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When: 2011-07-22 Fri 17:34
What: OSX Lion iCal is b0rked.
Security: Public
Mood: aggravated

One change I am really disliking in OSX 10.7 is what they've done to iCal. It appears that it's no longer possible to get a view similar to GCal in which you have a small monthly calendar in the sidebar, and an arbitrary number of days displayed in the main body of the app by click-dragging across those days in the monthly calendar.

I frequently want to view 2-5 days at a time, rather than a full week (which causes events to pile up, when you have seven or eight calendars -- I have a couple of my own, Xta's, social group cals, etc) or a single day. I understand why this doesn't work on the iPhone, but in the iPad or desktop versions of this application, viewing a few days at a time is a Good Thing. When I'm trying to plan some kind of weekend socializing, I almost always want to be able to view Fri-Sun; and for thinking through how to schedule some weekday-specific errand around work, I frequently want to show just the weekdays.

Anybody know if I'm wrong about the loss of this feature? :-/

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When: 2011-07-13 Wed 15:49
What: foodpr0n: Astaria, for Xtauroversary VII
Security: Public
Mood: full

Now with more Roman numerals, and only about a hundred days until our wedding. Christa posted some silliness from our dinner conversation. (If you're unable to read it, well, how do you even know me without having gotten on her f-list? It's been seven years!)

nomz!Collapse )

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When: 2011-06-11 Sat 08:57
What: creative ways to empty the fridge
Security: Public
Mood: pleased

I was trying to decide what to make for dinner, last night, and nothing was particularly catching my fancy, when I realized we had some slightly stale herbed breadsticks from some previous takeout, as well as the heels from a loaf of cheese bread we'd gotten from Whole Foods at least two weeks ago. It seemed like a shame to waste them, so I thought, what could I do with stale bread? The traditional way to rescue stale bread is to soak it in a custard and cook it. I suppose I could've gone with something like a savory french toast, and topped it with veggies. But instead, I cubed the bread (roughly 1-2cm), tossed it with some sauteed veggies (with some sweet balsamic and additional herbs and spices) and grated aged asiago, poured over the custard (five eggs thoroughly beaten, with a roughly equal volume of whole milk whisked in) and then baked the whole thing at 350F for 40 minutes. Basically a savory trifle, or a hybrid between a quiche and frittata (using the bread where we'd usually use potato).

It was really quite good -- the bread in the bottom was all soft and custardy, while the cubes that stuck out the top were lightly browned and crunchy.

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When: 2011-05-13 Fri 22:19
What: Still need to get to the DC office.
Security: Public
Mood: cheerful

Finally, six months after this, got around to grabbing lunch with Farhad Manjoo, Slate's tech writer and author of the excellent True Enough (which is in some ways a lengthier meditation on the problem articulated by Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit). Discussed everything from how automation of increasingly complicated symbolic tasks is changing the employment landscape for highly educated professionals, to politics and the various complex catastrophes our society seems to be setting itself up for, to general personal stuff and kidlets.

I think possibly I was over-caffeinated, and thus even a little more energetic than normal. I'd had my morning coffee, and then also got a quite strong black tea when I got to University Cafe. I was there rather early because I'd already come up to Palo Alto for an earlier appointment, and since I was getting onto their WiFi to do some work, I figured I ought to buy something...

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When: 2011-05-06 Fri 11:30
What: tickets for Rheingold and Walküre on 6/14-15
Security: Public
Mood: busy

The SF Opera Ring Cycle is opening in June, and from a quick check on the ticket purchase system it looks like tickets of the quality I'm selling are almost impossible to get, at this point, and even remotely similar ones are much more expensive than what I'm charging -- I found exactly one remaining Dress Circle seat for one of the performances of Rheingold, literally in the back-stageleft corner, priced at $180. I'm charging the face value at my subscriber price, $135, and I have a few rows forward, on the first aisle out.

More details:

Feel free to share with anyone who might be into opera. I'll consider a friend or friend-of-friend discount if you ask nicely and pay promptly. ;-)

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When: 2011-04-26 Tue 11:46
What: House ad...
Security: Public
Mood: stressed

No inside pics yet, but the lease is signed and we're expecting to get keys within the next couple of days...


Please share with any nifty people who might be looking for mid-peninsula housing.

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When: 2011-04-22 Fri 09:28
What: David Foster Wallace
Security: Public
Mood: sad

It is so deeply, achingly tragic that a man who at times saw the world so clearly, came to find it so unbearable that he felt he had to leave it. He seems to have had compassion for, and understanding of, everyone but himself.

video part 1 and 2Collapse )

I've been looking back at his essays and short stories a bit recently, because of the release of The Pale King, his unfinished novel, patched together by an editor who was close to him in life. It's about IRS tax analysts, and about the way that these people's tolerance for doing work that is, fundamentally, routine and boring, underpins the good, civilized life we all share. At a time when there is such vitriol against the kind of people who do this work -- work that is of the mind, but numbing to the same faculties it demands -- it is strange and sad to remember that somebody in our culture at least tried to point out, eloquently, its necessity and beauty.

And in case it isn't totally obvious, yes, I very much identify with his comments about the experience of doing this kind of work, and about the dangers of letting your most authentic, integrated self become subservient to a purely intellectualized self. And even more-so, the way he generalizes the idea of worship, and of freedom. I so frequently feel like nothing more than the "lord of my tiny, skull-sized kingdom, alone at the center of all creation." Free, but trivially so. "[T]he really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people, and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day."

Something I aspire to, but so rarely achieve.

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When: 2011-04-17 Sun 22:06
What: weekend summary
Security: Public
Mood: melancholy

+ First ever ride in a Tesla Roadster. Next time I want to drive.

± Deep, and I hope productive, conversation with a friend who's having a rough month or two. I don't like it when people I care about are stressed / sad / upset. But I'm glad if I can, in some way, be helpful.

- Went out with plymouth and returned what was left of Tsuki to the place she came from. So now I'm sad myself.

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When: 2011-04-11 Mon 08:59
What: OK, let's try: Anyone want to split the cost of HBO?
Security: Public

I guess I'm not getting any responses from friends who currently have HBO, so now I'm wondering if I have any friends who are into Game of Thrones and/or True Blood, and would be down with splitting the cost of a subscription, in exchange for getting to come watch the HD recordings at our place. I'm not really willing to pay $10/mo for it, but $5 would be OK.

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When: 2011-04-10 Sun 20:23
What: Anybody have HBO?
Security: Public

I really want to see the Game of Thrones series that's starting on Sun 4/17. Also, we'll be getting the DVDs of True Blood S3 soon, and then S4 will start on HBO not too long after we're done with it. I don't really want to pay $10/mo, but would chip in a few bucks for access to somebody else's HBO, especially if you can get the HD recordings. :-)

Thought of this now because there was an ad for GoT over 101 on the way to Xta's bday dinner.

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When: 2011-03-18 Fri 13:04
What: Well this is disappointing.
Security: Public
Mood: annoyed

SodaStream profits from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

I've just written them a letter suggesting that perhaps they should stop. I don't feel like I can recommend the product to friends while they're doing this, even though it is well-designed, saves money, and reduces the economic and environmental waste associated with shipping excessive amounts of water and packaging around in trucks.

