More snow

It must be January. On top of the foot-plus remaining from Sunday’s storm, we’re getting more of the white stuff today. A couple of inches so far, and I can easily believe the reports of up to seven inches by nightfall. I’ve already been out to shovel once and will have to do so several more times today so the dogs don’t freeze.

As Charlie said to me over IM, “thank goodness—we didn’t have enough already.”


Proving once again…well, something, I don’t know, the United Church of Christ issued a press release unequivocally welcoming SpongeBob Squarepants to the UCC after his “outing” by nasty intolerant bigot James Dobson. (Thanks to The Village Gate for the link.) Ups to the UCC for being the one Christian voice to consistently oppose the uncharitable utterances of the wingnuts who monopolize faith discussions these days—no matter how silly they look in responding.

I have to keep remembering, as Steven Waldman puts it, that the religious right and social conservatives “don’t want a religious dictatorship,” “feel they’re under assault,” and “believe that American culture has become an insult to God.” I’m not sure that excuses Dobson from looking for evidence of creeping homosexuality in every animated feature that comes down the pike. Then again, the Rev. Wildmon went after “Lonesome Dove” and “The Wonder Years” in the 1980s (not to mention “Bloom County”), so I guess Dobson is just following in Wildmon’s creepy footsteps.

Snow madness

On reading my tongue-in-cheek take on the “most depressing day of the year” yesterday, George thought I was snowbound and losing my mind. I wasn’t, at least not the former—after a good hour-long session with shovel and snowblower, I excavated both our cars and went out for groceries yesterday afternoon. Unfortunately, I learned a few things about driving in Massachusetts with this much snow.

First, your fellow drivers really don’t know how to drive in snow. They cut people off aggressively in slushy lanes, or else they drive 5 mph down perfectly dry pavement. Second, not every street is well plowed—at least not after two feet in 24 hours. The roads around Fresh Pond, never a joy at the best of times, were narrowed and slushy; Massachusetts Avenue from Harvard Square down to the river was essentially totally impassable, and I’ll need new shocks after jouncing my way down it. (Arlington, on the other hand, did a better job of plowing, apparently because they had wider streets on which to pile the snow.)

This morning I had a taste of the real joy of snow. Lisa had gone downstairs at 5:45 am to drive to Hartford for a client meeting, and came back up a few minutes later to ask me to get the snowblower out. Apparently the snowplows came by during the night and left another two foot by two foot drift at the mouth of our driveway. So I was out at 6 am violating noise ordinances so my wife could get to work. This is of course the flip side of Arlington’s superior plow capability.

It all starts to be a bit reminiscent of the Massachusetts Snow Diary (for the link to which I thank the comments section at Dr. David Weinberger’s blog. Apparently he has a slightly more sour take on the Massachusetts winter experience).

(Not) the most depressing day of the year

According to MSNBC, which has journalistic : apparently today, January 24, is “statistically” the most depressing day of the year. I love the “model” that Dr. Cliff Arnall (a “specialist in seasonal disorders” at the University of Cardiff, Wales) devised to calculate this phenomenon:

bunch of crap

I decided to try this formula out, but I quickly ran into a few snags. Being a reasonably intelligent person, I’ve filled in the blanks using Google and a little induction.

So first I tried to substitute for W, or weather. But what is the correct unit? One could postulate that the intended value is temperature in Celsius, so that yields (today) about -5 C. Then take my debts and subtract my salary. Let’s say that I have about $10,000 in student loan debts, about $5,000 in car loans, and $300,000 in mortgage. Leaving out credit cards for a second, that’s $315,000 for big D. And of course right now little d is 0. So the second term is $315,000. So we add that to W… and get -5 C + $315,000, since you can’t add temperatures and dollars.

