Saturday, December 30, 2006

Amusing T-shirt

For once, an airplane magazine had something cool, a bit about a cool T-shirt site...

I like this one below, and if you click on the image, you will be rushed off to the site to enjoy the full-size image, a penguin holding a ruler...

The Arctic Ruler - Threadless, Best T-shirts Ever

Happy Eid, and Happy New Year!

A Tunisian friend sent holiday greetings, so I am, too!
I am not sure why the goat is wearing a sandwich board, but hey, Germans give each other peppermint pigs for good luck, so there you have it.

Christmas in SoCal

Being as Mama has a new small person in her household (my niece!!!), the butterfly lady, my mother and I all headed down to southern California for the Winter Seasonal Holiday Celebration.

Several things occurred:
  • Winter Seasonal Holiday Celebratory Commemoration gifts were exchanged.
  • Soon-to-be in-laws were met (see below).
  • Mama's super-cool boyfriend proposed to her!
  • Disneyland was visited.
  • A Le Conte's thrasher and Nuttall's woodpecker were observed (it is getting hard to see life birds, so two in one day is a big deal to me).
  • Sentences with too many passive constructions were formed.
Anyway, we are returned from traveling abroad and have only to bail B I Double G and Pig out of the clink to complete the holiday thing.

I hope all your Christmases were the best they could be...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Winter in the mountains

Besides being the Unattended Space Heater Sparks Deadly Fire season, now is also the time of year for adventurers to perish in some godforesaken gully on a snowbound mountainside.

The usual responses to the missing-climber stories are two: What a tragedy for the family! and What a bunch of idiots!

The current high-profile iteration involves three men, one of whom has been found dead, on Mount Hood, Oregon's tallest mountain.

My line of work makes me leery of labeling deaths "tragedies" willy-nilly. Many untimely deaths are indeed tragic, but I don't think this counts. Three men, doing something they wanted to, something inherently dangerous, die (assumably, in the parlance of one of my little sisters) on their way down the mountain. Sad maybe, but tragic?

The bunch-of-idiots depends. Reports during this whole fiasco suggest the trio tried for a fast-and-light ascent of the mountain, which is mountaineer code for "We're sure we'll make it, so we're not taking enough gear to be safe." The pretend explanation tendered to worried spouses, etc., is that traveling light is really safer because you're less encumbered and can make good your escape with greater speed.

I'm no expert, but I have done a few fast-and-light hikes in places dangerous enough to kill a fool, or a person less lucky than myself. But never when the weather was anything but sunny and warm, and never in such a godforesaken place.

At least they made it to the top before disaster struck. It must have been quite the view.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Games & fun

The butterfly lady and I are pretty much kids: We stay up late, we eat ice cream a lot (and we have to remind ourselves to eat salad), we have an ever-growing family of stuffed critters (they would be displeased to be referred to as teddy bears), we play games pretty much daily, the list goes on.

So, which games, you ask?

Scrabble. An old friend calls the two of us the Loyola-Marymount of Scrabble.
Super Scrabble. What better way to keep up the run-and-gun than a game that lets you double (or better) your best scores? The manufacturer says the game lets you "play words you once could only dream about." I have to admit, I have had Scrabble dreams.
Boggle. Noisy word fun!
Tangrams. We just got a set for two players - fun! You can play here and here, too.
Cards. We pretty much play only rummy and double solitaire (an OK explanation of the game is here, but it doesn't do much to capture the intensity of the game), and we used to play cribbage a lot.
Mah Jongg. We have a little problem here, which is a lack of a third (or a third and a fourth), so we just play rummy against the day we find a Mah Jongg-playing pal or two...
Abalone. The butterfly lady groans whenever we see this game - she seems to think I have some sort of unfair advantage at it.
Go. Ditto, but she did give me our Go board as a present, and it is the star of the animation at the bottom of this page.

I guess this makes us pretty much word and logic nerds. :)

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Chowder time

All the ingredients were staring at me (so was the Newfy, once she realized I was making some Maritime chow), so I made a batch of clam chowder, my adaptation of a "Joy of Cooking" recipe (their default is for Manhattan-style chowder, which I think sounds awful).

Whenever I make chowder, I'm reminded of a late night in New Hampshire, when I had to head down to the gas station (a Getty with a c-store) to pick up bacon. As the lady was ringing me up, I said, "Glad you had bacon, I couldn't have made dinner without it." She nodded and said, "Making chowdah, huh?" Well, of course.

I know, I know, you've seen this before. But I improved this post with pictures...

3 10-ounce cans clams, drained (reserve the liquid!)
2 cans corn, drained (reserve liquid, too)
5 or 6 strips of good-quality bacon
1 large yellow onion, chopped
1/4 cup flour
5 or 6 medium Yukon gold potatoes, diced
1 quart milk

In a large uncovered pot over medium heat, cook the bacon until fairly crisp.

Remove the bacon and chop when cool.

Cook the onions in the bacon fat until translucent.

Add the flour and whisk for about a minute, then add the liquid from the clams and corn.

