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January 31, 2007

State of the Union Challenge

Last week, Ron (Akkam’s Razor) issued a State of the Union challenge, asking “do you have any stories, any real life examples of how the President's suggestions can hurt or help you?” He tagged some distinguished bloggers who frequently write about politics—and me for some reason, who never does. So yo, what’s up with that? Whatever. I should take more of an interest in politics (beyond voting regularly), and I would if only it didn’t involve so many politicians.

I purposefully avoided watching the SOTU address live; our President’s oratory makes me tense and nervous, and I can’t relax. But I did load the text into a browser window to read on the train, and when I learned of the challenge, downloaded the audio in iTunes. I was surprised by how well he spoke.

He had me at “Madame Chairman.” That was a great moment for Nancy Pelosi and the Congress, and it was good to see it acknowledged. After that, however, I was dismayed to hear so many gray areas painted in black and white.

I have to comment on a couple of issues. First, there’s the “matter of earmarks” to the tune of $18 billion. I had never heard this term, but it seems like just another word for pork. Bush got applause for his plan to cut earmarks in half by the end of session, but why did they applaud? Earmarks are put there by Congress, right? Are they at all motivated to limit them? Seems like that’s the kind of stuff that will help them get re-elected.

The new strategy to send reinforcements to Iraq sounds like the same strategy to me. I mean, if you’re trying to put out a grease fire the wrong way with water, you don’t just keep adding more water.

I’m sure the issues in the State of the Union address have a local impact. Really, they must of course, but it’s difficult to see. Kind of like electricity; it may be invisible, but it’s powerful. Health care and education are two issues important to me and two that clearly have a local impact. I went for extended periods without any health insurance and have been very lucky then to never need care and very lucky now to be covered. Many, many people are not so lucky. As long as health care remains private, at least there’s an attempt to make it more affordable. I could have used a break. I’m not aware of the effect that No Child Left Behind has had on our local schools, but I was alarmed to read about the Camden testing scandal. Inflating test scores does nothing to help the children.

By now it should be clear why I never write about politics. Still, I had more to say than I thought I would, but that’s enough. Tomorrow it’s back to lobster rolls and pussycats!


earmarks are pieces of pork which are paper clipped or dogeared onto larger bills as they pass a politician's desk. a process that the previous congress liked to do to more than excess.

Comments Working Again [nanoblog]

When I upgraded Movable Type to 3.34 on January 20, I accidentally broke commenting. I installed the new version in its own directory, and updated all links to point to the new location—except one. When I locked down the old directory, commenters would get a 403 Forbidden error. I like to think no one noticed, since I don’t get that many comments normally, but the error log shows a few people did receive the 403 error. To them, I apologize. ::administers dope slap::


Testing, testing, testing. Yup, seems to be working.

January 29, 2007

Disable “Snap” Previews [nanoblog] offers an easy way to disable those annoying popup “previews” that have been, um, popping up on some sites recently when you hover over links. Often the previews are “queued for delivery” and blank, but in any case, they are too small to be useful—for my eyes at least. Via Daring Fireball.


I actually like the Snap preview. snap!

January 28, 2007


Allow me to introduce you to Kenny:


On the reverse is written: Kenny Age 17 1951

I found this tiny picture in our yard the other day. Who knows how it got there; I like to think no one would throw a family picture away no matter how old. Kenny is likely still alive and maybe even living nearby, although I doubt I would recognize him from this picture.

This picture is challenging the notion that I have some latent ability to write fiction. I mean, it’s a gift. I should write a story about this guy, but I’m coming up blank. Well, not blank exactly, but I remember what it was like to be 17, and it wasn’t a pretty picture.

January 23, 2007

Amazon Meme

Scott unearthed his first order at, which was surprisingly easy to do. My first order was in November, 1998 and consisted of two items:

Microsoft Exchange Server V5.0: Planning, Design, and Implementation
At the time, I was supporting Exchange Server (and everything else computer-related) at a client.
Blue Matter, a CD by guitarist John Scofield
When Anne heard this, her eyes rolled back so far I thought she was having a seizure. I have so many Scofield CDs (but nowhere near all of them) that she moved them away from the rest of our little collection to their own “shrine” so I can touch them up with the chamois from time to time. Just goes to show how long I’ve been a fan of John’s work.

I can’t honestly remember the first thing I ever ordered online, but I found an email dated January 29, 1996 confirming shipment of Netscape 1.1. If I ordered this online, I wonder how I did it. Maybe I had Mosaic... I don’t remember. The email was to my first ISP post-AOL at PSI.

Back to Amazon. I was amazed that they keep all that online, and if so, why do they so often recommend items I’ve already ordered from them?