WhoProfits is run by Israeli Jews who oppose current policies, many of which are actually illegal even under Israeli law. (Evidently some noticable percentage of the stone and gravel used in construction in Israel is coming from quarries in the West Bank. Imagine if Canadians were setting up quarries across the border into Minnesota, without permission or payment, and simply stealing our country's natural resources. We'd be pretty mad, right? Israeli law is pretty unambiguous that this is not OK -- but the law is poorly enforced. After all, it's not like bits of gravel have return addresses on them.) Everyone agrees that Israel has a right to defend itself from terrorism, but there has to be a better way. And much of what's going on inside the West Bank, now, is straight-out exploitation, with little security value. Certainly the settlement movement is; if Israelis want to avoid security threats, why in G*d's name would they move onto Palestinian land, which is both provocative (not that violence is justified in response to that, but anger sure as hell is) and puts them in harm's way, unless the state is willing to spend a gajillion dollars on protecting them?

One might say, at least they're providing jobs -- but of course the pay is extremely low, because the Palestinians are desperate, and due to the extensive network of internal walls and checkpoints, they're completely unable to conduct commerce for themselves. (A Palestinian businessman who wants to travel with goods over the 30-35 miles from the north to the south end of the West Bank will have to pass through four or five checkpoints along the way. At each one, he will have to unload his truck so the goods can be inspected, carry them across the checkpoint, and load them into an entirely different vehicle. As you can imagine, perishables do not survive such a journey, and even with durables, the added cost is prohibitive -- especially when a competing Israeli firm can ship goods along walled-off roadways, avoiding the checkpoint hassles.)

This is no more ethical than when an American firm hires undocumented immigrants, paying them below minimum wage, and tells them they'll be fired (or worse, reported to La Migra) if they don't work long hours with no overtime or if they complain about unsafe working conditions. Sure, they're giving money to somebody who needs it -- but they're also taking unfair advantage of desperation, and undermining wages for all workers.

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When: 2011-03-18 Fri 11:40
Security: Public


Tsuki Onineko
Born in the Palo Alto Baylands Colony circa September 20, 2002
Singer of Songs, Slayer of Bugs, Opener of Doors, Queen of All She Surveyed
Left the SkyDen to join StarClan on March 18, 2011

She was a Good Kitty.

Tsuki and Auros

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When: 2011-02-26 Sat 13:16
What: tix to SF Opera Rheingold and Walkure
Security: Public

I have one extra ticket to each of the first two segments of the Ring Cycle, on Tue and Wed, June 14 and 15. (My mother is coming into town to see the entire cycle, so I initially needed two seats, one for me, and one for her. My fiancée wants to come see the second half, but wasn't interested in seeing the first half again; we saw those two when they were first produced, over the last couple of years. Hence, half of her cycle tix are available.) The seat is J128, on the inner side of the first aisle out from the center, towards the back of Dress Circle. The view is excellent -- there really are no bad views from Dress Circle, excepting maybe the very outermost seats on the edge.

You could in theory grab tix to the single non-cycle performances of Siegfried and Gotterdammerung (still available through the SF Opera website, or by calling the box office), and have yourself a "discount cycle". You'd end up seeing them out of order (since the singles of Siegfriend and Gotterdammerung are showing before the cycles start), but you'd save almost a thousand dollars relative to what you would've paid for a cycle -- there was a "mandatory donation" that was required in order to buy cycle tickets.

I am selling these two tickets at face value, $135, the same as the price to purchase similar tickets for the single shows. I'll consider a slightly discounted price, if that's the only offer I get, and the offer is payable promptly in cash.

Feel free to pass on this info to anywhere you think somebody might be interested.

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When: 2011-02-26 Sat 11:04
What: Skype: extortionists, or just morons?
Security: Public
Mood: aggravated

I recently got a notification from Skype that I had a voicemail waiting for me. "That's funny," I thought, "I don't subscribe to their vmail service, or any of their other pay services." Apparently if somebody else who's silly enough to pay for stuff from them calls you when you're logged out or not at your desk, it will record a vmail, and then send you a notice explaining, euphemistically, that they are holding your vmail hostage until you pay them. I sent them a support request asking how to disable this.

We understand your concern regarding the voicemail services that you are receiving although you do not have a voicemail subscription. We know this can be inconvenient specially that your contacts may expect that their message has been relayed. We will be glad to assist you with this.

Unfortunately, it is not yet possible to block the voicemails that were being sent to you by your contacts who have a voicemail subscription. We appreciate your feedback on this and we will definitely look in to this.

However, for now, your only option is to inform your contacts not to leave a voicemail since you will not be able to hear them or you may subscribe to a voicemail.

In other words: We know you don't want this voicemail service, and we know it's inconvenient for you, but tough cookies, if you don't like it, pay us money.

This severely tempts me to cancel my Skype account. Except I kinda need it right now to communicate with my boss, who is off in Thailand and Singapore for a few weeks. (I'd consider switching to an alternate VoIP service, but I don't want to make him install something else. When he gets back, maybe I'll see if I can get him set up with TeamSpeak, which was developed for the gaming community, so you can talk to team-mates in online games without being in the same room. It doesn't have all of Skype's features, but it actually does voice much better.) I do not want to have a situation where somebody can try to call me, leave a voicemail, and then think they have successfully communicated something to me. I will never hear that voicemail! I want them to be prompted to try something else -- call my cell, send an email or text, whatever.

They're certainly entitled to try to make money off their service. If providing all computer-to-computer communication for free isn't working for them, they should just start charging a small subscription fee or software registration fee, or find a way to charge for international connections. This voicemail extortion racket is not OK. It means that the service impairs my communications with colleagues, rather than enhancing it.

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When: 2011-01-31 Mon 00:37
What: foodpr0n: Bushi-Tei
Security: Public
Mood: full

Japanese-French-California fusion. Sacre bleu! And also gochiso-sama deshita.

My parents took us out for dinner. I contributed a $40 coupon I'd acquired from one of the numerous daily-deal sites. How do I love thee, YipIt? Let me count the dollars saved...

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Was amused by the Japanese Toto toilet in the bathroom. Left completely stuffed. I think unfortunately I didn't get all the flavors I could've out of some of the things we had, because I was just starting to feel the effects of the bug I came down with today. Sigh. Anyways, we'll have to go back some time, though there are so many good places around SF, it's hard to make return trips to any but our absolute favorites, or ones that are particularly convenient to other places we want to be...

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When: 2011-01-12 Wed 23:32
What: foodpr0n: Orson, with planning
Security: Public
Mood: full

We went to Orson last night to sign paperwork and put down the deposit for our wedding, and talk with their private events coördinator about drawing up the floor layout to figure out the exact count of how many people can fit, and how to time the rehearsal dinner the day before (when they'll still need to be able to open at 5pm for their regular dinner service), and so on. He's supposed to get back to me within a few days, with the layout plans, and a few possible times to meet with Elizabeth to discuss food and cake. We also met the general manager, and talked a bit about the A/V system.

For the meeting, we were hanging out in the nook on the right side of the bar, where the wall-paper kind of looks like slightly-derezzed paisley. In a good way.

Since we were there anyhow, we had dinner. And we were there early enough for happy-hour cocktails...

nomz!Collapse )

All very yummy.

Also, OMG, we're actually having a wedding.

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When: 2010-12-23 Thu 13:54
What: Kadu
Security: Public
Mood: full

We've been meaning to make this for a while. The version at Afghani House, in Sunnyvale, is excellent, and recreating that was the goal, though of course with a non-tomato-based meat sauce, because of Xta's allergy/intolerance. This was based on some recipes we found on the internet, mostly this one. We were cooking for five, so we upped the quantities. Next time, I think we'll double it over again, in order to get more leftovers out of it. (We ate what was left for lunch today.)

cut for lengthCollapse )

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When: 2010-12-22 Wed 17:01
What: foodpr0n: Incanto
Security: Public
Mood: bouncy

My friend mickle had a gift certificate for more than she could actually spend with just her and her boy, and she kindly offered to take us along for the ride, as it were. (We chipped in for tip, and I totally owe her a dinner down here at some point.)