Dump in the potatoes, add salt to taste (total crap shoot here, gang. I think 1/2 teaspoon is about right, but you might like more), cover and simmer for 30-45 minutes, until the potatoes are cooked but still firm.

Add the clams, corn and bacon, then the milk. Check to see if the salt is right, then heat through and serve. If you want to be all fancy, serve each bowl with a small pat of butter and freshly ground pepper (in the bowl, not on the side).

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The craigslist model

So, from what I understand, craigslist makes its dough (estimated revenue in the $7 million to $10 million neighborhood) by charging for job postings in New York, L.A. and San Francisco. Of course, the rest is free.

I can vouch for the site in a couple of ways.
  • I posted a couple of ads for our cars when we got a newer one and sold both within a couple of weeks for the asking price.
  • The butterfly lady's research has used craigslist almost exclusively to recruit participants, and her two studies have about 2,000 participants apiece. (Latest posting is in Austin.)
No muss, no fuss.

So, what can I/my employer take from businesses like craigslist, and for that matter, Google?

I'm not certain. The butterfly lady and I tend to agree with the tech-oriented media punditry, that a great local media outlet site would be pared down in design, like Google, and produce Google-like search results, with the difference being that the results would all be local.

Indeed, Google's home page already has lots of the stuff you'd want for a local site - information (they call it "Web"), images, video, news, maps, "more," links to advanced tools and links to the business end of the company.

Although it would probably constitute an unacceptable (and maybe illegal) ripoff, it would not take a rocket scientist to recast the Google home page for any media outlet. I would probably add a link called "shop" where the images/videos/news/etc. goes, but that would be about it.

It's not like many news site really stand out as different. The Bakersfield Californian, famous amoung news people (aka not actually famous) for its radical redesign, also has a Web site that is not garden variety.

As I have said before, probably ad nauseum, one of the top five reasons (maybe the top?) for working at a small paper is the freedom to innovate. I'm sharking for ways to do just that, but I haven't hit on anything spectacular yet...

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Geez, louise

You are The Devil

Materiality. Material Force. Material temptation; sometimes obsession

The Devil is often a great card for business success; hard work and ambition.

Perhaps the most misunderstood of all the major arcana, the Devil is not really "Satan" at all, but Pan the half-goat nature god and/or Dionysius. These are gods of pleasure and abandon, of wild behavior and unbridled desires. This is a card about ambitions; it is also synonymous with temptation and addiction. On the flip side, however, the card can be a warning to someone who is too restrained, someone who never allows themselves to get passionate or messy or wild - or ambitious. This, too, is a form of enslavement. As a person, the Devil can stand for a man of money or erotic power, aggressive, controlling, or just persuasive. This is not to say a bad man, but certainly a powerful man who is hard to resist. The important thing is to remember that any chain is freely worn. In most cases, you are enslaved only because you allow it.

What Tarot Card are You?
Take the Test to Find Out.

I was hoping for the King of Cups, but alas...

Monday, December 11, 2006

News blogs

I like to read blogs (duh), but I'm pretty picky. With one exception (USA Today's On Deadline), I don't regularly read blogs at news sites.

  • I work at a newspaper.
  • I'm the city editor.
  • I like to blog.
  • I think blogs have news value.
  • I would like to see our site add blogs.
  • I have to come up with some goals for 2007.
So, 2+2=4.

But I'm not sure what I would blog about. The obvious choice is to copy the one I like, to write a local On Deadline blog. In a way, this would be very easy to pull off because we, unlike USA Today, still have standard print deadlines that are imprinted in the minds of everybody in the news operation (aka our deadline is not "every minute of every day"), which means I wouldn't necessarily be posting every three minutes.

The other obvious choice would be to do the above and recruit local bloggers to join the club at our site (maybe by paying them?).

I don't have any great insight into this yet, but it is on the short-range radar anyway.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Must be getting older...

End-of-the-year fun at the workplace puts me in the driver's seat (aka Page A1 duty) for the sixth day this week. I don't mind, but I think if I had to do this for weeks on end, I would not be amused.

When I was younger and much more of a striver, there were a couple of years in which circumstances conspired to put me in the office six and sometimes seven days a week. Luckily, those two years were not consecutive and were at different workplaces.

Oh, and I was hourly back then, so I piled up the OT. I recall that one of those years, 20 percent of my pay was time-and-a-half... but I was still a grouch a lot of the time. I'm not sure why the butterfly lady stuck around, but I'm damn glad she did.

Anyway, those two years should have brought riches beyond the wildest dreams of avarice, but newspapers aren't exactly the highest-paying places to work, so I just did pretty well. Newspapers are also ridiculously fun places to work, so I'm far from complaining.

But industry-wide, the low pay is bullshit, especially when you take into account that we are in a very profitable branch of manufacturing.

I am fortunate to work at a newspaper that pays better than its peers, but many people are not. At my last employer, entry-level reporters get about $12 an hour (in southern New Hampshire, where a decent apartment is about $900 a month). Managers fare much better, but that isn't really the point.

I've heard people say that lower pay is actually a good thing, because it means the only people who take the jobs are people who truly want them, not just slackers seeking high pay.

