Interesting Articles: Dec 20th-26th 2005

* Study Shows the Superrich Are Not the Most Generous (New York Times). Interesting. And neat that they got access to unpublished tax reports. The article, though, has even more data than I'd prefer (and I'm a data junkie). (Addendum: shortly after reading this article, I read the article Hey, Bartender, Can You Break $1,000? (New York Times). It provided a nice echo, though it's unclear whether those ordering those expensive drinks are super-rich, rich, or just upper-middle class.)
* Just Another Displaced New Yorker (New York Times). An informative tale about how the story of Santa Claus has evolved over time.
* Health Care for All, Just a (Big) Step Away (New York Times). I didn't realize that employer-provided health care was so subsidized, and that nearly universal health care could be so reachable (from an economic viewpoint at least).
* Is Teddy a pollution magnet? (Science News). In short, stuffed animals attract environmental pollutants. Probably not a good thing. More details in Brominated flame retardants and organochlorine pesticides in children's stuffed toys (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry).

Feel Like A Food Processor? Here's How To Buy One

After reading the Consumer Reports blender/mixer/food processor buying guide and, based upon my needs, ordering a blender, I decided not to buy a food processor. If the blender fails to help me cook what I need, then I'll reconsider that decision. In case I do, here are the sites I had found during the time I was pondering purchasing a food processor.

Buying guides (in addition to above Consumer Reports link), all heavily redundant:
* Amazon food processor buying guide
* Reluctant Gourmet food processor buying guide
* food processor buying guide
* John Lewis food processor buying guide
* Love to Know food processor buying guide

Not surprisingly, the most detailed and systematic reviews (Consumer Reports on food processors and Cook's Illustrated (search for food processors)) require a subscription. However, Consumer Search (on food processors) comes through again! They summarize reviews from both of those publications as well as others and synthesize the results. It should be my primary starting reference point if I start thinking about buying one.

Want A Blender? Here's How To Buy One

I got a great new cookbook as a present (thanks!) and immediately realized I needed a food processor or blender. (Many dishes have sauces that require one.) Not sure which type of item I needed, I did a bit of research on the web and found this Consumer Reports blender/mixer/food processor buying guide that explains everything fairly well. Deciding I needed a blender, I did some more research.

Here is a list of handy (though heavily redundant) sites for background on blenders:
* Amazon blender buying guide
* Reluctant Gourmet blender buying guide
* bar blender buying guide
* epinions blender buying guide

As for individual blender reviews, Consumer Reports does them, as does Cook's Illustrated (search for blenders). However both of these require a subscription or registration to view the reviews.

Happily, Consumer Search summarizes both these blender review results along with a number of others and synthesizes conclusions. I found these pages to be a very informative read.

The end choice wasn't too hard. Given that I don't need an expensive top of the line professional blender, Consumer Reports and Cook's Illustrated agree that the best choice is the Braun PowerMax MX2050 blender. It's around $50, and Consumer Reports recently re-endorsed it as one of its best gifts under $100. I called up my local stores but, failing to find one that carries that model, ordered it online.

Additional keywords: blenders, choose, choosing, select, selecting, review, reviews, buying tips, advice

Berkeley Transcript Bureaucracy

I was on campus recently and offered to drop off a small pile of transcript request forms for a friend who is applying to graduate school. However, the registrar refused to let me drop them off for her. The registrar said in-person transcript requests must be by my friend in particular. Her signature on the check for payment of the request doesn't count. Getting her on the phone doesn't count. But guess what the registrar said I could do? The registrar handed me an envelope and told me to put the request forms in the envelope and drop them in the dropbox. Then they could process them because then they'd have been considered to have come in my mail.

Need New Tires? Here's How To Buy Them

The best sites for tire reviews are:
* Tire Rack: yes, they sell tires too, but they have many reviews, both from experts and non-experts
* Consumer Reports (Tires): most parts require subscriptions, but the summary tire ratings are reprinted elsewhere
* Consumer Search (Tires): a meta-review site

I bought new tires by first calling a number of auto service and tire shops in my area and asking them what tires they had in the size I needed (and if they didn't have certain tires, if they could order them) and how much they cost. (To do this, you first need to figure out what size tires you have on your car. First, look at the tires that are on your car. Then go to the tirerack web site or a tire manufacturer web site. They should be able to tell you what tires fit your car. Make sure it agrees with the size of tires you actually have on your car. I needed 205 65 15R (radial) H (speed).)

With that list of available tires, I looked over the tire web sites and prices and chose a manufacturer, model, and store. I chose the Yokohama AVIDs. Your mileage may vary (as well as your tire size requirements, driving needs, and local availability and local prices for various tires).

Additional keywords: choose, choosing, review, reviews, buying tips, advice

Berkeley Thai Temple: Second Visit

This was my second visit to the Thai Temple; read my first visit first.

On December 18th 2005, a rainy Sunday morning, I decided to drive down to the Thai Temple to pick up some lunch for takeout. Upon arriving, I was happy to see they were open (-I wasn't sure because the food is served outdoors in the backyard under tents-) and a few brave souls were there eating at the covered tables. Admittedly not all the counters were open, but I had already decided to have some buffet-type items so that didn't matter to me.

I grabbed a three item combo for lunch.
* The best item was the green beans with tofu. They and the spicy red chili curry sauce was quite spicy and good. (And the sauce wasn't as heavy as many Thai curry-ish sauces usually are.)
* The pad thai was okay, though a little more soggy than it should have been (probably because it was sitting in heating tray for so long).
* The chicken drumstick was also okay. Coated with and served with a sweet(-and-sour, I suppose) sauce, it was just too sweet for me.

I also grabbed a little box of spring rolls for later. Perfectly fine and average. Surprisingly filling given how light the ingredients are.

Interesting Articles: Dec 13th-20th 2005

What an odd week.. all the articles are science-y

* Internet encyclopaedias go head to head (Nature). Finally a reasonable study comparing (scientific) articles in Britannica and Wikipedia.
* Danger Mouse: Deleting a gene transforms timid rodents into daredevils (Science News). Yet another article in my series that demonstrate simple genetic control over complex behavior. Article available: stathmin, a Gene Enriched in the Amygdala, Controls Both Learned and Innate Fear (Cell).
* Children Learn by Monkey See, Monkey Do. Chimps Don't. (New York Times). Thought provoking.
* Letters to Science News: You be the judge (Science News). A few comments on the article I mentioned in this old post.
* Scientists Find A DNA Change That Accounts For White Skin (Washington Post). Unsurprising.
* Unway Sign: Ant pheromone stops traffic (Science News). Can you see a new product coming? I can. Another reason the article is interesting is because it contradicts prior notions and gives the researchers a chance to say, "Hah! It turns out I was right." From the article:

There has certainly been resistance to the idea over the years, says Nigel Franks of the University of Bristol in England. In the 1990s, he and his colleagues mathematically modeled ant trails. Complementing attractants with a hypothetical repellent to block useless trails in a model system "vastly increased its efficiency," he says, but other scientists' reviews of that model were "scathing."

Article abstract: Insect communication: 'No entry' signal in ant foraging (Nature).

Berkeley Thai Temple: First Visit

On Sunday, December 11th 2005, I biked a mile or two south for the Berkeley Thai Temple's (Wat Mongkolratanaram) brunch. Although everything was supposedly decent or good, I had a small list of chowhound endorsed items to seek out and try.

I followed advice and arrived at 10:30am, before the crowds that supposedly start arriving at 11:00am. I needn't have worried; the day was a little overcast and, although it got a bit more crowded over time, it never was packed. (I was slightly surprised about this, as it was warmer (50s) than the previous week and the sun did come out for little while. It was nice when that happened. Ah, radiant heat!)

After peeking at everything and trading in my money for chips to pay with, I went to grab the first item on my list: fried chicken with sticky rice. The woman preparing the chicken was impressive. She took a cleaver and hacked a small cooked chicken in half and then chopped a half into smaller pieces/slices. Wow. And it was certainly good fried chicken! It didn't need the little bowl of a sweet sauce that accompanied it. The sticky rice though was thoroughly unexciting, but then I just don't generally appreciate sticky rice. The sweet sauce made the rice slightly more interesting but it was too sweet for me. Instead I just threw out the plate of sticky rice, saving my calories to try better (and more nutritious) dishes.

