moldybluecheesecurds 2

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Testing feedburner feed

If you haven't switched your feed yet, this is the first post with the new RSS feed:

CHANGE: a new RSS feed

With apologies to all my regular readers, I'm going to be running my RSS feed through Feedburner from now on. It lets me see some readership stats that I've been missing as more people use RSS readers instead of visiting the blog page.

Add the new feed to your RSS reader right here, or click one of the links to the right:

Artificial sweeteners may screw with your appetite

Think a switch to diet drinks will help cut pounds? Possibly not.

Scientists found that rats consuming artificial sweeteners actually ate more than other rats and gained more weight. The hypothesis is that the body controls appetite by learning to match food flavor and sweetness to fullness. When the body gets sweetness but not as many calories, it may get fooled into thinking that sweetness doesn't provide fullness and cause the body to eat more to compensate.

  • The research was in rats, not humans
  • The rats had never encountered artificial sweeteners before. Most humans have.
Maybe this finding will eventually play out in humans as well, reminding us that there's no such things as a (calorie) free lunch.

We're back: on the psychology of closing doors

I saw this article earlier this week on the mental advantages of making decisions. Researchers found that people who refuse to eliminate options for themselves performed worse in choice experiments. There's apparently a strong feeling of need to keep a door open, even if that's clearly not in a person's best interest.

I love the example of the reverse: an ancient Chinese general who burned his ships to give his troops motivation to go forward.

Burn those bridges and move on!

What's nostalgia worth? $270

For those of you intently awaiting the results of my nerd auction, the wait is over. My Nintendo Power collection will be leaving for Canada, into the loving hands of a collector. We wish them a safe journey, especially the fold-out overworld map of Zelda I.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Don't read this post

I'm selling some of my nerd gear on eBay and needed a place to post photos. So please skip this post unless you like nostalgic photos of Nintendo Power magazine.

A few bonus notes to collectors: volumes 7-14 were staple-bound instead of glue. This meant that the front/back cover tended to work itself loose with little effort. About half the issues in this set have a slightly loose cover. Vol. 7, by far the worst, is pictured below...

[posting in progress...]

Photo 1: Vol 1 centerfold damage

Vol. 1 (Jul/Aug '88) and Vol. 7 (Sept/Oct 89) covers [these are by far the ones with the worst wear of the whole collection]

Vol. 2 - a fairly representative sample of the first 25 volumes. Tiny rip in binding at the bottom, some cover/corner creases. Most later issues have significantly less cover wear.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Health care plans: comparing Clinton and Obama

A nice, relatively brief write-up on the difference in the two Democratic candidates' health care plans.

An editor's assessment of the McCain lobbyist story

If you missed the big brouhaha yesterday, the NY Times published a piece about a longstanding (professional) relationship between Senator John McCain and a lobbyist. The point of the article was to express the disconnect between McCain's principled stand against lobbyists ever since his humiliation in the Keating Five scandal and the relationship he cultivated. The angle of the story was lost in the heated media debate about it, with many people calling it a "smear."

For those interested, the NY Times editors responded today to questions about the article. It's a nice counterpoint to those blaming the "liberal media" and is worth considering in the larger context of the story.

I should note that I think the article spent too much time hinting at a possible romantic connection between the Senator and the lobbyist, since the purported point was to illustrate the issue of his political principles.

There is a god: an example

Wonderful Wife and I have been plotting a trip to Europe in the fall and figuring out just how many meals of ramen noodles we'd need to eat to save up enough to compensate for the infernal exchange rate. Europe, if you've gone recently, is not cheap when Republicans have mortgaged your nation's future in a stupid war.

So imagine my expression when I get an email from a colleague inviting me to spend an all-expense-paid week in Denmark in a couple months. He's a college professor on a sabbatical learning about the renewable energy policies I've been working on and his partner backed out on him. So it's a week in Denmark - where I've never been - researching policy directly related to my interests, in May.

Is there a better phrase than THANK YOU?

Store credit cards not good for your credit score

How not good? Try -20 points to your credit score for each card. The article explains that if you sign up for a great promo deal, close the account as soon as you pay the balance off.

Hmm, time to cut up that Sears card...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

A basement remodel: the turning point

My wife and I are finishing our basement in our 1940s-era home. It's a hybrid DIY-get some help project that started in late August. So far, we've had the concrete floor ripped up for plumbing, a huge new electric box and meter installed, and a bunch of electrical run throughout the basement. We did all the framing ourselves, which is why this project extended from August until February before the drywall was up.

But today's the day. The drywall guy is in the basement, right now, listening to oldies and rocking the 'rock. Today it goes from a plastic-sheeted, wood framed, not-unfinished-but-not-finished basement to a Basement. A finished basement. A place where guests can stay with their own bathroom. Where I can watch LOTR and play Wii with surround sound.