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And tonight we're planning to try to make Kadu, the Afghan butternut squash / pumpkin dish.

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When: 2010-11-22 Mon 09:17
What: Is there really not a PGP plugin for GMail?
Security: Public
Mood: curious

You'd think that would've been one of the first Labs they came up with.

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When: 2010-11-03 Wed 10:13
What: Results...
Security: Public
Mood: indescribable

Last night when I went to bed, I thought we were losing in the Attorney General race, and I thought we'd lost Jerry McNerney, which I would've been really sad about -- ever since his freshman term, he's been an important figure in supporting expansion of alt-energy and public transit investment. This morning, if you visit the Close Contests page at the Secretary of State's website, apparently Kamala is up by a pretty solid half-percent. And Jerry is up by 121 votes, out of 172,936 votes cast. That's a 0.07% lead. Can you say, "Recount"? The pattern tends to be that Dems gain votes in a recount; I sure hope that holds.

On the propositions, we won the two most important -- defeated the effort to kill the global warming law, and passed a majority budget rule -- but lost everything else (at least, with respect to my own vote; I ended up having mixed feelings about 19, since I found my friend Wade's arguments against it fairly persuasive, although I still kinda think that any step towards ending Prohibition would probably be better than what we're doing, and that if there were bad consequences we could sort them out by further steps in that direction). I'm particularly disappointed about 26; now ANY measure to raise revenue requires a 2/3 vote. So we can pass a budget, but we're constrained, basically forever, to the revenue structure we currently have, which has shifted, over the past forty years, to be more and more regressive. You cannot provide everyone in society a decent infrastructure to live their lives in, if those who benefit the most from gov't services do not pay their fair share. Instead, we'll continue trending towards a return to the 19th century: the very wealthy can buy their own private services -- gated communities with private security, private sources of clean water, etc. -- and the rest of us can have inadequate police and fire protection, water that may from time to time poison us, etc.

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When: 2010-11-01 Mon 00:50
What: And one last set of endorsements...
Security: Public

...from my friend Wade, who is a sufficiently centrist guy to have bothered with endorsements in both the Dem and GOP primaries this past spring. (He confesses to being liberal, but I'm pretty sure he's still several notches to my right.)

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When: 2010-10-31 Sun 13:31
What: Some more interesting comments on the ballot.
Security: Public
Mood: geeky

My friends bostorus and elissali posted their endorsements here and here, respectively, and each of them cites to some new, interesting sources of information. bostorus makes a fair case for the other candidate in the superindendent race, and adds some worthwhile points on Props 20 and 27, and there was some good discussion of Prop 24 in the comments on elissali's post.

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When: 2010-10-25 Mon 15:51
What: the Auros Endorsements: General Election, November 2, 2010
Security: Public
Mood: tired

For many of these, you can refer to the Primary endorsements for more details. If I don't provide any explanation here, it's because what I have to say would pretty much be a copy-paste from that previous post. (I suppose I could rant about how awful Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina are, but really, don't we all know that by know?)

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When: 2010-10-21 Thu 18:34
What: Is there a such thing as a heating pad with a thermostat?
Security: Public
Mood: worried

Tsuki is sounding kind of sniffly today, and I'm a little concerned about her being out in the cold, even with her little house to shelter in... I'm wondering if there's something I could put in there that would keep the temperature inside the little house at a minimum of 68-70F. It would obviously need to be designed such that it wouldn't shock her if it got wet, and well padded. (I'd stick it under the other towels I have in there, but still, she has claws... This seems like a sort of improbable device, I guess. :-/

Maybe I could just find some kind of large cage that would fit in our bathtub, and keep her in there.

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When: 2010-10-18 Mon 14:00
What: Department of "things that Jack Shafer thinks are bad ideas."
Security: Public
Mood: nerdy

Since I was planning to be around NYC, and had a pretty freeform schedule for today, last week I emailed a few NYC Slaties that I've talked to over the years, to ask whether they might like to have lunch, or a drink after work. cut for lengthCollapse )

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When: 2010-10-17 Sun 18:35
What: foodpr0n: Graffiti
Security: Public
Mood: full

As mentioned previously, we went to Graffiti today, after having gone to sbtorpey and oddthink's place for brunch. (I made french toast in S~ and J~'s kitchen, S~ made a salad and a frittata, surpheon and anemone brought syrups and beverages, and another friend, who I think may not be on LJ, brought a bunch of fruit to toss over things. jilflirt and her husband, who I think is on LJ but whose handle I can't remember, showed up too late for brunch, but we got to hang out and chat for a while.)

Now with photos!Collapse )

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When: 2010-10-16 Sat 20:26
What: foodpr0n: Mehtaphor birthday dinner
Security: Public
Mood: full

We'd originally planned to go to Graffiti, Chef Jehangir Mehta's original restaurant, but due to vagaries of planning we couldn't get a reservation there for tonight. (So we're going there tomorrow. *g*) We had a reservation for five at the brand new place, Mehtaphor, which ended up falling down to three by this evening, after one friend I'd thought might be able to come couldn't, and another who'd said he was coming had to bail due to some family emergency. I ended up going with just Xta and Dan (my best friend from growing up).

Chef Mehta was sitting at a desk reviewing some kind of paperwork when we came in, and was talking to patrons when we were on our way out, so I got to say hi, express my admiration, and get my copy of his book signed. So, yay. I also mentioned that it seems like I have a taste for the work of chefs who started out working on pastries and desserts, with Elizabeth Falkner being another chef whose style I really enjoy; he seemed to be pleased with the comparison.

nom nom nomCollapse )

I guess I should've gotten Xta to take some photos, but we were too focused on, you know, eating. :-I *nom*

ETA: I should also mention, last night we went to Khyber Pass, a nice little Afghan restaurant on Saint Mark's Place, where I used to eat before going clubbing when I was an intern at IBM Research over summer '98, and I'd just started getting into the goth scene. I was really pleased to find it still there. :-)

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When: 2010-10-08 Fri 10:58
What: WTF?
Security: Public
Mood: aggravated

For some reason all my Office toolbars have spontaneously reverted to their default configurations. The only thing I did, between having them show up the way I'd heavily customized them, to this reversion, was install an update to Adobe Reader. Why the heck would that matter?

Stupid Microsoft.

Stupid Adobe.

(Stupid Ring. Stupid Quest. Stupid Fellowship.)

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When: 2010-09-14 Tue 23:56
What: File under: Evolution is always two steps ahead of you.
Security: Public
Mood: geeky

I was wondering why it is that domestic cats have slit-shaped pupils, whereas none of the big cats (tigers, lions, leopards) have them. Turns out that scientists have only relatively recently started figuring that out. It probably has to do with chromatic aberration. The adaptations that give cats excellent night vision would actually impair their vision in brighter conditions if they had to contract a round pupil. (See the diagram in this article.)

Slit pupils are apparently also seen in a variety of other animals that are partly nocturnal and partly diurnal, and that have relatively small eyes.

Science is awesome.

And yes, this is totally the way I waste time at the end of the day. Doesn't everyone get obsessed with random knowledge?

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When: 2010-09-05 Sun 12:44
What: People on the internet fail to live up to their reputation.
Security: Public
Mood: amused

The top-ranked econ/business blogs are almost uniformly blogs I regard as worth reading from time to time, and the #1 is one of the things I read daily. Even the conservatives who appear are pretty good -- Mankiw is usually worth listening to. You have to go all the way down to #14 to find a goldbug. (OTOH, the second page, 21-40, contains a bunch of Mises/Hayek silliness.)