The next item on my list was the papaya salad (som tum). This was another item that gets prepared far away from the long table of hot tray of curries. Preparation of the papaya salad was also quite artful. The little man asked me how spicy I wanted it and then proceeded to pull spoonfuls of dried shrimp, papaya, ground nuts, and many liquids and more out of nearly a dozen different bowls. After mixing it all together, he laid a little bed of lettuce on the plate and poured the salad over it.

It was quite tasty and definitely amply spicy. I've only have papaya salad two or three times in my life -all in the last year- and this was the best of the lot. It seemed more complex and flavorful. That said, this might only be good in contrast to the few others I had, which I don't think were any good.

Having nearly eaten the equivalent of two full meals, I gulped and looked at my food item list. The next heavily endorsed item was the kanom krok, a sort of coconut and green onion mini-pancakes. Smiling, I realized this suggestion also seemed to be a secret item requiring separate preparation and distinct from the main lineup of foods. But I also gulped once again when I noticed this suggestion was more fried food to clog my veins on top of the fried chicken.

Two fried dishes -the kanom krok and the kanom-something (I forget the name)- are prepared in the back left of the area. The kanom krok are little dollar coin sized pancakes, slightly hemispherical. They are cooked in a large machine much like a waffle maker (i.e., the machine closes on the top and can rotate to flip over) with many tiny divots for the batter for each mini pancake. Meanwhile, the other kanom- dish was simply deep fried coconut flour in little patties three inches across. It was relatively scary watching these float around in the oil as they cooked.

I got a little plate with some of both of these dessert-type items and walked a few doors down the street and sat in the grass in front of the library. The rest of the grass was also occupied by thai temple eaters, but were mostly high school students. Meanwhile, the crowd eating at the picnic tables by the thai temple proper (I observed as I ate my first two dishes) was a wide variety of Berkeleyans, with a distinctive presence of twenty-sometimes likely using the food to re-energize after a late party on Saturday night. Indeed, two conversations I heard support this.

In any case, these items were pretty good. The chowhounds have apparently not lead me wrong in their suggestions. The kanom krok was better than the other dish. The kanom krok were served sliced in half. If one puts the outer side on one's tongue, one gets a nice fried coconut flavor; if one puts the inner side on one's tongue, one gets a warm and mushy coconut and green onion batter that slowly dissolves. I preferred the latter method of eating. The other kanom- dish was simply like coconut pancakes (a la potato pancakes) was good but a bit too deep fried for my tastes. But really I was just running out of the willingness to eat more fried food. Still, I forced myself to finish this dish of both kanom-things. Actually, since the kanom krok outnumbered the other part by quite a bit, forcing myself to finish wasn't hard work on the taste side, only the rational healthy brain side.

I sat, digest a bit, and then biked home. And that was my first trip to the Thai Temple. My second would be turn out to be more efficient, less tasty, and also less artery clogging (or at least less obviously so).

Interesting Articles: Dec 6th-12th 2005

* This Season's War Cry: Commercialize Christmas, or Else (New York Times). A brief history of the commercial aspect of Christmas. Posted because the article has a smattering of interesting facts (that I didn't know).

* Goodbye, Moon (New York Times). A cute little piece of satire. F is the best.

* Are Lawyers Being Overbilled for Their Test Preparation? (New York Times). There's something oddly circular about this whole situation...

* State of the Art (New York Times). Commentary on modern art. An article that was interesting to me only because it cited many pieces of controversial "art" that I never knew about.

Science & Nutrition:
* Lines Are Drawn for Big Suit Over Sodas and Federal Advisory Group Calls for Change in Food Marketing to Children (both New York Times). I'm not sure where I come down on this issue. Thoughts? Feel free to comment.
* Monthly cycle changes women's brains (Science News). A good study, if only for its straightforward design: "One to 5 days before their periods, the women were asked to read words with connotations that were positive (such as "safe" or "delighted"), negative (such as "fault" or "death"), or neutral (such as "bookcase" or "clarinet"). They repeated the task 8 to 12 days after their periods started. ... During the premenstrual period, part of the volunteers' orbitofrontal cortex, an area involved in regulating emotion, was more active in response to negative words than to positive or neutral words. This difference decreased after the women's periods." Original paper available: Orbitofrontal cortex activity related to emotional processing changes across the menstrual cycle (Proceedings of the National Academic of Sciences).
* Dairy fats cut colon cancer risk (Science News). Hmmm... A benefit of milk that requires the fat. Original article available: High-fat dairy food and conjugated linoleic acid intakes in relation to colorectal cancer incidence in the Swedish Mammography Cohort (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition).

Interesting Articles: Nov 29th-Dec 5th 2005

Maybe I'm picker this week, or maybe the news is lighter, but this is all I seem to have in the queue this week:

* Moody? Cranky? Tired? Feed Me! (New York Times). The second page is more interesting than the first, discussing some scientific studies on the relationship between the sensory system and hunger.

Interesting Articles: Nov 22nd-28th 2005

* Lynne Truss Has Another Gripe With You (New York Times). While the first page or two of the article is about her new book on courtesy, the rest is much more interesting: a profile of her. It explores how her personality and life contributed to her books and yet are to some extent at odds with her books.
* This Is Your Brain Under Hypnosis (New York Times). A quite clear study reflecting the existence of hypnosis and hints of its neurological mechanism and effect.
* Light Poles Are Vanishing, and Baltimore's Police Are Baffled (New York Times). How odd.
* Students Ace State Tests, but Earn D's From U.S. (New York Times). A story about the inappropriate incentives for developing tests (by making them too easy) and the need for uniform standards. The article Poor Grades Aside, Athletes Get Into College on a $399 Diploma (New York Times) further emphasizes this need for standards.
* Bring Bridge Back to the Table (New York Times). Ahem.


I spent an unseasonably cold Thanksgiving in Chicago from November 23rd 2005 to November 27th 2005 with my parents and one set of grandparents. I attended a huge (more than two dozen people) and very high quality dinner at the house of one of my distant relatives. With my parents, we explored downtown Chicago, took a neat walking architectural tour from the Chicago Architecture Foundation (I believe this was the "Architecture of Culture and Commerce" tour, chosen mainly due to its convenient start time), wandered through Millennium Park (eh), and drove through IIT (where I first learned Mies van der Rohe architecture generally doesn't appeal to me), University of Chicago, and Northwestern (which has a nice gothic campus). Apparently I visited (or at least drove by) the Baha'i House of Worship, though I have no memory of it. And I worked hard writing a paper due the day I returned to school. Sadly, I never documented my experiences from this trip.

While downtown, we stopped to eat at Russian Tea Time. We shared a classic beef stroganoff, nicely creamy and with good quality meat. Well executed. We also had quite buttery pirogies (technically "dumpling combination" as listed on the menu). And, according to the receipt, we also had some form of meatballs. The restaurant is fairly fancy.

Interesting Articles: Nov 15th-21st 2005

* Tenure, Turnover and the Quality of Teaching (New York Times). An enlightening summary of a study examining these things.
* Why the United States Should Look to Japan for Better Schools (New York Times). I agree. I still don't understand why we don't generally use "best practices" for teaching.

Online Life:
* Online Dating? Thin and Rich Works Here, Too (New York Times). Includes a few neat statistics on how various features effect the amount of interest one gets.
* E-Mail Is So Five Minutes Ago (BusinessWeek). So true. There are better alternatives to e-mail for some tasks.

* Light Field Photography with a Hand-Held Plenoptic Camera (Stanford University Computer Science Tech Report). They've invented a new camera and appropriate algorithms that, given a single exposure, can reconstruct the image with whatever focal length or depth of field you want. Neat. (Infinitely more useful than, say, crummy camera phones.)
* Defense Mechanism: Circumcision averts some HIV infections (Science News). A strikingly strong effect.
* Timid Mice Made Daring by Removing One Gene (New York Times). Every month or two it feels like I post another article demonstrating a simple single-gene control of a complex behavior...
* The 11-Year Quest to Create Disappearing Colored Bubbles (Popular Science). A cool story.
* Study Identifies Heart Patient's Best Friend (New York Times). Not surprising if you think about it -- pets (including dogs) make people relaxed and more comfortable, and that tends to make people healthier.

Language Oddities: (can you believe this gets its own category this week?)
* "Deferred Success" is new term for failure? Cute but strange uses of language.
* 'Literary' texts no more? (CNN). Classic works compressed into text messages, for learning and humor. :)
* One Well-Read Home Has Some New Pets: 1,082 Penguins (New York Times). The goal is laudable: reading every Penguin Classic.

