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{William Alba}




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receding reading
Theme Park Maps (11/16/09)
SF Cover Explorer (3/30/08)
Black Guy Asks Nation for Change (3/27/08)
zipdecode (2/28/08)
Looking at America (1/3/08)
On Your Birthday (12/3/07)
Schools Cut Past Tense (12/2/07)
Blogger Play (10/20/07)
The Principles of Uncertainty (10/20/07)
Has This Country Gone Insane? (7/9/06)
Eisenhower, Flaming Liberal (6/29/06)
3-D Ambigram Generator (4/23/06)
Steeler Baby (2/19/06)
Evangelicals Refute Gravity (8/20/05)
Mysteries of Pittsburgh (6/4/05)
Knowing When to Log Off (4/21/05)
NameVoyager (3/25/05)
Musical Illusions (2/5/05)
Optical Illusions (2/5/05)
Dialect Survey Results (1/19/05)
Kerry won (11/5/04)
family portrait timeline (10/8/04)
Ethics in America VoD (8/29/04)
Vermont vs. Wal-Mart (8/24/04)

Best Let or Get

Friday, August 26, 2011

~ is this a test? ~

I am a big fan of the Domino Project, the publishing company started by Seth Godin. I've read every book: Poke the Box (by Godin himself), Do the Work (by Steven Pressfield, the author of two other excellent books, The War of Art and The Warrior Ethos), Self-Reliance (the great classic by Emerson, enhanced by beautiful typesetting), Anything You Want (an approachable book by Derek Sivers on how to think about starting and running a company, or by extension how to foster any organization), and Read This Before Our Next Meeting (in which Al Pittampalli provides sound advice on more effective and less frequent meetings).

The books are lightweight and easy to read, but they are not light fluff. I have come to trust the quality and relevance of books published by the Domino Project to enhance my professional and personal development.

I've therefore been surprised at how the website of the Domino Project sometimes lags in describing their own offerings. As of this moment, their product line doesn't even list Zarella's Hierarchy of Contagiousness, their newbook currently ranked #8,597 among Amazon bestselling books even though it became available free this week from Amazon in Kindle format (it is #4 among free Kindle books!). I pre-ordered this book sight unseen because I thought it would help with my Earth Tapestry and other projects. It arrived promptly this week and Amazon even refunded me some money because at one point during the pre-order period it was available for a lower price. While I have been too busy with CMU Orientation, I look forward to reading the book this weekend.

Even more surprisingly, Seth Godin's new hardcover book We Are All Weird, which will be released on September 21, cannot be found by searching for "Domino Project" or even by typing in the exact title on the Amazon website! I located the above link to the book earlier this week by searching for "Domino Project" (that's how much I look forward to their new books) and have been holding it in my Amazon cart (I don't know why, since I will certainly buy it). Maybe this is a test to see which Domino Project reader can make best use of social media to help promote their books?

Anyhow, if you also are a big fan of the Domino Project and would like to pre-order Seth Godin's newest book, please click on the link above or on the image below.



Saturday, March 20, 2010

~ new URL ~
Announcing the new location of Best Let or Get.


Saturday, March 20, 2010  

~ three anniversaries ~
A year ago come April I was in Memphis, to deliver a paper on the role of circularity in Plato's Meno. I arrived early enough to drive around the city. Repulsed by the exorbitant parking fee for Graceland, I turned around in a nearby shopping plaza and eventually found my way to the Stax Museum, where I was surprised to learn that Big Star had been on that label.

And now Alex Chilton is dead.

For months I've had the four-disc retrospective Keep Your Eye on the Sky on my queue at the public library in Homewood; coincidentally, I was finally able to borrow the set today. This was my second trip to a library. The first was in the morning, to go to the book sale at C. C. Mellor with Beatrice.

She and I went last year as well. This year she was even more independent, sitting and reading in the children's section while I wandered the cavalcade of books. I located three atlases as inspiration and information for my Moon plaque project, as well as MacDonald's book on the Pantheon, the National Gallery pocket guide to Colour, a collection of MAA high-school contest problems including the ones I must have taken back in the day, and a delightful book called Food Finds, subtitled "America's Best Local Foods and the People Who Produce Them".

