan station wagon with a blowgun in the back and enough drugs to knock out a charging elephant. We drove to Llars Mundet on the periphery of Collserola. Within its 14 wooded hectares there are public-housing projects, a sports complex, a senior-care home, a primary school and the Universitat de Barcelona campus, where residents and staff endure frequent unwelcome visits from families of wild boar. City hall, the local council and Olvera’s team had scheduled for that evening a “proactive capture”, one of eight planned for hotspots throughout the summer months.

We came across a white van parked in a clearing. It belonged to Estrateko, a local animal control firm that works with Olvera’s team. A few metres beyond, suspended above the ground, was a drop-net trap that Estrateko had set up, and a circle of corn feed strategically placed below the netting. They had rigged the trap with a wifi-enabled trigger. All the boar action – if there were any – could be viewed on a private app from a smartphone or tablet. Swipe right on the app and a signal would trigger the release of the trap’s central spring, dropping the 10-by-10-metre net on the ground, ensnaring any animals below. The plan was to catch two boar families after dark.

I took a seat in the front of the van, with Enric Vila from Estrateko and a scientist, the Catalan naturalist Jordi Baucells Colomer. These catch-and-kill stakeouts are scheduled at night when there are more boar than people about. I had never been on a trapping expedition before, so I didn’t know what to expect. But when I spied a cyclist, then a jogger and then dog-walkers from my vantage point in the van, the whole hunting vibe vanished. Then I noticed we were parked right next to the trap. I figured this would be a long night.

Just then Vila pointed. “Senglar!” (Catalan for boar), he whispered excitedly. Two sturdy females and eight striped piglets were directly in front of us. A lone female tentatively approached the bait. The others hung back. Vila predicted they wouldn’t go for it. Sure enough, they all trotted off. A few minutes later, however, an even larger group arrived. Vila and Colomer had expected them, but not quite so soon. And then something surprising happened: a third group, unknown to my fellow van passengers, showed up. A confrontation between the two groups – more than 20 boars in all – broke out. The original group protected its turf, chasing off the newcomers. This was not going to plan. “It’s getting too hot,” Colomer said. We high-tailed it out of there, joining Olvera and the others a safe distance from the trap.

Olvera and his colleagues are not exterminators. There is no “Boar Busters” logo on the side of the Dacia. The car is property of UAB where, as a professor of veterinary science, Olvera teaches undergraduates and is part of the department’s wildlife ecology and health group. The unit outsources its expertise to municipalities and local firms. Olvera’s other research projects take him out of town, to study mainly chamois in the Pyrenees and Iberian ibex – ungulates, like the wild boar. His boar work is more complex, if only because there are so many humans to contend with. Planning meetings with alarmed business and property owners can get animated, as can gatherings with hunters who don’t always care for hunting tips from “the university guys”. Animal rights activists would like nothing more than to shut the boar-catching operation down. Olvera’s philosophy is to keep a low profile: “We don’t want to call attention to ourselves.”

But it is clear Olvera, a native Barcelonan with a cyclist’s build and a near endless reserve of energy, likes to talk about boar. He shares with me tales of the more than 300 emergency calls they have responded to in the past six years. There was the time a frisky male descended into the heart of the city, appearing in Plaza Catalunya just as the clubs shut for the night.  . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2019 at 10:51 am

Posted in Daily life

How do you spell ‘gerrymandering is bad?’ With a font made out of preposterous districts.

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Kayla Epstein offers a font using (roughly) letter-shaped gerrymandered districts:

She writes in the Washington Post:

In case you didn’t get the memo, allow these designers to spell it out for you, literally: Gerrymandering is bad.

Gerrymandering is the process of drawing congressional districts to give one political party electoral power over the other, or to ensure safe seats, which often results in fairly ridiculous district shapes. It’s a partisan problem that has garnered bipartisan scorn because bothsides do it. Opponents of the practice say it disenfranchises voters and can skew the balance of power at the state and national levels.

To illustrate their scorn for the practice, three Chicago-based digital creatives created a font whose letters are composed of real-life districts, their borders so contorted that they resemble letters of the alphabet. Some states, such as California and Arizona, have attempted to stop gerrymandering by allowing independent panels to draw districts instead of lawmakers, though that hasn’t deterred the Ugly Gerry team from using California districts to form the letters “A,” “X” and “T” or Arizona’s 6th to represent “O.”