Interesting Articles: Nov 8th-14th 2005

* The End of Pensions (New York Times). An easy to read overview of the state of the pension system, both government and private, and how it got the way it is.
* Oil and Grilling Don't Mix (Washington Post). A neat article, if only for the method by which it references senators.

* Got 2 Extra Hours for Your E-Mail? (New York Times). Right on.

* Early Stress in Rats Bites Memory Later On: Inadequate care to young animals delivers delayed hit to the brain (Science News). In short, rats abused when kids look fine psychologically as young adults but show memory and other cognitive issues in middle age. If you can't read the Science News article, check the original source: Mechanisms of Late-Onset Cognitive Decline after Early-Life Stress (Journal of Neuroscience).
* Cool Birds: How can emperor penguins live like that? (Science News). While not deep or surprising in any way, the article is an entertaining and very well written overview of penguin life.
* High Times for Brain Growth: Marijuana-like drug multiplies neurons (Science News). I wonder if this research could have been done in the U.S.?

* An Organic Cash Cow (New York Times). An overview of the organic milk industry. Posted due to its relevance to my milk taste test. Actually, that probably makes the New York Times' companion article (its taste test), Bottle of White, more fitting than the article linked above.
* The Literary Darwinists (New York Times). Literary Darwinism is the study of behavior in humans as displayed through literature and how such behavior could be seen as adaptive (or non-adaptive) in the Darwinism sense. It sounds like a backwater field. Frankly, I'd hoped based upon the phrase that it was a study of how the popularity of various types of literature evolve over time.

Scharffen Berger Chocolate Factory Tour

On Saturday, November 5th 2005, some of us converged on Scharffen Berger, the gourmet chocolate producer, in Berkeley for a tour of its factory and a little poking around the gift shop. Since this was one of my dining club's outings, I wrote up the trip elsewhere.

Half Moon Bay Art & Pumpkin Festival

On Sunday October 16th 2005, I spent most of the day either at the Art & Pumpkin Festival or sitting in traffic en route to Half Moon Bay for the festival. Despite all the traffic, the festival was worth it.

And others apparently also knew this fact: it was packed, much more so than any other festival I've been to.

Whenever I saw a piece of artwork that really impressed me (or I otherwise thought was neat), I took a photograph of it. These pictures are available. View the pictures now, before reading onward. After this paragraph all I have to discuss are a random disorganized selection of things that weren't worthy of (or weren't appropriate for) pictures.

Taking highway 92 there was stupid. I think it took me close to two hours to get there from Berkeley. But one nice effect of it was that I got to drive by the loads and loads of pumpkin farms just south of Half Moon Bay.

The pumpkin that won the heaviest pumpkin contest was enormous, weighting 1,229 pounds and was probably over a meter in diameter. They let kids sit on it. On one hand, this seems to disrespect it. On the other hand, it's just a pumpkin. I wonder what they do with it at the end of the year when there are no longer any fairs with pumpkin-weighing contests.

I stuck with the pumpkin theme for all the food I bought throughout the afternoon. Started with an okay chicken pumpkin sausage, which was disappointing because it didn't have much distinctive pumpkin flavor. Then split a very good pumpkin cheesecake with some friends: very rich and fairly light, with a subtle pumpkin flavor in the cheesecake itself and a much denser flavor in the few stripes that segmented the cake. Also split some pumpkin ice cream which was even better; it was only split because I couldn't finish it because it was so rich. Bought a pumpkin muffin for breakfast the next morning. Humongous and moist, it didn't need any butter. I think I'll cook pumpkin muffins or bread sometime soon; they're good! I missed only a few pumpkin containing items, including the most obvious: pumpkin pie. (I figured I could get that anywhere.)

Downtown Half Moon Bay is nice; Main Street is long, only moderately packed with businesses, and has wide sidewalks, all of which remind me a bit of Solano Avenue in Berkeley.

As a promotion, a cruise ship company parked a truck just off main street that included a miniature cruise ship. They had tours of the ship, showing off buffets and shuffleboard and all that kind of stuff that people do on cruise ships. (I didn't take a tour. But it was an impressively large cruise-ship-like truck and relatively funny to see people walking up the gangplank.)

One street performer swallowed fire.

I should emphasize again how much art there was. Lots and lots! Some quite good. The music -at least the bands I heard- weren't to my tastes. If it were slightly less crowded and had better music, it might have been a better festival than my current Bay Area gold standard, North Berkeley Spice of Life. (The Pumpkin festival had comparable food selection and more and better artwork, although certainly smaller wine tastings and beer gardens (and more crowds and much worse music).)

Near the end of the festival we tried to stop by the haunted house, but it was already closed.

After the festival and parting with my friends, I decided to avoid traffic and simply sat around and read (for pleasure). When it got cold, I moved into the car and continued. By the time I started driving back, the pumpkin festival had been over for at least two hours. Yet it still took me over an hour to return to Berkeley, despite using highway one (which I thought would be less crowded than 92).

Interesting Articles: Nov 1st-7th 2005

Business and Economics:
* Why Vote? (New York Times). The Freakonomics guys provide a short overview of the economic analysis of voting.
* How to Build a Breakaway Brand (Fortune). Filed here simply because of all the examples. If I have to write a paper at some point and need some branding examples, I'll know where to look.

* 'The Chosen': Getting In (New York Times). Although technically a book review, provides an intriguing picture of how scholarly merit and leadership skills have been valued over the years (as displayed through college admission standards).

* Court Choice Is Conservative by Nature, Not Ideology (New York Times). An affectionate portrait of Alito's life and training.
* Every State Left Behind (New York Times). In addition to the complaints leveled in the opinion piece, having each state have its own tests and testing standards is more expensive (lacking economies of scale) and indirectly prevents unified curriculums, preventing acquiring wide-scale best practices in teaching.

* Science Journal: Brains strive to see the good, leading to god (The Wall Street Journal). This piece starts with a simple psychological phenomenon involving rationalization (in psychology terms, cognitive dissonance) and stretches it to an (absurd?) degree, relating it to how people view fate, God, and religion.

* Beware Your Trail of Digital Fingerprints (New York Times). A number of tales about why one should beware of (or, be aware of) document meta-data. The article could also be subtitled, "Or, why plain text and printed out documents are better."
* Artificial Artificial Intelligence (Amazon Web Services). What a neat idea! Amazon is trying to be a broker for tasks that humans can do trivially but computers cannot do (e.g., is there a pizza parlor in this picture?).

Interesting Articles: Oct 25th-31st 2005

* Parents Fret That Dialing Up Interferes With Growing Up (New York Times). A neat story about the difference between (parents') perceptions about how technology effects social behavior versus the reality of it.
* For Some College Graduates, a Fanciful Detour (or Two) Before Their Careers Begin (New York Times). What can I say? A detour seems like fun; maybe I should've done one. (I don't know what I would've done at that time, though...)
* Some Uncomfortable Findings for Wal-Mart (Business Week). A brief synopsis of the results of an academic conference devoted simply to studying the effects of Wal-Mart.
* Bringing Out the Absurdity of the News (New York Times). A nice review of The Daily Show's spin-off, The Colbert Report. It's a decent show, much of it a parody of Fox News and the O'Reilly Factor. I really enjoy the feature "The Word" and the textual commentary that accompanies it. And although Colbert gets good guests, the interviews seem forced, as if he's simultaneously trying to do a good interview while staying in character.
* Benched Science (Science News). The article summarizes a fact I hadn't realized, that judges in the last decade have gained increasing discretion on what types of scientific evidence (expert testimony) to admit into court.
* Vitamin C may treat cancer after all (Science News). Vitamin C has a storied history. First people proclaim it helps fight colds and other diseases. Then people show it doesn't, at least with some diseases or some ways of taking it or in some dosages. Then more people proclaim it does. And so on. This Science News article describes some fairly solid evidence that taking Vitamin C intravenously may help fight cancer. If you can't read the article, glance at the abstract of the original report, Pharmacologic ascorbic acid concentrations selectively kill cancer cells (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). Note that one cannot achieve this blood level of Vitamin C simply by oral supplements.
* EFF reveals codes in Xerox printers (Associated Press via Information Week). Troubling. (Actually, I'm more bothered by the lack of disclosure that they do this than the fact that they do it.)

Interesting Articles: Oct 17th-24th 2005

If you're going to only read one article from this post this week, read this one:
* Meet the Life Hackers (New York Times). The science of interruptions: on the prevalence of interruptions in the modern work force and methods to improve how interruptions are provided to people. The long article, residing at the intersection of culture, psychology, and technology, is a worthwhile read. Just a teaser: one result of the scientific experiments is more screen real estate is better. And there are a number of more surprising tidbits on how to manage screen real estate more effectively in the article.

