The Perfect Cake

http://www.dukecityfix.com/index.php?itemid=3251&catid=32#more

I sent this to the Red-Haired Boy with a note that I’d found him the perfect birthday cake.  He responded, “I know this is a terrible time to tell you, but I’ve been lying all along about my birthday.  It’s really tomorrow.”

Personally, I don’t think this sounds bad.  Itis almost a requirement that you double the salt in most chocolate cake recipes (I got this idea from lizmosphere the week of her wedding – she is the only person I know besides me who actually had a tasty wedding cake, in fact, hers was better than mine), so why wouldn’t you want to top the cake with salty, crunchy bacon, too?  My only quibble is that I think the coffee in the frosting is unnecessary, unless you are going for that first-thing-in-the-morning “smell of bacon frying and coffee brewing” thang.

Add comment October 12, 2007 psipsina

Advice Sought

How can I get people to stop addressing me by the Red-Haired Boy’s last name? Especially people who were at our wedding, and heard lizmosphere, who officiated, introduce us as married couple with the same last names we had when we were single?  Or worse, people we told outright before the wedding.

It’s incredibly frustrating.

I love playing the following game with telemarketers:

Telemarketer: Is Mr. Red-Haired Boy there?
Psipsina: No.
TM: Mrs. Red-Haired Boy?
Psipsina: No.
TM: Who am I speaking with, then?
Psipsina: I am Mr. Red-Haired Boy’s wife.

This usually flusters them enough (why? though lots of women take their husband’s names, women keeping their own names isn’t that uncommon) that I can take advantage of the silence to tell them I don’t do any kind of monetary transactions – purchases, donations, etc. – over the phone. I did once have a telemarketer reply, “Oh, well, that’s interesting,” as though she didn’t approve. Well, I don’t approve of people making assumptions, either. A telemarketer will earn way more points with me by skipping the second question and going straight to, “And who am I speaking with?”

Anyway, I can’t really do that with relatives now, can I?

1 comment October 5, 2007 psipsina

Thumbs Down: Internet Explorer 7

This product, not to put too fine a point on it, sucks ass.  I only installed it because I make web software, and I have to support it, which means I have to test it.

The thing I hate most is the way fully 1/4 of the screen real estate is devoted to navigation.  Some of this is because their idea of “small icons” is kind of like the “large icons” from IE 6.  Do they think the collective eyesight of the world has deterioriated that much?  It’s like Microsoft is in collusion with monitor manufacturers, because if I keep using this hog of a browser, I am going to need a bigger screen.

The thing I hate second most is the fact that, by default, the menu bar does not appear.  I am an Internet addict, and as I mentioned, I make web software for a living, and it took me a bloody half hour to figure out how to get it back.  How long might it take for the casual Internet user who doesn’t spend hours every day on a browser?  What were they thinking?

The thing I hate third most is, where in the name of all that is holy is the g-d History button?  I use that thing all the time, and I’m damned if I can find it.

At work and at home, I switch back and forth between IE and Firefox a lot.  I know that most techies wet themselves over how wonderful Firefox is, but actually, I don’t like it all that much.  For one thing, Firefox has this holier-than-thou attitude about web standards.  However, quite a lot of web software is developed and tested only against IE, which plays fast and loose with the standards.  This means that a lot of stuff just doesn’t work on Firefox.  It’s irrelevant that Firefox has the moral high ground if I can’t get a site to work and have to use IE anyway.  Also, Firefox has this bizarre command-line interface that you need to use for things like setting the caching behavior of the browser, which means every time I need to instruct my browser never to cache a page (something I do now and then when testing software at work), I have to look up the command.  (Is it browser.cache.check_doc_frequency or browser.cache.disk.enable?  And should it equal 0, 1, 2, or 3?  Why should I need to know this stuff?)  IE has a GUI for this sort of thing, a GUI with human readable language like “Never cache this page.”)

So now I’m stuck in a situation where I have a lot of stuff that would be easier to do in IE (or is even completely impossible in Firefox), but the UI pisses me off.

What I really want is IE 6 – I wonder if I can get it back.

The only point in IE 7’s favor is that the Full Screen command actually IS full screen – no navigation appears at all unless I mouse over the top.  But I’m not too impressed by this feature.  Given the fact that the navigation hogs up screen real estate like a real estate developer in Boston, it’s the least they could do.

Add comment October 4, 2007 psipsina

In Honor of the Anniversary

A little Etta James earworm:

Take a trip to the Sputnik
Ask the little doggie
Don’t be misled, ’cause if he ain’t dead
He’ll tell you nobody loves you like me.