As for Beatrice, she was delighted that we picked up one of the books in what she calls the "Jack and Annie" series, Viking Ships at Sunrise. We also found a Golden Book related to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood called Henrietta Meets Someone New, which we read together there and later as her bedtime story. Yesterday, she went to the Children's Museum and listened as the player piano played Mister Rogers' songs; we heard the start of one of his albums this morning; we saw a video on YouTube in which Mister Rogers appears on Sesame Street (!). This evening she announced that she likes Mister Rogers' songs better than Elvis, and that she likes the Beatles and Mister Rogers best.

Today is Fred Rogers' birthday.

8:50 PM |

Sunday, February 28, 2010  
~ yum ~
On a tastier note, this morning I made some delicious noodles for breakfast and just had the leftovers for lunch.
Basil Noodles with Tofu

Fry tofu: Slice a standard package of tofu into maybe 12-16 pieces. Pat dry with a paper towel and fry in preheated grapeseed oil (or any other neutral oil with a high smoke point), turning when golden crisp and taking care not to overcrowd the frying pan. Drain tofu on paper towels.

Sauté onions and mushrooms: Meanwhile, halve a standard yellow onion and slice the halves. After the tofu is done, in the same oil sauté the onion slices until just translucent and caramelized, occasionally adding water to prevent the onions from drying out. Towards the end, add a couple of capfuls of light soy sauce, then button mushrooms, sliced lengthwise (I had about a third of a standard container in the fridge, maybe six or eight mushrooms). Just before adding noodles, add a light splash of sushi vinegar.

Add rice noodles: I had a half package (about six ounces) of cooked fettucine-shaped rice noodles leftover from Friday night when I made pad thai for the first time. While sautéing the noodles, stir and toss with a wooden spoon, also used to separate the strands. Cook until the noodles are hot (but not too long, or they'll start to stick together and get mushy).

Finish it: Add four cubes or so of frozen basil (from Trader Joe's), two criss-crosses of sriracha sauce, some vigorous shakes of patis (fish sauce) -- best to add these aromatic seasonings at the end so their flavor doesn't evaporate away. Next time I'd add some chopped garlic. I myself prefer more sriracha heat and patis salty savoriness, but it's always possible to add these to the individual portions.

1:41 PM |

~ speaking truth to power ~
I've been stewing about some of the political issues mentioned in my previous post for several months, but I think what brought this to a head is seeing the Carnegie Mellon production of The Inspector General yesterday. In the program notes I learned how Gogol was maligned by the public for his satire on government corruption in Tsarist Russia, and I wanted my friends Michael Chemers and Jed Harris to take those same risks. They did, but I wanted them to go full-bore as they assailed the ramparts of local, state, and federal corruption -- and in fact would have preferred if they'd focused exclusively on the city, county, and state levels. I enjoyed the play but it seems to me it could have pushed even harder, I would want the satire to be even more pointed and precisely targeted, and I'll say this to Michael and Jed next time I see them.

I would also gladly tell Ricky Burgess and Luke Ravenstahl what I think about their policies, but I can't even get Rev. Burgess to respond to messages on basic issues like street repair or Mayor Ravenstahl to respond to messages on dangerous road intersections, so why bother.

The fact that we aren't heard by our own government -- by people who are nominally public servants with civic duties -- is a fundamental breakdown in our society.

1:22 PM |

~ financial solutions ~
Approximately 2% of my monthly take-home pay goes towards the Verizon cell phone bill and I have no idea why. I rarely make or receive calls, at most a half hour a month, and when I do I rarely get to talk to anyone anyhow. Marissa uses the phone more, but we never come close to our allotment of minutes.

When Marissa used to call her friend in Alaska they would talk for hours at a time, so I suppose it made some vague sense to be on this plan. But months later we're continuing to pay for that, bound to a long-term contract.

Once we lose this contract and replace it with a pay-by-the-minute plan, it will be like getting a raise.


Similarly, our auto and home insurance from Nationwide is expensive. A few quick phone calls should fix that.


