Thursday, December 31, 2009
1. Bike to work (to downtown St. Paul from south Minneapolis) on Bike to Work Day.
2. Ride in Southwest Community Education's annual Midnight-to-Dawn bike ride.
3. Always get to the gym enough times each month to get the health insurance discount on my membership fee.
Hopefully having concrete goals (metrics!) rather than a vague notion of "work out more" will help me. Measurement is useful.
Someone from Grinnell linked to this piece on how to make resolutions, which I liked. It in turn linked to the One-Minute-Rule, which I really like and hope to implement.
Anyway, masturbatory self-improvement aside, I hope you all have a fine new year. Don't take any guff.
Tuesday, December 29, 2009
I got some good news on Christmas Eve. I received* a letter from the MN Board of AELSLAGID stating that they need $132, because that's the license fee to be a registered professional engineer in the State of Minnesota, which was pertinent because I passed the PE test in October! I guess the 36 hours of review class and 78 lbs of books worked. And my knowledge of things such as vertical highway curves (pictured) won't be tested again any time soon.**
This is all very good for a host of reasons, but here's an interesting one: because a coworker and I passed this exam, it keeps alive a streak at our company. In the history of our firm, no structural engineer in its employ has ever failed the PE exam or its historical equivalent. I mention the historical equivalent because the firm will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2010. So the pressure's off.
* ...and promptly dropped in the snow off my front stoop and had to retrieve with a pair of scissors...
** Note: if you have questions about vertical highway curves, I can recommend some people.
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
"Sure, uh... Charlie Brown. I can, uh, tell you... what Christmas is all about.
Uh, lights, please?
Let me be clear: there were, in that same country, shepherds. abiding in their fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night..."
Anyhoo, I don't think if Charles Schultz had studied 21st Century consumer trends and personally cast a group of kids with attitudes towards Christmas as much like Lucy ("I never get what I really want: real estate") or Sally ("All I want is my fair share. All I want [breathe] is what I have coming to me") as can be found, he could have set up and scripted this mayonnaise:
I actually prefer the unedited transcript. This exchange reads better than it sounds. A tip of the hat to Kotaku anyway, since that's where I saw this first.
If I don't post again in the next day or two, Merry Christmas, everybody.
If you're looking for something Christmassy, you should know that someone has posted the entirety of A Muppet Family Christmas on YouTube in HD. Enjoy!
Thursday, December 10, 2009
1. This video has been bouncing around the liberal blogosphere (I watched it at Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog). In it, Rachel Maddow picks apart the arguments of Richard A. Cohen, an author and therapist who treats patients who don't want to be gay. His writings have been repeatedly cited by the Ugandan proponents of laws to criminalize and severely punish (including the death penalty) homosexuality in that country. Maddow clearly disagrees with him, and does not mince words, but is well-prepared, specific and respectful, letting him defend himself and his work to the extent that he can. Imagine the alternatives, an O'Reilly or Olberman type, hectoring their guest without letting them get a word in, or an overly-deferential Meet the Press kind of exchange that takes the guest's qualifications and assertions at face value.
Update: SIDEBAR! Pastor Rick Warren, who has also drawn flak for his associations with the Ugandans pushing the anti-gay legislation, to his credit, has strongly spoken out against it.
2. The American Civil Liberties Union has lost the financial support for the next year of a major donor who would have been giving on the order of $20 million. The ACLU's annual operating budget is apparently only about four times that, so this is a huge hit for them. The organization is a truly non-partisan one; if you have political opinions of any kind, chances are they've been fierce defenders of and litigants against people with whom you hold common cause. They've taken up causes to the agitation of conservatives and liberals alike. But I am of the opinion that their work, to "defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties that the Constitution and laws of the United States guarantee everyone in this country," is vital.
If you want to help support the ACLU, you can donate at their web site. As a commenter at Balloon Juice points out, if you give, you get to call yourself a "card-carrying member of the ACLU." And then George H.W. Bush can repeatedly point that out as if it's a bad thing when you run for president against him in 1988. I was a member for a year or two early in the decade. Perhaps it's time to re-join.
3. Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) fisks the NYTimes op-ed by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-MI) defending his amendment to the House health care bill regarding coverage of abortion.
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
You may already be familiar with Flickchart, a site that applies the mechanic of Kittenwar to the rating of motion pictures.* You are shown the posters of two films, and you click on the film you prefer. You do this a lot and it slowly, over time, builds a list of your favorite movies.
Sometimes, you are presented with movies that should never be compared (The Passion of Joan of Arc vs. Bio-Dome). Sometimes you are presented with a difficult choice based on which one you love more (a common one on the site for this is Ghostbusters vs. Back to the Future, which is easy for me: Ghostbusters by a mile). Sometimes, you can't decide which movie you dislike more (Star Wars Episode I vs. Episode II) Sometimes, because a particular movie just hasn't been put up against movies you prefer, it might stay artificially high on your list for quite a while. V for Vendetta is nowhere near my favorite movie, but it was positioned as such for about a week after I first signed on (it now sits at #283, which still feels stupidly high).
As my list took shape, I started to worry a little bit about the picture that was emerging. If what you like does define who you are, then according to Flickchart, I am a nerdy male in his late 20s or early 30s. Dingdingdingding!
I consider myself someone who enjoys movies and has sought to see a wide variety of films. Yet I am struck by how parochial my list of favorites is turning out to be. My top 20 matches in large part the current top 20 aggregated from all users both at Flickchart and at the Internet Movie Database (I do have my limits -- The Dark Knight or The Shawshank Redemption as the greatest movies ever?**); let's just say there is a high incidence of Tarantino and early Lucas.