Add comment October 1, 2007 psipsina

Places (and Things) Worth Caring About

Cleaning out my inbox, I ran into this link that Ginger sent me several weeks ago.  The video is just under 20 minutes long, and this was my first opportunity to watch it.

http://func-auton.net/blog/?p=271

I am not exaggerating when I say that this made me teary-eyed.  In just 20 minutes, James Howard Kunstler touched on a half dozen things that matter to me so intensely that I once considered becoming an architect – until I discovered that, at least in 1994, architecture schools were part of the problem, not part of the solution.  I really hope this has changed in the intervening decade-plus.

1.  If there’s a Hell, it’s in the suburbs.  I could be happy virtually anywhere but a suburb.  I live in urban Cambridge, MA, by choice; I grew up in a small town, and while I don’t think it’s the ideal environment for me (too few cultural opportunities, and too car dependent), I could readapt; I even think that, with some difficulty, I could adapt myself to rural life, though I would be even more car-dependent than in a small town.

But suburbia makes me itch, makes me feel trapped and crazy.  When we visit the Red-Haired Boy’s parents in Bethesda, I feel like a caged lionness – all kinds of energy, and nowhere to go.  We do go for walks, but there aren’t enough sidewalks, and it’s not the same as city or small town walking.  A walk in the suburbs is an Event, or a Project, or something – it has to be worked into your day somehow, it’s never spontaneous.  When I am at home, I walk 4 to 5 miles a day, virtually every day, and most of that walking also accomplishes something – gets me to work, or the grocery store, or the drugstore, or a restaurant, or a coffee shop, or even, when I lived in nearby Somerville, to the vet.  That is to say, Cambridge (and Boston, where I work) is full of those destinations that Kunstler talks about, places people want and need to go to.

If I lived in Bethesda, I guarantee you my ass would be even fatter than it is now, because the nearest destination is literally 2 miles away.  So I’d run all my errands in a car, and then have to squeeze in exercise separately.  And if I was busy, exercise would be the first thing to go.

2.  The private passenger car is ruining America, both aesthetically and financially.  Kunstler touches on the aesthetic ruin; I want to talk about financial ruin.

Anecdote:  when I told coworkers that the RHB and I were buying in Cambridge, which is notoriously expensive, they immediately gave me that “she must make a shitload more money than I do” look.  A couple even said, “Oh, it’s because you have two incomes and no kids.”  Well, no, I don’t, and it’s not – we made a point to borrow way less that we felt we could afford, in case one of us wanted, for any reason, to cut back our work hours or take a lower paying but more interesting job or go back to school.

There are a number of factors that helped us buy in Cambridge, but the very biggest factor is simply:  neither the RHB nor I owns, or has ever owned, a car.  The average annual cost of car ownership per year is a staggering $4,000 to $8,000, depending on a number of factors, including insurance rates in the area, the owners’ age and driving record, whether the car is new or used, variations in the cost of gasoline nationwide, availability and cost of parking, likelihood of getting parking tickets, and so forth.  (Bikes at Work has an excellent Real Costs of Car Ownership calculator.)

So how much would car ownership cost us?  Eastern Massachusetts is a very expensive area of the country, so you can figure on the high end of that range.  On the other hand, neither of us is much into status, so we’d probably buy a good quality, reliable used car.  So figure we’d be smack in the middle, with a $6,000 annual expense per car.  Take that $500/month and sink it into your mortgage over 30 years, and you can borrow an additional $84,500.  And if we moved somewhere where we each needed a car, we’d double that to $1,000 per month, or an additional $169,000.  In some parts of the country, $169,000 will buy you a house.  Here, unfortunately, it’s considerably more expensive, but it is still a huge help in making Cambridge affordable.  (And don’t forget that we’ve never had that $4,000 to $8,000 annual expense, which means we’ve been able to save for a downpayment.)  Houses that cost $170,000 less than ours are at least an hour from our jobs, an hour that we can’t spend doing much of anything but driving (on the T you can read or knit or sleep), and since I work downtown, I have nowhere to park anyway.  When you factor in the value of our time, it’s not an exaggeration to say that we simply can’t afford NOT to live in Cambridge!  And I’m glad, too, because the suburbs are Hell (See point #1).  And one of the saddest things about American life today is that so many of our spaces are designed so that people feel (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly) that a car is necessary.  No wonder our national savings rate is so low.