The city government of Pittsburgh, including the mayor and my own councilmember, seems to think that the universities add little to the community; thus, Luke Ravenstahl's extraordinarily stupid and failed plan late last year to tax students' tuition. And yet everyone who lives in town -- students, staff, and faculty -- pays a flat 3% income tax (this is an earned income tax, so it does not affect those who are independently wealthy nor those who are retired), in addition to a $52 "local services tax", plus a variety of state and county taxes that in part go towards supporting the city. Furthermore, homeowners, as well as landlords who have renters associated with the university, pay high property taxes to the city, yet we have poor public schools and lousy roads to show for it. Then of course there are the volunteer services that university students, staff, and faculty provide in the area.

A third way to get a boost in income would be to move to one of the outlying suburbs. I'm not eager for a longer commute and less convenient access to goods and services, but if Ravenstahl fails to see how non-profit entities like institutions of higher education and hospitals benefit the city and continues to try to gouge us, I'd love to see him try to survive even more of the people who work and live in Pittsburgh get fed up and even more of us decide to move out (here's a hint: Detroit).

And if Councilman Ricky Burgess is so eager to tax non-profit institutions, I think the reverend needs to consider how to tax churches and their congregations too, as well as the tuition at private K-12 schools, the property of foundations that provide money to the city, trade unions, art and science museums, the zoo, the public library, the neighborhood YMCA, the Duquesne Club, golf associations, condominium associations, charitable organizations, and in fact every kind of non-profit organization located within the city limits. I'm just trying to help out here; as a man of the cloth, Ricky Burgess may not be used to thinking in material terms -- he's not thinking BIG enough. While he's at it, as someone who has previously been delinquent on his own property taxes, he knows first-hand how easy it is to get away with that and should apply severe penalties to scofflaws. And because he and his family can't be relied upon to shovel the sidewalk to their own house clear of snow (or pay any of the youngsters in the neighborhood to do that for him) maybe he could be more aggressive about collecting fines from those who are breaking city law. That might raise a little money for this hypocritical, fiscally irresponsible city government, filled with citizens working to tighten their belts and make do.

12:15 PM |

~ ironic twist ~
The irony of Mark Bittman's (Bitte-mann) last name is how it translates roughly in German (as far as my rough German goes) into the start of the most famous quote from Oliver Twist, "Please, sir, may I have some more?"

Although more accurately, his last name perhaps should be more like "Bitte-herr", phonetically corresponding in English to bit of hair or perhaps bitter.

None of these are pleasant connotations for a writer on food.

11:29 AM |

Monday, February 22, 2010  
~ everybody's fancy ~
One of my favorite times last weekend was when she placed on her head the pink towel with ears, stitched on front with the name Beatrice, and declared that she was a bunny named Ralph the Rabbit. And then on top of the towel she crowned herself with a small blue plastic laundry basket upside-down, stepping around the room while singing a song. And then she asked me to sing "Everybody's Fancy" from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, the towel swirling behind her like a cape.

4:21 PM |

Sunday, February 21, 2010  
~ fun with spaghetti ~
As a bachelor in the fourth decade of my life, I was simultaneously bemused and insulted when my future mother-in-law once asked if I knew how to cook, specifically if I knew how to boil water. Why, anyone can cook spaghetti, and it doesn't take a Ph.D. in chemistry to know how to boil water.

Still, with all the variations of pasta and ways to spice up sauces, there are entire families of dishes I haven't cooked.

Last night I cobbled together a bastard variation of haluski, leaving out the cabbage because I'm not a big fan. Boil water (see above) and cook spaghetti (we don't buy egg noodles). Meanwhile, sauté onions in olive oil until translucent, then just to the point of gentle caramelization. Along the way, occasionally spoon some pasta water into the sauté pan, to keep the onions from drying out. Drain spaghetti and toss with a bit of olive oil. Portion out the pasta and onions in a bowl and toss with freshly ground black pepper and sea salt.

This morning I thought I'd use the leftover spaghetti to make a spaghetti omelet, thinking I was being inventive and all. But I found out today that this is not an original dish; just Google "spaghetti omelet". Anyhow, I decided this morning to make a mushroom garlic scramble instead.