Even looking year-by-year, I'm finding my favorites very predictable when considering the "nerd canon" of films. I'm feeling like I have a demographic predisposition.
I've decided that my second-favorite movies of these years tend to be somewhat more eclectic and unpredictable. So, subject to a handful of gigantic caveats***, here are my second-favorite movies of every year since I was born:
1979 - Alien
1980 - Airplane!
1981 - The Great Muppet Caper
1982 - E.T.
1983 - Trading Places
1984 - Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom [Seriously?]
1985 - Clue
1986 - Ferris Bueller's Day Off
1987 - The Untouchables
1988 - My Neighbor Totoro
1989 - Do the Right Thing
1990 - The Hunt for Red October
1991 - Beauty and the Beast [yeah, that's right]
1992 - Hard Boiled
1993 - Groundhog Day
1994 - The Shawshank Redemption
1995 - Seven
1996 - Swingers
1997 - Austin Powers
1998 - Dark City
1999 - Rushmore
2000 - Magnolia
2001 - Memento
2002 - Infernal Affairs
2003 - City of God
2004 - Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
2005 - Caché [which I've seen twice, but only on an airplane]
2006 - Casino Royale
2007 - Michael Clayton
2008 - Wall-E
2009 - A Serious Man
Based on these and my above comments, you may very well be able to extrapolate my favorite movies in many of these years.
Please share some of your second-favorite movies in the comments!
* A tip-of-the-hat to fellow Grinnellian Adam Kempenaar and his cohost Matty Robinson at Filmspotting for making me aware of the site.
** I realize I'm making a false equivalence of community-proclaimed favorite and "best," but that's unfortunately how Flickchart, at least, describes it. The IMDB at least just calls it "Top 250 as voted by our users."
1. Remember, these are in terms of "movies I enjoy and hold as favorites," not "movies I think are 'better' movies."
2. Several of my yearly lists aren't really settled yet.
3. Flickchart defines the release dates of some end-of-year Oscarbait movies as being the beginning of the next year. Thus they call There Will Be Blood, for instance, a 2008 rather than 2007 film.
Thursday, December 3, 2009
Two of the more interesting reactions I've read to the vote are:
Here, a good overview of the vote and the background to it from Gay City News. I guess a number of Republicans had privately expressed their support for marriage equality. Not a single Republican voted for it. And several of the nay-voting Democrats have benefited greatly from gay support. As Andrew Sullivan notes, all but one (the Democratic Pentecostal minister from Brooklyn) of the Nay votes did not say a second word about their vote on the floor.
Here, where DougJ at Balloon Juice, a Democratic resident of a Republican-represented district of Upstate NY, expresses his confusion about why his otherwise gay-friendly Senator would vote against this. He correctly points out that fighting equality isn't just socially backward; it's economically backward.
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
HS = Horn section
HC = Hand claps
1. The Underdog – Spoon
I don't understand how this wasn't the opening track on Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga. The pounding opening track demands that you batten down the goddamned hatches, because here comes the album. (HS, HC)
2. Après Moi – Regina Spektor
It doesn't feature any of her trademark glottal stops and has less vocal bending than some of her songs. But it starts with just her and the piano and adds instruments, to a chamber ensemble at midsong and a full orchestra at the climax. And it's in three languages (including a refrain in her native Russian)! Sold! The xylophone bits sound very Saint-Saëns/Danse Macabre. (HS)
3. Watching The Detectives – The New Standards
Elvis Costello's original version of this song was spooky in its own way (thanks mostly to the backup vocals), but this cover is darker and more menacing. I know that the song has a meta-narrative to it, that the "she" who is watching the detectives is doing so on TV, but this version makes it sound more like she is a character in Twin Peaks. Cellophane-wrapped, indeed. The New Standards are a Twin Cities jazz combo made up of Chan Poling of The Suburbs (and Mr. Eleanor Mondale), John Munson from Semisonic & Trip Shakespeare, and Steve Roehm on the vibes. They've released two albums of pop music covers that I stumbled upon in the last days of 2008. They are excellent. (HC)
4. Ulysses – Franz Ferdinand
Another fine, clockwork beat from Franz Ferdinand. Seems to be more James Joyce than The Odyssey, although of course the former was informed by the latter. (HC)
5. I Feel It All – Feist
After hearing her on The Current for a couple years, I finally listened to The Reminder, and really liked it, in particular this song and 1234. I think 1234 went into the mix cd penalty box at some point in the past year, so I went with I Feel It All. (HC)
6. It’s Not My Birthday – The Fluid Ounces
Easily the best song on a They Might Be Giants tribute album called Hello, Radio.
7. Behind Blue Eyes – The Who
I always liked this song, but I learned to love it playing the drums on it in Rock Band. Keith Moon gets to sit quietly for several minutes as the song slowly builds, and then has a minute-long frenzy, and then stops.
8. Five Years – David Bowie
My favorite Bowie songs, from before he went to Berlin and shouted at microphones from the other end of a concrete room, are cinematic and emotionally exhausting. Like this one. Here are two excellent live versions: Bowie on TV in 1972, and with the Arcade Fire in 2006.
9. Use Me – Bill Withers
This year I joined the horn section of an R&B band. The band played this song, but it was one of only a few in our repertoire without horns. So why pick this one? The riff and the drum rim knocks at each chorus would be enough, but what puts this song over the top is the hand claps. There are three of them, and they occur once. The only song I know of with more effectively restrained use of hand claps is Elvis Costello's "Welcome to the Working Week," which has two, right at the end of the song. (HC)
10. Boombox – The Lonely Island ft. Julian Casablancas
This is the only really funny song off the Lonely Island's album that hasn't already been an SNL Digital Short. My favorite line occurs at the end of the bridge. (Not counting the drum-machine hand claps on this one.)