At UglyGerry.com, visitors can download the font or type their own messages, like so:

Users are then encouraged to tweet at their representatives and encourage them to end the practice.

The font was created by Ben Doessel and James Lee, who work for the advertising firm Leo Burnett in Chicago, while the website was created by freelancer Kevin McGlon. The project is independent of the firm but has its endorsement.

“To ensure the eroding of democracy isn’t an issue that is lost in the news cycle, our design team from Chicago concocted a creative way to keep our warped voting districts top-of-mind,” the creators said in a statement.

The Chicago-based team noticed that the Illinois 4th District “looked like a U, then after seeing other letters on the map, the idea hit us: Let’s create a typeface so our districts can become digital graffiti that voters and politicians can’t ignore.”

In 2018, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court redrew the state’s districtsafter the map was found to be gerrymandered to Republicans’ advantage.

But several states’ maps remain embroiled in controversy. North Carolina has been locked in a legal battle over its gerrymandered lines engineered by Republicans. In 2018, a federal court struck down its maps after finding that the districts had been purposely drawn to disadvantage Democrats. But in a reversal of fate, in June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-to-4 decision dominated by its conservatives, that “partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts” and that states or Congress should pass laws to prevent it. Voting rights activistsopened a legal challenge to North Carolina’s gerrymandering in July.

That Supreme Court ruling also allowed another state — Maryland, whose legislature is controlled by Democrats — to proceed with business as usual. After the decision, Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, said he would reintroduce a bill that would pass redistricting power to an independent commission, rather than politicians. . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2019 at 10:24 am

If Fructose is Bad, What About Fruit?

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Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2019 at 10:20 am

The Trauma of Teen Mothers Held in Border Patrol Lockups

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Sophie Novack reports in the Texas Observer:

On May 28, Border Patrol picked up a 16-year-old Honduran girl who had crossed the Rio Grande with her 8 month-old-infant, and sent the young mother and her child to a border processing center in Texas dubbed the perrera (dog pound). There, she said, officers took her daughter’s clothes, milk, and medicine, and put them both in a three-sided cage packed with other migrants. “My baby was naked outside with no blanket for all four days we were there,” she later told attorneys who were investigating whether the U.S. government is violating law by holding kids in unsanitary and unsafe facilities. “We were freezing, [and] my baby couldn’t sleep because the ground was cement with rocks,” she said. “Every time she moved, the sharp ground would scratch her. There were many pregnant women who had to sleep on rocks, and I felt very badly for them.”

From there, the teen mom said, she and her baby were transferred to Ursula, a CBP processing center in McAllen, where they encountered the kind of conditions that have dominated news reports in recent weeks: packed cages, sick and crying babies, inedible and insufficient water and food. When her baby had a fever and began vomiting and having diarrhea, the teenager said she asked for help and the guard responded, “She doesn’t have the face of a sick baby. She doesn’t need to see a doctor.” The food made them sick, and they both lost weight, she said. The baby couldn’t sleep and cried frequently. They couldn’t shower for the first eight days in the McAllen facility.

“I am very scared and anxious,” the girl said in her declaration. “It makes me feel very bad the way they treat us. It is hard being so young and being a mother.”

Over the last month, media reports have detailed horrible conditions at Border Patrol facilities and the danger to kids being held there. But advocates and lawyers who visited describe the particular vulnerability of teen moms in detention—kids themselves who are trying to care for new babies in conditions that have been compared to “torture facilities.” Testimonies from teen moms in border processing centers, taken as part of a temporary restraining order filed against the U.S. government in late June, describe similar conditions.

“There is no water or soap to wash our hands or the baby. We have only been allowed to shower and brush our teeth one time since we arrived 12 days ago,” said a 16-year-old from Guatemala with a 1-year-old son. “I am very scared and anxious. I worry about my baby because he is sick and I don’t know what will happen to us.”

“Once, I needed clean clothes for my baby because she threw up, but when I asked for them I was told they didn’t have any available. She is still in the same dirty clothes,” said a 17-year-old Honduran mom with a 1-year-old daughter.

“My baby has not eaten a full meal in 15 days. I am very worried and don’t know what to do,” said a 16-year-old from El Salvador, who has a 26-month-old son.