* As Young Adults Drink to Win, Marketers Join In (New York Times). Beer Pong. Again, you know it's an old meme when it shows up in a major newspaper.
* Those Boys Are Back, as Timely as Ever (New York Times). On the timeliness and continuing humor value of South Park. I agree with most of the article and still remember how great the episodes on The Passion of the Christ and The Lord of the Rings were. But most non-commentary episodes really do fall flat to me.

* Finding the best eats off the beaten track (Mercury News) (BugMeNot). A neat profile of a prominent and devoted chowhound. Incidentally, her ranking of ramen places is quite good from what I know, and these places all really show that ramen can be orders of magnitude better than the dried supermarket stuff.
* Organic Choice: Pesticides vanish from body after change in diet (Science News). Striking stuff: even a simple diet change to organic foods can have an immediate and significant impact on the amount of pesticides found in one's body. If you can't read that link, at least read the abstract of the source article Organic Diets Significantly Lower Children's Dietary Exposure to Organophosphorus Pesticides (Environmental Health Perspectives). (The abstract and article itself are available as links off that page.)

* Balls of Fire: Bees carefully cook invaders to death (Science News). What an interesting defense mechanism. The fifth paragraph (insects aside) really struck me as something out of an action movie.
* Fast-food customers get a rude calorie surprise (USA Today). The article describes two quite different studies about food consumption; the title only applies to the first one. They are nothing surprising but are still simple and cute experiments.

* The Miller Case: A Notebook, a Cause, a Jail Cell and a Deal (New York Times). A long article on the Miller case. Frankly, way more than I wanted to know about the case but still thought provoking in parts for the meta-commentary in the piece (that is, given that Miller worked for the Times, discussions on how the New York Times covered the case and how decisions about how they should cover it were made). Formed a good contrast to a discussion I heard on the radio (audio available) the same day that brought a different angle on how the Times dealt with the situation. But really in the end I would rather not have read any of this now -- if I was smart I'd have waited until the whole situation was over and then read a cohesive narrative.

TV Show Plug: Veronica Mars

Veronica Mars is one of the most intelligent, sophisticated and addictive series currently on television. I'd hate to simply call it a detective show because I feel like that sells short everything it does so well. I've been obsessed with this (UPN) show since late 2004; I got turned onto it from this NPR fall 2004 television show discussion. (It's the first show they review.) It took me a few months before I actually managed to catch an episode but after that it was all over -- I started to make sure I was around whenever it aired and have been watching it religiously ever since.

If you like the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer television series, you'll like Veronica Mars. It's basically Buffy as a detective. The similarities are astounding. Like Buffy, Veronica is an intelligent high-school female. She's independent. She's not in the in-crowd but has her own small gang of friends. She's being raised by a single-parent. Still like Buffy, each episode has a particular story arc and yet there is a season long major difficulty that needs to be solved; progress is also made toward this major goal each episode. Yet, like Buffy, it's not the plot and problems to solve that make these such good shows but rather the relationships between the characters and how they evolve over time play a significant role. The only differences are: (a) Buffy slays vampires and demons (with the occasional help of magic) while Veronica catches criminals (with the help of detective, forensic, and social engineering skills), and (b) the writing, while good, lacks the lyrical offbeat quality started by Joss Whedon with Buffy that served as a distinguishing feature of that show.

In short, Veronica Mars is an awesome show. You should start watching this season (episode four just aired) before the season arc advances too far (and you feel like you've missed a lot).

TV Show Plug: 30 Days

A friend recently turned me onto the TV show 30 Days (warning: web page launches with sound). 30 Days is a series produced by the same guy that made Super Size Me, the movie about eating McDonald's constantly for a month, and follows an analogous premise. In each one-hour (counting commercials) episode, the camera focuses on one person that is forced for a month to do something unusual or something most of us haven't experienced: the first episode features the producer and his girlfriend trying to work for and live off of minimum wage; the second focused on one guy's attempt to get in shape quickly by exercising a ton, taking lots of vitamins, and using steroids; and so on. The television series has the same handy voice-over as the movie as well as the cut scenes consisting of original, distinctive, and relevant visual art that gave the movie much of its charm. Six episodes were produced for the network FX last summer and the show was recently renewed so more episodes are on the way. I've actually only seen about of half them but the ones I've seen make the show worthwhile enough to plug.

Interesting Articles: Oct 10th-16th 2005

* In a Grueling Desert Race, a Winner, but Not a Driver (New York Times). About the DARPA Grand Challenge. I'm impressed that some vehicles finished this year (unlike last year), with Stanford as the winner. The article (and multimedia associated with it) also has some stunning pictures of the Nevada desserts, and pictures of the vehicles too.
* I, Roommate: The Robot Housekeeper Arrives (New York Times). From two-thirds the way down the first page to halfway down the second, the author provides a thoughtful discussion on how she started anthropomorphizing the robot.
* Behind Artificial Intelligence, a Squadron of Bright Real People (New York Times). :)

Science & Medicine:
* Will Any Organ Do? (New York Times). A good discussion of the medical ethics issues involved with using "marginal" organs.
* Treated for Illness, Then Lost in Labyrinth of Bills (New York Times). Medical paperwork horror stories. Look at the sidebar. I'm glad I haven't had to deal with this.
* TV in bedrooms linked to lower test scores (Stanford Report). Causal or not? Think about it.

Gender Roles:
* First Comes the Baby Carriage (New York Times). I hadn't realized the prevalence of artificially inseminated single mothers was on the rise. While the whole article isn't worth reading, it does raise some interesting questions.
* Big Girls Don't Cry (New York Times). Is this an issue of repressing a feature of one group (women), or a legitimate need for businesses? Read the whole article; it's good.

* White's 'Memorandum' (New York Times). An opinion column with very good advice. I'm trying to get a copy of E. B. White's Memorandum but having a heck of time figuring out what book it has been republished in.

Clement Street Festival (Richmond District, SF)

On Sunday October 9th 2005, I spent the early part of the afternoon at the Clement Street Festival in the (inner / east) Richmond district of San Francisco. The fair itself was less than thrilling; similar to the San Bruno Avenue festival, it had a single musical stage, a passably-sized selection of vendors (many of which I saw already at the North Berkeley festival), the same identical very sad looking petting/riding zoo, and the same assortment of kids stuff (inflatable castles, slides, climbing wall, etc.). While I didn't expect much, I had gone hoping for a little more. In particular, the web page claimed:

For the 2005 Festival we will be featuring this diverse cuisine with a "Taste of Clement Street". A number of restaurants within the Festival site will be offering a variety of samples that represent their particular type of food.

But this didn't exist. I didn't see a single food sample or food vendor.

All that being said, all was not lost. I still had a good time because the Richmond district is such a fantastic place with its wide diversity of cultures. I had thought Geary Street was the focus of the district, with a few blocks of Balboa also being intriguing. Little did I know one block over from Geary was Clement, another street as lively and varying as Geary and in fact with probably a greater density of restaurants and shops.

Wandering around Clement was great. It has at least as wide a selection of cuisines as Berkeley, ranging from Irish and Polish to Indonesia, Japanese, Burmese, and, of course, Chinese. (The area is sometimes called new chinatown.) The area of Clement Street between 6th and 8th has many Chinese bakeries and take-out Dim Sum places. Before heading home, I stopped by some of these and picked up some bakery items (sesame balls and a few different moon cakes, and a steamed black bean bun to eat right then). Lunch itself, however, since I couldn't find any of the samples, was at Burma Superstar, a restaurant I'd previously heard positive reviews of. I had a pork and potato curry over rice that came with satisfying chunks of meat and potatoes. The dish was heavy but not rich (like, say, Indian dishes), much like a decent brisket with a little Indian curry mixed in. Nothing that special, but I saw many diners with other tempting dishes and, after reading other reviews of this place online, I definitely want to go back. Along with lunch I had a refreshing slightly alcoholic drink that tasted of lemon and ginger (but didn't go well with the entree at all).

The whole trip confirmed my previous inclination that if I was going to live in San Francisco, the Richmond district would probably be my preferred place. Sadly, it's not close to BART or many highways.