11. For Once In My Life – Stevie Wonder
The Robinson Caruso Organization rehearsed this song a couple times this summer. It may in fact now be in our repertoire (I've been on hiatus). I hope so, because it is amazing. (HS)
12. Flathead – The Fratellis
My friends Joe and Troy both repeatedly extolled the quality of the Fratellis. They're a Scottish band, practitioners of rock music that is fun and doesn't take itself too seriously (thanks, Allmusic!). I swear I'm not purposefully selecting songs that were in iPod commercials, and haven't even seen the one with this song. Honest. (HC)
13. Main Theme from Dark Of The Sun – Jacques Loussier
This was in Inglourious Basterds. It is good. (HS)
14. Reckoner – Radiohead
This song, especially the a capella break, stunned me into putting down the sandwich I was eating to give it my full attention. And I like sandwiches.
15. All My Friends – Franz Ferdinand
This summer, Pitchfork put together a list of the Top 500 songs of the '00s (with additions expected at the end of the year). The original of this song, by LCD Soundsystem, was #2 on the list (between Outkast's B.O.B. at #1 and M.I.A.'s Paper Planes at #3, both songs on past Beukemixes). I prefer the Franz Ferdinand cover, which was a b-side to the original's single.
16. Hey Bulldog – The Beatles
When The Beatles: Rock Band was released in September, this was the only song in the game I didn't know. It was also the first song the game selected for me to play. It's off of the Yellow Submarine soundtrack, and one of only two songs original to that album that are worth a damn (the other is "All Together Now."). I actually like the edit that the game makers made to the song: near the end, when McCartney yells "Quiet! Quiet!" the song ends immediately instead of fading out.
17. I Cut Like A Buffalo – The Dead Weather
This is the third distinct band featuring Jack White whose songs I've put on Beukemixes. He could've gotten on last year's for his duet with Alicia Keys if their song from "Quantum of Solace" hadn't sucked.
18. While You Wait For The Others – Grizzly Bear
Heard this on the Current. It's bass-heavy and atmospheric, and thereby right up my alley.
19. You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute – Flight of the Conchords
My favorite song from the second season of FOTC (although Too Many Dicks On The Dance Floor and Demon Woman come close, too). In an interview, Brett describes the song thusly: "It was just doing a song like 'Roxanne,' but it's got a judgmental—it makes a lot of assumptions about the profession. Singing a song about prostitution, like 'I'll stop you from being a prostitute with this song.'"
20. Heaven Can Wait – Charlotte Gainsbourg ft. Beck
I added this to the mix last night after seeing the video on Andrew Sullivan's blog. The lyrics sound like classic Beck, and come to think of it, the visual oddities, which I guess are all actually culled from internet art images, could have also been taken from lines crossed out in the margins of Beck's notebook ("pancake astronaut skating on burgers"?). (HS)
21. My Lover’s Prayer – Otis Redding
Being in Robinson Caruso has deepened my appreciation for the output of Stax Records in general and Otis Redding in particular. I first sought out this song after hearing it on the Sopranos years ago. Over Thanksgiving, my brother-in-law was spinning songs on his laptop, this one popped up, and I decided it would be a fine way to end the mix. (HS)
Horn Sections: 6
Hand Claps: 5
Thursday, November 26, 2009
I'm in California right now for Thanksgiving, having come out here a little over a week ago for a memorial for Melissa's grandmother Linda, who was a remarkable, funny, vivacious woman. Melissa and her mother have been trying to figure out a song that Linda was singing at Thanksgiving last year. We've struck out on Google, and so now I turn to you, dear blog reader, for assisstance.
We know very little, only a fragment of lyrics and melody. The words are probably only partially right. Any of us could sing the portion of melody (which is just sort of a repetitive stepwise thing) we know, but here are the lyrics, such as they are:
"He puts me on his income tax /
and writes me off as [beat] property improvement"
Any ideas? The subject matter almost suggests a Marylin Monroe ditty, but as I mentioned, our Google efforts have been futile thus far. So, if anyone knows anything about this song, let me know in the comments!
Via Facebook, fellow Grinnell alum and all-around great guy Evan Schnell has found it. The song is called "He Takes Me Off His Income Tax," and is from a broadway musical revue called "New Faces of 1952," which launched the careers of Paul Lynde and Eartha Kitt, among others. Some of the songs are from other shows, while some, including apparently this one, are original to the revue. Part of the shtick from the show seems to be that the woman singing it is interrupted every time she sings it, several times throughout the show. So the recordings available online are all medleys of that song plus another, it seems. Thank you, Evan, for saving the day!
Monday, November 16, 2009
As usual, feel free to add your answers in the comments, and I've now posted the answers to my last quiz(es). With this kind of a gap between quizzes, it forces me to essentially play each quiz in order to write the answers.
1. After Hasbro bought Avalon Hill, makers of the game "Diplomacy," the pieces in that game representing armies and navies were replaced with metal howitzers and battleships, cast from the same dies used for pieces in this other Hasbro title.
2. BEFORE & AFTER: Star of "Munich" and "Hulk" who's a word game played with tiles stored in a bag shaped like a piece of fruit.
3. On July 3rd, 1940, a British Naval task force attacked and destroyed a portion of the fleet of this future ally, fearing that its ships would become part of the German Navy and demonstrating British determination to continue fighting.
4. Prior to the upcoming Winter Olympics in Vancouver, this was the westernmost location to host the winter games (Note: for these purposes, the international dateline is defined as the western end of the map).