Mark Bittman, Mark Bittman. Marissa is on a Mark Bittman kick, everything she's been cooking over the past few weeks has had his name on it. She used last night's leftover spaghetti to complement a spinach tomato sauce, and also made something called "bread salad", which is a dish best served cold, of leftover bread (homemade, mostly whole wheat, thanks to Mark Bittman), balsamic vinegar, citrus juice, olive oil, basil, and tomatoes. It turns out the tomatoes were the dominant flavor in both, the sauce was a bit thin for my liking, and the bread salad a bit sour. But I found that mixing both of them together and reheating in the microwave made a great dish, which I suppose would be called spaghetti salad.

Tonight I cooked dinner, a non-Mark Bittman meal, with pan-fried salmon and my stylized haluski, made this time with farfalle -- bow-tie or "butterfly" pasta -- because we had run out of spaghetti. Maybe next time I'll make the egg noodles from scratch. It doesn't look all that difficult. And maybe I'll even add some cabbage, since that's one of Marissa's favorite foods. But Mark Bittman can eat me if he thinks that I'm going to use whole wheat flour on the first go at this.

4:28 PM |

~ delightful ~
Some misinterpretations from Beatrice:
Little Dreamer Boy - a misreading of the title of a Christmas carol

Rainbow Collection - sung by Jason Mraz or Kermit the Frog

snoo - a misreading of "sew", for her wooden toys to be threaded with laces
(she also says "unsnoo", and in the past week "soo" as well as "sew")

Qboda - her favorite fast-food restaurant
I also love the way she makes up songs, like the one while we were flying last December to Las Vegas, en route to Albuquerque and Santa Fe.
One planet went in the circle, Nova
One planet went in the circle, Nova
One planet went in the circle, Nova
Then it went to slee-eep
And the omnipresent rhythm from earlier in her life:
So, so... so so so
Actually, while I was writing this she started to sing another song. Sometimes she makes up her own lyrics, or reads from a book, or just strings together a series of sounds to go along with a melody that she already knows; sometimes she makes up a song out of whole cloth. It's all so delightful.

9:09 AM |

Saturday, February 20, 2010  
~ into smiling memory ~
For some months Solomon has been able to refer to the rest of the family (Mama, Dada, Bibi) and to speak various other names (most notably Yaya for Santa). But he could not distinctly refer to himself until the past few weeks. When asked for his name he would prevously enunciate two syllables with the "ah-ah" but then say "no-no" or "noooo" when we would repeat what he said, in order to verify whether that was his name. He didn't want what he spoke to be his name; instead, we were to say Solomon for him.

Now he calls himself Wawa. This is somewhat jarring for me because that's already my own family nickname, established when Kelly spoke her first word. Today he also said "me" in reference to himself. The context was something like "geh meh" (get milk), "peeeeas" (please), "steh steh" (downstairs), "me".

I'm thinking Wawa won't be his permanent nickname for himself, just as Beatrice's first nickname for herself (Bea-tice -- as in "Bea-tice want moh-ooah") has been completely supplanted by the charming Beata, and her first name for him (Yahmin) and her surprisingly apt nickname for him before he was born (Dahhmin) are also receding into smiling memory.

9:00 PM |

~ short reviews of five movies ~
This month I've watched five movies from the public library:

Moon is superb, playful and philosophical in turns. The science is stretched occasionally to fit narrative necessities, but it's generally well done. The director Duncan Jones happens to be the son whom David Bowie mentions before his "Little Drummer Boy" duet with Bing Crosby. Sam Rockwell delivers an outstanding one-man performance -- I even sought out more of his movies, an effort I rarely make.

Sleeper. Having seen this with commercial interruptions on TV during high school and maybe on the big screen in college, I recollected it being mildly funny. I thought it might have some tangential relation to the course I'm now teaching, and had also hoped that I'd enjoy it more, as a more sophisticated, critical viewer. No. It turned out to be surprisingly unfunny -- slow-paced, even irritating at times.

Tampopo. Another film that I saw years ago and hoped that I'd enjoy more as a more sophisticated viewer. Yes. Engaging and entertaining, with the occasional odd vignette.

