FROM THE 'A PACK, NOT A HERD' FILE: According to CNN, a man who exposed himself several times to groups of girls outside a Catholic school didn't get away with it the last time. A group of 20 girls chased him down the street, then kicked and punched him repeatedly while two neighborhood men held the pervert down. Heh.
THE WEST IS BURNING AGAIN: Kate Malcom at Kitchen Cabinet can't understand why East Coasters aren't very interested in the L.A. fires. Simple answer: The western United States has burned down once a year since I started paying attention to the news. They've used up their sympathy on forest wildfires, and now that it's threatening large numbers of people, we're innured to it.
That said, my uncle and his family live in Simi Valley. They almost had to evacuate, but the part of the fire near them has now been contained.
REVEALED PREFERENCES: The New York Times has an article today about e-mail addresses being sold and traded among companies. They claim that this sometimes happens even when subscribers uncheck the "receive third-party offers" box, but most of what the article talks about is what happens to people who agree to receive those offers.
By now, people realize that giving out your e-mail address with no restrictions to a marketing company will cause you to get lots and lots of spam. But sometimes, people make rational calculations and decide that giving out the address is beneficial.
"There are a lot of people who would rather register and give their e-mail addresses than pay for services," Mr. Laifer [head of a marketing company] said.
"As much as people talk about privacy," he said, "they will give it up for the chance to win a Lexus." [Says another marketer.]
If people are making those choices willingly - and they are - there's no reason to demonize the marketing companies for offering it to them.
SPAM FILTERING: Steven Den Beste over at USS Clueless has discovered POPFile, the spam filter I've been using for about 8 months. He loves it as much as I do, and sees its Bayesean filtering method as the technology that will kill spam. I'm less optimistic (and if you want the full story, go read this paper I co-authored at CEI).
Bayesean filtering is excellent. My installation of POPFile, as of right this instant, is 99.02% accurate. But it wouldn't be that way without my constant attention. I scan my "spam" folder every day looking for false positives, and I have to take the extra step of going to the POPFile user interface and clicking "reclassify" to make sure it doesn't happen again. This is also true for spam that sneaks through into my Inbox. It's not enough just to delete it; I have to open the window and let the filter know that it's spam. Without this level of attention, the accuracy would steadily fall off instead of improving.
Most users are not willing to put out this much effort to deal with spam. Steven points out that AOL has included a simplified form of this type of filtering in its latest version. In the AOL setup, the program recognizes which e-mails you delete immediately, then blocks messages similar to those the next time around. I can think of several types of messages I frequently receive for which this would misfire. Notices from Netflix, for instance. I like seeing the subject line that tells me, "We've shipped 'Star Wars' to you!", but I never open the e-mail to read their ads. I just delete it immediately. But it's not spam. I want to see what they've sent me, since there may have been a delay on my first choice movie. Some mailing lists I'm on might also suffer from this - there are several from which I delete almost all messages immediately, but read ones with interesting subject lines from time to time. That doesn't mean I want the list blocked!
I am glad that ISP's are innovating on user-controlled spam solutions, though. As aggravating as it is for me, as a mailing list manager for an opt-in newsletter at work, to click through all those Earthlink challenge-response messages from subscribers, I want these tools to be easily accessible to users. And I'm also glad that some ISP's cater to more experienced users, sending everything but dictionary attacks through and allowing people like me to configure our own filters. To fight spam effectively, each user needs the tools best suited to his own situation. If you don't believe me, go read that paper I wrote!
SLOW-ROASTED PIE: I made apple-pie last night, took it out of the oven, and set it on top of the stove to cool. Except I forgot to turn off the oven, which meant that all night, the heat moved through the burners of the stove and turned my pie filling to apple sauce. It still tastes okay, though.
Voice Recognition Software Yelled At NEW YORK—Fidelity Financial Services' Gwen Watson, 33, shouted angrily at her IBM ViaVoice Pro USB voice-recognition software, sources close to the human-resources administrator reported Monday. "No, not Gary Friedman! Barry Friedman, you stupid computer. BARRY!" Watson was heard to scream from her cubicle. "Jesus Christ, I could've typed it in a hundredth of the time." After another minute of yelling, Watson was further incensed upon looking at her screen, which read, "Barely Freedman you God ram plucking pizza ship."
I used to have ViaVoice. It was a nice toy for a month or so.
WHY IS EVERYTHING ON WEDNESDAY? Right now, I take a yoga class on Wednesdays during lunch, and an Indian cooking class in the evening. Scottish dancing classes are also on Wednesday nights, and so are many of the AFF events I'd like to go to. Why is nothing on a different day of the week?
WHERE TO SIT: SeatGuru has extensive advice on picking your seat in an airplane. The site has seatmaps for all plane types of six major carriers, with each seat color-coded green, yellow, or red, with more information when you position your mouse over the seat.
STRANGE DREAMS: Sasha and I discovered, upon waking up this morning, that we'd both had dreams about sex and conventions. In my dream, I worked for a large corporation that was hosting a convention. I, along with two female coworkers, had been assigned to entertain a group of four or five VIP (all male) conference attendees while they were in town. Unfortunately, the VIPs got the wrong interpretation of "entertain", and thought we were prostitutes. When that misunderstanding was cleared up after a frightening and unpleasant scene, we all sat down in their hotel room and had a fascinating discussion about the philosophy of sex, none of which I can remember now.
I forget what Sasha's dream was about. Maybe he'll remind us later.