5. As of 2009, it is the only country in the Southern Hemisphere to have hosted any Olympic games.
6. One of the two directors, other than Quentin Tarantino, to have directed films written by Tarantino.
7. It is a more common name for the typographic character called the asperand or amphora.
8. According to "Chicago" keyboardist Robert Lamm, this song's title refers to the time 3:35 (or 3:34) AM.
Friday, November 13, 2009
He capped off his years in Chicago with a tour leg opening for Zach Galifianakis through the midwest, and with Unpronounceable, a one-man show about his experiences going from a traditional Islamic background in Pakistan to one of the most liberal colleges in the US. Then he moved to NYC, where he has performed constantly, appeared in speaking roles on SNL and The Colbert Report, was a writer and regular on Michael and Michael Have Issues, and recently had a feature article written about him in the NY Times.
Tonight he'll be on Letterman. There is one other scheduled guest, some other up & comer by the name of Mariah Carey. Check him out: he is very funny.
Monday, November 9, 2009
In case you didn't feel you had a good handle on how much of a geek I am, uh, batten down the hatches.
Back in August I mentioned the then-upcoming Principles and Practice of Engineering (aka Professional Engineering, or PE) exam I would be taking this Fall. Well, it happened, on October 23rd. Here's a peek inside the world of engineering.
I'm trained as a structural engineer. This is a subset of civil engineering, broadly and poorly defined as the technical design of spaces and places and ways to get between them. If I'd been a civil engineering major as an undergraduate, I'd have taken other civil courses, like transportation (roads and rails), geotechnical (soil and foundations), environmental (water and treatment thereof), and so on. I wasn't. I was a physics major, and went to grad school for structural engineering. So my only engineering classes were structural, or related to structural. But, to be licensed to sign structural OR civil engineering drawings in the State of MN (something my employers would like me to be able to do), you have to pass the civil, rather than the structural PE. [Note: my previous company does this differently. They ask their structural engineers to take the Structural I exam, which is 8 hours on structural engineering alone. I will end up taking some version of that in the future, since some states that aren't Minnesota require it to sign structural drawings.] So the upshot is that when it came time for me to take the exam, I was looking at being tested on a bunch of stuff I'd never learned before.
In the Civil PE, everybody takes the same morning session, a four-hour-limited survey of civil engineering topics, which is listed as breaking down something like this (CHARTS!):
So, of the topics, only the last three listed here are ones I have significant background in, totaling 1/5 of the session. In the four-hour afternoon session, you pick which broad topic (geotechnical, water, transportation, construction, or structural) you want to take, so my whole 8-hour day was to break down like this:Hurrah! I was nominally over 50% in terms of topics I had any background in. To increase my chances, I took a PE review course offered by the MN Society of Professional Engineers along with a coworker. It provided a nice introduction to all those non-civil topics, which was then reinforced with some practice problems and sitting down with a couple colleagues who both passed the test last Spring.
There are a whole host of regulations to ensure that engineers taking the test do not cheat. You cannot bring anything that can communicate wirelessly into the room -- they make you leave your phone in the car or check it with them. You cannot bring your own writing utensil or any loose paper. You can only have a calculator from their narrow list of approved models (one or two model lines each of TI, HP, and Casio). The test is open-book, with one limitation: anything you bring in has to be bound, and three-ring binging counts as binding. In the room, you can tell which people are structural engineers, because they bring luggage instead of a box or crate:
So that's eighteen references*, two TI-30XII calculators (one borrowed), the instructions for the calculator, my asthma meds (just in case), the admission ticket for the exam, and Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett, in case I was looking for distraction at lunchtime. Most of the books aren't mine, but borrowed from the structural & transportation groups at my firm. I did not use all the references, but there were several questions I would not have been able to answer without having brought certain books. Incidentally, that white binder at the top isn't even all of the AASHTO bridge design spec. Just the chapters I thought would be useful. I'm glad I'm in the building business.
So how much does a rolling suitcase full of engineering books weigh? I enrolled the suitcase in Wii Fit the night before the test to find out. I selected for its avatar the Mii based on Robert Evans that I made a couple years back. The suitcase is 3' tall, which with a weight of about 78 lbs gives it a body-mass index of 43.11:
Pretty bad, especially if, as this suitcase, you're only two years old.
Anyway, I felt pretty good about the test, and will find out in another 6-10 weeks whether I passed or not. I'd say more, but I'd hate to have the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying accuse me of somehow publishing their secrets. I'll let y'all know if I get to put new letters after my name in a couple months.
* For the truly strong of stomach, here is the list of references I took with me, from left to right, top to bottom, as shown in the photo above:
- The Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute Design Manual
- The American Institute of Steel Construction Manual, 13th Edition
- Civil Engineering Reference Manual (textbook from our class - crucial for the morning)
- Practice Problems for the Civil PE
- The Transportation Review Board Highway Capacity Manual
- The AASHTO Bridge Design Specification (select chapters)
- Kassimali: Structural Analysis
- Nilson, Darwin & Dolan: Design of Concrete Structures
- American Concrete Institute Building Code and Commentary (ACI 318)
- The International Building Code (IBC) 2006, select chapters, and various reference and design aids I've collected
- Minimum Design Loads for Buildings and Other Structures (ASCE 7) 2005
- Notes and practice problems from the review class
- Powerpoint slides and more notes from the class
- Gere: Mechanics of Materials
- American Wood Council National Design Specification and Manual
- AASHTO: A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets (the "Green Book")
- Masonry Standards Joint Committee Building Code Requirements and Specification for Masonry Structures
- ? & ?: Materials for Civil and Construction Engineers (I rarely use this book day-to-day, but I'm pretty sure it got me a point on the test)
Saturday, October 31, 2009
You may know that Melissa and I are big proponents of Morningstar Farms' line of fake meat products (especially the "beef" crumbles for making tacos, the "sausage" patties with a pancake breakfast, the Chik Nuggets, and the fake bacon to toss on a veggie burger), to the point that we've long joked that we should buy stock in the company. Unlike Melissa, I am not a vegetarian, but I enjoy their products. Less fat and cholesterol than the real thing, but still very tasty.