To quote RL: "It's a great day in John and Kristin's apartmenthouse."

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Texas primary: by the numbers

Political writer Eric Black tackles the intricate numbers in the Texas primary on March 4, and one that Sen. Clinton hopes to win to slow Sen. Obama's momentum. The numerical tussling comes down to this: Clinton's edge among Hispanics won't be worth as much as she thinks.

Proportionately, fewer Hispanics are citizens, registered to vote, and turn out to vote. That dilutes Clinton's support. Furthermore, the Texas vote is actually a primary-caucus hybrid. The delegates awarded by caucus go to state senate districts with higher Democratic turnout. Those are...districts with a high proportion of black voters. Latinos narrowly went for Kerry in 2004, but blacks went for Kerry by a 4-1 margin.

In other words, when you see the Texas polls right now, it may not add up on March 4.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Obama: you better stick to universal health care

The time is ripe for universal health care, so as much as I want Obama to win, he better be planning to go for gold. This news about the company he keeps is not impressive. In other words, get on the stick, Obama!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Moldy's cookie baking tips

I've liked chocolate chip cookies forever and have usually just used the Toll House recipe. When I met my wife, she noted that my cookies were very "cakey," and that chewy cookies were preferable. (Note: though I tended to eat as much in dough as cookie, therefore not noticing, others have confirmed this preferential state).

Thus, I set upon Google with the intention of finding the secret to chewier cookies and have set out to help all you faithful readers in your cookie-baking endeavors.

Secrets to chewier cookies:
  1. Less flour (subtract 1/4 c. or so)
  2. Higher proportion of brown sugar to white
  3. Butter, butter, butter (instead of margarine)
  4. Higher temp, shorter time baking (let cookies finish baking on the sheet)
  5. 3-4 T of buttermilk (or 2-3 T of milk with a splash of vinegar)
  6. Fewer eggs (for Toll House, 1 egg instead of 2)
  7. Halve the amount of baking soda
There you have it. Now go out and bake cookies. And be sure to share :-)

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Live Art: freezing in place

Wicked cool

Tip of the hat to shadoweyes for this one.

Bush: I regret that I have but one life to give to my country telco

In the ongoing coverage of the FISA renewal, mcjoan of Dailykos notes that President Bush has immunity for telecommunications companies as his litmus test for the "Protect America Act" (gag me with a spoon).

The interesting twist? Bush has already declared that Americans could die if this renewal is not passed by Congress. In other words:

Let's just remember Sen. Kennedy's summation of Bush's position on FISA:

The President has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA. But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retro-active immunity. No immunity, no FISA bill. So if we take the President at his word, he's willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies. (emphasis mine)

You can get more on the new wiretap law from Moldy's ongoing FISA coverage.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Torture: we only do it when we have to

Jon Stewart's new "Torture Show" explores the Bariyshnikov-like dancing around the definition of torture by the Bush administration. He learns:
  • Waterboarding has been called torture since the Spanish Inquisition and Japanese soldiers were prosecuted by American litigators for using it during World War II.
  • At least three Al Qaeda suspects have been waterboarded by the CIA.
  • The official policy on waterboarding is that we would only use it if we thought a suspect had information about a calamitous attack.
In other words, we use torture on terrorism suspects, despite evidence that it is ineffective, when we feel we have to. Gee, something tells me it wouldn't hold up in international court.

Stewart also notes that:
  • No Bush administration will admit that waterboarding=torture
  • Attorney General Mukasey will not begin criminal proceedings against CIA officials who waterboarded Al Qaeda suspects.
Yeah, land of the free.

Here's Stewart's video segment:

How to write your senator about the wiretap debate

Here's a copy of the letter I wrote to my two senators about the current wiretap debate in the U.S. Senate. Please feel free to copy and paste:

Dear Senator XXX,

I'm writing to you about the wiretapping legislation currently being debated in the Senate. I'm extremely disappointed in the course of the debate. There are two provisions that I strongly urge you to support:

1) Exclusivity. Without this provision, the legislation is meaningless. It would allow a president to simply ignore the civil liberties protections supposedly guaranteed by the act. It was part of the original FISA law for a good reason and its violation by President Bush shows that it is just as important now.

2) No immunity for violators. Telecommunications companies who willfully violated FISA are using the Nuremberg defense and it's tragic that the Senate is accepting it. President Bush acted illegally. Whether or not he is brought to account should have no impact on the guilt of these private companies who were fully aware of the illegality of their behavior. I strongly encourage you to oppose immunity for lawbreakers.