January 22, 2007

On Typing Versus Pointing

In “Typing Trumps Pointing,” Jeff Atwood highlights his favorite feature of the redesigned Start menu in Windows Vista: “Vista's Start Menu lets you type what you want instead of pointing at it.” This is an improvement? I mean, you wouldn’t think that typing would ever replace pointing. After all, didn't we leave that whole typing thing behind with DOS? But no, Jeff is totally right. It’s better. Of course, I’ll have to take Jeff’s word on how well this feature works in Vista, because I haven’t used it yet. I do my typing with a little gizmo called Quicksilver on the Mac, which is what first converted me. Sure, Tiger offers Spotlight, which you can use to launch applications or open folders, but it’s s-l-o-w and doesn’t feature the uncanny clairvoyance of Quicksilver. It’s spooky how well it reads my mind.

The killer feature of Quicksilver is its ability to learn from your choices. Eventually you can open commonly-used apps and folders with just two keystrokes. I wonder if the Vista Start menu is trainable.

Not long after Jeff’s post came news of a comprehensive guide to Quicksilver written by Howard Melman. It is excellent and showed me a metric ton of new ways to use Quicksilver. (via Lifehacker)

January 20, 2007

My Debt to Ten Stone

Really great meetup today at Ten Stone marred only by a little mixup with my tab. When I went to settle up at the end, they had no record of my order and wouldn’t let me pay despite me throwing a tantrum and holding my breath until I turned blue. One possibility is that my order somehow ended up on someone else’s tab, although I don’t know how anyone could miss the extra $25 or so. Nevertheless, if anyone recollects paying for three Victory Hop Devils and a chicken wrap, they’re mine, and I’d like the chance to settle my debt. If not, well, like they told me at Ten Stone, it’s my “lucky day.”

January 19, 2007

Milk and Honey

To get our fix of local viands after the collapse of Covered Bridge Produce, we started ordering things from Philadelphia Winter Harvest, a “buying club” we found through Farm to City. Unlike most CSAs that require a large payment up front at the beginning of the season, Winter Harvest is more a pay-as-you-go system. Send them a minimum of $50 to start and then go crazy up to the limit in your account and so on. We’ve been getting a few items once every two weeks.

One staple we order every time now is raw (unpasteurized) milk. Pennsylvania is one of only a few states that permit sales of raw milk; there are over 50 licensed suppliers in the states. I was always curious about raw milk, because it was supposed to be much better tasting, and it is, although not dramatically so. The milk we receive is homogenized (no cream on top), but it clearly has a higher fat content than “whole milk” from the supermarket. That probably contributes to the enhanced flavor as much as the lack of pasteurization does. Incidentally, Whole Foods sells un-homogenized milk, although it is pasteurized. You can’t have everything. Unfortunately, there’s still no officially sanctioned way to buy products made from raw milk, such as butter and cheese.

Our last order included a big jar of local honey as well. Anne is making her first batch of mead, and the principal ingredient is, of course, honey. The homegrown honey is almost gone, and besides, she didn’t want to sacrifice it for this experimental batch.


hey-- we've been getting stuff through Winter Harvest as well! My husband likes the raw milk also.

I had some mead many moons ago at General Lafayette Inn, I think. I remember liking it very much. I had barleywine there, too (although not on the same night). mmm.

If you can, I highly suggest Red Earth Farm for the spring-fall CSA. It may be very competitive to get a share this year, thou8gh.

I'll have to try some barleywine. Sounds good. I'm not sure what we're doing this season, but I think we're going with Pennypack Farm as they are closest.

We are also enjoying the Winter Harvest buying club. I prefer it to Red Earth, which was a little dicey last season, and it had fewer choices than I was used to. I'd love to try out the raw milk. It's supposed to have great health benefits and is treated as a black market wonder in the states where it's illegal. Unfortunately, the pregnancy prevents me from ingesting anything that hasn't been pasteurized (leaving me with no options but American goat cheese. Hmmph!). Maybe next year!

January 18, 2007

Blogger Meetup Saturday

It’s kind of hard to believe, but I haven’t been to a Blogger Meetup since June, mostly due to work commitments and maybe a vacation or two. Anyway, I will be attending the next one this Saturday and am really looking forward to it. Ten Stone Bar & Restaurant, 21st & South St., 3:00 pm.


It should be lots of fun!

Almost as soon as I find out I won't be able to attend the meetup myself, I read that the inimitable Tony Green will actually be in attendance.


Howard, I am disappointed you won't be there!

oh man, you're gonna make it out? i may have to break my no-show streak.

Albert, I’ll be there. Hope you can make it.

January 11, 2007

Waterless Pie Crust

I discovered—by accident—how to make pie crust without using water. First, however, here are a few words of context for those who never made crust from scratch.

What turns pie crust into dough (something you can roll out) is a little water you add to the flour and fat mixture. Recipes caution to use just enough to get the dough to hang together. Too little and the dough cracks; too much and you risk making your pastry tough. Typically, I usually ended up adding the maximum amount of water and while my crust was good, it never achieved the ultimate in flaknitude.

