New Orleans  

Posted by Wayne Bretski

Finally, summer vacation. We went to New Orleans for a wedding (see Miss Bee's facebook for some shots) and stuck around for five days to check out the city, and we loved it. Here are some of the photos we took, and the whole album is up on Picasa.

Waiting for the streetcar - notice Chrysanthemum's new carrier. Not pink!

Miss Bee waiting for the Tater Tachos at 13 Monaghan. Actually that wasn't this particular visit - yes we went to the same restaurant twice. When in Rome...we don't eat seafood.

The trees! I think this was in Louis Armstrong Park near Congo Square, the birthplace of jazz. We could hear the drum circles from all across the park.

Another restaurant we ate at twice was in this alley. The Green Goddess was fantastic, with options for vegetarians and carnivores, not to mention the impressive drink menu.

The mules pulling the wagon tours drove Chrysanthemum UP THE WALL. She could hear the bells they wore from blocks away (even over the sounds of 8 different bars playing music all at once).

This is such a classic shot of the French Quarter.

Yes, we went to Cafe du Monde and got beignets. No, we didn't try any seafood. Yes, we took a walking tour and a bayou tour. No, we didn't take a plantation tour. Yes, we rode the St. Charles streetcar to its terminus in Carrollton. No, we did not take the Canal St. line to its terminus in City Park (if we had one more day...). Yes, we walked Audubon Park and Magazine Street in the Garden District. No, we did not walk a cemetery officially, although we saw Saint Louis #1 (Easy Rider).

Yes, we went to Rue Bourbon. No, we didn't like it, not even a little.

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The Great Outdoors  

Posted by Wayne Bretski

The great thing about spring is getting outdoors after the winter. Well, not so much in Phoenix, where the winter is the spring and spring is summer and summer is hell. But anyways, here are some outdoors things.

*Going to the lake - no photos, but we saw two bald eagles there. In lieu of the diving adults we saw, check out the webcams at Raptor Resource showing a nest of the little buggers. This is a popular activity at school right now.

*Scuba - we are officially certified scuba divers to depths of sixty feet. While exciting, we're getting ready for our "advanced" dives in order to increase our depth to 100 feet.....and beyond!

We went to Lake Pleasant to do our open water dives, driving out along the beautiful Carefree Highway which was fully in bloom and really pretty amazing. This photo by azphotons on panoramio gives you the idea.

There are some more good photos on google maps.

Here's where we were, by Scorpion Bay. You can see on the map that it's a good drive from Phoenix. It was also a brisk 42 degrees while we were driving out there on Saturday...
Google map scrollable:
View Larger Map

Unfortunately, our teacher friends who have been teaching us were stuck in Mexico and couldn't bring their underwater camera. We saw a striped bass and some other small fish at the bottom, and I apparently was right next to a crayfish but I didn't see it - too busy concentrating on the task at hand. There were also campfires at bottom, since the little bay we were diving in is dry land during summer.

*Hiking - we have been making a conscious effort to be more active, both outdoors and in. This article in the Times Magazine was helpful.

Here we are at South Mountain with Chrys.

We took our teacher friend's daughter out to the Greenbelt to feed the ducks, play on the swings, walk the dog, etc. She took some great photos such as this one:

And a self-shot:

And the geese that harass Chrysanthemum:

And the doggie drinking fountain.

*California - okay, not strictly awesome because of spring, but it's what we did for break. Check out my Picasa Web Albums to see all the pictures. We stayed with Joe and Megan in SF and failed to take photos besides the one, but there are some other good ones in there.

Here's the California coast:

We also saw lots of undocumented wildlife. There were dolphins in the San Diego bay, and seals off the coast near Ragged Point, and bison in the Golden Gate Park, and more seals north by Stinson Beach.

Now we're spring cleaning the house in anticipation of moving. Hello, Craigslist!

A Sentence About the "Government Shutdown"  

Posted by Wayne Bretski

"When the threat to opt out is empty for both agents, the outcome corresponds exactly with the (generalized) Nash bargaining solution." - from the abstract of Randolph Sloof's Finite Horizon Bargaining... paper from 2002 (direct PDF link).