Getting there from Berkeley was a bit of a pain; westbound bay bridge traffic was slow -- it took me an hour to arrive. Returning was easier, with a nice adventure along the way: During the whole fair, we'd occasionally hear the sound barrier broken as the blue angels practiced overhead. (Usually I wasn't able to spot them.) But, on the way home, I heard them once again, then saw the shadow of a plan literally drive down the street toward me and past me! The wingspan of the shadow was almost four lanes.

After crossing the bay bridge (eastbound, to home), I noticed the westbound traffic was at a standstill. No movement. Suddenly I felt better about the slow traffic I had to wade through when I drove west earlier.

Incidentally, the fair was actually organized by the same people that organize the San Bruno Avenue one and the North Berkeley Spice of Life one. Attending, one can see the similarities, but the contrast between the sheer quantity of booths and performers at the Spice of Life versus the other two was staggering. I guess there are simply more people selling hand-made items and trinkets in Berkeley, and more people attending the fair to sell to, and more people that want to perform...

Hayward Greek Festival

Midafternoon on Saturday October 8th 2005 I realized I didn't have any leftovers in the fridge nor did I have a recipe I was anxious to cook. Hence, around dinnertime I headed out to yet another Greek festival, this one in Hayward. Quite similar to other Greek festivals, upon entering I received a brochure much like the ones I received at past festivals (e.g., the history of the church, Greek words, a few recipes, many pages of ads from sponsors, map of the festival) along with a schedule of events. Looking around, they also had the small assortment of vendors that frequent these festivals, selling Greek and religious books, Greek clothing (including t-shirts with humorous messages about being Greek), pottery, and jewelry. One distinguishing factor compared to other festivals was the location: rather than a church, it was located in the local community center. Exhibits and the various food areas (desserts, dining room, grill, presentation room) were scattered around. They did offer the usual church tours and the like -the church was across the street I believe- but I guess it wasn't large enough for the festival itself.

Soon after I arrived at around 6:20pm and slightly hungry I heard an announcement for a baklava cooking demonstration. According to my schedule this should have started a little while ago but I was happy to learn it had been delayed. I took it as a message and attended. (It's also a sign because no other festival have had such demonstrations.)

The demonstration, by a mother and her daughter (later forties and early twenties I'd guess, was very colloquial and friendly. The mother had been a stay at home mom and apparently had many chances to try various baklava recipes and tweaks upon them and had many opinions as a result. It looked surprisingly easy to make and I'd like to try it, but the minimum size load one can probably make would be several dozen so I'd need many volunteers to eat them.

Post-demonstration I was famished so rather than looking around at more vendors and the dancing, I headed straight to the dining room. But the line was quite long, so I snuck off to get some souvlaki at the grill to tide me over, looked around a bit, and only then got in the (by then) shorter line.

For food, it had pretty much the traditional Greek festival menu. This time I opted for
* an aforementioned skewer of pork souvlaki (pretty good, with a little zest from the lemon and oregano (?))
* keftedes: Grecian style meatballs, very good (one of the better items I've had at a Greek festival), quite large and tender and with a complex tomato sauce. (Complex means something good was added to it, but I couldn't identify the flavor. :) )
* pilaf: well done. Like most pilaf, probably with a bit more butter than my health would prefer, but that's just part of what makes it good.
* green beans with tomato sauce. I had this at a previous festival and was unenthusiastic then. This time I was more unenthusiastic. Both had a boring tomato sauce, but this time the beans were overcooked.

For dessert I had a melomacarona, a cookie made from orange rind and soaked in honey and is about the size and shape of a C-cell battery. It was pretty good though screamed that it should be dipped into something (tea/coffee/milk). Then I had a second dessert -I wouldn't be surprised if all these food festivals are making me gain weight- a karidopita. This I hadn't seen at any previous festivals; billed as a walnut torte with a bit of honey poured over it, it was very tasty and moist, reminding me of a (sweetened walnut-flavored) carrot cake.

They had one stage devoted to music and dancing: while I was there they only played traditional Greek music and, compared to when other festivals played traditional music, had the largest crowd of dancers. They had occasional interludes with choreographed costumed dancers performing. These were fun for a few moments but the dances that I saw myself were pretty dull. (After a minute one gets the idea and realizes they'll just do those same moves over and over again.)

All considered, not a bad way of spending the early part of an evening.

North Berkeley Spice of Life Festival

The North Berkeley Spice of Life Festival occurred on Sunday, October 2nd 2005, and I was there. It was fantastic: one of the best street fairs I've ever been to!

It wasn't simply the fact that it was amazingly convenient to me. After all, it was located along Shattuck in the gourmet ghetto about three blocks from my house.

It wasn't simply the number of booths selling cookery, artwork, food products, clothing, and more. While the number itself was impressive -the booths lined two sides of the street for six blocks-, many booths also had cool content. Some booths that struck me were:
* A booth selling soap (that was actually supposed to be used) carved to look like sushi. And "hand soap," actually carved to look like a hand.
* One booth containing laser-etched 3-d glass cubes containing images of many different objects, including spheres, crystal growths, geodesics, and more mundane things like animals.
* One booth selling funky art that resembled the graffiti and murals one finds on building walls. (Sadly, I now forget the medium the art was done in.)
* One booth with stunning photographs of Vietnam. I think the photographer might've been involved in the war there (judging by his age), but I never heard explicit confirmation of this fact. In any case, he went back and took some large and beautiful pictures.
* A surprisingly popular booth selling fake wood flooring. Ah, Berkeleyans (don't want to use real non-sustainable wood).
* The Berkeley Path Wanderers, a group of people dedicated to mapping all the hidden walkways in Berkeley (and there are many) and maintaining them, was seeking new members and selling walking maps.
* The Academy for Psychic Studies. While many booths selling artwork I see at many fairs, this one I only spotted at this festival in Berkeley.
* An advocate for a small pedestrian mall in the gourmet ghetto. I'm all for it, given that right now the space is mostly unused asphalt.

It wasn't the food vendors, for there weren't very many and they weren't special. (I ate a chicken thai satay stick with rice, some roasted corn, and a few grilled oysters, all from different booths.) Rather, it was the drink vendors. Every local bar/pub/microbrewery (Triple Rock, Bison, Jupiter) had an area. And there was a wine tasting garden. And the local wine shop recently opened its store on Vine Street (hehe) and was open for browsing. The shop is in a funky refurbished building and almost doesn't look like a retail store. But inside one finds a moderate (not overwhelming) number of wines (five dozen or so), each with an individual frequently entertaining card describing it, its history, and what foods it would go well with. I bought two inexpensive Italian whites (that I haven't yet drank) that sounded similar to other wines I know I like. The store has a fun attitude, with quotes on the wall like, "Conserve Water. Drink Wine."

They did have a minor petting zoo for kids. It looked a little better than San Bruno Avenue festival but was still fairly sad, with six ponies in a parking lot and a few bales of hay.

Of course, the traditional modest (Thursday) gourmet ghetto farmers market people were there for this weekend festival too.

Blacks Oaks, one of our local independent bookstores (and one of my favorites), had readings and signings, nearly one an hour. Mind you, these were small time authors and were very sparsely attended, but it's the style that matters.

Now if this was all that was worth mentioning, it might merely be a slightly above average town festival.

But there was more. For one, there was a cooking stage with demonstrations throughout the day, with chefs from local good restaurants. I stood and watched two. One I watched was by the chef at Liaison (the neighborhood french restaurant); he cooked a roasted butternut squash soup. I got the recipe and actually made it several months later and it was fantastic! (Warm, tasty, and filling; a nice fall/winter soup.) Something I'd be happy to have been served at a restaurant.

And that's not all. The music at the Spice of Life festival was unparalleled compared to other festivals. They had three official stages of music. And more than that, they had two more unofficial stages: one at the Cheeseboard with its usual jazz duo, and one at a yoga booth with a performer with a sitar. I mostly hung around the jazz stage, and the performers there were generally great. The best was actually the Berkeley Jazz school. (I've heard them multiple times and they're always good.) Then came along a brazilian jazz quintet, and then a vocal group (that I didn't get as into). Much of the day when I wasn't wandering around the festival I could be found by this stage, listening and sitting in the sun and reading a book ("The Innovator's Dilemma") for a class. What a nice time, and I must've gotten through a good hundred pages.

[Most of this was written much after the festival.]

Armenian Food and Dance Festival

In the early afternoon on Saturday, October 1st 2005 I stopped by the Armenian Food and Dance Festival in Oakland for a look around and some lunch. (Sorry, no link -- this festival has no web page. It was hosted by the St. Vartan Armenian Apostolic Church, if that helps.) Organization-wise it was not unlike all these past church-sponsored Greek festivals.