You may also know that I am a corn dog enthusiast, and particularly a fan of "Pronto Pups" at the MN State Fair. Back in college, my friends Whitney and Dan challenged me to try Morningstar's veggie corn dogs, claiming they were as good as the real thing. They were right. It was perfect: they were filling, fast-to-prepare, tasty, and healthier than a meat corn dog. During grad school, having a hot meal I could put together in 2:30 was a great boon, and I was hooked. Morningstar corn dogs became a staple food for me thereafter.
The corn dogs disappeared from shelves this past May, with the mini corn dogs remaining available for a short time after that. Then they disappeared, too, and there was no joy in corndogville (though probably still more joy than in Dogville). Google searches over the summer led to the news that Morningstar had recalled some of their veggie dog products due to problems with their production chain not meeting "good manufacturing practices." Then came news that all their veggie dog and corn dog products were "temporarily out of stock" while they remedied a supply chain issue. Meanwhile there remained a significant hole in my "I need to eat fast and get out of here ASAP" routine. A routine I was quite happy with, thank you very much.
Now I learn that all their veggie dogs have been discontinued. Argh! One niche blogger speculates as to whether this discontinuation could damage Morningstar as a brand. I don't know about that. After all, they still make a bunch of other great products (see above). At SuperTarget, for instance, Morningstar Farms products still take up most if not all of one stack of shelves in the freezer section. It'll take a good deal more erosion to get people to stop buying the remaining products, it seems to me. Plus, hey, they're owned by Kellogg's. Not exactly a small producer easily affected by the loss of one product.
That does, however, raise the question of why they're having such a problem getting a reliable supply of veggie dogs. Surely a company like Kellogg's can find someone to make veggie dogs without doing whatever their supplier was doing before. Hell, now that Reading Rainbow is off the air, they could just take the money they were using to sponsor LeVar Burton's entreaties to not rely solely on his opinion of literature, and spend it buying, I dunno, SmartDogs.
In the meantime, does anyone know where I can get my hands on some vegetarian frozen corn dogs?
Wednesday, September 30, 2009
It may come as no surprise, then, that I am a visual learner, and like to make use of visual arrangements of information when trying to learn it. And the act of putting said information together myself only helps cement the information. Hence my Jeopardy notebook. But I find myself from time to time doodling lists, tables, or graphs to wrap my brain around something. To explain my own oddities better, I thought I'd share a few with you.
First, a simple one. I found myself at lunch one day for some reason reading about the history of the NFL in Los Angeles. When I was growing up, there were two NFL teams in LA, but both left for greener pastures when I was in high school. I could never remember which teams were where, when (especially since the Raiders were originally in Oakland, then went to LA for a little over a decade, and then returned to Oakland). I decided to make a little timeline:
OK, next is something to keep track of current events, specifically the 2009 AL Central pennant race between the Twins and Tigers. At some point I picked up the habit, inherited from my father, of marking up a Twins pocket schedule with wins & losses. So this is hanging up in my cube:
I added the pre-All-Star-Break record as a midsummer stock-taking of the team. Anyway, with less than two weeks remaining in the season, I decided to start keeping track of not just what the Twins do, but also the Tigers. Last week I stuck this on my schedule:
Green means good and red means bad. The blue number is the Twins' position in the standings relative to the Tigers. From here on out, the Tigers have the "harder" schedule, but when you're in the AL Central, everything is relative.
And I do this all the time. On the practical side there are to-do lists and tables at work. On the self-interested side a calendar tracking Jeopardy contestants who qualify for the 2010 Tournament of Champions (Melissa and I are also keeping a spreadsheet on this one). And then there's the trivial. A hand-filled map of Minneapolis neighborhoods. Colored maps of the 2008 US Presidential primary and general elections. A spreadsheet of Brave New Workshop shows and casts since I started working there in 2001. Venn diagrams of classic rock band personnel. It is a disease.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
Hey, while we're talking about the beginning of World War II, I feel that I should follow up my earlier complaints about the boringness of George Orwell's "blog" by saying that it started getting really good this summer. The past couple of weeks, in particular, have been absolutely fascinating, viewing the outbreak of the War from within the fog of the time. I'm intrigued to learn more about this nightmare as it plays out in real time, 70 years after the fact.
You can't go wrong by starting with yesterday's entry, which starts:
Invasion of Poland began this morning. Warsaw bombed. General mobilization proclaimed in England, ditto in France plus martial law.If Poland had only been willing to bargain about Danzig, this would have all been avoided, right, Mr. Buchanan?
Update 9/3: Found a link to this excellent take-down of the Buchanan piece.