Think wiretapping is over? Think again

If you haven't heard much on illegal wiretapping since a judge struck down the program, the big decisions about it are being made in the U.S. Senate today. And the decisions aren't positive for rule of law and liberty:
  • The Senate rejected amendments that would have held telecommunications companies responsible for their participation in illegal wiretapping. Basically, the Senate is saying, "you broke the law, but because Bush told you to, you're forgiven." Nuremberg defense, anyone?
  • The Senate rejected "exclusivity," a provision from the original FISA law that would say that this wiretap law covers ALL wiretapping done by the U.S. government. To leave it out says, "this law covers wiretapping, except if the President decides to do some other kinds of wiretapping and says it's not covered under this law. Basically, he can do whatever he wants."
Dailykos has several ongoing threads about the FISA debate. Call your Senator and tell them to protect civil liberties and punish those who break laws about illegally spying on Americans!

For more on the wiretap legislatio, read up on what provisions SHOULD be included.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Why tax incentives for jobs fail

Minnesota has a program to create tax-free "Job Zones (JOBZ)" to give an incentive to companies to create more jobs in distressed areas. It seems to work as well as most corporate welfare. Here's a story on the report from the Legislative Auditor and here's a brief summary of the boondoggle:
  • There is no formal mechanism within JOBZ for evaluating whether a subsidy is needed, and, if so, whether a more limited subsidy could achieve the same business expansion.
  • Within the business subsidy agreement itself, there is no deadline for creating the promised jobs, and no requirement to maintain the jobs through the life of the tax forgiveness.
  • Using state unemployment tax data submitted by the firms benefiting from the program, the auditor's office found that the increase in employment at JOBZ businesses was 20 to 30 percent lower than what DEED was reporting.
  • Although JOBZ was supposed to target economically distressed areas for business tax relief, need has not been a factor in designating JOBZ zones

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Wonderful World of Cheney

With more fantasy than Walt could have every hoped for.

Romney the latest Republican to surrender to terror

Mitt Romney's concession speech lobbed a fecal shot at the Democrats vis-a-vis the War on Terror. For those of you who missed it, he basically accused Democrats of being surrender monkeys and so democracy had to stand aside. Skemono at the Dead Racists Society has the best analysis I've seen:
Of course, Mitt's party already has surrendered to terror. They are so bowel-liquifyingly scared that they would give up their sovereign rights to be shielded from it; they would flush our national dignity and esteem down the toilet by engaging in, and legitimizing, torture; they would dismiss the Constitution--the very soul of our country--as a "suicide pact" if they deem it provides insufficient protection from their night terrors; they would turn their backs on legal traditions that date back centuries before the founding of our nation; they would allow the president to violate the law he swore to uphold whenever he fucking feels like it, if only he promises to protect them from their Muslim phantoms. And all because they are terrified of the terrorists under their beds.
Sleep tight, Mitt.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Book review: The Progress Paradox

Recently I joined Shelfari, a social networking/book club thing, because I clearly was not wasting enough time blogging or surfing the web. At any rate, it has helped me remember the books I promised myself to read and I've decided to write reviews of the nonfiction I read to both share something of my interests with y'all and to help me remember what I've read.

So here's the latest: The Progress Paradox by Gregg Easterbrook. It's a part of my "read the books you get as gifts" program - this one's from Dad.

I'd call the book 1/3 excellent and 2/3 overdone. The first third of the book focuses on the litany of ways the Western world has improved: environment, health, longevity. More people than ever have sufficient food, shelter, and material goods. Things are better than they ever have been, says Easterbrook. That this litany takes so long is probably the point, but by page 20 I was pretty done with hearing how great life is. I believe it, but that's not the "paradox," so let's get to it, eh?

The paradox is that despite all this material progress, happiness in Western countries hit a plateau in the 1950s. In fact, while portion of people saying they are happy has leveled off, the number reporting being "very happy" has declined and the number of depressed has increased. Why, amidst all this abundance, would that be?

Easterbrook initially fingers a number of social pressures. The news has a penchant for the negative, highlighting what's wrong instead of what's right. People seem configured to complain, to find the pieces of their life that are going wrong instead of right. Commercials help cram people into the role of victims. He even wonders if complaint was perhaps an evolutionary tactic to encourage people to continue to pursue progress.

But these are universal social pressures and wouldn't explain some of the deviations. For example, the disabled and chronically ill generally report being happier than the population at large. Happiness generally increases with age. And while lacking money makes a person unhappy, having it does not make someone happy.

And this is where The Progress Paradox gets interesting. Easterbrook examines some of the psychology behind our life of abundance and wonders if we have "woken up from the American Dream." In other words, we've achieved the material objectives of the Dream, and no longer have something to look forward to. Material wants and needs are met, so there's nothing to aspire to. He offers a tantalizing illustration: most people would be happier with an income of $50,000 that would increase by $5000 a year than with a flat annual income of $250,000. Happiness is a sense of progress, not achievement.