But hey, just for kicks: let’s postulate that one unit of Celsius is worth $24.84. Why? Because for every degree Fahrenheit ((°F – 32)*5/9 = C) you lower the temperature in your home, you save 2-3% of your total heating bill; so for each unit of Celsius, you should realize 5/9 * 2.5% = 1.38% of your total heating bill. And with oil prices the way they are, my total heating bill this year will be about $1800, so that’s $24.84 per degree Celsius. So on a day like today, with the temperature at -5 C, W is -$124.20, meaning that the first term is $314,875.80. Do these numbers make you wish for a recommended finance site yet? Don’t worry you are not alone. Let’s keep going.

(Of course, this calculation would be totally different if you lived in a part of the country that was fueled by gas, or had a bigger house, or if the price of oil should fall through the floor. But as long as we’re going along with this ridiculous steaming pile of horseshit hypothesis, we’ll continue pulling numbers out of our asses working with the conditions at hand.

So then. The next term in the equation is time since Christmas. Now, it’s been 30 days since St. Nick dropped off his presents. Except in the Ukrainian tradition it’s only been 13 days since Christmas was celebrated (on January 7). So assuming we’re not Ukrainian for a second, we substitute 30 for T, and get 9,446,274 dollar days for the product of the first two terms.

Now we get to Q, or time since failed quit attempt. This one, frankly, is a poser. I haven’t tried to quit anything recently and haven’t had any failures accordingly. But let’s say for the sake of argument that I pledged not to be a smartass yesterday, so my Q would be 1 day (since I’m failing to uphold that pledge in spades in this post). So multiplying that, we get 9,446,274 dollars days squared.

At this point, I should confess that I’m concerned about the units and where they’re all going to go.

The last two numbers are even worse. M is supposed to be low motivation levels and NA the need to take action. You know, I’m feeling pretty damned unmotivated right now, since neither of those numbers shows any signs of having the right dimensions to solve our quandry. Ideally, between the two terms in the denominator, you would see a combination of units like (dollars days squared divided by depression index), so that you would end up with depression index in the numerator when you worked everything through. Instead, you’ll end up with dollars days squared divided by motivation and need. Does that sound like depression to you?

Don’t forget that the formula predicts you’ll be substantially less depressed today if you’re Ukrainian. Or that your depression will increase, all other things being equal, until it reaches a maximum on December 24. Or January 6, if you’re … you get the drift.

The point? This weekend, there was a conference at the Berkman Center on Blogging, Journalism and Credibility. If you were to take this one piece of “journalism” from MSNBC, you’d find it fails every possible credibility test: the formula is impossible to interpret or verify, and there is no context (other than a few quotes from PR spokesmen and a random physician) in which to judge Arnall’s credibility. A link to a paper, a biography, or something would be helpful to allow people to judge the truth for themselves.

But I guess it was too much for them to Google him and find his instructor’s bio at Cardiff, which states that he is a “health psychologist specializing in confidence building and stress management.” Hmm. Yes, I feel more confident already.

Winter foodathon

I hinted in the last post that I would be cooking today. In fact, the winter foodathon actually started earlier this week. The first salvo was a butternut squash soup. We haven’t done a lot of squash stuff generally—but this was fabulous. Roast a squash split in half, cook onions and ginger in butter, add squash and broth and cook, puree, add more butter, serve. Wow.

I actually made bread on Friday, albeit in a microwave. Whaa…? you cry. Yep. My working recipe was from James Beard, but most of the ones that Google finds are pretty close.

Saturday was a no-cooking day. We did go to the Beer Summit—despite the impending snowstorm—and made a couple of discoveries. To wit: Never complain to a brewfest volunteer that a keg is skunked (they can’t do anything about it); always seek out the tables manned by people from the brewery; and when you’re tired of high-octane American brews, their cousins from the continent will provide some well needed balance. For instance, this jewel—Kriek de Ranke, which includes yeast strains that came from Rodenbach; the Jopen Koyt Gruit Beer, hopless but spectacular; the Paulaner Salvador doppelbock, always a favorite; the Moretti La Rossa, an unexpected Italian delight; North Coast’s Old Stock Ale, just about a dead ringer for Thomas Hardy’s Ale; and the various offerings of the Konigshaven brewery, including a winter-ale spiced Quadrupel which became a favorite of our crowd. Never fear: the samples were all small, and the long blizzardly walk back to the T plus the ride back to Alewife were sufficient to strike sobriety into anyone’s heart prior to the short drive back home.