TriplePundit, the Presidio-originated green business blog, is at #34. I'm sort of surprised Marginal Revolution (which is one of the other conservative/libertarian-leaning blogs I like) is all the way down at #53. Really? 3P gets more hits than Tyler Cowen?

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When: 2010-08-04 Wed 20:50
What: Opera tickets this fall...
Security: Public
Mood: operatic

As many of you probably know, I subscribe to the SF Opera, and sell some the tickets for shows I've seen many times. Because I get the subscriber discount, I can sell them significantly below the cost you'd have to pay to get individual tickets from the box office. (Weekend singles on the SFOpera website are currently listed at $125. The face value on mine is $100, and I add $0.50 per ticket, from the shipping-and-handling charge I paid with my subscription. So each pair is $201.) My seats are Dress Circle E126 and E128, on the first aisle out from the center. The view is superb.

I currently have two pairs available:

Each opera is preceded, one hour before, by an educational lecture.

I'm flexible in arranging payment and delivery -- I can meet you somewhere to exchange the tickets for cash (I live in Mountain View, near where Rengstorff Ave meets Central Expwy), or you can use PayPal or mail a check, and I'll mail the tickets back. If you're interested in seeing a show, but the date doesn't work for you, I'm happy to exchange to a different date, though of course the seats will likely be different. If you want, I can either meet you somewhere, or dial the SF Opera Box Office into a three-way call with you, so you can pick out your date and seats. I'm willing to sell the tickets separately, if I happen to get two solid offers; I want to avoid ending up with a stranded single.

I also will be selling Dress Circle J128, a few rows back from my regular seats, for Das Rheingold on Jun 14, 2011 at 7pm, and Die Walküre on Jun 15, 2011 at 6pm, for $115 each. (Xta didn't care to re-watch the first two operas; my mother wants to see the whole thing. So I'm going with my mom to the first two, and all three of us are going to the latter two. But the only way to do that was to get three full-cycle seats.) There are "a la carte" showings of Siegfried and Götterdämmerung, on May 29 and Jun 5, respectively, so if you bought these tickets, and the a la carte tickets for the latter two episodes, you'd have a "bargain cycle". You'd be seeing the latter two episodes first, but you'd save roughly a thousand bucks -- the price for a full cycle subscription in dress circle includes a "mandatory donation" of $460 per seat, and the single-ticket price is $135. I haven't received my Ring tickets through the mail yet -- I just have the letter confirming my seats -- but I'd be happy to arrange the sale in advance.

Please feel free to share this post with friends.

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When: 2010-07-16 Fri 15:58
What: Dear Intuit...
Security: Public
Mood: furious

I just received an email from you, suggesting that I sign up for a Mint.com account, because you're planning to shut down Quicken Online towards the end of August.

Now, I'd already heard about this, so that is, in itself, not too upsetting. A conversation with a friend of mine, a few months back, revealed that features I value in QO were already being imported into Mint. I'm sure that Mint is a perfectly good service.

However, when I followed the link in your email, suggesting I might want to sign up for Mint, I was not taken to any kind of special "Transitioning from QO? Here's how!" page. I was taken to the frontpage of Mint. I looked around to see if there was any info about importing my QO data; there was not. I did the initial part of the signup, and when it took me to the part where you add accounts, I looked around some more. No dice. I checked with your help forums, and found this:

If you are inquiring about importing data from your Quicken Online accounts (and I see several of you are), the timeline and details for migrating existing QOL accounts over to Mint is still being worked through, but rest assured that when it happens, your historical data (financial institutions, accounts, balances, transactions) will be preserved. That said it is likely that some information in your QOL accounts may be lost. Functionality that is tied to custom categories will be very difficult to migrate and we expect that users may need to do some work to recover entirely. We understand that this is not ideal and we are looking for ways to minimize any pain.

Let's not mince words: This is idiotic. Does Mint.com not let users create custom income and spending categories? I suspect it does; if it does, it should not be so terribly difficult to automate creating the same custom categories, and tagging transactions appropriately. The basic structure of accounting transactions has been well-known for centuries. If you can't figure out how to merge or transfer transaction data, your data managers are incompetent. I've dealt with far more difficult data sets -- try interweaving Chinese and English language data some time.

Similarly, I should not need to enter my account data. How much data could there be to transfer? The institution, the account number and/or username, and the password. If there are security concerns, I'm willing to re-enter my passwords at Mint.com, rather than having those transferred; though I'd frankly prefer to simply enter my QO password once, and have everything sucked over to Mint automatically.

Monthly budgets, as well, aren't exactly rocket science; there are spending categories, one budget number for each past month, and a number set for the current month (which, unless changed, carries over to the next month when the calendar turns a page).

What were you thinking, announcing the closure of QO without having already provided for this transition? I've been a loyal customer for something like 15 years -- I've used TurboTax to deal with my taxes every year since I started earning income. I currently am offering consulting services to small businesses that need to deal with QuickBooks. I have quite liked Quicken Online (and my fiancée was using the offline version of Quicken for years before we consolidated our finances).

It took a great deal of time and effort to get QO running: categorizing transactions often enough to get the system to do things right on its own, at least most of the time; adding the categories we needed to make the trend reports meaningful for us; figuring out how to properly record transfers, refunds, "off-balance sheet" transactions like tax withholdings, and so on. I cannot believe that you are just going to toss my investment of time and energy out the window. I'd sooner find another company to do my taxes and personal accounting with, than just meekly accept that.

I would never have expected you to treat your customers so shabbily; this is wildly different from my past experiences, and extremely disappointing. I expect an apology and a remedy.

No love,

PS: In regard to your statement that, "After careful consideration we made the decision to not transfer or allow customers to transfer their data from Quicken Online to Mint.com," I suggest that you consider some more. :-P

9 comments | post a comment

When: 2010-06-07 Mon 00:29
What: Endorsements are finished...
Security: Public
Mood: tired

Just edited in the judicial races, and the local measures.

2 comments | post a comment

When: 2010-06-05 Sat 11:37
What: Endorsement update...
Security: Public

I filled in the rest of the Propositions. Still need to do Judicial races.

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When: 2010-06-04 Fri 18:55
What: Endorsements: Primary Election, June 8, 2010
Security: Public
Mood: busy

Governor: Jerry Brown. He's the only serious candidate running on the Democratic side, and I do quite like Governor Moonbeam. I had dinner with him a couple times. Many years ago, I was dating his web-mistress, and offered to do some perl coding for her. She was working out of the loft apartment/office he was using, while mayor of Oakland, and if we were there around dinner time he'd come and invite us to join him at the table. He has an amazingly wide-ranging intellect, and a self-deprecating sense of humor. And his policies as governor last time around, particularly in the area of energy, were groundbreaking. Robert Batinovich (his appointee to run the California Public Utilities Commission) basically invented the concept of "decoupling", a policy under which you tell utilities that if they provide their customers with enough efficiency services to lower demand a certain amount, they will then be allowed to raise rates. The utility gets some more revenue, and has lower costs to procure power in the first place, so their profits get a boost; but the customer still gets lower bills than they would've otherwise seen. This win-win policy is the reason that CA has seen its energy-intensity per dollar of GDP shrink dramatically over the last three decades, while the rest of the country basically stayed constant, learning nothing from the '70s oil shocks.