Other Update 9/3: Good lord, 70 years, not 60. This is why I don't trust my brain to do arithmetic for me by itself.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Brian Beutler points out a deeper irony about Bartiromo's zinger:
Obviously, the real punchline is that many of the people criticizing the Democrats' health care plan don't have the foggiest idea how any of it works. And Bartiromo in particular reveals--however inadvertently--that she thinks elements of the proposal make perfect sense. Yes, she's wrong to assume Weiner could buy into Medicare, and she's wrong to assume that he chooses not to because the coverage is sub-par. But ironically, the idea that Weiner should be able to buy into Medicare seems totally uncontroversial to her. And that, of course, is the whole point of the public option.Relatedly, Factcheck.org has a breakdown (/takedown) of a popular anti-reform email that's making the rounds. And lest you label them as strictly partisan, know that they are willing to dig in on distortions on the left as well.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Monday, August 24, 2009
As another example of the people who have fallen through the American system's cracks, here's one of the readers of Sullivan's blog writing in to the dudes caretaking during his absence. This guy's situation resonates with me since he's got asthma like I do. If, God forbid, I were laid off, and weren't able to find a new job before COBRA benefits expired, I'd be in his situation, perhaps paying $800/month out of pocket for inadequate care. Except I'd probably be more expensive, since I'm five years older than the guy.
Friday, August 14, 2009
"End of life counseling" has been framed. No longer is it a neutral phrase that refers to a government-fostered enhancement of the doctor-patient dialog. It is now apparently so polarizing and so toxic now that the Senate Finance Committee is willing to strike a provision from its bill that would add a counseling benefit to Medicare. The Wall Street Journal reports that the measure will be excluded from the committee's mark because it has become controversial. As the Journal notes, "dumping the provision would thwart a broad effort in recent years by doctors and hospitals to encourage patients to plan for end-of-life care." That's as close as a newspaper can come to saying: what a dumb thing they're doing! The issue _is_ touchy -- but in the context of the health care debate, it has become, in just a few days, synonymous with an attack against the entire concept of health reform: that Democrats want to ration care. A question, though, for those Democrats and liberals who'll be angry about this: the response to Palin's remarks about "death panels" as well as to Sen. Chuck Grassley's repetition of the idea was swift and fairly unequivocal: it's not as if the pro-reform side didn't quickly rebut the issue with better facts. My sense is that fear-based emotional appeals set in more quickly than reason-based emotional appeals -- always have.This is idiotic. Granted, there are several different bills right now, between the various committees in the House and Senate (something you wouldn't know to listen to, well, most people), but providing funding for counseling on end-of-life issues is terribly important. I've felt pretty strongly about this ever since the Terry Schiavo lunacy a few years back. Here's conservative Republican Senator from Georgia Johnny Isakson, speaking on the floor of the Senate in 2008:
Isakson recently called the deathers "nuts" for claiming that the language in the bills would be "death panels" or forced euthanasia or anything of the sort. After being name-checked by Obama in his NH town hall, Isakson got some grief from Limbaugh and subsequently distanced himself from the President and the House bill. Now, his more recent statement brings up a more specific question. The language of the House bill (see section 1233, starting on p. 424) is fairly specific, and says that consultation on end-of-life issues shall be covered every five years, and talks about the various options that doctors shall include. Chuck Lane and others, including Isakson in that statement, have suggested that this incentivizes doctors coercing you into hospice care. I don't buy it. But if the problem is that the House bill gets too specific, fine, let's not adopt that portion of the language when this all gets worked out in committee.
I will talk about what we need to do in terms of Medicare eligibility. When somebody signs up for Medicare when they are 65 years old--you are supposed to go in 90 days before your 65th birthday; I am getting close, so I am looking at these things--I think you ought to be required to execute a durable power of attorney when you become eligible.
Eighty percent of the cost of health care to me, to you, and to anybody else happens in the last 60 days of life. More often than not, people are not in a condition to make a decision for themselves. Because of laws, and because we are a compassionate nation, the physician will keep you alive as long as he can. If you had a chance, you might rather say if I am being hydrated and given nutrition but will never become conscious again, I give the doctors the authority to make the appropriate medical decision. The money that would save is in the ``gazillions'' of dollars--if there is such a number. It would help us to manage that cost.
BUT! as Isakson said on the floor in '08, lets make execution of a durable power of attorney mandatory for people signing up for Medicare. Make it clear that patients can say "I don't care how much sugar you have to grow to put in the IV drip that will keep me alive in a storage locker until they figure out how to thaw out Walt Disney and cure whatever I'm mostly dead from - do it!" if that's their desire. Don't remove all consideration of end-of-life stuff. Don't kill reform as a whole. Don't let this issue, especially this specific issue within the issue, be demagogued. Don't screw this up. Please. It's too important.
For more on this, read Jim Fallows' post on the media environment and how despite her history and the fact that the internet exists now, the claims of the (as far as I'm concerned) villainous Betsy McCaughey have once again come to define the debate on health care reform.
Monday, August 10, 2009
Back when I was writing Jeopardy posts, I wanted to make the process of adding links to this blog on my Facebook profile. So, I used the Notes Application to Import this blog. Then, every time I posted here, it was imported as a note on my Facebook profile.
Problem was, it imported the whole text of my post, plus photos, to Facebook. So people were reading it, but not here. Thus I had no way of keeping track of how many readers I had. So, I "un-imported the blog," and started manually adding a Link to each post when I posted it.
But the unimporting didn't take. Now, every time I post, I have to manually add a link and manually delete the Note. But I haven't really been doing it right, because I've ended up only deleting the Notes from my News Feed, but not the actual notes.
So: even though Notes tells me I don't have a blog imported, how do I get it to stop reposting my stuff?
Saturday, August 8, 2009
After about 3 hours I passed one of the [kidney] stones, and with a prescription for heavy-duty painkillers in tow, we left the hospital. Everything was fine until I received a bill 3 months later itemized as follows:
I've seen this repeatedly on lesser medical charges. Head-spinning.
CT Scan: $4294
Emergency Room visit: $4924
The bill was a shock to me for two reasons. First, my insurance was supposed to cover this. After a long round of phone calls - during which a very rude hospital employee could not understand why I was upset at being charged $10,000 when I had insurance - I figured out that my insurance company's check had literally gotten lost in the mail. They sent another check and my bill was cleared. But this led to my second shock.