3.  Cities are a far better environment for raising children than suburbs.  Kunstler is rather snide about this, but he’s absolutely right.  Cities are great for both children and the people raising them.  How many parents are secretly dying for their kids to reach the age of 16, so Aidan and Caitlin can get their licenses and will no longer need to be driven around in the minivan?  In a city, kids can ride their bikes to the park or the library, walk to the corner store, and encounter other children spontaneously and naturally.  Heck, when I was a kid, I went to the dentist alone!  (That was probably excessive, but it does show what’s possible in a walkable, densely populated community.)  In the ‘burbs, parents (mostly Mom) drive their kids everywhere, including to carefully arranged play dates with carefully screened kids who don’t live anywhere nearby.  Parents are literally choosing their childrens’ friends.  This teaches our children not only to be addicted to cars, with the tremendous financial strain this causes (see point #2), but it also enforces an artificially stunted development, where the child is dependent on Mom for far too long, all events have to be planned to fit into Mom’s schedule, and kids don’t learn to make friends spontaneously.  (This is also a feminist issue – we have an entire class of women  – we call them Soccer Moms – who are spend much of their lives chauffeuring their children around.  Think of what those women could do if Aidan and Caitlin could bike to the soccer field.)

I won’t make any wild claims about causality here, but isn’t it at least possible that the decline of creative and critical thinking skills in our country has something to do with this artificial dependence, which lasts until the kids themselves are deemed sufficiently mature to handle the 2- and 3-ton death traps known as motor vehicles?  And if Aidan and Caitlin have never had to solve the problem of how to get from point A to point B on their own hooks, why do we as a society think they have the cognitive skills to handle navigating the parental Ford Excess anyway?

4.  Kunstler doesn’t say this, but a prime reason Americans are so fat is because most of us never walk more than 20 feet at a time.  And the reason most of us never walk more than 20 feet at a time is that those 38,000 public spaces that aren’t worth caring about are the only choice for many of us have for running the basic errands of life.  And these 38,000 public spaces are designed for the convenience of the automobile, forgetting the basic truth that everyone is a pedestrian when we get out of our cars.  Heck, even I, on the dozen or so occasions a year when I drive (borrow, rent, or use Zipcar), tend to park as close to the entrance of the mall or the Home Depot as possible – it’s neither safe nor pleasant to cross the typical suburban parking lot.  And Kunstler is spot on when he calls the trees a Nature Band-Aid – the typical suburban parking lot tree is so stunted in its 5X5 foot “tree box” (yes, that’s what they’re called) that it doesn’t even provide shade for your car, much less any real atmosphere.

By the way, if you don’t have a car, you waste less money on stuff you don’t need – another way car ownership contributes to financial ruin.  I can’t remember the last time I went to the mall – probably some time before my wedding last year.

5.  Mixed use is absolutely critical for the health of our communities.  No one in America, with the possible exception of people with severe physical disabilities, should have to get into a car to purchase a quart of milk.  And the only way to achieve this goal is by making sure that there are, duh, stores in residential areas, the kinds of stores that people use during the course of normal daily life.  We need grocery stores and drugstores and dry cleaners and coffee shops and restaurants and hardware stores, not precious and trendy little trinket shops where we might occasionally buy a birthday present.

I remember many years ago, a former boss of mine ranting and raving because someone wanted to open an ice cream parlor on the corner of his street in Lexington, MA.  He bragged that he and a few neighbors managed to get this shot down by the zoning board.  This was nearly a decade ago, and I am still scratching my head over this.  I mean, I have a little NIMBY streak, too – if Cambridge suddenly gets the idea that the public park down the street would be a good place for a medical waste incinerator, I’d fight it tooth and nail.  I might even be a bit irritated if someone wanted to open a bar next to my house.  But an ice cream parlor?  What the hell was the matter with these people?  Were they afraid some sugar-drunk 10-year-old was going to break into their house and hold them hostage with a pea shooter, demanding their loose change so he could get another fix?  And now, of course, they have to get into their cars to take Aidan and Caitlin for ice cream.

Zoning has its place – no one wants a dump, or a brewery, or heavy industry next to a residential area.  But we have to stop using zoning like a battle axe and start using it like a precision instrument, which means applying some intelligence and creativity to zoning decisions.  In some parts of the country, it may even mean re-zoning entire communities.

6.  And that brings me to my last point.  What the hell has happened to our civic life?  Where are those interactions we had with our neighbors, as we were out walking our dogs or pulling up weeds in the front yard or watching our toddlers chase butterflies or running out for that quart of milk or waiting at the bus stop, or, yes, going out for ice cream?  Now we drive our dogs, for heavens’ sake, out to the doggy run, and our neighbors don’t see us pull the weeds because we have a seven-foot privacy fence in the front of the house and our toddlers are having play dates in some other town and we shut ourselves up in our cars to buy milk at Costco and only poor, black people ride the bus anyway and a small group of dimwits can keep an ice cream parlor from opening up in a residential area.  We have three-car garages where our front porches used to be, and if we have outdoor time at all, it’s on our private back patios.  When do we get to know our neighbors?