Lt. Governor: Gavin Newsom. I had a conversation with him, at the convention in L.A. in April, about the tidal power project at the Golden Gate, and he knew the names of bidding companies, details of the technology, etc -- I found that very impressive. It's one thing to be generally on top of managing things, it's another to have lightning-fast recall on details that you could just trust to staff. And I think his don't-take-no-for-an-answer attitude in San Francisco -- implementing a city healthcare program, providing a public bank to drive out the payday-loan sharks, etc -- is commendable.

Secretary of State: Debra Bowen. Aside from the fact that she's the only candidate, she has done a superb job. I appreciate having somebody in charge of elections who actually cares that they're fair. Bowen sponsored a thorough investigation of voting machines, and disqualified the ones that had serious security holes. She has pushed registrars to do better and more standardized training for clerks. And she's been an advocate for experimenting with alternative election methods (mostly IRV and STV-PR, but I've talked to her about Range and Approval, and she is certainly not opposed to them and seems to think the law she sponsored to allow municipalities to try alternate methods out out should allow for them).

Controller: John Chiang. Only candidate, and seems to have done a competent job this term, continuing some of the good things Westly did -- setting up a free e-File system for folks with simpler returns, taking business tax evasion seriously, etc.

Treasurer: Bill Lockyer. Only candidate.

Attorney General: Kamala Harris. I've been kinda torn on this one because while I do think Kamala is the candidate whose policies I most agree with -- she's been particularly good in pushing programs to reduce recidivism -- I'm concerned about whether the charges that she's "soft on crime" will stick in the general. I considered voting for Pedro Nava, but polling suggests that the race is basically between Kamala and Chris Kelly, former chief council at Facebook. I might've actually considered voting for Kelly -- he's been endorsed by a friend of mine who's prominent in the party structure who went to law school with him, and I'm generally well-disposed towards techy folks (even if I have issues with Facebook's behavior around user privacy). But Kelly has sponsored viciously negative, dishonest campaign ads against Kamala. I am emphatically Not OK with that. So, I get to vote strategically for the person I actually wanted to vote for in the first place!

Insurance Commissioner: Dave Jones. I don't think there's anything particularly wrong with De La Torre, but Jones has particularly impressed me (and, apparently, a supermajority of CADem delegates -- we endorsed him) with his past efforts, as a legislator, to improve health insurance regulations. He's also sponsored a bill that would create incentives for auto insurers to validate drivers' milage (like, get verified statements about the odometer from your mechanic), and charge according to how much you drive. This makes sense on many levels. Most obviously, it's fair, since the more you drive, the more opportunities you have to get in an accident. It also creates incentives to shift from driving to alternate transportation, which is good for the environment. Jones has also been a vocal opponent of Prop 17 (more on that below), because it is likely to lead to more uninsured drivers on our roads.

Member, State Board of Equalization, District 1: Betty Yee. She's the incumbent, and seems to have done a decent job in her first term.

U.S. Senator: Barbara Boxer. Duh. Barbara is one of my heroes. (I've been kind of entertained by Mickey Kaus' stunt candidacy, and if he were running against Feinstein I'd vote for him. But not against Barbara.)

U.S. Representative: Anna Eshoo. No other candidate, and I like Anna a lot -- she's a leader in the House on energy and environment issues, and business/tech issues as well.

State Assembly, District 21: Josh Becker. As some of you may know, I've been volunteering for Josh's campaign, and have posted a bunch of links to news articles here and on my Facebook wall. I think Josh has an amazing blend of experience -- from policy work at the state and federal level, to starting multiple businesses and investing in more, to creating the Full Circle Fund and helping launch its numerous efforts to apply business expertise to difficult social problems. (One of my favorite Full Circle projects is SIRUM. It was launched as a local project a year or so ago. It's a database that taps into the inventory files of private hospitals and pharma warehouses, and alerts them when a batch of some drug that they've held in surplus is going to hit its expiration date soon, so that rather than waiting and tossing it in the trash, they can donate it to local community hospitals and clinics who have shortages. It costs basically nothing, but has delivered $300k of healthcare in our region in just one year.) I admire and respect both Rich Gordon and Yoriko Kishimoto, but I think Josh will bring a different kind of perspective to Sacramento. He'll be particularly helpful in areas such as deploying the data infrastructure our schools need in order to compete for federal "Race to the Top" funds. Anyways, I could go on for pages on this race; check out his website for more.

Santa Clara County Democratic Party Committee, District 21: Jim Thurber, William James, Diane Rolfe, Anne Mack. These are folks I know personally and who I've seen work hard to advance progressive principles.

Judge of the Superior Court, Office #7: Thomas Spielbauer. I'm not thrilled with either candidate for this slot. Spielbauer has apparently been accused of crossing the line from zealously representing his client, to misrepresenting information to a judge. (He denies this.) McCracken has "vigorously led the district attorney's fight against sunshine rules in San Jose that would have given the public greater access to police records." (And that line is from the SJ Merc's endorsement of her.) In any case, after looking at the statements and browsing a few other articles, I'm inclined to go with the person whose business was helping people fight the banks, over the person whose busines was trying to keep the public from finding out what the DA's office was up to during a period when it was (according to the Merc's own reporters) up to no good. Even if the former does look to be somewhat shady as well. :-/

Judge of the Superior Court, Office #11: Vanessa A. Zecher. I agreed with the Merc's take on this one (see the same endorsement link from the previous item -- it covers all three judicial races). Both candidates look good; Zecher looks better.

Judge of the Superior Court, Office #19: Bob Camors. Both candidates in this one look quite good. (Why couldn't one of them have run in the #7 race?!) The Merc endorsed Alloggiamento, but I'm going with Camors, because he's an expert on technical issues that are important to Silicon Valley law, and I generally think the legal world could use more people who have "studied physics, math and engineering to better deal with these cases, an unusual asset for the court." (Also, while I get the impression that Alloggiamento is not a "lock-em-up, tough-on-crime" zealot, seems to have felt the need to put a paragraph into her ballot statement where she pretends to be.)

Superintendent of Public Instruction: Tom Torlakson. Was endorsed heavily by the party. I spoke with him at a caucus meeting and at an evening mixer at the convention. He has experience in the high school and community college systems, and focused on education during his Assembly tenure. He's worked on ensuring that school facilities are safe; on offering good options for students who would rather pursue trades than the college track; and on allowing charter schools room to experiment while holding them accountable for results. A couple of newspapers, in endorsing other candidates, have suggested that Torlakson is too close to the teachers' unions; I'm not convinced. Yes, he has their support, but in speaking to him, I didn't get the impression that he was unwilling to acknowledge that the union can be wrong.

Santa Clara County Assessor: Larry Stone. Only candidate, and he's one of the most respected non-partisan officials in the state -- he's the guy that other assessors call when they have a difficult professional question.

Santa Clara County District Attorney: Jeff Rosen. Dolores Carr, the incumbent, has been a disaster.

Santa Clara County Sheriff: Richard Calderon. The incumbent Sheriff's competence is also in question due to some of the problems brought up in the articles I linked to in relation to Dolores Carr, particularly the investigation of the De Anza rape case, where evidence was not processed by police in a timely manner. Martin Monica has gotten endorsements from a number of people I know personally and respect, but he does not seem to have much support from the law enforcement community itself. I have some internal conflicts in terms of whether I'd want to see the police organizations totally lined up behind a candidate for Sheriff -- if you think some reforms are needed, the current police might not be trustworthy to judge who best to come in and push them to change. But I would expect to see some police voices on the side of the reformer, and Calderon's statement does at least claim that he sees the problems with Smith's performance and wants to change things.

Prop 13: Yes. This alters the property tax rules to roll earthquake retrofits under the existing Prop 13 rules. While I oppose Prop 13 in general, and would like to see a split roll reform, it does seem reasonable to make the tax system not act as a disincentive for earthquake retrofits. As far as I know, nobody is seriously opposing this -- the CA Democratic Party endorsed it.