When a friend strongly encouraged me to try using a food processor, it was a revelation. The food processor did a much better job of mixing, and it allowed me to add much less water. I thought I didn't have that much more to learn until we got a tub of lard from our CSA. I made a crust with half lard and half unsalted butter and put it in the food processor. To my amazement, in the time it normally took to blend the fat and flour, I had dough in the work bowl! This dough was moist and didn't crack at all, but it was sticky and extremely fragile. Chilling it made it possible to roll out, but it didn’t make it into the quiche dish in one piece, I can tell you, although it was easy to repair. It did produce an extremely flaky crust, however. Next time, I will stop blending early and add just a little water.


Hmm, I've never tried making my own pie crust, maybe it's about time. On a lard-related note, did you ever have those potato chips that are fried in lard? Wow, they're really tasty.

Tony, last night I was eating from the bar menu of Philadelphia Fish & Company and they have a lobster roll for $15. I didn't get it (I can't say I have the same obsession that you do) but as soon as I saw it I thought of you.

Melissa, I haven’t tried those chips, but I’m sure I would love them. Philadelphia Fish serves the best lobster roll in Philly, although that’s not saying much. Still, it’s fairly authentic, and I recommend it. My review is here (scroll down about halfway).

January 5, 2007

Christmas Music

Suspend your disbelief for a minute and imagine it’s the week before Christmas, when this post was started...

While we were decorating the tree, Anne mentioned finding my high school band’s Christmas concert album. (She was digging through my LP collection for candidates to fill some 12 x 12 frames she picked up.) The stock-art cover didn’t make the cut as art, but she was curious about it. The album features my favorite piece for band, Lincolnshire Posy by Percy Grainger. It’s very challenging to play, and I remember how hard we worked to perfect it. I didn’t have the heart to listen to it, but I took off the Singers Unlimited Christmas album (my only Christmas album) to play the definitive version by Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble. Maybe it’s not very Christmasy, but I never get tired of hearing it.

Speaking of favorites, last year around this time I wrote about “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” being my favorite Christmas song. On a recent Fresh Air, singer Rebecca Kilgore led off her performance with the song and later in the show, Terry Gross interviewed the song’s composer, Hugh Martin, who is 92.


Yep, Frederick Fennell and the Eastman Wind Ensemble was definitely the gold standard by which all high school bands strive to play.

I can't remember whether I've actually played Lincolnshire Posy, or have heard it often enough to think I've played it. I think the latter? Sadly, this happens to me a lot these days.

January 2, 2007

Five Things You Don’t Know About Me

Happy New Year! This Five Things meme is so last year, but Albert was kind enough to tag me so, despite a host of excuses for the tardiness (some even legitimate ones like being sick), here goes.

  1. I wasn't always bald, but from an early age, the hair I was destined to lose had a different texture than the hair I still have. Kind of like foreshadowing. You know, if you see a wood chipper in the first reel, chances are by the last reel somebody will end up in it. Like most foreshadowing, however, I didn’t appreciate the significance at the time.
  2. My musical tastes have undergone some radical shifts over the years. My lifelong love of jazz began when I was about 14 or so, but it wasn’t my first love. My earliest passion was for Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass and some soundtrack albums I wore out, most notably Goldfinger and Henry Mancini’s music for Peter Gunn, a TV series, and Hatari, a movie. The first jazz band I liked was the Dave Brubeck Quartet (“Take Five” etc). I am mildly abashed by what I liked in those days, although in some ways nothing has changed. Today, my guilty pleasure is smooth jazz, although what I hear on WJJZ rarely matches my concept of the music.
  3. I didn't always have a day job. I played drums full time until I was around 40. As the roaring Eighties drew to a close, I saw the writing on the wall. My career had peaked, and I went back to school when I was 35 to get my degree, finally, and have led a normal, even useful, life ever since.
  4. Speaking of school, my education first went off the rails in high school. I wanted to attend the local Quaker school, but my parents thought it was too liberal, and of course it wasn’t Catholic. I ended up going to a Catholic “prep” school, which turned out to be a disaster. It was a fine school, but wasn’t a good fit for me.
  5. I didn't always love cats. In fact we grew up with dogs—three Dachshunds—and didn't get a cat until I was well into my teens when a stray adopted our family. We named the all-black male Satan. He was an all-around great cat. Not a lap cat at all, but otherwise a totally mellow fellow. I didn’t have a cat of my own until 1988 when Woody came into my life. He saw me through some difficult years and was always there cheerfully dispensing kitty therapy. In fact this site’s name is a meowmorial to the difference a mere cat can make in someone’s life.


Good lord, but you're amusing. Happy New Year to you and the Mrs!


I've been wondering about the origins of mere cat... Now I know and a big amen to the difference a mere cat (or two or three) can make in a human life. (See, there *is* still a good reason to do "five things you don't know about me" :-)