Gee, I wonder who came up with that reasoning.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Taser reporting falls short

I'm a city editor at a small daily newspaper, and I spent three years as a night city editor in the Northeast. Cop & fire stories were my bread and butter then, and I retain a very high interest.

This means I read a lot of Taser stories, and as a result I read a lot of Taser stories that contain an annoying flaw. Here's a for-instance (originally from the Spokesman-Review, one of the country's largest newspapers - aka people with no excuse):
The two 50,000-volt Taser jolts left Strange, 6-foot-7 and 220 pounds, "momentarily unconscious" on the ground, according to the lawsuit.
Wait a sec. If the current in a household electrical outlet can kill you, and it is only 110 volts or so, why doesn't a Taser turn you into a Crispy Critter?

The answer is simple: Amps. A Taser's amperage is really, really low, so the high voltage shouldn't kill you.

Why? This is the point where someone breaks out a water-through-a-hose analogy and we all fall asleep. But here's an alternative analogy.

Think of a high volt/low amp current (like you get in a Taser) as dropping a penny off the Empire State Building. If you hit someone, man will that sting. But it probably won't kill them. The amperage is the small coin and the voltage is the big drop.

Think of a low volt/high amp current (like you plug your blender into) as dropping a car off the roof of your house. If you hit someone, they're fucking dead.

OK, maybe that's not history's best analogy, but if you're writing a Taser story, ditch the voltage unless you are going to talk about amps, too.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

An alternative to snow

New England's got Noreasters and Buffalo's got Lake Effect Snow (I think that kind of snow deserves capital letters).

Here in Walla Walla, we get snow, too, but not very much and not very often. That's not for lack of cold - around here, the winters can get much colder than in New Hampshire (to pick an example at random), but we also get very little precipitation, maybe 19 or 20 inches a year.

What we have instead of snow is freezing fog (which the forecast calls for tonight, just like it does off and on all winter). Freezing fog tends to be on the wispy side for fog, though some nights it is damn near pea soup.

The result looks like hoarfrost, so winter mornings around here are often gorgeous, especially on the lucky days that dawn clear after a night of freezing fog.

A picture would probably be helpful here... I'll have to do something about that.

Monday, December 04, 2006

What's on shuffle?

Hooray for tagging! (and thank you, Lulu)

And what, pray tell, is in the shuffle for me?

How many songs: 2507 (but some of those are Pimsleur language lessons/comedy tracks)

First song: 'Em - The Geto Boys (I guess iTunes thinks ' is the first letter of the alphabet)

Last song: Zoot Suit Riot~~Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (popular choice!)

Shortest: Commercial - House of Pain (0:07)

Longest: Alice's Restaurant Massacree (18:36. Official Song of Stockbridge, Mass.)

Five most played songs:

Do Ya - Electric Light Orchestra (74, going on 75 right now)
Catarina - Joe Purdy (73)
Wash Away (reprise) - Joe Purdy (65)
Pancho and Lefty (live) - Townes Van Zandt (55 - the other live performance of this song by Van Zandt is No. 7 at 49)
Poor Taylor (acoustic) - Jack Johnson (52)

First song that comes up on "shuffle” Father and Son, covered by Johnny Cash & Fiona Apple (off of the Unearthed box set)

Number of items that come up when searching (by song only, not albums, titles & artists) for:

"sex": 2 (NoFX and Hot Chocolate)

"death": 4

"love": 80. (Don't get too excited, The Geto Boys are in there, too. Twice)

"you": 172 (does that include "Food, Sex and Ewe"?)

"me": 294

"cry": 7

Who shall I tag??? The world wonders.

Holly, Mama & Daphne

Friday, December 01, 2006

Let it snow!

Living in my un-tagged world, I have to shop for memes. Here's one:

Do you get snow where you live? How much? Yes, but not much. We do get freezing fog (like hoarfrost) and freezing rain. Last winter, we had about a week of freezing fog and one day in which snow fell in the valley. There's tons of snow in the surrounding hills and mountains, though. Once in a while, we get a good dumping, maybe once every five or 10 years.

When was the last time it snowed in your neck of the woods? Two days ago. About an eighth -to a quarter-inch. Wow.

Tell us about the worst snowfall/blizzard you've been in. Well, there was the whiteout I drove the moving truck in around Thanksgiving 2004, which was pretty bad. Probably the most significant snow I've seen was in a Noreaster in New Hampshire in early 2004. The storm dumped a couple of feet of snow over a couple of days. I couldn't even see my car one morning because it was under so much snow.

What is your favorite thing about snow? Snow wipes away trash and grime and makes everything beautiful, at least for a little while.

Imagine two ideal homes, all things being the same except climate. Do you choose to live the rest of your life somewhere that never sees a snowflake or somewhere that sees a plethora of them every winter? Why? I would choose the snowy place. I like shoveling, I like snowshoeing, I like to play with the dog in the snow, I like snowball fights and sledding and running along the frozen river through the snow. Snow is gorgeous and home is all the warmer when you get home.