Prop 14: No. I'm plagiarizing a friend of a friend for this paragraph: The "jungle primary", where the top two under plurality enter a run-off, magnifies problems with vote splitting and tactical voting. It's the system that produced Louisana's famous Edwards/Roemer/Duke fiasco. In the primary, it was pretty clear that Roemer was the leading candidate, and the question was whether Edwards (the crook), or Duke (the racist) would be in the runoff. Unfortunately a lot of people who couldn't stand Duke voted for Edwards, and a lot of people who couldn't stand Edwards voted for Duke. Roemer unexpectedly didn't make it to the general election, for reasons of over-trusting polls and tactical voting (with a side of vote-splitting: a 4th candidate, Holloway absorbed some of the votes too). From my own thoughts, if you look at the current A.G. race, where there are (as I count) two or three serious Republicans but five serious Dems, you can see how you could have 40% of people voting for Repubs, and 60% voting for Dems, but have the larger number of candidates on the Dem side lead to a runoff between two Repubs. The parties would have to resort to backroom arm-twisting to prevent that, which I think is even worse than the kind of primaries we have currently. I might favor some kind of open primary -- say, one that worked on the principles of STV-PR, or Proportional Approval or Range, and that advanced the top 3-5 candidates to the general, where you'd use single-winner Range, Approval, or a Condorcet method. Prop 14, even if some of its proponents are well-intentioned, is a loser.

Prop 15: Yes. (Partially plagiarizing the remarks of former Asm. Speaker Pro-Tem Sally Lieber at her Facebook page.) Prop 15 creates a pilot project for "clean money" public financing for the elections of Secretary of State in 2014 and 2018. This opt-in public fund would be supported by a significant increase in the registration fees for professional lobbyists and lobbying firms. To qualify for funding, candidates would have to demonstrate grassroots support by gathering signatures and $5 donations from 7,500 registered California voters. Once opted-in, they would be prohibited from raising or spending money from outside the public finance system. If a private-money candidate enters the race against them, and raises more than the public budget provides by default (roughly $1M, which is adequate to get your message out statewide even in a state as large as ours), the public fund provides matching dollars up to a total budget of 4x the original amount. Prop 15 is our best chance at reducing the impact of special interest money in politics, please vote yes. When similar systems were adopted in Arizona and Maine, many legislators who opposed clean money at the time subsequently opted in and came to appreciate being able to take all the time they used to spend on fundraising, and devote it to their constituents. (A Republican from Arizona, I believe named Marc Spitzer, came to Sacramento to testify in favor of an effort to pass a Clean Money system through our legislature.)

Prop 16: No. This is a power grab by PG&E. Currently, your duly elected representatives at the municipal level have the option under state law to organize a "Consumer Choice Aggregation" program, under which citizens can opt-in to buy green power, the city can contract with a clean power provider to take the money and allocate capacity to the city's demand, and the utility is obligated to take the green power into its grid. Obviously the reality is that once power is in the grid, you can't tell which electrons go to who, but the overall effect of CCA is that there's more green power, and the people who wanted it pay for it. It's a good system. PG&E is taking millions of dollars -- dollars paid in by its rate-paying captive customers -- and spending them on a campaign to require a 2/3 vote at the ballot box to allow a CCA program. They find it a hassle to deal with taking in power from providers that are picked by municipalities rather than by themselves. Aside from the fact that if PG&E has millions sitting around, they ought to lower their rates to folks like me who have no choice but to pay them for power, the entire campaign is offensive. They called the proposition the "Taxpayer's Right to Vote Act", when no taxes are involved at all; they're playing to the Republican base, who will be turning out for their Senatorial and Gubernatorial primaries. They also are trying to overturn the outcome of negotiations with the legislature and CPUC with which they were extensively involved. If they weren't happy with the way CCAs were working out, they could've come back to the CPUC and the legislature and said, "Hey, you know, how about we say that CCAs can request green power, but we'll be responsible for picking the providers?" I usually actually like PG&E fairly well -- of all the private utilities in the country, they arguably perform the best at providing efficiency services to customers, and they do seem committed to expanding their green power supply and meeting the Renewable Portfolio Standard. (The RPS is actually related to Prop 16 -- I believe green power under CCAs is not being counted towards a utility's RPS requirement, which is arguably unfair.) But at the moment, I am red-hot furious at PG&E. I'd be thrilled to see my city launch a muni utility, at this point. Incidentally, part of why there has been little opposition spending, is that the parties directly negatively impacted are cities and their muni utilities -- which are forbidden by law from campaigning! I think we ought to apply some similar rule to regulated utilities -- no spending ratepayer dollars on campaigning. Maybe we could let them, if they get a two-thirds vote of approval from the ratepayers. :-P

Prop 17: No. This is a power grab by Mercury Insurance. According to analysis by Dave Jones, it would likely result in more uninsured drivers on the road. Say you're a working class citizen, and due to financial problems, you miss the due date on your car insurance by a couple days. Under Prop 17, your insurer can say that your coverage was revoked for the missed payment, and then, because you now have a "gap in coverage" in your history, can charge you a much higher premium if you want the same policy reinstated. If you're already struggling, you might just decide to give up on coverage. Prop 17 is also opposed by VoteVets and by my insurer, USAA, the non-profit cooperative which is the main insurer for uniformed service personnel and their families. (My dad served in uniform for over 20 years, hence my access to USAA.) Military personnel are particularly vulnerable to having gaps in coverage, hence the opposition of military-affiliated groups.

Measure A: Yes. Bonds for school facilities. Investing in long-term assets is the standard use for debt.

Measure L: Yes. Continues an existing parcel assessment, which would otherwise expire, to support local libraries.

16 comments | post a comment

When: 2010-06-01 Tue 12:50
What: Opera tix for sale...
Security: Public

I am selling some opera tickets.

Faust, Sunday 6/20 1:30pm

Girl of the Golden West final dress rehearsal, Friday 6/4 2pm

Feel free to share with any friends you think might want them.

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When: 2010-05-05 Wed 00:48
What: Goats.com apparently in trouble...
Security: Public
Mood: sad

Apparently revenues at Goats.com are down steeply, to the point that the author is considering scaling back or abandoning the project. Which is sad -- it's one of the longest running webcomics. Its bizarre, loopy humor has entertained me for over a decade. If Jon Rosenberg was British and wrote novels instead of comics, he'd be Douglas Adams. Except for the being dead part. Every now and then somebody will remark on a funny t-shirt I am wearing. Invariably, it's the product of Jon's twisted imagination. (This happened twice today, once with a total stranger at the grocery store; I'm wearing Protobama.) The Kittens = PopTarts storyline, from before Jon had even really learned to draw, remains one of the most sublime works of comic-strip humor I've ever seen -- I practically know it by heart, and it still cracks me up. ("Damned if I know!") The strip has love, death, aliens, digital cosmology, the death of G*d, a Mayan demon lord who may be a hero, and occasional ninjas.

It's hard to grow an audience when you're literally years into a complex plot. Multi-year-long TV shows, and series of novels, have similar problems, but people expect depth in those media. The audience for comics is, I guess, less tolerant of a storyline that you can't easily enter without learning the whole backstory. It's sort of odd, too, considering that graphic novels / comics are considerably less time consuming than either of those other media. (I read the entire four-book run of Nausicaa, sitting in the passenger seat on the drive up to Ashland, a few years back.)

