Thursday, December 30, 2010

Eccentric Badger

I have wireless internet!  Merry Christmas to me.  I spent most of a week with my good friends up in Seattle, and they had an old wireless router with an automated setup key (for those like me who have no patience for nor interest in setting up computer components).  Now my friend visiting from Boston can't hijack the single available internet cable, and we can safely ignore each other while surfing social networks simultaneously from the same room.  Progress is grand.

After starting the day with a round of "Sumo Ham Slam!" we headed to the coast for some expensive mediocre food at Paradise Cove with such great views we could see Catalina Island.  A nice scenic Sunset Boulevard drive and a stop in Westwood for hot beverages and 3 for $1 cookies and to pick up another friend. We then joined perhaps half of Los Angeles at the Griffith J. Griffith Observatory after sunset and my friends waited with me in the biting cold gusty wind, huddled like penguins, looking out over the glittery city, until it was our turn to look at Jupiter from the 12" telescope.  Even though the wind made it blurry, I still got to see Ganymede get occluded by Jupiter. Then we went downstairs to the new section and watched cosmic rays hit the cloud chamber.  I love that.

Now to go donate some end-of-year money.  What's that you say about last minute?  Nah...

Tuesday, December 21, 2010


Whew!!! The lame duck congress swam across the finish line on DADT, getting the Senate to repeal it this weekend. I'd been worried enough to write my senators and ask them to make it a priority, even though repealing it has been their position for the entirety of the time the law has been in force, because I didn't want to see it slip through the cracks and get squished by the incoming freshman. That the vote came on a weekend worried me some too, but maybe that turned out to be smart. Instead of a bunch of 'sky is falling' headlines, these were the top headlines in yahoo news as of my late lunch, monday, pacific time:
  • Early Christmas treat: 2010 solstice lunar eclipse (which I could see right now if it weren't raining for the umpteenth day in a row)
  • Dog in Germany gives birth to 17 puppies (well, dogs do love to eat the feminine hygeine products out of the trash. Maybe someone was taking hormones.)
  • Winter disruptions turn travel bitter and chaotic (there is a ton of snow this year.)
  • Tonight's lunar eclipse comes with a twist (I kind of expected one DADT headline- good or bad - but being edged out by 2 eclipse headlines? c'mon!)
  • Pope: Church must reflect on what allowed abuse (not who? or why? I'm all for systemic abuses, but the question seems distancing in and of itself.)
Those were the most emailed news articles. I checked the top 5 most viewed and most recommended as well and they were similarly devoid of interest in the DADT repeal.

Just for kicks, I went over to HuffPo. Number one most popular article?
DADT repeal passes senate procedural vote.

Other topics were photos of things likely made by child labor, Al Franken's words about civil liberties related to net neutrality, Palin "jabs" Michele Obama's anti-obesity campaign, photos of things we accidentally learn while watching crime dramas (including my favorite: zoomed in shots of grainy photos get clearer!), and something by Michael Moore (trying to surf in on Wikileaks page hits?).

Completely different sets of interests. And the one where a loud minority of people were predicting global meltdown barely made the front page. Which is good and bad.

Now to get the law signed and implemented.

I've been thinking since I ran my poll on this (was it two years ago now?) where the majority reaction was that Obama would wait for congress to repeal it. The slowness of it has been almost as frustrating as the intermittent nature of my spacebar (grr, argh! Orrathergrr,argh!). But it kind of makes sense. One, now it will be a law that will take a great deal to overturn and probably no one will make that effort in a significant way. The other is that if the president had just stated from the start that he wouldn't enforce it by some magical executive privelege, it would have lessened the urgency. Since it doesn't look like many bills get passed without some urgency and urging from a riled up populace, leaving the discriminatory practice active kept it urgent. Two years was a long time to do this, but maybe not so long as it could have taken, and I think it will go easier because of the time and effort put into the studies and repeal. I do think that if they'd accomplished it before the elections that democrats would have been more supportive. I'm not sure they realize that this sort of thing is important for straight citizens too and we expected more vocal, public support for the repeal than we saw.  Still and all, it's mostly done.  As for implementation, sooner is better than later.  Now we can work on repealing DOMA.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Cable Car Caroling

I'll be headed up to San Fran in about 9 hours, depending on whether or not I can make a decision about what to wear, which might extend that a tad.

I had some plans to make more cookies, but I punted that for laundry and shopping for the charity work is supporting. Most years they pass out a list of things foster kids want. I'm the one who gets someone the dark purple sheets or arts and crafts kits. I love buying that stuff but don't really need it for myself, which makes it fun for me too. Now if I can only get that freewheeling with the kids of friends I actually know!

Thursday, December 16, 2010


I'm working on Christmas presents.  I'm doing ok, but it's still in progress.  And I was going to make great strides this weekend.  But decided that it was more important to hang with some of my peeps in San Fransisco, doing some cable car caroling.  I'll be driving up, because hey, driving.  The sign near my house on the freeway tempts me every morning saying it's only 394 miles to San Fran.