Nanook of the North. A perfect film at this stage of the course I'm now teaching, to open issues around the selection, arrangement and veracity of documentary evidence.

Frost/Nixon. Along with Matchstick Men, this is one of the Sam Rockwell movies I checked out after Moon. I hadn't known that Ron Howard directed this as well as a variety of other movies I've enjoyed over the years (Splash, Willow, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind). A thoroughly engaging film that took me back to some milestones from my childhood (Nixon's resignation speech), it kept me awake, heart pounding at times, until past 2am last night. Incidentally I also learned that Diane Sawyer had been on Nixon's staff, confirming my dislike for her, based previously on her thoroughly obsequious television personality.

1:58 AM |

Tuesday, February 16, 2010  
~ ha-ha, ha-ha-ha ~
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl: I did three things today. I responded to your ridiculous inquiries. Or rather, he failed to respond the entire day to public inquiries about his whereabouts.

I drove around the city of Pittsburgh and did an evaluation of the streets and how they looked. Because he couldn't trust anyone else in his entire administration to do that? Being busy is not the same as being effective!

And I spent the majority of my time with the public safety director -- in order to figure out how to manage damage control and prevent the city from being sued, due to his ineptitude (going skiing out of town when everyone knew a major snowstorm was going to hit).

8:49 PM |

Saturday, February 13, 2010  
~ 2012 ~
There are some people who believe the world will experience some catastrophe on or around December 21, 2012. This is based on something about the end of the ancient Mayan calendar.

While nothing is certain, I am willing to bet that there will not be a global disaster -- economic, environmental, astronomical, or any other sort. There will be no End of the World as We Know It.

The folks who truly believe that the world will end ought to be preparing for this event. Maybe they need money to build shelters, or to take a vacation with their families.

I am so confident that the world will not end that I would give money to people who believe that it will end, so long as they give me back that money plus more on December 22, 2012. How much more? We could peg that to inflation (although who believes the CPI these days) plus interest, or just make a bet with odds. Those who are certain the world will end ought to be willing to accept any odds. But to be fair, perhaps we should just let Las Vegas set the betting line, or set up some kind of market.

The problem from my perspective is that I would be required to accept a certain amount of risk -- why wouldn't my counterbettor live it up for a few years and then leave me with nothing to collect? That would be terrible for me. Alternatively, what if I bet some honorable person their entire net worth in 2013 against some modest but useful sum of money today? That would be TEOTWAWKI for them, an ironic and self-fulfilling prophecy.

Another problem is that "global catastrophe" is an ambiguous term.

Las Vegas doesn't seem to have resolved these issues, although they're already placing odds on candidates for the 2012 Presidential election. Intrade doesn't have a market for TEOTWAWKI in 2012 either, and in any case their predictions suffer from large bid-ask spreads (a reflection of problems with poor liquidity) in addition to transaction costs. Longbets has John Tierney willing to bet that humanity will survive even longer, until 2100, but he already has my side, and in any case the bets on that system are always even, with funds going to the winner's charity.

In any event, I'm proposing something different than those who are willing to bet on the end of the world: I would give money to someone now, in return for future profit. So how can a reasonable person profit from the pessimism of the 2012 doomsayers?

2:52 PM |

~ follow the path ~
One trouble with the Internet is that you can get easily distracted.

While sorting through email, I learned from the Pittsburgh Glass Center that Pittsburgh is the North American host city this year for the UN World Environment Day on June 5.

Googling for more information, I found that one of the planned events is the opening of Earth House Pittsburgh.

The location for Earth House is surprising -- one block from our house. I didn't know anything about this new construction project. No signage, and last I noticed the lot was still empty.

Is it true?

2:11 PM |

Sunday, January 31, 2010  
~ land of disenchantment ~
It is a commonplace to say you can never go home.

I've been hesitant to write about our trip last month to Santa Fe because the act of writing could ossify the way I think about a place that I had previously loved and frequently visited before calling it home: the first time in 1992 with the Santa Fe Institute Complex Systems Summer School, and again later that summer; in the spring of 1995 for a job interview and in winter later that year to see if I had made the right choice to take the job in Chicago instead; in the summer of 1997 with Baird and Susannah to see Georgia at the opera; early in 1999 to interview again; and then living there for four years from 1999 to 2003. I've always lived in interesting places, but Santa Fe is in some respects "the one that got away" -- the only location I didn't leave on my own terms as well as perhaps the most strikingly beautiful -- so my feelings about the place are complicated.