If you like comics at all, Goats is one of the strangest, and best. It's even available in the convenient dead tree format, that lets you read large amounts at one sitting, while riding the train. I need to get other people to read it and buy the books, because otherwise it will go away without getting properly finished. And then I will be sad.

2 comments | post a comment

When: 2010-04-08 Thu 13:07
What: If anybody would like a compact soda maker...
Security: Public
Mood: fizzy

...the company from which Xta and I got ours, SodaStream, is having a "refer a friend" promotion. I can send you a coupon code, and if you use it, they also put a credit on my account, so next time we need to swap a CO2 cartridge we'll save a little money.

We've found having our Fountain Jet highly convenient. It's definitely cheaper than buying sodas, in the long run, and you never have a moment of "Oops, we forgot to get that at the store." (Regarding price, if you're comparing to club soda -- which we were buying a lot of, to mix with our home-made syrups -- it works out to something like getting cans for 10¢ each. If you're buying their syrups, it works out to being a little more than 25¢ per can.) And of course, it decreases your greenhouse gas footprint, because you're no longer shipping large amounts of water around on trucks.

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When: 2010-03-28 Sun 13:06
What: The Obama seder...
Security: Public
Mood: curious

I'm really curious how my observant Jewish friends feel about the White House Seder. It's hard to figure out exactly what the motivation is behind holding it, since it's clearly not part of Obama's own religion. Is it just a way to celebrate with the members of his staff who are Jewish? (There are a lot of those, including top advisors like Rahm Emanuel and David Axelrod.) Does he think it's a good ritual to share with Malia and Sasha? Is it partly aimed at Jewish voters? (Seems very likely -- but doesn't it also stand a chance of offending some of them?)

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When: 2010-03-26 Fri 19:08
What: California Voters: Please help end minority rule in our legislature!
Security: Public
Mood: hopeful

For those of you who are registered to vote in California: You may be aware that passing revenue and budget bills in our legislature requires a two-thirds supermajority. While the term "supermajority" sounds like it's somehow better, or "more democratic", the truth is that, just as with the filibuster in the Senate, this provision creates minority rule. There's no accountability; the majority can't actually make policy, and the minority just nihilistically thwarts efforts to address problems, and then blames the majority when things go wrong.

We need to restore democracy to our legislature. There is a petition circulating for an initiative to be placed on the November ballot. The text reads: "All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote." And that's basically it, other than some boilerplate pointing out where this means changes, in the current constitutional text. (You can read the entire thing; it fits on a page in legible font.)

Please consider downloading, printing, and mailing in the single signature petition. Signatures are due in by April 5th.

And tell your friends to sign, too!

2 comments | post a comment

When: 2010-03-24 Wed 15:49
What: A slightly goofy idea for dealing with term limits.
Security: Public
Mood: amused

I was thinking about the term limits problem (most members of the CA legislature haven't been around long enough to build up a network and learn all the parliamentary procedures they need to know in order to lead major policy initiatives, and non-term-limited lobbyists can dominate policy simply by being the only people in Sacramento who really understand the existing law and the process for changing it) and it occurred to me to wonder whether anyone has ever considered having candidates "tag team" an Assembly office. The idea is, you'd have two people campaign with and for each other, with the goal of trading off terms, so that the pair of them can hold the office for twelve years instead of six. It might be difficult to break into the public consciousness with the idea that the new name on the second term ballot is effectively the incumbent, but the payoff might be worthwhile... Another problem is that the out-of-office member of the team would, of course, need to have an income stream, which could raise conflict-of-interest issues... :-/

Anyways, possibly not practical in most cases, but it might work for the right pair of candidates.

3 comments | post a comment

When: 2010-02-27 Sat 15:52
What: Majority Rule Initiative
Security: Public
Mood: determined

Just in case anyone downloaded my letter-size version of the petition, it turns out that you have to print the four-signature sheet on legal-sized paper; the letter size version would get rejected if turned in. There is a single-signature letter-size version available on the Californians for Democracy website; if you want to collect signatures from friends, you need to either make a lot of singles, or go print some legal size sheets at Kinko's. The deadline for signatures to get in to the Secretary of State is April 12, so if you're going to collect signatures and then get them to the organization, you probably want to mail stuff by April 5.

Please consider getting a few signatures from your friends. We need to end the practice of letting 34% of the legislature (elected by roughly 34% of the voters) completely dominate our government.

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When: 2010-02-25 Thu 11:04
What: Help fix California's broken legislature.
Security: Public
Mood: determined

A significant portion of what is wrong with California can be traced to the fact that essentially all action on our budget requires a two-thirds vote. As a result, a minority can stymie the will of a substantial majority, and there is no way to truly hold the majority accountable. If a majority could actually enact their priorities, you could judge their performance based on the outcomes of their actions (or their choice to avoid hard choices, if they went that way). As things stand, nothing ever gets done to fix our pressing problems, and you can't entirely be sure whether that's only because of the hardline minority, or whether some of the majority are perfectly happy to have the excuse.

Californians for Democracy is circulating an initiative, the relevant portion of which reads, "All legislative actions on revenue and budget must be determined by a majority vote." (Unlike the many corporate-backed initiatives that get circulated by paid signature-gathering firms, this one fits, in its entirety, on a single standard sheet of paper; other than the basic declaration, the rest is boilerplate; read it for yourself.) Note that this only affects legislative action -- it does not touch property taxes, because the limits on those were based in voter action. Again, you can read the detailed text yourself; it's pretty straightforward.*

If you think that we ought to end the practice of letting a nihilistic one-third minority shut down our government and destroy services -- everything from parks, to schools, to police and fire protection, to streetlights, to libraries, to treatment and education programs that would help reduce recidivism (and thus overcrowding) in the prisons -- then please download the petition, sign it, and mail it in. If you'd consider getting the four-signature version, and getting a few friends to sign, that'd be even better. Note that the four-signature version on the CA4Democracy site is legal size; if you'd like a letter-size version, I made one and stored it here. ETA: If you want to use the four-signature version, it's apparently legally required that you print it at the font size given in the original PDF, on legal size paper (8.5" x 14"). My letter-size version apparently would be rejected if turned in. (I guess they're concerned for people with poor eyesight?)

Pass it on. Getting signatures from 8% of all registered voters is not easy; normally it costs about a million dollars to hire paid gatherers to do the legwork. CA4Democracy only has the determination of good citizens.

* I still think a split roll, and/or a shift to a Georgist land tax, rather than a property tax, would be a good idea. But it's not the subject of this initiative.

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When: 2010-02-23 Tue 13:53
What: { Sha Cha / Sa Cha / Sia Cha } Noodles?
Security: Public
Mood: hungry

I can't remember why it came up the other night, but I was pining for the Sha Cha Noodles at the Silk Road Café in Baltimore. They're made with a fairly hearty wheat noodle (similar to lo mein noodles, maybe a bit thicker), which get stir-fried with vegetables, meat or tofu, and a spicy paste which mixes with the stir fry oil to form the sauce. The flavor is a bit like a southeast Asian version of barbecue sauce.

I remember I did find the dish at a Taiwanese place over at Cupertino Village, but the place was terrible -- the dish was bland (not enough of the paste), and they had low quality noodles, meat, and veggies. Does anyone know where I might find a good version? I successfully located good Tan Tan noodles last year -- they have them at JingJing Gourmet in Palo Alto, and I'm told that Café Yulong on Dana St in Mountain View is decent, too. (I used to get Tan Tan at a Chinese place in the Rockridge neighborhood in Oakland, but I don't get up that way very often anymore.)