But that means my grand plan of doing christmas cards this weekend may be up in smoke.  Unless I get back sunday and still have energy. The box of card stuff is still on hand from last year because I had something like 2 more people to send cards to and the year kind of snuck by.

So the good news is that I think I'm more organized than last year, and I made good plans to do stuff in time.  The bad news is that I'm blowing it all to go sing drunken carols in the rain with friends.  There would probably be cardiac arrest if you all got cards before the actual Christmas holiday anyway, right?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Cookie Party

With the help of my organizer, I got the bathroom reassembled and gussied up, then neatened up the rest of the condo in time for the Cookie Party.  Every year I get a little more ready a little earlier.   The first year, I was frantically scrubbing the bathroom floor at 11:30 for a party starting at 12 - and not a single person went into the bathroom.  This year, I had cleaners come over and just worried about rearranging stuff, and that got done sufficiently before the party started that  I actually got started on a batch of dough before people showed up, for the first time ever!  Plus my AC managed to keep up with the ovens being on even with the SoCal temperatures soaring into the 80s for the first time in weeks.

With my new stools and chairs and the reno'd kitchen, it went well.  Turns out that about 6 people + me is about right for max productiveness without verging too far into chaos.  And we were really productive this year.  I got a volunteer to time the cookies (I'm too distractable and can't do it well even when I'm not hosting) so we had 3 racks going in the two ovens and cranked out the goods.  I'm always surprised at how little people take when they go, but since almost everyone takes the same amount, there must be something to the choice.  I guess I only wind up keeping about twice what the other guests take home, which is enough to get through a week without inducing a sugar coma.  The rest I load into decorative bags and hand out to my coworkers.

While I remembered to take pictures of friends, I tend not to post people here.  For you, we have the food. This year's menu:
Overview of the take, after guests have taken their share
8 kinds of cookies

Zaletti (Venitian rum-currant-cornmeal.  Delicious and compelling but I got pushback on using cookie cutters with the currants.  A google search shows others cut them in diamond shapes.  Maybe I'll do that with the last of the dough.) with a patch of Earl Grey cookies  (yes, with ground up tea! but this dough got melted and turned kind of green...)

Chocolate Hotties (triple chocolate with chili) and Molasses balls  (friend's special recipe which I called Reindeer nuts.)


Oatmeal with Butterscotch chips (lush, double batch)

Coconut Macaroons

Cranberry Pistachio Biscotti (fewest broken ones yet!)

Stained Glass (hard candies melted in center cut out - new)

Happy Holidays!  Thanks again to everyone who came.  The Glee christmas soundtrack was delightful.  Here's hoping that next year I will actually host those dinner parties, now that the place is in relatively good shape for having guests.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Irrational Predictions

The MIT club of SoCal managed to snag Dan Ariely on his way out of town, and had him speak to a gathering of MIT and Duke alums and friends.  I took the coast road down to Santa Monica in less time than it took another attendee to get there from Westwood, which is nearby.  Crazy. For various reasons, I got there early for the reception, getting to talk to some nice people, but got into the lecture room late.  It was a hotel conference room set up with chairs.  I decided that front row was better than back row, and actually wound up talking to him a little before he went up when he sat down right there to put on his microphone.  Cool. 

You can find his talks on TED and other sites and he's a good speaker.  Inspiring too.  I've read his stuff but still had ideas while he was talking tonight.  His topic was cheating.  He and his cohorts have found that pretty much everyone/every population cheats at about the same rate for non-cultural tasks.  That rate is about 10%.  Given a chance to lie with impunity and make money at it, most people won't be obvious - instead of taking the whole $20 possible when they "earned" $4 at the task, they're likely to as for $6. What they've found is that it's a combination of cost-benefit analysis, self assessment, and social acceptance.  If everyone is doing it, you can do it too and still feel that you're honest.

Then you can mess with this baseline in a few ways.  Cheat at something long enough, and suddenly you hit the "What the Hell?!" point (as they've named it), and you start to cheat a lot more.  There are things that can knock you back into baseline, though, like confessing, even if no one ever knows what you confessed.  Or not cheating long enough to get there.  Culture plays a role - some things are cheating in one culture that aren't in others.  Being reminded of morality or given a chance to feel superior to a rival will get people to not cheat as well.

There are cumulative effect to cheating though.  The research was started in response to Enron.  It turns out that there are very, very few people who cheat because they like to and for the sport of it.  But since nearly every cheats just a little - and about as much as their peer group, groups that cheat a little can spiral into cheating a lot.  One group cheats a little for a while and either hits the WTH threshold, or another group cheats just a leetl bit more than them, then a third group cheats just a little bit more than them, and the next thing you know, Lindsey Lohan is making bail.  Everyone's doing it, she's just doing enough more than the next person to stand out.  Enron was similar (my words, not Dan's).