Perhaps I first should remind myself that there were good aspects to the trip last month. I enjoyed (as I always do) the feeling of remembering how to get around a place where I once lived, much like re-reading a favorite book. Except for Cerrillos Road during the middle of the day, it remains completely pleasant to drive around town. Meantime it was good to see some new developments, especially the railroad link between Santa Fe and Albuquerque. Marissa reminisced how she used to walk with Mookie along Rodeo Road from the first house where we lived over to the small grocery near where Rodeo meets Zia, other dogs barking at them while leaping from behind tall wooden fences, Mookie with so much heart giving right back. We met our friends Luce and Michael and met his daughter for the first time. I finally visited a feast day dance, at Santa Clara Pueblo on Holy Innocents Day (the same pueblo where Marissa said she shared an Indian taco with Mookie on her very first day in the Southwest). We shared stories with Beatrice and Solomon about our wedding day as we stood in the chapel at Bishop's Lodge. Our visit to the Museum of International Folk Art allowed us to play gamelan instruments. Some of the food was exceptional, most notably at El Farol, Marisco's La Playa, Mu Du Noodles, and San Marcos Café. The sopapillas at Tomasita's were delicious. We enjoyed constant views of snow-covered mountains, the distinctly New Mexican architectural esthetic of how buildings blend into the countryside and how interior spaces are decorated, and the relaxed friendliness of most folks to us and to each other. We saw, albeit briefly, Petroglyph National Monument.

But there were also aspects of our trip that frustrated and disappointed me. Part of this has to do with not planning our days carefully enough -- not keeping track of when SITE Santa Fe, the Flea Market, the Farmer's Market, and Frontier Restaurant would be closed. I think at times we fell into an odd illusion that we were living there again, and that there would be plenty of time to see what we wanted. As a result, we spent too much vacation time at places like Walgreens, Big 5, and Walmart. Furthermore, although staying at the base of Cerrillos Road was inexpensive and aled, and they are okay enough that I will likely find myself finishing the box. But I am not blissfully ignorant. Thinking to winters past, with the comfort of an occasional Frango Mint to brighten the cold darkness, I know these are an affront. Ersatz food like this makes me feel like Winston Smith, living in some kind of world where War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.

8:21 PM |

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ion Bagelmania or Upper Crust). Both the so-called City Different and St. John's College, where I used to work, exist in a bubble: beautiful in their own way, yet also contrived and unreal, high-maintenance, dependent upon other places for their existence and distinctiveness. There are too many other places for us in this wide world.

9:01 PM |

Saturday, January 30, 2010  
~ Frang-no ~
Even though the transition happened while I lived in Chicago with the flagship store only a few blocks from my office at the Art Institute, Marissa's grandfather worked at Marshall Field's for years, and I love chocolate, I myself felt little (if anything) when Frango Mints started to be manufactured in Pennsylvania. For me, they were a delicious but rather expensive treat, therefore eaten only during the holidays around Christmastime.

But today I discovered that the new Frango Mints are not nearly as good as they used to be. First, the Santa-shaped variety come in a box all jumbled together, and the graphic design and even the typeface of the package are unappealing -- the presentation is certainly inferior to the green rectangular boxes. Furthermore, the exterior coating of the chocolates is waxy and pale. Worst of all, the inside lacks the chunky yet velvety cocoa-mass richness sprinkled with minty pixie dust -- instead, it's a semi-whipped confection, minty but with an unpleasant oily aftertaste.

Now if I didn't know any better, I'd think these are half-decent chocolates for being mass-produced, and they are okay enough that I will likely find myself finishing the box. But I am not blissfully ignorant. Thinking to winters past, with the comfort of an occasional Frango Mint to brighten the cold darkness, I know these are an affront. Ersatz food like this makes me feel like Winston Smith, living in some kind of world where War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.

8:21 PM |

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