Today: snow—as discussed in the previous post—and food. Pancakes and bacon in the morning. Pancakes reminded me that I need to level our stove—instead of round pancakes, I got oblongs because of the slight front to back tilt—and change our baking powder, which we’ve had for six years and appears to have gone stale, accounting for our flat rubbery pancakes. Ah well, the coffee and bacon were good. Lunch was skipped in favor of dinner—homemade pappardelle with a Renaissance inspired ragú made with beef, onion, cinnamon, black pepper, and broth. And we haven’t seen the last of the snow yet. Tomorrow: broccoli risotto, probably, and a roast chicken, and… and maybe a thaw before I gain twenty pounds.

Ah well. It beats the blizzard of 1996, when my housemates and I found that the foods that lingered were year-old horrible brews from departed friends (the “cider” in particular was pure nasty) and a massive bowl of handmade whipped cream.

How deep’s the snowdrift, Papa? 3 feet high and rising


No kidding. We got a solid 22–26″ of snow starting at about 5 PM last night and continuing right up until now, with the plow drifts at greater than three feet. Right after breakfast, during a lull in the storm, I got the snowblower out and cleared the driveway, and it was a good thing—more than a few drifts had crested above the top of the snowblower mouth, and I had to really get creative to clear out the driveway entrance. (And, of course, when I had just put the snowblower away, the plow came back and I had to go and shovel again.)

This has been a hell of a storm. Local TV is calling it a “winter hurricane”—some coastal regions are seeing gusts up to 60 MPH and there is an “eye” to the storm. (Coverage of the storm:, New York Times, BBC.)

We bought a lot of groceries, and I’m looking forward to doing some cooking this afternoon as soon as my fingers warm up.

Mac Mini update: hard drive

Thanks to Mac Mini Hacking, I can pretty much say with confidence that:

  1. It is possible to replace the hard drive on the Mac Mini yourself, provided you have a good thin putty knife, screwdriver, and nerves of steel (see “It takes a very steady hand” for the link to the video).
  2. As the hard drive used in the Mini is a 2.5″ laptop drive, there may not be much point. The biggest replacement drive available (as far as I know) is 100 GB. For reference, my laptop hard drive currently has 35 GB of digital music on it, some ripped and some downloaded from the iTunes store. I have probably over 600 more CDs to rip, but there’s simply no room on my hard drive. And let’s not even talk about video at that size—you could only get 90 minutes of HD content on there.

So it looks like if you’re serious about doing home theater with your Mac Mini, you’ll either have to wait until laptop hard drives come in bigger sizes, or live with a stack of outboard drives attached to your Mini.

Low makes a perfect Neil Young record

the great destroyer

Low’s music has always rewarded careful listening, and its tempos have famously permitted it. Having been lumped in with the slowcore movement for their beautiful and glacial music, the band’s name conjures memories of songs that move with geological speed. But it’s reductionist to think of them as slowcore; the other ingredients in their musical mix—including memorable melodic lines, a sure sense of timbre and atmosphere, drones, the haunting vocal harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, the anchoring bass of Zak Sally, and an underappreciated sense of humor that has led them to cover songs by the Misfits and Journey (as documented on last year’s b-sides compilation, A Lifetime of Temporary Relief)—are the real musical arrows in Low’s quiver. And, with the tempos positively frantic by the standards of past performances on Long Division, those arrows find their mark in The Great Destroyer.

The album merits a song-by-song review, if only because the band’s musical experimentation causes them to stretch in many different directions at once. The album opener (“Monkey”) starts with a wave of fuzzed out bass, and the bass and guitar stay snarling at the front of the mix throughout. “California” is, by contrast, a slice of sunny pop with memorable harmonies and an oddly hooky chorus (“You had to sell the farm/And go to California where it’s warm”). The song falters a bit as it pulls the energy back in the last bridge, turning what would otherwise be a perfect single into just a great song. The same style plus a dash of guitar line a la U2’s the Edge, informs “Just Stand Back” a little later in the album, and is deconstructed with distorted vocals, odd stereo placements, hand claps, and crunching guitar lines on “Step.”