From my insurance company I received the following "explanation of benefits":
Total charge: $10063.00
Provider discount: $9571.00
Amount Payable: $442.00
How can something that would have cost me $10,063 cost my insurance $442.00 (not counting the $50 deductible that I chipped in). That's a 96% discount! To me, this shows two basic problems with our healthcare system.
1) Costs in our system are neither transparent nor fair.
I get that emergency room care is expensive, but a tray of bad lunch and a painkiller drip cannot cost almost $5000. I only saw the doctor for about 10 minutes total, and the nurse for all of 30 minutes. If I had been told that the CT Scan and the Emergency room care cost $5000 each, I'd have asked for a prescription and been off to the pharmacy. I wasn't told, however. I wasn't even give the option.
Further, the "Provider Discount" is jaw dropping. (Yes, I'll take the powder blue BMW 528i - only $2,000 with my provider discount!) My mother, who is a physician, told me that insurance companies are able to negotiate deep discounts by threatening to take their business (i.e. all the people they cover) elsewhere. This is something individuals can't do, so they get overcharged.
And then there's this:
I work for a national insurance company and it's my job to pay hospitals and clinics for services performed. Now when I say pay, you should think of that in air-quotes. Assume it takes a week for the bill to be routed to the right person in the right department at my company. Once the bill reaches the right desk it heads back out. Because before we pay a bill we send it to a 3rd party company who reviews it to see how much we "really have to pay" for the services. This is because every state has different guidelines about what services should cost. This takes a week. Then the bill comes back to us, and if there are no issues with the hospital's records in our systems we pay the bill then.
However, if there are any issues it comes to me.
It's my job to call the hospital for updated tax forms (because it's not enough that we know their tax id, we have to have a government form showing the number). Then I send the records to another company who updates our database with the information. This takes another week, or longer if I have trouble getting a hold of the right person at the hospital.
Finally, we pay the bill. During this time the hospital has been waiting to get paid X number of dollars. Only instead we'll be paying them Y because that's what the state says is the minimum we have to pay.
So while your readers are being charged $50 for asprin; my company employs an entire department just to shuffle bills around while they decide what they will pay the hospital for that asprin.
I like my job, but I would gladly give it up if it meant that this insanity could stop.
While it's true that the plural of "anecdote" is not "data," I've found this whole series very thought-provoking.
Friday, August 7, 2009
Anyway, there are a number of alarming statements being propagated about the health care bill bouncing around Congress that are false, and I wanted to spread the word in case [you] are confronted by someone who has been alarmed by an alarming falsehood. This largely comes from Salon.com's excellent piece on the subject. I understand also that the White House plans to put together a website modeled on candidate Obama's Fight The Smears site from last summer/fall.
ALARMING CONTENTION: This is socialized medicine, or a single-payer health care system.
ACTUAL SITUATION: It is neither. This is not proposing a British-style system (or for that matter, a Veterans Health Administration-style system), where the government is the sole employer and provider of health care services. Nor is it a Canadian-style single-payer system wherein the government is the only insurer. The bill, broadly put, is intended by supporters of health care reform to do two things: 1. get everybody insured either through private plans or an optional government plan; 2. to reform health insurance practices to improve care. Something to keep in mind is that we are already paying for government-(and rising-premium-)subsidized health care for the poor. It's called the emergency room, and it's way more expensive than getting people some basic preventative services and some occasional prescriptions.
ALARMING CONTENTION: The bill outlaws private insurance.
ACTUAL SITUATION: The bill requires that private insurance plans be sold through a health care marketplace designed to increase competition and help consumers find the best option for them.
ALARMING CONTENTION: The health care bill will spend tax dollars for abortions.
ACTUAL SITUATION: One version of the bill includes measures for paying for preventative care and screening, which may be provided by Planned Parenthood (who are emphatically NOT just about abortions, though a lot of people assume they are). The Hyde Amendment of 1976 prevents any Federal money from being spent on abortions.
ALARMING CONTENTION: The bill will force the elderly to forgo treatment and consider assisted suicide.
ACTUAL SITUATION: This is the one, along with the abortion bit, that I've heard the most of in the alarming rhetoric these last few weeks. It is not true. The bill would require that plans pay for end-of-life consultation if asked for by the patient. Many elderly patients do not have health care directives indicating what they would like to have happen at the end of their life if they are incapacitated and unable to voice their wishes. As such, a lot of time and money is spent keeping terminally ill patients nominally alive. As it is now, Medicare does not pay for patients to consult with their doctors to craft a directive. The bill is aimed at fixing this. Honestly, I feel like this part of the bill, more than anything, is something anyone this side of Bill Frist's cohort in the Terry Schiavo case should support. It reduces waste and is humane, giving the individual some choice in how much they do or do not want done to keep them barely alive.
Anyway, check out the Salon bit above, and if someone is repeating one of these stories, politely challenge them. Calm exchange of information is always preferable in a debate to, well, everything we've seen this week at the town hall meetings.
Also, check out the series of personal stories entitled "The View From Your Sickbed" that Andrew Sullivan's been posting.