I arrived at the Bazaar (for that is what it called itself) at around 1pm while it was still getting started. (I believe they planned to have a night of dancing and close at midnight, the latest of any festival I've attended.) After glancing at the four vendors, one of which was the Armenian Rugs Society, "dedicated to the identification, preservation and dissemination of knowledge of Armenian rugs," I followed my nose to the food.

The menu included the usual kebabs, chicken, pilaf, and stuffed grape leaves, and a few more unusual items. I went for the two items I don't think I've seen before (or at least not recently): one, Koofta, "meatballs" stuffed with meat (and spices, butter, and parsley); two, a cheese beoreg , a pastry filled with Jack cheese. When I ordered, following a couple and a family that went for the usual items, the woman helping fill the plates said, "Ah, someone who knows what the hardest items to cook are." :)

The koofta was excellent. The meatballs, about three inches in diameter, really did taste like (and were) meat stuffed with meat -- the texture of the outing filling was distinctly different than the ground meat inside. And the spices were great! Looking the recipe up online, it appears the shell is produced separately and gets its consistency from mixing meat with bulgur, plus it being on the outside when the meatball is boiled.

The cheese beoreg, much like the Greek equivalent (both being filled folded flakey many-layered pastries), was also good. I'm always worried about ordering cheese-stuff items (like quesadillas) because cooks frequently overdo it on the cheese (in my opinion) and make the dish overwhelming. But this dish had just the right amount of cheese -a fairly thin sliver- inside.

While eating I settled down outside to listen to some musicians and crowd-watch. (They also had a stage inside but that wasn't being used yet; they were still setting up the dance floor.) The crowd here was older than most other festivals; I was only one of a few people below forty. The music, played by a few old guys, was very good. The two main instruments -I had to look up the names afterward- were a qanun (basically an Armenian lap-played harp) and an oud (a Middle Eastern lute).

I also tried a beer they had that I hadn't seen before: Kilikia (light). It was light like a Pilsner but tasted really hoppy and even bitter. I think it was skunked. I couldn't drink much: I had to pour it away. Later I checked and found that my taste buds weren't off; the beer is panned there. Well, either that or a lot of reviewers got skunked beer.

After relaxing a bit, I remembered that I wouldn't be having dinner for another eight hours (until after I finished playing BANG 12, an evening puzzling scavenger hunt). So, I figured I should eat more. (Yes, this was just a rationalization. Really what it comes down to is that there was more food I wanted to try.) Hence, I went to the table outside with many other items, all vegetarian.

The odd feature of this table was that it wasn't mentioned on any official literature from the Bazaar about food. Nor was the table even on the festival map. And the festival wasn't very big; it's not like they could have forgotten about it! I wonder if this was a last-minute vendor that is actually competing with the culinary items of the festival itself?

In any case, I got some more food:
* Mock keyma. Bulgur (parched cracked wheat) mixed with green onions, red onions, green peppers, and spices. Tasty. Mock because there was no meat involved. I'd like to cook this sometime; seems like it would be easy.
* Imam bayildi. Eggplant stuffed with a tomato, onion, and pepper mixture. Decent but a bit oily.

Before I left, I glanced at the very large deli take-out section. (Most festivals, if they have one, have a very small one.) This one was impressive and had many items whose names and appearances I didn't recognize. Sadly, I passed on everything since I didn't feel comfortable leaving food in my car for eight hours.

How Berkeley Can You Be? and Middle Eastern Food Festival

I attended the How Berkeley Can You Be Parade and Festival on Sunday, September 25th 2005. These pictures and the accompanying commentary tell pretty much the whole story of the parade. The festival itself, held in downtown Berkeley at the ending location of the parade, was decent. Quite a wide selection of vendors, a stage with bands playing a wide selection of different music types, and a good half a dozen food booths, mostly of the type one sees at every festival. (There was a Jamaican booth too, but the line was too long, and a booth of people giving away Brown Cow yogurt!) All in all, the vendors and the kookiness, a fairly Berkeley experience. As for food, impatient, I snuck away and had lunch at the new Tibetan restaurant in the downtown Berkeley. But, following my policy of not writing about Berkeley restaurants (because otherwise I'd never stop writing), I won't say more about it.

After working some of the afternoon, in the evening I headed out again to the Middle Eastern Food Festival in San Francisco (craigslist announcement: link will expire). Held in a church, there were only three vendors selling items (jewelry, foodstuffs, and books) all mostly in Arabic. The center of the festival quite obviously was the event room containing many tables, a band, a wood-paneled dance floor, and a long set of tables with food. The whole thing reminded me a lot of wedding receptions (and the like). The crowd was predominately middle-eastern; I heard a lot of Arabic being spoken. All the singers sang in Arabic. All the food signs (and the books) were all in Arabic. They said a prayer at the end of the festival in Arabic. Only after the prayer was over did they realize that there were some non-Arabic speakers there and then explained what they just did.

When I arrived at 7:30pm, a hour and a half before the festival closed on its last day, they had cut the price in half (or more) on all their food items to help get rid of them. (At the SF Greek Festival I went to the week before they did this too, but not until well after I had finished eating.) The food at this festival was actually quite similar to those at Greek festivals: this had kebabs while the Greeks' have souvlaki; they both had some form for a spinach pie; they both had "Greek" salad; they both had some stewy green bean dish (they called theirs fasoulia but it looks the same); and so on. They had a few items Greek festival don't have like falafel, tabouleh, humus, kibbe (rice and meat mixture), and mujadara (a lentil, wheat, and onion mixture). And the desserts, with the exception of both having baklava, were entirely different.

Personally, I had some lamb kebabs (fairly decent) with pita (definitely good quality pita bread) and a spinach pie. Unlike Greek spinach pies, this was made of a thicker bread than phyllo, but had a similar taste. As for dessert, I tried one but don't remember it much, nor the name of it. In fact, I wrote down the transliterated names they gave for half the dessert menu (the poster with the transliteration of the names for the other half the dessert menu had fallen down) and none of them gave relevant results on Google. So either the transliterations were non-standard or the desserts are really exotic!

Interesting Articles: Oct 3rd-9th 2005

* On Television, Brands Go From Props to Stars (New York Times). A mildly interesting article (with a very interesting -for us data junkies- sidebar) on paid placement in television shows.

* To More Inmates, Life Term Means Dying Behind Bars (New York Times). A surprising (to me anyways) and harrowing tale of how the concept of life imprisonment has changed over the years. There is also a follow-on piece, Jailed for Life After Crimes as Teenagers.
* Want Social Condemnation With Your Justice? Tune In Judge Judy (New York Times). Cute and apt -I've watched the show- commentary on Judge Judy.
* The Tort Wars, at a Turning Point (New York Times). On tort cases involving asbestos and silica dust. While I know this article focuses on a few bad doctors and lawyers, the real question is which profession does this tarnish the reputation of the most?

I recently got distracted browsing some papers at some of the latest Psychology & Economics conferences and workshops. Here are some cute tidbits; read the abstracts at least:
* Female Socialization: How Daughters Affect Their Legislator Fathers' Voting on Women's Issues (PDF)
* Strategic Release of Information on Friday: Evidence from Earnings Announcements (PDF)
* All that Glitters: The Effect of Attention and News on the Buying Behavior of Individual and Institutional Investors.
* Searching for a Mate: Theory and Experimental Evidence. (They use speed dating as the experiment!)
* Man's Best Wingman: Which type of dog really attracts the most women? (New York Magazine). Despite its non-scientific nature, hesitatingly filed under Psychology.

* Serious Riders, Your Bicycle Seat May Affect Your Love Life (New York Times). Some bicycle seats were always thought to reduce sperm count, but it seems the problem is both more prevalent and more dangerous than previously thought.
* How hot was it? (Science News; may not be available to everyone). About polymers that change color irrevocably due to temperature changes, and the uses these can have in food safety.

* Thousands show up to see snow on Fillmore Street (San Francisco Chronicle). Funky: a ski and snowboard jumping competition in San Francisco! Check out the video and the pictures. (I couldn't make it in person.)
* A Fast Track to Toilet Training for Those at the Crawling Stage (New York Times). In retrospect I'm not surprised that you can potty train such young babies, but it is an idea I never previously heard of.

Interesting Articles: Sep 26th-Oct 2nd 2005

* In Heeding Health Warnings, Memory Can Be Tricky (New York Times). A psychology article on why the statement-true-false paradigm is poor for teaching people, and especially bad in the context of medicine. Contains a few interesting comments about age-related effects.