This says to me that we really do need regulators and watchdogs.  Not because we're evil, but because people inherently cheat a bit. (Like speeding.)  We cheat less if someone's catching us, or when we're reminded to be responsible.  So we need mechanisms for that reminder, to avoid blundering into situations that spiral out of control, like subprime mortgages. 

 While he was talking, he also brought up how people feel pain when they pay for something as they do it.  It seems to me that this is what prevents internet paywalls from working well. If we just funded an account with something like $50 and had, say, green links to paywall sites and normal blue links to free sites, then paywall sites grabbed a penny or two every time you went to their site (once a day) or a new article (not for each page of an article you greedy guys) or every hour you spent there, they could get money with your consent, but without you having to stop, enter all your personal data, and interrupt your thought process.  Every so often, the site would remind you when you're at your last 10% and you can refill.  Or have auto refill from paypal up to a certain amount per month.  This way you get more content, less advertising, less clicking, and they make money to bring you more content.  the account could maybe even work in fractions of cents.  Say every youtube video is 1/10 of a cent.  For protection, the account would be such that it would only allow fractions of cents to go out, and only if you clicked something (they can't just come and grab it), but with low enough $ amounts that it wouldn't be life ending if you had to cancel a compromised account and make another.

Seriously, if youtube is getting 10 million hits a day and each hit paid (let's go lower!) 1/100 of a cent, they can basically print money.  The New York Times could actually hire editors that would allow them to use the word "torture" when reporting torture and keep sending reporters to the scene.  Things like that.  Because it's not that I'm unwilling to pay for content.  I'm just not willing to pay as much as most sites want, upfront, for unknown benefit, after tons of interruption.  And I don't want to be using my high limit credit card for a $2 charge. 

I think that brings me to 3 types of credit - your basic credit card for medium/large purchases from reputable places, your mini-credit card for the $2-5 purchases in places likely to steal your info, and your micro account to bleed off hundreths of a cent at a time.  It's like paypal, but easier and more invisible.  So I can surf to a hundred sites and it only costs a dollar.  But I don't have to see that dollar leave.

I had a couple of other genius ideas, but I'm too overtired to remember them.  I did figure out what to get my brother for christmas that could potentially rival 12 pounds of birthday bacon for awesomeness.

Sunday, December 5, 2010


Today's mostly just a rant.  I had a nice time yesterday at a party that I almost punted on due to feeling "meh", and slept most of today. (Eon't know why, really - could be new meds, could be the sick, could be that I was just tired.) Want to update the blog but my brain is stuck on health issues.  Since I probably need the happiness help, I'll give it a try, then rant.

  • My neighbor invited me to a party of someone I'd met through her.  I didn't wind up meeting a date, but I did maybe make a couple of female friends.
  • There was a white elephant gift thing, and I got the "rave toys".  We put on and played with the glowstick jewelry last night.  My fav, though, is the "Wiggle Worm", a yellow rubber tube with widely spaced koosh ball like flaggela.  Inside is a light that turns on when it gets moved around.  It's great.
  • A medical symptom I've been concerned about for two years went away this weekend after my antibiotics were rev'd up a notch.

I've been on antibiotics for nearly two weeks now.  My sinus infection is thinking about maybe sort of finally going away, but it's not gone-gone yet.  The side bonus from ramping up my antibiotics is that something I've been concerned about for two years cleared up this weekend.  I spent about $600 on diagnosing and treating that side condition with no actual diagnosis or relief coming from it.
paraphrased conversation with doc, a specialist in the field:
Me: I have symptom A.
Doc:  That symptom is in the normal range of experience.
Me:  But it's not normal for me and started suddenly a couple weeks ago.
Doc:  it's nothing to worry about
Me:  can you tell me what's causing it?
Doc: it's normal.  don't worry about it.

Finding that it was an antibiotic resistant infection gives me a huge case of the I told you so's, but it also means I've been fighting this infection for TWO YEARS.  Presumably I was in some equilibrium state where it wasn't necessarily overtaking anything else, but I do think it might contribute to my sudden onset of superbad restless leg syndrome a couple years ago.  When you wonder why, when I have medial issues, I try to solve the problem myself and go to doctors as a last resort, this is why;  I have vastly more experience with doctors dismissing my concerns and not helping than with them helping me.

That said, my internal med doc seems to do ok most of the time, when my insurance allows him to.  I've had 4 medicines outright rejected for coverage in the last 6 months.   This means that my doctor, his/her staff, my pharmacist and I all have to scramble to deal with it when I'm sick and in need of meds.  Blue Cross Blue Shield?  I really really resent your policies.  They're horrible.  At least cover a "test" prescription so I can see how the actual drug is supposed to work while I get a chance to work with people on whether or not the substitution is warranted. Don't make me force all these other people to drop everything to help me *right* *now*.  Let me start the treatment and give me time to work it out.