We've got some Hollow Threats in the news, this time from the US gov't. Ho hum, right, except Miss Bee and I wouldn't get paid. "Government shutdown" sounds so...I don't know...Windows '95.

The preceding sentences look like this:
Typically the delay threat determines proposals in early periods, while the threat to opt out characterizes those in later ones. Owing to this nonstationarity both threats may appear in the equilibrium shares agreed upon.
Oh, they're going to make on a deal on the budget. Ok. The delay threat has diminished. Reps and Dems can't opt out. I would have put a comma between "nonstationarity" and "both", but otherwise the model holds.

*fingers in ears*

Moving to Mexico, la la la la...

Tip of the hat to T.C.

Geez. Or, Moderation is Dead  

Posted by Wayne Bretski

File under: "I can't even imagine this statistic being true."

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the average American bride and groom hope to drop 162.9 pounds, jointly[...]

I sort of hope it's not, but then again, this is America. The Slate article talks about a TV show dedicated to such efforts.

Filed concurrently with the oral tradition of gossip and hearsay that tells me that the average American wedding is costing the couple and their families over $30,000.

At what price sanity?

From our wedding, a photo of Thomas filming the proceeds from outside the chapel, a bit before things got under way. We came in well under budget.

Worst Paragraph I've Read in a While  

Posted by Wayne Bretski

Photo by JD Photography (Flickr)

From The Economist. Not the writer's fault:

The protesters’ main demand was for more jobs—and welfare for those without them. Sultan Qaboos [of Oman] has hastily declared that this will be done, raising the minimum wage by 40%, to 200 riyals ($520) a month.

Sultan Qaboos has obviously never enrolled his spectacular name into an introductory economics class. If he had, the working class of Oman would not suffer the unintended-but-easily foreseen consequence of raising the minimum wage. As a business owner, if I am paying more money for my workers while the same amount is coming in, then I'm certainly not in the position of paying more workers. Thus, an increase in the minimum wage, especially such a dramatic one as enacted by the Sultanate, will have the opposite effect of that desired by the populace.

The Reading Post  

Posted by Wayne Bretski

I got a great book recommendation this morning from our librarian. (The Disappearing Spoon by the way, nonfiction about the periodic table of elements.) She thought it fit my "dorky" personality, which was a nice back-handed compliment. That recommendation was a good impetus for me to finally write up some thoughts on reading, though.

The iPad, which I am an owner of, has been a very interesting addition to my reading roster. Before I was given this beloved gift, an article from Alexander Chee was posted to The Morning News. The following paragraph sucked me into the premise:

It began with approximately two paragraphs of the book, lit up on the screen of my phone. I tapped the side of the screen and it flew to the next three paragraphs, and so on. A few minutes passed and I observed that I was reading peacefully. It was both an entirely new reading experience, like I had a secret that fit inside the palm of my hand, but it was also familiar: In the fifth grade I was taught to speed-read on a machine that projected sentences onto a wall at high speeds, sentences in the white box of a screen, flashing in a dark room.

Moments later, I got off the train. That went well, I decided, and slid my phone back into my pocket. And then I drew it back out, turned the app on, and kept reading as I walked, something I taught myself to do as a child when I lacked the patience to put a book down in order to walk to school.

Written about the iPhone's tiny screen, this resonated, to say the least. I remember reading during dinner when I was a kid - I'd get like half a page done. It's not always about the efficiency, but the process.

Near the end of the article, this:
There have been unexpected domestic discoveries: The iPad is perfect for reading at night next to someone who’s asleep, both the book and the flashlight I hid under my covers as a kid. When I need to get water or go to the bathroom, I can use it to see where I’m going in the dark and not wake Dustin by turning on a light. I’m still prone to creating the need for a new bookshelf, with a recent purchase of eight physical books in a single store visit, but I’ve also put 12 books into what Dustin and I now call “the devices.” We both see this as a victory.
Miss Bee and I feel the same way. Her nook and my iPad are conspiring to knock paperbacks right off our to-do lists. We are still working our way through a small backlog of previous purchases, like Zeitoun by Dave Eggers and The Lacuna from Barbara Kingsolver. But I don't see us purchasing additional copies of physical books except in special circumstances.