* Which of These Foods Will Stop Cancer? (Not So Fast) (New York Times). On the mistaken believes that low-fat diets, high fiber diets, and diets high in antioxidants (like those from fruits and vegetables) help prevent cancer.
* The Kindest Cuts Are Underwater (Science News). On how to keep produce fresh longer.
* Dieting? Don't Give Up Protein (Science News). A discussion on the benefits and importance of keeping protein in one's diet when cutting carbs.

Henry Adams and Stuart Kauffman

I recently read the chapter "A Law of Acceleration" in The Education of Henry Adams by Henry Adams. One of Adams's primary points is that knowledge / information / energy / force increase at an ever increasing rate, thus making it feel as if the changes in the world in the last hundred years are much larger than the previous changes. (The philosophy is relatively similar to some of Ray Kurzweil's ideas.)

This idea of ever increasing exploding knowledge made me think of a different book I read recently, Stuart Kauffman's Investigations. Kauffman suggests that the biosphere cannot be finitely describable, proposing that it is always expanding into the "adjacent possible."

I feel that a deep connection can be made between Adam's knowledge and Kauffman's nature, including how Adam's explanations help justify Kauffman's assumptions and how Kauffman's finite-representation argument illuminates the feeling of being overwhelmed by change (as expressed in Adam's work). Maybe I'll write an essay on this, if there is someplace that would be interested in publishing it.

Filed under: things that make you go hmmmmm... :)

Interesting Articles: Sep 19th-25th 2005

* U.S. Asks Court to Dismiss Abuse Suit That Names Pope (New York Times). Just posted here so I remember later to see how this turns out. The separation of church and state counter-argument to the immunity claim is a neat twist.

* Almost Before We Spoke, We Swore (New York Times). A neat read: a history of cursing over the ages.
* Supersize Strollers Ignite Sidewalk Drama (New York Times). SUV culture expands into baby strollers.

* As Test Scores Jump, Raleigh Credits Integration by Income (New York Times). Given the strength of this effect, it should be done more widely.

* California Wants to Serve a Warning With Fries (New York Times). A fairly balanced description of the debate. I can't decide what to think... People should know deep-fried foods are bad for you. Do we really need labels on a particular subset that's even worse than usual? Anyway, I cooked potato pancakes recently. I wonder if the cooking temperatures I achieve there are enough to cause formation of acrylamide. But perhaps the most interesting item in the article is the sidebar. Don't miss it! Who would've thought, for instance, graham crackers are almost as bad as potato chips?
* From Google to Noodles: A Chef Strikes Out on His Own (New York Times). Charlie, Google's excellent former head chef, is starting a new restaurant and he's got some neat ideas. I'd go, especially if he makes his Indian-style chicken curry that I haven't had in ages.
* Topics of The Times: Fountains of Garlic (New York Times). i.e., use pre-peeled garlic; it's good! Mmmmmm... lots of garlic...

Interesting Articles: Sep 12th-18th 2005

* People with malaria attract more mosquitoes (Science News). A disturbing and odd effect that increases the transmission rate of this disease. If you can't read the Science News article, the abstract of the paper Malaria Infection Increases Attractiveness of Humans to Mosquitoes (PLoS Biology, on which the Science News story was based) pretty much summarizes the experiment.
* Does the Truth Lie Within? (New York Times). On the neat things one can learn from self-experimentation.
* Movies put smoking in a bad light (Science News), based off the article Smoking in Contemporary American Cinema (American College of Chest Physicians). The real question is whether this having lower socioeconomic class characters (especially villains) more likely to smoke in movies (than protagonists or middle or upper class characters) deters or encourages smoking? And how does the characters-in-R-movies are more likely to smoke than the generate population play into it?
* Robotic Vehicles Race, but Innovation Wins (New York Times). A good narrative introduction to DARPA's Grand Challenge (though the article is definitely Stanford-focused).

* Under Pressure (New York Times). An interesting tale about how cryovacking (a.k.a. sous vide) is changing dishes at (high-end!) restaurants (for the better).
* No Heat Doesn't Mean No Sweat (New York Times). The author's experience as she attempts to prepare many raw food dishes and her reaction to whole craze.

Politics and Law:
* Tip-line bind: Follow the law in U.S. or EU? (Post Gazette). An example of (possibly) conflicting international laws. And notable because the EU realizes (rightly) that anonymous speech isn't necessarily all good and the US law (or at least Sarbanes-Oxley) doesn't (necessarily) reflect this observation (at least the same degree).
* March of the Conservatives: Penguin Film as Political Fodder (New York Times). The title says it: the article is about a take on the film (which I haven't seen) that I'd've never imagined.
* Confirm John Roberts. A clear and well-reasoned Washington Post editorial.

New York Times Select

The New York Times has changed its policy for online articles. Not all of its articles are available for free now. Notably, Krugman and Friedman, two of its most popular columnists are no longer free. The New York Times probably imagines that people will pay to read them; the new "Select" package for $8/month (cheaper if you buy it by the year) includes them, and others.

Some disagree that people will pay this fee just for them. They may be right. I'm certainly not a big enough fan just to pay to read the columnists.

But, I'm still contemplating this package. The largest benefit I see isn't discussed much in the news: you get 100 free NYT articles from the archive per month. This'll be great for me when I'm following links (whether my old ones or someone else's) to articles which are no longer publicly available.

Milk Taste Test

My house-mate had a guest recently that left a carton of Horizon organic milk in the fridge which I used at one point when I was out of milk. It tasted good. (My first thought, literally, was, "this is what milk should taste like.") I wondered if it was because I usually drink fat-free regular (non-organic) milk and this was 2% or whether it was the organic nature of the milk. This weekend I decided to find out.

I bought my usual milk (fat-free Safeway Lucerne) and the organic equivalent (fat-free Horizon) and got my house-mate to pour two glasses so I could do a blind tasting. The difference was obvious from the first sip. One glass was slightly sour. (And maybe, just maybe, a tad more watery.) The other was certainly preferable.

Not that surprisingly, it was the organic milk that was better. And don't go claiming that it's because the dates were different -- the Lucerne had a date further in the future so if anything it should be more fresh, not less. From now on, I'll buy the slightly more expensive good stuff.

Get a friend, and do a blind tasting of a food product you commonly buy with a competitor. You might learn something neat. (I've done this for a few other products too; I may blog about them at some point.)

San Bruno Avenue Festival and the SF Greek Festival (or, why is Mark so wired?)

[Mostly written after the fact but back-dated appropriately.]

Today I went to two festivals in San Francisco.

The first was the San Bruno Avenue Festival, down in the south-east corner of the city in the Portola district. It was a cute small-scale festival that served as a nice excuse to see a neighborhood I'd normally never have a reason to visit. The people and the neighborhood were predominately asian, but the neighborhood had two distinctive features. One, it had a surprising number of donut shops. Two, it had a surprising number of BBQ joints; I spotted five in the five-or-so blocks of the festival, consisting of one southern BBQ, one Hawaiian BBQ, and three "hong-kong style" BBQ joints. I grabbed lunch at the southern one, Johnson's BBQ, because it was supposedly decent (and it was). I wrote a longer review of the restaurant -very Barber-Shop-the-movie-esque- and distributed it to the appropriate people -- if you want a copy, just ask.

There are three things I spotted worth photographing, though I won't bother uploading the photographs:
* The street fair had a very sad looking petting zoo. Fenced off in the middle of the street, it included two bales of hay and a few chickens and a rooster.
* The New City Bakery. It had a sign: the top said "Grand Opening;" below that it said "Open Daily 7:00am - 8:00pm." Grand opening daily! Hah. (Reminded me of the Thai restaurant in Palo Alto that was perpetually having a "Grand Opening.")
* The police had a booth for recruiting and information and a talking police car on display. The police car was a two door and looked like it was from the 1980s. The car gave advice aloud about safety and security when the door is open. Now we know what police cars do when they survive to a ripe old age and retire.

One band that performed at the fair was actually fairly good: The Skin Divers. They played a wide variety of re-interpretations of songs from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, including some I didn't recognize that they may have written themselves in the same style. I really enjoyed how they added instruments like a saxophone and a tambourine (though one that was shaken, not hit) and how they speed up the tempo quite a bit. Maybe I'll try to catch them when they perform in Berkeley next month.