“I have trouble sleeping at night because of the cold. My son get so cold he feels frozen to the touch. The lights are on all the time. There is lots of noise all the time because they are girls and children who can’t sleep and who cry a lot. We are all so sad to be held in a place like this,” said a 17-year-old from Honduras, whose son’s age was not specified.

Most of these facilities are meant to hold adults, not families and kids, and certainly not for long periods of time. But the Trump administration has skirted the federal laws that limit the detention time for kids, leaving them locked for days, even weeks, in unsafe conditions. “The reality is a lot of the people who now are coming over are not single adult males; they’re women, they’re children, they’re teen moms,” says state Representative Mary Gonzalez, a Democrat who represents Clint, Texas, home to one of the most-scrutinized facilities in the country. “The Border Patrol hasn’t shifted their operations to accommodate for that reality. So what ends up happening is a lack of resources and a lack of understanding of the needs of teen moms.”

Hope Frye, an immigration attorney, says she met a 17-year-old girl in the Ursula facility in McAllen who had undergone an emergency C-section in Mexico a month before. When they spoke, Frye says, the girl was cradling a listless, premature infant wrapped in a dirty sweatshirt. The teen, who had been at the CBP facility for several days, was bent over in a wheelchair, unable to walk from pain. Frye, who has organized visits for attorneys to CBP facilities for years, brought the story to the media, worried officials would do nothing and fearing the girl and her baby would die in the processing center. 

Frye says she only found the girl because she started her visit to Ursula last month by interviewing the youngest unaccompanied migrants, children less than a year old, and realized some of those babies were children to teen moms, themselves considered unaccompanied minors. “It was a horrorshow,” she said of the conditions. “Every baby was sick, it was just a question of the severity,” said Frye, who was herself hospitalized with a severe case of the flu following her visit. “Moms were exhausted, sick. They were terribly worried, overwrought about their kids. There’s a kind of exquisite vulnerability to those children,” she told the Observer. “How are they supposed to be able to advocate for themselves or their children in that kind of a setting?”

Asked about conditions for teen moms and any changes made since last month, a Customs and Border Patrol spokesperson directed the Observer to testimony from acting Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan in mid-July. McAleenan downplayed reports from the facilities, but added that the situation remained “beyond crisis level.” According to his testimony, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2019 at 10:17 am

Spaghetti Squash Arrabbiata

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I just made this, and both The Wife and I like it. The recipe is modified from one in The How Not to Die Cookbook.

Spaghetti Squash Arrabbiata

Difficulty: Easy Servings: Source: How Not to Die Cookbook, recipe modified

1 large (3-pound) spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise, seeds removed
4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
6 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
3 cups fresh, jarred, or Tetra Pak tomatoes, finely diced — or use 1 28-oz can San Marzano whole tomatoes and break them up as you cook
2-3 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoon white miso paste
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste
2 teaspoons Savory Spice Blend
1/2 cup minced parsley
Ground black pepper
Nutty Parm

Heat oven to 400°F. Slice squash in half lengthwise and scoop out seeds. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of extra-virgin olive oil on each half (2 teaspoons total). Place squash cut side down on parchment paper in a baking sheet and roast until tender, 40-45 minutes. Use a fork to scrape out “spaghetti.”

While the squash is baking, make the tomato sauce in a large skillet. Heat the other 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes to soften. Stir in all the remaining ingredients except the Nutty Parm and cook for 15 minutes longer. If using whole tomatoes, break them up as they cook. Keep warm.

When the squash is done baking, use a fork to scrape the squash in strands and place in a large bowl. Add the sauce and toss gently to combine. Sprinkle with Nutty Parm and serve.

The Savory Spice Blend turns out to be very tasty and good, and I now keep a shaker of it on hand and use it frequently. I put the ingredients in my little 3.5-cup Kitchenaid food processor (which I find I use a lot) and process them for about a minute to mix and make sure the dried herbs are powdered.

And the Nutty Parm  is very tasty and a good topping for lots of things (e.g., salads). I also process that, but you have to watch it a bit so that the nuts are not processed to the point of nut butter, just chopped into small pieces.

Both of those are good without regard to their whole-food plant-based health-thing.

I emphasized 3-pound squash because I got a 2-lb squash and it was not enough. I’ve now bought a 3-lb squash and will make this recipe again this coming week. – Made it and roasted the squash for 45 minutes, which I think is about 5 minutes too long. I’ll make it again.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 August 2019 at 8:30 am

Posted in Daily life

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