*Before moving onto the Luddite's nightmare, let me recommend this short riposte from the editors of Ask the Paris Review, entitled Writers and Their Libraries. A host of good suggestions about the wood-pulp side of book stewardship.*

Which leads me to Gary Becker's recent blog post that begins: "The traditional bookstore is doomed by e-readers and online sales of hard copy books." Some interesting notes that follow.
The process of development has been presumed to cause a substitution of market activities for home production. For example, households in poor rural societies have not only grown their own food, but also made much of their clothing, washed their clothes, baked their bread, and cooked from scratch their other food. As countries underwent economic growth, many of these productive activities left the home and migrated to the marketplace. Factory-made clothing was substituted for clothing made at home, and bakeries and laundries developed to make bread and sweets, and to wash, clean, and dry clothes.

Further technological developments, however, such as small motors used in home washing and drying machines, and small machines that cooked bread easily at home, shifted many activities back into the home, and thereby saved on time and energy spent in the shopping process. The online digital revolution is a further major step in this trend of returning activities to the home. Time and effort are saved, for example, when instead of going to movie theatres, consumers both order and download films online to be viewed at “home”, either on television sets, or increasingly on computers.

Read the whole thing here. Insightful, and once again, my experiences resonate with the sociological theory of the author. In point of fact, Miss Bee and I have had free movie tickets, with popcorn vouchers, for months now and still haven't managed to leave the house to consume a new film in the theaters.

Except for the whole bread-making machine thing...that never really caught on.

But hearkening back to the Chee article, I didn't expect my reading experience to be radically altered by the medium. To wit, until I killed my iPhone, I had the nook and Kindle apps on my phone, iPad, and Mac. I could read with any of the devices. But this article on the Read It Later blog shows some evidence that the medium does matter. The phone is used for "whitespace", those short spans of downtime during the day. The computer is used throughout the day, mirroring the amount of input we receive. But the iPad user graph is heavily concentrated during the evening hours, what the author calls "personal prime time". The gist? More of my online reading is going to the iPad than expected, in addition to the "print" media I consume with it (newspaper, sports highlights, weather, books).

Read It Later is part of a crop of great new webapps that save content you find online to read another time. It's like a file folder, or even just a stack of articles you rip out, that you can peruse later when you have the time and inclination. I use Instapaper myself, and would recommend it to anyone. Here's their 2010 aggregation called Give Me Something To Read. Click through the link and give the service a try.

Another list I glommed onto this year was part of Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools website, which he calls "The Best Magazine Articles Ever". With such an audacious title, Mr. Kelly made a good move in crowd-sourcing recommendations, and thus sharing the blame of any critical resistance to the selections. That said, there is a lot to love in those pages, from Gay Talese's coverage of Frank Sinatra's sinuses to David Foster Wallace's ode to the savage grace of major tennis stars. Have a look, and happy reading. (If you need a New Yorker login name and password to access an article, email and I'll share mine with you.) As I read through this list again, it's sort of amazing how many of these articles I have discussed with or recommended to friends - it is a repository of cultural treasure.

The title of the Chee article also reminded me of a few things. Most notably, I, Robot starring Will Smith. But I digress. In the spirit of the Becker article, here is a link to the Leonard Read econ classic "I, Pencil" - so old that the text references Ceylon, but still so poorly grasped by most people.

I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write....Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn't it? Especially when it is realized that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the U.S.A. each year.

Milton Friedman follows up, with plenty more on YouTube where it comes from:

Dear reader, happy reading to you in 2011. It is shaping up to be the best year for personal reading since leaving for college, and I hope that you are in some small way inspired to read something fantastic!

And for those of you that like a spot of tea with your novel, be sure to check on Christopher Hitchens writing for Slate about the proper way to make tea, via the George Orwell method.


Posted by Wayne Bretski

We think it's her one-year anniversary today. Here are some pictures from the year past.

First up is from Tucson last February. Her head is cut off on my cell phone photo, but you can see how small she was.

More recently on our air mattress. One of her new nicknames is "Length".

On a wicker-chair throne before the beginning of this school year.

Guarding the apartment.

Her first day. Not sure if this picture has been shown around, but this is seconds after walking out the door with our first dog. She proceeded to defecate on Miss Bee's lap about 15 minutes later.

We love our dog

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