Anyway, yesterday I was alerted to the fact that the rules for the expansion had been posted on FFG's site, and that I should look at the second-to-last page. Here's what I found (highlighting mine):
That's a sizeable chunk of the Twin Cities theater & comedy scene, right there. And we got to help them refine this thing. You're welcome, fellow nerds.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
Perhaps that's why Nels got one. Early this evening, just before I left work, he asked me to be the guinea pig for his new number, and help him test out the message-taking feature of Google Voice. You see, if you enable it, GV will act as your message service. It'll record and store your call, transcribe it, and send it to you as an email. Clearly this needed a field test. And a challenging one at that. I left the following stream-of-consciousness message for Nels, including a Battlestar Galactica reference in a raspy voice, my last name, my company's name (initials), and several other proper nouns:
Ohh, Bill... They killed my Ellen. I am calling from [company name] and my name is Fred Beukema and uh, I don't know what else is a difficult word to say. Sonia Sotomayor was confirmed as a Supreme Court justice today which means she should be ready to serve on the court this fall and David Souter can retire to New Hampshire and his little cabin. Uh, bye.Here's what Google thought I said:
yo so they shut my land i am calling from [company name -- they got it accurately] and my name is fred you come home and i don't know what else is a difficult would just say sonia some on your was confirm the supreme court justice today which means it should be ready to serve on the the court this fall and gave it to 210 your tires to new hampshire and we'll kevin byeThey're close, but the algorithm needs some polish, I'd say.
Incidentally, I think Souter's cabin looks like it belongs in an Evil Dead movie.
Until next time, this is Fred You Come Home, signing off.
I'm also in the process of applying to take the PE exam this Fall, which promises to be a rather disruptive event (as it probably should be). I'm turning in my application tomorrow, as a matter of fact. So the first hard part will be over. Much harder parts to come. Woo-hoo.
I'll get back to some more substantial posts, uh, sometime. For now, though, a couple quick ones to cleanse the palate. Coming right up.
Friday, June 19, 2009
One evening a couple weeks back, Melissa and I were chatting about the continuing news reports and press conferences regarding the swine flu.
M: The State epidemiologist was talking today about what people can do to protect themselves, and how to properly wash their hands. She said "We don't want you to just get them wet. You should sing Happy Birthday twice, you know." So I've been doing that. I've been singing Happy Birthday twice every time I wash my hands.
F: That's delightful! Who are you singing Happy Birthday to when you do it?
M: To my hands.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
To My Old Master, Colonel P.H. Anderson, Big Spring, Tennessee
Thursday, June 11, 2009
The first I'd heard of the phrase sovereign citizen was in this Washington Monthly article a litle over a year ago. It's a fascinating read: in recent years, more than twenty African American men charged with violent offenses in Baltimore have invoked their rights as sovereign citizens, claiming not to be bound by the illegal assertion of power by the United States Federal Government. The truly weird part is the origin of the concept, relative to the defendants: the Sovereign Citizen Movement is based in opposition to the Fourteenth Amendment, which outlawed slavery. It claims that the 14th converted sovereign citizens, bound by English Common Law, into federal citizens, or something, and that the Government uses federal citizens as collateral in foreign debt (again, or something). Adherents further believe that there is a specific set of legal verbiage, presented in a certain order on certain forms, that can free you from your federal citizenship and return you to sovereign citizenship; this, it should be noted, is drivel.
Anyway, apparently tied to this is the concept of Posse Comitatus, Latin for "force of the county," which asserts that the supreme law enforecement power in the land is that of county sherrifs, and that the National Guard, federal troops, etc., have no power over the local sherrif. According to the Washington Monthly article, this idea derives from an act passed at the federal level in 1878 to take the teeth out of Reconstruction and prevent the government from protecting civil rights in the South.
Very strange and interesting, all, but not at all to diminish the tragedy of these murders. My sympathy goes out to the families of both victims.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
To be honest, I have a tough time with my feelings about the piece. On the one hand, my reaction is so strongly and immediately negative, and almost everything Schulman writes seems wrong in such a glaring, obvious way that it could be dismissed as a self-made straw man of sorts, an extreme outlier. At the same time, however, he lays bare a major undercurrent I've always noted in the arguments against marriage equality: the desire of social conservatives to preserve "traditional" gender roles in heterosexual relationships. How can you keep the work/homemaking spheres separated, after all, if the married couple in question is two ladies or -- added ickyness! -- two dudes?
The answer to those like me who believe in making your home life in the way that you and your loved ones see fit* is that you don't, or need not, keep the spheres separate unless you choose to do so for yourselves. And so, I look at a paragraph like this one Schulman cobbled together from the bones of the past, and after every sentence, I find myself flatly negating the statement he just made:
Even in modern romantic marriages, a groom becomes the hunting or business partner of his father-in-law and a member of his clubs; a bride becomes an ally of her mother-in-law in controlling her husband. There can, of course, be warm relations between families and their children's same-sex partners, but these come about because of liking, sympathy, and the inherent kindness of many people. A wedding between same-sex lovers does not create the fact (or even the feeling) of kinship between a man and his husband's family; a woman and her wife's kin. It will be nothing like the new kinship structure that a marriage imposes willy-nilly on two families who would otherwise loathe each other.The assumtion of universality, the "one-size-fits-all" of his model of marriage is staggering. It's not that a groom might partner with his father in law, it's that he does. No he doesn't, Mr. Schulman. It's like he got his idea of family and marriage from all the old comic strips that newspapers only keep to avoid receiving nasty letters from septugenarians.
I feel that mentioning, as Schulman does, that he's been married thrice, is scoring easy points. Honestly, if I didn't think someone would read his piece and bring this fact up in a comment, I'd leave it out.
Anyway, I feel like today is a good day to celebrate marriages of all kinds, as it is Melissa's and my second anniversary. The first two years have been wonderful, and I'm looking forward to many pairs of years more!
* (So long as nobody is being harmed! Gay and non-traditional straight marriages are not a slippery slope to legal incest, bestiality, and polygamy.)