After the street fair ended, I still had lots of reading to finish so I delayed attending the Greek Festival (which I wanted to arrive at around dinner time). Instead, I found a nice place and read in the sun (and sometimes in my car when it got too windy and uncomfortable) and got quite a lot done. It's so easy to read when there are no distractions (especially computers) around.

The second festival was the SF Greek Food Festival, in a church in the Mission district. The people attending were a relatively ordinary crowd, lacking the surplus of Mission district hipsters I'd expected. The festival itself was on a slightly smaller scale than the last Greek Festival I attended: while it did have dancing, the dance floor was smaller and there were fewer people doing it (especially compared to the large young crowd that arrived in the evening at the last festival); there were a smaller selection of booths; there were no other plays/performances besides the music. Yet the most important feature was there in the same glorious scope: the food!

The menu was nearly identical to that of past Greek festivals. Instead of going with the items I knew were good, I decided to branch out and try items I hadn't yet tried. First was the grilled lamb chops. These were disappointing: too charbroiled for my taste (though my dad would've liked them) and with no distinctive greek flavor. Second was fried potato wedges which, while fine, had no distinctive greek flavor either. Third was Ouzo, a greek hard alcohol that one sips. To me, it tasted quite sweet but not sweet like southern comfort or italian sodas, rather with a different kind of sweetness that I couldn't put my finger upon. According to the web, most Ouzo tastes of licorice: that could be the flavor I was sensing. (I haven't eaten licorice in years so I don't remember what it tastes like.)

Digression: I got a really good short story idea while sitting at the Greek festival and reading. (Yes, I had a lot of reading to do...)

Happily, I did eat one really good item at the festival: loukoumades. And this finally brings us to the title of the post: Why is Mark so wired? I discussed these (without trying them) in the previous Greek festival post and the Chronicle article to which it links. Loukoumades are roughly honey coated donut holes. They're so goooood! I negotiated and only got a half-order but still I really felt the sugar intake as I was eating them. I'm so glad I didn't eat more. That must've been more sugar than I've eaten in one sitting in a long time. I jogged to my car to get rid of energy, played high energy music in the car and waved my hands all around, and exercised when I returned home. That's how wired I was. And the loukoumades were why. You have to try them given the opportunity.

Interesting Articles: Sep 5th-11th 2005

By happenstance, lots of science-related articles this week:

* Political Science. Somewhat interesting piece on how the position of science advisor works in the Bush administration. Also includes some history about the position and how it has worked in other administrations. (New York Times)
* Olive Oil May Have Pain-Relieving Properties (WebMD). Note: the study only involves extra-virgin olive oil. Also see the original Nature article (Phytochemistry: Ibuprofen-like activity in extra-virgin olive oil) and the Science News (Olives Alive: Extra-virgin oil has anti-inflammatory properties) summary of it. (The latter may not be viewable.)
* Researchers Say Human Brain Is Still Evolving (New York Times). While not really news -of course we're evoluting- some of the evolution is in terms of brain size, and whenever some scientists find a genetic link between a feature of the brain/mind, one wonders how this knowledge will be used or mis-used. (Also see the article mentioned in this old post linking intelligence and genetics.)
* Some articles on non-human social learning:
       * Bumblebee 007: Bees can spy on others' flower choices (Science News). If you can't read it, the abstract of the article Flower choice copying in bumblebees (Biology Letters) summarized the experiment.
       * Chimps ape others to learn tool use (Science News). The original souce for this article is a Nature article entitled Conformity to cultural norms of tool use in chimpanzees.

Belmont Greek Festival 2005

Last Saturday September 3rd 2005, I attended the Belmont Greek Festival. It was a lot of fun! Unlike most festivals that bring in dozens of random vendors selling random food and items, Greek festivals tend to be highly themed and controlled. The only food is produced by the festival itself; the entertainment is Greek music and plays; almost all the vendors sell items from Greece.

The most distinctive feature of Greek festivals (from what I've seen) is the amount of space devoted to food preparation and delivery. Greek festivals always have a wide menu ranging from the well known items like gyros (which I tried and it was great!) and souvlaki and baklava to more unusual items like spanakopita, moussaka, loukoumades and galactoboureko. If you want a good description of the food served at this festival, read this Chronicle review of the Belmont Greek Festival.

In addition to the gyros, I tried the
* Moussaka (eggplant and beef casserole). Pretty decent when I got a balance of the flavors; however, there was way too much beef in my serving and hence most bites entirely lacked eggplant and were uninteresting. I left a lot of ground beef on my plate.
* a Greek salad. Good, though oddly without feta cheese.
* Fasolakia (Greek-style green beans). Nothing special.
* Galactoboureko (custard filled filo pastry). Very tasty.
* Kataife (shredded nut pastries). Similar to Baklava in flavor, but the shredding of the nuts and the shreds of baked dough give it a neat texture (and birds-nest look).
* Hillas (a Greek beer). Tasted like Budweiser (i.e., nothing).

The food was provided and prepared at a variety of places. It was impressive watching the gyro and lamb chop people roast whole lambs outsides. In retrospect, besides desserts I probably should've just stayed outside with the gyros and souvlaki and lamb chops and possibly the filo pies as entrees rather than trying the green beans and the moussaka. (But the roasted chicken inside did look really good...)

Lines for the various stations were long at times, but there was one line that never shrunk. It was always at least half an hour long in waiting time, all the way through closing. As the Chronicle writes, "The most popular sweets by far are the Belmont Greek Festival's renowned loukoumades -- doughnut holes glazed with honey. The freshly fried treats are so popular that the festival organizers have to limit orders to two per person before sending people to the back of the line." I didn't have the patience to wait, but some people at the table I sat at did, and decided it was well worth it.

But I digress about food. Arriving late afternoon, the first thing I did after familiarizing myself with all the sights around was to sit down and watch a production of a play called Jason and the Argonauts. It was great! The actors included a few high school/college-age students -they played the main characters-, and a number of elementary schoolers. The story followed Jason's adventures. It was clear the actors were having piles of fun. And the script seemed authentically home-produced, with remarks like, "I'd love to join your crew Jason, but first I want to sample some of the excellent food at the Belmont Greek Festival." One (big) monster Jason and his argonauts had to defeat was played by an adult dressed in a black robe with a child with a mask sitting on his head. The whole thing was hokey enough to be a lot of fun. They even had little fight scenes with swords and staffs, with a soundtrack played out of speakers by the side of the tiny (four-row) amphitheater . When a monster or challenge was overcome, they'd trigger the momentous-sounding music. I never thought watching such amateur theatrics could be so fun!

As for the rest of the evening, I alternated between waiting in food lines, eating, digesting, reading my book, and listening to music / watching the dancers, successfully stretching out dinner to be a three hour affair.

This was an impressively well organized festival (and I don't just mean a decent quality web page). They gave me a brochure when I entered, that included, among other things, descriptions of all food items, all vendors, and all events, assorted recipes for some of the food, maps of the festival space, and pictures of many of the helpers as well as of the actors and actresses in costume. In addition, it included a bunch of details that added flavor to the festival, like a page with basic Greek lessons, a timeline of the founding of the Orthodox Church, and discussion of Greek customs and rituals (religious and cultural). The most entertaining fact in this brochure was in the section on the history of Greek festivals: Greek festivals were known as an opportunity for young Greeks to dance and woo each other, and the wedding season tended to follow promptly after festivals.

One great feature of this festival (and yet another fact that distinguishes it from most) was that it went until late at night. While most festivals end at five or six pm, this one went until ten. As time passed from the last afternoon when I arrived to nighttime, the crowd changed. In the afternoon there were more families (with an active kids' play zone); in the evening, while the many high schoolers hadn't disappeared, some of the oldest crowd (60+) had been replaced with more college students from local colleges and some twenty-somethings. The dance floor became packed. It got happening. (Earlier in the day the music was a bit more traditional and usually there were only a dozen people on the dance floor dancing traditional dances. The music in the evening, while still mostly Greek, was more lively and allowed a much wider range of styles of dancing.)

Sad that you missed the festival? Greek festivals happen pretty often; most Greek Orthodox Churches have them yearly. The ones nearby still happening in 2005 are: Santa Cruz (Sep 9-11 2005), San Francisco (Sep 16-18 2005), Concord (Sep 16-18 2005), Vallejo (Oct 8-9 2005), and Hayward (Oct 7-9 2005). Judging by their web pages, none of these are as well organized as this one, but they should have good food and music and I've never been disappointed by a Greek festival yet (and I've been to three).