So we’re broke, depressed, fat; our children have developmental, cognitive, and social problems; we’re desperately lonely; young single adults have difficulty finding suitable people to date; and there is virtually no political discourse to speak of any more, only an alternation between preaching to the choir and shouting down the opposition.

The fact that so many of our public spaces suck isn’t just a cosmetic issue; it is a very fundamental problem in our world.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.

These are things I think are worth caring about.

1 comment September 23, 2007 psipsina

I Can’t Believe the News Today, 1

Yesterday the American dollar hit parity with the Canadian dollar, then actually slipped below the value of the loonie.

When I heard this, all I could say, over and over, was “Holy living fuck.  Holy living fuck.”  You may think this is an odd thing to be upset about, but for anyone under the age of 40 who grew up on the Canadian border, as I did, it’s almost as if someone said, and proved, that the sun rose in the west this morning or water flows uphill or Lindsay Lohan is a virgin.

I’m 38, and this is the first time I ever remember the two currencies being equal.  And sure enough, it hasn’t happened for 30 years, well before I would’ve known or cared about currency exchanges.  For my entire life, businesses in my home town sported “Canadian dollars at par” signs, and I remember my mother explaining that the Canadian dollar wasn’t worth as much as ours, so it was like giving the Canadians a big discount so they would come over and shop.  They get more for their money, and we get their business.  I wonder if our neighbors to the north will extend similar offers to Americans now.

Because of those “at par” signs, I’ve always thought of the loonie as kind of like play money.

So, to add to the many excesses, blunders, sins, and idiocies of the current Bush administration – wars and lies about wars and inane “security” measures that don’t keep us safe and rolling back significant portions of the environmental progress that have been made over the last 30 years and worsening domestic race relations and worsening foreign relations and the complete wiping out of the surplus of the Clinton years and appointing Condoleeza “Miss Incomptence” Rice to one of the highest offices of the land – their monetary policies, deficit spending, and complete failure to rein in the out-of-control mortgage markets (a topic I know a fair amount about, after nearly a decade in the industry) have actually rendered our national currency less valuable than that Monopoly money that circulates across our northern border.

Holy living fuck.

The Republican party has to stop claiming that they represent business and fiscal responsibility if they can’t manage the currency any better than this.  The sun has risen in the west, indeed.

2 comments September 21, 2007 psipsina

The Coolest Job Title

One of the senior managers at my company has the title “President, Science.”

1 comment September 13, 2007 psipsina

At Last!

We found the Champagne glasses!

It would be more dramatic if I said we found them in the very last box in the kitchen, but it was more like the third to last or fourth to last.

This brings the total number of Champagne glasses we own up to 11 – the 6 we bought at Home Goods a month ago plus the 5 I already owned (not 6 – I bought them individually on clearance at Pier 1). 

I’m thinking, New Year’s Eve party!

Add comment September 3, 2007 psipsina

Amateur Scammer/Spammer

I have received this phishing scam twice today.  (For the safety of my readers, I’ve removed all hyperlinks and other possible malicious stuff.)

This is Jenny T. from the Refund Operations Department at Internal Revenue Service
 (United States Department of the Treasury).

After the last annual calculation of your fiscal activity we have determined that you
 are eligible to receive a tax refund of $49.22.

Please submit the tax refund request and allow us 1-2 days in order to process it.

A refund can be delayed for a variety of reason. For exemple (invalid records or
 applying after the deadline).
The good news is that Internal Revenue Service will make this refund directly to your
 visa and/or mastercard linked
to your checking/savings account instead a check or a direct deposit.

To access the form for your tax refund, please continue to our secure server
 form at: https://sa1.www4.irs.gov/irfof/lang/en/irfofgetrefund.jsp

Important: Do not use credit and/or american express or discover cards. Only cards that
 are linked to your checking/savings account are accepted.

 Regards,

Jenny T.
 Internal Revenue Service – Tax Refund Specialist

Seems like a pretty ordinary phishing scam to me – bad grammar, poor spelling, sender masquerading as a trusted party, e-mail address that looks nothing like it comes from the IRS, no phone number – except for one thing.  Why $49.22?  And why checking accounts only?  Do they think someone who is so excited to get a refund of less than 50 clams that they will fall for a phishing scam will have enough money in their checking account to make it worth stealing?

1 comment August 30, 2007 psipsina

Today’s Dubious Health Claim

On the bag my Wendy’s salad came in:

Wendy’s salad dressings contain 0g Trans Fat.

Well, duh!  Of course there are no trans fats in salad dressing.  Trans fats are used to make liquid vegetable oils solid.  Anybody ever heard of a solid salad dressing?

That’s kind of like saying, “Now with low-fat lettuce!”

1 comment August 28, 2007 psipsina

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