COOL MONEY DAY: I have in my wallet right now not just four of the new $20 bills, but also ten Sacagawea dollar coins and two Susan B. Anthony dollars, thanks to the stamp vending machine at the post office.
STUPID TEXTBOOKS MAKE STUPID STUDENTS: I'm glad this issue is finally starting to get some mainstream press. Quote:
"When you realize that your history books and your science books and your literature books are not the result of experts sitting down and making it a wise decision, but of political pressure groups coming to the state textbook hearings, this is wrong," Ravitch said.
MIRACLE OF THE MONTH: Thursday morning, I was walking with my parents down the dirt path that leads through the empty lot between my apartment building and the metro station. You know, the one I always complain about that turns into a mud pile whenever it rains. While walking along this path, I commented to my parents, "You know, I wish they'd pave this thing."
Friday afternoon we were driving past - and the path had been paved! On Monday, they laid gravel alongside it, too. Excellent!
YES, I'M STILL ALIVE! The recent lack of posting has been due to a combination of the Klez virus and a visit from my parents. Norton AntiVirus and Utilities have cleaned up my computer better than it's been in a long time, and my parents are leaving tomorrow. So posting should pick back up again soon.
YESTERDAY, CONTINUED: Sorry for not posting an update, I know at least one person was worried. No more back spasms after those two. But my shoulders still feel weird and tight, somehow. But there's yoga class at lunchtime today!
DISTURBING STATISTICS: Turns out that couples who have daughters are more likely to divorce than couples who have sons. This is true worldwide, with the U.S. having one of the lowest gaps at 5%. (link via KitchenCabinet)
BAD MORNING: So I'm here in my apartment, just getting ready for work, minding my own business, when suddenly my shoulders decide that they want to get together for a private conversation behind my back. Literally. My back spasms and my shoulders draw together, and I collapse, gasping, to my knees and then my hands. Fucking weird.
It subsides. I get up and lie on my back on the bed. "No, don't climb on me, Ethelwolf, I'm doing shevasena."
Okay. Feeling better. Time to empty the litter box. Discover cat or cats have piled all the litter at one side of the box, then peed on the other side. Groan.
Brushing my hair, minding my own business ... another back spasm! Less painful this time. No falling down. Argh.
Off to a conference today. Will try not to scream in pain during anyone's speech.
TWO CAT STORIES: Both of my cats wear "safety collars", which are designed to snap in half if too much pressure is applied to them from the inside. This keeps the cat from catching the collar on something and strangling to death. When I got up this morning, Maggie's collar was in the middle of the living room, snapped in half. Not sure what it might have caught on. Ethelwolf's paw, maybe?
Secondly, I had a dream last night in which I found out that Ethelwolf was a purebread hunting cat. The telltale sign was the brownish spot on his head, which indicated he was descended from a Bengal Tiger.
SO MANY RECIPES, SO LITTLE TIME: My penchant for cookbooks is finally starting to catch up with me (though I'm still way behind Heidi). There are dozens of recipes I'd like to try, but each one feeds me for at least two days! If anyone in the DC area wants me to feed them a couple times a week, please, get in touch.
The recipe was actually for fettucini with shrimp, but I don't like shrimp. I thought about putting in chicken instead, but decided to make it vegetarian and go for cauliflower. Curry and cauliflower make a good pair. Anyway, it came out fantastic.
I skipped the recipe for fresh pasta, and used the regular dried stuff in a box. So all the excitement was in the sauce. First, a curried butter is made from mashing softened butter with curry powder, ginger, and lime juice. Set that aside while you brown some shallots in butter, then deglaze with white wine and chicken broth and reduce. After that, whisk in the butter, then some plain yogurt.
My yogurt curdled slightly , but the taste was still fine. I searched the grocery store in vain for full-fat plain yogurt, but eventually had to make due with reduced-fat (not fat-free, that definitely would have curdled).
I boiled the cauliflower as usual and added it in at the end when tossing the sauce and pasta.
Odds and ends:
I never wrote about the Persian crusty-rice I made last week. It was delightful! I'll definitely make it again. I've been experimenting with making the crust alone, through some combination of eggs, yogurt, cooked rice, and frying, but I haven't come close to the taste and texture of the original.
Tonight, I'm going to make almond-pear coffee cake from a recipe in this month's Bon Appetit.
For dinner tomorrow, I'm going to make lentil soup with Swiss chard from a recipe in this month's Cooking Light.
WEIRD PROTEST: I forgot to mention this earlier. Yesterday, as I was leaving work, there was an anti-Israel protest going on in Farragut Square, complete with three or four people dressed up as bulldozers.
NOT-SO-WONDERFUL BREAD: In my quest for a wheat bread that I actually like, I've been buying whatever the grocery store has on sale in order to sample new brands more cheaply. This week it was 100% whole weat WonderBread, which I heartily do not recommend. It tastes all right plain or in regular sandwiches, but it cannot be effectively toasted. I know this because I burned two separate pieces of toast this morning.
That's right, me. I burned toast. To the point where smoke was coming out of the toaster oven. For the second piece, I actually watched it closely. The bread did not show any signs of browning, then I looked away for about fifteen seconds, glanced back, and the entire top of it was black.
SNACK FOODS: Have you ever noticed how good a snack food can taste when you haven't eaten it for months? I always keep some kind of snack food in my desk drawer at work. For the past few months, I've alternated between Utz potato chips (various flavors), pretzels, and the occasional can of mixed nuts. Yesterday, looking for something I hadn't had in a while, I picked up a bag of tortilla chips. Man, they taste good!