He also examines two components of modern Western life that may exacerbate any sense of unhappiness: privacy and freedom. He notes that for people living in crowded space, falling over family members and villagers, the private space accorded the typical Westerner would seem wonderful. Houses with twice as many rooms as occupants! On the other hand, this privacy and space leaves us with less context for our personal failings - who do we rely on when we fail? How do we see the big picture of the community when we are isolated from it?

The freedom accorded to individuals may also affect happiness. When we fail or are rejected, we can't explain it to ourselves as a class bias or caste system. Instead, rejection is much more personal. Easterbrook says this is particularly hard for women, for whom roles were much more prescribed in earlier days.

The one piece Easterbrook dismisses is the idea that we are more stressed. He notes that the subsistence farmer of the 19th century had his and his entire family's livelihood on the line with each season and that the idea we are more stressed is laughable. But he concedes that we are given more to stress about thanks to 24-hour disaster coverage from the news. Furthermore, our chronic sleep shortage (2-3 hours less per night than our forbears) causes a buildup of more stress-related chemicals. The human brain is also remarkably efficient at creating mental pathways for stress and fear, and the constant repetition of fears via the media can make us more fearful of minimal threats.

The solution, according to Easterbrook, is pretty much "doing good." First, he notes that feeling good about the world is completely natural. Darwin, for example, thought that emotional states were also evolutionary and that good emotions (such as cooperation and love) served an evolutionary purpose. Although the feelings may be innate, Easterbrook notes that they take work - you have to train yourself to think positively. But it works. "Quadriplegics, as a group, have a higher sense of well-being than lottery winners." It probably wasn't innate.

There's also a selfish reason to do good - it makes you happier. "Men and women should forgive most of the wrongs and offenses they experience in life...for the self-interested reason that people who let go of their grievances are better off as a result."

Easterbrook should have ended the book there, but I think he felt obligated to note that there are many challenges in the world and that they are solvable. So you end up being dragged away from his main premise into "here's how we might save the world" chapter before you finally hit the endnotes. But I think the take-away is still worth the read: do well unto others because it will do well unto you.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Every holiday is shopping holiday

I got an email newsletter from a tech company the other day about early Easter shopping for gifts. And this Lifehacker column asks about Valentine's gifts for geeks.

I'm sorry, but do we have any holidays where we do something other than shop?

How to lie with numbers, from the WSJ

Tip to Paul Krugman for this funny and yet not funny illustration of how you can lie with numbers.

The WSJ chart on defense spending (note the title):

And here's Krugman's correction:

My Obama spin

I'm for Obama and it was a great night for him on Super Duper Tuesday. He overcame all the polls of the past couple weeks and is now effectively neck and neck with Hillary. The only disappointment of the night was California, where Hillary maintained a fairly solid lead with 90% reporting (52-42%) this morning.

But here's a couple things to think about from the California exit polls:
  • Many Californians voted early via absentee ballot. Of those who decided their vote in the last three days, it was Clinton by 49-46%. Of those who decided earlier, it was Clinton 56-39%. In other words, Obama was surging, but many people may have already voted.
  • Racism still has a grip. Of those who said race of the candidate was important, 62% went for Clinton. Of those who didn't, only 51% did.
At any rate, what a fantastic election. It's going to be contested far into the primary season!

Monday, February 04, 2008

Obama's health care plan (and rhetoric) needs a tweak

Paul Krugman has taken Obama to task several times in recent weeks for holes in his health care plan. For some of the campaign rhetoric from the Obama camp, check out's recent post on an Obama health care mailer.

Krugman's criticism is tough love, since it addresses a couple shortcomings in the Obama plan: the issue of free riding and enforcement. Basically, if healthy people opt to not have insurance until they get sick, they get a "free ride." To make health care more economical, you make them sign up. Which takes enforcement. Obama's been criticizing Hillary for having an enforcement provision, but you really can't go universal without it. go with my idea. Which is that people are automatically signed up for health insurance on the government employee's plan unless they opt out. And you can only opt out if you have other health care coverage. You can opt for a monthly premium payment or just pay it from your taxes. In other words, leave the enforcement to people who already do it (the IRS) and the health care to an existing health care group (government employees).

And Obama, get your wonks and rhetoric around free riders and enforcement. Because we can't solve the health care problem without addressing both.

Disclosure: I'm supporting Obama on Super Tuesday.

From Edwards to who: two female Democrats pick their second choice

The story introduces the conversation as two John Edwards supporters looking for their second choice, but it's a powerful essay on why Barack Obama should be the Democratic nominee and our next president.