“Everybody’s Song” is menacing, embracing an abrasive guitar riff (oddly reminiscent of the one from Sun Kil Moon’s “Lily and Parrots”) and angry minor-third vocal harmonies over some seriously pounding bass drums. By contrast, “Silver Rider” sounds like old Low circa Things We Lost in the Fire—pleasant and maybe necessary after the preceding three tracks.

Then there’s “On the Edge Of.” The song sounds like the band was listening to a bunch of old Neil Young records—it has that same crazed/pining dichotomy to its structure and to the sound, and the lead guitar hook paired to Sparhawk’s high thin tenor conjure visions of Freedom. The same contrast informs “Pissing,” “Broadway (So Many People),“ and “When I Go Deaf,” which sounds less like a melding of “Low’s varied styles together into a single song” (as Sub Pop writes in the promotional blurb for the album) than a manifesto that declares that beautiful delicate vocal lines and aggressive guitar solos needn’t live in separate worlds. The closer, “Walk into the Sea,” explores the same territory by foregrounding Mimi Parker’s drumming against the delicate melody line.

The album isn’t as much of a departure for the group as it is a needed evolution. Their last album, Trust, sounded constrained by their slow-drone formula and laid bare a few too many of their influences. The Great Destroyer opens up some promising new directions for the band. It also promises that they will follow more than a few of them in albums to come, which is the best news of all.

Originally posted at Blogcritics.

On being relative: rel=”nofollow” and semantic drift

For those that may have missed it, Google weighed in a week ago with a proposal to reduce comment spam. The proposal says that search engines should not include links qualified with the rel="nofollow" attribute in the page rank calculations for their destinations—a move done in concert with MSN, Yahoo, Six Apart, Dave Winer, UserLand, Technorati, and all the other major blogging platform providers. Basically, the move is designed to remove the incentive for comment spam by insuring that URLs entered by anyone other than the blog’s author won’t get a boost in rank, and that search engines won’t follow and index the page marked with the nofollow link (unless, of course, it was linked elsewhere on the web with an unornamented link).

Pretty cool, potentially, as a solution. As discussed, it provides a neat way for blog tool providers to implement the recommendation automatically, by automatically “neutering” links entered by guests and commenters. And it uses an existing part of the HTML machinery, the rel attribute, to do the job.

Except… if you look at the allowed list of types in recent HTML specs (4.01 and 4.0), you don’t see nofollow anywhere. What you see is a list of relations that include both structural instructions to the browser (e.g. alternate and stylesheet), navigation instructions (e.g. start, next, prev), and part-of instructions that show how the link relates to the text (e.g. appendix, glossary, contents). The spec asks you to include a profile declaration in your <head> tag if you’re going to extend the list.

I’d like to see Google provide the canonical profile document for this usage, because it represents a new semantic category: search engine instructions. I don’t have a problem with that per se, since the intent of this link type is that it extends the weak protection afforded by robots.txt for the document into a stronger protection inside the content itself. (Note that the other emergent uses for the rel attribute, including Vote Links and tag links, also represent new semantic spaces that need profiles, and the Technorati developers have provided a Vote Links profile.)

See also Rogers Cadenhead’s contrarian take on the proposal.

(Updated 25 Jan to link to the official UserLand announcement of support for nofollow.)

Folkways vs. Lomax: cage match

New York Times: Smithsonian’s Song Catalog Is Available for Sale Online. Unfortunately, it’s at MSN Music, not the iTunes Music Store. Interesting choice, given the percentage of the Mac market who would be interested in Folkways recordings who are now locked out of purchasing them online (at least through September). Since the other major library of American and world field recordings, the Alan Lomax collection, is only available on iTunes, I guess this is really going to turn into a DRM technology battle.