5 comments | post a comment

When: 2010-02-19 Fri 19:08
What: Slate energy-efficiency idea competition.
Security: Public
Mood: competitive

Slate has a new feature called "The Hive" where they're trying to develop a system for taking ideas from readers and filtering them. (It's still kinda buggy, and the interface for browsing needs work.) The first competition is about simple, easy ways to save energy. You should vote for my submission.

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When: 2010-02-18 Thu 16:12
What: Since I was talking about the problem of inter-partisan anger yesterday...
Security: Public
Mood: impressed

...I thought it was worth pointing to a measured, reasonable article by a conservative, making an argument backed by data.

I bet there are a lot of things that Ron Unz and I would completely disagree about. But if you have somebody who's willing to defer to the data, and to admit that social dynamics are complicated, and he doesn't have all the answers, you can at least have a productive debate.

I'll have to browse his magazine a bit over the next week or two, to see if the signal-to-noise ratio is good enough to make it worth regular visits...

3 comments | post a comment

When: 2010-02-16 Tue 15:58
What: Anger versus partisanship...
Security: Public
Mood: contemplative

Bob Reich has some interesting comments on anger in the news.

I know a lot of people think that MSNBC's Keith Olbermann is little better than Fox News. I disagree, for many reasons -- he is frequently, openly critical of people on "our side", he apologizes for and corrects mistakes, he has a sense of humor about himself, and I believe he fundamentally sees his mission as providing a broad view of the facts. Yes, there's opinion layered in -- but no news can completely exclude bias, and I generally think it's better to understand the biases of your news sources than to pretend they don't exist. At the very least, editors are deciding which stories are relevant, and reporters are deciding who counts as a reliable source when investigating a story. Yes, Keith tends to spend more time covering stories that liberals care about, and he talks to sources who liberals trust. But he does not start with a desired narrative and then design his reporting to support that; he covers stories that are important and interesting (plus some fluff that the entire world is covering) and talks to people who have real and relevant expertise. (Fox, on the other hand, literally sends out a memo every morning desribing the day's narrative, and even specific phrases that should be repeated often in support of it. Their "reporters" serve the goal of controlling perceptions. They frequently lie, and more often insinuate. This is why it is hardly surprising that when you run large polls, you find that many people who get their news from Fox are completely unhinged from reality, believing crazy conspiracy theories -- "Obama is a Muslim non-citizen who wants to kill your grandma!")

Keith shifted from providing carefully neutral reporting at first, to more open partisanship, because his neutral reporting was already being called liberal. If you refuse to equivalate between views that are supported by facts, and views that are based in lies and distortions (e.g. treating global warming deniers as credible and deserving of equal time with scientists, or treating advocates of abstinence only education as credible when the studies say that their curriculum leads to higher rates of pregnancy and disease, and so on), then apparently you are a liberal, in today's America. Similarly, calling a lie a lie, rather than a difference of opinion, apparently makes you a liberal. During the Bush years, it frequently seemed like much of the media was cowed into treating administration lies as though they were just equally-acceptable interpretations -- this went all the way back to the campaign, when Bush was never called out, by most of the media, for his ludicrous claims that his tax cuts would not lead to budget deficits. You did not have to be a math genius to find that his claims didn't square even with his campaign's own publications. Apparently Paul Krugman was the only person with a major media platform who was willing to point this out. I think it's a good thing that we now have at least a few more people who are willing to do that sort of thing.

However, I have to agree that it seems like Keith has gotten more over-the-top over time -- shifting from partisanship to anger. This is probably related to the "yelling sells" factor that Reich is observing. I have been wishing, lately, that he'd dial it back a few notches. But, there are surely plenty of people on "my side" to whom anger sells well. I think Rachel Maddow still tends more towards being a policy-wonk, and more towards humor than anger, which I like; it's certainly attuned to my own temperament. (Also, Rachel definitely is capable of having a civil conversation with ideological opponents, as Jon Stewart recently observed.) One of the things I like about Obama, as well, is that he's a wonk at heart -- as John Hodgman put it, he's our first Nerd President. (He also gets in trouble because of this -- like when he tried to give an "on the one hand, on the other hand" answer about bank executives' pay, when much of the public is out for blood and the GOP is ready to launch hypocritical attacks on this topic even though they firmly oppose any regulations or pay limits.)

In any case, I think it is unlikely that Dems could accomplish anything truly bipartisan with the current batch of Republicans in Congress, who are committed to a just-say-no approach where they vote against even ideas they campaigned on, because they want to appeal to their base and deny the Dems any accomplishments. And I also think the Dems ought to wise up to this strategy and adjust their own strategy accordingly.

And I think it is completely reasonable for a news show to both report on the fact that Republicans are saying things that are not true, and doing things that are hypocritical, and to specifically call them liars and hypocrites. When you, to take an example, declare that the Obama budget has higher monthly deficits than Bush had annual deficits, you deserve to be called either an idiot who doesn't know the numbers, or a liar who is trying to misrepresent them. When you campaign in 2008 on a plan to allow people in the 55-65 age bracket to buy into Medicare, and then when the Dems propose doing that as part of health reform you specifically call it out as "socialized medicine" and declare yourself opposed, that is hypocrisy. This is not a matter of opinion.

But I think it's a terrible shame that things are working like that, and I hope that the few sparks of real bipartisanship -- e.g. from Congressman Anh Cao (R-LA-02) -- may eventually lead back to some kind of consensus governance.

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When: 2010-02-13 Sat 17:18
What: Are there any CA-11 folks on my friends-list?
Security: Public

Do you live in California's Eleventh Congressional District? Know anyone who does? The district is a bit odd-shaped (like so many). It includes areas around 680 from Danville through the Dublin-Pleasanton area, the southeast tip of Santa Clara County (Morgan Hill), and an arm that goes out to Tracy, Lodi, and Manteca.

In any case, the excellent House Rep from CA-11, Jerry McNerney has started his ballot paperwork. He is looking to submit signatures in lieu of a filing fee -- candidates have the option of substituting signatures for money. I am generally in favor of anything that roots a campaign in broad citizen support, rather than large amounts of cash.

If you or anyone you know would like to send in their signature, you can find the petition form here.

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When: 2010-02-05 Fri 09:42
What: CEO pay...
Security: Public
Mood: amused

CEOs have always argued that companies need to pay them gigantic salaries, because you need to pay top dollar to get the folks who will lead the company to greater profits. Well, it turns out that the CEO's share of a company's compensation to its top five executives* is indeed related to profitability. Inversely related. Why am I not surprised?

* I'd be willing to bet that the kind of company that awards the lion's share of compensation, from among the top-5, to the top-1, is also the kind of company that awards more compensation to the top-5, relative to the top-100, and so on. Certainly that's how the overall income distribution across the country works. To a first approximation, the US income distribution is an 80-20 power law; within any slice starting from the top, the top 20% within that group earns as much as the other 80%. The top 0.2% earns as much as the remainder of the top percentile, the top percentile earns as much as the 95th-99th, the top 5% earn as much as the 75th to 94th percentile, and so on. (This may not hold precisely true, but it's reasonably close. And I believe the wealth histogram is even more concentrated -- something like a 90-10 power law.)

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When: 2010-02-01 Mon 22:06
What: Reclusive Calvin & Hobbes creator grants rare interview...
Security: Public
Mood: nostalgic

It's hard to believe it's been fifteen years since the boy and his tiger wandered off into the sunset.

Check out the interview, the article about the strip, and the sampling of Watterson's pre-Calvin work. (Does anyone else find it kind of hilarious that Watterson apparently lived in Chagrin Falls, OH, when he was first working for the Sun Newspapers? It sounds like the sort of town Calvin would live in...)

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