All business is personal.

Hugh MacLeod pointed to English Cut, the blog of his bespoke tailor friend. Yes, that’s right: a tailor who cuts his own fabric and makes his own suits directly to measure, who blogs.

So why is this interesting? From the business perspective, as Hugh points out, it’s all about strategy:

“the demand for bespoke English suits is fairly steady, but the supply of young tailors willing to endure a 7-year apprenticeship has been drying up over the last 50 years. Now the average age for a good English tailor (at Thomas’ level) is around 60. So even if the market for bespoke is tiny, there’s only about 20 people IN THE WORLD who can cut an English suit at Thomas’s level. And a good portion of Thomas’ direct competition have never even sent an e-mail before, let alone started blogging.”

The service being offered here is neither cheap (a two piece suit will set you back a cool £1610) nor commoditized, so any differentiation could mean defining a whole new market segment.

Of course, the other thing that’s interesting here is that it’s the opportunity to read the thoughts and insights of a highly skilled personal artisan in a business that’s otherwise dominated by alienated labor, large corporations, and mass marketing. Sound familiar? Thomas brings it home in his post about “how to pick a ‘bespoke’ tailor” (emphasis added):

Don’t be convinced by the narcotic effect of labels, they mean nothing. Have your eyes and senses tuned. Don’t trust the glossy magazines for your info, they are writers, not cutters. Their world is about PR, not about the actual stitching.

No journalist ever had to spend seven years as a proper tailor’s apprentice. Their agendae are different from yours.

All business is personal. Especially in tailoring.

Hear that? Cluetrain in the distance.

SmartDeck: Nice, but does it squeak?

Lockergnome: MWSF – Best of Show – Griffin’s SmartDeck (Hardware). While I don’t know if an iPod cassette adapter is what I’d normally consider as a candidate for “best in show” at MacWorld, this one is making me think twice. By communicating the state of the cassette deck (paused, fast forward, etc.) back to the iPod, you can use the cassette controls instead of the iPod controls. Which is brilliant, because it basically does an end-around all the expensive car head unit integration products to allow you to do the same thing—use the buttons on your steering wheel (or the console) to control your iPod’s playback rather than taking your eyes off the road to fast forward.

The one advantage a head unit integration package has, of course, is that it uses a direct line into the stereo and doesn’t have the mechanical aspects of a cassette adapter, meaning no squeak. The adapter in my car has developed a grinding squeak that drives my passengers crazy. Mine isn’t the only adapter with the problem either.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Poe

Craig Pfeifer: Poe gets a Visitor. As a member of the Raven Society, I should write something insightful about the recurring annual visits (56 so far) of a mysterious man who leaves three roses and a bottle of cognac in the locked cemetery where rest the mortal remains of Edgar Allan Poe, great American author and poor UVA student.

But I’m more drawn to the poor behavior of the spectators, who this year apparently wanted to solve the puzzle at the expense of the mystery: “Some [spectators] entered the locked cemetery; others confronted Mr. Jerome [the curator of the Poe House and Museum] after the stranger left and demanded that he reveal his identity.“

What did they expect would happen? Why would someone want to pee in that pool? There’s something profound about a commitment that long to anything, even (if as apparently in this case) if it spans more than one generation. I don’t think that anonymity is too much of a thing to respect in the face of such devotion.

Best seats in the house this weekend: IRC

SJ’s Wiki Hut of Horror: Credibility in Journalism and on the Web. SJ, who previously liveblogged the Votes, Bits and Bytes conference at Berkman, will be at the closed Blogging, Journalism, and Credibility conference, which has stirred up a bit of a ruckus in the wake of the Armstrong Williams scandal and the attempted conservative follow-up smear of Kos (who blogged with a big disclaimer on his page while being paid by the Dean campaign, unlike Williams, who didn’t disclose his pay by the DofEd until well after he was called on it). (Anyone want another subordinate clause there?)

The IRC backchannel is always the most fun place to be at a wired conference. This one should definitely be no exception.